Presented are accounts of my travels. As of now i've put description of Trek of Pin Parvati Pass (~5000m or more), Ladakh trip through Manali-Leh highway and then visits to Pang Gong Lake and Hemis, Thiksey monasteries and 28day Basic Mountaineering Course conducted by Nehru Institute of Mountaineering, Uttarkashi.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Pin Parvati Trek

Day Zero- Part one - Sept. 02, 2006 - It was all hanky panky, event the sky in Delhi. It was pouring like it had decided to make us ponder on our trekking plans. And it did it successfully as plans to change the trek from earlier thought Garhwal mountain trek of Gangotri-Tapovan etc., were mounting as rain continuously poured outside the window of our bus towards Dehradun from Delhi. We did reach Dehradun but already Lonely Planet guide of Trekking in Indian-Nepal Himalayas had helped us find a new trek in so called dry region of Spiti, the trek would be Pin-Parvati Pass trek. The trek passes over from the Kullu region to Spiti Region and its ending near Kaza give it my hands up, with a chance to be in Kaza.
As soon as we dropped out of the bus near railway station, we went ahead in search of Arora Hotel, which was never to be and it turned out to be Ahuja Hotel, thanks to Harsh's confusion we had a round about in this region with our rucksacks on, which were still not offloaded. At Ahuja's we had plenty of food as lunch and we soon went in a hotel room to offload some stuff from each rucksack, more a rearrangement of stuffs and offloading of some stuff from our own body and if possible a bath, which would be elusive here onwards. By this time we had enquired that bus to Shimla departs at 0030 hours. We had our dinner at Ahuja's, Dal Makhani and Roti being the main attraction with my demand of curd being fulfilled as well.
We reached Bus Stand which is outside the city and then waited for the bus and catching up with reading on the trek from two books, who would guide us throughout the trek, photos would helps us when we would try to lose our way. Books were -
1. Lonely Planet guide on Treking in Indian-Nepal Himalaya
2. Treks in Indian Himalayas - Harish Kapadia

The weighing machine near the bus counter had a nice day as all five of us took our weight individually and our rucksacks had their weight taken as well with a result being that my bag was weighing much more than anyone was thinking. It was around 19kgs with vikrant's and adi's bags hitting the 21kg mark.

I simply do not know how the bus ride was and neither does anyone else has any idea about the same, because we all had hell of a sleep throughout, maybe Ahuja's dal makhani did some trick. For me personally, it would be top three sleeps for next 12-13 days.

Day Zero-Part Two - Sept. 03, 2006 - After reaching Shimla in morning, our first target was to sit on a commode as soon as possible. Every stomach had a nice turnout at Ahuja and it was showing now.
We quickly checked into a Hotel after trying initially to search for a hotel ourselves and then quickly turning towards what few pimps were suggesting to. We were soon off towards Manikaran in a Sumo.
Just before one reaches town of Mandi, there is a long tunnel on the banks of Beas, which we were told is the longest tunnel of India after it took over from the Jawahar Tunnel of J&K. At Mandi due to landslide on the by-pass road, we had to muddle through traffic jam inside the city roads, which delayed us a little bit. Apparently landslide would stop the bus through which we were returning on night of 13th Sept.
We had gathered almost everything but were lacking in Kerosene and we searched for it throughout our way but we had to fight for it the next day at last.
As we were crossing place called Kasol, we thought that it is some happening place and we decided to drop in the same village for that night instead of Manikaran, which was 4kms from Kasol, But very soon we found out it was a fishy place and it resulted in many debates in days ahead. This place is notoriously famous or infamous for its charas dealings in open. And the place is more like some mini Israel town in India. We found that most of the signboards outside shops were in Hebrew including menu in restaurants. Every person seemed talking to God after being on hallucinating plane and smelling of charas. This place somehow didn't give me a good picture of people or rather tourists from Israel. They seemed to be rude to me, even to the local people at shops. This didn't go well with me. I'm not looking forward for some direct interaction with some people from Israel to modify my opinion.
But a good thing in the same town was that we found a general merchant shop which was selling all foreign made chocolates, drinks, tanned food items etc. We got hold of few snickers and few other things, which acted as our dinner supplements as well as next day's breakfast, as we were highly disappointed at dinner served at some roof restaurant, where the serving people seemed least interested in serving food to us. This behaviour was not new as we had had a glimpse of similar treatment at Ladakh, almost a year back.
The room which we picked was similar or may be more fishy, it was more fishy as it almost had fishes, with a small section of carpet drenched in seeped water. Me and Vikrant took out our sleeping bags while other three shared blankets on a bed. This night would be part of top three sleeps. I slept in one position and was most reluctant to get up in morning, even though Vikrant and Adi would leave early morning to bring Kerosene.

Day One - Sept. 04, 2006 - (Kasol - Pulga- Rudranag)
Me and Harsh got up only when Mitesh issued a warning that Adi and Vikrant were reaching in next 30 minutes, while he maintained that he had tried to wake us up many times before, but i had doubts on that. Anyway we were soon out of the shady hotel of that shady place. But we just moved out of the hotel and onto the street. I'm not sure of others but at least i was watching every creature with piercing eyes and i could find everyone shady, including almost all kids and women included. The place had such an air, I have never sensed or felt smoke of ganja or marijuana or related weeds, but somehow the air was filthy.
Anyway we waited for the guide to come from Jari alongwith a porter. Now we were not really keen on having a guide. I was not sure how tough it was or what exactly the turf is like, but reading the Lonely Planet guide, I was of the opinion that we don't need a guide. But later we would realize without a guide (or in our case guidance ) it was tough.
He arrived as usual late after repeated calls by Adi Seth and jsut before Adi was reaching his boiling point, which we had seen in our last year trip to Ladakh. Now the guide or tourist agent or trekking agent was trying to convince us that trek was not easy and specially during this time with crevasses. And the porter was from Nepal and looked like a bonded labor in claws of that guide. The guide took a hefty money from us and by the look of it we could realize that the porter was not going to get a good share off it. The guide wished us good luck and with warning that beware and don't risk and do return back if you are not able to find way ahead.
Meanwhile I found an interesting news item in one of the local papers that said that there had been Gangotri glacier had a big crack and deluge and engulfed two lives there. We were saved. Was it an omen. Ladakh trip also started with omens and this one was starting with one too.

We went ahead and got on a sumo to leave us near Pulga just after Barshaini. There is a dam being built at Pulga and there was kind of crowd. But we were left at wrong place as we could start the trek from Barshaini as there had been an alternate way built through a bridge on Parvati river rushing and gushing into tunnels of the dam.
As we walked towards Kheer Ganga, the first camp as per Lonely Planet guide, we came to know that there was an auspicious day and some local festival and fare being organized and it was last day. As we were getting used to climbing or walking, people stared at us as we were relatively very late in evening. We kept on asking how much time it would take to reach Kheer Ganga and we got different responses. Soon we came to know that we might not be able to reach Kheer Ganga in evening and might have to camp somewhere in between.

An interesting incident was that an elderly middle aged woman was coming back from fare and she had this to say seeing us, specially my dilapidated state - "Jab itni hi dikkat ho rahi hai to kyun itna vazan utha rakha hai", if you are so much trouble and pain then why are carrying these big rucksacks. I was having trouble at the start, with my own rucksack being exchanged with Harsh's as mine was cutting into my shoulders, even though it must be getting into Harsh also but he was carrying it somehow. I had lost one initial bought in the trek.

As I walked ahead of Mitesh and Vikrant, i was on my own with Adi, Harsh and the porter being much ahead. And as i crossed a small nullah through some rocks and reached slightly up, I saw some rucksacks and then a tent being surrected. And then under a concentrated noisy waterfall, I saw Harsh chatting up with one of the members of the group ahead and I took deep breath that we were going to camp at this place. Place was called RudraNag due to the shape of waterfall like an angry fanged snake. This was told to be the most holiest place (i could not guess definition of the holiest).

There was a group of 2 israeli women and they were going on same trek. They looked well equipped with a guide and 3 or 4 porters. Our main issue was that we were carrying lot of weight and I instantly remembered Onida's advertisement for owner's pride and neighbor's envy. But at present i was too glad to camp.
It got colder as soon sun was out behind nearby hills and we started to take out our tents. We got our tents out in the porch of a wooden hut which must have been used as a dharamshala. Our orange and green tents were out and then next task was to ignite the stove and this would soon become our daily ritual later. We, rather it was always Vikrant- the stoveman - somehow managed to light our two stoves.
At Rudranag, there is a small dhabha in place run by local villager, and we ordered for our dinner to be cooked, so we saved our first fight of cooking. And thankfully we did so as the food was amazing, simple rice and dal and tea later on, but it was superb. Just as food took its time, a group of rowdy villagers made a frantic fight for no reason explained, it was drunkards millee and it gave a disturbing start but somehow effected were Israeli group as they ventured inside the tent and never came out, or maybe it was their trekking style, I would never know. Then came a group of kids, who stripped naked and dived under the small pond created under the waterfall. Not sure what there show as for because they came in and went out and did not seem like taking shower. But it was simply amazing imagining standing in that super cold water. Soon we went for dinner and Mitesh's feasting was continuing inspite of his cold getting more severe every day but he was holding on nicely. After the dinner we took tea and suddenly found Mitesh inside the kitchen right in front of fire place even though I had teary eyes because of smoke but Mitesh had trouble and he was feeling terribly cold and not feeling well for sure.

Sleeping arrangement started that day with Vikrant, Harsh and Bahadur in green tent and Mitesh, Adi and myself in the orange tent, and the same would continue till our last tent settlement. I slept decently though the noise of the waterfall was waking me up regularly and then i felt like some water droplets have entered the tent in the night and i got a little scared thinking about days ahead in cold. Same kind of noises of water falling or flowing would accompany us to almost all the camps.

Day Two - Sept. 05, 2006 - (Rudranag - Kheer ganga - Bhojtund)
We woke up to find that sun was out on top of hills and outside it was a little colder with wind hitting us. I was soon ready for the first thunder and frantically searching for right place to relieve myself. I could not wait longer and Adi was giving me company nearby and we could not go much away from the hut and put it on the nature to care of the matter.
Feeling of cold water left hands jammed and I felt like need to get the gloves out but thankfully sun was out soon on us to make us feel right. We quickly packed our tents and outtng everything in were ready with rucksacks. We drank tea with biscuits and soon packed were on our way towards Kheer Ganga. The way is just continuing towards direction of sun along the path going near the dhabh huts and then crossing the bridge over to other side and true left of the river. The climb now was arduous for sure. A local lady was climbing ahead of us carrying bottles of cold drinks and other goods for dhabha on way to Kheer Ganga. Adi took the lead and climbed ahead as I struggled on way towards first break near a dhabha and had some water and biscuits. I knew it was the worst idea for at least myself to start walking or climbing without having a decent breakfast. It simply pegs me down not just for some time but the whole day.
We started onwards and were soon on our way and reached Kheer Ganga. There is dhabha right at the corner, reached after a decent climb and then way on the right leads towards the hot spring and way on the left goes towards the trek. We put down our rucksacks down and quickly asked for some food to pe prepared. It was to be egg maggi and it was not a good choice as I would later find out. It takes a long time for things to get cooked in mountains. And as we waited, there was beautiful kid, daughter of the people taking care of that dhabha and she was cutie and surely like the kids who put the advertisements colours.
Me and Bahadur stayed back as rest went to take bath in hot springs. I enjoyed the sun and pondered over something. One usual question comes in when ever i put myself to some physical condition that Why am I doing it? and most of the time, no sorry, everytime I'm unable to find an answer. I was here for nothing, may be just to test myself or maybe just to be with friends and definitely I had no reason for so called environmental reasons. And i was feeling not too great or bad but ok. I guess to enjoy something you need to have your interest in same and I had no such strong feeling and I was unable to find out what else could have been I be doing to be happy or rather simply enjoying, could not find any answer so I was happy here.
All hot bathers came and then we packed up to be on our way. Just before that there was an israeli group of 3 gorgeous looking females and everyone had eyes on them and it was like take as much as you can in your memory as we were not going to see any good faces for rest of the days.
We were soon on our way along the path besides the dhabha and then quickly taking a short climb. Soon rain gods took their turn and it started to pour. Thankfully we had our ponchos. (We made our song - POncho pahuncho kahan pe poncho, bas yahan pahoncho) but ironically we could not find an end to our turmoil on this day. It poured continuously and though it did not effect us in terms of our walking speed or spirits. But trouble came in with lots and lots of mud. Real trouble was taking steps clear off the mud but its simply was everywhere now and stuck everywhere. If that wasn't enough then real trouble came while there was a little height to climb on. We slipped, lost steps, and were on all fours many times. Many times it was help of thin straw, though some times it was nothing but all in mind, but it worked. Harsh had taken the lead in this struggling time but Bhojtund camp was no where in sight. Me, Adi, Mitesh and Vikrant were almost together and we thought that sight of smoke signalled the camp but it was place of gadariyas with their buffalo passing grazing through rains. Soon we wee to find that these buffaloes had created problem for us in terms of digging out all sand in that mud and on the way up for us. Bhojtunda was some hours away, and its very tough to judge the timing and distance told by local people here. As most of the time it was awry with mentioning that Bhojtunda was an hour or so away but it never came for 2 hours. We were tired and exhausted. It was irritating and Adi had moved ahead and I was walking alone with Mitesh and Vikrant behind me. It was all about moving feet ahead and simply doing that and nothing else. Just a few minutes away from the camo, Harsh came back to look out for us and he came back to me after checkin up with Vikrant and Mitesh that they were ok. I might have been in bad shape as I gave my rucksack to Harsh and somehow I was irritated and Harsh was not better and I took myself towards the hut and then it was terrible cold there as sun was down already and colder wind breezed inside and heavy sweating did not help any bit.
I had not taken off my poncho because I was feeling cold and wanted to change thoroughly after taking tea, Harsh was irritated and asked me to remove it, and I unloaded some of my irritation on him. And I sat alone for sometime as every one else moved to set up tents. I changed and felt better in new clothes.

