A Pillion’s Leh Travelogue: Day Thr3e ‘ Keylong to Pang’

Every year bikers from across the globe plan to ride on what is termed as ‘one of the best routes in the world’ and we were already half way on that trip. This was promised to be the most exciting of all the days. Not that we weren’t already in wonder and admiration of the beauty and simplicity of each and every minute of the trip.

As the day unfolded we had crossed a handful of passes, seen a frozen lake and another one that looked like a mirage, travelled through 10-12 feet of snow and reached the world’s highest transit camp. Yes, it was surely an eventful day. No amount of stories and blogs can prepare you for this day. You had to be there to understand how I felt and what I saw. Still, I’ll try and capture it for you.

I must mention the overwhelming feeling one gets from the camaraderie among the bikers. There is a sense of community and togetherness as one comes across any biker. You’ll notice riders dimming their lights or honking and giving thumbs up to others riders all the way. As if to say ‘Best of Luck’ or ‘We did it’. I guess it comes from the passion for riding or the fact that one is in a larger than life environment. Such camaraderie is without precedence!

The good part is that rider who is travelling back offer advice about the do’s & don’ts. Everyone is generally extremely helpful. One great advice we got was that – we should aim to cross the majority of passes before mid day, before the snow starts to melt. This was especially important for Baralach La, thankfully it was the first on the map.

Keylong  to Jispa (22 Km)

It looked like I got up from the wrong side of the bed on day three, for starters I was not feeling well and within 10 minutes of our ride we came across a water crossing, and lo-and-behold, my feet got cold & wet and so did my shoes and socks. This was no time for sulking, we had a long long day ahead and things would get better. Hopefully!!

Being a pillion is hard work too you know, I agree that the rider has a lot of weight to carry on this shoulders (pun intended). But – sitting still is no joke, try it yourself! Every time you need to move your aching bum you have to wait for a clear road, take formal authorization and stand on the foot-stand for barely a few seconds. Also, keeping quiet the whole way is no easy task. I’ll elaborate more on that when we reach Morey planes.

For now we’re off to Jispa.


After breakfast at Keylong, we had started towards Jispa, a beautiful 22 kms ride. 4 kms ahead of Ghemur, Jispa has a very large dry river-bed, a rarity in Lahaul, with river Bhaga flowing at the edge.

We were surprised to see a large number of rest houses and hotels. It looked like, most buses and taxis prefer to break journey in Jispa rather than Keylong. I have heard that Hotel Ibex is a nice place to stay, we just used their restrooms.

Jispa to Darcha (about 7 km)

The downhill 5-7 km to Darcha was a smooth ride. We saw a couple of tented accommodation and some cyclists on our way.

Darcha is basically a police check point where all vehicles crossing the area need to register. The only way for the authorities to track travellers I guess. There are a few shops that are open all year long here and store almost everything. I bought some nice colorful warm socks, chocolates. There was red bull available too.

What I found fascinating was that to use the loo, one has to ask the owner, take the key and go to the back of the structure to a door that is locked. Nothing fascinating there, but as you open the door you realize that there are only 3 walls to his bathroom. An Indian style loo, the structure was fitted on a big pit with a drain pipe kind of a formation leading down the slope. There was water with a bucket and soap – so everything else was just fine. Just never had the wind-in-your-face and one-with-nature kind of a feeling like this before.

There was also an air pump available to check the air pressure on bike, at a charge and self service – naturally!

(c) Photographs by Sharninder Khera and Nitin Joshi

Day 2 Part 2 ‘Rohtang to Keylong’

Rohtang – Sissu – Tandi (55 Km)

The descent towards Keylong took us via the Koksar village, the first village of Lahaul. Then to our first major water crossing at Sissu.

 

Now that I look back, I feel water crossing are unique, they are kind of the highlights of the day. Mainly for two reasons

A:  It’s a great team activity, everyone around gets together and strategises the best way to conquer the obstacle.

B:  This is one place where the pillion gets a piece of the action, because they are actually off the bike. Taking off the shoes and walking across the cold water or hitching a ride on a 4+ wheeler, there is so much to do. Everyone is excited about the adventure that gets heightened here.

This particular crossing was more of crossing a small stream feeding into the river Chandra Bhaga. A little dam was broken by the strong current of the water. This is where I lost my cell phone (another story for another time).

Sissu lies on the bank of Chandra, 15 km after Koksar. I’ve heard that every spring and autumn wild geese and ducks halt here on their way to and from Siberia. (Just a little trivia) Our next stop was Tandi, known to be the last point to tank up if travelling north of Keylong.

Tandi to Keylong (8 Km)

Tandi is supposedly,  the only village on Manali-Leh highway which has a petrol pump. The next petrol pump is 365 kms away in Leh, although we did see one near Upshi, I think?!

I’ve read that the petrol pump is owned by Lahul Potato Growers Co-operative Society. The region is part of the ancient trade route; potatoes from the Lahaul Valley played an important part in the barter and trade with locals at that time. The important thing is to get a tank full at this Potato Petrol Pump and advisable to carry extra fuel since most of the time one is riding in lower gears and taking frequent stops, esp. if one is riding with a pillion.

Last stop for the day – Keylong

We didn’t make it at 6pm and all the rooms and tents were full. We did however; manage to get a dorm for the 6 of us to stay in. The hotel was a good bet, a little away from the main market, but that made it easier for us to start the next morning. We realized that we should have made an online booking for the place Hotel Chandra Bhaga – Keylong, Lahaul District, Himachal (HPTDC) . The best part is at additional cost you can hire room heaters etc. There is hot running water and a restaurant, which is all you need after a full day of travel and just a night to rest.

It is vital to have a night to acclimatize before venturing to higher altitudes. This means not going for the tent camps at Sarchu or Pang directly from Manali. Making the first stop in Keylong drastically reduces the risk of altitude sickness.

A special note here, this is the last stop for making all the phone calls, after this the network becomes unpredictable even if you do have an IDEA Sirji.

(c) Photographs by Sharninder Khera and Nitin Joshi