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 3: ‘Ghatta Loops to Pang’

Ghatta Loops to Nakeela Pass & Whiskey Nullah (About 17 Km)

The road conditions worsened quickly. Tarmac was now being replaced by bumpy roads and soon we were left with loose gravel, stone chips, mud, slush and a lot of running streams. This was one of the worst mountain roads I had seen till now, and it was to continue all the way till Pang.

The Nakeela pass after Ghata Loops was actually a pretty soft pass, though it is just little shorter (15547 ft) than BaralachLa (16500 ft), unlike others it’s easy to just miss it. It’s one of those things that just creep up on you. That’s where the legend of Nakee La being dangerous both in terms of AMS and road accidents comes from.

Basically, riders in just about an hour have climbed about 2000 feet, the air is getting thinner and no one has realized the slight headache yet. Plus by now everyone is tired. The thought of still having to cross another pass is looming in the head. Apart from the human body suffering from symptoms of AMS, the motorcycle will also under-perform in such conditions. A ‘critical battery’ popup would be very appropriate here!

One of our group rider encountered the classic symptoms of AMS, usually accompanied by headache, nausea, dizziness and vomiting.  We realized this when we reached a makeshift tent at Whiskey Nullah. We met a couple of other groups there, and almost all of them had one or two people suffering from AMS.  On my husband’s last trip too they had riders from the group needing oxygen.  The best way to avoid AMS is to drink plenty of water. The oxygen levels are low and H2O is 1/3 part oxygen, this is exactly what I was told at the Medical Aid room in Pang. (More about that on Day 4).

The tent owner gave us some hot lemon tea and made all of us have some glucose biscuits. We rested for a while till our friend felt a little better, but we were not sure if he was well enough to ride.  It was getting dark and we had to make some decisions – stay the night in the tent or move on. There was just one thought in our minds. Pang was just 30 km and medical aid was easier to get there. It was about mind over matter. We decided – we must reach Pang.

Although we had gathered courage and motivated each other as much as possible, things were not going to be easy. We had to deal with innumerable streams running with freezing cold water from the melting snow. The second halves of the day have the maximum streams flowing untamed on the road. The wind was howling and the temperature was reaching icy cold levels.

 

Whiskey Nullah to Pang (About 30 Km)

We crossed the Lachungla pass a tad bit higher (16616 ft) than BaralachLa within half an hour of starting from Whisky Nullah. The roads, or what was left of them were of no help and at our top speed of 30 km/h we were making slow progress.

As if things were not bad enough we encountered the deadliest water crossing yet. What makes a water crossing dangerous is not the length or the depth as much as the speed of the water. This was a raging river and deep. There was an abandoned truck on one side and a narrow gap for us to ride, naturally!

Can you hear the horror movie soundtrack yet? Listen intently to the gushing stream sound effects, howling winds and 4 bikers looking to the left and right? Now what??

Well, nothing much. The pillions took of their shoes, rolled up their jeans and walked across the icy cold water. Took out the cameras and put it on video mode. The bikers took a deep breath and maneuvered the bikes to the best of their abilities across the ragging river. We all made it.

We got to know the next morning that a lot of other bikers got stuck there at night and the Army guys at Pang had to send reinforcements to help them out. The Army, BRO and other defence forces of our country are just AWESOME. I don’t think I say it often enough.

Apart from the excitement of all the water crossings, working under time constraints and a headache from AMS, the ride is ‘Pure Bliss‘. The landscapes en route to Pang are breathtaking. It’s like you have landed on the moon or on the sets of Chronicles of Narnia /LOTR.

 

We saw some frozen waterfalls, amazing wind eroded Bagha Canyon walls and lots of dry arid features, tunnels and some things I can’t describe.

We finally reached the Army Transit camp at Pang, our destination for the day. A visit to the medical facility for a dose of pure oxygen, then dinner and off to bed. We could hardly move and the men in the Army unit were playing cricket. We didn’t even have the energy to think – HOW?

We had completed half of our six day vacation and in a couple of hours we would be starting the journey towards the highest motorable pass in the world.

 

(c) Photographs by Sharninder Khera and Nitin Joshi