a bite at the lake


pangong1

my next Ladakhi adventure involved a long bumpy ride 70 kilometers east of Leh to the small village of Spangmik located on the shores of Pangong Lake at 4350 meters. Pangong is a long and skinny endorheic lake that stretches 134 kilometers, 40% of which lies in Ladakh and 60% in Tibet. it’s also only 5 kilometers wide at its broadest point.

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one’s itinerary at this lake is simple. you go to the lake, you stare at the lake, eat and sleep in basic accommodations and then be transported back to Leh. once you arrive in Spangmik you can walk or drive to the next village but you can’t go much further than that before hitting a military blockade.

in general, there is a large military presence in Ladakh. though Ladakh is a peaceful realm, it’s only a stones throw from the ongoing boarder disputes with China and Pakistan that range from annoying to deadly.

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in addition to military, Ladakh is also infested with marmots of questionable character. on the way back from Pangong, our driver pulled over to show us his favorite marmot watching spot. he showed us that all one needs to do to see them is walk out a few yards and then make a kissing sound with your lips and they will all run out of their holes, scamper toward you and stand at attention. they are so curious and unafraid that you can even pet them.

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i of course had to learn the lesson the hard way that one should take precaution when petting a marmot. for example, always pay close attention to the petting hand and under no circumstance shift your focus to snap a photo of your hand petting the marmot.

the snap

the snap

the aftermath + iodine treatment

the aftermath + iodine treatment

once our driver saw the bloody mess that was my finger, he immediately rushed me far into the hills past several military checkpoints to a half-cylinder shaped bunker. upon it was written “World’s Highest Field Hospital”. crammed inside it, were hundreds of military personnel all milling about. many were queued into lines that wrapped around rooms. others were crouched on hallway floors. some were lying on stretchers and seemed to be in a considerable amount of pain. they all looked as though they had been in this hospital for a very very long time. my driver took me by the arm and lead me through the crowds. the layout of the bunker was surprisingly elaborate for what it was and there seemed to be no inch of it that wasn’t occupied by a soldier.

when we finally made it to the room where the only doctor sat, the doc took one look at me then immediately stopped treating his current patient and then beckoned me to come and sit. this room was by far the most packed full of uniformed men and as i walked toward them, they all moved out of my way willingly while each giving me the same accepting head side-bob. when i reached the doc, i sat and tried my best to explain to him what had happened. this was of course a very laughable matter to him. i was still too traumatized by the incident to share in his amusement but i understood it all the same. how often after all does a tourist wander into the world’s highest field hospital after being bitten by a marmot? i am willing to bet almost never. “Marmots are so docile” he told me, “you must have really done something to provoke it”. “this was an evil marmot” i explained. then i asked him if marmots were known to carry communicable diseases such as rabies, to which he simply replied “i don’t think you have anything to worry about”. then he sent me off into a storage closet full of drugs where a very nice man administered me a tetanus shot and then gave me some antibiotics and painkillers. finally, i was sent to another nice man who applied a bandage over my wound. after it was over, the doc saw me again to impart to me a few lasting words of wisdom then sent me on my way. this was all of course completely free of charge.

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the ride back to Leh was a beautiful, quiet and contemplative one. i decided then, once and for all that if i were to become rabid then it would have all been worth it.

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