Saturday, 11 February 2017

Part 3 - Exploring the Unexplored- A visit to the world's Highest Motarable Villages.

1. Day 4 : The morning of 5th June 2014, I woke up in the surreal surroundings of Kaza town. As usual Abhinav and Paranshu were still sleeping. I went out to the terrace of the hotel and looked around. Kaza was situated in the midst of barren moutains of spiti valley. Spiti river running alongside the town and the snow capped peaks gave the terraces of this town a mesmerising view. The streets were full of dogs and people had started with the daily business. There was a soothing calmness in the air. I took a long breath and inhaled a 'never experienced before' freshness in the air. The temperature was somewhere in the  lower single digits but the cold winds made it seem colder. I woke up Abhinav and Paranshu then and we kept a target of 0900 hrs for us to start for the day's activites which included getting our bikes repaired a bit and a visit to the Key monastry and the world's highest motarable village, Komik. Abhinav had a lot of welding to be done on his lugage carrier which was broken at a number of joints. He dettached his luggage carrier and left it at the shop and we went ahead for a visit to the legendary Key Monastry. It is a Tibetian monastery located on top of a hill at an altitude of 4,166 metres (13,668 ft). I had some contacts there at the monastry thanks to my sister who had spent few months here for one of her research projects on snow leapords. We met the monks and they were kind to let us visit all the places within the monastry and enlighten us with the rich heritage and history of the monastry. We also had the local herbal tea that they prepared specialy for us. I must say I have never been a big fan of the way these herbal teas taste but there was a special tingy flavour to that tea. It was nothing like i had ever tasted before. This special tea is prepared with a special herb that is found only at the higher reaches of the spiti valley mountains which means they can only be picked during summers as the rest of the year there is no vegetation due to heavy snow cover. After spending about an hour in the monastry, we were to head for Komik which was known as the world's highest motarable village but we were told that rapid road construction in the region keeps shifting this title to new villages every year. Hence, Komik was no longer the highest motarable village. After some discussion amongst themselves monks told us that  a village called Gete is now the new highest motarable village. It was a bit farther away and we had not considered any distance greater than 25 kms in our day's plans.

2.  Anyways, we headed for Gete. We crossed Kibber and komik soon and continued ahead towards Gete. The landscape kept us mesmerised all the way. The sky never looked so close and so blue before, the mountains were green all the way and snow could be seen at a touching distance. Oxygen levels were going down and bikes were not able to  pump out even half of the power they usually do. It was getting tougher for the Bullet to climb with the pillon sitting. Finally after reaching the highest point of the road we stopped and took a break. We realised if we kept moving ahead we won't be able to return before dark and that was not at all recommended in these parts. So we turned back and our aim to visit the world's highest village was left unachieved. Nonetheless, we had our lust for adventure fully satisfied. We could have never imagined the beauty of this valley without seeing it with our own eyes. It was a world out of this world and no sight, not even the surreal leh valley, can be compared to the spell this valley puts on you.    

3. We returned back to Kaza town by 1700 hrs in the evening. We did some shopping in the local market. The market was full of many local souvenier shops and local garment showrooms. T-shirts and sweatshirts with funny and adventure tag lines were the highlights of these showrooms. We did buy some of those and few other souveniers and then headed to our hotel. Abhinav then got his luggage carrier back from the welding shop. We then went out for dinner and after a sumptuous meal, we retired soon to our beds. Day 5  was going to be a tough ride as we had to leave the Spiti valley and enter the Lahaul valley which meant we had to go through glaciers which were melting in this season. This would also mark our entry into the second phase of our ride, the much familiar, Laddakh valley.  

4. Day 5 :- Next day we left Kaza town by around 0700hrs and our target was to reach Gramphu which was around 137 km from Kaza town. We kept the distance unusually low as we were aware the route is a complete mess and we wont be riding fast enough. We also had a Pass enroute to cross, the Kumzum La, at height of 4590m (15090 ft). We were looking forward to witness the beauty of this less known pass. By around 1100 hrs, we were at the Kunzum La, an amazingly beautiful pass with some snow scattered around here and there. What was amazing was the Kunzum La Stupa situated right at the top. The stupa was very well maintained even though we could'nt find anybody there. We paid a visit to the stupa and offered our prayers most part of which was to the mother nature for blessing us with such owe-inspiring beauty.
We descended the pass and came across a board at a y- junction reading  'Road to Chandrataal'. I had heard a lot about Chandrataal and its picturesque surroundings but a trip to Chandrataal and back would mean adding about 50 Kms to our route. Condisdering the time constraints, we could'nt afford a visit to Chandrataal and with the regret, we moved ahead. We reached Batal in a short while which had a few locals setup Dhabas. We met some truck drivers there and after talking to them we realised that the road ahead to Gramphu is in the worst condition ever. Their reply to our enquiry was rather a sarcastic remark saying " Aage toh raasta bohot achcha hai " followed by a laughter. They got serious though soon and told us that our timing to travel through this strecth could'nt be worst. We had to move between two glaciers and after 1200 hrs in the afternoon the water levels  gushing down from the glaciers on to the roads increases to a dangerous level and it becomes very difficult to cross the streams. We were given all the scare that they could and then left wondering - what now ? Well, nothing much could be done now that we had come this far. We had our light lunch and started ahead with a nervous heart.     

