I would count the days of this journey as some of the best days of my life. I made some very good and inspiring friends during this travel and I realized that India is really a truly beautiful place to be explored.
During this journey, I went through some tough times, where I was helped by others. At times, others were in trouble and I helped them out. The human spirit of brotherhood is something, which evidently came out of this trip. Moreover, not to forget I felt the true patriotism, when I saw Indian army soldiers manning this tough terrain.
Many of my friends were in continuous touch with me during this whole journey. Many of them followed it diligently and asked me to write a travelogue. Some asked whether I had kept a diary.
The current article is my attempt to let every reader see Ladakh from my eyes. The journey started from Mumbai on July 7, 2012. I travelled from Mumbai to Ladakh via Manali. I returned to Delhi and ended the trip on July 29, 2012.
I have tried my best to capture the journey through the photographs, which I took during the journey. I have tried to explain the situations in which I reached a particular place, what I saw there, how I felt, and what I had experienced there. I hope I am able to take to you Ladakh as a vicarious rider. I hope I am able to do justice with the heaven that Ladakh is. The place is as beautiful and breathtaking as you can ever imagine.
I had been dreaming about a trip to Ladakh ever since I realised my passion for biking in the year 2000. I was in medical college, a graduate school, when I got my first bike (a Hero Honda CD100).
The bike was meant to commute from hostel to college; however, I ended up exploring most of western Maharashtra on it.
With time, my thoughts started flying, and I began dreaming about riding in the mountains and crossing tough passes. However, it was a bit ambitious for me.
In 2004, I came to know of a bikers group, 60kph, where members used to ride across India on bikes, mainly Enfields.
Driven by that desire, I bought an Enfield the moment I started earning as a doctor in 2005 and applied for the membership of the 60kph club.
However, as luck would have it, Ladakh (the Mecca of bikers) kept eluding me for one reason or another. A drastic change in career from a doctor to a banker, kept me busy.
Finally, it was the year 2012, when one year into the new profession with some savings, and three weeks in my kitty, I decided to wait no more and headed to the Himalayas to fulfill a long-held dream.
I was wary of the condition of rented bikes in Manali, so I decided to drive my own Yamaha FZ16 (nicknamed Saarthi) from Mumbai to Leh.
Saarthi is a 150cc, 12bhp bike and has been with me for over 3 years. It has been a trusted companion. I had driven it from Delhi to Kolkata and back in 2010 and found it perfectly reliable. Tubeless tires in the bike were an added advantage, which ensured that punctures would not be much of a hassle.
Mumbai – Delhi – Manali
Day 1- Journey starts (Mumbai to Gandhinagar):
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” I could not agree more!
On this trip, I had made a promise to myself of not following any deadline, any timeline, or any over-exertion.
Today I can say that I kept that promise; except for that one time while crossing Rohtang on my way back to Manali. However, more about that later.
The day started at 11 am.
I drove out to outcast skies in Mumbai. It started raining the moment I touched the western expressway. Soon, I had to change from my sports shoes to floaters (sandals). Poor sports shoes; they remained wet for the next 2 days in my bag.
The ride was great for the initial 200 odd kilometers when I had my first lunch at a dhaba.
I do miss those meals now when I had the sumptuous meals and then rested for free on the cots offered at the dhabas.
I frequently compare Indian highway dhabas to “Apple” showrooms. I am told that at an Apple showroom no pushy salesperson asks you why you are there until you decide to approach them. The same happens at these roadside joints. You reach the dhaba, park your vehicle, lie on the cot, and rest. No one will come to disturb you until you approach them and ask them to prepare food.
Somehow, as I neared Surat, these resting places became hard to find and I found that the road was full of farce dhabas that are actually pricy restaurants in the veil of highway-dhabas.
I had to take a u-turn and come back two kilometers to find an authentic road-side dhaba to rest for half an hour.
It was a place run by a Bikaneri family. Here one person told me that the way to Delhi from Surat is via Bikaner! That was an outrageous claim!
Today, most of the day was a smooth ride on the highways, blessed by the pleasant rain.
The only hiccup came when the highway patrol asked me to leave the Vadodara-Ahmedabad expressway saying that it is forbidden for two-wheelers. I had to retreat back 7 kilometers to take the old highway to Ahmedabad. Naïve me! I had no idea that the bikes were not allowed on the expressway.
Later, on the Ahmedabad Gandhinagar highway, it became difficult to find the exit for Udaipur.
I realized that I was going in the wrong direction when all the roads seemed to be heading towards Mehsana.
I asked a few bystanders and I was amused when two people told me, that to go towards Udaipur, I had to take the exact opposite direction to the one I was headed to.
Anyway, I followed the advice, and after confirming with some other persons after 2-3 kilometers, I was sure that finally, I was headed in the right direction to Udaipur.
I was feeling hungry.
Today, I had decided to give staying overnight at dhaba a shot. Therefore, I stopped at the first dhaba that I found.
I looked for the time; it was 1 AM and trip meter read something over 600 kilometers.
Day 2 (Gandhinagar to Kishangarh):
This place, just after Gandhinagar, is called Chandola. This dhaba served only Dal-Bhati. However, I was amazed when he asked me what I wanted for dinner. As if, I had any other option.
Anyway, the guy (I forgot his name), who was from a village near Udaipur and was working at the dhaba to support his family at home, was a decent chap. He agreed to look after “Saarthi” while I slept at the cot right next to it.
Still, I lost my cotton gloves at night. I am sure that he did not take them.
Sleeping under open skies ensures you wake up at 6 AM without an alarm. However, I was fresh like anything and wanted to hit the road before the sun came up.
Actually, I wanted to reach any town where I could get another pair of gloves before the sun started burning my hands.
The usual time of the markets’ opening at 10 AM seemed eternities away.
On the road, I met the first biker. However, he was going the opposite way, from Udaipur to Mehsana.
Finally, I could buy gloves at a place called Bichchiwara after Himmatnagar.
I was running out of cash and all of two ATMs in the town, and the one in the next village were out of order. Still, I felt happy to see ATMs everywhere. A sign of financial empowerment.
Finally, I could get some cash at an ATM in Udaipur.
In Udaipur, I stood at a crossing with one way to Chittorgarh and another way to Beawer.
I had been to both the routes in 2006-07 and I had found that the Beawer route was more scenic. Therefore, I headed straight for it. Being a solo rider gives you the freedom of changing/updating your plan anytime, and I love being a footloose/a free bird.
A lake on the Beawer route, from Udaipur to Ajmer:
I was very sad looking at this lake because it had changed entirely than what I had seen it earlier in the year 2006:
The day was turning out to be very hot.
All the memories of my last trip on such a hot day in June 2010 from Varanasi to Agra as part of Kolkata to Delhi trip came alive. Then, I had to be admitted for 5 days in a hospital after suffering from a heat stroke.
I decided to play safe this time. Therefore, I avoided driving in the hot sun and slept at a dhaba after Nathdwara (one of the marble hubs of India) for about 2 hours. I kept the promise of not overexerting.
The drive after that was smooth.
When I reached Kishangarh late in the evening, then I had some difficulty searching for a lodge. However, in the end, I could get a room.
At the lodge, I met a person, Surinder Singh Gujjar, who used to manufacture marble cutting machines. Over dinner, he told me many tricks about his trade. I love such interactions.
Day 3 (Kishangarh to Gurgaon):
Start at Kanji Guest House, Kishengarh.
Today was the day when I realised that this trip is going to leave me very disorderly when I wore the same shirt for the third consecutive day.
A biker has to travel light, and clothes are the first thing to be cut down. Use and throw.
I lost two shirts on this trip. I decided to buy shirts at ₹30/- per piece from Kurla station for the next ride.
The ride until Jaipur was good; however, after Jaipur, it was a mess. There were many diversions all along as the construction work was going on on the Delhi-Jaipur highway.
The only respite was the overcast sky, which was in stark contrast to the hot sun the previous day. Moreover, today, it rained!
Today, on Jaipur-Delhi highway, I had one of the best lunch that I have ever eaten. It was very filling. Moreover, I loved the way they served it.
I felt guilty when I could not finish the Saag.
I reached Gurgaon at about 4 PM.
The moment I crossed Manesar and the city traffic started, I realised that I would not be able to enjoy being in the city. The next 36 hours were going to be a very long wait.
In Gurgaon, I met my college friends.
I rested for one day and then, I started for Manali.
Day 5 (Gurgaon to Ropar):
I started from home for Manali, a bit late at about 11 AM.
It had rained in Gurgaon in the morning, and the weather was very pleasant.
Crossing Delhi traffic was boring. However, I noticed that the vehicles in Delhi move much faster than Mumbai.
Soon, I crossed Karnal by-pass, and the blissful phase of playing hide and seek with rain started.
I lacked a few essentials like leather gloves, bike spares etc. that I bought in Karnal
The whole day I found that the rain was chasing me.
Whenever I drove, I overtook it. Whenever I halted, it caught up with me. Therefore, every rest/break meant that I had to drive for about half an hour in a pleasant drizzle.
However, all hell broke loose in Ambala where the clouds decided to match their speed with me and for the next 25 kms, I had to drive in incessant rains.
Finally, I gave up and stayed at a petrol pump for 1.5 hrs.
Result: my plans to reach Yol Camp to meet an old-time friend were shelved.
I decided to head straight for Manali and stayed at Ropar.
The hotel manager at Ropar happily offered me a 50% discount.
Day 6 (Ropar to Manali):
Start of hills after Roopnagar/Ropar in Punjab.
My entire luggage was drenched the previous day. Therefore, today, I prayed to find a clear sky ahead.
However, fate had other plans for me. 10 kms into the ride and I found myself wearing raincoat again.
30 kms into the ride and the ride on hills started. It was the first sight of all the bliss that the world has to offer to travelers esp. bikers.
I had faced one problem while riding solo initially. I never felt like stopping the bike and taking a photograph. It was only the endless drive that pleased me. Therefore, it felt irritating whenever I thought of taking photographs. (Ladakh changed my opinion).
I was running short of cash and the search for an ATM ended at a place called Swarghat in Himachal. It feels empowering to find ATMs at small places.
I had lunch near Swarghat.
The Kadhi was awesome, the Makki roties very tasty and the dal was good.
As I rode ahead, the dhabas with cots, which were my favorite resting places became rare.
I felt tired and thought of relaxing for some time. However, after half an hour of searching for a proper dhaba, I could not find one.
Therefore, I finally decided to be the real “me” and made this roadside railing a pleasant cot.
With the Beas river flowing below, the sound of running water, and the cool breeze, it felt like heaven. I slept for half an hour here. 🙂
I reached Manali at about 7 PM.
Hotel Chaman welcomed me.
All one needs after such a long tiring drive is a hot water bath and a sound sleep. I got both.
At the hotel, I got to know about the new permits required for crossing Rohtang (though they never checked at Rohtang whether I had the permits).
The next day with the planned servicing of the bike, getting the permits, and some essentials (most importantly, the spare petrol cans), was going to be a busy day for sure.
Day 7 (Manali):
I started the day by searching for a bike mechanic. I found one, which had good reviews online.
At the workshop, the moment the chain-set was opened, I was stunned.
The chain-set was in a very poor condition. It would have ditched me on my to Rohtang; leave apart surviving until Leh. The last 6 days had indeed been rough for the bike.
Anyway, I got the faulty parts replaced, and the rest of the bike tuned up.
At the workshop, I got some tricks to ramp up bike performance uphill. One of them: remove the air filter altogether and let engine get direct air. I was amazed at these performance tweaks.
After a lot of technical stuff, I said enough for now and I thought of exploring the city.
The Lonely Planet India guide has been my constant companion for the last 6 years and it has always come handy. The only issue is that in 2012, the is prices have increased by almost 50% since the edition of the book that I carry (2006).
Nevertheless, it serves as a good measure of inflation.
I had lunch at Johnson’s café. I ordered the famous “trout” of Manali.
However, for someone novice like me, any fish would have passed for trout. However, the preparation was tasty.
Next, I headed to old Manali.
I visited the Tibet Kitchen. I had the recommended veg momos, which lived up to expectations.
At Tibet Kitchen, I met Chetan who had left his home in Hyderabad when he was 14 years old. He worked in Varanasi for a few years and thereafter, keep visiting different cities, doing restaurant jobs, staying for about a month or so at a place, and then shifting to next place.
He could tell me about his experiences in most of the Indian states. Moreover, he was only 19 years old! Life never stops surprising me!
In the evening, for the first time on this trip, I used the DSLR.
The cloud covered peaks are always an amazing sight.
Thereafter, I went to another old section of the city, Vashisth.
I searched for a bakery shop called Superbake. However, I found it after crossing the same street four times, only to be told that they have stopped bakery business there and continue it in their main shop in the Manali city. At the main shop of Superbake, I did not get a good experience.
It is a tough job to try out all the recommended food in a city. You have all but only one stomach. I missed Ramky, my MBA batchmate here who is a gastronome.
As the day started coming to an end, the excitement started getting adulterated with anxiety. I was feeling nervous about what lied ahead. This trip was a big project for me.
However, thanks to Gagan, my MBBS batchmate who is now a Major in the Indian army, I had worked out the options to eventualities.
Friends come handy and old friends, always. Even though the last time we saw each other was 3 years back.
So, guys, the moment has arrived.
A few things still needed to be worked out. Like, how to fit two plastic cans carrying 5-liters of extra fuel each on my already stuffed Saarthi.
God, this is the only time I miss the Enfield that I had for two years (2005-2007). That bike could carry your home on it and there would still be space for more.
Anyway, I managed somehow. I had to manage.
I doubted that I would get internet access before Leh. Therefore, that was an end to my regular Facebook updates to my friends
One thing I must admit that until now, Facebook did not let me feel for a single moment that I was riding solo.
