Lahaul & Spiti (2009) 2 – Reaching Chandra Taal


Gravel, Rains, slippery mud, Glacial water, River banks, Night drive on magnificent Chandra Taal and a stressed birthday boy, the only thing we did not 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 washroom I saw Manish diagonally spread out his bed, looking at his 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 nearly the time for the sun to break out over the foggy Kedar hills.

Manish was still napping, I nudged him, and his eyes opened and closed in same motion almost mechanically. Bah! Laziness… It was time for some action. I started banging on the doors of nomads in other rooms and 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 from yesterday, he smiled back and gloated with an air of confidence – “did not 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!

READY FOR ACTION

Before moving we located a fuel station and filled up the petrol tanks considering that the next petrol pump was at Kaza about 200 km away. Sid was the only one who did not top the tank and neither kept any spare petrol.

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 km 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 littered with many Dhabas.

According to the locals, we will not find any eatery further up until ‘Chandra Taal’. Jatin, Sid and Lovey were not to be seen and it was decided that we three me, Manish and Siddharth should take our breakfast here and we promptly ordered Paranthas, butter, omelette and of course tea to gulp it down.

Rohtang Pass was about 16 km and this road was unpaved littered with stones and slippery mud. Heavy vehicles and rains have made mud have slippery and tough to drive. This mountain side is prone to erosions and whole of the side of the mountain here is made of loose and sticky mud which in contact with water develops as a pretty sticky slush at times.

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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 the road and came towards a large opening just as we reached the top of the hill on to Rohtang Pass itself. A fluff of fog has broken over the place and we stopped near familiar faces resting on their bikes. We have caught up with rest of the gang.

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! We took some pics and left.

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Yaks at Rohtang pass

12:50 AM: Keylong route, Spiti Valley

Our next destination was Gramphu a where we have to take a diversion to Spiti Valley. Gramphu was about 30 km from Rohtang pass.

Our destination today was Chandra Taal. Current elevation 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 Diamox tablets which no one carried 😉 Dimox tablets are generally used for acclimatization to a higher altitude in order to prevent possible Altitude Mountain Sickness.

Meanwhile, I was behind the pack as usual and was reaching Gramphu where the group was resting. 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 from my end.

I wanted to be ahead this time and so I was doing until Lovey on his Pulsar overtook me within a few km, 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 I wear the helmet first.

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Upon reaching a right turn I could see Lovey nearing a water stream, he stopped and I thought probably he was calculating his options within few moments he moved onto 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 the short breath and a bit tired. 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 glory.

I placed myself comfortably near the stream.Manish was approaching cautiously; he went into the stream only to stop abruptly then moving onto the right side of the path. At first, I thought he was in two minds but just then I heard a motor sound from the back. It was a foreigner filled Toyota Innova, I moved aside to create space, the driver was experienced and he crossed the stream easily, now it was Manish’s turn again.

Just when he was about to enter Jatin came thumping in with an authority of ‘Make way for Enfield’. Manish again 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 taxi stopped him yet again. Manish’s crossing was rather uneventful, no tricks he just gets the job done.

Sid in the meanwhile was waiting patiently long for his turn as he did not want to lose any chance of me not photographing him, he felt a little jittery over the stones initially, like Jatin he too swayed a few times but crossed it comfortably in the end.

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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 the only photographer in the group 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 during sunset.

But group was onto another orkut photography session near the riverbed and after all of them were happy with their pics we moved.

By 3 PM we still have to cover approx. 60km on a route where no nomad has ever gone before ;). Up ahead there was a division, one bridge which crossed the river and another which seem to be doing the same. Sudi went ahead to get the bearing, a few minutes later he signalled us to cross the Chatru bridge to move towards Batal.

The road was still unpaved and goes through the waterbed at places given that we were averaging 10-15 km per hour. Someone among us quipped “it is approx 60 odd km from here we can manage that in at least 3 hours”.

It was my turn to speak “the sun sets at around 6:30 pm with any eventuality or break considered we should be looking at 4-5 hours. Logic placed in front of youngsters is usually met with the same response “Ok so, let’s drive fast and as fast as we can” came the reply and while they were discussing this I pushed the ignition button and moved to ensure I do not drag the group.

Accounts that are unforgettable

1. The Almighty ‘Gaadi Bandh’

There was this monstrous water crossing (lovingly nicked ‘Gaadi Bandh’) by yours truly. But what’s loving about a place that makes your bike stop someone would ask?

Up ahead we crossed a few water crossings but one of them was what made our trip adventurous as yet. It was about 5 pm or so and we had moved about 10kms from Chatru when we reached it!, it was fortified by big boulders which hid it out of sight from the unsuspecting traveller.

You just make a turn right into the stream and by the time you realize any foul play it is too late. The stream crossing itself has rocks as big as Maruti tyres at places as if that is not enough the water flows diagonally on the path.

Also path inclined towards the water source then just at the point of strongest water 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.

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The Lair of “Gaadi Band”

I 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, I was already in the water as I turned I stopped and was thinking of analyzing what is happening there but someone shouted “don’t stop! keep moving”.

I was confused with numerous thing that were running through my mind there was someone in the water (Gaadi bandh strike 1), and as instructed I did not 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. Just as I crossed him my bike got stuck 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 aggressively pushed my feet on the stones below, revved hard and muscled out, I kept the power till I have successfully crossed to safety., I felt that same exhaustion and rising heartbeat again so I just parked the bike where it was on the road.

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I turned back to check my accomplishment only to realise that ‘Mr. someone’ was Siddharth and 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 just in time; 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 vigour and a push from nomads, he crossed over.

