Khardung La - Leh - Tso Moriri

11 July 2010
Day 8 Khardung La (not just a customary smooth ride) - Leh - Tso Moriri via Mahe Bridge, Chumathang

Note: you might get sore eyes looking at the hdr pictures taken/processed by a noob photographer :D

So day 8, a new day new route and a lot to look forward to.

Morning I woke up early and the plan was to complete the customary K-top ride and come back to the hotel, pack my things finally to leave Leh for the rest of the trip. Although I did think of a default plan of coming back to Leh if at all I am not able to find my way to Pang from Tso Moriri through Tso Kar.Or at worst if at all my fuel is not sufficient for the next segment.

Khardung La is 42kms from Leh and almost all of it is an uphill and the last time I was here it was, the roads were mostly good except for the last 3-4 kms.I expected to come back by 10 and start for Tso Moriri, never had an idea what was installed for me on the ride.

By 6.15 I was climbing towards the K-top. It was chillingly pleasant :)

I had just carried one tank bag for this ride as anyways I was coming back to the hotel and start again. I kept chain lube, my camera, water bottles, etc...The main reason was the thought that in case I have a fall and since this is early morning no body would be on the roads, I won't be able to put the bike back on to the wheels alone (Comet IS a heavy bike, approx 170kgs with fuel and other liquids in the bike).
As expected no soul was around except for occasional truck drivers on the road. As I was ascending the temperature was going down pretty quickly, my hands were going numb hence I had to put on two gloves on but still it was really enjoyable ride and all the way I was thinking that the roads are pretty good and this is going to be smooth ride to the top...(I was so wrong)

I reached South Pullu (K-top is 7 kms from this place) which is where the first check post is situated. By this time it was freezing and my hands were totally numb even though I was wearing two layers of gloves. Didn't take any pictures as well just because I didn't want to take out my hand in this freezing temperature. The army person asked me to come inside for showing the permits and registering my details. Seeing me struggling with my numbs hands he asked me to put my hands over the kerosene burner on which he was preparing tea but only after I make my hands a little warmer by rubbing them with each other.
While entering my details in his register he told me to be careful on the next 7 kms as the weather is really bad and roads aren't in good condition. Also there will be trucks coming down from the other side. I was confused because till now I found the roads to be smooth but this is Himalayas where conditions change within meters and keeping this in mind I continued only after quickly taking this snap: 

The army person was indeed right, the moment I crossed the check post, the roads started deteriorating pretty fast and also the temperature was really low. 
Soon I reached the point on the road which every tourer dreads and that was "black ice". There was a shiny layer of ice on the road. This was going to be my first encounter with the black ice and just didn't want to fall down :D
For the first few meters I went in a constant pace and tried to be in a straight line despite road being very rocky. Just as I was about to reach the first U-turn the very obvious happened, without warning the bike just spun and threw me off and the next moment I see myself on the ground with my tank bag thrown off too and the bike lying in front of me :(
I said $hit, here is my first fall though I didn't take it so seriously. I got up, switched the bike off and collected my tank bag checking to see if my camera is alright or not and then picked up the bike. The road surface was really slippery, I was barely able to walk on it.
It was my first and hence thought of taking the pic of the road. Following is the pic.
Notice the my boot marks on the broken ice as I walked on it.
As you can see from the photo the ice wasn't that solid (due to gradual rise in temperature as the sun comes out of the mountains) and as soon as the bike goes over it, it breaks and causes the bike to change directions suddenly.
The fall hurt my left shin bone but it wasn't hurting much at that time may be due to adrenaline pumping or cold weather.

I took the U-turn continued to ascend and the temperature was still dropping with ice all over the road. It was very slippery and my bike's tyres weren't working on the surface at all. I would pass through the ice and the ice will break leaving the bike's rear tyre stuck in a pot hole. I'll try to throttle the bike so that it comes out of it but the tyre will just slip on its place. I'll have to eventually push the bike through my legs...The whole road was covered with ice and even my boots were slipping. Sometimes I'll get stuck and nothing would work, eventually I'll switch the engine off, rest for a while and then try again. Meanwhile a couple of cab drivers passed by looking at me struggling to go up but didn't stop to offer any sort help too which is quite unlike ladakhi people. People in ladakh are quite friendly and ready to help anyone in need. Anyways I got over the issues one my own with a little more effort
To add to my problems there were small stream crossings too with chunks of ice floating along with lose pebbles and rocks...

Obviously I didn't want to but it was only a matter of time and place that I'll fall down again. And lo! again the bike's front gave away due to the thin ice layer cracking when I went over it.
This time I fell right in the middle of the road. I got up, put the tank bag aside and tried lifting the bike. Unfortunately the bike got pivoted on its foot rest and instead of coming up it slipped more. I wasn't able to stand on the slippery ice and I was trying to pull up the bike. Instead of picking the bike up I ended up making the bike point to the opposite direction. I was exhausted, panting for air, my head started spinning due to the altitude and sweating a bit even in extreme cold environment.

Unfortunately I didn't take any pics of all this.

