Tuesday, 29th September:
Restless I went to bed the night before, not because I was tired, not because I was excited and definitely not because I was bored to death. But I think it was the anticipation of the toughest day of this entire ride laying in front of me that was the cause of restlessness. I did not sleep well, just turning and tossing around. With broken sleep, I would check my watch every time I woke up. I heard the Innova that came in late at night almost at about 1AM, I even heard some scratching and loud noises just outside my room, which I was convinced that it was a bear of some sort wanting to break into our room at 3AM. Later I learned that it was Veda out for a pee
. Around that time I just happened to glance out of my window I saw the most beautiful night sky I've ever seen in my life. The number of stars dotting the sky was just mindblowing, I was tempted to get out with my cam but the cozy blanket and my not so good night photography skills ensured that I don't leave the warmth of my quilt!
At about 5.30AM I was up and about, packing my camera and tripod heading out towards the lake to get some of the sunrise shots. The sound woke Pranay up too and he wanted to tag along too, hearing us even Amit and Veda got up in the next room and decided to join us. At about 5.45AM shivering in cold the four of us strolled to the lake side, the sun was not yet up but its rays were peeking from behind the mountains. A sight so lovely that I cannot describe it in words or even capture it in a camera. Here is a brief presentation of what we witnessed.
Good Morning Pangong Tso
Amit setting up his tripod for a few shots
I was actually waiting for the sun to peak in from the behind the mountains, but it was taking awfully long. Disgusted we finally just went back to our rooms, just as we reached the sun finally managed to show itself. Some clicking madness ensued and soon we were bored. We had more important things to think of today, as today was going to be the toughest day in the entire trip. We were going to conquer Marismek La. We were not scared or nervous, just some amount of apprehension if our machines were up to it or not. We decided not to leave too early so we rested for a while and finally left around 7.30AM from our huts. To make the ride easier we had left most of our luggage in the rooms and were carrying only bare essentials. Time came to start the bike's, and my bike started in the first crank. Pranay's bike miraculously started within a few cranks a good sign I thought. On the other hand Veda's carb'ed 220 with the so called fundoo gizmo call AutoChoke refused to come to life. The only thing that could be done after that we me and Veda running around to get the bike dhakka started. It did not take too much effort, but was definitely a sore thing at the start of the ride. The people in the neighboring huts were woken up by the minor pandemonium we had created.
Their half sleepy eyes and brain could not comprehend why would 4 idiots leave at this hour in the morning, if only they knew of our perilous journey ahead.
Without much ado we thundered out of Lukung in the direction of Phobrang, though our ordeal from 3 days back was still fresh in our minds and the resolution of not to take any shortcuts ever again in Ladakh. But alas the itch never subside we took a nice shortcut just out of Lukung to the road that connects to the Phobrang road. Once past the gates of Phobrang Model Village we were greeted with nothing but a desolate landscape with no signs of a village around. As usual I was leading the pack and was riding a bit ahead, though it was not really cold as the sun had started warming things up quite a bit, but sudden gusts of wind which came down from the mountain side would chill me to the spine. Up ahead in the distance I saw some white stuff lying on the road, and as I got closer I could see that it was flowing water which had frozen over night. I was excited at the prospect of having my very first black ice crossing, so I stopped to indicate to the others who were behind me about this 'crossing'. As soon as the other joined in there were mixed reactions ranging from fear to apprehension regarding crossing this. We took a few photos to commemorate the moment
The so-called Black Ice crossing
Later on closer inspection we realized (much to my dismay!) that the water was actually flowing and it was not black ice. So we passed over it with ease. This was the largest one that we encountered, beyond this there were a few more smaller sized one all the way till Phobrang. I felt pity for the people of Phobrang and was really amazed as to how they managed to live in such a location and climate for their entire life. My biggest fear was that the ITBP would turn us back saying the conditions are not favorable, etc. But I think it was our lucky day, they let us pass through without a fuss. And thus began the arduous climb to the world's highest not so motor able road...
As soon as the climb began, the combination of bad roads and a cool climate set off a circuit in my brain and I was off... Speeding away on the broken trail leaving a dust cloud behind and also my much disgusted companions. The valley gradually opened up in front of me and I could see the trail going all way till it lost itself in the mountains in the distance. I gone so much further ahead that I could no longer see my companions anywhere. This is where I decided to take my first break and out came my camera. As I was clicking pictures, the guys started trickling in slowly. First one to reach was Amit, followed by Pranay and finally Veda.
