Visiting Pangong Tso Lake from Nubra Valley - Ladakh Diaries Page 3 Skip to main content

Visiting Pangong Tso Lake from Nubra Valley - Ladakh Diaries Page 3

Nubra valley in Ladakh was a pleasant scene to stay in. It had an almost white desert, a vociferous river, brown mountains and considerable vegetation which was hard to find in Ladakh. We visited Turtuk the next day which was 2 km from the Pakistan border. We came back the same day and enjoyed live music and a group of travellers who came from Gujarat. They were financed by their company on a yearly holiday. I remember when we went into the hall to eat dinner a man came to us and said "Bikers?" and I said "Yes". His eyed gloomed in the dim light and a smile appeared on his face. An expression that looked like he wanted to switch places with us and kick start a bike and run into the mountains. He lifted his hands and signed a thumbs up towards us. 

The next day was a major day as we were about to visit a place that had become a signature location for people visiting Ladakh. Thanks to the movie 3 idiots, the lake Pangong Tso has seen record-breaking footfall becoming one of the most popular destinations in India. While planning for Ladakh we had only one choice between lake Tso Moriri and Pangong Tso but by the popularity of it, we had to choose the obvious one. I have heard good things about Tso Moriri and wish to visit it the next time.

The way to Pangong Tso was not through high mountains but it went through roads in the middle of the desert. For 25% of the way seemed like what we have been through till now. The roads were well built and there were no challenges. Even though the scenery changed constantly, one thing remained constant - the milestones with Shyok written on them. It started long back and looked like it was some important village in Ladakh. I told my friend to meet me at Shyok as we were not riding at the same pace. 

When Shyok was about 20-30km away, the roads started dissolving into the surrounding. There was no difference in what was left, in the middle or on the right. A couple kilometres later, there was no road. It was the toughest part of the ride we had to face and I have never seen such bad roads anywhere in the country. There were small stones laid down instead of the road. The same stones that we see on the beaches or in a spa room. They were laid down inclined at a steep angle and the river was flowing from above them. In the 10 seconds it took from seeing this road till reaching that point, I saw 2 bikers falling down while all of them passed with their foot down. 

The road never got better after that. My speed got reduced from 70 to 15 while I balanced myself on the marbles and gravels for 10 more kilometres. Finally, Shyok had arrived and I stopped my bike to wait for my friend. In that waiting time, 3 bikers stopped where I was standing. One of them had earphones plugged in and I am guessing he had music on since he was shouting every sentence to us. They had chosen the opposite route for Ladakh than us and therefore were going from Pangong to Nubra valley that day. "How is the road ahead?" he shouted at me. "Extremely bad",  I shouted back. He looked at my bike and my bag arrangement for three seconds. I had one rucksack tied horizontally on the pillion seat while my friend's rucksack vertically on the foot pedal. "You have covers?" he shouted raising his eyebrows to me. "No, why?". "Your bags will get wet in the water crossing ahead. And that vertical bag, that will be underwater buddy!". "Really?" I asked surprisingly because my vertical bag's top was almost till the seat. "Yes! And the top bag will get wet too!". 

Road till Shyok

I did not say anything. A couple minutes of silence followed in the bright sun with cold air. He broke the silence by shouting at his friend, "I told him not to ride in 5th gear. I told him. I told him didn't I?". His friend nodded in affirmation giving him the satisfaction of how correct he had been in the group. "When you ride in 5th gear in Ladakh you fall man. You always fall. I have ridden so much in my life but people don't believe me. Tell me, wasn't I correct?". His friend nodded again in affirmation. Then my friend arrived and we had something for lunch. The next stop was Pangong Tso directly.

My bike arrangement on the way

All the way after Shyok was as beautiful as you have imagined your childhood drawing to be. A road ran down parallel to the river. The sound of the river made me forget all the pain I went through two hours back. There was a lot of greenery all around and military guys started increasing in number. Soon I stopped again to wait for my friend. It had been less than 40 minutes when I met him last. I waited for 15 or 20 minutes and I was getting furious. I just met him 40 minutes ago! How slow is he driving that I have to wait 20 minutes? I decided to meet him ahead but before that, I was worried about one thing. All this while we saw everyone carrying petrol cans with them. There were only two bikes that did not have them - his and mine. We didn't know that there was no petrol pump between Diksit (Nubra valley) and Pangong Tso. Actually, there is no petrol pump in Pangong Tso too. Once you have refuelled in Diksit, the next pump is in Leh. I asked people around for petrol but nobody had it. My bike was not in reserve and I thought I will pass this journey happily with what I had.

Soon I arrived at a diversion. The straight path was leading towards Tangtse while the left one was going towards Pangong Tso lake. This diversion played an important role in what happened next. Imagine yourself standing on a road with two diversions ahead and remember this picture. I turned left and the view changed completely. Green meadows with a river flowing on my right. Horses and sheeps eating grass while some just standing like a statue. I went 4 km inside that road and suddenly my bike stopped. All these views that I was enjoying have no relevance when your bike just stops in the middle of nowhere. Even though I knew I had a reserve, it was a bit scary. I did not think the reserve could get me 30km to Pangong Tso and then around 100-120 km to Leh petrol pump. I decided to wait for my friend there and thought we would decide something. 20 minutes went by but no one came. Then 30. Then 45. 

