Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Mystery Of The Pebbles Atop The Dreaded Ngele-La Pass

Ngele-La pass is the strangest, almost unreal high mountain pass that I have crossed in all my treks in the alpine regions. It is strange because at an altitude of 4,702 Meters, this pass does not have a spec of snow or a tiny patch of ice or a single blade of grass growing at its top. It does not even have a fistful of earth! At this height and at this time of the year, the pass should be covered in snow. Something was seriously amiss here!
As you can see from the photo below, the top of the pass is draped in a continuous sheath of flat, splintered pebbles as far as the eyes can see. Strangely, there are no boulders or stones or granites anywhere around. So then where did the flat, splintered stone gravels come from?

As I looked on incredulously, my horse contractor informed me that the Ngele-La pass experiences some strangely powerful windy conditions. He said that the ferocity of the wind is so strong that horses are known to have been lifted off their feet and pushed off the pass to be deposited few hundred meters below the pass. He narrated an incident when, at one time, he was returning from Lingzhi on his way to Soe-Yaktsa when he ran into a serious windy condition as he was ascending to the top of the Ngele-La Pass. Half way through to the top, he was felled by the strong gusts of wind that was blowing and he ended up, not once, but thrice at the bottom of the valley. Finally, he clawed his way up to the pass and then attempted to roll down the other side of the pass - only to be pushed right back all the way to the top. He had no other way but to bury his head into his Gho and wait for the wind to subside and then roll down once again.
Is it possible that the winds have lifted the pebbles off the bottom of the valley below and deposited them at the top of the pass? I think this is very likely because, half way down the pass, one can see the same pebbles strewn all over the grassy slopes. This would also explain why there is no snow or ice or grass there - the strong wind must be blowing them off to kingdom come!
I was lucky to have been able to cross the pass - both ways - without being caught in the dreaded windy condition of the Ngele-Las pass.


  1. Thank you for sharing, i envy you for your moments, for getting to take remarkable photos, for having the skills to take such wonderful photos and for being able to express your photos with so much clarity with the words you use.
    Please post more.

  2. Interesting story indeed.. You probably need to consult with a geologist familiar with the himalayan terrain for an answer. The slope looks like a 'talus' formation.. but that is normally found at the base of a rock face or a cliff... I've climbed Talus slopes where the rocks are the size of saucers or smaller.. to those as big as boulders.. But for all cases it was at the base of a cliff..

    Another hypothesis could be that these are deposited through eons of glacial activity.. i.e. moraines.. From the view available in the photograph I'd put my guess on the latter..

    I'm not sure if the wind would be able to lift and deposit the rocks from the bottom of the valley.. given their density and size.. but that very well may be the case as well.

    thanks for sharing the interesting story. :)

    Cheers.. looking forward to more...

  3. Hi Nobu,

    You are rite - I think I should talk to a geologist and see if he has an answer. I do have a geologist friend.

    The thing about this splintered small pieces of rocks is that I have seen the same thing in Lingzhi as well. I had trekked up a ridge to the right of the Dzong. There too, as I was coming back down the slope, I saw small pcs. of rocks/pebbles strewn all over the grassy slope. Even that time I was sure that the wind had deposited them. No one some one is going to sprinkle the pebbles all over the slope - about two and a half hours trek uphill of the valley!

  4. Hey Aue Yeshey,

    Glad to have you back and nice to know you've made back in a single piece (^.^), and most certainly, with loads of wonderful images!
    Interesting piece on Nge-le la! Would be really interested to know the scientific premises of this amazing feature! I had the pportunity to cross this pass just once as rookie civil servant on an official trip back in 2006 – a reminiscence of which I wrote on our blog:

    If you are not already off to Zhemgang, please take a look at my first ever blog post on photography -

    Your feedback would definitely help! Have a nice trip and hope you have a good rest after all those trekking!

  5. hellow,
    it just feels like yesterday when i climbed up those pass and even i felt the strong force of the wind. It sure was very strong while coming back from lingzhi. i am sure it was blizzard. i couldn't even take 5 bold steps. the wind with snow and poor visibility.
    thank you Mr Yeshey for reviving those memories.
    By the way great shots there.

  6. Interesting deductions. Sometimes it's hard to decide what is more interesting - your pictures or your write ups. Do keep it up, esp for people like me who will not know what it is like to experience your travels, Sonam

  7. Hi Lakey
    Thanks for the link you provided. I visited it and read the article you wrote on Lingzhi. Great writing and lot more detailed than mine :)

    I looked at your article on photography too. Here again, you provide great detail about your subject and the equipment you used to acquire them.

    I have already told you during our first meeting at the BAFRA Hall that I love that image of the mother and son. I simply love the mood you captured of the mother. However, if you are a great fan of Bokeh in your images, you need to look at Canon 135L - it gives you such buttery smooth bokeh, you will want to cry. Once you see the bokeh rendered by that lens, you will admit that the one produced by your 50mm is rather harsh.

    Your 70-200mm II should provide almost as good bokeh as that of the 135L - perhaps you have already seen that - since the time you acquired that fantastic lens.

  8. Hi Sherub,
    I will be going back to Lingzhi once again - perhaps this winter. Although I think the mood in October would be great, I am afraid that I cannot take a chance on the weather being as good as that which are likely during Dec/Jan.

    May be this time I will camp at the base of the Ngele-La so I can get to the peak earlier.

  9. Hi Sonam
    The trick is to love both :)

  10. Thanks a lot for taking the time out, Aue Yeshey. And yes, a huge kadenche la for the comments. Really appreciate it!

    Cheers la!