A Travellerspoint blog

Day 18: October 19th: Last Day in Keylong, Lahaul.

The Royal Enfield - The Legend Rides On

sunny 40 °C

After such a great adventure yesterday in the Upper Bhaga Valley and the high plateau at Zingzingbar, and too many encounters with the Indian Army, I thought I would have a quieter last day in Keylong. I have been off the radar for a few days now, and wanted to make contact with home. Keylong has yet to get wired up with the www.internet; the only facility to communicate back to the UK was an STD phone in the local barber shop.

So I spoke to Jane (5.30am UK time) to tell her that all was well, that I’m fit, healthy and safe, also about yesterday’s adventure into the high Himalayas and caught up on news from home. I told Jane that I would be riding back over the Rohtang Pass tomorrow, back to Manali where the trusty Enfield would be returned, and my main bags sent through from Jogindar Nagar. Speaking of travelling light, since I left JN five days ago, I have lived out of my red Ortlieb Rackbag, what a good bit of kit!

I then spoke to Naresh about my onward plans, returning the Enfield to Manali and getting my other bags sent on from Jogindar Nagar. Naresh, typically efficient, had everything in hand; he has become a good friend, also concerned that I was okay.

So off down to Tandi petrol station to ‘top up’ with fuel. I had thought of exploring valley number 3, the Chandra Valley, but I had ridden down that two days ago, and will return up it tomorrow morning on my way back to Manali, over the Rohtang Pass. So I will make an early start tomorrow.

I decided therefore to ride back out along the Chandrabhaga Valley again, just to enjoy the spectacular beauty of the valley, then back to Keylong for lunch, and a relaxing afternoon on the hotel patio catching up on my travel diary on my ‘netbook’. What a good bit of kit that has been!

Just looking across the valley and up at the high ridges and peaks, the weather seems to be changing with some cloud build up the west, and blue sky to the east. The weather has been very settled, and the snow is not yet due for another couple of weeks. I just want to get out of Lahaul, over the Rohtang Pass, and down into the Kullu Valley tomorrow.

So some kit and Enfield checks now, a relaxing afternoon, dinner and an early night, ready for an early start tomorrow. Lahaul has been a brilliant area to explore; it has been a real adventure, especially the upper reaches of the Chandra, in the barren, high rocky plateau area below the Baralacha Pass.

It has ben another great ride on the Enfield. it has not missed a beat !

Posted by Mike Casey 07:06 Archived in India Tagged the in ride a western royal enfield himalaya's Comments (0)

Day 17: October 18th: The Bhaga Valley and the Bara Lacha

One of the greatest motorbike ride's "A Long Way Up". The Bhaga Valley and the Bara Lacha Pass (4830m).

sunny 40 °C

Today the plan was to ride up the Bhaga Valley as far as the Bara Lacha Pass, the third highest road pass on the Manali to Leh highway. After an early breakfast at 8am, I was out with my kit for the day, but first daily checks on the Enfield, oil okay, no leaks, fuel okay, no leaks, and tyre pressures okay, it started up first kick. So off down to Tandi petrol station to top up with fuel, 2 litres for 100RS, back up the road via the hotel to pick up my iPod, today I wanted some tunes!

An early stream crossing just north of Keylong to get warmed up on, then away on old road surfaces, mixed gravel and dirt road, a couple of stream crossings and graded prepared road. Around the next bend came an Indian Army truck and another, then another................I counted thirty trucks, and waved and smiled at everyone. I got waves, smiles and even salutes back from every truck! As you know, I have encountered the Indian Army before.

Onwards and upwards, then another Army convoy, has something happened that I don’t know about? Then I encountered the biggest BRO road gang I have seen, and I have seen a few. There must have been hundreds of road workers on this section, which was getting its final dressing before the tarmac. These guys I think are from Bengal, but I’m not sure? They live in work camps near the section they are working on, very basic and squalid tarpaulin tents on the side of the road or on the hillside. Their work is hard manual graft despite some heavy machinery. I have thought about their lives, and how hard it is every day.

