2nd June 2015 – Day Four
Snowfall, group ride and Leh
Today, for a change I am not alone. We are four now. With help of Sumit and Gurdeep I first tied my luggage firmly with the same nylon rope. Checked it in all possible ways, no, there’s no chance of getting it loosened. Finally we were ready and started off at quarter past nine in the morning. Kargil’s only Petrol Filling Station is few kilometers away, we’d make our tankers full and then proceed for Leh.
But, what happened suddenly? We entered to the filling station together, but when I finished, I could not find Sumit or Gurdeep anywhere. Only Jeevan was with me. He was also clueless about those two. Have they already started and gone ahead? Or they are somewhere else?
No way could I spot those two. I could not leave Jeevan because his phone was not working, so we decided to proceed – if required, Gurdeep can call me – otherwise we’ll meet up in Leh, anyway. It’s just a single road, no diversion anywhere, so there is least chance of getting lost. Jeevan told me that he would make a slow progress and take multiple stops to take photos and videos, I could proceed on my own.
So, I was alone again. Still told him that I would wait for him at the next stop, Mulbekh. In case he reaches before me, he should wait for me.
Then I started the day’s ride. The moment I crossed Kargil town, the road became worse, it was kind of off-roading with pebbles and gravels on the so-called road. It continued for approximately 10 kilometers, and then suddenly the road became super-smooth exactly 12 kilometers before Mulbekh – I could identify the point by seeing the milestone. Reached Mulbekh in 40 minutes. Phone will not work now – there is no network. So, as promised, I stopped for Jeevan.
I had to wait a while for him. A group of 10 persons crossed me on Bullets.
After waiting for few more minutes Jeevan came, but there was no trace of Sumit and Gurdeep. We started together again, and somewhere in the way he became slow again for taking photos, so I proceeded and told him that I’d wait for him at Namika La.
The entire route and its relief is known to me, I have already seen them, so I didn’t feel urge to stop and take pictures. But it was an enjoyable ride. The stones were changing colors in each turn – sometime pinkish, sometime saffron, sometime greenish, sometime grey.
Reached Namika La in some time. The group of Bullets were making a stop and doing a photo session. There was also one family in an Innova – they had driven in straight from Gujarat. Asked one of them to take a photo of mine.
And then Jeevan reached. He also started taking pictures.
He took one picture for me too, but by then I was almost ready to resume my ride – I am helpless, dear reader, if you cannot recognize me.
Suddenly I saw a big bulk of thick black could was taking a funnel shape in the sky behind me. It was forming as if the hill nearby was attracting the cloud to it, like a magnet attracts a piece of iron. But it seemed like the hill was behind me – we had already crossed that area – so nothing to worry.
But I was wrong. In hilly roads, there’s nothing called absolute “behind me”. One moment something is behind you, the next moment, you take a turn, and it is in front of you. After sometime I realized that the giant cloud was neither behind nor in front of me; it was actually covering up the entire sky above me. It was about to rain heavily.
And so it started. The cloud came down and covered everything, including me. Visibility dropped, I could see rolls of smoke – actually clouds – were crawling on the highway, just in front of me, I could see those smokes were passing through my front wheel, and then it started raining. No, actually it was snowfall. … I am a creature of plains, so I felt romantic as usual, by experiencing the first snowfall in my entire journey. Made a quick stop, and took a quick picture of the first snow-flakes falling on my luggage.
But romanticism did not last long. It was not at all a pleasant experience riding through the snow-fall. Soon I realized, my fingers inside the “special gloves” bought from Karol Bagh have frozen, they were paining like hell. Here the visor of helmet was getting covered by snow, and the vision was getting blurred. Even inside the helmet the visor was generating frost from the moisture coming out of my exhaled breath. I was wiping off the visor through my gloves, the gloves was becoming white in ice, then patting my hand on my thigh to clear off the ice from my gloves, and in the mean time again some snow was getting deposited on my helmet visor. It was a never-ending process.
Rocky mountain. There’s no tree, no shade to stop by. No point in stopping under this heavy snowfall, I would freeze to death, for sure. The only way was, to move on. I cannot stop. Fotula Top was still 25 kilometers away.
