Wet Weather Woes
The weather was a constant challenge on this shoot. Right from the day I crossed into Ladakh till the last week or so. Clear skies were rare. Rain was a given on most evenings and the mornings were no better either.
I got a taste of things to come the moment I crossed over into Ladakh from Sarchu. My late afternoon lunch stop at the Whiskey Nullah dhaba turned into an overnight stay due to a thunderstorm that continued well into the night. The thunderstorms continued for the next 3 to 4 days when I camped at More plains, Tsokar and the Tso Kiagar lakes. The rains would start every evening at around 5pm and last for a good 4 to 5 hours.
Scary Thunderstorms at Tsokar lake
My nights at the Tsokar lake were especially scary with thunderstorms raging around me for hours. The lightning strikes felt so close that I was that my tent would get hit. There were no trees or houses near me. My tent and my bike were the tallest structures for miles making them prime targets for a lightning strike.
I was not sure whether to stay put inside my tent or go out into the open and crouch low to the ground. It was comforting to have the bike nearby as I knew that it would attract the lightning strike away from my tent. Nevertheless, I slept curled up like a ball keeping my body away from the aluminium poles of the tent. Strangely though, I slept well during these stormy nights and thankfully my tent did not leak.
It sounds like a cool adventure now, but I was genuinely scared when the storms were raging.
Saboo flash floods and Memories of 2010
Fast forward a couple of weeks and I was returning to Leh after a shoot at the Hemis and Stakna villages. It had rained a little in the evening but nothing to suggest that something was amiss.
As I neared Thiksey I saw a line of vehicles stopped in front of what looked like a puddle of water. A few cars were crossing it. I was about to attempt the crossing myself when someone stopped me and asked me to take a second look at the water. It was no puddle but a small stream flowing across the road. A flash flood was flowing down from the Saboo village above Thiksey and it was getting stronger by the minute. I would have been in serious trouble had I attempted the foolish crossing.
I took an alternate route to safely reach Leh but the excitement for the day were not over.
The owners of my guesthouse were nervous. More storms were predicted during the night and they were worried that Leh might be bit by flash floods during the night. Memories of 2010 are still fresh around here. So we all went to Shanti Stupa, which located on a small hillock should be safe from any flash floods. Many other people have gathered there as well to wait out the storm which never really arrived.
The rains continued on and off for the next few days and inflicted lot of damage around Ladakh. Flash floods washed away the roads in many parts of Ladakh. The Leh-Manali highway was blocked for a few days and more importantly the road from Upshi towards Chumathang and Hanle was washed away and would take a few months to be repaired.
Ups and Downs of the rain
The wet weather had both its positives and the negatives. On the positive side, the changing weather provided some dramatic scenes for my videos. The rainbows and the play of the shadows and light on the mountains were always a treat to watch.
But overall, most days were cloudy and dull. And the nights were no different. The weather was so unpredictable that I had to shoot my videos whenever the skies were clear. I could not wait around for the right light like I did during my previous trip to Ladakh. As a result, many clips from the shoot do not have that special magic that we all associate with Ladakh.
In retrospect, I should have postponed the shoot by a month to get the best possible weather. Something to keep in mind for the next time a project like this comes my way.