Wednesday, July 08, 2009

The Leh Road Trip SAGA - Keylong to Leh

Disclaimer : The dialogues and characters may be mismatched. Any irregularities are pure co-incidential. There might be some dialogues and scenes to make the tale more spicy.

We leave keylong and proceed towards Jispa. Jispa is beautiful. It only has hotels - no shops or anything. There is the highway - on one side of the highway there are hotels and on the other side is the river with a huge sand bank. Imagine sitting in your hotel room and watching the ri
ver flow by through the window. Imagine that it starts raining at that very moment. And you watch the sun set. At night it would be completely dark and silent. You could only hear the river flow.

Well, we pass jispa and approach a bridge. We stop here to take some photographs. Soon we see white snow covered mountains in front of us. As we drive towards it, we were unable to imagine that we would actually be driving on those snow covered mountains. In some time we see snow on the side of the road. Clean white snow - a lot cleaner and better than what we saw in Rohtang la. There are lots of trucks trying to climb the steep roads - puffing out black smoke. The roads are smooth and the drive is enjoyable.

Everyone : WOW
J : Look at that. Snow on both sides of the road.
N : Snow walls on both sides of the road. Lets stop somewhere and take some photos.
B : This is beautiful
R : If we stop, the trucks that we had overtaken would again overtake us.
L : Let me get down and take a photograph of the cab with snow walls on both sides.

We stop and take some photographs. It is at that moment that we realize that even if we walk a bit faster we start panting. Soon everyone is aware of the pain in their heads. We tie our scarfs over our heads to keep out the cold. We cross Baralacha at 16500 ft. The roads deteriorate and we see some trucks fallen and abandoned on the side of the road. The road is very narrow and broken at many places.

We reach cross Bharatpur and ZingZingBar which are very small towns. Soon we see tents on the side of the road. We have reached Sarchu - around 112 kms from keylong. The roads are ok but it is very muddy. We see military posts here and there. There are lots of luxury tents where one can stay in Sarchu. We cross and stop at a dhaba to have tea and coffee. It is very windy here and the wind is very cold. As soon as we get out our lips start cracking due to the cold. We have eggs and tea. We enquire and come to know that you could stay at the dhaba overnight for Rs 50
as well. I thank myself for stopping at a hotel instead of here. It would have been exhausting staying in Sarchu. Moreover washrooms were totally non-existent. Going out in the wind for nature calls would have been very cold.

We move ahead from Sarchu. All are tired and exhausted. The roads go for bad to worse to terrible. Everyone has a headache. We are all hungry and cold and are waiting to get to leh for a good hot meal.

B : Head is paining like anything
Guddu : Can i get a disprin.
(Everyone take one disprin each and gulp it down).
L : The headache forms a ring around the head. We could call this "The lord of the rings".
J : This is due to less air. We are travelling above 14000 ft - higher than the rohtang pass. Take long and frequent breaths. It should help.
(J opens his mouth and starts breathing heavily).
R : We should have bought a portable oxygen cylinder. It would have helped.

The roads become non-existent and all we could find are muddy bumps. The car is totally covered with dust.

Soon we reach the Gata loops - 21 loops which take you to up the top of another pass Nakee la at 15,547 ft. The loops have good roads but the climb is very steep. We are too exhausted to take the photograph of the board "Nakee la - 15547 ft". And we cross Lachulung la at 16,616 ft without even knowing about it. There is a huge valley with a small river flowing. We cross the river and proceed towards pang. The distance from Sarchu to pang was 80 kms but it took us almost 2-3 hours to cover it.

We reach pang around 4 in the evening. Hungry we order for dal chawal. It seems that rice-dal is easily available everywhere on this route. It was hot when it came and within 5 minutes it turns cold - even before we finish eating. All of us gobble up from the same plate. We order tea and coffee. The dhaba here was named "Sonam International". The dhaba owner gives us milk and coffee powder and sugar to prepare our own coffee. I prepare a very strong dose for myself. Refreshed and with some food in our hungry stomach - we proceed ahead.

Within 15 minutes of leaving pang, we are in moore plains. Moore plains is a flat piece of land (very flat and very large) at 15,400 ft . I did not believe in its vastness and flatness untill i saw it. It is difficult to believe that you are around 3000 ft above rohtang pass and it looks like you are on plains. The air is cold. There is a road here, but you could drive almost anywhere.

