Now [after Keylong] the valley narrows, and the road remains high on the constricting walls of its gorge, passing the two Buddhist monasteries of Tayul and Gemur. It opens out again at Darcha, into a wide plain where the principal trail to Zanskar, along the Barai Nala and over the Shingo-La, diverges from the main road. Across the river, a trekking route takes off through the mountains to the south and east, and back to the Chandra valley. On again, still following the course of the Bhaga, to the bridge at Patseo, till the 1950s an important meeting-place for traders from Zanskar, Kulu and Rupshu, as well as Lahul itself, where salt and wool from the high-altitude lands ahead were bartered for food-grains, tea and other essential commodities brought up from Kulu and Zanskar.
– Zanet Rizvi (Ladakh)
Thursday – 24 September 2009 – Patseo
Had I been a poet, I could have sat in this rest-house for days, staring at this hilly landscape glowing in front of me through the numerous gaps of the rusted wire-mesh of these two windows of the small passageway and penned down inspiring poems.
All I can pen down is:
red blood cells
dear red blood cells
the count is up
my heart tells 🙂
One of the ways, our body gets acclimatized to high altitudes (where air is thinner as I had explained earlier) is by increasing the red blood cell count of the body. Red blood cells are responsible for delivering oxygen from the blood to the tissues. So when the body realizes that something is wrong with the quantity of oxygen entering our body with every breath, it compensates for the loss by having more “delivery guys”. The problem is, this doesn’t happen in a day, or even two. It takes weeks before our RBC count goes up significantly to be able to really compensate for the lack of oxygen. But then, in any case, my RBC count should be higher than what it was when I started off from Manali and even if it’s up just by a few percent, I am happy!
By the time I was down two cups of tea at the restaurant in Keylong, I already knew I didn’t want to rest for the day. Suddenly I was fresh and nimble and roaring to go. My ass hit the saddle and I was on my way to Patseo – 45 kms away as told by the manager.
‘How is the road till Patseo’? – I asked the manager before leaving. I wanted to know if it was downhill or uphill.
‘The road is along the river, a little bit up, a little bit down – easy ride’.
The first half of the 25k ride to a small hamlet called Jispa was a gradual uphill but the second half a free flow. The manager seemed to have given the right information. I was hungry by the time I reached Jispa but there wasn’t a single working restaurant there.
‘Go to Darcha. You should find food there. Only seven kilometers from here’ – so told the lady at a grocery shop in Jispa. Those seven kilometers went only up, up and up. The road wasn’t great either. Construction was going on. One of the labours working on the road yelled ‘hello’. I replied back ‘Jai Mata Di’. ‘Jai Mata Di’, came back a cheerful reply. I kept cycling but the voice chased me – ‘kahaan se ho’?
‘Bihar’, I answered.
‘Mai bhi Jharkhand se hoon’.
I could smell pride in the voice. For few seconds, I felt I was cycling in home.
Phayul rjedna phaskat marjet!
(even if you forget your fatherland, don’t forget your father’s tongue – a Ladakhi Proverb)
Roads improved in the last 3-4k to Darcha and finally I could have food there. It was in Darcha that I realized that after already having cycled 32 kilometers, Patseo was still 22 kilometers away! What fool of a manager! Anyway, I continued. A bridge was broken once again – I had to remove my shoes and cross a river once again – except that this time, I made friends with a dog – my first friend since the journey from Manali.
He was a fat version of Tiger. Tiger – an Alsatian – was my pet many years ago when he was alive. This dog came to me as I was taking off my shoes before crossing the river and I felt like playing with him. I played with him. It was an instant bonding. He gave me company for few kilometers. I missed him for the next few kilometers.
Almost 75% of the 22k route after Darcha was uphill. For whatever little downhills existed, roads were broken enough for me not to be able to enjoy my peddle-free ride. Broken roads on a downhill just when you have pedalled like a dog over a long stretch is like having someone spit in your cup of garma-garam chaai after you have returned home tired from office.