Road after Shyok to Tangtse Diversion

The first thing that came to my mind was the road from Shyok to Tangtse diversion. It was a scary road and really hard to ride your bike on. A steep slope with gravels all over the place. A left valley with a flowing river and scary landslide debris on the right as far as you can see. I turned my bike back even if it was in reserve to find him. I went 20 km back and asked everyone on the road if they have seen anyone asking for me or anything. The sun started setting down and I could not see any hope. I thought my friend had returned to Shyok as it was the last village and maybe decided to stay there. I turned back again thinking I might not be able to make it if the sun sets down. By this time I knew it was extremely necessary to refuel my bike. I asked a lot of people but no one knew anything. On the road to the diversion a military man was carrying mattresses on his back and a military petrol pump was clearly visible on the right. I thought to ask him about the petrol and wished he would say something like, "Come with me I will refuel it from the military station". 

When I asked him, he crushed my thoughts at once and then continued, "There is a village ahead. Go straight from the diversion till Tangtse village and those people sell petrol in black." It was a sigh of relief. This time I went straight from the diversion, asked for petrol and refuelled my bike there. At least one thing was check-marked in my journey. I went back to the diversion and took left again for Pangong Tso. This time I really hoped my friend would meet me on the way. The sun was almost set and the last shade of sunlight was all that was left. Roads were fine but there was no one on the way. I rode for 20 km and saw a bike far ahead and realised the pool of water had come that I was apprised of in Shyok. But to my surprise, it was nowhere as deep as he had described it to be. The water was till half my tire and the bag submerged but only half of it. Although there were gravels all under the water, I cannot say it was something really scary that I encountered. There were two such water crossings that I passed quite easily.

As far as I could see it was complete darkness. I was scared about my friend. There was no method to contact him and it was impossible to stop at this hour on this road. I had not arrived at Pangong Tso and did not know how much I still had to go. There were no signboards. Soon I took a right turn on the mountain and suddenly to my left, the moonlight shone over the lake and a dark purple coloured water was all I could see. I had reached Pangong Tso. It was only the start of it, but it was still something positive. I thought I will reach the guest house soon. I asked a taxi driver about the village where I was destined to. He said around 10km ahead. 10km meant 40 more minutes on the mountains and with no light and all broken roads - maybe 60 minutes more. Also, I knew people do not give accurate distance measurements when there are no signboards. 10 km could have meant 15. I knew that. 

Pangong Tso Lake in late evening

It was cold, dark and literally no one I could see. Half the way was broken while half had pieces of machinery that were breathing in the cold night. Since they were repairing the roads, they made temporary roads with gravels and curved turns that were extremely hard to see in the night. I could not apprehend whether the stones are put as the blockade to show the repair work ahead or it is actually the road. Slowly slowly I managed to shift gears up and down with my wet and cold feet that were begging for something warm. 

Around 1 hour later, I saw a board with my guest house. It was 2 km ahead. This board had to be my moment of happiness but it wasn't. I was scared about my friend and where he was. I had ridden that diversion road 4 times but saw no sign of him. Around 10 minutes later I reached the guest house and turned my bike in the parking space and saw one more bike standing there. A number I realised. My friend had reached before me. I was surprised and happy at the same time. How can we drive on a single road and not meet each other for so long? 

The sound of the bike made him run outside the guest house. He was worried about me as I had not reached the guest house on those scary roads till night. He was happier than I was. I drank tea and warmed my feet but a question still floated in my mind. How can you not meet me on the same road? How did this happen? While our conversation concluded with a story, I can say it was extremely rare.

The thing is, when I went left to Pangong Tso the first time, their petrol was almost finished. They asked someone and got to know about Tangtse (straight from diversion). At this time, I went back before diversion to look for them and they refuelled their bike and went left to Pangong Tso. Then I went to refuel my bike straight to Tangtse while they were on their way to the guest house and I followed them on the same road after refuelling. I don't know whether you understood or not, but maybe reading the diversion again can give you a picture. It was a rare story but made me realise how so many of these stories would have been in the hearts of people that lived without any cell phones. My grandfather perhaps.

In Nubra Valley, I saw the milky way galaxy very clearly and told my friend what it was. Now tonight, in Pangong Tso, a girl was staying in the same house and met us during dinner. After that, we all went out and my friend said to the girl, "You know what it is? It's the milky way." His confidence made her realise he knew it all his life. He dared not to look at me at that time. He knew he would laugh if he did. Soon a boy came running from inside and said to the girl, "Hey sorry I overslept. Did you have dinner? What are you looking at?" My friend looked at me, then above, then at the boy and said, "Nothing."


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