Wednesday, June 07, 2006
Day 4 : Gette to Koksar
Day 4: 7th June, 2006
I had been vaguely aware of dawn and the first light of the morning for some time, though still asleep. It was 5 by the time I was fully awake. I knew there were splendid vistas waiting to greet me outside the tent. By then, I had somewhat got used to the altitude. Even then, in my excitement to get out of the tent, I hurried a bit and by the time I was out of my sleeping bag, I was gasping for breath. I sat down a bit to catch my breath and had a growing sickly feeling creeping over me. I reached for the water bottle and poured some into my mouth. It was so chilling; I couldn’t swallow it for another minute or so. Next time, I’ll remember to keep the water bottle inside my sleeping bag if I ever camp again. A few minutes more and it felt better. Got hold of the camera and tripod and out I went. It was a sight to behold. It was still pretty much dark. But straight ahead, across the river Spiti somewhere down below, the high snow capped peaks caught the first rays of the sun, and I knew this was going to be a beautiful day among the high mountains. If only I could wake up to such delectable sights every day! It was 5.10 AM. I only wished I could have got out a bit early.
It was chilling, but that was expected. What I didn’t expect was to find the water we had left outside in a bottle frozen!
Dixit was excited to hear about this and he rushed out. He didn’t stay out long before going back head first into the tent. It was getting brighter by the minute. This is the best time for photography, when it comes to mountains. After taking a few photos I decided to take my bike out and explore the surrounding hills. If freedom has a meaning to it, this must have been it. No roads to lead you, no men, no nothing; just miles of mountain slopes and meadows to traverse as you please. I soon reached a point, where the mountains ended and a sheer drop started with the Spiti River flowing about 500 meters below. This should give you an idea of the vast dimensions I am talking about here. No photo can give you the feel of things as I experienced here. Right behind me was Gette village, the farms around her, glowing with the early morning rays of the sun.
The valley and Spiti River
Every small task, even the effort to setup up the tripod and shoot photos was exhausting. A small climb up a cliff, overlooking the river Spiti felt like an hour of hard running in the plains. After spending some time here, I returned back to our camp site, and found Dixit still resting in the tent. He had a headache. However, he got out decided to ride around a bit, hoping this would improve things.
Dixit : getting the feel of things
Unfortunately, this didn’t do him any good. He puked once and went back to rest after some biscuits, water and a dose of Saridon. I continued on my way to the last village on this route, Tashigang, where the dirt track we have been following ends. This track passed through some magnificent mountain scenery and I kept myself busy trying to capture it all in my camera. One the way was a small puddle with pieces of thick ice, which was thankfully shattered by a Mahindra that had passed through while I was at the camp site. The jeep happened to be the only vehicle we had seen so far in this area and the driver appeared to be a foreigner lady!
The road ended here
This is one of the smallest villages I have ever seen; it has only 6 houses, and is a hard long ride/drive to reach here. Not to say, there’s no way one can reach this village in winter, without a Helicopter. Life must be really hard in these parts of the world. However, that hasn’t hardened the hearts of the souls who live here. Just as I parked my bike for some photography, a lady who was on her way down to her house invited me for tea. Having had just water and biscuits since last evening, a cup of tea felt like the best thing in world at that juncture. I gladly accepted and followed her down through narrow alleys between the houses and finally into her house. The house had 2 floors. It was pretty dark as I entered, but just bright enough to see a stairway leading up to a balcony that led to the kitchen. One thing I observed is that electricity connections have penetrated the unrelentingly tough terrains in these parts to reach the smallest of villages.
This was the first time I was in a Tibetan kitchen. It was rectangular room; stove and racks of plates and a cassette player on the left, and at the far end, on the floor were mattresses, along with a low wooden desk in front. I was motioned to take my seat behind the desk. Right in front of the desk was a traditional heating stove, made of tin, with a round tin flap at the top for a lid and a chimney that went out through the roof. While the lady prepared tea, we were joined by an elderly lady, most likely the grandma and then a young girl in her teens. The grandma kept feeding the heating stove with dry shrubs and small pieces of wood. The warmth was comforting. The young girl played some lively traditional Tibetan song on the cassette player. We didn’t talk much, since Hindi or English weren’t their strong point, nor Tibetan mine. Two small children, a girl and a boy were playing around. I wished I had carried chocolates for them; I promised myself to do this next time on. We had tea; it was perhaps the most refreshing cup ever. It was not made of cow’s milk, as the taste suggested, but refreshing all the same. There was a notebook lying on the desk. I casually opened it. It must have belonged to one of the children. In it were alphabets in Tibetan, written in a way that would remind us of our days at Kindergarten.
