We started our ride towards Pangong with a strong hope that we would be able to get permissions for Marisik La, Tsaga and Hanle as the infiltration issue had become worse. Again, road widening working caused considerable delay in our passage to Pangong. Wanted to get out of the touristy circuit as early as possible. The weather was just about perfect to ride. The closer we were getting to Pangong the excitement increased multi folds, got to meet some familiar faces enroute and also made some new ones. Upon discussing with the army officers whom we met, came to know that access to Marismik La, Tsaga La, Hanle and Chumur were out of bounds for security concerns.
Shanti Stupa At night
We reach Merak by evening and start our search for an economical stay by the lake. While we were halfway through the conversation, one Xylo cab passes by, we signal him to stop. He thought we were asking him for a lift and passed us signaling a No, and said, the vehicle is booked and we need to search for another cab. We catch hold of him and explain that we were in search of accommodation. So he obliged to take us to the homestay where he had dropped his guests, if any space available, we could manage. Sounded like a good deal. And then when we got our bikes, seeing the registration plates he asked “Elli Bangalore ah ?(Are you from Bangalore) “ Taken aback by his question we correspond. It so happens that he too happens to have educated from Namdroling and has a decent command over Kannada. Also went on too say that he, along with few friends of his, used to ride down to Bidadi on alternate weekends for the crave of “Thatte Idly”. He took the initiative to convince the homestay guy to provide us some space to crash, 250 bucks including dinner and breakfast with 2-3 cups of tea, sounded like a steal. Over the campfire with other guests in the homestay, we happen to speak to guys who have been backpacking across continents. Humbless personified, these guys were. Sorry to say this, you tend to hate our own people who get foreigners and new comers to Pangong to loot them whole. The most prominent guys are the ones who get people on organized motorcycle tours. They just don’t let their clients to speak to others, so that they might actually get an idea how much are they taken a ride for. And accidently if you happen to speak to one of those guys, even if it’s the other guy starting the conversation, this organizer guy gives a look at as if you asked for his Kidneys. This is what an outburst in tourism might result in. Across the campfire, with few backpackers, we happen to continue a longer conversation with one couple in particular Stephanie and her boyfriend.
The homestay had a pretty neatly maintained kitchen which doubled up as a dining hall. On the TV, Mahabharat was being aired, Stephanie was explaining the story to her boyfriend in a way that the most of my teachers would have taught me in school. Out of curiosity we ask her how does she know all these? She clarifies saying that she had worked with United Nations(U.N) for Women and Child welfare in Pondicherry for about an year and continues to say that she was missing the “Meenu Kolambu(fish curry in Tamil)” she used to get every day from her collegues. The moment she uttered menu kolambu , in an accent that would put a tamilian to shame, my eyes popped out. The conversations continue till late at night where we exchanged our individual travel stories. Also get to know that there is some protest happening in Leh city from 6AM to 6PM, and entry/ exit to the city was not possible. Reason for the protest: Last year, an Adventure tour company had taken about 1000 people for Chadhar trek and destroyed the ecosystem beyond repair. The DC had give permission for a similar trek this year too which made the locals furious, as tourism is one of the prime occupation around.
After effects of Bandh at Leh.
After waiting for the barricades to be released, we rush to the Choglamsar fuel bunk to tank up as we had to start early for Tso Moriri, the next day. It was an emotional farewell too for Arnab, who happened to start the return journey home after Tso Moriri after riding together for 16 days. We start the ride through Upshi and Chumathang, quite the kind of route I like. We pass through few army bases, at Kiari and Chumathang. The change in color of soil is co vibrant. Once you cross Sumdo, it’s like this huge playground to do whatever you want, numerous trails you can take to get to get to Korzok. Few army trucks pass by giving that “Jaa beta, jitna marzi utna khel le “
Ride a D390, Like a BOSS
Just before you reach the ITBP check post before Korzok, on the left goes a brilliant black top stretch, on the other side of Tso Moriri where you can find the first check post maintained by the Bihari regiment( that’s what we were told) . Unfortunately this road was not yet opened for Public and also the Chinese border tension was close by at Demchok and Chumur which is on the same stretch. We get back to the ITBP check post, to enter our credentials, after seeing the D390, the guard asks about the bike make, cost and other details, finally asks” kaahe itna paisa barbaad kiya, khet mein jaayega ye gaadi ?” in a typical UP/Bihari accent which made Arnab furious. The guard also asks if anybody else is coming on this stretch. Since we hadn’t seen anybody, we confirm negative.
Enroute tso Moriri
At Tso Kiagar
Err.... what homestay please
Once we get to the town of Korzok and freshen up after finding a good enough place, we saw a convoy of vehicles from Delhi university coming inside the small village. In about 10-15mins all the rooms in Korzok were booked. And Choice of food became even more limited. Personally felt Tso moriri was a better place than Pangong to spend time in solitude. Not tourist sticken like Pangong.
