Moon-Lake

I was looking at some pictures from several years ago which were taken during my trip to Himachal. All the treks were over and we were just visiting some lakes and small towns on our way to Manali. We were travelling along beautiful roads. I had a book with me and everyone was in a quiet and reflective mood.

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We took a detour to visit the beautiful Moon-Lake(Chandratal) and spend a quiet morning there.The vehicle stopped some way away from the lake. We walked the rest of the way along a narrow gravel path in the direction of the lake.

I was waiting for the lake to come into sight. The constant scanning for the blue patch on the horizon reminded me of the cycle ride to Tso Moriri in Ladakh the previous year.

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The sky in those parts can be very bright and sometimes this prevents you from really enjoying the beautiful sights once the Sun is up. But, that day, the sky was cloudy and the light was perfect.

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There were small patches of grass around the lake and flocks of sheep grazing on it with shepherd dogs running about and barking at them.
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Some of us took a dip in the icy water of the lake.

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I just lay down in the moist grass with my book and spent some time reading and gazing out at the iridescent lake shining with a furious intensity in the many reflected colors of the sky.

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As the clouds shifted in the sky the colors reflected in the lake too changed. I kept on moving around the lake to take in the sight from as many angles as possible.

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The toughest part of that whole trip was the walk on the glaciers of the Pin Bhabha pass. This year, I am going again for a winter trek in Himachal. This time more of the trek will be over glaciers and it will be interesting to find out how I cope with it.

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I am expecting it to be the toughest trekking expedition I have ever participated in and I can’t wait to see the sights and experience the adventure.

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Come Oct, I will be on my way!
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I hope that at the end of the coming trip, we will get to spend a few days roaming around and relaxing in beautiful places like this.

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Cycling near Jog Falls

This was one trip that I had been planning to do for a long time. Cycling in the rain through the ghats!

A lot of my friends had promised to come this time around. But, unfortunately, when the day of the trip came many of them dropped out because of some reason or the other.

But, there were still 4 of us ready to go and at the last-minute I managed to convince Mahesh to come with us. He is a photography enthusiast and I was sure that the lush greenery of the ghats would be an absolute delight for him.

So, on Thursday night, after a lot of rushed running-about to get things ready for Mahesh too, we were finally on our way in the vehicle we had hired for the trip with the cycles on top. I was super-excited about this trip because it was the first time we were going to be cycling in nearly constant rain. I wanted to know what it would feel like.

We reached Sringeri at about 7 in the morning. As we expected, it was raining. As I stepped out of the van into the cold drizzle, I had a sudden moment of doubt. “Maybe”, I thought, “this was not such a great idea!”. But, it happens every time and I was already there. So, too late to turn back!

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It is hard to push yourself out into the rain and start cycling when it is so cold and wet!

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Cycling in constant rain is very different from pedaling on through the occasional drizzle. No matter what you wear, the water will eventually get through it. You will never feel hot or dry. The constant spray of water on your face makes you forget the effort of cycling and the fast pitter-patter sound of the rain against your helmet as you speed down an incline adds to the relief and excitement of the effortless speed!

One of the temples we visited near Sringeri

One of the temples we visited near Sringeri

Once you are soaked and on your way you never want to stop cycling except to catch your breath and enjoy the scenery around you. If you come out of the rain once and stay inactive for more than 15 mins then the chill will start getting to you and it becomes tough to start cycling again.

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Never stop, never take breaks, let the rain cool you down, wash your face and soothe your eyes. Rush against the rain drops while breathing in the wet, thick and clean air. After the congestion, smoke and dust of Bangalore, cycling through the rain-soaked, verdant countryside along the empty roads lining the Linganamakki reservoir was really soothing. The terrain with rolling ups and downs and occasional stretches of level road was never difficult. Every few kms we could catch a glimpse of the reservoir.

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Once we reached Talaguppa, we got onto the main highway and continued on our way to Jog falls. The roads were amazing. But, the inclines were starting to get longer and steeper. It was almost 5 in the evening by the time we reached Jog and settled down for a late meal.

