Bicycle Diary 10: Pang Pang

Complete links for Diary#1-13: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13]

When I got up in Sarchu the next day, I knew that Pang was 75 kilometers away. What I didn’t know was, what lay ahead in the route.

‘There are no passes in this route, right’? I asked the owner of the stall where I had put up for the night. He was making the morning tea for me and the other customers.

‘There are two passes in this route’, he replied with a grin as he handed me my cup of tea.

‘Shit, is there any place I can halt at before Pang’?

‘No. By the way, the first pass is at 16,200 ft and the next at 16,600’.

Stop scaring me you asshole.

‘I see. Would I find food somewhere in between’?

‘No. But common, if you have done Rohtang La and Baralacha La and have reached all the way to Sarchu, you can easily do these two. Here, have your bread-omlette’.

I realized it was going to be a tough day. When you are mountain-biking, a ‘pass’ means a lot – it means that you have to climb up some crazy mountain. You can never appreciate the struggle that mountain-climbing on a bike involves till you have tried it yourself. I am not complaining because after all it is this very struggle that makes mountain-biking what it is – you torture yourself while ascending, reach the top and then roll down. That’s pretty much the pattern and every time you do it, you feel good about life and everything else. Every time you do it, you feel like a winner. But then two passes in one day? This was like squeezing two day’s of struggle into one. The very idea was frightening. And yet there was nothing I could do about it. So I quietly finished my breakfast.

Since I had done Rohtang La and Baralacha La and had reached all the way to Sarchu, I could easily do these passes. Yeah right!

A sculptor from Delhi who had arrived in Sarchu the last night on his Safari with his wife, a daughter and a dog, wished me all the best. He had come from Leh and was headed towards Manali. He left for Manali. I left for Pang. Biscuits and two rotis were all I had to eat till I could reach Pang. I had no idea how long I was going to take to reach there, if at all. Two bloody passes!!

The fantastically well paved downhill straight roads that had brought me to Sarchu continued for like twenty kilometers once I left Sarchu. I almost forgot about the passes that lay ahead. I was once again enjoying a zero strain ride; hands off the handle – stretched in the air imitating the wings of a flying bird, toes resting lazily on the peddles, eyes devouring the picturesque landscape. Many a times, I stopped and clicked pictures. Everything was like a dream. I didn’t want it to end. And then it ended. The dream ended when I saw a yellow sign-board.

(The fantastically well paved downhill straight roads that had brought me to Sarchu continued for like twenty kilometers once I left Sarchu)

The signboard declared the start of Gata loops – a set of 21 hair-pin bends, each loop taking you higher up on the mountain that lay in front. When I began the ascent, I thought I would keep a count of each loop. Somewhere during the ride, I forgot the count.

I guess only five more loops are left. Five. Four. Three. Two. One. Eh, more uphill? Ok, I guess only two more loops now. Two, one. Eh, still more? Alright, I am not counting them. Fuck.

(caught somewhere in the loop)

When I finally spotted yet another yellow signboard which said ‘Gata loops end’, I was so fucking relieved. I was so fucking happy. And then I realized that something was wrong. Something was horribly wrong.

The loops had ended but the road was still going up. When I saw no trace of any pass even after a kilometer, I felt like banging my head on the tarmac till I could bleed to death. It’s difficult to keep cycling on uphills but it’s mother-fuckingly insane when you don’t even know how long the agony is going to continue! One kilometer. Then one more. Then another. And then I was crying. I wished I were carrying the details of the route with me. And then I stopped wishing and kept pushing. Before I could collapse, I finally made it to the first pass of the day – Nakeela, at 4.9 K above sea-level. Phew!

The downhill after Nakeela ended so soon that the very prospect of taking yet another pass left me shocked. The place from where the ascent for this pass number two started was called Whisky Nallah. Pang was 30k away from Whisky Nallah. I had no fucking clue as to what percentage of this 30k distance was uphill. This was bad. This was so bad that for quite some time, I simply kept sitting at Whisky Nallah, munching biscuits and sipping water.

I had to gather myself. I wondered why they had named this place Whisky Nallah. Before the Gata Loops had begun, I had crossed a bridge that had been named Brandy bridge. I wondered what was this thing about naming bridges and valleys on liquors? And when I couldn’t come up with any answer, I decided to take on the second pass.

I don’t much remember how I climbed up. I cannot recall anything – what I saw, how I felt. Nothing. The physical pain had become irrelevant. The eyes were not registering any image. My entire consciousness was focused on just one thin – reach the top. It worked. The resoluteness of the mind drove me to the top after a mammoth effort of two hours. The Lachulung La top. The second pass of the day. Over 5k above sea level.

From then on, I didn’t have to peddle much but the roads that had been good so far, turned into an annoying bed of boulders and pebbles and shit. The road passed through narrow gorges which shone in various shades as the sun kept getting lower over the horizon. I was happy I was finally in a state where I could at least admire my scenic surroundings. When I finally reached Pang after being on road for eleven hours that day, I was very sure I didn’t want to ride my bike the next day.

