So I spent a day in Sarchu and walked around, took pictures, put my gear to dry. All that was primarily to acclimatize myself to the ‘high’. In the process of doing so, I met a lot of travellers, at the dhabha where I stayed. Most just halted for snacks and continued towards LEH while some stayed to rest for the night. In the morning, I found something that I was eagerly looking for- a working telephone to get in touch with people at home. The lady at the Dhabha guided me to the army camp where satellite phone service was available with charges hovering around 8 INR per minute. I was so glad about it that I spent a good half an hour on the call. No matter how much you talk about Ladakh to someone, it is always less.
At the dhabha, I met a solo cyclist named Rishabh who’d stopped for the night. He was fulfilling his dream of cycling from Manali to LEH. Then arrived two young men on their Royal Enfields who were on their way back from LEH. They stopped for snacks but we all had such funny and informative conversations that they decided to stay for the night too!
While we had Parathas in the evening, we saw a huge motor-home through the entrance pass by the dhabha. Eager to check it out, Rishabh and I ran out to see what it was all about. Once the motor home halted behind the Dhabha, we met Cedric Garrigos, his wife and two children who had been travelling all the way from France since two years. Their motor home was a modified military truck which had almost everything you’d find in a modern house, including parking for cycles and a scooter. They also had all important provisions, medicines and you could call one corner of the home, a mini operation theatre! To learn more about their travels, we called them over to our dhabha.
We all sat together in the Dhabha and heard Cedric’s stories while Dinner was being prepared by the lady owner. To our surprise, the couple who I met the previous day at Jispa joined us too after seeing my KTM parked outside. A traveller’s party of some sort is what we experienced at 14000 feet before we prepared our beds and called it a night, we had to get going early the next morning!
I was in a dilemma though, I couldn’t decide whether to stop for the night 90 kilometers after Sarchu at a place called Pang or to continue to LEH which was still 250 kms away. Now, 250 kms may sound little but in the Ladakh region, it is similar to riding for 800 kms on lower altitudes. A friendly Indian Army Personnel at camp Sarchu had suggested I carry onto LEH instead of staying at Pang as it was at a much higher altitude than LEH and Sarchu. Spending a night at 16000 feet may or may not have been a problem, especially since I had acclimatised but on the other hand, the tarmac after Pang was smooth and well maintained so there was a high probability that I could make it to LEH before Sundown and scout for a camping site or hotel. LEH it was then!
The next morning, I left Sarchu at 8.45 along with the Bangalore couple- Sundeep and Shilpa. We maintained quite some distance but met frequently on the way. Phone signal I was told, was to be dead until LEH. For the first time on this journey, dark clouds hovered above and yet, the landscape looked brown and beautiful Very soon though, GATA loops arrived- a network of about 22 hairpin bends. Personally, I love hairpin curves but a lot of the loops were broken and some were muddy. I wasn’t complaining though. 🙂
In no time, I was above 15000 feet. On crossing Nakeela pass, I came across a Himalayan Marmot. Since this shy, wild little bear was extremely cute, I pulled my DSLR out of the tank bag in a jiffy and clicked a few photos before it escaped. The half broken road then descended to 14000 feet. Road condition was satisfactory though, it takes a hell lot of effort to maintain roads at such altitudes! Then I crossed whisky Nalla and the climb initiated again. Quite a roller coaster eh? The road this time was wet and a bit slushy. Shortly, LachungLa pass arrived at 16,600 feet and I was pretty happy for not feel noticing signs of altitude sickness.
After descending from LachungLa, the terrain became even more barren and dry. I could hardly find greenery of any sort but the brown mountains, rocks and ‘natural structures’ seemed like they were from another world. A barren place usually doesn’t seem very lively as a jungle. But this stretch, it was definitely alive and young.
When Pang was just 8 kilometers away, it began to rain. I took the event pretty casually and didn’t stop to put on my rain gear but in just 2 or 3 kms, the shower intensified. I couldn’t even stop as there was no point in doing so. The rpm bar on the KTM’s instrument cluster shot up as I sped up and reached Pang in little under 5 minutes. I don’t know why I acted so hastily that time since events like rain help me relax better. I stopped at the first Dhabha and got inside quickly. I asked the old man and his daughter if I could use the stove to heat and dry my gear, it was very wet. While he agreed and asked me to wait for two minutes, the scene outside suddenly turned bright.
It got so sunny that it seemed like there hadn’t been any rainfall at all! I had my first hand experience of how unpredictable Ladakh’s weather could get. While I dried my stuff outside, I looked up at the sky and saw a huge, rare Sun Halo, something that I had never seen in my entire life. It’s size and circular perfection had won me over. While I tried my best to get a vertical panorama shot of the Halo, my attention jumped to the board outside the dhabha. It read Saajan Hotel. On asking who Saajan was, the lady pointed at the old man I met earlier, who was the actual owner of the dhabha. Lunch followed after an intriguing conversation about the name Saajan, since in my existence of 25 years, that was the third person I came across who shared the same name. He told me that I was the third Saajan he came across too!
I don’t believe in coincidences, everything has its place and purpose. Me speeding up to the dhabha, the Halo appearing and me meeting an old man who shared the same rare name as mine at 16000 feet in Pang was quite something. Since our logical mind doesn’t really understand certain concepts, I left it to the universe to let me know what that experience was all about.
In a while, Sandeep and Shilpa arrived at the scene, they were right on time for the Halo before it gradually faded away. I saw a lot of people taking selfies with the board that read ‘PANG’ but no one seemed to look up at that beautiful, heavenly Halo. Such a contradiction. While I had lunch and left, I planned with Shilpa and Sandeep to meet up at LEH directly.
Ahead of me laid vast plains and a single road that went through it. Popularly known as More Plains, this flat stretch of land is such an ‘odd one out’ place in Ladakh. The pretty much straight, smooth, tarred road from here was about 50 kms long. Due to my 390’s combustion being low at high altitudes, the mileage reading displayed 51 kmpl, while I cruised along smoothly at 80 kmph in 6th gear.
After More plains, the ascent to Tanglangla begins, one can see the road gradually go up the mountain. A short section on this ascent was covered with gravel which eventually turned into a smooth, tarred road again. The climb wasn’t a very long one and the Tanglangla altitude marker arrived in little time. My watch displayed an altitude of 17180 feet. After a short photo session, I realized I wasn’t late but that didn’t mean I would stay at 17000 feet for a long time. The descent to LEH, which is at 10,000 feet begins after Tanglangla.
The road went down the mountain like a snake so I upped my speed a bit and got lean happy, overtaking almost all Royal Enfields riding in huge groups. By huge, I mean 15-20 motorcycles. The aluminium panniers added a lot to my confidence on curves. I then went through villages Gya, Sasoma where landscapes with colors green and red showed up, literally. The next major town called Upshi arrived at 5 PM where I stopped to fill fuel from my Jerry can. It was nice to see BSNL cellular network at Upshi. After a call, I headed to LEH which was still 50 kms away.
At 6.30 PM, I called people up at home to assure them that I had reached LEH safely, they congratulated me on fulfilling this major wish I had of riding to Ladakh. I scouted for hotels for almost an hour since a lot of the options weren’t too satisfying, and since my budget for a night hovered around 800- 1000 INR. In one of the gullies, I found a hotel with safe parking and bargained it down it 800, to which the manager agreed instantly. The only deal was that I was to have dinner outside since their cook was on a holiday. That wasn’t a problem for me at all, in fact that’s what I intended to do- explore the city on on my own and try the local eateries out. After a light Dal- chawal dinner, I called it a night at 11.30 PM with a wide smile on my face.