90 Days Cycling in the Himalayas: Day 55 & 56: Pangong Tso to Chushul

On the 56th day of our ride, we rode from Pangong Tso to Chushul as we headed to Hanle, which has the highest space observatory in the world. This was part of our 90 Day ride in the Himalayas covering Spiti, Zanskar, Batalik, Ladakh, Nubra, Shyok, Pangong Tso, Hanle, Tso Moriri, Garhwal and Kumaon!

Day 55 Pangong Tso

All is not well there.

We stayed an extra day at Pangong to enjoy the views since we had arrived pretty late the previous day from Tangtse.

We pitched our tent on the lakeside and waking up to the sunrise over the blue lake was something that money can’t buy. A clear sky gave the lake a shade of azure which people wait days to see. We got very lucky indeed.

Bike Cleaning Day

Since I had absolutely nothing to do I went about cleaning my bike.

All bags were removed and every bolt was checked, tyres were topped up, chain lubed and most importantly I adjusted the front derailleur. I had been stuck in the first gear for the previous three days and struggled on the flat sections. With the repair done, my bike felt as good as new! After spending a couple of hours toiling under the mountain sun, I was a happy man.

As I finished cleaning my bike, I looked up to see a small crowd had gathered to watch me labour on my bike. Curiosity might have killed the cat but not these bystanders!

Cycling on the banks of the Pangong Tso Lake
Laying it to rest in front of the gorgeous Pangong Tso

Sun and number of tourists go up

The number of tourists were ever increasing as the day progressed. It was a Sunday and there were an unusually high number of people because it was a long weekend and people had the Monday off.

The dhaba, in which we ate, ran out of food within a couple of hours.

As the sun disappeared so did the tourists. They come all the way from Leh to spend a couple of hours at the ‘3 Idiots Lake’, click an insane number of selfies and go away.

More often than not disappointed that they didn’t see a blue lake. They feel cheated! Because they didn’t get to see as advertised in the movie.

They do not have the patience to stay a day and enjoy the mountainside. The only important thing for them is to get a picture clicked with the scooters, chairs and other props used in the Bollywood movie.

It is saddening to see people completely ignore the splendour of nature, their eyes filled only with the crap of cinema.

Garbage Non-disposal

What’s worse is the filth these people generate. Every direction in which you look there is litter. These kind of tourists are terrible for any place. They shouldn’t leave their shopping malls and coffee shops.

Amusingly all the camps in the area are run by the people of the neighbouring village of Phobrang, they all know each other for generations. Yet there is no coordination among them. They could easily put together resources for something as simple as obtaining supplies, or even in keeping the place clean. But where there is commercialisation and money inflow, there is cut throat competition.

Ultra-Light Cycling

While sitting in the dhaba I saw an Indian cyclist going the opposite direction to us. He had so little luggage I thought he was doing a day ride. But he was on a ten day ride. Ultra light cycling taken to a whole new level. He gave us advice on where to stay and eat along the way.

We searched for our Spanish friend Xavi unsuccessfully in the two camps there. He was supposed to return to Leh because he had to catch his flight back home. He probably hitched a ride back.

The evening sky was covered with clouds, rendering our night photography ambitions useless.

Archery at Pangong Tso
A shaky image clicked on the phone in low light, but we did get to see some locals practising archery. Most of the bows were imports from China, costing upwards of 50000 INR!

Dinner Company

At the dinner table we had the pleasant company of three people from Srinagar who chastised me for not visiting their city, promising me heavenly food and scenery there.

Also present were four bikers who Akshay convinced to carry his handlebar bag along to Chushul the next day.

Day 56 Pangong Tso to Chushul

Another glorious morning on the lakeside.

We were in a hurry to pack the tent so that we could hand it over to the bikers who we met the previous evening.

As a B.R.O board states, ‘hurry causes worry’! And I didn’t pack my bags properly which was the cause of great irritation the entire day.

Out of the four bikers, three of them were on Royal Enfields while one was riding a Dominar. I asked if any bike gave trouble. The first answer was no, then they told me one bike punctured at Chang La, where they could do the world’s highest puncture repair! Another’s rear brake wasn’t working and he had to ride the front only. Then they said the Dominar climbs every slope without any hassle while their bikes go dug dug, without going anywhere!

I love conversing with Enfield owners!

Cycling from Pangong Tso to Chushul
The bliss of cycling along this serene lake

Sweet ‘n Salt

As we sat down for breakfast to eat the last of the muesli we were carrying, I put a spoonful of salt instead of sugar in the milk. That rendered it inedible, but I persisted and ate it, while Akshay abused me roundly!

