Had never thought of writing a blog because the corporate life doesn’t want you to sit free & spare time to pen down my own thoughts. So here I am with my first ever blog. The “Ride Of My Life” when I “Got Leh`d” this summer !!!
Being a private firm employee , you get limited holidays. So I thought the best time to capitalize was the time from the 8th of August till the 19th. Almost a total of 11 days hardcore, not-so-easy biking.The route plan to be followed was Gurgaon-Chandigarh-Manali-Keylong-Sarchu/Pang-Leh-Pangong Tso-Leh-Kargil-Srinagar-Jammu-Chandigarh-Gurgaon.
- Rahul Ray (me)- A software testing engineer working at Fareportal , Gurgaon
- Anherudh Kamath – A software test automation engineer working at Aricent , Gurgaon [To be referred as Ani]
- Ashwani Chauhan – A software dev working at Aricent. ,Gurgaon [To be referred as Jeeta]
- Sushil Rodhiya – An Assistant Manager at Technopack Advisors , Gurgaon
- Inderpreet Singh – A third year Civil engineer at Guru Nanak Dev Engineering College , Ludhiana
- Sahil Sharma – A third year Computer Sciences engineer at Guru Nanak Dev Engineering College , Ludhiana
- Gagan Deep – A computer techie working at CSC , Noida.
- Rahul – Silver Classic 350
- Ani – Machismo 350
- Sushil – Silver Electra 5s
- Inder – Cherry Red Classic 350
- Gagan – Black Classic 350
- Jeeta – Pillion with Sushil
- Sahil – Pillion with Inder
The Ride Begins !!
Day 1: After a hard days work on the 8th, Ani & myself left from our respective homes to meet with Jeeta & Sushil at the Gurgaon Toll. Next stop was the Karnal Bypass where Gagan would join us from Noida. This way, at around half-past five in the evening, the ‘Ride of Our Lives’ had finally begun. Just before Panipat, we stopped for an “Omlette Break” to kill the hunger pangs that were building up. At almost few minutes past 9 , we reached Karnal. It was then we stopped by Zilmil Dhaba for our dinner. Wrapping up at 10 , we head off for the last stop – Chandigarh. Moments before crossing Kurukshetra , we faced some torrential rains. It felt like as if I was being slapped hard by someone !! The fight with nature had just begun !! We reached Chandigarh at 12:30 am and the next task was to check-in to some place for night stay. We managed to find a place in the Sector -17 , Bus Stand lodging rooms. Yes , we were soaked right through , but nevermind , it was just the first rung of the ladder .
Day 2 : This day morning, we were joined by the 2 engineering loafers: Sahil & Inder from Ludhiana , who decided to trip along with us without informing their parents. Of the most concern was Inder, as he lives a block away from me & everyone in our colony knows that his mom is a real (or maybe an ex)CBI agent because she manages to find out the Root Cause Analysis for everything !! 😉 So finally the wolf pack of 7 riders on 5 Royal Enfield’s started off for Manali. After 2 hours of riding, we stopped at Bilaspur to feed our hungry stomachs. From there on , the hilly roads to Mandi / Manali were beckoning to us. At one point on the hills we were passing through clouds & at one point on the hills that the visibility almost dropped to zero. The next 30 minutes or so had us riding at under 20 kmph! Almost for half hour , our speed could not go beyond 20kmph. We reached Mandi at 6pm, where we met a solo rider (working with Aricent & coming all the way from Gurgaon) who was heading to Spiti on his Classic Chrome. , stopped by. He had spotted Ani`s bag & hence decided to have a chat with us as his last pitstop was similar to ours. The chill was setting in slowly but not to a great extent.After the small break, we , along with the 6th rider headed off again. One of the awesom-est parts of trip began when we had to go through the long tunnel that stretched for 3 kms. The tunnel was then thundering. I repeat thundering. All the 6 silencers (read modified and not the company fitted ones) of our bikes could have definitely set off an avalanche if the mountain was a snow-covered one. The sound was that massive!! From quite a distance I could see the hawkers & bystanders actually looking inside the exit to try and gauge what the noise was all about. We managed to find dinner in Kullu & reached our hotel in Manali (after bargaining around with the agents/touts or whatever you would like to call them) to call it a night.
NOTE (For bikers): As you enter Manali , you would be stopped at a checkpoint where you have to pay some mandatory “Green Tax”. It was 100 rupees per bike. The sentry at the post will bluff you by saying that you need to buy permits to take your bikes further to Leh as there would be a checkpoint. It`s probably necessary for private/public vehicles but NOT for bikes at all !!! Anyhow we did not come across any checkpoint at all. So do not fall into the trap as you would end up paying some extra money.
