Day 8/15 – Leh to Pangong Tso and back – 300 kms – 6:30 AM to 8 PM
We were ready early in the morning as planned. We had very little to pack. All that we needed was some extra fuel and the tools in case of a breakdown. Rest of the luggage stayed in the room since we had planned to return the same day. All geared up, we cold started the bikes and moved them out of the stand, when there is a grumble from one, “Oh man, looks like my rear tyre is flat!” It was Apar. The RTR had a puncture. We had already been through enough delays and I didn’t want to let this take us on. I suggested that we wait until some puncture shop opens, fix the tyre and visit Khardung La that day instead of Pangong Tso. Apar, on the other hand suggested that he would ride pillion with one of us and we could still make it to Pangong Tso.
Agreeing to what Apar said, we rolled off with Apar riding pillion with me. I warned him before hand telling him that my bike wasn’t the most comfortable of all for a pillion and asked him to let me know if he felt uncomfortable at any point. All excited, he nodded and jumped on. Just to keep the poor chap engaged, I gave him the point and shoot camera and asked him to click all that he wanted including any interesting videos that he might want to shoot. Allen was leading as usual and took us on a very patient ride to Karu, where we stopped to have a couple of bananas and some water for breakfast. We had to ascend from that point on.
It was quite cold since it was pretty early in the morning and the place was slightly windy. The passage that we were climbing was known as Chang La, which was the third highest motorable road in the world. At the top it was quite freezing. The army camp at that point served civilians complimentary hot tea and snacks. There wasn’t anything better that we could have got, than the hot masala tea. We met couple of folks from Bangalore who were visiting the same place as well. This Lake was a popular tourist attraction and had quite a few vehicles en-route.
We started to descend, when Allen stopped by one of the Nalas. It looked like the bullet had shown its ugly face again. I wasn’t much bothered about is since Allen now had enough spares. But surprise… Allen had just forgotten them at the hotel! A few cars passed by, to whom we asked if they had some emery paper. No luck. We had to spend a while before the bullet came back to life. Without wasting much time, we started rolling. On the way, we saw ice glaciers and some wild yaks. Surprisingly, they were afraid of us and started running away.
I gave Allen and Kiran enough time to progress slowly, when Apar and I took a lot of time for pictures. At some point, I wasn’t happy with the way my brakes were responding. They were sluggish and as the minutes passed, there was no braking. I suspected that the discs had overheated, and stopped by to check. It was too cold for my to take my gloves off, and also didn’t want to touch the disc with my bare hands. So, I just touched it with my gloved for a second, and there was smoke. It burnt the glove on the outer, that very instant. I realized that I been a little sensible and was also startled at how hot it was. We gave it about 15 minutes to cool down and started riding again.
There were a few off road trails running just by the actual roads that were shorter. We had fun experimenting through them after which we saw Allen and Kiran waiting for us. We explained to them why there was a delay and took some more time off. Touching the base of the hill, we crossed a bridge, after which we were stopped at the check post for verification of the permit. We submitted a photocopy of the permit along with out driving license information and proceeded from there.
We had covered almost a 100 kms since morning and had another 50 or left. All that distance, we were traveling by the riverbed, which was almost dry sandy. Due to the winds, the sand had covered the road at some points, making it difficult to balance and steer. Apar was already moaning by now due to the discomfort of the pillion seat. I was constantly watching the GPS to see the distance left.
About 5 kms before the Lake, we had to cross a stream that was called Pagal Nala. This river acts pretty psychic and nobody could guess when it would have a sudden flow of water. This is due to the reason that the stream originates out of various tributaries and may have more water whenever snow starts melting in any of the tributaries.
The stream was quite wide, so I advised Apar to get down and find his way across. I watched the stream closely to find the best path to cross it. After making up my mind, I slowly entered the stream. I realized that the rocks were bigger than I expected them to be and as a result had slits in between where the tyres could get stuck. At on point, the front tyre slipped a little and I had to put my foot down to balance the vehicle. I was quick enough to take it off so that water didn’t seep much into the shoe, except that it got wet.
