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#23 – Via Nubra to Tso Moriri

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Center map

the local story – what happened

The first glance at Nubra Valley was very impressive. To get there, you need a permission – it has to be organised in Leh. The riverbed of Shyok-river cuts deep into the valley and pushes scree and sand down the stream. Most of the few cars and motorbikes coming down at this side of the pass and stop at the first view for taking photos. There is not a trace left of that hundreds of Indian tourists we’d seen one hour ago at the top of the pass. The most of them just went up to the pass to take a photo beside the pass-marking – in order to go back afterwards to Leh as fast as possible. We had not much time left, Nigel’s journey was coming to an end soon. Therefore we’ve spent just one night in a small village along the river in this placid valley.

As we’ve been searching for a distinct accommodation, we’d to cross a huge waterhole. As always at similar occasions, I could not hold back myself – as soon as there is a water crossing, I’ve to be the first to plunge in. An additional pothole in the waterhole  ensured an electrical breakdown. As later seen, a short circuit in one of my wet horns blew the fuse. As result of bridging the fuse to figure out what happened, we charred the cables.

There was only one way left  – with a simple rope wrapped around my handlebar, the 2nd Studd had to tow me to the next village. If there is anybody who want to copy this technique – please keep in mind: it is extremely dangerous to use tight knots on both motorbikes. This can lead to painful accidents. Just wrap the rope around your handlebar and hold it with your grip. In case of emergency you can release the rope immediately.

I got a new fuse and precautionary, we disconnected the horns from the power supply – there was no more reason against our intention, to hit the road again at the next morning. From Nubra Valley we rode towards Pangong Lake, a large lake in the border area of India and China. After taking the last chance to get fuel for the next hundreds of kilometers, we headed eastbound along the river in a region I like best in Ladakh – to Chamtag.

During a short break broke my 2nd glasses within two days – it means in this case that my spare specs were broken as well. From now on I’d to clamp my goggles into the helmet while I was riding. When I’ve been taking off the helmet, all that stuff were falling apart again.

There are two different routes on the way to Pangong Lake – a very simple and short one and an exciting, a little bit more difficult one crossing the outstanding Wuri La pass. Of course we’ve chosen Wuri La – this was the first time on this journey, we’d to push the limits of ride-able roads. With this pass we’d also to cross an altitude of 5.300m above sea-level. While approaching we could easily recognize from distance, that we are going to ride into a snow storm. A police patrol in a 4WD Jeep came down the road and wanted us to stop – we’ve been told that the road is closed on due to fresh snow. At first they don’t wanted to let us ride up the road, but after an intensive discussion we could move on. As Austrian you’ve generally a lot of experiences in snow, my expertise in high mountain areas of Europe, South-America and Asia was founding my arguments. This sudden onset of winter would not last very long, the road is not covered with ice below the fresh snow, there is no danger of avalanches and unlike the cars coming down, we’d mounted new tyres with offroad capabilities. It means, despite of 20cm fresh snow we should have enough grip to cross the pass in a save way. Should the snow storm would have been dramatically deteriorated, we would have had enough time to turn back for taking the other route to Pangong Lake. To this arguments nether the police officers nor Nigel couldn’t oppose.

Occasionally Nigel felt slightly queasy because of slippery road conditions and a lack of experiences riding in snow fall. It was the first critical situation during the whole journey. I was able to reassure,  that everything was under control. As the almost closed cloud cover cleared up, his mood shifted and he felt warm all over again. Snow fall stopped and cars coming down from the other side of the pass, provided us a comfortable lane to cross the pass without any further problems.

This are the Himalayas as I know it. Sudden weather changes on high altitudes are always good for surprises. Hardly half an hour later downhill and the country turned green again – from where we had to climb the next pass.

The Chang La pass is about 60m higher than the Wuri La was before. The snow fall turned into a hard snow storm combined with freezing rain. But despite all this adverse weather conditions, my companion was able to tackle the Chang La crossing with brilliance now.

The snow storm and frozen rain lasted for about 2 hours. During the descent of Chang La it was me who faced the next problem. The engine started suddenly misfiring again and again – I’d to coast down or sometimes to push the bike. But after reaching warmer lowland, my princess was running like a clockwork again. Obviously happend something in the humid and cold weather conditions, that normally just happens to propeller driven airplanes – the carburetor was frozen.

On due to a huge number of domestic tourists, we couldn’t find an proper accomodation at Pangong Lake. So we had to spend this night in one of this shabby tents, temporarily pitched around the lake during high season. This loads of people at this – normally – very calm lake, caused us to reduce our stay for just one night.

The ride along the Indus valley towards the Tso-Moriri Lake was really wonderful. The river had cuttet a deep canyon into the rocks over a long period of time, this narrow gorge with its extraordinary bad roads turned into a real adventure.

Approximately on half way of this valley, we had to stop shortly after passing a small village and one of this many Indian Army camps. Because of this bumpy road before, both of our carriers were broken at almost the same time. It was impossible to move on for the next 400 km to reach the next larger village. We’d to turn back to figure out, how we could solve our problem. At first, we’ve been told by the sentry at the army post, that we would have no chance to fix our problems in this area. At the same time, an elderly man in private clothes – a real „Sir“ – came by and this sentry snapped to attention. I was able to involve this man directly into a discussion – it turned out that he was the commander of this army post. 5 minutes and a short call later, we could move our bikes to a maintenance workshop of this camp – we got our carriers welded at the expenses of the Indian Army.

Chamtang is a high plain at the eastern bounds of Ladakh, directly at the border to Tibet. Numerous lakes surrounded by high mountains are providing picturesque views for Travellers. This area is also the livelihood of Tibetan nomads and shepherds in summertime, when they are living there with their animals on endless pastures. For biker it is a perfect opportunity, to ride around on a whim amidst this wonderful scenery.  It should be self-evident, that it is necessary to pay close attention not to disturb the wildlife of this region.

I’ve been in Chamtang on my hikes before and got in contact with nomads at that time. The people are very cautious but basically peaceful and friendly. Curiosity – especially of kids – wins over mistrust. Even it is not possible to talk together, it is very easy to get into a non-verbal conversation with them.

Nigel has brought a lot packages of colored pencils from New Zealand – here he had the first time the proper opportunity to hand it over to a couple of kids. This was great excitement and joy for all.

Tso-Moriri is one of the big lakes in this region – salty water makes it useless as drinking water supply. The more beautiful is this lake embedded by the surrounding landscape. Unfortunately it is not possible to ride around the lake on the motorbike. On foot I’d the pleasure before, to hike along the full length on its shore. The last hill before the small village Korzok is a very spiritual place – it is easily possible to remain there for hours, just to gaze over the lake and this gorgeous landscape.

Our brief attempt, riding up the mountains on one of my former hiking tracks was ending very quickly in one of this remained snowfields. My princess wasn’t able to move forward anymore.

Korzok is the last village before the Chinese border, one night there had to be enough. The way out of the mountains was still far, we’d to be back in Manali, HP within a couple of days.

Cu Henry

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