There is decent amount of plane green area at Bhojtund and a Dhabha hut and few other huts used for accommodation are highlight here. Dhabha here is very costly and compared to any restaurant of big city in terms of cost.
A group of people including some sadhus and foreigners were busy singing shivji tunes as they smoked. By this time it was pretty sure that this area was deep into doping.

A lone Korean was also going ahead in same trek. We had met him at Rudranag and he had already camped by the time we reached Bhojtund.

Everyone came and then we took our bag baggages towards our tents. We had already finished a big packet of biscuits and I was liking the salty biscuits. I felt really drained out and it was good feeling to put lots of water and salty items in.

As soon as we reached tent, I felt strong urgence in my bowel movement and took the paper and ran between a natural position between two boulders. It was quick, liquid and drained me out quickly. I had my reservations developing as I squatted and pondered in moon light with wind trying to pierce through. Once done I was feeling decent and had a decent dinner at Dhabha. So far we had not cooked. And now there was no looking back as we could not think of going down the same path from that muddy way. It was common feeling to move ahead.

During dinner we noticed that on the true right of the rivulet down below, there were 5 decent high peaks over huge rock faces, which were mentioned as Pandavon ki Doli. It was mentioned that Pandavas climbed the stairs of heaven from this place. Now coming to know this, Harsh and me were happy that we had seen the whole the heaven reaching places of Pandavas and last year during our mountaineering course we had seen Draupdi ka Danda (place from where Draupdi reached Heaven). Rock faces looked amazing with shine of moonlight, but cool wind was keeping us in check and we quickly retired to our tents and went to sleep.
It was tough time for sleeping as I kept on waking up somehow.

Day Three - Sept. 06, 2006 - (Bhojtund - Thakur Kuan)
We woke up quite late and by the time we came out of tent sun was hitting us quite hard and it was decent hot. The Korean had already brought down the tents and packed up, same was situation of Israeli group and we soon knew that we were not going to catch them any more. (We were half wrong there).

Slowly and not comfortably steadily, we relieved and prepared ourselves for walk ahead. We were exhausted and long wait for breakfast did not do any good. Though our breakfast table gave us splendid view of Pandu Shila rocks with 2 waterfalls coming down onto the Parvati river some 100+ ft below us but sound was rocking. In front of us, people did yoga and one session of dope and then they all went in their way to get ready and departed as we had our paranthas with tea. Sun was putting more UV rays as we started from the way through the hut cafe and striaght slightly down on the same true left of the river. Mitesh and myself went ahead as Adi caught up with us at the new bridge. Now the Lonely planet guide mentions a pulley bridge but this was plain wooden bridge to go across the other side that is the on to true right of the river. We got little confused but could not find any alternate way so we crossed the bridge. Just right after crossing the bridge, there is a slight steep climb and then easy walk all through.

This was the easiest day we had and would remain the easiest of the days in the remaining trek. It can be judged simply from the fact that we overshoot the place from where we had to come down a little bit on Thakur Kuan area and had to back track a little. Way down is the way down towards river, as soon as you see some abandoned steel huts, and also some boulders through which sight of a pulley bridge is present. One needs to cross the river through this pulley bridge to get on the other side, which is the true left of the river.

We scrambled our way in the pulley with Harsh crossing first and then everyone else with Vikrant had his hand cut from different place, as in confusion he put his hands on the pulley railing and pulley almost ran over his finger. It must have ben terrible pain for him. We had savlon with us and then some antiseptic cream with bandage. Mitesh was our doc and pharma all built together, with already medicines were out at Bhojtund itself with everyone taking crocin except me. Surprise surprise I did not take any medicine so far. Even Bahadur was not feeling good and we were very pensive over this fact, because if he had to go back then we would be in slight trouble. Anyway everyone was hanging on just fine if not well.

Just after crossing the river, there is little plane on a slight height from the river and we found a plane area just before a little makeshift hut, which is being used by the shepherds.

We quickly put out our tents as we could see clouds following us and it was getting colder now. We found a decent big stone which acted as support for our stove. It was our first venture of cooking in the trek and Vikrant was quickly at it. And it would become our ritual with tents being put up and Vikrant working on stove with 2 or sometimes 3 mats to act as wind stoppers. We went for masala rice, with readymade masala being brought by Vikrant. The smell of basmati rice brought in new guests. 2 wild dogs came in with one having a steel stopper around its neck for safety with other wild animals. We soon came to know that these dogs were to look after the herd of goats and sheep. We did not find rice much nice to our taste and actually we had miscalculated and rice was more than we could gulp and dogs did some part of cleaning the left over. We were definitely not prepared for cooking. But more now we were losing our appetite, a typical state of mountain sickness. Bahadur had severe headache and had developed cold and rest also took crocene as well, and again I was not the one to take medicine, stomach was holding fine. Mitesh's cold was getting a little worse now and there was cough as well, he would sleep on the one side and use the tent door regularly to take out the nasal stuff and the toilet paper was his best friend now. I could very well remember my last week at mountaineering course where i did the same.

The evening was cold but night was a little better with clouds covering everything. We could see a pass in some distance and we were adamant that that was the on we were to cross but we were mistaken a little bit. But that pass offered a great view in full moon night with moon coming out amidst spared clouds. It was kodak moment that moon provided us.

There was a unique rock face on the true right of the river and it gave us middle finger sign in between with clouds revealing just the top single rock which was long and rest base seemed like a closed fist. It looked perfect as we were in such a state.
On right, we were starting to get view of Kullu Eiger, guess is that its named after Eiger as it resembles the Eiger face. It looked a huge face and we would be enjoying it more closely in coming time.

Some shepherds reached out to us and chatted with us. They gave us some idea about what lay ahead of us and mentioned distances and timings but we could hardly believe it now because of our experience so far, as we always lingered more than their figures. They were quite fascinated with out ponchos and requested us that if we came back, if we could hand over those to them as they needed it regularly while flocking their animal herds.

Day Four - Sept. 07, 2006 - (Thakur Kuan - Udi Thach)
We had went sleeping wishing for a clear morning and we did got that. So far we were getting up only by heat of the sun hitting our tents. We all knew one day Sun would not be waking us up, but at least for now we enjoyed the sun. We had our breakfast and I took sun screen out for first time but I'll know soon that it would not help much.

This day was not for the weak hearted ones. This was the beginning of hard days. We started from green patches on the true left of the river and soon found us among rocky paths which turned to gravel pathways and then sandy single step ways.
I was lost in my concentration of taking steps carefully because on my left I could see river flowing rather decently deep, on right was sandy face very close which seemed like slipping any moment and we getting under the landslide. Suddenly I heard Harsh, who was walking ahead of me, putting his head around a sharp turn and making me aware of taking next few steps very carefully. Sand was already sliding and it was too narrow. Somehow I took it all carefully and took that sharp right turn as we waited for Mitesh and Vikrant to come across this turn now.
Ahead I saw was another trouble. Yes, we were close to Pandu Bridge. (Wish I could use indecent hindi word here to describe the predicament and similar sounding to Pandu).

Pandu Bridge is a huge rock, broken at right places to create trouble over a nullah that join the river from true left of river. The flow was heavy (thanks to good sun) and kind of noisy to instill a feeling of crude adventure. Now this rock can be climbed easily but problem comes in climbing it down as its face was slippery and led straight into the nullah and has only a thin supporting edge. Thanks to Ram Bahadur, I passed firstly my bag and then myself with support of his hand and supporting my foot on his shoe and then running over to other side. As soon as I was on the other side I decided there was no way back now, but I would think again very soon.
Everyone cleared this first hurdle and then we came over to next one.
River needs to be crossed at 10 metres from this point through another rock bridge. This boulder is very huge and somehow supports a fast flow of river down below as well. There are stone ladders to climb up and then climb down and I was too unbalanced that people understood it soon and tool off my rucksack. And climbed down.
I was feeling worse that it was too bad to be there and not able to support own self. Anyway it will go on and on.

With these 2-3 close shaves, we were back on our way but we had lost momentum. Dry winds and full sun made our way slower and we soon decided to camp and not able to guess which place was this. Harsh went ahead to check it out that if we were close to Mantalai or some other campsite. But this was Udi Thanch as confirmed by some shepherds, for whom this was last point. Harsh also saw a newly born lamb. Next day we would see some taking the road down hill.
This place is close to river where river flows very slowly and there are some rivulets making lake type of shapes, so we got confused with description of Mantalai.
This place was very windy and wind was getting colder as the day progressed. It got tough to even set up the camp. Somehow we managed to peg our tents. Water was sandy ( we drank it and didn't care that it might cause troubles with intestines) and new trouble was lighting the stoves in this windy condition.
There are lots of campsites at this place but we being we, we choose the windiest.
Vikrant, the cook, set up the kitchen behind a small rock after trying it out at different places. One stove failed completely, other stove was worked for hours. And we were facing scenario of losing stock of match sticks. And being so pensive we counted our matchstick boxes at our disposal from now onwards.
Wind was fast getting speed and it got colder as clouds started following us. It didn't help cooking and it got tougher standing outside. This was rude as our t-shirts were soaked in sweat due to morning hot sun and now it was chilly and cutting through spine.
View of Kullu Eiger was amazing, we were starting to see 2000m rock face of Kullu Eiger and rock (yes real rock) fan Vikrant was ecstatic and all over the moon (despite it being sunny).
Then we got to see a good goat fight. And it was mesmerizing to see the intensity with which those two were fighting and a third one was trying to intervene.
In the evening another scene was a pony trying to show a mare that he had matured enough but mare was not letting him go. We had a hearty laugh at that scene.
We had decent food and we quickly retired to our sleeping bags after having a taste of mouthwash which bit thru tongue. But it was fun.

