Day 5: Keylong to Pang

We were going to cross three high altitude passes today and stop for the night at a place called Pang. Pang, at a height of approx 15600 ft, has the world’s highest Transit camp, according to the Indian Army. Most people who travel to Leh prefer to stay at one of the campsites at Sarchu which is at a lower altitude and helps people acclimatize better. Ashok wasn’t very happy with this decision as he wasn’t if staying at such a high altitude was a good idea. Well, Ashok was right in a way and we did have problems because of the height, but it was all well worth it 🙂

More on that later.We got up late (again by Joshi’s standards) this morning and had a leisurely breakfast, tied our luggage to the bikes and took off by around 9AM. The road was supposed to be nice from now on, right ? Well almost ! While not as bad as what we’d been through, there were long sections of the road which were under repair and so the ride wasn’t as smooth as we’d been hoping. We still had a nice time but only because we’d seen worse. We stopped at the base of the Baralacha la pass to register ourselves at the police check post, had tea and refreshments and continued on. The climb to the pass was quite easy with excellent tarred roads and nice weather. We crossed Suraj Tal on the way, which, is the source of the bhaga river.

Thanks to the good roads, we would have missed Baralacha la if we hadn’t noticed the board. After all the stories we had heard about the pass being dangerous, this seemed too easy and actually disappointing, but hats off to the BRO for maintaining the roads in such inhospitable conditions.

The pass was quite windy and after a small photo stop we all moved on. We climbed down the pass pretty fast and reached bharatpur which is just another collection of tents. A lot of people prefer staying here instead of going further to Sarchu cause its cheaper. We didn’t spend much time here and moved on since we had to reach Pang which is another 70 kms ahead of Sarchu and time wasn’t really on our side.

Sarchu is basicallly a cluster of tents and campsites run by various travel agencies and locals. Its a decent place to stay for the night and the facilities, though basic, are good enough. Sarchu is situated in a valley of sorts and the road, which is quite nice, runs absolutely straight for a couple of kilometers. After hours of slow speeds we decided to let lose here and started racing with each other. From Sandhu’s own account, he smoked Pandey’s pulsar 🙂

The road was nice and inviting but quite bumpy and I, after a couple of bad bounces, took things easy and carried on at my own sweet pace. The bumps, I’m told, are because of the himalayan mermots that dig holes below the road’s surface and so the surface of the road sinks because of that.

We had lunch a little after Sarchu at a place I can’t remember the name of. Lunch was pretty uneventful … couple of us had maggi and the rest daal chaawal towards the next challenge of the day, ghata loops. The loops are a series of 21 hairpin bends over a distance of approx 13 kms which would take us from a height of approx 13776 ft to 15302 ft. The loops can be quite a strain on the bike and the biker since after this the chances of hitting AMS are quite high. The idea is not too exert yourself too much after reaching the highest point and do what we did … take a couple of pics and move.

By this time Pandey was down with a pretty bad case of AMS, even though he wouldn’t admit 😉 We crossed two more passes today and all he would do wherever we stopped was lie down. It was quite a sight 🙂 This is at Nakeela.

The passes themselves weren’t too hard. We crossed Nakeela (15547 ft) and Lachulungla (16616 ft). Didn’t spend much time on the passes. Pandey had AMS and Ashok also wasn’t feeling too well. The roads were quite bad and we weren’t in a very good shape and quite desperate by now to reach Pang. So, we took the obligatory pics and moved on. Btw, in the pic below, if you see closely, you can see Pandey lying on the ground with his back against the board marking the pass.

The scenery was pretty awesome and it would have been a waste not to stop for some photos. We were close to Pang now and were sure we’d reach in time, so we took easy from here on, taking quite a few breaks and clicking through our quota of pics for the day.

Pang (15640 ft) is another small settlement which is basically a collection of tents with basic food and lodging facilities. Even though, accommodation is available at Pang and it is closer to Leh, I’d still suggest one to stay at Sarchu since Pang is a lot higher than Sarchu and unless you’re acclimatised, its probably not a good idea to spend the night at this height. Pang, like I said earlier, has the world’s highest transit camp and this is where we were to spend the night.

Pandey’s AMS was getting pretty bad and he went to sleep in his room as soon as we reached the transit camp. The rest of us unloaded our bikes and Amar and Ashok went to sleep and Joshi, Sandhu and I went for a walk around the camp and to make some calls from the STD booth. Felt nice walking on our feet after a whole day of riding. Its quite amazing that the Army has STD facility through a satellite for the troops at this isolated place.

Pandey’s luggage was still on the bike when we came back, so we untied it and kept it in his room and decided to take Pandey to the Medical room at the camp, which as usual, he refused. But we persisted and he finally relented. The doctor gave him a 10 minute dose of pure oxygen and he was absolutely fine after that. He was back to his running, jumping self and looking at him, we all were in half a mind to get a couple of minutes of dose ourselves 🙂 Anyway, we went to the mess for dinner, saw news on TV after 10 days, had an awesome dinner and went back to our rooms.

The rooms were nice and cosy and warm enough. It was freezing outside and we were tired so we went to sleep pretty soon after dinner. The sky outside was amazing. This sounds like a cliche, but I don’t think I’ve seen so many stars in my life ever ! Too bad, we didn’t have the energy to go to our rooms and get the cameras out. We had a nice sleep thanks to the sleeping bags in the room and didn’t really feel the cold.

