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 🙂

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 😉