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After eating and walking around the view-point(nothing much could be seen because of the heavy fog) we started again for Gundimane where we had arranged to stay for the night.

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It was a good 30 or so kms from the falls through a steep ghat-section.

The roads in the gathering dusk, soaked in the constant rain and lined with progressively thickening vegetation were an absolute marvel. I was starting to get slightly worried as we were a little behind on our schedule. The last 6 kms to the homestay were through unmarked and unpaved roads that went through the forest. Once the light waned it would be difficult to spot the boards and there was also the risk of encountering wild animals to be considered.

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After some harried pedaling, we reached the turn off point towards Gundimane, marked by a police station. The policemen there seemed a little worried about us going through on our cycles. They asked us to be careful and cycle fast.

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The rest of the ride was through the forest and it was very different from anything we had done until then. The weakening sun was subdued further by the towering trees on both sides. The rain fell in big heavy drops from the leaves above us and we pedaled with gathering urgency as the sounds of the forest started becoming louder and louder.

It was with a sense of relief that we came upon the board marking the gate towards the estate. As we rolled into the courtyard, we saw that our hosts for the night were waiting for us. We dumped out cycles outside and rushed in.

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After having a hot tea, we all had a nice hot bath and settled down to discuss our ride as our dinner was getting ready. I was so terribly cold that I was having fits of shivering every now and then. It was only after dinner that I felt comfortable again.

We spent the next morning lazing around at Gundimane before leaving the place.

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What a day it had been!

Ride to Sirsi

Compared to the first day, the second day’s ride from Jog to Sirsi was pretty easy. But, I think that was a good thing. The ride through the countryside in the fresh air on easy terrain was, I felt, very therapeutic.We stopped now and then to eat the snacks we had bought along and chat. Our colleague Krishnamurthi had arranged for our stay, a hotel there and the night’s stay there was very comfortable. The highlight of the second day was the dinner at Krishnamurthy’s place. His whole extended family was there to celebrate Ganesh Chathurthi and they had prepared an awesome feast for us with many sweets and savories that I had never even tasted before.

The next day, we again went to his estate and he showed us around the whole place. Of particular interest to us was the apiculture he practised on his farm.

DSC_9922He showed us many of the hives and explained how he took care of them and the techniques required to get good quality flavor-rich honey from his bees. It was fascinating!

DSC_0030 copyAnother wonderful sight for us was the private waterfall he had on his farm which drained into a river that meandered through the middle of his land. It was simply mind-blowing.

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After seeing all that, we said bye to him and started for bangalore.

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We had our parting dinner at Bangalore.

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All in all an amazing trip! The only thing that could have been better was if more of our friends had turned up. Seeing and experiencing all those things together would have been so much more fun!

Krishnamurthy showing us around his farm

Krishnamurthy showing us around his farm

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Now, when I get fed up of the dust and congestion of Bangalore, for a bit of relief, I look through these pictures of rain-drenched Shimoga and replay in my mind the two days of cycling we did there…

P.S. All photos credits belong to Mahesh. My camera died after the trip because of too much exposure to the rain.

Cycling from Bandipur to Ooty

This was my second cycling trip with my friends from office. Last time we had gone to Chikmagalur. We started cycling from Jayapura. The route we took was Jayapura- Horanadu – Kalasa – Kuderemukh – Hanumanhundi Falls – SK Border – Sringeri. Most of the guys who were there last-time were there this time too.

This time, we cycled from Bandipur to Ooty via the Kalhatty Ghat. We reached Bandipur by about 7 in the morning. It took 1 hr to get all the cycles ready. As the cycles were getting ready, the first-timers were given a quick talk on how to use the gears effectively.

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Finally, everyone is ready with their cycles.

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The ride through the forest was one of the most enjoyable parts of the trip.

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It was still cool and pleasant and there were so many animals all along the side of the road.

The ride was a short one. 20-30kms. After which we reached Masinagudi. Before starting to cycle we had all had a milk-shake from the CCD at the entrance to Bandipur. After the cycling through the reserve everyone had worked up a healthy appetite.

I just went absolutely crazy during breakfast. I had some 4 double omelettes, 3-4 Dosas and somewhere around 5 teas.

