It was my long standing wish to photograph the Milky Way galaxy. On my third visit to this beautiful region of Ladakh that I wished to accomplish two things, one was to stay overnight near the saline waters of Pangong Tso (Lake) situated at a height of about 4,350 m (14,270 ft) and second was to photograph the eye of the Milky Way. Deep within, however, I wasn’t setting my hopes too high since I was more than aware of the ever changing and unreliable weather in this part of the world.
A perfect environment to capture the Milky Way, now with almost 14000 feet of atmosphere & atmospheric pollution removed, we are that much closer to the heavens. During the day, the lake mesmerizes the onlooker with a million shades of blue aided by the clouds which run errands at the whims of the winds. In the night, the sky presents a mosaic of scattered diamonds glittering at you, an ideal place for stargazers and photographers who brave the weather to observe and photograph star trails, time lapses or long exposure shots.
However, the weather can change with no warnings, with mini storms clouding the skies and spoiling any grand plans. Therefore, it would be a bonus if I get to photograph the Milky Way galaxy.
Ladakh, the newest Union Territory (UT) of India, is a quintessential destination for vagabonds looking for a portal to solitude and spiritually. Often referred to as a cold desert, Ladakh was inaccessible for years. Reaching Leh, the region’s capital located at an altitude of 3,524 meters (11,562 ft) was not easy. The region was made famous by thrill seeking bikers riding their Royal Enfields and by photographers and their travelogues. As the terrain changes with every turn, the landscape is ready to teach the lessons of evolution to the observant kind and it is a photographer’s paradise.
The city of Leh and the region of Lakadh today is one of the top destinations in many people’s Bucket list. One gets absorbed into the awesomeness of the place. Ironically, the harshness of the terrain outside kindles a great sense of peace within. Many travelers and vagabonds have fallen in love with this landscape and your romance with place will be one amongst those many infatuations , but, the experience will be unique for you to cherish.
The centuries old monasteries built at places unimaginable and the ghettos of distant life brings out the indomitable human spirit to survive and find solace in some of the most difficult weather conditions. The place remains cut-off for more than 6 months in a year as snow fills up the landscape with a white blanket. The best time to visit the place is between April to September. The Monasteries, the valleys, the people, their attire are much to a photographer’s delight.
Seeing Pangong Lake for the third time in seven years was as breathtaking as it was the first time. After soaking in the sight, I set out to prepare for the evening ahead. Batteries charged, lenses cleaned and layers of warm clothing readied. It doesn’t take long for temperatures to plummet once the sun disappears behind the peaks. I waited for another hour for the twilight to resign for the night. Already feeling the cold, I covered every part of my body with layers of clothing in anticipation, just leaving my eyes and some leather around it exposed
The air was thin and every breath I took was inadequate. The urge to gasp more air was met with a sense of hollow feeling in the lungs. It takes a determined effort to step out of the tent, carrying the photographic equipment – cameras, lenses, tripod and a thick woolen blanket to the intended location near the mighty Pangong Lake.
The place where we stayed at was perched between the lake on one side and the hills on the western side of its shores. It was built on the slopes by cutting the soil to form flat berths to accommodate eight to ten tents in a row. It was a perfect location to photograph the sky. It took sometime to walk the short distance up the slope and leave the tents below to avoid any light coming out of them.
I took refuge behind a water tank to protect myself from the fury of the biting cold wind. The tripod was quickly set up, closer to the ground so that I could sit on the ground and operate the camera controls. I had to pull off my gloves to fix the quick release plate to the camera and latch it to the tripod head firmly. My hands begged to return to the warmth of the gloves as they went numb. They were barely out for a few minutes.
I took a few shots to adjust the focus points to infinity, set camera settings on intervalometer and clicked to let the camera do the rest. I reviewed the images on the screen and satisfied with the results, wrapped the blanket around me tight and prepared to experience nature.
The starry night dazzled to reveal the eye of the Milky Way Galaxy at Pangong Lake. This spectacle played in the westerly skies as a full moon rose over the lake completely drenching the landscape around with a silvery light. Sitting for couple of hours out in the open, bearing the cold was all worth the effort when the nature was putting up a show. I am presenting here just one frame from a series of star trial shot over two hours.
A mini storm brewed over the peaks covering the Milky Way, but there was no disappointment. I got what I came for. The drama played out in the sky. The storm died down, all under 2 hours. I was left with more than I could ask for. A show just for me, etched forever in my memory and an amazing time lapse with some drama in it. But the, that material is for another photo story, for other time.
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