Manali to Leh
Day 8 (Manali to Darcha): Start of the dream journey:
The day had arrived!
Today, I was going to ride The Highway. The road, for which the bikers across the world yearn to drive on, and very few actually make it.
The Manali Leh highway is about 475 km long, traversing some of the most difficult mountainous terrains. This road has bad patches, snow, streams, high altitude, and treacherous mountain passes.
Why was I going there? Why was I putting myself under all this stress of going through dangerous peaks?
Is it just to drive a bike for some time?
It was bigger than that. It was a long-standing desire, a childhood dream.
During the nineties, I had visited Shimla & Kufri with my family. During that trip, all along the road, I could see the milestones depicting Leh (5xx kms).
At that time, I was a kid who dreamed of going distances, to see the world, and explore places.
Leh was a place marked with a distance of more than 500 kms on the milestones of small country roads. It immediately caught my attention and it got ingrained in my memory. I was surprised that such seemingly narrow roads could also lead to any place 500 kms away.
It was then that I thought, I must visit this place.
It was later during graduation days, that I realized the true worth of Leh & Ladakh and its exalted place in the world of bikers. The desire to visit Leh and Ladakh kept becoming strong and stronger and led to this day when I was able to start my dream journey.
I was told that even if you drive multiple times on Manali – Leh road, it is the first drive, which remains the most memorable.
Therefore, I wanted to fill my eyes with the beauty of this path, breathe in the fresh air, feel the cold and my heart & mind with its serenity. I did not want to miss any of it.
I was excited! You say super excited!
I had a good sleep. I was told that sleep would be hard to come by once I reach higher altitudes.
In the morning, I took some time to arrange all the luggage and petrol cans. I started riding at about 11 AM.
I remember that I was driving at a cool 30-40 kmph, and all the traffic was overtaking me. However, I had never felt more content. I was going to achieve what I had always wished for.
With all the uncertainties in mind, I headed forth.
A view of the road leading to the Rohtang pass.
You can see the serpentine road, a small lake that is the origin of Beas River. A small settlement “Marhi”. I had my breakfast there and met a few people who told me that last year in May-end, there was 6-8 feet snow all-around at this place.
Beyond Marhi, small vehicles like passenger cars were not allowed that day as rains had led to mud on the road all around. You might see a caravan of vehicles waiting on one side of the road in the pic. The traffic was being allowed for about 15 minutes from each side.
In such a muddy segment, my bike barely managed to scrape through while an Enfield ahead of me stopped about 15-20 times. Now, I could get a glimpse of what to expect in the coming days.
While riding uphill, whenever I felt like the bike is giving away, the first thing I checked was the gear the bike was in. If it was second gear, then I felt relieved that I still have the first gear and a further maneuver (removing air filter) with me to cross the bigger problems lying ahead (read Tanglang la).
A group of three bikers coming back from Leh greeted me. They gave me the firsthand information on the condition of the route ahead. There is no road from Keylong to Sarchu and there is all mud from Sarchu to Tanglang la.
The truth is that the weather changes so frequently on this route that what someone told you last day, might not be the situation today. The sun shines so strong here that a completely muddy road is dried within hours.
So, never fear such information. What you are going to face would be unique and unrelated.
P.S. Removing the air filter is not advisable. It was a wrong suggestion given to me by the mechanic in Manali. It did not help significantly. On the contrary, it led to dust in the carburetor of the bike and reduced its performance later on. All you need is to change the fuel settings in the carburetor and the bike will take you anywhere that is motorable.
Rohtang Top: I found another group of 8-10 bikers coming from Leh and taking pics. I too tried to follow suit; however, I felt the first bout of headache (AMS: acute mountain sickness).
Therefore, I immediately moved ahead to cross over to the other side. However, then the beauty of Rohtang had its way and it made me stop about a few hundred meters ahead and take a good look around the place.
Rohtang pass was the most beautiful of all the passes that I crossed on this trip. I could not help but keep clicking pics.
Green, white, wind, and cold. All of them combined made me emotional.
However, I had come ahead of the point from where the day tourists take a U-turn to go back to Manali. I wished someone could take my pic here.
As the Alchemist says: when you want something, the entire universe conspires in helping you to achieve it. A Good Samaritan appeared and went back after taking two pictures of me.
As I started riding down from Rohtang to enter the Chandra River valley, the road suddenly changed its contour.
The road almost vanished.
It is one of the highlights of this highway. You would find excellent tarmac at one stretch and just after the corner, it would suddenly change to a dusty and muddy one.
In the end, you lower down your expectations to just find some hard surface to put the bike on.
On the way down, you find a right turn at Gramphu, which is the entry to the Spiti Valley. This small road never gives you a glimpse of the grandeur of the place that it leads to.
There were some other unidentified diversions where I had to wait to confirm my way lest I had to come back a few kilometers.
I had to register at Kokshar (the first police post on the stretch).
This road and the landscape make you feel right from the word “Go” that by coming here, you have made a decision that you would never regret.
Landslides are common at this stretch. While coming back from Leh, I had to wait here for about half an hour before the Border Roads Organization (BRO) cleared the road again.
This is one signboard that makes you realise that after so many technological advances, developments, and so many years since independence, still, there are places, which are truly remote.
Until date, I had only seen this pic in friends’ albums and I had wished all these years to click this photograph myself. Today, a desire is fulfilled. “Been there, done that”.
I crossed Keylong and Jispa, and finally, I stayed at Darcha.
At Darcha, I stayed in the tin-shed hutment. Charges: 100/-.
Soon, I was joined by a group of eight bikers from Pune who ran an adventure trip organising company. They were driving to Leh, as their clients were flying to Leh and wanted to ride their way from Leh to Manali.
You would find many people driving on this highway just to transport the bikes from Manali to Leh and vice versa.
The food at the dhaba was ok.
The sound of the Bhaga River flowing nearby was so high that it made me think all night that a hailstorm is there outside.
By the way, Darcha was the second police check post that I had to register.
The benefit of these registrations is that in case I drive over a hill on my way, then my family would know which section of the road to search for me.
Day 9 (Darcha to Sarchu):
Bird’s eye view of Darcha settlement.
The day started at about 8 AM, which was a bit early from my standards. However, even then the sun was so strong that the first time during the trip, I used sunscreen lotion.
When I was applying sunscreen lotion, a truck approached from behind. The road did not have enough space for both of us. Therefore, I had to hurry and move the bike.
At that point in time, I felt like a makeup conscious person who had put all road safety measures on stake.
On way to ZingZingBar:
Such streams are common on the way. The water flow increases in size and strength as the day progresses. Early in the morning the streams are 1/4 to 1/5 of the size they reach by evening.
Thank God, it was early in the day. This is because this stream is known to have made the crossing of even the trucks difficult in the second half of the day.
Darcha to Sarchu is the route, which is filled with such obstacles and the coldest of the passes: Baralachala.
I had decided to cover only 80 kms today and enjoy the route to the maximum.
The climb to the Baralachala pass is about 27 kms from the Darcha side and on the route, you find so many titillating views.
I had kept my camera hung around my neck all the time. Frequent stops solely to take pics were the order of the day.
The peak shown above is NOT Baralachala top. Still, this is one of my favourite pics, which finds a place in my flipbook.
Bernit from UK
A thermal engineer, self-employed who had taken 2 months off only to do cycling in Himachal and Leh.
He was already 3 weeks into the trip. He had been to Shimla, Dharamshala, and was on the 4th day of Manali-Leh journey, which takes about 11-12 days on a bicycle. Moreover, he was riding SOLO!
You would always find people on the way who inspire and motivate you by being live examples of courage and hard work. Bernit is one such person to me.
He was the first cyclist that I came across on this highway and I was surprised. At a place where powerful engines leave you in a lurch, it was inspiring to see people pumping muscles to conquer the terrain.
Later on, I met Indians as well, who were cycling their way to Leh, and many other couples also. However, all the couples were foreigners.
Vamsi Ayyagari and Shashant Kumar at Baralachala top
The only Indian cyclists I met on the route.
The situation became funny at Baralachala top. The signboard indicating the top of the pass was gone. Therefore, I kept on driving ahead. I was determined to stop only after reaching the top, and suddenly, I noticed that the descent had started. Surprised, I stopped and saw Vamsi and Shashant there. After enquiring from a group coming from Leh, I realized that I had just crossed the pass.
Bhaga River and the Chandra River originate at opposite sides of Baralacha La. The former flowing southwest and the latter flowing initially southeast and then northwest to merge at Tandi (“The” petrol pump city).
On way down from Baralachala top
Travelling in the month of July on Manali Leh Highway has its pros and cons.
The pros: the roads become motorable and the passes remain always open.
The cons: you do not get to see a lot of snow on the roads (though here it did). I could not see the walls of snow on the sides of the road, which one finds in the months of May and early June.
Such bridges are commonplace on this highway.
The steel sheets are so loose that you fear that they would come out the moment you ride on them. Moreover, the gaps of about half a feet between the metal plates are very common. You have to leave everything to the luck and drive ahead. A truck decided to skip the bridge and preferred to cross through the stream below.
On way to Sarchu
The terrain will not let you know when the serpentine hilly roads change to fearsome gorges, and then to vast plains or to the riverbeds. The uncertainty around the corner has its thrill. Moreover, the monstrous mountains on the sides reveal how trivial and miniature the man is in front of nature:
Soon, I reached Lingati plains just before Sarchu.
The riverbed here suddenly leads you to vast plains and you feel unleashed. You open the helmet visor and sing at the top of your voice. You cannot help but wave at fellow travelers.
I met a European couple here and got this pic clicked:
Vamsi and Shashant were neck-to-neck with me on this day. They were cycling fast. From Baralachala top to Sarchu, we covered about 45 km in the same time. Thanks, Shashant Kumar for taking these photos:
I was really jubilant at that time. Thanks Shashant Kumar again for this pic below. It took four attempts to get this one.
The camps you see in the pic above are the proprietary camps of some adventure sports firms. You may get one for ₹1,000-1,500/- per night. However, my travel mantra is to save on everything except petrol (and of course drinkable water).
Day 9 ended at Sarchu. Another check post to register. Himachal Pradesh ended here and I officially entered in Ladakh, a part of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K).
I called it a day at 3 PM.
I could have managed to go to Pang, which was about 70 km ahead; however, that would have involved crossing the magnificent Gata Loops, Nakeela, and Lachungala pass. I did not want to waste such an adventurous part of the terrain in the fading lights.
Moreover, the kind of AMS attack that I had the next morning (Day 10), proved that staying at Sarchu was a good decision. At Pang, my situation would have been worse.
I spent the evening chatting with the newfound friends, Vamsi Ayyagari and Shashant Kumar, and roamed around the place.
I met three different groups of people at dhaba:
- Two people from Delhi who had hired only one Enfield. The pillion rider had to carry the heavy backpack. Still, they were enjoying it. Cool guys! However, definitely they could have improvised.
- A group in a Fortuner car who had travelled from Leh to Sarchu in just 7 hours while it was going to take a full day ride for me the next day. They informed me about all the loose sand lying in Moore plains where their SUV was stuck. Was it true? I found the bitter truth the next day, and it proved to be my worst driving experience until now.
- One lone person travelling on Yamaha FZ-16 (the same bike as my Saarthi). However, his bike was giving problems. The spark plug of his bike was not working well. He bought a plug from someone who was on his way back from Leh. This guy again got the same problem the next day where I helped him. Later, he was the only one who helped in my worst time of the trip when literally fear had gripped me (I must have told this to a number of you: riding my way up Tanglang-la). More about that later.
Day 10 (Sarchu to Leh):
Today, the adventure started even before I touched my bike. The enemy of mountain bikers: acute mountain sickness (AMS) attacked me.
I woke up with a severe headache. I was not able to walk in a straight line. I could not concentrate on what I was doing.
Until now, I had only read about AMS in books; however, I was experiencing it for the first time.
I came out of the dhaba and saw that Vamsi Ayyagarii and Shashant Kumar were packing their cycles. They used to start early and travel until the afternoon each day.
I decided to rest a bit more and therefore, slept for one more hour.
I ordered breakfast. However, the moment I took one bite of aloo paratha, I felt like throwing up. I could not eat.
Thought of complications of AMS started flooding in mind. During AMS, the first step that is advised is to start an immediate descent.
However, considering the place I was in, at Sarchu; going back meant crossing Baralachala, which itself is tough to cross in such a situation. In addition, going ahead meant crossing the mighty Tanglangla, the second-highest pass in the world after Khardungla. It was “Aage kuan peeche khai”.
Nevertheless, I decided to move ahead.
I took a tablet of paracetamol and decided to borrow other medicine from the cyclist friends when I catch them on the way.
Common sense took a beating. I did not buy chocolates from the dhaba. Whatever chocolates I had, I finished them soon.
I was driving while being conscious of the fact that I was not in my full senses. However, sometimes, you have to rely on your guts, and this was one such time for me. Anyway, in such a condition, I started the final leg of my journey to Leh.
I met Vamsi and Shashant about 15 km ahead. They had finished their stock of Dimox (an anti-AMS medicine); however, I could get some precious chocolates from them.
While crossing some BRO (Border Roads Organization) workers lumbering on the way, I suddenly noticed a milestone, which said the start of GATA LOOPS.
I was exhilarated. All the sickness vanished and I was back in business. The AMS was gone for now.
At Gata Loops, there are said to 21 loops as per the signboards. I tried to count them initially. However, the loops kept on coming one after another, and I realised that it was better that I focus on the road instead of committing some silly mistake trying to keep the counting in mind.
I could not count to 21 and took the signboard on the face value. If anyone had counted all the loops, then please confirm their actual number.