Day Five - Sept. 08, 2006 - (Udi Thach - Mantalai)
Morning was kind of similar, we made some breakfast and got on our way as slowly as possible. Sky was clear again.
Walk was through meadows and small rocks in between for most of the distance. Then we started to hit 'lakes made through small rivulets' and as we had read its description we were always confused where Mantalai was.
But soon we hit a rock face and it was climb up from here. And walk through these rocks was getting tougher and tougher and then suddenly we came across a sandy patch amidst rock. It was beautiful place with full protection from winds, sun being out and we could see the Parvati river Glacier right in front of this spot with the moraine and glacier making it a very fearful scene. We put down our bags and I even took out my socks and changed t-shirt to relieve myself of sweat. Just then harsh came down from his excursion ahead and up and told us to move as we were supposed to camp ahead and this might not be real Mantalai. More so because there was no water out here. The whole confusion was caused by a painted hand written mark saying 'Welcome to Mantalai' a big boulder.
Now this break caused trouble for me, I got up and went behind everyone slowly and the climb got tougher. We climbed almost 100mtr or so and then it was all walk through rocks.

We actually reached the region behind the moraine and we could see a lake being formed here. Walking ahead we came across Shiv temple and decent size of holy Shivlings or Trishuls spread across an area. Then the way got a little trickier as we had to get behind a rock and the way was of less than a single shoe placing. After that we walked 100-200mtr more and camped.
It was windy and sun was soon behind the mountains. We got on to pegging our tents. It got very cold as the evening descended fully.

We were enjoying our soup before we got on to full food cooking which took time. Mantalai boasts of decent lake and water flows very slowly and it was sandy again but we managed here as well. I was fine except that I was feeling cold and I stayed put inside the tent for most of the evening.
On the east we could see the sharp curved peaks which we used to check out from way down below. It was a different view from here and our initial picture of the pass had to change as we came to know that we were going to make a sharp left from way just ahead while the 'pass', with some snow clad way up in mountains, we had imagined for so long lay straight ahead.

Day Six - Sept. 09, 2006 - (Mantalai - High Camp ?? (o, 1 or .5 not sure))
Evening and night were peaceful, I had a good sleep. I was too engrossed in sleep and was only woken up by Harsh who had another bad night. Harsh was calling out to catch a good scene of moon between two peaks and sun hitting the top of those peaks. But I was too lazy and handed him my camera to catch shots but I was too late to catch the scene myself.
We again started the day at our leisure but choice of not going for breakfast was really bad one, specially for me. I had the bad feeling of weakness after taking few steps.
Myself and Vikrant were walking way behind others and when we caught up with others, we were a nullah apart. It was significant because because the water was damn cold and as soon as i stepped in I felt like my fingers are frozen. Somehow I managed to cross it and then quickly dried up and saw what lay ahead.
We had caught up a large group of bengalis, bangaloreans, delhi wallas all climbing a steep climb ahead. It was way too steep as I could see some coloring hanging for as high as I could lay my hands on.
But it would prove to be more difficult than I could feel. We soon started and came to the foot of the climb and started climbing. Adi and Harsh were leading the way and crossed everyone in the group ahead of us.
But I was struggling. Vikrant was taking it slow with his knee pain troubling him sometimes. Mitesh was accompanying him.
We soon came up to a level where most of the people were taking rest for a while. I was pretty much exhausted and asked for electral. It was first symptom of weakness. I hated the idea of skipping breakfast now. It was worse as I saw another steep climb across the orange yellow rocks which were tumbling as well with some one taking wrong steps. I could see Harsh and Adi had reached top a long while ago, but I was not sure about if that was the point we needed to reach or there had to be another climb, because there were climbs after each top we reached. On the right I could see a huge icy, mud dropping like a waterfall from a distant cliff rock face. That was scary if we had to come across some thing like that. But anyway we started our climb and somehow managed to reach a point, where I could see Harsh and Adi waiting for us, disgusted or pitying us, not sure. But I guess we all were exhausted. Not sure about others but I was hugely exhausted and sat on a small rock amidst this sandy patch, as others went to talk with guides going with the other group. I was not sure if I would be able to take another walk and reach next cam site. But I was relieved to see that irrespective we were making this as our camp site. We didn't know if this was High Camp Zero, one or point five or what site it was. Other group went ahead and camped at next camp site where ever that was behind the rocks some distant away on the way towards the way to the pass and near to ice.

I was doing good after having drank some good amount of water. We all had electral water and I had lots of plain water. I felt really good after some time and was decently active compared to previous days. Soon the clouds which were following us had covered the area and we saw two Himalayan Baaz flying in air as relaxed outside for good amount of time.
Water was same sandy out here with small rivulets flowing close to our tents. We again had Pasta and this was not to the liking of Harsh. For me, I was tasteless as of now and tried to gulp as much as possible.
We decided that we had to wake up early and try to cross the ice field and then the pass right behind the other group or it would be really difficult. So we all retired early and tried to catch sleep.

Day Seven - Sept. 10, 2006 - (High Camp ?? (0, 1 or .5 not sure) - High Camp something)
We woke up early but not as early as we had thought.Me and Harsh did our ablutions acts in moon light. It was cloudy and slightly windy but not too cold. Just as we all were out of our tents, we saw the group ahead roped up and crossing the ice field. Our first thought was we are late and just hoped to trace back their steps. We were noticing their path and hoped to follow that track.
Finally we had our musali breakfast and packed up and were on our way. Harsh had an abnormal bowel call and stayed back as we moved ahead but we were too slow and he caught up with us. We were actually very slow as we somehow found way of getting on to the ice field through moraine and ice covered rock jungle. Once on the ice field right at the footsteps of rocks face, we started tying ourselves up and called it rope up. It was actually a joke with 10meter rope tying up 3 people. The arrangement was made for saving us from any crevasse fall or rather mainly any fall on ice field, but it was more of a psychological move rather than a tactical move. But it worked with minds and we were more confident of stepping onto ice field. Harsh, Mitesh and me were tied in one group and we led with Bahadur, Adi and Vikrant in the second group. In place of ice-axe we had two skiing/trekking sticks and one or two wooden sticks, again more of mental support. We started tracing the foot steps. Somehow there were steps visible in melting ice and thankfully there was no sun so far, otherwise we would have been long gone and lost somewhere.
We moved towards left and then right to cross a ice depth and then we were out in open ice field. It got more slippery as we had moved to solid ice now and bigger worry was we could not see any footsteps now or whenever we saw they were leading us nowhere. Time was 11am by now and snow blindness was starting to take effect. So far I had only followed Mitesh's footsteps mainly because there was no scope of looking elsewhere and more over not to entangle ourselves as distance with rope was hardly a hand's distance. Harsh had trouble and he used Mitesh's goggles for 5 minutes but then Mitesh started struggling and Harsh then used Mitesh's voice as guide. But we were lost.
At this time we decided we would spend 20minutes to search our way, otherwise return back. This thought was scary as there was no way we were prepared to climb that steep descent and then those two ass breaking bridges. Even the thought was scary so we diverted and focussed back on finding our way out. Books were out, pictures were matched, positions changed, directions targeted and finally
we found footsteps. There were so many that we could not miss those now and headed towards the pass. We stepped up our pace when we were on snow as it was melting very fast and our worry was crevasses lying ahead. It was tough walk now with loaded up with clothes as it was sunny.

We soon saw the pass on our left with flags fluttering, but first we had to climb throw loose stone wreck. And as we reached the pass (Pin Parvati Pass) the bitter cold wind sent the chill through every skin up there and joy was short lived. We rested our backs supported by rucksacks and tried to save ourselves from wind as everyone had taste of chocolate which never tasted so good. I had no courage to fight the wind and click pictures. Vikrant was on click spree and got some great shots.
Now it was way down hill from here onwards and we first to avoid crevasses. Harsh, Mitesh and Bahadur tied up and went ahead as Vikrant, Me and Adi followed suit after a few minutes by roping up. Way was easy to find with footsteps leading us, but just a few steps ahead we met our first friend crevasse and it was easy to cross but our task was not made easy by lack of rope distance we had amongst ourselves, so we always cared about that. We crossed many crevasses and were soon away from snow and took a break. Smiles were back on each faces as we enjoyed and wished everyone on crossing the pass. It was a great thing for everyone I suppose as we were dead tired and bodies cracked and we fought well mentally and came thus far and crossed the ~5000meter pass unguided. We soon ahd change of clothes to lighter ones as it was dry hot sun weather in Spiti valley and it reminded us of Ladakh trip by looking at the ranges.
We were on soon lost again but thanks to Harsh we back tracked and went on the right path down hill, through another rock jungle and crossed a nullah to make us believe that we were on right path. Harsh had a wish to shave and wash his head at some 4000metre place and this seemed right place, but he saved it for later.
We camped at another site which was not clearly mentioned in any of the books but we were some where near to the right camp site specified in book. We were somehow intrigued that how come we could not find any of the members of the group ahead as we didn't think we were so slow but we indeed were slow I guess.
This was very soothing site as we tasted sweet water and there was no more sand now and we enjoyed it thoroughly. I took up cooking charge for some time. I was so thrilled with the water that I must have sipped in many litres that days. We could see snout of a glacier on our left, most probably of the Pin river or a nullah merging into same river.
Somehow we soon went to sleep, hoping to start early next day to catch up with distance ahead.

Day Eight - Sept. 11, 2006 - ( High Camp something - Mudh)
We got back on our schedule of starting after the sun rays had touched us. It wasn't easy here as there were some mountains blocking the sun here. Any how we started and this day turned out to be longest walk. We started at aroung 8am or 9am and finished the day at 5pm, after having walked over 35kms.
We started off entering well into the Spiti valley after crossing the nullah well intot eh morning, with mountains giving us different views. Some times shades of green being turned into shades of maroon and then hard rock faces of sand and brown. With we settling for a decent pace on the true left of the river, we walked and walked, sometimes through barren rocks, at times through one step sandy path way, trying to scare us through its slides occurring once in a while.
We soon reached a site that looked like a camp site with some hut across the river and a wooden bridge and then a huge bridge to cross the river with a good path forming, that was road being built. As we reached camp site we recognised familiar faces from the group that was ahead of us. But we thought it was good to continue if there was any campsite slightly ahead as we had some momentum now. We came to know that it was only Mudh village we can reach. So we started off with hoping to cover the distance in 2-3 hours all along the road.
We filled our water tanks quickly and soon were welcomed by gushing water. This was the most troublesome nullah we encountered.

Harsh was on his motto of crossing the water bodies without getting his shoes wet and also all while stepping on to rocks and stones. He ventured out to find his way as I decided to cross it mid stream and already took off my shoes. But it was only after Bahadur had crossed it that I could muster courage to step in the water and as soon as I stepped in I could feel that I was being blown away by water. And it was Bahadur back to hold me take me to other side. Harsh had encountered it successfully using his long legs commendably to great use. Rest all took my route.
But walk after this one was straight non-stop walk. I stepped up pace, with Adi close to me. But soon blisters hit me and more severely Adi. We were struggling but just kept going. Very few words were shared and I kept on thinking why were not speaking but it was best the silent way as we were just keeping it going. I'm not sure how everyone kept going but I's sometimes counting steps taken, then I would look out for the village in sight or mountain ranges or try to concentrate and hear sound of air or river flowing way down, and then I would lost count and then come back to same things. Finally we sighted the village and it indeed was a reprieve, but short lived as this road's end was no where in sight, every turn had a next turn waiting. We kept putting our sore feet on road, across fields now, as we neared the village. As we slowed down as we were about to enter the village, Harsh joined us and we asked for guest house and soon found one and checked in with a dog giving us company to the room along with its owner. We were so glad to finally have quilts and room with a great view.
But there was more waiting for us in form of Dinner. What a marvel it was, dal and some vegetable with rice and rotis and we simply could not find it enough that night and kept slurping. A big groups of Israelis was again present here and by this time I was intrigued what were these guys doing in this part of India. Seemed more like an interest in weeds. Whatever it may be, we were more keen in having a sleep now, after we had made sure we were departing by a sumo rather than early morning bus for Kaza. Somehow I didn't have a good sleep and went up early and ventured out with Vikrant to click some pictures. Village is very small and at corner towards Kaza, the board telling population as 225 souls say it all. It was fun watching a small boy chasing a young bull and yaks strolling in dried fields. Then there was tea and great breakfast in morning, but none could muster courage to take bath in cold so far, that had to wait.