I enjoyed the challenge of riding the difficult road conditions, but I was very grateful to the kilometres of tarmac that these men had built. So every time I passed a group of them, I would always gratefully wave to them with thanks. National Highway 21 will be complete tarmac by 2012, between Manali and Leh, and these hardy fellows will have built it. It is not just an important link between these towns, but it is also a very important Indian Army communication and supply line to the borders or “line of control”, with Pakistan and China.

The ride up and along the Bhaga River and Valley was truly spectacular, passing the villages of Kolong, Gemur and Jispa, where the Mountaineering Institute is based. After Jispa the tarmac began to run out, but the mountains of the Himalayas rose higher at Darcha, where two other valleys joined the Bhaga. The Upper Bhaga Valley was also becoming wilder or more remote.

I stopped at Darcha, at the first snack bar over the bridge, and had a splendid omelette and lemon tea for 50RS. The people in this area of Lahaul are Tibetan, and typically very friendly with big smiles. I then left for the final stage of this ride, the climb up to the Bara Lacha Pass, another 40km. As the road climbed above Darcha, the Bhaga Valley became steeper and even more remote. I stopped on the road before it dropped down towards the small settlement of Patsio to consider my options before committing myself further.

I was riding solo, the Enfield had not missed a beat, but I was going through various scenarios, puncture, and mechanical problem and running out of time.

Patsio was 9km, and I could see new tarmac, I pushed on with caution. The tarmac was welcome, but I decided to make Patsio my stopping point. Then a young local lad flagged me down and asked for a lift, my gut instinct was ‘Yes’. He was grateful, and we cracked on to Patsio, then over the rickety bridge, the tarmac was good, and Zingzingbar was the next settlement on what was now a very desolate plateau area.

I turned a bend and then I found myself approaching a military check point and camp, another encounter with the Indian Army.

They were very welcoming and allowed me to ride through the camp, but I told my passenger this was the end of the ride for him, as I decided now that this would be my final out point, my head was saying “Be sensible”. So I stopped at the edge of a helipad, 12km short of the Bara Lacha Pass.

Zingzingbar was at 4270m, I had gone further than planned, but I was not going to push my limits or my luck. So a half hour rest, snacks, water and loads of photos and video clips, then it was time to return to Keylong.

It has been an excellent day’s adventure motor biking into the remotest and highest mountain area that I have been in my life, and I did it on a Royal Enfield!

Posted by Mike Casey 06:59 Archived in India Tagged the in ride a western royal himalaya enfield Comments (0)

Day 16: October 17th: A Ride along the Pattan Valley.

A Ride on the Royal Enfield to see India's “Hop Growers” and a Kingfisher Beer !

sunny -10 °C

After a good meal last night, I slept well at the HPTDC Hotel Chandrabhaga at Keylong, in the Lahaul District of the Himachel Pradesh. I am based here for three days and three nights. My aim is to explore the three valleys that converge at Tandi, 4km down the valley, by motorbike, the Royal Enfield.

Lahaul is such a contrast to the lush Kullu Valley on the other side of the Rohtang Pass. A barren mountain landscape of high Himalayan peaks and glaciers, some areas of high flatlands with some surprising patches of green and cultivated land. Also many secluded and remote Hindu temples and Buddhist monasteries. There are several high mountain passes, high glacial lakes, and two large rivers the Changra and the Bhaga, these converge at Tandi to form the Changrabhaga which flows NE.

The British Raj in the colonial days in India described Lahaul as “Himalayan Scotland”. Looking around the Keylong area you can recognise similar features of the Scottish highlands. The Tibetan’s who live in this region call it “Country of the Gods”. The word ‘La’ means ‘pass’, so Lahaul could also mean the “Land of many passes”.

