Day 3: Tabo to Chandertal

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.

Day 2: Karcham – Tabo

According to the original plan we wanted to reach kazaa on this day and spend more time at Chandertal the next day. This was not to be. We got up late (by Joshi’s standards) and had a leisurly breakfast and it seemed that even God was not with Joshi that day because it was pouring cats and dogs. And we all had a problem … Now we’d have to tackle the rain along with the potholes. But we were prepared for it … or so we thought.

The road from karcham was an absolute mess thanks to landslides and the blasting for the Nathpa Jhakri project going on. We were stopped at times on the way because the labourers would be blasting a section of the mountain and other times we had to stop cause there would be shooting stones coming from the mountain above. It was awesome, if you know what I mean 😉

We filled up our tanks at a non-descript place and braced ourselves for the journey ahead. The next petrol pump was only at Kazaa and we were all running short on petrol. We had a lot of firsts on this day: Our first water crossing, Our first landslide like experience, First bouts of AMS and breathlessness and the first awesomely beautiful waterfall.

The landslides story is a funny one. We had just crossed the slush ridden part of the road after Karcham and it seemed that the weather was opening up. Ashok and Amar were ahead of us all and Sandhu was following them. Both of them crossed a narrow section of the road, stopped and started waiving at us. Sandhu, didn’t see that and continued on that section of the road and he saw the waiving only mid-way through that section. So, guess what did he do ? He stopped 🙂 For a second and then they came .. shooting stones ! A couple of them hit him on the helmet and that was when he realised the reason why both Ashok and Amar were waiving at us like maniacs 🙂 So, they weren’t asking him to take their snap or something .. they were asking him to STOP ! But it was too late by now and all Sandhu could think of was engaging the first gear and run from there … run like hell !

This was also the day when we saw the lush green landscape transform into an arid moonland. The trees were gone, the greenery was gone and all we could see was the brown (!!) Satluj river the and mountains which were all shades of brown. We reached Nako at around lunch time and had a hearty lunch. The dal chawal were actually quite tasty. Nako has a small monestary as well as a natural lake both of which are quite popular with foreign tourists, which would explain the presence of the large number of hippy looking dirty foreigners in that small village. We decided to skip seeing the Nako lake as we were getting late and it didn’t look like we would be able to reach Kazaa anyway by evening.

Just after Nako the road started crumbling and we started climbing the heighest point on this road. I don’t remember the name of this mountain but I sure do remember the rocks and potholes on the road. As soon as we crossed over we had the pleasure to ride on the most beautiful stretch of asphalt this side of the planet. Just look at the contrast:

We reached Tabo around 5 in the evening and decided to stay there for the night since Kazaa was another 50 kms and that could have taken another two to four hours on those roads.

It was a good decision as, it turns out, Tabo is known for its monestary which is among the oldest in the region (around 900 years) and unlike the other monestaries is situated at ground level so we didn’t have to climb any mountains to see it. The monestary is made almost entirely of mud. Did I mention the monestary is an encridbly beautiful sight ?

The whole village is built around the monestary and it looks like this is also a pretty popular circuit among the firangs since we saw a lot of them here also. The village even has a german bakery ! And we saw a couple of them on bullets too, all with Rajasthan license plates. Those guys were really doing the whole touristy circuit ! The food at the various restaraunts btw, is awesome. Tibetan, Indian, Continental, Israeli (!!) you name it, they have it. Which is pretty incredible for a village the size of .. well pretty small.We stayed the night at the monestary guest house. Nice cosy rooms with attached baths and hot water 🙂

Day 1: Chandigarh – Karcham

Ok … I’m late, I know … but the elusive (and mandatory) trip log of our trip to the himalayas is finally here. Chandigarh – Spiti – Leh – chandigarh, all 3000 kms of it.