Day Nine - Sept. 12, 2006 - ( Mudh - Kaza - Key Monastery)
We finally moved from Mudh in a Sumo and were soon on our way to Kaza. the whole way seemed like back tracking to Ladakh trip but here we could see some habitants. Pin river gave way to Kaza river and we entered Kaza valley and we were always searching for the place where a very popular hindi movie number was shot. We simply imagined that this or that might be the sand wall against which the hero loaded the actress with so many kisses. But as we felt, we had terrible lips, all dried up and we were very decently sun burnt as well and badly needed to take a bath. We got off at Kaza in main market and Kaza was smaller than expected. We soon found a good place for 2-3 hours stay and taking bath, owner was very helpful as he told us to use the other room's toilet if we needed. We had by this time inquired that Key monastery was worth visiting and bus departed at 5pm. We planned to stay at Key Monastery that night.
Everyone took a hearty bath which never seemed enough and then went on lunch rampage which had already started with attack on kurkure & apples. Lunch was bad experience and we were soon on the bus stand.
During all this we bid good bye to our porter Bahadur, it must have been a new and great experience for him as it was first trek for him.
It was good feeling to be back in civilization. And I was soon back to senses and wanted to know who won the US Open Tennis, did Federer did it or not. I was less surprised by coming to know that Federer had indeed won the title but I was more surprised by fact that 4-5 people in a shop were discussing about Federer, that this guy has made this record and that record. This was unexpected and that too in this corner of India. I was really glad to know this and was soon very positive that we were growing towards having more information. It was heartening fact that people were discussing sports, though we could not find any english paper there.
We were soon back on the bus stand and watched a very small kid enthralling every one with his run and shouts echoing. He was in full enjoyment mood and we were enjoying it and I guess Harsh even got a small video or clicked few pics of the guy.
Soon bus arrived and we were on our way towards Key Monastery, after loading the rucksacks at roof top of the bus. It takes about 20-30 minutes to reach there. Fun was that we were offered fresh peas by some one just boarding somewhere on the way. Thing to notice was how close these people feel together in these hilly regions, where there is so much fight for water and even air. People share small things and share joy in smallest way possible.
We were soon left by bus on the footsteps of the monastery and Harsh had his finger cut for unknown reason while taking out the rucksacks. We met a group of foreigners and Indians coming out from monastery and we told them our about our trek and it so happened that they were from and we were inclined towards writing our travelogue for sure and here it cometh.

We entered monastery, it all seemed so peaceful that we felt it was deserted and prayers had just ended. We were told to keep rucksacks in rooms and then join monks for dinner. We soon had a monk giving us company as we had dinner of thukpa, with him letting us know details regarding Budhist education and working of Key Monastery. This was mildest food we had was healthiest for sure. But Mitesh's stomach felt otherwise the next day, rather same night as his bowel started throwing up (rather throwing down thanks to gravity). As soon as i saw those beds, i had a good feeling and I indeed had a great sleep.

Day Ten/Eleven - Sept. 13-14, 2006 - ( Key - Manali - Chandigarh - Delhi)
I had gone to sleep as other were discussing something and I was first to woke up, except Mitesh who had bad bowel movement and was struggling to take care of nose, throat and now stomach. We moved down to take breakfast, which we took in the kitchen of the monastery. We were served with hot salted tea as well as another tea along with what felt like flour. It was tough to gulp that all and i tried my best but I guess only Harsh enjoyed the meal.

Harsh and Vikrant went to visit inside monastery and by the way we missed the prayers as head monks had to visit the local village to pray for a local old man who was sick and prayers were organized for his well being. Mitesh kept lying down in the room and Me and Adi Seth were getting bored by now. So we told Harsh and Vikrant if we can make a move toady itself.
Somehow we made a move and went down to local village. And there Harsh and Vikrant went to Kaza to get Sumo for Kaza or if possible Manali. It was 1pm and we doubted if anyone would be ready to leave for Manali at this hour. But as we killed time sitting along side an old age home at Key village, Mitesh, Me and Adi Seth, were surprised when Harsh and Vikrant came up with vehicle for Manali and we were suddenly so happy. Way towards Manali was spent taking on apples, fruit drink and then anything that came our way. Our famished stomachs were seeking refills and surprise surprise Mitesh had everything going fine now, as if his body was waiting for this ride back home. The way has some amazing sights of peaks of Himalayas, many 6000mt plus and scenery is amazing almost all throughout. We joined Manali- Leh highway at Rohtang pass and we remembered our bike trip last year.
We reached Manali by 8pm and after coming to know that final bus for Chandigarh was departing at 9:30pm, we went to an acquainted restaurant from last time and had decent dinner. Once on the bus, most of the people were asleep but somehow I didn't get good sleep and we came to full senses at Chandigarh and then on way to Delhi on another bus and leaving all cold clothes to rucksacks and bid byes to each other at Delhi ISBT and had some laughing memories of our tremendous trek.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Heaven... Ladakh

Heaven.... please replace this word with Ladakh.
Following is the chronicles of the journey we (a group of 5 guys) took in August 2005 to this Country of Mountain Passes. (La-dakh means Country of Mountain Passes).

It might be coming late but I’ll try hard to send my neurons back and recall everything.

Group : Aaditeshwar Seth (Adi Seth) , Aayush Seth (Dude), Harsh Raju (Harsha), Mitesh Jain (Mitwa) and Aditya (Myself)

Day Zero:
Me and Harsh arrived in Delhi from Bangalore. After landing at airport we went for a game. Game was to reach Harsha's house in East Delhi by bus. So we went looking for Bus Stop near Airport. We walked almost a kilometer, loaded with our backpacks. We both like summers so it was fun but fun was short lived as there wasn't any bus. Finally a bus came from somewhere and we got onto it to get a ride till Som Vihar at RK Puram as we were advised that we would be getting a transit bus from there. After waiting for an hour or so we finally had to take an auto, and got Auntie’s (hash’s mom) daant as dessert with our growing hunger. On the bus stop we met a man who was serving in Delhi Jal Board and he had many nice things to say about life in general like Drinking is bad habit. And as nature was listening to him, just then a man heavily drunk fell from his bicycle and was simply lying on the road. This good man went to pick him up and somehow managed to pick him up and took that drunkard to the roadside, whereby the animal in him went berserk and he lashed all abuses at this good man. I guess drunkard's wife might have survived that day's fight at least.

Finally we reached home and Aunty ji had a superb dinner made and we just galloped everything in sight and went to sleep tight as our rucksack.

Day 1:
Me and Harsh felt the August heat hitting us as we moved from Harsha's home in Delhi. We were going to ISBT to book tickets for next day to go to Manali. We were joined by Adi Seth who had arrived from Lucknow the previous day. The Himachal State Transport has two Volvo luxury buses operating in evening but those were booked and we got last seats in normal bus departing at about 8pm the next day. ()
We were meeting Adi Seth after 2 years and he this time had this well built body clearly showing time well spent in Gym and climbing. And he was balder than ever before.

By the way we cherished the Delhi Metro ( from "Welcome" station to Kashmere Gate station on its Red Line. (Imagine a station named Welcome). Well this Metro is the best I've seen comparing it to New York, Kolkatta, Rome or Milan metros I had experienced. Metro has simply taken Delhi city miles ahead in terms of its infrastructure and public commuting. (
We took the Metro for our return journey as well and our rucksacks were thoroughly checked by Delhi Police coming up with strict security for Delhi Metro. Task was toughened as Adi Seth had brought Tents and 4 sleeping bags and mats from Indian Mountaineering Federation (IMF, yes this is better IMF!!!) office at Benito Juarez Marg. (
Our plan was to maybe get a trek and also be able to camp at any site with our tents.
We were oblivious that our airy plans would crash land soon.

Day was more or less spent eating a lot and then taking rest in hot humid day. And our talks with Raju from Hardev Motors confirmed us that we are going to have one helluva bike ride from Manali - Leh. And we all went to sleep with this same dream.

Day 2: Mitesh arrived home in early hours with his flight landing late night. And we all watched mountaineering videos almost whole day and went through all his paraphernalia he had brought from US. We again had awesome lunch thanks to aunty. We took a taxi to ISBT and met Ayush (cousin of Adi and who would later be named Dude by us). We loaded our rucksacks and other camping gadgets in the bus and went to the last row and waited for bus to catch some speed on National Highway as soon as possible. As it caught speed my neurons sped fast towards sleep and was only broken as bus stopped at some Dinner Place. But we were all loaded so heavily with our lunch that we had lots of water and cold drinks.

Day 3 : At least I can't recall when we went past Chandigarh or Shimla, I woke up early next morning only to find we were very near Kullu and bus stopped for a quick breakfast. And this was really bad time for me. As I was experiencing vomiting sensations and it didn't let it stop there and I did let it flow. Every body started asking what happened? Mountain sickness? My answer was short, I need a place to shit. Problem was it becomes difficult for me to travel if I'm heavy on stomach in mornings. So I found a place and let it go boom boom. 5 minute later I had a new problem, how to wash my hands. Now I’ll leave this detail to myself, but believe me I was clean.
We moved on and I was doing great after my cleanliness drive.

Himachal is beautiful from its very beginning. If I say it is a totally hilly state, I guess nobody would prove me wrong :-).
After reaching Manali we called up hardev Motors as were planning to leave as soon as possible and be on our way. Our dream short lived as bikes we were supposed to go on were undergoing recovery phase and we soon realized it would not be possible to leave before evening or simply put it next morning.

Bad times had started.

We took a room and dumped our bags and headed for lunch after washing our faces. We ate like pigs and liked the weather. In between we tried on bikes as to how would it feel. actually Harsh, Adi and Mitesh tried bikes as they were the riders. I and dude were pillion riders. We were trying to get 3 Enfield Bullets. One was 500CC. Finally bikes got ready late night, in evening we took 3 bikes for a ride on the road we were to follow towards Leh, to get a feel of it. Few corrections were done on the bike.

And at same Motorist place, we met 4 people from our college and they were our juniors. They had a bigger plan to ride through Leh and come back through Srinagar route. As fate would have it, thanks to them meeting us, they also would end up doing something else.

Day 4: Though we had promised ourselves that we would be up as soon as possible, we could only after 4am and hanky panky started packing and loading our bikes with rucksacks and still empty cans meant for petrol. We could get out only by 6am. Mitesh's mom called up and we were remembered to take care. And now even I was having doubts over this trip as things were really getting awry. We reached the Petrol bunk and had our tanks filled up till it dropped out. But it did flow out from one of the bikes. It started dripping out slowly and then it was free flow suddenly.

We had problems even before we started now. We called up Mr.Raju as other group had developed problem as well in one of their bikes. We were feeling duped and doomed. But we tried to have fun and enjoyed bread omelet at the Taxi stand looking at all people around. It was fun how a traffic policeman negotiated with an ass (animal ass mind you) as it tried to enter a road which was meant for only tow wheelers. It was fun how the policeman negotiated with the animal and finally had it out.

By 10am we were on road fully loaded. We were enjoying the ride though we had an inherent fear that bike might fail anytime as none was having a comfortable ride. It felt nice to enter into clouds and we took our first pee break in between the misty clouds. And soon met a small traffic jam and passed Marhi village. We were just 5kms up on our way towards first pass on our journey - Rohtang Pass and the bike Mitesh was driving and I was riding pillion, went fuss. It was literal fuss, we somehow kick started it and went 2 more kms and later would cry for these 2kms. As it went total bust and would not start now. It was 500cc bike and was relatively heavily loaded and pushing it was Herculean task for both of us. And rest 2 bikes had gone ahead of us as well, we didn't have a way to call them back. We took our mobile phones and astonishingly network was working there. We called up Mr.Raju and instead of any help he was asking how why the bike is busted. We were pissed off and literally pissed on this not caring about any Delhi tourist going past us in their luxury cars up towards Rohtang.
After sometime Harsh came down and came to know our position. And great thing when such things happen we are laughing aloud instead of being pensive. We had a hearty laugh and wasted as much time as possible. Finally we all came down to Marhi village as Me and Mitesh went our way on this busted bike sometimes pushing this road roller and other times riding it downhill.
We were told by Mr.Raju that it was raining heavily in Manali so no person could leave to service the bike. This just led us to a heated discussion and frustration was oozing out with high tempers. Result was that we took a room in a restaurant where we could stay overnight and wait for someone to arrive to service the bike.

