13th September 2015 (Sunday)….Panikhar to Padum…190 km
Had wonderful time sleeping on mattress spread on the floor inside unused room which was clean and had glass walls on two sides giving a nice view of the surrounding. Enjoyed sipping bed tea sitting at the mattress and absorbing serene beauty spread all around. This was Tourist Bungalow, Panikhar.
You can see the mattress spread on the floor, my laptop bag, tea pot and cup in the picture. Glass windows on two sides presented a nice view even when I was still lying in the bed.
Girl students of the group had stayed back at other guest house while the boys returned back to the bungalow and were still asleep. Caretaker cooked simple sabzi paratha with hot tea for me in breakfast. It was still quite early but time to move to the next destination.
With Padum in mind I slowly began driving on a road which I came to know later was the rougher one. There was another road, better one to Parkachik. This road was rough, had loose gravel, potholed and virtually no traffic. Suru River was flowing along the road and still had few snow bridges at some places. Weather was good, sunny and pleasant.
Way back in 1989 we had arrived in Panikhar in buses and camped near the Suru River. First day of the trek was from Panikhar to Parkachik crossing a tall mountain ridge. The climb was tough and some of our group members lost their way and reached camp site at Parkachik very late. My friend Vinod also got lost his way and landed in an unknown village. He reached camp site with the help of some fellow trekkers. After meeting me he cried a lot and took promised from me not to leave him alone ever. The place in the picture is the exact place where we camped at Parkachik in 1989.
The road to Parkachik was tough and gravel road. It took me more than two hours to reach Parkachik. I noticed Parkachik seemed to have more accommodation than Panikhar.
Parkachik glacier moving down slowly from Nun-Kun slopes was wonderful sight. The initial part of the drive from Parkachik to Rangdum is all along this beautiful Nun-Kun massif. The massif consists of Nun (23,409 ft) and Kun (23,218 ft) peaks. Kun is located north of Nun and is separated from it by a snowy plateau of about 4 km in length. Pinnacle peak (22,736 ft) is the third peak of the group.
While the road continued to be rough and tough the landscape was becoming more and more beautiful. I was driving solo through some of the most rugged terrain surrounded by huge snow clad mountains and wilderness spread all around. Sighting a human being was a rarity. Soon I found myself driving behind a slow moving army convoy which was very comforting.
And then there were numerous water crossings too. Though they were not as tough as they could be in early summer when melting of snow and glaciers is at itss peak level still they were tough to negotiate at times.
I did not see fellow travellers for miles together. It was wild ruggedness all around. The mountains around were either bare brown or snow clad. Suru river was meandering ever so slowly through rocks and autumn burnt grass.
Vast grasslands and crystal clear water bodies in between were a special feature of this drive. The mountains around were changing hue from brown to golden now. The road continued to be all stone, gravel and lonely.
Suddenly I saw a ‘home on wheels’ come and cross me. It freshened my dream of owning one in future.
Then a smart biker arrived and stopped close to me. He greeted me with a smile as if we knew each other. I could not recognise him at the first look. As he took off his helmet and uncovered his face my eyes lit with happiness. He was Deepak Gupta a wonderful biker and a gentleman whom I had already met three times earlier during this trip. Was bit disappointed not see Sanjay Chadha his co-rider. Meeting someone known at such a remote place was very comforting.
Suru valley became wider as I approached Rangdum. The landscape was becoming even more beautiful.
There was no shop or dhaba in between Parkachik and Rangdum. Even at Rangdum only one dhaba was open and it did not have much choice. I ordered boiled eggs and milk and spent remaining time loitering around the area. I met few traveller coming from Padum side who advised me to hurry up as I might find it difficult to drive in the evening.
Rangdum is infact a valley midway between Kargil and Padum. A tourist bungalow is available at Rangdum. There is no access to electricity, phone or internet. There is a famous buddhist monastery situated around four kilometer and on top of a small but steep hill at an altitude 13000 ft. Pensi la (14436 ft) is around 25 kilometers from here.
During our YHA trekking program in 1989 we had camped at Rangdum and next day we walked to Rangdum monastery. I remember that afternoon when a girl holding my hand, lost her balance and almost got washed away in Suru River while crossing. She was later rescued by a fellow trekker who was standing on the banks of the river nearby. We had to abandon rest of the program that afternoon due to this incident. Luckily she felt good by the evening and we had a wonderful time singing and dancing around the campfire.
Since it was getting late I did not stop at Rangdum monastery and continued driving towards Padum but not before entering my details in a register kept with an army post near the monastery. The landscape was absolutely amazing now. Surrounded by bare brown and golden mountains, the grassland was vast and burning bright. Yaks grazing in the grassland reminded me of my solo ride to Changthang plateau near Loma and Nyoma in Ladakh area in 2014.