We’d been planning this for about 6 months now and the excitement (and apprehension) levels were quite high by the time we finally got down to it. The leaves were sanctioned, the bikes were ready and the morale was *sufficiently* high. Ok, Joshi wasn’t convinced we would be able to pull it off, but I’ll pardon him for that 😉

And on top of all that was happening I had got a new job in a new city and had to join about 10 days before the start of the trip. My plans would have been in jeopardy if my new-to-be boss hadn’t agreed to grant me two weeks of leave if I joined early, which I did. So, with my leaves taken care of, I just had a couple of small things to do and then I’m off. Right ? Wrong. It turns out that finding a house on rent is quite difficult in a new place, and when you don’t know the local language, the whole process can turn into a nightmare pretty soon. But I had 10 days with me, I thought, that should be enough to find a decent house, since I had pretty much zeroed in on the area I wanted to live in. Right ? Well, guess what, wrong again !

My wife and I saw about 50 houses in those 10 days and rejected each one of those and had *almost* selected a house (more due to lack of choice than love for the house) and I left for Delhi with that. Btw, my wife finally decided on a house two days after I was gone, and it wasn’t the one we had shortlisted, infact this was a different one altogether. Enough said, this isn’t about my house hunting escapades, so I’ll move along to the actual trip.

28th June

I took the early morning .. correction … really early morning flight to Delhi and landed in Delhi at 8:15. Went to gopinath market to check out a pair of waterproof boots. Found them a bit uncomfortable so decided to let go and go ahead with just the two pairs of sneakers that I had. Which turned out to be a not so great idea.

I’d been in touch with Sandhu who had been in touch with the transporters who had got the bike and apparently there was confusion. The gist is that the one bike had reached Chandigarh with a couple of problems and other other one somehow landed at Ambala. Anyway, Sandhu took care of that (with the help of a lot of Punjabi expletives) and we had the bikes in Chd ready for the journey ahead.

There was a slight problem, though. My bikes stay had cracked and Sandhu’s bike’s silencer had to be replaced. Sandhu along with joshi and Ashok, who had reached Chandigarh in the afternoon, took care of that too (lucky me) and we had the bikes finally ready for the journey ahead.

And then we got a call ! It was Pandey. At 10 at night, he was still in Delhi and considering that we were to start at 4 in the morning, we, Sandhu specifically, blew his top 😉 Pandey was told, rather, ordered to board a bus at that unearthly hour and reach Chandigarh at any cost asap. And reach he did at 3 at night, but the question was: Was he ready to ride the bike for the whole day ? According to him he had a good sleep in the bus and was fresh enough for the ride, we believed him, although I’m sure he said that only because he didn’t fancy being burried alive by a certain dude named Guninder Sandhu 🙂

29th June – Day 1

This was the day ! Six months of effort and preparations would finally yield some fruit. We (Joshi, Ashok, Amar and I) were all ready to start by about 5 AM and were waiting for Sandhu and Pandey, who, to keep things short, took a lot of time and we finally started at about 7. We took some pics while waiting for them 🙂

Pandey and Sandhu finally came and we started the journey for the first halt of the day at Kharcham. Since we were already late and had a pretty long journey ahead of us, we decided to cover as much as possible before the traffic starts building up. Stopped at a non-descript dhaba a little after Solan for breakfast and then at Shimla to get rubber grips for Sandhu and my bikes, got stuck in a Jam at Shimla, managed to clear through the Jam and were on our way to Narkanda well before noon. The road was just beginning to feel nice and inviting when we were suddenly engulfed by thick clouds and unbearable cold. Out came the gloves and the cameras 🙂

We reached Narkanda safe and sound in time for Lunch. Stopped at the HPTDC resort for Lunch and devoured a couple of chickens and were back on the road soon. The resort has nice views of the valley, btw. We still had a couple of hundred kms to cover and the roads weren’t helping our cause a bit. This was also when we kinda stopped complaining about the roads. They weren’t going to get any better anytime soon, it seemed. We had the Satluj for company all this while and the awesome view of the valley was, well, awesome indeed.

We reached Karcham at around 6:30 in the evening and found the place where we were supposed to stay for the night.This had been a long day. We were tired. Muscles, we didn’t even know existed in our bodies were aching and we had only one thought, had we bitten off more than we can chew ? No one talked about it loudly though 😉