Day 4 Part 2: ‘Morey Plains to Karu’

Debring to Taglang La (About 30 Km)

Debring marks the end of the majestic Morey plains and the start of the long gradual climb up to Taglang La. Debring is also known for the camps set up by the nomads (Changpas)  from the nearby TsoKar village during their summer months. There is a detour via Tso Kar and Tso Moriri to Leh (240 km) from here.

The stunning Tso Kar Salt wetland at 4600m is the breeding ground of numerous birds such as the endangered Black-headed Crane and the Bar headed geese. One can reach Tso Moriri and Karzok village (75 Km from Tso Kar) and observe the wildlife at the Wetland Conservation Reserve.

Most people do the Leh-Upshi-TsoMoriri-TsoKar-Debring-Pang route on their way back, since you require permits to visit TsoMoriri that are available in Leh.

We didn’t take this bifurcation and continued our journey to Tanglang Pass at an elevation 5415 m, it is the second highest mountain Pass in Ladakh, after Khardung La. It is also the last pass on the Manali to Leh road.

I had just about got used to the mighty plains when the twirling roads of the mountain started. The long-long-long sections of constant gradient climb went on forever. Interestingly we would be able to see the destination at all times. The visible peak may fool you with a sense that it is just a touch away- in reality it was a long hard laborious climb from the base.

 

Taglang La was breathtaking beautiful. Crossing over the five thousand metre passes affords views of the stunning and bizarre territory. We took a couple of pictures and we were off.

Taglang La to Rumtse (About 50 Km)

 

The pass was our last altitude feature before we descended down to the Leh-Ladakh valley. The snow was melting and trickling on the road, creating small waterfalls. The road was mainly sand or gravel with ripples that made driving a very shaky experience.

We saw a group of men and women making the road. The Border Roads Organisation (BRO) does whatever it can in building and rebuilding these roads. One really appreciates all the hard work and effort that goes in to this. Project HIMANK was started in Aug 1985 exclusively for the development of road infrastructure in Ladakh due to the ever-increasing workload of the BRO in J & K.  The Project provides the necessary wherewithal to keep the lines of communication open through out the year, not only in Ladakh, but also in the operationally sensitive Siachin sector. Battling tough terrain and extreme climatic conditions, coupled with a short working season of four months, Himank has carved a niche for itself in the Ladakh district of J & K and can rightfully claim the title   “The Mountain Tamers”. Project HIMANK has the unique distinction of maintaining and improving roads over the three highest passes of the world viz. Khardungla, Tanglangla and Changla. They also have a lot of humorous signposts to give the travelers a doze of laughter.

 

We continued to lose height and finally reached Rumtse, We had just conquered the Second highest motorable pass in the world, a picturesque setting with conditions equally harsh. The road soon turned from bad to awesome, half way after the decent. The freshly made road is as good as freshly baked bread. Actually, after witnessing the kind of roads we had – much better!!

 

Rumtse to Upshi to Karu (About 20 Km)

We almost screamed with joy on the sight of the first inhabited village after 350 Kms after Jispa. Rumtse as it is called is situated on the banks of a local river, which starts from Tanglang La, a tributary to River Indus. We stopped at a ‘market’. Yup! I’ll call the six or so shops with all supplies a town market now. Firstly, these were not tents!!  Also, there was even a STD booth.!!

We all had some lunch, a full thali experience with dal, veggies and rice. Walked around a bit and talked to the locals. Learnt – Julley. The most important word in Ladakh, that means – hi, thank you, good-bye, good-day and so on. Say it with a smile and everyone is your friend here.

 

As we continue the descent to Upshi the scenery changes dramatically as we arrive in a fertile irrigated valley by a river dotted by pretty villages and Stupas. The spectacular red colored mountains around us add to the beauty and richness of the scenery. Ladakh is unparalleled by any other landscape in the country.

The trip is a photographers dream come true. While we all were carrying our cameras and tripods, I didn’t take too many photographs. Probably because I didn’t know which one to take and which to leave. Everywhere one looked was a photo-op. I just left it to the others, while I enjoyed the ride.

