Tuesday, June 14, 2016

MECCA FOR BIKE RIDERS - PART 3 - LEH TO PANG

DAY 9 (DAY 6 OF BIKE TRIP)
Date: 11th August 2014
Route: Leh – Karu – Chang La - Lukung – Spangmik
Distance to be covered: 120 kms

Finally the day arrived when we would be seeing the glorified Pangong Lake… Extremely thrilled just by the thought of it...

After having an heavy breakfast, we started our ride, this time accompanied by our driver (backup vehicle) Thunduk and navigator Phunsuk. Road from Leh to Karu was in a good condition and the journey was fast paced. Entire route was lined with many petite villages and white Chortens (basic structure consists of a square foundation symbolizing the earth, dome symbolizing water, and thirteen tapering steps) which offered a
Engravings on the rocks
scenic view of the arid Ladakh. We reached Karu in less than an hour. On the opposite side of the check-post, where we halted to get our documents and permit verified, we saw stones of various shapes and sizes. On having a closer look, to my utmost surprise were minutely detailed engravings on each and every stones… 

Ascent to Chang La
From Karu, the road bifurcating to Sakthi (at the foothills of Chang La) was mostly straight and tarred with beautiful sceneries around. One can see the roads slowly snaking its way to the top of the mountains… While continuing our ride on tarred roads, we started experiencing the real climb for Chang La. For the most part, the climb was steep and in good condition. The road takes you through steep rock faces on one side and a deep cliff on the other side. As
Deteriorated yet beautiful roads
we approached the final kms, road condition deteriorated. The only saviour was beautiful landsacpe around us. Even Enfield refused to climb with a pillion, so I had to get down and climb some feet (I was struggling to breathe and walk at the same time)… Finally I reached the point where Sanu was waiting for me. We rested there for a while, hopped on the bike and easily covered final few kms…
The moment we reached Chang La top
Boys at Chang La Top
(evident by the sign post erected by the Indian army), what struck me the most was the snowcapped mountains and the tranquility surrounding the Chang La… Chang La, the world’s 3rd highest pass (height of 17,590 ft.) was comparatively easier to conquer and not that desolated when compared to Wari La.

Jaw dropping Landscape
After enjoying the view and some photography, we headed for Spangmik. The scenic beauty was jaw-dropping; small channels of water accompanying us on our journey, barren mountains, blue water surrounded with green pastures and horses grazing in these pastures. We came across a river crossing with gushing muddy water making our ride difficult… Pillions had to get down and find a way to cross the river… Riders did a good job navigating the bikes through the water. 

Serene Pangong Tso
As we were nearing Pangong Tso, my excitement grew. I was waiting to see those lovely shades of blue and when we reached I heaved a sigh of relief… Finally we reached the Pangong Tso before sunset (this was my Raksha bandhan gift from Sanujit). As soon as I saw the lake I fell in love with the alluring beauty of the blue water that I had never seen before. We could not take your vehicle till the shore, so we had to walk down. We found an isolated place
Fun time at Pangong Tso
to enjoy the serenity of the lake.  It was a challenge for us to walk; by the time we reached the waters it was dark and had started to get chilly. We decided to sit there for a while; all we could see was water, water and more water… for as far as your eyes can see. And then you see mountain range that separates us from China, beyond which lies a larger portion of Pangong Tso. It was a surreal view… We took some photographs and enjoyed the sound of water which had a very soothing effect on me…. I also dared to soak my feet in the ice cold water. Later on I had to suffer because of my impulsiveness. But no regrets…  

After spending time here, we headed for the pit stop of the day i.e. Spangmik. From the lake till the village, the road was bad with water crossing after every few feet of riding. Luckily we did not come across black ice. Thanks to Thanduk, we easily got a decent homestay (Padma Homestay) just a few minutes away from the lake. Homestays are far cheaper and comfortable giving a very homely feeling. The house lady made us one of the most delicious dinners we had till now. It was very cold and I couldn’t wait to get under the duvets and hit the bed.


