The bladder works in mysterious ways. There are times when it stoically holds out (or in) through long beer-fuelled evenings. And then there are times when it throws a tantrum at the end of a half-litre-water day.
Those tantrums—difficult to ignore even when the temperature is -29°C, it’s 8pm on a half-moon night, and you’re snug in your sleeping bag—cease to matter once your head-torch shines into the soulful eyes of a wolf as you unzip the tent flap to let your bladder have its way.
That happened in January 2013, and while the wolf respected my privacy, the furtive glances I kept casting around during my most vulnerable minutes opened my eyes to a whole new world on the high-altitude desert—its long winter nights.
Ever since 2006, when I took my first tentative steps into the Changthang in winter, I followed the Changpas’ code of survival—leaving camp only after sunrise and retreating into the safety of a tent or rebo (the yak-hair tent of the Changpas) much before twilight set in. Given the fecundity of the daytime landscapes of winter, and, of course, the psychological warmth of the shining sun, I never questioned the Changpas’ wisdom. I still don’t, but the bladder’s gift came at a time when I was looking for ways to continue my 16-year-long tryst with Ladakh. I was running out of lakes to document, and my overland forays into the Zanskar were completely at the mercy of the weather.
And what little I have managed to see of those 12 hours of darkness has convinced me that bracing for even more cold and taking a few calculated risks is small price for the rewards on offer. Most people would call this an excuse, and I have no problems with that. The camera is indeed a great excuse for travel; travel a great excuse to justify the purchase of that camera. And Ladakh the best excuse for both.

Sankar Sridhar
The glow of a headlamp transforms erupting steam and water into a halo around the head of a geyser. Even at a temperature of -25 degrees, the water is a scalding 80 degrees celcius, the boiling point at 4,000m above sea level
The glow of a headlamp transforms erupting steam and water into a halo around the head of a geyser. Even at a temperature of -25 degrees, the water is a scalding 80 degrees celcius, the boiling point at 4,000m above sea level
Sankar Sridhar
A sprinkling of snow on a sun-starved bend of the Shyok River brings to life otherwise invisible patterns on the silt and stones that make up its banks. The river itself is set ablaze by a brilliant sunset
A sprinkling of snow on a sun-starved bend of the Shyok River brings to life otherwise invisible patterns on the silt and stones that make up its banks. The river itself is set ablaze by a brilliant sunset
Sankar Sridhar
A crack on the frozen Pangong Tso reflects the Milky Way that arches over it. Cloudless new moon nights on the Changthang are often bright enough for stars to paint the lake ice
A crack on the frozen Pangong Tso reflects the Milky Way that arches over it. Cloudless new moon nights on the Changthang are often bright enough for stars to paint the lake ice
Sankar Sridhar
Chiktan's famously colourful summer hills lie quilted in snow, their monochrome enhanced by moonlight
Chiktan's famously colourful summer hills lie quilted in snow, their monochrome enhanced by moonlight
Sankar Sridhar
A pair of Tibetan wolves make their way across the Changthang on a full moon night. Though the Ladakhi name for the wolf is 'shanku', they are often referred to as Tipkyak, shadows, a moniker they live up to
A pair of Tibetan wolves make their way across the Changthang on a full moon night. Though the Ladakhi name for the wolf is 'shanku', they are often referred to as Tipkyak, shadows, a moniker they live up to
Great gusts of steam rise up to greet a new day at Chumathang, a tourist attraction that in season puts on a mightily toned-down display
Great gusts of steam rise up to greet a new day at Chumathang, a tourist attraction that in season puts on a mightily toned-down display
Sankar Sridhar
Night meets day on Thadsangkharu, a lake at about 4,600m on the Changthang Plateau


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