The plan germinated in my mind when I met 2 guys in September 2007 who had gone for a similar ride in August 2007 and from that day I made up my mind that come the Summer of 2008 and I would also tame the rugged mountain ranges and roads of Ladakh…the first part of the plan was materialized on 6th March 2008 when I bought a second hand 2005 Bullet Electra, re-designed it and named it “The Mighty One”…then started with a small one day ride to Bhangarh, Rajasthan in mid-March and followed it with two rides to Rishikesh & Neemrana...May was spent in shopping and researching for the Ride…Thousands were spent on Shoes, Jacket, Rain Coat, Spares, a new rear Tyre, Ladakh Carrier and other minor consumables…then the final countdown started on 27th May 2008 when I pasted a white A4 Sheet on my Office Cubicle…with a 10 days countdown listed and I used to cut each passing date with excitement in my mind and belly !!! yes I was feeling quite scared as I had never rode on the mountains but the thought of reaching Khardungla Pass, the highest Motorable Road of the World at 18,380 Feet was quite overwhelming and exciting and all fears were washed away in my mind quite similar to the way Gurgaon Roads are washed away in Monsoons !!!
Then 5th June came…the feeling was unbelievable and the mind was running at the speed of the future P6 Processor!!! In the evening I bid goodbye to the office seat on which my ass was not gonna rest for the next 15 days and the long arduous journey of 2400 Kms awaited my heart, body and soul !!! I didn’t sleep properly that night for obvious reasons…and woke up very surprisingly at 6 AM in the morning without the help of an Alarm…
What follows is a day-to-day account of my 15-days ride…I would try my best to make the travelogue extremely interesting and loaded with innumerable humorous accounts of our journey...
I packed my stuff on the bike… got snaps clicked…got my Parents’ blessings and started from my home at 6:45 AM…the first stop was quite unsuitable to say the least for a Ladakh Bike Ride…the Nalli’s Saaree Showroom in South Extension where I was to meet Chaddha at 7:30 AM…he came 15 minutes late and then we started the biggest journey of our lives…with excitement in my heart…traffic on the road…shocked people on the road after seeing so much stuff loaded on my bike !!! we reached Panipat where we were to meet Dinesh (my MBA Junior & Chaddha’s pillion for the ride)…just after that we stopped for breakfast of Butter-Dripping Paranthas & Hot Tea…post that our next stop was quite obvious !!! a BEER PIT-STOP !!! the chilled beer refreshed us like crazy…the weather was perfect for a bike ride and the NH-1’s smooth roads helped us immensely for a trouble free ride to Chandigarh….the only issue was Chaddha’s constant 60 kmph riding on the NH-1 which forced me to slow down as well !!! we reached Chandigarh where MAT & JK were to meet us…they had organized this ride and I must say are the Masters of the Ladakh Route…having conquered Ladakh 9 times together !!! we met them…shopped for Dinesh’s helmet…got some minor repairs on Chaddha’s bike and reached our night halt…the Army Guest House in Sector – 21…by 8 PM Sunder, Deepak & Amit also arrived…the group was complete now…we all had an introduction session during which I convinced the entire group to take the Srinagar – Leh – Manali route rather than the Manali –Leh – Manali route to complete the full circle and also to include Kargil-Drass circuit…surprisingly everybody was convinced within 5 minutes and in that time our ride distance increased from 2400 kms to 3600 kms !!! this discussion was followed by a sumptuous dinner… in the night it started raining…and the weather became extremely pleasant…at around 11 PM we all slept as we had to wake up early the next day to start the first leg of our journey…Chandigarh to Kud ( close to Patnitop)
Day 2 (7th June 2008) (Chandigarh – Pathankot – Udhampur - Kud)
Everybody woke up all excited & geared up for the ride sharp at 5 AM amidst pitch-dark darkness (the power supply had ditched us !!!)…we all loaded our stuff onto our bikes…JK & MAT also came by 6 AM…JK`s Wife & Brother were also there to bid us a goodbye…we started sharp at 6:30 AM leaving the Chandigarh roads behind and leading towards Hoshiarpur in Punjab where one could sense the prosperity around as the villages of Punjab didn’t look like normal villages…the houses were all pucca…the roads were all smooth…and the highways amazing…so many toll junctions…I lost count !!! luckily we being on 2 wheelers didn’t have to pay any toll charge…the sunshine hit us hard and all of us decided for a Beer Pit-Stop…we stopped at a riverside resort on the J&K – Punjab Border and had a bout of Beer, Snacks & Bak...after getting relished with the Beer by late-afternoon we had touched the Jammu region and saw the first glimpse of hills !!! it was a great sight indeed to say the least as much more was expected in the days ahead…when we reached Udhampur it started to rain heavily and the roads became extremely slippery due to the slush…and I fell down on one bridges after slipping…just could not control my bike…but luckily I was just at 10-15 kmph so no major damage was done to me or the bike…after that I started to ride really slowly after measuring the road & the heavy rains made matters worse…but we kept rolling on as we never wanted to ride in the dark…but then we lost Chaddha & Dinesh…all of us got scared…he was also not picking his phone…me, JK & MAT stopped and started waiting for him praying all the time…after around 20 odd minutes Chaddha Paaji appeared…tugging along like a fighter…all drenched !!! (His raincoat was fuckall !!!)…we all heaved a sigh of relief and by 7 PM reached the JK Tourism Kud Guesthouse which was an amazing place to stay in…all wooden flooring & walls !!! and extremely cozy…though quite ironic for a bunch of bikers !!! it was more apt for honeymooning couples !!! we had a Beer session followed by some pretty awful dinner at a small lil joint but still enjoyed the Bak session completely !!! all of us had opened up quite a lot…it was really quick as all of us barring some had met each other for the first time just a day back !!! (except me, Chaddha & Dinesh who know each other since 2002 being in the same B-School)…all of us slept close to Midnight with another great day waiting for us !!!
