RRGwrites

On life…and learning

Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Ladakh…at Tso Kar

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Part 7 of the Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Ladakh…

Day 12: July 4, 2012; Leh to Debring & Tso Kar: From this day, our return journey to New Delhi commenced. On the Day 12, our ride was from Leh to Debring, which is located off-Morey Plains, about 150kms from Leh, crossing Upshi, Rumtse and the mighty Taglang La.

In the morning briefing, I could observe that the riders didn’t want to leave! The fun was in arriving at Leh and not in going back. We wanted to stay, soak in the beauty of this wonderland. I know many of us that day decided in their hearts that they would come back, very soon.

When we started from Leh at about 8am, the weather was bright and sunny. We again rode through the beautiful, green patches on the Leh-Manali highway, passing Shey Palace and a large number of monasteries, Stupas and rock carvings on this road. Shey was the summer capital of Ladakh, so I learnt from a passer-by, as I stopped for a water break. I could not help but soak in the beauty of the palace built on the hill. The palace, mostly in ruins now, were built first in 1655, near the Shey village and were used as a summer retreat by the royal family of Ladakh.

I rode through amazing Ladakh scenery, road guarded by rock walls. This stretch is full of village on both sides, and the ride is really pleasant. I regret not stopping again and clicking the pictures of the roads surrounded by tree all through the route for about 30kms; where the parents of the school-going kids gave us riders the most amused looks, as if saying, “Well! There go the spoilt ones!”

From this signage at Upshi, the right turn goes 30kms to Rumste and the left takes you to Tso Moriri, another famous lake at Ladakh.

As we entered the mountainous terrain, I observed the colour of the flowing river on our left – so different than the rivers we were used to see during this ride!

Out first break of the day was at Rumtse, the same hamlet where we stopped on our way to Leh a few days ago.

As I sat down here, I observed an acute silence amongst riders, as if all excitement had gone missing, as if we left it at Leh. There weren’t banters flowing around, no one was pushing each other, no laughter; only a passive wait…till this Ladakhi kid showed up.

This kid came as a breather, Dorje his name was. Extremely sharp and friendly, he quickly became very popular with us. Running all around, chasing stray dogs, offering smiles to shutterbugs, he was raw energy! Then, one of us introduced him to an Apple iPhone – the Tom Cat application! You would see his amazement in the adjoining pic. Amused he was; he made all kinds of noises – soliciting response from the Tom Cat and laughter from us! He was some fun!

From here, ride to the Taglang La was about 30kms. Much to our pleasant surprise, a large part of the road that was under-construction when we came a week ago was now constructed! So we sailed on really quickly towards the sandy patch of the Morey Plains.

As I always hate riding in sand, this time too, I found it pretty exhausting. However, this time, I had a better idea about how not to hold on the clutch (that could burn the clutch plate really fast) and let True find her own course in the desert. Finally, we reached our scheduled breakpoint – a small dhaba amidst nothing, standing tall in the desert.

Weary that we all were, especially after negotiating the monumental Taglang La and the sand, this dhaba provided much needed rest to our backs, some frolic and tasty Maggi! Here, we were to regroup, and then get ready for the moment of the day – this was our destination for the legendary group photograph, the trademark of the Royal Enfield Himalayan Odyssey.

As we rode into a chosen barren patch, we were asked to build a formation, with all riders standing in one straight line! Now, that’s some tall asking, as making 65 riders do that, maneuvering the bikes in sand back & forth, forming one straight line – the photographer had a really tough time organizing and achieving this tall feat! Yet, the picture came out really well. After this legendary pick was clicked, we moved ahead towards Debring, our night-halt destination.

Debring Camps are located about 5kms off the road, and you’d really need to watch out for the signage, else, it is easy to miss it and you’d keep riding towards Pang, which really won’t be fun.