One of the world’s highest roads passes through Lahaul, and connects Manali to Leh (475km). It crosses four high altitude passes, the Rohtang La (3980m), the Baralacha La (4982m), the Lachlang La (5066m) and finally the Tanglang La (5360m). It was one of my big aims of this trip to ride the Manali to Leh road by motorbike, a Royal Enfield. But my plans were modified due to early altitude problems and also predicted weather forecast of early snow and lower temperatures.

So I have changed my plans on this advice, and will do three days rides, exploring each of the three valleys, I will also summit the Baralacha La pass today, which will be both my high point and furthest “out point” on this incredible road. It is a road that attracts adventure cyclists and motor bikers from around the world. I met two French bikers at the Rohtang La Pass the other day, riding....... Royal Enfield’s.

So up at 7.30am, early breakfast, gear sorted for the day, and then daily checks on the Enfield. Now the Enfield has not missed a beat since I picked it up and rode it back from Dharamshala. It climbed out of Manali up and over the Rohtang, and down to Keylong yesterday. But I noticed some oil leaks on the engine casing, and a bit worryingly, petrol dripping out of the carb when I turned the fuel tap on ?

Oh dear! So I found motor bike workshops just below the hotel, three minutes freewheel! Three guys were outside, and this is Sunday, having a cup of tea, and I coast in “Can you help please, I have a problem”. They then set about an inspection of the Enfield , the diagnoses was two loose oil feeder pipes and the carb reservoir was overfilled with fuel. Two new oil pipe clips and a draining of the carb, and five minutes later the Enfield bust into life, “Many thanks and how much please”? “Oh 20 rupees Sir”.

Finally after this “pit stop”, I set off to explore the Pattan Valley, through which the Chandrabhaga River flowed. I stopped at Tandi Bridge petrol station, the only one between Manali and Leh, so I have been ‘topping’ up with fuel. There are no breakdown services to call up here! So back over the bridge and left turn up to Malang, after passing a Government supply depot, and after a couple of twists and turns, I was above the Chandrabhaga River and travelling down the Pattan Valley, with high mountain ridges and peaks rising to over 5000m.

Along the valley floor and higher up was cultivated growing apples, potatoes, hops, beans and cabbage. But this region is well known for its hop growing, and supplying India’s beer industry, including Kingfisher Beer! The ride along this contouring road was very pleasant and breathe taking, so the camera and camcorder were working overtime to capture this very beautiful valley.

I rode through Thapak, Jahima and Thirot, stopping at Jahima for some pasta type snacks filled with curried vegetables, delicious. At Triloknath Temple I stopped my outward run down the valley, and returned the same route, stopping at Jahima, were I had spotted a motorbike workshop. I stopped and asked a young mechanic if he could oil the drive chain as it was running a bit dry, but he lubricated everything that moved. I asked “How much”, he waved his hand away and shook his head, “No charge”.

Again how typically nice this was of people, and so back to Keylong and two cups of lemon tea in the main square, watching people come and go. Another pleasant day.

Posted by Mike Casey 06:58 Archived in India Tagged the in ride a western royal himalaya enfield Comments (0)

Day 6: October 7th : A Rest Day at Trekkers Nest.

There are plan's being hatched !

sunny 40 °C

A bit of a lazy morning and late breakfast, although at 8am, there is a knock at the door, and it’s Vikka with my strong morning coffee, he is like my own personal valet, “Morning Sir, your coffee”. I said to Vikka, “Its Mike”, he replied, “Okay Mr Mike”. He has been so helpful already.

The view from the balcony of my room at Trekkers Nest looks over the Kangra Valley, and looks down to Jogindar Nagar. The high ridges of the Dhauladhar rise steeply above. The area is very lush and green.

After breakfast I had a tour of Jogindar Nagar, a busy and pleasant town, with two main streets, a bus station and the eastern railway terminal of the Kangra Valley Railway, one of the twenty or so, narrow gauge railways in the world. Trekkers Nest Hotel will be my base for the next week.