Day 3 : Early risers, Me & Jeeta went to check out the local markets, Old Manali , the river banks & re-fuelling up our bikes before we headed for Keylong. It is advised that you ask the local bike renting guys about the weather conditions up at Rani Nullah (commonly known as Rohtang Pass) because you`d plan your journey accordingly. Also while re-fuelling at the petrol pumps , ask the guys if petrol would be available at Tandi ( the last petrol pump before Leh )or no because quite a times it happens that due to landslides or any other calamity the fuel supply is cut off. If all is well then fine, else don`t forget to fill up the jerry cans you`d be carrying with yourselves. In the meanwhile, the rest of the riders were all saddled up & ready to roll out. We started heading for Rohtang & the altitude climbing began. We came across a huge Army convoy that was coming down along with many other groups who were returning back from Leh. We stopped at Mani to have our breakfast. As per Ani, till last year there were many open food stalls at this place but his time we just found one & due to that we kinda paid the price for that. 90 bucks for a plate of Egg-Maggi !! Unbelievable!! But nothing comes before our hunger so I splurged 900 bucks for everyone in my wolf-pack to make sure no one goes hungry 😛 As we gradually approached Rohtang Pass , it started to drizzle mildly the slushy roads began. The slush was less compared to previous times. It just covered our ankles. We had to wait for half an hour amidst the slush as the BRO were carrying out blasting to improve the roads. Yes , the roads had really improved. The slush patch was hardly a kilometre !! I had been up to Rohtang earlier but now the REAL journey has started for me !! The road bends between mountains with cold air & clouds over you was mesmerizing. I could feel the cocktail of adrenaline & altitude sickness in me. At one bend while Jeeta & me were leading , Gagan swooned for a second & crashed on the bend. Inder,Sahil,Sushil & Ani helped him get on his feet again. We stopped for a tea break at the check-post where one road took off to Spiti & the other to Keylong. The moment I took off my helmet , it felt as if a bomb had dropped on my head. Yes , the AMS was setting in. I could feel the mild pressure but it was ok enough to ride on further. The ride started off again with us riding on the smooth roads next to the riverside. Crossed a few bad & interesting water patches. The mud on my Woodland got washed off 😀 . I think we were about 20 kms from Tandi that I could not drive further. I was getting sick gradually & the breathing got heavier. I took pillion with Ani while Sushil took over my bike. We reached the last filling station at Tandi to re-fuel & fill up the jerry cans. Tandi IS the last filling station as going further(from Keylong) we saw signboards for another petrol pump but it has NOT come up yet. That was the worst moment of my trip as I was uneasy to the highest limit. I took a tablet of Diamox & proceeded to Keylong which was hardly 7 kms now. A big thanks to Ani that he constantly kept talking to me else I would have passed out any moment & fallen off the Machismo. Finally we reached Keylong & stopped at a point from where Ani & Sushil went to search for a hotel to stay put. I literally lay down on the roadside as the hard seat of the Machismo on the rough patches, along with the sickness had worsened it all. Both of them returned quickly, having found a decent one nearby on the main road itself. We unloaded our bikes , grabbed dinner at the same hotel & crashed. That night, I only hoped that my health nightmare to end & I’d be well come the next morning…
Day 4: It does not matter how late you go to bed or what the conditions are like when you do so. If you are an early bird, then be assured that you’ll wake up at the regular time. At 7am, I woke up only to find Jeeta bring out the shutterbug thing in him. He was playing around with Ani`s T3i Rebel & managed to capture a few good shots even. It was then that I realized that I was actually feeling better. The headache was gone & the heavy breathing has lessened too. So, with all our bags packed & bikes saddled up, we grabbed a quick bite & set off for our next destination, Pang. The distance did seem a bit too much to cover, but we decided to carry on nevertheless. After hardly a few kilometres however, I was on a descent, when I felt a jerk on my bike, but was unable to figure out why it happened. First it was in 1st gear, then, later on it moved to the 2nd gear. I was just not able to catch the bug-in-the-bike as I thought it was probably happening to the load on the bike. The same thing was occurring on Inder & Gagan`s bike so I let it slip. At the next descent, we were passing by Jispa, where the camps were setup right next to the river & they sparked off flashbacks of the Rishikesh camps. The view from the top was beautiful. It was then we came across a signage that said there was a petrol pump, distance not mentioned though. However, this fueling station never came up as it`s yet to be constructed. So, do not forget to fuel up your cans at Tandi. The roads & bends here were so smooth & slick, that we were soon riding at 80-90 kmph. Once again, hats off to BRO for making the nooks & corners accessible. We soon stopped at the