Since 2014, I have been to Ladakh six times with a group and every year, I along with a few bikers do the Leh Pangong route on bikes.
This year things were going to be drastically different.
We had already ascended Chang La Pass, the 3rd highest motorable road in the world. Both sides of the road, were flanked by giant snow walls and from them trickled puddles of water. We rode down carefully till the next military post, after which the road straightened relatively and we sped to the village of Tangtse, where the whole group had lunch. Pangong Tso lay just 38 kms ahead. I declared to the team that this stretch would be surreal, and the landscape would blow their minds away. To my bike partner I mused, “I am glad that the journey has been so smooth and uneventful”
Should have waited till we completed the journey, before saying that.
As soon as we left Tangtse, hail started to fall. In the beginning, it seemed all fun but soon it started to snow. In minutes, visibility was reduced to a few metres, as snow started to fall all around us. My jacket had now turned dead white, and I was constantly batting my eyelids as the snow entered my helmet, and even my sunglasses. We were riding on a cliff that’s width was less than five metres, and one edge fell into a valley fifty metres below. The route took us up and down cliffs. When we were down in the valleys, snow flew on us from both sides. When we were on the mountain, we could only see a few metres ahead on the broken road, and the whole valley on our left was covered in mist. We crossed a sign board that said “First view of Pangong lake” but only saw mist ahead of us. My head was a whirl of emotions. It was freezing cold and I was shivering while riding. A part of my head was worried about the other riders, but the one emotion that rang loudest was that this was the craziest bike ride of my life. I could feel the familiar excitement that I only feel when I am in the middle of an adventure. The bulls from Spain, the bear in Croatia, the crazy knife guy in Bhutan, I could see them all as I rode on the cliff.
We rode the mist, the cliffs, the pebbles, the puddles, the fog, the fear, everything. Just half a kilometre before Pangong, the buses caught up with us and some of the concerned trippers asked my pillion if she wanted to hop into the bus. “No”, said Aditi, and I smiled to myself.
If you really want to know a person, travel with them. “No”, said the three other girls (Amrit, Vidhula and Ameeta) on the other bikes too.
They were all freezing, they were all cold, and I am sure somewhere inside their souls, everyone on the bike was a little scared too. But after 150 kms of riding together, none of them was ready to leave their biking partners (Niraj, Jigar and Rupesh). We had commenced on the journey together, and we would finish it together.
It stopped snowing when we reached Pangong Lake. We stopped the bikes a few metres ahead of the first military post there, and the lake shone blue, green, emerald, turquoise and looked the most beautiful it had ever been. I remember all us bikers yelling and screaming and pumping our fists as we stopped, and we ran into each others arms. The mountains, they just smiled at us. It had just been a normal day for them, while it had been one of the craziest days in our lives.
From Pangong, with Love