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Ladakh: A Journey that Dreams are made of...

By: Praful
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3533 Kms

And we loved every micro meter of it..... 




Next Navigation :

1. Prologue
2. The Riders
3. Day (-2) & Day (-1)
4. Day 1 : Delhi - Amritsar
5. Day 2 : Amritsar - Jammu
6. Day 3 : Jammu - Srinagar
7. Day 4 : Srinagar - Drass
8. Day 5 : Drass - Leh
9. Day 6 : Leh
10. Day 7 : Leh-Diskit
11. Day 8 : Diskit-Panamik-Leh
12. Day 9 : Leh-Pangong Tso
13. Day 10 : Pangong Tso - Marismek La - Leh
__________________
LoneWolfRides® : Re-Initiation to Biking
Ladakh: A Journey that Dreams are made of...
Western Ghats - A Small Weekend Getaway
Lone Wolf Rides® - Beaches/Mountains/Forests
My bike went Home! - Bangy-Goa-M'bai-Pune-Bangy


'Biking', is more than just 0-100-0 !!!
Get out of your Couch ... The 'World' is waiting ;-)
Previous Navigation:

0. Teaser

Prologue


The Beginning: It was the winter of 06, and I was staring in disbelief at my computer terminal. I was looking at pictures from a travelogue to Ladakh, and the beauty captured in the pictures had me staring at my computer screen for most part of my not so productive work day. Never before I knew that hills of Ladakh are motor able let alone beautiful. To me it was just a scraggy mountain side to which only the natives and the Indian Army had access to.

It was from that moment on, I knew that have to ride there someday. And thus began the itch with no cure, the itch to ‘Ride to Ladakh’. Since that day on I would jump to gulp down any Ladakh travelogue that I came across, such was deep rooted interest in being there that by the end one year I had almost memorized all names of places and objects of interest in the areas surrounding it. The year 2007 was a turning point; I had finally got myself a bike in November and was already planning my ride to the mountains, but it was another year lost since my quest for Ladakh began. 2008 did not turn out to be any different, a mix of personal and official commitments meant me not being able to take time during the ‘season’ that roads were open, and thus I saw another year just fly by me with my dream still just remaining a dream.

Then came 2009, I knew at the start of this year that this was going to be the year I will convert my dream into reality. And with a stroke of luck my good old biking pals from Chennai were planning the same thing. With things looking up for us, we started planning things full steam ahead. But Murphy’s Law had to show its ugly face, my life personally had fallen into disarray due to a multitude of things and I had to put myself on hold for the trip. As the days passed things went from bad to worse and I had lost all hope of making it to Ladakh. With a heavy heart I had to withdraw myself from the ride and had given up all hope visiting my dream destination even this year.

And thus my friends left to get “Leh’d”, a few days into their ride one of them calls me up just to give an update about where they were and what all had seen and felt till then. A few things changed for me in those few minutes that I spoke to my friend. For one, I decided that personal chaos be damned, I just have to ride to Ladakh this year. I presented my idea of Ladakh to Pranay & Veda, and they immediately agreed. Good for me, it was a second chance at getting “Leh’d”. But it was not to be, soon enough the sadistic Mr. Murphy peeped in once again, and this time in the form of a mandatory 1 week shut down of the company in the month of August. This meant one thing and one thing alone, I do not get my two weeks leave for the month of September. For the second time again, I had to call of the Ladakh ride only to be rescued by another fellow biker who wanted to go to Ladakh in the time period of my company was to shutdown. Things fell into place and I was back to planning and executing mode, by now I was used to the necessary checklists, etc that would be created for planning a ride of this scale. Oh don’t get happy just yet, Murphy’s law came into place yet again and this time the form of family commitments which led to canceling my third Ladakh plan of the year.

By this time I was convinced that ‘Ladakh’ and ‘Me’ can fit in one sentence only if the word ‘Jinx’ fits in it. I will cut a long story short and just say that I revived my old plan with Pranay & Veda. Only difference this time around was that the planning and execution required was minimal as I had already done most of spade work.

The Preparations: As mentioned before the preparations were minimal, we just had two areas of focus i.e. bikes & protection from the weather. We carried the basic spares and since the three bikes were the same basic bike most spares and tools could be shared across. We had the route plan in place, a basic idea of the places to stop over for the night, approximate fuel stops and burning desire to ride in the mountains.

The Start: We were transporting our bikes, saddle bags, riding gear via train. Three days before our scheduled departure, all these items were nicely packed up and loaded onto the train. There was huge mess at my house where in I was frantically trying to pack everything, trying not to forget anything important.





The mess that was wrapped into one little saddle bag


I have a tendency to pack more than necessary, I am not sure if it’s a good thing or not. But I throughout the trip I did not fall short of anything that I needed.

With the bikes and additional luggage shipped out to Delhi, all I had to do was twiddle my thumbs for the next two days till the time I got onto the Bangalore – Delhi non-stop flight.

And hence the Journey begins…. 


Next Navigation:-

2. The Riders
3. Day (-2) & Day (-1)
4. Day 1 : Delhi - Amritsar
5. Day 2 : Amritsar - Jammu
6. Day 3 : Jammu - Srinagar
7. Day 4 : Srinagar - Drass
8. Day 5 : Drass - Leh
9. Day 6 : Leh
10. Day 7 : Leh-Diskit
11. Day 8 : Diskit-Panamik-Leh
12. Day 9 : Leh-Pangong Tso
13. Day 10 : Pangong Tso - Marismek La - Leh

Last edited by Praful; 05-12-2010 at 10:21 AM.
Previous Navigation:-
0. Teaser
1. Prologue



The Riders


Pranay - Pulsar 220 Dts-Fi





DarthVeda - Pulsar 220 Dts-i





Praful - Pulsar 220 Dts-Fi





Next Navigation :-

3. Day (-2) & Day (-1)
4. Day 1 : Delhi - Amritsar
5. Day 2 : Amritsar - Jammu
6. Day 3 : Jammu - Srinagar
7. Day 4 : Srinagar - Drass
8. Day 5 : Drass - Leh
9. Day 6 : Leh
10. Day 7 : Leh-Diskit
11. Day 8 : Diskit-Panamik-Leh
12. Day 9 : Leh-Pangong Tso
13. Day 10 : Pangong Tso - Marismek La - Leh
__________________
LoneWolfRides® : Re-Initiation to Biking
Ladakh: A Journey that Dreams are made of...
Western Ghats - A Small Weekend Getaway
Lone Wolf Rides® - Beaches/Mountains/Forests
My bike went Home! - Bangy-Goa-M'bai-Pune-Bangy


'Biking', is more than just 0-100-0 !!!
Get out of your Couch ... The 'World' is waiting ;-)
Navigation:-
0. Teaser
1. Prologue
2. The Riders




Day (-2)


Friday, 18-September: The twisties were flowing by, the mountain scenery was too magically beautiful. It was just me, my bike and the hills of Ladakh. Oh! what a bliss. As I approached this long winding left hander turn, I could hear someone shout out my name. I wondered who could it be who knows me in this part of the world. I thought I was imagining things and just gun the throttle and keep at it. But then I heard it again, it was completely coherent. The mysterious voice said, "Close all your tickets before you leave for the day!"....Huh??

