Ladakh Odyssey – Part 2 of 4

4th Aug (Manali – Keylong)

We started from Manali @ 7 AM in rain and fog as we didn’t have much choice. Entire stretch was slushy with some small good patches. The fog/cloud/mist was very dense and our clothing was getting wet. We reached Marhi which is 36 km from Manali.

Bikes loaded up at Marhi



View enroute Rohtang

We had our breakfast at one of the restaurant which was just waking up and started for Rohtang. Entire stretch up to Rohtang was having dense fog and at Rohtang it was quite chilly and windy. Somehow while shivering I took photo of the BRO mark for Rohtang pass.

Me at Rohtang pass

After Rohtang skies opened up a bit and it was down several kms through loops to Koksar. There was complete contrast from across the pass.

View beyond Rohtang pass

My bike proudly resting beyond Rohtang pass

Koksar is at the bank of Bhaga river which comes from Spiti Valley and meets Chandra river at Tandi. From Koksar to Sissu weather was fine and we drove leisurely with lots of tea & photo breaks. Twice or thrice we had to cross streams but nowhere close to difficulty near Jalori pass.

Distant waterfall near Sissu

A "streamy" road

A small valley of flowers enroute Keylong

Petrol bunk @ Tandi. The far board proclaims the 385 km fact

After Sissu it started raining again and lasted till Keylong. What the hell, this is our fourth day of rain. We were fed up of rain with wet luggage and clothing. Our hotel rooms till now were just spread out with wet clothes to dry. We reached Tandi and filled up at the only petrol station on this route. There is a board claiming that next petrol pump is only at Leh some mere 385 kms away.

I was averaging around 30 kmpl and with 18 lts petrol tank it was enough for me to last till Leh. We met up with the same group of foreigners whom we had met at Narkanda again at Tandi petrol pump. The guy who talked to me at Narkanda was very excited to see us. At Keylong, we stayed at hotel Valley View the road to which itself is not short of adventure.

View from hotel at Keylong

Due to some pipes getting laid, the whole road was dug up in the market. The room rent for Valley View was 500/-. It did had some nice view of mountains around. There was another stay option at Jispa ahead of Keylong as there is a nice hotel called Ibex over there but we did not go that far.

5th August (Keylong)

Due to snag in my companion’s bike we had to stay for one more day in Keylong. Having nothing to do I decided to go to confluence of Chandra and Bhaga rivers at Tandi. Bhaga river is the one which follows the road from Koksar and Chandra is the one which comes down from Jispa side to meet at Tandi and becomes Chenab which flows into Kashmir and further to Pakistan. The confluence was grand with both rivers full of water and carving an edge where they meet due to different shades of muddy water. I crossed over the Tandi bridge and went up to the Ghoshal village which came out to be the biggest village of the Lahaul – Spiti district. Around the confluence there was some construction going on and there were some kids who posed for picture from me.

Valley around Keylong

Confluence of Chandra & Bhaga at Tandi

Children of workers at Tandi

As I came down to Tandi it started raining and had to take shelter in a tea shop at Tandi bridge. There I met one interesting character in the form of a young Punjabi guy named Manoj Sharma. He is basically from Jullunder and does business of transporting peas from the various areas in Spiti and Lahaul to Delhi. He was fairly educated had done MCA and did some software jobs but left to the lure of peas business which brings him much more money. He is the youngest son in the family. His family is well educated and very prosperous. He visits all the nearby villages where peas are grown and bought by local traders. He then loads them in his trucks and take them to Delhi where these local traders again sell the peas to them. For whatever amount the peas are sold, he gets a 7 percent commission. So, if a truck gets sold for 1 lakh, he makes cool 7000/-. There are several trucks like this everyday. He kept on rattling his views on life in general and description of his family, life in field, life in software, his girlfriend and even a local NGO Pragya. He is a teetotaler but drinks sometimes and smokes as well though it is a taboo in his family. He then took me to his room and showed his educational certificates which were very impressive. He told us about a tradition in Keylong. There is a festival in Lahaul – Spiti which happens every year on 15th Aug. People from all over the district congregates, then there are cultural programs and at around 12 midnight boys pick any girl they want to marry. There is a circle in the ground in which girls are asked to assemble. Once it is announced to pick boys rush to pick the girl of their choice. If the boy manages to keep the girl for one night, next morning their marriage is solemnized. Girl is free to resist and if there are many suitors for a single girl then they have to struggle among themselves. He told us that there are times when girls approached him to pick them up. But he says that a girl from Keylong wont last in the heat of Punjab. After a few drinks in the hotel with us he left not before exchanging the contact info. He does all the traveling between villages on his own bike. This guy had already done 28 thousand kilometers since Feb this year and his bike lasts only for one season. In between he drives all the way to his brother in Kaza who does the same business there or to his home in Jullunder and Chandigarh.

