Day 17: 25 August 2013: The rescue vehicle arrives – who’ll rescue it?

We get up in the morning leisurely knowing fully well that nothing else can be done and we just have to wait for the tow-truck which shall arrive anytime now. So we pack our bags and settle the bills with Chacha and keep waiting…

 

Our shelter for last 4 days

Our shelter for last 4 days

 

It’s 1100 hrs and still no one’s arriving. We start worrying as we shall have been home yesterday itself as per the plan. Couple of calls made to Mahindra helpline and we come to know that the person who initially agreed to the rescue has withdrawn and then they’ve arranged another tow truck with much difficulty and so there would be some delay. Of course we know it won’t be easy.. no body wants to travel in this terrain especially when there are no roads at all.

In the leisure time, I start talking with Batal Chacha. He says that he walks from Manali to Batal at the start of season in April-May when there is still snow all around and leaves Batal during October. Dawa also works as a guide and camp organizer in the season. They have a home in Manali. Chacha has a daughter who’s married to someone at Delhi and residing at Majnu Ka Tila. Dawa says that he works as a money-exchanger during October to April at Delhi along with his brother-in-law. That leaves a question in my mind – what do Chacha and Chachi do during the off season? I ask him the question and Chacha replies that he sells the stone and junk jewellery at Bodh Gaya. Bodh Gaya? Wait! That’s near my native place!! Where at Bodh Gaya?? And then I get an answer which shocks me to the core – “sadak ke kinaare” (on the street side). What a soul!! He’s not feeling sorry about himself, rather is proud. I concur, he’s not doing something wrong. But just think of it – Godfrey Philips awardee couple selling junk jewellery on street side! Chacha also shares how he sheltered and saved 100+ people when snowfall started and how they saved one of the person whose condition grew fatal due to cold and why he received the award. He says that every year someone or the other gets stuck at the fag end of the season. At times people don’t even have money to pay him. They promise and go, but only one person has sent money once reached to safety. He also shares that the PLM Dhara hotel at Sissu, that has been newly built is of one of his relatives who used to own a small dhaba, but has been wrongly charging customers and amassing money. Says he can’t do similar stuff and is happy the way he is. I suddenly feel more proud to have met such a noble soul.

Sipping tea and clicking some pics around, we pass our time. I see that Chachi has setup a small shop of artificial jewellery too and out of gratitude, I purchase some – almost all of them! πŸ™‚

 

17.2
17.3

 

Finally, we see a tow truck coming to the Chandra Dhaba. Yay! We get excited – it’s time to go back to home! πŸ™‚ The truck arrives and down comes a young driver – barely 22 years of age – our saviour!

17.4

 

We pull up our socks and put on the shoes. Let’s load the XUV5oo and let’s get going. Not yet? What??

17.5

 

The driver says that he has to fix some things before we can start – that the pressure rod and some parts have taken hits on the treacherous road and are bent now. He’ll have to straighten and strengthen them before we can embark on the return journey. So he take a big hammer and gets below the tow truck. I’m worried a bit – as the day progresses, the glacial melts will increase and some of the water crossings would become a major challenge. However, he won’t budge. He may be right, after all only the driver knows his vehicle.

 

Waiting to be fixed. Notice the crumpled ramp legs?

Waiting to be fixed. Notice the crumpled ramp legs?

 

What? It'd take more time?? No!!

What? It’d take more time?? No!!

 

So, after the pressure rod, it’s time for the ramp to be fixed.

 

That's one

That’s one

 

And the second too!

And the second too!

 

Having fixed that, we load our car on the truck, and then the driver asks if we have something to strap the car as he has very less material! Isn’t his duty to carry strapping material? He says it is not required as the car is normally towed only on hook but since it is a bumpy ride, he wants the wheels to strap. Somehow, we find some strapping material in his truck itself and strap the car.

 

Loaded

Loaded

 

Strapped and ready.

Strapped and ready.

 

Everything done, it is already 1430. We’ve had our lunch, have packed our belongings and have settled our bills, however, now the driver says that he needs to have his lunch. So be it.. where we’ve spent so many days, couple of hours doesn’t matter. Chacha has been very generous in settling the bill and refuses to accept the cost of numerous teas that we had today. We click some more pics with Chacha & Family.

 

Dorje Bodh aka Batal Chacha in Centre

Dorje Bodh aka Batal Chacha in Centre

 

Hishe Chhomo aka Chachi with Tony & Avi

Hishe Chhomo aka Chachi with Tony & Avi

 

Dawa Tashi with Tony

Dawa Tashi with Tony

 

Finally, around 1500 hrs, we depart from Batal. Me and Tony sit in the driver’s compartment and Cheena and Avi sit in the car. The agreement is that whenever Cheena and Avi feel that the car is jumping too much indicating that the straps have gone loose, they’ll blow the horn.

 

Let's go!

Let’s go!

 

Barely couple of kilometers ahead, the driver asks whether the truck owner had asked something to pay him. We did had a talk and he had asked for 2000 INR to be paid to him for fuel, which will be reimbursed later. We tell him and then he says that while starting from Mandi, he had been given only 1500 INR for fuel and that there is low fuel in the truck which will need a refuel. However “Manali tak to chal hi jaayegi” (this will definitely go till Manali), he says and says that we’ll refuel at Manali. We argue with him as to why didn’t he told this at Batal itself as we could have arranged diesel from the Chandra Dhaba since diesel is what they burn in stoves.

Wherever we see dhabas on the way, we ask him to seek diesel, but he refuses stating that he’ll refuel at Manali. Multiple times during the journey, Cheena honks as the car is jumping too much and we stop to tighten the straps again. Nothing much to do as the terrain is bad and this would keep happening.

 

Tightening the straps

Tightening the straps

 

Couple of kilometers ahead, me and Tony smell something burning. We apprise the drive of the smell. He acknowledges, stops the truck, starts searching the source, but fails. He picks up a screwdriver from the dashboard and puts it away stating that this might be causing a short circuit and hence the smell, and drives further. Couple of kilometers ahead, we again get that smell, he again checks the wires and then again shifts the screwdriver! He says that if something is wrong with the wires, he’ll get them checked at Manali or Mandi and that nothing was serious. And we continue to proceed ahead with the smell, passing the water crossings with the light fading away.

 

water crossing near Chhota Dara

water crossing near Chhota Dara

 

Darkness has descended by the time we start the ascend to Gramphoo and then to Rohtang. We cross Rohtang in pitch darkness. There are no tourists, no vehicles and no jams unlike that we heard of numerous of times. None of the shops are open and in fact we could make it that we are passing Rohtang top only by chance when I notice the marker in the headlight of the truck. The time reads 2059 hrs.

