Lahaul & Spiti – 3 “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 ;)

Day3 – 29 Aug 2009 | Chandra Taal – Kunzum Pass – Losar – Kaja – Spiti Valley

4:30 AM: Morning do’s and Photography

I had woken up countless times during this sleepless night, at around 4:30am I decide to get out and check if it’s any better outside, the valley was drenched in darkness, maybe this isn’t the right time. I don’t know how long I was awake but when I woke up again it was 5:20am. First things first I got up and looked around for toilet. There wasn’t any on our side of the tent. I turned back and what I saw engrossed my wits to no end. I was witnessing nature’s incredible engineering.

We were at the base of an enormous mountain. It was as long as your eye could see and higher than you can imagine ;). Its elevation might confuse an adventurous observer as a challenging posture, but clearly trekking on it seems rather impossible. The mountain was dusky brown, constituted of loose stones and heaps of fallen gravel and big boulders making up the rest of the terrain. I clearly recall myself thinking about the ego-destroying effect it had on me. .

Recovering from the spiritual bolt I tried to keep my mind focused at the urgent task at hand so I continued my search for toilet and it struck to me that those huge boulders further definitely have something to do with it, especially at a place like this. Determined to ‘just do it’ I acquired a water bottle and some paper soap. Note to readers: To be true to my neat and clean image ;) I am NOT going to write anything explicit or gross, so let’s just say it was my first in the wilderness.

After all was done and dealt with I picked up my trusty camera. The morning breeze has still some moisture left which made the morning cooler than it was. Arriving so late at Chandra Taal yesterday had dented my plans for scouting best locations for photography. The ‘ego destroyer’ mountain was like a huge wall, it blocked early sunlight. Upon inquiry, I was told that sunlight will be blocked till 8am. Armed with the fact I retraced a short path towards the snow peak I saw yesterday, trekking over a small hillock on its way.

I am accustomed to mountains, but not today. AMS was working against me. At 4300Mtrs, up from 2000 Mtrs just in two days is too short time to get acclimatized with the drop in air pressure and oxygen density. What I really mean is that I had hard time climbing that small hillock I could run over normally. I was out of breath just walking to the top. Disheartening’ was the fact that I could see two more humps before I could reach workable place. Already 6:10am. I was losing time, I tried synchronizing my feet movement with breathing and I managed to reach a decent point but not before the sunlight broke on that mountain. I couldn’t see the same dramatic effect, not in this light. Unfortunately the sun was well above the horizon. I took some photographs that I felt were interesting.

View Landscapes at Chandra Taal (c) Gaurav nawani 2009

A dried up lake near Chandra Taal

Satisfied with what I managed I turned my attention towards Chandra Taal. Interestingly I had not even entertained the idea that ‘I AM here at awesome Chandra Taal!’ for the long time I was here. I briskly walked towards the legendary Lake, stopping midway for photographing a beautiful scene. Probably I ruined the effect but here it is for your viewing pleasure.

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

Chandra Taal was a big serene lake almost as big as I had envisioned it ;). From my vantage point, there was a small hill that blocked my view of the lake. I knew that I had enough fuel in me to go to the other side but I decided to keep an upper limit of 45 minutes as I had no Idea when those jackals will wake up, at least it wont be 7am I thought. So now I started to trek down to reach a small path encircling the banks of Chandra Taal. The path is about 5-6 Kms long, a great way to soak in the history of the Lake and live it. Chandra Taal before sunrise (c) 2009 Gaurav Nawani

It was about 6:40am when I touched the path. I stood still watching the awesomeness of Chandra Taal, water was so pristine, completely colourless and freezing. I had an urge to swim in it. But because of the cold water, absence of sunlight coupled with the day’s driving ahead, and I knew it was not a good idea. But this is something I will do when I return. I spent some time walking around the lake and decided to wait for sun to come out over the valley. It will boost colours and contrast for photographs.

Sheandi I approached the tents to find the nomads snoring and turning in their beds, so I went to the kitchen for a well-deserved cup of tea. A big wolf like dog approached towards me, he looked very content with himself. Harish (Owner of the kitchen & tents) told me that his name was Sheandi and that he is a local cattle herd dog. I offered a pack of biscuit to him which he ate diligently, with no air of thanks. I guess he was not the emotional type. I patted him for some time and he did seem to enjoy that. Now a big pup appeared from behind the tent. I stood perplexed for a moment, he was actually a grown up dog. Not as grown up as Sheandi was but most certainly not a pup as his cute looks suggested. Of course, he got his share of biscuits (for the emotional readers ;).

Woken nomads, notice smile on jatin's face ;)I went back to our tent, finally nomads have risen to the morning sun. The air was filled with talks of Jatin’s fantabulous birthday experience the previous night, he was obviously not in shape. By now Lovey & Sudi had a problem: they both refused to do the ‘thang’ in the wide open space. Helpfully, I suggested the big boulders, and if not, the really big ones just behind them. But none of them budged. But dear reader, don’t you worry. Needless to say, one can’t fight nature, and both obliged later ;).

