I woke up early again – with no signs of hangover in spite of the altitude we were at. We started from Keylong by 7:30. The original plan was to reach Sarchu or Pang by evening, which was pretty realistic if not for the few mini-catastrophes that came our way.
(Beautiful scenes at Jispa)
Our first hour was quick and we stopped for breakfast at Ibex hotel in Jispa. There was a line of Bullets parked outside the place and one of us went in to check if breakfast was available. They had a buffet spread and we went in. The Bullets belonged to a French group on an organized tour to Leh. We had to wait some time for our food to be ready. Toast, assorted eggs, cornflakes, parathas – pretty staple stuff.
The French group left before us but we were to sync up at the river crossings up ahead. The climb up from Zingzingbar to Baralachala was very tough on my bike. In addition to a gruelling climb we also had to cross two river crossings.
The first one was shortly after we started the climb. A foot high stream of glacial water melted by the slowly rising sun was flowing across the road. The good thing was that the road underneath the stream wasn't too rocky. We went in one by one and managed it fine. I did well up until the end of the stream where I hit a rock, tipping my bike over me. My leg was hurt and there was a sharp pain around my right knee. This pain seemed to get worse but was OK after the Army doctor at Sarchu examined the wound and gave me some medicines.
We continued our ride and on a bend in the road stood Deepak Tal. It's a small lake and stands alone in the desolate mountains. I took some photos, tried out the polarizing filter for the first time (and till now only) and got a few good ones.
(Deepal tal in Spiti)
My bike was really struggling on these slopes and I had absolutely no power in the higher gears – I seemed to have traction only on the first and second gears. And some time later, only on the first gear – my already-battered bike would have killed me if it could.
The others were far ahead now and I decided to take a break to see if that helped matters. It didn't. I had read that bikes struggle at these altitudes because of the rarefied air and the carburettor could be tweaked to let in more air to enhance the air-petrol mixture fed to the engine. I hadn't found out how to do that unfortunately, but I knew a short cut. You can do the same thing by just taking out the air-filter, but this has its side-effects. With no air filter, you are basically letting dust particles pass in with the air mixture – certainly not good in the long term. However, there would be no long term if I couldn't get my bike up these slopes so I took out the air filter. It was a fairly simple procedure and there was a definite improvement in pick-up.
(Back on track)
And then we reached the next river crossing. This one wasn't like the earlier one. The water was significantly higher and gushed forth with a violent force. To add to the chaos, there was a Chevrolet Aveo stuck in the middle of the stream. It was clear that water had entered the engine and there was nothing the driver could do by himself. The Pune group had crossed over just but the French group were stuck with us on this side of the road. Some of them tried tying ropes to the car and pulling – but that was no match to the kinetic force of the water and the potential force of the big rocks jamming the car's wheels in place.
Meanwhile on the other side, a battalion of army trucks began to pull in and it became clear that once the crossing was cleared, they would have right of way. They had got a road leveller with them. The army guys now got into the water to push out the Aveo. They tried to tow it away with a rope but the rope broke.
The French men got going as soon as the trucks had crossed over. Their tour attendants found the best path for bikes, which was precariously close to the edge of the valley. Each crossing was a fierce battle with 2-3 men pulling and pushing the bike while the rider accelerated continuously so that water didn't enter his silencer. Many times, the bikes froze in the middle of the stream; I am sure with shock because no bike would have ridden through almost frozen water on an uneven and unforgiving river bed. One of them almost tipped over very close to the valley but one of the helpers valiantly held on to the bike and a couple more from their group went over to rescue the biker. With the sun getting brighter, there was more water in the stream and it was only going to get worse.
We took the luggage off our bikes. I got rid of my pants. Being the only one I was carrying, I couldn't afford getting it wet.
Amey was the first to cross over – he collapsed on the other side. He threw his waterproof pants over and putting it on I took my position with the remaining French men. The French do not have a chequered history when it comes to war and a part of me wondered if this was a sign of things to come! My heart was pounding all this while and then one Frenchman hesitated before his turn. The attendants got busy encouraging him and I decided to go for it with Kunal and Prado coming running to help me. I think after Matheran and Sagargad this was the scariest time of my life. I had no idea what I was doing.
The minute it took me to cross felt like an hour. My bike got stuck behind a rock half way through and no amount of pushing seemed to get my bike over. A French man rushed to my rescue and I was pushed, pulled, shoved over to the other side. I immediately took off my boots which felt like they were stuffed with knives piercing and tearing into me. I was in a daze half way through the crossing. The cold water had completely numbed my feet and mind. I was left completely breathless and I had no sensation in my feet for a good 15 minutes. To know what this chaos can do to you, watch Kunal who went in a similar daze when stuck in the middle of the water.
My bike had made it to the other side but with even more damage. It refused to start for half an hour. The experienced guys from the other groups came over and gave all kinds of advice but nothing seemed to work. Finally someone prophesized that water might have gone into the silencer and it had to be taken out. But how? Of course by lifting the bike up from its front side. We did that and I also cleaned the spark plug thoroughly. This worked and my bike came back to life.
We continued our climb up to Baralachala. The road was beautiful and as we got closer to the pass the snow on the side of the roads increased. Baralachla (5045 m) was basically a road cut through the middle of an ice wall. It was beautiful beyond words and there's a lake – Suraj Tal – immediately after crossing Baralacha La. This lake is the second highest lake in India.
(Snow at Baralachala)
The view on the other side was beautiful but also had the final river crossing for the day. After the previous ordeals, this was a minor inconvenience and was crossed easily. Here's me doing it
(The view from our tent)
We decided to halt here for the night. We had only covered 75kms that day but it was past 5 and going further would be risky given Sanjay's shape. I went out to check the rest of the camp. Bharatpur camp is at a height of 4700 meters and offers an uninterrupted 180 degree view of the mountains around it.
(The dry river bed)
The Bhaga river forms a massive delta and has a lot of great photography opportunities. Baralachala could be seen covered with snow in the distance. There are Tibetan flags atop the tents and there were only a couple other groups with us at the camp. Soon it was turning dark and it got too cold outside even with my layered clothing and jacket. Inside the tent, it was warmer but only slightly. The chilly air and thin air made us even more aware of the little pains we had picked up over the last couple of days. We were all so tired that we hardly spoke and after having some Maggi we were all asleep by 8 PM.
According to our original plan, we should have been sleeping in Leh today :D
According to our original plan, we should have been sleeping in Leh today :D