SNAP!!!.....I was day dreaming yet again in office. I see the smiling face of my manager in front who knew I'd been acting lost since morning. 

This was the day we were to start the journey, the day we fly to Delhi. Getting through the day from 8AM till 3PM was a wait that seemed like an eternity. As I picked up my haversack and bid everyone from my team farewell, they all wished me luck. I could various moods reflecting on peoples faces, some felt I would never return from this trip, some were as excited I was and some thought i was just plain crazy.

As I sat alone in the volvo that would take me out from the city's madness to the airport outside the city, my mind was running countless checks to ensure no stone is left unturned. Soon I was at the airport and met up with Pranay and Veda. The three of us though not outwardly visible, were bursting with excitement from within. A funny incident happened at the airport, me and Veda were asked to remove our shoes and pass it through the x-ray scanner because of the steel toe present in it. The flight thereon was uneventful, only once when we were over Delhi we were amazed at how well laid out and lit up the roads of the city were. We even clicked a few pics of the awesome Delhi roads.

 

As we landed in Delhi, the first thing we came across was the heat even at this late hour of the night. Our initial plans of staying over at a friends place fell through due to some last minute logistical hassles. So we decided to stay put in Gurgaon for the night as it was the closest place to the airport. We found a decently priced hotel with a ridiculously overpriced food menu. But everything was pardoned, we were getting Leh'd and all these trivialities did not matter one bit and thus we hit the sack for the day.


Day (-1)


Saturday, 19-September: Today was an important day for us, we had to tie up all loose ends, do all our last minute shopping and most importantly collect our bikes. I called up Rohit and Dipankar who not only provided us with loads of inputs but also helped us HUGELY by accompanying us almost everywhere. No amount of THANK YOU's will be enough to convey our regards to them.

A long taxi drive, a sweaty walk and life risking cycle rickshaw ride is what it took us to reach the depot of the packers and movers where our bikes were kept. Soon enough bikes and their master were united. And we were joined here with Rohit, Dipankar(RX100.7050), SunilG & Nitin (L.P.)


The bikes being unpacked
 

All this while the heat had taken its toll on Veda, and when we reached our new hotel for today in Karol Bagh, he just fell flat on the bed. It took about idlies  to revive him back to life. Me and Pranay got ourselves new front tyres in Karol Bagh, I had this arranged well in advance with the help of Rohit. Then the earlier part of the evening was spent in Palika bazaar where I got myself a memory card and camera bag for a cam that would be picking up from a friend in Amritsar. And finally the later part of the evening we were able to meet a few more from the Delhi gang at the famous Dhaba meeting point and got to feast on some 'real' parathas. After gulping down I don't remember how manay parathas and 'makkhan' a quick glance at my watch showed me that we were approaching our 'bed time'. As we bid farewell to our friends, they all wished us luck for the trip.

At the Dhaba with the Delhi gang

 

Kamal, another member from Delhi was to be our GPS to take us back from the dhaba back to our hotel in Karol Bagh. I still had one more thing to be done and that was preparing my medicine and first-aid kit. So whilst the other went back to the room, me and Kamal went out medical shop hunting at 10.30PM. By the time I retired back to the room it was nearing mid night. And by the time I retired to bed after packing up all of my stuff I could see the hour hand of the clock hovering between 1 and 2. I just had to call it day then.

I had to catch as much sleep as possible, my journey of a lifetime was hardly a few hours away. We had scheduled ourselves for a 5.30-6 AM start from Delhi, but that was not be and such would be the trend for the remaining part of the ride.....

More on this Later! 

Navigation :

4. Day 1 : Delhi - Amritsar
5. Day 2 : Amritsar - Jammu
6. Day 3 : Jammu - Srinagar
7. Day 4 : Srinagar - Drass
8. Day 5 : Drass - Leh
9. Day 6 : Leh
10. Day 7 : Leh-Diskit
11. Day 8 : Diskit-Panamik-Leh
12. Day 9 : Leh-Pangong Tso
13. Day 10 : Pangong Tso - Marismek La - Leh
__________________
LoneWolfRides® : Re-Initiation to Biking
Ladakh: A Journey that Dreams are made of...
Western Ghats - A Small Weekend Getaway
Lone Wolf Rides® - Beaches/Mountains/Forests
My bike went Home! - Bangy-Goa-M'bai-Pune-Bangy


'Biking', is more than just 0-100-0 !!!
Get out of your Couch ... The 'World' is waiting ;-)
Apologies with the delay in putting up the log + pics guys, have been having a overloaded week at work... :|

But worry not, I have a 3 day long weekend coming up. I will surely find more time to devote towards this....so bear with me for a little more time... 

Here's something to drool at in the mean time  

__________________
LoneWolfRides® : Re-Initiation to Biking
Ladakh: A Journey that Dreams are made of...
Western Ghats - A Small Weekend Getaway
Lone Wolf Rides® - Beaches/Mountains/Forests
My bike went Home! - Bangy-Goa-M'bai-Pune-Bangy
Previous Navigation :

0. Teaser

1. Prologue
2. The Riders
3. Day (-2) & Day (-1)


Day 1 : Delhi - Amritsar



Sunday, 20th September: Today's ride was going to be really long and judging by the heat in Delhi, I was sure things wouldn't be getting any better along the route. Our plan was to start about 5-6AM from Delhi and try and reach Wagah border before ceremony that's held at sun down at the border gates. We had a little version of Mr. Murphy working for us that day . By the time we were up and ready to it was already the other side of 6AM. But wait! that not the end of it, Pranay's clip-on had somehow come loose. To tighten the clip-on one needs a allen key. My set of allen keys were at the bottom end of my saddle bag, so had to get off all my luggage and empty the contents of the saddle bag. In the process, I discovered that the can of engine oil I was carrying had cracked and leaked out. So we had two minor fiasco's to deal with, once these were sorted out it was already close to about 7AM. So we took a small break to dry up the sweat we had worked up and left from our Karol Bagh hotel.

 


Kamal (visible in the red jacket and Honda Unicorn) was going to escort us out of the city. He was not only our savior for the day but also the night before, where he helped us get back from the Dhaba meetup till our hotel in Karol Bagh, and also helped me find a medical shop at 12AM to stock up on medicines/first aid for the trip. 

