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Old 13th October 2012, 12:59   #16
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Default Day 5: Pang to Leh

Day 5: Pang to Leh

Every time the Moreh plains open before me, I cannot help but be spellbound by their vastness as well as their geographical location. A vast, smooth, never-ending plain at that altitude is just mesmerizing. We’ve driven on Moreh several times now, but the aura around it is phenomenal and always awes us.

The boys were waiting for us at the beginning of the plains. A group shot was the need of the hour. Out came the tripod and the wireless remote and after taking shots from every angle and perspective, we pushed on. The village at the southern end of the plains was calling me towards it, but given our time constraint, we decided not to go off-track for now. Ever since the first trip, we’ve always wanted to go to the edge of Moreh till that village, but have not been able to make the time on day rides to do that. But with Manali - Leh highway, there will always be a next time.

We continued our journey on the recently tarred double-laned roads on Moreh. It was quite a feeling to zip at 80 - 100 kmph at such a high altitude. The bike was responding well, and even though the sun was beating down upon us, the good road made everything bearable. This dream run, however, was short lived as only half of the stretch had been tarred. What lay ahead was a nightmare for bikers and a delight for 4x4ers. A dust bowl which was quite sandy at stretches made the heavily loaded bike fishtail like crazy. To avoid falling down at each one of those 100 m patches required superhuman effort, sucking our energy like leeches suck blood.

Goddess and Vertigo pose on the climb towards Moreh plains
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Ah 'that' sight at the edge of the plains towards the river below.
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Goddess strikes another pose against a lovely backdrop
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Our friend which helped us shoot the 'only' group shot (with bikes) of the trip
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First up, bikes alone were shot
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Then the owners standing next to it, from left to right 'Aarti, WanderB, Harsh, Sagar, Vertigo, KD, Goddess, Gunjan, Jugni & YeshuB'
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Well shoot again if you have the tripod, from left to right 'YeshuB, Jugni, Gunjan, Harsh, WanderB, Aarti, Vertigo, Sagar, Goddess, KD
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It took us a good one and a half hours to cross the plains to reach Debring. We went to find our ‘friend’ Urgain with whom we had been catching up for two years in a row now. Sadly, he was not there and his brother told us that he had taken up a job at the banks of Tso Kar at the ‘luxury’ tents there. We requested him to keep our jerry cans with him so that we could refuel on our way back to Manali, which he agreed to gladly. This way we had a good 30 L of petrol deposited which we could use on our return leg of Hanle - Tso Moriri - Tandi, a stretch which had no refuelling points.

A lone Kiang was spotted by Sagar meandering a few hundred meters away from the dhaba. It was kind of weird, given the fact that these creatures generally tend to flock in a group, and are also very shy. Maybe he was the outcast, maybe he was just doing some side business on his own. Whatever the reason, we were happy at having sighted our first Kiang of the trip. I was excited and walked towards it and it took me a good 30 minutes to be able to shoot it with a 300 mm lens, but it was worth it. There is always a flip side though, I was now tired as hell with Tanglang La still left to climb. We decided not to break for lunch (which later turned out to be a bad decision) and continued towards the dreaded Tanglang La.

Lovely tarmac on the plains. One can really rip beyond 100 kmph on this surface, at least for now, before it starts sinking at places, which it will, eventually.
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Changpas were grazing their flock on the vast plains, numerous Rebos (their tents) could be seen at the other end of the plains
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The lone Kiyang near Debring
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As always, shyness takes over and it runs away as I get closer
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A 'rich' Changpa with his herd of horses
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We finally pushed off at 2:30 after taking a good one hour break at Debring which was spent mostly lying down and recuperating. In hindsight, it might have made sense to just push off as quickly as possible, but it seemed almost inhuman to do so. The climb towards Tanglang La was painful to describe it mildly. As I later found out, one of the shock absorbers of our bike had fallen apart, thus making the climb even more painful than it actually was. I believe the shock absorber was screwed up badly in one of those sand pits at Moreh. The climb was mostly on rubble - smooth but scattered with small pebbles. The bike was creaking like a old rusted door hinged on poor support but I did not have the energy or the intention to stop and check. I just wanted the day to end now. With the sun beating down, the intense heat was getting unbearable under that heavy wretched riding jacket. It took us at least an hour to reach the top, and once there we again stopped to straighten our backs. They’d said that the descent of Tanglang La was comfortable, and since we were already at the top, we’d expected the good roads to begin immediately. Such naivety I tell you. .

After 5 odd kms of bearing with bad, pothole ridden roads, we finally found lovely tarred roads which continued all the way till Rumtse. The bike was still creaking though the moment I took it beyond 50 kmph, so I stayed slow. We managed to amble into Rumtse by 4:30 pm and broke for a much delayed lunch. By now, exhaustion was at its peak and I had half a mind to just stop and stay the night at Rumtse. But better sense prevailed, and with our last ounce of strength, we got back on the bike.

The road from Rumtse all the way to Leh used to be in excellent shape earlier. However, after that cloudburst of 2010, the road was washed away at several points. The force of nature could be seen at each bend where either the entire road or a part of it just went with the current. The mountains are far more rugged on the Rumtse - Upshi stretch, the valley is relatively narrow and the mountains are a strange purplish black. We were too exhausted to enjoy any of that though. The camera had been packed away, and we all waited to hit the Upshi - Leh highway, the last mile as they say.

The last 50 odd kms was a breeze. Despite the creaking sounds, I ripped at 80 kmph just to reach as quickly as possible. We zipped by familiar landmarks like the Karu petrol pump, Thiksey, Shey, Stakna and Choglamsar. We did not have the time or the energy to enjoy those sights though. Our longish 5 day ride from Delhi was about to culminate, and we felt a mixture of achievement and exhaustion. Family members had declared us mad to have undertaken this journey, with some believing that biking would not be our cup of tea. The very idea of leaving the Safari parked back home to endure the notorious Manali-Leh highway on a Bullet seemed unfathomable to them. We had our doubts too, but both of us knew that our love for the road would transcend vehicle types and riding would be as much, if not more, fun than traveling in a car.

The view towards Tso Kar from Tanglang La. Look closely, you might just spot it!
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The pass itself, the second highest motorable road in the world - Well I count it to be fourth in line after Mana pass, Marsimik, Khardung La.
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The last shot of the day, it required superhuman effort to take out the camera after Rumtse
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Exhausted, dirty and hungry, we all gathered at the roundabout at Leh at 8 pm, a good 14 hrs after we had begun our day at Sarchu. With high fives going all around, the next problem was to look for accommodation for the night. For boys, it was a relatively simple matter, but with girls around, this was not going to be an easy task. The first call went, obviously, to Padma Guest House and Hotel, our favorite hotel in town. Sadly, it was booked solid for eternity to come. Bicky, the owner at Padma, guided us to another hotel nearby but it was not nice. Our shoulders were drooping now and each step was as difficult as climbing Stok Kangri itself. Oh yes, when in Leh, speak of metaphors using Leh’s accessories. Finally, the boys took it upon themselves to find a decent lodge for the night. Thus, Barath Guest House on Fort Road was discovered. At 1000 bucks a night and clean rooms, it was a life saviour. I still can’t remember how we managed to get the stuff off the bikes, take a shower and have dinner, because all that I remember was a deep deep sleep. That night, we slept like babies...
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Old 13th October 2012, 22:32   #17
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A Well Written Travelogue and man-oh-man..simply amazing photography.
I am just hooked to this thread and cant get enough of it. Well Done.
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Old 14th October 2012, 16:12   #18
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An amazing write-up coupled with breath-taking views captured behind the lens.
The photos are brilliant.

Much appreciate the braveness of yours for taking such a tough terrain, that too on a motor-cycle.
Bullets are known to take the stress and please its owner in the best possible manner.

Kudos for posting the detailed travelogue.
The views are mesmerising.
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Old 16th October 2012, 15:43   #19
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Originally Posted by zingthing View Post
A Well Written Travelogue and man-oh-man..simply amazing photography.
I am just hooked to this thread and cant get enough of it. Well Done.
Thanks Buddy.

Originally Posted by palash987 View Post
An amazing write-up coupled with breath-taking views captured behind the lens.
The photos are brilliant.

Much appreciate the braveness of yours for taking such a tough terrain, that too on a motor-cycle.
Bullets are known to take the stress and please its owner in the best possible manner.

Kudos for posting the detailed travelogue.
The views are mesmerising.
Thanks Palash. Thankfully we were on a relatively new bike making the trip a tad easier.
Day 6: In and around Leh

The news from the permit office was confusing. Alpha (Alok) had been unable to convince the high and mighty who give permits to give him the permission to go to Hanle via Chushul. Saurav Biswas was lucky though to get permits for each and every corner of Ladakh. Only time would tell what lay in store for us.