Feeling at top of the world:
Nakeela: The third pass on the Manali-Leh highway. The most underestimated of all the passes. Sometimes, it is not even counted as a pass.
You barely come down from Nakeela that the ascent to its bigger brother, Lachungla, starts.
I halted at Whisky Nullah on the way to Lachungla and ate some more chocolates. I was surviving only on chocolates now. Then, I saw this person:
He was from Maharashtra and was travelling at a Hero Honda CD 100SS.
It hit me hard as I was questioning the ability of my Yamaha and Naveen, my friend at ICICI, doubted his Pulsar 180 whether these bikes can take us to Ladakh. Whereas, this person was coming back from Leh after doing Srinagar-Leh highway and crossing Khardung-La, and has now reached here by conquering Tanglang-la and Lachung-la.
Sometimes, people prove that it is not your resources but your courage that decides your fate. Salute!
Whisky Nullah is a small tented settlement. In fact, I found only one tent here. It is an important stopover for the cyclists who usually halt here for the night after starting the day at Sarchu. Gata Loops and Nakeela are an admirable feat for cyclists in one day.
Truly speaking, while researching for this trip, I did not even come to know of this place. Every resource that I had read only talked about Darcha, Sarchu, and Pang.
When you have a 15bhp engine revving under you, you do not think much about a few kilometers in distance or a few meters in altitude. You just fill in the gas, rev up the bike, and zoom ahead.
However, for the cyclists, it is a much tougher preparation. Vamsi Ayyagari and Shashant Kumar told me that it took them four months to prepare for this ride. Continuous gym and swimming among other things. The route map that they had detailed everything about the changing altitude apart from the usual measure of distances. I take a bow to that level of detail.
By the way, I was feeling hungry and I ate many chocolates here. I met a few college students who were riding from Leh to Manali only to bring the bikes left by tourists in Leh, back to Manali. I would love to do this job 🙂
At all these passes, you invariably find Tibetan coloured flags of prayer and small pieces of stone stacked on top of each other.
The wind blowing at high speed, fluttering flags, cold weather, and the sense of achievement; all leave you high-spirited. I never felt like leaving these places. However, the high altitude soon makes you realize your fragility; remember AMS!
So here, I was. I started the day in fragile health and I had crossed Gata Loops, Nakeela, and Lachungla. Now, I wanted to have lunch and a bit of rest at Pang. Therefore, I started my descent.
The moment you descend from Lachungla, you see a small stream that starts flowing on your right. As you move ahead, the frail stream converts into a bustling river.
The huge mountains from both sides converge on the road and you get ready to enter the Gorges of Pang.
The road is full of potholes. Better to say that there is no road, but only loose gravel.
The wind is stopped by the mountains on the sides. The sheer silence becomes deafening.
The sun suddenly starts feeling very hot, and the wait to reach Pang becomes never-ending. All in all, it is a fearsome stretch.
I did not feel like stopping mid-way to Pang; however, the thirst was killing me. Moreover, the moment I stopped, I realised that two other SUVs had also followed suit. In addition, it became one of the few places where I got my picture clicked.
The person driving the Endeavour car liked the fact that I was riding from Mumbai. He shook hands with me, hugged, photographed, video-filmed me and then, went singing the song “Bombay se aaya mera dost.”
On tough mountain roads, it is a bike, which beats all four wheels. It is only at smoother stretches that multi-lac machines prove their worth by overtaking two-wheels.
I had lunch at Pang, which by now had become a routine of vegetable Maggi with tea. Maggi here costs twice of what it is available in the inhabited world. However, I feel blessed by the mere fact that it is available.
I had stopped negotiating on prices. The maximum that I paid for a water bottle on this trip was ₹35/- a liter. However, that was not at Pang. At Pang, the water bottle cost me ₹25/-.
There is an army transit camp at Pang. In the past, one had to register here before crossing Pang. However, this time, it was a free passage for tourists.
The drive from pang started with a very steep ascent where Saarthi had to put in a lot of power just to keep us moving. However, the moment we turned a corner, there was the most magnificent of the stretches on this blessed path: the Moore plains (also called More plains):
Moore plains is a plateau at about 4,700m above sea level.
You would never anticipate its arrival on the route. This is because, just before you enter Moore plains, you are busy negotiating the 5 km steep climb that starts at Pang.
Now, the gravel turned into a nicely laid tarmac, and suddenly, I found myself accelerating Saarthi and singing songs aloud.
Low lying hills, open grasslands, and soothing gushes of wind. It made me forget all the problems I had faced until now, and I let myself relax. Driving at such places, any time beats the meditation for me.
Moore plains were one of the places where I missed bringing my own tent. Had it been the case, I would have pitched the tent and stayed here itself.
I was advised by an old-time friend about getting the tank filled up (remember I was carrying 2 cans of spare petrol) on the Moore Plains itself. This is because, the ascent to Tanglang-la is supposed to be very tough and the fuel meters of most of the bikes show empty reading, the moment they cross Debring (another tented settlement at the base of Tanglang-la) to start the ascent of Tanglang-la. The advice I well headed to. However, did that save/reduce my troubles while tackling the toughest challenge that nature had to throw at me on this path: Hell No! Nevertheless, more about that later.
Remember, yesterday, I was told about the road being very bad in Moore plains by friends coming back from Leh whose SUV got stuck in sand here. By this time, riding on the well-paved road, I had forgotten their warning and was fully engrossed in riding the best stretch of my life, which lasted about 15 odd kms.
However, the moment the tarmac ended, all hell broke loose.
There was nothing called road ahead of me. It was only the tyre marks on the grassland that I was driving on. Moreover, I realised that when there are multiple loaded trucks traversing “the kachcha road”, they mince the gravel/earth into the fine sand. This sand is so fine that even the slightest blow of wind lifts it off the ground and it feels like a sand storm all around.
Have you ever been the cause of your own trouble?
I have been in the past, which was due to my foolishness. However, here the situation was different.
I was facing tailwinds, which in normal days are good for biking. But, now, Saarthi was throwing dirt in the air and the tailwind was putting all that dirt in front of me.
Was it enough to be named trouble? It was.
Because the dirt was so much that it blocked my vision. I could not see the path ahead. All my clothes, my luggage, my camera cover were all covered in dust.
At many places, Saarthi felt like giving up but somehow we both survived the path and reached Debring.
At this time, an evening tea was welcome; however, this place, which was dustier than any I had ever been to, was not giving me the kind of relaxation I wanted. In addition, with Tanglang-la being only 20 km ahead, I cut the break short and moved ahead.
On my way, I met the FZ16 friend who had shared the accommodation with me at Sarchu.
His bike was again giving him trouble. He was standing among many BRO workers with everyone looking at his bike. His luck was good that one of the workers knew a bit about the bikes, and he was willing to help. However, the FZ guy did not have the toolkit. He was from the northeast and I remembered my carefree MBA batchmate “KC” from IIFT here.
This was the first instance when I opened my entire luggage to help someone. I did that a few more times later on this trip.
Finally, the sparkplug and the filters of his bike were opened up and the bike seemed to come to life but it died again.
I remembered the trick of air filter removal told by the mechanic in Manali. I asked him to apply the same and it worked for him. I felt happy being the Good Samaritan.
I started packing the stuff. However, the time I spent here to help, had again precipitated the headache. I hurried and started riding towards Tanglang-la pass to negotiate it at the earliest and reach Leh, which is a good 2,000m below the level of Tanglangla.
I was happy that Saarthi did not have any problem until now when I was standing at the doorstep to the last challenge.
Sixteen out of a total of 20 km to the Tanglangla top from Debring were done somehow. Shifting gears, high acceleration, excessive clutch usage; however, the petrol was not burning in the engine.
For the first time I faced myself that low oxygen levels can cause problems. It was different while reading about it in books, blogs (or in a travelogue like this one), but try experiencing it standing at 5,000m height with the bike no longer able to move ahead and that f***ing headache. I was not at all in a good mood.
The only solution that I knew was to use the Manali trick of removing the air filter or to drag the bike four kilometers to top.
The air filter in Yamaha FZ is under the driver’s seat, which is not like an Enfield, where it is in one of the side chambers. This meant that I had to again remove all luggage, remove the air filter, and then repack it. It meant a lot of exertion at a place where I was finding it difficult to breathe.
The help came in the form of the same friend from the northeast on Yamaha FZ. He helped me to unpack the luggage rapidly. I opened all the bolts of the air filter and lost a few of the bolts in the haste. However, now, fearing for my life, I cared the least about some silly metal bolts. The only target was to somehow reach the top of Tanglang-la.
My neatly packed, waterproofed luggage was in shambles now. Nevertheless, with the help at hand, we put everything back.
Luckily, Saarthi started. However, every 10m that we covered was like winning a battle.
A few oil tankers (trucks) overtook me. They were themselves struggling at the steep climb of Tanglang-la and could offer little help to me.
I managed to cover further three kilometers when Saarthi said the final “NO”. It will not start. The ignition will not burn the fuel. Thanks to Yamaha, I could not even kick start it. This bike comes only with an electric start mechanism. Now, the remaining distance seemed like an eternity.
As had been the rule always for humankind, the muscle power is the power of last resort. I dragged the loaded bike to the top of Tanglang la.
The top of Tanglang La was a deserted place with only a temple, a few fluttering prayer flags, and the snow-capped peaks nearby.
It could have been a good place to spend some time. However, now, I was gripped with exhaustion, anxiety, and fear. I took some pics quickly as a memory of this day.
After that, I literally ran away from this place. I never had taken such a fast descent in my entire journey. Only when the milestones indicated that I had descended about 2,000ft that I relaxed and felt relieved.
Soon, I was at Pateso, where one friend offered me Diamox and I accepted it thinking to take this pill only if the situation does not improve.
From Patseo to Upshi:
Thereafter, I drove along beautiful ravines with green and magenta colors. As per the Lonely Planet guide, these are evidence of tectonic forces still shaping the Himalayas.
The ride from Patseo to Upshi and further to Leh was a smooth one where bikes start picking up speed once again.
While entering the Indus Valley, the emotions that I felt were exactly opposite of what I got when I entered mountains four days back, in Himachal when I left the plains just after Ropar.
Today, it seemed more like a mission is accomplished.
I registered at the J&K police check post at Upshi.
It had started getting dark when I crossed Karu.
I had decided not to drive after sunset on this trip. However, after enquiring from the locals, I came to know that the road until Leh (about 35km) was a straight highway without any tough stretches.
Therefore, I drove until Leh and reached the guesthouse suggested by one of my old-time friends at around 8:30 PM.
Driving from Upshi to Leh was more like a relief and an unwinding after a hard day.
At the guesthouse, I loved the hot water bath after three days of rugged driving.
In Leh, there was no roaming service on my cell phone. Therefore, I used the STD/PCO service after many years. The familiar queues outside PCO booths made me remember my graduation days (the early 2000s).
All in all, a memorable day ended. I had the home food made by the family running the guesthouse as dinner. The sleep came the moment I hit the bed.
Leh – Khardung La – Nubra Valley – Panamik – Turthuk – Leh
Day 11 (Leh):
Today was planned as a rest day to let the body and bike recuperate. I had also planned it as the day to get the required permits and other preparations.
I woke up at 10 AM and started for the permits’ office. It took me about 30 minutes to get all permits.
The next job was to get the bike in order.
The airport road in Leh has many bike mechanics. I found one specialist for Yamaha and Pulsar. He clarified to me that the hilly terrain only needs some adjustments of the carburetor and nothing else needs to be done to the bike.
He did some minor changes in bike settings and charged me ₹100 for it. However, ₹100 was nothing, if I could avoid the Tanglang-la type of incidents in the future. Moreover, I had to ride over the Khardung-la (highest motorable pass) the very next day.
The little changes in the bike settings by the mechanic had an amazing impact. I did not face any issues crossing Khardungla (the highest pass), Changla (the third-highest pass), and while crossing Tanglangla (second highest pass), on my way back to Manali.
My bike evoked so much confidence in me that, come what may, crossing any hurdle would not be an issue now. However, more about the specific instances later.
I visited a shop to get the air pressure checked in the tires. However, I did not find any attendant there. Therefore, I decided to try my hands at it.
The pressure in the air tank was so high that within five seconds of applying the nozzle to the tire, the previously mended punctures in the tire started leaking; another instance of self-inflicted problems.
The tubeless tire punctures can cost you about ₹100 per puncture if you get it repaired by a mechanic. However, if you do it yourself, it takes about one minute to repair, and the cost is about ₹5-7/-. This was a lesson that I had learned the hard way on my ride to Kolkata in 2010. Since then, I had never let any mechanic fleece me.
I came back to my hotel in Leh and mended the puncture on my own.
Day 12 (Leh to Panamik):
I had planned a 3-day ride to Nubra Valley.
Nubra Valley is the region beyond Khardungla, which consists of two river valleys: one along Nubra/Siachin River, which leads you to the Siachin glacier and another valley along Shyok River which going ahead, crosses into Pakistan
Therefore, the first challenge to tackle now was Khardungla.
The morning was beautiful and the spirits ran high. The AMS was gone and the Tibetan food energizing. So, I started for the next part of this journey, the Nubra Valley.
“Tank full, bottle full” had become my demand statement at the petrol pumps. Remember, I was carrying 2 five-liter additional fuel bottles with me
Finally, ready with all the stock, I let Saarthi roll.
The initial stretch of the journey through Leh and a few villages on the outskirts was deceptive. I could hardly believe that through these small street lanes, monstrous military caravans pass to reach the highest battleground of the world, the “Siachin glacier”.
The moment, I crossed Leh and headed for the Khardungla Top (K-Top), I was greeted by the first landslide of the journey:
However, the BRO was working at full swing. It repaired the road in about half an hour and my journey continued.
