Tour de Ladakh [Day 4-Part 2] : Stranded

For many, Motorcycle Touring is a religion. A strange religion. There are no Gods. There are no written commandments. Still, there is an uncanny sense of brotherhood among the riders. There is a set of unsaid rules. Rules which are neither imposed nor enforced by anyone. They emerge naturally from the souls of every rider out of empathy and that unseen bond amongst them. Throughout our trip we came across these gestures. Some small. Some grand. Gestures which would etch the memories of this trip in our souls. Through the course of the lonely 470 kms patch between Manali and Leh, all that we would see in a day were a few truckers and a few bikers, who like us are living the dream of getting Leh’D. These nameless bikers would be coming from the opposite end i.e. From Leh to Manali. And every single one of them would be giving us a ‘Thumbs Up’ or flashing a high beam, meaning ‘He there, fellow biker!’ and we would be returning the same. Neither we, nor they will be stopping and exchanging stories. But , that two seconds of mutual acknowledgement brings in an uncanny sense of positive vibes in these paths less taken that, We are not alone. You get trapped in these treacherous roads, you are in mercy of the unforgiving cold. With no one to turn to, the only help might arrive from your fellow ‘Brothers on Wheels’. We helped out a fellow rider from certain death yesterday. A few others will return the favour to us today. The second part of Day 4. The one where it was our turn to be the ‘Damsels in Distress’. Read On.

Who can sleep during this amazing experience!

CRAZY ROADS

The descent from Lalchulung La was challenging. There were no roads in general. Slush, Water Crossing, Crazy detours were becoming a common occurrence. Still, we were pretty much on time to hit Leh by tonight, if not by evening. The only real challenge left for today was to cross Tanglang La, the second highest motorable road in the world before evening. During the descent, the landscape changed quite suddenly from the snowy valleys to dry and rocky terrain in a mater of minutes. The wind induced natural rock formations kept on becoming more interesting. The sheer enormity of these natural structures overloaded our senses. Sure, there were a few hindrances like a 30 meters water crossing and half a dozen times roads ending abruptly. No big deal. By now we were kind of used to them. When there is a wheel, there is a way. We moved on, onto our next stop. Pang.

Sukesh analyzing a Water Crossing during the descent from Lachulung La.

Yes, these are the so called roads. Make your own way!

That famous wind-tunnel!

A closer look. No Ladakh Travelogue is complete without this photo.

The amazing Rock Formations due to the winds.

A Panoramic view of the rock formations.

The path less taken.

There’s Pang, across the Shamsher Bridge.

PANGS OF PANG

After a challenging 24 kms of ‘so called roads’ we reached. Pang at 14,862 ft. is the base of the World’s Highest Army Transit Camp. Apart from the Army Camp it had a few privately owned shanty tents. Pang is a very important point in the Manali-Leh highway. It is one of the very few places where travellers get a place to eat and an option to rest for the night. It is avoided by most people though because of the biting cold at night. And also due to its high altitude, almost everyone who sleeps there get splitting headaches and nausea due to AMS. ‘Sleepless at Pang’ is one the most commonly used phrases in Leh Travelogues.  The spirit of many have succumbed due to pang and even a few deaths have occurred in Pang. The day after we crosses Pang, a biker died due to the harsh cold here. We would come to know of this sad and troubling news after we reach Leh. Anyway by the time we reached there the weather was sunny and windy. We stopped for a late lunch at a shack named ‘Punchok Yar-La Restaurant’. We had some nice chow-mein. We wanted to have egg bhurji, but there weren’t any eggs. Not surprising, coz even titanium shelled eggs wont survive the jerky roads to Pang. After a nice serving and reapplying a thick layer of sunscreen we strolled outside for a little chat with another group of bikers coming from the Leh side. They were three army men in green bullets having a leisure trip from Leh to Manali. All three were brutally sunburnt. The skin was all red and peeling, looking painful. The sunrays at such high altitudes is exponentially more damaging. Forget the skin darkening, it becomes painful. So, high SPV sunscreens are an absolute must on Leh trips unless you want to look like a super villain when you come back. We exchanged a few experiences. One of them, a Major had suffered a 40 ft. long skid in Chang La, a pass that would come much later. He was saved from serious injuries, thanks to his riding gear. Which is another must have. Proper Riding gears. After a few minutes of banter we started off again. 302 kms down. 172 to go. Daunting task ahead.

Many travelers returning back due to the broken Whiskey Bridge.

Outside the Punchok Yar-La Restautant

Well…Inside the Punchok Yar-La Restautant

My Duke basking in the Afternoon Sunlight. She needs no sunscreen.