The “Killer – Kalhatty” climb was on top of all our minds. So, I decided to stock up on as much energy as possible. After lazing around a bit, we all started cycling again. After some 10 kms we reached the start of the climb.

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From that point, there were 36 hair-pin bends that needed to be covered to reach the elevation of Ooty. It was one of the most relentlessly steep roads that most of us had ever seen.

23-IMG_0214Of course, I had seen much worse! After all I had climbed from 3500 mtrs to 5650 mtrs to reach the mighty Khardun-La in Ladakh on cycle(I like to occasionally toot my own horn, sorry!).

There were boards at every hair-pin bend counting down from 36.By the time we covered the first few hair pin bends, the Sun had started to bear down upon us harshly. By around 12 it had become so mind-numbingly hot that I could see the water vapor rise from my exposed arms. The heat was making it hard to focus and pedal on.

By the time I finished 30 per cent of the climb I had finished my bottle of water. From then on, it was stopping now and then to get water from vehicles coming down the road.

I must have gone through at least 5 liters of water in the time it took me to reach the halfway point which is marked by a tea-shop. I think it was situated just before bend number 16.

By the time I reached there the support vehicle with a couple of guys who had decided to not continue cycling because of some problem with the gears was already there. Raghu had also reached there before me.

I walked into the shop, got a bottle of cold water, and finished it off in one long gulp. Then I had a couple of teas and decided to lie down till the others caught up. In any case, I decided that I was going to cycle again, only after the Sun let up a little. I then had the idea of asking one of the cars passing by on their way down to carry water bottles for the guys climbing up.

When they eventually showed up, they told me that the water was a big relief for them in the heat!

After the Sun had let up, everyone started cycling again. After a while I too started. The bends started coming faster. Also, the climb became steeper. Towards the end there was an especially steep and seemingly-unending climb. I had decided before-hand itself that I wouldn’t push my cycle for even 10 cms.

When jumping up from the bench on which I was sleeping on at the tea shop, some muscle in my hip had suddenly started to cramp. I had ignored it then. But, now it was starting to act up.

So, I cycled in a zigzag manner to reduce the amount of force I needed to put down on the pedals to allow my legs to relax and feel loose again.

Finally, after a satisfyingly-tough last climb, I started my descent to Ooty. When I got to the police check-post I found Raghu sitting there. We went and had some tea and home-made chocolates and then started to cycle to the YWCA guest-house were stay and dinner had been arranged for the night.

We got there just in time to order dinner for the night. By the time we got the keys to the rooms the rest of the guys except Shailesh had arrived by the support vehicle. Some of them had managed to cycle almost 90 per cent of the way up, but had to stop because it was getting too late.

Shailesh arrived an hour later, just when we were starting to go out to look for him. He had lost his way in the town and had to wander about quite a bit as a result.

The stay was one of the high-points of the trip. Each room was a suite and we had taken a cottage for all of us.

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Ooty to Kodanad View Point

37-IMG_0248After a hot-water bath and a comfortable night’s sleep and rest, we woke up feeling refreshed the next day.

31-IMG_0237After one more “super-charger” break-fast we were ready to start cycling.

The Kodanad view-point is around 40 kms from Ooty.. The weather was cool, the roads were amazing and there were plenty of tree-lined downhill sections with winding roads and amazing scenery.

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48-IMG_0269After spending some time at the view point we started on our way back to Bangalore.

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This was my second time cycling with my friends from office. Being together with people you see everyday in office in such a different environment, doing something completely unrelated to work allows you to see everyone in a different light. I felt that everyone learned something new about their colleagues and that I think is a very important part of what makes trips like this so much fun!

52-IMG_0275Anyway, I am already looking forward to going out with my friends again for our next cycling trip!

Some fun under the Sun

We had thought that the difficult part of the trek was over. I was preparing myself for an easy walk through the Spiti Valley.

Before starting I asked the guide how much time it would take for us to reach Mudh He haw..hummed for a few mins and said that 3 hours ought to be enough. Well, I looked around.

All I could see was an endless desert hemmed in on all sides by mountains with a river flowing through a deep gash in the valley.

