Spangmik to Tso Moriri and The Blue of Pangong

by Vargis.Khan

This post is in continuation to Day 6 of the travelogue of one of my Ladakh rides. We traveled from Leh to Pangong on Day 6 and continued from Spangmik to Tso Moriri on Day 7. Please visit the link below to read previous part of this travelogue.

Journey So Far – Day 6: Leh to Pangong Tso

There are days when you plan things and everything goes as planned.
Then there are days when you don’t plan anything and let the day unfold on its own.
But then there are days when you have a plan; and you try your level best to stick to it; but no matter what you do, things continue to remain out of your control.

This day was going to fall in the 3rd category for us.

I woke up early to a beautiful morning, with no idea that this was just the calm before a tempest. I wanted to get some morning shots of the lake so leaving the others still in their respective dreamland, I picked up the camera and went for a walk. And some beautiful shots I did manage to get.

pangong to tso moriri

After a long walk and numerous shots, I returned to our camp. The other three were already up so it was time for us to pack, have breakfast and continue on our journey.

Both Shoaib and I had been to Ladakh and Pangong before so the “something new” part of the trip was going to start from here. Beyond Pangong were territories that none of us had previously visited; and we were all pretty excited about. Plan was to reach Hanle today; stay there for the night; and then continue to Tso Moriri the day after. But that was just the plan. By 10 am, With our bellies full and luggage all tied up on motorcycles, we were all set to move.

Petrol Pump Near Pangong Lake

There is no petrol pump near Pangong Lake; or anywhere on the route for that matter once you have left the town of Leh. Depending on how long your journey is going to be, you will have to get your vehicle’s tank filled; and make arrangements to carry spare fuel. Only gas station in Ladakh is in Leh City, nowhere else. With that being said however, you can get fuel at increased prices at almost all the Dhabas these days, including the ones at Pangong Tso as well.

Our camp site owner knew that we were heading towards Chushul; and without even asking he told us that we could get petrol at Lukung if we wanted to; since there was not going to be a gas station after this anywhere. Even though we were already carrying enough fuel with us; I still decided to at least get our tanks full. With that though in mind, we backtracked about 10 kilometers from Spangmik towards the numerous dhabas at Lukung; right where the lake starts.

Stopped in between to click some more pictures.

We asked around at a few chadar tents and as it turned out; they were all indeed selling Petrol at a price of Rs. 100 / liter. Quality of the petrol was indeed questionable but we still decided to get the tanks filled anyways. With this done, we again went all the way back to Spangmik; and from there, took the dirt trail right next to Pangong, towards Man, Merak and then Chushul.

Spangmik to Tso Moriri

Road was almost non-existent; and thanks to mesmerizing Pangong, breaks were frequent; due to which our progress was very slow. Pretty soon we realized that we were not carrying any water with us; and our throats were running dry. We crossed Man, but could not find a shop where we could buy some drinking water. As a matter of fact, we didn’t even spot a person in the village. We continued till Merak and situation remained the same. Entire village looked like a ghost town; with not a single soul in sight anywhere. Finally, with no option left, this is how we ended up getting some water.

Finally I spotted a few locals in Merak and asked one elderly gentleman if we could find a tea stall in the village. Answer was in negative but he offered us tea at his own home which we for some reason readily accepted. For a moment I thought of those Hollywood movies where tourists gets invited by some stranger and then get butchered but we went to his place none the less. And tea was quite good I must accept. A gentle touch of hospitality in a small village in the middle of nowhere.

After getting some water and tea, journey continued. We registered ourselves and submitted permits after Merak and continued towards Chushul. There was still on sign of Tarmac on the road; if you can even call it a road.

Our 8th pass came in the form of an unknown pass and it wasn’t really of that high altitude as well. Matter of fact, we wouldn’t even have realized it that we were crossing a pass if it wasn’t for this sign.

Pretty soon we reached Chushul and it was time for a photo session at the war memorial.

Chushul to Loma

I was hoping to see Black Tarmac after Chushul but disappointed I remained. We still continued to travel on a dirt track. As a matter of fact, our guide and map all the way from Pangong to Chushul were the electricity wires which we followed knowing that these wires are connecting the villages.

Finally at Rezang La. Our 9th high altitude pass. To read about the battle that took place here; and the valor of our soldiers; please read Lest We Forget: The Heroes of Rezang La

Things were fine until now except for the road; but even the dirt track was adding a little to the charm of the day. First disaster of the day struck when the rear tyre of my Enfield went flat after we had crossed Rezang La.7th breakdown of the journey.

Problem after Chushul

Now this was a little troublesome because we were standing in the middle of nowhere and even though we had all the necessary equipment to fix it, It was going to be our first time on our own. We managed to get the wheel out after some struggle and found the culprit in the form of a nail. It was buried deep in the rubber and we needed something to pull it out or something pointy to push it out; but the problem was that we had neither. While we were trying to figure out a way to pull the nail out, an army truck approached us. We waived for it to stop hoping that they might have a screwdriver or some other tool but unfortunately even they didn’t. After a lot of trouble, we finally managed to pull the nail out using just out fingernails.

We waived goodbyes to the army folks and after the truck was gone, we got back to the task of putting the wheel back in. Just when we were finishing up, an Army Gypsy approached and stopped right next to us, without us waiving for it.

