Pangong to Tso Moriri : When Things go Wrong

by Vargis.Khan

This post is in continuation with Day 6 of the travelogue of one of my Ladakh rides. We reached Pangong from Leh on Day 6 and travelled from Pangong to Tso Moriri on Day 7. Please click at the link below to read previous part of this day’s journey.

Journey So Far – Day 7: Continuing from Spangmik to Tso Moriri (Part 1)

Mahe to Nyoma

Mahe is another 25 kms from Nyoma. We rushed all the way, did no take any photography breaks and reached there in less than an hour. By now the road had also started to worsen but we still made it to Mahe at around 6; but only to find another disappointment waiting for us there.

“No” Said a local who I asked, “There is nothing here, only a few houses. No place to stay”

“What about Sumdo?” I asked him.

“Yeah you will definitely find a guest house there” Said the local, again raising our spirits.

So there we were, on our bikes, yet again traveling the 12 kms from Mahe to Sumdo. But before that, we had to grab something to eat at Mahe as we hadn’t eaten all day long. All of us were literally starving.

Nyoma to Sumdo

Until now, I wasn’t sure of guest house in any of the villages but about Sumdo even I was certain that there is a hotel there. I guess I must have read something about it somewhere which made me sure that we were going to spend the night in Sumdo. Sun was already starting to set but there was plenty of light in the sky to last 12 kms and have us reach Sumdo before it got dark. Road condition wasn’t that good but not that bad either. At around 6.30 PM, we were in Sumdo and stopped at a Tea Stall.

Disappointment at Sumdo

To much of my surprise, answer to whether there was a guest house or a hotel in Sumdo was again a negative. So here we were, tired to our wits, completely exhausted and nearly famished; standing at a tea stall with still no idea about where were we going to spend the night.

“Is there no place we can stay at here, none at all?” I asked the shop owner.

“Well I do have a room available” He said and pointed towards a room right next to his shop.

“Well that’s great, that will do. All we need is a room, beds and blankets. How much for a night?” I asked, in high spirits.

“It would be better if you had a look at the room first” He replied.

And he was right. The moment he opened the door, I knew there was no way in heaven that either of us could stay there even for an hour; forget about an entire night.

That room was stinking so bad as if an entire family of rats died in there and we had just arrived in time to attend the funeral. There were no beds at all and if we decided to stay, we were going to have to sleep on the blankets rolled out on the floor. Blankets is not even the right word to use for those rags. They were so dirty that I felt sick just by the thought of having one of them wrapped around me.

Sumdo to Karzok

“You gotta be kidding me” I thought to myself and looked around. Another surprise awaited me. The windows in the room had no glass panes, nothing to prevent the wind from coming in.

“We will die of cold in here” I said, pointing towards the window.

“No I will cover that with cardboard” Was his answer.

“I am sorry, we cant stay here” I told him and stepped out.

“Well then you will have to go to Karzok” I was told. As if time was repeating itself over and over again. At every village we were being asked to go to the next one.

“Whats up?” The other three asked me and I told them about the room condition and that we will have to keep going till Karzok.

“How far?” Sunny asked.

“At least a 50” I replied.

“No, its only about 40” said the shop owner, “And if you started now, you will easily make it in an hour”

The Hesitation

I looked at the watch in my cellphone. It was just past 7 PM. The sun was setting down and the skies were red with evening twilight. Karzok to my knowledge was around 55kms from here; but 40 kms as per the locals and if we hurried, we will comfortably make it there before it gets dark.

I looked at my watch again and then the skies. I knew it was going to be a dark night, with no moon in the sky. As dark as the last night was. It was going to be pitch black. I was in doubt, I was hesitant, but there was no other choice.

It was not the fear of riding in the dark but the fatigue that had taken control of all of us. We were tired, nearly exhausted and none of us wanted to continue riding further. We have had some tea and badly wanted to eat something there; but we couldn’t risk delaying any further. We had to get going. There was no choice. Either ride or stay here and spend the night in a nearly shattered room with no glass on windows, dirty mattresses and blankets and with a strong stinking smell.

I looked at my watch again.

“How is the road?” I inquired of the locals.

“As good as it is here” They told me.

I looked at the road, fresh black tarmac. Riding 40 kms on this should not be a problem. I looked at Sunny and Shoaib with inquiring eyes but they just shrugged their shoulders. The answer was clear, “Whatever you decide”

I asked Rohit and he immediately said no, for he did not want to risk riding in the dark. But there was no other choice.

Final Leg of the Journey

I kick started my Royal Enfield. She roared back to life but told me nothing about her rear Tyre that already had a nail piercing through it. She kept silent about the air that was slowly escaping through the punctured tube.