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We started off on our “short trek”.

The Sun started growing in intensity in the sky. The air was thin and dry and utterly devoid of moisture.

The trail was initially strewn with a lot of rocks.

We kept walking….

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and walking…

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and walking. The Sun was now at its prime in the noontime sky and beat down on us mercilessly. We came across a rushing stream that was unexpectedly deep and rapid.

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We walked a few kms towards the mountains until we found a glacier and walked across it.

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By the time we reached a meadow in the afternoon and plopped down on the soft wet grass for a bite to eat, we were pretty hungry and thirsty.

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I took of my shoes and walked on the soft grass while wallowing in memories of the greenery of Kinnaur and the shade of the trees on the other side of the mountains.

After eating and sitting around looking at the flocks of sheep grazing around us I asked our guide how much more of our “easy trek” was remaining. I wasn’t surprised when he told me 3 hours again. I stuffed my legs into my dry hard shoes again and we all started once more on the dusty trail.

It seemed liked we were walking on Mars or at least somewhere that was not on earth.

The barren land, the mountains bearing the tear marks of glaciers with their strange mineral-derived colors, the gorge in the valley that stretched far into the distance and the trail winding and weaving its way along the side of the mountains.

We kept walking…

I fell into a rhythm. My breathing, my steps my gaze and my thoughts all fell into lock-step. I am a guy who enjoys movement and the continuous rhythmic motion was deeply soothing for me.

By afternoon, signs of civilization started appearing. Pieces of smooth stone with prayers inscribed on them, artificial ponds, farms and electric poles in the distance.

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Finally, we could see the village of Mudh in the distance. Nestled in a crook in the mountains, flanked on both sides by glaciers and standing like a sentinel over the lush green paddy fields under it. It was a pleasing sight.

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After a final trek up the slopes towards the village along stone paths cutting a way through the fields we got into the village and then into a small tea-shop.

I kept drinking water until I suddenly started sweating profusely. After sitting down I had fresh omelettes and tea until I felt the haze start to lift from my mind and felt alert and active again.

We got into the hired vehicle which would take us to Dhankar where we would be halting for the night. But, not before we saw a couple of monasteries along the way.

After a week of sleeping inside a sleeping bag in a tent, the hostel attached to the Dhankar monastery was a pleasant change.

No big treks for the next 2 days! But, going over the plans inside my head, I had a feeling that things were going to be no less exciting…

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Treading on ice

When I woke up from my short and fitful sleep it was still very early. The Sun had barely risen and it was still very chilly outside. I coaxed myself out of my warm and cosy sleeping bag and out into the open. It was a glorious morning.

I stretched my limbs and breathed in the cold, sharp morning air. I felt the chill spread into my chest and suddenly, I felt very awake.

After breakfast we started on our short trek to the last camp below the pass. It was called Kharo. It is the last campsite below the snow-line and the one from which we would start the next day to cross the pass and descend into Spiti valley.

As we started on our trek, our guide pointed out a distant meandering stream and casually said that we would have to cross it to get to the other side.

I was thinking, “Yeah, so what? We have crossed so many streams”. But, as we started walking towards it I realized that this was one stream that I wouldn’t be hopping and skipping over in a hurry. The waters were flowing rapidly and there seemed to be treacherous gaps and sharp rocks lurking under the rushing planes of water. We walked up and down the stream looking for a place to cross it.

Eventually, our dependable guide found us a stretch where the waters were relatively shallow and spread out. I took off my shoes and waded into the water after him.

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Well, the next couple of minutes were a truly illuminating period for me. The water was ice-melt from a glacier just above us and it was only a few degrees above freezing. As I stepped onto the sharp pebbles and rocks with the water gushing over my feet I suddenly felt a sharp jab of pain in my legs. I desperately rushed to cross the stream behind my guide who somehow seemed to be completely unaffected by the brutal chill of the water made worse by the unsteady rocks and gushing water.

159-IMG_8676 As I stepped out of the water and jumped about a bit to get some feeling in my legs I felt the heat of the Sun soothe my feet and that immediately calmed me down. I sat down to let my legs dry before putting on my shoes.

