North from Manali for the start of a three day ride up to Leh on a highway that is, in the main pretty good tarmac. The route will take in several high Himalayan passes over 5000m. There have been delays this year in the road fully opening up to traffic because snow and drifts still block the road in places – at the time we rode north, only motorcycles were allowed over Baralacha pass (by the time we returned 5-6 days later all vehicles were allowed).
Day 16: Manali to Jispa, 135 km, 6 hours
At 3980m the Rohtang La pass is far from the highest pass on the route, but it was one of the more memorable. Before the trip I hadn’t realised that Rohtang La was a VERY popular destination for Indian tourists – Delhites, Mumbaikars, Chennaites and Kolkatans all flock to Rohtang simply to escape the heat of the city and to see and play in snow – it’s a bit like an Indian version of the Chill Factore.
At present there is a dispute going on between taxi drivers and magistrates in Manali – magistrates have imposed a 1000 limit on the number of cars allowed up to Rohtang La each day, taxi drivers want this restriction lifting as they say it limits how much they can earn. There is no restriction on motorcycles or (i understand) buses. Even with the restrictions, the road is chaos – not enough space, too many vehicles and not very many brain cells… traffic can stop for 10 – 20 minutes at a time just because two buses, or four cars or 30 bikes want to occupy the same small piece of tarmac and only a policeman or soldier can sort it out… slowly.
Unlike most of the peaks, the top is a bit of a plateau, so plenty of space for quad bikes, horses, sledges, skis… like I said, a bid like an Indian Chill Factore. Only with pollution coloured snow.
As we rode out of Manali there were hundreds of shops and stalls advertising ‘Full Suits’ for 50 rupees – it turns out they were hiring out ski suits for people to wear at the top – 50p for the full day.
These guys might be the last people to see my iPad (I’m not suggesting anything dodgy…) I took it out of my tank bag to take this shot, placed it on the back of the bike, forgot about it and rode off…. oops! So, either some lucky tourist picked it up, or it hurtled down the moutain.
It might not be the highest peak, but it’s still worth a photo
The South side of Rohtangla was generally good tarmac, the North side was dreadful. A steep downhill ride full of hairpins, ruts, pot holes and rocks – all with lots of engine breaking. Somewhere on the decline I noticed the engine playing up – misfiring, stalling, being sluggish on the uptake – it wasn’t a happy bunny. We stopped at a small roadside bike shop to see if they could help – the guy checked the spark plugs (they were ok), checked the fuse box (ok), checked the air filter (it was wet through) – I’d ridden through water up to the seat of the bike on the decline and drenched the air filter – he was convinced this was causing the stalling. So, he removed the filter and we set off again.
But the problems continued. We found another garage in Keylong – he didn’t want to help but sent us further on to another mechanic. First signs didn’t look good – there was an assortment of broken, canibalised and rotting bikes lined up outside. It was clearly a place where crap bikes came to die! Would mine be next? But, to his credit, the mechanic started work… removing stuff, dropping parts all over the place, wiping stuff on his jeans… he deduced that the fuel injector was clogged and started to clean it up, Helped by a group of local kids and some petrol in a coke bottle he sorted it… top work impromptu greasy spanner man!
Day 17: Jispa to Pang 160 km, 6 hours
We stayed overnight in a guest house in Jispa – not sure what classifies it as a guest house as there were two buildings with three floors of rooms (mine was very nice) and separate building for the dining room, there were also 6 or so large tents sets up for groups to stay in. All the talk the night before at dinner was how difficult the road north was – that it was barely passable, that it was too icy in the morning, that the melting waters were torrential once the sun was up…
Moti and I discussed our options and agreed to set off as early as possible and get as far as we could – coping with the ice and avoiding the floods. So, breakfast at 5 and set off by 6. One of many cold-water bucket showers I had on the trip. Brrrrr.
We had booked a night in a fixed camp in Sarchu – a luxury camp no less. But, because the road to Sarchu wasn’t yet open to 4 wheel vehicles, the camp wasn’t set up, the trucks carrying tents and supplies simply couldn’t get there from Manali. Moti knew of a smaller camp in Pang – a ‘survival zone’ according to Moti, somewhere we could crash for the night. So, that was our new target.
Highlights of today’s ride included:
the Gata Loops – 21 hairpin bends that take you from 4200m to 4630m
Suraj Taal – a holy lake that looked beautiful frozen
The seats in these cafes become beds at night for people to sleep in rows – Moti isnt tall, you can see that I’d struggle…
Baralach La pass at 4892m – the treacherous part of the ride (obviously not in this shot) that was only just open to motorbikes
Nakee La at 4739m
Zig Zag Cafe (cum shelter) at Zingzing Bar- which I guess meets Moti’s definition of ‘Survival zone’ – not too many luxuries here.
And an abandoned truck – which has apparently been there since the autumn when the snows arrived.
We made it to Pang by about 14:30 – in the end the journey was a doddle – maybe its the years of off road riding, maybe we were lucky (a few days later we were speaking to another group where half of the riders had accidents on this stretch). Far from being a ‘survival zone’ Pang struck me as quite nice (apart from the toilets…). We found a tent and Moti negotiated that I would have a whole room to myself – effectively renting five beds – just so that I could sleep lengthways on what would otherwise be a 5 foot bed.
This little lad was the grandson of the owner of the tent
Moti trying to be Annie Leibovitz (nice shot!)
The tent was fairly quiet all day – I read a book, got some sleep, drank a lot of tea. But after dark it filled up, and up, and up. Indian riders started arriving looking for something to eat and somewhere to stay for the night – there were a few that were unimpressed that I had a whole room to myself… sorry chaps.
Day 3: Pang to Leh 175km
The next morning the camp site really did look like a set from Mad Max – motorbikes and 4x4s all over, with most of the bikes being worked on – there were punctures here there and everywhere, and many, many bikes refusing to start. I was carrying some electrical wire (a replacement for a cigarette power socket) and we ended up turning it into a set of jump leads to get a number of bikes going… once the engines were running we dare not turn them off!
The road a few miles North of Pang was simply stunning. A stretch of 40 km of near perfect tarmac that was flat, smooth and, seemingly, in the sky – nothing around but desert and mountains. Almost unearthly.
We came across several small camps of Tibetan nomads, shepherding sheep and yaks (I’m not David Attenborough but there could have been some pashmina and angora in there as well).
The other highlight of the ride today was passing Tanglang La – the second highest road pass in the world – 5328m.
Caught red-handed (and red faced) taking the ubiquitous selfie at the peak.
The ride down from Tanglangla and north to Leh saw some interesting rock formations – I’m not a Geographer, so I’ve no idea about any of it – but it looked pretty.
These two people were in the middle of nowhere – no buildings, no vehicles, nothing. No idea what they were doing there – but they liked the photo Moti took of them.
Small monestery / Gompa on the outskirts of Leh. Pretty.
Thiskey Gompa – I didn’t have the energy to walk up, so a zoom lens had to suffice. Maybe next time?
Leh is quite a developed town / city. Plenty of hotels, shops, restaurants. Wfi for the first time since Manali but still no phone signal. It will be our base for the next few days as we travel around this region and, in two days, ride the highest road in the world.