At Barath, we ate a hearty breakfast of toast, omelettes and cornflakes in the ‘aangan’ outside our rooms. Plans were made - the famous Mr. Sharma, the great RE mechanic, had to be visited, but before that the bikes had to be cleaned so that he could have a look at the battered vehicles. It is said that Mr. Sharma can diagnose a problem inside the engine by hearing only the sound of the Bullet. I was looking forward to meet this legend in person. For now, the boys decided to head first to Mr. Sharma while Yeshu and I decided to head to the polo grounds to get the permits. The girls decided to chillax and do what they do best - shop!

View of the peaks from the guest house
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Our guest house grew its own veggies
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It boasted of its own parking lot as well
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Another view from the guest house
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I knew that the tactics employed by Saurav had to be used if we stood any chance of getting the Chushul permits. The genius mind that he is, Saurav had written all the ‘normal’ places in huge block letters keeping places like Chushul and Marsimik La small to give a slip to the ‘busy’ human eye. We did the same. Hell, we even wrote the names of places which we did not need to just to fill the paper up. The permit giver’s sharp eye was not to be fooled though, she immediately picked up the words Chushul, and without even asking us, simply crossed it off from the permit form in one swift movement. Our hearts sank as her the pen moved horizontally across the almost illegible letters that spelt Chushul, and just like a swift sword movement of a Samurai, all was over.

They say it is not easy to shut up a ‘true Punjab da puttar’ once he gets adamant on something. I witnessed that day how true that saying is. Yeshu was adamant on getting permits for Chushul and the lady behind the counter got flustered by his incessant questions regarding her decision to deny us the coveted permits. Eventually, I think to get rid of us, she guided us to the ‘white-topi’ gentleman whom most of us must have met at the DC office in Leh. After exchanging pleasantries, he explained to us the reason for the denial of permits at length, the same story that has been doing the rounds on this forum. He began by explaining why he too would want us to get permits for Chushul as it is good for tourism, and how it was convenient for tourists headed towards Hanle, but then also told us the reason for denying us permission. As many of us know by now, a couple of foolish bikers had crossed over the LAC into China near Chushul war memorial and were found by the Chinese who then returned them to the Indian Army. After the incident, he said, the senior most officials at Leh, the DC, the ADC, the SP, the state tourism minister, ITBP, ITBF and the Army decided in unison that Chushul permits would henceforth be completely banned. The only way, the white topi man explained, to stand a chance to get the permits would be by getting in touch with the SP and get his approval.

A ray of hope had sprung! We rushed to the SP office immediately only to find out that the SP had gone for Dalai Lama’s duty. Apparently, His Holiness was in town, and thereby all officials were busy in facilitating his movement in Leh. No wonder, we had seen such a long line of common folk all the way from the petrol pump till the DC office queued up to catch a glimpse of HH the Dalai Lama. A helpful lady at the SP office had informed us that it would have been difficult even for the SP to grant us permission for Chushul sector as it was really not under his jurisdiction per say. We went back to the DC office to give it one last shot. The DC had gone to meet HH the Dalai Lama, but the ADC was still in her office. There was a certain venom with which she denied our request for Chushul, and that is when we understood that there was no point in wasting more time.

Disappointed, Yeshu and I headed towards Mr. Sharma’s workshop for the next order of business for the day. The boys were already done with their bikes and were headed back towards town for lunch.

When one travels in a car, the only activity one has to do at Leh, which is optional really, is to get it cleaned at Choglamsar. However, a bike must go for regular checkups as the strain on a 2 wheeler is much more. But before we could get the doctor to see the bike, the patient had to be cleansed. The washing station was nearby and we were back in a jiffy. To our utter surprise, the supposedly least reliable bikes of them all, Jugni, was in excellent condition, while the newest one on the block, WanderB, had suffered the most. The rear right shock absorber had breathed its last somewhere in the Moreh plains and but still it had somehow managed to reach Leh. The carrier itself had broken and was down to 2 supports. Mr. Sharma explained that the installation of the carrier was improper resulting in the damage to the shocks. The only solution was to replace the shock absorber, priced at 2200. That was done, along with welding to get the luggage carrier back in place. Other than that, the bike was just fine. I said a silent thank you to the lord almighty that we made it despite all these odds.

When we were done with the bike, it was already late noon. We headed back to sync with the girls and grab a bite. It was disappointing to know that the entire town had gone ‘dry’ to pay respect to His Holiness. So there was no question of sourcing any form of meat, forget the delicacies which are liquid in nature. After eating some leaves and shoots and getting some shopping done, all of us split in different directions for the evening. YeshuB and Gunjan headed towards Magnetic Hill for a late evening ride, whereas both of us went around town for some hotel hunting. The hotel we were staying at was fine, but we wanted something better and since Padma was not available, some other hotel which was affordable had to be found. This would also help in the longer run, with some future visits to Leh already on the drawing board. We eventually found one off the Fort Road, close to Padma, by the name of Kanishka. It was quite decent and carried a price tag of 2000 Rupees per day after some negotiations. It was booked for our return from Pangong Tso.

The infamous Mr. Sharma
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On our previous visits to Leh, we had always struggled with roaming around the city in Kiyang, given its size and Leh’s parking scarcity. However, this time was different. Zooming across Leh on our bike was an absolute delight, and we decided that whenever we come here next, even if it is in Kiyang, we will rent a bike for whatever time period we’re in Leh.

At dinner, we all synced up, and finalized the plan for the rest of the trip.

Day 7: Leh - Pangong Tso (Spangmik)

Day 8: Pangong Tso - Leh

Day 9: Tentatively planned that Aarti and I would head towards Hanle, while the rest of the gang would spend the day resting at Leh.

Day 10: Tentatively planned that YeshuB and Gunjan would ride out to Karzok, while we do Hanle - Karzok. The boys were undecided on their action plan for the day, but were contemplating a visit to Khardung La and back.

Day 11: The two couple bikes would ride out from Karzok to sync up with the boys at Pang and if possible take a dynamic call to either head towards Sarchu or stay the night there.

The remaining days were kept dynamic all the way to Delhi, and were to be decided later. The plan seemed okay theoretically. The coordination would be a challenge of course, specially with all of us being so used to mobile phones these days, but as Ladakh boasts of straight roads and single routes to these places, chances of getting lost was negligible. To add to that, now almost all villages in Ladakh have at least one satellite phone, so syncing up would not be much of a problem.

KD was really looking forward to the next day. On his first Leh trip, he did not even attempt going to Pangong Tso and returned via Srinagar. On the next one with Yeshu, Chang La baba got mad at him and a whiteout happened at the top, forcing them to return. The third time around we sent KD and Sagar to Pangong Tso from Nubra via the Agham - Shayok route, where they got stranded with a torn apart Ford Fiesta (of a friend), which eventually had to be sent back in a body bag to Chandigarh. So after being 3 times unlucky, the expectation from the ever color changing lake and the ride to it was high... I was looking forward to it too. Despite this being my 3rd trip to Ladakh, I was still a Chang La virgin. Infact, all of us were Chang La virgins, expect Aarti who had crossed it when she’d visited Ladakh with her parents.

And so we all went to bed, dreaming of the blue-ness of Pangong, and dreading the harshness of Chang La...
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Old 26th October 2012, 10:12   #20
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10 days since we saw an update here. Dont keep us waiting so long .
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Old 13th November 2012, 21:02   #21
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I dint know that chang la was so harsh that it takes a month for you to describe it
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Old 21st December 2012, 23:43   #22
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I know you were being lazy for you did not want to see your effort go in vain. But...

The world did not end. Now don't be a slouch and complete your TL.

Last edited by A M : 21st December 2012 at 23:45. Reason: typo
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Old 22nd December 2012, 11:33   #23
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Thats a wonderful, well planned trip. Some breathtaking views and beautiful lens work to capture them. Really loved the fact that the lady loves were into it to the core.

Just hope that you complete the TL at the earliest.
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Old 22nd December 2012, 12:25   #24
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Day 7: Leh to Pangong Tso

Routemap for the day
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It was big day for some of us, KD in particular. Since we did not have the permits for Chushul, we had no choice but to come back to Leh on day 8. This also implied that there was no need to carry extra fuel for this leg of the journey. It also meant that we did not have to carry our entire luggage till the lake, and just one small bag would suffice which could carry some basic spares for the entire group.