And so we started our ride again, the last 40 kms of the day, to Karzok. To the banks of Tso Moriri. Little at that time did we know that these last 40 kms were going to take us nearly 6 hrs to cover; and that we were about to risk spending the night on the road. That we were about to risk getting lost, in the middle of nowhere, on a dark night.

Right from the start we were a little farther away from each other, which was another big mistake. Rohit started a few minutes ahead of all of us. I was the 2nd and Sunny and Shoaib were the last ones to start. We were pretty much riding on our own. I knew that Rohit was ahead of me but could not see him. Right after Sumdo, the ascent of Namshang La, our 11th high altitude pass, started. I finally caught up with Rohit at the top, after 12 kms of chasing him.

And Came the Dark

It got dark way before than either of us expected. By the time we crossed Namshang La, It was pitch black. The only visibility we had was what our headlights were shining upon. But this wasn’t all, there was another surprise waiting for us. A few kilometers on the descent of Namshang La, the road ended. The tarmac was once again gone and we were on dirt tracks made by the wheels of of trucks and cars passing on the route, in the middle of nowhere, in a pitch black night.

Temperature dropped down at a surprising rate the moment the sun went down; and every moment that we spent on the motorcycle started to seem like a torture. We had to stop several times trying to figure out which way to go; because the tracks got confusing at several places. Whichever track seemed more prominent is the one we followed.

Then Came the Mistake

Till now I was leading and the other 3 were following me. Somewhere along the route, Shoaib decided to take the lead and Sunny joined him. Rohit was riding a little slower than the others and I was matching the speed of my motorcycle to his. Shoaib and Sunny on other hand went at their regular speed and in a little while, they were gone from my sight. All I could see of them were their headlamps in distance at a few turns here and there. But for the rest of the time, It was just Rohit and I traveling slowly.

This started to annoy and scare me a little. Reason being that they had absolutely no idea about where they were, did not even know the name of the village we were supposed to be heading towards. My only fear was that if the two of them took a wrong turn somewhere; where was I going to look for them in dead of the night? They didn’t even know of the villages around here and had just been following my lead for last few days.

And the Dogs

As If the fear of losing them wasn’t enough, at a turn, we suddenly heard dogs barking at us. There were barking sounds from all around but not even one dog was visible to us. All we heard was barking that seemed to be coming out from everywhere. I remembered the word of caution that I received from the Army guy about the dogs around here but there wasn’t much we could do except for increasing our speed which we did. Luckily, after a while, the barking stopped but the fear of losing Shoaib and Sunny remained on my mind and I started to lose my nerve a little.

The Wrong Turn

So on and on we went hoping that at any time now we will see the lights of Karzok but it just did not happen. After what seemed like a lifetime of riding in the dark; guessing which way the road went; torturous cold wind and efforts to keep Sunny and Shoaib in my sight; I finally found them waiting for us at a turn. The moment Rohit and I got closer, both of them started riding again. I paused for a moment at the turn because the dirt track led straight and the turn towards left was freshly laid black tarmac. There were a few sign boards there as well but thinking that Shoaib must have read them, I did not bother to look and took the turn to the left after him.

We had no idea of the time because none of us bother to stop and look. All we could think of was to end this ride somewhere; get something to eat and go to sleep. But against all our wishes, the ride just didn’t seem to end. We kept going on and on for hours but the road too kept going. Occasionally I would hear the sound of the water making me think that we are at the lake but there was still no sign of the village.

By now I was certain that we took a wrong turn somewhere and were heading in the wrong direction but there was little we could do. Only relief was in the fact that we were on a road and it was bound to get us somewhere. I again took the lead, instructed others to stay behind me but after kilometers and kilometers, there was still no village.

Charchagan La

And then we started to climb up. The road that had remained flat for ever since we got on it suddenly went into a steep climb; by which I realized that we were on the ascent of another pass. To my knowledge, after Sumdo there was only Namashang La. Other pass had to be Charchagan La which meant that we were heading towards Chumur. It also meant that we were at least 40 – 50 kms in the wrong direction.

We were at the top of Charchagan La, our 12th high altitude pass, when the thought occurred to me that we did not have passes for Chumur. We have had enough adventure for the day and now getting in any further trouble with Army was the last thing I wanted. Least of all I wanted at that moment was to be getting shot at somewhere; because there had been a lot of trouble with China specially in the area around Chumur.

So there we were, standing atop Charchagan La in middle of the night. But this was all based on my guess work. All I knew was we were standing at top of a pass; by the fact that the road behind us was climbing up and the one ahead was climbing down. It was pitch black all around and we could not see any flags or board anywhere.

“Do you think we are going in the right direction?” Shoaib asked me and all I could do was just look back at him.

“How am I supposed to know? Until a few kms ago, we were all just following you” I replied.

“So what now?” Asked Rohit.

“Now we go no further and spend the night here, on the road” Was my answer.

