Pangong Tso, the Tibetan for a high grassland lake; Pangong Lake is the world’s highest salt water lake, a closed basin lake which extends from India to China. It is a large waterbody which covers 600 square kilometer of area with only 20-25% of its southern part in India controlled territory. It has recently become a hot-spot for tourist post Amir Khan in the climax scene of 3 Idiots gives Kareena Kapoor a kiss on the banks of the lake.
Coming back to us, the Crusaders reached Pangong Lake and we just couldn’t move ahead. We were awestruck by the beauty and grandiose of the lake surrounded by golden mountains and the setting sun giving the whole landscape the perfect lighting.
So we didn’t have any place booked here for stay.
I think its time for a little flash back and story.
I had a friend in Pune who was the first person to tell me about Ladakh and how he and his wife went all the way from Leh to Pangong without planning for anything, and all the trouble they faced. In short, the moral of his story was plan everything beforehand, make your bookings prior to journey.
Now when I told this to the gang and tried to find a room online, the prices were as high as 8,000-9,000 rupees. No one could believe that uninhabited place like Pangong can have temporary settlements as costly as that. The budget constraints were high and we chose to risk finding the accommodation when we reach the lake.
Back to present day, we reached a little before sunset and the few settlements on this end had almost no tourists in them. We got rooms for less than two thousand and I got to hear stomach full from all of them about how I might have got them ripped if we had booked online.
In fact we got to know about this the next day that major tents and establishments were further ahead from here little above the mountain. The place where we camped up was just one-fourth of the total tents. It didn’t matter to us, because it was comfortable enough for us, cheap enough for us and the lake was in front of us to see whole night and day.
Post a fun filled cold, cozy and social night beside the lake we woke up to the warm sun and the panoramic morning view of the great Pangong lake. It was just breath taking.
As the others were just warming up, Blue asked me to join him on a little bike ride ahead to check out if anything lay ahead of us or this was it. Just riding on that road which went by adjacent to the lake, it was a treat in itself. Pangong was worth every hardship we faced to reach the place.
We went ahead and saw the point where the climax scene of 3 Idiots was actually shot. We also realized that we were in Changthang Wild Life Sanctuary, which explained the police permit and other boards we saw. We also realized that there was a place ahead, a bit higher above the mountains overlooking the lake where there were more settlements.
Now came the most important activity of the trip: photoshoot on the Pangong.
Well I might have looked down on this activity during the photoshoots but well you can’t actually blame me, I don’t have a photogenic face or anything else for that matter. But have to say that the photos we clicked on Pangong that day were the highlight of the whole Ladakh trip. And if I had a doubt that men don’t actually do much grooming, my beliefs were shattered as throughout the trip most of them spend significant amount of time in accentuating whatever they could to get a pic with enough “swag”.
Post getting enough pictures clicked in various poses, with and without the bullets, we decided to leave. I could also tell the part where we took the bike very close to the lake where we were not allowed to and got a lot of pics clicked but I will choose to not tell that bit.
The journey back to Chang la didn’t seem that eventful or even delightful as it was the day before. Maybe because it was pleasant evening then and it was hot afternoon now, not sure though. We moved on to Chang la pass making good speed.
Well something I missed to mention before was about the petrol cans. I had mentioned that we had rath so that we can carry these cans but unfortunately one of our cans was damaged and another was stolen the day before, and while going to Pangong we couldn’t buy them, so because someone said “they have petrol pumps there” we went ahead without the petrol cans.
Petrol pump we saw last was down at Karu, which was around 30-40kms below Chang la. Post that there was no petrol pump anywhere till Pangong and back. Now the 500cc bullets were giving better mileage but people were concerned about ‘what if’. So we tried to find out where can we get a refueling.
Apparently, Tangtse, a collection of small bunch of houses before Pangong serves as the unofficial refueling point for private vehicles. Initially we felt it was a shady set up because legally no one can sell petrol loose like that, but it turned out that this was kind of a popularly known thing. The rates were fixed and it was all out in the open. They had one liter plastic bottles filled with petrol for measurement sake. On the way back too we filled our tanks to the brim and not kidding but one of the bikes was giving some impossible mileage! Pangong’s charm maybe!