After a brief stop over at a local fuel bunk we were ready to roll. The wheels of motion had been started, we were on our way to get 'Leh'd'. For that early hour we had a considerable amount of traffic to deal with on our way out of Delhi. It took a little while getting used to the excess luggage on my bike, but I was 'acclimatised' soon. As we hit the outskirts of Delhi, I had hoped that the traffic would thin out so we could increase our pace to make up for the time lost in the morning madness. The guys had told us to stopover at 'Jhilmil Dhaba' in Karnal. Soon enough we had pulled into the dhaba which we nearly missed. I had read about this place in other's travelogues, and was quite curious to know whats special about this place. The combination of mast mast parathas, makhan and dhai was a mouthwatering combination alright, but I was a disappointed as the paratha's were not upto the mark. We arrived at this place around 9.30AM and considering that we were making good time, but reaching Wagah seemed almost out of question. But we decided not to loose hope and keep trying.




  


With our bellies full, we resumed riding after this nearly hour long breakfast break. This time we had gotten used the traffic much better were able to hold higher speeds, we were cruising around the ton mark. Small towns and villages were just whizzing by and then I felt it. I started to feel asleep, a week long of late nights coupled with the lack of sleep from the previous night was showing up finally. Now I am used to this feeling and usually counter it with opening my helmet's visor and letting a air in to wake me up. But even that was not helping much, so not wanting to push my luck too much, I pulled everyone over and took a power nap. I took the nap somewhere after we reached this distance board.

  


I rested for about 10 mins and was feeling much better after that and we kept rolling. Roads were not as what we had expected them to be, there were potholes sneaking up on us at times and the traffic was pretty dense, I never expected to see so much of it on such big NH. We were taking breaks every hour or so and I would use those breaks to catch a few winks. As the day progressed it got progressively hotter much to our dismay. We were carrying a mix of electrol and glucon D to help us cope with the heat and maintain the balance of fluids in the body.

   


Although not very hungry thanks to the paratha's that we'd stuffed ourselves with in the morning, it was imperative that we ate something. It was about 3PM when we pulled into 'Lovely Vaishno' dhaba and I was left wondering why aren't there any dhabas that serve non-veg food. The heat was really hard on us and this break was necessary not only for food to but get rid our all our riding gear and let the cool breeze cool our bodies. Lunch was again combination of Dal Makhni and Paneer sabzi. Though it might not seem like anything great for those of you live around that region, for people like who are starved of the 'real deal' this was one of the highlights of the trip . We took a nice longish break at this dhaba. 


  


All throughout this trip which ever dhaba we would stop, the people working there would all come out see the 'Aliens' who had arrived at their place. This dhaba was no different, as we were packing up to leave all the guys from the kitchen had come out to have a look at us. Since I had the most of amount of luggage I usually take longer to pack up my stuff and get ready to move. Keeping that in mind I signaled the other guys to continue and I would catch up. With the others gone, one of the cook's mustered some courage and walked up to ask me where I had come from as he had never seen a number plate with 'TN' . His last question to me was, "Bhaisahab aap itni garmi mein yeh jacket kyon pehene hai???" (Why are you wearing "this" jacket in so much heat??). I just smiled and tried to explain him the benefit of the armour, but he din't look pleased at all . It was close to 4PM when we had left this dhaba, and Wagah was definitely out of the question but we still kept our pace so that we can reach Amritsar in as much day light as possible. Somewhere beyond this place the railway line goes pretty close to the highway and it was fun to race with a train. I was shocked to see observe that the train was doing close to about 115kmph (my speedo shows about 2-3kmph lesser than a stock 220). But we lost to the train as it did not have to bother about traffic on the road.  

   

After we crossed Jalandhar the roads lost the centre median and we had deal with oncoming traffic which slowed us down considerably. Prior to this point we were riding in strict formation with me in the lead and Pranay sweeping. But a single lane road makes the difference in speeds between riders more apparent and the formation broke as approached Amritsar. But we regrouped outside of Amritsar, it was already dark by then. With a few phone calls made and a few rounds inside Amritsar we found a decent place to crash for the night. We all got fresh and decided to pay our respects at the Golden Temple. The heat had gotten to Pranay and he decided to stick at the hotel. A friends friend of Veda who's resident of Amritsar was kind enough to help out with the directions to get to the gurudwara. Me and Veda spent some time inside the complex, it was the third time was visiting Golden temple, but this time was different.... I had a camera in my hand. I took a few shots using Veda's camera and our helmets as a 'tripod'.

   


Pranay decided to skip dinner as well so me and Veda had a quick dinner before retiring for the day. Once that was done we were ready to crash for the night, but my night would take a little bit longer to end as I had meet a friend of mine who was traveling around Punjab and Himachal. Mr. Kuldeep Singh aka hillpanther (as he's known in some forums) had actually put up his 5 month old camera for sale. And I really like the offer he had made, after a few failed attempts at trying to pickup the cam from him in Delhi itself. I had the opportunity of catching up with him in Amritsar. After dinner we spent a few hours chatting about cameras, photography and life in general. I have no regrets of retiring to bed at 3AM that night for one I had made a dear friend who's more like brother to me now and got myself my first 'proper' camera. 

Sleeping at 3AM on a day when you have about 400 kms to cover of which more than 75% are in the hills will have its consequences..... More on that in my log for Day 2.... 

Next Navigation :

5. Day 2 : Amritsar - Jammu
6. Day 3 : Jammu - Srinagar
7. Day 4 : Srinagar - Drass
8. Day 5 : Drass - Leh
9. Day 6 : Leh
10. Day 7 : Leh-Diskit
11. Day 8 : Diskit-Panamik-Leh
12. Day 9 : Leh-Pangong Tso
13. Day 10 : Pangong Tso - Marismek La - Leh


'Biking', is more than just 0-100-0 !!!
Day 2 : Amritsar - Jammu



Monday, 21st September: The night before had been pretty long for me and before going to sleep I had made a backup plan in my mind to counter for the lack of sleep. Our original plan was to ride to Srinagar from Amritsar taking the shortcut via Samba, but if we did the Amritsar - Srinagar route spread over two days we would be able to relax and catch up on sleep. I slept till about 10AM while Pranay and Veda paid a visit to Jallianwala Bagh. Today was going to be the second day that we started late, and that was a trend we'd be maintaining almost all throughout our journey. By the time we were packed and ready to move it was close to 1PM. And as soon as we were out of town we stopped over at a dhaba for lunch.

 

Considering that the distance we had to cover for this day's ride was just about 200 kms we were riding pretty relaxed. There was a place where I pulled over for a break, but Veda was on a quest for some 'Lassi' so he and Pranay carried forward. Here, I took out my cam for the first to use.

  


The quality of roads were decent to say the least, there were places where the resistivity of our backs would be tested and there were roads where it seemed any speed achieved. I recollect this one instance in a village where we slowed down, a couple of youngsters saw us started shouting at the top of their voices, "Dhoom, Dhoom, Dhoom" . Soon we were in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, and the Jammu town was still about 90 kms from here. Roads after the toll gate were pretty good in most of the parts as the construction of a 4 lane high way is more or less complete. Since we had been riding very relaxed uptill now, we had increase our pace so we reached in daylight.