5. We soon got to experience the dark side of these natural masterpieces. As soon as we left Batal we came across a number of streams, each one getting more difficult than the previous one to cross. Everytime we thought to ourselves ' what worse than this can come our way?' and everytime we were surprised by mother nature in a fearsome way. We also crossed some snow logged strecthes where somehow we dragged our bikes through terrifying  and slippery snow and mud slush. My bike with its shorter wheelbase and smaller Wheels did slip down on one of those. The frequency of the streams in our way was getting freakishly high and so was the intensity of water flowing through them. And hence the time involved in crossing each one of them was also getting longer and longer. It was now that our nerves got the better of us and we started to get worried a little. Paranshu was the one with least sense of humour or adventure left in her now. She kept reminding us of how far we still had to travel and that we wont be able to make it the way we were moving. Worst part was that in our knowledge there was no other habitable place before Gramphu now. It was brave of her to keep her nerves and her fear under check as we crawled through the streams. The last one we crossed was the worst. There was almost a river running on the road! Bullet somehow made it across that river but I had to take a fall in that bone chilling, knee deep water and push the bike across with Abhinav's help. It was already 1700 hrs by then and it was about to get dark in next half an hour. We discussed our contingency plans of staying the night under open skies in that weather and kept ourselves prepared for the worst. Moving ahead, we were relieved that the streams were behind us. However, to add to our woes, it started to rain with heavy winds. As we were about to give up hope of finding any shelter, Chhatru came to our rescue. Chhatru was a small bridge head on the Chenab river with two shops and a Dhaba. Our happiness knew no boundaries as soon as we saw those constructions emerging out of that hellish view in front of us. Luckily the dhaba did have a small under construction cottage that the owner gave to us on rent for the night. We were still in shock from the scare the route gave us. We had never been through this scary an experience in our lives before. We had even considered death due to extreme cold as a possibility! Anyways, all that ends well is kind of .. u know ..  this saying is not at all apt here. We still get chills down our spine remembering that day ! Trying to think positive and gathering left over courage for the next day's ride, we crashed to our beds. Below are some of the screenshots off my Sony hdr recordings that barely picture the horror we went through.

When My Bike Took a dip.

6. Next day we woke with our thirst for adventure restored and since the route ahead of Gramphu was well known to us, we could ridea bit more carefree. The Manali-Leh route has been a priority task for the Himachal Pradesh tourism in the last few years and hence I was sure that the route would be a lot better than it was back in 2011. We started from Chhatru by 0730 hrs and reached Gramphu by 1000 hrs. We did encouter few streams here too but compared to ones we crossed a day back, they were a piece of cake. We took a long halt at Gramphu, Spread out our clothes in the sun on a table of a restraunt and ordered some proper indian aloo ka paranthas. It was after 100s of Kms that we got to see such huge crowd of people and vehicles. The traffic from Manali to Leh and back had increased many folds in last three years. Gramphu also marked the re-start of the proper black tarmac ahead. we reached Tandi (45 kms)  in a short while which has the only fuel station of the 360 km long route ahead before Leh. We got our bikes filled and continued ahead till Keylong. Keylong a medium sized town in the Lahaul Valley which has decent hotels and restruants and is a traditional halting point for travellers. We decided to rest for the day there and give our bikes the much needed check up.  The route ahead was going to be much easier for us but we already had a disliking for the amount of the man made invasions which had taken over this once beautifully isolated valley. Tourism dept is doing its best to make the route much more accessible for travellers but in the process is robbing these parts off their inherited isolation which was the essence of their beauty. Well, this is a bitter truth that we travellers will have to accept with a pinch of salt I guess.

To be Continued ( In Next Blog)                                   Previous Blog