Photos from India

Friday, September 5, 2008

Blizzard Conditions on motorcycle!

I have my permits in hand to visit Pangong Lake which straddles the border of Tibet and Kashmir and with a solid motorcycle I am heading up the third highest road in the world. It is a bit cold but I am riding in the sunshine. There are clouds in all directions hovering on the mountains and I can see the precipitation coming down in different areas. Somehow, the weather is holding out for me other than the occasional sprinkle. Up the mountain I continue enjoying the views along the way.

Finally I reach the top and take a couple of pictures. There is a military base that provides free tea and coffee to warm up the weary travelers that make the journey over the pass to Pangong Lake. I take in the views while I sip my coffee. Everything is incredible except for the threatening clouds that loom on the horizon and mountain tops. I thank the army official for the coffee, kick start my motorcycle and begin the bumpy journey down.

The views and the road continue to become even more amazing. I am weaving through a narrow canyon where boulders the size of homes have fallen by the road side. As I exit the canyon, I am in a steep valley riding alongside a small stream on a fairly decent road. I must be close to the lake. There are creeks crossing the road which come up out of nowhere causing me to have to slow down rapidly but the brakes are good on my bike and there are no problems at all. I round another corner and get my first view of the lake. Though it is cloudy, I can see the rich color of the water and the mountains that surround it. I can't wait to explore!

The road disappears into a rocky off road vehicle path. I begin to wonder where in the hell I am and start to wish that there was someone else in the area. It is just me and the rocky road ahead. I cross a small river on the motorcycle and somehow avoid falling over into the freezing cold water. My spark plugs get water on them from the river and my bike won't make it up the hill. I am pushing the bike and running the engine at the same time trying to get it going again. What if it is broken and I am stuck here in the middle of nowhere? What the hell am I doing here anyway?

The bike begins to work again but the road continues to deteriorate and I even consider turning around. A bit of pavement appears but only briefly and I realize that this must actually lead to the lake. Another few turns and there it is! The end of an incredible mountain lake sitting at 4500 meters in the heart of the Himalayan mountains! The colors are stunning and the mountains that surround it are absolutely beautiful. I can't believe how wonderful this place is, more than worth the six hour ride over the mountain.

At sunset, the clouds briefly break giving me the opportunity to snap a few good photos in the cold evening light. It is not just cold but freezing. I ask a man running a camp nearby how cold it will get tonight and he says -7 (Celcius). Brrr! It is going to be a cold night in the tent! I eat a dinner consisting of several packs of instant noodles and a chocolate bar. It is still early so wrapped up in my sleeping bag I spend an hour or so reading before falling asleep. The rain begins. I don't know how long I have been sleeping but I think it is a good thing that it is raining now rather than tomorrow. Maybe all the clouds will be gone when I awake. I fall asleep again but the rain and wind continues to wake me up throughout the night.

It is morning and I don't hear rain. I feel the sunrise coming through the tent so I put on some warm clothes and crawl out of my tent. Outside I find a sliver a sunshine has penetrated the cloud cover. The light shines in my face blocking out the views of the lake. It is cold and the weather looks much worse than the day before. It begins to sprinkle and snow at the same time. I take shelter in a nearby parachute tent where I find some coffee. The rain and snow picks up and continues for several hours. There is nothing more to do than try and stay warm by holding a cup of coffee so I drink four cups of coffee this morning. Every time the rain and snow eases, I step outside only to see more coming our way, straight out of the valley from which I came and which I will need to leave by in a few hours if I want to make the bus I have already paid for that is leaving tonight.

A break in the weather finally appears and I spend a half hour struggling with my cold motorcycle engine trying to get it started. Finally the choke begins to work and the carburetor warms up a bit and the engine starts. I let the bike run and my weather window continues to look wonderful. The valley I am heading up has a small window of blue sky above even though there is a thick layer of clouds covering the mountains not far over head. I can see the snow coming down on the mountains but this is my only chance so I take it.

I pass over the obstacles I crossed the day before without any problems and the weather continues to hold out on me. Occasionally it rains a bit but quickly stops not causing any problems for my drive. I begin to make my way up the mountain back towards the pass I must cross to return to Leh. It keeps getting colder and there is no sign of blue in the sky anymore. The clouds are looming just above and I can see the snow covering all of the mountains hovering just below the clouds. I continue on up the mountain.

Oh my God I am freezing! I can't believe the situation I have gotten myself into this time! I am on a motorcycle, it is snowing as hard as I have ever seen and I can't see but a few feet in front of me. The snow hitting me in the eyes hurts and is making it difficult to even keep my eyes open. My face is frozen to the point that when I touch it I can't even feel my hand rubbing upon it. There isn't much left of the road anymore, just a series of puddles and rocks. I can't turn back because the weather is now just as bad where I came from and I have to catch a bus tonight. I press on in the freezing cold wondering where the mountain pass is and hoping that I arrive at the top where I know there is a warm drink and some shelter waiting.

Where is that damn pass! I don't know how much more of this I can take. Should I stop and wait? Will this end in an hour? A day? A week? There is no choice, I must keep going. I have to be close, I can feel it. The snow is easing just enough that I can now see a little further. It must be near. I see something, a building maybe? No, it is an army truck. It passes me along with several others. There are more but they aren't moving. The road is now flat, a few small buildings appear! I am there, I am at the top! I am alive and not yet frozen. I quickly park my motorcycle and with my entire body trembling, I make my way into the small shack to warm up. The coffee is warm and sweet and warms my entire body with each sip I take. The blood is beginning to flow again to my extremities and the I am beginning to feel my face again. I am not going to die, I am not going to freeze to death.

Back outside, the weather is clear now. Was it like that when I arrive? I didn't notice but I can feel a bit of sun upon my face. I easily kick start my motorcycle and begin the rugged journey down expecting to have good weather for a while. Five minutes later, it is snowing again and I can't see anything. The remnants of the cliff side road are shaking every bone in my body though I can't see how much further down I must go to get out of the snow. I am shaking again but there is no option now, the only way to warm up and get out of the snow is to continue on down.

Down I continue fighting the snow traveling as slow as possible without falling off the motorcycle. An hour passes and the fog thins. It is still snowing but I can see smooth sections of road down below and the snow line on the mountain is now almost parallel with my position. The snow is breaking. My entire body is covered in ice but now I can see! There is no pain in my eyes from the snow and ice crystals hitting me while I try to see the way ahead. I am alive and have survived! It has been the most intense motorcycle ride I have ever taken and I am happy to be alive. To have ridden through a blizzard in the Himalayas is an amazing event. It is a perfect example of a trip where it wasn't so much about the destination as it was about the journey. Though I am still cold and covered in ice I am smiling and happy. I have completed an amazing ride facing difficult obstacles and persevered through the face of adversity. It is an incredible feeling that is not easily obtained and I have a story I can tell for all the years to come. I would do it all again without a doubt.

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