Day 3 (8th June 2008) ( Kud – Patnitop – Jawahar Tunnel – Srinagar)
We all woke up to a chilly & misty morning with an amazing scenery infront of our rooms…it made us fresh in no time and we were ready to rule the roads again by 7 AM…as soon as we started, it began to rain heavily…the raincoats came out and we continued on the extremely good roads with loads & loads of curves greeting us…some patches were really muddy due to construction going on but all-in-all it was a great ride…we stopped en-route for a light breakfast of Tea & Biscuits and kept charging on…our final destination was Srinagar…by noon the weather Gods relented and the sunshine came back…the roads also became much better…we crossed the Jawahar Tunnel which connects the Jammu region to the Kashmir Region…I had always wanted to cross this on my bike as I had heard so much about it…and then we entered the Kashmir Valley…another great sight…we stopped at a view-point site amidst CRPF soldiers whose jaws dropped when they heard that we were riding all the way from Delhi…after enjoying the view, clicking pics and having a Sutta we started the final leg towards Srinagar…the sight of Army/CRPF trucks & Soldiers was becoming a common phenomenon with our bikes passing hundreds of trucks on the way…and all of them watching us with awe-struck eyes !!! and we all feeling very proud !!! we reached Srinagar by late afternoon and began scouting for a House Boat on the world-famous Dal Lake…struck a deal in the second attempt…parked our bikes safely…carried all our luggage onto Shikaras and reached our House Boat…all of us freshened up and got ready for the next plans…I went with Chaddha to enjoy a rich & delicious Kashmiri meal which I never wanted to miss…it was 6 PM…quite a surprising time to have lunch but I knew I won’t be able to come out in the night once we settle down in the House Boat…Sunder & Deepak went to get Beer & a bottle of RC ( Not Royal Challenge but Riches & Crown!!!)…the view from our balcony was breathtaking !!! I had enjoyed this view in August 2007 when I came for a Kashmir Trip…all of the guys barring me, JK & MAT went for an evening Shikara Ride which was very very long indeed…Pandit came back after getting looted big time for Kesar !!! he bought duplicate stuff for 1000 bucks but being the filthy rich guy he didn’t budge a lot !!!...I sat down and started to contemplate so many things…watching into the sky and the water ripples on the lake…it was an amazing sight with the lights across the lake making weird designs on the water surface !!! our House Boat owner took down the order for Dinner…it was simply amazing…Rajma Chawal, Gobhi Aloo & Mutton Curry !!! pure kashmiri taste…and after the Beer it tasted even better !!! there was a longish Bak session which followed with more Beer & RC and nobody wanted to sleep but still we had to considering the next day was going to be a long day…by 1 AM we were all in the beds and all snuggled up !!!
Day 4 (9th June 2008) (Srinagar- Zojila Pass – Gumri - Drass - Kargil)
This was one of the most eventful days of our entire ride with loads of mishaps & fights on the way mixed with really bad roads, amazing scenery & crossing of our First Pass – the all too mighty Zojila Pass…it started on a really bright note though…the brilliant Srinagar – Sonamarg Road with the Thajawas Glacier greeting us and the Jhelum River flowing all the way with us as if providing us solidarity & support !!! we had started at sharp 7 AM and wanted to reach the Zojila Pass road by 8:30 AM as after that it is blocked for all vehicles to allow the Army Convoy Trucks to pass through…we clicked some amazing pics on the way with me, Deepak & Sunder posing merrily for the camera !!! reached the check point at 8:45 AM and surprisingly the soldiers allowed us through and not letting the bigger vehicles to go through…this ensured that the roads were all empty and we were literally ruling the roads !!! and within no time we reached the starting Point of the Mighty Zojila Pass with boards warning us for the bad quality of roads ahead…we all gathered courage and prayed to the Almighty and started the ascent…all sorts of things were going through in my mind…feelings of Pride, Fear and anxiety as this was the first time I was crossing such a high Mountain Pass…but it was an amazing feeling of victory !!! and I won’t be forgetting it ever !!! we all stopped some 3 kms into the pass and waited for all the riders to come and then go together…Sunder & Deepak were with me all the way, soon Pandit, Chaddha & Dinesh joined in…but no sight of MAT & JK which was quite surprising as it had been decided that JK would lead the pack & MAT would trail the pack of riders…we kept on waiting for some good 30-40 minutes and then started to worry as our phones were not working and an Army phone nearby was also not functioning so no contact with them !!! and we were really worried as we could not go back and didn’t want to move ahead…it was quite a bad time for all of us…amidst this I had a fight with Pandit over whether to move ahead or not as I wanted to wait for them but he was feeling hungry…I blasted & abused him but then the good fella Sunder calmed us down and we all moved ahead…then we halted at Gumri where some Blasts were taking place to clear away the mountains to make roads and the traffic was closed...we found it to be a great opportunity for a quik tea & snack...we had samosas & tea there...an Army Officer was so impressed by my bike that he requested me to ride it and enjoy the Mighty One...I happily obliged and he had a short little ride...just after that Sunder found out that there was some beer cans in his bag which we could use to spend some time !!! we chilled the cans in the chilled waters of a river stream flowing through and enjoyed it sitting on the riverside...another scene which we would never forget !!! our next destination was Drass so that we could all have lunch and try contacting them over phone…but sadly their phones were not reachable…we enjoyed our Chicken Curry meal at a small Dhaba in Drass…took pics of the Tiger Hill…another wish granted as I always wanted to see Tiger Hill and just feel the Indian Victory in the 1999 Kargil War in my heart !!! all of us called up home as we had access to a PCO…I also had a haircut at a small shop…with the words “CHE” inscribed at the back of my head !!! everybody was shocked to see my new look !!!but still the JK-MAT puzzle wasn’t solved and there was no news of them but we were all relaxed as we knew that they were experts and would be successful in handling any trouble… breakdown, Traffic or accident…all this while all of us were praying for them in our minds though…we started for Kargil which was our night-halt destination as planned…en-route I lost others and stopped at the War Memorial Museum built in the memory of the soldiers who became Martyrs for our Motherland during the Kargil War…it was surely a humbling experience for me…watching memorabilia, news clips & pictures from the War…I moved on and then stopped on the highway itself to wait for others to join…I met Ladakhi school kids who were full of life & excitement after seeing a biker !!! I clicked their pics and had a wonderful time…Pandit joined me but Chaddha, Dinesh, Sunder & Deepak didn’t…both of us were now shit scared on losing everybody else and with no phone contact it was even worse…but we decided to move on and reach Kargil so that we get to a big town atleast…we were riding really slowly and luckily Chaddha & Dinesh joined us from behind but still Sunder’s bike was nowhere to be seen !!! the roads were amazing considering all the Military trucks take this route…a river was flowing all the way with us…and the hues of the mountains was changing rapidly from lush green in Kashmir to brown in Ladakh…we also saw a board showing : “Caution : You are under Enemy Observation” which meant that the Pakistani Soldiers had a clear view of the road from the high mountains above us !!! it was quite a tricky feeling just thinking that they could see the bikers on the roads with their binoculars !!! and after that another board : “Relax: You are outside the Enemy Observation area” which was surely a huge relief !!!