 

Soon after taking a turn from Upshi, we reached Karu. Reaching Karu brought back some old memories for me. I had spent a long summer here when my dad was posted in this region. Back then, this was a dry desert with sand storms and all. Ladakh is a cold desert and Leh was part of that landscape. Things have changed now, Karu is green – Lush green.

There is a Defence Institute of High Altitude Research (DIHAR) in Leh & Karu. Here scientists have undertaken a successful plantation drive, driving up oxygen content in the region and even helping farmers produce vegetables. This acts as life support when transportation routes from the valley seize during winter months.

This was the last stop for the day, we all had mixed emotions, feeling happy to achieve what we did and sad that it was coming to an end. It’s like when you put your heart and soul into something and when it is over, you feel kind of empty. We had been through the highs and lows – literally and figuratively. That’s where the journey becomes an adventure and that’s what makes each kilometer on the 475 kms Manali-Leh an experience of a lifetime.

 

(c) Photographs by Ritika Sabharwal, Sharninder Khera and Nitin Joshi

Day 14: Pathankot to Chandigarh

The last day of a road trip like this one is always the boring. On one hand, none of us wanted to go back to our regular lives and on the other hand we were looking forward to being with family again. I had only about 200 kms to cover today since I was going to spend the night at Chandigarh at my parents place and the rest of the gang were going back to Delhi which was a good 500 kms away. It was quite humid in the morning but thankfuly it was cloudy and we didn’t have to face the summer sun.

We had barely gotten out of Pathankot and were getting petrol filled when it started drizzling. We took out our rain gear and kept moving on. Within a couple of minutes the drizzle turned into a heavy rain and when I saw, heavy, I mean downright downpour. It was almost as if the gods had started throwing buckets ful of water at us. The roads started getting flooded in no time and it was getting difficult to drive. I was actually more worried about the water getting in the engine since the water was almost till the exhaust. Our rain gear also was of no help in this downpour and we were all soaked. Fortunately, I had the camera and my phone stored in a polyethene bag seperately so that was safe. I would have loved to take a picture of the flooded streets but that was the last thing on my mind at the time.

We stopped at a roadside dhaba for a nice and filling breakfast of paranthas. The turn off for Chandigarh was a little ahead and we bade farewell to each other. I moved on towards Chandigarh and the rest to Delhi. The weather was lovely and I reached Chandigarh safe and sound for lunch and slept peacefuly for hours at home after eating a hearty meal 🙂

Day 13: Srinagar to Pathankot

We couldn’t see much of Srinagar in the evening since coming in to the cantonement after getting out would have been a problem for us and also since Srinagar isn’t the safest of places, the cantonement closes its gates in the evening and no one is allowed to go out or come in after that.

The gates open at around 7 in the morning and there was no point getting up before that, so we had a good sleep and got up at our own sweet time. Got out of the cantt, after collecting our cameras and mobile phones which had been deposited at the main gate, and started on towards the city to get petrol for our bikes. Bikes tanked up we started towards the Dal lake and stopped there to take a couple of quick shots.

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Day 12: Kargil to Srinagar

The trip was coming to an end and we were both sad and happy about it. Happy because we’d finally be back to civilisation, to our families and sad because, lets face it, we were having way too much fun.

We got up early and since the plan was to reach srinagar by afternoon, we had to be quick. We tied the luggage to the bikes, made a few quick calls back home to let them know we’re safe. Kargil was the hotbed of activity during the Indo-Pak war in 1999, otherwise known as the Kargil war, and our families back home were rightfully worried when we didn’t get in touch at all after leaving Leh.

Kargil is a major military base and the town has Army presence all over. There are points in the town where the enemy (Pakistan) posts are visible and signs like the one below have been put up to warn visitors of the presence of the Pak army.

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Day 11: Leh to Kargil

Our journey to Leh was finally coming to an end and none of us were in the mood to go back to civilisation. I wish we could have stayed there for a couple of more months, if not days. We had to get petrol filled in the bikes and so there was no point getting up early and then wait for the gas station to open. We slept well, got up, got ready, tied up our bikes and went to get fuel filled. Pandey and Akhilesh were late as usual and we told them that we’ll meet them at the gas station.