Now I was sitting behind Hotshot because well, we made good pair on the wheels.
All of us were looking ahead to trounce Chang la for once and for all, and to reach back Leh safe. Honestly for me, the Ladakh trip was done. Nothing more I have heard about Ladakh was more beautiful than Pangong and I was in no mood for more bike rides through these dangerous roads.
Hotshot leading the pack went up the pass in great speed. It was bumpy. It was bumpy to the level I felt dizzy and was almost crying in agony with my bum on fire. We climbed the pass and reached the Chang la top in good time. But both of us were so done that we dropped to the ground and sat there for some time.
We went inside the only café there and waited for others. We knew we had come up fast but now it was taking alarmingly longer time for them to come back.
Our concern was not misplaced.
One of the bikes got a punctured tyre. It would not be very tough to guess whose but for the delicate sensitive calamity it was, I will let it be.
We were all shaken. Others were trying to ask around if we can find a repair shop on Chang la top, I was trying to make sure the guys had something to eat because I was pretty sure that we would find nothing on Chang la top to repair puncture and we were officially screwed.
All six minds were racing with different thoughts when our angel in disguise just reached Chang la top in his Innova.
Tashi, the Ladakhi driver was leaving his foreigner clients at Chang la top for another vehicle to take them ahead because his vehicle had a minor clutch issue. He saw us troubled souls with punctured bike. We were actually asking the biker gangs around for an air-pump, because we realized that we could just push it down the mountain till Karu if it had little air. That is how we met Tashi. He had air-pump and also a big heart.
Using his car’s battery he fired up the pump but he realized, so did we that this air would not last long. He gave an idea that he can take bit of our luggage and come behind this bullet, fill up air when required and help us reach Karu.
It was a brilliant idea and the best we could hope for. I had few wires spark up in my brain and I suggested that I will come with him in his Innova because well, we were bunch of guys from Gurgaon, how can we leave our luggage with a stranger, and why to burden a punctured bike with two people. Truth be told, my bum had the last laugh because both of us were finally relieved to be settled on a comfortable bucket seat.
One more guy stepped up that day apart from Tashi Bhai, our very own Maverick!
He would say I have some issue with him or I don’t love him much, but truly after what he did that day, I can never praise him enough. Some might say it was stupid of him to take it on himself to ride the wobbling airless 500 CC bullet down the Chang la pass; I would say he took one for the team.
So it was Maverick riding on the air-less bullet ahead and me chilling in the Innova with Tashi bhai as we got down the Chang la pass. Believe it or not when you are in comfortable Innova with a confident pro on the wheels, Chang la pass doesn’t feel all so dangerous now.
Tashi Bhai was a gem of a guy, like all other Ladakhis we met. I chatted with him all the way about various things, the fact that he was a cook for half the year when Ladakh was closed and how they all collectively hated the customers from Delhi.
Tashi bhai throughout the way had eyes on Maverick and would ask him to stop if we felt air was too low, pump up the wheel, then go further and repeat this drill. You won’t believe, he stopped at least 7-8 times throughout the trip down to stop and pump the wheel.
When we finally reached Karu, everyone had a feeling that he might ask for some money, and for a change even Pete was ready to give him whatever he would ask for, but he never asked. Out of gratitude I and Maverick paid him some amount which even collectively we all agreed would not be equivalent to the help he provided.
If these good hearted men were not there, we would have been stuck with the bike on Chang la top or we might have left the bike there and paid a hefty fine to the bike dealer for leaving his bike there.
We sat for some time in Karu where we ate a lot of snacks, got the puncture repaired with some difficulty, I got scolded by one of the DATA boys for using lot of data and we again thanked our stars again for Tashi.
We went on to Leh, and then to Nubra Valley the next day, and the last day was almost spent in taking rest but someone’s resolute desire took us to the Leh Palace to give us some awesome photos to cherish.
I will not write more, especially about the Nubra Valley trip because well somethings are left unsaid. If someday I feel I might separately write about a few particular incidents. But for the time being I think Crusaders will take leave and you will hear more from Captain, Hotshot, Pete, Blue and Maverick later.
To the good people of Ladakh, the mesmerizing beauty of those lands and lakes, and a lifetime of memories, I dedicate this daak.