…the 3 bikes stopped near a hill-top & a police post to wait for the rest of the gang to join…all this while the cold war between me & Pandit was going on and we were not on talking terms…me & Dinesh climbed up the hill and struck a conversation with a J&K Police guy…discussing the political scenario, educational system and general chit-chat…the Sun was going down and the anxiety was increasing each minute…but soon we got lucky and saw Sunder’s bike approaching the hill…I started to dance & shout on seeing them and was really happy !!! the relief was visible amongst all of us !!! and the good luck didn’t just end here…within minutes we could hear the thump of the 2 TBs approaching !!! we knew it was JK & MAT…the unmistakable beat as they say !!! the scene soon became emotional..all of us hugged each other and started to hear the tragedy filled story of why they got stuck !!!it was really a very long story & I would spare you reading through that !!!
While MAT was gone, JK sat alone and got bored. As if that was not enough, it started to rain heavily…When it stopped, he climbed up a hillock and met a guard and spent some time with him, it was a mutual time pass !!! JK needed some company & for the guard it was the best mate he could have asked for…That guard had been posted at the same spot for the past 1+ year. Same bend for a year with no action. The poor guy had seen the same vehicles pass the bend and the same villagers walk past him day after day.
When MAT got back, JK and MAT tried to put the new Sprocket in. The Sprocket did not match the chain. They some how managed to fit it in and then had started riding. They rode in heavy rain and through all the slush and convoys to get to Kargil in a record time of 4.5 - 5 hours and were able to join us at around 8:30 PM, they crossed hundreds of Army Trucks in a huge convoy.
And the worst was not over for them, while thundering through the torturous Zojila Pass roads JK's bike had a puncture and it took another 30 minutes to get the tube replaced !!!
But they being real road fighters, they won against all the challenges !!! Hats off to them for that feat !!! "
Day 5 (10th June 2008) (Kargil – Fotula Top - Lamayuru - Leh)
This day started on a lazy note…Kargil town is quite sleepy to say the least…coupled with this the day was quite sunny and after the mentally exhausting previous day all of us were looking forward to a much relaxed day !!! we had breakfast at a funny named Dhaba “BALTI HOTEL”…had the famous Ladakhi bread and salted Tea…was really nice…then we started on my favourite riding route of the entire journey…Kargil to Leh…the roads were surprisingly decent and the mountain views were breathtaking…plus the weather was also perfect for a long day of riding…saw some interesting Road Signs on the way like “If Married, Divorce Speed”…I am sure there is a group of some innovative thinkers working in BRO who come up with such weird signs for us riders & drivers !!! I clicked lots of pics on the way capturing the smashing natural beauty which was amazingly captivating…though I am sure no camera lens can capture the scenes which our eyes can…some of those sights won’t go out of my mind ever…saw a Buddha Statue carved on a hill…the board said that this was carved sometime in 1st century BC !!! that surely is ancient !!! the sun was becoming painful each hour but the cold winds ensured that we didn’t remove our jackets !!! soon I had enough and I stopped at a roadside shop where I played Carrom with a bunch of Buddhist Lamas !!! formed a team and lost a bet of a Mirinda Bottle !!! the entire group then stopped at that joint and we had a bout of Maggi & cold drinks…we all started to ride again in full throttle and JK then had a fall while trying to overtake me on a real steep cut…he blamed it on the Diesel spilled on the road but I am sure that was his mistake…though he never admitted it !!! his riding pants got torn on his a$$ cut !!! quite an act of luck !!! we clicked pics at the accident site and moved on…our next stop was the Fotula Top which at 13,479 feet is the highest point on the Srinagar-Leh Road…me, JK & Dinesh went right up to the top of the hill trying our hands at some trekking !!! Dinesh was the clear winner…he really went to the top but we had to shout at him and call him down as we were getting late…Chaddha, MAT & Sunder didn’t even try moving up the hill…Sunder & Deepak tried but gave up some 50 metres up !!! after the small trekking adventure we decided to move ahead and stop for Lunch near the legendary & ancient Lamayuru Monastery which has a very important place in the Buddhism history…didn’t stop there as had to reach Leh before sunset which normally used to happen very late in Ladakh… at 8 PM…we were bang on time…Leh was some 60 kms away when on a dusty, ungravelled road we had 2 mishaps one after the other !!! I had a flat tyre after a very loud bang…initially I thought my bungees snapped but on second look Sunder shouted… “Puncture hai be…rok saale !!!”…I quickly stopped and pulled out my spares bag…opened the tyre and waited for JK & MAT to come as they had the rest of the spares & the Air Pump…but when they came we had another bad news in store…MAT’s bike’s chain set again started to fuck up and we had a very long unplanned stop…but that scene was amazing…6 bikes stopped in the middle of nowhere…nobody else around else…except for some trucks passing us and blowing away lots of dust into our eyes !!! and more importantly not even bothering to stop…soon it became dark and we were still stuck…the headlights were switched on to provide better view to MAT so that he could repair his bike !!! but as always God smiled at us again and everything became perfect again amidst true biker scenery !!! the Moon shining and making all our Chrome Bikes shine !!! for the first time we did the rest of the 30 kms to Leh in a perfect formation following each other…the scene was amazing…the silence of the mountains broken by the thump of 6 beasts !!! we stopped at the Patthar Saahib Gurudwara and paid our obeisance to Guru Nanak Saahib and prayed for a safe journey ahead…this Gurudwara is run by CRPF and they are very strict regarding anybody smoking anywhere close to 100 metres of the holy place…and we had to stub out our suttas which we lighted up unknowingly !!! amidst all the breakdown mayhem we didn’t stop at the famous Magnetic Hill which is a scientific mystery !!! as our main aim was to reach Leh and we collectively gave it a miss…finally we reached Leh at 12 midnight and reached our abode for the next 2 days - Shanti Guest House…all of us unpacked our bags in pitch darkness, freshened up and had a much-awaited dinner with Beer & Rum to drive the blues of the day away !!! but with sheer excitement in our minds !!! the next day we had to conquer Khardungla Pass !!! the most important destination of for all of us !!! so we all slept…tired & exhausted after a really long & unexpected day again…and a hope in our minds that the coming few days be more relaxed and trouble-free !!!
