I woke up to the mooing of cows in my warm tent, which was getting hot by the minute as the sun shined bright and hot at 7.30 AM. I thought the cows had entered the campsite and the fear of one of them crashing into my tent was annoying me. I first peeped out in a jiffy, only to see the cows grazing happily on a piece of land beside the campsite, separated by a fence! Sarchu, popularly known for striking a lot of riders with acute mountain sickness was my destination for the day, just 80 kms ahead.
After a sigh of relief, I got out and was stunned by the early morning view of the mountains. I thought I’ll have breakfast on the way but then wasted a lot of time speaking to Sandeep and Shilpa. I also wished to take a nice dump in the ‘tent loo’. I did, It was a very smart and innovative concept of shitting!
I then realised that I had taken off almost every piece of luggage from the Duke. Bad idea! I knew I’d be camping again in Sarchu so I shuffled my luggage in such a way where I needed to take off only one bag from a Pannier that contained essential things I needed for a night. Folding the tent, shuffling luggage and packing took time but all was well packed as per my expectations and settings. By the time all was in place, it was 11.15 AM. After a quick photo session, I fired the Duke up. Sandeep and Shilpa, the cool couple from Bangalore said they would meet me the next day in Sarchu. I thanked Regzin, the campsite manager for his help, paid the dues and sodded off quickly. It was high time and I hadn’t eaten anything. I don’t usually skip breakfast on rides but a proper breakfast beats a few nuts any day. Since Darcha was 10 kms away, I stopped at the checkpost there and had breakfast in a dhabha belonging to a lady who had guided me with local information near Keylong.
I was done with breakfast by 12.30, or should I say brunch and bought a few chocolates for the ride. A few kilometers after Darcha, the lone surviving BSNL Network too died. Fortunately, I had kept my parents updated about my whereabouts in Darcha itself and told them I would mostly be reaching out to them in a day or two through an army camp or after reaching LEH town, where BSNL network was abundant. I find it a bit weird to not be in touch with family, but had to bear it only this time. The lady at the Dhabha was witty enough to ask me if I was delivering pizzas on my Duke and that made me think bad of those for a minute, until I saw the mountains again. 🙂
Even at 1 PM, the views were so crisp without the presence of harsh light that they looked spectacular. Special thanks to the white clouds that made the light even better. Fortunately, I hadn’t witnessed dark clouds in the region yet and hoped that it would continue to remain the same. The roads were a mix of tar and mud but it was mostly broken road that made the scene look muddy. There were two to three stream crossings that I encountered on the way but they were manageable since the force of the water was moderate. In about half an hour, I reached Deepak Taal, a ‘Blue colored’ lake formed by melted glaciers from Patsio. The sight was beyond anything that I had seen, extremely pretty and energizing.
I took some underwater shots with my phone, thanks to Rynox’s waterproof mount. There was a Dhabha and some tent accommodations beside the lake too which seemed tempting to stay for the night but this time, I felt I had to get going. I got some pictures of myself clicked by other tourists and continued the ride with the same amount of excitement. The advantage of not researching about these beautiful spots in advance was pretty high, else I feel it would’ve spoiled the ‘first impression feeling’. I didn’t even know that a lake like Deepak Taal existed until I saw it! After I rode some more with repeated picture halts in between, the climb towards Baralacha La pass initiated. The mountain pass lies at an altitude of around 16000 feet above sea level that connects Himachal Pradesh (Lahaul and Spiti) region to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. And boy oh boy, the tarmac was excellent enough to lean into hairpins at satisfying angles!
As I gained altitude, no drop in oxygen level was felt. I kept pressing the acupuncture lung points though every time I was reminded of it. The ascent wasn’t very steep but was similar to climbing up any other hill station. The difference lay in the views though, the horizon in almost any direction, was filled with snow covered mountain peaks! I then encountered another ‘Blue Lake’ on the way called Vishaal Taal. It was way below my altitude but from far, it looked gorgeous, especially with all the spots of snow that lay on the mountains around. It looked like a blue jewel from far, the kind of place a saint would prefer to visit. I did get the thought of going off road, riding down from a place where the descent was gradual and checking the lake out from a closer distance but the tyres on my Duke were street tyres so I was a little concerned about getting stuck with heavy panniers. Another reason I didn’t intend on taking any chances was that I was riding solo. There’s always a next time to experiment some things, I’ll keep that for a later date but it definitely will happen.