Inside the tent that I chose to stay in, a BRO labour was having Maggie. He was delighted to find out that I was from Bihar. Like most labours out there, he was from Jharkhand. He left after finishing his Maggi.

A guy who had brought some firangs from Manali to Pang on horses, came later to have tea in the same stall. He had been a guide on a fourteen day trek. The firangs had left on a jeep and he had to take back the horses. But the horses were too weak to move for at least a day. So he needed to stay in Pang.

The labour from Jharkhand, got mixed up between the horse dude and me, when he returned after buying some booze from the stall.

‘So how did you come to Pang’? the labour asked the horse dude, thinking he was a cyclist.

‘I walked all the way’, the horse dude replied.

‘How could you have walked all the way from Bihar’?

I had a nice laugh and then I went to sleep. I think I saw horses in my dream.

I was five and he was six
We rode on horses made of sticks
He wore black and I wore white
He would always win the fight
Pang Pang

He shot me down, Pang Pang
I hit the ground , Pang Pang
That awful sound, Pang Pang
My baby shot me down

End of Diary #10

Complete links for Diary#1-13: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13]

snaps travel

Bicycle Diary 9: When I finally entered Ladakh

Complete links for Diary#1-13: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13]

Remember, son, the final seat of all achievement is neither the head nor the heart nor the muscles. It is the ass. Courage and determination lives in the ass.

– Tarun T. Tejpal (The Story of my Assassins)

I have decided to do away with the journal form of description. I don’t intend to change the titles though. Yes, I did write down stuff in my note-book almost every day of the cycling trip. But I don’t feel like telling you guys the story in the same way that I wrote it down. At least not anymore. And now the story.

In Patseo, I saw four people in my dream. My grandpa, grandma, Tota and Maina. I don’t know why I saw them and I don’t remember what exactly I saw. But I saw them. I saw them I and remembered about this dream when I got up in the morning. And then I missed them. And then I decided to relieve myself. Not from memories – from shit.

I had no clue where the toilet was but soon I realized it really didn’t matter. I could take off my pajama anywhere I wanted to and shit. I took off my pajama somewhere I wanted to and shat. And then I woke up the care taker. And then he made paranthas for me. And then I left Patseo. It was 7:30 AM and the air was cold.

The first half of the 10k uphill ride to Zingzingbar was over a bed of pebbles. There is nothing worse than pedalling uphill over non-existent roads. Where roads are broken, dust flows like air and you feel like dying of choking. For a brief interval – the last 4k to Zingzingbar, the roads were paved only to turn back to the bad old bed of pebbles once again! This was the beginning of the day and I was already not liking it very much.

I must have cycled about 5-6k from Zingzingbar when I met Jim. Jim was from Norway and he was riding an Enfield. We took pictures of each other posing with our respective machines. He noted down my email id and told me he would email the pictures once he returned to Norway. I haven’t received any e-mail from Jim till date (refer update down below).

Baralacha La was twenty more kilometers away. Jim left with a thumbs up sign to me while I struggled over the pebbles. For a moment I wanted my bike to turn into a motorbike so that I could leave Jim behind. And then I thought – any one can drive a motor-cycle over here, but very few can cycle. And then I felt good. And when you feel good, good things happen. The roads turned gorgeous soon and remained like that for more or less of that days’ ride.

The gorgeous road was still going uphill and soon the incline became really gruesome. The more I approached Baralacha La, the worse got the slope. So did the sun. I could feel the sun-rays burning my skin. The last 10k before the pass was the most painful leg of the day’s ride. I had to take so many breaks in this 10k stretch that the ride started to seem never ending. I kept pushing. This is what you do in life. When you have to achieve something, and you are fucked up, you take breaks and then you go for your goal again. And you keep doing that till you are alive.

Alright let me just have some water now by you.

(One of the breaks during the conquest of Baralacha La)

I was alive when I reached Suraj Tal. Baralacha La was still elusive. Suraj Tal was that source of the Bhaga river that my Patseo care-taker had told me about yesterday. It looked like a chota bhaai of the Pangong lake. It was beautiful and blue. There was snow all around. A vehicle or two passed by occasionally but otherwise I was the only human out there admiring the calmness of the still water. I felt like staying at Suraj Tal for the rest of my life. And then I moved on. And finally I made it to the top. The Baralacha La pass was elusive no more. It was right there, below my feet.

…a pass possibly unique in having a tri-junction at its summit, with a trail taking off towards the south-east, down the Chandra Valley and eventually over into Spiti.

-Zanet Rizvi (Ladakh)

Suraj Tal by you.

(Suraj Tal)

DSC_0115 by you.

