This was the day I’d been waiting for. A ride over the mighty Chang La and a glimpse of the Pangong Tso. I was looking forward to this even more than the ride to the highest motorable pass in the world, Khardung la. This was going to be an exciting day :-)
Apjoo, btw, decided to skip this part of the trip since he wanted to acclimatize properly for the ride to Khardung la, and get permits for Nubra, if possible.
Except for Sandhu, Kunal and Akhilesh who got petrol filled from leh, the rest of us needed to get petrol filled as there wasn’t any other pump on the way to pangong. The only petrol pump was about 5 kms before Leh and that meant a 70 kms round trip for us. Fortunately, we found shopkeepers in the Karu market selling petrol in black. We decided to take our chance and get petrol filled from here only.
Akhilesh and Pandey went back to Leh in the morning to get Akhilesh’s rented bullet repaired, which had given them problems last night. Kunal’s rented pulsar was so far doing well.
Petrol topped up, permits in order we started around 10 in the morning for Pangong. The road was pretty good for the first 10 kms or so and the ascent for Chang la started almost as soon as we left Karu. This was going to be easy … or so we thought.
The climb to Chang la turned into a nightmare pretty soon. The road was non-existent and we all had a tough time riding up the pass on first gears. Even then, we would slip a bit here and there because of the lose stones that we were riding on. At one point the road was so steep and full of lose stones, that the pulsar almost gave up. We all did manage to reach the top without any major problems. Chang la is supposed to be the third highest motorable pass in the world.
This had been the toughest climb till now. The pass did live up to its sobriquet, “Mighty” Chang la. There is a small Army post on the pass, a temple dedicated to Chang la Baba and free hot tea provided by the Army :-)
The oxygen level at the pass was quite low and it was starting to get windy and cold so we had a couple of cups of tea each and moved on to the other side of the pass. Kunal, however, was so dazed and disoriented that he forgot which side he came up from and started going back towards Leh. We all had a good laugh about this later, but I’m sure he didn’t find it funny :-)The road didn’t improve for the next 10-15 kms but the snow and the views made up for the stiff ride.
Akhilesh and Pandey still hadn’t turned up and we were taking it slow so that they could catch up with us. We stopped for a while at Tangtse (which, btw, would be our halt for the night) and then later at a tea stall run by a friendly nomadic family.Finally, when we couldn’t wait any longer, we decided to atleast reach the lake and wait for the two of them there. Atleast, we’ll have the lake for company there :-)As we reached closer to the lake the scenery started looking more like a desert. There were small streams here and there that we had to cross but we weren’t expecting the desert like sand dunes.
And then we saw it … The first glimpse of Pangong Tso. I cannot even begin to describe how we felt then. I had goosebumps all over. After that the only thing we wanted was to reach the lake shore as fast as we could. All the tiredness had gone away and we didn’t even mind the bumpy roads anymore.
It took us another 20 minutes to cover those last 4 kms, and trust me, those were probably the longest 20 minutes of my life. Pangong Tso was easily the most beautiful sight of the trip. Photos absolutely cannot do justice to the place.
While we were all busy taking pics of our bike and the lake, Kunal was walking towards us pushing his punctured bike !! Yes, that would have been enough to give us frightful moments anywhere else, but here … we didn’t even bother. Call it the soothing effect of the lake’s calm water or the fact that we were all too tired to think about it, but we asked him to park the bike somewhere and start admiring the beauty of the place :-)
Photos clicked, breath reclaimed and the beauty absorbed. The sun was going down and it was getting a little cold. We got back to our bikes and asked around the few dhabas there for a puncture repair shop. As we had thought there were none. We tried filling some air in the tyre with the pump we had, but that too didn’t work. So, we took the only other option that seemed feasible at the time. We asked the Army guys stationed at the Lake to keep the bike with them and send it back to Tang Tse the next morning in their vehicle. Our Army background helped and they agreed to it.
Now the only problem was taking Kunal back to Tang Tse. Sandhu and Joshi took my bike’s luggage and tied it to theirs and off we rode with Kunal as my pillion. We had a deal though, that any stream we had to cross, he’d walk and cross it and I’ll ride through. But, he of course, begged me to let him sit on the bike after a couple of streams :-) And btw, we met Akhilesh and Pandey while coming back from the lake. They had finally caught up with us, without Akhilesh’s bike !!
Akhilesh had had a fall from the bike and it refused to start up after that. So, they left the bike a little before Tangtse and rode on Pandey’s bike till the lake and back to tangtse. We found the place we had to stay and Sandhu, pandey and Akhilesh went back to get Akhilesh’s bike which refused to start and they had to tow it back to tangtse. The place was heavenly. You have to give it to the army for creating the oasis in the middle of the desert. The rooms even had color TVs !!
After we’d unloaded our luggage, Sandhu, Pandey and Akhilesh went back to collect Akhilesh’s bike. They managed to start the bike and it ran for half the distance and then pushed it the rest of the way.