Light of Hope in the Dark

But fate would not see us do that. Just when all hope seemed lost, I saw a pair of headlights coming from the same direction that we did. As it neared, I waived for it to stop and It turned out to be an Army truck.

“Do you know which way is Tso Moriri?” I asked.

“You left it behind” I was told, “It was on your right all the way on the road”

The four of us just looked at each other, like plain idiots. We could not see the lake in the dark.

“Which way is Karzok?” I asked again.

“You are going in the wrong direction. Go all the way back where this road ends and then turn on your left” The Army Captain told me.

“You mean on the dirt track?”

“Yes” He said, “Karzok is just about 10 kms from there”

So there it was. We were suppose to stay on the dirt track that we were traveling on rather than taking the turn on the inviting freshly laid road. Because of the wrong turn there, we came 40-50 kms in the wrong direction when were merely 10 kms away from our destination. Thing was that we were so lost in trying to spot lights of a village that we didn’t even realize how far have we gone.

“We are standing at Charchagan La and were going towards Chumur, weren’t we?” I asked.

“Yes” Said the captain, “You aren’t suppose to be here. This is highly restricted area”

Trouble at Karzok

Thanking the Captain, we turned around and backtracked about 50 kms on that cold night. We once again reached the crossing and turned on the dirt track. After riding another 10 – 12 kms, which took us nearly half an hour because of no road, pitch black dark and the fact that we were all exhausted, we got ourselves registered at ITBP check-post and finally entered Karzok. But our day was still far from over.

The moment we were in Karzok, rear wheel of my Enfield went flat again, adding to the frustration. Our 2nd one of the day and 8th breakdown overall. Only thing I could be thankful for at that moment was that it at least bought us to Karzok and didn’t give up on me somewhere on the way. But wait, that wasn’t all.

After checking at all the camping sites and hotels one by one, owners and managers of which were all asleep and were annoyed about us waking them up at middle of the night, we could not find even a single room available anywhere. Reason? There was a Buddhist festival being celebrated at the monastery at Karzok for which a lot of guests had arrived, mainly foreigners, due to which all hotels and camping sites were completely occupied.

So now we were standing in Karzok in middle of the night, with a flat wheel on my Enfield, starving to death and no place to spend the night in.

Finally, right in front of the monastery, we found a tea stall still open. Al he could offer was some tea, bread-omelette and some plain rice but that even that felt like a cuisine at that time.The first thing that we did over there was to eat till our bellies could take no more.

On the Floor

There were a few locals standing outside the dhaba and I thought about checking with them about accommodation for the night. The answer was the same that we had been getting all day long, a No. Finally our luck woke up from the slumber that it had been in all day long. The tea stall owner was just closing and agreed to let us sleep on the floor in his tea shop; with a few mattress and blankets which he would arrange. Not something that we would have normally agreed upon but trust me, at that point of time, even the very thought of lying down in blankets sounded like paradise itself, didn’t matter where.

So finally all the chairs and tables were moved to the side and enough space was made for the 4 of us to lie down in a corner. And this is how and where we ended up spending our night. I took this shot in the morning next day.

pangong to tso moriri

Pangong to Tso Moriri

And this ended a long and tiring day when we almost ended up spending the night on the road. At that moment, we were all just thankful that we got some blankets and a roof on our heads for the nights. Some details of the route and the journey we took are as mentioned below.

Pangong to Tso Moriri Itinerary

An ideal way to complete the journey from Pangong to Tso Moriri is in 2 days. The itinerary must be to reach Hanle from Pangong on Day 1, spend the night there; and continue to Tso Moriri on Day 2. The distance is not really that great but you must keep in mind that the roads will be terrible; severely limiting your speed. On a motorcycle, it will easily take you about 12 hours or more for this route. If you were in a car, then you would go even slower. Though it can be done as we did, I must however recommend to not attempt this journey in a single day.

Pangong to Tso Moriri via Chushul

The best way for this route is to continue to Chushul from Pangong and then take the Tsaga La route. A lot of people try to take the deviation from Chushul towards Kakasang La but that road is an ever worse nightmare. Take this road only if you are in a 4×4 car; or a large engine motorcycle traveling solo. You also need to ensure that your vehicles are in perfect condition with no chance of any breakdown because if that happens; there will be no help arriving for only god knows how long.

Pangong Tso to Tso Moriri Distance

Distance between Pangong Tso and Tso Moriri is about 210 kilometers if you traveled on the dirt road via Man and Merak from Spangmik. However if you returned from Spangmik to Tangtse and took the metaled road to Chushul, this distance would increase to close to 300 kilometers.

Please click on the link below to continue reading next part of this travelogue.

Journey Ahead – Day 8: Tso Moriri to Pang

Planning a trip to Ladakh? Need help with any of your questions? Please feel free to ask in the comments section below; or at our Community Forum; and I will be glad to answer.

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