The ride ahead was tough; however, the bike and biker were in the high spirits. The road now seemed surmountable.
The road up to Khardungla from Leh.
The road up to Khardungla from Leh. It takes you from Leh, at 3,500m altitude to Khardungla top at 5,602m.
Lucky for being in hills for quite some time now, I felt ok with the altitude. Later on, I met people who had to be treated with oxygen at military hospital atop Khardungla. However, the relief was short, as after 20 minutes, my situation was far from good and I was again driving short of my full senses.
Khardungla Top: Felt lucky and blessed to be here.
The only issue was that there were too many people feeling lucky and blessed. Almost 80-100. Also feeling lucky was a communication tower, a 24 hrs. running diesel generator, nauseating diesel smell, and innumerable coal tar drums. No wonder that people talk about vanishing glaciers covering this pass in the past. Still, it was the high point of the journey.
Just like Rohtang, many people come to K-top to go back to Leh. Therefore, when you cross/reach here at noon, you find hordes of tourists coming up. However, the situation changes as the day passes. While returning from Nubra Valley, 3 days later, I was the only tourist at K-top around 6 pm.
Descent from Khardungla:
By the time I was done at K-top, the headache had started again.
I was driving very slowly. I remember meeting a tourist coming up from the Nubra Valley side whose bike was not starting. I asked in a very feeble voice, “Do you need any help?” He replied in an equally faint voice, “No, I think I am ok. I have a friend up there, so I believe I’ll manage.” 🙂 Men get tired but spirits do not die Ladakh!
The descent from K-top gave me the opportunity to drive along with the snow in real sense. The northern side of the mountain range was totally snow-clad. I believe everyone visiting Khardungla only for the sake of being at the top must cross over and move at least until North Pallu before heading back to Leh. The north side of the pass is more beautiful than the south/Leh side of the pass. In the pic above the small tower visible near the left edge where the road cuts the border, is at Khardungla.
I had only a few chocolates as breakfast, so I was feeling very hungry by the time I descended about 15 km. At North Pallu, I had Maggi and tea. However, still, I was not in the best of spirits. Anyway, I moved ahead.
The moment you see the Khardung village, you realize why Nubra Valley is known as the “valley of flowers”. Here, the villages are like an oasis in the desert. Vegetations are in patches formed by streams descending from the melting glaciers at the top. The colours: green, yellow and violet are in plenty.
By the time I reached Khardung, I was dead tired. I found some trees on the roadside having dense shade. I parked the bike on the road, jumped over the small boundary wall, and rested myself in the shade for about half an hour. In addition, I had to take a crocin. The cool breeze was amazing. After a power nap, I was ready to explore Nubra.
On the way down from Khardungla, I had crossed a military caravan on my way. After North Pullu, I found all the vehicles (there were 13 of them) parked in a lineup. I got a good chance to interact and photograph them. Every soldier recognized the solo rider who had overtaken all of them.
Soon thereafter, I continued my solo journey ahead.
The next stop was Khalsar. Khalsar is the place where the road bifurcates. One going to Siachin along Nubra/Siachin River leading to Sumur and Panamik; Panamik being the last place up to where tourists are allowed. Therefore, in a sense, the northernmost point of India for non-J&K locals. The other road leads to Diskit, Hundur, and Turthuk along the Shyok river which further flows into Pakistan.
I headed for Panamik. I had decided to spend the first night there.
The road was beautiful. Almost the whole stretch was along a riverbed, barring 2-3 km of hilly road.
Pleasant stretches like these make riding in the “valley of flowers” an utmost pleasure.
People visit Panamik for hot springs; however, I was there for this natural beauty and the river Nubra. I miss the time I spent here. Later on, I spent a few hours on the banks of the river and I could not stop myself from collecting souvenirs.
It was my bad luck that I had my first fall of this trip on the short curvaceous stretch in the hills.
Anyway, a trip is never complete without a fall. As Shashant Kumar would say, “There are only two types of bikers; one who had already fallen, and the other who is about to fall.”
I crossed Panamik in the search of any police post so that I can ensure what was the furthest extent to which I was allowed on this road.
After going about 3 km ahead of Panamik, I found a police post without policemen. The locals told me that it was the last permitted point and I returned to Panamik.
Two guesthouses claiming to be affiliated with the Ministry of Wildlife had locks on their doors.
Finally, I decided to stay at the “Bangka Guesthouse”. The stay was comfortable. The tariff was ₹400/- for a very beautiful room.
The moment I met “Ondu”, the caretaker, the first thing I asked him was the way to river. He told me about a shortcut. However, after half an hour of wandering on that route, I realised that I would not be able to reach the river and find a suitable place for spending time. Therefore, I came back to the main road and started walking towards the end of the village.
On the way, I noticed that people in the village here direct the water flowing downhill through different canals. These small canals run across the fields, across one’s gardens, houses, schools, offices everywhere. People get all their water supply right from these canals of glacial water at their doorstep.
I had to walk about 4-5 km to reach Nubra river outside the village:
The river was very captivating. I never felt like going back to the village. I had this same feeling once in the past when I had visited the Taj early in the morning in 2010.
I felt like staying here on the riverbank and in the Panamik village for a long time. The fact that people from abroad travel to India especially to visit such far-flung places and I, despite being a resident, had never thought about visiting such a beautiful place on Indian soil. I myself do not know when I would be able to visit Panamik again. Coming to Leh itself would be a great task but crossing Khardungla, and coming 150 km northwards to this place again may or may not be possible.
Everything around and my thoughts were making me go emotional.
At dinner, I was introduced to other tourists at the hotel, three girls and one guy. Three Israelite and one Swede.
The girl from Sweden was with her Israelite boyfriend. However, what I found the most surprising was that the other two girls were traveling together on this world tour. The first thought I had was: could two Indian girls travel to Israel like this.
Upon further interaction, I came to know that none of them was a hotshot professional. Most of them were just out of the compulsory military service and were yet to start their university education. Gosh, some places in the world really pay you well to fulfill your dreams and desires.
I had a good informative time playing cards with them. I learned a new card game as well.
Thus, another tiring day came to an end 🙂
Day 13 (Panamik to Turtuk):
While leaving Leh, I had assumed that along the Shyok River, Hunder is the last point where tourists are permitted. Therefore, I had earlier planned to go only until Hunder, see the sand dunes and head back to Leh. However, Ondu, the owner of the guesthouse at Panamik, told me that now the tourist permit allows travel until Turtuk, which is very near to Pakistan border.
Moreover, Ondu told me that people can see Pakistani Karakoram range from Turtuk. This was enough to make me visit Turtuk, which was about 80 km ahead of Hunder. As I had made a habit of always carrying spare petrol in Ladakh, the amount of fuel was not going to be an issue.
Riding solo gives you the luxury of following your heart while travelling, which is something I love.
Each morning getting a headache was a routine by now and this day was no exception.
I came out of the valley of Nubra River and took the turn along the Shyok River. The next targets were Diskit, Hunder, and then Turtuk.
The pic above is the road at the riverbed of Shyok. It is about a 5 km long stretch where you can speed to the maximum. I revved up the bike and made Saarthi feel the relaxation of plains.
On the right, you see the Nubra/Siachin River valley leading to Siachin glacier and on the left, the Shyok River valley. The combined Nubra Valley separates the Indian Ladakh range from the Pakistani Karakoram ranges.
Yesterday, I had gone about 35km inside the Nubra river valley and today, I had planned to go about 130 km along the Shyok River.
I bypassed Diskit and headed straight for Hunder.
Hunder is famous for its sand dunes. As per the Lonely Planet’s India Guide, if you ignore the snow-clad mountains in the background, you can easily mistake these dunes to be in the Sahara desert.
I had never been to Sahara or the Thar Desert so I could not compare. However, the sand dunes looked beautiful. It felt as if the sand once trapped in this valley would never be able to escape due to the high mountain walls along the valley.
There is a famous camel safari among the sand dunes at Hunder. However, as I was already riding my camel for the last 13 days, therefore, the safari at Hunder was not of any interest to me. Therefore, I moved ahead.
Today’s ride was through heavily guarded military terrain where signs of “Photography prohibited” were very frequent. I did not click anything for almost the whole of the day. I would not able to describe what all I saw on the way.
“Home away from home” was a frequent slogan at all the military transit camps.
As Saarthi and I moved ahead, the mountains got higher, the road rougher and curvier, and the bridges frailer. “One vehicle at a time and max speed of 5kph” was the norm on all the bridges.
The pic below is of a milestone near Turtuk. I was surprised to see the distance of Pakistani cities.
I had to register again at a police post during the final leg of the journey.
The road was shouldering the Shyok River and the prosperous villages with good crops were all along the way. I was almost at the end of the journey (4 km from Turtuk) when I reached this:
This was a tough challenge. Suddenly, I realized that the bridge on the road was broken and the monstrous stream was actually the path that I had to cross. The surface to drive was loose stones. The water was freezing cold and the distance was about 100m. There was no way that I could cross it without putting my feet in the water and making the only pair of shoes that I had dripping wet. The only respite was that it was the end of the day’s journey and I could afford to dry the shoes overnight.
I took my chances. I had to literally walk sitting atop Saarthi with my feet in the water. The worst stream I found was at the fag end of the journey; the furthest I had to come. This is called bad luck.
I rode through the village Turtuk that was sitting atop the slope before I chose the hotel to stay. The village ended soon with a signboard stating that tourists were not allowed beyond this point (Visible in the pic).
The place was witnessing a live landslide. If you see closely, you would notice the falling rocks with rising dust on the slope in the pic above.
The village’s location was such that I could not drive to the part, which had the most guesthouses. The only way to reach there was by a footbridge over a stream. It required me to park Saarthi on the other side of the village. Therefore, I decided to skip staying in the village and came back to stay at a roadside guesthouse.
The stream of water running through Turtuk, which had to be crossed using the foot overbridge to enter the major part of the village with the market and the hotels. The source of the water is glaciers melting above, which leads to the water being ice cold.
The village Turtuk, as per locals, which I could not verify, allegedly, did not belong to India at the time of independence. The border was about 20-25 km towards India from this village.
In 1971, the resultant line of control shifted and Turtuk along with further 10-15 km of the area became an Indian Territory. I could not even imagine the hardship one goes through when your nationality changes in a moment and one has to leave all the social relations behind.
This village is told to be connected by the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) by many shortcuts and now the army has permanent posts here to check infiltration and smuggling.
I spent some time with a person who worked as a teacher in the local school. He told me a lot of firsthand accounts of the Kargil war here.
Turtuk was under direct enemy fire at the time of the Kargil war. It took many casualties to free the posts occupied by infiltrators. Names of countless martyrs were ingrained. One could only imagine what would have been the scene at this very place about a decade back where I am sitting peacefully now. I felt lucky that India has one of the strongest defense establishments in the world, a fact that many foreigners, esp. Europeans discussed it with me on this trip.
The Karakoram range in PoK:
The first line of mountains belongs to India and the hills beyond that is PoK territory. One of the high points of my journey.
Day 14 (Turtuk to Leh):
I had decided to enjoy the drive back to Leh this day (206 km). Nothing less nothing more.
Yesterday, the broken bridge, which I had to cross at day end had made my shoes totally wet; however, these were dried a bit overnight. Now, I did not want to suffer the same fate again today, right at the start of the journey. Therefore, I decided to cross the stream barefoot.
It is advised that while crossing such streams barefoot, one should not ride the bike but walk along with it. Because any slippage might lead to foot injuries. I tried to follow the advice.
I tied my shoes to the luggage, started the bike, and entered the stream. Hardly did I wade through 10m that I faced a bigger problem. The stream was strong, which had already eroded everything except large stones that were not fixed in the ground. The bike was not getting enough friction to move ahead and as a result, the tyres were skidding. The bike needed more weight on top of it.
Now, I was standing dumb with hardly 1/10th of my way into the water.
Therefore, I decided to forget all the good advice and tried riding the bike. I was lucky that I did not step on something sharp or much uneven to lead to any significant problem. The first hurdle of the day was crossed. Yee…! 🙂
Once you drive in Ladakh, you cannot but admire the job BRO has done. One such example of tackling the tough terrain:
Today, on my way to Hunder, I decided to shoot a bit more than yesterday. Therefore, I avoided only the specific places where instructions of photography being prohibited, were displayed.
The route was very beautiful.
One thing I noticed was that most of the tourists go back to Leh from Hunder and very few go further to Turtuk. Therefore, most of this route is desolate. You might end up driving for hours without anyone coming from either end of the road.
The other thing that I noticed was that the barren mountains here in Ladakh are in sharp contrast to Himachal Pradesh where you would find thick forests lining the slopes.
It is because the melting glaciers cause erosion. It is good to know this as a fact. However, what could be the extent of this erosion was glaring in front of me here. The mass of debris so huge that even a minor tremor here would have buried me alive.
Whenever I looked up and saw the mountain slope of eroded debris, my mind always drifted to the thoughts of earthquakes. The situation in terrains like this had been disastrous in a few earthquakes in the recent past. No wonder that the earthquake in PoK in 2005-06 caused so many casualties.
Jai Ho BRO Ki! How much effort would have been needed to keep the road motorable in light of such obstacles, which might block the road at slightest of the rain, is anybody’s guess.
I reached Hunder, the city of sand dunes in the afternoon.
These white-colored “Chortens” are Ladakh’s keynote architecture. However, an atheist like me who did not visit a single monastery despite the long stay here, may or may not able to fully appreciate it. However, they look beautiful.
Just after Diskit, the sight of this vast juncture of the merger of Nubra and Shyok River meant that my stay in the Nubra valley had come to an end. Soon, I would be heading to the Khardung-la and crossing over to Leh.
I would miss Panamik and the time spent on the Nubra bank more than anything else. Would it be possible to come back to this place and spend maybe a few days/weeks here? I do not know.