We start the descend and cross Rani Nallah and then Marhi – I’m keeping a check on the GPS maps which the driver likes much and asks if he can get the application on his smartphone! Between Marhi and Gulaba, there are numerous hairpin bends and few are such sharp that a long vehicle like our tow truck has to reverse once and then cut again to make it. At one such turn, while reversing, the engine stops and the vehicle starts moving forward on which the driver quickly applies brakes. And then he announces – “Diesel Khatam” (diesel is finished)Β [icon icon=icon-ban-circle size=14px color=#000 ] In the darkness, we can feel that there is a gorge besides the road.

This invariably means that he can’t start the engine and reverse, and if he just removes his feet from the brake, we’re definitely going to fall down the road. There is perhaps a truck coming from the other side and he can’t take the turn until the tow truck clears the turn. The driver of the truck gauges the situation and quickly makes it that something is wrong. He parks his truck to the side of the road and comes to us in a jiffy. In the meanwhile, me and Tony jump out of the truck and ask Cheena and Avi to jump quickly. The other driver asks what the issue was and our driver replied that the diesel was finished. The other driver scolded him as to why he didn’t got it at the top? The other truck driver senses the urgency and issue and picks up a big stone from nearby and starts hitting on the front tyre to turn it towards the road. Since the engine is stopped, the steering won’t work and this is the only way to make the tow truck navigate the hairpin bend. We all assume and believe that this couldn’t be done and now the truck with our car will go off the road. However, after sometime, the other driver asks our driver to release the brakes slowly and the tow truck barely manages to navigate the turn with one tyre of the rear double tyre set hanging off the road. Phew!!! We thank the other driver who has helped us and asked if he has spare diesel. He hasn’t and says that many trucks would be coming this way and some of them may spare some diesel and so he leaves.

The driver parks the tow truck to the side of the road and we place some stones under the wheels to stop it rolling down as it is on an incline with the engine downwards. We try using the diesel that XUV5oo would have in it’s tank, but the pipe won’t work and even after trying too much, we’re not successful in pulling out any diesel. Fortunately, the tow truck driver has a 5-litre container and we ask him to go and procure some diesel from Manali. He argues that all the petrol bunks will be closed by now and he would not find any. Bah! That’s ridiculous!! This is a major highway and my GPS navigation application show that there are 5 petrol pumps in and around Manali and all of them can’t be closed, and this is just 2140 hrs. At least one would be operating 24×7! So we push him into a truck coming from the other side and going towards Manali.

 

Parked besides the road.. stranded!

Parked besides the road.. stranded!

 

About an hour later, three trucks come and stop near us and our driver alights from one of them. The three trucks are going towards Kaza to load peas and their owner is also with them. They provide us 10 litres of diesel for 800 INR – not at too much of premium considering the conditions and we willingly pay. They pour the diesel in the tank and then ask our driver to crank the ignition. Nothing happens. Oh! Since the diesel has finished completely, the it would need priming the pump. So he tilts the engine compartment to expose the pump and one of the truck drivers starts pressing the pump vigourously and the owner asks our driver to crank the ignition – Nothing happens! Absolutely nothing!! Once, twice, thrice… same result!

The truck owner asks one of his drivers to go into the cabin and see if he can crank. The moment he goes in, he exclaims… there is smell of burning! “Abhi se aa rahi hai” (it has just started now), our driver exclaims. We contradict and tell the truck owner that this smell has been coming from long. And so all the truck drivers and the owner start looking for electrical fault – some short circuited wire. After aΒ  while, the owner asks one of the drivers to check the fuse and he almost screams as he opens the box – Three fuses are blown and one of them is for brake! The owner slaps our driver – “Saale tu gaadi chalaata hai, tujhe pata nahin hai iska? Ye saari electronic hai aur tujhe kuchh nahin pata phir bhi drivery karta hai? Khud to marega, in bechaaron ko bhi marwa dega tu!” [icon icon=icon-frown size=14px color=#000 ] (What kind of a driver are you that you don’t understand your vehicle? This is all electronically driven and you don’t know anything, still keep on driving? You’d die of some accident, but why are you dragging these gentlemen with you to death?).

They provide us with spare fuses that they have and then try again cranking the engine priming the pump with renewed vigour. It won’t budge!! Suddenly, one the drivers notice that the diesel outlet pipe from the tank is situated at the rear end of the tank and since the tow truck is on an incline with the engine facing downwards, 10 litres of diesel won’t have even reached the pipe. They inform that we would require at least 10 litres more of diesel and then only the engine would start. “Hum jitna kar sakte the utna sab try kar liya, ab aapko aur diesel laana padega. Hamaare paas aur hai nahin warna hum de dete. Abhi hamein spiti jaana hai matar laane aur udhar pump hai nahin. Aap kisi aur aate-jaate gaadi se maang lo” (We’ve done and tried all that we can, now you’d have to source more diesel. We don’t have anymore spare, else we would have given you. Right now we have to go to Spiti to load peas and there is no petrol bunk there. Ask for it from the vehicles passing by). We thank them for all their help and they proceed towards Rohtang. The time reads 2300 hrs.

All this while, knowing how the driver has jeopardized our lives, we all are fuming [icon icon=icon-frown size=14px color=#000 ]. We ask him to go and source more diesel to which he denies “ab nai milni diesel, so jao” (now the diesel won’t be available, let’s sleep), and he jumps into the cabin to sleep comfortably. We’re in a fix. We do try to sleep in the cabin and car, but couldn’t. For we know that it’s a steep incline and the stones we ourselves have kept beneath the tyres may give way anytime and the entire truck would fall into the gorge. Stranded and walking on the road and at times trying to sleep, we spend our night….

Next: Would we ever reach Mandi?

CONTD…

Total Distance covered: Approx 86.7 kms

Driving Directions from Batal to Gulaba: Follow the directions given in the linked post, in reverse order to reach till Gramphoo. Take the sharp left fork at the tri-junction to go towards Rohtang Jot (Pass). Pass by Rohtang Jot and then by Rani Nallah followed by Marhi.

Google Map directions for Batal to Gulaba travel: http://goo.gl/maps/xIyhZ

Day 16: 24 August 2013: The Jinx of 21 Numbered Nut.. continues!

At the break of the dawn, I wake up at the noise of some commotion at Chandra dhaba. Someone is shouting at the top of his voice. I realize – this is Jamaica’s voice!! Oh yes! Today is Jamaica’s birthday – a fact that he mentioned when we met him at the tri-junction when we were trekking towards Chandra Dhaba at Batal after our car broke down. Immediately, I do down to the dhaba and hug Jamaica and wish him. He’s too ecstatic and ordering whatever is available for everyone. We too get a can of Tuna! πŸ™‚

Jamaica is going to Kaza for celebrating his birthday and the first reaction after seeing us still there is that we should have better stayed that day with him and probably all this wouldn’t have happened. But we don’t have a time machine at our disposal and so can’t go back in time. And so we keep waiting for the call from Mahindra.

