Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Destination Leh

It had been a good 3 days since I had called home. It had been almost a week since my phone served its purpose. BTW, Vodafone DOES NOT work after Manali. You are better off with an Airtel or Reliance connection I guess. It was funny, because when I was talking to someone about my situation that morning, he said the army camp in Pang has a Sat phone that I could use! That was great news.

I packed and left early to the camp and filled in some forms, "proved my identity" and I was shown the phone from where I could call my folks. My parents were pleasantly surprised to hear my voice. Mostly surprised that I had called them from a remote place such as this. Because, I rarely call home or keep them posted on my whereabouts. You can say that entire "lost fuel can" episode the previous day was the cause. I was after all human.

The Army Camp

A short call with my mom, I was on my way. After Pang, you climb a little to reach the most amazing place. The More (aka Morey, Morre) Plains.

View of the Army camp after the ascent towards More..

This would be the last bit of gravel roads towards the top, after this, it magic ...

After so much of  dirt and off road riding, The deeper person in you wants that bit of Tarmac to compensate. Thats exactly what you will get in the More plains. In short, it was a time to ride. At almost 15500 ft, Its pure bliss to ride on tarmac like this.

I felt privileged, as there was no one on the road that morning. Its certainly an experience I wouldn't trade for anything else.

BRO rules.

When I said there was no one, There was NO ONE & I could do this.

Today was going to be a piece of cake when it came to the riding part. With so much of fun on tarmac, I had very little bad roads to cover. In fact, it was just the ascent of Tanglang La that was going to be bad, the climb to the second highest motorable road.

So towards the end of More, I decided that I would ride through the off road part of the plains. Apparently till about 2009 or so, there was no tarmac. It was the most dreadful part of ones journey where people on bikes, local taxis and bus drivers frequently got lost following trails that lead to nowhere. And, not to forget the fine "talcum" like of sand that makes it impossible to ride. It was not even a challenge for my motorcycle. Just saying.

The patch of off road that leads to some desert like sand

Climbing Tanglang La

It started to rain a little, time to get the rain gear..

Mountain ranges everywhere as far as you can see. Welcome to the Himalayas.

A Dutch dude up on top was kind enough to take this photo of me. It was impossible to get me in the frame without a second person as all these photos are from my phone that did not have a timer. crap.

Prayer flags are common on top of the passes. They are supposed to bring good omen and luck to the travelers.

The greatest bit of roads of the entire journey begins from the descent from Tanglang la. Its pristine tarmac all the way to the little village town of Gya in the foot hills of the Himalayas. Once again, Thanks BRO.

Gya: I was forced to take a break here. The landscape changes from pebble like terrain and no vegetation to plush greenery with creeks and massive river beds & Guest appearances from the Himalayan marmot to cover the fauna part.

I felt blessed to ride a motorcycle that could negotiate these terrains and ride upto the creek itself.

 I decided to wash my boots and riding gear that had gotten quite dirty from the days rain riding, accumulating some serious slush. It was a comprehensive yet concise expression. It was a well deserved break.

These series of mountains lead to the Indus.

Road to upshi.

Mighty Indus

I reached Leh early in after noon. I found a water service station to wash the dirty bike.

Pampering time, lets get a nice wash.

Today was the day to indulge in Continental and Mediterranean cuisines. I no longer needed to eat Maggi or settle for a simple staple like eggs, dal and rice. It was quite interesting though. In spite of options available, Leh did not have Power, Fuel or Money in the ATMs the day I reached. To add to that, my phone (Vodafone) did not work in Leh.

Leh Market, Main rd.

View from a local pizzeria, where I had lunch.

Some serious veggies on display by Ladhaki women. Lettuce to appricots.

A shop where you could shop for junk.

One of the many Tibetan refugee markets in Leh.

You can buy some beautiful puppets from the "Ladakh House". Its sad that I couldn't carry back much.

Now, It was time to wait patiently, figure out a strategy to reach my friends as my phone did not work. I did exactly the same and met one of them a couple of nights later, randomly in the market. The fella who had crashed his bike had succumbed to AMS and was bedridden for a good 2 days after reaching Leh. It took us a day to move into the same hotel. By now, I was already familiar with leh and had found a group of people who I would later join on a 4 day trek from Zingchen to Chilling in the Zanskar, across Hemis National park. This means, climbing Kand la - A 5000 mt pass to complete the trek. Before this, we would scale the 3rd highest motorable road to Pangong, the second largest salt water lake in the world close to the Chinese border and the Highest motorable pass - Kardhung la - A Ride to the Top of the World.

There’s a famous Ladakhi saying – "The land is so barren and the passes so high that only our best friends or worst enemies would want to visit us"

Ladakh is indeed the roof of this world.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Mars like Pang and the Lost fuel can

As as you can see there was a good cloud cover that day and probability of rain. The terrain and landscape changed from grey to red. The first thing that came to my mind was the movie  "Total recall" . The production crew could have saved a load of money shooting the movie in the Himalayas. Hmmm..or Maybe not.

The transition was slow as I rode pass some serious off road and starting my ascent to lachulung la, the 3rd & final high altitude pass for the day. By now it was already mid afternoon and & with No sun on top it felt great to be on the road,  in spite of the bouncy ride.