However, as far as I know myself, you never know. However, now it was time to rev up Saarthi and let it loose. I love crossing these tarmac roads on riverbeds.
I had lunch at Khalsar. A big plateful of Chow Mein, which I could have never finished and I did not even try to. It gave me stomach upset later. However, such problems are common for travelers and the benefit of being a doctor is that you are not bothered by them. You manage them and move ahead in life.
At lunch, I met a person whom I mistook as defense personnel because he was dressed in olive greens. However, he turned out to be a fellow biker from Mumbai.
He had been to Pangong Lake just a day back riding his Thunderbird. His story of hardships while crossing Chang-la, the 3rd highest motorable pass of the world, on the way from Leh to Pangong Lake was terrifying.
His bike gave up just five km from the top and he had to come back to Karu, about 40 km downhill, to get it repaired. He tried another time just to get stuck at the same point again. This time, he came back to Leh, about 80km back. He got the bike repaired in Leh and then in the third attempt, he could successfully cross Changla.
Was I worried? I believe not. Because in the past 3 days, Saarthi had proven its caliber. However, still, it is not over until it is over.
Now, it was the time to start the ascent to Khardung-La.
The way to the Khardung-La pass.
I found the route from the Nubra valley to the top far more beautiful than the one from Leh. Riding on snow-clad mountains was my dream before starting this journey and this stretch gave me a glimpse of the same. However, to experience driving through walls of snow about 10 ft. high on both sides of the road, I will have to wait a bit more.
I was the only tourist doing the ascent. The rest of the vehicles accompanying me were transport trucks toying between Leh and Nubra.
Nubra valley has only one petrol pump at Diskit and I could see that it was only existing for the sake of it. The locals told me that you are lucky if you ever find fuel there. Therefore, the ultimate source of fuel even for the places up to 200 km deep into the Nubra valley is Leh. Life is not easy in Ladakh. In contrast, there are four petrol pumps from govt. companies competing with each other, all within 100m near my home in Mumbai.)
I reach the Khardung La pass at about 6 PM:
I was the only tourist at the top at that time. It was in sharp contrast to what I had experienced 2 days back at this same place. The diesel generator was still on. However, barring that, it was very calm and serene.
In addition, after 14 days of journey, I was more acclimatized to high altitude than ever. Therefore, despite being at the top of the pass for a considerable amount of time, I did not feel the slightest of AMS trouble. Finally, I had nailed it.
This board felt meaningless now when there was hardly any snow near it. Though, I would love to visit here again and feel the real threat of an avalanche.
That is Leh. The photo is taken on my way down from the Khardung La pass:
The descent took me almost 2-2.5 hrs. I realised that I drive faster uphill whereas, on the downhill, I need to be more cautious.
There was no one at South Pallu to register me out of Nubra. Somehow, I felt that the Himachal Pradesh police is more active and prompt than the J&K police. However, that might be because the J&K police works under the shadow of the Indian Army. That is debatable and I am not going for that.
So, after 3 days in Nubra valley and experiencing the beautiful memorable moments especially in Panamik, I was headed back to Leh. What lied ahead of me was Pangong lake and I could not wait for the morning to come.
Dorji, owner of Samnet guesthouse, and his family were elated to know that I went until Turtuk. Somehow, not stopping at tourist hotspots of Diskit & Hunder, and going all way until the Line of Control (LoC) made them think that I was different.
I was treated with a nice Tibetan dinner with the family. I was loving this journey by this time.
Leh – Changla – Pangong Tso – Leh
Day 15 (Leh to Pangong Lake:
The sun seems to rise very early in Ladakh. However hard I tried, I could never sleep beyond 6:30 AM here; however tired I was. Still, I was on holiday. Therefore, I got out of bed only at 8 AM.
I had learned to put all things of regular use in the bungee nets on the top of the packed luggage. As a result, now, I had stopped unpacking the luggage for the night stay. Therefore, getting ready for the start of the day’s ride had become very smooth and easy.
I got the cash at an ATM where a few soldiers from Haryana spotted the bike. The first thing they asked me was whether ICICI had sponsored this trip for me. It was not. Moreover, I never tried for sponsorship. The guidance I had got in the past was to avoid sponsors. This is because, in a sponsored ride, you lose the freedom of being spontaneous on the journey and you end up chasing deadlines to finish the trip as per the agreed schedule.
“Tank full, bottle full” had become my pet statement at petrol pumps.
I stopped at a mechanic shop to get the air pressure checked. However, I ended up checking it myself when the owner just threw the pressure gauge towards me:
After driving for about 40 km on the Leh-Manali highway until Karu, I took a diversion to the left for Changla and Pangong Lake.
I registered my details at one more check post and moved ahead.
The milestones in this part of Ladakh were a bit confusing. As a result, I had to rectify my route a few times to be on the right track.
The road was as beautiful as you could imagine:
Just after this last stretch of plains, the ascent for Changla pass started. The stories of the difficulties faced by the Mumbai biker whom I met yesterday at Khalsar, were fresh in my mind. Anyway, I decided to face what comes along the way.
I saw a very scenic village in the valley, “Shakti”. Dorji, my host in Leh, belonged to Shakti. It was almost the most idyllic place, which I, as a kid, had drawn on the paintings in the school. A hut with mountains in the background, the fields, streams nearby, and clouds in the sky.
I could not stop myself from halting the ascent and clicking snaps time and again.
The ascent to Changla is one of the most remarkable after the ascent of Baralachala pass from Darcha/Manali side. One feels daunted by the revelation of the challenge as one looks at tiny shapes of vehicles moving near the top of hills in the distance.
Would Saarthi and I be able to do it? I did not have a clue.
Finally, I reached the top without any hassles. Now, Saarthi had started scaling heights where seemingly bigger bikes had been faltering.
The scene at the Changla pass was not very different from the Khardung-La top. However, the snow here seemed a bit more than Khardung-La
Reaching the top was refreshing. The breeze was soothing cold. In addition, the thrill of entering into Changthang plateau where Gaurav Jani had filmed “Riding solo to the top of the world” was great.
The Changla top had a temple dedicated to Changla Baba. However, I did not visit it.
Now, I had been to all the three highest motorable passes of the world. The only one remaining is Marsimik-La, which is higher than Khardung-la but is not motorable. Bikers are allowed at their own risk. The phrase “At your own risk” becomes so common to hear from authorities in Ladakh that it starts seeming as “No risk”.
After 2 weeks into this journey and more than one week into the hills, the cautions of spending limited time at high passes had started seeming trivial now.
I have realized that now, come what may, and whatever u do to avoid it, you are going to face AMS. You should try to enjoy Ladakh with this headache or you do not visit here at all.
I spent some time at the Changla pass and then started the descent to Changthang:
Landscapes opening with such a picturesque valley is any biker’s delight. The terrain kept on becoming more and more beautiful as the day progressed and I approached Pangong Lake.
On my way down from the Changla pass, while crossing a manageable stream, I interacted with Mithun Bhattcharya and Probir Sarkar who later in the day, at Pangong Lake, became my good friends. They were traveling on a Honda Unicorn.
I loved their experience of the ascent of Changla Pass. Their Honda Unicorn was barely moving on the road and they could see many BRO’s cautionary signboards saying, “Please go slow”. The way Probir complained, “Bhai aur kitna slow”, was hilarious!
A frozen lake on the way to Pangong Lake:
This region has been declared a wildlife sanctuary. The lakes, grasslands, and marshy conditions breed a lot of wildlife, which you can see on the way. The grasslands also support the locals who survive on cattle.
This beautiful small stream in the pic above, later on, gained strength, went on to cut the valley, and form a very deep gorge.
The terrain became too tough to build a road along the edge of the gorge. Therefore, the road took a diversion from the river soon and then, I clicked my most favourite pic on this journey:
The board above reads: “The Land is so barren and the passes so high that only the best of friends and fiercest of enemies would want to visit us”.
I could not stop myself from leaving the road and experience the natural beauty here.
The water flowing in such streams with small patches of soft grass is just the setting I needed to relax.
I met Ashwini on the way. He is a commander in the Indian Navy and was on a short trip to Ladakh. He had landed in Leh the day before; hired a bike and headed straight for the Pangong Lake.
This pic is taken by Ashwini. It is his bike in the foreground:
I felt like spending some more time at this place. Ashwini was waiting, as he wanted to stay together in the journey here onwards. I asked him to move ahead and wait for me at Pangong Lake. One does not come to such a place every day and I wanted to have a heartful of it.
Soon, I met Jugnu, a local, tending to his herd:
Jugnu was impressed by the bike. The one thing everyone notices about Saarthi is the mighty rear tyre and Jugnu was no different. He was a very shy model but learned soon.
Another instance of terrain changing in the blink of an eye. Ladakh is very dicey, to say the least:
The first sight of the Mighty Pangong Lake. It is 130 km long. 40 km is in India, and the rest in the China-controlled Tibet. It is the highest salt-water lake in the world:
I reached Pangong Lake at about 6 pm. There were very few tourists at the site at that time.
Many people make Pangong a one-day trip. They hire a taxi from Leh, reach here in about 4 hours, spend some time and then leave by early afternoon. This is to avoid being stuck in the streams flowing across the road before they gain in size and momentum. I must have told you earlier that the speed at which the glaciers melt gains pace as the day progresses. Before noon, the current is about 1/4th of what it becomes by 5-6 pm. However, I believe that an effortless ride is no ride at all.
When I reached Pangong, the time was ripe for these streams to show me their full force. There were 5-6 of them after I crossed Thangse and entered the sanctuary zone. Moreover, two-three streams were real blinders. I had to stop to guess the best possible end of the stream to cross; whether on the road or a few meters off the road. However, even after checking carefully, there were times when you had to just trust your luck and take a plunge. Luckily, I did not fall in any of the streams and escaped to survive another day.
Reaching Pangong Lake brought with it a sense of pride. There it was; the most beautiful place in the world right in front of me. The magnanimous, vast, and serene. One falls short of words to describe the feeling you get when the lake dawns upon you. You want to touch the water. You want to drive alongside it. You want to breathe the cool air. I did all that and much more 🙂
Did I taste the water? You bet I did.
I had read earlier that there are some places where only the lucky ones get a chance to visit. As we say about Ajmer Sharif, “Dargah pe wo hi aate hain, jinhe Khwaja bulate hain”. I was getting the same feeling here. It was my calling that I got a chance to be here and touch mighty Pangong.
Finally, Saarthi also got a chance to have our own group pic! This bike had lived up to the challenge and had gained a lot of respect from me.
There were a few tented hotels right in front of you when you reach the lake. I was advised not to stay in these tents by some friends at Sarchu on Manali-Leh Highway. So one thing was clear that I was going to drive a bit along the lake.
Ashwini was feeling tired and wanted to arrange the accommodation at the earliest. Therefore, I politely conveyed my intentions to him and we parted our ways. I wanted to explore a bit and therefore, I moved on. It was a drive for the best few kilometers of my life.
It was getting a bit dark. It was cold. Therefore, a perfect mix of settings for a memorable ride was getting prepared. However, I was being divided between riding the bike or taking photographs. Therefore, I decided that this would be my last pic before I move off-road and let Saarthi also feel this memorable part of our drive.
I left the road and started driving in the sand. Soon, I reached the lakeshore again. Then, I saw Mithun Bhattcharya and Probir Sarkar at the lake. These guys have nicknamed me as “Solo Man”. I loved the new name.
I offered them the chocolates that I had. I had put all the wrappers in my pocket. I did not feel like putting any such thing there, which might spoil the beauty of Pangong Lake.
Chatting between newfound friends was gaining momentum. Probir Sarkar told me how he convinced his wife to permit him to visit Leh with Mithun Bhattcharya by showing her the movie “Riding Solo to Top of The World”.
It was during one of those discussions that Probir pointed out to the sky and asked me to capture the moment. Thanks to DSLR and 1,600 ISO, I could click this pic without a tripod.
An attempt to capture the last rays of the Sun. Thanks, 1,600 ISO. I found a lot of such moments here, which completely mesmerized me. God, I miss these days now!
Mithun was traveling to Ladakh for the third time. Each time on a different bike. All were 150 cc bikes. I remember that once he travelled on a Fazer; this time, he is on a Unicorn. I forgot the name of the bike he used on the third trip. He has a passion for biking. Traveling on a Honda Unicorn with two hunky guys. I salute them 🙂
I wanted to ride further but Mithun and Probir convinced me to halt and stay with them for the night. I could not refuse them.
We went to the tented hotel where they had booked the space. We were relieved to find one tent unoccupied. The deal was done with the host for ₹150/-.
I could see a familiar bike parked there, a red Enfield. I hollered, “Ashwini” and a response came from the tent next to mine. So, finally, now, it was an evening to be spent with many friends.
The food at the hotel for dinner was ok. The lady made egg curry for the night. I am allergic to eggs. Therefore, I contented with the daal. It was not one of the greatest daal that I had. However, the company of friends made the simplest of the food look the best cuisine in the world.
The hosts had stored countless cartons of Maggi. I took a pic of it for Sriram Balakrishanan, my office colleague in Mumbai. His claim of people in Ladakh stocking Maggi for a month had been proved true.
It was after multiple attempts of using auto shoot and training the host lady to take a pic that I could get the below pic. Probir also tried hard to click a pic of us inside the hotel; however, nothing worked perfectly.
We went for a stroll to the lake after dinner. It was so dark that we could only hear the splashes of water. I could not see it. The wind was blowing fast. I miss being there now 🙁
Day 16 (Pangong Lake to Leh):
This is a glimpse of my accommodation at the Pangong lake. It was right at the lake. I had slept in the blue tent at extreme right.
