On the 70th day we rode from Debring to Whiskey Nala over More Plains and Lachung La pass. This was part of our 90 day ride in the Himalayas covering Spiti, Zanskar, Batalik, Ladakh, Nubra, Shyok, Pangong, Hanle, Tso Moriri, Garhwal and Kumaon!
Day 70: Debring to Whiskey Nala
Tanglang La left its magic for the morning after. I slept for 10 straight hours after having ridden from Lato to Debring.
After a hearty breakfast it was time to hit the plains. Yes plain. Flat. As. A. Pancake. The More bloody plains. How hard could it be to ride on a flat piece of land after climbing mighty passes? Apparently quite, especially when it is at an altitude of 15700 feet.
A couple of kilometres down the road I saw a yeti walking. Okay, maybe not a yeti, but an equally mythical creature of Leh!
Walking Thomas had left Germany five years ago and had been around the world on foot ever since. Tanvi and Sumit had been there the previous day to meet him and it was my turn. I yelled out and stopped him, and then we stood there and had a nice long chat, which included the joy of eating peanut butter!
As I pedalled away from Walking Thomas it struck me, there was somebody who travelled even slower than me. He disappeared into the background faster than the breeze. My cycle in comparison was a bullet train!
Which wasn’t surprising considering I was whacking the throttle open and doing a whopping 20 kmph. I was flying.
Winter is Coming…
All of a sudden the temperature plummeted.
The sun shone, the sky was a deep blue, the breeze was gentle, yet it was freezing cold. No matter how hard I pedalled, my body wouldn’t heat up.
The worst hit were my fingers. The cold hurt. As if someone was hitting a hammer on my fingertips. I wanted to sit on the side of the road and cry. The pain was something I had never experienced before. Seeing the bright sun in the blue sky made it much worse, I couldn’t comprehend the reason for the cold.
I had bought rubber gloves in Leh as rain protection, I slipped them on. It didn’t help.
As if on cue, all vehicular movement stopped. Alone on that road, there was nothing to do but push on. Head down, grit my teeth and pedal.
The cold and pain made me hallucinate. I saw a truck, swerved to avoid it, only to realise it was a road signboard. A big rock on the side of the road looked like a hungry predator sitting in wait.
Trouble was on and in my head. I jumped off my bike, slapped my face, drank half a bottle of water, ate a chocolate and removed the rubber gloves. The sun intensity increased, and something clicked. I do not know what it was, but a moment later I was perfectly normal and looking for photo opportunities.
Love the Warmth
With the air temperatures increasing, the wind picked up. Riding speeds dropped, but life was so much better. Travel seemed fun again!
The ridiculously amazing More Plains came to an end after 40 odd kilometres with a steep descent to Pang.
As luck would have it, a car attempted to race me to the bottom. But a big army convoy was racing uphill! I zoomed and zipped, took off road shortcuts and left the four wheeled slow poke eating dust!
At Pang I stopped for a bite at a dhaba and the same car came to a halt and grudgingly looked with respect at my two wheeled wonder.
After a snack they left me eating mud, and they weren’t the only ones. Everyone left a trail of dirt in their wake, which I obediently digested with humility. This was the worst stretch of road on the Leh-Manali highway, which isn’t a problem for a cyclist, but the additional national highway traffic, makes it hell.
Pang was my scheduled night halt. Since I reached there by noon, I headed on, wanting to cover as many miles as my now seasoned legs would allow.
As I trudged along on the terrible section of road I met a Russian solo cyclist, who was wrapped up in many layers of clothing in contrast to my shorts and tee! He was as surprised to see an Indian dressed for summer as I was to see a bundled up Russian!
A few kilometres down the road another group of foreigners on cycles stopped for a chat. They were riding with a backup vehicle and were overjoyed to see me self-supported. The ‘real’ way of touring according to them!
This is something that I have come across multiple times with cyclists. Only self-supported cyclists are considered tourers. If you have a backup vehicle, then you are just out on a normal ride!
The road all the way from Pang to the top of Lachung La was broken, and it took a month of Sundays. The speeds weren’t so low, but time dragged with thanks to the heavy traffic.
At this point I must clarify, heavy traffic is one vehicle every five minutes. Yes I know, the other routes had spoilt me rotten!
When I reached the top of the pass. The sun was hidden behind a big black cloud and it froze all my organs! Without spending any time there, I bolted down.
Down, down, down and crash…
As I was bombing down, I saw a couple of motorcyclists take a dirt shortcut from afar.
I sped up in the hope of catching them. While descending the dirt path realisation set in. I had bitten off more and was likely to be biting dust soon!
Just as my downhill woes seemed bad, I saw the motorcycles ahead were eating humble pie made of mud and rock. One had crashed and the other was trying to get the bike off him without much success.
I struggled to get my cycle stopped in time without running them over and helped lift the fallen bike and rider.
Don’t be a Hero
Rather chuffed about helping the stricken motorcyclists I put on a show of riding downhill for the hapless bikers.
Hero to zero can happen very quickly and in the next 100 metres twice I was out of the saddle and almost over the handlebars into the stream. Never again am I going to show off! I had properly scared myself.
Fortunately it was the end of the trail for the day at the dhabas of Whiskey Nala. Hot food and tea did wonders to calm my frayed nerves. The dhaba folks told me that every day excitable young idiots on two wheels crash on that dirt shortcut. I was lucky to reach the bottom unscathed.
The temperature made a sudden drop. My phone battery went from 80 to 5 % in ten minutes when I kept it on the table. That’s when it struck me, the temperature and altitude was nothing to be taken lightly.
To drive home the point about the altitude a couple in the dhaba were puking buckets as they were hit with a mild bout of AMS.
After dark parties!
The dhaba owners were up and about long after sunset much to my surprise. Like Las Vegas, business for them really kicks off after dark.
They were on the lookout, staring into the ink black night, waiting for tired motorcyclists. In such places a bonfire is much better advertisement than a bright neon sign.
First an eccentric German motorcyclist with dreadlocks stopped, soon followed by 6 Malyalis on rented Bullets. They didn’t know much about motorcycles, mountains or acclimatisation and were suffering as a result. They had flown to Chandigarh from the capital of Kerala, Dubai and rode without thought.
A four wheeler parked at the dhaba. The people in the car suffering from the altitude. These idiots had selected the highest point along the route to spend the night. They spent the evening, puking, coughing and suffering.
Ladakh cannot be taken lightly. A not so gentle reminder…
Route Profile: Debring to Whiskey Nala
The route from Debring to Whiskey Nala is a mixed bag. There is one long straight, a couple of steep downhills and a small climb to a pass. A fantastic road from Debring to Pang followed by a terrible road to Whiskey Nala.
After Debring, food and accommodation is available at Pang. The next option after that is Whiskey Nala.
Stay at Whiskey Nala only if you are properly acclimatised. Pang is lower and thus a better option.
From Whiskey Nala you immediately start climbing for the next pass. Start no later that 1 PM. As the next place for food and accommodation is some distance away.
Expenses: Debring to Whiskey Nala
Food and Stay: 478
READ THE 71ST DAY’S BLOG FROM WHISKEY NALA TO BHARATPUR OVER NAKEELA PASS