There was no reason to get up very early as the ride was not long but we pushed off at 7 am nevertheless. It would in any case be better to spend an extra hour on the banks of the lake rather than sleeping in our hotel. Our stuff was accommodated in a makeshift cloak room at the Barath hotel as we pushed off.

The initial ride was smooth, and the wide valley looked ever so beautiful bathed in the morning light. We broke for a quick breakfast of paranthas at Karu. Beyond Karu and almost all the way up till 5 km shy of Chang La, the roads were a pleasure to ride upon and with minimal luggage, the ride was even more pleasurable. The stunning Chemde monastery passed by us, and so did the huge valley in which Sakti was located. My heart skipped a beat when we crossed the cut for Wari La. Of all the motorable passes in Ladakh, this and a few others (namely Thit Zarbo, Photi , Kaksang La, Yar La and Sisir La) remain to be conquered by us. As I list down these passes, I realize that there is still much ground to cover. Oh Ladakh, when would I ever reach a closure to thy beauty?

Anyway, I digress too much. The cut came and went by, and I had to face the cruel truth that Wari La would not be ‘passed’ this time. It was time for Chang La to yield. The last stretch to the pass was where the road turned for the worse. Apart from the gradient, it was the rocky rubble that created some problems during the ascent. Thanks to the sheer torque of the 500cc WanderB, I hardly faced any troubles pulling up to the top. After nearly 3.5 hours, we were at Chang La top where the boys were waiting for us to reach. Jugni had some anxious moments though, but she also managed to pull through.

Chang La, to be honest, was somewhat of a disappointment personally. Being on the main road to the much visited Pangong Tso, it is frequented pass and there were many tourists apart from us soaking in the beauty of the place. Also, I’d heard that Chang La is always snowbound, but that was not true at this time of the year. That is the flipside of visiting Ladakh in the safer period of late July - the white gives way to a mixture of brown and white. KD and Sagar were overjoyed to have conquered Chang La at last, and with the main hindrance to Pangong crossed, they were sure that they would finally get to see the lovely lake. After spending around 15 minutes and having that awesome free tea that the army folks serve, we sped on.

Breakfast stop at Karu
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We ride in the wide plains at Sakti, nearing Chemde
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The precariously perched Chemde monastery
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WanderB, relieved with lesser burden to carry today, poses in front of a picture perfect setting
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The road winds up towards Chang La and one can see the narrow and long Sakti valley below.
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Chang La baba loves you all.
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The poor guy was stuck at a very high altitude for a very long time.
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Notice that safari bang in the middle of the snap, I wonder how he sees through that "Om" symbol. #Stupid
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I guess this is one of the quintessential shot taken by all travelers to the region.
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The only other hindrance left was the notorious monster by the name of Pagal Nallah beyond Tangtse. Some said that the bridge over it had been knocked down, while others said it was still there. On a side note, it is difficult to gauge the road conditions when one asks other travellers on the route. The first timers always have a different reaction as compared to seasoned travellers to the region. I believe that one should always ask two questions, a) How is the route ahead; and
b) Is this your first visit to the region? Only with the answers to both these questions can one safely determine if the route ahead is hell or manageable. We were informed that the ascent to Tanglang La was terrible, and that Moreh Plains were horrible. I’m not saying they weren’t, but they were also not as bad as the picture painted by some. One such person had told us that Pagal Nallah has gone berserk, making it difficult to reach Pangong. So we had our doubts...

Once the 5 km ‘lakshman rekha’ from the pass was crossed, the smooth tarmac reappeared, making the ride till Durbuk ever so smooth. The shock absorber was new, and even though it was set at mid-hardness, it was neither creaking nor touching the mud guard as it was earlier. The other highlights of the descent were the small but lovely lake Tsoltak and a very picturesque dhaba located on the stream emanating from the mighty Chang La. We did not have the time to stop at either, as we were already lagging majorly behind the boys and the frequent stops to shoot were also holding us back.

Once we reached Durbuk, the haunting signboard which mentions the distances towards Nubra via Agham and Shyok appeared. This was haunting for Sagar and KD as well who faced a very tough situation, to put it mildly, there in 2010. On our suggestion, they had taken this route and were stuck for two nights at an army camp in the middle of nowhere. The road ahead had been washed away, and the only way to cross it was through almost 4 feet of water which stretched for about 100 m. The other vexing part was that a Ford Fiesta had accompanied them, which broke its axle on the route and had to be shipped back to Chandigarh in a truck. The repair costs alone stood at about 60,000, not to mention the high shipping cost. And since this happened, we hadn’t heard the end of their taunts on how risky the routes we recommend to people are!

For the two of us, the board was haunting as it had places like Sultan Chushu and Daulat Beg Oldi written on it with distances. Wonder when we would get permits to visit those highly secure places of Depsang plains. Oh Ladakh, when would our closure come, if ever?

For now, we regrouped at a dhaba in Durbuk, sighing at that board, different people for different reasons. To cheer us up, the nice lady served us the best Maggi we had had so far on this trip, or maybe all the trips combined.

The clouds look picture perfect as start descending Chang La
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Jugni and its owners strike a killer pose in front of Tsoltak.
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A detour taken near some unnamed pass before Durbuk, one can see the twin villages of Durbuk and Tangtse ahead.
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The board which poses the questions again and again...
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This place served one of the best maggi I've tasted, ever
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A pretty sight inside the tent
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The boys push off in pure retro style with a retro shot to boot
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A pretty house at Durbuk
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Jugni strikes a pose
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We pushed off for the final stretch to Lukung by 12:45 pm. The boys had moved ahead while the couples stuck together. The entire road all the way till Lukung was well tarred and the ride was a breeze. Pagal Nallah came and went, and we hardly noticed, all thanks to the bridge over it. Back in 2005 when there was no bridge on it, Aarti and her family had to turn back because it could not be crossed post lunch, and had to spend the night at Tangtse. They crossed the nallah early morning the next day.

The stretch is also famous for being the marmot country. Aarti was on a lookout for those cute furry creatures, but they were sadly nowhere to be found. We also crossed a small stretch of sand dunes, a trailer to what one gets to see in Nubra.

When on a bend we saw the first view of the lake, Gunjan was overjoyed and so was Yeshu. Lukung was hardly a few kms up ahead, where the boys were waiting for us...

As we pass by Tangtse, memories come back of a night spent here after descending Marsimek La, back in 2010.
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The green and the brown contrast each other yet existing simultaneously
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The 'Nubra-sque' stretch of the Leh - Pangong Tso highway
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And there it is, the first sighting of the beautiful lake
Six Wanderers Ride to Ladakh-29dsc_6349.jpg
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Old 22nd December 2012, 13:52   #25
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Default Day 8: Leh - Pangong Tso

Day 8: Leh - Pangong Tso

When on a bend we saw the first view of the lake, Gunjan was overjoyed and so was Yeshu. Lukung was hardly a few kms up ahead, where the boys were waiting for us. Soon we reached the lake shore, and it was time to break again for a cuppa and to soak in the first sight of the lake. To my surprise, the place was relatively empty with us as the only group of tourists. It was only later that we realized that the day-visitors now preferred to go to the exact spot where 3 Idiots was shot. I wonder why that is spot considered so sacred by our fellow tourists. It is not as if Aamir Khan is himself present there to greet everyone individually. Well, whatever.

Gunjan shoots me while I run away towards the lake at Lukung
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The sea gulls waited with baited breath as I came closer to them
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When I came too close they started flying out in different directions, some went east
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And some west
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A lone army patrol boat tied at the docks, it must be quite something to patrol these waters
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This shot was taken of Lukung, the road and the lake. A road moves up north towards Phobrang while one snakes the lake and moves towards Chushul
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With the major hindrances for the day already crossed, the run till Spangmik was straightforward, or so we thought. The lovely tarmac gave way to kuccha road beyond Lukung, which was expected. As usual the boys were marching ahead by quite some distance, while the couples trailed. Upon taking a bend, to our horror, we saw a sight that was visibly disturbing. Sagar waited at a mad nallah, while poor KD was stuck smack in between that RAGING monstrosity. His bike was fighting with all of its 350cc power to cross the nallah, and with all his might KD was struggling to hang on to Goddess. If one accounts for the physics of the situation, the entire bike’s side profile (which in any case is pretty long for a bullet), was opposing the flow of this raging river, causing the bike to slip sideways. The engine provided thrust, as much it could, in the forward direction, but it were only KD’s legs which were opposing the force of the furious river. He hung on to the love of his life with both his hands and legs and finally his lover came through for him. With one sudden plunge, she pulled both herself and KD out of the situation in one swift motion.