6th Aug (Keylong – Sarchu)

We started early at 6:15 AM while it was still drizzling. We rode up to Jispa some 30 km from Keylong before stopping for breakfast. It was very cold today and due to rain it was chilly. After some overtaking of trucks which were generous to give us side, we reached Zing Zing bar. Not sure how the name came out to be. There was a small placid lake there whose name is Deepak Tal.

Deepak Tal at Zing Zing bar

From there the ascent to Baralachala pass started. The mountains around were barren with lots of erosion due to rain and snow probably. Sometimes it seemed that at any point, the mud and stones could come down and cause a landslide. The road was already damaged by rain and the landslides. Midway to the ascent to Baralachala, we faced our first hurdle. One of the loop of the ascent was closed due to landslide and water had breached the road. So to reach the other end of the loop somehow the vehicle had to be pushed up the mountain slope. When we reached vehicles like Qualis, small trucks and even bus was in the process of being pushed up.

Ascent to Baralachala

Vehicles being pushed up the mountain slope

We did not have any choice as it was not clear when the debris of landslide will be removed. That day being a Sunday someone was saying that BRO will be on leave. So we decided to push our bike through that path. I tried without luggage but got stuck at one point. There I was helped by a couple of Road Survivors from Chandigarh who were also trying to do the same. They had bullets. They pushed my bike and I pushed theirs. Eventually we all managed to reach the top. The way we pushed the bike was by not riding it but keeping it in first gear and racing and running alongside. My bike belched out such sounds which I never heard before. I was afraid that it may cause some damage to the bike but thankfully nothing serious happened. Once we crossed this hurdle I was slightly relaxed oblivious to havoc that weather is going to play. As we started ascending weather got worse, clouds enveloped the hills dropping visibility and then it started raining with cold winds and road was deteriorating. It was hellish experience going through slush in such biting cold with fog and nobody there to reassure. Throughout some 10 km to the ascent I did not find anyone and I was really scared. But as soon as I reached the Baralachala pass top others joined me and sky also opened up a bit.

Me at Baralachala pass

There was also a guy on a Honda high end bike all packed up. At the hurdle I talked to a lady whom I kept meeting on the road till Leh. Our destination for the day was Pang but due to the hurdle we lost close to two hours and settled for Sarchu. As we came down from Baralachala terrain started becoming mysterious. There were odd shaped mountains and valleys.

Mysterious terrain beyond Baralachala

View beyond Baralachala

Some 8 km before Sarchu, we took a bend and came to a valley very wide with grassland on one side and road running in between. The mountains on both sides were gorgeous. There we met the French lady again and while talking to her it came out from my mouth that this is heaven. It was not an exaggeration at that point because for last few days we never saw sunlight in a nice background and without tension on our mind about reaching the destination.

Grassy ground before Sarchu

Road to Sarchu

Tented acco at Sarchu

Sarchu was just a group of some 10-15 self-sufficient tents. The tent we chose was run by a Nepali guy. They cook and clean utensils in the tent only. A tent has dormitory style accommodation with beds in a circular embankment.
We settles in the tent and were later joined by Road Survivors on bullets. Their names were Sandy & Vicky. As there was nothing much to do we slept early. In between were joined by two girls who were wife and sis-in-law of the man on exotic Honda bike. The guy had burnt his clutch plates on the hurdle while ascending. The two girls were from Holland and nice to talk. Actually the husband-wife couple had left Holland an year back and traveled through Europe, Iran, Turkey, Pakistan etc. and now were in Ladakh. Since the wife’s sister had joined her and three people couldn’t ride on the bike, that is why they were traveling on state transport bus to Pang. Here I saw a state transport ordinary bus from Delhi – Leh. That is 1000 km journey through most arduous terrain taking 3 days at least would be lot of fun to do. Unlike expected Sarchu was not that cold even when I woke up at 2:30 AM to take a leak. Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) was on my mind so as precautionary measure I popped a Diamox tablet.

7th Aug (Sarchu – Leh)
This was the most ambitious day of the trip till now. We decided to do the stretch up to Leh which is like 270 km in a single day through two passes Lachungala and Tanglangla. It seemed possible due to two easy stretches in between, 45 km of Morey plains and 50 km from Upushi to Leh which is very good road. The morning was sunny though we had to do morning ablutions in open. We were now 5 people, two of us, two road survivors and one British guy David who became friendly with Sandy and Vicky and decided to ride with us. We all started at around 7:15AM and rode in tandem till Lachungla pass. There is one more Pass before Lachangla called Nakeela but never heard of probably because it gets shadowed by big brother Lachangla. While ascending Nakeela, there are 21 loops called Gata Loops.
We came down from Lachungla and hit Pang which had tents exactly like Sarchu. Before Pang we crossed a major stream of water and curved into a valley with weird rock & mud formations like ant holes and needle hole. Some private tents were also there. There were lot of Israeli groups in Pang. Ladakh is favorite destination for them to relax after their grueling compulsory military training. After having breakfast, we left Pang and came to Moray plains.