In afternoon I saw a bus pass by and I was bewildered to see the sign board mentioning Delhi - Leh (via Manali), I said WAT!!!! Thankfully bus stopped in Marhi at a restaurant and we ran to enquire about it.
Yes bus was indeed going to Leh and we asked the bus conductor about its timings to reach Leh and next topic of discussion was how come this bus can reach Leh by next day.
Major relief was that if at all we continue our journey we have bus at our disposal. Adi declined to hop onto bus as he didn't like the idea of getting transported from one place to another sitting inside a box. There was a big argument for bike vs. bus vs. train vs. car journey and final result.
We were to reach Keylong and me and Ayush would continue journey in Bus and Adi, Mitesh and Harsh would carry on bike. And the busted road roller or 500cc bike was getting dumped and Hardev Motors be told about the same.

Day 5:

It was raining since last afternoon and Marhi was coldest place and I could not find the reason. It was told that it was sub zero in the night and I could feel more. We more or less kept ourselves bound to our room and were asked to vacate as some important customer was arriving. And we decided to move as soon as we could see sun showing itself even though briefly.
Me and Ayush pitted ourselves in a Sumo and most of the luggage landed at Sumo's top, so that bikes could ride as cool as possible. Sumo stopped at Rohtang Pass and it felt like only we were the two passengers left.

We were still not right at the pass, somewhat below that and waited for our bike riders to reach. At a distance we watched them reach and we started again after sharing hi's and if everything was alright. We stopped for a moment at the Pass.

Rohtang pass is almost 55kms from Manali and is a gateway to splendid Lahaul valley.
We could see snow on the way and it had turned ice and was fast melting away. Rohtang is somehow a very popular destination specially for delhites and I could not find a good reason for it because actually beauty starts after you pass the Rohtang Valley. In general there is a heavy crowd in Rohtang, many people selling kesar etc and tourism industry blossoms here. Mule riding and even snow sledges are brisk business even in this summer. We could see many people visiting a cave like formation at a hill top. But scene on other side of valley was breathtaking as we entered into Lahaul Valley. It was downhill from here and Sumo was leading the way with Bikers following and I was keeping an eye on them so that we don't lose them.

Then an interesting thing happened. Sumo driver talked to a truck driver who belonged to Border Road Organization that builds all roads in the mountains. They had some talk and result was that Sumo driver was getting a decent amount of Diesel at some low price and this Diesel belonged specifically to armed forces. This was real part of scandal I was watching live and as mute as possible.

I jumped onto a bike and left dude alone in the Sumo as we bikers too charge. We waited at a place as we kept looking for Sumo to start. Lahaul valley is very beautiful and I could compare it to lush green southern alps but with more height as Himalayas are huge. We could see a small village on the other side of Chandra River as Chandra River transverses its way through the green valley, with distant snow clad slopes visible as well.

This road to Keylong (115kms from Manali and 365kms more to go to Leh) goes via Gramphoo, Gondia and Tandi villages. Condition of road was bad to worse as bike would go berserk at different times and swerve on its own and it was too tough to balance on these stony roads at different places. I was riding behind Mitesh and we were driving like crazy to reach Keylong as soon as possible.

In between through Gramphoo we managed to see a distant Glacier and an Ice Fall just about to fall off. There were broken nullahs at different places and at one place we felt like it was all over. Reason being, we could see a huge pile up of trucks and other vehicles lined up and seemingly a bridge had collapsed and it was taking time for it to get repaired. We were on bikes and managed to move ahead of all the traffic. On reaching the nullah we could see a way out for at least two wheelers on side of the bridge. We checked it out and crossed it walking. I guess Harsh and Adi took risk and didn't take out their shoes and they rued this mischief later as it was too cold and there was no scope for shoes or socks getting dried up so soon. Anyway they moved on with soggy socks and shoes.

Sumo overtook us as Harsh hopped onto Sumo at Koksar. He was seemingly pissed off by this time, more so by mistake of getting wet. Koksar has reasonable population and a huge road organization settlement as well. Most of the laborers were from Bihar and it was a pity to watch the conditions and hardships they were experiencing in these cold conditions. This was India, people are ready to take in anything with smile on their face.
Koksar bridge on Chadra River is very important and it gets breached many a times during floods. By this time we could see Tibetan flags hanging on the sides of bridges and this would become a routine affair soon.
We got off our bikes and spent some time near the river in the sand after crossing the bridge. We waited for the Sumo to arrive and Harsh would hop onto Sumo and Ayush joining Adi on bike.

The first thing I felt on stopping here was dry heat. Yes it was hot and total dry and we took out our sun screens and other creamy lotions and put on the skin which was going to suffer more. Was it the Dry Desert?

Koksar is about 115kms from Manali. It had many places to eat but we were adamant to reach Keylong first. So we soon followed Sumo but would never be able to catch up with them.

Mitesh, Adi and myself reached Tandi (2573 M) and it is 8kms before Keylong. A big hoarding tells the entire story. "Welcome to Last Fuel Pump before Leh" and Leh was
about 370 kms away. Tandi is the only Petrol pump on the Manali - Leh highway (please forget your usual definition of highway as new lines are drawn in this region.)
All the empty hanging cans were filled with Petrol and fitted and tied strongly on the side supports. Then we started off to reach Keylong, but mind you it wasn't easy to move this hauler called bullet now loaded with additional petrol cans.

Keylong (3350 M) is small town and there was a festival going on when we arrived. There is fork on main road and we turned the wrong way and took right way that gets you down inside the town and we realized our mistake after we had reached the main market and found all eyes on us. Thankfully one policeman came to our rescue and told us to go back. And it was a really bad move because we had moved onto a very dense location with people thronging the market and we were carrying huge amount of petrol. Now the haulers had tough time going up. One of the haulers stopped and would not move at all. Me and Mitesh came up though and Mitesh than went back to look for Adi and Ayush. Thankfully after 10-15minutes they were on their way back. We took the highway and reached Bus Stand and then Me and Adi crossed that as well and were on our way out somewhere. It was chaotic.
Thankfully Mitesh stopped us as he had found Harsh who was dropped by the Sumo person at Bus Stand. There were some heated exchanges as we were kind of lost though we had reached the place we wanted to reach at the end of this day.
We had missed the Sumo driver as he was returning back and we were supposed to pay him as Harsh didn't have any money. Another issue being struggling bikes. And most importantly we were bloody damn hungry. No one had taken anything since we started from Marhi apart from occasional water.

There are few small places where you can find a room to stay. Most probably one can get a bathroom with water heater as well. We badly needed to take bath but first came food. We ordered for food and the person serving us must have got tired of us as we simply didn't stop asking for more and more Rotis though we were realizing that our appetite was decreasing now. (Was it first signal of mountain sickness). And almost everyone was developing mild headache at least.

We retired to our rooms but one more task remained. We had to take 2 tickets for Bus to Leh. Me and Harsh went to check and searched for Bus Stop or ticket counter. To great surprise Transport Office was in a building on the left and we had to encounter several literally vertically upwards staircases which go more higher and only an inch to step on. It was funny and me and harsh simply laughed at this location and structure. The office was a typical local house type structure. Drivers and conductors were having some time off and sipping tea. We checked inside and we given 2 tickets for Leh. Ticket cost was about Rs.350 each and we were given seat number 41,42. Now the funny part was tickets. It was a big pile of paper tickets and not just 5-10 slips but two full piles. It was hilarious as I never had such tickets. Now here we got more information.
This bus we were hopping on was unique in many ways. Delhi - Leh was covered in 2 full days with night stoppage at Keylong. It is the longest distance covered in Asia by State transport Bus. All these came with tag that this Bus Journey is unique taking you through Lahaul Spiti Valley and transition into Himalayas and Zanskar and taking to Ladakh. And it crossed 4000M passes on its way.

Just about 2kms from Keylong, on a slight height adjacent to the road, local dance was getting filmed. I wished we could stop there and catch the ladies in their traditional dresses. Me and Harsh are always mesmerized by beauty possessed by women folk living in mountains. At least we see them and always their faces smiling with their pink cheeks (sometimes sun burnt) are so full of life. As we entered Keylong there were buses full of people going back to their villages as festival's day proceeding had ended. And you know what Harsh and myself were looking at those wonderful cheeks. And also looking for fatso kidos and we found one or two who had this huge golu face, you feel like taking the cheeks in your hands and our favorite face being of baby Jamling Norgay (son of Tenzing Norgay) from the book Touching My Father's Soul.
Now back to Keylong...

Keylong is based on the sides of River Bhaga and has Kadang Monastery some 5kms across the river. It is said that this Monastery was built in the 12th Century. We could see the monastery as we spent our time outside. But none had the courage to roam around now so we decided to retire to our rooms as soon as possible because Bus for Leh was scheduled to depart at 5am and bikers had to follow the bus. We shuffled the bags and luggage so that a tent would be carried by bikers and they would carry 3 sleeping bags as well as huge polythene sheet to cover from rain. And we retired to sleep after taking some medicine for headaches and all.

Day 5 was indeed big as can be seen from description.

Day 6 : We got up early at about 4am and waited and made a line for using rest room. It was a little cold in the morning and little time so had to have a quickie session. We quickly did our brushing and reached Bus Stop and there were about 30-40 people already waiting for bus to arrive. We sipped some tea and took bikes out and tied all the rucksacks, tent and petrol cans to balance the weight on both sides of bike. From here on, Adi Seth was riding alone and Harsh and Mitesh would exchange the other bike.

There were quite a few foreigners also waiting for the bus and later came to know 2 Indian couples were also in queue as tourists. AS soon as the Bus arrived there was a little movement as everyone wanted their luggage to be loaded as soon as possible at the top of the bus. We put all rucksacks at the top and carried a small jacket and cap along with my camera bag and a packet of Parle G biscuits. This was one of the few occasions in life when I had gone onto the top of the bus and then picking up the rucksack and stacking it up against the entire luggage as by this time roof was fully packed. We managed to drop ours somewhere and then also tied those with side railings and somehow made sure they won't fall off. That's another thing that I checked on those every time bus would stop as ride was amazing and quite conducive to bags hanging out and falling off and 2 times we stopped as few bags would fall off.

Keylong bus stop was buzzing with activity in this dark and cold morning. Tea was very tasty and Glucose biscuits were amazing. Tea was like some kind of herbal tea and later we would have Kashmiri Kahwa as well. But at present I was happy to get something in my stomach. I also bought water bottles from a half open shop. It was remarkable that shops were starting to open their shutters before 5am itself. I'm simply amazed by people living in these mountains. They have a tough routine and there would always be a smile and courtesy in their speech.

Bus finally took off at about 5am and as soon as we moved a few meters away it was pitch dark. It was slightly frightening to start with as lights from the bus always were hitting sandy rocks in front and then it would take a turn rapidly. The road was in bad shape, very bad actually. I just wished bikers started as soon as possible but after passing few kilometers I was sure they would not be able to catch up with the bus any time soon. And I was soon convinced that they would never be able to catch up with bus as driver sahib was taking the bus for airy ride. My feeling turned from afraid initially to total amazement at the control he had on the bus, having watched how he was taking on the sharp turns and specially on height gaining hair pin bends.
After sometime I was convinced that there is only one place where bikers would meet us and that was Leh. I was sure of one thing now, Me and Ayush were certain to reach Leh, but I wasn't so sure of the bikers. First, I was serious doubts on the capabilities of those bikes and second it was raining heavily and regularly and it must be tough and I thought they might camp somewhere.

We soon reached Darcha (about 24kms from Keylong and at 3360 m). Darcha is last inhabitant village of Lahaul Region, on this highway. It is a base campsite for many treks in Lahaul range. Bus stopped at one of the dhabhas that come right after crossing the bridge. It was continuously drizzling as Me and Ayush had a decent breakfast of omelet with breads and few glasses of tea. It was getting colder and now I was worried about bikers. I hoped they had jackets but I was sure rain would affect them anyway.

In between, I am not sure about he exact place, we stopped at an army camp. Army was not ready to send any vehicle move ahead because much ahead a bridge had caved in and army people were trying to build an alternate route. This was interesting as vehicles from other side came and told that it is not such a tough as vehicles were able to cross. So a group of people went to ask the in charge but he refuted every one after a heated discussion in such cold conditions. About 15-20minutes later we were allowed to move on.

