Day 5 & 6 - We had to rest at padum for a day due to off-roading :P . Went to monastery nearby.We had to walk to reach the place after riding.At such altitudes walking over 1-2 kms will be so tiring to level of 10 kms.The view of padum city from the top is beautiful !! I'm novel freak,Started novel Stone Cold by David Baldacci in this beautiful place. The next day we are on our way back to kargil at 6:30 am.Now that we are mentally prepared for the ride we are going to do,road didnt scare us anymore. You pass by Penzila Pass Height (14000 ft) Almost reaching Kargil, back tyre of my bike was wobbling and bike started to skid evrytime the brakes are applied. For 2 hours,This scared the shit out of me ( this is the moment the trip felt risky and adventurous ;) ). later we de-routed karsekhara were you can find the tallest rock statue of buddha in the world named "Chamba Rock Statue ".Reached Kargil around 6:30 pm. Stay at kargil- Rangyul
Day 13 (21st July): Padum - Kargil (230 kms, 11 hrs)The day began very early at 5 am. It was the day we were supposed to bid adieu to Zanskar for sometime to come. We were on our way back with Kargil being the destination for the night. We left our hotel by 6 am, admiring the beauty of the barren landscape in the morning light. We were a bit stressed about the car’s condition, and thus wanted to reach Kargil as early as possible to see if something could be done to repair it. Although it was unlikely that any repair work would’ve been possible there, but still, as a wise man once said, “hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things”.Around 7:45, when we’d started feeling really hungry, we took Kiyang to the banks of the Suru, took out our little stove and heated the only ready-to-eat packet we had left - gajar ka halwa! It was pretty windy, and the stove had to be kept inside the car to keep it from getting extinguished. So, at 8 in the morning, on the banks of the Suru river, in the remote Zanskar region, the two of us, all packed up in sweaters and jackets, had a breakfast of piping hot gajar ka halwa! And as someone rightly said: “Gar firdaus, ruhe zamin ast, hamin asto, hamin asto, hamin asto”. (Loosely translated: If there’s paradise on earth, it’s here, it’s here, it’s here). Tasty breakfast at such a picture perfect spot... it felt as if things really could not get any better. Well they did - Aarti allowed me to smoke a cigarette without shouting too much . The descent to Rangdum was easy, and we were there by 11:30. We stopped at our friend Tashi’s dhaba for an early lunch, as we’d promised him we would three days ago. Then, after making another promise of sending Tashi his photograph, which, by the way, Rajiv Bharat (rkbharat) was very kind to have hand-delivered on his trip there in September, we hit the road again.On we went, our bodies now used to the constant rattling of the car on the un-tarred road, happy that we would make it to Kargil by 4 if we maintained our current speed. And then, jwhen were were about an hpur away from Parkachik, it happened again. Kiyang sputtered, and we looked at each other, not knowing what to do now. The only thing that could be done was to drain the sedimenter, and so I got out out the car and readied myself to perform the now familiar drill of lying down on a mat near Kiyang’s exhaust and unscrewing the sedimenter to drain the water that had accumulated in it. Only this time, in my frustration maybe, I screwed back the sensor with a little more strength than required, and it came off! The bloody design is so flawed, I mean who in their right mind would make a plastic screw of a metallic component? That’s cost cutting my dear friends, and that’s how Tata Safari is cheaper than let’s say a Toyota Fortuner (of course, there are many other factors as well and not just a plastic screw ). So there we were, stranded at 3500 m above sea level, beneath a glacier with diesel leaking through the sedimenter, and the only thing stopping the leak was my finger which was shoved up the sedimenter. And I, of course, was lying on my back on the ground. I stayed there for about 10 minutes, panicking and kicking myself for not carrying M-Seal or some adhesive that would’ve got me out of such a sticky situation. In this remote part of the world, help could be another hour or two hours away. I was resigning myself to be in the uncomfortable position when I heard the roar of a taxi. Aarti tried to flag it down, but the guy did not stop! Now let me take a break here to explain, as I perceive, the difference between people on the Manali - Leh highway and those on the Leh - Srinagar highway (or in this case Padum - Kargil highway). Had