  


We were at the entrance of Jammu at about 6PM and it took us a while to decide on a place to stay, finally we stay at my cousin's house in Jammu. The late start from Amritsar had helped charge ourselves really well, the effect of heat and sleep deprivation were taking toll on our bodies had been greatly reduced due to this. I had expected Jammu to be cooler, but it was no different, infact it was a lot more humid than any of our last few places of stay. With sumptuous dinner prepared my bhahi we were stuffed and slept like pigs in the night.
Previous Navigation :

0. Teaser

1. Prologue
2. The Riders
3. Day (-2) & Day (-1)
4. Day 1 : Delhi - Amritsar
5. Day 2 : Amritsar - Jammu



Day 3 : Jammu - Srinagar

Tuesday, 22nd September: This was one of the rarest of rare days, a day where we all got up well in time and were packed and ready to leave around the time that we had decided upon previously. It was a shade before 7AM, our bikes were packed, we were geared up and the twisties awaited us. At this early hour also the, humidity was almost unbearable. Soon the heat that we'd faced in the past 2 days would cease to exist and it would be just chilled mountain air. My cousin brother had woken up earlier than his usual time to bid us farewell and wish us luck for the journey that lay ahead of us. 

At my cousin's place early in the morning.
NOTE: All Images are Clickable Thumbnails.


 


There were no bunks along the exit to the city that looked trustworthy to fill fuel, so we just continued on our way as we had fuel for at least another 150 kms considering the worst mileage. Along with the twisties a light morning fog also greeted us, the drop in temperature was a welcome change as were the curves. There was light traffic along the route, and in about half hour we had found ourselves a 'suitable' petrol bunk to tank up. We decided here that we'd not stop till atleast Udhampur so that we don't loose time like other days. We intended on reaching Srinagar before dusk. But, the beauty though nothing exceptional was bewitching none the less. Within about 20 minutes of starting from the petrol bunk we had stopped for photos. But as time passed by we got used to the scenery and it lost its WoW factor, good for us we din't stop more than probably 2-3 times till we reached Udhampur.

Some random shots from the breaks we took before reaching Udhampur.

    


We had a heavy breakfast so we stop for lunch late. The scenery progressively got better as did the size of the hills. The hills turned into mountains and mountains unlike we'd ever seen before. When I would look up to find the top of the mountains the sheer size of it made me feel extremely small and insignificant. So large were the hills that they made the western ghats looks like a mound of mud. At times the road was pretty bad, almost as if the road had melted. We took a few stoppages, sometimes for the scenery and sometimes to hydrate and the other times for Veda to play catchup 

The scenery took a change for the good on approaching Patnitop, the conifers increased and the temperature dropped. But the scenery from here was just WoW. As we got down from Patnitop there scenery change back to what it was but a slightly more extreme version of it i.e. the landscape was comparatively more barren and the temperature was relatively higher.

Taking a break beyond Udhampur


  


Patnitop & Beyond...

  


Landslide in progress

  


Another spot where we stopped for a photobreak.

 


The last break we took was at about 1.30PM and thanks to the heavy breakfast we still had enough energy to keep going. Thankfully the terrain had a little bit more greenery. We stopped for lunch somewhere before Banihal for lunch at a small dhaba. This again was 'vaishno' dhaba and we had roti and rajma dal. My helmet had developed a strange habit of falling down from the bike in the past few days, it fell once more when we reached the dhaba. Only difference was that this time it actually broke the visor mechanism. I thought I'd tape up my visor and ride with it down throughout the trip, but luckily for me I manage to fix it to certain extent only problem being that every time I put the visor down it would involve a bit of circus antics. We din't spend much time at the dhaba we were packed and ready to go within about 40 minutes.

Beyond the dhaba the scenery was undergoing a welcome change, a change that would truly manifest itself on the other side of the Jawahar tunnel. But for now we were smitten by it and stopped at a place just a few kilometers after the dhaba where we had our lunch. We took a couple of pics and for the first time in the ride we saw bikers who were coming in the opposite direction, a friendly wave was exchanged. Right above the place where we had stopped a couple of local boys were all excited looking at us and were cheering us on from the top, they wanted their photo's to be clicked, I was wondering what is the point they might never get to see it ever in their lives.

The place around the dhaba where we stopped for lunch.


   

A few kilometers before the Jawahar Tunnel.

    

I was pretty excited about Jawahar tunnel as I had read about it in my school textbooks, but nothing could have prepared me for what I saw. Before entering the tunnel we were supposed enter our details at a checkpost at the entrance. I was shocked and amazed to see that tunnel was actually very small in height and was quite unlike I had imagined it. But being small in size meant sound would act differently, so I pulled the clutch and revved hard...the roar of the bike was awesome and I had fun in doing that once in a while passing through the 2.5kms long tunnel.

As soon as we got out we din't know what to expect and so we stopped at the first view point that we saw. Nothing and I mean nothing would have prepared us for the vista that lay in front of us, it was nothing short of STUNNING!!! Our jaws were open for the few minutes before any thoughts of clicking it could come to our minds. There it was, Heaven on Earth, the Kashmir Valley. We spent some time here sipping on tea and letting the beauty sink in. Srinagar was just short of 100 kays from here and it did not seem so far considering the beauty that surrounded us. 

After this view point, the roads descended down into the valley and the roads were pretty bad till we reached the bottom. After this the roads were pretty good and were could manage to hold some decent speeds. We stopped at one more place before Srinagar, here the dry yellow grass spread far out and had beautiful look to it.

The first view of Kashmir Valley


   


The field where we stopped for photos

   


We reached Srinagar around 6PM and went straight to Boulevard road along the Dal Lake, it took some time to find a place to stay as nobody was there at the reception in most of the hotels that we checked out. Finally with a little of bargaining we had nice place that had a view of the lake and a safe parking. 

Veda had to buy a Kashmiri saree for his mother, and I was looking for sort of gloves that would protect my hands from the cold weather. It was Eid and almost all shops were closed in the main market area. Finally the both of us managed to find what we needed and could head back home as the situation in the market was getting scary with lots of people acting like hooligans screaming, shouting away. We rushed back to the safety of the hotel soon after. I wanted to eat some non-veg Kashmiri speciality food, but none was to be found and we had to satiate ourselves with roti, dal and sabzi.