The night was very cold, and windy. Moreover, it was my first night ever in a tent. At night, many times, it seemed that the tent would give way. However, somehow, it stood its ground. It was so cold at night that the drinking water in the bottle was ice cold by 2 am.
The tent was a cozy one. As it was my first experience in a tent, the first thing I learned was that however hard you try to find a level surface to pitch the tent, it would never be perfect. For someone like me who likes sleeping on a hard and flat surface, it was not an easy night. It took me about 3-4 hours before I could find sleep. Moreover, the cold was intense. The only time I took my hand out of the quilt, it almost froze within minutes.
Soon, the sun starting rising and I did not want to miss capturing this beauty. I took countless photographs of the lake:
The water was crystal clear. More clear than the water in the mineral water bottle. It demanded appreciation and I am never shy of praising the beauty 🙂
Finally, the Sun came out of its hiding. However, still, it played hide & seek among the clouds and eluded the moment when I could capture its reflections on the water. I had to wait a bit more.
Finally, during the Sun’s hide and seek between the clouds, it gave me the moment when I could capture some rays off the water. This is one of the pics that I like the most:
Everyone was getting ready for the day. Mithun Bhattcharya and Ashwini bought petrol at ₹100/- per liter here. Ashwini just wanted to be sure to reach Leh without any hassles; however, Mithun had different plans.
I told you earlier about Marsimik La. The highest pass in the world that is non-motorable. However, the army allows bikers to travel “at their own risk”. It is only 40 km from Pangong Lake.
Mithun and Probir had taken the permit to visit Marsimik La as well, just in case they might feel like going there. It is a routine to get permits over & above your plans. I had taken permit for Tso Moriri, just in case I feel like going there. Though I never visited it.
Mithun was upbeat on his plans to visit Marsimik La. However, Probir was not feeling well due to AMS. They both had come to Leh via Srinagar, which does not take you through much higher altitudes. Changla was the highest pass that they had been on this trip. In addition, the night at Pangong Lake accentuated the headache. Therefore, Probir decided to stay put at hotel while Mithun went to cover Marsimik La pass.
The situation with Ashwini was similar. He had landed in Leh just the day before and straightway headed for Pangong Lake. It was not sufficient acclimatization. I had to offer medicines to both Probir and Ashwini.
The problems of Ashwini did not stop with AMS. The moment Ashwini and I got ready to head back to Leh; the first thing he noticed was that his Enfield had a flat tyre.
I had the complete kit to repair the puncture of the tubeless tyres; however, it was not made for the tubed tyres. Therefore, it was inevitable that I would have to return to Leh, a solo.
Enquiries at a few other hotels guided me to the one person who had some tools to mend the puncture; however, he needed some adhesive to fix the puncture. Just on a random note, I asked him whether a Feviquick would do the job. He said. “Yes”. How glad I was hearing that!
I had bought a Feviquick tube near Karnal on day 5 of this trip. I never knew that it would come handy after so many days at such a secluded place, and that too to a random friend on the way.
Happy and content, I headed for Leh. A Solo!
A pic just before the start of the journey to Leh. It was time to say goodbye to Pangong Lake. I would go back to the lake for sure. Moreover, Marsimik-La and Tso Moriri would definitely be on the itinerary at that time.
I had read in a photography book that while traveling, one should keep looking back frequently. This is because, in our quest to move ahead, we miss many beautiful compositions over our shoulders. The pic below is taken in one of the many “look back over your shoulder” moments:
I had spotted this view the previous day while going to Pangong Lake; however, I kept on driving ahead in the search for a better composition. After going further, I had realised that I had come too far ahead and now, the pic giving the full view of the valley could no longer be composed. Therefore, I had decided to take this pic while coming back and now, I kept the promise to myself.
A stream when you are about to reach Changla:
I had met Mithun and Probir for the first time at this stream yesterday. Though I crossed it easily today; however, I found a few people who faced a lot of trouble crossing it.
One guy with a pillion did the biggest mistake of not surveying the stream before driving through. He had hardly gone two meters into the stream and his bike was stuck. Both the riders had to get down in ice-cold flowing water. I pitied them for getting their shoes wet at a time when driving for the whole day was remaining. It was a big mistake. It hurts your feet.
On my way to Chang-La:
This time at Chang-La, I did something, which I had missed throughout this trip. I accepted complimentary tea from the Indian Army.
The Army Tea is offered at almost all the passes, as well as, on other places of tourist interest in Ladakh. It was there deep down in Nubra valley near Turtuk also. Somehow, I never felt like having it. However, here, at Chang-La, I went into the shed and had a cup of black tea. One needs to wash the cup afterward though, which I happily did. The same shed also serves as a place to display and sell souvenirs.
I became interested in these souvenirs after I saw the hotel lady at Pangong Lake serving us tea in cups that had prints of different mountain passes and lakes of Ladakh. I liked the cups and upon enquiry, I found the source of these cups; these army outlets.
However, to my disappointment, the large coffee mugs esp. the ones with the picture of Khardung-la were not in stock. I asked for alternate outlets and I was informed about a mobile outlet, a truck, in Karu. I was also told that I would not get these cups in the Leh market.
Content after the tea and my little talk with the soldier, I started the descent from Chang-la. The road was bumpy and slushy. However, due to my habit of riding slowly on the descent, I was thoroughly enjoying this ride.
After a bit of riding, I found a group of bikers including Arun Gowda headed for Pangong (all Enfields), who had halted on the roadside. They signaled for help and I stopped. The guys were from Bangalore.
They told me that one of their bikes had a flat tyre. They had already changed the punctured tube and replaced it with a new one. However, the only thing they needed now, was an air pump.
I had an air pump. However, it was packed deep inside the luggage. Nevertheless, I had become quite helpful by now on this trip. “No issues”, I said.
I opened up the luggage. Every bit of it. I took the pump out and handed it over to eager souls.
They immediately got down to the job of filling the air in the tyre. I sat there and started talking with the rest of them.
I interacted with Arun Gowda who had come to Ladakh by getting inspiration and motivation from one of his special friends. There was another guy in the group, who had to take the help of army medics at Khardung-la. He was put on oxygen on top of Khardung La pass.
Meanwhile, the hard effort of pumping air for about half an hour yielded nothing and the tyre was still flat. I had started having doubts about my foot pump.
They requested an SUV to stop. The driver of the SUV gave them a battery-operated air pump.
The SUV was carrying three foreigners to Pangong Lake. Two men and one woman. All of them were traveling independently. I love it when I find people venturing out alone to fulfill their dreams.
The woman was from Austria. She was amazed at the diversity she was part of. All three travelers in her group were from different countries. In addition, the driver of the SUV was a Nepalese. Moreover, they were driving in a fifth country, India.
I asked her if it was her first visit to India. She surprised me by saying that it was her second visit to Ladakh in consecutive years. She had been here last year and found Ladakh and Pangong Lake so beautiful that she had to come back again the very next year.
She deserved a salute! In comparison, I had been missing this heaven while staying right next to it all my life. 🙁
The battery-operated pump also could not help the guys. Finally, they concluded that the spare tube was not ok. Poor chaps!
Friends, always check the spares well before the trip.
Two persons from the group decided to ride to the Changla pass taking the tube with them and seek help from the Army mechanic there. I decided to proceed on my way to Leh.
I accepted their thanks and handed over my email id to Arun for a probable Facebook friendship request and I moved ahead. He sent a friendship request as soon as he landed in Bangalore. I saw in his picture that the group had a great experience of camping and playing sports at Pangong Lake.
The ride from Chang La was slow and smooth until Karu. I registered myself out of Changthang at the police check post and started searching for the mobile souvenir shop. I could not find it. Therefore, I decided to try my luck in the Leh market.
Meanwhile, I was feeling hungry and started looking for Tibetan food at Karu.
I found a restaurant and ordered “Thupka”. It turned out to be noodles mixed with momos. In fact, most Tibetan dishes are varieties of noodles and momos stuffed among other things.
Unfortunately, I did not like Thupka a lot. I took out the momos and ate them separately. They were made of mutton and were delicious.
Thereafter, it did not take long to cover the rest of the way to Leh.
Karu to Leh road is the stretch on Manali Leh highway. I saw many bikers coming afresh from Manali. I felt nostalgic. About a week back, I was a rookie headed for hills and now it seemed that I have matured a bit. However, it is always a tradeoff. My newly gained maturity as a biker acclimatized to the mountains also sounded the bells that my trip is now over and I need to head back home after a day of rest in Leh.
Dorji welcomed me at Samnet. I got a hot water bath and straightway hit the bed at 5 pm.
I rested for about 4 hours and then went out to make some phone calls. In the meanwhile, I realised that I was running a day short on the trip.
I had neither spent any extra day anywhere nor lost time on mishaps. Therefore, it was a mistake in the itinerary preparation from the start. Anyway, the fact was that I was a day short and I had to do something about it.
I had dinner with Dorji and his family, and I had a good sleep!
Leh to Manali to Delhi
Day 17 (Leh to Pang):
I was running a day short. I had to take sufficient rest. I had to buy souvenirs for friends. And it all was going to take time.
The night sleep was one of the best. I am habituated to hills now. Asked the host about possible options of souvenirs and the time markets open. I was told that I might even get a few shops open at 8 am. And I reached the market at dot 8. Only that shopkeepers were yet to arrive.
Tried my luck. Roamed around a lot and then around and around. Leh will confuse you with its countless one ways. I was never able to reach a place from same route twice.
Finally after checking at numerous shops, after outright rejection by a local standing outside a shop, of any possibility of finding the things I wanted, i still entered the shop and gosh! I found what I wanted. But not before the clock had hit 10:30.
Souvenirs were done. I was travelling alone but had to buy memorabilia for a whole bunch of ppl. But that’s how life is.
Still did not find anything for myself. I wanted those coffee mugs imprinted Khardung-La. And the statement made by the soldier at Changla, remained a fact. I could not get them in Leh market. Disappointed, I headed for the hotel and checked out.
Loaded the bike for one final time in Leh and started the return journey. I could have come back via Srinagar but the fact that Tanglang-la had posed a challenge, was constantly in my mind. Saarthi and I were more prepared now and I wanted to do the fight once more. Let me see whether it was something lacking in me & Saarthi or just a bad mechanic in Manali who made things difficult for me. There was no other way of checking out but to go and stand at Tanglang-la again. And that was exactly what I did. I started the bike and headed for Manali.
Would do Srinagar-Leh some other time.
I went to medical store and bought essential medicines. The famous petrol pump had too much of rush. I decided to give it a skip and moved ahead planning to get a fill on the way to Karu. 5 kms and I get a pump only to be told that no petrol. Frustration was getting to my nerves. $#*@$#. There was one more pump ahead but I couldn’t risk going ahead and returning 10 km, just in case. I headed back to Leh and finally got the “Tank full, bottle full”.
Now the ride had started in real sense. It was past noon. I was taking the ride very slowly.
Reached Karu. found an army shop but no Khardungla coffee mugs. The soldier here told me about the mobile shop, the army truck. I lunged and finally got it. Ordered a set of tea cups for home and 3 large coffee cups. All Khardungla brand. One was for me, another for Naveen and one just in case I suffer another fall (I am a risk manager).
One thing was always going to be at back of my mind this point onwards. I had this whole load of crockery on my bike. I COULD NOT AFFORD A FALL. This cautiousness might have spoilt the spontaneity of things but it also increased my safety instincts. And I was safe there onwards.
Came upshi, first police post enroute Manali. The cop asked whether I had had my lunch. I was moved. Ppl are very friendly here. I am gonna miss it.
Came the gorges:
I was riding with care. Came a caravan of army trucks. 19 of them. I took the bike to road side. I saluted all of them. Each one of them. Patriotism fills ones heart in these lands. I was getting emotional. I did not want to leave. I did not want to put an end to this trip. If biking could pay me, I would never visit any city, any office again. But the fact as of now is: it is my job in Mumbai that made this dream trip of me possible. And I need to do that a bit more to fulfill more dreams. Guy there are bigger trips coming. Let the imagination fly and engines roar.
Came Rumtse. A week back, I was standing breathless at this place, just after Tanglang-la experience. The place seemed calm and serene this time. There were tourists heading for Leh. I paid little heed to them. My target lied ahead of me.
The milestones read: Tanglangla ahead.
Never had I been more cautious and anxious riding a road than very now at my ascent to this pass. Filled with self doubts, high on adrenaline, I kept moving ahead. Slow and steady, Saarthi kept its pace. The landscape was awesome. I had paid little attention to it last time. Now was the time to appreciate it.
It was a lot greener than I thought. Snow capped peaks were as beautiful as a Ladakh trademark. It was late afternoon and traffic was scanty even from Manali-Leh highway perspective. I could find a few ppl driving down the pass but I was the only one going up. Rarely had I found a pass where I could not see vehicles, however few they may be, guiding my way, moving kilometer ahead of me, very near to the distant top, screaming out loud the challenge lying ahead. It sometimes made me go sinking in the heart.
But now it was something different. Cautiousness confounded with nostalgia. I knew once i crossed this pass, it would be official closure of my rendezvous with Ladakh. But one had to move on. I took a lot of “look over your shoulder” snaps.
The snow capped peaks kept on coming closer. Saarthi was holding on like a brave companion. Not a sign of fatigue. Moved we on..
This pic was taken looking back on way to Tanglangla. I tried counting the loops I had just crossed, I failed. I tried counting the mountain ranges I have crossed, I failed. Only thing I could count on was the contentment in my heart. And it was plenty.
The road in this pic speaks for itself: is it good or bad?
It is far far good by any standards here. you find something hard to put your tyres on and you are done. There is nothing better than finding the vehicle keep going ahead here. I dread the sand. I dread the mud. I fear the slush. And I am told i must fear the snow. (I drove on snow at changla and Khardungla a bit, but that was no way enough to call an experience. I am still a novice in driving over snow).
