This is fifth and final part of my travelogue which covers my bike ride from Mumbai to Leh & Ladakh via Manali and back to Delhi. Please read earlier parts here:
- Part 1: Mumbai – Manali
- Part 2: Manali – Leh
- Part 3: Khardung-La & Nubra Valley
- Part 4: Chang-La & Pangong Tso
Leh to Manali to Delhi
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”.