They were taking a long time and we got tired of waiting for them and so we called them and told them to reach the pathar sahab gurudwara that we were supposed to stop at. Pathar sahab is about 30 kms from Leh and is believed to be the place where guru nanak meditated while in Leh. A demon had thrown a big rock on the guru from a nearby hill while the guru was meditating. The rock on touching the guru melted and the shape of the guru’s back can still be seen embedded in the rock at the gurudwara. The place is now maintained by the Indian Army.

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Day 10: Leh Khardung La and Back

A trip to the highest motorable road in the world. This is what we had been riding the last 9 days for. Granted Pangong Tso was spectacular and offered a much better view, but you can’t take the brownie points away from a ride like todays.

Apjoo had taken permits for the Nubra valley for all of us and most of the group was actually planning to spend the night at hunder or diksit after crossing over Khardung La. I wasn’t too interested and wanted a rest day for myself. It had been raining the whole of yesterday and last night was also pretty cold. But we didn’t realise that it could have snowed at Khardung La and because everyone else wanted to go further to Nubra, we all started early. Which was a bad thing ! It was freakin’ cold and within a few kms of the ascent to K’La, we had to stop and warm our hands on the bike’s engine. The gloves were of no use at all.

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Day 9: Leh city

We had initially kept this day as a free day to recuperate from the journey till now. None of us wanted to mount the bikes and were all in the mood to actually walk and explore Leh. But, of course, laziness took over and apart from the walk till German bakery for breakfast in the morning , we rode to all the other places we visited, which was good ’cause otherwise we wouldn’t have ventured as far as we did.

After a nice and heavy breakfast, we went for a little shopping in the market. The Leh market is filled with fake chinese clothes and shoes. For some reason, everything seemed more expensive than what we were used to and some of the shopkeepers even downright refused to tell us their prices saying that we won’t be able to afford their wares ! Guess, they were more used to the firangs walking around the streets and willing to pay a premium for the substandard goods on display.

The shopkeepers aside, Leh seemed like a very calm place with a nice and friendly people.

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Day 8: Tang Tse to Leh

The accomodation that we stayed in at Tang Tse was easily the most luxurious we’d stayed in ever since the trip started. That showed since none of us wanted to leave our cosy beds in the morning. The guest rooms were next to a small stream and overlooking a garden with ducks and rabbits for company !

Woke up everyone, loaded up our bikes, had a nice breakfast and in between all this called the officer in-charge of the mess to thank him for the accomodation and to ask for a favour 🙂 None of us were able to figure out the problem with Akhilesh’s bike and so we asked the officer if he could get someone to look at it. We were in luck since he found someone at the EME workshop and sent him to our rescue. He diagnosed that the vehicle’s ignition switch has a problem and the proposal that he had was, well, a little extreme but it worked for us. He changed the wiring to bypass the ignition switch and managed to start the bike. That worked for us and we asked Akhilesh to stay ahead of all of us and to not stop anywhere.

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Day 7: Karu to Tang Tse (and Pangong Tso)

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.

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Day 6: Pang to Karu

Today was going to be a tough day. Our energy levels were already down and two of us, Ashok and Pandey, were suffering from high altitude sickness, and the rest of us weren’t feeling too upbeat ourselves.

Joshi and I somehow managed to drag ourselves out of our sleeping bags and went to wake up the others. Even walking around at that altitude felt like a chore. I was also quite tired and even though I didn’t have a headache or anything, I was in an irritable mood. The nice guys at the mess gave us hot water to freshen up and we all were ready in time for breakfast. The breakfast was amazing, typical mess fare of aloo puri and curd.

By the time we were done with breakfast and loading our bikes, the convoy had already started moving towards leh. This was bad news because crossing a whole convoy would be tough in the hilly terrain. We decided to let the convoy move ahead of us and give them a head start.

Ashok’s altitude sickness was also quite bad by now, so we took him to the MI room and got him a couple of minutes of oxygen too. It felt nice, according to him 🙂

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