A long Weekend ride to Ladakh- July 2016

drk

Active Member
A bike ride to Ladakh is a dream for many, and weeks of planning goes into it. Yet for someone like me who operates on ‘HIS’ will, Ladakh happened for the third time without even me knowing about it till 18 hours before departure.
I was on an official trip to Manali, and as it was ending, my wife came to meet me. The next day, we were going to Rohtang, when this thought came to me that rather than descending back to Manali, I could move onwards to Ladakh. The long weekend was ahead of us and in four days, from Manali, we could have a quick to and fro journey to Leh. The main reason was to show the road to Ladakh to my wife, and give her a glimpse of Ladakh. As a civil servant, it is hard to find time for long trips and rather than postponing it for a longer trip some other time, I thought of taking the plunge. I was confused of I should tell it to her or keep it a surprise, but realising she may need to pack accordingly, I told her of the plan when we were out for a walk in Manali, looking for a bike to hire. On finding a suitable bike, the permit was made quickly at the SDM office, and by 9 pm, the bike was delivered to us. After a short test drive on this Bullet 500, I had a feeling of satisfaction that we would be riding to Ladakh the next morning.

We reached Rohtang by noon,
and this delay was attributable to many reasons.
The traffic on the way to Rohtang, and official work were the prime causes,
and yet, once I reached the top, this world was left behind,
and the dream world lay ahead.
I felt free of weight descending on the other side, and the coming four days were for ourselves.
The bike was making a knocking sound on higher altitude, but nothing much to worry.
The road to Spiti valley was seen on our right,
and further downhill, we crossed the checkpost and headed towards Keylong.
we were late for the day, and after filling up our fuel tank at Tandi, headed to Keylong.
I knew that we would need some more fuel to make it to Leh, but then that could be obtained on the way from tent owners (so I thought).
The Superintendent of Police at Keylong is a senior and and old acquaintance from my previous visit,
and we met him in his office.
It was already 2 30 and our target was Sarchu, on the other side of Baralacha la,
so we continued ahead.
The weather deteriorated soon after,
and we had nothing to save us from rain.
This unpreparedness was deliberate,
leaving everything to His mercy, and chance.
On reaching Deepak Tal, or Patsio,
we decided to halt in the tents.
I like this place- the beauty of the lake,
and the clear reflections of the mountains seen in it.
ANd though these tents were here before as well,
I noticed them this time only,
and battling the increasing cold, rain and wind,
we got inside the restaurant quickly.
Though it was only 3 30, we decided to call it a day.
There were many reasons behind this early shut down-
I had slept for hardly two hours the previous night,
finishing off my work at Manali,
and on the other side of Baralacha la, there was no place to descend in the event of getting mountain sickness.
Sarchu was at a height, we were already exhausted and this was the first time my wife was in higher altitudes.
From Patsio, going back to Keylong was easy, though it was as high or even higher than Sarchu.
After meals, we slept and were woken up four hours later for dinner.
The much needed rest was taken and we were ready the next day for a long haul trip to Leh.

DAY 2-

Early morning at Patsio is beautiful-
with the clear reflection of mountains in Deepak tal.
There is no wind to stirr the calm waters and its hard to tell which side is real and which is the reflection.
Without waiting for breakfast to be made,
around 5 am, we left for Leh.
The Baralacha la lay immediately ahead of us and was crossed.
The bike again made the choking noise as it did on Rohtang,
somewhat more this time.
Reaching the other side,
we took breakfast at Killing sarai-a beautiful place just below the Baralacha la pass.
This pass is the most beautiful pass on this Highway.
The snow here, along with the glacial lakes on both sides, looks beautiful.
Towards Keylong, lies the source of Bhaga river- Suraj Tal,
and towards Sarchu- the waters form Tsarap river.
Tsarap forms the Zanskar watershed,
and thus,
I now understood the hydrology of the Leh Manali route.
One crosses from Beas watershed to Chenab by crossing Rohtang,
and then the Chenab watershed to Zanskar at Baralacha la.
Onwards, the small area of Whisky / Biskey Nalla on the other side of Nakeela is of internal drainage.
After crossing Laching la, at Pang, one comes across a very clean stream of water,
which goes on to join Tsarap river in the Zanskar basin.
One can think of rafting from here to Nimoo where Zanskar joins Indus.
That would be an adventure to remember.
And on the other side of mighty Tanglang La,
one descends and finds a beautiful stream which near Upshi, joins the Indus.
Thus, this is how one reaches Indus valley, and the city of Leh.