I waited for some time as one by one all the guys caught up. As I was waiting there at the bend that would take us away from the valley, I turned around and gazed one last time at the magnificent valley that had hosted us the previous day.
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It would be the last time during the trip that I would be able to look upon such verdant beauty made complete by the streams and glaciers with the towering snow-capped peaks watching over it all… it was indeed a magnificent sight.

I turned back and started walking towards the mountains. The grass started growing sparser. The Sun beat down harshly and patches of dirty white ice started appearing along the trail.

After a short trek we reached the campsite.

After putting up the tents I jumped in to escape from the harsh elements. This was the worst of all the places we camped at during the entire trip.

The air was thin, the Sun beat down mercilessly and the air made our noses bleed. Inside the tent it was alternately baking hot and freezing cold as the Sun played hide and seek behind the clouds. Some of the guys came down with pounding headaches. I spent most of that day reading inside the tent and venturing out only to eat and wash myself.

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The next day was the one I had been waiting for all along. For the first time in my life I would get to walk on solid ice and be surrounded by the stuff while trekking across a pass separating a lush green valley and a spectacular dessert.

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As I and KP loaded up, tightened our straps and filled our bottles with electrolyte we discussed what it would be like. We started soon and after a couple of hours of determined climbing we came onto the first big glacier. I looked ahead and saw the guide walk over it as if nothing had really changed.

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So, I too followed suit and stepped onto the ice and walked on confidently. But, immediately I realized that something was not right. My shoes started sliding and slipping as I pushed off with my toes.

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Very soon it had become impossible to walk normally and I was struggling. After a couple of falls the guide turned back and told me to wedge my toes into the ice with every step to prevent my feet from sliding about. I tried it and it worked!

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So, I was again walking smoothly and enjoying the view around me. But, then I came to some rocks and suddenly my leg plunged through some thin ice into a hollow. That shook me up pretty badly.

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Having your feet disappear under you when trekking on ice is not a pleasant experience. My one friend then explained to me that the rocks get heated by the sun and cause the ice surrounding them to become soft and unstable and advised me against walking too close to them.

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So, we went on like that. Through that unreal landscape… through blinding white ice, heading for the gap in the mountains,  breathing hard and taking controlled steps while keeping a wary eye out for rocks sticking out through the ice.

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It was with a sense of relief that I gingerly stepped onto the ice near the edge of a glacier and hopped onto steady land. Each time, hoping that I wouldn’t have to step onto another glacier again. Only to be faced with the next one within a few metres.

It looked like my reluctance to walk on flaky, soft and slippery ice was going to get beaten out of me that day. After a long time spent trudging through the ice the top was finally in sight. After another breathless lunge at the peak we were finally there… and it felt strange to be there.

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One one side was the green Kinnaur valley. Standing on the lip of pass turning to the other side one could see the vast, surreal and intimidating bareness of the Spiti valley. The claw marks that the glaciers had ripped into the mountains on their way down, the mineral patterns, the river flowing through a gorge in the valley, an endless desert speckled with green meadows here and there….

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It was shocking to see two such vastly different ecosystems at the same time. After spending some time at the top we started on our way down.

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Going down steep icy slopes can be either very dignified and difficult or easy and fun depending on the type of guy you are and the chill-resistance-rating of your butt.

Those black specks in the ice are guys sliding down

Those black specks in the ice are guys sliding down

After a long time spent jamming my leg into the ice and gingerly walking behind the guide, I finally gave up and just jumped onto the ice and slid down the rest of the way!

Well, there were few occasions in life that were more fun.

The rest  of the guys followed suit and we had a swell time.

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But, some of them didn’t have waterproof pants like me and their behinds paid the price for it.

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This is how people walk when their behinds are sore

The rest of the way was all big, big boulders and rocks and after that some more rocks interspersed with stretches of ice and ice-melt. The ice-melt was converging into a stream.

A crevasse formed by a fissure in the glacier

A crevasse formed by a fissure in the glacier

We had lunch at a spot somewhere along the way. Most of the other guys were having pounding head-aches. I was feeling nauseated from lack of water and food. I ate something and drank the ice-cold water from the stream with great difficulty and felt better soon.

