Biking @ Ladakh – Part I (Journey To Leh)

This was a 15 day bike trip in Ladakh. I decided to share my experience here by making it a 3 part series. The first one is about the journey to Leh. I shared some of the notes i have taken down during and trip and did not modify it to preserve the authenticity. This is the first time iam tryig out this kind of travelog so let me know how you guys feel.  I have added a funny incidence section and my personal account of the trip too.

Day 1: (To Rupnagar, Punjab)

Travelog:

Ankur's Place, Noida

Ankur's Place, Noida

  • Started From Noida at 11:00 am, heavy traffic and pollution. First signs of trouble observed in Sharyathi’s bike
  • Stopped for lunch at a place called Ambala. Famously known for its Dhaba’s, one in particular Puran Singh Dhaba. Apparently there are 22 Dhaba’s with the same name there, and we assumed we ate in the original one. The food was average in my opinion, so iam assuming that it was not the right one.
  • Rest of day passed by uneventful until we reached Rupnagar for the night.
  • Hunting for right place to stay in a small town was always a pain and this was no exception. Over priced rooms were the way of life in this small town and being outsiders didn’t help the situation. Few smart folks in our gang managed to find a decent accommodation for the night.
  • On reaching the hotel we realized that GK, one of our gang members had not arrived. Later we learn’t that his bike had starting problem and he was left behind. Two others went back to help him.
  • An hour later, the three arrived huffing and puffing and recited us the whole story. It turned out that neither of them could start the bike and they pushed 3 kms only to realize that the tiny little switch to engine ignition has been switched off accidentally. 3 engineers couldnt figure out that goofup.
  • I got a heat boil on my chest which became the topic of discussion as we sat down to eat! Ever heard of the word “Disgusting”? That word is not found in our vocabulary.

Bloopers/Bike Failures Counter/Road Condition On Avg : Sharyathi’s Bike Issue, GK Engine switch blooper, Roads excellent.

Day 2: (To Manali, Himachal Pradesh)

Road To Manali

Road To Manali

Travelog:

  • Skipping breakfast has become a way of life during this trek and the reason always pointed to delayed start. 7:00 am is when we took off from Rupnagar towards Manali.
  • A very pleasant journey with very good roads and wonderful view points. First problem was waiting to happen and it did around 10:00 am when GK reported a clutch wire failure.
  • Temporary fix to GK’s clutch wire saved us sometime but it was soon Sharyathi’s bike to complain about its engine misfiring.
  • Next stop, Bilaspur, HP to find a mechanic and get the bikes fixed. GK’s clutch wire problem was not fixed due to unavailability of spare parts. Quick breakfast here before we pushed on.
  • Late lunch at Mandi, HP. The road was excellent so many of us made up for the lost time.
Beas River

Beas River

  • Reached Kullu, HP at 4:30 pm and another major timer problem in Sharyathi’s bike. Spent sometime near Beas River near Kullu while Sharyathi pushed on to Manali
  • In Manali, all the bikes were serviced and an important decision of leave behind Sharyathi’s bike was made. Shopping for last minute items done.

Bloopers/Bike Failure Counters/Road Condition On Avg : Sharyathi’s Bike timer issue, GK’s Bike clutch wire issue, Excellent Roads.

Funny Incidents:

  • 2 hours after Sharyathi expressed confidence in his bike, it gave away to “putts and purr”.
  • Me, the group cashier ended up giving 15000 when asked for 5000. To this day i dont know how i could have miscalculated. May be some hot chick came on tv? Btw, money was in safe hands. It was Ankur who asked for the money.