“What are you guys doing in this area?” The army Major in the gypsy inquired as I walked up to them.

“We are going towards Hanle” I replied.

“Do you have permits?” He asked.

“Yes” I said.

“Show me”

We produced our permits which he first looked at himself and then showed to another guy sitting in the gypsy. Once convinced, they left us to ourselves and drove off. More than an hour got wasted here before we could finally be on our way to Chagga La also known as Tsaga La.

Finally atop Chagga La or Tsaga La. Our 10th high altitude pass.

The Dog Episode

We registered ourselves again at the check post after Chagga La; and finally found what we have all been hoping for. A ROAD. It was well past 3 by now and we inquired the ITBP guys at the check post about where we could get something to eat. The answer was Loma, which was only about 20 kms away. Even though the road was also awesome; once again thanks to our frequent breaks, we reached Loma at around 4.30 PM.

While entering the village, I was riding a little behind the other three; because I was stopping every now and then to take a photograph. As we entered the village, I stopped again to click a shot. Just then I noticed 2 puppies of Bhutia Breed coming towards me. They looked very cute and I thought of taking a picture; but there was something sinister in their way of approaching. My sixth sense told me that It was for my own good to get going before they got close. Fortunately I had not gotten off my motorcycle or killed the engine; which made it easier for me to be on my way before the puppies could get to me.

I had gone only a few meters when I noticed a whole bunch of dogs; running towards me crazily from a distance. I knew that they were coming for me; probably because of the fact that they are not used to seeing too many motorcycles in this area.

The Checkpost at Loma

“You are far away guys, would never get to me” I chuckled to myself; only to realize that one of them already had; and was running right next to me on the road. I was so engrossed in watching the ones coming from the hill top that I didn’t even see the one on the road; coming out of nowhere. Time to accelerate, phew, close call.

We crossed the village and reached the check post where you are to register and take a left turn towards Hanle, approximately 50 kms from here. Road towards the right goes to Nyoma. Our plan was to go to Hanle today; stay there for the night, backtrack 50 kms tomorrow till Loma; and then continue towards Nyoma.

While we were registering at the check post, I mentioned of the dogs to the Army person and this is what he said,

“They were not chasing you for fun like city dogs. They would actually have attacked you and if no one interfered, killed you”

The Scary Story

This was enough to drain the color out of my cheeks. So dangerous these dogs were that when we asked for drinking water, a couple of army guys escorted us to the place where they had water arrangement.

“We cant let you go alone, because of these Bhutia dogs here. They would definitely attack if they see a stranger alone”

“Why do you keep them around if they are so dangerous?” Was my question.

“They belong to the villagers. They are a great help in keeping a watch against any wild animal” Was the answer I got.

“Don’t they attack the army guys then?”

“They get used to seeing us around, get to know us but still we have to be careful around the dogs. There had been incidents”

“Incidents?” I asked, “Like?”

“We don’t usually step out alone at nights in open because of these dogs” He started telling me, “A few years ago, an army Subedar at one of the posts around here got drunk at night and made the mistake of coming out alone. Since he was drunk, he must have hit or tried to shoo away the dogs which resulted in an immediate attack. By the morning when we found him, the dogs had already eaten him up. Only part of his body that remained was the ones inside his shoes, his feet”

This scared the hell out of all of us. I did not want to discuss the topic any further and started to get ready to move on.

The Change in Plan

“You will have to leave your camera here” Said the army guy when he noticed me picking up my DSLR.

“Why?”

“Not allowed to carry a camera beyond this point towards Hanle”

Now this was a problem. There was no way I was going to leave such an expensive piece of equipment here at the check post. Moreover, I did not want to go anywhere on this trip unless I had my camera in my hand.

My apprehension was such that after discussing with other three, we decided to not go to Hanle and continue towards Nyoma. For some reason they too were not very keen on riding 50 kms now and then ride back the entire 50 tomorrow morning. Somewhere deep inside, I believe all of us knew that we were so scared of the dogs that we refused to go any further in uncharted territories. The camera I believe was just an excuse that day. Main reason were the dogs and then also the fact that we were all pretty exhausted by then and wanted to check in to the next available hotel, as soon as possible.

I looked at my watch. It was already 5 pm.

“Can we get some place to stay here for the night?” I asked the Army guy but the answer was a negative.

“Go to Nyoma, it is just some 20 kms from here and you can easily get a place there” He said.

This was a big change in the plan. We skipped Hanle altogether, took the turn towards right and continued towards Nyoma. On the way, every time we crossed an Army check post, my eyes would automatically start looking for any signs of a dog coming towards us. Such was the fear that had crept in all our hearts.

The Search for Accommodation

It did not take us long to reach Nyoma; but all our hopes came crashing down when we found out that there is no hotel; or a guest house in Nyoma.

“What now?” Shoaib asked me.

“We continue to Mahe” Was my answer.

Another unknown lake on the way, our 7th high altitude lake for the trip.

spangmik to tso moriri

And so we continued to ride ahead with dark approaching soon and no idea of what lay ahead for us in the journey. All we wanted at that moment to find a place where we could spend the night but had little idea about the trouble we were about to get in.

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

Journey Ahead – Day 6: Pangong to Tso Moriri Part 2


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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