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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 day 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 a motor bike workshop 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 rising higher up were cultivated fields growing apples, potatoes, hops, beans and cabbage. 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)

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