Lahaul & Spiti – 2 “Chandra Taal”

Gravel, Wet & slippery mud, Kuccha sadak, Glacial water, River banks, Night drive on magnificent Chandraa Taal (Moon Lake) and a puking birthday boy, oh my, 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 this almost 6 frame (Manish) diagonally spread on the bed. Looking at his sleeping posture it was clear 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 completely lowered glass pane. I peeked through it to see a beautiful scene, the sun was breaking out on the beautiful foggy Kedar hills. Good morning, Manali!.

Late rising nomads!Manish was snoring like a baby (Do babies actually snore?) having a cosy nap and still occupying the major part of the bed. Curious, I nudged him, his eyes opened and closed in same motion almost mechanically. Bah! Laziness… It was time for action. I needed to first choke the bike engine so I started with banging the doors of other rooms, there was some motion, nice! I had almost finished packing the saddlebags and went upstairs to recover the last bag when I saw our hotel broker. He smiled back and proclaimed with an air of confidence – “Didn’t I say that you will not be able to leave early here (Manali)? Ha ha! Nobody does!!”. By the time we left it was 7:10 AM already, so he was right.
The first thing we did was to fill up the petrol tanks. The next petrol pump was in Kaza about 200 Kms away. Jatin was on his ‘Enfield’ (aka the gas guzzler). I offered him two empty bottles for reserve petrol, which he took and adjusted in his bag leaving the bottles thirsty. Sid (on Enfield) didn’t top the tank, a heinous crime for which he was going to pay later ;)

Towards keylong!Finally, we left for Rohtang pass. Sudi and I were behind the pack. We stopped for some pics. While I was snapping around, Sudi managed to secure his mobile on his helmet. The mobile LED light was ON during recording and the way he fitted the mobile in front of his face made him look like a scanning robot or something. I had a feeling that my view was shared as there were perplexed onlookers as we went further up, all of them curiously watching Sudi the biker-robot.
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. I relented gladly.

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. But 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, omlettes and tea to gulp it down. Marhi 18kms before Rohtang Pass
Rohtan pass road or what is left of it! Rohtang Pass was about 18 Kms from here and we thought we will have an easy ride from here on. Wrong we were so very wrong, the road we passed was broken, littered with sharp stones, and slippery wet mud. Heavy vehicles had permanently indented the road.

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

Jatin & Lovey dozing off at Rohtang Pass We braved bad road and came towards a large opening just as we reached on top of the hill. A fluff of fog has broken over the place, we stopped as we saw familiar faces resting on their bikes. Sid asked “you should have waited at Marhi! are you not feeling hungry ?” They replied “we have already eaten”. I scanned the area immediately and could make out a few shops and people nearby in the fog.

Yaks at Rohtang passWe 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.

12:50 AM: Keylong route, Spiti Valley

Nomads at keylong routeOur 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. The loose gravel we were driving on grabbed my attention. It was a bit scary to drive on, so I avoided driving near the Cliffside. Even slight breaking could have caused us to skid.
I recalled Jatin speaking of the route the other night as he laid out the plans. I was not paying attention then as I had come on the trip with no reservations, only planned the route I had was of Dehradun-Chandigarh. I am writing in simplest words I understood the route Jatin had planned. Here goes, the route was linearly approachable, it had two parts good one and the bad one, so either we do the bad route first or later it was our choice, we chose the bad first. It was the route to Lahaul & Spiti Valley and making a break at Chandra Taal en-route to Shimla.

Current altitude was about 13,000 feet. It reminded me about the things we had decided to carry on our trip, things that are important, things like Dimox tablets. I braked after watching the guys rest on a small turn. It was an intersection where we had to leave the Keylong route for Chandra Valley.

Several photographs later we left. This time I got on to the bike early and went ahead first, a simple strategy I had evolved to reduce time waste. It was totally kaccha Sadak, that means slow and careful driving, but I wanted to be ahead this time remember? and so I did – till mister Lovey the Pulsar riding junky 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, stones both inside the road and over it.

1:45 PM: The uninvited adventure!

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

Upon reaching a turn I could see Lovey crossing a water stream, he stopped and I thought probably he’s stuck, 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 down shifted to power gear and went straight into the stream, the stream full of dirty tricks for the careless. I had to keep my feet off the bike or on the stones for balance. I crossed it nicely but not before wetting my feet in the cold mountain water.

I heard Lovey saying “well-done Mama” smile broke over my face. As it usually happens in these scenarios the 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? or was there something more sinister at this place?.

Manish side stepping from the adventure ;)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 depending on who crosses it. 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 hmm… from the background. Its was a foreigner filled Toyota Innova, I moved over to create space, the driver was experienced and he crossed it easily, now its was Manish’s turn.

Make way for Jatin. Just when he was about to cross it Jatin came thumping in with an authority of ‘Make way for Enfield’. Manish was taken for a surprise from the sudden assault, he stopped and he let him pass. Jatin entered swaying in to left then right, halting in between with little push of foots he was out, he cleared the rest easily. Lovey cheered, Jatin’s face was beaming with glory. Manish ka number aiya but not before another tourist infested Toyota innova stopped him.