next check-post at Darcha. A group of odd 20 bikers in their 500cc rides went by us followed by a lady biker on a KTM Duke 200. Took a short break before we were about to conquer Baralach-La Pass. From a distance, I could see a crowd gathered at a point. As we neared, one of them signalled me to stop. So, I & the rest parked our bikes to check out what was happening. We saw a foreigner guy named Nick; trying to fix the clutch wire of his Yamaha FZ. He had started few moments before us from Keylong. The rest of the crowd was merely a group from Abohar in 2 cars & a Pulsar. I really wonder what`s the fun in riding these plastic toy bikes which tend to break down apart from flat tire cases. The bike renting agency had probably fooled him by not telling him about what parts he should have taken along etc. Now here came the true biking brotherhood to the fore, where you stop & help other fellow bikers on the road. We had a spare clutch wire for the bikes with us, so we decided to lend it to him. He was so pleased that his problem was fixed with the “Jugaad” we did, that we made him call out “Jai Jugaad” & taught him a new DESI word. Yes, an hour was wasted, but it was worth it, as that guy did not have to get stranded all alone. We covered Baralach-La Pass only to get the most amazing views ever. It seemed the view was photo-shopped!!! I was awestruck by the view that I literally had to touch the silencer to ensure I was not hallucinating due to AMS or any other damn reason. Clear blue skies, clouds, mountains….too much Eye-gasm it was for me. The gear problem was persisting, but I was not bothered at all. We crossed a kinda big water stretch & stopped for lunch. Maggi & eggs was all we were eating since we started from Manali. Post lunch, hardly after covering 4-5 kms, we faced the first flat tire. The Machismo rear tire had gone kaput. Now came the main hurdle. We had spare tubes, pump & spanner but we did not have the tools to take out the tubes!! We somehow managed to take out the damaged tube & replaced it with a new one. While filling up the tire, we noticed that it wasn’t really filling up. We again opened the tire & took out the tube only to find that it had got damaged while putting it inside earlier. Thanks to Gagan & Jeeta , who were totally into fixing the problem , we were losing out on our patience. Time was passing by quickly & the sun had started to set gradually. Now, it was our turn to ask for help. Many stopped but did not have anything to help us. Then, out of nowhere, a biking saviour came to our rescue. They stopped only to take out the puncture tool from their bag & save our time & relieve us from the distress. We thanked them loads. Phew!! Pang was out of question now, so we decided to halt at Sarchu which was 12 kms from the spot we were stranded. We stopped by at the camps that were along the check-post as they were cheaper in comparison to the ones that appeared first. We got a decent 200 bucks per person in the tent with 7 beds in all, so we took the entire tent. The tent owner made us some Rajma-chawal so that we could eat & go off to sleep early as we were behind schedule now. What a view it was at Sarchu. I gazed at the stars for few minutes before calling it a night.
Day 5: Knowing the fact that we were behind schedule & were close to our destination, we got up early,topped up the fuel tanks, grabbed a cup of tea & biscuits & set off for Pang. We could see “cyclists” riding on the single lane roads. Still not sure if they were going all the way to Leh or no. We gave the Thumbs-Up to each & every cyclist as it kinda motivated us as well. All my life, I had dreamt of long, never-ending roads surrounded by Rocky Mountains, but it was at long last, that things were getting all real. Such was the beauty around me, that it was hard for me to believe such ecstatic views!! After a few kilometres, came the famous Gata Loops otherwise known as the “21 Jalebi Bends”. Bend after bend came & the gear train constantly kept giving me problems. The bike had started jerking all the way till the 3rd gear. Meanwhile, I could see school buses, trucks & cars plying in the oncoming direction. The supplies for Pang went from Sarchu I believe. The roads after Gata Loops became uneven. They were more akin to paths that had been carved out due to vehicle movement. Sushil stopped many a times to click photos, but I was determined not to stop at all as the speeds had to be restricted to 40 KMPH, due to the road conditions. Breaking up formation is one of the toughest decisions to make on a group ride, but with my bike bucking like a horse, there was little choice. I managed to reach the camps of Pang & after 10 minutes , Sushil arrived. The sun was pretty harsh as I could feel being directly being exposed to UV Rays. We both had a small chat with one of the guys, ‘Aust’ from Germany, who was a part of the 20 bikers which included the KTM biker as well 😉 She was probabaly Mexican because she had that typical “Loco” English accent. These guys owned a house in Faridabad & so the bikes!! They had not rented those 500cc monsters!! Meanwhile, Jeeta & the rest arrived & he immediately got off to an argument with me & Sushil for no reason. Guess, it is a part of the trip where there are Yes & No`s to almost everything. Ani`s bike had suffered one more puncture, so