The highway takes sharp turns and start its climb towards Baralacha La pass through a place called Zing Zing Bar (any chocolate bar makers listening here!!!). Baralacha La name means summit of cross roads. Its said to join Lahaul, Spiti and Ladakh ranges and has 3 rivers (Yunam, Bhaga, Chandra) flowing into three different regions. Baralacha La is situated at an altitude of 4833 m from sea level, and at a distance of 73 kms from Keylong on Manali Leh road. I missed the pass on onward journey and I guess I missed the breathless sensation and any headaches etc as I was in one of the strongest sleep sessions. I didn't miss much though as it was raining heavily at the top and there was no special scene form the pass as it is usually known for.

After crossing the Baralacha La, there is a steep and rough descent and once you reach plain, dhabhas in makeshift tents, welcome you at Bharatpur. It was still raining, rather drizzling now. It was a vast plain area full of rocks, and I thought it was a huge river bed and a delta kind of area nearby was prominent. We had stop there for lunch and again foreigners had their passport checks at the police post. The good thing was I could now see our biker team and they confirmed they had the wildest ride of their lives, as there was no way they could catch the bus so soon. They were all drenched and I climbed the bus roof top to get them socks and other clothes as they were helped by local lady in dhabha who made them sit near the gas stove and offered some woolen clothes. As I climbed the roof of the bus a cool gust of wind ripped through me and I was getting the feel how cold Adi, Harsh and Mitesh would have felt in their moist clothes in this cold weather.

A slight digression, I got to watch an amazing scene. As I was at the top of the bus, my looks wandered to one side of the road and believe me I had never seen so many people pissing all over at such distant places, trying to look for some huge boulder to hide. It was so hilarious and I could not laugh at seeing the naked back of so many people all over the place.

Coming back, Me and Ayush handed over the socks and some other clothes to bikers and headed for the bus. I asked them what's the scene and they were firm that they are continuing but will be leaving after having some hot tea and some food as at this point they looked shaky and some times shivering as well :-). The scenery was great as looking at distant mountains it felt as if some artist had painted the slopes in different shades of brown and grey. The river bed was dark grey, giving an impression as if all black rocks were minced here.

The highway leads to Sarchu now and gains some height again after crossing this huge vast plain river bed. Few kilometers before Sarchu, the landscape has a vast change. One can see goats and sheep grazing in vast green plain fields, then arid mountains as borders at a distant and in between a deep river flowing with banks bearing water marks and giving proofs of sand erosion.

Now the river area was amazing as it left impressions of Grand Canyon and my first reaction was, what the heck this has more to offer than Grand Canyon with these vast green pastures and those distant arid mountains as well. There was more to come soon as we approached the Traffic Post at Sarchu. This marked our entry into Ladakh and we had snacks break here.
Sun was out, it was dry, hot and windy at their limits. I could not resist myself and I too pissed off the cliff on one bank of river and then clicked a bad but interesting painting of a man and woman standing together in their swimwear on the wall of a dhabha. I could not resist imagining someone in swimwear here.

There was petrol carrying truck that had broken on the road ahead and all vehicles passing by had to digress through the sandy area and it made impression of dry desert literally true. We had to go through the same route and it was all sand filled bus that visibility was reduced to a meter or so. Then it was all plain fields for up to 20kms or so on one side of road and banks carrying those beautiful shapes due to sand erosion. Soon we reached the Brandy Nullah , I was a little dizzy so could not relate any story behind this nomenclature and was very late to realize we were in Gata Loops, the famous 23 hair pin bends signify these loops. Thanks to a traffic jam (imagine traffic jam at almost 5000m), I dropped myself out of the bus. But the picture would be deep rooted as I saw laborers completing a stretch of road and were literally drenched in tar coal and in these inhospitable and extreme conditions were in fewer clothes and some were wearing simple slippers. I could not imagine if these people were getting some huge amount of money working here.

Road was soon cleared as was my sleep and we soon reached Nakeela La (4739 m) pass through a shortcut and then descended to pass through Whiskey Nullah (mind you there isn't even water here let alone brandy or whiskey anyway near these nullahs). The road takes sharp turns and then ascents towards Lachalang La (5,065m ) pass.

By this time I had remembered that Road building in this region was taken care by an army unit called Himank and we salute these unit members. Thanks to the encouraging road signs they have put on at different places, one is always waiting to see the next signboard. The messages are like - "Darling I love you but not so fast", "I'm curvaceous, Go Slow", "On my curve, test your nerve" and I hope these are not digressing to the drivers. But I was simply amazed at the person who created these. And this toughest part of the whole highway can be covered with such interesting pastures midway.

After descending from Lachalang La bus made a stop at Pang (4555 M). This is a normal place for people staying overnight or camping with nice tents having rooms cum dhabhas. Pang is 173kms away from Leh. We reached Pang at after noon and still it was half way. It seemed like we would not be able to reach Leh so soon.
We had nice rotis, rice and dal and I remember I ate a lot here again. I had 2 teas again, even though in this afternoon it was very hot and everyone shed off their woolens. I verified the luggage at roof top and could see all rucksacks were in place.

Tibetan flag were flying rapidly at a nearby hill top and I was a little confused as I could not see a way to reach there. Strange things do happen and this was land of surprises.

A little ahead there were hills made of sand rocks and erosions had created holes in those and some famous photographs could be taken here. 7km of ascent unleashed a mega surprise called Moore Plains (4200 M). It is a 45km stretch of plain barren land, where even mirages do not get formed. This land is famous for gusty winds and extreme temperatures in mornings and evenings, thankfully we were crossing it faster through some shortcut. But soon I was getting irritated as this land was simply not ending and bus was going on and on at brisk pace but was not able to cross a distant parallel running truck, which was going on the usual road. There were no shortcuts here and there was no way out from here as well. I was not able to see the mile stones as well so even if we were covering some distance I had no proof and then we entered a sandy patch and were fully loaded with sand all over us. This was too much as this was the place to catch mountain sickness. This isolated place is amazing in itself as one can see distant nomads with their yaks and I was glad enough to see some life here after all. But definitely there is no water and no food for more than 50kms here. This road seemed endless all through this travel and definitely not leading anywhere.

Then suddenly landscape changed and we were making an ascent towards Tanglang La. Road near Tanglang La is all gravel road and sometimes one can easily wonder if there is any road out here. I heard this road gets washed away very often and I wonder it is so easy as it was all gravel road cut out of the mountain somehow and it would often be very difficult if any vehicle comes from front and it would take away moments to reverse and then other vehicle pass and it was always touch and go checking on the sides. I was simply mesmerized by the fact that drivers would do this exercise without pain and I didn't come across any heated exchange in terms of passing or overtaking as one can usually attend a presence in cities. I was waiting for Tanglang La but it would simply not come so soon. This journey was taking its toll on me and I was feeling more and more pensive.

I would later come to know that bikers stayed overnight at Pang in own tent and had their share of worries. They were definitely getting sick though not in serious condition but lack of sleep and fatigue were catching them alongside the height gain.

I had slightly dozed off as the bus halted at Tanglang La. Bus stopped hardly 50metres away from the top pass and as I came out of the bus to take few pictures, I knew something had struck me. It was chilly and wind was hitting straight inside my skull.

Me and Ayush ventured and clicked ourselves against the Tanglang La pass signboard loaded with Tibetan flags and a message written "Unbelievable is not it!" as it mentions it has 2nd highest road on earth.

But the most amazing scene that struck me was the sky full of clouds and clouds touching the mountain peaks nearby. It was one of the most beautiful scenes I have witnessed and it came more perfect in photographs. The sky in this region looks amazingly beautiful and the sun light that falls on the mountains amidst shadows created by clouds presents the picture of heaven.

We had hardly been out for 10 minutes and as I placed myself on my seat again in bus and bus went on a sharp descent, I suffered a severe headache and tried hard to sleep that had deserted me completely.

We are now on our way to Rumtse, a very famous destination as it gives you a feeling that finally you are in Ladakh, even though it is 75kms away from Leh. There was a slight hitch now as we were getting late. Problem for me and Ayush would be to get a Hotel this late and also get a place to dine as expected time for our reaching Leh was 10pm unless there is some road trouble on the way. Thankfully there wasn't any. Near Rumtse, there are fields, wheat crop was about to reap at that time and its dark green and few buds turning golden gave a massive display of splendor in the evening sun. There was everything now, green fields, and sandstone cliffs by side of road, village area and typical ladakhi houses, more and more people in ladakhi traditional dresses, Buddhist stupas. And I liked every bit of it as my headache was doing fine and I was looking closely at each road sign giving me the distance for Leh.

We took a right turn and suddenly I could see lots of lights nearby and I thought this was it we are going to be in Leh soon, but my hopes dashed soon as it was the Army Cantonment well before Leh. We still had 20 or so kms to go. By now it was pitch dark and my hopes of checking on Indus river were totally dashed in darkness. Though I now knew that my image of a marvelous huge river was going to be falsified soon as I would later find out, the river is very thin in this region. It is really remarkable to note that this Indus river had given rise to such a huge civilization famous by its own name - Indus Valley Civilization.

We finally reached Leh after a tea break at Upshi (though I hated it as I wanted to check in some hotel as soon as possible). At the bus stand we were totally attacked by all hotel people or mostly pimp for hotels. I got all the rucksacks down from the bus and we caught hold of a Qualis that would leave us at main market area. We were accompanied by a Spanish couple, who had also reached here by bus. They were also looking for a cheap accommodation. They soon left us on our own, as they realized we were totally unreliable people :-).

It is always a different unique feeling standing in the main market of some new town you are visiting for the first time and the same had gulped me. I was keeping the rucksacks as Ayush went to search for some hotels. But Leh gets dark as soon as sun sets in. It is a very quite town as one should be, but it gets dark too as streets and alleys have no great lightning. Ayush came back running that he could not dare to go deep into the streets.
There were 4-5 guys standing near us and finally we approached them asking if they knew some nearby hotel as we had just arrived and it was now very late rather after 10pm, so if they could help. It was turn of one of the guys to take on us, as he simply asked "Kya muh utha ke chale aaye", meaning( You are here without troubling to make any arrangement ) and our flat reply was yes. Then he simply made us realize that "you are on your own then, why bother asking anyone, enjoy the new place." These remarks were so brutal that I was not at all irritated at his remarks though Ayush was taken a back a little bit.

Ayush and myself then went to search for a hotel room as we were told about 1-2 hotels. We kept on moving and all shops and hotels came along the street except the one we were told to go to. So finally before moving to the less lighted areas we asked someone and were told to simply walk more. Now I was loading myself with 2 rucksacks and mountaineering course at NIM was helping me. I was somehow managing to scamper my face above the rucksack hanging in front of me.

After being told that there was no place, we moved to a very pricy hotel, giving a room for Rs.700 and this was bad, really bad but we were by now too tired and retired to the room and after quickly washing our faces and hands were off for dinner. We went o a decent looking restaurant and some army vehicles standing outside made me feel like this place should be decent. But we were told there was no space even though I could see place for at least 2 guys. I felt like there must be something written over my face that I was being simply denied an entry here. But more was to come later as we would be denied or treated like alien, though peacefully. And always making us realize we had something like dumba** written over our face or something similar.

Thankfully we had dinner at a place and I again ate decently. Then we had our task cut out to call up people who had been nominated as our messengers in crisis. So off we went to a telephone booth. Though I had a mobile phone only network working here was govt run BSNL network, other private operators are still to open their shop here.

Inside the booth there was an Irish Welch guy calling up his home. His talk went like this - "I fcukin met a fcukin nishe American Couple here on a fcukin trek in Ladakh. though all Americans are fcukin stupid but there are some fcukin decent ones among them And they fcukin one amongst those and they fcukin offered me a fcukin working. So come next year I gonna fcukin work in fcukin america. Can you believe this fcukin shit."

