Saturday, August 8, 2009

Leh!!

After 3 years of dreaming, 3 months of planning, 3 people started their journey of 9 memorable days. It was a dream come true, finally it was happening. Something that lot of people yearn to do in life, more of a once in a lifetime experience - A bike trip to Leh.

We had a time crunch, just 9 days, which is by all means just sufficient enough to do the trip sans any mis-adventures, and fortunately we didnt have any (ok! we didnt have many). We had bought all the stuff needed, from meds to ropes, hired all the stuff needed for camping, and finally the much awaited day arrived.

6th June 2009 (Delhi to Manali)
I went to my bro in law's (kapil - one of my co riders) place on friday night so that we could get all packed and ready to leave early morning on saturday the 6th. We took a long time to do all the packing and tying stuff on bike and finally slept at 12ish to wake up just 3 hrs later. Bikes looked good, we were in high spirits and so we left home at 3:45AM to meet Ranta (the other co rider and my batchmate) at GT karnal highway.


It was a first time so some goofups were expected, but I didnt expect one just 20 mins after starting. The rope on Kapil's bike gave in as it touched the rear wheel and all the stuff started falling. We stopped to fix it up and I was already feeling 'oh this is not good' about it when two police walas came by asking 'wth are you doing'. We showed them IDs, and our attire (rain coat/knee n elbow guards) convinced them that we are no thieves so instead they started looking at us with awe struck eyes and started asking questions about 'oh are you driving 1500kms'.


Anyway, we were all fixed up in 10 mins and on our way. We reached GT karnal at 4:10 and Ranta joined us slightly later. So there we were, Kapil on his Pulsar 150, Ranta on Pulsar 220, Me on my Avenger 180 just starting the ride we were dreaming of all the last few months.


We hit the road and we were driving fast. It was still dark but that didnt let us slow down. All of us were touching 100, passing all vehicles that were trying to overtake each other. The slow 4-wheelers eh!! Our first main stop was at a dhaba around 6:30 to have some Tea and sandviches. This was the first place where we were being looked at as some aliens had just come to a dhaba to have tea. Bikers in delhi/chandigarh are a rare commodity, we were just glad that we were not being asked for autographs (ok thats too much to say :P).


We were passing chandigarh at 8 AM itself. I had been expecting much worse, 220kms in 3 1/2 hrs was pretty good with few small breaks. We were about to hit hills in a few hours so we kept speeding on plains. Our next stop was at around 10:30 at a bus stop for breakfast. It was a decently shady place but we still thought of eating there. The road was not as awesome as it was till chandigarh and it was much worse after this. Within few hours we were on the hills, and our bums started cursing us more than ever. We crossed mandi , and hoshiarpur and didnt even stop for lunch as we wanted to just reach asap. As we were closing Kullu, it started raining.



Now although we were carrying and semi-wearing the rain coats, driving in rain is still a pain. So we kept driving for some more time until it started pouring real bad. We finally made a stop at kullu to re think on our plans and have lunch. Lunch was a treat. Although it was nothing so great but only after starting eating that we realized how hungry we were. Our shoes were totally wet but we didnt have a choice as it was still raining. We thought of even staying back in kullu but felt may be driving 50-60 kms more at 4:30 even in rain wont be that much of a issue so we pushed for manali. Driving on hills in rains is challenging, and I felt woah!! this is thrilling, but I knew that this was just tip of the iceberg, the real thing was waiting for us beyond manali.

It was around 6:30 and still raining heavily when we reached manali. Finding hotel in such rain, specially when you are drenched from head to toe is not easy. But we were lucky that we got a decent hotel for decent price (we were not in a position to negotiate but still got 150 bucks discount :D). We unloaded the bike of all stuff and brought it to the room and within 10 mins of checking in, our room was a big mess.