Coming back to where we were,
after an early morning departure and crossing Baralacha la,
we reached Killing Sarai, crossed Sarchu,
took some petrol @ 140/l, and regreted not carrying enough with us,
and had some more snaks at Sarchu.
At Sarchu- one enters ladakh,
after completing the entry formalities in both Himachal and Ladakh.
A board says-
Welcome to the paradise on earth.
Indeed, I think.

The road ahead of Sarchu goes to Pang-
but this section is probably the most beautiful and challenging section on the Leh Manali Highway.
One moves along the beautiful Tsarap Chu river, which actually is Zanskar,
since it is the longest among all rivers that make Zanskar,
and the most voluminous one.
The valley is beautiful,
with many unique erosional features,
formed by mixed action of wind and water.
Hereafter, one ascends the famous Gata Loops- 21 of them.
My wife counted all of them,
thus making sure they are in place.
And this act of counting reduced the boredom that comes with endless hairpin bends on a road.
On the top, one crosses Nakeela,
a pass which has nothing special about it,
apart from the fact that now the bike was having much greater knocking sound.
Down, one crosses Bisky Nalla,
this is a place which has come as a boon for cyclists,
who cannot complete the distance between Sarchu and Pang in a day. (some of them manage to do it)
We crossed another pass- Lachung la, which is a beautiful pass.
A small mountain stream comes down on the other side.
The scenery now becomes dramatic.
The landforms are beautiful,
the shapes and sizes of the rocks,
sand towers sculpted by wind,
and the clear waters of this glacial meltwater stream.
On my last trip as well, we had stopped here.
I wanted to take a bath here,
but we moved on without stopping this time as Leh was far.
This place is called Kangla Jaal, and there is a beautiful sand arch on the Right while going to Leh.
Pang wasn't far now and we reached there,
after crossing a stream which joins Tsarap river later.
Pang has an Army transit camp, said to be the highest in the world.
After having lunch at Pang,
we started again.
I was eagerly looking forward to The Morei Plains,
which we reached soon after leaving Pang.
Here, I accelerated and the speed remained constant above 75 kmph.
The altitude is around 4900 metres and air is thin-
yet the road is very well maintained and straight,
and this is the most pleasurable leg of the Leh Manali Highway.
The bike managed to chug along,
but as soon as the ascent started from Debring,
the bike did not take any acceleration.
I reduced the gear to second and then first,
and accelerated,
and yet the bike crawled.
The carburettor settings were not according to this altitude,
and thus since the beginning the bike was having problem on high passes.
Tanglangla which lay ahead was the highest,
and the condition of the bike has also worsened.
Later I was told that even the air filter was fully clogged.
This was the first experience of hiring a bike.
Two bikers were standing and we reached them.
They tried ot help but couldnt find a way out.
I transferred some luggage and my wife accompanied them,
as I tried to complete the remaining six kilometre jounry uphill to reach Tanglangla.
The bike did not move faster than 10 kmph,
that too when I moved it in a zig zag manner in order to climb the slope.
When I approached the pass, it gave away totally,
and for two kilometres, I had to drag the heavy bike,
on the Highest point of this highway,
where breathing in itself is a struggle.
Somehow, I managed to reach the pass, where my wife and those friends were waiting.
From here, downhill ride was easy,
and as we descended, the bike was able to chug again.
without stopping anywhere,
we rushed towards Leh,
to find a mechanic before sun down.
Just before Upshi, the bike made another knocking sound and after a kilometre, it stopped.
It didn;t start at all,
and then another biker coming from behind,
who has seen my struggling on the pass stopped to help.
He said that the bike had ran dry-
which was no surprise since I had taken only three litres petrol from Sarchu.
He gave me some petrol,
and we reached Karu- 20 kilometres ahead where one finds the first petrol pump after Tandi in Himachal.
I knew a bike mechanic in Leh,
and we reached his shop,
He changed some settings in the carburettor,
said that the air filter was clogged and cleaned it to the extent possible by air.
The bike felt much better after he changfed the settings,
and I hoped to take it back to Manali.
tanglangla had left me with bitter memories and I did not want to encounter the pass again,
giving it its due respect and aintaining a safe distance.