we took up to a nearby repair shop. The rear tire was totally worn out to the point that the patch that had been inserted earlier, had come out & looked like a big pimple. Meanwhile, we were again gorging on Maggi, eggs & paranthas. The paranthas made me come back to life as it was the different thing I had since the last dinner at Manali. We quickly finished our food & went back to the repair shop where Inder fooled around by tying a truck tire around his waist with a rope & perform the “Bhaag Milkha Bhaag” act by running till his last breathe. The Machismo was fixed so we decided to conquer the Mori Planes next. I had had just barely gone 50 meters, my bike started wobbling. WOW!! Now my C350`s rear went flat!! Dang!! Another half hour wasted at the same place. Light drizzle had started by the time my tire was fixed. Ani & Gagan had already reached the Mori Planes. It wasn’t that far from Pang, so I could see kilometres after kilometres of plains & the BRO roads cutting through them. Ani had already clicked a few of his amazing solo shots. He clicked the same one as he had done last year. He further more took few shots & we started moving on. It was fun clocking on 80-90 kmph as the roads were empty & wide enough for 4 bikes to ride alongside each other. The happiness did not last long though, as the roads turned treacherous again. To me it looked like the roads were damaged & bumpy due to the movement of the bulldozers. We spotted a few ahead of us, as we went along, which belonged to BRO. Once again, the ascent began as we were to approach Tanglang-La Pass. Since it was drizzling, I had my sweater, jacket, and wind-cheater & on top the raincoat. As we climbed the mountains, it was getting chilly. I could see Tanglang-La appearing which I mistook for Leh. We stopped o click despite shivering like hell. Inder`s watch showed the temperature as -2 degree Celsius. I felt my body freezing up. The cold was too much to bear as the wet clothes were also adding to the chill. The next good thing while descending was the road. It was newly made with no patches or bumps. I was easily cruising at 60-70 kmph. The downhill bends started to give a gradual view of the livelihood down. We stopped at a point to grab biscuits & water. I changed my entire footwear to the dry pair & put on the warm gloves inside my biking one. The shiver had now stopped as the warmth was now setting in. We crossed through many villages with the Indus River on our side. Just few kilometres off Upshi , Inder`s & Ani`s bike once again suffered punctures. Somehow they dragged till Upshi to get them fixed by the tire mechanic right at the junction. The mechanic was a cranky guy. He filled the rear tire to 45 PSI instead of 32 & when we asked him to reduce the air, he got offended & threatened to close the shop. Now that was “Being-A-Moron” level 100 & we being desperate to reach Leh as soon as possible, had to convince him that he was right we were wrong. This hurry proved us costly because hardly covering a 1 kilometre; we heard a cracker blast sound. The tube had ripped apart within. I really felt like going back & knocking the guy down. Gagan took over the reins of the Machismo & rode it as if he was doing some stunt. Well, he did it pretty well by sitting on top of the tank with both his legs in front of the crash guard ensuring that the tire did not get damaged. But Leh city was still far away, so we decided to park the Machismo at a local shopkeeper`s place at Kharu. He was generous enough to assist us with that. Leaving the Machismo behind, we reached Old Leh city only to find that we had reached the wrong place as the road connecting the city had washed off due to the flash floods that took few years back. But it wasn’t for long that 2 guys in their car guided us to the main city & directly to a guest house. Some nice people we came across who helped us without any remorse. We finally put up at a family`s home who had made a guest house out of it. It was 10 by the time we settled down. We thought of going out for dinner but then the lady told us that eateries had already closed down by then. She offered to make “Khichdi” for us, on which Ani , Gagan , Inder & Sahil immediately ran off to sleep. As I had mentioned earlier, no compromise when hungry , we 3 decided to have it. The dining room was beautifully decorated with Buddha statues, bone china crockery & the Buddhist chant flags. The food was ready & we were in for a surprise. The “Khichdi” was none other than “Pulao”. They called “Khichdi” as “Pulao” & what else could you ask for now!! Sushil suggested that we should call the rest but Jeeta gave the devilish smile & said “Their loss is our gain”. We agreed & finished off the entire cooker content in 15 minutes. Wow…..that was some amazing food after days!! We thanked the lady for the delicious “Khichdi” & went off to sleep. YESSS!!!! WE GOT LEH`D!!!! The motive of my life & owning a Royal Enfield had been completed. I had reached “The Mecca-Medina of Bulleteers”. No force was able to stop me from reaching the milestone on my C350. Nor my work , nor my parents , nor my relatives , nor the weather , nor the roads , nor the sickness , nor any bad omen. Now I can live in peace forever!!! 12th August, 2013 had been pinned in my list of achievements & will be remembered throughout!!