We reached the campsite at about 3:30pm. As I crashed into a chair outside the camp, I observed that these tents didn’t house a washroom. Shucks! We were to use the common, make-shift toilets, built at a distance from the main tent area! That too only 5 toilets for the whole gang! Not a pleasant news, it was indeed…

As the evening set in, the view around our camps turned really good, surrounded with mountains all around us – the setting sun and the clouds created a magical view. See for yourself…

After settling in, many of the riders decided to drive further 3kms towards the Tso Kar – the Kar Lake. Tso Kar means ‘salty lake’. I learnt from the caretaker of our tent that the local people extracted salt from this lake till late 1950s for their consumption. I was in no mood to go see the lake, despite the fact the euphoria around it was pretty infectious. Deciding to stay and chill-out, I joined some friends, Guru, Max, Mayil Anna and Dr.Sashi – the group ganged together outside the tents – the daily rituals of Rum & Fun took off. Mayil Anna found a way of sourcing a Rum bottle even in this barren, remotest part of the world! As the fun ensued, an otherwise non-happening day turned real fun. Take a look…

Little did we know, what events were unfolding at the lake’s shores…

During this gala, a rider came and shared that Mauro, one of the riders, got stuck in the salty marshlands near the lake with his bike. However, he also shared that there wasn’t any danger and others around him are helping. So, the party continued without any disruption, even as Santhosh, our RE leader, and few other dashed off to the lake.

However, very soon, Aakash, our other RE leader, came rushing and asked few of us to get ready with torches and ropes; Mauro couldn’t be located, he shared.

A chill ran down my spine. What is happening out there? Why cant we locate him?

Some of us got ready with warm clothing, and took as many torches as available – it was around 6pm and soon to turn dark. Sadly, the Trip Wagon was not available, it was on another mission to locate a missing rider who had probably overlooked the obscure turn to Debring and driven straight ahead. So, we had no choice but to drive the Innova to the lakeside.

The mood in the vehicle was intense! We readied ourselves for the rescue-mission and tried to evade any negative thoughts. Ernesto, Mauro’s friend from Uruguay, mentioned that Mauro was a strong guy, we all knew it, and that he would be all fine. So we wanted him to be.

As we reached the Kar Lake, I was astounded to note the dimension of the lake; although it was not an appropriate time to note the very apparent beauty of it! It was magnificent! From one corner to the other, the walk must have been about 7-10kms!

As the Innova neared the lake’s shore, we felt the swampland under the tyres! Sensing danger, we were forced to stop the vehicle at a distance from the shore; now, the search was to carry on the foot. Leaving some of us at the base, five of us dashed off towards the lake. After a while, at a distance, we noticed Sibi, the tallest of all, standing atop an elevation, signaling at us using his flashlight.

For the first time in my life, I was walking on the swamps! The land under me appeared all whitish and wet, as if made of salt soaked in water! It was an intense feeling and yet, we were determined not to go back without finding Mauro.

The walk to the place where Sibi stood must have been over 3kms. Catching our breath and gulping water, we walked non-stop. As we reached there, we heard the good news, Mauro was located, and how!

We could see men walking, at a far off distance. Santhosh and Mauro, with few others, they were at the fag end of the lake, and must have been at least 3kms away from us. They had signaled Sibi to stop, and wait for us, so as to save us the ordeal of walking all way in eagerness.

Sibi narrated the thrilling turn of events. As they all arrived for the search, they just couldn’t find Mauro anywhere for a good time. They walked and walked in vain; Mauro couldn’t be traced. Down and out as this search party was, Sibi saw a flicker over something at a distance – the last ray of the setting sun came reflected to this tall lad! It was Mauro’s helmet or the bike, and that gave them energy! They rushed towards him, only to find the Enfield stuck 2-feet under the wetland, just around the water, with a resolute Mauro trying hard to rescue it, himself all covered in sand and salt!

Santhosh gauged the slipperiness of the situation and took a wise decision to leave the bike there and bring Mauro back. It was getting darker and colder, and Mauro was all wet waist-down and fatigued – a fit case for an attack of hypothermia!