Day 6 & 7 (11th & 12th June 2008) (2 Relaxed days in Leh)
This morning also had a bad & sad news waiting for all of us !!! due to the Sindhu Festival and the visit of the CM to inaugurate the festival, the permit for the Khardungla Pass was not available !!! so we all decided to relax through the day and wait for the permit to come the next day…visit the nearby monuments, explore the Leh City and catch up on lost sleep !!! we went to the Thiksey Monastery, Shey Palace, ordered for Ladakh Special Embroidery T-Shirts in the Leh Market and some of us even visited the Sindhu Festival…all in all it was an extremely relaxed day and gave us a great opportunity to rejuvenate ourselves for tough riding days ahead…but in the night we got the news that the Permit was still not available and another day would be wasted…so the next day again was completely tension-free and biking free !!! some of us decided to trek and visit the Shanti Stupa nearby…but I gave it a miss for obvious reasons !!! who bloody wanted to get up early if there was no biking involved !!!we again went to the Leh Market, did some tiny bit shopping and passed our time lounging around in restaurants…and when we reached our Hotel in the late evening we got the permit for Khardungla Pass and our excitement knew no bounds and we celebrated with Beer and drinks in the Dinner Hall in the Hotel with authentic Ladakhi food to boot…btw MAT found a new friend !!! a foreigner babe and completely ignored us and talked with her for some good 2-3 hours whilst all of us were busy in our Bak sessions !!! we pulled his leg throughout the ride for this but he was quite ok about the whole issue just ignoring our taunts quite coolly !!!
Day 8 (13th June 2008) (Leh – Khardungla Pass – Nubra Valley - Hunder)
The day started with unbundled energy flowing in our hearts & minds and the 18,380 feet Khardungla Pass waiting for us to get conquered by a bunch of 8 bikers !!! we started with a visit to the Petrol Pump situated at The Top of the World (the Board there says that) to get the tanks filled and start the steep ascent…from 11,500 feet (Leh) to 18,380 feet in just 39 kms which according to the plan must have taken 2-3 hours !!! and we reached the top at exact 9:15 AM and then all hell just broke loose…pics, pics & more pics !!! infront of innumerable boards blasting out that we had reached the Highest Motorable Road of the World !!! yes we all had won…6 days of fun, pain, fatigue, fights & fun…we had seen it all during this to reach the ultimate destination for every biker worth his/her blood & salt !!! and amidst all this AMS hit me badly…my head started spinning wildly and it was paining as if somebody was hitting me with a hammer continuously !!! and I am not going overboard…for people who have faced AMS would completely agree with me…its really one of the worst feelings one ever goes through…luckily Dr. MAT was with us…yes he is a qualified Doctor in addition to the most successful Biker I know of !!! he gave me some homoeopathic medicines and asked me & JK to start going downhill towards the Nubra Valley so that the AMS effect could wear down fast…the pain was going away very slowly and I could not just bear it so I rested for around 45 minutes at a BRO makeshift shed…lying flat and sleeping…soon Deepak also joined me with the same problem !!! it was fun sleeping on the dirty floor with all kinds of dirty things strewn all over but they just didn’t matter to us…what mattered was that the fuckin AMS goes away and we can ride comfortably…after the much needed rest and some bucking up from fellow riders I got on to my bike and starting chanting Che’s name in my mind to give me the energy to get over this !!! yes that was my way to win the AMS battle !!! and man I was successful…soon we were back to normal 10,000 feet and had left the snow laden mountains behind and desert terrain greeted us in Nubra Valley…after just 50 odd kms the terrain just transformed !!! it was quite shocking to say the least…we stopped at a waterfall with the water falling down quite vigorously and Dinesh out of the blue decided to take a bath…he is surely a brave & adventurous man…the rest of us opted for the safe option and just clicked pics with the mad waterfall in the background !!! by 4 PM we had reached Diskit and decided to move ahead towards Hunder and look for a place to stay overnight as we know the place ahead would be out of bounds for us as the same road leads to Thoise, which is the Military Base Camp before the Siachen Glacier…the world’s highest battlefield…then me & JK hit a goldmine !!! we found out a tiny little blue board showing the way towards a J&K “HIKERS HUT”…we went ahead to explore the place and after around 2 kms of off-roading reached one of the most amazing guest houses we all had ever seen in our lives !!! it was manned by an ex- Ladakh Scouts soldier Mr. Sonam…he was extremely happy to see us…I am sure nobody would have dared enter that terrain and reached that quaint looking place…but we just loved it and decided that we had to stay here !!! JK went back to the road and called the rest of the bikers…the place had just 2 rooms and place for 4 guys to sleep…but we were not worried at all…the place had won our hearts & minds alike !!! it was nested between high mountains and a river flowing nearby and our host was also extremely likeable…and now the best part…the tariff !!! he told us quite fearfully that he would charge us Rs. 800 for the stay and Rs. 50 per head for the food…it personified Value for Money for us…the way I had read in Kotler’s book on Marketing !!! and the scenery was absolutely free !!! Mr. Sonam and I decided to go out for some shopping for Vegetables, Paneer and some much needed alcohol !!! we went to a under-repair Restaurant and bought Beer & a bottle of Real RC !!! yes... real this time…we went back and I helped Mr. Sonam in cooking, prepared a green salad for my buddies and also the specialty of the Dinner…Paneer-do-piyaza !!! which was loved by all !!! thanks…thanks…thanks !!! the night scene was even more amazing…calm & serene are the words to define the scenes then…Sunder & MAT were at their very alcoholic best and gobbled up the entire bottle in no time…I had my dinner and went off to sleep as I was feeling really exhausted…for some time I could hear the loud Bak going out in the open but soon the sleepy world engulfed me !!!