View enroute Pang

Mysterious mud structures

Tents at Pang

Road to Pang

Due to riding on bullets Sandy, Vicky and David went away pretty fast on level road. Me and my companion got split due to different judgment of road ahead. The road paving people had closed a section of the road due to breach by rainwater so we had to drive on the ground which was loose mud and gravel. Driving on this stretch was problem due to rear tyre wagging every now and then. I saw an army truck on the right. I thought that was the alternate way and followed it. It was not proper road but tyre marks said that it was used. The army truck turned back and went away leaving me all alone. I was again scared as I was alone may be on wrong path and clouds started gathering. After some time I saw some trucks come from the opposite side and I confirmed that this kuccha path also connect the road to Tanglangla. After some time I joined the main road. I rode alone for some time. The bikers from dutch group overtook me which assured me that I was on a correct path. After sometime my companion also joined who had taken a different path. What is the characteristics of Moray plains? The easiest stretch didn’t come out that easy after all.

Solo rider on Moray plains

Just before ascent to Tanglangla we met Vicky and Sandy who had gone ahead of us but taking rest. It was reassuring to speak to some known faces in the vast expanse. My companion wanted to rest his bike for some time and also to take out his store of petrol that he had filled up in my tank. As there was clear sign of rain, Sandy, Vicky and David left. What a bad luck! As soon as we started ascending, it started raining heavily. As there was no place to stop and road being bad, we just c0ntinued. In a rush to reach early, I went considerably ahead of my companion. There was no point stopping for him as I could not have done anything. I just rode, maneuvering my bike from potholes, gravel, mud etc. overtaking few trucks as well. All this while visibility was very low and it was chillingly cold. Thankfully, I had worn inner wear for the first and only time in this trip and gloves which saved me. My companion was riding without gloves and weather was so bad and cold that I was thinking whether I would see him again. I thought probably he would leave his bike and hitch hike on a truck. It was biting cold and even after wearing gloves how would be manage without them. The sight of Tanglangla pass was welcome just like it was for Baralachala. The top had lots of snow and hills around it were snow-capped.

Tanglangla pass

Tanglangla pass

Mountains behind Tanglangla pass

After some time my companion also appeared whose sight was pleasing. We left the pass after some time and reached Rumtse which was 25 km of down slope from the top. There again in a tent we met Vicky, Sandy and David. Vicky was not well as he was feeling really cold. They had to face snow as against rain in our case while ascending. After a cup of tea and maggi noodles we two decided to move first as bulleteers would catch us soon. The road here till Upushi was fine though rain and flood water had breached the road at many places. Now we felt the ease of two wheelers as how easy it is to push them through landslides and mud-water slush as against the four wheelers. A truck had jammed the road but enough space was left for two-wheelers so we rode on. But just before Upushi, the Gya river which was flowing beside the road had washed away a portion of road and any vehicular movement was not possible. But fortunately GREF bulldozer was already on the job cleaning up some portion of the hill to make way.

Road damaged by flooded Gya river

Here we were joined by Vicky & Sandy. We were the first ones to go over the cleared patch. After that there was no looking back and we zoomed all the way to Leh thankfully without much hiccup. Just before Leh we met the leading lady of dutch group whom we first met at Narkanda and was waiting for other group members to catch up. We simply smiled and entered Leh at around 7:00 PM. After calling up home and letting the folks know that we are fine, it was time to look for accommodation. We based ourselves at Fort Road which was abuzz with activity and lot of tourists were floating around. We all went like emissaries to various directions looking for hotel but most of them had no rooms. We wanted to stay together but after not finding any hotel with enough accommodation, we decided to split. David went to a high class Mogol hotel, Vicky and Sandy to Padamling and me & my companion to some guesthouse (name don’t remember) away from city center. It was a small but well carved out room for Rs. 800/- which I thought was expensive.