Sid at his swaying best ;)Manish’s crossing was rather uneventful, no tricks he just gets the job done. Sid was waiting long for his turn, he felt a little jittery over the stones initially, I had a feeling that he was not keeping any reserve power and was tad too slow for this manoeuvre, 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 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.

Sid overlooking Chandra valley This road paved way for gorgeous Chandra valley, the road ahead seems to meet up straight with the river bed. One of the draw backs of being a photographer is that you are last one to leave. By the time I packed they have already touched the valley. I caught up to find Lovey & Sudi dozing off yet again. Now this stop and drive fast tactics was beginning to annoy me. These four stops have already cost us about an hour and half already.

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 may be manage some decent pics. Another orkut photography session ensued and for the first time all of them were extremely happy with their portfolio. So there was I practicing my photographic skills on smart-looking guys all for free ;).

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 on the same bank we were. Sudi went ahead to get the bearing, 5 minutes later he signalled us to cross the bridge which I think was Batal. While he was scouting, it was decided that no more breaks will be taken, and lets break at Chandra Taal. At this rate we will reach there at 6Pm, someone among us quipped “its 50 odd Kms we will do it in 3 hours”, you know even a man can walk about 10Km/Hr”! What? Someone else broke the calm: “a man can only manage about 4-5Km/hr”. I nodded and we all looked at each other.

I said “the sun sets at around 5:30PM our average speed was around 10Kms, even the most generous approximation will put us up with almost 6 hours of driving and that means around 9PM”. Logic placed in front of youngsters is usually met with the same reply “OK so, lets drive fast and as fast as we can” while they were discussing this I pushed the ignition button and moved.

We treaded the rough,
We braved the stones,
We fought the torrents,
We cleared the river beds,
We crossed few foreigners,
We saw Raid de Himalaya guys scouting,
We came to win,
We are the _NOMADS_.

The above well written, extremely poetic ( :) ) lines are condensed, and possibly cannot describe the incredible nature of adventurous drive we lived through. So instead of going over each I have penned down the ones that gave some shaking nerves to nomads.

Accounts that are unforgettable

1. The Almighty ‘Gaadi Bandh’

There was this monstrous water flow (lovingly nicked ‘Gaadi Bandh’ by yours truly) 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 realize any foul play it’s too late. The path itself have 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.Lair of 'Gaadi bandh' (c) 2009 Gaurav Nawani
Gaadi band and the guys in the middle.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, there was someone stopped in the water (Gaadi bandh strike 1), frankly I didn’t wanted to stop & look, I realised, to stop now was asking for trouble, water was a little over the ankles already. Down shifting to power gear 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 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 crossed to safety. As soon as I was out and relieved, I felt that I didn’t have energy left to park the bike on a clear location so I just parked it next to Sudi’s on the road ;).

Sid in the clutches of Gaadi BandhI turned back to check my accomplishment only to realise that ‘Mr. someone’ was actually Sid and upon watching my heroics he went in and played right into the hands of mighty ‘Gaadi Band’ where he was now stuck. Four 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 in his manners as if he was about to give up, but our constant shouts suddenly brought him back. He started kicking the starter only to get no reaction, his exhaust pipe submerged, but fortunately just inline to the water flow. Again and again he tried, and suddenly the engine coughed and came alive. With his new-found vigour and a strong push from nomads he crossed over.
I was told that our super Sudi had already fallen prey to almighty Gaadi Bandh.

2. Will the real Chandra Valley please stand up?

Nomads in the lap of Chandra ValleyAfter 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 finally reached a place where there were few cottages and a dhabha, or so it appeared.

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 knew that and he stopped. Whomp! thudd! Sid was shocked, god knows how he came out of that horrendous shock and when he did he saw his bike flat under him. Like some one 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 enfieldiendian the most at the newly installed baggage rack. Sid turned to Manish and the usual “saale theek se break maar‘, then to us “yaar mein subah se dekh raha huon, pata nahi kaise break mar raha hai”. Break! surprised dear reader! Well truth be told Manish had been breaking very strangely the whole day, to come to final halt he used his shoes leaving foot off the rear brakes… nice!.

Meanwhile we were told by the locals that there will be no food until we reach Chandra Taal and that too if we are lucky. The only way to stay alive at Chandra Taal was to get your own tent or the ones which an adventurous entrepreneur named Harish have set up there. We were told to take left from the kunzum pass road after crossing a bride few kilometer far from here. We hurried as light kept fading fast, Chandra Taal was about 14 Kms from there.
The road we were about to travel was completely desolated, from one side it faced a very scary slope of gravel down in the Chandra river, sometimes there was just a fall from the cliff as you could not see any thing below. Now the path itself was about a Maruti wide just enough for most four wheelers. Four wheels have created dents wherever the soil was soft often making them dangerous to drive on. Next to us was hill full of small broken rocks, fallen on road or protruding out of hill. In short terms it was too risky to drive near both ends.

4. Joy for nothing!

I often reflect back to that drive and still get goose pimples over it. You see back then I had not realised how complex that drive really was. We had not eaten since breakfast and we still had a  long way to go over a terrain which demands your attention every moment with the enthusiasm slowly fading away to despair. For a change I was at front, negotiating the tricky road and driving fast with extreme 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.