this been the Manali - Leh highway, the taxi would’ve stopped without Aarti even having to flag it down and would’ve asked if he could help. However, on any other highway, people just pass through and don't even stop! Such is the difference between camaraderie on different highways in India. The first objective was, of course, to stop the leaking fuel. After a few minutes of panic, my brain started working again, and I remembered that the oil filter had a pretty similar screw to the one that had come off, minus the sensor for the sedimenter. Fortunately, I had kept an extra oil filter, and was thrilled to see that the part did actually fit. With the fuel leak stopped, I cranked up the car again to see to my horror that the sedimenter light went on! The sensor connecting the sedimenter to the engine ECU was dangling in mid-air. This led to a high RPM and the manual suggested the driver not to drive the car for a long period in such situations. I knew that there was no water there now, but it was only the sensor acting up. Upon closer inspection of the sensor it became clear that the two strobes were connected by a drop of liquid which was conducting the required electric signal to fire the ECU sedimenter warning up. I wiped the strobes dry with a piece of cloth and then bandaged it well with non-conducting tape (electric one). By doing that the signal for the sedimenter immediately went off and the RPM was returned to a normal engine beat. So after about an hour of struggle we were good to resume our journey.Another hour later as we were crossing the Gumri glacier close to Parkachik, it happened again. The sedimenter warning went up and the RPM went wild again. I went down, again, to check on the strobes, due to a water splash the strobe was wet again and was conducting. The tape was unwound, the strobes wiped dry, a plastic was tied to the strobe so that further water splashing does not effect the strobes and we marched on. And of course, since I was down there, I drained the sedimenter again!At Sankoo, 40 kms before Kargil, we managed to locate the road that goes directly to Dras through Umba La. This road branches off from the main market in Sankoo. Had Kiyang not been unwell, we would definitely have taken this road and then stayed the night in Dras. Well, some other time I say. We managed to reach Kargil, despite all these delays, by 6 pm. The casualty of all this was of course, the peace of mind and photography. It’s difficult to shoot under such trying circumstances. Aarti checked into D’Zojila, and I again went around to what seemed all the mechanics in Kargil to see if they could fix the sedimenter. But Safari spare parts are hard to come by in a small town like Kargil, and after several futile attempts, I returned to the hotel around 7.30. After a quick bath, we went into the market for a dinner of Kashmiri food.
Day 10 (18th July): Juldo - Padum - Karsha Gompa - Padum (140 kms, 8 hrs)Having gone to bed at 10 the previous night, we woke up early, and promptly went to Tashi’s dhaba for breakfast as we’d promised. He was waiting for us, and quickly made some omelettes which we had with bread and cheese that we were carrying. After a photo shoot with him, we said our goodbyes, although only temporarily as we promised that we’d be back for lunch on our return journey. We would’ve been on our way pretty soon but Aarti’s love for sheep made me wait for another 15 min or so, while she spent some time with them. Moving on, we took the shortcut again through Suru’s basin and stopped for a moment to look at the memorial stone of the terrorist attack that happened a decade ago in the region. In the year 2000, terrorists had walked all the way from Kishtwar with the bakarwals (Kashmiri shepherds) and had entered the Zanskar valley at Shafat. They had then hijacked a lorry in which a German tourist was taking a lift, shot three monks of the Rangdum gompa who tried to help the German, and then eventually also killed the tourist before disappearing. Ever since then, the bakarwals are not welcome in the valley and there have been tensions between the two communities. After crossing the Tashi Tongtse village, we entered Marmot Country II, this time the population density being even higher! Pretty soon we began our ascent to Pensi La, which basically is a fraud! This would have to be the most gentle ascent of any pass situated close to 4000 m in India. We were at the top at about 9:30 and it had taken us hardly about 2 hours. In our excitement to see the views of the Drang Drung glacier, we had not taken too many pit-stops on the way. The pass itself is nothing exceptional, but the lakes around it make