After crossing these grasslands, the road started climbing up. Higher snowclad mountain ranges started visible now. Sliding glaciers from huge mountains were presenting an amazing sight. But the road was all empty, no vehicle or human being were in sight for miles together. The silence around was, at times, broken by the whistling sounds made by merrily jumping Marmots. Reached Pensi la (14436 ft) without any difficulty and with still some sunlight to spare.
Pensi la is a pass where Suru Valley ends and Zanskar Valley begins. The view from Pensi la was amazing. Vast mountain ranges and glaciers were visible from the pass.
The descend from Pensi la was quite steep and had many hairpin bends. Fabled Drang-Drung glacier was visible from the spot where hair pin bends end. Looking at Drang-Drung glacier from a hillock near the base of Pensi la was an amazing sight. I stayed there, gazing at the glacier with ah for a long long time. It was a dream come true.
Evening was setting in. It was already 5.30pm and Padum was still 70 kilometers away. it was my first time on this route. I thought I would stay anywhere enroute wherever I felt like. With these thoughts in mind I began driving slowly and steadily towards Padum. There were still some furious water crossings to cross though. They become even more fierce in the evenings. The road continued to be rough, tough and potholed. So far I was clocking average speed of 15 kilometers per hour. Of Course that included stopping for photo sessions too.
Change in landscape and surroundings was quite visible as I descended from Pensi la into Zanskar valley. I was driving through Buddhist land now. The land of dards and shia muslims was left behind in Suru Valley.
Darkness fell rather too quickly. Scattered dim lights were illuminating from afar. Human activity was very low. Sighting human being or a vehicle was a rarity. A village named Abran arrived. Human activity was still very low here. Padum was still some 42 kilometers away. A couple took lift for around 10 kilometers.
It was 8pm now. Padum was still 20 kilometers away. I thought I should be in Padum by 9pm or so. I did not find any appropriate place for night stay in between. I reached a place where road bifurcated into different directions and in absence of any guide board or human being I had to guess to choose the right road to Padum.
The number of diversions increased making it difficult for me to choose which road to take and which one to leave. There were still no direction guides or human beings and diverting on the roads was all a guess work.
Following a densely lit direction I reached at a place which had few houses and buildings but no one on the road. I parked the car and waited, hoping that somebody might turn up. After about 15 minutes two young girls came walking. I asked them about the road to Padum. They could not reply properly instead waived towards a road and told me that it was still one hour away.
The road was now going up and had few bends. Few lights little ahead meant there was some prominent place. Soon I found myself on the gates of a monastery perched high up on a hill. I knocked and yelled but nobody turned up. It was 9.30pm now and whole of Zanskar was fast asleep. I turned around and drove towards another cluster of lights. This time it turned out to be some sort of a village and lights illuminating were from some of the houses.
I parked the car in the middle of the road and walked up towards a house which was perched at a higher level from the road. I knocked and yelled at the door of house and then another one and then another one but nobody replied. I thought everyone was fast asleep. All of a sudden I heard a sound of a horn. A Sumo was behind my car and asking space to cross. I ran and told the Sumo man my problem. He smiled and asked me to follow him.
At 10pm night, at a strange fairyland, I was now following a Sumo which was packed to its brim. After driving for sometime on the metalled road the Sumo changed course and diverted on a dirt road along a stream. It was now heading towards a place where there were no lights and was pitch dark. Off roading was okay for Sumo but was becoming difficult for figo now.
Soon the Sumo stopped near an under construction building and few men got out of the Sumo. I came out of the car and enquired from the Sumo man. The man told me that he was a businessman and has come here to drop labourers for construction of a building at his farm house and and that soon we should be heading to Padum.
The Sumo man dropped few men there and drove again. I started following again. The off roading was becoming more and more difficult for figo. Soon the Sumo stopped at another site and dropped the remaining men. We started again and soon we were on the main road.
Pretty soon we arrived in Padum. The Sumo man offered me to be his guest for that night but I refused politely. Thanked him and drove into Padum bazar. The bazar was properly lit but closed. No one was awake. There were few sign boards of hotels and guest houses. But before I could knock any door of those, the left front tyre of my car hit something. I heard a loud thud and hissing sound. Came out of the car and found the tyre fully flat. A sharp edged iron rod from a cemented slab had pierced into the tyre creating a big hole.
11pm in the night at Padum what to do now!
I saw a tourist bungalow glow sign board nearby. Put the ignition on and slowly drove the car inside the bungalow. There was one vehicle already parked in the bungalow but no one was around. I parked the car along the already parked vehicle. Opened bottle of whisky, poured some in the glass, mixed some water and gulped few drinks quickly. Put the covered on, slipped inside the car, locked the doors from inside and pushed myself inside a sleeping bag. Few minutes later I was gone and forgot where I was!!!