Personal Thoughts :

On a heavy traffic trail from Bilaspur one would usually expect to see lots of greenery on the way. The feeling of inefficacy hit me real hard like the way one feels waking up from slumber after a trip down the cloud cuckoo land. With my lung filled with pollutants I was hoping for a breath of fresh air. For a while it was nothing more than a quotidian commute and a mild headache was not helping the situation too. Finally when we hit the hills I could breathe easy. The traffic had thinned down which gave a sense of elation. All this while I was riding solo so I had all the time in the world to get lost in contemplation. Mind turned poetic and soon found myself coming out with creative thoughts on anything in the line of sight. An example I could vividly remember is walking through the lush green land on both side of road and finding a road less traveled which would take me to a very beautiful and unusual place where exits a fraternity of travelers seeking route to the mystic land. All that doesn’t make sense now, but at that moment at that time it really did. Such was the beauty of the place. An unbearable loud pitched noise filled the air brining me back to reality of the road and had to screech to a halt. The big truck driver was frustrated as he could not overtake a slow moving two wheeler for a longtime. I also came into realization that my fellow bikers were not to be seen. I had to wait for them to catch up. Only later I learn’t that one of the bikes had a problem and thus the delay. The ride in the afternoon was not so pleasant as I would have liked. It was quite hot and the rest of the day was spent trying to make the distance to Manali before sunset. Manali looked like a town straight out of Tim Burtan’s film. It has a few elegant view points on otherwise claustrophobic town. The winter are supposed to make this town beautiful with the snowfall and thus attracts tourists from all over the country and abroad. My aversion towards touristy places might have weighed low on the judgment, none the less I couldn’t see the beauty of this town.

Day 3: (To Darcha, Ladakh)

Travelog:

Way To Rhotang La

Way To Rhotang La

  • Started for Darcha at 7:10 a.m on a rainy day. First point to cover was Rohtang La (Rohtang Pass). Rain was not going to help us. We met some people on the way who had flat tyres.
  • Rohtang pass is known for its traffic jams and we were greeted with one.  After an hour long delay we pushed on those slippery roads. Sharyathi had a fall when his bike skid in the slush. No one was hurt.
  • First signs of High Altitude Sickness kicked in for couple of us and Diomax did the trick.
Rhotang La

Rhotang La

  • Lunch was at Rohtang Pass, and only thing we got there was maggie and boiled eggs
  • UD’s bike had to be halted as the cleaning cloth got sucked into the chain chamber. Another hour delay to get that cleaned up.
  • Mohit’s bike got caught in loose sand and he fell with the bike on top of him. He was unhurt.
  • The next stop was Tandi, Ladakh. Its known to be last petrol bunk for next 360 odd kms. We had to get all the cans filled with petrol.
Last Petrol Bunk @ Tandi

Last Petrol Bunk @ Tandi

  • 8km later we reached Keylong and we got our bikes checked. One main problem was with GK’s bike, it had a broken engine oil cap. Although the lid was closed it had small hole on top through which dust was seeping through and we had to stop it. To refill engine oil we had no option but to use a syringe to pour oil. We were desperate to fix this problem but we could not find the spares in Keylong.
  • We met another group of bikers called Keerthi Darshan and some details from them and then pushed off to Darcha
  • We spent the night there in a nice comfortable tent run by few locals. Sharyathi found the girl owning the tent “cute”. This was enough for us to pull his leg for rest of the trip.
  • Hot paraths and chai was a welcomed change to our regular maggie diet.
  • At night, folks suddenly decided to try out their photography skills by capturing the magnificent sky. All attempts failed.

Bloopers/ Bike Failures/Road Condition On Avg: Sharyathi falls at Rhotang La, Mohit falls after crossing Rhotang La, My bike had a break down due to cloth getting stuck, GK’s bike had issues with engine oil cap, The roads were very bad.

Funny Incidents:

  • In Rhotang pass Ankur’s bike got stuck in sand and we were helping him by pushing the bike while he was trying to accelerate. The bike was not budging a bit and he noticed that the tyre was not rotating even with acceleration, so concluded that there was a chain problem. It took a moment to realize that he was on neutral when he was trying out this stunt. Low oxygen level does hamper thinking.
  • Mohit’s bike fell on him but he was lucky as the luggages on both sides of the bike prevented the bike from falling on his legs. He was just relaxing in the same position till someone came over to help him. It was a funny sight to see how lazy a man can get. He was too lazy to try to get out of that position.
  • Ashish and GK had gone in search of the engine oil cap when they discovered that the bike was not able to pull the heavy Ashish on first gear. Only when he got down the bike moved.