R : We could do dirt racing here.
J : Yes, we might have done - if we had got our bikes.
L : We could also do car racing here.
N : What are those - big stones there.
B : Oh god the stones are moving.
Guddu : Madamji, those are sheep.
N : So many of them, it looks as if the complete ground is covered with big white stones.
J : Where do they get water and food here - there is almost no vegetation here.
L : There is some grass on that side it seems.
R : It is difficult to believe that we are at such a height and there is no snow.
J : There is only mud.
L : The sun is so strong. Gudduji you have anything.
(N takes out sunscreen and we apply it on our exposed hands and face. Guddu and N place black screens on their window to prevent the sun from burning them).
L (pointing to a very small looking vehicle): What is that - so far away
R : Looks like a truck.
L : Gudduji, can you overtake it.
Guddu : Dekhte hai sir. Bahut door hei.
J : This place is awesome. We were climbing mountains and suddenly we are on plains and that too very huge.
L : When will we reach leh.
Guddu : I think by 11 pm.

After about an hour we are tired of looking at flat land and mud everywhere. We long for some variation in scenery. After about 2 hours we start climbing a mountain again. The roads are again very bad. There are places where innova's bottoms are scraped. And we climb to TangLang la - 17,582 ft - the 2nd highest pass in the world. It is very cold and windy here. We get out and feel our face and hands freeze. It is around 6 pm and we could see the sun going down. We take some photographs in 2 minutes and climb back into our warmer car. The "Lord of the rings" are back
with a bang. We all have terrible headaches.

We start climbing down. The road is terrible with snow on one side and deep valley on the other side. The roads are very narrow - two vehicles cannot cross here. After about 15 minutes we hit a traffic jam. This was the longest and the most painful night we had. We had to spend the entire night in the car with the "Lord of the rings" - hungry and cold. At night the temperature dropped below 0.

Guddu (Stops the car and gets out): Let me check what the problem is.
(We all are shivering inside the car)
R : Love do you have the blanket ?
L (passes the blanket, J & R get inside the blanket and cover their heads).

We wait for Guddu's return. He is back in 10 minutes.

Guddu (Gets in the car and rubs his hands together) : A truck's axle has broken. It is a truck carrying iron rods. It is too heavy and cannot be moved aside. They have called for help.
R : Kitna time lagega ?
Guddu : 1-2 hours - they say.
J : It is already 7 pm. We will reach by 1 in the night.
L : Lets hope for the best.

An hour goes by

R : It is 8. The sun sets here very late.
J : Yes, i think on mountains, the sun sets late and comes up early.
L : Yaar my head. The lord of the rings are playing kabbadi inside my head.
N & B : Ours too
J (Opens his mouth and starts breathing heavily) : Take in more oxygen - it should improve the headache.
L : I am hungry. Koi chawal de do.

We watch as the driver inside the truck on our right lights up his stove and starts cooking.

J : Yaar love, chal chawal mang kar aate hai.
R : Kuch garam mil jai peen ke lia.

Guddu goes out again and checks the situation. He is back in 10 minutes.

L : Kuch hua.
Guddu : Bahut thand hai. Sab apni apni gadi mein baithe hai. Koi kuch nahi kar raha.
R : Arey jam laga hai. Jab gadi aage nahi jaigi to apne aap koi aayega
Guddu : Bol rahe hai ki crane bulwaya hai. Wo sayad gadi ko hata de.
J : Jaldi hataye, i am cold and hungry. And i have to attend a nature's call. I am thirsty as well, but the water is too cold to drink.
L : Koi chawal de de.

It is dark outside. We are freezing inside the car. If we open up the window the cold comes in. If we close the window we feel suffocated due to lack of oxygen. We open a very small part of the window and breathe thru it.

J : It is 9 pm. I need to get out. My body is aching and i need to pee. I need some air. I am feeling nauseated.
N : It is very cold outside.
R : Let him go.
J : I will be back in 5 minutes.

J gets out and feels oxygen reaching his brain. He could feel his brain trying to clear up and the cold getting inside his clothes. The Lord of the rings increase 10 fold. His head starts going around in circles. He manages to stumble back to the car and gets inside. He starts shivering very badly. Everyone starts rubbing his hand and shoulders.

J : Shit man, it is cold outside.
L : aapne to hame dara dia hai.
J : It is very cold. I was not prepared for this cold.
R : Andar baitho. Dont go outside.

We all snuggle close to each other inside our blankets.

