A Pillion’s Leh Travelogue: Day Fo4r ‘Pang to Karu’

The morning sun was a welcome feeling as we got up the next day at Pang. Although Pang is at a height of more than 15000 ft, it is a major stopping point on the Manali-Leh highway. Travellers can be assured of both food and accommodation here. There are always a couple of parachute tented camps with necessary supplies.

We stayed at the Army Transit camp, which is considered to be the world’s highest military transit camp situated at an altitude of 15,768 ft. The medical aid that we received was at the world’s highest functional hospital.

Since I hadn’t been feeling well when we started from Keylong the day before, as soon as we reached the Pang Transit camp, the guy suffering from AMS and I went to the MI room. We were accompanied by the other four in the group. It turns out that everyone was low on oxygen except me, mainly because I was eating light and drinking lots of water. Funny how things work out!  Some of us were having glucose water, which the doc said we shouldn’t have. The idea is to store the energy and not get burned out too fast. Also having a Diamox as a precautionary measure at Keylong or Jispa is a good idea.

Pang to Morey plains to Debring (About 50 Km)

We started early from Pang, by now we all were professionals at packing our saddle bags and strapping them on to our bikes. Water bottles – check, air pressure – check, jackets & eye gear – check, Pillion – check. There was a comfy rhythm in which everything fell into place.

Interestingly on trips like these the group dynamics builds and many roles emerge voluntarily, someone takes up the responsibility of being the  – Planner, Timekeeper, Funny Guy, Safety guy, Inventory keeper and so on. Especially on a ride like this when you push your endurance to the limits, being in a group helps. In spite of all the dangers involved, the Manali-Leh highway rewards you with great friends and spectacular memories.

So, we were off to Karu today, and we were stuck in a traffic jam within 10 min from exiting the transit camp. I guess everyone at Pang decided to leave together. There were trucks, four wheelers and lots of bikes, on both sides of a narrow road. We wriggled our way thru and within 8km we reached the starting of Morey plains.

Morey Plains’ is Phenomenal. It is a flat distance of 45 Km situated at an altitude of more than 15800 ft, a big change from the passes we were climbing and descending over the last few days. The tarmac roads were being constructed and we got about 5 km of  smooth roads. After that it was mostly like a dirt race track made by the vehicles passing through this stretch. The average speed at this altitude is not high, so one feels like you are shifting in space in slow motion.

The battery on my ipod had run out long ago, and with the helmets and other jingbang, it’s not easy to talk to the rider. Actually, by now there isn’t much to say. So you are forced to keep silent, a difficult task for me in ordinary circumstances.

Many times one has heard that people come to India for soul searching, or people going to the Art of living course or Vipasna. When we were in Pune, we met people who had enrolled into the Osho ashram and even Elizabeth in Eat, Pray Love comes to find inner peace. To all these people, all I can say is – Ride down to leh. It’s a better, more fun way – I promise. Like they say ‘In silence, find thy self’.

Jokes apart, this is actually true. Being with yourself makes one focus on what’s important, who one really is – you know, the good stuff. It’s easy to get caught up in the nitty-gritty details of the daily grind of life, back home.

I read this sometime back and it kind of sums up what I want to say, “I travel because it makes more sense to me than not travelling. I travel because a breath taking landscape is hands down worth a 15 hour flight. I travel because I want to have a broader and deeper perspective of life. I travel because I love it.

 

(c) Photographs by Sharninder Khera and Nitin Joshi

Day 3 Part 2: ‘Deepak Tal to Pang’

Darcha to Patseo (About 15 km)

Deepak Tal is a man-made lake at Patseo. It is the most beautiful ‘one-slide-summary‘ I’d ever witnessed. If you are a trigger happy photographer, your day is made. Any angle, any side guarantees a perfect picture.

From Patseo, suddenly the terrain changed its characteristics. It turned to the dry arid Ladakh styled look with a blink of an eye. It was majestic. Barren land all around and leading to tall snow capped peaks in the backdrop.

Patseo to Baralach La (About 15 Km)

On your way to the mighty pass we crossed Zingzingbar. Zingzingbar is the base camp of Baralach La, most famous for the painted peace signs on rocks that some creative souls have left behind. It also has a local eating joint Peace Café.

The loos here are basically ‘find a big rock and hide behind them. Ok! That was the last of my bathroom stories. I promise !!

Mountains continue to grow taller and more arid as the road progresses north towards Baralach La. We had heard some horror stories the previous night from travellers crossing the pass,of the snow having melted and weather being really bad, due to which vehicles got stuck and so on.