Day 6: My friend who had visited Leh a month back had advised me to go to the bike checked by a mechanic named Juma. This mechanic knew how to work on all kinda bikes. I saw the legendary RD 350 parked in his garage. The guy Juma had made it from Khardung-La to Leh in 35 minutes flat on the Yamaha. I was totally drooling over the bike. I wanted to take a test ride but the battery had already been taken out 😦 . Juma inspected my bike & showed my the RCA of the problem my bike was facing. The chain set had gone old & the sprocket had worn out completely. Many of the teeth were broken. All my dilemmas had gone & I knew that my bike was in the right hands. Juma somehow told me that an original RE spare part wont be available , so fixed a local one & advised me to to get the entire chain-set changed once I reached home. Me & Sushil left our bikes at the garage & headed off to the city to catch up on some breakfast. Ani & Jeeta went back to Kharu to get the Machismo fixed. Wow !!! All I could only hear was the roar of the Bullets on the roads. The city market was jostling with crowd , hustle-bustle but it was looking very pretty. Life was definitely coming back to normal as the cafe had some awesome varieties of breakfast to serve. From English to Israeli breakfast , they had it all. For a good sum of 150 bucks we got to eat scrambled eggs,bacon,breads,boiled eggs,juices & coffee. It was heavy enough to keep us content till evening. We roamed around in the local market for sometime & collected the permits for Khardung-La , Nubra , Pangong Tso & Tso Moriri. headed back to Juma so that we could start for Khardung-La. Ani & Jeeta too had come back on time to leave. We picked up our rides & headed to the “Highest Motorable Road”. The roads were indeed motorable. The curves were beautiful. The checkpoint to check for permits came at South Pullu. From this point onwards , I refused to give road to Khardung-La the “The Highest Motorable Road” record/name. The road was totally broken !! It wasnt motorable at all as we could not ride beyond 20 kmph. To the woes ,the rain clouds appeared from nowhere & started drizzling. After a half hour bumpy ride , we reached the pass. Oh yes , the awesome feeling of standing at an altitude of 17,582 feet or 5359 meters above sea level made me feel the achievement & motive of my life. The view was simple with a Maggi stand , a Shiv Temple & a souvenir shop with the Om Mani Padme Hum chants playing on a loudspeaker. The roads further went upto Nubra valley but it was not in out plans due to time crunch. It was hard to realize that I had actually conquered the roads & Leh. The rains did not allow us to stay further , so clicked a few photos & started descending back to Leh city. While coming down , the bumpy roads dislodged my silencer & induced a snag in Gagan`s ride. Reached back to the city , grabbed dinner & went back to the guest house only to find that Inder`s mom had come to know about his whereabouts. I told you she is a member of the CBI 😉 He had been bluffing to her that he was at Manali all the while due to bad weather. Now as there was no network coverage from Keylong-Pang-Leh , the automated voice reply messages actually gave the clue. Now , we wondered how could one figure out from the service provider`s automated message. Well , after the English message , came the Hindi version & then (here comes the best part) came the “Himachali” version or you can say the native state lingo. We were stunned & had a good laugh on this. CBI had done it`s job well to track down Inder !! Hahaha..All the 6 of us were in splits imagining the aftermath after Inder would go back home !! In the meanwhile , we found our target..our “Bali Ka Bakra”. It was none other than our own Jeeta. He would have never imagined that his life would change from that moment onwards till the end of the road trip. I wont get into the details of the fun because I know after he reads all this , he`d come charging at me 😉 😀 . He was the laughing-stock of our wolfpack. The intensity of the fun was on such a level that even the college going punks Inder & Sahil didn’t spare him 😀 . The jokes continued & the 6th day ended.
Day 7: Today our target was none other than the Pangong Tso. We would stay there, watch the epic sunrise, swim like “Anushka” from Jab Tak Hai Jaan (a Bollywood movie, just in-case you were wondering) & then begin the most difficult part of the trip – the return leg! Sahil, being a huge Anushka fan, couldn’t wait to get started on the swim! As for the rest of us, well, we decided to get us some breakfast, but not before we dropped our bikes at Juma, for a much-needed tune-up. An hour & sated stomachs later, the bikes were still waiting in-queue for Juma’s expert attention. The one thing I’d noticed about this guy was that he would be puffing away to glory whilst working on a bike. Cigarette dangling lop-sided in the mouth, he could spend his day, diagnosing engines just on the way they idled. Quite honestly, to me he looked like Clint Eastwood – in a total badass sort of way!! Less talk, let your work do the talking types. It was not before long that the bikes were ready & we set out once again, this time, to conquer Pangong!! Since Ani had visited last year, it was unanimously decided that he’d be the Captain of the train. Little did we know though, that we would end up taking the wrong road to Upshi which only led to Tso Moriri Lake. He did get quite an earful from us for this, with Jeeta contributing as well, since we allowed him to speak out at this point :P. A quick U-turn later, we were back at the place where the roads led to Pangong. As we passed through local villages, schools & monasteries, we couldn’t help but marvel at the fact that the roads were smooth enough for 80 Kmph cruising speeds. But then, Murphy can’t be that far now, could he. We were hardly few kilometres from Chang-La Pass when Inder`s rear tire went flat again. This time thankfully, we had the puncture tool with us. So the pit-stop took a breezy 25 mins & we were done, installing a brand new tube. Nature then decided to run the screws on us, as it started to drizzle again. By then, a group of bikers who had surpassed us when we had reached Upshi by mistake, were coming down. They informed us that it was snowing up a Chang-La & hence the road was being closed down. They could not go further , hence they had to return. Taking their advice, we too decided not to go further as it would be risky & pointless going up. We turned around & decided to call it a night at Shey Palace & the Shey Monastery or Gompa you can say. The monastery is well-known for its giant copper embellishments, with a gilded gold statue of a seated Buddha. Shey was also the summer capital of Ladakh earlier. We grabbed a few pictures & went back to the city to buy the “How I Got Leh`d” tees & the “Om-Mani-Padme-Hum” chant flags to beautify our rides. Shopping over, we crashed out early at the guest house as that would give us a boost come morning as we headed out to Pangong.
