23th September 2014, Tuesday………………Pangong-Hanle, 191 km.
Pangong Tso, high grassland lake, situated at a height of 14270 ft is a 134 kilometer long lake. While 40% of the lake lies in India remaining 60% of 5 kilometer wide lake lies in China. Line of actual control (LOC) between India and China passes through it. The lake is around 170 kilometers away from Leh and can be reached after crossing Changla Pass (17590 ft), the highest point on the road. The lake is usually open for visitors in between May to September.
The lake has been featured in many movies including the song ‘Satrangi re…’ in the movie ‘Dil Se’, ‘Jab tak hai jaan’, and many others but it was made household name by the climax scene of movie ‘3 idiots’.
After spending a shivering but wonderful night in the hut we got up to a glorious morning at Pangong Tso. The lake and the sky was azure blue. Mountains around were tall, bare, brown and snow white. The entire landscape was like an unimaginable dream. We felt as if we were in heaven.
Arony and Sunit had to go though. There was an issue with Arony’s bike and due to paucity of time they had to hurry back to Kolkata. So after spending some nice time together we parted with the feeling to meet again at some another dream destination.
I rode back to a nearby restaurant for a nice breakfast consisting of boiled eggs and milk. It was good to know that the crew of 3 idiots had a nice time at this restaurant during the shoot of the movie.
After breakfast I rode around and near the lake and had absolutely amazing time, gazing at the vast vistas, huge blue lake, birds flying over the lake and in the backdrop of high bare brown mountains. I knew in my heart of hearts that these scenes are going to be a source of joy and happiness to me forever.
Beautiful Pangong Tso, bare brown mountains and azure sky.
Another view of the blue lake, bare brown mountains and ‘Lal Ghora’, mera sarthee (Red Glamour, my friend, my bike).
It was so exciting I felt like a child ran, walked and jumped with joy. I think I must have jumped at least 50 times that day (my age was 52 at that time though).
After spending some amazing time at the lake, walking, talking, jumping, clicking pictures, sitting quietly for sometime reflecting on life, it was time to move on, move on to the next destination for which I was not very sure.
From Lukung, Spangmik, I rode to Man and then to Merik. On the way I met an old European couple walking along the lake. They must be aged in between 70-80 but were agile and full of life. Talking to them was an inspiring experience.
As I rode away from the main happening place Spangmik, the lake became more wider, lonelier and beautiful. As I reached Merak, the last village on the Indian side, it felt as if no one lives in the village. The houses were few, sparse and spread every where.
The above shot was clicked from Merak, the last Indian village near the lake.
The unpaved path along the lake was all loose gravel, my bike felt like skidding a number of times but held on.
Beautiful Pangong Tso, it was nice to see a couple having nice time near the lake at this remote location.
At times the road (there is hardly any) broke away from the lake and climbed upwards on loose sharp stones giving a very bumpy and uneasy ride.
There are few homestays at Merak though, costing around Rs.500- per night. During one of such look ins I felt like staying at one of these homestays but then decided against it and moved on.
Bike posing outside one of the homestay at Merak, perhaps one of the last in the village with the background of snowclad mountains.
Movement beyond this point is restricted and allowed only via a valid permit. On seeing me a local girl came running and asked for the permit. After handing over one copy of the permit I rode passed and found myself riding on a one kilometer wide dirt track, no signs of road whatsoever, no human being in sight for miles together and Chinese territory just a stone’s throw away.
The track had tyre marks and whatever mark one followed, was the road. The whole wide vistas were for me only, there was no soul around except for few wild kiangs and other Changthang wild creatures.
Suddenly I saw a group of horses coming from the opposite side, followed by an open truck. They were Changpa nomads with their horses. This was Changthang, part of a large highland plateau which extends deep into Tibet. I had heard of it but never thought it would be so vast, wild and beautiful.
All Indian villages along Pangong Tso, Spangmik, Man and Merak were left behind. The lake had turned left into the Chinese territory. I was now riding through the vast Changthang plateau which runs parallel to line of actual control (LAC) with Chinese territory.
I was told Chinese territory was just few kilometers to the left of the track I was riding on. An army man had even warned me to be careful and keep to the right lest I intrude into the enemy zone by mistake. My sixth sense kept reminding me that I was being watched all the while.
I could not believe when I hit this tarred road in the middle of nowhere. Soon I realised i was close to some important and this turned out to be Chushul.
Since it was getting dark and I did not find any place to stay to my liking, I continued riding beyond Chushul, hurrying up as I was not sure where I might find the place to sleep for the night. At Chushul permits were checked again.