Now, it was time to enjoy the night life of Leh.
I reached a friend who runs an adventure travel company, and met him.
He checked us in a hotel, and we were good to go places now.
A quick visit to the Shanti Stupa was followed by dinner at Changspa,
and the next day,
we were to begin our return journey.
This was not the end though, as our next two days were to be full of surprises.
 

umeshparikh

Active Member
Wonderful Narration...
But feels incomplete without images...
Waiting for the next update with lots of images...
 

drk

Active Member
The images of the journey- Manali to Leh- On the other side of Rohtang

The tents in Patsio where we had to halt due to bad weather:

The Mirror reflection in Deepak Tal, named after Deepak unit of BRO which maintains this stretch of the Highway

After crossing the Baralacha La, near Killing sarai

When the bike stopped before Tanglangla, and did not move ahead on the High altitude

Reaching Tanglangla after dragging the bike and zigzagging it on the mountain slopes:

Reaching Leh before sunset and getting the bike repaired:

Night view of the city of Leh from Shanti Stupa:

The Shanti Stupa after sunset

This was the journey till Leh. The return journey follows in the next post.
 

drk

Active Member
Day 3: Time to return:

This would probably be the shortest Ladakh trip ever,
Just touching Leh and coming back.
But what option did I have?
Only in these stolen moments could I think of visiting this place,
and since I was already in Manali, returning from there would have been a sacrilege.
Though we had thought of an early morning start,
yet I thought- since I have come this far,
at least I'll meet the people who I know here.
So, me and my wife went to my friend's house,
and his mother and grandmother were delighted to see us.
It feels good to keep returning,
and we chatted like we were frequent visitors-
I had stayed with my friend for a week on my first visit to Ladakh- in winters.
And Ladakh in winters is an entirely different world altogether.
From here, we went to see the Leh Palace,
which was yet to see its first visitors for the day and early morning cleaning was going on.
The view of the city from the palace was beautiful, as always,
and I was showing the place to my wife as if this was a home, where I have always stayed.
Soon after, we were on our way back and I was in no mood to cross the Tanglangla.
At the petrol pump in Karu, we filled the fuel tank and took eight litres of extra fuel.
At Upshi,
I took the left turn,
and bid adieu to the Leh Manali Highway.
I did not want to go back by the same road,
and wanted to see at least something that I had not seen before in Ladakh.
After I had driven for five kilometers, my wife realised that we were on a different route,
and I told her that we would take another route that would avoid the pass.
She had no idea where we were headed to.
I had great doubts on the road that I had taken.
Having no idea how it was,
and if the fuel was sufficient to last till the next pump.
Also, the bike wasn;t in a good shape and any breakdown here would delay us.
Still, leaving it to Him, I moved on.
The road ran along the river Indus,
and I was happy to follow it further upstream along this road.
I knew we had to take a right turn, cross the river somewhere and take the road to Tso Moriri,
but where that right turn was- I had no clue.
This road was also desolate and hardly any vehicle crossed us.
The third bridge that came on the route made me believe that it was the one,
and without asking anyone, I took the right turn.
The road was considerably narrow, hardly enough for a jeep to pass,
and with a very steep incline.
I was glad that the bike was able to ascend on this steep road,
and the road kept on ascending for a long time,
long enough to make me believe that it ultimately would cross over to the other side and take me to Tso Moriri.
On the way, we saw a man working on the road,
who told us that we had taken the wrong path.
Yet, having come this far,
I decided to discover what lay at the end of this road.
On our right was a mountain slope which was converted to a series of step farms,
and the greenery was stark contrast to the rugged brown hills.
A mountain stream was diverted and utilized to cultivate the slope and thus,
even at this great height, a village was thriving.
The road still ascended,
and ultimately, we reached a village,
which had a school, a health sub center,
and a monastery under construction.
I forgot the name, but the village is a historical place.
At the monastery which was being built,
a lady asked me if I had come to see the meditation cave,
to which I replied in affirmative,
and she came to show me around.
She brought the keys of a cave,
where Guru Padmasambhava has said to have meditated.
The cave had some footprints,
and was quiet and calm-
an ideal place to meditate,
but I gave up the attempt to communicate with the 'self' in presence of the two ladies sitting there.
We saw the village school, talked to the teacher,
and saw the glacial stream which was bringing all the water which was being used for farming;
and came down the same road by which we had gone up.
Soon, we recrossed the bridge over the Indus and joined the main road.
We were told that the right turn was very far,
and we had a lot of distance to cover.
 