Personal Thoughts:

“Slippery when wet” was the phrase that was running through my head repeatedly like a piece of film rolling over and over again on a projector starting and ending with warning symbols, as I was driving to Rhotang pass on a rainy day. It is said that in these parts of the country the weather is almost unpredictable. The rains soon gave away for the much awaited sun, but by then the damage was done. The mud roads have become extremely slippery and slushy making it difficult to drive. Apart from the clamor of the truck engines struggling to climb the steep hairpin bends, there was eerie silence in the air. The mountain was covered with lush green forest and a tiny stream of water flowing through the majestic greenery with white clouds floating in a surrealistic manner dazzles every traveler on the road. The drive was rather an bumpy affair and does not let one really enjoy the scenery. A state of brooding disquietude kicked in a few moments after the beverage break. My guess was High Altitude Sickness which was caused due to low oxygen levels. A bizarre dopey feeling clouded my head making it impossible to concentrate on the road. Male ego, a root cause of various problems, a notion I always fought against soon took control of me. Unable to accept the fact that my fit body would surrender to this sickness and also to the fact that my pillion rider suffering from acute headache made me push on without complaints. Looking back, this would go down as the most foolish thing I have ever done on this trip. Luckily nothing bad happened as the problem faded away during the descent. Riding the bike through all the slushy mud was not only challenging but also dangerous. A slip near the edge of the road could be fatal. The traffic jam made the situation only worse. Apart from few slips all of us cleared the hurdle without a scratch. I was particularly proud of my driving skills as I crossed the pass without a slip.

Day 4: (To Pang, Ladakh)

Travelog:

Bikes Parked At Sarchu Camp

Bikes Parked At Darcha Camp

  • We got up quite early in the morning around 4:30 a.m. Since it was a tent we had to great wide open for nature calls. Some of us had a difficult time downloading due to extreme cold.
  • Breakfast was served and we started quite late even though we got up quite early. Again troubles with GK’s bike. This time it was a petrol leak. Some innovative ideas helped seal the leak.
  • The first stop was around 11:00 am at a place called Sarchu, Ladakh. Like any other place it had only tents and the food available was maggie. Maggie, boiled egg and coke was all we had to stuff ourselves with.
  • Most of our bikes were having difficulties climbing even in first gear due to low oxygen levels. This was causing a serious problem when the climb was for a hairpin bend. Various clutch releasing techniques came in handy and were able to move on without a problem.
A Lovely Little Lake On The Way To Pang

A Lovely Little Lake On The Way To Pang

  • GK was the one who was suffering from Altitude sickness and he had to take Diomax quite often, rest of us were ok.
Lachulung La

Lachulung La

  • We ran out of water was seriously thirsty. Luckily when we reached Lachulung La we got some water from a European Couple.
A Beautiful Yet Harsh Terrain

A Beautiful Yet Harsh Terrain

  • A beautiful stream of water was very inviting for most of us. We washed ourselves and drank that water. It was very cold but clean.
  • Before we reached Pang there was a police check point where we were needed to get our vehicle registered. Two of our bikes jumped the police post. The police man was quite angry with us for pulling such a stunt.
  • We reached Pang by 5:00 pm and found ourselves a decent place to stay. Again it was a tent accommodation.

Bloopers/Bike Failure Counter/Road Conditions On Avg: GK’s bike had a petrol leak, My bike wont climb with Ashish as pillion rider, Sharyathi Banged Into Ankur’s Bike, Road conditions was average.

Funny Incidences:

  • Poetic thoughts came into UD’s mind when he was crapping. He claimed that it was due to the scene in front of him where there was a cascade of mountains with yellow rising sun and a stream of water flowing. This is the poem he composed during his rendezvous with mother nature.