No amount of sunscreen is too much sunscreen!

The World’s Highest Transit Camp at Pang.

GOD’S OWN RACECOURSE

Now began a small ascent to the famous ‘Moray Plains’. This is an unusually large plateau in the midist of all that mountainous mosh-pit. Miles and miles of plain fields, flanked by distant huge mountains on both sides lies a long stretch of freshly laid asphalt blacktop. We were really looking forward to this. After 300 kms of punishing roads, BRO (Border Roads Organization) gives you one of the most enjoyable roads on Planet Earth. Remember the Bajaj Avenger ‘Feel Like God’ ad? Or the first ever Pulsar 220 ‘Hamara Bajaj’ TV commercial? Yes. All shot in Morey Plains. The feeling of zipping through God’s own racetrack at 100 kmph+ is the best reward a biker can get. Sadly, our joy was short lived. After 15 kilometres of bliss, the roads were under construction.

The ascent to Moray Plains.

Up on the plateau!

Freeze! Save in Brain! Unfreeze!

Freshly Laid Asphalt.

A Joy to rip on!

:’)

God’s Own Racetrack!

AND GOD’S OWN DIRT TRACK

The sheer beauty of the surroundings took the mind off the frustrating roads that followed. We had to be really careful while riding now. Even a speed of 15 kmph was difficult on the road which consisted of only sand and gravel. Adding to that Rahul’s Pulsar’s rear tyre has been constantly losing pressure. Only 15 kms of the 45 kms long Morey plains has been covered. We staggered forward for another 10 kms and so and stopped to take a break and normalize the pressure on the Pulsar’s rear tyre. Rahul refueled my Duke with 3 liters of petrol from the bottles we were carrying. Meanwhile Sukesh was trying to apply pressure on the tyre with a foot-pump.  I was busy taking a few snaps when I heard those urgent words. “Dude, We have got a situation here.”, Sukesh said standing up.

End of the heavenly roads. Now just loose gravel and dust.

A very happy Duke after the fun ride on Morey Plains.

The Stop.

Miles and Miles of no habitation. No lifeforms. Nothing. The place is much colder than it looks.

STRANDED IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE

Rahul and Me hurriedly rushed towards the Pulsar. The tubeless MRF Zappers weren’t keeping the air pressure in. The Valve pin was broken. Disaster. The air was escaping from the valve-pin. And to make things worse, we were not able to find our valve pin screw. We didn’t have a spare one. Nor had Rahul brought a tube as his Zappers were tubeless. My Duke’s spare valve pin didn’t fit either. After an hour of trying all kinds of Jugaad, we were still at square one. We had brought every possible spare parts but only that part had to go kaput for which we had forgot to bring one. After an hour of trying all kinds of Jugaad we were back at square one. We had no other option rather than to drag the bike back to Pang before sundown or to scout ahead hoping for an Army Camp who could let us rest for the night. Returning back to Pang meant a 30 km long walk, that too with pushing a luggage laden bike. To complicate matters we tend to get exhausted more easily at 15,420 ft. due to the thin oxygen levels. It would take us hours to reach there with the risk of turning into human-flavoured ice lollies on the way. And again, all the wise men suggest to avoid staying at Pang. We decided to try our luck and go for the second option. I unloaded the luggage and started off scouting ahead for any help that I could find. 5 kms down the road I found an empty army camp. Not a soul in site. Nothing for the next 5 kms either. I had no other option other than to turn back and give them the bad news. Plan B now was to abandon the Pulsar on Moray Plains, and make two trips to return to Pang and spend the night there. This essentially meant that our trip is over now.

Tension and Dejection starting to creep into Sukesh. He failed the last time. He definitely didn’t want to fail now.

Trying to pump in Air with no avail.

Hours went by. Bikers didn’t.

Thirsty Duke!

Still Waiting. No Help has come. Notice the shadows. The dreaded sundown is not far.

RAGHAV, ROBIN AND NEHA. AGAIN!

On returning I saw one extra bike, an Enfield out there near Sukesh and Rahul. Those cousins again! The ones we met in Kullu and Gata Loops had caught up with us yet again. Robin and Neha. They started helping us out but still of no avail. We were stuck there for three hours now. Sundown was an hour away. We desperately needed Lady Luck to turn to us now. In a Deus Ex Machina moment, two bikes were coming towards us from the distance. We waited with bated breath for them to stop. As predicted they stopped to offer their help. And one of them opened his helmet and revealed himself. It was Raghav. The Guy whom we rescued yesterday at Baralacha La! He was happy to see us and so were we. Upon knowing our stick situation, he had the much needed good news for us. They had an extra tube in their Innova which would be catching us soon. Phew! We waited for 30 more minutes for the Innova to come. Finally it did. We waved at it, but to our horror it didn’t stop. It just sped away. Maybe the driver couldn’t see his two friends; Maybe he thought we are high altitude highway robbers; Due to whatever inexplicable reasons he didn’t stop the Innova which had the much needed tube! Disaster Again.