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The long trek to our campsite

After several more kilometers of trekking we finally came to the campsite and settled in for the night!

What a day it had been! Every bit as exciting as I had hoped it would be. Next day’s adventures in another post!

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Bhabha Pass Trek – Mulling to Kharo

This was day 2 of the trek I had gone on with the Bangalore Ascenders and my friend KP. The previous night was the first time I had slept in a tent. We had our sleeping bags which I had borrowed from Texins(TI’s club for its employees) and a sleeping mat. That bag was not designed for the temperatures we were in. So, we had to use a lot of extra warm clothing to stay cozy. On top of the cold, it was also raining heavily throughout the night.

The insides of the tent were moist and dripping in the morning. But, I was comfortable thanks to my awesome all-weather jacket.

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In the morning, I had a breakfast of eggs, rotis and a lot of butter and jam. I am a very hungry guy. My usual breakfast is 4 eggs, some rava idlis/poha/dosa, juice, 2 bananas and coffee. It was not reasonable to eat or expect to eat so much when trekking with limited food provisions. So, I ate a lot of butter as it usually makes me feel very full and satisfied for a while.

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After that we packed our tents and got ready to start. I was wondering what the landscape would look like that day. The previous day, we had been walking along and crossing streams, going through perfect little copses of trees and were almost all the time in the shade of the mountains and the trees.

Once we started my body warmed up a bit and I started really enjoying the feel of the cold, fresh mountain air in my nostrils and the brisk walk.

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The trail was much more rocky and steep than the previous day. It snaked its way through several little passes and kept on climbing. Eventually, the trees started disappearing.

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We could see that we were surrounded by immense snow-capped peaks on all sides. We had crossed the tree line and we could see vast meadows in the distance where the shepherds grazed their animals.

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The trek for that day was a short-one and we were expected to reach the campsite well before noon. So, we wanted to go as slowly as possible so that we could really enjoy the landscape and the walk.

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After the initial climb we eventually started to go down the hills.

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In no time we reached the meadows that we had seen in the distance.

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It was a heavenly place.

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When we got there after crossing some rather tricky streams the weather was just perfect.

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The Sun was shining bright and there was just enough cloud cover to diffuse the heat and spread a pleasant glow all over the place.

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I was looking forward to a relaxed evening of roaming about in the sun and reading in the open.

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But then I learned that predicting weather in the mountains is a tricky thing. Just when I was starting to take things easy, the sky suddenly darkened and big heavy blobs of water started splashing down on my cheeks. I rushed to help put up the tents.

Just when we had finished putting them up the rain started coming down in torrents. I dived into my tent and waited for the rain to let up a bit.

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After an hour spent holed up in the tent, the rain eventually stopped and we got out. The rest of the evening was spent munching stuff, having little chats, roaming about, washing myself and some clothes in the streams nearby and of course reading!

In the night we had a nice hot dinner of soup, rice, roti, dal and sabji.

After snuggling into my sleeping bag for the night, I was thinking about the day past, committing the various experiences to memory and wondering what the next day would be like. Would the landscape be less green? Would there be ice? How would the Sun be like?

As I started thinking more and more I felt that I simply wanted to somehow get through the night and get started again the next day!

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The next day didn’t disappoint…

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Himalayan Cycling Expeditition-Cycling to Pangong-Tso

Leh – South Pullu – Leh

I had returned to Leh after climbing the Khardung-La. But, I had dropped off the cycle at the South Pullu Police station. So, I needed to go and get it back. The next day after breakfast, I went to the start of the road to the pass.

I had gone there with the intention of hitch hiking to South Pullu on some goods-carrier. But, by the time I got there all the goods vehicles had already left and only tourist vehicles were still going up. I waited for a long time trying to wave down one of the vehicles passing by. Just when I was starting to lose heart a bunch of guys on Enfields came along. With some reservations in mind I tried to wave them down.