drk

Active Member
Day 3- Continued:

Moving along the Indus,
we reached Chumathang,
which is famous for its hot springs,
and is the only place on this route where one can have food.
We also crossed the military station at Kiari,
and finally reached Mahe bridge.
Here, we had to leave the road that moves along the river,
and take a dirt track which goes to Tso Moriri.
Finally, we had managed to bypass Tanglangla,
because as I moved up this road,
I realised the bike would somehow manage to move up the gradual slope.
Crossing over a small pass,
we reached a lake which was beautiful, but not the Tso Moriri.
Later, I found that its called Kyagar Tso.
This landscape is beautiful- and I cannot find adjectives to describe,
but only close my eyes to see it again.
For places like this,
it makes sense to take all the pain to somehow reach there-
because they remain etched on the memory.
Moving ahead, and racing with the sun,
we reached Karzok- which is not a 'place' but just a 'point',
where the road divides into two-
one goes straight to the border with Tibet near Chumur,
and the other goes to Karzok monastery and village.
There was no one to tell us this then,
and we moved along the road to Chumur, unknowingly.
This road moved along the lake and was well tarred.
After going for five kilometres,
we realised that this was not the Karzok that we were looking for,
and who would've thought that Karzok and Korzok would be different!
After taking some pictures, we turned back.
The setting sun was leaving beautiful shadows on the mountains,
and soon, it would be dark.
We saw some bikers coming towards Tso Moriri,
and I told them the way to Karzok.
In this desolate terrain,
we did not know where we would halt for the night,
but we couldn't stay at Karzok because then it would be impossible to think of reaching Manali the next day.
With this in mind,
we moved on and in dark, reached Sumdo-
the place where three roads met- one coming from Tso Moriri, one from Mahe bridge and Chumathang, and the third coming from Tso Kar and More Plains on the Leh Manali Highway.
It was dark already but we were told that at the village school, we could stay.
Here,
there was a school for Tibetans, and as we reached there, many tiny tots came to surround us.
The school head mistress came and showed us the place to stay.
We could stay here for the night, for a 'donation'.
Soon after, she brought some food to eat.
Soon after, we slept- half awake, half asleep.
This was around 4500 meters altitude, and my wife was unwell.
The next day, we were thinking of reaching Manali- which was more than 400 kilometres.
In fact, the route takes more time than Leh- Manali span-
because there is no tarred road from Sumdo to the point where it meets the highway near Debring.
This was going to be a real tough challenge the next day.
Yet, not thinking much, we retired.
 

drk

Active Member
Images of DAY 3:
The early bird:

Leh palace on a Summer morning:

Shanti Stupa as seen from the palace:

The town is yet to wake up:

The High altitude village of Tarchit where meltwater from a glacial stream was diverted to cultivate the entire slope of a mountain:

The Indus Valley:

The Purple mountains:

The low gradient makes the river meander, even as it flows through high mountains:

Camouflaged:

The village of Chumathang and the Hot springs:

The hot springs: Note the vivid colours of the algae which bloom in this hot and sulphur rich water:

The first view of Kyagar Tso, enroute Tso Moriri:

First view of Tso Moriri:

Sea in the Mountains:

The village of Karzok as seen from the Road to Chumar:

The Lonely Road:

A Changpa nomad with his flock:

A Changpa Tent:

Mountains against the setting sun:

The Tibetan school where we stayed in the night:

Thats all for Day 3.
 
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