Day 5/15 – Bharathpur to Pang – 100 kms – 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM
I’d told the folks the previous night that the alarm bells would be ringing by 4 in the morning and we need to be riding by dawn. Listening to that everyone moaned as they hit the bit.
Early next morning the alarms rang without fail. Noone by me, dared to respond and wake up. It looked very promising to me and I tried to peek out of the double layers of quilts that were over me. Surprise, surprise! It was colder than I could even imagine and I immediately tucked my head back inside. For a moment I couldn’t understand if this was real. I checked the watch again to see if was really morning. Yes, it was. I made no second attempt and was convinced I would be trying something really foolish trying to get out of the warmth I’d saved all night under the quilts. I pushed the alarm by an hour and dozed off. One hour later, the same episode repeated itself and I decided to push by another hour. At 6, it was a little bright outside, and this time, Kiran had also responded to the alarm. I convinced him that we’d have to leave soon and woke up the others.
Now, there was a bigger problem. The water in the buckets outside was frozen. It was windy that made it even colder. We knew staying inside the tent would do no good and had to step out to finish off the nature calls. We wrapped ourselves with everything we had, from thermal wear, sweater, muffler, monkey caps and riding jackets and stepped out in search of a good spot. Each of us picked a different direction and kept marching until we were convinced we had some privacy. Completing the big mission, we were back in the tent huffing and puffing without enough oxygen to breathe. By this time, the owners of the tent had waked up and were preparing some tea for us. Drinking the hot liquid made us feel better after which we started loading the bags on to the saddle.
Unfortunately, of the two bulleteers that stayed with us, one was down with nausea and low energy levels. He was unable to eat or drink anything and collapsed beyond control. We decided to get him some rest, so left the two bulleteers there and proceeded from Bharathpur.
Practically, Leh was very much reachable from there if we pushed it a little bit. So, with a lot of optimism in mind and positive thoughts, we rode through the snowy mountains for quite some time. I had advised the guys to sync up once in a while since we were now traveling in an area with no cell phone signal or mechanic support. Remembering those words, the folks waited mostly for me, who was the sweeper most of the time.
This day, it was Apar’s turn. He wasn’t doing well, but tried his best to keep himself going. He didn’t want to give in to the energy drain and fought well against it. At some point, Allen and Kiran stopped by a camp, where a guy needed some help with his bike. The two helped him fix it up in about an hour or so. Meanwhile, Apar and I proceeded to the next settlement to get some rest. When Allen and Kiran were back, we moved on.
There was this mountain that had 21 loops, knows as the Gata Loops. It is nothing very special from the regular hairpin bends in the hills, except for the fact that these fall on the same side and are together visible from the top. I remember passing by a truck that had tumbled in one of the loops. At the top of the hill, we synced up, took a small water break and proceeded.
Allen was going a little too fast, so I asked him to tail. I let Kiran and Apar move first as Apar wasn’t feeling well. At some point, I noticed that Allen wasn’t anywhere in my rear view mirror. I asked the other two to keep going and waited for Allen. Time passed by and I was getting worried. A truck passed by and the driver signed to me saying that a vehicle was stuck at some place. I immediately turned the bike and went in search of Allen. After about ten minutes, I saw coming out of a turn that was far away. He was slow, but was steady. When we almost neared each other, he didn’t stop the bike and continued to ride. He shouted to me saying that the spark plug had carbon deposits and that he had fixed the issue. I followed him for a while, but the bike stopped again. He continued to explain that the engine generally burns a fuel and air mixture. At a higher altitude, since the air was lesser, the engine was burning richer fuel, which ended up as carbon deposits on the spark plug. He cleaned it up again, and put the spark plug back. The bike started, but never moved. When tried to do so, it choked and stopped. We tried to repeat the process, but were in vain.
The two of us were sitting there, in the middle of nowhere with the heaviest bike of the lot having broke down. The other two were far ahead beyond communication. A cell phone signal or mechanic support was a good 8-hour drive from where we were. Staring at the dry mountains and the sun above, we sat there hoping some vehicle would come by to offer some help.
After a while, three bikes appeared from around the corner. We didn’t have to signal to them. They stopped by, just by looking at us and understanding our problem. We explained to them what had happened. They dug their bags for any matching spark plugs, but couldn’t find one. They offered some suggestions, but none of them fixed the issue for us. Quite disappointed, they wished us some luck and left place. We were left to staring at each other, again!
Minutes passed and we spotted Kiran approaching us. We were wondering about Apar and understood that probably Kiran left him somewhere to take some rest. We were right. Kiran told us that he had crossed the Nakeela Pass that was just after the place where we were standing. He helped Apar settle down in the middle of a riverbed to get some rest and came back with tools to help us. He also mentioned that he got the information that we were stuck, from a truck driver as well. After a few attempts, we were convinced we couldn’t attempt cleaning the spark plugs. We had to try something different. Kiran had a pretty tough rope, which we decided to tow the vehicle with.
I unloaded my excessive baggage and transferred them to Kiran’s bike. Not having done such an experiment before, we were very careful during the attempt. The region being muddy with very steep drops, we found it had doing this thing. My bike did not go beyond the first gear and was undergoing immense strain. I had a feeling I wasn’t doing the right thing, but we had to move on from there. Staying there would be of no good. As the engine screamed its heart out, I was managing the pull with extreme difficulty. All of a sudden, at some point, the rope snapped! That marked the end of the experiment.
We parked the bikes and decided to wait for some truck that might pass by, so that we could load the bike on to the truck to move it to some place where there are people. It was now a few hours since we’ve been waiting and we were also worried about the lonely sick Apar. Suddenly, like messengers of God, a few bulleteers appeared from around the corner. We waved them to stop and they were more than happy to offer help. When they heard about the problem, they said that they had a Scorpio following them that had some spares. When the vehicle arrived, they dug the bags to find out a matching spark plug. They couldn’t find one, but they got some emery paper, which generally helps cleaning spark plugs. Cleaning it with the paper and putting it back did the trick. They said that this would take us to a nearby settlement, where we could reach for the army guys to get some help. We couldn’t thank them enough for what they’d done. After clicking a picture with everyone together, we moved on from there.
The next settlement’s name was called Pang, which was right after the Nakeela Pass. Allen never stopped his bike anywhere, fearing that it might face issues starting again. We met up with Apar right after the Nakeela Pass. He was doing much well than what he was, a few hours back. After all this confusion, Allen just realized that he’d dropped off his gloves somewhere on the way. Kiran had tucked them somewhere in the saddle, but they had fallen off during the bumpy ride in the Nakeela Pass.
At the entrance of Pang, there was a check post, where we had to provide information about all our vehicles. I had to climb a few stairs, and was finding it quite hard. I sat down on one to take some rest. Looking at that, the person at the check post said that we could be low on oxygen and advised us to visit the army camp to get some medical aid. He added, saying that if we got some oxygen for 10 to 15 minutes, we would be totally back to normal.
With the josh of listening to that, we head straight to the army camp asking for help. The medical officer there examined us and said that our pulse rates were all perfect. He advised us to have some food, as the last meal we had was during previous night. He gave us some tablets for acidity and headache that helped us a bit. Right opposite to the camp was a tent, where we got some food to eat and place to stay for the night.