Monday, 26 November 2012

The Chronicles of Ladakh - Part 13 - On Manali Leh Highway

Previous: Tso Moriri to Tso Kar 
 
Day 13, 20th September, 2012 , the Real Adventure Begins

Tso Kar > Moore Plains > Pang > Lachulung La > Nakee La > Sarchu > Bharatpur (173 Kms)

The Journey to Sarchu

In the morning, Rigzin greeted us with a good news that he managed to get a car for us, which would drop us at Manali, with an overnight stop at Keyong/Jispa. This car would pick us up from Debring – where the cut for Tso Kar meets the highway. We started around 9.30 am after the breakfast. The day was bright and sunny, but perhaps not our luck.
Towards the Manali Leh Highway from Tso Kar
We reached the crossing at around 11 in the morning. The other car was supposedly reach around the same time, but we couldn’t see any car till 45 mins as we waited at the Debring camp settlements. As advised by Rigzin, we started towards Leh hoping that we would meet the car coming from the other direction. We were the slowest car amongst the all going in either direction. Suddenly Rigzin parked his car and and stopped one Qualis coming from the other direction, it was the car for the rest of our journey. We, alongwith our luggages, were transferred to the Qualis. We sadly parted from Rigzin as he travelled towards Leh.
 
The road was pathetic because of the ongoing maintenance – it was bumpy and too dusty. As soon as we passed Debring, we were on the Moore Plains which is nothing but a stretch of 40 kms of flat roads towards Pang. The roads were really devoid of many undulation but the dust was too strong – it was really difficult to protect the lens of my camera and click some photos.
Moore Plains - sometimes tarred roads..
..but mostly 'make your own' type of roads

On our way, we could see some curious rock formation because of the erosion. We didn’t enounter such uncanny formation before. We reached Pang at around 1.30 where we had our lunch. No prize for guessing what the lunch was – Maggi!! Pang was nothing but some temporary settlement of tents offered by the local people. There were dormitory dhaba style accommodations as well.
Towards Pang
Rock Formation
Tents at Pang
As soon as left Pang, our driver (they were two actually – one uncle and his nephew) stopped the car besides of a small stream and pointed towards one direction and whispered “look, Ibex”. We could see a small family of Ibexes drinking water from that stream. All the bones that were crushed because of the ride, were back at their respective places again J as this sightings were very rare.
Ibexes
Neither the road improved nor the breathtaking scenery degraded till we reached Lachulung La. We could not see a single patch of tarred roads in between. The roads were too narrow – it was a scary experience whenever one car came from the opposite direction. Little did we know that these were just the trailers, the real show was about to begin soon.
 
 
 
Towards Lachulung La
Lachulung La Top
View from Lachulung La - where we came from
View from Lachulung La - the way ahead
We crossed Lachulung La and Nakee La back to back – after Nakee La the quality of the roads improved somewhat. Once we crossed Nakee La, we saw Ibexes on multiple occassions. The nephew said “ Sir appka kismat to bohut achha hai” (You are really fortunate to see them so many times). We also started believing that our luck must have been really great.
Nakee La - enlightened
The road we left behind - view from Nakee La
The road we'd traverse ahead - view from Nakee La
More Ibexes
 
The Sarchu Adventure
Without any more incidents worth of mentioning we reached Sarchu at around 4.30 pm, the sun was setting and the light was gradually fading away. Uncle assured us not to worry as we would be reaching Keylong by 8 – they knew the roads as the palm of their hands.
On the way to Sarchu
 