Around 1100 hrs, we receive a call from Mahindra and they tell us that there is a landslide at Malling and so sending a rescue vehicle from Reckong Peo wouldn’t be possible – Breaking new, eh! We were telling him the same yesterday and he would not agree to it. He has wasted another day. He says that now he will be sending someone from Mandi and will confirm during the day once the rescue vehicle starts.

We know it would take time. Getting a tow truck from Mandi means it would not come before tomorrow. Why not try our luck with unscrewing the tyre and if we’re successful, we’ll let Mahindra know.

And so the efforts start again… trying to fit spanners from various vehicles passing. The problem is.. most of the SUVs are fitted with 19 numbered nuts, trucks have larger ones and none of the vehicle has the 21 numbered nuts and hence no appropriate spanner! πŸ™

The expression says it all...

The expression says it all…

Passing the time...

Passing the time…

 

Couple of hours later, a gentleman from Lucknow arrives at the chandra dhaba, going towards Chandratal. He has got a toolbox and seeing us in problem, he assures us all help. So everyone gets on the job. This seems to be working! We are able to unscrew three nuts!! Another nut has lost it’s groove, so it is the 20 numbered spanner and hammer that makes it fit, and viola! The forth nut is also unbolt! Yay! I think we are going home shortly! πŸ™‚ Many thanks to the gentleman!

Not yet.. not yet!

With our yesterday’s endeavour to cut the nut open with a chisel, the fifth nut has lost all it’s groove and there is nothing on which a spanner would fit. The only way is to cut it open. So the gentleman goes on his journey and we start thinking a way to cut the nut.

Why not we move the vehicle a bit? A single nut won’t stand much chance and it would automatically give way by the wobble of the wheel. Is it? No! This nut won’t budge even a micro-milli-meter!! It seems that while the vehicle was being driven on rim from the spot of puncture to the Chandra dhaba, the heat generated caused the alloy to melt a bit and it is now stuck badly. We try hammering, but it doesn’t even causes the wheel to budge!

Cut the bloody rim itself. This has already distorted and rendered useless anyway. Let’s cut it. The hex saw blade again to the job, we start cutting the rim itself. One spoke cut and then we notice that it isn’t possible to cut the part of rim that is around the axle.. it needs some space and there is none! Ruled out!! πŸ™

Hammer it out, the rim is already useless.. whatever use it had, had been put out of the job by cutting the spoke. Couple of hammers from the outside and it doesn’t works. No! We have to take it outside, so the hammering should be done from the inner side of the wheel. But there is no space! The brake assembly is blocking. Let’s get down the brake assembly too. It would create some space for hammering. However, no one knows how to take it down. And once taken down, how would it be put back on? And if not, there is no point driving in the hills with no roads, without brake!

So we give up on everything else and keep on trying cutting the nut. Is that easy? Not at all! Still we cut 3/4th of the nut. However, the last 1/4th is nightmarish! We don’t have tools of the trade! Had there been a welding machine – even a gas welding one, this was a 2 minute job. However, we can’t expect to find anything for at least 120 kms either way – Kaza or Manali). So we keep trying. The job is made difficult by the typical setting of the nut into the grooves.

See how the nuts fit in!

See how the nuts fit in!

 

Considering that the nut itself goes into a cylindrical space in the rim which further tapers.. the nuts are also such that one quarter of the nut is tapered towards the end, and this tapered end goes into a groove where nothing else can reach. So no chisel would work and now that hammering etc everything has failed, we don’t have any other option than to wait for Mahindra to rescue us.

The tapered part which resulted in all this

The tapered part which resulted in all this

 

Having resigned to the fact, we rest in the dhaba after lunch. Mahindra ASS is not providing any details of any vehicle coming. They say that they are trying to arrange, but no one is ready to come to chandra dhaba at Batal citing bad roads.

Our place for 4 nights

Our place for 4 nights

Charging the gadgets

Charging the gadgets

 

In the meanwhile, we see a group of 15-20 trekkers coming in to the Chandra Dhaba. This is a group of Israelite tourists who have hiked onto some peak nearby. We see two ladies, supporting a lady to walk and then gradually come in the dhaba. The lady is shivering and has severe headache. She’s not willing to eat or drink anyting. Clear case of AMS. I talk to Dawa Tashi and ask him to check if she requires any medication. Initially, they do not accept the offer. I again ask Dawa to tell them that the lady needs immediate re-hydration else there are very fair chances of her collapsing here itself and hence it is very important that she be rescued to Manali as soon as possible. This time they pay attention and talk to their medic who is traveling with them. The two ladies come and ask for the list of medicines that I have. I provide them with the list which has medicine names as well as indicative usage. I give them the ORS sachets and ask them to mix it in water and give her to drink. The medic requests for disprin. I hand over two strips of disprin to him, with a warning that this shouldn’t be administered unless she feels better as this is symptomatic cure only and her’s is no simple headache, rather AMS and she needs to be rescued asap.

They arrange for a vehicle and two of the group get ready to accompany her to Manali. In the meantime, the lady has been sipping the ORS solution and the results are quick. She’s feeling better and in fact walks out to the vehicle with only little help. The group says Thanks to us, which appears to be dry, but may be this is how they interact, after-all we are Indians and we have too much of warmth amongst us. πŸ™‚

We keep pestering the Mahindra ASS without any luck. We realise that we may be stuck here for couple of more days and by the plan, we should have been home now. So we use the phone at the Chandra dhaba to communicate to our families and explain the situation and also that it may be a couple of more days that we’d be back. However, we are perfectly fine – Chacha and Chachi have ensured that we remain happy. Kudos to them as I don’t see any signs of worry or fatigue. We also keep on interacting with people visiting the Chandra dhaba –Β  army people on mission.

Killing time

Killing time

 

Finally, late evening, the Mahindra ASS confirms that they have been able to send one tow truck and he shall reach us tomorrow morning.

Elated, we have our dinner and go to sleep. πŸ™‚

Next: The rescue vehicle arrives – who’ll rescue it?

CONTD…

Total Distance covered: None

Trying to untie the nut at batal dhaba

Day 15: 23 August 2013: The Jinx of 21 Numbered Nut and getting stuck at Batal Dhaba

We get up in the morning and after finishing our daily ritutals (on the banks of Chandra river!), we go to the Batal dhaba to have breakfast.

The room at Batal Dhaba
15.2

 

Having done the breakfast, we start exploring options to untie the nuts. Every passerby stops at the Batal dhaba to know our story and offers help, takes out their tool and tries to fit. However, all the cars passing by have 19 numbered nuts and this vehicle has 21 numbered.