There were a group of French tourists on bikes as well as an Innova on the other side of the nallah, waiting for us to cross over, and help if required. Sagar, Yeshu and I gulped. Gunjan and Aarti were requested to disembark and carry the tank bank and the camera. The guys on the other side, including KD, hollered at the top of their voices to come with as much momentum as possible. With a prayer on my lips, I roared up WanderB and thrusted forward with as much momentum as I could gather. Within a split second, I found myself on the other side. The momentum generated while catapulting WanderB was sufficient to see it through. Sagar was up next. He too lurched ahead, with as much momentum as he could, but to our horror he lost all his momentum smack in the middle of it and started sliding towards the lake below. KD, 2 other French tourists and I ran towards his rescue. It was difficult to even stand in this gushing water and we too were struggling to stand upright. All of us together were able to stop Vertigo’s lateral movement. Sagar, on his part, was trying to break Vertigo free from the monster’s clutches as much as he could, but a stone in the torrent below was bogging him down. It must have been after a good 30 seconds, which seemed like an eternity, that he finally broke the shackles, lurched forward and was out of it all. Phew! But we could not let out a sigh of relief just yet... YeshuB and Jugni were yet to cross. The ‘true blue Punjab da puttar’ saw what had happened, analysed the situation, turned back and started towards Leh...

The random monster before Spangmik, Gunjan had the presence of mind to shoot this while the rest of us panicked
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Of course, he took another U-turn a 100 m ahead and built his momentum from back there. He hit the torrent at a good 60 kmph with a prayer on his lips, and was safely across in one go. The girls couldn’t find a path to cross the monster, and thus requested a passing Innova to ferry them across. With high fives going around everywhere, we thanked those French guys and moved ahead towards Spangmik. There was one more water crossing before Spangmik which was bad. Although the momentum and mass of water flow was on the lower side, but the patch was quite ugly. Thankfully, all of us scampered across it quite easily.

The smaller one immediately after, there was little water-flow but the patch was worse.
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Before Spangmik the road comes quite close to the lake at times
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We managed to reach Spangmik at around 2:30 pm, a good 7.5 hours after we had left Leh, but then again it was a very relaxed ride punctuated with ample stops. The next order of business was to find a place to spend the night. We had been here back in 2010, so we headed straight towards the homestay we had stayed at then. It went by the name of “Gongma”. It was run by a pretty lady who had sent off her kids to study at Leh while her husband worked in an army camp in a nearby village. The location was perfect. While many would think that a location as close to the lake as possible would be ideal, it is actually up above from where one gets the perfect view of the lake’s expanse and the Chang Chenmo range across it that makes the perfect setting to stay the night. Gongma homestay is located almost at the highest point in Spangmik village.

We immediately recognized the old man and the pretty lady of the homestay. However, they did not remember us. It was kind of a let down, but hey, zillions of tourists visit them in a season, so what were we really expecting? After giving them a printed copy of their photographs which we had taken the last time around, all of us crashed in the cozy rooms of the homestay. One large room was taken up by us couples, while the boys took a relatively smaller room for two. The charges were a paltry 200 rupees a bed for the night. It was then time to relax as the sun was hot outside.

In the evening, we headed off towards the lake. The boys went around 4 pm, while we were lazier and reached the lake only by 5:30 pm or so. We met the boys on our way down. They were heading back up to rest some more.

Spangmik has grown in size over the past 2 years. There is more luxury tented accommdation than the last time, which obviously means that more and more people are chosing to stay here rather than at Lukung. I would want to say that it would be good for the local economy, but sadly that is not the case. Those luxury tents are owned mostly by businessmen either belonging to Delhi or Himachal or Leh, and none of them by the local populace.

Several people had gathered near the lake in the proximity of those tents, and so we went a bit further up towards the village of Man to find a relatively quieter place to sit. After a km or so, we found a spot by the lake to rest and parked WanderB as close as possible to the lake on a sandy stretch. Yeshu, Gunjan and Jugni had gone further ahead to find a quieter place for themselves *wink*.

The next hour and a half was spent doing nothing and just sitting by the lake, soaking in its beauty. It was tranquil and heavenly. The one thing that we had missed on this trip was our conversation. It came back on that evening and a pleasant 90 mins passed by without us even noticing (and I’m not saying this because Aarti wants me to say it *wink*).

The latter part of the evening was spent sipping a popular brew which is named after a very popular Marlon Brando movie. It was as strong as Mr. Brando himself, and as persuasive as him in that movie. Dinner was of vegetable momos and thupka in Gongma homestay's comfy and cozy Ladakhi kitchen alongwith great conversation with the owners. The husband had returned from his job to help out with the homestay full time. Her daughter, Padma, who studies in Leh, had come home on a mini vacation. She was the most bubbly character in that room, much more than our laughing hyenas - Gunjan and Aarti. The old man,the pretty lady's father, was at his talkative best this time around. He recollected the war of 1962, when he was a 30 year old man fighting to save his life and livelihood. He spoke of a terrible battle fought in the nearby village of Chushul and of many lives lost, both civilian and of soldiers. His son-in-law told us stories of snow leopards, and we listened with open mouths. The family answered all our questions about the weather, the border, the Chinese, the local people and so on very patiently, and we kept asking till we couldn't think of more questions.

A panorama of Spanmik, lush green fields and blue water with a backdrop of brown and white in the distance.
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Somewhere beyond lies Marsimek La
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This is what I climbed to get a bird's eye view of the village
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The waves in the lake were very soothing
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WanderB gets adventurous, gets pretty close to the lake
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Another beauty shot of the vehicle
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Many more miles to crunch, many more roads to take
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Imposing WanderB
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We too decide to 'pose' by the lake
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It was actually soothing to sit by the lake at sunset, with waves passing by and hitting the shore. This was however a 'pose'
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The man of the house - at our dinner gathering in the home-stay.
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The curious cats then bid good night to each other and slept comfortably for a good 9 hours. Even the beds at Leh were not half as cozy as the ones in that homestay.

On day 8, we meet the tourism minister of marmot country himself, so hang on...

Last edited by vardhan.harsh : 22nd December 2012 at 14:01.
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Old 22nd December 2012, 15:14   #26
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Default Re: Six Wanderers Ride to Ladakh

Glued to the thread,
Amazing pictures and a great description. The lake shots are especially nice.

Well done.
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Old 23rd December 2012, 19:07   #27
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Default Day 8: Pangong Tso to Leh

Day 8: Pangong Tso to Leh

The route map for the day
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The nallah immediately after Lukung had shaken the boys to their core, and it seemed pointless to them to take any sort of a risk on the way back to Leh. Having rested nicely, they decided to push off as early at 6 am for Leh. The couples decided to take it easy and leave leisurely by 7:30 ish. So as we woke up, the boys were almost set to begin their ride for the day. The homestay was devoid of any sort of breakfast option, so we hit the road with a grumbling tummy. The threatening water crossings of yesterday were as timid as ever, and seemed more like the puddles on Delhi’s roads during the monsoon season. We saw a set of new and really nice cottages being built just on the outskirts of Spangmik. It could be JKTDC constructing them but they could also have been the set of SRK’s new upcoming movie, “Jab tak hai Jaan” for which the shooting was scheduled a month later. I hope it is the former, as it would mean an incredible stay option just by the lake.

Fire in the early morning sky, as seen by KD's lens
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Gongma homestay, sits pretty at the highest point in Spangmik
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From left to right, the lady of the house, the kid of the house (Padma), and the man of the house. Our lovely hosts there
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An abrupt eruption of colors in an otherwise barren landscape.
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The cottages under constructions, looks pretty dont they?
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The final stretch of road, next to Pangong Tso
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The ride towards Tangtse was mostly uneventful, barring one incident. You must first understand about the kingdom of Marmots and their cabinet ministers to fully appreciate this incident. Marmot country lies in the green patch that runs all the way from Tangtse till Pangong Tso. They have a prime minister, a president, and so on, but the most important function is that of the tourism minister. The task assigned to this functionary, is the overall well being of tourists visiting their homeland. It was decided about a decade ago that the minister himself would be the one to greet tourists, wave and smile as they pass by. If some tourists stop and try to approach the minister, their constitution clearly states that the tourism minister must be brave and not move from its position despite all odds. However, to be fair to the minister, it was also decided that it would stand and greet only at certain times of the day and not be subject to harsh sunlight throughout the day. Of course, winters would be off, with strict timelines for hibernation.