As Santhosh and others reached us, I noted they were all exhausted to the core – walking more than 10kms had drained all energy out of them. We were at 10000ft AMSL, where oxygen was at its lowest best; remember? Gulping from the water bottles we had carried from the camps, they caught their breath for a while.

As we walked towards the base, where the Innova was parked, exhaustion forced us to stop many times. Also, it was getting darker and we were walking over the wetland, with hundreds of holes dug in – homes to the reptiles! Scary, it was…

By this time, the Trip-wagon had also arrived on the site. Mauro was rushed to the camp in Innova; we all boarded the wagon. Warm inside, animated discussion took place on how to salvage the bike. Some said we should wait for the morning and arrange for a 4X4, to pull it out; few of us were of the opinion the we should try rescue it the same night, as we feared it would be guzzled by the marshes by the dawn!

By the time we reached back to the camp, it was pitch-dark and we were all cold to our bones! Luckily, the hot soup was ready; a really saviour it was! Needless to say, everyone at the camp wanted to hear the story! Yet, some of us, including Santhosh and Aakash remained focused and decided on a plan to rescue the dear Enfield the same night. Luckily, the camp-management had a Tata Safari with them – a 4X4!

A detailed rescue mission was planned. A signaling station was set, armed with powerful flashlights at the camp to exchange messages from the site. Ashokji, our tour-operator and also a vastly experienced & skilled trekker, was stationed there. Santhosh and Aakash, accompanied by few locals from the camp, reached the lake, where the bike was stuck.

It took more than three hours that eventful night, the might of a 4X4, and the strong will of few good men, which salvaged our dear Enfield. I wasn’t there at the site, so I am sparing the details; from all that you read till now, I am sure you’d gauge how much effort must have gone in this brave and ultimately successful attempt.

The best part of the mission – a Royal Enfield, which was stuck in the wetlands, covered with salt over two feet deep, braving water and cold winds for over 7 hours, started roaring in just one kick! This is some machine!

In the image below, you see smiling Mauro and his shining Enfield the next morning – it was the cleanest of all bikes – two mechanics serviced it the whole morning!

Later in the next morning’s briefing, Mauro expressed heartfelt gratitude to the RE leaders and the Band of Brothers! An experienced rider thought he was, he acknowledged that by riding to such a dangerous spot, he made a terrible mistake. Learning for all riders and readers, this should be.

In all my experience of riding in the worst terrains, I can tell you that a good rider is not one who only rides his bike well. He is one who takes utmost care of the surroundings and is mindful of the dangers of ignoring the Mother Nature. Mountains call us, allow us to ride atop their chests, tolerate us to surpass them – they do. And they host us the best when we respect the rivers, the winds, the snow and the hills, without trying to play them down.

As they say in the mountains, only expert swimmers drown, only skilled riders fall, only fittest of all fall sick, once the ego takes you over…

I am sure the above incident would help others absorb – be friends with the Mountains and the Mother Nature, don’t try to tame them down. It just doesn’t work…

Sadly, I couldn’t click any images of this magnificent lake. Earlier, I didn’t want to go and later when I was forced to, I neither carried the camera nor the intention to click any! Yet, I would like you to enjoy the panorama; so, sharing a superb image from a travel website bharatbooking.in.

On the Day 13, we rode towards Keylong…

To be continued in the next blog…

 

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‘Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Lodakh…’ was written in 8 parts. You can read all 8 parts of this travelog here.

Published during July-September 2012, this series of travelog – ‘Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Ladakh…’was recognized by Ghumakkar.com as their Featured Story of the Month, October 2012.

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2 Responses

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  1. Hi Rishi,
    Read all your motorcycle diaires.Full of enchanting landscapes, rough roads, exciting company, chilling weather and thrilling lessons for all those who look forward to such adventure. A trip of a lifetime to be cherished forever.
    Thanks for sharing 🙂

    anu

    September 9, 2012 at 1:00 PM

    • Thanks, Anu. Glad you liked reading it as much as I liked being there.

      RRGwrites

      September 9, 2012 at 6:20 PM


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