Lahaul & Spiti (2009) 2 – Reaching Chandra Taal


Gravel, Rains, slippery mud, Glacial water, River banks, Night drive on magnificent Chandra Taal (Moon Lake) and a stressed birthday boy, the only thing we didn’t see that day was some well deserved rest

Day 2 – 28 Aug 2009 | Manali – Rohtang Pass – Chandra Taal

5:10 AM: Leaving Late

I was well awake and procrastinating when the alarm rang. With some effort, I got off the bed. Moving towards the bathroom I saw Manish diagonally spread on the bed, looking at his sleeping posture it was evident to me that he is a late riser. As I reached for the door handle, a burst of chilly air gushed in leaving me shivering for a while. Amused, I tried to find the source of the chill. It was a window of about 1×3 frame with a single opaque and currently lowered glass pane. I peeked through it to see Manali’s beautiful hill-side, it was time for the sun to break out over the foggy Kedar hills. 

Manish was still napping, I nudged him, his eyes opened and closed in same motion almost mechanically. Bah! Laziness… It was time for action. I started banging the doors of nomads in other rooms, there was some motion, nice!

I had almost finished packing the saddlebag and went upstairs to recover my backpack when I saw our hotel broker, he smiled back and gloated with an air of confidence – “Didn’t I say that you will not be able to leave early from here (Manali)? Nobody does!”. By the time we left, it was 7:10 AM already, so he was right.

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Ready for action!

Before moving we located fuel station and filled up the petrol tanks considering that the next petrol pump was at Kaza about 200 Kms away. Sid (on Enfield) didn’t top the tank, a crime for which he was going to pay later.

Finally, we left for Rohtang pass. Sudi and I were behind the pack. We stopped for some pics. While I was snapping around, we caught up with rest, who were waiting for us at a scenic place. And of course, they were waiting for the ‘orkut’ photo shoot.

Update 2015: for the facebook generation Orkut means nothing but back in the day 2009 it was ‘the thing’.

11:10 AM: Of Parantha’s and Rohtang Pass

The road inclined, narrowed and curved as we went up. The fog had started to cover the hills. About 30 Kms have passed when we saw a small valley with a small lake in it. There was a bridge type formation through it. Our road went around the lake to Marhi – A small little place full of Dhabas. Jatin, Sid and Lovey were not to be seen and it was decided that we refuel ourselves here. According to the intel, Manish and Sudi had we will not meet any eatery further up until we reach our destination: ‘Chandra Taal’.

We ordered Paranthas, butter, omelette and tea to gulp it down. Rohtang Pass was about 18 Kms from here and we thought we will have an easy ride from here on. But that was not true the road we pressed was unpaved littered with stones and slippery mud. Heavy vehicles and a snow season over this mountain made of loose mud have made this road dangerous to drive.

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Marhi back in 2009

“This was the start of the beginning of adventures we and our bikes were about to endure”

We braved bad road and came towards a large opening just as we reached on top of the hill or Rohtang Pass itself. A fluff of fog has broken over the place, we stopped as we saw familiar faces resting on their bikes.

DSC_6535We should move on to Rohtang pass” someone among us suggested. “We are already there” came the reply. That is it? this was the often talked about Rohtang Pass? I remember people telling lore over this! Either I was too confident or my earlier solo trip had prepared me better, ;). We took some pics and left.

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12:50 AM: Keylong route, Spiti Valley

Our next destination was a diversion to Spiti valley about 5 Kms ahead of Rohtang pass en-route to Keylong. Just ahead of Rohtang pass we saw BRO broadening the road with heavy machinery on what appeared to be a 4 lane road atop one of the world’s highest motorable pass. It was the route to Lahaul & Spiti Valley and Laddakh.

Our destination today was Chandra Taal. Current altitude was about 13,000 feet. It reminded me of the things we had decided to carry on our trip, things that are important, things like Dimox tablets which no one carried ;) I stopped near the guys resting on a small turn at Gramphu it was an intersection where we had to proceed towards for Batal and then to Chandra Valley.

Several photographs later we left. This time I got on to the bike early and went ahead, a simple strategy I had evolved to reduce time waste on my end. Route was unpaved, that meant careful riding, but I wanted to be ahead this time and so I did – till Lovey on his Pulsar overtook me within a few kms, ah well… So much for saving time ;). The route was pretty engaging, it was about a Maruti or two wide, downhill like Mussorie – Landour hillside and totally made up of dust and stones.

1:45 PM: The uninvited adventure!