We were lucky enough to meet the tourism minister on our last trip to the lake back in 2010 and. this time was no different! When we first sighted the marmot, we did not know that it was the minister. We thought of it as an ordinary marmot, and both the bikes stopped to get some close-up shots. As we trudged carefully towards it, clicking all the time, we began to realize that the marmot may be special as it seemed least interested in running away. We moved an inch at a time, not to make any abrupt movements, and it was only after 10 odd minutes that we reached really close to it. The minister arose as we got too near, and we feared that we may have scared it away. But much to our delight, it stood up to greet us. Unfortunately, all those years of no exercise had rendered the minister lazy, and it sprawled back upon the rock it stood on, in a position which said: “I really can’t be bothered any more. Do what you want and get this over with asap”

Encouraged, we inched even closer, till the time we were almost at a touching distance from it. We were all in two minds whether to touch it or not. You never know, wildlife can react in an unexpected manner. But it was just too cute, and the temptation to touch it increased with every passing second. Finally, Aarti emerged as the brave one, and touched it. Whoa! NO REACTION whatsoever. The tourism minister did not budge an inch, and was actually liking hand strokes on its back. It must have felt like a nice back massage I guess. We all took turns doing some heavy petting, expecting the minister to leave soon. However, it stood its ground. Eventually, we got bored and after saying our goodbyes, left the minister to bask in the morning sun. Had we been in our car, we would have just taken it along with us, but probably the next time. *wink*

As we climbed back on the road, an Innova screeched to a halt next to us, and the driver passed us a small blue bag, asking if it was ours. It was indeed ours, and had slipped through one of the bungees. It contained our slippers, what luck!

Clockwise from top left: From afar, a bit closer, closer, as far as you can get
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Marmot or a sloth, anyone?
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Finally not slouching too much
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Aarti, the brave, does some heavy petting
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From left to right, Gunjan, Harsh and Aarti, all indulging in some heavy petting
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The little marmot indulges now in some heavy petting
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And then gets busy with some heavy running
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The entire marmot thing had pushed us back on our time schedule and it was only by 9:30 that we managed to reach Tangtse for breakfast. We looked around Tangtse’s ‘mall road’, if you can call it that, and zeroed in on a cafe that seemed open. We ordered a hearty breakfast of toast, omelettes, paranthas and Aarti’s hot new favourite, honey toast. When one of us visited the cafe’s loo, we got to know that the '3 Idiots’ team had had a meal there, obvious from the huge photographs plastered on the walls of an inner room. Must say, the shooting of that film in this isolated place did have a major impact on the local populace. And why would it not? Had I been a resident of Tangtse, I would have been equally, if not more, excited at the visit of Bollywood’s biggest stars to my unknown village.

After a hearty breakfast, we moved on. We crossed the now familiar Tsoltak, and began our climb to Chang La. While the initial few kms were okay, Jugni started having a hard time in the final 5 kms, with Gunjan having to walk on every bend. Finally, after a bend where I had to ferry Gunjan on WanderB, Yeshu asked the girls to do the final stretch in a car as Jugni might give up otherwise. We stopped a Scorpio which had only four people in it, and they refused to help. Such people are not meant to travel on Ladakhi roads. Idiots. Anyway, a Xylo came up next, and although there were already 6 people in it, they gladly accepted to haul up the girls till Chang La. As the girls later told us later, the Xylo group were cyclists and had cycled the Manali - Leh highway before taking a taxi tour of Pangong. They had done the highway in 9 days, with stops at Marhi, Sissu, Jispa, Zingzing Bar, Bharatpur, Brandy nallah, Pang, Debring and Rumtse. The question returned, when will I ever get closure of Ladakh?

As the girls sped off, we began our slow trudge up. Jugni was responding much better without the weight of a pillion, and it seemed as if we would make it to the top easily. But then along came a water crossing to make the going a bit difficult. Although it had several boulders and looked a bit tricky, I was confident that I could pull through. Yeshu went first, and crossed it without a fuss. I too had nearly crossed it when one damn boulder struck the side stand, damaging the spring that was holding it. Well something had to happen to make the day interesting! I honked, honked and honked, signalling Yeshu to stop for me, but he was too busy negotiating the bad stretch ahead. I stopped and started looking underneath for the damage done. A Jharkhandi biker on his way to the lake stopped and inquired if I was in need of any help. That is one of the best parts about biking in Ladakh. Most people are only too eager to help. Meanwhile, after noticing that I was not following him, Yeshu also turned back and together we decided to just tie the side stand with a string and get it fixed at Leh. We rendezvoused with our women folk at the top of Chang La where they were waiting anxiously for us, got an even stronger piece of string to further strengthen the side-stand and pushed off.

The sun was scorching hot that day, and our energy levels were sapping fast even at the high altitude pass. We quickly moved on towards Sakti and were there in no time and without any incident. While sitting and sipping tea at a small dhaba there, we caught up with a couple of fellow travelers. A group from Noida, consisting of a Nissan XTrail and a Gypsy, were coming from Nubra via Wari La and were headed towards Pangong. The rough ascent to Wari La had taken its toll on the XTrail, ripping the underbelly plastic bumper apart. A few army men, who were accompanying the vehicle, took pains to tie it with strings. They intended to move towards Hanle the day after, but I had my doubts if the vehicle with that jugaad would be able to make it even till Pangong.

We met up with another couple riding solo all the way from Chennai. They too were headed towards the lake and we warned them of the monster before Spangmik. By the time they would reach, it would become worse than how we’d seen it. They had also left their permits back at Leh and did not want to take a U-turn just to fetch them. So we gave them a copy of ours. Wonder if the permits were checked at all.

An unnamed pass towards the ascent of the mighty Chang La
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WanderB poses near the banks of Tsoltak
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Jugni gives up towards the climb of Chang La
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The zig zags during descent.
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We landed at Mr. Sharma's shop in Leh around 3 pm. I had to get the side-stand fixed, while Jugni had to get her back-rest welded which had given up on the way back. After a short stopover, we all headed back to our respective hotels, only to regroup later in the evening at Sunbeam Cafe on the Fort Road for dinner and to plan the return leg of the trip.

Over some really delicious grilled chicken and pizza, we discussed the plan for the remaining trip. While Aarti was tempted to spend another day in her beloved Leh, her desire to do a new route (Leh-Hanle via Chumathag) got the better of her. I, of course, wanted to go to Hanle, and even to Chumur! Yeshu wanted to do Hanle as well, but Gunjan didn’t, as this was her first visit to Leh and she wanted to sightsee and shop a bit more. The boys definitely did not want to go anywhere the next day and just wanted to chill in Leh. As for Tso Moriri, Aarti and I were definitely going, Yeshu and Gunjan were unsure as they were a bit skeptical on riding alone from Leh till Karzok, and the boys were also undecided as they wanted to relax and take it easy on the way back.

Taking all the above uncertainties into account, the dinner yielded the following semi-conclusive plan:

For Aarti & I (finalized plan)
  • Day 9 : Leh - Hanle
  • Day 10: Hanle - Karzok (via Nyoma)
  • Day 11: Karzok - Pang

For Gunjan & Yeshu (tentative)
  • Day 9: Rest at Leh, do Thiksey and other monasteries (obviously Gunjan won the battle of Hanle!)
  • Day 10: Leh - Korzok, just the two of them
  • Day 11: Korzok - Pang (with the both of us)

For the boys:
  • Day 9: Rest at Leh / day visit to Khardung La
  • Day 10: Rest at Leh
  • Day 11: Leh - Pang.

Since Aarti and I had a good 270 odd kms to cover the next day, we decided to wrap up dinner and drinks early and headed off to crash for the night. The rest of the gang stayed late at the cafe to wind off their drinks. It was planned that we would give a sync up call from Hanle to the others at Leh, apprising them of our status and road conditions till Mahe.

Very unexpectedly, Day 9 turned out to be the best day of the trip for us for a host of reasons...
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Old 23rd December 2012, 22:37   #28
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Default Day 9: Leh - Nyoma

Day 9: Leh - Nyoma

The route-map for the day
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The planned day was long, really long, and there was a good distance of 270 kms to be covered. We expected good roads all the way through, which essentially can make all the difference between a good day and a bad day. The other aspect to consider was fuel calculation. In our intended plan, the next fuel stop was at Tandi, which was a good 800 kms away from Leh. WanderB was giving a good mileage of about 25 kmpl, which meant that to cover the distance we would need at least 32 L of petrol. Add to that another 2 L of mandatory buffer, thereby making it a total requirement of 34 L. We had a carrying capacity of 28 L - 19.5 in our modified fuel tank and two jerry cans of approximately 4.25 L each. But we were still a good 6 L short of our bare minimum target. Remember, we had left about 30 L of fuel at Debring on our way up, but all said and done, it was risky to assume that it would be there kept safe for us on our return. Don’t get me wrong here, I do trust mountain folk implicitly, but somehow such a crucial decision seemed better not left on faith. Sachin, on his recent trip to the region, had reported availability of fuel at Hanle, and I had a strong feeling that it would also be available at Nyoma. Afterall, such a huge village, which is also a district headquarter, should have fuel available in the grey market. With these issues in mind, we topped up all cans and canisters at the Leh fuel station and left for Upshi at 7:30 am. Yes, 7:30 was late, but we had to ensure that we got a good 8 hour sleep the night before to face the gruelling 5 days ahead.

