Tour de Ladakh [Day 7]: The Mighty Chang La

In the course of the last six days we have witnessed all kinds of stunning landscapes, icy mountains and picturesque valleys that there was a sense of concern creeping up inside our head. Did we finish up the best parts in the first few days? We feared that wherever comes next will be underwhelming as compared to the incomparable beauty our eyes have witnessed in this trip till now. Thankfully we were about to be proven wrong. We are beginning our journey for Pangong Tso today. Arguably one of the most beautiful lakes in the world.

THE RE-PLAN

As we were running one day behind schedule due to our misadventures at Morey Plains, our current itinerary was no longer practical. And additionally as we got the permits for Chusul, we decided to rework the entire itinerary from today onwards. In the original itinerary we had planned to go North via Khardung La (The Highest Motorable Road on Earth) into Nubra Valley and ride further up to Turtuk (The Last Village of India) and then return and drive east to Visit Pangong Tso. Now we reworked that into visiting Pangong Tso first, push for Chusul and then return and visit Khardung La. We decided to do Nubra Valley only if we weren’t allowed entry into Chushul.

The Map of Ladakh. Courtesy BCM Touring Forums. Our Lifeline of the Trip!

We woke up fairly early today and immediately started packing. We packed just the bare necessary stuff to reduce luggage weight and dumped the rest in our dorm which we had decided to book for six days. It was just Rs 300 per day, so even if we wouldn’t be in Leh for the next 3-4 days, it wouldn’t matter much and we get a safe place to keep our extra belongings. We had a quick breakfast at Pizza de Hutt. Sukesh and Rahul ordered French Breakfast while I decided to settle down with good old Aloo-Parantha. We lapped up a few bottles of ‘Gulbadan Mango Juice’. If you ever visit Leh, make sure you try these locally made mango nectar! My engine was making some weird noises. After a few moments of panicking, I figured out that it might be the engine oil which I replaced yesterday. As the ideal engine oil suited for the KTM Duke wasn’t available in Leh, Sukesh had suggested the nearest replacement. Apparently he was wrong. So, today I decided to call up the KTM guys instead and ask them for the closest match and I got it, replaced it. Engine back to normal. In  the meantime Rahul got his tyre tubes changed just to be sure and bought a few can of oxygen. I could sense a small bend in my rear alloy but it was manageable. moreover, I wouldn’t have got a spare alloy wheel in Leh anyway. We tanked up at Karu and took the turn leading to Pangong Tso.

NEW MEMBER IN THE GROUP!

A couple of kilometers from Upshi, we came across two Europeans stranded with their Enfield. Their bike’s chain had snapped and they were waiting for the mechanic to come. After ensuring that they were doing fine and wouldn’t be stranded for long we wished them luck and resumed our journey. The roads were decent and we were able to maintain a good speed. And yes, today we were riding with three motorcycles. Sukesh was riding the gleaming new Pulsar 200NS which we rented from Stanzin Dorjay yesterday. Rahul with his P150 was having a hard time catching up in the steep inclines behind my Duke and Sukesh’s 200NS. After 10 KMs we reached the Shakti check post. It was unmanned. A road branches to the left leading to Wari-La, which was closed due to heavy snowfall on the top. This road further leads to a shortcut to Nubra Valley. Anyway, our permits for these roads had been rejected yesterday, so we proceeded on the path on the right and continued our journey onto Chang La.

I’m Curvaceous. Be Slow!
BRO (Border Roads Organization) never fails to amaze!
Straight Roads. A Treat for a Change!
At the HQ in Shakti Post.

Soon, we came to the Zingral Post. It was probably a Gorkha Post. The ascent for Chan La, the third highest pass had started since the last few KMs. Soon enough we started encountering ice walls and gushing Water crossings. By now, we were had crossed so many water crossing that we didn’t even make an attempt now to keep our feet dry. No matter how hard you try to keep your feet dry throughout the entire day, you will come across at least one knee-dip water crossing a day.  Freezing water entering your shoes is inevitable. Even with all the snow, it was not that cold and also barring the od water crossings, the inclines of Chang La wasn’t too tasking.