8th Aug (Leh)
Today was rest day after two days of continuous rides from Keylong to Sarchu and Leh. Especially the last day was mind blowing with three passes, climbing Tanglangla in rain and breach @ Upushi all thrown in one one day. Waking up was a bit late. We had decided to meet Vicky and Sandy @ Padamling hotel by 11 AM. But they too were late to rise. After some chat, gossip and humor we went to find Tibetan Kitchen, the famed restaurant according to Vicky. The food was good and cheap. After that it was time to get our bikes checked. My companion had invited David as well to come and get his bike’s footrest fixed. We went to Mohan mistry mechanic shop on the road to Chogmalsar. After some checks, loosening of chain and tightening of brakes, we came back David riding as pillion on my bike. Dinner was at La Pizzeria which was ordinary. Since they didn’t have license so they were serving beer in a teapot. I was feeling a bit cold, so came back to hotel early and slept. I asked few travel agents who arrange Inner line permits but they said permission to Nubra is not being given for last four days due to closure of road. Our plans to Nubra Valley seemed in jeopardy and were thinking of what else to do. My companion was insisting on trek to Stok Kangri peak which is 6000+ meters and is the highest non-technical peak. Non-technical meant not taking permission from Mountaineering Association. Rafting on Indus is what I came up with.

Leh Palace

9th Aug (Leh)

Today was again a lazy start to the day. I identified a bakery close to Vicky and Sandy’s hotel where I would take my breakfast, plain croissant and Apricot juice. That would be sufficient for the morning. We had decided on the last day to go to Tourist Reception Center (TRC) and the DC office to get decisive information on Nubra. Since my companion was not around and so many people going to office would be an overkill, I and Sandy went to the TRC first. A middle aged lady the only occupant at the office, told us that the road to Nubra has opened and it was announced on the radio. We felt elated on hearing this and rushed to the District Magistrate’s office which was close to Polo ground. The office was a typical of govt. offices you find in Delhi. You don’t know whom to ask. An intern lady told us to write an application to Addl. Distt. Magistrate with details of persons etc. with subject Inner Line Permit(ILP) then get it approved by person sitting in the office titles Addl. Deputy Collector. He approved it without checking any credentials probably because we looked Indian easily. We took the application to Agrarian section where they have a form with format for ILP printed. We just need to fill up the names and address. The guy there asked me to come at 4PM to collect the permit which I promptly did. We also had to pay wildlife fee which is newly imposed for Inner line areas @ Rs. 20/- per day per person. So, for three days and 4 people we paid 240/-. Lunch was at La Pizzeria again. I had Thupka which was just noodles with some vegetables and chicken. I did not like it much. After lunch it was time to visit Shanti Stupa where I went alone. It is beyond Changspa on top of a hill from where you get a good view of entire Leh town.

I need to talk something about the Leh town here after experiencing two days of stay. The town looks a foreign land with so many foreigners from all parts of the world and all the services are geared towards catering to them. You will find people from England, Germany, Holland, France, Israel and what not. In two days I was hard pressed to find Indian holidaymakers except few bikers like us. The town is full of STD/PCO and Internet cafes, money exchange counters, bakeries, roof top restaurants with all restaurants having menus for different cuisines like Italian and even Israeli. Even in Indian food, there is less spice and salt so we did not try a lot of Indian food. In the evening we went to original German bakery run by a Sikh since some 30+ years. This is actually the original German Bakery but now you would find lot of imitations in Leh town.

Anyways, Vicky was trying to forge a relationship with the owner but could not. The Sikh owner told us about a punjabi dhaba to have food which we were craving for so many days. The food was good close to punjabi style. After packing for next day we slept to get up and leave early. A small fiasco happened. My companion left his bike keys at an STD shop which got closed and he had to collect it next morning of course after some delay. During the day I visited Ladakh ecological Center. I was expecting a big array of shops and a fair like atmosphere but not to be. There was a shop of handicrafts where I bought a decorative wall hanging, a T-shirt and dried apricots. There was a library as well but just looked at the books and came back.

6 Comments

  • Devasmita says:

    Absolutely loved reading it and seeing the pictures :) I haven’t traveled in India, and these are my vicarious journeys.

  • Sahil says:

    Roopesh , Great narration supported with beautiful pictures . Definately waiting to read the next part :-)

    I have read innumerable travelogues on Leh – Ladakh till now. Your post is definately among the top ten.
    Even the places Keylong , Tandi , Sarchu , Baralachla , Morey Plains , Tanglangla and so on…… are all fixed on my mind.
    My dream is to visit Pangong Lake once in my lifetime. Hope my dream is fulfilled soon :-)

    Sahil

  • Great write up Roopesh. After reading the first part, I was desperately waiting for this part. Pictures and the whole reading experience about your travel was really thrilling. Thanks for sharing.

    Shefali

  • Roopesh says:

    @Devasmita: Thanks for your comments.
    @Sahil: Thanks. My dream is to visit Zanskar valley and Pangong & Tso Moriri lakes.
    @Shefali: Thanks and wait for further parts.

  • Nandan says:

    Whoo… Wow. I have read many leh stories but trust me I really liked the road-description part, a great value for someone who would want to take the road route.

    the pics of tents, acoos gives a great context of these places and finally the details about Leh city. I missed doing Leh last year, this year may be.

  • Pradeep Pant says:

    Really liked your article very well written. Keep writing.

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