My First stop
The Teaser Pic...
After this we decided to split up into groups of two which again turned out to be bad idea as me and Amit gradually moved further away from Pranay and Veda as they were moving a lot slower than us. The terrain up untill now had been pretty much of a cakewalk and I did not expect it get any worse, big mistake
. Me and Amit decided to take a stop to allow Pranay and Veda to catch up with us. So yet again the cam came out of its bag. If you look at the pics closely you will be able to see the path getting lost into the mountains.
Waiting for Pranay and Veda
Pranay arrived with a grumpy face, because he being a fast rider Veda slow progress over the broken terrain had taken a toll on Pranay's patience. And here we decided to ride as a group henceforth, coz incase anyone's bike fails we will all be there to help out. So group pic was clicked to celebrate the moment.
In our entire Leh ride the moment that happened next will always be etched as the toughest moment of the entire trip. Due to loose sand I had slowed down to negotiate a section with a slower pace, at this point Pranay overtook me and was in the lead now. After a few kms ahead the road forked into two, gut feeling said take the right one but it was too late as Pranay had already ventured on the route that went left. No other choice left but to follow him, I had a bad feeling about this in my gut and soon it was proved why so. This left side trail was initially hard packed, but gradually loosened up and the incline suddenly increased. The loose sand coupled with the massive gradient suddenly meant we had hit a wall. Pranay's bike was caught in loose sand and it just refused to move out of its place. I got down from my bike and pushed his bike up which finally ensure his bike managed to climb, now with my bike I did not try any heroics I just tried to push it with the little help from the engine power to push it ahead. Cold air and the lack of oxygen in it now suddenly out of nowhere made its presence felt I could immediately feel my body gasping for breath. Next was Veda's bike, this we decided to ride it around instead of pushing it. Now only Amit's bike was left and Pranay thought it would be easier to push it up. That he and Amit did manage to do, but it left Pranay gasping for breath very deeply. We all took a long break here drank a lot of water, allowed our bodies to acclimatize to the extreme exertion that it had gone through in the past few minutes. Let the pictures do the talking....
After this part the climb just got a bit tougher than before. But surprisingly after a the climb started we had not seen a soul apart from the rest of us and we were quite shocked to see horses grazing at this altitude. More Importantly there was a person who had taken them out for grazing. The terrain now just became too rough and I think even the incline was too much, there came a point where my bike was whining so much that I felt pity for it and just let go of the clutch so the bike just died down on its own. As I stopped I could also hear the other's engine straining away to glory. This path was not tough as such, but it was very demanding from the bikes.
The path where my bike was crying for mercy
After a few minutes break we resumed our gruelling ordeal of punishing our bike to the limit! The final approach to the pass was now visible, but we did not know it at that time. We continued despite the engine straining underneath us, but I decided at that point that I will never do Marismek La again and if I do, I would definitely do it on a much much powerful bike. Something that can gobble up this terrain with ease.
The final few meters of the pass the gradient just becomes quite a bit, I'm not really sure if it was the gradient or the lack of oxygen but I could feel the engine straining quite a bit, but there was enough grunt to keep going. Pranay's bike had a AMS issue with the battery, beyond 14000 feet his battery would just give up. So we had to ensure that his bike did not stall at any point of time. But Mr Murphy was smiling at our fate and while negotiating a tough U turn the bike stalled and fell. Since it was a very low speed turn no damage happened as such, but his bike refusing to strike hit us like bolt of lightning. There was no way we could push start his bike given the terrain, and the only way out was go rolling down the slope and leave the clutch once the bike has picked up some amount of speed. Pranay quickly went rolling down the slope, I shouted away instructions of waiting till the bike reached atleast 18-20 Kmph. As I saw him roll down the scraggy surface a million thoughts raced through mind ranging from how were going to manage if this exercise failed and would his bike be safe if left here, would the Army help us, was there another way to start the bike... The gravity of the situation was far too much to take standing, I found a place to sit and had a silent prayer on my lips praying for his engine to come back to life, I could hear his first attempt he had gathered enough speed but the engine did not crank back, another attempt and still nothing, then a little gap to build speed and then another try and this failed too, I could see that Pranay had built up a lot of speed this time and he almost fell, the downward slope was coming to an end, and after three failed attempts my heart almost sank seeing him come near the end of the final slope, he tried once more and what's that.. I could hear his engine roar back to life. Prayers answered I stood up and did a small dance of joy. Meanwhile Amit's bike had stalled too and he did not have the strength to push start it. Since his bike had stopped at a relatively flat surface I could manage to push the bike and start it, but this move took a lot of energy out me. I stood breathing hard to extract whatever little oxygen available, in the meanwhile Veda had wandered all the way up to the pass and Pranay was back and was overjoyed and worried at the same time. Slowly but steadily the three of reach the top of the pass, I was the last one to roll in.