15.3

 

And this 21 numbered nut is Jinxed!!!

 

We try various things, including trying to fit 20 numbered spanner by hammering it. Dawa Tashi – Chacha’s son finds out a hex saw blade and we take turns trying to cut the torn part of the square drive socket so that it can be used somehow.

15.4

 

Someone advises of using a Chisel and Hammer to cut out the nut. Someone finds a chisel and start working on it. This won’t work. The cutting point of the chisel is too broad and won’t fit in the groove that is there on the rim. So someone suggests using a screwdriver for the job and we try that as well.. We are successful in cutting 25% of the nut.

15.5

see the grooves?

screwdriver as chisel!

screwdriver as chisel!

 

Pretty excited, Dawa says that we will cut the rest in next 1 hour and pulls out a big hammer. Result? Two screwdrivers loose their handles and are rendered useless.

15.7
15.8

 

Consensus is that we need a smaller chisel. Now there is nothing available here and nothing would be at Losar either. This means going to either Kaza or Manali. We have our lunch and decide that one person will go to Manali to get some help or a chisel. However, going to Manali means that the person would be able to come back only tomorrow and so we request a taxi driver going towards Manali to arrange for one when he comes back. And so we stay back at the Batal dhaba.

Cheena also calls Mahindra on road assistance for help as the vehicle is barely 8 months old and is under warranty. No problem, they assure to send someone. However, the nearest Mahindra ASS (After Sales Service) is at Reckong Peo and so it will arrive by tomorrow. I ask Cheena to inform them that nothing can come from Reckong Peo as Malling is closed due to landslide. He conveys the same, however, the person on the other end states that he has checked the map and Batal is very near and they should be able to send a tow vehicle.

Having some doubts in mind about the same, but happy at least that Mahindra is coming to our rescue, we go for a siesta.

15.9

 

We wake up by evening, loiter around, play cards, talk to people passing by, sip numerous tea, and pass the evening joking with each other. Chacha and Chachi are always cheerful and Chacha keeps on cracking jokes to keep us jovial. I must say, everyone coming here and seeing us in problem is ready to help. We do get ourselves clicked with Chachi too!

Chachi of Batal Dhaba

 

Dinner is usual mutton (yummy!), chapatis and rice and then we go to sleep again!

Batal Dhaba

 

Next: The Jinx of 21 Numbered Nut.. continues!

CONTD…

Total Distance covered: None

Day 14: 22 August 2013: Samudri Tapu cancelled, Chandratal to Batal

We wake up in the morning to be greeted by the Gold in the sky…

14.1

That's Jamaica's camps in the foreground

That’s Jamaica’s camps in the foreground

Up, close and personal - White Gold and Golden Rays :)

Up, close and personal – White Gold and Golden Rays πŸ™‚

 

The weather is cold and the first thing we do is to ask for Tea before we freshen up…

Jamaica in the kitchen tent

Jamaica in the kitchen tent

14.5

 

We freshen up easing out the bowel pressure and feel happy to contribute something for the local fauna πŸ˜‰ Some visitors come calling…

14.6
14.7

 

And then I notice the indigenous mannequin I was searching for yesterday – trademark of Jamaica…

14.8

 

We decide to take bath in Chandratal so that we get rid of our sins and so we trek.

14.9

 

A wonderful fact about Chandratal is that there is no visible source to it’s water, whereas several outlets can be seen which have relatively good flow. This invariably means that Chandratal derives it’s water from the ground itself – at an altitude of 4300 Meters!!! Chandratal is also one of the two high altitude wetlands of India which have been designated as Ramsar sites, the another one being Tso Moriri. One fact to be clarified though – Chandratal is not the source of Chandra river. At the most, a tiny stream from Chandratal meets the Chandra river which originates from the Samudri Tapu – the glaciers of the Chandrabhaga ranges.

There are many folklore around Chandratal including that of a mermaid who married a Gaddi Shepherd on condition of not disclosing the fact to anyone. People say that they still sense the presence of the mermaid. Locals also believe that Chandratal was frequented by Lord Dattatreya and several sages. Some say that this is the place from where Yudhisthir was taken to the Heaven in a golden chariot (though disputed by another claim of Swargarohini in Uttarakhand). Nevertheless, all folklore state that taking a dip in Chandratal washes your sins away. Though I believe I’m not a sinner, but the idea of bathing in ice cold water is something I can’t resist. Now why didn’t I bathe in Pangong if this is the case? Simple! Pangong is saline water and would require another water source to clean up the body.

The water is calm today and so we jump into the lake…

14.10

 

And yes, it is freezing cold too!

14.11

 

I have come prepared for some underwater photography with my Canon P&S camera and so we click some underwater pictures too…

Avi

Avi

Yours Truly!

Yours Truly!

Cheena

Cheena

My legs - underwater!

My legs – underwater!

 

Tony felt very cold and came out immediately, hence no underwater pic for him. Next was Cheena. And then there was a competition between me and Avi..

14.16

 

Overall, I took 8 dips, Avi 5, Cheena 3 and Tony 1! πŸ˜€

We then get out and think of what to do…

14.17
14.18

 

In the meantime, the forest guard arrives…

14.19

 

Faith is everywhere…

14.20

 

And are signs of love! πŸ™‚

14.21

 

Our clothes are wet and we need to dry them, so we spread them on some rocks nearby, and then we decide to walk through the entire circumference of the lake as we want to experience it in it’s entirety. Tony decides to read an e-book as he’s not interested to walk.

14.22

That tiny black spec is Tony reading his e-book!

 

The reflection is great! Chandratal has also numerous chortens around…

14.23

 

There is a track around the circumference, and so we take that…

14.24

 

Every step we take, Chandratal presents itself in new way. Amazing clarity of water coupled with amazing colours and equally amazing reflections.. we just keep on clicking, and clicking, and clicking…

14.25

Ever seen this clarity?

Ever seen this clarity?

14.27
14.28
14.29

 

And we keep on marching….

14.30

 

… and clicking…

14.31
14.32

 

Until we decide to create some entropy.. and so we splash together.. and click it too! πŸ˜€

14.33

3 people, 3 splashes, 1 click to capture all!

 

… and we pose and click, and we click and pose…

14.34
14.35

14.36

 

We click the sky…

14.37

 

…and we click the lake bottom…

Water so pristine!

Water so pristine!

 

Turning around the crescent shape, we suddenly find ourselves in vast meadows, with a glacier for the backdrop…

14.39

 

These meadows on the banks of Chandratal are filled with wild flowers during the summers. These meadows and it’s surroundings are favourite for the Gaddi Shepherds, however, now they are returning as they have couple of weeks to reach their homes and lower Himachal before snowfall starts here and they have to cover all the distance on foot along with their herd.