Though not tired, we fell asleep almost immediately. The next day was a important day, it was going to be our first step into Ladakh. We were going to Kargil..... well not quite  
Previous Navigation :

0. Teaser

1. Prologue
2. The Riders
3. Day (-2) & Day (-1)
4. Day 1 : Delhi - Amritsar
5. Day 2 : Amritsar - Jammu
6. Day 3 : Jammu - Srinagar



Day 4 : Srinagar - Drass



Wednesday, 23rd September: ..."Trringgg!!! Trringgg!!! goes my alarm...but that doesn't wake me up . A few minutes later the drowsiness breaks and I am staring at the ceiling of the room, its 6.45AM. Where am I? Blink! Blink!".... And then it hits me. It was just yesterday that I'd landed on heaven on earth, the Valley of Kashmir and now I was at the very heart of it the timeless town of Srinagar. I've read so much about it, seen so much in the movies, but nothing can prepare you for the real deal. I wakeup and walk to the window, whatever little was left of my sleep vanished in a matter of seconds. Within the next few moments I'd changed my clothes and picked my camera. Veda, awakened by the noise asked asked me, "Whats up?". I said I'm going out for photos, half a disapproving nod later he was back into deep sleep. 

NOTE: All the pictures are clickable for larger resolution version, except the ones that are already in large.

Good Morning Srinagar, Dal Lake




   


I came back to the room in less than an hour after a refreshing morning walk alongside the Dal lake. The real ride was to began today, were we nervous..well not really, excited.. Hell Yeah! We had decided that we should be starting by about 8AM today as we wanted to reach Kargil before the day ended and we knew the ride was not going to be as easy as it has been up until now. But it was 8AM already, and we were just about starting to pack our stuff up. The bike's had seen about 850+kms of hard riding in the past 3 days and lots more awaited them, so we decided to pamper our bikes for a bit today. The pampering cost us dearly, not in terms of money but in terms of time. We spent nearly an hour and a half in lubing the chains and cleaning the air-filters on all three of bikes. We also had to tighten Pranay's front forks which we later realized that we had loosened it more than tightening it. It was 9.30 by the time all this was wrapped up, hungry as hell I washed my hands of the stinking diesel and rushed for breakfast. As luck would have it, the place that served breakfast was exceptionally slow and that cost us another hour. Back to the room, we packed up all the mess that we'd created but we still had to tankup and that again cost us another 30minutes. It was nearly noon when we had saddled up our bikes and were on the brink to leave. The hotel guys advised us that reaching Kargil would be difficult as we are leaving this late and we better stop somewhere before that. I was in two minds and unsure of making it, stray thoughts of staying put in Srinagar and starting the next day early in the morning came to my mind and at the same time another part of me just wanted to take a go at..." Jo hoga, Dekha jaega"....(We'll see what happens!). We chose the latter and started towards Kargil. But for today we decided to stop for pics only when necessary and totally unavoidable. 

Once on the road, we rode like men possessed, we only stopped to confirm if we were heading in the correct destination. We went around the whole of Dal lake in a circle to exit Srinagar, and just at the exit of Srinagar we found a mechanic to fix Pranay's forks. Once this was sorted out, we were unstoppable. The road passed through picturesque fields and tiny villages beautiful enough to take your breath away, but we had a race against time. We continued our game of ...'look', 'brake', 'throttle'... Our first real break since we started was at 2PM after we had done nearly 80kms in the past 1.5 hours. Road conditions were just about decent, nothing too bad or good either. As I parked my bike at this spot waiting for others to catchup a BSF jawan suddenly appears out of nowhere. He told me that he saw the 'TN' number plate and came to talk as it was his home state. Soon enough Veda and Pranay arrived. Me and Pranay walked down to a stream that was flowing along side the road. I washed my face in the icy cold stream, Man!! it was refreshing! By now the three of us were in awe of Kashmir. Even if I said it is the most beautiful place on this planet it will not be enough. We stopped here for a considerable amount of time and clicked quite a few pictures.

Beautiful Kashmir!!








The Riders...

  

More of Kashmir...

    


We did not feel like budging an inch from this place, coz it was so enticingly beautiful. And no picture can really do justice to this place. What we did not know is that it just got better ahead. It was almost as if mother nature had been handed over a paintbrush and an empty canvas to paint on, and nature had painted marvelous huge snow capped mountains lined with coniferous trees as its jewels and green fields of grass, some of which even had a green mountain stream running through it. Amazing! Stupendous! Marvelous! Mind blowing!....even all of these put together would not be enough to really convey how beautiful this place was. 

We would be itching to stop every few hundred meters as the landscape had even the slightest of hint change in it. There was one instance where the change in scenery just blew us away. We were speeding up a straight road with the mountainside running along our right, the road suddenly turned to the right and as we turned the vista that opened up right in front of was :O :O :O....A solitary board announced "Welcome to the Enchanting and Picturesque Valley of Sonamarg". And that it was, each one of us stopped here for a few moments to let the surroundings sink in.

We stopped in Sonamarg for lunch, and it was a quick washing down of dal chawal and some sabji. We reached Sonamarg at 2.45 and were ready to move in a record time of 30 minutes. The turn just before the entry to Sonamarg is something that will remain etched in my memory for a long time to come. It was 3.15PM and with Kargil still a long way ahead of us, I was not sure of where would we putting our heads for the night, more so coz the might Zoji La lay ahead of us and last known reports said it was a pain in the backside because it was 8 kilometers of slush....

Sonamarg I will never forget you...



      


Zoji La was our first pass on the trip and we really did not know what to expect. But before that, Kashmir was not done with us just yet. Once we left Sonamarg behing a gradual climb started. We reached this one vantage point from where everything looked straight out from a calender of Switzerland. After Sonamarg, this would be the second place that just took our breath away and it didn't do that softly...it was a huge blow in which time space continuum seemed to freeze. It was almost as if Kashmir was bidding us a final farewell.

Final view of Kashmir

 
    

And soon after this the roads just vanished into dust and so did the landscape as it went from beautiful to barren, though at that time we did not know it but this was truly an introduction of what lay ahead of us. Zoji La is an important pass that leaves Kashmir behind and introduces you to Ladakh, the barren beauty. I was waiting for slush to come up as I had been fore-warned in advance by the inimitable Mr. Sandeep Goswami aka OldFox, but no such slush came as it had all dried and turned into dirt. I still remember the golden words he told us the night before our departure from Delhi and those words remained our motto throughout the trip, he told us..."Leave something for next time..." And so we did..! Coming back to Zoji La, the roads were nothing but loose flying dirt and a huge irritant for the three of us. It affected Pranay the worst, he just cannot stand the dirt and decided to speed off ahead to finish this pass as soon as possible, Veda though not affected that much by dirt was having a hard time tackling the change in terrain as this was his first time on a 220, so the three of got separated and completed this pass at our own pace. Looking back in retrospect, Zoji La was neither the toughest or the most scenic of all passes, it was a mere starter of what lay ahead of us. But the dust had gotten to us all and at the end of we looked like we had been through hell. We stopped once in between to click pics before we got separated, but we were able to regroup at the base of Zoji La where a board announced our arrival to Ladakh.

The might and extremely dusty Zoji La



     

    

It was 4.15PM and we were almost sure that we'd not be making it to Kargil today evening. Drass was hardly 39kms from here and we decided to try and reach there before nightfall. We stopped at two places for a break from here and at one place we were stopped by the army for a routine check. Ladakh did not immediately appeal to us, for it was a dusty barren land, but in the days to come it just grew on us. Here are some pics from the stops we took before reaching Drass.

