17 August 2018 Pangong Tso – A Sapphire in the Himalayas
Start of the day
We woke up at 5:45 AM. It was dark and cold. We got ready by 7 AM, and stepped down for breakfast. Normally, you are required to ride the bikes provided by Ladakh Bike Union, but we were allowed to ride the bikes, we were riding since last 4 days. The hotel staff served the breakfast, which had fruits, bread butter and jam with tea and coffee. We left the hotel around 7:40 AM.
Leh to Karu
The road from Leh to Karu follows the Leh – Manali Highway for up to 40 Km. Indus river flows by the side of the road. The level of river is hardly a few feet below the road level. We reached Karu around 8:45 AM. On the way we passed through Choglamsar, and Shey. From Karu a left turn takes you on to the road to Pangong Tso.
Karu to Chang La
From Karu onwards the road is mostly broken. Till now we were riding through the Srinagar – Leh National Highway and then in the Leh City. The real Ladakh and adventure of riding started from today. The 40 Km ascent to Chang La is very steep. It required a very careful drive. In the last 20 km, the road is completely broken with loose dirt and slush. Many of the turns are narrow blind V turns. Around 10 AM a large convoy of army trucks was descending from the opposite direction, we stopped the bikes to let them pass through.
A large water stream greeted us and several bikers coming from both the directions, were trying to cross the stream. This was the first stream of the day. While crossing the stream we literally pushed our and several other bikes by standing in the middle of the stream. The water of the stream was very cold and the shoes were drenched completely. We moved on after crossing the stream; and met Manish and other riders who were waiting for us. We stopped for 15 minutes to allow the engine to cool down. In about 30 minutes we were at the Chang La. The elevation at Chang La is 5360 m / 17590 Ft. The temperature at the pass was about 5 Deg C. Since the altitude is very high at the pass, and with the risk of attitude sickness, we clicked a few photographs and left for Durbuk. The road to Pangong Tso has a lot of traffic.
Chang La to Durbuk
The descent from Chang La was also very steep. Around 11:30 AM we stopped at a small roadside eatery for lunch. We met a group of riders who had come from Israel. This place had a small lake. The lunch menu was simple: Maggi and fried rice and omelette😊 – what else can you expect? Manish handed over a box of medicines to the chef. Manish then told us that several of the ROML tours take place through this region and the team has built relationships with these people. Since the region is so remote with barely any medical facilities, the best way to help is to carry essential medicines. A great deed indeed !
We left for Durbuk, around 12:30 PM after lunch. Reached Durbuk around 1:15 PM. Durbuk has a junction of 3 roads, one going to Pangong Tso, the second one goes to Nubra Valley and the third one through which we came, goes to Leh via Chang La. Since this is a junction of three roads, it is also a meeting point of riders coming in from these directions. So, one can see an agglomeration of Royal Enfield motorcycles here. At Durbuk we had to wait for about 40 Minutes for Pankaj and Lalit. When they arrived, they informed us that the brakes of their bike had stopped working while descending. The descent is always more difficult (as we are used to driving on flat terrains), as you keep applying brakes continuously or put the foot with slight pressure of the brake pedal, brake fluid getss heated up and brakes stop working. Scared of the continuous descent in front of them, Pankaj and Lalit waited for the backup vehicle to arrive. Wayne also stopped by them and tried to help. Upon arrival of the backup vehicle, Imran Bhai inspected the brakes and asked Pankaj to wait for sometime to allow for cooling of the brake fluid. After cooling down of the fluid; the brakes started working again. Manish then advised us to engage lower gears (first or second) while descending to control the motion aided by gravity, and reduce the use of brakes.
Durbuk to Spangmik
It was about 2:15 PM, and we left for Spangmik. The road condition was a little better. At many places work of road construction/ maintenance was going on. We had to cover about 50 km to reach Pangong Tso (Spangmik).
There were many water streams on the road and muddy patches. During the day the sunlight melts the snow on the glaciers and water flows through the streams. In the night as, the speed of melting of snow reduces, with a drop in temperature; the flow of water in the streams also reduces. When your feet dip in the freezing water of the stream, it feels as if the whole body has taken a shower with that water 😊. No trick can save the shoes and feet from getting drenched.
After crossing a few streams and muddy patches on the road, we had the sight of Pangong Tso around 4 PM. A lot of tent accommodations and tourists could be seen by the side of the lake. From here we drove 8 Km to reach Spangmik – the Ser Bum Tso Resorts, the place of our stay.
Pangong Tso – A Sapphire in the Himalayas
We left from the resort around 5:15 PM. The altitude of Pangong Tso is 4350 m about 14500 ft. The lake is 134 km long and at the broadest point it is 5 km wide. Although being a saline water lake, it freezes completely during the winters. There are no fish or aquatic life on the lake.
Pankaj, Baskar, Lalit, Chandrakant and I decided to walk to the lake. However due to shortage of oxygen in the air, every step required effort, and all of us were breathing heavily. On the way it started drizzling. It took us 15 minutes to cover a distance of 1 km, even on a decline.
A lot of tourists were enjoying on the bank of the lake. We caught hold of a place to capture photographs. The water of the lake is so clear that you can easily see the stones in the lake. If you have more time, you can simply put a chair by the side of the lake, and watch the lake change its color in the sunlight or simply relax and read a book.
Ser Bum Tso Resort, Spangmik
Most of the accommodations around the Pangong Tso and Spangmik are tented. Ser Bum Tso is probably one of the very few concrete properties here. The resort had ample space for parking, a separate dining area and several rooms. From our room we could see the lake. Between two rooms, they had made a gallery like seating arrangement for viewing the lake 😊.
End of the day
The weather was getting colder and it again started drizzling, so we decided to go back. At Spangmik there is no connectivity with the outside world, except one or two satellite phone booths. We went to one such a booth, which was about to close down, we made requests to the owner and called home to inform that we reached Pangong Tso safely and everyone was alright.
We returned to the resort and gave our shoes for drying up (by keeping them by the side of the gas stoves). We inquired about the possibility of getting hot water the next morning and the hotel staff told us not to bath in the morning due to very cold weather. However, we paid him some money and asked him to give us 4 buckets of hot water in the morning. At around 8 PM electricity went off, there was a small portable solar lamp in the room. The water in the toilet was freezing cold, did not dare to wash the face.
We went for the dinner around 8:30 PM. The dinner had limited choice, but it was hot and decent, considering the remoteness of this place. The temperature had dropped drastically and with not much to do, we went to bed at around 10:00 PM. Today I had discomfort due to altitude, had a feeling of headache and nausea, which did not allow me to sleep till late in the night.