We look back, and the reflections are equally spell-bounding…

14.40

 

To add to the charm, some birds also meet us, so we click the birds…

14.41
14.42
14.43

 

.. and then click ourselves πŸ˜€

14.44
14.45
14.46

 

Every angle gives a different perspective…

reflections at chandratal
14.48

 

After spending sometime in the meadows, we start back as Tony would be waiting. This side of the track is marked and rocks have been used to create a pavement.

14.49

 

The reflections from this side are coming great…

14.50
Chandratal

 

We look at the glaciers across the lake…

14.52
14.53

 

..pose for pics, rest a bit and then walk again…

14.54
14.55
14.56
14.57
14.58

 

Being in awe of the Green and Blue water and some amazing reflections, we reach back to Tony…

Ahh the green...

Ahh the green…

Oh the blue...

Oh the blue…

Aha the reflections...

Aha the reflections…

 

… and return to our tents in the camp.

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Jamaica had intimated in the morning that he will be going to Batal to make a phone call and then will return by 1000 hrs. It is already 1000 and he is nowhere to be seen. We do our breakfast and go to rest a bit. During the rest, a discussion point comes on whether we should leave today itself and reach Delhi on 23rd so that Tony can reach Bareilly early. Coupled with that Cheena also says that he had plans to visit Bareilly and it would be good if they can reach early so that he can come back to Delhi by Sunday. This is not what I want! We already have some buffer days in hand since we would not be taking the Kaza-Nako-Shimla route owing to the major landslide at Malling, and I am keen to explore Samudri Tapu too. Further, we had agreed last night to spend another day to explore Samudri Tapu. However, Cheena says that Jamaica is nowhere to be seen and if he’s late, we would not be able to explore Samudri Tapu either, and so it is better that we leave today itself.

I get furious, ask them to wait for Jamaica and go to my tent to sleep – I’m not budging!!!

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Around 1230 hrs, Cheena wakes me up to say that everyone has decided to go back and that I should get ready. Damn!! Anyways, I can’t have my thoughts imposed on everyone and I’ll have to go by consensus. Still, in hope that Jamaica comes back, I ask Avi to climb up the hill and at least click the pics of Samudri Tapu – the glaciar which is source of Chandra River.

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That's the Samudri Tapu - See the tail of the glacier and the resulting lake?

That’s the Samudri Tapu – See the tail of the glacier and the resulting lake?

 

Jamaica's camp from the hill

Jamaica’s camp from the hill

 

In the meantime, Tony and the forest guard fold my tent and sleeping bags. I ask for the lunch to be prepared, which is vetoed by everyone – we’ll have lunch at the Batal dhaba. Fine!

We start back towards Batal at around 1300 hrs – needless to say, Jamaica hasn’t arrived. πŸ™

Clicking pics en-route, we cross the water crossing…

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Ahead, I see some headlights blinking at distance and as read at various forums, I ask Cheena to stop aside the first place where I feel we can give a pass. However, being a Delhi driver, he keeps driving ahead, thinking of giving a pass as and when they approach, for there must be space. There are three Sumos and just after a bend, we encounter them. There is no space and one driver of a Sumo cribs that he was flashing his lights. So we have to back up. Cheena reverses the car and climbs on the rocks on the left side of the road, and the Sumos cross – easy it was!

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However, disaster has struck again and this time it would be deadly!!!

Barely do we hop on and Cheena drives 5 meters, Tony asks the car to be stopped saying that he suspects very less air in one of the tyre as he can hear clinking sound. Avi gets down to inspect and reports a flat tyre. Tony even reprimands Cheena as to what kind of driver he is if he can’t make out air losses in the tyres of vehicle he’d driving. May not be Cheena’s fault though, the tyretronics have been playing games since we crossed Nimmu and so he would have easily ignored the alert! We all get down to inspect the tyre – it’s a 2.5-3 inch sidewall cut.

No problemo! We came prepared – we came prepared with two spare tyres! And what about the spanner? No problemo sire! We have the tools of the trade – we bought the long elbow rod at Leh learning from our previous experience! This would be done in a jiffy!!

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Or would it be??

We try the OEM spanner, which we knew won’t work and as expected, it doesn’t. We ask Avi to pull out the square drive sockets and the elbow rod from the toolbox and he takes it out quickly. It won’t take more than 5 minutes.. no? So we put the square drive socket on the wheel nut, put the elbow rod and press it down.. WTF?? The socket slips too!! We take it out and inspect, it has cracked on one of the sides and has opened up. Cheena says that it’s not branded, but has been with him for ages and so he thought it would be dependable.

Now what?

We try everything that we could, trying to press the square drive socket, using the OEM spanner, putting some sand in the OEM spanner so that it provides some grip, but everytime the spanner slips. Now we know we don’t have any tools that would work.

We are in big problem!!!

But no issues. Some passing vehicles would definitely have spanners and that would work. Manali is not too far and we shall be able to reach by evening. Three vehicles have gone towards the Chandratal so definitely they’d be coming back. Jamaica also hasn’t yet passed by. So there is lots of hope.

Indeed the three vehicles are coming back. We wave them to stop and ask for the spanner. They ask which number. Oh! we didn’t realised that it has to be specific too. Yes, we require 21 number spanner. What?? Sumo has got 19 numbered nuts and it won’t fit. You’d need to ask the GREF/BRO guys, they generally keep all the tools – and they pass by. Now we know that not all the vehicles passing through Batal come to Chandratal, most of them go towards Kunzum and the best place to seek help would be the tri-junction, which is around 4kms away. Myself and Tony decide to trek to the tri-junction and see if we can get any help, while Cheena and Avi would remain here and seek help from passing by vehicles. We see a GREF vehicle and ask them if they’d be able to help. The person in-charge is a South Indian and we barely manage to convey him the message. He tells us that he has tools only to fit bigger vehicles like trucks, cranes and dumpers and won’t be able to help.

So we trek further and reach the tri-junction. Jamaica is also there with one helper. They’re carrying some tents as he’s expecting additional guests tonight. He asks us what are we doing here and then I tell him all the story of how people decided to give a pass to Samudri Tapu and reach home early and how we’re stuck now. Jamaica advises us to go further to the Chandra Dhaba at Batal (further 1 km away) as that is the place where we can get help most likely. He says that he’s standing there since two hours trying to find a vehicle going towards Chandratal and if he gets any, he’d try to provide all possible help. While we’re standing there, a Gaddi comes from the Chandratal side. We ask if he has seen the vehicle getting any help and he replies that they haven’t got any help yet and have asked to convey this to us. The time reads 1500 hrs…

Meanwhile near the vehicle...

