Lahaul & Spiti 3 (2009) – Kaza, Kaza where are you?


There are times in your life when your day stretches like a rubber band, not too long to the point of breaking, but just long enough to reach your limit yet make you feel hungry for more…

Day 3 – 29 Aug 2009 | Chandra Taal – Kunzum Pass – Losar – Kaja – Spiti Valley

4:30 AM: MORNING’S NEED

I have woken up countless times during this night, presently at 4:30 am I decide to get out and check if it is any better outside, the Chandra valley was drenched in darkness. I came back and closed my eyes and tried to sleep again when I woke up it was 5:20 am. I got up mechanically like I always do and looked around for toilet, seeing that there wasn’t any in our camp, I turned back and my thoughts were broken by the visuals of a massive wall like a mountain that enclosed one side of the valley.

(Update: in 2009 camping was allowed in the vicinity of the lake). 

We were at the base of an enormous mountain; the massive structure has an overpowering appearance. it is dusky brown surface constituted largely of loose gravel over large rocks and the bottom of the hill had heaps of fallen gravel and big boulders.

As I got out of the tent I tried to keep my mind focused bearing the urgency of the task at hand, seeing those big boulders up closer to that hill look like a natural escape from prying eyes. Determined to ‘just do it’ I acquired a water bottle and some paper soap, needless to say it was my first in the wilderness.

TIME TO KILL

After relieving myself I went back to the tent to pick up my camera. That massive mountain was currently blocking sun rays. Currently, I made my way to the big tent for inquiries and was told that direct sunlight will reach the valley at about 8 am.

Knowing that I quickly retracted towards a short path opposite to the tent crossing the stream onto a small hillock in a wish to reach the top to catch the rising sun over the snow peaks I had seen yesterday.

I am quite accustomed to mountains but at 10,000 feet, thinner oxygen levels and AMS were working against me. Try as I might only a few steps lead to breathing,

Instead of fighting the situation I figured to adapt to a rhythm that I could I managed without reaching breathlessness quickly.  Eventually I reached the vantage point to see the sunlight has already broken over on those mountains.

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Beautiful peaks glowing in the morning sun just ahead of Chandra Taal

6:30 AM: MAGNIFICENT CHANDRA TAAL

After a few clicks I turned my attention towards Chandra Taal, interestingly I realised that all this while I have not entertained the idea that ‘I was at Chandra Taal!’ at least not once since the morning. I was now in the mood for a trip around the lake soaking all the beauty I could.

I decided to keep an upper limit of 45 minutes for the walk.

I trekked down towards the path encircling the banks of Chandra Taal from my side of the hill. The path appeared to be longish vanishing into the extension of the hill completely encircling the lake.

It took me a while to reach the lake itself and I reach it at about 6:40 am. And when I finally did I stood still mesmerised by nature’s beauty while thinking about the stories I had read about the Legendary Chandra Taal.

I touched the crystal clear water it felt so pristine and freezing. I had an urge to swim, but the thought of the cold water, the absence of sunlight coupled with the day’s driving ahead, I figured it was not a good idea.

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I spent some time walking around the lake and decided to wait for the sun to come over the valley to get a boost in the colours and contrast for photographs.

After a while, I came back to the tents to find the nomads still sleeping. I ordered a well-deserved cup of tea. A big wolf-like dog approached me where I sat. He looked very content, Harish the Camp owner has told me his name Sheandi and that he is a cattle herd dog.

I procured a pack of biscuits and placed them near my chair he ate them diligently. I patted him for a while and he seems to enjoy that.

I went back to the tent, finally, nomads have risen to the morning sun. The air was filled with talks of Jatin’s fantabulous birthday experience the previous night.

11:30 AM: RETURN PATHS ARE EASIER

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We managed to leave Chandra Taal at around 11 am. Sheandi accompanied us, to the parking, as he might have done with many who showered a bit of warmth on him.

We had to backtrack 14 km to reach the point where the road turned towards Kunzum La. 14 km ended rather quickly and we started to ascend the Kunzum La. The road all the way up to Kunzum La was barren like much of the topography around 10k fts.

Jatin was a little edgy today, and he kept stopping passing vehicles for directions, inquiring about telephone lines and asking for spare petrol. At one point I asked him to ask for Dimox instead which we got from one helpful traveller.

12:30 AM: THE HALT AT KUNZUM LA

We gained height rapidly to reach wider mountains at the top and kept moving till we reached a plane which broke away from the main road and had a temple with lots of coloured flags around in between. I stopped near sign boards at the intersection and read an instruction there suggesting passerby go around the temple before onward travel.

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The buddhist temples at ‘Kunzum La’

This ritual was a way of offering prayers at various places here in Tibetan regions. I drove around the temple so did the rest of the pack for their quota of prayers. We were are the highest point of our travel, Kunzum La is at about 13,500 feet of elevation from sea level.

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All were elated and taking photographs most of us weren’t saying but all had a bit of headache since night so I figured it is best to use those borrowed Dimoxes anyway. Jatin tried to dissuade me knowing we had only four pops. But I made him take one, the rest of us except Sid took our share.