Barren Beauty - Ladakh!!


          

It was dusk by the time we were nearing Drass. Just before the village begins there was board that announced "Tiger Hill", it immediately brought back memories from 10 years back of the times of the Kargil war. After a little searching around we finally settled for a J & K tourism bungalow for a room with a geyser for 300 bux, but he charged 400 since we were three. As we settled down, memories from the incredible day behind us lingered in our minds. I finally had my quest for non-veg food satiated here, for dinner we had a some local delicacy of lamb prepared for us (Me & Pranay, Veda is a ghaas-phoos eater ). The lamb was probably freshly slain for dinner coz it was the most tender and fresh I've ever tasted. 

Thanks to the almost nil-pollution and high altitude the night sky over Drass was filled millions of stars which we usually cannot see from our polluted city skies. This was my first time with the new camera and these kind of shots are new to me so I was not able to capture the sky as well as I had hoped to.

Night sky from Drass, the concentrated clouds visible is actually a part of the Milky Way





 


The delay in starting from Kargil had affected our plans by bit, now we would have about 280 kms from Drass to reach Leh which is big number considering that this is supposed to be a leisure trip. But starting early was not exactly our forte and that had its own twists for the next day's ride....But more on that later! 


Thursday, 24th September: First day we actually had to face a some amount of cold. At 6.30AM is was quite chilly outside the warmth of our blankets, but since I had gotten up well in time I quickly got dressed and left the room with my camera in hand with the hopes of catching the first rays of the sun. But I was too late the sun was already above the mountains. Pranay woken up by the noise joined me in taking a few pics. Since we still had time at hand we decided to do a little exploring of our own. We stopped at the board for Tiger Hill where we could not stop the previous day. We saw a small broken path that went up a small hill, we decided to explore that. After a little off-roading we were at an elevation high enough to get a view of the entire village of Drass. After this we went a little further until we almost reached Mushkoh village which bore the brunt Kargil war.

From the J&K Tourism Bungalow




 



The point from where Tiger hill was in the background and Drass village was visible


 
   

I had a cold water bath here, and I can only say that any longer and my blood would have frozen inside. As I turned my face into the shower, my eyes started to pain like they have never pained before. A chilly but refreshing experience, not recommended for the weak hearted . We had a nice breakfast of bread and omlette and tea, I tried out salty tea which wasn't really as bad as Pranay and Veda made their faces while tasting it, but at the same time it din't taste great either. We din't exactly start late but we could have started earlier, especially considering that we had close to 280kms to cover before it gets dark. We were improving at this getting late business, it was close to 10AM when we left Drass, but not without a customary shot of the famous board of Drass.




Just as soon as we had started we unexpectedly reached the Kargil war memorial, which I had expected to find around Kargil and not Drass. All the same we stopped here, this was one of the places I did not want to miss in this trip. The Kargil War memorial is a tribute to the martyrs of Operation Vijay, 1999. We spent a good one hour over here, getting late be damned! There's a small room made with newspaper cutout, topographical maps, photographs and all sort of memorabilia. There was something about this place just struck a chord with me, the War Memorial with the Tololing range in the backdrop just added to the feel of the place. Inside the room next to memorial as I read the news paper cutting and read about the photo's stuck over the wall nearly brought me to tear. Why is war so necessary? Today, ten years down the line how different is situation, I am not sure, I am not even sure if history will repeat itself. I for one hope that it doesn't, coz the loss of lives is an irreplaceable loss.

The Kargil War Memorial, mighty Tololing Range in the background. 1999-2009, 10 years since Operation Vijay.



      

The roads were quite bumpy from Drass till this place and the roads ahead din't look quite promising either so we just trundled along at a slow pace until we saw these two firangs pass us in the oppsite direction doing almost break neck speed on bullets, I was like what the heck and from thereon even our speeds increased. We did not stop much for pictures along the route as we were running late and wanted to make up as much time as possible. We just stopped once between the Kargil War Memorial and Kargil town.

  



Soon enough we arrived in Kargil, we had an early lunch over here at 12.30PM. It was the first time I tried a "Thupka" which was very wholesome and extremely filling. Made a quick call home from a STD booth before we left the chaos of Kargil, we were quite relieved that we managed to reach only Drass the day before, as we did not like amount of traffic and rush in Kargil. We filled up fuel in Kargil this was the "proper" fuel bunk until we reached Leh. The route from Kargil town till the bunk was confusing, would make you feel that you are on the wrong route till you actually reached the bunk. Roads were pretty bad and the dust was turning out to be a huge pain in the you know where, so our riding gaps increased to avoid dust. Roads beyond Kargil were quite bad for most of the part, it was nearly 2PM when had passed through Kargil. The ride from hereon was quite uneventful, just the occasional good black top road would make us happy and give us some hope. We really did not expect the roads to be this bad an hence our progress was greatly slowed down. It was nearly 45mins from the exit of Kargil before we reached the dusty but beautiful town of Mulbekh. We stopped here to rehydrate and take photos. Just a few kilometers out of Mulbekh starts the climb for Namik La. The climb started with a really bad stretch of road, but then out of no where a freshly laid black top appeared, I heaved a sigh of relief and gunned to throttle to celebrate the turn of events. My happiness was shortlived and black top again vanished into nothingness. Time was of prime importance, and hence our breaks were short and quick to save as much time as possible. Namik La was a small pass at a not so high altitude, but I did get some tingling sensation in my head, which I thought was AMS hitting me. But thats all I felt, I did not have any of the other symptoms of AMS. So I guess that was just my body getting used to the lack of oxygen in the air. Beyond Namik La the roads were shade better, but still enough to break one's back if they are not careful. From Namik La, the next pass Fotu La took us about and hour to reach. Fotu La also happens to be the highest point on the Srinagar-Leh highway.

Beyond Kargil in the direction of Leh


   


Mulbekh Village



 


Climbing Namik La and Fotu La



    


It was close to 5.30PM when we were atop Fotu La, the wind suddenly picked up speed over here. At one point of time it was strong that I had to hide behind the FotuLa top board to put my gloves and wind bought with a chill factor unknown to us. We left at differential times from here, with me leaving last. The roads from Fotu La till Lamayuru are peg scraper's dream, the curvalicious twisties are accompanied by one of the best tarmac we saw on the trip.