What a view when i was at the loo,

It could have been to a fortunate few,

Slowly the sun grew,

Giving a  yellow hue,

When i was doing poo

  • My bike struggled to climb with Ashish as pillion rider. At a steep curve my bike refused to budge and so i asked Ashish to get down. As he was getting down the fat dude managed to get his legs tangled against the luggage and had a great fall. It was definitely the case of “Humty dumpty sat on the wall, humty dumpty had a great fall”. It was indeed a funny sight.
  • On the way a truck driver stopped us and asked for “Oxygen Goli” which meant Diamox, but many of us misheard as “Bhori”
  • Sharyathi was hell bent on using the Slumdog Millionaire style toilet as opposed to great wide open.

Personal Thoughts:

Friendly truck drivers, disciplined military trucks paint the scene as we entered Ladakh. Journeying through 3 different states made me realize that people here were lot more honest, friendly and helpful and for a city dwelling punk like me its a pleasant surprise. I have to admit that during first few hours of the drive my mind was blank. I did not cotton to the landscapes that unfolded in front of me on every corner of the road like a mythical land where giant creatures in form of mountains raising up to greet the sun paving way to lesser mortals like me to gasp at the very sight of it. My mind was not completely blank but was trying to transcribe the constant drone behind my back. It was my pillion rider who was giving live commentary for the video recording. A small piece of sky fallen on a light brown land surrounded on all sides with elevated rocky structures with a white ca. Thats how I would describe the small lake that we found on our way to Pang. The color of the water was deep blue shade something I have never seen in my life. Driving further there were series of naturally sculptured rocks which displayed its unique beauty. An imaginative mind and time to stare long enough is sure to produce strange result. I could see an epic battle being played out pictorially, although iam not sure of the exact battle, I could easily visualize middle earth and few warriors from starwars. I did not intent to put this on a blog as it might seem crazy for a reader who were not there in the very same location but then I believe the imagination would be completely different for other people. Pang has nothing but couple of large white tents for travelers like us. The people in this small community have pact that they would charge the exact same price for the stay in their tents and will allow no room for bargain. Is this Socialism? So, the only way for them to attract customers is to provide the best comfort as possible. I was amazed at the enthusiasm shown by this 40 + year old lady who was the owner of the tent we were staying. The whole store she had inside the tent was for us to use and she did not keep account of the goodies we were consuming. It was left for us to keep track. Such a gesture of trust is rare to find these days and not a moment during our stay did a thought of cheating her ever occurred to us.

Day 5: (To Leh)

Travelog:

Restroom @ Pang!

Restroom @ Pang!

  • Day started for most of us 5:00 am. It was very cold outside and we had to attend nature calls and get ready.
  • Hot aloo parathas was served with chai. After a very heavy breakfast we started off towards Leh.
  • The ride was through a desert and there was literally no road and we were allowed to roam freely. The whole place was filled with sand and many of us had hard time maneuvering the bike.
Desert Ride To Leh

Desert Ride To Leh

  • This was first time we had to use the petrol cans we had carried. Our bikes were running out of petrol and so we stopped for a fuel break. As usual its was GK’s bike that needed most fuel.
  • We faced a traffic jam middle of nowhere. A army truck had flat tyre and so we had to wait till its fixed.
  • Our next destination was Taglang La. The second highest motorable pass in the world. It was wonderful sight.
Taglang La

Taglang La

  • We were delayed a bit when some army VIPs wanted to pass a bridge which was one way. So we were asked to stop until they crossed.
  • We stopped at Upshi for late lunch and then pushed off to Leh.
Yet Another View From Taglang La

Yet Another View From Taglang La

  • Reached Leh around 4:00 pm and found a good place to stay. Its important that we find a nice place, as this will be our start point for the rest of the 5 days. The prices are totally negotiable and with good bargaining skills one can get very good accommodation
  • The evening was spent exploring the town and later that day settled down to booze.

Bloopers/Bike Failure Counter/Road Condition On Avg: I had a fall while driving through sand, Roads were about average.