I believe in tackling the problem head on, but usually I wear the helmet first ;)

DSC_6565Upon reaching a turn I could see Lovey nearing a water stream, he stopped and I thought probably he’s calculating his options within few moments he moved on to cross it. Less than a minute later I confronted the same stream. It looked easy from far but upon facing the force of water and noise that it made, I had to slow down. Cautiously scanning the bed of stones underneath and the water flow, I downshift to first gear and went straight, the stream flow was full of dirty tricks for the careless. I managed to cross it but not before wetting my feet in the chilly mountain water.

I heard Lovey saying “well-done Mama” smile broke over my face,  heartbeat raced from the joy of the experience most wonderful. I felt half breath… I felt tired. Wait a minute!! raised heartbeat notwithstanding, why on earth should I get tired?. Was it that I am getting too old for this?

I parked my bike, got out and removed my camera from the bag to capture the moments of nomads in shock, awe or whatever was about to unfold. I placed myself comfortably near the stream. Manish was approaching very slowly, he went into the stream only to stop abruptly then placing himself on one side of stones. I thought he was in two minds. Just then I heard a motor from the background. It was a foreigner filled Toyota Innova, I moved aside to create space, the driver was experienced and he crossed it easily, now it was Manish’s turn.

Just when he was about to enter Jatin came thumping in with an authority of ‘Make way for Enfield’. Manish was taken for a surprise, he stopped and let him pass. Jatin entered swaying in to left then right, halting in between with little push of feet he was out. Lovey cheered, Jatin’s face was beaming with glory. Manish ka number aiya but not before another tourist infested Toyota Innova stopped him. Manish’s crossing was rather uneventful, no tricks he just gets the job done.

DSC_6576Sid was waiting long for his turn, he felt a little jittery over the stones initially, like Jatin he too swayed a few times but crossed it comfortably in the end. All of us cheered it was our first water crossing. We took the time to settle our nerves and everyone let their feet dry excluding me. As for me I somehow felt that it is not the end of the wet feet we are going to get.

This road paved way for gorgeous Chandra valley, the road ahead seems to meet up straight with the river bed. One of the drawbacks of being a photographer is that you are the last one to leave. By the time I packed they have already touched the valley.

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2:40 PM : Photography and scouting in Chandra Valley

Make no mistake I am all for halts more so for the prospect of good photos, just that our itinerary was crammed with every day of driving and today I wanted to reach Chandra Taal as soon as possible so that I can scout some locations or maybe manage some decent pics. Another orkut photography session ensued and all of them were happy with their portfolio.

By 3 PM we still have to cover approx 60Kms on a route where no nomad has ever gone before ;). Up ahead there was a division, one bridge which crossed the river and the other kept on the same bank we were. Sudi went ahead to get the bearing, a few minutes later he signalled us to cross the bridge which was for Batal. The road is unpaved and goes through the water flow and we were riding slow at this rate we could manage Chandra Taal in about 2 hours or around 6 Pm, someone among us quipped “it’s 50 odd Kms we will only manage this in at least 3 hours.
It was my turn to speak “the sun sets at around 6:30 PM our average speed was around 10-15Kms, even the most generous approximation will put us up with almost 3-4 hours of driving and that means around 8 PM”. Logic placed in front of youngsters is usually met with the same reply “OK so, let’s drive fast and as fast as we can” while they were discussing this I pushed the ignition button and moved to ensure I do not drag the gang.

Accounts that are unforgettable

1. The Almighty ‘Gaadi Bandh’

There was this monstrous water crossing (lovingly nicked ‘Gaadi Bandh’ but whats loving about a place that makes your bike stop ?)anyway I called it called ‘Gaadi Bandh’. Its surroundings were made up of big boulders which hid it out of sight from the unsuspecting traveller. You just make a turn right into the water and by the time you realise any foul play it’s too late. The path itself has rocks as big as Maruti tyres at most places as if that is not enough the water flows diagonally on the path. Did I mentioned the path actually inclines towards the water source oh and just at the point of greatest flow the path turns right finally clearing off the ‘Gaadi Bandh’ The sun was setting fast on that desolated place and we were desperate, perfect time for the Gaadi Bandh to strike.

gaadibandh_DSC_6640_stitchI have no hint as of how other guys managed it but when I entered the lair of ‘Gaadi Bandh’ I was taken aback by the surprise, there was someone in the water (Gaadi bandh strike 1), I didn’t want to stop & look as I realised to stop now was asking for trouble, water was a little over the ankles already.  I pressed hard to get past ‘mr. someone’ avoiding the boulder wall he was about to tackle head on. Just as I crossed him my bike halted crying loud for more power at the inevitable khadda created by the uneven placement of stones as big as Maruti tyres (Am I repeating myself? ;) ). Gaadi Bandh had a real chance of striking but before it could manage any trick I pushed my feet on the stones below revved hard and muscled out, I kept the power till I successfully managed to cross to safety. As soon as I was out and relieved, I felt that exhaustion again so I just parked the bike where it was on the road ;).

