Friday, July 12, 2013

Day 8 : In The Summertime - Mungo Jerry (Leh to Tso Moriri)

Well the lovely break that we had enjoyed over the last few days obviously couldn’t last forever and with a heavy heart we got ready to bid a very fond farewell to Leh as we were all prepared to leave by the stipulated time of 07:30. However it was not to be as the bill took forever to settle and then we all had to fill petrol at one of the few pumps that were present in Leh, a seemingly never ending activity that  in some ways knocked off some of the excitement of finally getting back on our bikes. 

Once we got riding though it was all good as we crossed several schools which gave me a chance to high five many kids who eagerly stretched out their hands as they heard the rumble of our approaching group of Bullets. It wasn’t just kids that we rode past, we crossed Army squads doing mock exercises with their vehicles on unforgiving rocky terrain (and no this time I don’t mean the roads) as well as multiple groups of people that were engaged in rock clearing. How they managed at that altitude one can only wonder.

The roads were fabulous and were blessed with some great S bends which made riding truly a mile wide grin inducing affair. To add to the overall effect of brilliance we were soon riding through what I guess were endless gorges (or were they canyons? I will never know) and I often fell back a little bit just to open up a bit of tarmac and then gunned the bike through the corners in what was now becoming an effortless dance through the bends with the Bullet. Truly this was what biking bliss was all about. Our next stop was at a bridge that was lined with prayer flags on one side and it instantly brought back memories of the hanging bridge in Manipal where I have spent many a memorable evening with some truly wonderful people who studied with me. Those were the days!

Less than a minute after we started off though the Man with arms longer than the law pulled over as his rear tyre was completely flat and some of us waited with him while the puncture was getting fixed by our great support crew. We caught up with the rest of the group and as we kept riding we crossed multiple Army camps including the Kairi military memorial that was frankly out there in the middle of nowhere but in many ways the most honest tribute to our brave men and women in uniform who are on the battle lines far away from civilization. The engine of an airplane that crashed in Operation Meghdoot, killing two paratroopers in the process, was as poignant a tribute as you will ever see in your life.

Lunch for once was not going to be at a dhaba but instead on the banks of the river that we had kept riding along for most of the morning. Now I don’t know when the last time I was at an actual picnic was and except for the slightly overtly active sun, there was nothing we could complain about as we had great company, cold but welcome parathas and even home-made chips that were brought by My favourite couple of all time. I’m sure by now you’re wondering how they got that moniker, well this was one reason why. We even had to resort to the old fashioned route of washing our dishes in the chilly but clear river water while ensuring that we didn’t topple over flat on our faces with a massive splash! It was in many ways, the perfect summer time picnic that has now become a lost tradition in our big city lives. 

"In the summer time when the weather is high
You can stretch right up and touch the sky
When the weather's right"

In The Summertime - Mungo Jerry

 The moment I started the bike after lunch I knew something was wrong as it just wouldn’t keep up with the rest of the group despite copious wringing of the throttle. It almost felt as though the bike was gasping for air and I was left with no option but to pull over and wait for the support van to catch up and check the bike. At first the mechanic adjusted the air fuel mixture which I was pretty sure wasn’t the root cause and within 200 metres of restarting I pulled over again as the bike was still seemingly moving in slow motion. Out came a new spark plug and ten minutes later the bike was back to normal though it took a bit of running in with the changed plug to get it rumbling like usual. The delay meant that the group had stopped up ahead as they waited for me and some of them had even fallen asleep while they were at it!

The people who made the roads had also seemingly fallen asleep on the job and forgotten about completing them before returning back to civilization. How else does one explain routes (I cant say roads because there is no semblance of tarmac anywhere) like this which were basically loose gravel paths that people consistently used. It was back to slippin and slidin away, though by now we were starting to get really used to the whole thing. Riding on Bangalore’s roads would now be a blindfolded walk in the park!

Loose gravel paths soon gave way to back breaking paths (I still refuse to call them roads), the kinds where you actually felt that every stone and pebble that your bike encountered was methodically getting up and punching you directly in your lower back. And by punching I don’t mean prodding or poking. Think roundhouse right into your back type of punch. It almost felt like I was Rocky Balboa, eating punches in bunches, minus the glorious recovery to victory at the end. To say that we were elated to see Tso Moriri (roughly translated – salty lake) would be an understatement of epic proportions. Some riders even went to the extent of saying that it felt like they had left their bottoms behind when we had left after lunch as nothing about the way they felt told them that anything was left of their rear posteriors. The picture below probably shows how excited we actually felt deep inside our weary broken down bodies. 