But little did we know that this part of the journey, that we feared the most, would turn out to be a box of chocolates. A really pleasurable ride with sunny weather, good roads tunneled between 10-12 feet of snow. One of my favourite parts of the journey.

Suraj Tal, another lake at Baralacha is bigger than we had recently crossed. It stands against a backdrop of views of snowy peaks. The road runs along Bhaga River all the way to the pass where it emerges from the middle of rocks as a small stream. To the other side of these rocks is Suraj Tal, probably connected to the stream through an underground channel. When we crossed it, it was completely frozen. I was told that in the later part of the year, camping agency operate camps & tents at Surajtal. There is also a trekking expedition via this route.

Baralach La to Sarchu (About 40 Km)

After driving on the fourth highest motorable road in the world – Baralach La, we were on our way to Sarchu. By now the vegetation had thinned considerably from the first day. The mountainsides had no green covers and were primarily nude rocks which made the erosion carvings look spectacular.

Sarchu is a tented camp in on the boundary between Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh. Situated between Baralach La to the south and Lachulung La to the north, it’s a comparatively low-lying area at an altitude of 4,290 m. We needed to register at the check post in Sarchu before proceeding further, so made a mandatory stop here.

Sarchu has some Army lodging, one can see barracks and even a Medical Room, but other than that you can just find tents and make shift arrangements. Although, I did notice, that the only other permanent brick structure here was the liquor shop and as you’ll see all along the trip, ‘Godfather’ ruled the advertising word.

We had lunch in a tent owned and run by two ladakhi women. The warm dal chawal and Maggi were our saviors by now. Actually just hot water would taste heavenly in the windy cold weather outside. After lunch we were on our way to the loops.

Sarchu to Gatta Loops (About 10 Km)

The other side of the canyon from Sarchu was the base of the Gatta loops. The mountain surface were now in all hues of brown – chocolate brown, muddy brown, reddish brown. There were so many shades of brown that dominated the landscape, you’d think you are looking at an artist pallet as they mix and match to create a new shade of brown.

The Gatta Loops are a series of 21 consecutive switchback climbs; they are actually really sharp bends, one loop leading to another; through which one gains 1800 feet in 7 km or so. I had read a lot about this seeming to be a never ending feature, and I knew now why it was bestowed with a legendary status. Gatta Loops was an amazing sight from top; the 21 hairpin bends look like some mischievous boys drew a race track for their toy cars.

When biking to Leh it is advisable to travel at a slow pace to allow acclimatization but most importantly to enjoy the stunning locations. Where in the world can you cross a river, snow capped mountains, dry arid land, windy canyons, kids maze and still have half of the journey left for the day??

Two more passes to cross and it was mid afternoon already !

(c) Photographs by Sharninder Khera and Nitin Joshi

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

A Pillion’s Leh Travelogue: Day On1 ‘Delhi to Mandi’

The six of us on our four bikes were ready as we would ever be on the morning (more like 3 am at night) of the first day. There were rumors that due to heavy snow fall the roads were not open in some parts but we decided to take our chances as rescheduling would have been impossible.

 

This is the day that we covered the longest distance of the trip, over 450 km on the very first day, but that by no account implies that we were on the road for less than 10 hrs any other day. You learn, the difference between theoretically and practically while you ride in the mountains!

 

We reached Panchkula for breakfast, well in time at our parent’s house, this was our first halt. Some yummy chana-puri-halwa was a great start to our trip and that was the last home cooked Punjabi meal for the next few days.

 

Delhi to Chandigarh took us about 4-5 hours and we hadn’t even reached the foothills yet. It was warm and dusty but this was soon about to change.

Within an hour of leaving Chandigarh we hit the winding roads and the cool breeze. The road to Manali was still being repaired and we found ourselves in some long traffic jams, which we got ahead of since we were on bikes. One should count their blessings – Right!

 

 

By the end of the day my back side was aching, the battery on my ipod had run out and my body’s battery needs some charging. We stopped short of Manali at Mandi, as we had been riding almost continuously for about 10-11 hrs and were sure that another 45 min was going to just stretch us out. All I could think of was the famous quote by Donkey from Shrek, “Are we there yet ?”

We stayed at a nice clean budget hotel (about INR 2500/night/room) called Hotel Valley View, Mandi. The service was decent, there was hot running water and had a 24 hr Restaurant & Bar.

An early dinner and we were off to bed, and trust me it didn’t even take us a minute to fall into deep sleep. The painkiller I had must have also kicked in too, not that I needed it too much, but prevention is better than cure.

Dreaming of day two, is all I could do.

(c) Photographs by Sharninder Khera and Nitin Joshi