We cleaned up and got a heater to dry our stuff (not so successful attempt) and thought of going to mall road for dinner. We started walking and it was very pleasant. It wasnt raining now and our bums were much better. We kept walking and walking and after every 5 mins we would ask someone how far is mall road and get the same answer 'bas 1 km hai'. Finally after walking some 3-4 kms we reached mall road and it wasnt a treat. There were people everywhere. It was so sucky to see so much crowd far from delhi/noida. We found the most empty restaurant - sher-e-punjab and had the most suckiest food of the trip there.



We finally retired to our beds and had a nice sleep only to start the more challenging part of our ride the next day...

June 7th (Manali to Sarchu)

It was a pleasant day as we got our tanks filled (bike - petrol :)) and left manali around 6:30AM. Our first destination today was Rohtang. After a long 60-80km drive which was full of 100s of cars and taxis we finally reached Rohtang. All three of us got parted by mistake but fortunately met again at Rohtang. The drive was good but the road was all broken and muddy. I was not so pleasantly surprised on reaching Rohtang which had cars / chai walas and people all around. We had even seen traffic jams on our way to Rohtang. I mean people dont have any work or what? We met another biker gang from noida itself and had our breakfast at Rohtang.



This was the most expensive meal of our entire trip I guess. Maggi costed 40 bucks here, but people dint have much choice too. We ate like crazy and were feeling happy that we were almost leaving the last crowded place on our trip. Just as we took the first turn beyond Rohtang, species siezed to exist. Here on, we would just occassionaly see a biker gang, a lone biker, or a SUV cruising through the desolated roads, fighting with the ice and snow on the muddy road underneath. The drive just got tougher, Ranta had fallen once before Rohtang, I fell once few kms after Rohtang, but it was all worth it. The views we were getting here had just gotten beautiful. And with those, our frequency of stopping also increased. My camera was in my rain coat pocket just ready to click every few minutes.

Most of the people stop on their second day at Keylong to get acclimatized but because of time crunch we had to push further. Leh was 500kms from Manali so in any case we had to cover half of it on 2nd day so that we could reach Leh on 3rd day. We had a good lunch at a very well located restaurant at Keylong served by a very polite chef+waiter+owner. Around 2:30 we started again to make it to Sarchu by evening. On the way came Jispa which is a small place with a few hotels towering over the river in their backyard. The road was again all broken now and we came across a lot of places with water stream flowing over the road atleast knee deep. At times we could make it through the stream without touching water, but it wasnt possible all the time. It was dangerous too, to try to cross without getting wet. Kapil wore polythene bags above his socks to prevent water from seeping in. Ranta and I just got our shoes wet. Again :P. It was freezing and we could not even feel our feet for a long time, specially after what was coming.




We touched the bara lacha la pass around 4:30 PM or so which had to be crossed to reach sarchu. It was all snowy all around. I had never seen so much snow in my life. Wherever we looked there was snow. And the worst? It started snowing :D. We kept going and going, feet numb and wet, just trying to push further and further so we can sleep another night ;). And just then we came across a traffic jam. I know its funny that how can we get traffic jam in no mans land, the actual problem was a broken truck in the middle of road, and there was no enough space for a car to pass it on that single lane road.

Fortunately, our bikes got through. We had some problem as the back tyre skidded on snow, but we made it. Till now we were just numb and cold, now we were breathless too. Staying at 16000 feet for few minutes is in itself not recommended specially if you are coming from delhi just the day before, but we had to push our bikes. Anyway, it wasnt so bad. We just laughed about it and crossed the pass in no time. Just after crossing the pass around 5:30 or so (it was already getting dark) we found a small restaurant to have tea. We quickly drank tea to help us get some heat and warmth for another hour of drive.




Just as we left the restaurant we came across the longest stream of melting water on the road. But we had no choice again and we just started driving across it, getting our feet more wet and cold. Sarchu valley had started and the views were breathtaking. We kept driving, passing by tented accomodation looking for a proper hotel so that we could warm ourself fully. But alas! there are no hotels in Sarchu. We finally decided to open our own camp and set it up but we didnt realize that it was getting darker and colder.

