We reached Keylong by 3 pm and checked into a hotel. I unpacked my luggage and went in search of a Royal Enfield mechanic to change my Pulsar shocker. After a bit of asking found a Royal Enfield workshop. Our motorcycles where making weird sounds from everywhere. I had Dhanno’s engine oil changed, screws tightened and then changed the Pulsar shocker with a new Royal Enfield original shocker (one piece cost me more than one pair). Everyone else too had their motorcycles serviced and tuned for the final stretch. We returned to our hotel and took some rest. We spent a leisurely evening strolling through the small town before having dinner and retiring for the night.
The Pang Conundrum
Next morning we woke up early and left for Sarchu. The locals had informed that the roads were butter smooth and the first nallah was not before the one at Zingzing Bar. We twisted and turned our way through the smooth tarmacked roads and crossed Jispa and Darcha in no time. We crossed Patsio and a sudden turn later we froze. A nallah looked into our face and it was the most dangerous looking nallah. We stood for a few minutes and watched trucks cross the nallah precariously. With Ritinkar and Brajesh keeping watch in the middle of the nallah all of us crossed to the other side and then moved ahead after clicking a nallfie (selfie with nallah). The next adventure awaited us at the pagal nallah in Zing Zing Bar. Brajesh had tough time again riding through the watery nallah. An oncoming bus coming downhill at neck-break speed did not ease anything. We finally crossed over and parked ourselves at the base of Baralacha-La or the Mighty One. There were no nallahs after this but Brajesh was unsure and he asked a dozen passing vehicles to confirm the same.
Finally, after being convinced that there were no nallahs we all opened our shoes and relaxed for half an hour while our shoes dried up in the warm sunshine. A few clicks later we were riding up towards Baralacha La. The roads were the same since I had visited it 2 years back. Fully-laden trucks were slowly moving upwards and we zoomed past them and reached Suraj-taal.
The pristine blue lake was a beauty to behold and few clicked a few group pictures for memories and moved ahead. We stopped briefly in front of the now desolated Sainik Bhawan and I told them about the story of the place. Quoted from an article of Blum House.com
This mountain pass in the Zanskar range of the Himalayas was once a military post. In bad weather, those stationed there could be trapped for weeks. One particularly bad winter saw a trio of soldiers trapped there for two months. When military vehicles finally reached them, they found a stranger in the cabin, eating one of the soldiers. The other two soldiers were in pieces; all had been half-eaten. The cannibal tried to attack the recovery team, and he was shot dead. Soldiers who were posted there after would hear strange whispers, see a man with a knife, or hear the pained screams of the soldiers being eaten. Motorists would occasionally claim to see a man chasing their vehicles with a knife, or see bloodied soldiers calling for help. When they would pull over to help the soldiers, they disappeared.
The creepy story and the location of the place sent a shiver down our spine and we moved ahead quickly after clicking a picture.
We finally reached the top of Baralacha La and an amazing view welcomed us. I and Riya stopped in front of the cemented signboard and clicked a few pictures. The rest of the guys had missed the signboard and zoomed ahead. We started again and a few turns later Brajesh, Akash and Ritinkar were waiting. Bikash bhai as usual had vroomed ahead without looking back and was miles ahead. Brajesh helped a father-son duo pull up their motorcycles on a particularly steep part of the road.
We spent some time on the snow and then rode out ahead towards Bharatpur. Bharatpur is located just a few kilometers after killing Sarai at the base of Baralacha La and is a stopover for riders and truck drivers with tented accommodations. We saw Bikash bhai standing in front of a tented shop helping two fellow riders repair their punctured tyres. We had a hefty breakfast of wai-wai before riding ahead.
A few kilometers of poor roads later we hit the seemingly straight roads towards Sarchu. The road looked straight and clear for a racing session but it was not in reality. The whole road was bumpy and uneven. We stopped a few times on the road for clicking some pictures or a fag break and then moved on towards Sarchu. Bikash bhai as usual was racing ahead in utter disregard of the road conditions.
We finally reached Sarchu at 1 pm, where we had to register ourselves at the police check-post. After registering our name and motorcycle numbers we entered a tented accommodation and had some warm wai-wai, tea and biscuits to soothe our hungry stomach. We had planned to stay the night at Sarchu but we still had more than 4-5 hours of daylight. A black cloud was forming over Nakee-La and after some deliberations we started for Pang.