Sukesh with the new member of the Family. The Pulsar 200 NS!
Zingral Post.
When you go home, tell them of us. And say them, for their tomorrow we gave our today. We Lead by Example, Live by Chance, Love by Choice and Kill by Profession. -The Gorkha Post. at Zingral.
The Ascent to Chang La.
One of the many Water Crossings.
Not Bad!
That’s the Cafeteria at Changla Top

CHANG LA

Without breaking much sweat we reached Chang La Top, the third highest pass of the world. The Mighty Changla, as it is popularly referred to ,unlike all the high mountain passes we had encountered till now, this wasn’t desolated. It was bustling with activity. There was an Army Check Post on the top, a small temple (Chang La Baba), a cafeteria. There were a few tourist clicking photos around, there were a few army personnel who came to check out our bikes. And yeah, there was even a fluffy puppy on Changla Top! Changla at 15,585 f.t ASL has a temple dedicated to ‘Changla Baba’, the origin of a local myth. It is said that uttering anything like, “Let’s leave this place.”, makes the spirit of Changla Baba angry and he follows your vehicle and makes you face an accident. Even though, it is a harmless myth, we decided to take no such risks and watched our words! The Army run cafeteria on the Top served complimentary tea and a few other savories. We had some piping hot lemon tea and some super tasty momos here. Due to the altitude and oxygen depravity, even climbing a few steps left us breathless. Thankfully we had oxygen cans with us in case of emergencies. After half an hour we started out descent from The Mighty Chang on to our next stop, the Darbuk Post.

On the Third Highest Pass of the World!
Sukesh and Rahul taking one for the Proof!
Not as isolated as the other passes we have come across till now.
Free Tea on Chang La!
The Cafeteria at Chang La Top.
Won’t mind staying in a sub zero environment at the most inhospitable conditions just for the view!
Treacherous Water Crossing during the descent.
And some Incredible Views!
Some More Lonnnnnnnnnng Water Crossings!
And some utterly inexplicable excuses for Roads!
Yet another unmanned check post.

THE FROZEN LAKE

The descent wasn’t smooth and easy. Too many water crossing and bumpy roads. Barely a few KMs into the plains, we stumbled across an amazing discovery. A Frozen Lake! Being from some of the hottest places in India, this was magic to us! We took our bikes off road and went near this frozen lake. The lake was fairly big and with the blue skies and mountains in the background looked stunning. We were too unsure about the thickness of the ice. So I, being the lightest of the three, took slow cautious steps on the ice, praying with each step that the ice doesn’t break and me being trapped below the frozen lake. Turns out, the ice sheet was thick enough to take the weight of all three of us. Soon enough, another biker who was going that way, stopped his bike and came towards the lake. It was Robbin and Neha again! I had stopped keeping count on how many times we ran across each other during this trip. Lots of photos later we decided to move on and make it to Pangong Tso before dark.

Rahul and Sukesh Driving Off Road to reach the Frozen Lake.
Click!
Need and Clean Ice!
A Panoramic View of the Frozen Lake.
Back to the kid years. The Joy of Eating Ice!
Treading the Thin Ice Cautiously.
Yes, People from the plains go crazy on seeing Frozen Lakes!
Me and Sukesh.

During our ride to Darbuk, we came across a couple of small memorials for soldiers who lost their lives in the 1962 Sino-Indian war. We stopped at these places, noticed that many travellers have paid their respects here by leaving small tokens of appreciations ranging from Indian Flags to smokes. The roads were now long and flat in contrast to the windy ones we have encountered till now. Armed with some light and swift Me and Sukesh had some fun on the roads, topping 100 constantly. Rahul and Robbin also played catch up close behind. Within no time we reached Dabruk. Even this check post was unmanned.

