Walking Above Khardung-La.
It is my second full day in Leh. While waiting for my companions to arrive I would like to use this time to acclimatize and even explore some mountain vistas that are not typically visited. Sometimes all it takes is to just walk away from the convenience of the road or a path to be in a secluded place away from commotion and rubbish that usually follows a convenient access.
I decided to go to Khardung-La, the 18380ft high pass by a motorcycle and from there find a way into the mountains to spend a day at that altitude to give my body an oxygen marker.
I hired a bike, the Avenger manufactured by the local Bajaj and fueled it for the morning ride.
The roads were empty at this early hour as most tourists that use the same road to go to Nubra would start their journey in jeep taxis conveniently after breakfast. The paved part of the road until the restricted line control that starts in South Pulu was smooth and alluring like any curvy mountain road would be.
All foreign tourists need to present and leave a copy of Inner Line control permit with the Indian Military Police. It is a simple procedure and the police has been always polite and helpful.
When the pleasure of a paved road ended, the attention was in a high demand — the puddles were still covered in ice. The wide spans of a serpentine road that hugged steep cliffs slowly climbing towards the pass between nearly one hundred and eighty degree turns added adventure wrapped in time and kilometers to reach the coveted pass.
The empty road, and the air still clean and free from diesel fumes of the Tata trucks and taxis and a sound of mountains devoid of honking car horns gave an immense exhilarating satisfaction of perfect conditions.
I dropped the bike few hundred meters from the graded opening of the pass and begun to look up the cliff to visually chart the route. A Tibetan man from Choglamsar approached me and we chatted a bit. It was his first time venturing here with a group of Ladakhis since he came here to live from the Tibetan colony in South India to where he escaped from Chinese-repressed Tibet. They were on the pilgrimage to Diskit Monastery in Nubra valley, a beautiful gompa built in 1500’s that is a home to over 70 resident monks.
Tsering advised me not to leave the helmet on the bike, but hide it behind the rock somewhere above the road.
It was a steep scramble for almost forty five minutes until I reached the ridge and a magnificent panorama espousing the uninterrupted view of the North and South. The snow-laden ridges below and the line of the road from Leh interrupted the ridgeline somewhere below.
Any exertion required a pause to recoup the oxygen and it was a welcome outcome — I needed to give my body this introduction.
The air was calm and clear. It was sunny, perhaps one of the last completely sunny days I would encounter during my next few weeks. This was not not a regular weather pattern in Ladakh – the area is not evolved adapted to rain. It is usually a dry climate affording people to build their houses anywhere with mud bricks.
I spent few hours climbing along the ridge, till I reached a pinnacle, and feeling deeply satisfied decided to go down.
By this time the road and the pass were fully loaded with cars. On the way down I couldn’t stop marveling at the road construction crews that were crushing rocks by hand and were carrying the loads of rocks in large household pans as if it was a movie from a hundred years ago. There were shovels and picks as tools and they were fully employed. This was a mountain road built — pasted almost exclusively by hundreds of hands, with very minimal use of nearly invisible heavy machinery.