The Enchanting Trails- Part III

Written by - Aditya Bajaj
Read Part I Here                   Read Part II Here

Day 6, Friday 12thJune 2015

The lazy day
Today we decided to call it an off and I had accepted the fact of ruling out all the possibilities to visit Tso Moriri and Tso Kar but feeling good at least about visiting Turtuk which we will (or so I thought!, read on). So in the morning we had sumptuous breakfast at Lamayuru restaurant and then worked on our bikes, the usual coolant, engine oil top up, chain clean, lubrication and adjustment. Then suddenly a union guy turned up and we chatted for a while. While looking at our car parked outside he tried to question us about private vehicles. We told him clearly it’s our own. Sud and I talked to him nicely initially and then Sud called him thug and asked why they rob people. He said this time of month it is tourist peak season and they get chance to earn. For those who don’t know their costing I tell you for Innova car up to K-top and return they charge 10.5 K and to Pangong and return they charge 13 K.

Ride to Hemis
Later in the afternoon we went to check out Hemis Monastery some 43 km from Leh. It is known to be the wealthiest of all the monasteries. The entry fee was Rs 50. It was the maximum we paid for any monastery entry and I wonder why it’s called the wealthiest while the entry fee includes entry to the museum too. The museum was something new. It contains some old artifacts and other stuff one should check out for. We all bought some souvenirs like Postcard, Praying Flags, Solar energy Praying wheel etc. Then outside just below the monastery there was one restaurant where we had brunch but the food was not good at all.


 

                               
 
Addition to the Gang
In the evening we have asked one travel agent to arrange for 2 RE’s for Shekar and Shri. The guy came with brand new RE 350 also gave helmets and gloves. The cost was negotiated to Rs 1250 per day/ Bike. He asked for original id’s to be submitted along with 4 days rent.  We were desperately trying for KTM (I was) but none was available with anyone.

Then guy said why you ask for KTM as only RE is preferred here. I told him there is no point to argue with anyone as RE doesn’t stand a chance against KTM. There was one mechanic accompanying him he said yeah we know but there is no service station for KTM in Leh while we can easily fix RE. I told him why there this notion attached to RE’s that they will breakdown and people are just ready to fix it, may be every time it does and people have experienced it. Even though two RE’s were totally new I was thinking how they will match with our bikes as we were planning to go K-Top tomorrow.

I remember last time Sud was riding his 390 and was paying no respect to the any fellow RE riders whom he was passing quickly while I was being considerate and was at least waving my hand, wondering may be next time.

We also arranged for Jerry cans some 40 L total as we were planning to go to K-Top to Nubra right up to Turtuk village (my ultimate wish)

Day 6 ended we only covered Hemis today and was looking forward for tomorrow


Day 7, Saturday 13th June 2015
Route Intended- Leh – Khardung La (40KMs) - Khalsar (60KMs)- Diskit (20KMs)  Hunder(7KMs)-Turtuk(80KMs) = 207 KM

The K-Top
We started early so as to avoid the Union guys, filled up petrol in KTMs and jerry cans. This time since we had a car, so we kept the cans inside otherwise it’s a big headache to carry cans on KTMs .As we started to climb the K-Top there was this check post by union for cars, private vehicles were being stopped and questioned. Our car when they stopped prateek suddenly said it was her Mom’s car and they simply allowed. It was bright and sunny when we started but while climbing the weather changed drastically. The roads were same as last time, initial patch was somewhat good but towards the top is was still pretty bad in shape. It started to snow heavily and there was stranded traffic at the top.





At the top we saw some union guys were misbehaving with one private car (Zoom car self driven ones) but there was army who quickly jumped in. I even gave one army personnel his baton to help control the situation. We clicked some pictures, had tea at the café and we left for Nubra Valley.

The Epic fall
Just after crossing the K-Top there was ice on road with warning boards put up stating “Avalanche area move quickly”. The descent from the K-Top was more difficult than the ascent. Shri was riding his RE in front and I was following with the rented 200 and Sud was riding my 200.


There was snow everywhere, left and right, along the edge and on the road. Suddenly I saw Shri going down in the middle of the road. I was talking to Sud via Bluetooth and was laughing as I said yeah first one down since this trip started.

Then in a split of a second I also went down, don’t even remember what happened. The tyre just slipped on ice. I got up, lifted my bike with all my strength. I looked around for damages on bike and myself. The bike was ok and my leg too thanks to the Cramster riding pants as it took all.