(at the Baralachal La top)

I was tired and exhausted and hungry. I had been cycling uphill for the last 30 kilometers and had ridden one full kilometer higher up in altitude. And I was standing almost 5 kilometers above sea-level.

At the top, there was an uninhabited Shiv temple and snow all around (except on the road) but nothing beyond that. I had expected stalls with food and water on the lines of Rohtang La (or Khardung La). All I had here was snow and a temple? I almost felt like stepping inside that small shrine and screaming at the lord – ‘aaj khush to bahot hoge tum‘? But I moved on. Free fall ensued. And after five kilometers of free-fall, there were stalls. Yay!

From then on, it was downhill all the way upto Sarchu, 20 k away. And this stretch of the ride was out of this world. Stunning landscape lit by the perfect sun-rays falling in the perfect direction. Insanely straight roads – straight for miles. And smooth. And downhill. This was definitely not real. I could take my hands off the handle and wave them like birds. I took my arms off the handle and waved them like birds. I wasn’t cycling. I was flying. Free. Liberated.

The road to Leh carries on in a northerly direction, down past glacial lakelets, following the upper waters of a river, the Yonam, that drains the surrounding mountains but, deep in its trough, can do nothing to temper the prevailing aridity, till it reaches the Chang-pa pasture and camping ground of Sarchu, the take-off point for a truly rugged trek through the mountains to the monastery of Phugtal in Zanskar. It is just short of Sarchu, at Phalung Danda, an isolated rock rising out of the plain, that the road leaves Himachal Pradesh and enters Ladakh.

-Zanet Rizvi (Ladakh)

When everything looks like a video game! by you.

(the roads that went straight for miles)

More Kishore Kumar Songs. Jo Jeeta vohi Sikandar songs. I was the Sikandar of the moment. I imagined lord Shiva whom I had met at the Baralacha La top, whispering in my ears – ‘abhi to tum bhi thode bahot khush hoge, nahi‘? Yes, I was khush. I was happy. And then I saw a sign board that sent an electric shock through my entire fucking body.

Jeevan ke safar me rahi by you.

The signboard said: Sarchu: 0 Km. Pang: 75 Km. Leh: 255 K. But if I had already reached Sarchu, why the fuck couldn’t I see any human being or tent? I stopped my bike and looked around. I couldn’t see anything for as far as the eyes could gauge.

This was bad and scary. I was confused. I was annoyed. And then, I moved on. When you are on a cycle and you don’t know what to do next, you keep cycling. That’s all you do.

And then, when I spotted some tents after few kilometers, I felt as happy as one of those yellow rubber smileys . I was like – fuck, I am not dying after all. I felt so happy that the first thing I did was to pick up a Kingfisher from the only liquor shop of Sarchu.

Just like Patseo, Sarchu wasn’t a village – all this place had were make-shift tents, about ten in number that stocked wafers, biscuits, water, maggi and things like that. And of course there was this liquor shop that I talked about. And there were asbestos rooms to sleep at night. The guy at the stall that I hit told me he could get me roti, chawal, daal, sabji for dinner. And I told myself, still sipping my Kingfisher – ‘bhanchod, what else do I need in life’?

I had a little chit-chat with Rachel and her friend from Australia. This couple had passed me earlier in the day when I was crawling my way to Baralacha La. I had found a shaded area below a boulder on the edge of the road and was resting there to gather enough energy to cycle further when they saw me. They were on a motor-bike, on an Enfield just like Eim. They thought that I was probably suffering from AMS. I was probably suffering from AMS because I was dizzy and breathless and sun-burnt. They stopped the bike and asked me if I was okay. I told them I was perfectly alright and would make it to the top in my own sweet time. Later – after I had finally nailed the pass in my own sweet time and was rolling down the straight roads, I saw them  picnicking at a rivulet. They waved to me as I passed them and I waved back. Again, somewhere before Sarchu, when they overtook me, we waved to each other. We were already friends before we actually sat with each other in Sarchu.

So I had a little chit-chat and I was tempted to talk about Indians being assaulted in Australia but I resisted. You don’t talk about shit like that when you have so many better things to talk about like cycling in New Zea-land. Both of them had worked in NZ for some time and told me it would be awesome to bike there in the southern part of the country. One day, I will bike in southern New Zea-land and the first beer that I buy there during the ride would be a toast to Rachel.

At 4.2 kilometers altitude, Sarchu was the highest place where I was going to sleeping. It was really cold there. The night was spent with strangers warming their cold bodies over a tin ka dabba stuffed with dry-wood put on fire. As I was heating myself up, I overheard the guy who had sold me the Kingfisher in the evening – ‘kullu ki rund aur lahul ki thand ka koi bharosa nahi‘. I smiled at myself and went to sleep. And when I closed my eyes, I saw Lord Shiva and both of us smiled at each other. And then I slept.

Complete links for Diary#1-13: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13]

Update (28th January 2010): I got his email with all my pics finally! Love you Jim! 🙂