Finally we did I. Kudos to Saarthi for it. Didn’t let me feel any trouble at all. Seemed a ride smoother than ever and Tanglangla, a pass as simple as any other. I believe that to dispel certain notions one has to face it head on. Here we were, standing atop.
A rare moment when the wind here had stopped. Rarely noticed the flags so steady. They look and feel the best when fluttering. It was cold and the wind started blowing soon. There were two other bikers atop. Both ladakhis, riding on an averger. Were happy to see me crossing this pass in afternoon. At last they found some company (I am habituated to being a loner, got the nickname “Solo Man” on this trip. Thanks Probir for that). Plans were made to halt together for the night. They insisted for Sarchu. I was keen on Pang and not making it tough for Saarthi as well. We could not come to a consensus.
We helped each other taking pics. Offered them water which they politely declined. In a way I felt happy. Resources are precious here. Took some sips and started exploring the top.
The milestone cast at the top of the pass:
Distances mentioned here are from Manali. poor “Nakeela”. Ppl don’t even consider it a pass. Baralach-la is the coldest, Tanglang-la the toughest and Rohtang the diciest and the most beautiful.
This is the descent towards Manali. Moore Plains await you ahead.
I could see the road which was my nemesis last time (on the mountains to the left). But this time everything seemed under control. How man depends on machines was evident.
The land here was barren. 8 months of snow in a year is bound to kill anything on slopes. I desperately wish I could visit this place in May/early June when snow is aplenty and this road shows you its fiercest of colours.
I started the descent soon afterwards. Ladakhi friends caught up soon and overtook me. I like to descend slow and this time with souvenirs at the back, I had to drive carefully. Do we call it blessing in disguise? I don’t know.
I could hardly find any vegetation on these slopes. Few streams crossed the way but none of them was challenging, a few troubled us a bit though. BRO was on its way working to make a double lane road here. Ppl were working diligently. They command respect.
Finished the descent and was about to reach Debring when I took this pic. Debring is the most dusty settlement on this route. It lies just at the start of Moore plains from Leh side. Moore plains are now divided into two types by the kind of road they have. The one towards Leh (near Debring) has no road at all. You drive through a foot deep sand. The sand so fine which takes off to air behind you and if you are unlucky one facing tailwinds, you are up for trouble as it would block you vision. And a near zero visibility here guarantees a fall.
And the other half towards Manali (near Pang), is a biker’s dream. You feel like getting rewarded for all the effort you had just put in. Nicely laid tarmac. Drive the way you want.
The valley to the right takes you to Tso Kar and further to Tso Moriri (the one which I had the permit but missed). One can start from Leh, go to Tso Moriri via chumthang and return to Manali-Leh highway at this place thus bypassing Tanglangla and straightway head for Manali.
I was still on the tough dusty track. The path had improved a lot since I last crossed it about a week back on my way to Leh. BRO is really quick in its job.
I met a lot of truckers and bikers headed for Leh on the way. Each anxious and enquiring about the road ahead. A group of bikers was anxious as now their bikes had started loosing power (low oxygen). A problem which was trite to me by now . I empathized with them and advised to take things easy as they come along and told about the mechanic who put Saarthi in the best condition in Leh. They seemed frustrated. But I couldn’t help it. You have to face it all once you decide to cross Rohtang. Now in Moore plains, turning back is not an option.
The BRO contract worker at Moore plains:
I forgot his name. His presence here has an interesting story behind it. He was posted here, all alone on this stretch of road, far from any worker’s camp.
Reason: the road here was so bad that you end up driving more off the road. The previous evening two bikers got stuck here in the sand crossing from the right side of road and after the best of efforts their bikes gave way. BRO workers had to rescue them, drag their bikes out of sand and push to their camps. They hosted the bikers for the night and bode them goodbye in the morning.
His job was to make sure that no one goes off road here from the right side again.
My decision here was bad but the luck was good. I took off-road on the right side and thanks Saarthi could come out of the sand by some good hard effort. The moment I was out of sand, he approached me. Reprimanding me for not paying attention to his constant hollers warning me and guiding me to the left. I offered my apologies considering the good intentions the guy had. But when you are fighting the terrain here, you put your full focus on the road and rarely pay heed to anything else. I could not have heard his voice even if he shouted at jet decibels.
The only thing he asked me was “Water”. Luckily I had 2 bottles with me. He could have it to his fill. The guy was from Jharkhand. Hired as a contract worker for 4 months and 10 days @ 14000/- per month. Food was free but it was very basic diet. The living conditions and the loneliness was killing him and he was regretting his decision. But he was stuck. No respite in sight. Had to serve the contract period.
Offering him water made me feel good. Bode adieu and I moved ahead.
By this time I was out of the dusty tracks and moving soothingly at the tarmac. To my surprise, Saarthi was not accelerating beyond 70kph. I believed it to be due to low oxygen levels.
I had never accelerated beyond 60kph in last week hence 70kph was more than enough for me as of now. Unbothered, I moved ahead. The ride at this stretch of plains is a welcome relief.
First sight of Pang:
This site has a temporary settlement which is here for about 4 months a year. There is a camp of defense services as well. One may find some medical help at Pang in case you get over-adventurous and try driving to Pang from Manali all in one day.
You can see that from Moore plains I had to descend to reach Pang. But it is interesting to see the journey in the reverse. While coming from Manali, one reaches Pang and readies oneself for Moore plains. At pang, One has the expectation that he would have to go uphill first and then descend at the other side to reach moore plains (just like Saurabh Kulkarni). The moment one scales the height he is welcomed with vast plain starting right at top of mountain. Result is a mix of surprise and relief.
My stay at Pang:
I reached Pang when there was still some light in the sky. I had decided not to overexert myself. Sarchu, though was about 80 km from here, involved 2 passes: Lachungla and Nakeela, and Gata Loops. I wanted to enjoy them again during daylight. So the decision was made to put stay at Pang.
The Ladakhi friends whom I had met at Tanglang-la top were left behind at Debring. They had overtaken me during descent. When I reached Debring, I saw their bike at one of the dhabas there. I did not feel like resting at Debring and moved ahead. They passed through Pang about half an hour later. Guys were still upbeat to reach Sarchu and moved on. I doubt what can be so urgent that one misses out the beauty of this track in night. Covering more kilometers can be a fun at highways on mainland, never at this road.
Why did I choose this tent in particular? The simple reason: I was hooked to tibetan food by now. Momos being the favourite. I moment I reached Pang, a lot of owners came running requesting to stay at their tent. My simple question to all of them: who would prepare momos for dinner? I knew it is difficult to cook it at this altitude and given scarce resources. Only one guy dared with caveat that it would be veg momos only, and won the competition. Took order of 2 plates from me.
Other tents at Pang:
You can see the typical structure of the tent in this pic. The dome in the front serves as kitchen and sitting arena for the restaurant. The portion in the back has a number of beds lined up. You choose one and put your luggage near it.
I was in no mood to unload the bike, but the tent owner made me unload everything citing safety a reason. He helped me and I asked him to take due care. The moment I mentioned crockery in luggage, he told me that he knew what it would be. He was right with his first guess.
Morten and Laos from Denmark: (It was fairly dark out there when I took this pic but the 1600 ISO is playing its role to the full).
I had just reached Pang when I heard the words: Do you speak english? “Yes, I do”, I replied and turned to see who it was. I saw Morten standing there pointing towards their bikes. He asked me about a puncture kit. I asked him which bike. It was an Enfield and a fazer. He said, “the one exactly like your bike”. I could cool his nerves by saying,”Don’t worry. I have everything”.
After settling the luggage and selecting the bed. I came out to find that they were staying in the tent next to me and waiting for me to be free. I immediately got the puncture kit out so that we may rectify the bike today itself and they would not have to wait for me in the morning as I had made leisurely sleep in morning a routine by now.
They had hired the bikes in Manali and drove to Leh. The guy in Manali had overcharged them as Rs. 3000/- a day for both the bikes. Novices, they agreed and reached Leh, but could not roam around much as Laos got stomach upset the day they reached there. They went to Tso Moriri for a festival and again were fleeced for a night stay: Rs. 2500/- a night for a tent stay. They were further perturbed when I told them about my stay of Rs. 150/- a night for tent stay at Pangong Tso. They were determined to renegotiate the bikes rentals in Manali as they had not paid the full amount. As per them, everyone in Leh, they told about bikes rentals, laughed at them. Both were very innocent. Quite a contrast to the Isrealises I met in Panamik in Nubra Valley.
They travelled from Tso Moriri to Tso Kar and then straight to Moore Plains and Pang. They were waiting in Pang for 4 hours waiting for someone to fix the flat tyre. Locals had tried everything from rubber plugins to fevi-quick, but to no avail. My landing at pang was a God sent help for them. The puncture was fixed in about 2 minutes and the hard part of filling air with foot pump remained. “You have 2 guys for that”, replied Morten. Soon the bike was in perfect condition and they immediately left for the test ride.
The pic above is the moment they came back from the test ride, beaming with happiness and relief.
I spent some time with them chatting. Their tent owner (who did not speak english) who had tried to invite me to his tent for stay but refrained when I asked about momos, now approached me and requested that I tell these foreigners that if they wanted momos, he would make it for them. I translated it for him but to my surprise Morten and Laos had not had this tibetan dish till now and could not guess it even after my useless attempts to explain this dish to them. Anyway I invited them to have dinner with me and taste momos.
We discussed everything under the sun. Politics, defense, history, philosophy, travel stories and lot more. They were impressed by Indian defense establishment and wanted to know whom would India side for if US and China come out in open against each other. They felt diffident that their country of 5 mn populaton could not defend itself and needs to depend on others like NATO. Denmark try playing its part by sending volunteers to areas like Afghanistan.
The momos arrived and we all had to “our heart’s full”. They liked it and regretted not having it in Leh.
By this time their tent owner had wooed a touring group of 7-8 ppl for stay and Morten was getting anxious about lot of ppl and very few mattresses inside the tent. They asked permission and ran inside the tent to reserve their beds before everything got occupied. Poor chaps.
The sleep I had in Pang was the best I had on this whole trip. AMS? what is that?
Day 18: Start at Pang:
This group was from Maharashtra from the Marathwada region. The fact that I had been to Ambejogai (medical college in that region) was a great icebreaker and my knowledge of Marathi was icing on the cake. Guys were pretty chilled out, carrying a music system being run by bike batteries. One of them had seen my buying souvenirs at Karu and added that reference. As usual any group takes a lot of time to start its journey and I moved ahead of them.
Morten and Laos were in a hurry. They wanted to start the journey ahead of me and retain the lead. I being at the back ensured that they would get help in case their bike acts funny again.
The owner had kept the crockery with his personal belongings and handed it over safely to me 🙂
The ride started well. The route between Pang and Lachungla, if you remember, seemed one of the most haunted one. Few trucks were ahead of me and the dusty tracks were making it difficult to drive. Luckily trucks at this stretch don’t compete with you and give you side at the first possible opportunity. But the kind of path this is, such opportunities don’t come frequently.
The goosebumpy road gave way to the hilltop at Lachungla. The prayer flats are always fascinating wherever you go. The soothening rewards after the tough times to reach at tops.
I met some tourists heading for Leh. I had realised that the one week, I stayed at Leh, had led to a lot of improvement on the track and the highway is going to improve everyday going ahead. I concluded that the best time to see the ferocity here, ends with June.
From Lachungla to Whisky Nulla to Nakeela to Gata Loops everything looked very familier now. Did not feel like stopping the ride and taking pics.
Reached Sarchu. Halted at the same hotel where I had stayed for night on way to Leh and had suffered severe attack of AMS. The owner barely recognised me. Life moves on.
Had lunch and rode ahead. Registered at Sarchu check post after negotiating one of the toughest streams just at edge of Sarchu settlement. Lingti plains to Killing Sarai to Bharatpur everything went past in a jiffy. The stretch from Darcha to Sarchu, 80kms, which I had taken a full day to cover on my way to Leh was crossed in barely 3 hours today.
I had found this pass as the coldest one and it was still maintaining that reputation.
There were a lot of tourist this time around, both Indians as well as foreigners. The Indian family left its car at the road and moved ahead to explore the snow. I liked the idea but had other plans. Wanted to reach Manali by day end so that I could cover up for the day I was running short and spend sometime at home too.
On my way down from Baralachala, a 29 km stretch, I crossed Zingzingbar and other such small settlements. I was recognizing the places where I had halted on my way to leh to take snaps. Everything was feeling nostalgic. God! would it ever be possible that I would turn back and head back to Leh. But this was not to happen and I kept moving towards Darcha.
The track between Sarchu and Darcha is the most tough in terms of streams and the pic above indicates just one of those. I was lucky that it was early afternoon and these streams were not in their full flow and I could negotiate them without much trouble.
From Darcha to Jispa to Keylong in Himachal, the route here was a lot greener than back in Ladakh region which I had left behind when I crossed Sarchu. Villages were frequent now and traffic a bit more. Came Tandi and the famous lone petrol pump. I had the bottles full so no need of a fill. I moved ahead.
The moment I started on the road along chandra river in the valley, I was stunned to hear a blasting sound. The cloud of dirt was sky high…a landslide!!
Later came to know that double laning of the road is under progress and the blast was done by BRO as an attempt to widen the road. It took over half an hour for bulldozers to clear the path.
It was already past 5pm and I was about 100km away from Manali. I had to cross Rohtang to reach the city and it was obvious that I was running late and this loss of time here was going to cost me dear.
The ride to Khoksar was without much events but I was under duress to reach Khoksar on time lest the police closes the route up Rohtang for night. I reach Khoksar at about 6:45pm and was happy that the police was very cool about me going up the pass at this hour (I came to know later that the pass is open 24*7).
