Ladakh – Part Nine

… After Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7 and Part 8

6th June 2015 – Day Eight

A failed attempt, the Diamox saga and Puppu

It rained like hell almost whole previous night. But when we woke up in the morning, the sky was clear blue with slight traces of white clouds here and there. Bahadur and the Hotel owner both insisted us to stay at their hotel for another day due to one obvious reason – Khardung La was closed due to heavy snowfall. There’s no way to cross the top today. The owner even let his telephone to be used to get the confirmation from local police station, but we knew, police or army would get us no new news. If it’s closed, it’s closed. What to do now?

During breakfast, we were divided in two groups. Vineet and I were in favour of approaching Khardung La – maybe the road was closed for four wheelers only, two wheelers could be allowed to pass through. According to Sumit and Gurdeep, when it’s closed, there’s no point of approaching the pass, it’s better to venture out for Turtuk today.

I preached in, Turtuk was at least eighty kilometers from Hundar. The road would also not be good. Up and down will make it 160 ~ 170 kilometers extra. The stock of fuel would not permit us to ride such a long distance. Secondly, it’s necessary to stay for one day in Turtuk. It makes no point just to reach Turtuk and come back immediately for the sake of keeping record that “I went to Turtuk”. Let’s try Khardung La, if it is closed, we can take yesterday’s route to reach Durbuk, and then from there we can reach back Leh via Chang La. Chang La was, anyway, open.

Sumit and Gurdeep were not much convinced. They claimed that the present fuel would be sufficient enough to touch Turtuk and come back. But nothing to decide now, let’s first go to the Sand Dunes.

I know all the routes here, so I led them to the Sand Dunes. But it seemed nobody was interested for the actual Camel ride. Rather all of them scattered around for photography.

Preeti had caught cold. She was having a running nose. Vineet became tensed due to this and approached me for Diamox. I didn’t know Diamox has the power to heal cough and cold, but Vineet explained that it was needed for the forthcoming journey to Khardung La top. I again told him that it is not advisable to take Diamox whenever one wishes. Our body had been acclimatized. Still, if situation requires, I can always give them Diamox.

After spending some time, we headed towards Diskit. Visited the Monastery, asked for Petrol availability. No, the fuel station is not operational, but petrol was available on black, Two Hundred Bucks per litre! No question of purchasing fuel. So, no question for me to go to Turtuk. The fuel in my bike tanker is good enough to take me to Leh, but Turtuk would be risky. If Khardung La is closed, I would rather stay back at Diskit or Khalsar.

Gurdeep and Sumit went back towards Turtuk, I told them that in case I can reach Leh by today, I would wait for them there, until they come back. Vineet does not have much leave in balance, he would not wait and ride towards Delhi ASAP.

Vineet, Preeti and I went towards Khalsar. The road bifurcates here, the left road goes to Durbuk via Agam-Shyok, which we came through the previous day, and the right road goes to Khardung La via Khardung village, North Pullu.

We had lunch in the same hotel at Khalsar. The guy there was generic enough to lend his cell phone again. I called my wife and updated her about the status. I may or may not reach Leh today – so she should not worry if I do not call tonight. Khardung La is closed.

She seemed to be slightly annoyed now – it was being quite tough for her to live in anxiety day after day. She pleaded again and again to book my bike in a Cargo and come back at Delhi by flight, immediately after reaching Leh. Even I was thinking the same; it would be a huge setback to go back via the Srinagar route again – Manali was not yet opened. But the experience we gathered was nothing less than covering a boring route again.

We spent an hour at Khalsar. Did not notice a single car coming from Leh towards Hundar. Everywhere there were the same words in the air – Khardung La Closed. There was 8 feet snow on the road, BRO was in action to cut it through, but there’s no chance to open it before the next day.

Can’t even the two wheelers pass?

– No. Closed, means, closed for all traffic. Army would not allow a single life to cross the pass.

The restaurant guy advised us to proceed further and take shelter at the Khardung village. Khardung is a village 25 kilometers away from Khalsar. It has few homestay options. We could stay there, or if rooms are not available, we can again come back to Khalsar or Diskit to spend the night.

Vineet, Preeti and I engaged in a quick discussion. I suggested to go with the worst possible plan. We would proceed, in case rooms are not available at Khardung village, we would have to come back twenty five kilometers back to Khalsar, and next day again we would have to go this twenty five kilometers extra. Leh is one hundred kilometers more from the Khardung village. The fuel we had in our bikes were just enough to take us to Leh, but for this extra fifty kilometers we would need at least one to one-and-half litres of petrol each. If petrol is available here, we would purchase in black, and move ahead, if not, then no question of moving ahead, we would stay at Khalsar.

The restaurant guy confirmed immediately that petrol would be available at 150 Rupees per litre.

That’s fine. We both purchased two litres of petrol each, three hundred bucks each. As per the mileage of my bike, another eighty kilometers journey is now confirmed.

There were few more tourist vehicles waiting near the restaurant. They were also stuck in Nubra – waiting to go to Leh. I talked to the drivers, they told that the Agam-Shyok route is also closed, last night’s heavy rainfall had washed out a vast region there. No point of taking any vehicle on that route.

We started our bikes. Suddenly, after crossing some 6-7 kilometers I heard Vineet honking from behind. He was asking me to stop.

I stopped and looked back. What happened? Vineet was nervous, Sir – I am having mild chest pain, probably for lack of oxygen. Can you give me a Diamox, please?