Day 9 (14th June 2008) (Hunder - Nubra Valley - Khardungla Pass - Leh)
We started the day on a real slow note as none of us felt like leaving the divine “Hikers Hut” but had no other so option so just packed our luggage and started the ride on a hot & sunny morning from Hunder to Leh…just minutes into the ride we stopped for a view of the Nubra Valley Desert…there is a view point where we all clicked pics to capture the desert terrain in Ladakh which I am sure would sound shocking to some !!! then it was an uphill journey towards Khardungla…real bad roads but a great lesson in Mountain Biking…we reached the K Top and celebrated Sunder Paaji’s Birthday at the Khardungla café…yes what a moment it was…we cut a patty in absence of a proper cake and also sung the Birthday song for him…only a select few people would have that privilege of celebrating their birthday on the World`s highest Motorable road and it surely was a memorable moment…then we left the K Top with heavy hearts but with a promise to ourselves that we all would be back again & hopefully together to conquer it again !!! reached Leh in the afternoon and man it was hot…extremely hot…I reached and straightaway headed for the STD booth to call up my family & friends to share with them my achievements till date of the ride…after that went to the hotel and all of us were feeling really tired and all of us tried to sleep but a long bak session followed !!! in the evening it was Sunder’s party at a popular & crowded open air restaurant…full of Europeans who had gathered to watch a Euro 2008 match LIVE on the big screen…we also chipped in with our special comments over snacks & beer…all this while our ustaad MAT was away on his date with his Canadian Friend whom he met in our hotel !!! after he came back the entire focus shifted to pulling his leg and check out what transpired between them…but our experienced MAT didn’t share anything with us and kept mum all the while !!! amidst these discussions Pandit dropped a bomb on us…he had decided to fly back to Delhi from Leh and ship his bike on a truck to Delhi for reasons which he didn’t share with us…but we all knew that his only goal of the entire ride was to get himself clicked on the K Top and then return back…nobody didn’t even try to convince him…MAT explained him the logistics…. And we all left the place disappointed and headed for the hotel to sleep and plan for our journey back home…
Day 10 (15th June 2008) (Leh – Taglangla – Tsokar Lake – More Plains - Pang )
The morning started with bidding Leh & Pandit goodbye…the stay of 3 nights in Leh was amazing…quite relaxed and the staff of Shanti Guest House was simply superb…would definitely stay there always whenever I go to Leh…but then Dinesh also droppd a bomb…he told us that his boss has been frantically calling him and he would have to rush to Bangalore…we were all shell-shocked as riding without Dinesh would have been really sad…but he had no other option…he checked the air-tickets…got his luggage off Chaddha’s bike and bid us all goodbye and also wishing us luck for the rest of the ride…this way we left Leh on a very bad & sad note…we reached the petrol pump to get our bulls filled but then I received a call from Dinesh and he told us that he has dropped his plans and now would go with us only !!! we became really excited…Chaddha went back to pick him up and then we started our ride again…minus Pandit though…so now it was the 7 of us on 5 bikes…soon after we stopped for a sumptuous breakfast of hot Tea & Paranthas and started an arduous ride towards Taglangla Pass…the height started to increase rapidly and the bikes refused to rev up but we kept tugging along like real fighters !!! at around 11:30 AM we reached The Taglangla Pass…it is the second highest pass of the world at 17,582 feet with no infrastructure development unlike K Top which is run by the Indian Army and this fact makes it even more divine…just us and nobody else ( there was a ram head though !!!)it was extremely cold and the chilly winds made it worse…but we all had a great time at the top…had a smoke…just after leaving my bike’s throttle bike broke again …maybe due to the extra vroom I was seeking while climbing up but MAT Paaji was here to rescue…within no time I was riding again in extremely cold weather and on very bad roads with trucks coming from the opposite side and making riding even more difficult !!! but after some time we hit the plains and our next stop was the divine Tsokar Lake (as explained by JK)…the route was superb…some 10 kms of off-roading on sand !!! wow was the word for that route…I just loved it with my tyres getting stuck in the sand all the time and the control was extremely tough but we all loved and faced the challenges with élan !!! and when we reached the shores of the lake…the scene was truly divine and even more !!! JK was right (for a change!!! Phew…) just the 7 of us…nobody else around…pin drop silence…just can’t describe that scene in words…I even meditated there and practiced my Pranaayaam - a Yoga Therapy which I was practicing for some time back in Gurgaon!!! it was so soothing & relaxing…words fail me…we also saw wild horses running like we see in movies…made a video as well…everybody had a different way of enjoying the place…JK played with throwing the stones on the lake’s surface and creating a ripple effect…Dinesh moved away from this chaos and sat quietly like he always do !!! nobody wanted to leave the lake but we had to move as time was running out and we had to reach Pang before sunset so we all left to rule the roads leaving the serene lake behind…but I made a promise to myself…the next time I go to Ladakh…I would complete the entire Lake Circuit…Pangong Tso & Tso Mororiri Lake…as I have heard so much about these 2 lakes…ok ok…back to the ride !!! then the big bad world of More Plains was waiting for us !!! we all started with tonnes of excitement as we had heard so much about this stretch…but soon it transformed to grief as the roads were bad…and that’s an understatement…it was 65 kms of mess !!! to say the least…believe me it was the worst 65 kms of the entire 3600 kms ride…atleast for me…we saw some Ladakhi Nomads on the route and their tents…hats off to them to live in such extreme terrain & weather…we reached Pang after a looooooooooong ride…which