For a long time, during my travels in the mountains, I used look up at the star studded night skies and wonder how anyone could manage to navigate using the stars. There were so damn many of them. Especially on a clear moonless night. So how do you find one little North Star out of so many ?
It was a mystery to me.
Like all mysteries it could have been solved with Google's help. But unfortunately mobile connectivity in Spiti and Ladakh was a bit patchy so i had to figure it out the old fashioned way. Through speculation and hearsay.
It was at Tabo the mystery was finally solved. It was my first day in the Spiti valley and the sky there was amazingly crisp and clear. So that evening I along with a couple of other travelers went for a walk around the Tabo monastery complex. It was too dark to see anything of the monastery, so our attention turned towards the night sky and the coversation invariably landed on the issue of finding the North Star.
Oleg and Irina were also not quite sure about the exact location of the North Star. But they told me that if we find the Big Dipper constellation then it would be easy to find the North Star. The Big Dipper is not very hard to find. It has a distinct ladle like shape and the stars forming the ladle are brighter than the rest of the stars immediately surrounding them.
Once we found the Big Dipper the rest was easy. They asked me to draw an imaginary line starting from the 2 stars that form the rightmost edge of the ladle's cup. You extend that line forming a rough 'V' shape with the handle of the ladle forming the other half of the 'V'. So with the imaginary line extended this way you will see the North Star shining brightly just to the right of that line. I knew for sure that it was the North Star because I confirmed its location using the 'Starry Night' app on my smartphone :)
I took the above picture from my campsite along the Pangong lake to show both the Big Dipper and the North Star. If they are not pretty obvious from the above picture then check out the annotated picture below. It makes everything clear.
Here you can see both the distinct ladle shape of the Big Dipper and the North Star just to the right of the imaginary line starting from the right edge of the ladle's cup. The North Star is much brighter than its surrounding stars so it would be pretty hard to miss once you find the Big Dipper. Just remember the 'V' shaped formed between the handle of the ladle and the imaginary line starting from the edge of the ladle's cup.
Finding the North Star this way is a good trick to know. Maybe someday it will help you get out of a tight spot. Just pray that that day never comes. Travel Safe.