Raghav and His Friend with Rahul and Sukesh.

MOTOCROSS MADNESS DUKE!

We had pretty much 30 seconds to decide on what to do. I volunteered to chase the Innova. I directed Rahul, Sukesh, Robin and Neha to meet me up at the Army camp some kilometers ahead and meanwhile I will try to chase down the Innova with Raghav and his friend. The Duke is one hell of a monster on drag races. But this was no grippy asphalt. It was all dust and gravel. The toughest surface for a chase. Only my rear tyres were aftermarket off-road tyres. The front tyres were the stock, soft racing tyres. Grip was a problem at even 20 kmph. But the situation demanded a seemingly impossible 60 kmph. I had no other option but to throttle up for the most dangerous manoeuvre I have pulled till date on wheels. Ride off-road at 60 kmph+ speeds. If I hit even one bad pocket on the road and a nasty skid might happen. With a firm girp on the handlebar and standing on the foot-pegs in raced away in 2nd and 3rd gears. The KTM’s beastly acceleration and the Ceat Vertigo’s awesome grip played perfect wing-men. The Innova was just a few hundred meters ahead, but it was difficult to catch up as a speed of 50 kmph wasn’t tough for a vehicle on 4 wheels. Finally after an insanely tough chase of 12 kms I caught up with the Sardarji, introduced myself as Raghav’s friend and explained the situation. He gave me the tube and I raced back again. Sundown has happened and the cold was creeping in. On the way back I came across Raghav and His friend who were aiming to cross Tanglang La before the cold gets menacing. I thanked them and moved ahead to search for my friends.

THE EX-MECHANIC

They still hadn’t reached the Army Camp which was open now.  Rahul and Sukesh arrived with with Neha and Robin a few minutes later. The Army camp had opened today for the first time in the year as the personnel there had just returned from their vacations. Luck! One day earlier and we would have been stuck there without food, water and shelter for the night. Anyway or problems hadn’t ended there. We still didn’t have the proper levers to pry open a tubeless tyre. And the Army Captain there said that their mechanic isn’t scheduled to arrive till tomorrow. I knew what analogy must be going on through Sukesh’s and Rahul’s head. If we do not get the bike repaired today, we wont be able to continue the trip tomorrow morning. And the trip will be over. Another army jawan out there suggested us that we can seek for a mechanic in the next BO camp some 12 kms ahead. This time Sukesh volunteered to go out and scout in the cold. He took my bike and an hour later returned with a migrant road worker who used to be truck mechanic some years back before jumping careers! Anyway, still out best bet. After an hour of collective effort we managed to insert the tube inside the tyre and made a jugaad arrangement for reaching till Leh. We thanked the Armymen who pointed us to ‘Dipling’s Tent’ as a place to stay for the night while Sukesh went back to drop the Mechanic/Road Worker guy.

Waiting in the Army Camp for Sukesh to come back with a mechanic.

The Army Camp with Dipling’s tent in the background.

DEBRING

We came to know that the place was known as Debring and the road to The beautiful Tso Kar is from there. It was pitch dark now and the cold was being unbearable. The genius us; rejecting the 4530m Pang and spending the night at a much worse Debring at 4700m instead! The tend had batteries charged from solar power and we could recharge our phones/cameras. Our tent was large with 4 beds. And we were five. I was the unlucky one who had to spread his mattress on the ground. Neha suffered from a bout of AMS soon enough and had to be administered oxygen. Thankfully it wasn’t a severe attack and she slept early while we had a long chat with Robin.

The cozy Interiors of Dipling’s tent.

Nopes. Even that many blankets isn’t enough for one person.

They called Dibs on the Beds.

ANOTHER DAY SURVIVED

Thus a very eventful day came to end. Today could have been an end to our trip just because of a sneaky little valve pin snag. If not from the unexpected and timely help from Raghav, Robin and Neha we would have been packing our bags home. Yet again a group of bikers stood up selflessly and went out of their way to help unknown bikers. This is the unseen, unknown and uncanny spirit of Motorcycle Tourers.

6 thoughts on “Tour de Ladakh [Day 4-Part 2] : Stranded

  1. Pingback: Tour de Ladakh [Day 7]: The Mighty Chang La | Tour de Ladakh

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