Image1041I turned back to check my accomplishment only to realise that ‘Mr. someone’ was Sid he was in clutches of mighty ‘Gaadi Band’ where he was now stuck. Three of us, came running into the torrent. He was about to fall. Jatin and I held his bike, he revved his bike only to have it completely shut off. ‘Gaadi band’ had struck twice. I sensed a little despair but our constant shouts kept him on the hooks. He started kicking the starter only to get no reaction, the exhaust pipe was just about submerged. He tried again and suddenly the engine came alive. With his new-found vigor and a strong push from nomads, he crossed over.

2. Will the real Chandra Valley please stand up?

DSC_6655After our encounter with ‘Gaadi Band’ we held our nerve and kept driving for as long as I can remember. Well, it was about 2 hrs, to be honest, what transpired during that time cannot be explained by mere words. We rode over numerous streams, river beds and what not before finally reaching a place where there were a cottage and a dhabha, or so it appeared later we found out it was batal.

3. Manish hates Enfield –1

While we were stopping I was at the back. God I hate that! ;). Ahead of me was Manish and ahead of him was Sid on his shiny new Enfield Bullet. Manish hates bullets, but Sid didn’t know that and he stopped. Whomp! thud! Sid was shocked,  he saw his bike flat under him. Like someone had replaced a comfy cushion with cushion full of hospital syringes. He could stand but could not sit!.

Manish had made his intentions very clear he had struck right where it hurts an Enfield Indian the most at the newly installed Ladakh carrier. Sid turned to Manish and the usual “भाई मेरे ठीक से ब्रेक  मार‘, then to us “यार में सुबह से देख रहा हु पता नहीं कैसे ब्रेक मर रहा है”. Well, truth be told Manish had been breaking very strangely the whole day, to come to halt he used his shoes leaving foot off the rear brakes.

Meanwhile, we were told by the locals that there will be no food until we reach Chandra Taal or stayed here itself at Batal. The only way to stay put at Chandra Taal was to get your own tent or the one which an adventurous entrepreneur named Harish have set up there. We were told to take leave from the kunzum pass road after crossing a bridge few kilometer far from here.

4. Joy for nothing!

I often reflect back to that drive and still get goose bumps over it. You see back then I had not realised how tough that drive really was. We had not eaten since breakfast all were feeling drained and we still had 14 kms to go over a terrain which demands your utmost attention. The enthusiasm was giving way to despair for a change I was at the front again, negotiating the tricky road and riding faster with occasional stupidity. I recall a few slips that could have ended my otherwise glorious life. Thankfully that didn’t happen and I am all the wiser for it.

The road we were travelling have to sides one side faced a slope of gravel down to our road and the opposite was a very long fall down into the Chandra river. Now the path itself was about a Maruti wide just enough for most four wheelers. The four wheels have left dents where the wheels ran and the middle of the road was like a hump, so for us two wheelers we had to choose the river side or the rocky side of the path.

After about 40 mins or so we could see that the path was finally descending into the valley and I could see a lake in the horizon gleaming in the golden hue of the setting sun. With exuberance and reserved energy, I signalled victory to the pack as I touched the river bed. All of them took it seriously ;). The sound of successful cheers resounded in the valley. With few minutes into this direction, I realise that we were actually heading the wrong way as towards right we could now see another path rising up the small hillock. However, in the meantime, I and Sid had wandered quite a bit already if that was not funny enough trailers getting the scent of this have already turned right.

Looking at the various paths that were there I was sure that we were not alone in being misguided by our senses. Sid chose a route worthy of dirt biking and he jumped up almost 2 feet on an ascending part of hill that met the road. A shortcut towards what appears to be a right path! So did Jatin and I. That jump was a great balm for our despaired souls – a morale booster if you will.

DSC_6677For all the naive enthusiasm in us, the road still looked like it would never end. It had now transformed into a typical hilly path, dusty and tube like at most places, all the turns now were heavily inclined, testing real power of bikes. I saw a golden streak in the rear view mirror. I turned my head back and was awestruck, it was a mountain peak full of snow gleaming with light of sunset.

I wanted to stop but my body didn’t want to, a sudden bump and my head straightened to see a turn just ahead I recovered and had just run over a big stone, I cursed myself. Bad habits die-hard don’t they? after that turn, I carefully looked at rear view mirror only to watch someone falling off his bike. I had to stop!.