One guy stopped and I told him about my situation. He readily agreed to take me up. The guy was an IIT graduate and was working in Delhi. A great guy and we had a very interesting conversation all the way to South Pullu. Our trip plans greatly piqued his interest and we talked a lot about it. Once we got to South Pullu, I got back my cycle and checked the damage to it. Then I just sat on it and breezed down to Leh.

It was a nice experience. On the way I met a lot of people who were taken up to Khardung La on vehicles and were cycling down. After getting to Leh, I went and fixed the carrier on the cycle.

The next day I went to see the Leh palace and cycled around town to see the local sights.

Leh Palace

That day I met a Gujarati girl and hung out with her for a while and got her a cycle. She was thinking of coming with us to Pangong-Tso on cycle but the next day decided to not do it. Anyway, the next day was a big day.

Leh – Shey – Thiksey – Karu – Shakthi

No big mountains, no cratered roads awash with ice-melt, no hypoxic deliriums, no need for hypnotic soliloquies, just plain flat easy roads, beautiful scenery and perfect climate all the way.

We all really enjoyed the ride from Leh to Karu. There we took a break, got ourselves some tea and momos and then cycled on to Shakthi.

When I got there I saw a bunch of guys who were on a cycling trip managed by a tour company camping on a meadow.

I went there and spent some time chatting with them. Then I went to a shop there and asked for a room for the night. After going in and checking out the comfortable quarters I asked them to set aside a couple of rooms for us and then sat down for a tea. By then Girish had reached the hotel followed soon by the others.

That night we had a hearty meal made by them and slept soundly in the comfortable rooms provided to us. The next day was a big day for us. We were planning to cross the Chang-La pass on cycle and then go on to Tang-Tse which is a town en route to Pangong-Tso.

Shakthi – Zingral – Chang-La –  Tangtse

We had learned some lessons from our Khardung-La ride. Every attempt at crossing a pass should be so timed that we get there before noon. Else, the place will be inundated with ice-cold water. This together with the non-existent roads can make cycling really difficult, especially if one is in a fatigued state. So, we started really early. We were all on our cycles and pedaling by  6. The importance of covering a decent distance before breakfast should never be underestimated.

By 9 I and Rajesh had reached the Zingral army base which is situated nearly half-way up the road to Chang-La.

We arrived on our cycles to a warm and friendly welcome. I and Rajesh were taken to the living quarters of the soldiers where we were treated to biscuits and sweet-milky tea. Then we were taken to their kitchen where we had some nice Aloo-parathas and curd.

Inside the kitchen

More tea followed. By then the others had joined. After a lot of eating and resting we again set off by 10:30. This time I was feeling strong and was raring to pedal up the mighty slopes.

I went ahead and after a couple of hours of enthusiastic pedaling I came to the dreaded roads just below the pass. Roads rising at nearly 30-40 degree angles with loose rocks, boulders and under ankle-deep water.

But this time The Sabu was prepared. I took off my shoes and socks and tied them to my cycle and put on my plastic slippers and carefully navigated the tricky parts. Behind me one guy’s cycle somersaulted and he fell on his back because he tried to power his way through a particularly steep section. Slowly but surely I made my way up and eventually got to the pass. On the way the Gujarati girl we met 2 days back went screaming by in a taxi waving enthusiastically at us!

Once I reached the top I quickly took out my gloves and socks and put them on and got a hot tea. By then Jay had come up.

He went ahead while I hung back to chat with some soldiers and check out the pretty girls there. Nothing like some old fashioned bird-watching at high altitudes to warm oneself up.
Then I set off slowly downhill with one ear tweaked for any weird sounds from my troublesome carrier.

I crossed all the streams and eventually got to the good roads.

What followed was one of the best experiences of my life. Roads… beautiful, curvy, well-proportioned, silky smooth roads winding and weaving its way through the mountains.

Speed, pure, easy, spine tickling speed… It very nearly brought tears of happiness to my eyes. The roads seemed to go one forever and ever. I perched and swooped and posed to my heart’s content. On the road I saw an Enfield guy who had made a landing in a ditch. It reminded me to be more careful. The road went on and on and eventually we got to a small town at the base. Immediately afterwards we ran into some solders in bunkers who gave us lots of juice and nuts. After chatting for a while we went ahead and after 12km of easy cycling got to Tang-Tse. A town which witnessed a sudden flurry of activity after the movie 3 idiots in which Pangong Tso was shown became a hit. That night we halted there.