 

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Nomads in a file and in serious mood after Gaadi Bandh

After our encounter with ‘Gaadi Band’ we all sat a while nursing our ego that ‘Gaadi band’ has bruised. In  just a little while we moved ahead. No one talked and we all kept riding slowly for a long time, an hour maybe.

What transpired during that time cannot be explained by mere words. We were focused and rode over numerous streams, river beds and what not before reaching a place where there was a single cottage and a construction scene for what it looked like a part of guest house. It was Batal.

MANISH HITS ENFIELD

While we were stopping I was at the back yet again. I saw what it appears to be Manish hitting the back of Siddharth’s Enfield. Whomp! thud! Sid was shocked as he saw his bike lay 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 turned towards us “यार में सुबह से देख रहा हूँ पता नहीं कैसे ब्रेक मार रहा है !”.

Manish has been breaking very strangely the whole day, to come to halt he used his shoes leaving the rear brakes unattended.

Meanwhile, Sid’s bike was picked up and we were told by the few locals that there will be no food for us at Batal before 8 pm or until we reach Chandra Taal. We were told the only way to stay put at Chandra Taal was your own tent or if lucky get a space in the few  which an adventurous entrepreneur named Harish have set up there. We were told to take left from the Kunzum pass road upon reaching a tri-junction nearly 10km from here.

WILL THE REAL CHANDRA VALLEY PLEASE STAND UP?

I often reflect back to that drive and still get goose bumps over it. You see back then I had not fully realised how dangerous 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 and yet again to save time I was running at the front, negotiating the tricky road and riding faster with mixed with stupidity. I recall a few slips that could have ended my otherwise glorious life. Thankfully that did not happen and I am all the wiser for it.

The road we were travelling has two sides one side faced a slope of gravel down to our road and the opposite was a straight fall down into the Chandra River.

Now the path itself was about a Maruti wide just enough for most four wheelers. The tires of four wheelers have left dents where the wheels ran and the middle of the road had a hump, so for us two wheelers we had to choose the river side or the rocky side of the path.

JOY FOR NOTHING!

After about 40 mins or so we could see that the path was finally descending into the valley and a lake was reflecting sun rays up ahead in the horizon gleaming in the golden hue of the setting sun.

With exuberance, 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 branched 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 ‘right’ road. So did Jatin and I , that jump was a great balm for our despaired souls – a morale booster if you will.

For 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 curvy, 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 did not want to, a sudden bump and my head straightened to see a turn just ahead with lightning reflex I turned right to safety and stopped.  I had just run over a big stone and was moving towards a turn.

I cursed myself for being negligent. Now that I was all stopped I carefully looked at rear-view mirror only to watch someone falling off his bike back in the distance.

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Sid and Lovey back in the distance trying to pick up Sid’s bike

With a lot of effort, I got off my bike, my heart was pounding and I felt 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 did not 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…

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 8 pm when we finally reached the parking place for Chandra Taal.

But today the word ‘finally’ had some other meaning as we learned that we still have to pick our bags and walk a bit. Completely tired as we were, this was another 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 bag and offered him my small backpack. In doing this exchange we were now at the back of the group where each individual was ATM fending for himself.

Now that I was 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 I placed counter arguments to myself I was in a very good shape, have been playing Badminton for more than a year now and more or less have a healthy lifestyle.

So brushing aside that angle I stopped for a breather the baggage felt heavier than it would otherwise considering that it is the same bag that I packed and loaded over bike, there was something amiss but I had made up my mind that this journey is not the main cause for it.

THIS IS IT

As soon we reached the Chandratal it had gone pretty 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 actually got two vacant tents that night, although we had to jam three people in each, it still felt great.

We had to confront a cold night ahead of us and 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 before me while I sat on the plastic chair pitched outside to remove my wet shoes and socks and wear dry ones along with with dry sandals.

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’s larger tent as a dormitory.

Instead of going to the small tent I went inside the big tent.

That single bid dome tent act as a Dhabha cum dormitory with quite a few beds. Currently local herders and another groups driver sat inside chatting. I sat on a nice comfy corner and took out my netbook and started copying 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 making 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. But presently I thought those effects were reserved for others and at that time I was not experiencing any  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 Rajai (A heavy cotton quilt)  and out of the tent.

RULES OF RUM

Rum asks for water if it is inside you, I learned that today, we did not have any water with us and I knew those two fiends will not budge even if they were thirsty as hell, which they were.

So eventually at around 11:20 pm I went outside in cold and dark, located an empty bottle of soda, got up to the freezing stream of Chandra Taal and filled it.

Water was expectantly cold but I drank as that is 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.

IDEA BULB FINALLY WORKS

All those events today that had me feel weaker unfolded again in front of my eyes like a flashback movie. The first water crossing, to crossing the ‘Gaadi bandh’, to driving over ravines near Chandra Taal and to the last trek. “Dimag ki batti jali”as I realised all of us are now getting sick of being at a high altitude and this also reasonably explains the exhaustion we felt throughout the day. The whole Chandra Valley was at 10,000 feet of elevation a legible height for Acute Mountain Sickness.

Realising that I was laughing at myself, I chose to keep my revelation to myself at the moment. I picked out Vicks Vaporub to apply on my back which was aching a bit and asked Lovey to apply some over his neck and nose, he stopped whining after that. It took a while for me to get a bit of nap.

12:00 PM: OF MOANING AND BARKING

We all woke up with noises from other tent when we overheard that Jatin was not feeling well. But none of us moved and inch a while later Jating was heard moving outside for water.

After a while he puked for me it was a confirmation that all of us now have been affected in varying degree from AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness). To counter it we should have carried Dimox or oxygen cylinders but of course we are ‘the nomads’ so we did not.

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 Chandratal.

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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