I loved the accent and quickly picked up a few lines and his few stress buster lines made an effect into my writing of an SOS mail to friends. I quickly called up 2-3 phones and finally met with one line and asked to pass on the message for 3-4 phone numbers we had agreed upon to contact incase we get separated which we had done successfully now. Though we were kind of screwed up, this English man with his broad and lengthy shape, tattoos and this nice worded talk, had changed my stance and I was at more peace though worried about the bikers now. We retired to our hotel room and quickly went to sleep, it was now acclimatizing time for us.

Day 7 : As we slept bikers were facing a different music. They had reached Pang the previous evening and opened up a tent and 'tried' to sleep there. They were struggling terribly now in this height. Somehow these guys managed to take some rest and then packed everything and started early from Pang.

But trouble started soon and Adi Seth's bike blundered. Soon these guys had hit 100-150 kicks each to start the bike but that wasn't there to budge now. They were passed by a team of bikers from Bangalore and those guys tried to help here. Those guys were professionals and knew much more about the Enfield bikes and their comment was - "How could you people think about reaching Leh on these bikes?" They did some magic trick on ammeter being shorted and some circuits being modified and bike started for once but eventually they said it is a lost cause guys.

Now what? These guys were stuck near the vast Moore plains, a region where you don't see even a mirror image of beings for miles. The land turns white, sand dunes come from nowhere, grass pops out of the blue and then goes off amidst the sand after a brief spell of life, feeling turns brackish from amazement and then back to wonder as one comes across such a unique landscape and I can firmly say I've been there.
Adi was rescued by guy driving a gypsy. His name was Anu and his reply on asking what do you do was "Just this, drive and roam around" and he literally was doing the same. He had started off at 2am from Manali and would land up in Leh at 3pm.

Mitesh and Harsh now had a problem at their hands, disposing off this bike. They were helped by an Army truck that sped past them first but then retreated back to ask these guys. The result being they loaded this bike somehow in that truck like a buffalo getting loaded in a Tata 407 truck. Mitesh was to hold the bike at the back and Harsh was riding on the lone bike. Army men made it clear that they would only be able to take the bike to Rumtse as otherwise they could land up in trouble with their officers. So that bike was dropped at Rumtse. And then Mitesh and Harsh reached Leh on the 'lonely survivor'.

Myself and Ayush checked on different hotels in the morning after breakfast and finally decided on Hotel Ree-yul (meaning Mountain View). I loved to roam around the gullies of Leh. Most of the houses were built with sand walls and this was a totally different architecture, typical of this region. We booked two rooms and were now waiting for bikers to arrive.

We were roaming in main market area when we saw Adi Seth strolling in the street. He was sun burnt and looking in bad shape. He had developed some traits of mountain sickness and had signs of fever and severe headache. We heard his brief story and met Anu also and wondered what a man. 13 hours Manali - Leh. Me and Ayush just had lunch and asked Adi but he was simply looking to drink water and rest. So we went to our hotel.

We had taken two rooms at hotel Ree-Yul, one at the top floor and other one, just a floor below. I was instant fan of the room at top floor. It was a simple room, made of wooden walls on three sides and roof and all around had glass window panes covered by flowery curtains. I liked it because it provided me with hot environment, and as sun was out and room would resembled like a glass house. Somehow I needed a break from cold, even though it wasn't really cold outside but there was chilly wind which made one cold once away from sun. Adi went to sleep instantly as soon as he arrived, probably he liked the room giving his face a break from chilly wind. Ayush and myself slightly delayed his sleep as we asked him the entire story they had been creating the previous day on bikes. He told us how they had torrid time sleeping in tent as they got up too early because they mistook bright moonlight for early sunrise. They had packed their sleeping bags and then had to wait for some more hours. Lesson learnt here, take watch too when going on a trip. These guys tried to get some feeling of time through observing position of moon first and then tried with some constellations. My bikers went on an astronomy ride....

Mitesh and Harsh were having such a ride for sure as they reached Leh somehow and there sun burnt faces told us all. They had tough time in finding the hotel as well so misery was elongated and frustration showing all over the face. Myself and Harsh were unison in our frustration that we had made a terrible mistake in taking this trip. Our philosophical moments had lots of swearing and a common decision that we would not take any trip based on sentiments alone. We would go ahead only if we get a voice to take it up on our own. We all had a decently heated discussion that what went wrong and what should have been done to avoid this utter chaos. Thankfully the discussion moved to topic of future affairs.

We needed to decide how we go ahead now. First, how do we return back, take flight back or go by bus or have another bike ride if possible. Importantly, we had already made a reservation for Manali-Delhi bus 4 days ahead. So, we decided to return to Manali by bus after 2 days, so that we reach just a few hours prior to our Manali - Delhi bus, reducing our waiting time.
Now this gave us 2 full days in Leh. Plan of any trek was ruled out very soon by a very vocal myself and Harsh, simply because we didn't see a single soul in us capable enough to enjoy any trek.
So second thing, was to decide where do we go from where for next 2 days? Again we had plenty of options - take bike or take taxi to roam around. More choice, it seems we are pretty good at exploiting the conditions and getting out conditions to make it more tougher for ourselves to reach upon a decision.
Choices for places to visit were helped by our Hotel owner - Aslam. He was a very good guy and helped us a lot. He told us that we needed to have authority passes to go to any place like Khardungla Pass, Kargil or Pangong Lake which would be possible only tomorrow. Once he told us that our personal presence was not needed at Collector office, we had another thing to decide now to spend the next day and go to neabry monasteries. So we decided to visit a few places the next day and then to Pangong Lake (Khardungla Pass was voted out in favor of lake more because of its photographs and description we heard and mainly because we already had been to 4-5 passes and were simply fed up of passes and moreover we were going to cross those passes again). Hotel owner helped us and arranged for taxi for next 2 days and also in getting us the passes for Pangong.

Third thing in our agenda and the biggest dilemma was, what to do with the bike in Leh and more importantly what to do with the bike lying in Rumtse. Quick decision was made that we will try to arrange to get the bike at Leh if possible. Today evening we were off to dinner. And again we had few disappointments as we were turned back from 2-3 restaurants. Was it something to do with Indians, or was it do with us zombie looking faces or more clearly something printed on our faces. We will never be able to guess that. But it did not leave a good impression. Shopkeepers would not even look at us and if we asked for price of any mask or some local antique item, we would be told such a hefty exorbitant price that we would run away. This was disgusting behavior according to me. We were being discriminated in our own country, this is what is referred as 'reverse racism' because foreigners were treated so well, maybe because most of them would pay any amount and would not bargain like us.

Anyway, we quickly retired to our hotel after sending out mails and calling up people that we were safe and together now in Leh. But then mountain sickness struck. Everyone except me had now caught cold and cough and some feverish conditions. No one was feeling sleepy, it was kind of zombie state for everyone. But we had to get up early morning to leave for Hemis Monastery, so we tried hard to sleep.
Harsh was still in angry mode and I shared his feelings and we both decided that after this, we are not going to get on any trip emotionally. We even discussed, how we could go back as soon as possible, maybe fly straight to Delhi by next flight. Then finally we ended up in sleeping and room which was hot glass house during day was getting colder and colder.

Day 8 : I got up early and checked if there was anyone at reception room and ordered for tea for everyone. I had my daily ablutions and checked if Adi and his cousin were up. Finally we had a quick breakfast and started in a Maruti Van.

We were back on highway towards Manali and we passed through Shey and Upshi. We kept asking the driver about different places we were coming across. We were wondering all the way at this amazing landscape. Even though everyone of us was disappointed at Indus river being such a thin river, but we were amazed at the thin green layer on the banks of Indus river, and then giving way to dry desert area and then rising mountains.

We took a road moving right off the highway near a small electric power generating unit.
Took a photograph of a kid enjoying himself in the canal. Clearly he must have been child of road making laborers as they had some huts on the other side of bridge. Totally deserted area suddenly turned into a green valley with the newly laid road waving through wheat fields on both sides. This road ends at the parking lot of Hemis Monastery.

One has to take a few steps to reach the main entrance of monastery. And believe me, taking these few steps at this height was giving a slight feeling of breathlessness. We took the tickets and entered the monastery. Though we thought visiting these monasteries would be costless, apparently the raising maintenance costs have made them introduce entry fee.
One has to take 5-6 long steps and as one enters this monastery, vertical pole with Buddhist flags and imprints is visible.

Coming upto the main arena, one can imagine the Mask Dance happening here.

Left side is a simple covered wall with paintings in the wall and right side has main building.

Immediate right are the Buddhist wheels. The building has 4 stories and has a basement level as well.

We followed a group of Japanese tourists and take few steps to enter the main building. Walls here are decorated with painting depicting different stages in life of Buddha. We could not get much meaning out of these and entered the main hall after stepping out of our shoes. The main door has red paint and also depicts few more symbols. This hall is prayer room and is decorated with different states of Buddha.

In the right middle of the room is adorned with the pictures of monastery's Lama. Right in the middle of the room, one can see open windows on the 2nd pier. The whole room looked like built on wooden planks and poles. There was pure silence and not even whispers could disturb it.

As we enter the adjacent hall and one adjusts eyes to the darkness and ears to the silence, one can find right in front a Buddha statue in folded leg position.
Feeling of calmness and peacefulness oozes out from this scene. And after a while hymns of prayers performed by monks would simply help in transiting to a pure spiritual environment.

Even though it is clearly mentioned that no camera flashes are allowed few people had to be stopped by serving monks to stop the flash, but things were not helped much as if no one understood what he was saying. But it was slightly different for me as I was always taking picture of a monk as of someone who would remain calm and composed every time. But here we was slightly perturbed and had to resort to raising his voice to stop people from using this camera flash that might be harmful to the Buddha Statue and other metallic statues, which were adorning this hall. The paintings on wall were amazing and depicted different phases in life cycle with historical significance.

We came out and came across two gentlemen who were supposedly some big professional photographers. We deduced this from the luggage they were carrying, which was a bag and it had amazing camera gadgets and I was feeling so ashamed of my camera now. So I hid my camera and just adored the beauty of the building all the while.

We went down and out on main square and after resting for a while went out and decided to move on. We got back in our van and now we were off to Thiksey. On the way we stopped near a road signboard showing the message of going slow as - "Darling I Love You but Not So Fast".

We reached Thiksey and first went for having some lunch as the monastery timings were such that we would have missed the closing time for lunch. So we took a break and just as you enter the road towards the monastery there is a restaurant and this was good. Even though he literally made us take sun bath and was quite late, but food was good we relished it with our driver sahib who suggested a few wonderful local dishes to try and he also explained us what those dishes were. We had nice food and then had trouble in getting off our a**e*. But some how we managed as most of us were excited about visiting Thiksey Monastery.

We were already enthralled by its set up on hill and it looked marvelous, giving a similar picture to that of Potala Palace, Lhasa. It has similar color combination of White walls and dark maroons or chocolate brown wooden doors/windows and roofs.

We went up and moved inside. There was some marginal entry fee and after climbing a few stairs we entered the main arena from where one could either go left or right and halls were few stairs away. We move towards right. Important thing was we didn't have any guide and we were enforcing our own knowledge of every thing and gut feelings were governing our movements that we should go right or left or straight or back. We made the right decision as soon we entered the main attraction of Thiksey Monastery. The famous Buddha Statue which is 2 floor tall and we had reached the top floor.

This is one of the most famous picture portrait of Ladakh and I made no exceptions by clicking the pictures from various angles and thankfully all the pictures came good even without using flash. There was an unique poise about this statue.

It was a calming presence and felt very pleasant to be there. There was a monk who was sitting all throughout in a platform overlooking down the valley through a window. Everything felt so static and still moving and paving way for movement ahead.

We went to a side room where small metallic statues of Buddha and pictures of lamas were kept. There was a wall painted in yellow and maroon colors and I was attracted to this color combination. As I was clicking this wall, I was asked by someone.. hello .. can you see someone there? What is it there that you are clicking pictures of?

I could tell anything but I was feeling there was something there in those colors.

We came out to the main arena and then we were attracted to one European beauty.
She had her head covered with a cotton drape and had a novel elegance in her that had fascinated us. Soon we were out and on our way to Shey palace.