It was time to take that break and chill in the shadow zone.

Now that probability of rain just went up. In fact, It started drizzling a wee bit and it was time to cover the luggage with rain proof gear. Now its quite evident, its Red !

It stopped raining up top. However, it was not a good idea to stay here for long. Right after this photo and some water I was on my way.

Obviously the way down is much faster. With the rain not bothering my ride anymore & the luggage to give me that extra traction, it seemed I had temporarily lost my senses. I was having way too much fun. As luck prevailed, even the roads got better. I was rolling through the gears with ease as I had now gotten used to the bike, especially after the 2 falls. My experience on a dirt bike was rich now.

Sometimes carried away by scenery, I had to make sure I focused and kept my eyes on the road. Riding the middle patch was dangerously slippery, especially where there was finer gravel patches. I almost had a close call and stopped to re coupe from the situation. DISASTER. Maybe, losing your senses is a bad idea.

Fuel Can Fail

I am looking at this photo from my camera and realise that my spare fuel can, full of petrol is missing.  FAAAAAk..and the terrain looks the same everywhere, with absolutely no reference that can be marked. There are no trees or objects or vegetation or things or people or any god damn thing. It was around 1.45 pm and I was flippin BALLZ.

To make things worse, it started to rain. Yes, Murphy's law. I felt very insignificant in the mountains now. I was frantic in the beginning riding back and forth, and almost came to the place where I started to climb the pass that I had just crossed. Then I turned and rode in the right direction. Stopped, flipped for a while and rode back again. This continued for 2 hrs. I felt homesick and missed the easy city life, I almost had tears in my eyes. In a very profound way, I was just space dust and it wouldn't have mattered if I had a million bucks now. Here was another screw up that was staring right at my face. Electrical's. I had no time to fix it before I could ship the bike. Which means, I dint know what speed I am going, How many kilometers I have traveled and NO fuel gauge. I wasn't even sure of the distance to empty or the fuel efficiency. I was pretty screwed.

After a good 3 hours of no luck and no soul passing by, 2 Royal Enfield rides (from heaven) came by. The conversation lasted 2 mins..

RE Rider : Hey, you looking for something ?
Me: Yeah
RE Rider : Fuel can ?
Me: Yeah !??!
RE Rider : here you go..
thump thump thump thump...and he leaves...

The rainy road to Pang

Luck prevailed again, and I was reunited with my fuel can. First things first,I filled fuel.

My water refill station, glacier water from the mountains.

Thirst quenched

Finally Pang. I reached and the rain stopped. More Bikes = Company & since I had not seen these guys on my way here, my guess was they were riding back from Leh. I guessed right. The evening was filled with goofy motorcycle conversations.

 It started to rain again. The weather up here was so unpredictable.

There was Sun on one side and rain clouds on the other. Combined, The sky was utterly surreal. My jaws dropped.

And then, before you notice evening sky changes to this. I felt a little insignificant again.

So, it was mission accomplished. I had to rest well, eat whatever I could lay my hands on & sleep early. It got quite cold that night. My "not so awesome" sleeping bag did not work. I went to sleep dreaming how I was going to get Leh'd the next day.


Wednesday, 11 September 2013

The road to Pang

Continuing from the previous post...One thing I learnt that day was, after Keylong  its "Juley" all the way to leh. Juley is everything, Its Namaskar, Its hello, its thank you, its welcome, its goodbye. People respond immaterial of race or origin when you simply utter the magic word. I can without doubt say, Juley made me a little bit more compassionate.

My goal was to reach Pang the same night, and Leh the next day. From where I was, things were about to change. The land would no longer support the beautiful willows ,shrubs or greenery seen at Jispa. The terrain changes, the roads become bad to worse. I have never seen landscape so massive as the mighty Himalayas. It is also the road you love to hate , if you recognise the early signs of hypoxia and altitude sickness as Pang is almost exactly 4600 mts above sea level. (15280 ft to be precise) which got the better of my fellow riders.

At Barlacha La top

A small and petite water body en-route to Sarchu

The Middle of nowhere

The Sarchu plains

Camp sites

A lovely patch of tarmac before I stopped for lunch that afternoon.

Finally ! houses, tents & people !

I would be wrong to say I found this place. lets just say, this place found me for lunch and the people there decided to feed a poor soul in the mountains.

It was well furnished for 14500 ft. I was impressed.

These people make the best maggi in the world, and even had cheese.

Grandmommy and the little grand daughter..

The kids loved to play with the gear. Especially the helmet and the boots.

 Scrubs and any form of 'green' ends here

The Gata Loops

After crossing Barlacha la the route headed to the Gata Loops, a series of 21 hair-pin bends that further leads to Nakee La at 4,920 m. I expected to see some snow, but I was disappointed. Nevertheless, I was not unhappy. Deep down inside I was screaming "Damn, I am in the Himalayas". The pictures my crappy phone camera captured then was looking almost unreal. I think its the sky up there, Or may be its that  horizon that leads to infinity. You can literally see for miles.

The dryness up there (Zero or No humidity) makes anyone an extremely thirsty traveler . This meant that I had  go through 1 liter of water every 2 hrs. But on the whole, things were rather vivid than delineated now, riding alone through the astonishing terrain towards Mars like Pang.