The Tsarap river flows alongside the road with it’s banks canvasing some strange mountain structures made by water and wind. We rode another 20-25 kilometers before reaching the base of the famed 21 Gata Loops.
I shared another horror story with the rest of the paltan. A few bends up the loops was a bend with a temple with water bottles strewn across the roadside. As quoted from a blog “The Ghost of Gata Loops” :
Years ago, it seems, a truck broke down on the same bend. The driver, mindful of the cargo he was carrying, told the cleaner to stay with the truck while he walked to the nearest village to get help. Off he went, trudging the forty kilometers of mountain roads that separated him from inhabitation.
He got there, totally spent, to find no help in sight. A storm on another pass had closed the road, there were no mechanics to be found in the tiny village and, even as the driver waited, the weather closed in. He was stranded in the village for over a week before a mechanic and a vehicle came by. By the time the party reached the truck, they found the cleaner dead, felled by exposure and thirst, high on the bone-dry mountainside. Rather than carry a decomposing body home, the rescuers buried it close by.
Then, things started happening. Travelers stopping on the loops started meeting a man who begged them piteously for water. People who refused were soon writhing with mountain sickness, and some even died of it. Those who obliged, though, saw the bottles they offered drop through the man’s hands, while he kept pleading for water. Terror struck the region and only subsided when the locals set up a memorial at the site and made offerings of water to placate the ghost.
A black cloud was gathering at the top of the pass and I narrated the story just at the start of the Loops which created a spooky feeling for all of us.
We started climbing the loops and a few bends later we were looking down the loops. The spooky feeling alongwith the bad weather meandering over our heads meant we missed the ghost at one of the bends. We reached the top of the Loops and stopped under a shade. The black clouds had covered the sky and thunder and lightning was echoing frighteningly across the desolate mountains. We wore our waterproofs and started again.
We reached Nakee-La and it was already drizzling with a huge storm brewing. A quick click and we moved ahead. The roads were in bad condition which meant slower speed and the drizzle was already turning into rain. We reached the base of Lachulung La and a heavy rain started. We first thought of stopping over for some food at the dhaba there but then decided to ride ahead towards Pang.
Bad decisions make great stories !!!!
The ascent to Lachulung La was very steep and my motorcycle was having trouble moving up. It was raining heavily and Bikash bhai had zoomed ahead as he had no waterproof (which had fallen off on his way to Sarchu). A few bends ahead the rain turned to a hailstorm and the whole environment had turned frightening. I looked down and saw Brajesh, Akash and Ritinkar two bends below me. I kept on riding in the thought that since my motorcycle was having trouble I should keep moving and the three will eventually catch up.
I reached the top of Lachulung La but did not stop for a click as it was raining hails. I kept on riding, occasionally looking through my rear view mirrors for checking whether the three were coming, towards Pang amidst the heavy rainfall and bad roads. That 24 kilometers from Lachulung La to Pang was my most scariest experience. I along with Riya was riding through heavy rainfall through the huge mountains with only the thunder and rain for company. I briefly stopped at a place for a few minutes to wait for the three behind me but there was no sign of them and I decided that instead of waiting alone it was better to reach Pang and arrange accommodations. The heavy rainfall had turned the road into a mud puddle and twice Riya had to get down from the motorcycle to give a push. We crossed the limestone canyon just before Pang and the weird mountain designs, courtesy high winds, seemed magical. Finally, we reached Pang and I saw Bikash sitting in front of a hotel with his clothes drying. We stopped and asked him whether he had arranged any accommodation to which he calmly replied that he hadn’t. He had reached Pang all wet and cold and was having tea at the aunty’s place.