it quite scenic. Just before one reaches the top, one can see the source of the Suru river to the left. The view of the gigantic Drang Drung glacier appears just around a bend, and if one is not mentally prepared for it, it could come as a pleasant shock. The huge glacier appears all of a sudden out of nowhere, and the best part is that it is right next to the road. We’d been waiting with bated breath for the glacier, and now that it was in front of us, we were truly speechless. We’d known for quite a while that this glacier would be the high point of our trip, but to actually witness it right in front of us was an overwhelming feeling. The glacier starts from the mountains on the left of the road, and as it flows down, does a classic twist, which makes it all the more lovely. We parked our car on the side, and reveled in the scale of the sight before us for sometime. Both of us sat on a rock next to the road, silent, admiring nature at its best. Even the shutter remained silent. Finally, after about 20 minutes, we got up and began walking around, trying to get different views and angles to capture the massive glacier. After spending about half an hour doing this, we moved on, only to realize from another bend a few kms down the road that if we hiked a bit, we could we bang in front of the glacier, and would get even better shots. Our estimate said that the hike would not take more than 10 odd minutes, and so we set off. However, as is usually the case with these hikes, it took us much more than 10 minutes, but the hike was worth the view we got at the end. We could see the glacier in all its glory, from end to end, i.e, from its source to its snout. The classic twist of the glacier looked more pronounced from this view point. Thankfully, there were some clouds which made it possible for us to just sprawl over a rock and relax! With Padum hardly a couple of hours away, we had ample time to kill. Soon, the sun came out, and we decided it would be better for us to hit the road again. All in all, I think the glacier took a good two hours of our time. Satiated, we moved ahead, glad to know that we would see the colossal glacier again in a few days. The drive from Pensi La to Padum took us about 3 hours overall, and we reached there just in time for lunch. The road is in a pretty bad condition, more so because it has never been tarred. The drive is jittery, the road being level but full of pebbles, but it does not have potholes or slush, thus 4x4 is not a necessity. It is also devoid of settlements and it is only when one gets close to Padum that small settlements begin. For the longest time, one drives next to the Stod river, also called Doda by some. As we crossed the bridge at Tungri, the unthinkable happened - we saw tar! Aarti was convinced that the tarred road would not continue all the way till Padum, but it fortunately did! After driving for 1.5 days on stones, the smoothness of tar was very relaxing. n Padum, we immediately began our search for some decent accommodation for the next 3 days that we were going to spend there. Some huge trekking groups had converged on Padum from all directions, and all the decent hotels and guest houses were taken. The JKTDC was available at 200 bucks a day, although the state of affairs inside the room was quite horrible. Having no other option, we decided to stay there for a night, and then move to a better hotel by the name of Geyskit in the main market the next day. Although a tad expensive at 1200 bucks a day, it was much more comfortable. The restaurant was great as well. Lunch happened at the New Geyskit restaurant further up on the main market road, which is a must visit restaurant in Padum. It dishes out fantastic local cuisines, especially the Shabalay.With a bit of sunlight still left, we decided to head to Karsha Monastery, which offers some outstanding views of the Padum and Pishu villages. The road goes all the way up till the monastery now and from there one climbs a flight of steps to reach the top. I would highly recommend to make the monastery an evening trip as it offers a commanding view of the valley, which looks all the more divine in the dying light of the sun. We spent a lot of time there, just sitting in their central courtyard, relaxing. It was one of those rare peaceful evenings of our trip. Thereafter, we returned to Padum, and called it a day after having a delicious dinner at Geyskit restaurant.
Padum is the district capital of Zanskar-a sleepy hamlet which comes to life only for six months of the year when the snow has melted. It is base camp for trekking further in Zanskar region and sightseeing the numerous monasteries dotting it.