Shey Palace is right on the Leh-Manali highway and it is also perched on top a hill and it must have been right on the banks of Indus.

First view of this palace tells us that it is a ruined place now. Again I was charmed by the ruins, the desolated windows, hollow doors, devoid staircases and hollow rooms. We climbed up the stairs and entered the palace to see that it is not fully hollow after all. We could see two local women and a small kid coming out of a main hall atop a few stairs. They were just closing those doors. We climbed those last stairs and tried talking to the kid.

Mitesh as usual was befriended with the child in few moments. The boy was really cute with those pink cheeks, which had a lollipop popping out from one side and this was making him not to utter any word. But his eyes and his motion of hands said hello to us and we waved back. All these local people are so peaceful and attractive as if their eyes would speak and maybe we can understand as well.

We went up and again saw that except this main hall, everything seems as ruin.

All rooms were uninhabited but I liked those walls and doors made up of sand and had not withered yet. There is stupa up there and we thought maybe there might be something on the other side of it but it was just the steep hill going downwards past that. So we retreated back and on our way to Leh.

Just before leaving we dabbled at taking a photographic shot through window panes and we got this shot of the valley through a window pane.

Then our driver sahib suggested that we visit the Stok palace as well. I was particularly not keen on it as I thought it must be same as this one as all palaces in this region have been vacated and are almost ruins. Anyway we took a diversion and turned left towards Stok. Stok is not far from this highway and soon as one thinks that we are now going to enter the mountains back from the Indus plain, we enter Stok.

As I had imagined this was a ruined palace too but still had something inside and many things were stored in form of a museum.

I didn't go inside the museum as I had found something more interesting. I was able to see a Sparrow after a long time. It is called the common House Sparrow but definitely hasn't been so common for years now. The Indian Sparrow population has really dwindled even from small cities. So I was really glad to have this sight with sparrows finding some grains in the main portico area. Then I concentrated in getting view from small wooden apertures on the side walls.

These were beautiful from outside with dark maroon colored panes on snow white wall and inside these were under porch supported by yellow colored wooden pillars. We had a few pictures clicked of all of us peeking through these openings.

There were green fields and in between golden colored ripe wheat crop standing in this evening sun casted a splendor to the scenery.

Finally we got back on our way to Leh and exchange pleasantries with our driver sahib who was also our guide as well and then we retired to hotel. We sat out and had coffee and tea. I had 2 or 3 cups I guess and by this time had developed a special liking for this hotel's tea and coffee. We also came to know about a cheap place to eat which in fact had amazing food. And we went through the gullies and alleys of Leh city towards market. There are many home stays and hotels in these alleys. The gullies are amazing and unique, giving a picture of village. I simply liked this place.

We had a nice dinner, in fact the best food we ever had so far and then spent some time roaming the streets of market area. Some time was spent on surfing or calling back home and letting people know that we were safe in heaven. We soon came back retreating ourselves through dark alleys of this city which was so serene during night time.

We contact our hotel wale bhai sahib and he told us that he had done all the required passes and also arranged for a Qualis to go to Pang-gong lake for next day. We collected all papers and then went to sleep as everyone wanted to catch hold of long sleep now.

Me, Harsh and Mitesh were sharing the glass house room. We went for our usual philosophical talk. Talked that it was nice day, and it gave us some reprieve. We immediately decided to come back again some time soon and also vowed again never to come for any trip for sentimental reasons. Then we came back to our usual topic of thoughts for future. Where were we headed in life and what did we want from life. Sleep.. damn sweet sleep.

Day 9 : I got up early after alarm buzzed off. And spent some quality time in ablution acts, only to be disturbed by a pigeon couple who were having a helluva time together. And they would burst every now and then against the small window and morning calmness would become excited at least for them.

I went down and woke up Adi and his cousin and asked them to get ready as vehicle would arrive and we should leave as soon as possible. Then came back to wake up Mitwa and Hash dear, who was having his normal long sleep but was being cut short in between due to slight symptoms of high altitude sickness. We had ordered for tea again which was real fun for us. We had decided that we should go for breakfast somewhere outside and avoid having bread this morning as well. So we all went to the main market area and had omelet and bread (we could not avoid bread ) and had special Kashmir Kahwa at this very small shop. I had inkling of having 1 or 2 more bread omelets but was told to control. But I still that had wonderful taste and smell in my mouth and I was feeling hungry from that moment onwards :-).

We came back to our hotel and waited for Qualis to arrive and by that time we had another round of tea/coffee. Finally we got on the Qualis and started our ride for Pang-gong lake at about 8am or so. By now I was not fond of this same route which we took till Upshi. I wanted to see some different route. Thankfully we took a left turn from Upshi and soon started to climb on mountainous roads. This road was amazing for quite a few kilometers. Such smooth road that we were wondering if there could such splendid roads built in this region, what was it taking to relay potholed roads inside Bangalore city.

As we were climbing up, we were leaving a valley laid with green crop fields stuck in between two mountain on its side and landscape was getting more and more angelic. As we climbed through higher through this Chemrey and Sakti valley, Zanskar range was showing up in south with few very high snow clad peaks. Road suddenly turned back to gravel road and people were working on this road in simply inhuman conditions as it was very cold at this height.
We soon realized the coldness as we stopped at Chang La pass, where our passes were checked by army people and they suggested us to visit the Chang Temple, which we simply did but soon we were feeling too cold at this pass.
Though it was sunny, the wind was simply passing through us.

We soon got back inside and started again and soon reached Tangtse where we had Lunch at a literally local house. It was great as we had home made rice and dal and some salad. We liked that food so much that soon we were fighting to grab whatever remained in the boxes and definitely salad got exhausted pretty soon and we asked Aunty if we could have something more and thankfully she had some more food to offer. After getting our stomachs full up our food pipes till throat we started again for Pangong. As we moved back to main road, we soon came across some boulders and rock formations and marked for climbing. People started making comments that we should have brought some ropes and climbing equipment and I silently said in myself thankfully we didn't have any.

It was now routine for our travel passes being verified at different posts on this route now. Army has based its check post at various positions in this region. At Lukung we came across a vast plain field area. and there was huge Army base established here. One sign boards caught our attention. It had marking for Ice Hockey Rink area. We were told by our driver sahib that Ice Hockey is common game in Ladakh during winters. I was simply amazed that Ice Hockey had a presence after all in indeed. It gave me a great feeling of satisfaction and the feeling was elation alter when I came to know that an Indian delegation had won in Junior Asian Ice Hockey championship and all players representing India were from Ladakh.

The road ahead of this region is very very bumpy. And on most of the route it is being re-laid. There were workers working on this road and here is the place where I captured the best photograph of this region.

There was tar burning and its smoke floating around and getting mixed with dust thanks to trucks running on sandy area and workers, literally drenched in tar and dressed in kind of ash burnt clothes, were working to repair these roads. It was amazing scene and gave the picture of grave situation in which these people were working. We were sure these people must not be getting some special money for working here but that's what made this country of ours. People are ready to go through any kind of pain and do anything for survival and living.

We moved ahead and soon we were getting tired and searching for any sort of water body. Soon a very tiny stream started on road side and we asked driver sahib how far it the lake and he said it is somewhat far. But we in our minds were thinking all the while that it must be round the next corner. Soon we saw a small pond and cheered that lake has arrived but we had read that Pangong lake was 150km long so this pong looked illusion and we went past it as well.
We soon had out closest sighting of Yak. A mother yak and a small kido yak nearby and his father and uncle-aunt yaks somewhat further near a village area that had more of green field area and tiny water streams flowing in between.

Finally we had sighting of blue-green waters of Pangong lake. But we still had a small hurdle to pass through and it was nullah that had gone all awry and it was simply magic that how could any vehicle pass through such huge boulders. We did that magic and got through on the other side and finally we were having more and more larger view of the lake and smiles on our faces broadened by as many more miles we were getting our view of.

And no one was uttering a single word. It was simply mesmerizing view and soon as we got out from this taxi we all sad in unison.. This is Heaven.

We reached the lake shore and gazed through the whole surrounding. The panorama was so hypnotizing and we tried to grasp more and more of it.

Different shades of blue were spread through the width of lake where they changed its color to sandy brown and camelish brown with that brown shade throwing its image on lake waters as well. Water was cold and it was very clear. A constant peaceful breeze was flowing that made us remember that there was coldness in air as well. But sun was fully out and soon we were feeling very hot. This was nature at its best.
And we rued that we didn't have our tents here and didn't plan in advance otherwise we should have camped at that place. It must be amazing place at night and heavens if coming to earth would arrive here and here only.

This was really a huge lake and we tried to guess where the Chinese post could be. It must have been 8-10kms away but we were sure that it must be at that next peak over that mountain. me and Harsh even portrayed two highest mountains Nun-Kun as two snow clad peaks nearby on Southeast side. We were imagining so many things suddenly. I must have clicked about 100 pictures alone at this place as every other moment I was feeling a change in landscape while there was none. We soon realized that we definitely had to reach back Leh as we had to catch an early bus the next day. So we soon got back on our road to Leh.

We came across same mountains, same landscape, same road, same boulders but one scene stood out was when I saw a worker cleaning himself out of tar by taking bath not with water but kerosene. It was too much of a scene. And this would surely haunt me time and again.

We reached Leh by late evening. Now I don't remember distinctly when did I go to my mountaineering course mate Takpa Norbu. I had searched his address two days back and went to check his house at his village. But instead we went to Shanti Stupa overlooking Leh city over a small hill. We simply went there and came back.

We were decently tired by this sojourn to heaven and back. We quickly went for dinner and this time a local restaurant and ordered for Ladakhi dishes and had those with small drinks. It was luxury at its best and we were enjoying the place just few hours before we were to leave. We quickly packed our rucksacks and went to sleep. It was so quick that we still managed to cross 11pm for our sleep time and now sleep would not come so easy, knowing that we had to wake up at 4am to reach 5am bus.

Day 10 :

We woke up at about 4am and then were soon on our way to bus stand. There was no vehicle to take us so we walked (trekked) our way. On our way we were joined by some more people mostly foreigners and the whole crowd went towards bus stand. It was again fun ride in early morning as I was looking for bus to stop at Upshi to get some breakfast. I was now starting to feel sick with cold engulfing me in its tight grip. So I was keeping more and more water with me and drinking tea as and where possible. After Upshi we hardly stopped. And surprise stop came somewhere in Moore Plains. 2-3 members of a local family dropped off and also took huge baggage with them as well. But surprising factor was it was a nowhere place. Nothing in sight but we soon realized there was a man nearby with a dog, apparently waiting for these people. But no village or any other animal was in sight. Someone told us now these people would walk 10-15miles to their village. Meanwhile on other side some people took a pee break in open world.
We traced back our journey back and reached Keylong after making stop over at Pang, Sarchu, Darcha.

By the time we reached it was about 9pm, clearly we were somewhat late, but I was satisfied as we had beat a so called luxury bus and many other vehicles on this way. And at Keylong we stayed at same place and ate at same restaurant as we had during our journey towards Leh.

Day 10 :
Again we had to get up early. Soon we were back in the bus and on our way to Manali. I was more or less sleeping on this way and my cold was worse by now. I was feeling weak and definitely feeling worse every hour. I used to wake up in between and then retire to sleep. Finally we hit a road block just 20kms away from Manali.
It was huge traffic jam with scores of trucks and other vehicles lined up on both sides for hours now. We had to catch a different bus from Manali but we were now having our sets of doubts.

We tried to make a good use of this time and clicked the Manali Valley which was so green and it looked more greener after we had seen all bare mountains in Ladakh region.

Suddenly we started moving through trucks as bus was given preference over other vehicles and we reached the place where the trouble lied. It was sharp hair pin bend and actually road had given way to huge pile up of mud and recent rains had done wonders and trucks were getting caught up in this melee.

Then came army bulldozers and those pushed the trucks on their way up and the road started to clear up. Bus driver made a sharp short cuts in this mountain region which was scary as well as remarkable. Finally we reached Manali and we instantly felt high temperatures and were already worries what lay ahead in Delhi.

We boarded our Delhi bound bus at about 4pm and reached Delhi early morning. And now I had my severe sold and cough to deal with memories of Heaven.