R : Old monk nikali jai.
J : Yes please.
L : Here it is.
R (Opening up old monk and taking a long sip) : Wow, this feels good and warm as it goes down.
J (Taking a gulp) : hmmmm warm.
L : Take a pic of mine as i take a sip.
B : Can i take a little.
R : Take a very small sip. A large one will make your neck burn.
N : Lets re-arrange the seating so that we are close to each other and we could stretch our legs.
J : I dont have the will to get out and re-enter the car.
L : I am afraid to get out.
R : Lets shift internally.
J : L get on the second seat. I will go on the back seat. R will come on the second seat. We can fold the seat next to the driver and stretch out legs.

It took us 20-30 minutes to re-arrange ourselves. Each small moment caused the "Lord of the rings" to multiply and we started panting. By the end of the exercise we were all panting as if we had run 10 miles.

L : Koi chawal de de.
J : Please feed the hungry.
R : I could do anything to get hot rice & dal.
J : It is 11 pm. lets hope it the road clears up soon.
Guddu is sleeping on the front seat covered from head to toe in his blanket.
The truck drivers on the left and right have had their diner. They light their stoves and sleep inside the truck in the warmth of the stove.

J : Mujhe scene accha nahi lag raha. It seems that everyone is sleeping instead of working at the truck.
R : It is very cold outside. Who will work?
L : Yaar, in truck wale apna sara intejam kar ke chalte hai. Hum jaise log ki vaat lagegi. Yeah to aaram se so jaiengay.

It is pitch dark outside. We all are breathing heavily with open mouths to make up for the loss of oxygen. The lord of the rings seems to reside on our heads permanently.

Someone from outside : Chalo, chalo, lets push the truck aside.
J : Inko abhi yaad aa raha hai.
Guddu : Chup raho. Itni thand mein bahar jana padega.
R : Sshhhh...
J : It is 12 pm.
N : When does the sun come up.
J : I saw it come up at 4:30 in keylong. It should be up at around 4.
L : 4 more hours.
R : I cant sleep in this cold and with this headache.
J : I dont think anyone can sleep in this situation. I have to go to attend nature's call, but it is too cold outside.
N : You can use a bottle.
J : Thanks, but i would prefer to wait for the morning.
L : Chawal...
R : Ab to sayad subha hi khulega.
J : Breathe heavily and deeply.

We lie in cold. The pain in the head has become constant and in fact we tend to be getting used to it. It has numbed our senses. We are thirsty and hungry. We have water and food, but we want to have them hot. We are too scared to have them cold. The cold passes thru the walls of the car and gets inside.

J : 12:30. Time is passing so slowly.

A truck starts in the distance.

Guddu : They keep on starting the trucks every few minutes so that the diesel does not get frozen up.
L : Oh.
R : Ek to oxygen nahi hai and these trucks are creating further pollution.
J : 1' O clock. 3 more hours.

J checks his watch every 15 minutes. The time is passing very slowly. Every now and then a truck starts up and spills out black smoke. The truck stays running for 5 minutes and then shuts down. Lots of tempo travellers have also pulled up on the route.

J : Imagine how long the JAM would be. If anyone is stuck at the peak, his situation would be worse.

We hang to each other for warmth and wait for the sun to get out. It is 4 am and still there is no sun.

J : Wait, the sun might be on the way.
R : We have waited for so long, Lets wait for some more time
L : Do we have any other option than waiting.

The sun comes out at 4:30. J puts his sweater, jacket, gloves and monkey cap.

J : I am going out to see the situation.
L : It is cold outside.
J : This time i am prepared.

J goes out and attends his nature call. It is very cold. He could feel the cold trying to get into his jacket, sweater and then his tshirt. J moves ahead to check the situation. There are people coming back knocking the cars and trucks and telling that the way has been cleared. J runs
back to his car.

J : I bring good news.
R : Kya?
J : The way has been cleared. We can move ahead.
Guddu (Starts the car) : tissue please.

Guddu tries to wipe the snow off the wind screen. But then realizes that it is not snow. The windscreen is covered with frozen ice. He starts the defogger on heat mode and waits for the ice to melt. We start slowly down the hill. Each bump causes the "lord of the rings" to shift and ca
use more pain. In some time we are down from the hill. We stop. L & B get out and empty their tummies of whatever they had. We cross rumtse and Upshi. In some time we enter Laddakh - we know that because we had to pay a very heavy toll there.

The road from there is very straight, smooth and beautiful. We are in a valley with hills on both sides. We enjoy the drive and also feel the pain in our heads and cramped bodies. We stop at a shop somewhere in between and attend our nature calls and have tea. Our heads are heavy and we are weak due to the ordeal in the night. We reach Leh by 8 am and proceed to our hotel.

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