Day 12: 26th June, 2011
Satvik’s bike was on Khardung La, somewhere between the top and South Pullu along the cliffs. Hopefully, it was still safe as assured by the numerous locals. This was the first time during the entire trip that I saw Satvik wake up on time. He and Harsha went ahead to get back his bike. The bike was indeed safe. It had enjoyed a night’s stay on Khardung La, a privilege reserved only for army personnel.
As per the original plan, we were to start riding towards Pangong Tso today. But without Satvik, there was no question of that. We had lost a day.
It did not really look like any of us were feeling bad about having to spend another day at Leh. All of us needed some more rest any way. The ladies thought it was a good idea to take advantage of the extra day we had earned and go shopping some more. Others decided to sleep a little extra.
By afternoon Nam, me, Bali, Deepti, Manju, Somanna and Harsha decided to go to one of the oldest monasteries around. The Hemis Gompa. Moms, Pops, Mohan and Vatsala decided to stay back and chill off. Shubra and Satvik needed to arrange a taxi to take our luggage to Srinagar or Udhampur. Varun and Ponni decided to hire a cycle and cycle up to Khardung La. Pat went to spend some time with some friends he had made in Leh.
The seven of us headed towards Karoo, where we had lunch and then rode to Hemis. The Gompa seemed to have been located discreetly behind the numerous hills in Hemis. Till you reach the gate of the Gompa it was not visible and definitely not possible to guess that such a large monastery existed there. Hemis was one of the oldest and the largest Gompas in Ladakh. It seemed to be quite popular as it was quite crowded, also well organised for tourists. It was a special day and some Buddhist ceremony was going on that day. There were more than 100-150 monks inside the temple, chanting their verses, accompanied by some great music from their traditional trumpets and drums. We sat inside there and meditated for a while. The environment inside the temple was very intense and soothing. Just outside the temple, within the same compound they had a museum that housed various artefacts. There was a souvenir shop where we picked up some interesting merchandise and headed back to the hotel.
Mom and Nam went shopping for some local stuff. By then, Shubra had devised 3 plans to make up for the lost day. We decided to have Namitha’s birthday treat that night and invited everybody for dinner to a nearby restaurant called Tibetan Kitchen. Pops missed it and Varun and Ponni joined us a little late after their cycle ride. It was a quaint little restaurant specialising in Tibetan cuisine. We all had a nice time.
The 3 options were placed before the entire group:
1.Skip Pangong Tso
2. Spend only one night in Srinagar instead of 2 as planned
3. Ride harder and cover more distance - don't skip anything, but cover more on the next few riding days
The choice was unanimous. We decided to ride much harder and cover more road to make up for lost time.
Day 13: 27th June, 2011
Today, we were going to ride to Pangong Tso Lake, which had become very popular after a scene from the movie “3 Idiots” was shot there. The enthusiasm was on a high for me and I was expecting the same from the entire group. But going by the way a lot of us were waking from our slumber, the excitement wasn’t showing. Over a period of time though, I learnt not to connect enthusiasm to waking up early or even waking up on time.
So, a group of about 6 bikes who were able to get up and get ready early rode on towards Pangong Tso. The rest of them would start riding once they were up and ready. They all loved to rip on their bikes, so it was easy for them to catch up anyway. We had breakfast at Karoo, one of the numerous military camps and again hit the road towards Chang La.
I forgot to mention earlier, about the presence of the army in these areas. I was amazed at the number of army personnel and camps in these areas. They are everywhere and are there all the time. It was logical considering J&K is one of the most sensitive states on the country with Pak on one side and China on the other. Our trip so far was safe and most secure, thanks to the amazing job that the military does in these areas.
