Day 4: Keylong to Sarchu
One of the participants had to leave as he met with an accident and was later diagnosed with chicken pox. We were warned to ride safe and try to have a crash-free day as the support staff headed by chief engineer Amol Shukla (Taau) and his team of bike experts had a tough time repairing the bikes which had earlier ended up crashing. And the number was increasing.
We started at 7.30 am, while nobody even had a clue that they were heading for the best, scariest and the toughest ride of their life. After riding for a few kilometres, we began experiencing snowfall. I stopped there for a snap or two and re-started biking. Baralachla (Baralach La), 4933 meters high, welcomed all the riders with some heavy snowfall or can be better called as snowstorm, but it left us in a catch 22 situation.
Due to the height, we had to deep breathe which fogged our helmet visors considerably and left us with zero visibility. We couldn’t leave the visor open as the snow would hit our eyes. It felt like it was programmed or sent on a mission to not let us ride. Many tried to partially open the visors or face the direction where the snow won’t hit the eyes, but in vain. Nobody can cheat nature, can they? The outer portion of the visor would get covered with snow, again messing the visibility. After wearing a pair of woollen and padded gloves, I began looking like a boxer. Even two gloves couldn’t stop my fingertips from freezing. The wind was pushing us backward with its dominant force. I decided to take a tea break, while there was no discounting the hunger.
I stopped at the peak where I had seen a tent and ordered for a hot cup of tea. With a smile on her face, the old lady gave me a big mug full of tea, which I though I could not finish in this life. As it turned out, I repeated the order and in meantime, warmed my fingers. It was snowing heavily and a person stopped us saying that there was an avalanche and all the vehicles were getting stuck. The temperature started falling even further and the organisers admitted that it was the worst weather the Himalayan Odyssey had ever experienced. To add to the riders’ woes, we got stuck in a traffic jam where a truck had turned turtle. We could feel the shortage in oxygen as simple activities like tying a shoe lace or walking a few feet would make us pant as if we had run a marathon.
We checked-in at the Sarchu camp, thinking that the tent was the only place we would shiver a little lesser than we already were. It was the busiest day for the doctor as more than 80% of the riders got themselves examined and took some relief medications. Three things suddenly became a huge hit i.e -hot boiling tea, tissue rolls and hot drinking water. The water usage in the washroom was negligent, while the toilet seat seemed as if it was made of ice.
The dinner came next and some preferred to have a couple of Old Monk rum shots. They surely did us some good for I began to experience its miraculous effect with no high but only warmth within. With two blankets that were as thick as soft-cushioned pillows, everyone had a shivering sleepless night but me. (Thanks to our group leader Sachin Chavan and my room partner Nekzad for the rum they shared)