Tea was over soon, and the last of it was gulped down with a feeling of guilt for Dixit, who was still in the tent, packed in a sleeping bag and fighting AMS, some 10 Kms away from here. I thanked them and took my leave. Every single house had multi-colored flags at the roof sides, waving lazily in the breeze, indicating the Buddhist culture, that seemed to be the only religion in these parts.
The ride back, as it was through picturesque landscapes and giant mountains, went a long way in satisfying my thirst for photography. And I shot some of the best photos of the trip here.
A lone multistoried building, in the middle of nowhere.
Perhaps, my Photo of the trip!
Back at the camp site, Dixit was just out of the camp, feeling much better now.
It was time to have some fun on our bikes. It is not everyday that we get to ride away from roads, free to make our own path, check out our bike’s climb angles till the bikes won’t climb anymore; and all this at an altitude that’s more than 4Kms above sea level. Our cameras kept clicking and back home, when I saw the photos, I just wished and wished that I could be back there again, doing these things all over again. One of these days, I’ll be back.
Dixit: out after all
I climbed and climbed till the bike wouldn’t move any more and then turned back
This could have gone on and on, but now it was time to pack up and move on. As expected, it took some time packing up the tent, sleeping bags and everything else and we got moving finally. We again had fun riding down the steep 4WD tracks and we made videos of each other climbing down. Soon Kibber was in view, and it was to be Kibber for lunch.
Dixit rolls down the steep tracks
Building blocks for building houses
View from Kibber
We had fried rice and veggie soup for lunch. The soup turned out to be too spicy and we could hardly drink any. The owner was however very kind to offer us another serving, but we declined politely. It was turning out to be a tough time eating. We had to stop chewing frequently to catch our breath. The lack of sleep made it difficult for me to keep my eyes open and while Dixit, our accountant settled the bills, I took a small nap.
Our plan for the day was to reach Chandratal and do another night of camping there. This was a total ride of 103 Kms. And we braced ourselves up to handle the worst roads in the trip, especially the track from Batal that gets us to Chandratal. Dixit’s CBZ had sprung an oil leak, luckily in the left shocker and that left the disk brakes intact. The ride down from Kibber took us back to the main route along the Spiti River. Good roads, bad roads; my bike took it all in its stride, and even with all the luggage on board, it felt all ready and longing for a long and hard journey, even after 40,000 Kms on the odo.
This route along the Spiti River once again brought to us the amazing rock formations of the kind we saw someway before Kaza. The Spiti River really has a dramatic journey through these deep ravines lined with extraterrestrial formations.
The Spiti River winds along...
Reminded me of Lamayuru in Ladakh
We had some arrow straight smooth roads in these parts, which were largely plains with mountains visible all along. My bike still refused to cross 85 Kmph at full throttle, indicative of the high altitude. It was a smooth ride till Losar. Some way after the check post at Losar, the roads simply vanished! By the look of it, no metalled roads were ever built here. Unlike Rohtang pass, the climb to Kunzum pass was not at all steep. Even then, the wretched condition of the roads made us take more than an hour to do the 18 Km stretch from Losar to Kunzum La. It was 4:25 by the time we reached Kunzum pass. We had a quick stop to take a few photos and then hurried on toward Batal.
