I disagree with people who say that motorcycling is all about riding. A motorcycle trip is so much more than just riding the bike. It is about taking in all that nature has to offer. It is about being one with the bike, with nature and getting the hidden explorer in you out. The freedom of riding a bike cannot be had for all the money in the world on a four wheeler. This was the reason why we chose to reach Leh via the Spiti route instead of the more popular Manali-Leh route.
We’d read a lot about the wonders of the Chandertal lake, or the moon lake and were desperate to catch a glimpse. Our plan for the day was to start early from Tabo and reach Kazaa in time for breakfast and tank up at the highest mechanically operated petrol pump in the world. After that we planned to visit the Kye monastery and Kibber village, which is considered the highest village in Asia connected by a motorable road.
Joshi got up early (again) and woke us all up (This, by the way, would be a regular feature throughout the ride. The dude won’t let us sleep !) Anyway, we were on the road by about 6:30. It was quite chilly and the thump from the 5 bullets was enough to wake up the whole village. I was a little behind and as soon as we crossed the village, I saw a huge stream.
There was a bridge over it and all seemed well, or so I thought. Reached a little closer and saw that the bridge was broken, washed away ! And I wondered where did the rest of the people go ? Till I saw a small trail to the right which went about 50 mtrs upstream and to a small temporary bridge, to my delight. I was in no mood to cross a stream that big that early in the morning.
The rest of the journey to Kazaa was pretty uneventful and except for the cold, we reached kazaa well in time and even managed a couple of photo breaks on the way.
Kazaa is the administrative headquarter of the Spiti region and is a big town compared to spiti standards. A lot of people make Kazaa their base to travel around this region. The petrol pump at Kazaa is the highest in the world.
We reached kazaa in time according to the plan. In fact, we reached a bit too early for the people of Kazaa as the petrol pump was not even open at that hour. And it didn’t look like the dhabas had any food ready. So, we asked the dhaba owner to start making paranthas for us and till then we searched around for the petrol pump attendant. We managed to get his phone number from a local and called him to the pump, and he came … in about an hour. Till then, we all had breakfast, called home from the STD booths, went shopping and roamed around aimlessly around the town.
With the bikes and our tummies full on fuel we left for Kye monastery, a majestic structure built on a hilltop. The monastery is about 12 kms from Kazaa and the road is in a good condition. Or atleast it was when we were there, and we reached the monastery in no time at all.
It was already quite late and we decided to skip riding to Kibber since that would have meant having to cross Kunzum la late in the afternoon, which is a bad time to be at high mountain pass. The high winds start picking up in the afternoon and there is every chance of the weather getting bad and since this was the first pass that we were crossing, we wanted to play it safe (Also, Ashok had really scared us ;) ).
Losar is the last village before Chandertal and the last chance for us to buy any essentials for the night. We wanted to camp at Chandertal and none of us had any idea what was in store for us. The road to losar was absolutely beautiful with a lot of small villages and the mountains for company. It was quite inviting and we all decided to have a little high altitude race of our own. But what we didn’t realise was that the bike, like us, was oxygen deprived and it refused to go beyond 60-70 kmph, and of course we must have burned a lot of fuel on that stretch … but it was all worth it :-)
The whole stretch that we were driving at was 3500 to 4000 mtr above sea level and the lack of oxygen was beginning to show its effects. Joshi was the first to be down with symptoms of AMS, nausea and headache. I had a slight headache while I was walking but I was fine as soon as I got on the bike. Joshi, on the other hand was struggling.
We reached Losar around 1 in the afternoon, got ourselves registered at the Police traffic control post, had a forgettable lunch of maggi noodles, took a couple of packets of instant noodles, bread, boiled eggs and moved on towards Kunzum La.
The Policemen at Losar did warn us about the condition of the road ahead but, trust me, we had no idea what we were getting into. Well, take a shot, how bad do you think can bad be ? FYI, the following pic is of a portion of the road we were driving on and the fact that one of us managed to stop, park the bike and took a picture means that this was not the worst stretch. On the worst stretches we didn’t even have the energy to stop, we just drove on.
The scenery around us was beautiful which was the only motivation we had to be at that place anyway. If only the roads were better, we could have actually stopped and enjoyed it. We still managed a couple of pics.