After an hour or so we felt the path was finally descending into the valley and I could see the lake. With exuberance and reserved energy I signaled victory to the pack as I touched the river bed. All of them actually took it seriously ;) only to realise that we were heading the wrong way. If that was not funny enough I was now back at third place. Noooooo! All that hard work for nothing! sob… sob.

With the shock that we still have someway to go, I signaled left over trailers to branch off to the right path that I had skipped earlier. Sudi, me and Jatin had to go back to the right path. Looking at the various paths that were there I was sure that we were not alone in being misguided by our senses. Sudi chose a route worthy of dirt biking and he jumped up almost 2 feet on an 15feet inclined climb. 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.

Difficulty over difficulty is the adventure we seek.

The road looked like it would never end. It had now transformed in to a typical hilly path, dusty and half tube like at most places, courtesy four wheeler, all the turns now were heavily inclined, testing real power of bikes. I saw a strange yellow 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, a sudden bump and my head turned to front.
Sid's fall & The mud route to Chandraa TaalI saw a turn just ahead and I had just ran over a big stone, ‘You moron’ I cursed myself. Bad habits die hard don’t they? after that turn I carefully looked at rear view mirror only to watch Sid falling off his bike. I had to stop! I did.

The peak, sunlight gone with time. With lot of effort I got off my bike, my heart was pounding and I felt very tired. “Cool!” I thought: “I now can take a snap of the mountain I saw a minute before”. This time around I didn’t even try to take off my helmet or my gloves, stuck the camera in front of helmet, judged and shot 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 any one I would say, a great landscape and sleeping besides the legendary lake. It was around 8pm when we reached the parking place for our bikes at Chandra Taal finally, but finally had some other meaning that day as we learned that we still have to walk with our baggage for about an kilometre, completely tired as we were, this was a shocker.

But ‘मरता क्या न करता’, we un-bagged our bikes and trekked on. We met a nice gent from Kumaon who was also tenting at Chandra Taal along with his group. Mid way I felt Siddharh was almost dragging his bags, he had too much weight for his frame so I took one of his bags and offered him one of my small one. We were at the back, (yeah I know ;)) were completely out of breath so we stopped. I began thinking that this tiredness was due to lack of energy. There was an error in that thought as I am in very good shape. I have been playing Badminton for more than a year now, besides, I don’t drink. There is no way I can get tired sitting on bike all day. Ok, given it was treacherous journey, but something inside me was not convinced. There was something really sinisterly weird.

I was about to find that out. For all the good ‘fortunate trophies’ I have accumulated over the years this one takes the cake :) we got two vacant tents that night. Now if you have ever slept out in open on a very cold night, wet feet, completely exhausted and at altitude of about 4000 Meters successfully, you must be one superman. We were not and we so loved those smelly Kambals and Rajais that day.

Lovey & Sudi had already occupied the two people tent and I was left out sitting on the plastic chair pitched outside, the first thing I did was to remove the shoes and socks, search my baggage for those nice and dry chappals and a spare pair of warm socks. I was ready to deal with the environment till Harish prepares us warm dinner. I went over to the big tent in the middle it housed a small dhabha, few folks were inside it chatting. I ask if I can sit in, they said yes please do. I realised this was the place where food will be served. Great! I sat into a nice place and took out my netbook and started uploading the pics we have taken the whole day.

11:00 PM: Mountain sickness here come the nomads

Nomads and rum at Chandra TaalWithin a few minutes of rest the pack came in and made themselves comfortable with a bottle of Rum. I am non-drinker but I thought a sip or two will 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 ;), by 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. The guys didn’t drink much that day as they were having headaches anyway.

Everyone cheered for Jatin’s birthday before 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 almost no 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 fact 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 11:20pm I went outside in cold, located an empty bottle of soda, got up to the freezing stream of Chandra Taal and filled it. Water was very cold but I drank as that is what my body wanted. The bottle was then duly filled for two kings back at the tent. I cannot recount how many times Lovey whined, but during that time sleep was scarce and I started to feel a slight thumping headache.

All those events 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. Shit we are ‘Mountain Sickened’ I was laughing within myself. I thought it would be better if I don’t mention it to ‘Whiny’ Lovey. So I started talking about thinning of air at higher altitudes and picked out Vicks Vaporub to apply on my back which was aching a bit. Asked Lovey to do the same, he stopped whining after that, now all I wanted was few hours of sleep.

12:00 PM: Karahat and Barking

We were still working on our sleep when we overheard that Jatin was not feeling well, a while later he went outside for water. After a while he puked, that confirms it. All of us had been affected by AMS, fondly called as ‘Altitude Mountain Sickness’. To counter it we should have carried Dimox 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 and we were broke in laughter congratulating and taunting him on his one fine birthday at Chandraa Taal.

A dog barked for a while, it was annoying ‘I will meet that dog and ask about the history of Chandra Taal’ hey I started to dream! ;) After a while, I do not know when, but I did sleep, it was not a full long sleep, broken it might be but it was joyful.
Happy B’Day Jatin ;)

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

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