After trying our best and keeping as calm as possible even when our feet and hands were all numb and giving in, we finally finished setting up the tent by 8:00PM. Previously we had plans of setting up the tent and going for dinner at a nearby restaurant (more of a tent and a guy making food) but as soon as we finished setting up the tent, we just went inside and gave up the thought of eating.




It was so bloody cold that we didnt even remove all the stuff from the bikes. We actually didnt even lock the bikes properly. We were so numb inside the tent, wrapped in the sleeping bag that thinking of going out itself would have killed us. We still did get out to get the bike keys, and when I was trying to just un tie one of the bags from the bike I just couldnt. My hands were totally numb.

We finally left whatever stuff we had outside and didnt leave the tent until morning. We ate whatever biscuits and stuff we had and drank the icy cold water and tried to sleep. We must have got some sleep during night but it was not at all easy. All through the night we felt numb and the winds outside were so fast that I was feeling the tent might just blow off anytime. It was scary. Very scary.

June 8th (Sarchu to Leh)

The morning brought what I had been hoping for all night!! The sun light. Only after getting out of tent at 6:30 we realized that the water on our bike/shoes/stuff had just frozen in the night. And we later came to know that the temperature in the night went to as low as -13 degrees on that night. Finally we loaded all the stuff on bikes again and started our journey to leh.

We passed another pass at 16000 feet - lachungla to reach Pang. On the way to Pang we also stopped at Tandi (I think it was before Pang, dont remember exactly) to fill petrol as this is the last petrol bunk before Leh. Pang has nothing but 10-12 tents which serve food. We had a good meal here and soaked as much sun light as we could. The journey till Pang was very tiring, I even lied for 2 mins and dozed off at one place where me and Ranta stopped. I could have given anything for a cozy bed to crash on.



After Pang started More Plains. They were the most amazing and longest part of the journey. The straight road was just endless and we kept driving. Me and Kapil were together now and we had lost Ranta. There were hills all around in most amazing colors and shades very difficult to describe. We kept driving for atleast 2 hours until our next Pass would come - Tanglangla at 17500feet. Kapil got slight altitude sickness here and after having lot of glucon-d and whatever biscuits and water we had left we tried to push further. The road here was the most broken road during the whole journey. We just kept driving somehow through stones and rocks to finally reach the plains. Ranta was waiting for us here since last 2 hours :)).

We had a weird type of maggi here which Ranta had already eaten and didnt warn me about (@#$@!#$ Ranta) and I gave a head massage to Kapil as he was feeling a bit of headache. The next 70kms were a treat. All plains!! It was easy and fast and we reached Leh around 7ish. We found the ITBF guest house (Thanks to my uncle) and checked into our rooms, named changla and khardungla ;). First thing we did after getting inside the rooms was crashing on beds :D. We had a nice nice bath (brushed after 2 full days, phew!!) and had a nice dinner at the ITBF guest house itself as we made plans for next day.

June 9th (Inside leh)

This was the most fruitful day of our whole trip. As we were waiting for the permits, which thankfully were being arranged easily by ITBF (Salute!!) we decided to visit Hemis gompa. This is a must visit place for its silence and the views. Whole leh city could be seen with all the hills in the background. It was just amazing. We kept sitting and admiring the whole city for a long time. There was no hurry :)). After this, we went to Spituk Monastery which again was beautiful. We also rotated the 'wheel of dharma' and lot of smaller wheels of dharma that were there in this monastery. Actually, those were present everywhere in Leh. We finally came back and got permits and left the guest house for Khardungla.

Thanks to the weather that the drive to khardung-la was a treat. We covered 40kms with a few photo breaks within 2 hours itself. It was the most height I had covered (till now!!, new record comes later :P) in so few kms (5000 feet in 40kms). There was nothing so great about khardungla or being there that one can talk about. Its just the feeling of being on the 'highest motorable road of the world' which supposedly gives a 'high' to people that I dont understand. There was even a couple probably on their honeymoon who drove in a innova all the way to visit khardungla. Huh! come on people, there is switzerland/mauritius for honeymoon, not this. Anyway, people do what they wanna do :P. Ok back to topic.