The ride up the pass was pretty uneventful for all of us, except Ashok and Sandhu who in their eagerness to reach the top (and fed up of the bad roads) took a short cut which didn’t turn out to be a good idea. The shortcut they took was pretty steep and the bike was anyway not performing well at that height. As a result, Sandhu’s bike stalled halfway up the shortcut and wouldn’t budge however hard he revved. So, he did what any self respecting sardaar bulleteer would do … got off the bike, put it in the first gear and pushed and revved it to the top :-)
Ashok, on the other hand, was not so lucky. You see, he had a house full of luggage loaded on his bike and that wasn’t helping a bit. He fell, rolled and let the bike go. He tried picking the bike up but couldn’t. In the end, both Sandhu and Ashok with a lot of effort managed to pick up the bike and Ashok decided to take the longer route to the top. Smart … right ! Before I forget, I might as well let the world know, I was ahead of both of them and also tried taking this shortcut, but failed miserably about 20 mtrs down, rather up, the route and bowed and came back gracefully to take the longer route.
To keep things short we all reached Kunzum la as safe as we could have and boy, what a feeling it was ! We had conquered the first high altitude pass in our journey and were totally blown away by the view.
It was cold, windy, we were absolutely exhausted and the rarefied air was not helping the cause. We waited for Sandhu and Ashok, took a few more pics and proceeded towards our halt for the day, Chandertal. Btw, the view of the Bara Shigri glacier from the pass was mind bogling. Bara shigri is the second biggest glacier in the world (after the polar regions. Siachen is the biggest). None of us had seen anything like it ever before.
The road to Chandertal till a couple of years back was just a trek and was made into what we’d heard was a *jeepable* road some time back. Well, jeepable it was, but was it good enough for motorcycles ? Well, lets just say, we learnt it the hard way.
The road could be called anything but a road. There were rocks the size of baseballs on the way and the track was just about enough for a jeep to cross through. One slip on the rocks and you would go crashing down the valley, which ofcourse is a very scary thought now :-) Amar and Pandey were usually ahead of the rest of us and crossed all the streams before we did, so the rest of us had someone to tell us the route to take, if the stream was particularly deep or something, like this one:
We crossed two such streams on the way and the second one hit me hard. Hit the bike harder though. Sandhu and I were the last ones to cross the stream and for some unpardonable reason, the rest of them did not wait for us. Well, Sandhu crossed the stream first and then I braced myself for it. Engaged the first gear lightly and moved forward. Or maybe I didn’t, a couple of metres into the stream and I realised that the bike was not moving forward. I revved and revved and it wouldn’t budge. I thought it was stuck in some rock and Sandhu fearing the worst rushed towards me and came to pull the bike. The water, btw, was freezing cold and we were not wearing shoes. And guess what question he had for me the moment he reached ? “Gear lagaaya kya ?” (Have you engaged the gear ?) Man, that was the single most embarrassing moment of the trip for me. I put the bike in the first gear and moved on and crossed the stream quite easily :-)
Easy for me, that is. Not for the bike. Somewhere while crossing the stream, the bike must have hit a stone or something and the silencer clip broke. Little further down the road, Sandhu yelled at me to stop since he could see the silencer hanging from the bike. It hadn’t fallen off completely and would have taken the whole assembly with it if I’d continued to ride in that condition. So, we took off the silencer and put it with the luggage and moved on. The bike wasn’t sounding that bad without it, btw, and the sound helped to keep the wild animals away ;)
Anyway, with all the trouble behind us we reached chandertal and were, frankly speaking, unimpressed with the lake. Maybe because we were tired and exhausted but all this just didn’t seem worth it. There were a couple of Japanese tourists camping at the lake that day and, to our delight, a dhaba, which also had arrangements for sleeping for people like us. But, we were going to camp, right ? Well, after all that we had gone through, none of us was in the mood to put up the tent, except Sandhu (who btw had this brilliant idea in the first place ;) ). We had a small arguement over there and unanimously decided to the dhaba owners generous offer of food and cheap accommodation and stay there for the night, instead of dying in the cold. Sandhu and Pandey, hats off to them, still wanted to rough it out and started pitching the smaller of the two tents that we were carrying. Only after the tent was setup and they were ready to go to sleep in their sleeping bags did they realise that they couldn’t close the zipper of the tent. Sanity prevailed and Sandhu came running to our tent while Pandey, who was going through a bad case of AMS, thought this was just migraine and stayed put. Joshi had to use all his persuasive powers to get Pandey to come and sleep in our tent. It was practically freezing in his tent and he wouldn’t listen !
This had been the toughest day of riding till now and we were all tired. We had reached the famed Chandertal lake but, ironically, we were so tired that none of us went out to see the Moon lake in all its glory in the moon light. We sat in our tent, ate the forgettable food (egg curry and rice) and slept like kittens.