I left quite behind Veda and Pranay and was in no position to catch up with either of them all througout the loops. Lamayuru was beautiful, but with daylight fading fast I did not want to stop anywhere till I caught up with the guys. Just as I left Lamayuru the road suddenly from black top to nothing, and was scary as hell. It looked exactly like one of pictures from a highways of Peru where there 1000feet drop on one side and road is barely wide enough for one vehicle to pass through. While riding down this road I was constantly plagued by thoughts that I was on the wrong route and I won't be able to catch up with the rest, but then I din't turn back either coz I did not remember seeing any other route to exit apart from this highway from hell. It was a painful 15-20 minutes reaching and finally I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw Pranay and Veda waiting at the bottom where the roads were roads had just started to improve. Even they had come down the same scary road, only later did we realize that we had actually taken a "shortcut" and there was an alternative better route to descend from Lamayuru into the Valley. We stopped a little further ahead for a break, it was close to 6.30PM and getting quite dark. I replaced my tinted visor with a clear one for easier night riding. We soon passed a board that read out Leh 97 kms. So, we had to cover the next 100 kms in dusk and the night. With the group back to it orignal riding formation with me in the lead and Pranay sweeping, we rode fast a group. Just as it became darker Veda took a little while getting used to the dark and I was suddenly able to ride faster so we kept going until the gap between us increased finally, after almost about 15kms Pranay caught up with me to slow me down. The next 3 hours or so will be one of the memorable sections of the trip where we rode in darkness from the base of Lamayuru to Leh. We stopped once before Nimmu and once before we reached Leh. Riding in the dark has its thrill and despite the fact that we missed out on most of the scenery the ride was just awesome and thanks to the P220's awesome headlights we could maintain almost the same speeds as we maintained during the day time. Beyond Nimmu there are certain straight sections where we were even doing speeds in excess of 110.  

   


Finally at about 9PM we rolled into Leh town which had mostly slept off. It took us a bit of asking around and arguing  before we could find a place that suited our needs. Finally found a place with fairly decent rooms for 550 bucks a night and very safe parking. We quickly dumped our stuff and found our way to only the only open hotel at that hour. 

Dusted, tired bodies, chilled to the spine but all this din't bother us we finaly got Leh'd.....  

But wait this was not all that we came here for.....the best was yet to come....  

We reached places late....Yes!

Did we miss key places because of the above two conditions.....Hell No!!!  



More on that in the evening! 

Day 6 : Leh


Friday, 25th September: Got up early by 7AM and as usual just walked out of the room with my cam in hand. It was cold outside and I mean real cold. After a few minutes I had to rush in to get more warm clothing. I din't click too many pics as there was not much visible from the compound of our guesthouse. I took Pranay's casio watch which registered a chilling 6.3°C at 7.55AM. 

Good Morning Leh! 




   


In the meanwhile Pranay had gotten up, but Veda refused to wakeup come what may. So Pranay had to showcase some of his mongoloid martial arts...

   

The agenda for the day was to get the permits from the DC's office, get our bikes washed and do a minor service, eat tonnes of momo's.  Lazy as we were, we reached the DC's office pretty late around 10.45, that was not before giving our clothes to a laundry and I got my army boots polished. It took us about an hour to get the permits, but I'm not so sure if we were charged right, it costed us 180 rupees per person , I thought they were free...

After successfully getting the permits we started our search for Juma the mechanic and a place to get the bikes water washed (High Hopes! :P). We found Juma's and he pointed us in the direction of the Maruti service centre for getting our bike's water washed. We were told that it would cost 150 bux for getting the bike's washed, we politely left the place and decided that we would wash the bike ourselves. I would like to add here that the bike's were performing fantastically till now, we had now issues or niggles with them so far, Veda's bike had been returning low mileage from the start of the ride apart from that bikes were performing really well. We just got our chain and airfilter cleaned at the mechanic's place. Veda got his bike re-tuned, thank god for Fuel Injection 

After this was sorted out we headed back to the centre of the town, the hunt for momo's ended as soon as it had started. We found this small place that served authentic Tibetan food. Me and Pranay had a gala time, while mr. veggie Veda had to make do with a veg thupka.



Me and Pranay had a plate of mutton momo's each and a Mutton thupka and mutton fried rice respectively, after that meal atleast the both of us were more than stuffed. Pranay declared that he's gonna have a nice afternoon siesta, whilst me and Veda would be heading out of town to explore the places that we had missed last evening due to darkness. We started from Leh at about 3PM and this time my bike was sans any of the luggage, the only thing I had was my camera backpack. After riding for close to 1300kms with so much luggage tied down onto the bike this felt like a welcome break, just out side Leh as soon as airport is left behind the road start emptying out and this was a good opportunity to whack open the throttle, within moments the bike was at 120 and Veda was now just a speck in my rear view mirror. I was having a gala time blasting down the straights and twisties, with no luggage to slow me down I felt like a free bird. Veda went from a speck to nothing, the Fuel Injected twin was showing its edge over its carb'ed brother. Then I hit this really straight section of road where the bike was barely managing about 85-90 in topgear, took me some time to realize that it was not really as straight as it seemed to be but it was an upward incline. Even with all the ripping it took us about 45 minutes to reach our first stop, Magnetic Hill. I had heard so much about it and I wanted to get a first hand feel of it. But not before a little bit of fun on the mountain side 

Magnetic Hill Climb! 



     
After this we saw a bolero do the magnetic hill trick, it just rolled up the road. I tried to replicate the same effect on a bike with no positive results, but finally after a few tries I could get the bike to rollup the hill on its own will , the tilted horizon thing was working. The trick is to keep rolling at about 5 kmph and then pull in the clutch, the bike won't slow down it just kept climbing up without loosing speed at all.

Making the Magnetic Hill funda work for a bike!


 

Next was to find the confluence of the Indus and Zanskar, I had completely forgotten to read up where it was and with no boards seen last night and no idea where it actually was we started on what seemed like wild goose chase. But it soon bore fruit, infact much sooner than we had expected. The grand valley at the bottom of which the clear deep green waters of the Indus met with the muddy waters of Zanskar was set in very surreal surroundings.

Confluence of Indus & Zanskar rivers




   

At magnetic hill Veda had found himself a hitch hiker pillion to keep him company, well that just slowed him down further so we decided to ride separately as I wanted to enjoy riding my luggage less bike to the max. On the return I stopped to click a few more pics just beyond Magnetic Hill.



 


We met up at the Pathar Sahib gurudwara where we paid our respects before returning to Leh. After this there was that same stretch of road where the bike was struggling to do 85+, only now I was in the opposite direction so I did not hold back on the throttle as the road was arrow straight and gave plenty of visibility of the road ahead. I hit a speedo indicated 130Kmph, on a 220 with a stock front tyre that would be about 133 kmph  Again me and Veda split up but decided to meetup at the main petrol bunk in Leh town.

Pathar Sahib Gurudwara



 

"Its not a runway, its a highway", the road where I hit speedo indicated 130.




Taking a random trail off the road, Leh Town visible in the background.



 


Leh, when viewed from afar.


