EXTREME LANDSCAPE - At an altitude of over 17,500 feet, Chang La is one of the highest motorable passes in the world. The view from the pass shows the frozen winter landscape of Ladakh - cold, white, rocky and (seemingly) devoid of life.
AND THE WAVES STOOD STILL - At those temperatures, Pangong Tso lake's surface was partially frozen. As the wind blows, there seems to be something amiss - the sound of the waves lapping on to the shore.
PATTERNS - On the frozen surface of Pangong Tso Lake
SNAKING THROUGH THE VALLEY - Elsewhere near Chumathang, a lonely bus makes it way through another beautiful valley. One of the few signs of life in this beautiful yet desolate landscape.
KIANG! - The hardy Tibetan Wild Asses (also called Kiang) made their appearance, dispelling all notions of this place being a desolate desert. Life does go on here, it seems.
AND SOME MORE - The Kiangs' coats were much darker (and possibly thicker) than their summer coats. These are really majestic animals and are much larger than their cousins from Kutch.
OM MANI PADME HUM - The holy hymn speaks from the rocks (literally).
A WAY OF LIFE - And then, we came across this shepherd tending to her sheep. What do the sheep feed on in this icy landscape?
GRASS OF LIFE - Through the snow, through the ice, shoots of grass seemed to be sticking out everywhere. Though they were dry (and possibly really low on nutrition), they seemed to be supporting quite a bit of sheep, horses, cattle and herbivorous wildlife.
PATTERNS AGAIN - The snowed-out villages don a very brownish cloak as against the lush greenery of summer. The farms, pathways and roads create a beautiful maze!
THE FUN NEVER STOPS - A group of kids playing around near a Changpa settlement near Puga (Changthang).
FRIENDS FOREVER - And the chitchat never stops. These Changpa shepherds still follow a largely nomadic way of life, moving their sheep, cattle and horses across the Changthang plains based upon the availability of fodder and water.
FROZEN GRASS - The ice doesn't spare the grass. Most of the grass by the water is covered with icicles.
FOOD AND WATER - The source of life. A nomadic way of life - travelling in search of opportunities.
HEAVENLY LANDSCAPES - The transformation in winters, though stark, makes for some of the most awesome landscapes in the country. This is another view of the pastures that the sheep were using.
HOTSPRING - Another view of the brilliant landscape near Puga. The hotspring is covered with a mound of snow and ice.
A DASH OF COLOUR - Breaking the monotony of the landscape is a Ruddy Shelduck. These birds were seen mostly in pairs, in tune with the belief that they are devoted to their partner for life.
IT'S MY LAND TOO - The Horned Lark seems to be saying so. The abundance of bird life around the pastures and villages - Black-billed Magpies, Great Rosefinches, Robin Accentors, Brown Accentors, Tibetan Snowfinches and Brandt's Mountain Finches, to mention a few - was another big surprise.
STEEDS AND YAKS - Pillars of the nomadic way of life in Chanthang. They share the pastures too.
RIDING ON - Changpa riding their horses, possibly running an errand or just keeping in touch with horseriding in the off-season. The magnitude of the landscape shows how vulnerable life is here and yet, nature also plays the role of the giver.
SPREADING BLESSINGS - Buddhist Prayer Flags add some more colour, and spread the holy words imprinted on them through the wind, across the Changthang Plains.
BINDING FORCE - Whether it be the plains of Changthang or the Indus Valley near Leh, prayer flags are one of the constant fixtures around Ladakh. This is a view of Thiksey monastery from Stakna monastery. It hadn't snowed much in these parts this year. Notice how brown the valley looks.
PERPETUALLY IN MEDITATION - Inside Stakna monastery, the winterwear of the monks seemed to be in deep meditation. Absolute stillness. Despite the extreme cold, some monks stay back at the monasteries through winter to continue the religious traditions.
THE LURE - Despite the extreme conditions, Ladakh was teeming with life through the winter. People and animals making the best of the conditions to survive the extreme temperatures. For the fascinated visitor like me, it's the glorious sights and insights that make me want to go back there again...next winter.