Thought of leaving the bike for sometime and gather some energy so that I can try picking up the bike again. This time I got an idea of breaking the ice around the bike so that I myself don't slip much and probably this way it'll be a little easier to pick up the bike. I was wearing the army boots with the hard rubber sole and I made good use of it and broke the ice. Eventually I was able to put the bike back on its wheels and a big relief. Put my tank bag back on and continued again.

I hardly reached the point which is called "India Gate" on the route and again bike's rear tyre gave away throwing me off again and hurting me again in the ankle. 

Since these falls were happening at very slow speeds (not even 10kmph) I wasn't getting hurt seriously, but still the shin bone and the ankle was getting pounded every time I fell, both my shin bones had become red wherever I got hurt. Neither the bike got damaged much, a big thanks to the custom crash guard Irshaad bhai prepared for the comet.

This is the point at which I thought, Am I taking too much of risk; first of all I am alone with no soul around (if something bad happens, help will be probably be available pretty late when the traffic starts coming) and how will this effect my rest of the trip. The thought of giving up and heading back had crossed my mind. But then a voice from inside said to me that it is only 2-3 kms left and I haven't come this far just to go back without reaching the top. Feeling motivated again I picked up the bike again and continued to ascend. Finally I reached the top without any more falls. I was feeling elated and feeling proud that I made it to the top.

It was still very cold There was nobody around except an army person. I asked him if the tea shop is open and he said yeah the person will be there in the shop. I went in and had tea. Came out took some pictures at the top and saw another couple had reached to the top from the other side. I asked the guy to take my picture with the bike. Took some more pics at the top. I'll let the pics do the talking now...

Finally reached the top

Doggy peeing on my bike :D

If you still haven't realized how cold it was, see the water droplets (probably what the doggy did in the previous pic :D) freeze right on the bike's fender.

Me with my steed. 

Smooth Finish

After taking the pics started back towards Leh. It was already 8.30am and by this I was expecting to somewhere near reaching Leh. Jumped back on the bike and started for Leh. Going down the same path was even tougher now as it will all be a descend and the ice is still there on the roads; if I slip there is nothing stopping of the bike...

My favorite spot on the route.

 This one is from the previous trip, Same Place same bike same rider but different weather conditions

Again a comparison from my last trip with the current one.

From my last trip...

The route from which I came and will be going back.

One of the water crossings while going back.

I was slowly going down being cautious trying to avoid the ice patches. As I said earlier too my bike's tyres had absolutely not grip that type of surface and as I was coming down the most frightening thing happened. I was tried avoiding the ice patches and in that process I moved away from the mountain shade on the road and tried going close to the edge of the other side (the valley side of the road) where there was more of water and less of ice. As I was going through the patch, the ice layer broke and the bike's rear ended in a pothole as before it started spinning on its place. What was frightening part was that I was on the very edge of the road and the more I throttle the more the rear spins and shifts towards the valley. I couldn't peddle the bike out of that pothole too as my boots were slipping.
I could actually see the sheer drop just centimeters away from my right foot and it was so scary. I said to myself if I throttle more or try to push the bike I might end falling into the valley. I could hear an engine voice approaching me, I switched off the engine, waited for sometime in the same position for the vehicle to come so that I could ask that person to just push the bike from behind and I can come out of the pothole without leaning to left or right. The engine voice was from a truck approaching me and as soon as it came I signaled them to help me out and the helper came out of the truck, pushed the bike out of the pothole. And this is how I escaped a scary rather potentially fatal situation.

It was stupid of me to do what I did and swore to myself to never take the edge of the road to avoid the ice patches. Falling down is much more safer than ending up in the valley :(

While going down had one more fall thanks to my incompatible tyres. After the south pullu check post, the roads got better and came back to my hotel. I was thanking God for being with me in the difficult times, it was Him who was watching from up above that I or the bike didn't get hurt badly in all those falls At the same time I was happy that I didn't give up and completed what I had thought of.

So now it was 10 o clock and I was already very late for starting towards Tso Moriri which was approx 230kms from Leh. I quickly took bath, gathered everything from the hotel, checked-out, thanked the hotel owner, paid the bills (and tips) and reached the petrol bunk. Filled up the tank, 5 litre can, and other small bottles that I had with me. So basically I had around 17 litres in the bike and 8 litres as backup.

Took the first break in Karu to have lunch as it was close to 12 and wanted to finish off lunch so that I can push more to reach Mahe Bridge. It wasn't a big ask as I knew the roads were good all the way till Mahe Bridge because I had been here once in my last trip when we visited Hanle, Chumur going through this same route.

Showed the permits on the checkpost towards Chumathang (famous for hot water springs) and continued. Kept taking drinks break often as the sun was really pounding on me. Drinks break obviously means snap taking time too :D...

I have no idea why I took all of the following shots in portrait mode :D. Could have been so much better...
Road to nowhere..

From somewhere...

