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