The weather was very clear and sunny in chandra valley but I could see clouds at Rohtang top:
I was anxious about getting stuck at the top in rough weather but wanted to take this risk to experience some other firsts of my life. And when I saw the vehicles coming from the top, it gave a sign of relief that the top was still motorable.
Still on my way to Rohtang and it started to get dark and cold. A bit of drizzle had also started but as I had the rain gear on and the luggage properly water proofed so it was not an issue unless it gained momentum and made me put my camera also under polybags (the camera hung around my neck for the entire time since I left Manali about 10 days back). But everything seemed under control as of now. Just then I saw a truck turned turtle on the side slope. I immediately realised the foolishness of ppl who try to underestimate mother nature and the challenges it may pose.
I wanted to take pics of that truck but better sense prevailed and I decided to keep on my way and cross the pass as early as possible. I reached Rohtang top at about 8pm.
I was to drive through a cloud from here on. I realised that the Manali valley was under very bad weather conditions and was completely covered with cloud/fog and the descent was not going to be easy. Staying at Marhi was one option but it was still some kilometers away and that formidable slushy stretch was standing midway.
I stopped at the top for sometime and few bikers also stopped fearing I might had some problem. Ppl are helpful at such stretches. A nod of assurance from me and they continued ahead. I could find a few youngsters at the top who probably were from Manali (no luggage on bikes). Without paying attention I started the descent. The restaurants at the top were all deserted.
I had switched on my cell phone in anticipation of getting the network on my way down from Rohtang.
Hardly I had negotiated a few turns in the descent that it started raining. I had to park the bike on the side to open polybags to secure my camera. The rain picked up momentum, and I was finding it difficult to work properly, just then the phone started ringing in the waist pouch. I was highly irritated. A few trucks found me blocking the route and were blowing horns like crazy. The call got disconnected and I was still not done with camera packing and the phone started ringing once again. I was literally swearing. (Sorry Herry Dhawan, one of the calls was from you though you had no idea what situation I was in at that time). I decided not to touch the phone till I reach manali. It was dark and cold and the rain showed no signs of abating. I continued on the journey.
Then came that bad slushy stretch of about 100-150 meters. Police allows vehicles from one side only to cross at a time here. But now there was no sign of any cop. I parked Saarthi on the side among the line of trucks as the caravan from down below started its ascent. There was no idea how much time we might have to wait here. Fellow drivers told that if everything went smooth then we may move in half an hour but if any vehicle from below got stuck then we would be on our own throughout night. Gosh!!
A tata ace was trying its best to ride up the hill and its engine gave way just near us and even the brakes could not stop it from rolling back. The truck behind it came to screeching halt. I was amazed at the speed with which everyone besides me ran to stop the Ace and pushed it up lest it blocked the road. Lucky we were and soon the descent started. But the rain had other plans. No sight of any respite. And the fog, it was getting denser.
Came Marhi and the trucks decided to stop, I asked one driver why. He replied that it would be denser fog down the valley and it won’t be safe for him to drive. so he would start next morning. I asked what should I do. He advised that if I wished I could move ahead as the road is broad and smooth and I may be able to reach below at snails pace. Just then a truck overtook us. I felt it like an omen and decided to continue my journey.
But the light of hope did not last long as the driver of that truck stopped soon. Reason: zero visibility. Everyone wanted someone else to be at front to guide the way. I decided to move ahead come what may. And the moment I started, the truck driver also started driving right behind me. Headlight of two vehicles made the road a bit visible but by no means sufficient. It was first time that I turned torchbearer to a truck. Like an ant helping the elephant.
Just few meters down an SUV stood parked with a family inside it. I asked the reason. It was again the same: “Bhai sahab, kuch dikhe to gaadi chalaaon na”.
I had started to rely on Saarthi to take me through each situation and this one was no different. I left them behind and continued on. I could barely see one edge of the road and I was to follow that. I could make out whether I was on hill side or valley side of the road. Being on valley side gave me goosebumps thinking about the deep valley present just next to me which was not visible now but I had seen its extent on my way up about 10 days back.
Slowly I kept on going. Came Kothi and some other villages. After long waits I could reach the altitude where I came out of the cloud and the visibility improved. but still I could not increase the speed. Remember, I always go slow downhill and this time I had breakables too. “Blessing in disguise”.
Finally reached the city. Looking back over the shoulder and sighting milestones of “Leh – xxx kms” were nostalgic. I stopped at the first hotel I came across and called the receptionist guy out on the road itself and started negotiating at price straightway. He said, “Sir, please at least see the room first”. To hell with seeing the room, you tell whether you have food and hot water or not? yes I do, was the reply. The deal settled at Rs. 400/-
The hotel was good. I was in the worst situation possible. A hot water bath never seemed so relaxing. It was about 10pm when I reached here. Lucky I was that nothing went bad today.
Manali-Leh was finally over for me.
I dont know how much justice this pic does to explain the situation last night. This cloud line could be reached in 8-10 kms while the total distance between Manali and Rohtang is about 50km.
I started at around 11am, after having breakfast at the hotel. I had plans to visit my graduation friend (Arun Sharma) at Yol Camp. If you remember, on my way to Manali from Delhi on day 5 I had plans to visit him but the heavy rains at Ambala had washed off those plans and I had to stay at Ropar. Now, I did not want to miss the chance and decide to meet him after 3 long years.
Drive was uneventful till Mandi. This was also across hills but the differences were huge. The slopes were covered with not even grass but with dense trees. The road was double lane and traffic more than any other road I had seen in last 10 days. There was some Sikh festival going on, everyone was headed on bikes to Manikaran gurdwara.
I had lunch at Mandi and started on way to Kangra. The ascent was almost like the ones I had traversed in recent days. Going uphill, cut across the hill top and descend on the other side. Typical structure of the passes but the altitude here was 1000m above sea level in sharp contrast to minimum 5000m on the route I had been to.
It was a pleasant ride till I reached Palanpur. That was about 5pm. And after that I entered.
Kangra Valley and all hell broke loose. It was raining and raining cats and dogs. I could barely drive for 5 minutes and I had to wait for half an hour for rain to stop. It was repeated so many times that I got very irritated and one time started regretting my decision to head for this place.
Last 30 odd kilometers from Palampur to Yol camp were the worst patch and it took me more than 3 hours to cover this. All in heavy rain. I don’t know what happens at Cherrapunji but Kangra Valley must not be far behind. And I was later told that Yol camp is not far behind other such places in the amount of rain it gets. True, I had never seen such rain, Mumbai is not even a comparable match.
Finally after all the natural calamities, I reached Yol. All drenched with water. The army camp was situated at a hill top and the roads were at such slopes that they would match the road to Khardungla. After multiple phone calls to my friend, Arun, I could reach his place, that too at 8:30 pm. Truely speaking, I just wanted to hit the sack straight away. But Arun told me that he had plans for a dinner outside. I had no plans to open the luggage but had to now. Got ready as soon as I could and had one of the nicest food I had had in days. Thanks Arun for that. Met Bhabhiji for the first time. I had not attended their marriage.
Arun had become an expert car driver and when I compare that to me who had never been behind a four wheeler’s steering, he is a genius. Liked the nice restaurant, the company, the chat and the memories.
Arun and I, both are very poor at the art of ordering food. We usually eat whatever is offered and Bhabhiji took charge from here on. The food was good. Only after ordering the non-veg soup that I realised that my company was strictly veg. Though they had no issues with I having non veg food, I refrained from it.
The sleep I had was good but was frequently interrupted by the incessant rains lashing oneverything outside. Thank God, my bike was parked under a shed.
I was worried lest I lose another day because of the weather here or I suffer a fall in the mud all along the path.
I woke up leisurely at 9am. I had asked Arun to have breakfast kept at the dining table in the guest accomodation. Did not want the food chap to disturb my sleep. But the morning tea guy did not take instructions seriously and woke me up for brief period at about 6am. Though it did not matter much and I was fresh and ready for the ride.
Met Arun at his office: The pathology lab at Military Hospital there. He is a post grad now and ranked a Major in Indian Army. Never felt that colleagues are now at senior positions. Feels good to see ppl grow.
After lots of talks remembering the deeds of grad days and bidding adieu to both of my hosts, I started on the route to Delhi.
It seems there are multiple routes to reach chandigarh from there and everyone I asked, told me some different route. Finally I reached a temple, a diety which is revered by millions and it seemed all the millions had decided to visit this place at this very day. It was such a mad rush on the roads, I could barely drive.
Soon I was out of Himachal and plains welcomed me. The bike was not getting acceleration beyond 70 kph. I had never got a chance to speed up so much except once in Moore Plains during this whole trip. In Moore plains I dismissed it thinking low oxygen effect but now it really seemed a problem.
At plains, if I drive at 70kph, It becomes very monotonous and boring and time consuming. I would never be able to reach any place in time. I tried reversing the changes done by mechanic in Leh but to no avail. I visited Yamaha agency in Una but to no respite. I kept driving at that seemingly snail’s pace.
Reached Ropar only to find that there is no Yamaha agency there. Saw another mechanic who said there was some problem with “Acceleration Coil”. Now what the hell is that? Whatever that is, I decided to reach Delhi slow and steady, however late it might be in night and get the bike transported to Mumbai. I knew a good mechanic in Mumbai whom I could trust. So moved I on.
It was about 6pm when I bypassed chandigarh and Mohali. The speed cap of 70kph was killing me but I decided to kill time by listening to music. Gosh! I realised I had never used earphones and music throughout this trip. I never drove without them in past. This trip was really different. I was so engrossed in driving that I did not feel the need of music till now.
Informed home that would reach after 12am. But fate had something else in mind.
I was driving steadily and it had become dark. The speed now was seeming comfortable looking at night drive situation and suddenly I felt as if the bike got caught in neutral gear. Engine lost all the thrust, Clutch and accelerator stopped having any impact. I knew something was seriously wrong.
I had guessed that the only reason could be NO CHAIN in the bike. I was nearing a highway town. The moment bike came to a halt and i tried to feel the chain but the hand met with hollow spaces. The chain was gone and Saarthi was helpless.
It was about 9pm and I was lucky that it happened near a town. I dragged Saarthi to a nearby dhaba and enquired about any mechanic there. Now started the chain of good samaritans I met at this place callled “Nilokheri” just before Karnal. The guy I met first on Dhaba and enquired about mechanic immediately made a call to the person he knew was a mechanic and explained my situation to him. He guided me to his shop and I literally ran to the shop dragging Saarthi with me. But the owner who was very polite to his friend was not so polite to me. He clarified that he is the owner and as the mechanic boy had left he can’t help me. “Come in the morning” was the sermon. Aghast, I asked him about some spare parts shop so that I could repair it myself if I get the spare chain. He was kind enough to guide me.
The shop was nearby and was about to close for the day. I requested him to give me spare chain which he immediately did but only to find out that Saarthi is designed for a chain size which is longer that for any other bike. He showed me many chains and I kept “window trying” them on Saarthi. Finally I found one which I thought would fit in. I paid him 400/-.
A guy, seemingly friend of shop owner, asked me how was I going to fit the chain. I would find some way out, was my reply. He told me about a four wheeler repair shop at other side of highway and said that a guy there would help me with tools and fitting the chain. He introduced himself as owner of that shop. He informed his mechanic about me and asked me to go to his shop with the newly bought chain. I was moved by the help ppl were offering me here.
I reached his shop, took out tools that were required. The guy there taught me how to open the chain link without breaking it. We were all set but realised that this new chain was short by about 4 inches. I was feeling devastated. What could be done now?
The only option was to go back to the highway and search my older chain if I could find it lying on the road. That was a long stretch of about 2 kms. But the survival instincts developed at ladakh told me to go and search. Soon I was on the highway with the headlights of on coming vehicles and the flash light of my phone acting as my guiding lamps.
A walk of 2 kms and hearty attempts but the chain was not to be found. I was stuck for night at Nilokheri.
There was a hotel there that charged me 700/- bucks. My costliest stay till now in this trip.
I checked out and went straight to the spare parts shop. The guy brought a spare chain piece of about 6 inches and handed over to me. I went to the mechanic and got it set. Finally thought bike was ready. Hardly I rode 200m that it stopped. everything looked fine. Enough petrol was there, no issues with the chain. I changed the spark plug. but multiple attempts wont start the bike. Went back to mechanic and after waiting for my turn for about 15 mins, just thought of checking it again and Saarthi started up without any trouble.
Now I wanted to reach home without any further trouble.
I was asked about bike papers for the first time on the trip after panipat. The cop gave me advice to travel in a group on such trips. I accepted whole heartedly even though I knew I would hardly follow it.
Reached Delhi and the killing metro traffic with consistent jams welcomed me. I wanted to go back to hills. I missed the mountains. I missed Ladakh. I missed panamik, I missed Pangong. I would go back for sure.
Reached home at about 4pm. Mom welcomed me at the gate.
The trip was finally over and Saarthi was to get some well deserved rest.
Day 22 & 23:
Stayed at home. Ate home food, met friends, bought sweets for officemates and reached New Delhi railway station. The security guy singled me out based on metal scans of my luggage for enquiry. The bag contained all the toolkit, foot pump and lots of such metal. He was finally convinced and let me go. And I boarded the train to Mumbai leaving Saarthi behind for it to catch me up in Mumbai sometime later. Saarthi was to cover that distance in a transport.
The speed cap and engine stoppage problem was due to the dust that entered the carburetor on my air filter removal trick while going up Tanglangla. Don’t repeat this guys.
After so many days and millions of dollar worth of experiences later this trip finally draws a closure. And I rest to take on something new, something different and definitely something bigger.
Till then “bon voyage”.