12:40 AM: JATIN’S BUSTER ACT

Jatin by now has taken out the spark plug of his bike and then moved on to open the carburettor. As if by chance that was meant to happen! with intention of help, I instead lost grip of the two screws he gave me to hold. One went towards chain and other towards chain chamber at front.

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In full mechanical mode, he asked me to tilt the bike on one stand and brought two flatter stones, he placed one stone below the raised stand. Sid came in to help, we did the same for other side and just as we were finished, moments later the stand on Jatin’s side skid and landed square on his left foot. We managed to free his foot luckily with only minor injuries.

Just as soon the pain subsidised he was looking for one screw that was seemingly lost in the thick grease of the chain, I warned him to watch his hand near the rear sprocket of the chain. For some reason, he reversed the chain by grabbing the chain from inside and his fingers followed the motion straight into the rear sprocket. His finger-survived with a minor but painful dent on the nail.

Gods, to which we had just prayed at Kunzum La had kept his fingers and foot out of harm’s way. After all this drama, one would have assumed that Jatin would now move, but he kept hunting for the last bolt. By this time we had found one bolt andI screwed the three bolts in place hoping at least they can hold the carburettor long enough to reach a repair shop, and we moved on.

12:50 PM: LOSAR REGISTERING

Moving out from Kunzum la we left for the barren Spiti valley towards Losar which was about 18 km. We lost height almost in a similar fashion as we had gained.

We were now driving on the banks of the dry riverbed from which the name Spiti Valley originated (Spiti River). The landscape was full of impressive mountains, dry and full of erosive gravel.

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Spiti valley and the dried river bed

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After about an hour we reached a small town which resembled Himachal towns more than Tibetans. We halted at Losar, and some of us scouted for petrol. Every passerby (nonlocal) has to get his details registered here at the Losar police station. In the meantime, we located a small hotel which served us delicious food probably the best food since the start of our journey. Delicious Kaadi, Chawal, Daal and Sabji.

Jatin checked his tank, it appeared his bike had good quantity of petrol left till Kaza, however it was Sid who was looking at the bottom of his tank. We had about 60 km to reach Kaza I have about  half a tank left enough to reach 250km, so we decided to move and I was assigned to back up Sid in a case of an eventuality.

4:00 PM: SPITI VALLEY & BEST DRIVABLE ROAD ON EARTH

The scenic splendor we experienced ahead constituted mostly of barren mountains, myriad ridge formations, which we often mistook for sculpture art at times.

Yet sculptures they were, sculptures of nature’s elemental master stroke.

The road ahead was one of the best we have ever ridden on. (Update: I went there back in 2015 to see all the beautiful roads were in shambles by now) It was a pure scenic driving pleasure at times the road extended as far as one could see, it was straight, it was curved and at many places, it went up and down like and extended speed breaker.

All of us were in awe of the scenic beauty. We had just crossed a bridge over the Spiti river and reached a very wide open space. It was ‘eek photo to banta hai’ moment, we immediately halted and the cameras were out.

5:05 PM: DID YOU RING HOME?

We kept driving about 15ms and were nearing a small village.

Jatin was the most talkative today he was constantly reminding his boy scout nomads, how bad ‘Lagegi’. That means since they had not relayed their whereabouts to their parents for over two days now, they were expecting a backlash from their parents as soon as they managed to get in contact with them.

Fortunately for them, this town has BSNL network available sporadically. A truck driver gave his mobile to Jatin, the kind fellow had only 2Rs left in it. He suggested us to be stationed at a particular place to receive signals. It was very amusing watching grown up men taking turns to talk to their parents. I joined the gang.

After consoling parents, all promised to call back after they reach Kaza which was only a few hours from here.

We had just crossed a bridge and probably would have gone a few hundred meters when I saw Sid slowing down in the rearview mirror. I stopped as well, the inevitable had happened his bike ran out of petrol, so my bike was sourced for petrol and we moved again. The road ahead had freshly laid tarmac and we were zipping through, touching 80 at places. We could now see the Ki monastery on the opposite bank, bathing in the evening sun, and this meant that we were nearing Kaza.

8:00 PM: THE ‘ORDER AT KAZA’

We reached Kaza town at around 6:30. Jatin and Manish had already scouted a nice & cozy hotel. We dropped in and switched on the geyser.

I bathed and ordered hot ‘lemon-tea’. A hungry stomach and cold weather! I ordered again this time a soup which was hot but more importantly very delicious. I think encouraged by the taste we filled up the order booklet.

But he food we got afterwards was cooked too late, cooked too slow and cooked too bad that actually five of us did not eat it much at all. After almost skipping the first serving, I had high hopes from the next as it was typical north Indian food Daal, Paneer and Roti – easy to cook.

How any cook worth its salt can go wrong with that?. Finally, everything was served except the ever essential Roti, so we waited and waited till we got impatient and finally asked for it, only to be told by the cook that we hadn’t ordered ‘Roti’. “Foreigners do not order Roti was their line”.

Weird thing is that he had the dough ready and eventually he prepared the Rotis. We all managed to eat something or the other. I did not have the heart to taste Paneer and Sabji anymore all were not cooked well. I went to sleep straight away and thanked God for the nice warm and comfortable bed.

Stats

  • Distance covered – 120 Kms
  • Time taken 8 Hrs
  • 4 Stops
  • Refuelling 0Rs
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