Yeah! We had done it.... all 18314 feet of it. Was I overjoyed, nope! Not really, the past 2 hours felt more like a conquest of just getting the badge of having done Marismek La. The ride was not enjoyable and the vista's did not have anything great to offer. This had been just a pain in the wrong places earn you badge ride. Yet, having achieved this it was time for us to pose for pictures. Don't go by Veda's look, neither he pushed anyone's bike neither he rode his bike when the we were at the place where we at the place where Pranay's bike got stuck
The 4 'Posers'
It was almost 11AM and we had the entire arduous ride back till Phobrang village and also we had to ride back to Leh the same day. So with quite literally nothing better to do we packed up and double backed our way back home. I let the other go as I wanted to spend a few moments on top clicking pics of my bike. As soon as the guys were far enough that I could hardly hear their engines I realized the folly of my move, incase my bike refused to start there would be no way for me to communicate to any of them about it. I placed trust in my bike and decided to go ahead clicking the pictures as intended.
Me, My bike and Marismek La
While I'm sure that day was one of the 'warm' days, but it was still so cold that if my hands were out exposed for too long they would start feeling numb. I had to keep my hands inside my pockets to save them from the freezing wind. I started my descent a few minutes later, I had decided to take a few more than normal photo stop along the route. In the process my riding partners had gone quite far and they would stop at times to allow me to catch up. I caught up with them only at the ITPB outpost. You can actually seem them as specs in some of the pictures.
Beyond Phobrang, almost at Lukung beside Pangong Tso
It was close to 1.30PM by the time we got back to our rooms and it was getting terribly late to reach Leh. We quickly packed our stuff and ordered lunch. I managed to put back everything pretty fast and lunch had not arrived till then so I went out to get some clicks of the sun falling on Pangong and giving it the magical colors.
Naturally we were famished after the Marismek La ordeal and hogged on the lunch served to us. The ride back was going to be fast because we did not want to be descending Chang La in darkness. So lesser breaks was order of the day. I again stood back a little longer than the other as despite the tight time-line I had some I cannot
type pictures to be clicked. After the initial few clicks I realized that it would not be possible and I have to yet again leave something for next time.....
Our place of stay @ Lukung
The Road just before Pagal Nallah
Beyond Pagal Nallah
We stopped at Chang La for some of the complimentary tea, Veda would not let us go without having some of it being the freeloader that he is
. We must have reached Chang La top at about 4.30PM. The descent was yet another rip fest once we went past the snow line and decent black top appeared. As usual the time crunch meant no stopping for pictures anywhere. The ride down was fun with me and Pranay blasting down the twisties like there was no tomorrow, on the other hand Amit and Veda took it slow and easy. We regrouped just before Shakti village.
Long Live BRO
Amit was startled at the pace with we came back and he wanted to ride back at an easy pace, not wanting to split up the group we all decided to have a nice and easy run back to Leh. A relaxed ride ensured that we reached Leh in our own sweet time. But most of it was done in the dark, along the way we could see so many other bikers coming into Leh from the Manali route. It felt that we were in Mecca of Bikers...
This was going to be our last night with Amit as we were going to begin our return journey the next day. So we collected our T-shirts and decided that the 4 of us would wear our tee's for dinner.
After Dinner shot in our 'Leh' Tee's
Our Tee's were a bit different from the usual pattern that they offered, we had it customized to show our entire route including Marismek La.
It was celebration night for us as we had done something today not many people in this world have done yet. Marismek La will forever remain as just an achievement, nothing more!
Bones tired to the core, muscles sore we crashed into bed. For tomorrow is yet another long twisty journey along the scenic Manali route.....
To be Continued.....