Pang was freezing cold when I got up. I opened the tap of a steel water container kept outside the tent where I had crashed in the night. I wanted to brush my teeth. Nothing came out of the container. I opened the cover to see if it had water. It didn’t. It had ice inside. That’s when I realized it actually was freezing cold – literally. I didn’t want to brush my teeth anymore.
It was a Monday when I had left Manali and by Saturday I had reached Pang. It had been six continuous days of cycling. And yet when I got up in Pang on the early Sunday morning I did not feel like taking a break. I had felt the same in Keylong. I had felt the same in Sarchu. There was absolutely no way I could have spent one full day in any of these places, doing nothing. I regretted not carrying any book with me because if I had, I probably could have managed to pass my time by reading something, letting my body rest. Between the choice of dying of boredom and dying of exhaustion I chose the latter. I checked up my notes before leaving Pang to recall what the manager in Keylong had told me about this route: from Pang the road would go up for like four kilometers after which Morey Plains start and stretch for the next 47 kilometers ending with a small climb taking one over the second highest motorable road in the world – Tanglang La. Few kilometers down this pass is the village of Rumtse – the only village after Pang.
As I was riding the initial 4k uphill (which ended to be 5k by the way), I felt like masterbating under the sky. Like most guys, I have always had this fetish to jerk off in all kinds of weird places. There is nothing more weird than doing it in the open. The most exotic venue till then had been an under sea-water act. So yeah, it had been more than ten days of abstinence and suddenly I felt like masterbating under the sky and then I went ahead and did it. I had my first open air high altitude orgasm. Of course it felt good. Had the direction been right my underdeveloped offspring could have as well landed in China.
Soon the Morey Plain began. Though it looked like one, it wasn’t all plain plain you know. Someone travelling on a motorized vehicle would probably not notice the mild positive slopes and the mild negative slopes of the Morrey planes, but I did. This stretch presented a great optical illusion as well. I could see barren brown hills on all sides and at any point of time, it always looked like in the next fifteen minutes I was going to reach the hill right in front of me and then the plain would end. But the plains never ended and the hills always remained as far away as they appeared. This went on and on. For hours. For 47 kilometers. And then I saw a white coloured tent. I decided then and there that I wanted to take a break there. I could see the road going up ahead of me. I could also see a milestone that said Tanglang La was 16k away. Believe me, you will never feel like taking on a pass which would take you 2000 ft high up in merely 16k, if by the time you have approached the ascent, you have already cycled like 50 kilometers.
So I stopped, entered the tent and demanded a tea.
‘We are shutting off. We have nothing’. I couldn’t react for a while. The reality took some time to sink in but it finally did. The guys there at the tent were busy loading stuff on two trucks. They were packing off. The season had ended. I felt hollow from inside. I took out few rotis from my bag that I had been carrying from Pang. They had hardened by now and I ate them without feeling much.
Alright, Tanglang La, here I come.
The word that I would use for the Tanglang La ascent is: bone-chilling. This one was the hardest so far. I wondered if I should have restrained my carnal desires to save every bit of energy for this pass. The ascent was merciless. The last 5k before the pass was so un-doable that I almost felt like taking a lift from some passing by truck. And yet, something inside me was dead against this lift idea. I had checked out several blogs and biking forums but had so far, not found a single person who had tried doing Pang to Rumtse in a single day and without a lift or without the privilege of some support-vehicle carrying your luggage. I wished I could throw away my bags. I wished someone could offer me fresh juice. I wished the earth opened up and swallowed me in.
It took me full five hours and half a dabba of Glucose to climb that earth shattering 16k of the uphill and when I finally reached the top, I was a full-dead dog. I had picked up a consistent cough and now found it difficult to breathe. And of course I was hungry and was totally fed up of eating Glucose and biscuits. I wanted real food. And yet, none of these physical discomforts prevented me from feeling extremely victorious and joyful. Even when the pass was totally extremely secluded and empty. I had made it to the second highest motorable road in the world at 5.325 Km above sea level – and I had made it all on my own.
It was 5:30 in the evening when I had finally reached the top and Rumtse was like 25 kilometers away. Ah – so the manager at Keylong had totally forgotten to inform me about this bit! The downhill that began was over pathetic roads – the same old pebbles and stones and stuff. It started to get dark and I just couldn’t speed up, thanks to the fucked up road. I literally pleaded to God to turn the surface smooth so that I could reach Rumtse before the sun could set. And then the sun set. Rumtse was still kilometers away. The road was still pathetic. This was when I stopped pleading. If God wanted to kill me, I was not going to beg for mercy – I decided. That’s exactly when the surface finally turned smooth.
The road turned so smooth that had it been day time, I would have once again sung Kishore Kumar songs as I rolled down. But there was no sun this time. A blink of an eye, and I could fall off into some valley down below. The moon shone up above in the sky, and under its faint light, I kept rolling down, as slow as possible, as cautiously as possible. I felt like werewolf. This was a psychedelic experience. As time passed, it started getting cooler and cooler and soon I was on the verge of shivering. When even by 7:30 PM I saw no trace of any village I decided to stop cycling in the dark. An accident could happen any second, I was sure. I stopped. I felt like stretching my sleeping bag somewhere along the road-side and wait for the sun to come out again. And then I looked up in the sky. I saw the moon. She was beautiful and she winked at me. I felt I was in love after a long long time. And when you are in love, you never do the logical things.
I got up, hit the saddle and continued riding in the dark – I was going to trust my moon, and her radiance was going to guide my path. The werewolf’s path. The radiance of the heavenly lover guided the werewolf all the way to Rumtse. The werewolf had his chaai and Maggie and slept like he had never slept before.