actually felt like a non-stop 500 kms ride to me !!! it was a relief to see the tents in Pang where atleast we could give our a$$ some rest !!! and then it started !!! I was hit by a bout of constipation and then the smelly farting session started !!! I became a farting machine and the terror news spread across all the tents and nobody wanted me to enter their tents !!! it was hilarious…I was straight away guided towards the nearby riverside to relieve myself and then make others around me relieved !!! I complied and did the needful !!! and came back to our tent where everyone was waiting with baited breath on my status !!! they were excited to find that they could be sleeping peacefully through the night without covering their noses !!! after the excitement died down we got together again for a beer & alcohol session accompanied by loads of bak & maggi !!! we followed it with a cards session with JK teaching us some amazing card games and we kept on playing till very late…then everybody slept but me & Dinesh decided to enjoy a night walk !!! it was simply amazing with the river water making a soothing sound and the weather extremely chilly…we discussed myriad topics of life and at around 1 in the night we decided to go inside the tent and finally call it a day !!!
Day 11 (16th June 2008) (Pang – Kanglajal – Lachulungla – Nakeela – Gata Loops – Sarchu – Baralachla – Mehendinagar Cantt. – Patsio)
The next day started on a very fresh note as all of us had slept really well and my tummy was also quite healthy after the fiasco which happened a day before !!! and MAT had already told us that this was going to be a real long day of riding full of ups & downs as we were expecting some real bad roads ahead…we quickly loaded our bikes & had our breakfast and continued the ride again but just 10 minutes into the ride we hit a huge traffic jam and then MAT told us that it was due to the water body knows as “Kanglajal” which literally means Water which makes penniless, this place is notorious for vehicles getting stuck in knee deep water...we wriggled our way through countless Army & commercial trucks & other cars and reached the mouth of the water body and then I got mentally blocked, as I thought I won’t be able to cross and really panicked, MAT tried to show us the way and crossed the water like a swift rider as if he was riding his bullet on the NH-8 !!! yes it was that easy for him, soon everybody else followed but I was still standing still !!! and shouting towards MAT to come and rescue me out…but he didn’t budge and told me quite categorically that I had to do this myself so that I learn the hard way…then I knew there was no other option but to ride the bike myself & cross…but right in the middle of the nala, my bike got stuck in knee deep extremely chilled water !!! it was quite a scary moment as I was bang in the middle with nowhere to go !!! but then Dinesh & Sunder ran towards me after removing their shoes and pushed me out…I was really thankful to them to rescue me out !!! and then lastly Chaddha came out and after clearing the difficult path banged his bike after coming out of the nala !!! that was quite funny to say the least…then all of us changed our socks as we were all drenched and our feet were frozen…we warmed them up and decided to move ahead after leaving the cruel Kanglajal behind and also number of vehicles still stuck there!!! after that the ride was relatively smoother but the weather was very cold…our warm jackets really helped…we reached Lachulunga Pass @ 16,616 feet and clicked the customary Pass pics with the signboard and moved ahead…and the only one amongst us without a real warm jacket was Chaddha Paaji and amidst all the revelry AMS hit Chaddha Paaji and he just collapsed…it was really bad…worse than me…but as you know Singh is King…and our Chaddha Paaji is infact a real emperor !!! he didn’t drop a tear…he was sooon up & running with the help of MAT`s medicine and Dinesh rode his bike till Sarchu which had some make shift tents where we all rested for an hour or so and Chaddha slept to drive the AMS blues away…we also had food there…the routine Dal-Subzi-Chawal which was extremely delicious to say the least…after the short nap Chaddha felt better and we all moved on till our next stop at Nakeela Pass @ 15,547 feet…this time no posing pics though as we had already seen enough !!! and then we rode through one of the most famous legs of the Ladakh Journey…the Gata Loops…a road loaded with 21 sharp & twisted loops @13,780 feet…and due to the merciful BRO the roads were awesome and we didn’t face any issues riding through the loops…God Bless BRO !!! just after them we saw 2 creative pieces of brilliance of the BRO…2 bridges named “Brandy Bridge” & “Whiskey Bridge” and then they say Don’t drink & drive…I mean what kind of preaching is this !!! soon we left J&K behind and entered Himachal Pradesh and celebrated this with a quick bite at one of the roadside dhabas…Deepak gorged on some delicious Rajma Chawal and the rest of us clicked pics…our next destination was the Baralachla Pass @ 16,500 feet of which I had heard so much about and I was really excited to reach there soon so I started to revv up the roads !!! but then it started raining & also a minor hailstorm with fog all around which slowed us down and we had to be really careful on the slippery but brand new roads…we all stopped & admired the sheer beauty of nature…the partially frozen Suraj Taal made the scene even more amazing…we all could not stop for long as it was very very cold and we had to move on but then the Khooni Nala was waiting for us with a mad rush of water gushing through the road and we had to cross it and go through the same watery agony all over again !!! once again MAT showed us the way by crossing it first and then again for the second time so that we could shoot a video !!! MAT is the God of biking for me…no doubts regarding that…there we met a Greek Couple who were on a World Tour on their Land Rover and they helped us out by ferrying Deepak in their car as he was stuck on the other side, Sunder had to ride solo…they also clicked our video and admired our bravery & guts to do a bike ride on such tough terrains which really made us all very proud !!! we also pumped up our Indian pride by telling them that they were actually