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 make you feel hungry for more…

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

4:30 AM: Morning do’s and Photography

I have woken up many times during this sleepless night, at around 4:30 am I decide to get out and check if it’s any better outside, the Chandra valley was drenched in darkness. I closed my eyes and tried to sleep again but sleep came in bits 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’s 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, it was my first in the wilderness.

Arriving late yesterday have dented my plans for scouting locations for photography. 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 on to 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 10Kfts, 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. I reached the vantage point to see the sunlight has already broken over on those mountains.

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6:30 AM: Magnificent Chandra Taal (Moon Lake)

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 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 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. But this is something I wish to do if and when I return. I spent some time walking around the lake. I decided to wait for the sun to come over the valley to get a boost in the colors and contrast for photographs.

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After a while, I approached the tents to find the nomads still sleeping. I ordered a well-deserved cup of tea. A big wolf-like dog approached. He looked very content, Harish 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. A big pup appeared from behind the tent it had me confused for a moment, he was actually a grown up dog with appearances of a pup.

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. 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.

11:30 AM: Return paths are easier

Photo0112We had to backtrack 14 Kms to reach the point where the road turned towards Kunzum La. 14 Kms 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 telephone lines and asking for spare petrol. At one point I asked him to ask for Dimox 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 passer-by go around the temple before onward travel. This ritual was a way of offering prayers at various places here in Tibetan regions.

DSC_6814With new-found faith I drove around the temple up as I signalled the followers to do the same who were just arriving for their quota of prayers.

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While we’re relaxing we all had a headache following us since night so I figured it’s best to use those borrowed Dimoxes right away. 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. I was aware this is the highest point we are going to reach to in our journey but whats the point in keeping those tabs anyway.

12:40 AM: Jatin’s Buster Keaton 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 ay front.

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In full mechanical mode, he asked me to tilt the bike on one stand and brought two flatter stones, and he placed one stone below the raised part of the 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. By this time we had found one bolt.

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. I 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 baerreniously barren Spiti valley towards Losar which was about 18 Kms. We lost height almost in a similar fashion as we have gained. We were 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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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 never lost petrol in any worrisome quantity however it was actually Sid who was looking at the bottom of his tank. We had about 60 Kms to reach Kaza I have about a half tank, enough to reach 280Kms, so we decided to move on 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 ar 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 and large 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 rang home?

We kept driving about 15ms and were near a very 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.

Currently, a truck driver approached us seeing all the hustle bustle, learning of the graveness of situation the kind fellow gave us his mobile in which had only 2Rs left. 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 felt I had nothing better to do and I joined the gang.

  • I rang home only to be answered by Dad, of course, he was more interested in the scene and the place.
  • Apparently, Sid’s parents had activated their contacts about their missing son was last seen at Manali ;).
  • Jatin’s sis wanted to know his well-being before he could manage to say ‘hello’.
  • Sudi’s dad had already visited this place and they talked about it.
  • Lovey got on with almost same as Sudi.
  • I have no I idea about Manish ;).

After consoling parents, all promised to call back after they reach Kaza which was only a few hours from here. We drove through mountains which had some river or a tributary flowing in the valley. We had just crossed a bridge and probably would have gone a few hundred meters when I saw Sid slowing down in the rear view mirror. Since I was to be with him I stopped, the inevitable had happened his bike ran out of petrol, My bike was sourced for petrol and we moved.

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’

Finally, 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 soup which was hot but more importantly very delicious. I think encouraged by the taste we filled up the order booklet. The problem was that the food we got afterwards was cooked too late, cooked too slow and cooked too bad that actually five of us didn’t 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 don’t 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 r the other. I didn’t 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 beds.

Hungry and irritated  I answered “Good that you cleared it up!”, “but we are from your country we do!”. Weird thing is that he had the dough ready and eventually he prepared the Rotis. The food was not well-prepared but we all managed to eat something or the other. I didn’t have the heart to taste Paneer and Sabji anymore grabbing a couple of phulkas to quench the hunger I went to sleep straight away and thanked God for nice warm and comfortable bed.

Stats

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