I woke up at 6 am to catch the sun rise at Pangong Tso pretty convinced that what we had last night was not Old Monk. I needed to clear my head and decided to go for a short ride along the beautiful lake.
The ride did me good and I settled in for breakfast at one of the restaurants on the lake.
At 10 am we loaded our motorcycles with the bare essentials and headed towards Phobrang, the last ITBP post before Marsimik La. We reached Phobrang in half an hour and were asked to present our pass. After the debacle at Mahe, I had double checked that Marsimik La was listed on the pass. I didn’t want to ride all the way here and be turned back due to a clerical error.
The sentry at the ITBP post took us to his senior, a sardar, who carefully studied us. We were on our best behavior, especially Guru. He told us that he would need to check with the forward ITBP posts to see if everything was calm on the Indo-Chinese border and asked us to wait on the road next to our motorcycles. Marsimik La is dangerously close to the volatile LAC and the word of the man with the gun here is final, no matter what piece of paper you got signed from who back In Leh,
The sardar came back in five minutes, which seemed like five hours. I remember Guru mentioning that he wasn’t so tense even when waiting for his board exam results. All our five months of planning depended on whether this sardar was going to give us a thumbs up to proceed to Marsimik La or order us to head back to Pangong Tso.
The sardar came back smiling indicating good news and handed us a register asking us to list our names, vehicle numbers and deposit all our cameras and phones. I submitted my GoPro and mobile phone but kept a camera. I didn’t want to take pics of an army installations our route. But I most definitely wanted to take pics at Marsimik La.
Before we left the ITBP post, the sardar gave us some strict instructions, “Keep following this road and don’t take any shortcuts, otherwise you may get lost. When you reach a high pass you will see a small temple on your right. That is Marsimik La. Under no circumstances are you to cross the temple. I can’t tell you what lies beyond Marsimik La. Ride safe and come back before sun down. You need to sign the register and collect your belongings on your way back. Any questions?”
I asked him his name and he replied, “I can’t tell you that either“. I haven’t kissed a man before but that sardar came pretty close to being my first. I shook his hand, thanked him profusely and we mounted our motorcycles and started heading towards Marsimik La.
The road from Phobrang to Marsimik La is being done up and in a few months it should be an easy ride to the pass. But as on today it is the worst road I have every ridden. The tarmac lasts only a few hundred meters and then gives way to absolute misery. Sharp crushed rock are basically spread on what appears to be a path of least resistance and are just enough for the large army vehicles to roll over them. In some places the army drivers have found it better to get off the “road” and make their own path. These were the short cuts that the sardar had mentioned to us. These off-road path criss-cross each other and can get very confusing. We tried to stick to the main road as far as possible and took the short cuts only when we could see them meeting the main road up ahead.
The sharp rocks cut into the sides of my tires and riding boots as we made slow progress. As we climbed the air became thinner and my motorcycle started gasping for breadth. It took some skill to keep the engine alive while at the same time pushing it harder to make it do things it wasn’t designed to do. I was forced to ride a clutch a few times. I didn’t like doing it, but there was no other way to get my Royal Enfield Thunderbird 350 to haul my 95 kg self at that height and under those conditions. I had to give the engine rest a couple of times for fear that I would do some permanent damage to it.
Finally at 12:30 pm my motorcycle and I reached Marsimik La. I rested the motorcycle on the side stand, raised my hands up in the air, closed my eyes and tried to scream. But I couldn’t hear a sound. I was completely exhausted, mentally more than physically.
Guru had already reached the top on his motorcycle which was much more adept to this kind of terrain and conditions. We hugged each other. Nobody said a word. There was no need to. We knew what we had done. And we were proud of it.
After resting for a while we took a few pictures.
Now that we had conquered Marsimik La we got down to doing the other stuff we had planned. Guru fished out the 3D printed bell and hung it at the temple.
We then got the stove, utensils and food from the Bolero and started cooking a meal. There were strong winds at the pass and it was a good thing there was a small roofless room next to the temple which we used to boil the water for the Maggi cup noodles and tea.
After the meal, we spent a few minutes to take some more pictures, then cleaned up the place, loaded the garbage in the Bolero and started riding downhill back to Pangong Tso. We signed the register at Phobrang, collected our belongings and finally reached Pangong Tso by 5 pm.
I rested for a while in the hotel room, then rode my motorcycle around the lake for a while and took some more pictures.
That night we celebrated. There was an uninterrupted flow of Old Monk or whatever it was we were conned into drinking. Guru and I were happy that our Marsimik La adventure turned out to be a complete success. We had a major issue at Chandigarh with out motorcycles where we lost time but we made up for it along the way. We had a minor hiccup at Mahe, but resorted to Plan B to overcome it. In the end, not only did we ride our motorcycles to Marsimik La, we also cooked and enjoyed a meal there and hung the 3D printed bell at the temple. Three out of three.
I don’t know what time we slept that night and frankly I don’t care. The only thing that needed to be done was ride back to Leh the next day, ship our bikes to Goa by truck and ourselves by plane.
Here is a video of the day’s riding. Unfortunately, I don’t have footage of the ride up and down Marsimik La as I had deposited my GoPro at the ITBP post at Phobrang.