Day 17 & 18 – Changla & Pangong Tso

Full day of rest had just made me the opposite – restless. I had to get out soon. The new morning said, well you want to go, here is a nice morning. Now go. So I load up the Cramsters and the petrol, put the key in the ignition and wait for the guest house lady to open the gate for me. As it happened, along came Shashank.

After enquiring and being suitably pleased with the fact that I have been touring from Mumbai and intend to continue doing so for quite some time, he invited me up to him room for a couple of minutes so he could introduce me to his gang. Up I go and meet three – four of his team. I say team because they are here on work. Having been appointed by the Ladakh’s PWD, they are out here surveying the area for the purpose of preparing a master plan for the city. He tells me of all the things they are doing and and the things that can be done. He tells me about the new railway line being planned from Manali to Leh. He tells me about some shrubs and irrigation. I am impressed. This is the first time I have heard of such things and I actually believe it is possible. In any case, he hands me his GPS instrument so I can get him a reading along the road to Spangmik and Chusul. I hate technological freak show on my bike. But I take it.

Head out 35 kms to Karu and ask a taxi guy if there is way to go to Spangmik, then Chusul and then to Tso Moriri. I wanted to make good the loss of one day due to the ATM outage. But he says first up, I can’t go to Chusul. Since is ‘zero border’ or right on the border with China, you need a very special permit for that. You will need to get the local administration, police and army’s approval. Not a easy business I am told. Very very saddened, I decide to try my luck with the army and police post at Spangmik.

Soon I am on a stretch of road which is about as beautiful and flat out as NH 4 from Mumbai to Pune. I am doing 90 plus on a twisting curving road. Brings some serious fresh air into my head and into my helmet. I start freezing. Before I can think, I am climbing. Changla is up ahead of me.

From Earning My Quarter Mile

I see three people on two Yamaha Liberos. Now for people who don’t know, a Yamaha Libero is like a mountain goat on a beach or like a squirrel in water. Just not made for this sort of thing. But they carried on. Falling. Flipping. Struggling. They carried on. We were on top. Changla. Third highest road in the world, it proudly proclaims. But its not the height that catches your attention. Its that innocuous looking board which says – Everyone is welcome for free hot cup of tea! The army is sponsoring tea for everyone passing by. It was almost like that Avis commercial – “We are number three. So we are going to do everything possible to make you feel special.” It was great. Had chai and clicked a few pictures.

From Earning My Quarter Mile
From Earning My Quarter Mile
From Earning My Quarter Mile

Decided to move ahead with the Libero people in tow (Swiss, I think). One of them slipped on an icy puddle of water. Helped him out. From there till almost reaching Pangong Tso, we were riding shotgun. The ride was almost uneventful except the largest stream yet that I had to cross. I wanted to take a picture of it but it was surrounded by an icy puddle on one side and huge amount of road construction on the other, I just couldn’t stop my bike.

Not long after crossing the largest stream ever, a blue patch caught my eye. Barely visible between two peaks, it was shining blue. I thought, could this be Pangong Tso? The lake just about everyone who has come here raves about? The one and only Pangong Tso? I didn’t have to wait too long. As I came down the fourth and last u-turn from what looked like the last mountain, the colour of the scene changed. From grey earth, the whole tone became blue. Pangong Tso was in front me.

The feeling of elation and joy that I was waiting for when I reached Leh and Khardungla but never found it, was finally in my head. I felt light. I felt on top of the world. I felt numb with joy. Pangong Tso had stood up to every word written about it. And more. It was vast. Never ending. Wide blue expanse. It was like my heart was out there and spread out over 200 kilometers in blue tinge. It was serene. Beautiful. I stopped at the edge of the water. I knew the lake goes on for 140 kms just in India but I wanted to see it as the first drops of water splash along the coast. I waited. Smoked a cigarette. Finally took out my camera and clicked a few.

From Earning My Quarter Mile
From Earning My Quarter Mile
From Earning My Quarter Mile

After much wrangling about moving from where I was, I did move. About half a kilometer ahead, the scene only improved. The blue becoming bluer and the expanse becoming even more vast. I stopped at a tea stall and ordered noodles. I was starving. Again after being promptly surprised by a family about how long I had come, I again went to the edge and took a few pictures in the fast lowering light.

From Earning My Quarter Mile

Proceeding to Spangmik, I was filled with so much of joy, I can’t put it in words. I followed the lake and then …

The taxi I was following took a sudden turn inland. The other road was broken and I had no idea about the roads, so decided this was the best way to get anywhere. That was a mistake I couldn’t have avoided. It was a dry river bed. Or ocean bed. I am not sure. But it sure was a big huge rock bed. There were huge rocks and boulders all over. The bike was going up and down, sideways and all over by itself. All I was doing was holding on. It just went on and on. And became worse. Bobbing up and down like a cork in the ocean, I resigned myself to the fact that either my bones will turn into dust or my tyres will give up. One hour later, neither had happened. Instead, I had reached a police check post and right in front of it was a guest house. The only guest house. My butt was still shaking. I submitted my permits, made some small talk with the policeman, directed the Swiss group to where every they were going and headed to the guest house. At 500 bucks, I got a room, hot water in the morning but no food. I was fine. Went out in the dark to take some late night shots.

From Earning My Quarter Mile

Came back and met the other occupants – a Spanish duo. Made some small talk about Fernando Alonso (which I don’t think they liked too much ;)) and headed to the dinner chambers. Had a heart meal with the Spanish guys (who later forgave me because I told them I was the biggest fan of Rafael Nadal). Discussed films, music, sport, travel and went to sleep. Again went to the lake for some early morning shots. The sun was too bright and the pictures didn’t come out as I had thought. Had my cup of chai and left the place at 9.30 in the morning.

From Earning My Quarter Mile

Crossed the horror of the rock bed all over again and started following the lake. The beauty that it was came out really now. Take a look.

From Earning My Quarter Mile
From Earning My Quarter Mile
From Earning My Quarter Mile

Decided to ride back non-stop. Soon was approaching Changla. The snow was freezing my butt off. But I had to go on.

From Earning My Quarter Mile

2 pm, I was in my hotel in Leh. Apart from what I had seen of Pangong Tso, there was but one thought on my mind. How do you reply when nature asks questions like this:

From Earning My Quarter Mile

By the way, the GPS that Shashank had given me tracked all right till Spangmik. But early today morning the darn thing refused to do anything. It still starts up but the screen gives some random visualisation instead of the text and map it is supposed to show. I still have to show it to Shashank. I don’t know how he will react. I am in fact ready to pay him for it. Never take anyone else’s stuff again. Ever.

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Comments
One Response to “Day 17 & 18 – Changla & Pangong Tso”
  1. Superb man!! 🙂 seems like you are getting in mood now. This piece is the most well written so far. In all pieces written by you so far, this one seems to be coming out straight from the heart. Cheers!!Amit

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