Day 8: Given that the day before had been quite a wasted one, we decided to start early this morning, in-order to give us at-least a couple of hours in Pangong, before we began to make our way back home. Come 7 am though, the rain gods were in no mood of letting up & the lady at the guest-house confirmed our worst fears. The roads were shut & the possibility of them being opened to traffic remained quite bleak! We felt like we’d been nuked, for time was running out for us & we’d have to take a firm decision on what our next step should be. An animated discussion later, the writing was on the wall for all of us, as it dawned upon us, that home would be the general direction where we’d be headed next. Of-course, the still lay the dilemma of having to decide upon the route to take, for we could either take the Kargil-Srinagar-Chandigarh way or go via Sarchu-Keylong-Manali. Word was that communal tensions had erupted in Kargil & Kishtwar, and a curfew had been imposed there. The tele-calls that followed were all aimed at clearing out the air over the situation on the ground there. I wanted to complete the full circle via Srinagar, while the others wanted to go by the route we had come. By general consensus, it was soon decided to take the Keylong-Manali route, visit the Tso-Moriri Lake & go on further. I had agreed to go by that route but I didn’t want to ride those roads again nor would I give my bike to anyone else to ride it. I decided to take a hitch from any Manali going truck. Ani too had done the same thing, when he’d ferried his rented bike from Leh to Manali by truck the last time around. I was ready to shell out money for the same as I was in no mood to drive further. The Pangong setback had been a lil’ too much to accept. We went to the local logistics bay to lookout for anybody going towards Manali but this day seemed to be jinxed as I could not find anyone going towards Manali. By that time Inder had again gotten a call from his Mom/Dad. It was quite obvious that he was in deep trouble & have to face the consequences once he`d reach home. Now he was hell bent on going via Kargil as he could not afford to put his phone out of network again for 2 days. So we again changed our route pan & set off for Kargil amidst the rains. The single winding road offered quite the view and brought back memories of the Mori planes. We stopped at Gurudwara Pathar Sahib, which was 25-30 kms from Leh & was maintained by the Indian Army. Inder & Gagan were eager to go & offer their prayers. Inder definitely could do with some help from The Almighty 😀 . The famous Magnetic Hill point approached where we could see the cars parked on a particular point to feel the power of the loadstones. Well, we did try replicating it, but, we simply could not experience the magnetic powers. Inder raced his bike up the hill, but he too felt nothing. It was then that we came to know, that the effect could only be felt in cars & not bikes. So all we could do was click photos & keep the train moving as we had to cover around 220 kms. We had hit the National Highway 1D & were about 30-40 kms away from Fotu La Pass when I suffered a 2nd puncture. A screw had lodged itself into the rear tire and it was left to our resident puncture removal experts – Gagan & Jeeta who turned things around in under 20 minutes! As Sushil & Inder went to a local puncture shop to get the rest of the tubes fixed. I decided to play Food-Santa & got us some piping hot “pakoras” to feed our tummies. Back on the road, we soon crossed Fotu La Pass ,refuelled our bikes at Zanskar Valley where it has a petrol pump that is operated manually. Next stop was at Budh Kharbu where it was time for a Maggi & tea break. The roads were getting narrower gradually as we passed through dense woods. It was dark, but with the bright headlights to point us in the right direction, we did make brisk progress. A few spots though, did seem quite spooky, nevertheless. We also came across the riders we met at Pang, who were on their way back. The reason I was pretty sure about the group was that I had spotted the Duke 200 😀 . Me and Jeeta were chatting up when we saw a fox cross us. We were expecting a few more wild animals to spot but we didn’t. One thing about my pal Jeeta, is that when he’s with you, there’s never a boring or dull moment. Just before we were about to hit the main roads , Jeeta poked & pointed me to a solitary dimly lit house in a dingy forest type area saying “something is fishy about this house”. I ignored him & kept going on that in another 3 kms he pointed out to another lone house with bulbs flickering in it repeating the same line. I got what was on his mind & replied back saying that it could probably be one of the breeding base of terrorists who were being trained & brain-washed. Oh yes!!! The trick worked & he got totally spooked out! Passing by few damaged homes with Urdu scribbled all over the walls actually made him think all stuff which was freaking him out. I really was trying hard to hold in my laughter as we rolled into the main city of Kargil. The roads at that late hour were totally deserted & the lights were out too. We spotted a hotel named Zojila Residency but it seemed to be on an expensive side. That mattered little though, for we were quite literally, standing in the middle of nowhere. With Sushil & Gagan gone to inquire about the tarrif, a Maruti 800 stopped by us. A guy asked me if we were looking for a place to stay to which I promptly replied. On hearing my response , the guy switched on the reading lights or whatever it is called as & Whoa !!! That car was loaded with 8 bearded men, all looking at us. I didn’t give much thought to it as they looked like locals but somehow, Gagan was sceptical about the guys offering to help. Jeeta & Gagan did check out the place & when they came back , Gagan was equally spooked like Jeeta was earlier. He described the place a dingy dormitory with random people sleeping there. No family was present & putting up there. Hearing all this definitely created a stir in everyone`s mind & we headed back to Zojila Residency. We got 3 rooms for a nominal rate after some bargaining, had a nice hot water bath at 11pm , gorged on chicken & called it a night. I just didn`t feel like going back home 🙂