driving an Indian car and not a British one as they thought !!! after Tata bought Land Rover its very much an Indian Car !!! they were pleasantly surprised to realize that…soon after bidding them good bye and wishing them luck for the rest of the journey it started to rain heavily and we decided to stop somewhere and not at our planned stop Keylong which was still 75 kms away…we all took refuge in the Mehndinagar Army Station after taking the necessary clearances from the Army officer there and had Tea, Maggi & other snacks to warm us up…some of us also bought fresh pairs of woolen socks as the current stock was all wet !!! Chaddha finally bought a warm army jacket for himself as the cold weather was driving him nuts !!! the rain was not budging at all and it turned dark as well, and the Army folks told us mildly to leave, even after requesting them to let us stop for the night there but they didn’t have extra space !!! though I knew they were just obeying orders !!! so against our wishes we had to leave and move on towards our next stop…any place where we could find a place to spend the night…but God was on our side as always and we found out a deserted Guest house at a place called Patsio where nobody had stayed for the last 8 years !!! but it had 2 double beds with no power connection & a kind housekeeper to our rescue !!! it was the best kind of place which we were looking for…as they say…”humein to bas raat ke liye ek chat ki talaash thi” !!! and we found a roof amidst stunning scenic beauty, with a river flowing nearby and making the most wonderful of sounds !!! MAT, JK & me also knew this was the best place to make use of our sleeping bags which we had been carrying through the journey but had never used it !!! God continued to shower his blessings on us !!! there was a tent-restaurant nearby where we had one of the best meals of our ride !!! and I had a Paalak (Spinach) sabzi for the 1st time in my life !!! I missed my mother badly as she has been behind my life all the time to force me to eat paalak but I never ate the green sabzi…but in Patsio I had no other option but to fill my tummy !!! and eat the dreaded paalak !!! it tasted quite ok…I am sure it was due to hunger and no other reasons and I am not going to eat paalak ever again !!! we also ordered breakfast for the next morning…hot Aloo Paranthas !!! we returned back to our guest house but me, Dinesh & JK decided to go out and sit close to the river and enjoy the scenes of serenity !!! soon philosophy started to flow which became quite heavy and we decided to sleep and continue being a rider and not a spiritual traveler !!!
Day 12 (17th June 2008) (Darcha – Jaspa – Keylong – Tandi - Rohtang La – Marhi - Manali)
The next morning was quite refreshing & picturesque…fog flowing all over and also the thought that Paranthas were waiting for us made us all quite active & charged up !!! we had a butter dripping breakfast with piping hot tea and then moved on, our final destination that day was Manali…and within 2 hours of riding through gravel laden roads we reached Tandi…Tandi is most famous for the fact that while going to Ladakh through the Delhi-Manali route, this sleepy little town has the last petrol pump and the next one is 365 kms away so we also filled petrol at the same pump even though we were going back to Manali !!! enroute Tandi we passed Darcha, Jaspa & Keylong, 3 famous stops on the way where we didn’t stop as our tummies were full !!! just after Tandi we started our ascent towards the last pass of our journey…Rohtang Pass and the roads were quite painful to ride on the moment the heights increased…but we kept charging on, leaving the roads behind and moving ahead without any trace of trouble !!! just before the pass it again started to rain after overnight rains the roads were full of mud & slush patches which made riding even tougher…and then we reached Rohtang Pass with nobody around surprisingly as we came to know from locals that due to land-slides the roads had been blocked for people to come towards Rohtang Pass !!! that’s why the place was absolutely empty…the snow there was really very dirty due to the fact that it is one of the most famous tourist spots and people coming there make the place dirty and also the snow to turn into a mud colour concoction !!! we clicked pics at the last pass and seriously I was quite sad at that point of time as our ride was all but over and there were no more passes or tough roads to conquer !!! but I made a promise to myself that I would be back in 2009 again…lets see if I can fulfill the promise made to myself…we stopped enroute Manali at Marhi to have lunch…and there Chaddha gave us a moment which atleast I would never forget !!! the fact that he loves cleanliness was well known to all of us but when he held the Roti he was eating with a tissue paper made us all literally fall to the ground !!! yes people…that’s the limits our very own Chaddha Paaji can reach to be a cleanliness freak !!! we also enjoyed Fosters beer after a long time as all this while since Leh we were drinking Godfather Beer !!! which is quite a rustic beer…enjoying Fosters made us realize one other fact as well that we were soon moving towards civilization after staying away from such nuances for almost 10 days !!! and things got real soon…we hit a roadblock due to a truck getting stuck with loads of people around…but being on bikes we were quick to move ahead and reach Manali…where we got back to the real world which is full of people all over…rushing the place and making riding tough…this time not due to bad roads but due to bad traffic !!! which makes it even worse !!! riding through these mad scenes we reached our guest house in Old Manali…Dragon Guest House which is a cozy little place…we all unpacked our stuff…had a nice warm bath after 2 days of being on the road and not able to enjoy the luxuries of a bathroom !!! me & MAT went to a nearby famous Bullet Service Station…by the name of Sunny-Bonny…where we met 3 female travelers who were driving their Qualis all the way from Delhi…some of us had met them at the Pang tents as well…we had a nice little conversation with them, shared phone numbers and got back…at around 8 we received a call from one of them, Madhavi inviting us for a dinner at their hotel, at first we felt a little uncomfortable but decided to go…all this while Chaddha Paaji, Dinesh & JK had gone to New Manali to catch a glimpse of some babes !!! and they didn’t join us for dinner with the gang…we had a really awesome meal of Trout Fish & some amazing desserts added with chilled Beer to make the meal complete…we called it a day quite late at 12 in the night after the dinner and went straight for the bed…