After getting the paperwork cleared we headed to the tents and for a while we were concerned that we weren’t going to get them for the night. Frankly the lack of accommodation was much less of a worry as compared to the thoughts of the torture that we would have to put our backs through once again on the return journey. Fortunately the organizers managed to work it out with the camp owners and we were grateful to get comfortable beds to lie on for a while and ease some sensation into our backs and bottoms. Just don’t ask us how we did it.

We quickly freshened up and enjoyed the long stroll down to the lake which I would say was honestly more beautiful than Pangong. Not wanting to reduce the country’s food production, our group from the cab carefully weaved it'sway through the fields that contained sprouting crop before joining the others who had left earlier and were already by the lake. It was photography time once again and we had a ton of fun trying out different leaping in the air pictures (that’s obviously where the above picture came from) as the slowly setting sun provided the perfect backdrop for our photography.

Once everyone got tired of leaping as high as they could, the plan changed to tug of war without a rope. Now I’m sure nobody has told you this but indulging in a best of 3 series of tug of war challenges bereft of a rope is a ridiculously fun but exhausting experience, especially when you are at a really really high altitude. To say that we had a blast would be putting things mildly. Not content with that, the Man who should have played Bane in the Dark Knight Rises suggested that we all try our hand at a rugby scrum next, which now that I think about it was a no brainer for him because he was physically the most fit among all of us and he looked like he could’ve bulldozed his way through half the jokers in the Indian parliament single-handedly if he wanted to. 

I was chosen to be the centre of our team (which smartly voted and closed the votes before I could protest!and I had to lock shoulders against the Man who should have played Bane in the Dark Knight Rises while the rest of the teams joined in alongside the two of us. Given who I was up against, for more than a moment I had the sinking feeling that I would end up with a sprained shoulder and / or broken bones, but despite all the heaving and shoving and prodigious grunting from all involved including the ladies (well minus the one that was just looking on in the following picture), I made it out unscathed and relieved to be on the winning side! 

It was getting dark and while most of the group made their way back before visibility dropped to zero, our late to arrive mini group stayed back to take a few more photos of the moonlight sky reflecting against the lake in all its glory. The bright full moon also meant that we could now take the ‘look I have the moon in the palm of my hands’, ‘look I’m hanging from the moon’ and ‘look I'm swallowing the moon’ photos that all cheesy corny photo lovers relish. It even gave us guys the chance to mix and match our favourite characters from the Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat as we mock fought while the ladies clicked away.

Getting back to the camp under the moon light sky was a lot harder than we expected and even the flash from a phone wasn’t of much help as we prodded and stumbled more than just a couple of times on our way. We were fortunate enough to have a fearless leader who bravely led us down different paths (often wrongly but hey you don’t want to mess with someone so fearless) and eventually after the rest of us sent up a bunch of prayers to the Man up there, our leader managed to safely troop us back through the gate of our camp which interestingly enough had the horns of a yak / bull on top of it. 

Over dinner I was glad to find a fellow UFC fan in the Man who should have played Bane in the Dark Knight Rises, after all how many Indian MMA fans do you think I get to meet? While the rest of the group called it a night, a few of us watched videos from the HD GoPro (helmet camera for the uninitiated) that our Australian couple were using including a brush with a speeding lorry and the pillion who wanted a lift from Vishal and got off half way through the ride.

Throughout the trip, it used to take me five to ten minutes to fall into my deep dreamless sleep but tonight I fell asleep in less than two but was woken up within a few minutes by the kind and really helpful chap from the camp (an Electrical engineer that too!) who brought a hot water bottle for our tent. Seeing as the Man who didn’t know which football club to support was snoring away to glory, I gratefully accepted the bottle and gave my wrecked back some respite for the rest of the night. It was fitting that while we were at an altitude of over 15,000 feet, sleep that night was heavenly. 

Click here for Day 9 - Tso Moriri to Sarchu

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