We were back from khardungla in no time (1 1/2 hr max) and around 4 we were in leh. We were told that sun stays up until 7:30 appx, so we decided to visit Magnetic hill also. I left my bike in guest house and pillion rode Ranta. After a long 30km drive we stopped at Gurudwara pathar sahib. Just 2 more kms and we were at Magnetic hill.

First we didnt realize. Then we tried. And then I could see that the bike was going uphill without engine. Then we fought (ranta and me), then we fought more, then we convinced each other and I won. We could see that the road was going up and bike was going up hill but we knew it was an illusion. But anyway we had good fun there ;). Finally we started on our way back and reached the guest house only to see that Kapil had not reached though he was ahead of us. After waiting for 1/2 hr we got worried and kept going back and forth on the road we had come from but couldnt find him anywhere. After an hour of 'oh we hope he is ok' to 'wth' we finally got an sms from him and we came back.

Me and Ranta went for dinner around 9:30 when whole of market looked closed. Fortunately Leh is safe even though it looked all desolated and restaurants were open. We stopped at a tibetan restaurant and asked the guy for a suggestion. Dont, okay not dont, NEVER do that. He suggested cheese momos which were the suckiest thing we ate during the trip. It was just two semi warmed balls of cheese inside the cover. We couldnt eat it. Fortunately during waiting itself we had seen himalayan cafe across the street and had decided to go there. We had some more stuff to eat in himalyan cafe which wasnt so dissapointing. And off we went to doze off at our guest house to recover ourselves for another day full of adventure.

June 10th (Pangong Tso)

Ranta and I didnt wanna drive bike. We were just too tired of so much driving and were not amazed at the idea of another 150km drive crossing another pass which we didnt know till now was going to be most lethal of all. We tried to find a taxi to go to pangong tso but no taxi dude went below 4000-4500. Which needless to say was Too much. Finally we gave in and decided to take one bike only so each of us could drive only half way.




Kapil had already left for Pangong tso and when we started he was a good 50km ahead. When we talked on phone he told us that its snowing around that area. We gulped some air and gathered strength and courage to still do it. It was slightly rainy and cloudy in the morning and I was sure we wont be pleased with the weather and roads ahead. And I was so right.

Just few kms before the changla pass, the roads were filled with ice. Now if the road has snow on it, you can still drive, but anything and everything just skids on ice. Well, we didnt know that so well so we kept driving. We were lucky to cross some section of it until we fell. I was driving at that time and my knee got bent. I was lucky that it didnt go worse and we were still ok. I told ranta to drive but he told me to continue. Well! the rear tyre wouldnt move. We were reaching the 'oh i give up' thoughts soon. We started moving the bike physically, one guy pushing it from behind and another holding it. Wherever we found some muddy section we would feel happy and safe and drive a little only until we hit another icy patch. We even thought of giving up and going back as we didnt know how much of it was left. But we didnt. Finally we reached changla pass and celebrated our victory over nature (huh! what a fight) with maggi (another new type) and tea. Somewhere inside we were still scared of what would happen the next day while going back, but we pushed that thought out of our minds.



Weather was getting better now and roads got better. It was really no mans land. We were not seeing anyone for very long stretches, only occasional army trucks or a one off vehicle with some tourists. Finally around 4 when we were just approaching pangong tso we saw a biker coming in opposite direction and as i said to Ranta - 'who is this biker going back from here at 4 :O' that I realized and said - 'Arey ye to kapil hai :D'. Kapil told us that he had been waiting for 2 hours so he was going back thinking we were not coming. Well!! we were in stone age again as cell phones wouldnt work anywhere remotely outside leh.