Day 13 (18th June 2008) (Manali)
We woke up that morning to some animated discussions amongst Chaddha, Deepak, JK & MAT…and the reason was that Chaddha & Dinesh wanted to leave for Delhi that day only and the rest of us didn’t as we wanted to relax in Manali only but they were quite vehement about it…and MAT had also to leave with them to ensure that they reach their final destination safe…so it was decided that me, JK, Sunder & Deepak would stay at Manali and the rest would leave…we had one last nutritious breakfast together…Corn Flakes, Milk Shakes & Spanish Omelettes !!! so we bid our 3 co-riders good bye and wished them luck for the last leg of the ride…the scene became very emotional as for the last 12 days we were always together…sharing the highs & lows , beds, pain, emotion and also bad roads !!! but then true to the riding spirit we got back to the normal stuff !!! as we enjoyed some chilled early morning beer at 9 AM in the morning…a first for me atleast…the rest of the day was spent lazing around and lounging at a nearby Mexican specialty restaurant overlooking the road from its balcony from which we just watched the scenes around…kids playing soccer in a school playground, drug junkies selling marijuana, hot babes leaving us exasperated and what not !!! there was loads & loads of bak to boot which made the day even more memorable…we enjoyed the day thoroughly and completely got the share of rest we were aiming at…we all slept with sadness in our mind as we knew that we would be leaving the mountains behind and reaching the plains & also the same old life soon…
Day 14 (19th June 2008) (Manali - Kullu - Mandi -Chandigarh)
With a sad heart we loaded our bikes and left Manali to start a long day of riding moving through some last bit of mountains and leading to the plains of Punjab…we had breakfast at a highway Dhaba just outside Manali…the roads were quite decent to ride on and we had a nice time revving up our bikes…enroute we also crossed the famous & very long Kullu tunnel…when we reached Mandi it started to rain heavily as if the mountains were bidding us one last goodbye !!! we didn’t stop as by now I can safely say we had got quite used to riding quite safely & swiftly even when it was raining heavily…once we reached the Punjab border the roads became even better & we pumped up our bikes even more…and at times reaching 100-110 kmph speeds…and at around 4 PM we reached Chandigarh…our stop was at JK’s home…finally after 13 days of riding we reached the safe confines of a home…it felt quite strange & alien but at the same time the homely feeling was quite welcome !!! we spent the rest of the evening discussing the ride & also went to a photo studio to get the photo CDs burnt and in the night JK`s mom cooked some really amazing dishes which we just gorged and finished the meal in no time !!! with our tummies filled the sleep came quite easily that night and we slept with the Air Conditioner on which was quite a surprise if we think we were in some real cold weather for the last 8-9 days !!!
Day 15 (20th June 2008) (Chandigarh - Shehzadpur - Panipat - Delhi)
The next day started on quite a funny note…the battery was giving my bike some real bad starting problems and JK had disconnected the Spark Plug to avoid the hassles again but he forgot that and we kept working on the kick like mad…the June heat also didn’t help…we even tried pushing the bike with Sunder pitching in but never realizing that with the spark plug disconnected whatever we do won’t help…finally my 4 eyes helped and I noticed the flaw…blasted the hell out of JK and finally for one last time loaded our stuff on the bikes…
Lastly I would mention some highs & lows of the ride which made our ride even more memorable :
THE HIGHS :
1. Meeting the fellow riders in Chandigarh
2. Riding through the amazing Punjab State Highways full of Toll Roads
3. Enjoying the first mountain views after leaving Pathankot
4. Our amazing cosy honeymoon suite type rooms in Kud
5. Passing through the legendary Jawahar Tunnel
6. Reaching the Kashmir Valley and watching the amazing views
7. The divine Kashmiri meal in Srinagar
8. The late evening Bak session on our House Boat @ Dal Lake
9. Passing through the mighty Zojila Pass
10. Reaching Drass & Kargil which was one of my dreams
11. Seeing JK & MAT after 8-10 hours of getting separated from them due to a Breakdown
12. Riding through the most amazing terrains on the Kargil-Leh Road
13. Playing Carrom with young Ladakhi Lamas
14. Reaching the Khardungla Pass @ 18,380 feet
15. Spending the night at "The Hikers Hut" in Hunder, Nubra Valley
16. Celebrating Sunder's Birthday at the Khardungla Top
17. The most amazing scenes of peace & serenity at the Tsokar Lake
18. The night stay at the very secluded guest house in Patsio
19. The very interesting dinner with 3 Female Travellers from Delhi
20. The great sense of achievement on finally reaching my home...safe & sound !!!
THE LOWS :
1. My first fall near Udhampur on a slushy & slippery bridge
2. My verbal duel with Pandit on the Zojila Pass
3. The double whammy breakdown just before Leh in the middle of nowhere
4. The disappointment of wasting 2 full days in Leh due to the Sindhu Festival
5. The real bad AMS attack on the Khardungla Top
6. Riding through the treacherous More Plains
7. Getting stuck in the middle of the painfully cold waters of Kanglajal
8. My bike’s gears getting stuck enroute the Rohtang Pass which made riding real tough
9. The vigorous thunderstorm enroute to Delhi from Ambala
10. The bad traffic which greeted us the moment we hit the Delhi Border
The Highs easily outnumber the Lows of the Ride…but I am sure no memory of the entire ride is gonna get out of our minds ever…hope you enjoyed the story of the 15 crazy days we all spent on the roads…3600 kms worth of sweat & ecstacy…
Che would be back on the Road again...
Till the next time we meet….ride safe & have safe sex...