Meanwhile near the vehicle…

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So me and Tony trek further to Chandra Dhaba at Batal. We’re hungry too.. so while we narrate the story and need for help, we gulp down a bowl of maggi and tea. Fortunately, Batal Chacha’s son – Dawa Tashi too is at Dhaba today. The care-taker of the PWD guest house is also there, and so is two army jawans. Everyone advises us to look for any Mahindra pickup as they generally have all the tools and that they would charge couple of hundred rupees, but the job would be done. So we keep looking for the pickup…

Meanwhile, Jamaica got a Sumo towards Chandratal (of course the Sumo tools weren’t of any help), met Avi and Cheena at the spot who were very hungry (having skipped the lunch at the camp) and were eating raw maggi mixed with the masala (spices) – they had all the equipments – Gas, stove, utensils, water.. but they couldn’t find a matchbox!!! So Jamaica gave them some peas to eat and said that he’ll try to send any help from the camp, if available.

Maggi preparation sans water and heat!

Maggi preparation sans water and heat!

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At dhaba, around 1700 hrs, we got hold of a Mahindra Pickup. After Batal chacha talks to the driver, he agrees to help us, however, puts a condition – whether the tools fit or not, whether he’s able to take out the tyre or not, he’d charge Rs 300 just to be on the spot. We don’t have any choice, so we agree. Then he says that only one person can go with him and so Tony goes with him to the spot, while I remain at the Chandra Dhaba.

An hour later, everyone turns up at the dhaba, without the vehicle, trekking and carrying the backpacks and cameras. Apparently, the 21 numbered spanner were not with the pickup and anything else won’t fit. It was getting dark and so they decided to come back carrying valuables (read camera, cash) and whatever could be carried, leaving the vehicle there. We again have a bowl of maggi and a round of tea and contemplate what to do next. Batal Chacha and Chachi are full of hope and assure us that something will definitely be arranged tomorrow and we should be assured and rest tonight at the dhaba. They gave us the keys to the igloo type structure, opposite the dhaba for our stay.

Trekking down to Batal Dhaba

Trekking down to Batal Dhaba

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We have nothing to do now and so we are having rounds of tea at the Chandra Dhaba and everyone is discussing our issue. The PWD guest house is occupied by a battalion of army mountaineers who are on a discovery mission to fish out the bodies of soldiers buried in heavy snowfall and glaciers during a Leh bound AN 12 plane carrying 120 soldiers which crashed at CB 16 (6230 meters) which happend on 7th Feb 1968 and first body was found in 2007. They had recently discovered a fully preserved body (later published here).

Around 2000 hrs, a Gentleman with his son in a hired Innova enter the Chandra Dhaba. They were all ears and both the father-son duo proposed to help. Best was the driver, who was a local Himachali and said “aap hamaare mehmaan ho aur hum aapko aise pareshaan nahin hone denge. Hum poori koshish karenge aur bilkul gaadi theek kare ke aayenge” (You people are guests here and we won’t let you face any problems. We’ll do everything it takes to change the tyre and bring back the car). That was some angel speaking. Unfortunately, I didn’t asked his name for the record. So the driver, father-son duo, and Cheena go to the vehicle. They try everything, they had a 20 numbered spanner which they tried and even were successful in untying one of the nuts. However, the rest won’t budge as they had already slipped by our endeavours and their grooves were cut by then. The driver then advised that it wasn’t worth leaving the vehicle there as the way to Kunzum pass was uphill and the trucks that would be passing during the night, if they happen to see any rock/boulder on the road, they’d just throw it downwards without knowing that there was a vehicle down the road. And one rock tumbling down would take further rocks with it and may cause severe damage to the car. The tyre had sidewall cut and was unusable anyways so it would be good to drive down the car on rims and bring it to the dhaba which is around 5 kms from the spot. At least it would be safe there. He then also advised that if Cheena was to drive on the rim, he was sure to fall in the gorge and thereby in the Chandra river as the car would wobble and skid too much and then he offered to drive the car himself to the dhaba while Cheena can drive his Innova. At around 2200 hours, they came back to the dhaba. They assured that since many trucks passed Batal, this being the season for pea harvest, we are sure to find some help tomorrow.

We have our dinner.. delicious mutton, chapatis, rice and then we go to sleep in the room… in the expectation that we’d get some help tomorrow…

Next: The Jinx of 21 Numbered Nut

CONTD…

Total Distance covered: Approx 14 kms + 2.5 kms Chandratal circumference

Driving Directions from Chandratal to Batal: Follow the directions given the the linked post, in reverse order.

Google Map directions for Chandratal to Batal travel: http://goo.gl/maps/IZjq9

Day 13: 21 August 2013: Part 2: Batal to Chandratal – Full Moon Day at Chandratal

After spending some 40-45 minutes with Batal Chacha, having our fill of Maggi and Tea, we proceed towards Chandratal. To reach Chandratal, you need to go towards Kunzum from Batal, cross the bridge on Chandra river and then from the tri-junction, you need to take the left fork going at the same level of elevation. The right one going upwards goes towards Kunzum Jot and then Kaza. But we have to go to Chandratal first, today being the full moon day and hence we take the left fork towards Chandratal.

A board at the tri-junction notifies the “Jeepable road” road towards Chandratal…

jeepable road!

 

And this is what is called “Jeepable”…

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But the views are amazing and we have the Cheetah, so who’s complaining?

The Moulkila ranges

The Moulkila ranges

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The snow-clad Chandrabhaga (CB) ranges

The snow-clad Chandrabhaga (CB) ranges

 

Pretty soon, we came to sight some camps and a heard of goats and sheep. Have we arrived?

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Excited, we get down the car. I however, do not see the trademark of Jamaica’s camp – an indigenous mannequin wearing a T-shirt! So we ask the Gaddi who is the owner of the herd for the whereabouts of Jamaica’s camp.

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13.85

 

Apparently, Jamaica’s camp is located nearest to the Chandratal lake, further ahead of the point which announces that no vehicles are allowed further…

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We drive ahead and start gaining height. Just ahead, there’s a vehicle coming from another direction and there is barely space to give a pass. Cheena drives the car dangerously close to the right edge which is at about 8-10 feet of height from the ground level. We all shout at him not to cut any further, but by that time he has already managed to slip the rear right tyre off the road! We all get down immediately, for the height is at least enough to topple the Cheetah and cause a tumble. The driver of the Bolero coming from opposite side also comes to our help and together we start pushing the vehicle with Cheena driving so that we can put it back on the road. I’m pushing it from just behind the rear right wheel and as it spins, I’m bathed with dust all over, but ultimately we are successful to put the Cheetah back on the track. Never mind, we’re going to Chandratal and everything will be clean soon.

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So we hop on and drive again clicking pics.. we reach a place where there is a wall on the road and couple of vehicles are already parked.