Army Camps of Sarchu
But in Sarchu, the first bad news arrived, one wooden bridge was washed away the previous day so we had to take a shortcut. Don’t ask me how the shortcut was. First it was a downhill with a 45 degree inclination, then a forceful stream of water to be crossed – upto this, though it scared the hell out of us, was no problem. Next was an inclination of 60%, uphill this time. Only a single car could venture. In front of us one truck as waiting to try it. It started and immediately it got stuck in the gravels, we could see one of its tyres were hanging in the air!! After a lot of adjustments, it finally survived but it fully depressed our morale. And it didn’t help when we got stuck in the middle of the inclination. On the right hand side, the  stream was running with its full force and our car was skidding and going backwards. We were pretty confident that it was the end of our journey and could be the end of ourselves when suddenly with the full force of the accelerator the car started moving upwards and we reached the highway. We were relieved. I was being showered over a long list of curses from my better-half because of choosing this road. I assured her that it would soon be over without any more trouble. If there is a God, He must have laughed when I calmed my wife down.
The Killing Nallah Incident
We passed Sarchu Camps and entered the region of snows. It was bone chilling cold. As I ponder over now, I admit that we should have stayed at Sarchu instead of moving ahead as the daylight was fast disappearing, though the drivers assured us that after Baralacha La – which was the next mountain pass ahead – it was a smooth drive to Keylong and they would reach there by any means today. Okay, we thought!
The commencement of the region of snow
Dark was approaching fast
We could see that we were gradually climbing upwards. After some time we could see an array of trucks taking a diversion instead of going through the ‘roads’ Upon enquiring we came to know that another bridge was completely washed out by the ‘Killing Nallah’ and now this Nallah has to be crossed by going through it.
The Nallah seemed a quite one from a distance and slowly the trucks crossed the Nallah one by one without any difficulty, so it was apparent that it wouldn’t be a difficult job. The dark was setting in and apart from a couple of BRO huts, nothing could be seen around. The mountains were snow capped and wind was cold.
The nephew was driving that time and we entered into the Nallah. We immediately realized that the Nallah was more forceful than it appeared. Perhaps we took lightly, our car got stuck!!!! It wouldn’t go forward, it wouldn’t go background. We were stuck under 1.5 feet of water. The nephew and the uncle they kept on trying all sort of things, but other than emitting black diesel fumes, the car didn’t move an inch. We knew we were screwed this time, though they kept us assuring all the time. My wife started crying and praying, but God was in no mood to listen today.
The nephew got out of the car to push the car from backwards, but nothing happened, so he went to BRO huts to request them to provide some assistance. He arrived with a long iron stick, which he attached to the front bumper of the car and then the other end to the back of a truck. The truck moved forward and instead of moving forward, the front bumper of the car gave up.
We now could see beads of sweats in the forehead of uncle. He advised something to the nephew and he now tried to pull it from the back using the same method. The rear bumper gave up this time. Now the only option was to either get it pulled by a bulldozer or to push it from backwards. We chose the second option as the bulldozer would take some time to arrive as the BRO guys advised.
So the nephew kept on pushing and pushing but nothing changed. It was now 6 pm and was almost complete dark. It was cold without any human civilization to be seen, I am with my wife and I could now see that water was making its way inside the car. Perhaps this made me fully crazy as I let go of my shoes and jumped in the water to assist the nephew. Immediately when I dipped my feet in the water, it felt like I was going to die of hypothermia as the water was so cold – it originated straight from the snows that melt during the daytime. There was a queue of trucks lined up behind to cross. After 15 mins or so I gave up and I saw that I couldn’t just feel my legs. It feels like to be paralysed with cold!! I without noticing, went into a truck where they wrapped me up with woollen quilts, I was shivering. My wife joined me soon – the uncle carried her on his shoulders dumper her in the truck. Then the bulldozer arrived. The huge machine pushed the Qualis from the back and without much ado, the Qualis got out and the uncle drove it out of the water, but the rear tyre was punctured, so the car couldn’t go forward. Our luggage were transferred to the truck. The truck driver and his assistant were both so kind, they offered us to drop to Keylong as they were planning to drive all night. We were out of minds so we couldn’t think much. Our uncle and nephew advised us not to trust these lorry drivers, instead we should come with them as they knew some people at Bharatpur where we could stay for the night. In the morning they would repair the puncture and we could start. But we didn’t know if the car could start at all, and we didn’t want to let go of this truck as well. I was not in a position to argue as I was shivering like anything – and I still couldn’t feel my legs. My wife kept rubbing my legs. After much argument we gave up to fate and agreed to stay at Bharatpur, which was 3-4 kms ahead. I just had a doubt in mind. While planning for Ladakh I didn;t read anywhere that Bharatpur does not offer decent accommodation to stay. But as we mentioned, we surrendered to fate now.
Bharatpur!
The truck started, and immediately we knew that perhaps we made the right decision to stay back, as the roads looks too much scary during the night – it was totally dark now. The truck driver dropped us at Bharatpur and we were pulled into a tent. We couldn’t see anything apart from a few tents there. We saw that it was just a dhaba style tent where we, the drivers and the shop owner – everyone will spend the night together. Naturally, we couldn’t do much about it anymore. Firstly, we dumped our luggage and wrapped ourselves up under a couple of huge quilts, but I was still shivering – so the shopowner offered some hot oil, which I applied to my legs and  slowly I started I feeling my legs. We also had some foods and tried to take rest as we knew we couldn’t sleep for the whole night there. The drivers got indulged in some chit chats with some other drivers, and suddenly the uncle approached me and advised that they are going to repair the car right now and bring it here and tomorrow we can start early. They managed a lift on a car which was going towards Leh. They left – we were even more insecure. The tent was a temporary one and it looked like it could give up at any moment under the gutsy wind outside, the temperature must be close to zero or might be less than zero degrees. There was nothing to do so we just waited for the drivers to come back. It was around 10.30 pm when they finally came back with the good news – the tyre was replaced and apparently no other damage to the car. Some relief – perhaps that was the best news we have heard in years.
Everyone went to sleep, apart from us – we were awake, we could listen to the dogs barking, the wind passing through the tents, the sound of army trucks passing by for the whole night. We planned to start as soon as the day breaks the next morning. The night seemed to be a never-ending long one.
To Be Continued...

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