Chandra Taal at sunrise (c) 2009 Gaurav Nawani

Real Sheandi posing with real nomadsIt was 7:50Am so I went back to the lake for photographs. Sudi and Sid followed and after half an hour or so later we came back for breakfast. We finally managed to leave Chandra Taal: ‘The great and awesome Lake’ at around 11am. Sheandi was accompanying us, so the big dog is emotional after all I thought. He followed us all the way to our bikes and was decent enough to pose with the nomads, as he might have done to so many who showered a bit of genuine warmth on him.

11:30 AM: Return paths are easier

Scary road to Chandraa taalWe had to backtrack 14 Kms to reach the point where road left towards Kunzum La. The complete monstrosity of danger was now clear in the day light. We drove fast on this thing in evening light? wow we must be good ;). 14 Kms ended quickly and we started to ascend the Kunzum La road. It was marginally better in shape but a lot wider. About two Marutis wide to be exact :P. The road all the way up to Kunzum La was so barren that it made me think hard of any proper word for it. Hostile! It was. One look and you know why no one would want to live around here.

Jatin was a little edgy today, and he kept stopping passing vehicles for directions, inquiring telephone lines and asking for spare petrol. But then he was doing the same thing the day yesterday as well. I was amused as most of the time we were on one way path. Franky at one point I was completely annoyed at his petrol hunger, to keep my mind off it I thought if we have to stop every passing vehicle why not ask for Dimox tablets.

12:30 AM: The halt at Kunzum La

Road was climbing rapidly on one face of mountain so it was zig-zag back and forth. We gained height rapidly to reach wider mountains at the top and kept moving till we reached a place which had a temple type architecture with lots of coloured flags around. I stopped near sign boards at the intersection till my eyes fixate on one peculiarly suggesting passer by to go around the Gompa before onward travel. Just in time my extremely rich repertoire of memory suggested that this ritual was a way of worship at Kunzum La that means we have reached the ‘Kunzum La Pass’.

Kunzum La GompaWith new found faith I drove towards the monastery up further the road travelled round past the place of worship. I think Sudi was parked next to me and he didn’t understand my sudden path breaking move ;) I signalled a turning circle and pointed towards the board, others who were just arriving followed me to their quota of prayers.

One annoying problem with this group was that none of the guys wanted to keep spare of anything, not even drinking water. The two bottles that we had bought were finished already, the sun was out in all its harshness and we still had lots of ground to cover. Of course we can manage but why not do it while we are perfectly hydrated? Come on guys?

We all had the headache following us the morning. Lovey I think was probably hiding it but I could sense it in the way he took to rest. I figured it best to use those borrowed Dimoxes right away. Jatin tried to dissuade me knowing we had only four pops. But I was not in the mood of being dissuaded, so I made him take one. The rest of us except Sid took our share. I kept his just in case. I was relaxed after reaching here, as from now on we were only going to lose height anyway.

12:40AM: Jatin’s Buster Keaton act

Jatin holding his spark plug before his acts.Jatin now showed more signs of weirdness. I mean, if he wasn’t weird that day then why on earth does he have to open up the carburettor now? I thought helping him with this thing will take his mind off other things. As if that was meant to happen! I lost one of the screw which went straight inside the chamber near the engine.

Act 1) Jatin jumps in pain

He asked me to hold the bike and brought up two big stones, not quite flat. He instructed me to tilt the bike on one side of the bike stand. I followed, he place one stone below the raised side of stand. I understood that he wanted to raise the height of bike. Sid came in to help. We pushed the bike over stone and I was about to warn Jatin to get his foot clear of the stand as a precautionary measure. Suddenly, the stand skid over the stone and landed square on Jatin’s left foot. Ouch. We managed to free his foot luckily with only minor injuries.

Act 2) Jatin manages to squeeze his finger

As if that was not enough, I asked him to move the chain slowly just to check if the bolt is stuck in the grease on the chain. I was thinking he had to do something really fishy now, and he complied, instead of turning the tyre with his hand he kept his finger on the chain which followed the motion straight into the chain wheel. Owwww came the noise. Damn! It was very hard, but some how I managed not to break into laughter.

Gods, to which he just prayed, kept his index finger and foot out of harms way. His finger-survived with a minor but painful dent on nail. After all this drama, one would have assumed that Jatin would now move, but he kept hunting for the pesky bolt. Sid joined him in his search. I screwed the rest of the bolts in place. At least three can hold the damned carburetor long enough to reach a repair shop! So I suggested to tighten the bolts and move on, we had a lot of ground to cover”. Finally after tightening we all left Kunzum La with a funny memory.