With a lot of effort, I got off my bike, my heart was pounding and I felt very exhausted. I saw Lovey Helping what appears to be Sid and they moved. Now that I had stopped I thought: “May be I can take a snap of the mountain I saw a minute before”. This time around I didn’t bother to take off my helmet or my gloves, stuck the camera in front of the helmet, judged and shot a few pics. The sunlight had gone down a lot in those few moments…

4. Chandra Taal and birthday bash

Jatin had told us that this was going to be his best birthday ever. It would be for anyone to reach and spend time on a magnificent place like this.  It was closer to 8pm when we finally reached the parking place for Chandra Taal. But today finally had some other meaning as we learned that we still have quite a long to walk with our baggage, completely tired as we were, this was a shocker. But ‘मरता क्या न करता’, each of us loaded their baggage and trekked on. Siddharh was almost dragging his bags as he had too much baggage to carry I took one of his bigger ones bags and offered him my small backpack in doing this we were now at the back ;).

Now that we were free of one worry to reach Chandra Taal my mind wandered and began thinking about the tiredness or exhaustion we were feeling. Was it due to lack of energy or this riding stuff is too tough to handle. There was an error in that thought as my thought came back to me and I realised I was in a very good shape, have been playing Badminton for more than a year now, have a healthy lifestyle. Brushing aside that angle I stopped for a breather the baggage felt heavier than it would otherwise considering that is the same bag that I packed and loaded over bike, there was something amiss but I had made up my mind that this treacherous journey is not the main cause for it.

As soon we reached the ChandraTaal it had gone dark and we could only listen to the small river flowing out of the lake beside that was a huge tent. For all the ‘good fortune’ I have accumulated over the years this one takes the cake we got two vacant tents that night, although we had to jam in three in each it still felt great. We had to confront a cold night with us being wet and exhausted. All this at an altitude of about 4000 Meters. We were not in a position to be choosy and had to be content with those smelly Kambals and heavy Rajai’s that day.

Lovey & Sudi had already occupied the two people tent while I sat on the plastic chair pitched outside to remove the wet shoes and socks, search my baggage for nice and dry chappals and a spare pair of warm socks. I was ready to deal with the environment while Harish the owner of this luxury accommodation prepared warm dinner for us and a few locals who were using Harish larger tent as a dormitory. Instead of goin to the small tent I went over to the big tent in the middle it housed a small dhabha, few beds and local herders inside it chatting. I sat on a nice comfy corner and took out my netbook and started uploading the pics we have taken today.

11:00 PM: Mountain sickness here come the nomads

After a few minutes of rest, the pack came in and made themselves comfortable and opened a bottle of Rum. I am a non-drinker but I thought a sip or two will help me insulate myself from the cold. As I was about to sip, I remembered reading about the effects of rum at high altitudes. I thought those effects were for others ;), at that time I had no headache. We had a noisy driver with us in the tent who was drunk, a loudmouth he was. He kept talking till the food was served.

Everyone cheered for Jatin’s birthday ate their ration of dinner and went back to sleep. Sleep that never came! Lovey kept whining about pain and loss of breath. Sudi tried hard to sleep and I was stuffed in between those two with little room for movement if that was not enough my feet were out of the tent.

Rum asks for water if its inside you, I learned that today, we didn’t have any and I knew those two fiends will not budge even if they were thirsty as hell, which they were. So at around 11:20 pm I went outside in cold, located an empty bottle of soda, got up to the freezing stream of Chandra Taal and filled it as previously suggested by the Tent owner. Water was expectantly cold but I drank as that’s what my body wanted. The bottle was then duly filled for those two back at the tent. I cannot recount how many times Lovey whined, but during that time sleep was scarce and I have started to feel a slight thumping headache.

All those events today that had me feel weaker unfolded again in front of my eyes like a flash back movie. The first water crossing, to crossing the ‘Gaadi bandh’, to driving over ravines near Chandra Taal and to the last trek. Dimg ki batti jali as I realised all of us are now getting sick of being at high altitude. Realising that I was laughing at myself and thought to best keep it to myself at the moment. I picked out Vicks Vaporub to apply on my back which was aching a bit. Asked Lovey to do apply some too and a bit over his neck and near nose, he stopped whining after that, it took while for me to get a bit of nap.

12:00 PM: Karahat and Barking

I was woken up with noise when we overheard that Jatin was not feeling well, a while later he went outside for water. After a while he puked. It was a confirmation that all of us now have AMS, fondly called as ‘Altitude Mountain Sickness’. To counter it we should have carried Dimox or oxygen cylinders but of course we are ‘the nomads’ so we didn’t. I was a little worried about Jatin as he was definitely in bad shape, none the less I congratulated him for his birthday just after his expunge and all broke in laughter congratulating and taunting him on his one fine birthday at Chandraa Taal.

A dog barked for a while, it was annoying but after a while, I do not know when we did get sleep, for me it was not a full long sleep, broken it might be but it was joyful.

Stats

  • Distance covered – 130 Kms
  • Time taken 15 Hrs
  • 6 Stops
  • Refueling 300Rs
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