The next day was supposed to be the day we were going to see the blue-green waters of the Pangong Tso.

Tangtse – Lukung – Spangamik

The next day was an easy one. Only a short distance of some 40 kms with both uphill and down-hill sections needed to be covered.

Just before noon I reached Lukung on the banks of the lake.

The sights were mind-blowing. There was strange aura to the place.

Makes you feel like you are not on earth… The clear waters took on the color of the sky and changed color as the day progressed.

At Lukung, I took a break for tea and to let my mind calm down and stop screaming FAAACCCCKKKKK!!!!

After Lukung the road started thinning and eventually just disappeared. I cycled on along the sandy, pebbly bank of the lake following the jeep tracks.

Eventually we came to a sleepy little village called Spangamik where I halted at the Padma guest house.

There I unpacked my cycle, wolfed down some lunch and then sat by the lake with the book Into Thin Air and just relaxed till the others turned up.

Spangamik – Merak – Spangamik

The next day we cycled to Merak and had tea at a small house there and after some off-road fun went back to Spangamik.

In the evening we decided to cycle to Tangtse from where we planned to get a vehicle to Karu.

Spangamik – Tangtse (Night ride)

This was a decision taken in some hurry. We had barely enough time to make it to Tangtse before sundown. I cycled somewhat briskly and got to Lukung in the afternoon. There I met a Polish guy who was training to be a pro-cyclist for Poland Post. I talked to him about this and that and very soon the others too joined us. We then set off together for Tangtse. As we pedaled on it started getting darker. Now, Ladakh might be a beautiful place. But one must never forget that this is a desert and a very unforgiving place. As the sunlight started to vane in the valley, things started to take on an ominous air.

Very soon a chill wind started picking up. The road was deserted and the light was failing fast.

I cycled on as fast as I could. Suddenly it started raining… Ice cold pellets striking my face! I hurriedly stashed my camera inside my jacket and decided to leave on my woollen gloves in the hopes that they might buy me some time. Then darkness fell and everything fell terribly silent except for the buzz of the wheels whipping up the water from the road. Several times I plunged into deep depressions in the road in the dark. But, in that darkness my adrenaline was surging and I felt a great rush of energy. I pedaled like a maniac. With my feet working like pistons I plowed through the rain and the cold night. The frantic pedaling kept me warm from the inside. In time I reached Tangtse and after fumbling around in the dark for the way I eventually made it to the road where we stayed 2 days back. There was a fancier hotel there which was beyond our budget of 150 rupees. But seeing our state and since it was already very late, they decided to take us in for that much money. It took some 30 mins to stop shivering after taking off all the wet gear and sitting inside their cozy kitchen. We settled in for a mighty dinner and a sound sleep afterwards…

An Aside:

While we were in Spangamik we met several interesting people. I met a woman from Australia who had given up everything to become a buddhist and was living in India. A guy who resigned from a job at Microsoft to travel the world. An elderly gentleman from Sweden(I think) with a cycle older than me who had been cycling and hitchhiking around the world for the past 3 yrs. He had covered some 3000kms on cycle and been in several countries and continents.

All these made me think a bit. In our society and among our circle of friends there is a beaten track that everybody takes. Everyone who is “normal and intelligent”. We study, become engineers, get a job, study more, get married, have kids and work for them till we die. It is what we see all the time and it is what counts as normal for us. But, there is a world of experience waiting for us outside of this, where people do all sorts of crazy stuff, make tonnes of mistakes and collect wisdom and experience that no amount of money or comfort can buy. If we can see and experience all that for ourselves, I think we will realize that when it comes to humans, there can be no “normal”. For that same reason there can be no end of solutions to the problem of human happiness. The permutations and combinations of possible choices in life are so insanely vast that there can be no real reason for loneliness and boredom… Things could be so bloody exciting! One need only order some adventure to get it.

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