11th July, 2008.
Route: Sarchu – Nakki La – Lachlung La – Pang – Tanglang La – Rumtse – Upshi – Leh.
Distance Covered: 257km.
The longest day of journey through the most amazing landscapes.
While Sudhakar and Shantanu had been sleeping like they had never slept in the life, I had the most troubled sleep. My sleep broke twice or thrice. It was decided that we would leave Sarchu by 6.00-6.30 and try to reach Leh on the same day. A distance of 257 km; the longest single day ride of the trip. From whatever we had read from the Internet it looked easy; but it was not to be.
We started promptly at 6.30am from Sarchu, very early by our standards and reached the Sarchu check post, 7 km from our tents. After registration at the check post, I realized that I had forgotten my gold ring at the tent, rushed back and found the ring lying exactly at the same spot I had kept. We started from check post by 8.00am what had been our regular time so far. It was decided that the first stop of the day would be at a place called ‘Pang’, at 16000 ft the highest altitude camp, where one can stay, on the Manali-Leh route.
The roads got better after Sarchu and once we crossed Himachal Pradesh border and entered J & K the roads became even better. Since yesterday the landscape had been awesome and it continued to be until the end or our journey. The speed was quite good until we reached the Gata Loops, which are 21 hair-pins bends in quick succession which were to lift us from an altitude of 13776 ft to 15302ft within 13km. So many people have said that we might get direction disorientation, motion sickness or something of that sort, but noting happened, at the end of Gata Loops we were thinking whether something was wrong with us. There were so many shortcuts in Gata loops; some were quite steep but the truck/taxi drivers were comfortable taking these shortcuts while climbing down.
The road deteriorated a bit after Gata Loops; the roads were still well tarred but became bit bumpy. Somewhere along the route took a turn and we were at the third pass on the route to Leh, the Nakki La pass at 15547 ft. We hardly realized its ascent. Few kilometers down the road is fourth pass Lachlung La at an altitude of 16616 ft. The descent from Lachlung La brings us to a settlement called Pang. Pang at an altitude of 15640 ft has the world highest transit camp. The scenery along the route had been awesome. After quick brunch at Pang it was time to move further’ we had covered 80km by noon… still lot needed to be covered. The day was certainly long.
For the most part of the journey one or other river had been consistently along; it disappeared after Gata loops and reappeared somewhere around Rumtse. Pang is at the base of small hill, as soon as we climbed up this hill, all we could see in front of us was a long stretch of flat land, arid dry land, also called Moorey Plains. It’s quite unimaginable to have so much flat land in Himalayas. At the beginning of Moorey plains the road split into two, one a well tarred road, another dirt trail. We took the tarred road. Few kilometers down the road we spotted few construction workers and enquired about the dirt trail. The guy said the dirt trails are actually short-cuts in Moorey plains; Later we realized that there are dirt trails all over Moorey plains and if don’t know which one to take you would certainly end up in driving aimlessly, there are no sign boards, nobody to ask directions. Even though the road at Moorey plains was tarred, it was bumpy; as if they forgot that there exists a entity called road-roller for construction of roads. At one point I was so agitated and there were no signs of its ending. The road disappears and reappears in between; the terrain is sandy and dusty; sometimes really really fine sand, whenever road disappeared all we had to drive on was this fine sand. Thankfully these stretches were not big. Finally when Moorey plains ended we had already been riding for more than an hour and had clocked around 20-25 km on odometer.
The climb to the fifth pass on the Leh route Tanglang La was quite uneventful. The roads towards the top were in bad condition, but by now we had got used to riding on rough roads. Stopped for some time at Tanglang La top at an altitude of 17582ft, and witnessed snowing for the first time in the tour. Tanglang La is considered as the second highest pass in the world; My 5 year old pulsar 180, without any modification or adjustment, managed to cross the second highest motorable road with pillion without much problem; it had descent pickup in first and second gear but used to loose power in third gear. It was such a nice feeling. From here it is downhill until we reached Leh.
We reached Rumtse by 6.00pm; had light snacks. Leh was still around 90km from here. It was quite clear that we would not be able to make up Leh by daylight. Surprisingly road was very good from Rumtse onwards. The landscape was now dotted by river on one side and red mountains on the other. We were literally cruising on the road. The Bajaj Avenger’s ‘I am God’ ad was shot on this stretch and Moorey plains. We reached Leh by 8.30-9.00pm, found DRUK guest house and dozed off to sleep.
There was another problem now. We reached Leh on Friday; we required inner-line permits to visit Nubra Valley and Pangong Tso to be obtained from district magistrate’s office and next day was 2nd Saturday, a Govt holiday for its offices.