I got onto the bike and as soon as I started it before moving an inch, I fell again (now my shoe slipped on ice) onto the snow covered mountain with the bike on me. I was exhausted as I was getting hard to breathe at the top, just pushed the bike away from me. A car coming from behind stopped and picked me up and lifted my bike. I sat there only taking deep breath and as I looked, I broke the gear liver rod (which I was not carrying; only gear assembly). Seeing me sitting every car that was passing by said see that a warning board and its written avalanche area don’t stop and I was quiet, trying to figure out how to go about now. Meanwhile every fellow rider whom I saw at a distance I was giving them signal to be slow as there was ice on road but people usually don’t listen until everyone fell on the same spot.

Then it was Sud’s turn as soon as I saw him with my bike, I told him there only to stop right there(Bluetooth helps a lot).I went up to him asked him to turn off the bike and drag it and I was also holding the bike from behind so that there are no chances.

video

There was more in the store...
Then I came up to the rented 200, collected the gear rod which was in pieces and pressed hard on to the first gear with whatever was left  and continued to ride in first gear till North Pullu some 16 km from K-top. It took me some time and a lot more of patience to reach. As we reached North Pullu, we had some food and then Bunty, Shekar and Sud tried their hand to fix the broken gear assembly. With some effort they were able to temporarily fix it.

Trip to Army Medical Camp
Meanwhile Rahul who was travelling in car was not feeling well. I remember he asked me for a Diamox tablet in the morning which he had but to avoid any chances we took him to the army medical camp at the North Pullu and they checked on his oxygen level which was quite low around 40% should be 75% at this height and 90-95% in normal conditions .They immediately gave him oxygen through cylinders available with them. After sometime they asked us to move quickly, down to lower sea level place. We decided to keep the rented 200 there with one restaurant owner as we were not sure if we could find a mechanic in Diskit or any other town and we could take it tomorrow when we return from Nubra and show it to mechanic in Leh.

So Shekar was now riding (rather struggling) with one RE and Bunty as a pillion and Shri was on other RE with Vipul as a pillion trying hard to keep up with us on KTM. The road from North Pullu were decent and we again stopped at again Khardung Village some 17 km from North Pullu at a private clinic, checked Rahul’s oxygen level which was going low at 45%. Again they gave him oxygen from  a cylinder and asked us to go directly to Sub District Hospital Diskit. They also gave us a big cylinder to keep in car for providing continuous supply of oxygen and asked us to return the cylinder tomorrow while coming back keeping Rs 3000 as a security.


Diskit town
The view, the valley and the road was getting awesome but I was getting worried about deteriorating condition of Rahul, thoughts going in my mind like people will ask whose idea was it to come here and all arrows will be pointing at me. I then diverted my mind to the Nubra valley. The valley was beautiful and I was stopping at every turn to absorb the scenic view.

The car was moving ahead quickly and went straight to Sub District Hospital at Diskit town and got Rahul admitted. As I reached there, they were checking again his oxygen level which was down to 30-35% and immediately gave him oxygen through a big cylinder.
The doc came and asked if we given Diamox and I said yes in the morning but just one tab. She said you should have continued its course of taking 2-3 tablets in a day and 1 more next day as a usual practice. I was telling her before we could do anything this happened. Then they took an X-ray to check for any problems with Rahul’s lungs and gave him Corticosteroids injection to suppress breathing problems. The X-ray report was Ok but we had to keep him for the night at the hospital and Prateek later stayed back with him for the night.

Meanwhile other guys found out a place to stay called “Mentok Guest” house, big and beautiful it was.


Day 7: A long day came to an end reached Diskit from Leh some 120 Km covered and there was not a single thought of Turtuk today in my mind, may be some other time.

Day 8, Sunday 14th June 2015

A New day…
This morning we didn’t have rented KTM 200 with us but we were not spared from the morning ritual. This time Sud’s 390’s rear tire was flat, yet again. So we took out our equipment: the puncture kit, the air pump and the tire pressure gauge and we all tried our hands one by one. It’s always difficult to fix a tubeless tire puncture as it takes lot of effort and force. After a long session we somehow were done with the fix but Sud was not sure and he went to search a mechanic to fix the puncture again properly.


We had some breakfast in the town and brought Rahul back to the guest house from the hospital. It was already noon time; next big question was what to do next:

1. Some People wanted to go to Hunder (the usual Sand dunes and Bactrian camels)
2. I wanted to see the Diskit Gompa instead (You could spot the big Maitreya Buddha statue from every corner of the town)
3. There was one option to stay one more night here, Rahul will have rest and we all could go to Hunder and the Monastery together.
4.  Or to go back to Leh as we could cover Pangong Lake next day. During my last trip I could not go to Pangong (shortage of time) and was feeling bad much.  