Baralacha La Pass signpost arrived within a few kilometers. I was very happy to see snow around, even though ‘snow purists’ consider that to be very little. The temperature at the pass was moderate too and my riding gear with a t-shirt and underwear inside and didn’t require further insulation. What I was glad about though was to not see Royal Enfield riders and other vehicles around. In fact, I couldn’t even sight a single vehicle for quite some time, Baralacha La was all left to me. Perhaps, my delayed departure from Jispa helped. The crowd usually leaves early in Ladakh, preferably before 8 AM whereas I started my ride at 11.30! No wonder late comers are considered lucky many at times. 🙂
After a short photo session, I continued slowly and merrily. The descent too began immediately and I found myself closer to snow. Melting of snow was a common sight too due to which, there were approximately three to four stream crossings. One of the streams was had an aggressive flow where I gave some aggressive throttle input to get out. About 6 hairpins turns is what it took to descend from Baralacha La to 12,500 feet. A crazy amount of drop that is, but one doesn’t realize it easily.
The last 20 kilometers to Sarchu were awful in terms of road quality. Covered with hard rocks, plenty of sharp bumps and sudden irregularities on the surface meant that the Duke’s suspension got enough battering. At many instances, I had to stand up and ride to spare myself and the motorcycle. The shape and color of the terrain changed though, there was less and less of greenery and the large brown rocks seemed like they were from Mars. A short chocolate break was mandatory as I and admired the mountain pass behind me that looked similar to my Cadbury’s but oddly shaped. The road evened out eventually and I began to encounter tents around, a sign that Sarchu was near. At 5.15 PM, I signed on the Sarchu police check post’s register and entered the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
I rode through the dhaba alley, looking for a camp site to pitch my tent and chill. The last campsite of Sarchu was what I rode into and asked permission to pitch my tent. The owner agreed and my tent was ready in exactly 5 minutes. Sarchu is an extremely windy place, as a result, I had to nail the tent to the ground. I then inquired about food first since there was a common kitchen at the campsite. The owner replied rather rudely saying he didn’t have anything, not even tea and that I had to wait until 9 PM for Dinner. He suggested that I rode back to the dhabha close by and ate something there. Since I didn’t sense something right, I folded my tent temporarily and shoved it into the pannier, packed some stuff in a way I could ride for 500 metres and rode off to the dhabha from there. That campsite owner was clearly in a bad mood so it was wise to leave. My tent was then pitched next to the last dhabha from where I ordered hot Mooli Parathas and chai. The cook seemed more worried about the food cooling down than I was though.
Since I had to nail the tent the second time, I lost quite a lot of energy in the process which is easily done at around 14,000 feet. I loved the beds inside the enclosed dhabha though, they were neatly aligned but I had pitched my tent by then. I spent some more energy then on interacting with some riders in the Dhabha beside. They were from the UK and had bought Royal Enfields here for a ride to Spiti valley. Our conversations actually got pretty long until it turned dark outside. If I talk about stuff that I like, it could go on for hours! Dal chawal and Sabji was ordered for dinner at 9 PM. The lady owner of the last Dhabha in Sarchu was kind enough to deliver it to my tent while I got some peace time inside. The wind was strong indeed and it had got cold, it must’ve been 10 degrees outside. My inner thermals were JUST enough to keep me warm.
While I had the dal chawal hot, I felt as though my bums were wet. When I felt them, they were. I hadn’t closed the bite valve of my hydration bag properly and as a result, a lot of water leaked into the tent, wetting some part of my luggage, sleeping bag and thermal liners. Damn! That wasn’t something I asked for, I had to to sleep in an hour or so! I immediately switched to another thermal liner, picked my sleeping bag up and moved into the lady’s dhabha. Thank god that I pitched my tent beside the dhabha and not some place far away, else life would’ve got more difficult. The sleeping bag dried after a while though as I had the rest of my cold dinner but my motorcycle gear and socks lay wet inside the tent. The dhabha lady laughed at me for pitching a tent when there was a lot of room to sleep in her dhabha. She was right. I then transferred all the important stuff from my wet tent onto the bed beside me and called it a night in Sarchu. Thankfully , I was to stay in Sarchu the next day which gave me enough time to dry my gear and luggage! It is such instances in an adventure that make it more memorable and make you laugh while you recollect them. 🙂