Funny Incidences:

  • UD had a temporary memory loss, he was not able to remember anything after every few minutes.
  • UD made a statement “mere pass sub kuch chota chota hai”. Iam not sure what he was refereing to.
  • In the evening at Leh most of us split up and went exploring. By night time we realized that it was not possible to call others up to know their location so that we could meet up for dinner and booze. The mobile network had an issue that day. By some magical means all of us ended up in the same resturant around the sametime. Was that Telepathy? Or just smell of booze?

Personal Thoughts:

“ Holy crap! Am I in hell’s paradise? ” . Isn’t it funny that such a statement can crop up in your head when its obvious that it makes no logical sense? Holy and Crap has absolutely no connection and so does Hell and Paradise. Yet that illogical statement make the perfect sense when you get the first glance of the vast deserted terrain with absolutely no living things apart from us. Inspite of this vastness of barren landscapes it beholds one of the most breathtaking view I have ever seen in my life. As you drive in this terrain you soon realize that there is nothing much to do except gasp at the surroundings. I remember not talking during the journey except for occasional “oops sorry” to my pillion rider when I hit a rough patch without slowing down. A very strange thought process was turning the wheels inside my head. I imagined what power did I have to stand against these huge majestic mountains? Assuming that these mountains come alive they would be nothing less than a gigantic beast and if I were to fight against these even a nuclear bomb would not stop them. I would probably kill myself by using those bombs and may be destroy a few, but there are too many of these beasts out there that can crush me like a ant. As I pen down these thoughts it sounds like a child’s fantasy but believe me it wasn’t so when I had experienced it first hand. For an atheist like myself this is closest one can get to feel the power of something much bigger than oneself. I felt so weak and helpless on the thought of climbing one of those mountains and hanging on at the mercy of the all powerful mother nature. Just like a movie there was a scene change and the harsh terrain gave way to moderate roads that cuts through the mountains. “Take that! You mountain beast” I thought chuckling to myself as I marveled at the human inroads across the heart of the desert. Situation change, I find myself in a traffic jam caused by a military truck due to a flat tyre. We were forced to wait till the tyre is fixed. Soldiers are a breed of extraordinary people with high sense of dignity and purpose. I always admired these gallant men and this was first opportunity to see them in action with such disciple. With amazing coordinative effort they were able to clear the road block in no time. Rest of the journey to Leh was mainly on bad roads and occasionally really bad roads. Hot weather was dehydrating enough that I couldn’t think of anything apart from reaching Leh. Rest of the journey was just hazy except for some images of some of the most colorful rocks I have ever seen. Leh turned out to be a neat little town but not remotely close to the heavenly town I had in my mind. The day ended in disappointment.

For the next part of the series click here.

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6 responses to “Biking @ Ladakh – Part I (Journey To Leh)

  1. I feature in 2 of pics. I am impressed with myself!!

  2. Excellent writeup, amazing to see anyone remember vivid details (UD’s poem esp) more than a month later too !!
    The imaginary battle with mountain-beasts had me in splits ! Reminded me of Calvin-n-Hobbes’..

  3. Yeah, agree with P.. very nicely written.. looking forward to the other parts 🙂

  4. I was always mentioned as that there was some problem in “my bike” , but nowhere it mentioned that i was always given the “worst bike” or when a particular bike performing “badly” 😀 .
    I still able to link up all the events as they happened just today morning 😉
    In all, good writeup Varun … waiting for part 2 .. 🙂

  5. Hey bro,

    Very well articulated travelogue. I am planning to go onto Leh-Ladakh trip with some of my friends this July-Aug. I have a Yamaha FZ and my friend has a Yamaha R15. Pls advise if they would be good enough to travel on the terrain in this ride.

    Any other help is greatly appreciated.

    Thanks and Happy Riding
    Deepesh

  6. you’re in point of fact a just right webmaster. The website loading pace is incredible. It kind of feels that you are doing any unique trick. In addition, The contents are masterwork. you have done a excellent process in this subject!

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