Day 9 : Waking up that morning, we were overjoyed by the sight of the clouds hovering above the Suru River & knew immediately, what a great choice we’d made in selecting this hotel. It was to be a fruitarian breakfast, as we wanted to head over to Dras, to meet one of Gagan’s relative who had been posted there. I have to admit, there really is no other place in India that could be more beautiful than Kashmir. I have stayed in the West, visited the North-East, been down South even, but nothing that would amaze me like I have been witnessing for the past 5 days. This truly is beauty at its purest & this is why I believe Kashmir is termed as “Jannat”. The cool wind in the air, the sound of the Indus & the rumble of the Royal Enfield is an experience that is completely inevitable. But I was anxiously looking forward to the Kargil War Memorial. My pilot friend Rajat had told me about his visit last year that there IS something about this place that you cannot forget. We parked our rides & were welcomed by a sentry with the big curly moustache at the entrance. A defunct MIG-22 was at display that had created havoc in the war. Bunkers & tanks used by Pakistan were displayed that were captured by our brave Indian Army. As you walk further towards the memorial, you can see the battleground of Operation Vijay; Tololing Hill & the Tiger Hill; in the backdrop. A poem composed by Harivansh Rai Bachchan was inscribed on the memorial. The song “Aye Mere Vatan Ke Logo” was playing on the speakers while I was looking at the names of the martyrs on the Memorial Wall. Phew! It was hard to control my emotions as tears welled up even before I realized them. On the left side of the memorial, tombstones were laid out in the memory of the valiant. I could imagine the war scene in my head & I had goose bumps all over me. We saluted the heroes & paid our homage to the ones who had laid down their lives for a safe tomorrow. As we began our journey back, my sombre mood was cut short by a distinct hissing sound from my bike. The tube was leaking again but on a very low intensity. The smooth narrow roads led us to Dras where we stopped for the lunch invitation by Gagan`s relative. In the meanwhile, I went up to a local tire shop to get the 3rd puncture fixed. This time it was not just a puncture, there was a gash on the tire which created a fissure & the tube had started to leak. Got the tire fixed ASAP, grabbed lunch & set off for the deadly Zojila Pass. Now, before you begin for Zojila Pass, you must inquire & confirm with the locals if it`s open or not because just like Rohtang Pass, it could be shut due to the omnipresent landslides or another unstoppable force of mother nature. Just before our trip, a landslide had damaged a section of the pass, but since this is the only lifeline for Ladakh, the BRO (Border Roads Organization – May the Heavens bless them for their services) was fast enough to fix it up. A huge board welcomes you right at the starting of the pass. Initially the roads were wide & made of cement blocks. It was wide enough for 3 vehicles to drive along you. We also noticed that the army convoy had started , so we hit the accelerator a bit as we did not want to get stuck nowhere in the middle of this pass. The entire convoy could be seen from far away. It looked like an ant line crawling slowly up the blacktop. As the road got narrower, the slushy and rocky bits began to make their appearance. The dangerous part was riding in the slush where we had to keep our bikes moving, balancing well enough to prevent ourselves from skidding off. For stopping meant getting stuck and once that happened, then getting out of the much was always a long drawn out & painful ordeal. We reached “India Gate” where we saw that a different route was made only for the convoy. Snipers were sitting keeping a vigil & guarding the point. The downhill was even scarier. No roads, all rocks & mud. The front brakes were put to good use, & we were relieved to have them pass the test with flying colours.. Soon we were out there enchanted by the beauty of Sonamarg & Srinagar. We stopped at the restaurant for dinner which I had visited 4 years back. Ahdoos is the name of the hotel & it`s a highly recommended one for Kashmiri delicacy lovers. We hogged on Mutton Rogan Josh, Goshtaba, Rista , Khamiri Roti & Mutton Biryani to our fill and just paid 2200 bucks for the awesome-est dinner in these traveling days. My previous company`s colleague who is a resident of Srinagar had informed me about next day curfew that was to be imposed indefinitely so we headed towards Anantnag which was another 60 kms from Srinagar. Though it was very late in the night, we dragged ourselves till there & crashed in a small motel on the main junction of Anantnag.