So I proceeded – no one, not even Jeevan was visible anywhere. I was completely alone. The only relief was, the road was extremely good. I reached Fotula Top, it was deserted – not a single life was seen there, so I did not stop. But it was increasingly becoming tough to control the bike too as I was losing sense in my hands. Slightest movement in my fingers was resulting in heavy pain. Was I going to be a victim of frost bite?
I rode for about one and half hours in that condition. Fotula Top is the highest point between Srinagar and Leh. After that it was only descend. After going few kilometers from Fotula I suddenly discovered a deserted shed on the side of the road. I did not think twice to park my bike and take shelter there. My hands were so numb that it took me almost 10 minutes to put the gloves out. After the gloves were done, I found it harrowingly difficult to insert my bike key inside my trouser pocket – my fingers were absolutely not listening to me. I started rubbing my hands with each other, frantically. The snowfall was continuing with increasing intensity. All greyed out, except from few military trucks passing by, nothing else was visible.
Opened my helmet. As I was quite busy with my visor, I did not get chance to look at myself. My raingear had been wrapped by thick layer of snow. I was a snowman, top to bottom. Patted the chest, belly, hands and back, the snow were out. Now I was getting my hands back under my control. Took the camera in my hand.
After waiting for almost 40 minutes, it seemed like the snowfall had been reduced. So I started again, Lamayuru, my next stop was 10 kilometers away. I thought myself, the first thing I’d need to do there is to have one glass of hot tea.
But as I started, the snowfall started again. No way to go back to the shelter anymore. So again my hands started to become numb, again my visor became loaded with frost – and in few minutes, suddenly the Sun peeped out from the nearby mountain, the next moment snowfall stopped, like a magic spell. And the next minute I discovered a lonely tea-stall at the corner of the road.
No one was inside. “Koi Hai?” – I shouted. Immediately a smiling Ladakhi face appeared from inside. Asked him to make a cup of tea for me, and pleaded him to let me go inside the kitchen, so that I can warm my hands in his kitchen oven.
The boy guided me inside the kitchen and ignited another burner just for me. After ten minutes of effort I finally got back my hands in shape. Drank the tea. By that time Jeevan had also arrived. He too was caught unguarded in snowfall. He also followed my steps inside the kitchen, warmed himself and had one more cup of tea. It was then three o’clock. The sky was almost clear then – no sign of cloud as such.
It all happened just few weeks back, but now when I am writing this, I am feeling like it had happened long, long ago. Small experiences are now coming back in my mind – like, as soon as the snowfall stopped, the snowflakes fell down from my back and my bag was dry as before. Nothing got wet inside the bag, nor my raingear.
We started again at 3:30 pm. Lamayuru Monastery was just 3 kilometers ahead. Last time I missed this monastery.
A small road on the left side led us to the monastery. We went, saw it, but did not feel it much impressive. Leh monasteries are more beautiful than this. Anyway, I took some photos.
Moon land – in front of Lamayuru.
And finally, we came out of the monastery, reached the main road. There are few food joints and home-stay options. Suddenly I saw some bikes parked in front of a food joint, and two of them are known to me. I stopped and went inside – and I was right. Sumit and Gurdeep were having bowl-full of Maggie. They shouted as they saw me. They also lost us in the Kargil Petrol filling station itself. However, we became four again. And we decided not to leave anyone behind, we would proceed together now.
Time was 4:30. We crossed the Moon Land. It was feeling like, we are no more in earth, we have reached the Moon.
Nimu was still 80 kilometers away. Apart from me, it was the first time for rest three, so I volunteered to be a guide of them.
From Lamayuru another couple joined our group. They too had come from Delhi, a young boy and a girl in their mid-twenties, in a bullet. The boy was riding, the girl was on pillion.
At around 5:30 we reached the flat land, where a straight road vanishes out in the horizon.
And we chose to do some photo session there.
And finally, we reached Nimu. We all know what Nimu is famous for, so we did not waste much time to have our snacks, we reached to the point where Sindh meets Zanskar River.
Then came the magnetic hill. Jeevan did some off-roading in the adjacent hill.