After lunch I get my kit organised for the planned four day trek. Naresh has supplied a down sleeping bag , rucksack and tent. Robin will be my guide, and Mukesh my porter. Naresh and I go into Jogindar Nagar to buy food and supplies for my trek. In the afternoon all the kit is packed and ready.

I am invited to Naresh’s house for evening dinner. He has been a practising GP and Doctor in this area for over 35 years, including remote parts of Lahaul and Spiti. We discussed other plans for my trip including visiting Dharamsala and McLeod Ganj (the home of the Dalai Lama) and staying overnight at the high settlement of Bhagsu.

A Royal Enfield has been hired for the following week when I ride to the Kullu Valley and Lahaul, exploring the Western Himalaya's.

After a very pleasant evening, it’s back to Trekkers Nest, ready for tomorrows trekking.

Posted by Mike Casey 06:41 Archived in India Comments (0)

Day 5: October 6th - A Trek into the Dhauladhar Mountains.

What's all this stuff about High Altitude

sunny 40 °C

I was up by 7am and looking out of my bedroom balcony over the magnificent Kangra Valley and the Dhauladhar Mountain range which rise up to 14000ft from the valley floor. The lower slopes are covered with lush green forests of pine, orchards, tea gardens and terraced fields of rice, potatoes, cabbage and beans. The higher alpine pastures have sheeps,goats and cattle grazing on them.

The Himachel Pradesh and these Outer Himalayan mountains await. I leave Trekkers Nest with my guide Robin, who was born in these high mountains, and knows every track like the back of his hand. We are soon climbing up the southern slopes of the Dhauladhar’s, a path takes us up easily at first, following a zig zag line up to a small hill village where a local man offers some tea and a well earned rest after an hour or so of walking. How kind are these hill people. So we leave and the climb and altitude begin to bite !

I have never walked or climbed at such a high altitude in my life. I think I am reasonably fit, and was doing training for this trip at home, walking, biking and jogging, but nothing prepares you for the feeling of the body demanding more oxygen. Deep breathing, steady walking and pacing myself, short rests, onwards and upwards. At 12pm we are at 6610ft according to altimeter on my watch, and its 38oC? The ridge is in site, and that is my target, because “it’s there or something?” I begin to feel that I will not make it, so 7000ft becomes a new target, but the ridge was within site.

A big determined effort and we arrived on the Dhauladhar Ridge, the ground fell away down to the Barot Valley, and beyond the Pir Panjal range, the Middle Himalayas, and on the skyline the Western Himalayan Divide itself. Awe inspiring. A rest, some food and water. I was ready to descend back to the Kangra Valley, well pleased at having gained 7200ft, but Robin pointed along the ridge, I pointed down, Robin again pointed along the ridge. Robin won, and so we followed an undulating ridge walk for the next five hours, never dropping below 7000ft.

After quietly cursing Robin, bless him, it turned out to be one of my best walking experiences ever.

We passed through small settlements along this high ridge, with these hill people living a simple life based on cultivating small terraced fields on steep slopes, and grazing sheep, goats and cattle. This would make a great Geography field trip ? We greet people with “Namaska” and joined hands, they reply with the same greeting and a big smile, genuinely pleased to see you, and offers of more tea stops, which we do. I find their life fascinating. Their physical features were Mongol/Tibetan, their cloths colourful, and always big smiles.

The days trek in the Dhauladhar’s was finished with a steep descent to a high village with a road connection for a local bus back to Jogindar Nagar. We descended the first few km at break neck speed down twisty mountain roads with steep drops? I had my heart in my mouth thinking was this going to be the end of a perfect mountain day?

Back at Trekkers Nest to the reception committee, Naresh, Vivek, Sunni and the rest of the staff. “How was your day”, asked Naresh. We soon sat down together for a meal, cold beer and stories of the day.

Tomorrow will be a rest day!

Posted by Mike Casey 06:31 Archived in India Tagged western himalaya's Comments (0)

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