Backtracking along the river from Diskit to the divide in the road, we then traveled north to Panamik, which is the farthest village that can be visited on that side of the valley. It's the last destination travellers are permitted to travel to in the Nubra Valley. As mentioned in my last posting on Hundar, Panamik was the last village on this circuit in the days when the caravans used to take the Silk Route. Here they halted for a few days to make final preparations for the journeys across the mountains of the Karakoram.
Panamik is famous for its hot water sulphur springs. We had to climb for a while to check out the source of the sulphur springs. I was quite taken aback to note that the water that flows from small springs in the mountains was steaming hot (probably almost at boiling point) and it was not possible to touch it at that spot. I had to walk down a few metres along the direction of the water flow and try the temperature along until I felt I could touch it without getting scalded.
Usually spring sources of water is not considered safe for drinking, however, it is is believed that the hot water from the springs in Panamik is non-toxic and safe, and hence potable. My personal opinion is that contamination of water at that height in the Himalayas is a remote possibility, so it should be safe for drinking. During my treks in other high altitude regions of Sikkim, I've quenched my thirst from running brooks of the Himalayas and have had no complaint whatsoever anytime in that regard. But for some reason I can't quite describe, I stopped myself from drinking water flowing out of these springs.
I am not really sure what exactly I expected at that the Panamik springs, but the unimpressive moss growing wet areas did look messy to me with flowing water haphazardly everywhere. Probably I should not under-estimate the efficacy of the healing powers of the natural hot sulphur springs. It is supposed to cure skin diseases, stomach problems, and a number of other ailments. There was also an option to bathe from the water that collected in a container in a small shed where one could have a little privacy, if needed.
I felt healthy enough NOT to want to go for any therapeutic dip. I pulled off my sneakers and socks and soaked my feet. I also washed my hands and face in the warm flowing waters to cure myself of skin diseases I did NOT have. To me, the hot springs of Panamik was a bit of a disappointment.
After the visit to the hot sulphur springs, we stopped by for some tea at a road side restaurant. I was told that this is the only one in miles of desert around us. I had some delicious black tea steeped with cinnamon (and have since tried it a few times upon returning home). I discreetly watched a couple of military personnel having maggi noodles in the same restaurant - discreet, in wanting to give them due respect to enjoy their meal/snack in privacy and peace. I felt unhappy for a while at the thought of the sacrifice these gentlemen have to make in carrying out their duty at that great height of the Himalayas. I was there out of choice, but they were there to fulfill their duties at that outpost.
It made me ponder on the pointlessness of conflicts and futility of war again.
It was now time to head back to Leh. We passed by the Sumur village on the return journey. The village was delightful and we encountered traditionally clad villagers with their colourful clothing. The roads on certain areas were surrounded by tall hollyhock, willow and poplar. The flowering plants and trees, and vegetation in general in that area was a beautiful sight to behold and I was so absorbed in it that I forgot to shoot pictures on that part of the journey.
After an hour's drive or so, our driver stopped by a vast expanse of desert with beautiful mountains around it. He asked us to trek up and check out what was beyond the mountains he pointed to us. We climbed up the mountain to discover a mountain lake nestled in the middle of the wilderness.
We met a few tourists from other parts of the world and started chatting with them. At one point, I chuckled to realize that our charming discussion group at that Himalayan lake consisted of a Hindu, a Christian, two Muslim gentlemen and a Jewish tourist couple, not to mention our Buddhist driver who was close by. I recall quite well that I was not feeling guilty of dispersing the group by stating that we had a long journey back to Leh to look forward to (which was a fact, of course). I had to cut short the discussions after a certain time as the topics changed to sensitive issues of Kashmir and Palestinian-Israeli conflict. I've had enough of such discussions in this part of the world already and was not willing to waste more time participating in such pointless discussions in the beautiful Himalayas.
The rest of the journey back to Leh via Khalsar and Khardung-La was uneventful and spent mostly in singing songs and happily clicking pictures at every available opportunity.