THE PLACES WHERE WE CAN’T GO

Dabruk is a gateway to the alternate path via villages like Shyok and Aga which provide a risky shortcut to Nubra Valley. If anyone follows this route, they have to traverse a 70 km long path made of up big stones and gravel with no scope of rescue by either travellers or the Army as almost no one takes this road. Furthermore this road leads to the Daulat Old Begi sector. This is a unique area where there is no consensus of the Border/LOC among three countries; India, China and Pakistan. Even though there is no habitation and no roads in Daulat Old Begi (Literal Translation: Where Daulat Died), it is of strategic importance as it oversees the Pak-China Karakorum highway on the north. Boundaries are based on mere perception and to maintain status quo, none of the three have any sort of permanent construction in this area. This is treated as a virtual No-Man’s Land. Our trip coincided with the 2013 Chinese Intrusion of Ladakh. The intrusion was mainly based around Murgo (Literal Translation: Gateway of Death), to the south of Daulat Old Begi, where the Chinese cross the LOC many times a year in response to Indian Army’s presence in that area. So basically both Indian and Chinese troops were stationed some kilometres away from us flexing muscles at each other in a diplomatic standoff! Needless to say, our permits for this area was rejected back in Leh. 

Sukesh petting some Tibetan Wild Asses on the Way
BRO Again!
A small War Memorial.
We were doing 6 times the speed limit and then saw this!
At Dubruk.
We drove further 10 km to the next check post at Tangtse. It was a neat and small military township. Robbin was getting our permits checked with the Army while Me, Sukesh, Rahul and Neha has some Tea and Maggi. No matter, whichever corner you go to India, you are bound to find three things; A Bullet Mechanic, Maggi and Kurkure! The supply chain management of these brands are amazing. There was also cell phone reception here which was surprising as the only place after Manali where we got reception was Leh. So, there is pretty much no network in the entire of Ladakh. Adding to that, only Post-Paid connections work in Kashmir. So, everybody gave a call to their families from the sole BSNL Postpaid Phone we had and we set off before it became too dark.

SAND DUNES!

The road from Tangste to Lukung (The starting point of Pangong Tso) was in bad shape. In fact the roads were covered with at least a foot of sand. This area basically was a desert. There were sand and horses everywhere. And in the evening, due to the windblasts, all the sand were on the road. These 30 KMs were a real pain to cover, especially during the uphill climbs. Our bikes buried a foot inside the sand were groaning and moving forward slowly in the first gear. There was a real danger of engines overheating even in this cold climate! Everybody had near-fall moments and finally we made through it. Unluckily when we reached Lukung it was pretty dark and Pangong Tso wasn’t visible properly.

PANGONG TSO!

There were a few tented accommodation and needless to say, we chose the cheapest one! It was pretty decent though. We chose two tents and they even had beds in them. The night was getting cold and with nothing better to do, the five of us chatted for a couple of hours in our tent, discussed the plans for the next day. Robbin and Neha were planning to return the next day while the rest of us will be pushing for Chusul. The Tent Caretaker gave us some snacks and savouries he brought from the nearby army camp and we happily munched them, The dinner we ordered next went cold almost instantly and a super cute puppy who decided to stay in our tent ate it all instead!

Rahul in the cozy tent at Lukung.

TRIP LOG

Bike ODO Start ODO End Distance
Duke 200 6550 6715 165 KMs
Pulsar 150 36411 36570 159 KMs
Pulsar 200NS 956 1115 159 KMs

2 thoughts on “Tour de Ladakh [Day 7]: The Mighty Chang La

  1. Pingback: Chai, Maggi and Mountains: 7 Kicakass Tea-Stalls in India - Tripoto

  2. Pingback: Chai, Maggi and Mountains: 7 Kickass Tea-Stalls in India - Tripoto

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