12:50 PM: Losar registering

Glorious Spiti Valley (c) 2009 Gaurav Nawani 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 way as we had just gained. We were driving on the banks of a dry river bed from which the name Spiti Valley originated. The landscape was full of impressive mountains, dry, muscular and full of erosive gravel. After about an hour we reached a small town which resembled Himachal towns more than Tibetan. To our constant surprise, in all the Lahaul & Spiti region the people we met were efficient in Hindi, probably much more than we are now a days.

Samsong resturant, makes delecious food.

We halted at Losar, Jatin was now patrolling for petrol in town. In the mean time we located a small house just ahead of the police station which served food. We ate the best food here since the start of our journey. Delicious Kaadi, Chawal, Daal and Sabji. Every passer by (non local) has to register his vehicle, license number and name at the Losar police station.

Jatin checked his tank, it appeared his bike never lost petrol in any worrisome quantity however it was actually Mr. Sid who was looking at the bottom of his tank. I had managed to convince a local builder for petrol but I have no idea how these guys managed him to change his mind otherwise ;). Anyway we had about 60 Kms to reach Kaza. I had about half tank full, enough to reach 300Kms, so we decided to move on and I was to back up Sid in a case of eventuality.

4:00 PM: Spiti Valley & Best drivable road on earth

Banta hai moment ;)The scenic splendor we experienced ahead constituted mostly of barren mountains, various ridge formations, which we often mistook for sculpture. Yet sculptures they were, sculptures of nature’s elemental master stroke. The road ahead was one of the best we have ever ridden on. It was pure scenic driving pleasure. 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 some extremely big speed breakers. All of us were in awe of the scenic beauty. We crossed a bridge over the Spiti river and reached a very wide open space. The road went straight ahead, it was ‘banta hai’ moment for us. We halted and the cameras were out.

5:05 PM: Did you rang home?

Exchanging the mobile, dear momma's boys Jatin was most talkative guy today. He was constantly reminding his boy scout nomads, how bad ‘Lagegi’ today. Since they had not relayed their parents about their whereabouts for over two days now, they were expecting major backlash from their parents as soon as they managed to get in contact with them. So they wanted to do it before its too late. Fortunately for them they stopped at a small town where signals of BSNL network were available. A truck driver gave his mobile to Jatin, kind fellow had only 2Rs left in it. He suggested us to be stationed at a particular place in town to receive signals. It was very amusing watching grown up men like Jatin, Sid, Lovey, Sudi and Manish taking turns as a human dish to talk to their parents. What the hell! lets do it! I thought I would at least be able to talk to my dear maa.

Calling home from this town.

  • 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 last seen at Manali ;)
  • Jatin’s sis wanted to know his well-being before he could manage to say ‘hello’.
  • Sudi was cool customer, apparently his dad had already visited this place.
  • Lovey got on with almost same as Sudi.
  • I have no I idea about Manish he is always talking on phone without sounding like one ;).

Sudi milking avenger, while me & Sid look on After consoling their parents, they all promised to call back after they reach Kaza which was only 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, the inevitable had happened. Bajaj Avengers have this petrol tube fitted in such a way, it seems to be ergonomically designed for stealing petrol. Sid had a can with him and Sudi milked my bike for 2 litres of petrol.

Ki monesteryThe road ahead had freshly laid tarmac and we were zipping through. I was flying on this part of the stretch, touching 80 at places, overtook one Innova and reached a place I remembered reading about on the Internet. It was the Ki monastery on the opposite bank, bathing in the evening sun. I wanted togo there but considering that tomorrow we needed to drive over 230Kms on hilly road to reach Shimla, I managed simply by cursing my luck.

8:00 PM: The ‘Order at Kaza’

Finally we landed at Kaza at around 6:30. Jatin and Manish had already scouted a nice & cozy hotel cum restaurant. We dropped in and switched on the geyser. Kaza was as populated in that desolated place as any other populated town in a similar desolated place ;). I bathed and ordered ‘Ginger-honey-lemon-tea’. A hungry stomach and cold weather! I ordered soup which was hot but more importantly delicious. I think encouraged by the taste guys filled up the order booklet. If I had any idea of that I would most certainly had trimmed the extra, but that was not the problem, the problem was the food we got afterwards, it was cooked too late, cooked too slow and cooked so bad that actually five of us didn’t eat it at all.

Funniest thing was that 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 too cook. How any cook 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’. ‘That is it!’ I screamed, “Come on man! you always serve Roti with food that is cooked for it!”.

He said “Foreigners don’t order Roti”. I was left scratching my head, calmly I answered “Good that you cleared it up!”, “but we are from your country weeeeeee do!”. Weird thing is that he had the dough ready. Eventually he prepared the Rotis. I ate two in about three spoons of over salted daal. I didn’t have heart to taste Paneer and Sabji any more. I went to sleep straight away. Before going to sleep I thanked god for the nice and comfortable beds.

Stats

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