I cheered him up – “Nothing to worry, we have not elevated much yet. Don’t take Diamox like this. Let’s reach Khardung village, there I’ll give you Diamox.”

Reached at Khardung village at 3:30 pm. A tiny village, hardly twenty or twenty-five small houses there. There’s a Government guest house, and some houses having notice put up outside: “Ladakhi Home-stay”. Lot of vehicles parked at both sides of the road: UP, Punjab, Delhi and J&K. I noticed few motorcycles too parked outside a home-stay: with one Kerala registration number. Nowhere room was available, all full.

After a brief search we found a room, one single room, a mud-and-brick shelter with two beds inside. But we were three – how would we manage? The Ladakhi landlady smiled nicely – No problem, I’ll put an extra mattress. Charges would be Hundred Rupees per bed.

Now it was my time to become tensed. Won’t it be too much to spend a night with the lovebirds? I mean, I do not have much problem, but problem would be theirs. I looked at Vineet. Even Vineet was not comfortable with the solution, but the situation was not able to provide us any better solution. We agreed. It was just a matter of spending few hours, sleeping. We all were damn tired.

It was six in the evening. Sky was sparkling blue, with slight traces of white clouds. The Ladakhi landlady pointed to a mountain far away – Khardung La Top was behind that mountain.

Parked the bike, untied the luggage and took a round in the village with my camera. Nothing to do today, No attempt to be taken before tomorrow morning. In case Sumit and Gurdeep come back we can reunite tomorrow.

We stayed in this house, the second door from right was our room.

Solar heater: for boiling water.

There was no good provision to get fresh, a muddy structure beyond the cowshed, a tin door somehow fixed at the front, and an earthen commode, Indian Style. No source of water in vicinity.

There was a small restaurant in the front side of the home-stay. Few plastic chairs planted in front of that. Tea and biscuits were available. Two elderly men were chatting in loud voices. Their language and monkey-caps were telling me that they were Bengalis. A Bengali family from Kolkata, stuck in Nubra, waiting to go back to Leh. The older man was pretty annoyed, as per his opinion Nainital was far better than Nubra. What’s there to see here in Nubra? Just barren mountains and chilling cold.

After some time, his wife appeared, she was also too annoyed, she preferred to be under the blanket than to come down to this restaurant for having tea. Even she did not like the taste of tea, it was not like the tea she makes at home … on top of that; Britannia biscuits were not available for her.

I spotted a white quails ahead. Noida number. I went ahead to enquire. A handsome middle-aged man, Mr Assad Ahmed, shook my hand. He has business in Noida, otherwise belongs to Lucknow, came to Leh with his brother-in-law and now stuck here. He went towards North Pullu, met with an Army Colonel, and took his number. Colonel assured to inform him tomorrow once the road is cleaned. There’s no chance of opening it today. Lot of traffics were waiting at the both side.

The only hope was, it didn’t rain from today morning, sky was clear. If this weather continues, the pass would be opened by tomorrow. BRO and Army were working hard.

I was taking some video on my mobile.

Vineet had disappeared somewhere for a while, now I saw him coming with a packet in hand, small tiny bottles inside it. What were those? Puppu (Probably Preeti’s pet name) had a cough and cold, so in this small village Vineet had discovered a homoeopathic dispensary for her, and purchased some medicine from there. Puppu was sitting in a chair outside the home-stay, Vineet started explaining her about the doses – “Puppu, first number one and number three, after one hour number two and number five, after another hour number four and number two …”

I could not remember what was there for her after three hours. I quietly made distance.

The dusk was approaching slowly. The silver peaks around us became golden, and then they hid in darkness. Vineet showed me a strange thing – somebody poured some water at the ground in front of the restaurant, and the water had frozen.

Was it so cold there? Freezing temperature? I could not feel the chill that much.

I felt the chill at around 8:30 pm when the home-stay owner lady called us for dinner. Chapati and Potato-Capsicum curry. It was so delicious, I ate 6 chapatis – and I forgave Puppu – I mean, Preeti, for asking the lady if the curry was “veg”.

Then came the most embarrassing part; sleeping in the same room. Preeti and I occupied two beds at two ends; Vineet adjusted the extra mattress in the middle.

I was not much tired today; we had travelled hardly 40 kilometers. So I was not at all feeling sleepy; but could not even move much – not sure what the lovebirds were doing behind my back. One hour passed, and then I heard Vineet’s voice.

Puppu, ek number aur tin number goli khaa li thi? (Did you take globule numbers one and three?)

Huu (with sniffing sound)

Ek ghanta baad fir do number aur paanch number (Number two and five after one hour)

Huu (with sniffing sound)

Main yaad dila dunga (I’ll remind you)

Huu (with sniffing sound)

All quiet. I was now feeling sleepy. I probably slept, again woke up after some time by Vineet’s voice, Puppu, so gayi? (Are you asleep?)

Huu (with sniffing sound)

Do number aur paanch number de du? (should I give you globule numbers two and five?)

Huu (with sniffing sound)

Yeh le – fir ek ghanta baad. (Take this, again after an hour.)

I had a solid sleep in the night, except some occasionally sounds of number-one-number-two-number-five. Nothing exceptional happened. We woke up at 6:45 am when golden sunlight pounced on our blankets through the window.

Will Khardung La open today?

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