So after some brainstorming we came to a conclusion: We all go and see the Diskit Gompa quickly and we ride back to Leh in order to cover Pangong tomorrow.

The Diskit Gompa
We quickly went on bikes to the Diskit Gompa. We only went to the hill top to see the Statue of Maitreya Buddha and not the Monastery. It was amazingly, beautiful and a must visit place. The 32 meter statue of Maitreya Buddha was facing down the Shyok River towards Pakistan. You could see the entire valley. We clicked some pictures around and went back to guest house.




The Ascent to the K-Top

We all packed our stuff clicked pictures at the guest house and left for Khardung Village some 45 km. We also bought two portable oxygen cylinders for emergency, costing Rs 350 each, which we missed earlier while preparing for this kind of adventure

On the way I saw diversion to Agham- Warila- Pangong and I said to myself next time for sure man!

We reached Khardung Village and returned the oxygen cylinder which we took. One thing to note is nobody whether the Army Medical, the hospital people or this private clinic guy, no one wants money for the service provided and I was surprised. Our hospital bill for 1 day VIP room plus medical expenses like X-ray, oxygen supply, injections and medicines, extra bed for Sachin conversing with the beautiful nurse, all was just Rs 62 and I wonder why wouldn’t be anyone surprised. And most importantly they are always ready to help. There is free army medical help available at North Pullu, K Top and South Pullu, Khardung Village just in case.

Then we went to collect our bike from the restaurant owner and moved toward the K Top. This time it was little snowy but no crowd at all as we reached the top late afternoon. While earlier it was like big gathering and everyone was enjoying the spot. Now the car was giving problem as its engine was heating up very quickly while they were climbing. They had to stop every 10 min but once on plain straight road it was fine.


 We reached Leh city around 6:00-6:30 PM. On reaching first think what did Shekar was calling up the RE owner for handing over his RE which was rented for 4 days but he was returning in just two days and I was not surprised at all. We asked Shri whether he was confident to continue for all 4 days on his RE, he said yes.

The preparation for the Pangong
At the hotel we came to know that the road to Pangong is totally in bad shape, we have to cross Chang La pass at 17,590 ft and its bad at this moment with heavy snowfall and long traffic jam. They even said that they been to Khardungla day before and it was nothing compared to Chang La this time of the season. Some of them went on bikes with few guys following in car and on return nobody was ready to ride back as they all wanted to sit in car instead. Finally as an advice they said if you are riding then we should seriously reconsider going to Pangong tomorrow.


The Moment Of Truth
We came to our rooms and disclosed same news to our fellow people. Their reactions were utterly amazing:
- Sachin: He said he doesn’t want to continue this trip with us and he is booking a return flight from Leh to Delhi for tomorrow morning.
- Rahul: He said whatever happens he will continue and complete this adventurous trip and he was ready to go to Pangong.
- Shekar: He said he wants to fix his bike so he won’t be joining with us.
- Sud; He said his bike rear tire may create problem so he won’t ride but he will join in car.
- Prateek and Vipul had no issues.

So as it seemed, it was brought down to Shri and me who would be riding tomorrow. Other guys then asked us are you sure you guys want to ride hearing all this? I said off course that’s what we came for riding here and I asked Sud if he agrees with me. He was quiet as he knew I was taunting him for going in car and not riding while providing silly excuse.

Lesson Learnt: After this I have understood that one should wisely choose wisely their group before going for a trip as one size does not fits all. Best is to ride solo.  

Day 8 concluded; ridden some 120 Km and was full of surprises, was looking forward to Pangong tomorrow, this time at least.

Day 9, Monday 15th June 2015
Route-Leh – Karu (36 KMs) – Sakti (10 KMs) – Chang La (34 KMs) – Durbuk (32 KMs) – Tangste (9 KMs) – Lukung (34 KMs) – Spangmik (16 KMs) =171 KMs


Ride to Pangong
In the morning we bid Sachin goodbye and we started with filling up petrol in the two bikes mine (KTM 200) and Shri’s (RE 350). We also filled up some fuel in Jerry cans and car. Then we rode towards Karu, on reaching Karu I saw union check post for checking cars. This time I informed the car people before and asked them not to stop as union guys were just sitting idle. The car came and they moved quickly without stopping at the union post. Then we stopped at the police check post. They note down your names, vehicle no and where you coming from. It is better to prepare a sheet with all these details and make copies beforehand to submit at various police check posts.