The road continued to be vast, wild, unpaved, remote and lonely. I kept on riding my ‘Lal Ghora’. I was going through a mixture of feelings. While on one hand it felt wonderful as I was riding through one of the most barren, wild and beautiful vast land and on the other there was a constant fear of being puncture, bike getting some fault besides fear of enemy and the unknown.
After awhile I reached Rezang La war memorial Chushul where 114 brave army men lead by Major Shaitan Singh paid ultimate sacrifice to protect the integrity and sovereignty of our country during the 1962 Indo-China War while facing the onslaught of a much bigger and better equipped Chinese army, which was backed by heavy artillery fire on the fateful night of 18th November 1962.
While going through the list of martyrs inscribed on the memorial the name of Sepoy Sher Singh from Khemkaran got me nostalgic as Khemkaran is my native village.
Soon the road became very rough and steep, I knew I was ascending some mountain pass.
Soon a signboard greeted me, it was Tsaga la (15207 ft), the highest point on this route. Little descend and It was good to see a village on the right side of the road, it was Tsaga village. I heaved a sigh of relief. It was comforting to know that few humans were around.
It was around 5pm evening. I was not sure where I was going to spend the night. It was my first time in the area. Hanle was still 80-100 kilometers away and I did not know the road conditions or anything at all. From hereon I did not click any pictures and just rode on. The road quality became bit better and I could see some people around working in the fields.
Permit was again checked at an army post. Had to decline offer for the tea as I was in hurry. By the time I reached Loma bend it was total dark. Permit was again checked and the army man posted there advised me to hurry up and check into army guest house on reaching Hanle.
Hanle was still 50 kilometers though. The road was good, tarred but lonely and the night fearsome. Throughout 50 kilometer of ride that night I did not see a single vehicle on the road from Loma to Hanle. The only people I saw were few roadside workers camping along the road after day’s toil.
While I was riding on that remote road in the darkness, all of a sudden my satanic mind started conjuring up whole lot of harrowing pictures.
What if my bike breaks down? What if my bikes headlights fail? What if some wild animal confronts me? What if some miscreants attack me? What if some evil spirit let loose on me?
Suddenly a strange fear started gripping me. I looked around and found whole lot of giant figures approaching me. There were no villages along, no lights, no people, not a sign of it for miles together.
What to do now. Suddenly I remembered the old technique that I had employed many times in the past. I started talking to myself. I told myself that I was very brave and that I am capable of handling anything and everything. Then I started chanting ‘Om Namah Shivaya’, ‘Om Namah Shivaya’…..with each passing moment my voice was getting louder and bolder, ‘Om Namah Shivaya’, Om Namah Shivaya’.
Soon, instead of harrowing pictures, my mind started creating positive pictures and in a matter of minutes, instead of fear I was feeling confidant and much better.
Hanle then arrived sooner than I expected, but the scenario around was very confusing. Scattered dim lights were visible on many parts of the hills around. I was not able to make sure where to go. Then a bend on the road arrived and I followed the one which lead to a bigger cluster of lights. It, however, turned out to be of an army cantonment which had its doors closed.
I turned back and rode to the other side of the road. After sometime I saw few dimly lit houses but no one on the road to guide me or answer my queries.
I rode here and there but could not find any soul around or sign board of any homestay or guesthouse. Then I decided to knock at someone’s door. A man came out and told me that there is a guest house in the village and rang someone up to help me around. A lady was speaking on the other side of the phone. She told me to turn back on the road, she would light a torch and I must follow the torch wherever it was.
Thus assured I came back on the road and rode backwards. Soon I saw a light flickering on a hillock. I turned in the direction of the light and soon found a smiling lady standing along the road. She guided me to the guesthouse. To my surprise the guest house already had many guest. It felt very good.
The host was a very good fellow and told me that I could either stay in a six bedded room alone which would be costly for me or share the room with three men who had one bed spare in their room. The three men refused to accommodate me but the host did accommodate me. He gave me the whole six bedded room but charged me for single bed only.
The host told me that buffet dinner was ready and if I wanted I could have it. Sure I would but not before having few XXX rum drinks. The only problem was I did not have one. The host told me that someone in the village has it and if I wanted I could go and buy it.
Lo and behold, I asked someone from the guest house to be my pillion and guide me to that holy soul which sells such a good stuff at such a remote place. We rode on the eerie landscape of Hanle and knocked at a door. A young girl opened the door and on asking, requested us to come in.
Thus equipped with heavenly booze, rode back to the guest house, gulped down few quickly, a fabulous dinner, a walk in the starry night followed by heavenly sleep in fairyland Hanle, another dream come true………..!!!