And then the clouds re-appeared, rain started, and chilly wind started to blow on us. We reached Gurdwara Patthar Sahib at 7:00 pm.
I had already seen it, and moreover I never feel attraction in religious stuffs, so I asked them to visit the Shrine, and I volunteered to keep an eye on their luggage. I was not really feeling well, extremely cold, and stomach was almost empty – had not eaten anything except a bowl of Maggie and a cup of tea at Lamayuru.
They went inside, I kept on shivering on cold. It was unbearable – which is highly unlikely in June in Leh.
They came out at 7:30 pm. Leh city was 25 kilometers away. Cold wind, drizzling, and five bikes started their final lap to Leh.
I don’t remember now how I rode that last twenty five kilometers – only I remember, when we reached Leh city, it was dark – not a single light was on in the streets.
This is my second entry in Leh. The moment I entered, such a feeling, an ecstasy gripped me – I probably cannot describe that feeling in writing. Yes I have done it, I have made it possible – was the first thing that came in my mind. I was not feeling cold anymore, it was unbelievable to me that I have really rode Fourteen Hundred kilometers from my home and reached my dream destination – Leh.
The rain stopped, and we started searching for a hotel. I remembered Paul Guest House at Changspa region inside the city, near the Leh market. Mrs. Linda an ever-smiling lady was the owner. After some effort I located the Axis Bank and found out the Guest House too. Nothing has changed in these three years. Mrs. Linda was there at the gate, I was fully covered, it was not really possible for her to recognize me, still I mentioned to her that I stayed at her guest house three years back.
Mrs. Linda told – but I have just two rooms available. Tomorrow morning I’ll have one more room empty, but for tonight I have only two.
We are now six – myself, Gurdeep, Sumit, Jeevan and that young couple – Vineet and Preeti – I knew their names next day. Two rooms can accommodate four persons, but what about Vineet and Preeti?
Mrs. Linda took a candle and knocked the door of the building at the opposite side. It was another guest house. Due to heavy storm and rainfall, some electric poll has been dysfunctional, so power would not come tonight. Mrs. Linda’s hotel has power backup, but this guest house does not. Whatever, just a candle-light was more than sufficient for this couple for one night. They took one room there, and we took two rooms at Paul Guest House. All the bikes were accommodated at our Guest House parking, and Mrs. Linda reduced the rate by `100 for each room. We settled in, got fresh quickly and ran out for dinner.
Mrs. Linda told – you’ll get hot water, but don’t take bath now – you’d catch cold. Take rest, and have your dinner. Though Leh market closes by 8:30 pm, but the restaurants remain open till 10:30 pm. Take rest tomorrow, Khardung La top is closed now due to heavy snowfall, it will take three days to resume normal traffic for Nubra valley.
When we went out for dinner, it was already 10:00 pm. The temperature was almost 0 degree centigrade. It was probably a full moon, a big bright circle made of silver was shining in the sky; far away the ice peaks were reflecting the silver glow. That beauty can only be captured by human eye, no camera can take that image.
We had Honey Chili Potato and Chicken Hakka Noodle. It was awesome.
Tomorrow is rest day, acclimatization day. Khardung La is closed, so maybe we need to re-plan. I need to sit with Sumit and Gurdeep to finalize the plan. Jeevan was adamant, he would head for Khardung La – be it open or closed. So we would be five from tomorrow.
Sumit asked the first question – Want to go to Marisimik La?
What? How on earth did he know that I had the same plan? Arguably, Khardung La is no more the highest motorable road, it’s now Marisimik La. It’s near the Pangong Lake – the top is 300 meters higher than Khardung La. No road is there, almost the entire route would be off-roading, but few people had done it in past few years. So we are bound to do it.
Normally ILP is no more needed for Leh and around sightseeing, but permit would be required if we plan to go to Marisimik La. So next day we would go to the DC office and get the permit, and then will do local sightseeing like Leh Palace and Shanti Stupa. If Khardung La does not open next to next day, we would head for Pangong Lake. By the time we would be back from Pangong, Khardung La must be open.
Took one Diamox each, and slept immediately.