The Chang La
Reached Chang La at 17688 FT (5630 M), on the top there was one café. We went in and it was too crowded. Inside the cafe everyone was having tea and some duplicate hot maggi (being banned there also). We also indulged and waited for half n hr for the car people to arrive. People had advised not to stay for long at Passes. After a while I was feeling little dizzy and realized why people said so. I went out to click pictures and fed some dogs and was wondering how they all arrive up here.


The Long descent
As we experienced earlier the descent was more tough compared to the ascent. This was similar; narrow road, fresh snowfall, extreme cold and a lot of traffic. It took us quite some time before we reached the plains. As soon as I hit the tarmac, I was maintaining my average speed and Shri was trying to follow on his RE.

 Whatever random shortcuts/ detour I took on the way, he was doing same. I was again and again looking back on him if he was following, thinking it is difficult to manage RE. The small off roading, quick shortcuts & riding fast on sand, he was doing same.  The moment we reached the spot where board mentions first view of Pangong, it felt amazing. We forgot everything and raced to reaching it. On reaching we did not stopped to check out lake but went ahead to search for accommodation first. I told Shri later it was good to see him riding RE today, especially on sand when he also rode quickly. He said, he was just following me, as and what I was doing and on sand his bike was moving crazy but that did not stop him. I said very well, that’s the spirit.  


Spangmik village
At the starting of the lake there were some tents for staying but I was not keen in staying in tents. So we moved ahead on the road which goes to the Spangmik village. Just following the road alongside lake it was beautiful. The lake is long (134 KM, rest 60% in Tibet) with different colors of water I was just watching it endlessly. It was quite a ride to the village some 10-15 min or so. We found out a guest house negotiated 3 rooms for Rs 900 each, my room was facing the lake can’t express the view and then we went back to look for car people who were behind.



As soon as I meet with car people before I could say Prateek said: So we all have clicked pictures at the lake and we have decided to go back. I was about to use some swear words but I restricted myself and said: I had enough of riding while you guys must be sleeping in car. I am not going back today and whosoever wants is free to go while others can follow me to the guest house. Everyone came and it was around 3 PM we checked in. We asked the guest house lady for food and she made hot lunch for us. After eating all of us went to our rooms and just slept. We slept for good and woke up only after sun set, nobody amongst us went to check out lake and we decided to go first thing tomorrow morning.

In the night some guys were playing cards while some was speaking to the French guy and his wife staying there. There is no mobile network at the lake even our BSNL postpaid wasn’t working. This was the first place where our BSNL not working and I was thinking that’s not bad. There is one STD room operated by local using satellite landline for those who need, Call rate was 3 Rs per min which was cheap comparatively (I paid Rs. 6 per min in Batal near Chandertal last year)

Day 9 came to an end with 171Km of hard riding and I was looking ahead to go to the lake tomorrow morning.

Day 10, Tuesday 16th June 2015

The Nine Month Itch
We all went down to the lake in the morning. It was amazing, the first thought came into my mind was that this day was so long due as it took me 9 months to reach here. Last year me and Sud started from Leh to go to Pangong and we were planning to fill fuel in Karu. On reaching Karu the petrol station was closed because of non availability of fuel and we had to go back to Leh (some 35km) to fill and come back again so we dropped the plan.


We spend some time at the lake and clicked pictures. I took the GoPro and went to take underwater video, the water was damn cold. I could not withstand it and came out quickly while my hand and feet were still freezing even after I was out. We had some breakfast at the guest house and we picked our stuff for the return.

The Off-Roading fun

I was told about this alternate route which goes along the entire lake and people can have fun at the off -roading track only for those who intend to. I adjusted and lubed my bike’s chain and asked Shri if he is ready to go that way. He said yes and we went down to the lake and found out the off beaten track. I was maintaining my speed while Shri following me. I have to say Shri was doing well in keeping up on RE. The track was made of only stones big ones it was more like a river bed. It reminded me of Lahul & Spiti. The track was long some 15-20min and I was just standing while riding throughout the stretch and was wondering how riders at Dakar ride while standing on foot pegs entire day. As soon as I touched the road I looked back for Shri and when he arrived, gave him a high five for keeping up and we discussed how awesome it was.

The Next Problem
The plains were fine, covered them quickly .As soon as I was about to climb I saw my bike’s temp going hot. I stopped and noticed that there was a small leak below the radiator. I looked left and right wondering what happened. I then stopped Shri and we put up some tape around the leak but we knew that it won’t help much. I took out coolant bottle and filled the coolant container up to the top. We started again and were reaching Chang La pass while the outside temp was dipping quickly and the snow we could see everywhere.