Day 10 & 11 : I`d be penning down the last 2 days together as there is not much to say considering that after close to 9 hard days of riding, we were now quite eager to reach home on time. We started off from Anantnag so that we could reach Jammu & ride along further till we found a common place to stay. As said earlier, due to the curfew & the riots at Kishtwar , the CRPF was out on the highway in huge numbers. We also saw more than over 100 CRPF buses & Army convoys pouring in from various states to keep a tight vigil. It must have been tense situation out because we were out of news updates. By the time we hit the hilly roads of Patnitop, the rain-gods had decided to pour down on us. My bike`s chain-set got a little cranky at this and the troubles soon began. It was a real pain riding amidst the traffic as later we had come to know the roads connecting between Jammu & Anatnag had been shut down due to security reasons. The major concern was that there was no place to eat in between. All the food joints were shut at Banihal & we could only look for some respite for our hunger at Ramban which was another 40 kms from there. We found a sole eatery at Ramban that could only offer us “Dal-Roti”, so we decided to hog on that. The rains were refusing to slow down, so we started off for Patnitop for the next overnight halt. Damn my bike crawling on uphill as the locally made sprocket was wearing out fast. As we reached Patnitop , there was an another blockade but bikes were allowed to pass through. The weather too had cleared by afternoon, so we decided to trip along till Udhampur or Jammu. It was a total downhill road & we reached Udhampur in an hour where I found a RE mechanic to replace the sprocket. The Machismo too had its front & rear brakes worn out & it would take time to fix both the bikes. It was here then when the group decided to split. Jeeta & Sushil planned to drive down till Gurgaon. Inder, Sahil & Gagan went up till Ludhiana while me & Ani had deiced for a night halt at Pathankot where my uncle had already made arrangements for the stay. It was hardly 10 minutes that they all had left, Sushil called & informed that Gagan`s chain-set had come off the sprocket. So before the shop would close, we had to wait for Gagan & Inder to arrive. With all the rides fixed & tuned, we set off for Pathankot & Ludhiana respectively via the Samba route. This route again reminded us of Rohtang as it was only slush & muddy roads with our bikes drifting here & there. Gagan unfortunately crashed on the edges of the cliffs not once but twice. Well he was always a speedy one & it was bound to happen. At one bend on the downhill, Ani was behind me & the moment I took a turn, I could see the lights go off suddenly behind me. Gosh, I thought Ani had skidded off the cliff!!! Gagan & Inder were too far ahead & there was no network as well. I was standing there stunned & helpless only to feel the Machismo almost crush my left feet with its front tires: P . This guy was safe!! We shared a small moment of laughter after I told him on what I was thinking. We came across a huge slush patch where even the trucks had stopped as one of them had got stuck in the muck but the drivers out there helped us weave between the trucks only to reach at a T-point with no directions mentioned. Somehow the phone signals were back & we could locate ourselves & look for directions with the GPS. We had hit the highway now & headed straight for Pathankot but by then Inder & Gagan were already riding continuously till Ludhiana. We reached Pathankot , stopped at a Dhaba for dinner & settled down at Army mess. Now that it was just me & Ani on the last day of our trip, we had initially planned to stop at Chandigarh for a halt & then on Monday morning we`d leave for home. But since we had the entire day & the highway out in front of us, we straight away drove down 500 kms to Home Sweet Home , taking lunch & dinner breaks at McDonalds & KFC. I swear both the food breaks were heavenly but I already disliked the life at lower altitudes!!! 😉 . So that`s it, I guess. My dream trip had come true & I have now shared with you’ll the tale behind. How, “Bulleteerism Got Leh-d!”
Every trip brings with it a bagful of learning, & this one taught us lessons that are going to stay on with me for life.
- Discipline & punctuality is a must for any trip. Our lethargy during the day had us riding after sun-down. Not a good thing considering the dangers it exposed us to. From here on, night-rides on the bike would be limited to short distances & on familiar roads.
- Co-ordination & riding in formation is a must when there are more than 3 bikes on a trip. Racing, against others or even amongst the riding team should be strongly discouraged.
- A fresh set of tires are a must when you plan to ride to Leh-Ladakh, because you would come across all types of terrains.
- A puncture repair kit for the stock tires & tubeless tires is a must with spare tubes.Make sure the existing chain-set is new or get the chain slack fixed because with all the luggage & pillion, it should be able to take the strain.
- Keep medicines handy & accessible.
- Keep your friends / parents informed about your whereabouts, at all times. Things can & do go wrong on a trip. Having someone in the know about your route plan could just save a lot of trouble & hardship.
I hope you had a pleasurable time reading my first blog ever, will look forward to your comments & suggestions for improvement. But before you do that, do read below to know more about the ones that have helped me reach this far… You could also check out the album for the same here 🙂
Acknowledging the one’s that cheered me along!
A big shout-out & thanks goes to Jeeta as with his presence & enthusiasm around, you could never give up at any point of time. The same goes to Gagan, as with his help, fixing punctures with patience made it a cakewalk. Thanks to Sushil for his wit & humour to keep Jeeta on the track all the time ;). To Inder & Sahil for keeping the trip interesting (also missing out on Pangong Tso due to the constant calls from his mom). To my bro Ani for accompanying me (RVFC Forever!!). To my Fareportal mentor Keshav for letting the dream come true. Last but not the least, a big thanks to Tanmay for reviewing my blog :). Though the heartache for missing out on the lakes remains, come 2014, I`d conquer you again!!