Now i know what they mean when they say "Fully Loaded"
We happened to bump into this old gentleman whom we had met in Keylong, again in Sumdo. He was a well versed traveller who had kept himself updated on most travel blogs, so much that he could tell which guy on which forum had gone where all. Got to know that he had been travelling with his two Sons( most likely) across the Himalayas. He had our RESPECT. We didn’t even know if we would be alive at that age. The voice on the intercom started to be become faint. From here, for the rest of the journey, I was alone. Happiness on one side, deserted on the other.
Come back to Mahe check post, request the guy to let me do the Loma-Hanle stretch for which he straight away denied. Disappointed start towards to frame a different plan. Like they say, “Good Friends don’t let you do crazy things, Alone” happened to meet the trio of Ananth, MG and Karthik just outside of Chumathang army base. A sheer coincidence. It was uttermost disappointment that they were able to do all the place which we were denied, just because they were just 2 days ahead than our schedule.
Some distance before Mahe
On a bridge which was supposed to fall anytime
Poser value : Infinite
Ride with them back to Leh, only to say one last good bye to the heavenly place, and start from another. Stay at Kargil was arranged by Karthik, with the help of his friends and senior at Sainik school. Totally impressed with the stay I must say.
Confluence of Indus and Zanskar
The Pied Piper
When we diverted towards FanjiLa
Pursuit of Happiness
Next on the radar was Hamboting La, apart from the one direction board we saw near kargil, there was no signs of it anywhere else. Few equerries made here and there but nobody was sure of the route. So we thought, we will take one of the routes which the locals “Guessed” and see where it leads. I am so glad we did that.
Hunderman is supposedly the last place where militants were shot dead during the Kargil war in 1999. The entire town looks decimated as a result. If one looks on top of those gigantic cliffs, we can see small army bunkers perched on top. We take out our cams and in about 10 mins of so we hear few shots fired. Completely isolated place, only the four of us gun shots, felt like Die Hard shooting taking place. Instincts told us to have the closest possible cover and we then we did. Then curiosity told us to take few steps out of the cover and see what it was actually. The moment we stepped out of cover we hear gun shots being fired again. We panic and made sure we get to the other side of the mountain in order to go out of sight, and the moment we did that the gun became silent. Those few moments made us realize that it could be the last trip of ours. What made it even scarier was the fact that most of the boards that we up read “Do not Step out of the road, there are lots of mines”. What startled us that, why the hell didn’t they put these in a way that it’s visible for people climbing up, so that we can be careful enough. After that we had a laugh when we realized that MG was alive since he was climbing some small rock areas to get a good Pic unknowing of the dangers. Upon reaching the first village we stop at a shop to hydrate ourselves. We explain our state to the gentleman at the shop and the first question he asked “did u hear the sound from left or right” we were like “who the hell cares when its gun shots”. He continues to explain that if the firing was from the left side, it would be the Army during their mock drill, if it’s from the right could be militants. Somehow the firing sound only when we were visible didn’t suit the mock drill theory. Nevertheless, we were alive and adrenaline pumped up, we continue to march towards our search for Hamboting la, which happened to be on the way to Batalik.
Karthik and myself opted to continue the ride to Rhehru and Padum from Kargil, while Ananth and MG opted to take it slow and complete Penzi La. Though Zanskar was not in the initial plan, we did to cope with the time we saved due to Chinese intervention. And this made us realize……. Leh ..... is mehhh… in front of Zanskar .
Once we started from Kargil, it was a like a story book of a beautiful villages passing by with kids smiling and waving at you. One thing in particular I saw in contrast with other mountain villages we had passed by, is the prominence of education, particularly girls. Every village had a School or two, which was impressive in itself. From Kargil to Sankhoo, exceeded our expectation, and as per the writings of the people, who have already been there, further ahead was even better. So that set our expectations high.
On entering Panikhar, searched around for that board which read the name, for obvious reasons . It feels nice to share the same name of a place so beautiful in the lap of Himalayas.
The terrain becomes tougher as we move forward. At one point we saw about 30-35 people looking down a cliff as a crane was being operated. Upon enquiring, an elderly gentleman explains that a Scorpio had plunged into the river few months back killing all of the passengers. And from the past week or so they were searching for bodies and remains of the Car for confirmed identification of the passengers. Sounded a bit scary. Thankfully there was a J&K guest house just down the road. The caretaker clarified that there might be shortage in food variety, as Srinagar floods had taken away their possibility of souring their essential needs. We unloaded the saddle bags freshened up and came out of the room for a Tea. All the people who were curiously watching the parts of the car being lifted by the crane had assembled. Just for a Second, it scared the wrong way. Reminded us of the Roja Background score where Arvindswamy gets kidnapped. But, to our surprise, they turned out to be very hospitable. The entire village of Tangol had come down to meet us, since not many tourists had visited the place this year because of Srinagar floods. Biscuits, Tea, Sweets and whatever they could offer they did, and we weren’t complaining a bit. Went on to an extent that a beautiful girl and her brother bought hot water from their house since the guest house had water problems. Over a camp fire the old man in charge of the guest house started explaining how hard it has been after the Srinagar floods. To an extent that vegetable for day to day cooking wasn’t available. We were deeply moved by the fact that in spite of all these difficulties they were taking such good care of us. He Also explained how this place used to be bustling with trekkers for Nun and Kun Peak, but sadly nobody turned up this year.