Traffic Here: Traffic There
As we were getting close to Chang La, the road condition was getting bad. Fresh snow was accumulating on the road. At the top just before the Café there was long traffic halt. We all were standing at the same spot for more than 1 hr. And I was wondering that the traffic won’t leave me even here. While I was standing behind a car and there was this family who came out of the car.

Q & A
A boy and his mom came out and they started talking to me. They asked me where I was from. I said Delhi and they said they too from Delhi. The boy asked me why all the way on bike. I was starting to explain him but her Mother interrupted and explained him. I add on to it that it’s my second trip by bike so no worries and they both were blown away. The boy said second trip with a big “why” as he said he would never come here again and will tell others also not to come ever seeing the harsh conditions. His mom then asked me the killer question: Are you married? I was laughing inside the helmet. I said no and then she started; see that’s why your came alone, that too on bike and continued to speak for quite some time while I  was quiet listening to her and then gave them a thumbs up telling that’s enough.

At the Cafe, we again went inside to have tea and maggi which did wonders. I came out it was thick snow everywhere. I fed some other different dogs; there were many, most of them lazing around on the snow. The car people came and we started to proceed for the descent.



The Off Roading That Was Done
While riding down the Chang la, the road was as usual bad with big potholes. Suddenly the bike’s lower body engine cover (the Kit Belly Pan Assembly) was gone. I turned around picked it up. It was in two pieces and I was wondering how as there was no impact. I put them in my bag and continued. I thought maybe I was ridding fast here.

When we reached the plains suddenly the bike’s temp went super hot and "Hot Coolant Temperature" warning came up. I had to stop my bike otherwise the engine would cut off automatically after a given point. I checked the coolant tank, it was full. I knew that below there was a small leak but as I had put in the coolant from top then the leak should be taken care off. I noticed that the radiator fan was working fine and I was left with no choice but to wait for engine to cool. After some time when the temp bar came down a bit I started but soon I had to stop again.

Seeing me in despair Shri said he can help in pushing the bike so we continued. It took us some time to reach the town. At the starting of the town, I noticed the same mechanic shop that I visited last time also.

The Cause and Effect Relation
This mechanic was on Leh Manali road just before the town. He remembered me well as last time he had arranged for Bajaj front disk pads and altered its shape to fit it to KTM front disk pad slots. He said because of that he started keeping KTM front disk pads for other people. I was happy and thought KTM should take a note and should consider opening up a service station in Leh.

Then he concentrated on my bike. Since it was KTM it took them some time to figure out. They opened up the clamps on the coolant pipe. Then they took out the pipe and checked for small leaks but the pipe was OK. Then they noticed the radiator was leaking. On looking closely the pipe attached to lower part of radiator was leaking. They were all surprised how, since the pipe was placed inside snugged and strong.

They all started their own Cause theories and then they came to a conclusion that it looked like an impact made by stone. They asked me, I said neither any impact nor any fall. It was just some off roading I did at Pangong Lake. Listening to my story they concluded it is the effect of off roading which I have done. I said to them very well let’s work out a solution; they said I have two options:

1.Welding- They said this pipe could be made of aluminum or iron we don’t know exactly so whatever it may be we have to go to a welding shop and weld this part accordingly. I said no way since welding takes time and there are chances of other surrounding parts being damaged what is the other option.

2. Araldite: They said we could do a temp fix by applying Araldite adhesive to the joint. I asked them will it work; they said temporarily yes. I agreed since there was not much of a choice.

They opened up all screws, detached the fan, flushed out the coolant and then took out the radiator. It was a cumbersome process. Then they applied the adhesives and left it over for some time. Meanwhile I asked them to just fix the lower body engine cover. They had a looked at it and asked me where exactly I have been today.

After some time they put back everything and showed me the fix as it was working fine. I was there until I was satisfied since we were riding back tomorrow.

It was dark when I left them and returned to hotel. Other guys seeing me they were all quiet as they knew what I have been through and so much time it took me to reach. Their faces were like; it was your call so be it and I was thinking yeah it’s been a grueling day and that’s what this trip is all about isn’t it.

I asked about Rahul, he was OK resting for two days while Shekar went out fixed his gear lever as he put Yamaha liver assembly and I said see “A trip to Leh compels you to find a solution”.

He also went to Thiksey Monastery and was discussing how beautiful it was, totally worth a visit. For dinner we went to same old Lamayuru restaurant while discussing tomorrow return plans taking the recently opened Manali route.

  

 Day 10 came to an end, riding some 171 km back from Pangong it took me entire day to reach.

Part IV: Coming Soon
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