So, we rode on towards Chang La after breakfast. This was another beautiful pass. The climb was quite steep. Some of the vehicles needed to be pushed and pillions needed to get off some of the weaker bikes and mount some stronger ones. The view and the adventure were terrific. We reached Chang La top and most of us were freezing. We treated ourselves to the most amazing hot ginger-lemon tea on the “first highest café of the world”. The words were quite misleading as Chang La is probably the 3rd highest pass (or maybe not even 3rd). We seeked clarification and were informed that this café was the first to be built on these passes. To overcome the chillness, we had an impromptu dance party to the Venga Boys music that was playing at the café. We were done with the dance party, tea and headed down the Chang La pass. Another series of beautiful views and adventure riding.
We reached a town called Tangtse, about 20kms before Pangong Tso. There is a police check post where all vehicles going towards Pangong Tso must show their permits and make entries. There was a slight problem here. We had got permits only till 27th June which was today. That meant that we needed to return the same day. The man in charge there refused to let us go unless we were willing to return back by evening. We tried making calls to people who may have been able to influence, we tried calling our agent in Leh to get an extension, we played the “there are women in our group” card. Nothing worked. In the end he started giving hints that his job was only to let you in and if we would handle any issues that may come up when we were leaving, we could go. So we did.
The ride after Tangtse was one of the most beautiful ones I have ever done. The landscapes cannot be expressed in words. The roads were the most curvaceous. The views around the roads were some of the most beautiful rocky mountains, most of them snow capped and clad with gorgeous trees and bushes. The most beautiful and surreal stream that I had every seen was zig-zagging its way alongside the road. It was as if there was a huge lush green lawn, trimmed and maintained to perfection with path made for this stream in the most aesthetic way there could be. I was finding it difficult to keep my eyes on the road. Like this was not paradise already, these landscapes were dotted with wild horses, yaks and asses. The entire trip was like a dream, but this one hour was as if somebody had placed us in the most beautiful dream ever. I had never imagined a place so beautiful could exist. I was not expecting to see families of wild horses prancing around in the wild. I have seen a lot of nature and am a strong believer that God is the best landscape artist and this according to me is his best work. It would be a sin not to spend some time here and take lots of pictures; that was a sin we were not willing to commit. We were of the opinion that the lake was just a few kms ahead and everybody else would have reached the place and we could take our time. Me, Nam, Vatsala and Mohan spent almost 45 minutes here, blissfully unaware that there it a major river crossing a little ahead. A part of the group had to stay back at that spot and wait for us. I totally support their angst and irritation that we made them wait there for almost 45 minutes.
A few more hurdles and we witnessed the most beautiful sight we had ever seen. I could have just sat there and stared at the mammoth of a lake all day long for days together. The view was breathtaking. Imagine a huge lake of crystal clear blue icy water almost 140 kms long, surrounded with stunning mountains, hardly any people around, numerous birds flying around and absolute peace. I was truly speechless. It is a salt water lake on the Indo-China border. Some of the mountains we could see were Chinese. About 60% of the lake is on the Chinese side of the border and I believe there are parts of the lake which have sweet water. The water is crystal clear. Take it in your hands and it sparkles like liquid diamond. Probably because of this, the lake changes its colour very rapidly with the position of the sun, clouds, etc. We decided to stay at the first large tent there was. This place was a shamble, but it did not really matter at all.
Nam & I went further along the lake to explore a little more. The experience of riding along a water body can never be explained. The gush, the winds, the salinity, the view is all too good to be true. We tried to take a short cut to what looked like another town and ended up in a mountain that could be crossed only on a 4x4 or by foot. So, we left our bike there and walked to the spot where 3 Idiots was shot. All I can keep saying is that the view is just out of this world. Me and Nam had a quite time together, took a good number of pictures, rested at one of the concrete tents and even made a video.
We returned to our tent and I decided that this was a place I would script my future. I took my diary and went to the lake side. I meditated there for a while as the sun was about to set. The lake was gaining shades of red, maroons and oranges. I wrote down what is the kind of life I should be living when I would turn 40. I was truly with myself here and truly connected to nature. I’ve let nature know what I want for myself and people I love. I only have to give some time for nature to do what it does best and wait and receive the goodies…
You can continue reading the story here: The Himalayan Sojourn 1.0- Part 8- Pangong Tso to Srinagar