As I was amazed in my last trip, yet again amazed by the varying colors of the mountains. Amazing purple colored mountains

I reached Chumathang and stopped at a restaurant for some biscuits and team. I casually asked if I can get petrol in this part and they said I can buy petrol from there in lose bottles but I have to extra for it. They asked me to inquire an old lady outside who has the petrol. I thought it would good if I can get some extra petrol that I can put in the tank. I asked the lady and she told she sells petrol in those liquor bottles for Rs 75/-  per bottle. I asked her to give me 3 bottles 

Reached Mahe Bridge and I was stopped by the check post for the permits. Here one needs to take a right turn to go towards Tso Moriri and if one goes straight, the route leads to Hanle, and then Chumur (road is non-existent to the best of my knowledge)
As usual the guy checking the papers was surprised to know that I am touring alone to all these places. After the general chit chat with the guy I asked about the route and he told that Tso Moriri is 60 kms from the place and 30kms roads are pretty good till a place called "Sumdo" where I need to keep on going straight for Tso Moriri but the rest 30kms is just jeep tracks. 
I asked him if there is any route to Pang from Tso Moriri and he said yes there is a route which goes through the same place SumDo via Tso Kar (another lake which has dried up mostly) and he has gone there once in his jeep.
So some more encouragement as to there is actually a route which I can take.

It was 5PM now and soon I reached Sumdo passing through some of the beautiful vistas and one pretty high mountain pass. I could n't get the name of the pass but I can know that it was pretty high because my bike again started struggling to climb up like it did in most of the higher passes...Again no pics of this route as I was hurrying up to reach the place where the bad roads start so that I reach Tso Moriri in day light.
Right at the 30 kms mark on my bike's odometer (as told by the check post guy) the good roads ended the jeep tracks started. It was pretty bad with big big rocks lying on the road. I knew these 30kms are going to take no less than 2 hours to cover which was fine by me as in this part of the world there is a still sunlight till the 7.30PM mark. My speed dropped to 15kmph and slowly I made my way through the bad roads. After sometime there was this lake I spotted in front of me which I thought was Tso Moriri and I was surprised that I haven't covered 30kms yet and I reached the place. Going a little closer I realized this is not the one as there was nothing around the lake but there is a village just beside the actual Tso Moriri lake by the name "Korzok".
Shot of the lake I spotted:

Continuing, every now and then I will come up to these kind of roads and I'll be confused which one to take as they all disperse to different directions :)

But my concerns got over going a little ahead as all the routes eventually joined in the single route which I meant I am going in the right direction :)

I came up to this bridge which said "Welcome to Tso Moriri" and I was greeted by this donkey :D

The first look at the Tso Moriri lake:

The first look at the Tso Moriri lake was mesmerizing! Although the above picture doesn't do justice to its beauty even one bit.
I was relieved that finally I reached my destination in good time when ample light is present to search for a place to stay and also take some pictures...

Tso Moriri is very much like the beautiful Pangong Tso but not as huge as Pangong. Same impeccably blue colored saline water and ice covered mountains in the background. It was a pleasure riding through Pangong and so was riding beside the beautiful Tso Moriri...A couple of snaps I took before packing the camera for the day as the light was going down quickly.

I had to stop a lot of times to adjust my bags. Apparently I didn't tie the bungee chords properly and the jeep tracks had no mercy :)

Finally located Korzok village and started searching for a place to stay.
At korzok there are good options for the tourers to stay in the form of homestays. The residents of the place have built pretty good rooms to let out to the visitors with nice clean bathrooms etc..
I reached a camp where tourers were having snacks and started talking to a Thai guy who reached a little earlier than me. He suggested me to stay at the place where he is staying. It was getting really cold out there as the place is situated at a pretty high altitude of approx. 14900ft above MSL.
He introduced me to the homestay owner, his name was Nam Gayal, who was pretty cordial and he told me that he himself will prepare the food for the night and he'll charge 250/- (not sure if it was 300/-). After seeing the rooms I agreed, parked my bike nearby and covered it with bike cover as it was not parked under any shade.
There was no cell phone signal in that place and couldn't find an STD phone booth to call my loved ones and inform my where abouts. This was a little worrying as I wasn't expecting any signals anywhere till I reach Jispa or Keylong in Himachal Pradesh which was around 2 days further and not informing my loved ones of where/how I am isn't nice... 

I asked Nam Gayal about the route from Tso Moriri to Pang and he confirmed that there is a route but I would have to track back the whole jeep tracks for 30kms to reach the village Sumdo and take a left from there to reach another village Puga. I showed him the map and showed me the place to go through. The route goes via Tso Kar, Nam Gayal told that the route is very much like what I had traveled through coming to Tso Moriri i.e. all the way it is jeep tracks but not as rocky as this one. The route is around 120kms  long which meant I won't be going more than 15kmph and I will need to start early otherwise I might not make it to Pang in good time.

The Thai guy I met had decided to go back to Leh instead of taking the other route which I had planned.

Night he prepared rice and dal for me because that was the only thing they had in the village. It was delicious. After having dinner I opened my rucksack and found that a small amount of petrol from the cans has leaked and now every thing inside the bag is smelling :( But luckily it was all bike things and not my clothes...

Next day I was about travel on totally unknown, probably  not explored as much as the other places I visited. I was excited and nervous as well but yet again next day had a lot of things to look forward to...

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