I alongwith Riya went inside to negotiate accommodation for ourselves. After much deliberations and bargaining the aunty finally agreed Rs.900 for a room with eight divans and the promise of not accommodating anyone else in the room except the six of us. It was 4.30 already and getting dark but there was no signs of Brajesh, Ritinkar or Akash. I unpacked my luggage and was preparing to go back in search of them when three motorcycles came up. I heaved a sigh of relief but knew something must have gone amiss. The three arrived and went inside but with an uncanny silence. We showed them the room and everything but Ritinkar, Brajesh and Akash maintained their stoic silence, just like the lull before a storm, and their anger and obhimaan apparent. Finally, I took the courage and asked them the dreaded question :
“Ki hoyechilo, eto late holo ?? Ami toh abar jachhilam toder khujte…”
Brajesh burst out and said that Akash’s motorcycle had faced electrical issues at the top of Lachulung La amidst a hailstorm and thunder-lightning. He said they had expected me to turn back and come in search of them and felt let down as I never came. I had never seen Akash or Ritinkar get angry and express themselves but even both of them were visibly angry and fuming. I asked their forgiveness and accepted my error of judgement. I explained that I had expected them to catch up with me and since my motorcycle was having trouble climbing up I had not stopped. Akash stated his desperation and anger on being felt to be left out in the open with a broken motorcycle. But the burst out of anger helped things cool down faster and a bowl of warm wai-wai calmed everyone.
All of us were both mentally and physically exhausted and we spent the whole evening chatting and debating which continued even after our dinner. Bikash bhai initiated a controversial discussion which led to a huge debate where the two famous tag lines came up which all of us still use today. When Riya had countered Bikash during the debate with a solid response Ritinkar, who was acting as if he was asleep, suddenly stated from inside his blanket :
Okey ekta Nobel diye de…!!!!!
Tumi ক+ peyecho !!!!
Ritinkar and Akash used a payphone inside the army outpost to inform their parents that they were safe and fine. Tomorrow we were going to Leh.
WELCOME TO LEH
We woke up early, freshened up, packed our bags and were ready to roll by 8.30 am. A group photo with the aunties and we were back on the highway. 5 kilometers from Pang we reached the famous Moore Plains, which is a plateau at 15000 feet stretching over 35-40 kilometers before the ascend up Tanglang La.
We spent quite some time clicking pictures and enjoying the beauty of the plains. On the way to Leh there were many instances when Ritinkar, Brajesh and Akash had to stop quite sometime due to Akash’s fuse blowing off. But I learned almost two years later that they were lying and stopped over for us to come back each time as a revenge for leaving them back at Lachulung La the day before. We reached the base of Tanglang La in no time riding at 90-100 km/hr speeds, a welcome relief after 10-12 days of riding at maximum 50 km/hr. The climb up Tanglang La was very steep and I had trouble taking Dhanno up. But nonetheless, we kept moving ahead slowly with a few cyclists for company every now and then. A few bends before the top my motorcycle got stuck in a muddy patch.
Riya promptly got down and pushed the motorcycle while I tried to get it out of the puddle of mud. I was in complete awe of my ladylove.
I had my doubts regarding her health during the trip but she was completely fit and fine which made all my doubts seem stupid. Finally, a few click-stops and fag stops later we were at the top of the World’s Second Highest Motorable Pass i.e. Tanglang La. We spent some time clicking pictures and enjoying the beauty of nature.
The road from Tanglang La was butter smooth and well laid out. We rode to our hearts content leaning and zipping through the curves trying to touch the foot-pegs in every turn. It was a proper road after so many days and we all enjoyed it. The mountains too were splendid with shades varying from deep brown to red.
Riya too got some snow playtime at Tanglang La and was happy. We reached Rumtse at noon and stopped for lunch. Two guys whom we had met in Spiti also arrived and after lunch and a brief chat we started again towards Leh. We had got news of a cloudburst near Rumtse while we were at Kalpa and the strewn boulders and broken road wore evidence of the fact.
After a few patchy kilometers the road straightened and smoothed up. The mountains were a sight to behold with every turn bringing colours varying from deep red to brown. Bikash bhai had a near miss as he stopped short of hitting a bunch of schoolchildren at 90 km/hr. We reached Upshi in no time and the first sight of the mighty Indus soothed our tired souls. After registering ourselves at the checkpost we rode ahead and reached Leh at around 3 pm after crossing through a huge jam.
We walked more than a few kilometers asking locals about a good lodging within a budget with parking facilities and finallly after more than an hour spent looking for a lodge we finally chanced upon Namkeela Lodge, which is run by an aunty. After lot of bargaining and some Brajeshque style of negotiation we got ourselves two rooms on the same floor but a little higher than our budget. But we were not worried as we would be staying for only two days, but little did we know that it would turn into our refuge camp for the next five days. We were so glad that we had finally reached Leh after overcoming so many obstacles. But then there is always that famous line:
Man proposes, God disposes.