We had less than a couple of kms to the Lake, but still could not see any part of it. We were still covered by dry mountains and dry riverbeds. We started thinking that all we had left to see was nothing other than a dried up river bed, until one surprising moment. There was a board that read, ‘First sight of the World famous Pangong Tso Lake’. From there we could see a blue water body in between two mountains. It was a glorious sight and we couldn’t believe our eyes, looking at the bluish tone the water was in. All excited, we counted our minutes till the moment we reached the lakeshore.
The water was so pure that it reflected the sky and the mountains, from which it got its different shades of blue. People there said that the place would reach temperatures around -40 degrees during winter. This lake was more than 130 kms long, of which 90 odd kms are in the land of China and the rest are in India. Further down from that point was a village named Spangmik, which marked the last point before China, where Indian men were allowed. The army controlled all points beyond that. We spent a while on the lakeshore enjoying the beauty of the place and talking to the other tourists who were there. We were more interested to find out how the roads where from Leh towards Kargil. They looked promising based on what they said.
There was ‘Khushboo’ Dhabha very close to the lake where we got Thali meals for 70 bucks. It was a decent meal at that spot considering the unavailability of anything to cook with. After the meal, we sat just outside the Dhabha lazily gearing up. Allen’s jacket was hanging on his bike’s handle. A sudden gush of wind almost blew the jacket away, but it was hooked on to the bullet. The wind was so hard that it pulled the bike along with it and the bike almost fell on the other sid
e. Allen swiftly made a move to catch the bike, but he had to support it with his knee to prevent it from falling. It took the rest of us a couple of moments before we could lend hands to bring the bike back to position. Allen was hurt a little, but it didn’t stop him from doing any of the normal riding activities.
We had known that there was another Pass nearby which was called Marsemik La, for which we had to take a 30 km deviation. Looking at our watches, we knew it was going to be impossible to make it to Marsemik La. It was already 3 and we had to head back 150 kms to Leh. Skipping the Pass, we started our return journey. It was a little boring to come back the same way we had traveled, so the minutes seemed longer than they normally were. The Pagal Nala was a little rougher than how it was in the morning, so it took us a little bit of luck to have crossed it unscathed.
Slowly ascending the Chang La back again, Kiran’s bike was struggling really hard. Allen on the other end never stopped as usual. Apar was completely cursing himself for having chosen to ride pillion on the 220. He was looking forward to options to get on the bullet, but unfortunately that bike was struggling by itself. We took breaks and slowly climbed the Pass where Allen was again stuck with the spark plug, just a few meters before the army camp, that marked the topmost point of the Pass. Kiran, Apar and I were playing with the snow throwing it at each other. At the end the gloves were a little wet, making the riding a little irritating for the hands.
We had bad news. The spark plug wasn’t cooperating as we thought it would. It had reached the end of its life. Irrespective of how much we cleaned it, it refused to work.The descent was about 20 kms and from there Leh was another 40 kms. Stuck, again!
Running out of options, we decided to push the bike from that point. Kiran and I swapped chances in pushing the bike till the end of the hill. We didn’t have to struggle much till Karu since most of the places was down the hill. It was a big challenge beyond that. The remaining 40 kms from Karu was on the so-called plains, where it involved both mild ups and downs. Allen’s bike was a 180 kilos and this guy was another 120 kilos, summing up to a total of 300 kilos. Kiran offered to help at most places, but his bike wasn’t doing well to do such a task. I was left without choices to push the bike all the way. There was one huge slope just before Leh, where it was extremely had to push the bike up. We stopped ever 10 meters, huffing and puffing to get it up.
The sun was almost down and we had Apar’s bike in the hotel with a flat tyre. Will still had the job of getting that fixed. Almost sure that we had run out of time that very day, we pushed the bike to the mechanic shop straight. Apar switched to Kiran’s bike and they went to the hotel to give a try to check out whether any puncture shop would be open. At Juma’s shop, Allen had a big time convincing the mechanic about the rich burn that was happening. The mechanic fixed a few things, but that didn’t convince Allen enough. Allen decided to buy a few more spark plugs instead of risking things again.
Back at the hotel, we waited for everyone to arrive, had dinner and slept instantly after the extremely tiring exercise.