As we settled the bill at the dhaba the sweet people of the place gave us a packet of cookies on the house.

Snow covered peaks near Pangong Tso
Snow covered peaks were our companions

Dirt

They had advised us to not take the main road, rather use the dirt road which went along the lake. The main road climbs and we avoided that. Two kilometres after the camp we turned off the main road and enjoyed a ride in the dirt.

Little did we know that the entire day would comprise of dirt roads only. 53 of the 56 km was bounce and slide!

Cycling from Pangong Tso to Chushul
A dirt road, erm, path, err, tyre track!

Spangmik

The next village along the lake is Spangmik. I had read reviews online, where people suggested staying there, because it was quieter. That wasn’t the case, it was bustling with tents and homestays, of all price ranges and there was far more tourist activity than one would like.

Riding along the lake was a great decision. Having the water lapping gently as we spun our pedals was surreal. The silence of a bicycle perfectly complements the serenity of the lake.

Cycling along Pangong Tso
Somewhere on the other side of those mountains is China!

Man and Merak

The village of Man had very fancy looking tents with a price to match! Hardly any Indians go there, with the village catering essentially to foreigners. The road from Spangmik to Man is dirt which is reason enough to stop people! That is until a Bollywood movie is shot there!

The last village on the lakeside is Merak, where we stopped for lunch. Soon after this village the lake turns away and goes into Chinese territory while the road goes the opposite direction to Chushul.

My recommendation for anyone visiting Pangong would be to stay in Merak. There are a couple of homestays, the place is serene, much emptier than the rest and the tourist story continues here as well. No Indians, only foreigners! Homestays generally charge 600 rupees a person including dinner and breakfast, which makes it a perfect choice to enjoy Pangong.

Cycling from Pangong Tso to Chushul
We are tiny and insignificant in comparison to mother nature

Trade Wars

In Merak a child on a bicycle pedalled furiously towards me and asked me if I would like to trade my bike with his! He was quite persuasive and I told him he will have to carry my luggage as well. That dampened his spirits a bit!

After Merak as we went towards Chushul, the road went through dry mountains, with the place dotted with Indian army bunkers. If you looked closely at the top of a mountain, you would see a bunker there.

The place was also filled with wild asses, no, not of the partying tourist variety, but the animal kingdom variety. Kiangs as they are called in Ladakhi are visible throughout the area.

Just before Chushul we climbed a tiny pass, so small that I am unsure if it even counts as a pass.

Along the way we got many tiny streams. I remembered the warning from the Indian cyclist we had met the previous day. He had said there will be many streams which would require us to remove our shoes and wade across them. I laughed at the warning as I bumped and splashed my way through the water without once getting my shoes wet. That guy must have been high to worry about such small streams!

Cycling in Ladakh
Spot the cyclist!
Cycling along Pangong Tso
Big Mountain. Tiny Human. Last view of the lake before we turned away

Chushul

When we reached Chushul we had multiple people tell us about Akshay’s handlebar bag. A kid ran up to us and asked if we were looking for a bag. He then gave us directions to find the bag. Our motorcyclist friends had very kindly carried the bag to Chushul and left it at the PWD Guesthouse to be collected by us.

We pitched our tent on the premises and got dinner at the dhaba nearby. The only accommodation in the village is at the guesthouse, where they charge 300 rupees per person. Since we were low on cash, a tent for free was a better option!

Electricity in the village is available between 7 to 11 and we took full advantage of it by charging all our electronic devices.

Chushul also has a checkpost from where foreigners will be turned back, as the road ahead is out of bounds for them.

Cycling in Ladakh
Cattle is the main source of income and food around here…
Yak Grazing in Chushul Village
Yak Attack!

Route Profile: Pangong Tso to Chushul

The road from the first dhabas at Pangong Tso to Chushul is mostly dirt. According to the locals there is zero chance of that being constructed. Since the military is building a parallel road on the other side of the mountain.

Food and accommodation is available at Spangmik, Man, Merak and Chushul.

The road is mostly flat with a small climb just before Chushul Village.

Cycling along Pangong Tso Lake in Ladakh
This is what the road from Pangong Tso to Chushul looks like!

Expenses: Pangong Tso to Chushul

Food for two for two days Rs 1830


READ THE 57TH DAYS BLOG FROM CHUSHUL TO TSAGA

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