All three of us finally went to pangong tso. It was super exciting to see a lake which wouldnt end as far as we could see at such height. It was beautiful. We clicked a lot of photos but couldnt stand out for a long time as it was very chilly out there. We found a room (a room in literal sense - it had just 3 beds/quilts, a light and nothing else, at all) for just 300 bucks and went for lunch. We ate like crazy and had two teas each and still I was shivering (wearing a warmer/sweatshirt/jacket/rain coat) inside the tent. We went back to room and couldnt come out of the quilts for a long time. When it got dark we got out again to have some tea and started chatting with fellow bikers from maharashtra and noida again who gave us some tips on how to ride in snow. Finally we crashed around 10:30 or so to get back to leh early in morning.

June 11 (back to leh..)

We started on our way back around 7:00 or so and crossed changla with lesser problems this time. Though there was more snow/ice on roads now but we knew a few techniques now. Well! we still fell once but it was not so bad. We visited Shey palace (huh! dont bother to go) on our way back and reached guest house around 2:30ish. Ranta and I went for lunch and to roam around the local market and were finally back around 4:30. We had been thinking of going via srinagar as crossing those 4 passes on the leh - manali route again was really not so exciting (ok! it was scary :P). We enquired and found that curfew in srinagar was over so we left Leh around 6:30 to try to reach as far on Leh - kargil route as possible.



Just one hour of drive and it had gotten dark. Roads were not so good at times and bike was skidding on the broken stony road. But anything is better than ice and snowy road. I was leading the gang and was just praying that no breakdown happens as we were in middle of nowhere (nothing new in that :P). Around 8ish as our speed had gotten pretty slow coz of dark, we decided to stop and found a nice hotel 120kms from leh. We got a cheap deal (just 350 bucks :P) and good chinese food at the place and slept off to leave early morning.

12th June (To srinagar)

It was a long drive, but we had to make it happen. We crossed Kargil/Drass/Batalik, all places that came in newspaper and movies so often (Salute to Indian Army) and reached Zozilla pass. The drive through it was not so easy but still easier than 4 passes on the route we had come from. It was raining and the road was very very slushy with water/mud/stones all around but we had become pro's already. After crossing zozilla we came across the beautiful city SoanMarg where we had our lunch and I just wanted to stay there but other two wouldnt let me. We pushed for Srinagar and finally reached around evening and checked in. We had a nice boat ride in the Dal lake in the night and came back to hotel.

13th and 14th June (back to delhi)

Kapil left srinagar before us to try for Delhi in one day (he made it!! reached Delhi at 12:00 hours in night ;)). Me and Ranta left a little later and tried to go as far as possible. We crossed Jammu, and finally at pathankot we decided to reach Jalandhar for the night. After taking a hotel we had a nice dinner at Havelli which was crowded as usual even at 10:30 in the night. The drive from Srinagar onwards was all plains and nothing exciting. We were just going full throttle at 100 all through just to make it back to Delhi by sunday, 14th afternoon. And we did. I was at home at 2:30 or so on 14th june and god! what a sleep it was that night.

Well. Needless to say the trip was an experience of its own kind. Although we had a little time crunch and not many earth shattering mis adventures (kapil's bike got punctured just once/ranta bruised his hand near jalandhar) the trip was still great and totally worth it. I am looking forward to more bike rides but with a strict limit of no driving more than 250kms a day ;)..

4 comments:

Rajkumar Iyer said...

me getting jealous ...

kunal said...

awesome travelogue dude...

you took 2 months to write it, and it seems justified.. I was just tired after reading it :)

Ajay Reddy said...

Man what beautiful pictures!
I'm in the first phase of a Leh trip right now - dreaming :). Hope planning and actually riding won't be far away.
A friend of mine also had done a leh trip earlier this year, he mapped his route and wrote about it on my website - bit.ly/lehbikeride.

diver said...

@Raj: come next year we can go again ;)

@kunal: haha..that wasnt the intention ;)

@Ajay: thanks bro..al d best..