(somewhere between Keylong and Patseo)
I was about to reach Patseo, when I overtook a group of young men walking on the road. As I crossed them, one dude shouted – ‘lift’. I smiled and they crackled at the PJ. It was still an uphill then and I was obviously tired and slow. The guy who had shouted was having few pods of raw mutter and asked me if I wanted some. I took some. They were sweet.
Finally at Patseo, I was delighted to spot two white tents next to a small but beautiful lake. The delight was short-lived. The tents were empty and shut down. I cycled ahead and then saw a milestone that blew up my mind – ‘Zingzingbar 9 Km’. I went like WTF! I had already crossed Patseo! So Patseo wasn’t even a village and the only tents that I could see were closed down! WTF! WTF! I cursed the manager of the Keylong restaurant. How could he have proposed to me such a stupid itinerary? He could have at least warned me! It was already about five in the evening (I had started late from Keylong) and had started to get dark. What if I didn’t find anything at whatever this place Zingzingbar was? I could sleep in the open but what would I eat? This was not funny but for lack of anything else to do, I moved on.
I had cycled only few hundred meters more when to my utmost respite, I noticed a board on the side of the road. The board was trying to tell something to me. Most of the letters had faded but soon I could make out ‘rest-house’ from whatever letters remained. A cement concrete diversion took me to the rest-house and the care-taker welcomed me with a black-coffee. There was no milk of course, but who the fuck cared.
‘Will I get food here’?
Phew! Thank you God!
What a cute rest-house this is! There are only two more rooms in here – one is empty and the other is for the only staff – my care-taker. My black coffee just got over. Let me go, get out and breathe some fresh air in this otherwise deserted place. The only other building that I see is a Meteorology Department office.
Ah so this place does not have power! A generator does the job for the adjoining Meteorology Department office but here in this rest-house all I have for light is an empty glass bottle of a local apple juice containing kerosene with a thin strip of cotton immersed inside that passes through the metallic cap of the bottle and burns with a thick soot. What fun!
In the evening, I had walked down to the river, few hundred meters below. I climbed atop a huge boulder sitting on the path of the river. I sat there and adored the icy blue water that teemed with white waves. The speed was ferocious and the clarity mesmerizing. There were a million rocks and boulders spread all over the river and as the water in all its force collided with each one of them, it created music that even Rehman cannot. Or may be he can, because that guy is definitely not from this world.
The care-taker told me he was from Darcha. He also told me the name of the river – Bhaga – and how I would get to see the source soon on my way to Leh. When inquired about the snow sprinkled over some of the nearby hills, he told me it had snowfalled about ten days back. That was when the tents where shut down.Â Later in the night, he cooked daal and chawal for me. The food was served hot and so it tasted good. It’s getting cooler by the day and anything that’s hot is heaven here. After dinner, I stepped out to roam around in the moon-lit and the star-lit night. Oh, what surreal beauty met the eyes; dark silhouettes of the rocky hills in all directions; zillions of happy stars and planets and a glistening naughty moon in the stunningly clear sky; cool breeze and the clear sound of the fuming and foaming Bagha river down below. Surreal.
Under the moon-lit and the star-lit happy sky,Â I literally danced and sang. I sang arbitrary Kishore Kumar songs and Abhijeet songs and Shankar Mahadevan songs. The moon, the stars, the sky, the breeze and the hills sang with me. Nature and me – we became one. Free. Liberated. Nothing less than a trance.
Like today, it’s going to be a 45k ride tomorrow. There would be just one difference – tomorrow I shall have to climb up the second pass of the route – Baralachala La – at an altitude of 4.9 kilometers, (one full kilometer higher up than Patseo), where air would only be 54% as dense as at sea-level. I definitely need a good night’s sleep, what say? 😛
PS: Happy Diwali 🙂