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One of the car (mostly Boleros run here) seems to have some drivers sitting and enjoying music. I didn’t noticed the indigenous mannequin as it was hidden behind the car and so I ask the person sitting near the window where can I find Jamaica. The person wearing a red sweatshirt gets down the car immediately, puts on his cap, stands in a salute position, and says “Main hi hai sir Jamaica”. Now I’ve had a couple of PMs exchanged with Jamaica on BCMT Forum and had intimated him of my plans of coming today. I remind him and he remembers. I’m impressed as he’s very very friendly. I ask him about the accommodation as we want to pitch our own tents and he gladly agrees. We take out our tents, however, the 3-person tent that Tony was carrying, is drenched in diesel. This must have happened when the diesel spilled during our drive from Spangmik to Chusul and then Chusul to Tangtse via Erath. This one is not usable now. However, my Quechua T2 tent is perfectly fine. So Jamaica asks his people to spread the 3-person tent so that it is dried up and the diesel smell goes away. He says that the boys will erect the other tent, but first, we must have tea.

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So we have our tea and then we decide to pay a visit to Chandratal before it gets dark. Jamaica shows us the trail and says that by the time we’re back, he’ll get our tent erected and arrange for another tent too. So we hit the trail…

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The peaks in CB range are full of snow/ice and with the scattered light, they make a nice backdrop…

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Me and Avi in the backdrop of CB peaks

Me and Avi in the backdrop of CB peaks

 

It’s a dusty trail, evident from the dirt stuck to the wet shoes… the shoes haven’t dried since we crossed the mighty waterfall…

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And then as we’re about to cross a hill, we see the first view of Chandratal… The time reads 1900 hrs

First view of Chandratal

First view of Chandratal

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There is a stream coming out of the Chandratal and since my Quechua Forclaz 500 shoes are already wet and dirty, I walk into it… after all the shoes are waterproof, but already drenched! πŸ™‚

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13.99

 

Some horses are grazing at the banks of Chandratal

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13.101

 

There are chortens alongside the Chandratal shore and so as a basket to drop the waste.. good thought!

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A board announces that this Chandratal catchment area is part of Ramsar Wetlands and gives a list of wildlife that can be found here.. though we didn’t see anything except for the horses.

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The evening golden rays on the clouds are creating magic on the Chandratal…

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The water is green and very clear…

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Chandratal is said to be crescent in shape and we notice it turning beyond the hills…

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We will explore this in detail tomorrow, but first I need to touch the water of Chandratal..

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And click one of the CB peaks, peeking from behind a hill…

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I go knee deep in water. It is freezing cold and taking all tiredness away. I ask Cheena to come over and enjoy the waters and so he joins me…

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Ecstatic on fulfilling a dream to visit Chandratal, I just fall backwards in the water, holding Cheena along. πŸ™‚ I get fully wet, that’s what I wanted! Cheena gets half wet and is feeling too cold and so jumps out!

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… And we pose…

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Not satisfied with the dip, I ask everyone to join and that we take some dips in the ice cold water. We are not carrying any spare cloths and so Cheena, Avi and Tony stay away, while I go back to take 3 dips and make some splash…

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Having no spare clothes, I wring out the tee and vest and wear them again, meanwhile Cheena has packed himself in the jacket πŸ˜›

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One last pic of the Chandratal with snow-clad peaks as the backdrop and then we trek back to the camp.

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Ecstatic with Joy!

Ecstatic with Joy!

Camps at distance

Camps at distance

 

We come back and spread our cloths at nearby rocks to dry. As promised, Jamaica has got our tents erected and arranged for another tent too. There doesn’t appear to be too many tourists today even being the full moon day! While Cheena changes dress, I go to meet Jamaica again and inquire about the dinner. There we meet the forest guard – a poor fellow from Spiti who has been working on contract for 6 years and still the government is not taking him on permanent rolls. During the season, he does his duty at Chandratal and during winters, he’s without a job, working as a laborer in Kaza. To top that, the Forest Department has not even provided him any tent or dueling near Chandratal. It is Jamaica who has erected a Gaddi dueling for him and provides food to him. We also meet Batal Chacha’s son – Dawa Tashi in the kitchen tent and he’s cook for the night. Jamaica has various stories to tell about the place ranging from Goddess emerging from the Chandratal to Snow leopard to wolves and what not, so the time quickly crossed past 2030

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Dawa Tashi – Batal Chacha’s son

Bakar in the kitchen tent :)

Bakar in the kitchen tent πŸ™‚

 

We keep on talking and we apprise Jamaica about our plan to go to Kaza tomorrow and then towards Delhi via Kaza-Nako-Chail-Shimla. Then Jamaica informs us that there has been a major landslide at Maling nullah and the route is closed since a week and it doesn’t appears that it would open for further a week, so taking that route is not possible. Then we decide to take the Manali route back to Delhi, however, as we would have planned to reach Delhi by 24th, we have enough time. Jamaica suggests that we should check Samudri Tapu tomorrow which is the source of Chandra River and no tourist has ever gone there yet. Only Gaddis go there over a rope crossing the Chandra River. We all agree to it.

While as per our plan, it was a full moon night and we had plans for night photography, once we had our dinner and “Spiti ka Paani”, we just went to our tents and retired.. sleeping sound.. not to wake up at night at all. The time reads 2330 hrs…

 

Next: Samudri Tapu

CONTD…

Total Distance covered: Approx 14 kms

Driving Directions from Batal to Chandratal: From Chandra Dhaba, start towards Kaza and cross the bridge on Chandra river and then from the tri-junction, take the left fork going at the same level of elevation. The right one going upwards goes towards Kunzum Jot and then Kaza. Keep on driving the track with river Chandra on the left for next 12.5 kms and park your vehicle before the board announcing the same. For next 1.5 kms, travel on foot following the tracks and you reach Chandratal.

Google Map directions for Batal to Chandratal travel: http://goo.gl/maps/fvsiV

Day 13: 21 August 2013: Part 1: Keylong to Batal

We woke up late knowing very well that we have to travel less today. Finished with the daily rituals, we realize that today was Rakshabandhan, and all of us had carried Rakhis from our sisters. We make a couple of phone calls to home as now the next network availability would be at Kaza, we help each other tie the Rakhis on the wrists and then we go for the breakfast.

Bhatia saab had given us option yesterday that if we want to leave early, he can get the breakfast packed too as it was complimentary with the rooms. We have ample time today and not rushing, hence we’ll have the breakfast at the Hotel Chandrabhaga itself.

13.1

 

Having done the breakfast, we loiter around a bit. We talk about cleaning the car, but then decide against it – the car should look like it has been on a long trip to Ladakh and Spiti! πŸ™‚ So we write YAYAWARS on the thick layer of dust accumulated

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Finally, we hit the road around 1140 hrs.

Coming out of Keylong town..