Views from Kunzum La
Views from Kunzum La
Progress again was pretty slow, the roads, in addition to the usual gravel, had large stone boulders embedded on the road, indicating that a road roller had never passed by here. I was pondering on whether to skip Chandratal and head for the next available accommodation to settle for the night when suddenly, right in front was the sign board pointing to the track for Chandratal. ‘Distance 12 Km, jeep able 10 Kms’. All doubts cleared up and with a new vigour, we started for Chandratal. The track was much similar to the roads we were riding on from Losar where metalled roads bid us adieu. But soon, things began to take a turn for the worse and we wondered how the ‘un jeepable’ stretch of 2 Kms would be. While at the restaurant in Kibber, we had met a group of guys whose plans to do Chandratal had to be cancelled as a 4WD got stuck in this road, causing a blockade. I soon recognized this stretch; now cleared, but with a lot of fresh soil spread over the road along with a bulldozer standing by. Part of the route was right on the Chandra River, and we were dodging smooth round stones, polished by the waters of the Chandra over the years. The last 2 Kms indeed were torture, though it seemed that a talented driver and an able 4WD can make it through right up to the lake. But at places, one half of the road had fallen prey to landslides and sometimes the other half simple disintegrated and vanished in to the valley below. It took all of an hour to do the 12 Kms and reach Chandratal. It was 6 PM and though we would normally have some daylight till 7.30 in the hills, it was getting pretty dark with a threatening cloud cover above. We got our bikes as close to the lake as possible and hiked along the lake side for a bit. I left the tripod at the bike and was looking for some place to keep my cam still to get a good shot of the lake.
Waiting to see how this would look on a bright sunny day...
Time up at Chandrataal
We were at a corner of the lake and given the time and a sunny day, I would have liked to do a hike around the lake. Also, on a sunny day, the colors of the lake would have been a brilliant turquoise and a hundred other shades of blue, as the sun went over. As we sat on a rock, deciding on what to do, a lady who had been trekking here approached us. She was surprised to find out that we actually rode a bike here. A Russian in her thirties, she had trekked from Kunzum pass to the lake and had reached here yesterday. She had been camping here, but had to move out of her tent and take shelter under a rock after it snowed the last night, that almost buried her tent. When she found out that we had plans to camp here but for time restraints, she was kind to offer us her already pitched tent for the night. However, we had to decline as we had decided to save time here and use the reserve day to explore some bit of Lahaul. Chandratal failed to impress me much; my be it was because I had already seen the fascinating Pangong-Tso in Ladakh and compared it with Chandratal, or may be it was the gloomy cloud cover above that hid the true colors of the lake. One day I’ll dedicate a trip to Chandratal.
A drizzle started and we had to rush back to our bikes to start our journey back. The track we took would have been unrideable had it rained, but we took our chances and hoped that it won’t rain hard. Another hour of torturous terrains took us back to where we started. We were still on the descent after the Kunzum pass and some way ahead, at Batal, we found a cozy little dhaba and decided to have a tea break.
Two cups each of hot tea, a general talk with the owner regarding weather in these parts and some information regarding the next available accommodation later, we hit the road again. It was clear by now that we would be handling some of the most difficult terrain of this trip in total darkness. We should find accommodation at Chattru according the dhaba owner and that was 32 Kms away. We had some particularly bad roads for a start. These were right on the Chandra riverbed and roads diverged in to many branches before joining the main road. We even had to backtrack once after a branch ended in a deep pool of water. Thankfully, we soon joined the main road and by now, we were riding in complete darkness, but for our headlights. We had to cross streams, deep ones at that time and again in this stretch. For a first timer, I was really impressed with the way Dixit handled all the torture thrown up at him for a better part of the ride today. We just hoped and hoped for the roads to get better but it was futile. It was all non metalled rally track; wait it is really a rally track - the great Raid-de-Himalayas passes through here every year. The speeds we kept would have been something like 20 to 25 Kmph at best, and by 9:30, we were at Chhatru. We found the PWD rest house, but unfortunately, it was booked for the night. The only other accommodation available was a dormitory, at 50 Rs per head. I didn’t want to use the dorm; the back pack I carried had 62,000 Rs worth of equipment and a dorm didn’t feel like the best place to spend the night. Our next available accommodation would be at Koksar, 20 Kms from here. We finalized our plans for the next day over tea in the dhaba at Chhatru. It was another tough ride till Gramphu, where we join the NH21. I had stayed at Koksar before and easily found the PWD rest house and settled for the night. We had done 172 Kms in all for the day, and this was substantial, considering that we started riding only by 1.30 in the afternoon. And what a day it has been!
Kms covered : 172
Expenses : 347 (Food and accommodation)
BTW, The multistoried building ,with the yellow top,in the middle of nowhere is my favourite.
Captain Nandu Chitnis