We had by now memorized the ride till Karu, and the usual suspects - Choglamsar, Shey, Thiksey, Stakna - passed by with us still marveling at their beauty. They looked ethereal in the early morning light, but the day was long and we saved our photo breaks for the latter half of the journey. We broke for a short breakfast at Upshi. A group of marathoners had also stopped at the same dhaba. On this trip, we were apprised of a very peculiar marathon conducted in Ladakh. The “La Ultra” begins somewhere near Khardung village, climbs up the pass, and then goes down all the way till Leh. It further continues towards Rumtse, climbs up Tanglang La, eventually finishing at Morey plains! This 222 km long marathon is supposed to be ‘finished’ by an individual if s/he completes it in its scheduled cut-off time of 60 hours. Some marathoners do not take a sleep break, and some break only for a short while. The winner of this years’ edition completed it in 36 hours flat, which translates into an average speed of 6 kmph. Imagine. At that altitude, and that too without any breaks! We interacted with the marathoners for a bit and were amazed to see their fitness levels. They were headed towards Tanglang La for what was essentially a recce and a practice run. Respect!

We completed our breakfast in a hurry and stocked ourselves up with chocolates and fruit juices and were up and moving by 9:30 am. The Upshi - Loma stretch was entirely new to us, and that was by itself was kind of refreshing. For the first 10 minutes or so after we left Upshi, we both kept repeating ‘new road, new road, yay’, showing how excited we really were to have finally embarked on a route on this trip that we hadn’t done before!

The road runs along the Indus all the way till Loma, where one crosses over to the opposite bank and then runs parallel to the Hanle river all the way till Hanle. After Upshi, the extremely wide valley gives way to a narrowish one. The road was decent, punctuated with some ‘kaccha’ detours due to construction of new culverts. The landscape was eerily similar to the Khaltse - Hamboting La stretch which goes to the Aryan villages of Dha and Hanu.

The fork in the road at Upshi, the right one takes the shorter path back home, the left one - longer - towards Hanle
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We follow some stallions on those 'detours' for new culverts under construction
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The sun was beating down, scorching at times, and the ride could hardly be termed as pleasant. It was as barren as it could have been, and finally after looking for 10 minutes or so, we found a tree to sit underneath and recuperate after 90 minutes of riding continuously. Aarti’s shoulder had developed a niggle and she was quite uncomfortable on the rear seat. Out came Combiflam from the medicine kit, and it soon worked wonders.

With the short pit-stop over, I mounted the bike, put it in neutral, switched the ignition on and pressed the self-start button. There was no response. My heart sank a bit. I double-checked the panel to see if I had made some mistakes, but I had not. Another attempt at self-start and again there was absolutely no response. I immediately switched to the kick, and WanderB roared back to life. I kept quiet, and did not share this hiccup with Aarti at that time. Obviously, there was something wrong with the bike. The most probable suspect was the battery, as we all know what happens to those equipment at such high altitudes. The situation was not too dire though, or so I thought. Even with a drained battery, the bike could always be kick-started / jump started / push-started, if need be. We were not carrying a jump cable, but could ask our friends to get it the next day. The worst case scenario would be a stranded bike, eventually loaded on a pick-up and carried all the way to Leh. Knowing that the worst scenario was still acceptable, I thumped quietly along the Indus keeping the troubles to myself for now. Unknown to me, Aarti too had noticed the problem and was a bit concerned, but chose to remain silent as well. She obviously hadn’t thought the situation through, and her immediate concerns included a hot day and shoulder-pain.

The route can hardly be termed as desolate as there are numerous small villages all along, all the way till Loma. Much to our disappointment, we could not identify the ‘3 Idiots U-turn bridge’ when we crossed over it, and got to know about it only later. I wonder why tourists don’t have that bridge on their things-to-see-in-Ladakh list (which by the way already includes the narrow extension on Pangong on which Kaerena rides her scooty, and the school in which Aamir taught).

The valley had started to change colors, and stark brown was giving way to hues of pink. It had also started to widen a bit at a few places. As they say, the ride was getting prettier by the km. We finally managed to reach Chumathang by around 12:30 pm or so. It was a relatively small town as I had imagined it to be, but it did boast of a few places to spend the night. The dhaba was overcrowded with a largish gang of tourists headed towards Tsomo Riri and an even bigger gang of soldiers headed towards Fukche. It was too early to break for lunch, so we limited the stop to a quick smoke and Coke. We had decided to break at Nyoma for lunch, and we expected to reach there in another 1.5 hours or so, as it was only 50 km away. Little did we know that this stretch would take so much longer to cover...

Approaching Himia village - this is where that "U-turn" was shot in the movie "3-"Idiots"
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Truly reminds one of the Dha-Hanu stretch on the Srinagar highway, does it not?
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Now I don't remember correctly, but think this was Kiari village - a pretty setting.
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That's Chumathang in the distance
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The run from Chumathang to Mahe was quick and effortless.Clouds were gathering to give us respite from the scorching heat. The road towards Tsomo Riri crosses over the Indus just before the check-post at Mahe, and this is the closest that foreign tourists can go to the border. We showed our ILPs for Hanle at this check-post and marched on. We soon came across a fork in the road, and were delighted to see that the road going towards the left went to Chushul via Nun Gompa and Kangsang La. I knew that this route also boasts of two lakes, one of which has been formed by a meteor. We were running short on time, so had to skip this detour, but promised ourselves to explore it some other time.

We had hardly moved 4 kms from the check-post when, on a bend, the most surprising view ever opened before us. The narrow valley abruptly gave way to a very wide one, a large part of which was occupied by the mighty Indus. The banks of the Indus were lush green, and the mountains around were a mix of purple, pink and brown, making the landscape look like a painting. The view extended upto miles ahead, giving the scenery a larger than life feel. We stopped at this bend just to soak in the spectacle before us. The view was surprising as we hadn’t expected it, especially because the route since morning had not been very pretty. Our happiness at the dramatic change in scenery knew no bounds, particularly because this was the first ‘new’ very beautiful stretch we’d seen on this trip. The journey towards Nyoma, we realized, was going to be very slow, but rather than complain, we were smiling from ear to ear.

The valley broadens a bit now
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The cut for Chushul at Mahe - goes via Kaksang La
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This is where the valley really opens. Even if going to Tso Moriri, one should definitely take this detour of 4 kms to see paradise.
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A km or two later, we noticed a dust storm rising in the distance in the east. It seemed as if a small tornado was forming and moving towards the road. Strangely, another mini-tornado appeared from behind the mountains and started moving towards the road following the first one. And lo and behold, another one formed and started moving, again towards the road. This was mighty peculiar, and made us stop in our tracks on a dead straight road. Realization started to dawn and our heartbeat levels spiked. My hands trembled as it reached for the tank bag to take out the 300 mm lens and fit it on the Nikon D3000. Aarti was jumping like a mexican bean on the rear seat. 4 tanks had come out from behind the mountains and were headed right towards us, with the barrel pointing in our direction! The last part is, of course, a lie but it does add to the drama in the narrative, does it not? They were pointing towards the road.

We realized that we were too far away to shoot these tanks with our 300mm and thus boldly moved directly towards it. The 4 beautiful pieces of machinery came to a grinding halt right next to the road, whipping up a puff of dust. A group of about 30 army jawans were squatting in front of an elderly jawan and a person who appeared to be a youngish commanding officer. He must have been 30 years old, younger than me probably. Dressed smartly, he peered at us through his Ray Ban aviators. We asked him if we could photograph the tanks, which peeved him off. He told us curtly to move onwards and not to shoot the tanks. When I mentioned that the tanks looked awesome, his irritation gave way to a slight smile. Hiding his pleasure at my comment, he told us that it was not a ‘tank’ (you bloody tourists), but actually an ICV - also explaining the acronym - Infantry Combat Vehicle. His tone and his smug smile belied the overall demeanor of an irritated man that he was trying to portray. Not pushing our luck, we thought of not troubling their exercise and rushed towards the next bend up ahead.