DAY 10 (DAY 7 OF BIKE TRIP)
Date: 12th August 2014
Route: Spangmik – Merak – Chusul – Chagga – Loma – Mahe – Karzok
Distance to be covered: 160 kms

Good Morning Pangong Tso
In the morning we got to enjoy the exhilarating view of sunrise sitting on the banks of the crystal clear lake, the color of which changed from dark blue to sapphire blue in front of our eyes… Simply mesmerizing… It was very refreshing to stroll on the banks, soaking the magnificent view before heading for Karzok. Today we were to explore a region where very few people have managed to reach…  

Since the roads were supposed to be bad, it was decided that Atul, Sanujit and Sunit would
Roads or dirt tracks??? 
ride alone while remaining of us sat in the car. As soon as we left Spangmik, the roads turned out to be beautiful yet worse than we had imagined. Beautiful ‘coz the entire route was almost completely alongside the scintillating Pangong Tso. The riders had a really tough time navigating through terrain which changed slowly from rocks to
Crossing the rivulets 
sandy to dusty roads (if we can call them roads)… The so called road was nothing but trails left by the vehicles that may have passed… Luckily our driver had been on this route earlier so the bikes rode behind the car. The roads were interspersed by rivulets which were a task to cross as bikes were skidding due to round smooth stones and the flowing water. We finally got an opportunity to see Kiangs, the largest of the wild asses found in Ladakh region.
Royal Kiyangs
I was in awe by the gracefulness of these animals especially the way they run with their heads held up as if saying “I am the king of this region” and tails swaying behind them in the wind. They look very noble in their coat which is light brown on the back and whitish below the belly, black hair on their neck and tail; their entire body camouflaging extremely well against the natural background.

Finally we reached Merak where we had to show the permits to cross Chushul. Going ahead we reached Khakste, the last village before Chusul, here the Pangong Tso Lake turns into Tibet.

Heroic Land of Chushul
Finally we reached the Heroic Land Chushul, where we were again asked to show the permits. We were a little concerned; whether we would be allowed to go further even after having the necessary permit. It has happened earlier with some travelers who were denied the entry even after having the permits and they had to return back to Spangmik. Luckily we got a green signal to go further. We were informed that photography is prohibited in whole inner line as per official
Roads??? Where???
rules as this region being too close to the LAC. With the instructions from the army, we started for the journey less taken… We were very excited at first but looking at the terrain, made me little doubtful… It was so easy to get lost here due to lack of the actual road or even a dirt road. Our only hope to reach the other side was our driver… Slowly I started enjoying the solitude of the land of Borders. We could see the China border on our left and remembered the warning given to us by the soldiers at Chushul check-post that travelling towards the left, we would enter Chinese Border and the things would get tough. Magnificent and massive mountains, blue sky and stream playing peek-a-boo were our constant company. The beautiful ride through barren land was interrupted by an event which was un-called for. One of our bikes fell in the water while crossing a swollen stream with gushing water. Luckily Sunit was not injured nor was he wet. But the bike refused to start up even after making the bike stand vertically at 180o both on the head light and on tail light for removing all the water from the carburetor… After too many tries and a little help from the army soldier, we started our journey again but we were delayed by 3 hours…

Salute to Lt. Col. Nimbalkar
& Soldier Sanjay Singh
We ascended the hill to reach Chagga La, also known as Tsaga La. This pass goes unnoticed due to lesser elevation and relatively gradual climb. While ascending we came across a swollen stream with gushing water yet again. We were tensed to cross the stream on bikes especially Sunit’s. Luckily a military gypsy passed by and stopped to inquire about our trouble… Lt. Col. Nimbalkar and Soldier Sanjay Singh got down and suggested that we should load Sunit’s bike in their gypsy. Sunit’s bike safely reached the other side of the stream. Colonel himself removed his shoes, rolled up his pants and stood in middle of the stream to guide other two bikers to cross… They also offered us chocolates and juice to carry with us… A very humble gesture by our soldiers just to ensure we ride safely.... A big salute to them……

We descended into the Tsaga village where we had to register at the check post before heading towards Loma. Road from here till Loma was in pretty good condition and the pillions were back on the bikes… The riders agreed that the thrill of riding through Chushul on a bike was truly something! Though the stretch was exciting but the pillions could not get that feeling in a car. Everything beautiful seemed less stunning when seeing it from a car. But most definitely what we saw around was dazzling… (I guess we were just missing being on the bike!)

Myriads of colours
We reached Loma in no time. On crossing the bridge on the left of the check post where we had to register ourselves, was the Hanle (home to the highest altitude Indian Astronomical Observatory)… How I wish we could have managed to go there, but there’s always a next time…  Roads from here were a mix of good and bad, trying to find its way through mountains with different shades of brown, clear blue sky with white fluffy clouds, brown soil turning to green pastures towards the mountains…. On our way we saw black-necked crane. (These medium sized - mostly grey colored with black head, neck and tail - migratory, legally protected vulnerable birds come in this region every year for breeding).