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Pristine rivulets and beautiful vistas are giving us company, and so is River Bhaga..

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Soon we approach Tandi bridge…

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… and witness the confluence of Chandra and Bhaga rivers, henceforth known as Chandrabhaga.

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Now we would be driving along Chandra river till we reach Chandratal (almost). Multicoloured mountain on the way…

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We see multiple rivulets merging in the Chandra river

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13.10

 

Beautiful hamlets situated amongst the green mountains, towering peaks, ice capped peaks, glaciers, and glaciers giving rise to waterfalls… we see them all…

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Can you notice a chorten in a cave?

Can you notice a chorten in a cave?

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13.16

 

Soon we approach Sissu…

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Sissu Lake

Sissu Lake

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The roads are fully metaled and drive is a pleasure with outstanding landscape…

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Glaciers are melting and to see that, you don’t need to zoom, it’s evident on the road itself!

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Suddenly, the valley opens a bit and we can see Chandra river giving us company, with many streams merging into it. The fields have peas growing..

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13.26

 

Lost in the nature, soon we reach Koksar and cross the bridge…

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One beautiful about this part of Himachal (or shall I say Lahaul & Spiti) is that every 100 meters, you see a water fall or a stream coming down the montains and at times flowing on the road…

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13.29

 

The roads have gone worse, the metal has vanished and it’s all slush and muck, the reason of course are the streams coming on the road. And we are quickly gaining altitude.. Gramphu / Gramphoo is near it seems…

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Indeed it is Gramphoo

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At Gramphoo, we take the left fork going towards Kaza. Very soon, we see that the streams have ably taken down the road. BRO, however, is on the job and they make a way quickly…

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Multiple small streams are flowing on the road and we are enjoying making splash, at times driving carefully…

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However, there is a majestic waterfall ahead which is result of glacial melt. We can see that clearly. A Maruti Alto is standing with couple of people walking around…

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We drive nearer and notice that this is not so simple water crossing.. the water is flowing with all its might for around 150 meters of the road (or shall I call it a track), which appears damaged. Some horses are also there near the waterfall. One person is coming back after taking stock of the situation. I ask him if it is manageable. He says “You’ll have to try.. at least you have bigger wheel base..”

Can you see the horses?

Can you see the horses?

 

I decide to take stock of the situation myself and so I get down and walk ahead in the water. The current of water is good, but not enough to sweep away the Cheetah..

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More than the fear of being swept away, it is the underbelly hits that I’m worried about. One mis-adventure and we’ll be stuck. So I keenly observe the placement of stones on the track and wave Cheena to drive and follow my directions.

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With a little bit of difficulty, we manage to pass with one underbelly hit. After parking the Cheetah, we all come back to enjoy the waterfall and then we notice its majesty…

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Taking a look back, we get better idea of the devastating effect it can have. The guys in Alto are still waiting, probably they’d turn back…

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We drive ahead and pass by some chortens…

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And the waterfalls at every 100 meters (at times even at lesser distance) continue…

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Gradually, we lose altitude and the valley also opens up. We would now be driving almost at the level of river…

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The road has vanished. At times, we are driving on just tracks over pebbles, similar to the Merak to Chusul drive

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We cross Chandra River over a bridge and reach Chhatru.

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Oh Yes! Now that we are in Himachal Pradesh, the “La” of Ladakh have been replaced by “Jot”

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We do not stop here as the time is just 1520 and since we are in valley, we are a bit conscious about losing the daylight. So we drive ahead, cross many rivulets through bridges, meet many horses…

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Road conditions notwithstanding, the vistas are beautiful.. very similar to that of Ladakh.. similar various coloured mountains, snow-clad peaks, just that these are a bit green and as in Ladakh, a river is giving us company…

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At times, it feels like we are driving in the riverbed itself, with small pebbles underneath and big rocks all around..

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13.59

 

Basking in the natural beauty and soaking it as much as we can, we reach Chhota Dara / Chhota Dhara

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13.61

 

And then, we actually drive through the river bed..

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Oh yes! Actually it is the river bed indeed!!

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Gradually, the mountains are losing the greenery and becoming barren, much like Ladakh. Whoa! This is the reason Spiti is also called Mini-Ladakh!!

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With occasional waterfalls and water crossings, the landscape continues, and so does the drive on the riverbed…

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The Sun plays hide-n-seek with the clouds here too!

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From a distance, we notice some small buildings / hutments. And finally we see the board for Chandra Dhaba. This is Batal. Although the time reads 1645, I have to meet Chacha.. have heard a lot about him and I can’t wait to meet him. So we stop here and start clicking pics. Little did we foresee the future that we would get more than ample time to do this…

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The Dhaba

The Dhaba

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A PWD Rest House has come up at Batal. Good for travelers!

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For the record, this is the nearest dhaba from Chandratal where you can get accommodation and food. The Dhaba has also got a satellite phone which can be used to contact the world. All in all, oasis in desert.

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We get inside and have maggi and tea as we hadn’t eaten anything since we left Keylong. While it is being prepared, I talk to Chacha and tell him that I’ve heard a lot of good things about him. Chacha is always smiling and points to couple of laminated certificates and newspapers that are hung on the wall. Oh My God!! Chacha and Chachi are Godfrey Philips Bravery Awardees!!! And the name is Dorje Bodh. This is why people call him by various names – Batal Chacha, Dorje Chacha, Dorje etc. We get ourselves clicked with him – it’s and honour to be in the same frame! And then we read the story of how the couple have saved over 106 people when they got stuck in snow. Great souls!!

Batal Chacha and Me

Batal Chacha and Me

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The certificates

The certificates

 

Next: Batal to Chandratal

CONTD…

Total Distance covered: Approx 100 kms

Driving Directions from Keylong to Batal: From Hotel Chandrabhaga at Keylong, drive straight ahead towards Manali. Just ahead of the town, take the left fork at the tri-junction to remain on Manali highway. Drive straight ahead and do not take any cut to remain on the Manali highway and reach Tandi. Keep straight (an acute right turn goes towards Kishtwar and Sach pass) to cross the bridge over Chandra river and pass by Sissu further ahead. Couple of kilometers ahead at the tri-junction, take the left fork to go towards Koksar and Gramphoo. The right fork goes to the opening of Rohtang Tunnel which is likely to be completed sometime in future. Driving ahead, take the right fork at Koksar to remain on the highway and keep straight to reach Gramphoo. At gramphoo junction, keep straight (towards left) to go towards Kaza, the right fork goes to Rohtang and then Manali. Shortly after crossing the waterfall, there will be no road, just tracks. Keep following the tracks, cross as many bridges as they come and arrive at Batal as there is no other road between Gramphoo and Batal.

Google Map directions for Keylong to Batal travel: http://goo.gl/maps/SShIY

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