The first tank approaching the road
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Screeches to a halt, with a puff of dust. Aah!
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If it were possible, the view at the next bend was a tad more beautiful. The river had spread wider, to form a mini archipelago in the middle. The mountains had a tinge of pink, hues of green and a splash of brown. Whites were sorely missed! Since we were in Changthang, herds of Kiang constantly passed by us. As shy as ever, these herds were generally seen across the river.

There came a bridge, just before Nyoma, going towards the mountains afar. We initially thought it was probably going towards an army base, but later realized that it went all the way towards Kyun Tso and Thit Zarbo La. It was again heartbreaking to have missed the detour, and we repeated our pledge of doing the route someday.

Nyoma was now visible in the distance...

The archipelago collection in the middle of the river
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The colors of nature
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Flat wide roads after Mahe
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One of the many Kiangs found enroute
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More ICVs spotted in the distance
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Some parked right next to the road, shot while we were on the move
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Curvaceous beauty!
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Another Kiang whom we stopped to shoot
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The bridge over river Indus, goes towards Nidar and eventually Thit Zarbo La
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The settlement of Nyoma at a distance
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Old 27th December 2012, 13:52   #29
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Default Day 9: Nyoma - Hanle

Day 9: Nyoma - Hanle

With limited tourists crossing this part of the world, and army vehicles preferring to stop at messes for meals, there are hardly any dhabas to be found beyond Mahe. It was lunch time already and the only dhaba on the main highway was closed. We marched inside Nyoma and reached the market, where a few shops were open. Upon inquiring at the only dhaba there, we came to know that the nice lady had some spare petrol to sell in the grey market. She also told us that she could make maggi for us for lunch. Not wanting to eat maggi, we passed her offer and headed back towards the highway to search for the usual fare of thupka or daal-rice-vegetables. Sadly, nothing else was open and we were forced to go back and take her up on her offer. She fed us with vegetable maggi along with the second best Qawah we have ever had (the best was at Dal Lake on a shikara ride). We promised to return the next day to buy petrol from her. Priced at Rs.75 a liter, it seemed cheaper than the regular market price. This was strange, but I was too tired to inquire more on it and left it at that. After a satisfying meal, we were back on the road by 3 pm or so to cover the last 70 kms left for the day.

The initial stretch between Nyoma and Loma was a riot of colors, but the latter half was quite dusty and desert-ish. The black tarmac was smooth, and rode through one of the most amazing landscapes that exist on this side of our planet. Kiangs too were a frequent sight as we rode along. The frequent photo stops made our progress slow, but we didn’t mind at all as the beauty around us kept us mesmerized.

Just before the Loma check-post, the Indus widened as much as it could and was a sight to behold. The jawans at the post had a customary look at our permits and let us pass. A familiar fork in the road came just past the bridge which marked Dungti on the left and Hanle on the right. Having turned wiser from the last trip, we proceeded towards the intended destination this time, taking the right turn.

The scene extends to infinity and this point was undoubtedly one of the most beautiful of our entire trip
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Layers of colors with different shades, a delight for a cameraman's eyes
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Like a snake, the tarmac bends in the vast landscape
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And at times, it stretches out till eternity where the proverbial parallel lines join
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The mighty Indus stretches its widest near the Loma post
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The vast plains before Hanle could be called the ‘baap’ of all the plains that exist on the Changthang plateau. Neither the revered Moreh nor the Tezagong plains come close. The Rongo plain has a lot more character than its siblings further west and south respectively. It boasts of a lush green strip where a lot of Changpas make camp during this season. While a river runs west of the road feeding that green strip, the eastern half of the plain is as barren as a landscape can get. Beyond the eastern flank lies the mighty Indus, and beyond which lies our neighbouring nation. The stark combination of a brownish-pink desert and greenery in patches for about 45 km at an elevation of 4700 m ASL with dead straight roads makes the ride to Hanle one of the most gratifying rides ever. The lush green provides the Changpas the much needed fodder for their pashmina flock as well as a constant source of fresh water. Not to mention the convenience of being located so near a road, as most of them own one vehicle or the other to help them trade their goods at Leh. To top it all up, these lesser visited plains provides them the seclusion they so want from maddening tourists like us, invading their way of life for better or for worse. Kiangs were so many that we were forced to describe their sightings as infestation!

At a distance, we saw an imposing structure at the edge of a mountain which we knew to be the imposing Hanle Fort. This marks the beginning of the Hanle wetlands which is rich in both flora and fauna. The fauna includes some visitors from up north (Siberia) such as the black necked crane. Hanle is not a single village but a collection of many small villages which dot the wetland. The tarmac ends just beneath the fort where 4 roads converge. The first, the one which we were coming on from the North, comes from Loma. From the west, the second road comes all the way from Chumur. The third road coming from the east comes from Fukche and crosses the mighty Photi La. The last road from the south comes from a habitation which is so secluded from the rest of the world that it can still be called pristine. And so dry that the scientists decided to build an astronomical observatory there. Hanle.

An oasis in this middle of a cold desert helps quench the thirst of these wild beasts
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A group of Kiangs loiter around, curiously looking at their intruders
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If you look clearly in this somewhat blurred shot (sorry, taken on the move), this Changpa settlement was HUGE
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The road goes straight south towards Hanle
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WanderB looks at the remaining miles to crunch for the day
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An alien lands on the barren landscape from a solar system far far away
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The spanking new tents of the Changpas. Gone are the days of Rebos, well at least for some well-to-do Changpas.
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Ladakh, at 90kph
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Another Kiang wanders close to the road this time
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These electricity poles run mostly parallel to the tarmac towards Hanle
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Finally, we reach close to the Hanle fort
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We entered the village and headed straight to the lone telephone booth there. Upon asking for a place to stay, the booth and shop owner (lady) guided us to the home-stay she had built in her own house. It was a two room affair with a common bathroom which was well tiled and boasted of a newly installed western commode as well. The rooms were pretty spacious, enough to accommodate 2 large beds in each. The bedding was quite dirty though and could have used some cleaning, but we quickly took it as a roof over our heads was more important. One of the rooms was occupied by a group of 6 bikers from Bangalore, their rented bikes bearing JK 10 yellow/ black registration plates neatly parked outside. As we exchanged pleasantries, we got to know that half of them had gone to visit the Hanle fort, while the other half rested. They had come from Tsomo Riri and had reached Hanle by lunch.

We quickly washed away the dirt from our faces, chucked our riding gear and headed straight for the observatory. The sun was going down quickly, which meant that Mt. Saraswati, the hill on which the observatory is built, was the place to be. The complex looks like a structure from a science fiction movie given the backdrop where it is constructed. We caught up with Mr. Sonam, a local of Hanle village, and a caretaker at the establishment. We soon realized that we had actually interacted with Mr. Sonam via the senior staff at the observatory over email, and it was his home stay that we had actually booked ourselves at. He mentioned that he had made investments to ensure that tourists visiting his village could have a place to spend the night at. This request for investment had also come from the staff of the observatory which was sick and tired of repeated requests from tourists such as us for permission to stay the night at their guest house. We tendered our apology to Mr. Sonam for the confusion and explained that it will not be fair on our part to leave the homestay which we’d checked into now. He agreed with our logic and did not say much afterwards. A young engineer, who had done all his schooling at Delhi, was employed at the observatory. A native of Leh, he had found what I would describe a dream job for many. He spends 15 days on site, while the remaining 15 are spent in the ‘relative’ comforts of Leh. He was excited to have visitors all the way from the political heart of India and we exchanged anecdotes from our respective lives. He took us around inside the main telescope room, showed us around and then bid us a fond adieu.

It was only after dusk that we reached back our abode for the night. The Hanle village follows a very strange practice. Every evening the main gates to the village is tied up with a huge rope! I wonder why, since crime is hardly a problem in this region!

The fort gives one an idea of the scale of the landscape beyond
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The observatory at Hanle looks straight out of a sci-fi movie - an abandoned station in the middle of nowhere
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The observatory with the fort at a distance atop Mt. Saraswati
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Our friendly tripod helps us take those ever elusive couple shots on trips.
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It was quite dark by the time we pushed back to our humble home-stay for the night.
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The sky had the most amazing hues but was surprisingly cloudy.
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After freshening up, we decided to call our friends before dinner, and went to the phone booth outside our homestay. The queue was long. Many labourers travel from the plains to this remote part of the world giving their services to the locals. We met up with two carpenters from Amritsar who had been working on restoring the interiors of the Hanle Fort since March, and would leave only after two months or so, before the harsh winter sets in. A few locals had also come to make calls to their relatives, near and far. After a good 45 minute wait, we finally got our chance. The first call went to KD, but sadly he did not pick up. The second to Sagar, and he too did not answer. The third to Gunjan, who was busy on another call. Finally, we got through to YeshuB on his mobile. After ranting for a few minutes with the choicest expletives, I updated them of the route status. I also strongly recommended them to come 4 kms ahead from the Mahe check-post and then take a U-turn towards Tsomo Riri.The boys had decided that they too would be joining Gunjan and Yeshu till the lake and the group could then be reunited. We decided to catch each other at Korzok the next day, as coordinating somewhere in between would have been difficult. I also requested KD to bring along a jumper cable for the bike, if possible, as self-start was still not working.