Day 4: Chandertal to Keylong

It was a cloudy day and the lake, frankly speaking, was not as beautiful as we’d thought it would be. Don’t know about the others, but I was kinda disappointed. All the mirror shots that we’d seen on the web, the snow capped peaks and the awesome scenery just didn’t make sense at the time. I regret that now. I think it was the weather. Cloudy, raining and gloomy. I’d love to go to Chandertal again and see it in all its glory again … on a bright sunny morning.

Joshi and I got up early this morning after a good night’s sleep. The time had come for the thing we’d been dreading all this time, ever since we started planning the trip. There were no loos here and we had to go !! We contemplated paying the Japanese tourists some money to use their toilet tents, but they were dismantling the tents and so that idea was out of the can. We looked at each other and it was clear … joshi needed to go first 😉

So, off he went, with the soap strips. The lake had a small stream emerging from it (which I think would go on to become the Chandra river). And the rest, as they is history 🙂 It wasn’t as uncomfortable as we thought it would be. In the end, a task well done 🙂

By this time everyone had woken up and we went for a bit of photography. Walking was tough at that altitude and I chose to stick closer to the lake shore, while the others went up to take better pics. This is what I got.

Do you blame me for thinking that this detour wasn’t worth it. Trust me Chandertal has her days. This is what it is capable of.

Given a chance, I’ll definitely go back. I’ll just be better prepared this time 🙂

By the time we finished breakfast, the drizzle had turned into proper rain and Joshi and Sandhu were, for the lack of a better word, terrified. They were worried thinking that the muddy road would become a slushy muddy road and the streams that we crossed in the evening would be torrential rivers by now. There would be landslides, avalanches and what not along the way and we’ll never be able to get out of the place.

I was not terrified … Just too lazy to tie up the luggage and start moving. Ashok and Pandey, both nurturing their headaches, couldn’t care less. And Amar had gone on a stroll along the lake. I got up, rather reluctantly, packed my stuff and somehow managed to climb the 20 mtrs to where the bike was parked. and thats when we realised that we had to climb a pretty steep slope to reach the main road. Now, the bikes weren’t already performing well and now we had a slope to climb on a slushy mountain trail. We figured the only way we could this was to push our bikes and push we did. Joshi went first, Sandhu pushed his bike. I went next, Joshi pushed my bike, I pushed Ashok’s and so on till we all reached the main path. The rest of the road was, to be fair, easy. The rain had been just enough to actually help pack the sand and it was easier to drive on now. And we were more careful about the water crossings this time and made sure to remove our shoes before we attempted them. I also made sure that I had the bike on first gear before stepping in the water !

We hit the main Kazaa-Batal road pretty soon and after that it was all downhill till Batal, where we were hoping to have a small butt-break. The roads were slightly better in the sense that atleast they were now atleast wide enough and we weren’t scared of falling off the road. Batal, situated at the at the foot of the kunzum, turned out to be a big let down. The village, whose boards we had been seeing since the last 50 kms was just one small dhaba. Nothing else. Not even a single house. I mean, chandertal had more population than this place. Anyway, since this was the first human settlement after the kunzum pass, almost every vehicle stopped here for a while. We did too. Had tea, cold drinks etc and moved on. We also met a foreign couple riding 500cc enfields here. It was impressive to see the tiny girl riding the 500cc indian beast.

We’d be seeing them again in a while …Even though the pass was over, the condition of the roads didn’t improve. We were riding along the Chandra river and the road at times looks like just like a river bed. My guess is that this part of the road must have been under a glacier during the winters, which would explain the condition of the road.

A little further down the road, we met the bike riding couple again. The girl’s bike had a puncture and they looked quite helpless. We had a foot pump with us and tried filling the tyre with air so that the bike could be run for some distance at least. But it seems that the puncture was pretty big cause the air in the tyre was not holding up at all. We waited for some time with them, stopped a truck going towards manali and helped them put the bike in it. The girl sat in the back of the truck along with the bike and the guy rode behind it. Hopefully they reached Manali safely.

The road from batal to gramphoo passes through a narrow valley with awesome views of snow capped peaks, water crossings and glaciers right on the road and even more streams formed by the melting glaciers.

Gramphoo is another small 3 or 4 dhaba place at the base of the rohtang pass, on the manali-leh highway. This is where the road we had been travelling on joins the main manali-leh highway. For people coming from Manali, Gramphoo is the place to turn if you have to go to the spiti valley, or carry on into the lahaul region and further on to Leh.We reached Gramphoo around 2 in the afternoon and had tea and lunch at one of the small dhabas. We also found some vaseline cream to put on our cracked lips. The cold creams that we were carrying were of no use at all in that region where the air hardly had any moisture. The vaseline was a life saver really.The road improved from here on and we managed to reach Tandi, the last petrol pump before Leh, pretty quickly. Tanked up here and also took extra petrol in the bottles that we were carrying.

Tandi is about 7 kms from Keylong which was to be our night halt for the day. We reached Keylong with plenty of sun to go through. I found a garage and got my bike’s silencer and horn fixed, and Pandey who didn’t know that Tandi was the last petrol pump, and so didn’t get petrol filled, went back to Tandi to get petrol. Joshi and Amar went ahead searching for the place where we had our acco booked, which we found was another 40 kms away, so we decided to take a room in Keylong itself and not push ourselves too much. Keylong is the district headquarters of the lahaul region and has plenty of accomodation options. We got a decent deal for a 6 bed dorm at the HPTDC guest house and took a bath (with hot water) and slept like babies that night.

The next day we were to cross the infamous Baralacha la and were going to stay at the highest transit camp in the world at Pang. And Ashok wasn’t too keen on that 🙂