We reached Mahe by late evening, where there was a check-post and to the left was the Mahe bridge… Right after this bridge, the road became bumpy, and ascent to some pass started. The ascent was not that steep; however after crossing the pass suddenly the road disappeared and gave way to dirt tracks until Karzok…. Again from here we asked our driver to drive in front of the bikes…. Continuing on the dirt track, we came across a bifurcation, from where we headed straight instead of going left… Proceeding through the sandy & soft soil, the path was getting scarier. On top of it was the darkness….

We reached Karzok quite late at night… We stayed at Mentok Guest House where we crashed after celebrating at midnight… Well the celebration was for my second anniversary… At midnight Atul surprised me by gifting me a beautiful Ladakhi neckpiece… He was equally surprised when I opened the box of cookies and pastry…. All of us stayed up for some time and retired to wake up fresh next morning. 


DAY 11 (DAY 8 OF BIKE TRIP)
Date: 13th August 2014
Route: Karzok – Moore Plains – Tso kar – Pang
Distance to be covered: 140 kms
Enjoying

We headed to have a glimpse of Tso Moriri Lake… Wow!!! What a way to start our anniversary… It is very difficult to express the gorgeousness of this lake in words.  I found this lake to be more beautiful than the Pangong Lake. Also known as the ‘Mountain Lake’, this exotic lake with its deep ultramarine water surrounded by golden mountains and snow peaks gives a surreal experience. Endless vastness
Picturesque Mountain lake
and sheer raw beauty of this picturesque landscape gave us a sense of untouched purity. The serenity that I experienced while standing in the lake bare footed (super chilled water) made me feel out of this world. This incredible place offered so much to capture in one glance. After spending some time being one with the nature, we headed for Pang. I just couldn't stop staring at it even while riding.



Deserted Roads to Tso Kar
As the road were little rough, Me, Atul and Pranav decided to travel by car so the riders would have little difficulty while riding bikes. The route till Sumdo was same as we had taken the previous day to reach Tsokar. The road improved a little bit compared to what we had faced earlier but it was still jeep tracks with small rocks and pebbles. On crossing the Sumdo, we observed that the roads were deserted; reminding me of Chushul.


Stunning Landscape
The drive up from Sumdo to Tso Kar is incredible. For few hours and few kilometers we were the only breathing creatures on 3 bikes and a 4-wheeler on that road. The changing pattern in the terrain was simply stunning. After driving through few twists and curves, the landscape unfolded itself and all we could see barren mountains with snow peaks and Tso Kar Lake in front of us. The lake was shimmering under the gaze of the sun and it appeared as if covered with diamonds. The view was absolutely fabulous. Region around Tso Kar is a wide open valley with a small road passing around it. The valley looks like a desert, barren and dusty. We saw a herd of Kiangs near the lake and were dying to take a detour and go near them, but due to time crunch we had to go ahead to reach Pang on time.


On Moore Plains
The roads improved a bit with only small pebbles scattered on the road; however the roads were still bumpy and arrow straight. Travelling on this road was awesome as compared to roads travelled earlier that day. But this sense of relief was short-lived as we again started riding on dusty and bad roads. Later I came to know that we had already crossed Moore plains… I was a little disheartened as I had read a
Ibex Skull
lot about it… We reached a small village where we halted for tea and snacks. The most striking thing about this place was the head of yak displayed on one of the houses… What a sight on entering the village… We went to one of the food joints for lunch and there was a skull of Ibex outside the entry of the tent.
Bikers of Mumbai and Pune
Another thing which gained my attention was the red color of the surrounding mountains as compared to the brown ones. Here we met some of the bikers from Pune and Mumbai. We exchanged our experiences and we asked them if they have any spare petrol with them. We were really low on petrol and were not sure if it would last till Pang. They gave us 5 lts of petrol and didn’t even take money us. That’s bikers’ spirit and I just loved it… After spending some time chit chatting with the boys, we headed towards Pang.

The road from the village till a junction, where the road from Leh meets this route, was super smooth and we reached the junction in no time. On reaching the junction, we decided to buy petrol from the small dhabawallas on the road. The petrol was super expensive; we tried to bargain but ended up paying whatever they asked for. The road till Pang was as good as ever except the last 10 kms where the road was bad and extremely bumpy.

Experimental photography
We reached Pang by night. It is the world’s highest Military Transit Check point. We stayed at Padma home stay which was a small concrete house having dormitory and 3 tents. It was chilly out there and difficult to be out in the open. Till our dinner was being made, we decided to experiment night photography. We also saw Milky Way which we tried to capture on camera but we failed to do so. The dinner was awesome and after long we were watching hindi serials. Post dinner we were off the bed.

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