What followed was a nice home cooked meal in a typical Ladakhi kitchen, followed by an invite by the Bangalore boys for a couple of drinks and a chat with them on their plans ahead. I recommended them to try and coax the gentlemen at Loma to allow them to go towards Pangong directly via Chushul.

With a prayer on our lips that the bike starts tomorrow without any hassle, we slept...
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Old 27th December 2012, 14:13   #30
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Default Day 10: Hanle to Karzok

Day 10: Hanle to Karzok

Route-map for the day
Six Wanderers Ride to Ladakh-00-routemap.jpg

We had slept peacefully the night before, and both woke afresh at 7 am. The morning rituals were comfortable and easy, unlike our last stay at Hanle, all thanks to the modern toilet at our homestay. The bikers from Bangalore were almost ready to leave, and we bid them adieu before going for a breakfast of bread and eggs in the homestay’s very cosy kitchen. The queue was long again at the telephone booth, so we resisted the urge to make one sync up call to our friends at Leh. In any case, chances were pretty high that they would have left for Korzok already. Our hosts for the night seemed to be a tad business oriented, at least when compared with the folks at Spangmik, and so after coughing up the money for the night before, we began our ride back by 8:30 am.

A mini-jam created by a huge flock of Pashmina goats on the Hanle plains delayed our progress by 10 minutes or so. A delay which was much appreciated. We spotted several Kiangs enroute, but eventually gave up stopping to shoot them as there were too many, and we did not have enough time. Barring one that came too close to the road, we did not stop for the rest of them. Hmmph, so much for wild fauna of the Changthang cold wildlife national park!

Our homestay at Hanle, with the observatory visible on the distance hill top
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This sir is a lie, I see only two wheels!
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A herd of Kiangs meander near the village
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We bid adieu to the Hanle fort, not visiting it yet again
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Changpas begin their morning stroll, maybe its of 20km maybe its of 10, who knows?
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An hour and a half later, we stopped at Rhongo village to stretch our backs. A weird buzzing sound was coming from somewhere nearby, but it was nothing to talk about, or so we thought. We flexed our muscles, drank some water, opened up a small packet of dairy milk to munch upon and a packet of juice to relish. The buzzing sound continued, but we still chose to ignore it. I took the camera out to shoot the lovely green village, and I was peering through the view-pane when a helicopter started to rise up some 50m ahead from where we stood! It was quite a sight! I quickly took a few shots before the helicopter went out of sight. We did not get the time to take out the 300 mm rifle. The helicopter took another right turn in the distance, and this was when we realized that it was just practicing sorties as a training exercise. It came all the way back and now it picked up two huge bags, lying on the helipad and took off again. It must be practicing for relief operations, we guessed. We happily shot its antics, the 300 mm lens now very much in place.This was our second encounter with exotic army equipment in as many days, and my smitten ‘army’ kitten, Aarti, was only too happy to have witnessed this exercise live. I too was on a different kind of a high from that experience. I know the men in uniform reading this travelogue would be thinking “Arrgh! Bloody crazy civilians!”, but with a ever sly smile on their face, relishing our reactions. ;-)

We reached the Loma post again, and signed ourselves off. That is when we saw one of the Bangalore biker guys coming from Chushul towards the post. We waited as he came back and informed us that one of the bikes had a flat tyre on the way towards Pangong Tso. I was surprised that the army jawans had let them go without permits for Chushul, but I guess these folks were ill-informed of the new rules prevalent in the region. To be honest, I was majorly jealous of their good luck. But such is life, sometimes you get all the permits you can dream of, at other times permits for the most basic places are denied.

This one was closer to the road
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And the road winds through that vast plains
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Another one caught across the river at Rhongo
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The pretty setting of Rhongo Village
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The helicopter prepares to take off
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Practice sorties for ration supplies I believe
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Hovering above
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The ride back towards Nyoma was largely uneventful and through the same dramatic landscape, obviously. We resisted our temptation to take as many stops as the day before to capture it on our lens. The day’s ride was relatively short and we intended to keep it that way. We were on the periphery of Nyoma at about 11 am when a strange structure on the side of the road aroused our interest. It was surprising that it had gone unnoticed yesterday. It was circular in shape, and had 4 concrete stands erected all around it. It was close to the river and hence was lush green but had a small strip of bald land right in the middle. We realized that it was a bloody cricket pitch with some semblance of a stadium/ amphitheatre around it! Cricket at 4100 m above sea level! I wonder how people manage to play here, I would be breathless on my first run for sure.

We went back to the kind lady we had met the day before in Nyoma to buy the fuel we had promised. Although she was not there, but was thoughtful enough to have asked her husband to wait up for us. The agreed rate was 70 rupees a bottle, which I assumed to be of a liter. However, they were selling it in beer bottles, which is typically 650ml. I was a bit confused earlier on how they were able to sell the fuel at lower than market prices, but now of course it made sense. We did not mind the extra financial burden, and bought all the fuel they had, around 10 L. With the fuel tank brimming to the top and the jerry cans already full, Tandi did not seem so far away.

A dramatic bend on the way to Nyoma
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An arrow straight pink road
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A high altitude cricket stadium, at Nyoma
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Vastness of the plains near Nyoma
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We resumed our journey towards Korzok, our halt for the day. We crossed the ICVs once again but this time decided not to stop to gawk at them, rather just moved ahead. Up ahead in the distance, we saw a group of people with their bikes parked just before a bend. In the distance, neither their number plates nor the type of bikes were visible, hell, I was not even sure if they were on bikes. But I had a strong hunch that they would be our friends who began the day earlier from Leh and were supposed to meet us up at Korzok. Moving closer, we were delighted to see that it was indeed KD, Sagar, Gunjan and Yeshu! Talk about a great sync up at 4000 m above sea level! They were mesmerized by what lay ahead, and the other couple even rode a couple of kms ahead to have a closer look at those tanks. When they returned, we all headed towards the check-post and took a break at the dhaba there. On a cup of tea, the police personnel posted there shared stories with us about the area, and mentioned that those ICVs (he called them tanks) were actually firing about-to-expire shells. Apparently, those shells are pretty dangerous to keep lying around and need to be fired every now and then. The dual objectives of disposal and training are served at the same time, much like what we do for those fire extinguishers here in Delhi.

We were off towards the lake, for our final haul of the day, by about 12:30 pm.

More ICVs
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Even more!
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They scatter after seeing WanderB
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The stretch between Mahe and Sumdo lay in a narrow valley and runs along a small stream. We were initially leading the group, but as it always happens, our frequent photography stops made us trail them instead. Aarti’s favourite pink sweatshirt, my sweater and a couple of other things were tied with a bungee at the back. Unknown to us, it was a bit loose and when we stopped for a shoot at Sumdo village, we realized that the sweater and sweatshirt were gone! We honked desperately hoping that others up ahead would stop and then we could turn back and look for the lost jacket, but alas they were too far ahead to hear us. Fearing that sync up might be an issue further up, we decided to let go of the clothes and moved on, thinking of the pleasure some Changpa girl would get by wearing the pink sweatshirt. The sweater was a lost cause, so no tears were shed for that.

Aarti sulked throughout the climb to Namsheng La, which can be described as the easiest climb to a pass ever! Hell, it should not even be called a La in the first place. A short break at the top and we were off.

The tarmac disappeared as we crossed Tso Kiagar, a small but beautiful lake. What was left was a sorry dirt track, which was quite a pain. It was dusty and full of small stones, making the ride till Korzok horrible. It must have taken us at least an hour to reach the village which was hardly 20 km away. The cut for Chumur was marked with a decently sized board this time around, but what was surprising was that a lot of tourist buses were coming from that road. Maybe some people had decided to view the lake from the opposite bank.

Sumdo village
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The road towards Tso Kiagar before Namsheng La
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Godess poses at Namsheng La
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A different pose, a-la-Godess
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Jugni is not to be left behind
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Everyone takes a break to catch a glimpse of Tso Kiagar
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Bar headed geese next to Tsomo Riri
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Finally we reach Korzok, our halt for the day
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