We were back in town before it got dark, we needed to get more copies of our permits done so we searched for a xerox shop. Finally we found one, while I waited out side, after a few minutes Veda walks out with someone who looked very familiar, it took me a few seconds to realize it was Darth_Lucifer aka Amit Patil from Mumbai on a solo Leh ride, after chatting for bit we realized that we had similar plans so we decided to ride together for the rest of the trip and what a great company we had with Amit, I don't think the trip would have been this great without that unintentional bump into him at the xerox shop. We had dinner together that night, it was great to find a level headed rider as a riding companion and it worked out better for us, we had someone with prior experience. 

We retired to bed a bit weary from the day's running around, but the excitement of the next day would keep us going....More so coz the next day we would be conquering the Highest motorable road in the World and much more....

Day 7 : Leh - Diskit



Saturday, 26th September: As I woke up this morning I could really feel something different. We were going to scale Khardung La today, it wasn't the bike or the terrain or even the climate that I was worried about, what was worrying me to death was the probability of getting hit by AMS. We had been taking all the precautions so far which included poping Diamox pills and keeping our bodies well hydrated. So far so good, but today would be close to 4000 feet higher than I had been ever before.

The day's plan was simple, me and Pranay were going to be washing our bikes. Amit a.k.a. DarthLucifer would be joining us and we'd be riding into the Nubra valley. And being the late latif's we were by the time our we got our backsides out of bed and in motion to start the bike cleaning process it was already 9AM.  Slowly but steadily we did manage to clear our bikes of the Zoji La dust attack, we were fully aware of the fact the bikes would get dirty again as we stepped out Leh town, but the joy of riding a nice shiny bike over rules all sense of practicality.



 

Soon enough Amit bored of waiting for us to start joined us at our guesthouse. Seeing us washing our bike, he too got into the action of cleaning up his bike. Veda was indifferent till this moment, but looking at the three of us toiling with our bikes made him feel kindda guilty and he too took a cloth and dusted his bike clean. 

By the time we started from Leh town it was pretty late, almost close to 10.30AM. After the initial kilometer or two the roads improved a fair bit. Since today we had a new member to ride we had to change our riding positions a it to accommodate Amit, I remained in the lead followed by Amit and then our usual formation of Veda followed by Pranay. We din't take too many breaks whilst climbing up, but the chill factor certainly made its presence felt every time stopped. And almost every time we stopped and additional thermal layer would be donned. Not only did the cold increase as we got higher but also the beauty the vista's held for us. We took a few posing and hydrating breaks before reaching South Pullu checkpost.



    

I was a bit ahead of the guys when I reached the South Pullu check post and as no one stopped me I din't stop either. As I took the u-turn after the check post and started to climb up I could see Amit stopping and pulling over. This is where I realized my mistake and headed back down towards the check post where we submitted copies of our permits. Roads beyond South Pullu were pretty much broken, and we had really stopped bothering about roads henceforth. 

As the roads were pretty bad the gap between the entire group would increase, then I'd generally stop and take a break to allow the others to catch up. Pranay felt quite at home on the roads, he'd mentioned back home the roads were almost like what we were riding on. 

Can you spot the guys? 




  


India Gate seen in the distance!



India Gate



  

Gateway of Nubra





At this altitude, although there were no signs of AMS hitting me. The walking around up and down for photos were making me quite breathless. I took it easy from hereon, small steps to reach back my back, no sudden movements etc. I could ride the bike without any issues though . Soon after passing the gateway of Nubra we were there. We had reach the World's Highest Motorable pass. What followed was the usual set of posing with the board pictures. Once the initial excitement had settled down we realised that our stomachs were craving for some food as it was around 1PM when we reached to top. What followed was a series of bowls of maggi and tea. We had been told not to spend more than 30-45mins at the top, but we ended up spending almost 2 hours at the pass. Pranay decided to trek up a path to click some picture, the rest of declined his invitation to join him as neither was feeling upto it to exert so much at this altitude.


At the Top, Finally Conquered!




   

The decent to the North Pullu check post on the other side was not as swift as we had hoped, we encountered an Army convoy ascending from the other side and we had to make way for them. It was a slow and painful descent, which got even further delayed by a landslide clearing in progress.




Me and Pranay had fallen back as while starting from K-Top his bike had some starting issues. It seemed as though the battery was not able provide enough juice to the starter. This was the first sign of trouble from the bikes, for now it was limited only to Pranay's bike. After much struggling it started, this time while descending I rode behind him just in case his bike gave up again, but luckily for us that episode did not repeat itself for the next 24 hours. Just before the final few u-turns for the North Pullu check post I saw a 'shortcut', it avoided a long winding u-turn and put me directly on the road below. Pranay was shocked to see me ahead of him . We stopped at the check post to submit our permits again. 

Inside the Army canteen here we a couple of jawans who had just returned from Siachen, which was quite evident from their stark white uniforms. A couple of them got interested in us asked us where we had come from. As it turned out a whole bunch of them were from Karnataka. I called out to Veda so they can talk to someone in their own mother tongue. They all were thrilled to find someone from Bangalore on a bike and conversing in Kannada with them, Veda had his 15 minutes of fame before the clock telling us to proceed as time was short. Throughout this trip we kept in mind not to click defence bases, dams and the like, but from here the view of Khardung La was something else, so took a picture of it. 



With 12 kms of North Pullu lies the quaint little village of Khardung. Roads were nothing short excellent beyond the check post we were quite confident of reaching our destination for the day, Diskit. The sun was playing peek-a-boo with us along the mountains, and this play of light created beautiful vistas for us to see. We had decided to take lesser breaks so we don't loose time, but this place we just had to stop.


    


The breaks did not stop here, just a few kilometers from this place the Nubra valley opened itself up for us in all its grandeur with the Shyok river running on the valley floor. The Tsati village was also visible on the valley floor, we stopped here to take photos, and Pranay took a quick power nap to recharge. 

Shyok River visible on the Valley Floor



    

Since Pranay wanted a slightly longer break, it was decided that Amit and Veda continue forward we would catch up later. Along the way we came across another short cut, hesitantly we took it and were happy to save on the kilometers . Then we came across another shortcut, but we were too fast to slow down for it in time. I braked and waited for Pranay to slow down to, I asked him should be take that shortcut, with a big grin on his face he said "Why not?" . Only later did we realize what this had put us through. This seemed to be really huge shortcut and seemed to save close to about 2kms, but about half way through this shortcut I stopped as the gradient went from 'fun' to 'insane'. It was not something that should be attempted on bikes, Pranay came along side and had the same expression  like me on seeing the path that lay ahead. Pranay went aside scouting for alternative easier paths, but found none.

It was a spur of the moment decision, I decided to go down the path. Till date I am not sure if I regret making that decision. What followed from here was the toughest offroading I've ever done in my life. The steep gradient combined with the loose mud and gravel made descending down this extremely tricky. The only way to go down in a controlled manner was to take this slow and steady and move inch by inch. I had to literally fight with the bike to stop it from going down under me. There were times when the mud was so loose that the front tyre would dig in till almost near the axle, when you are going down this is a dangerous position to be in, the rear and lift up and come crashing down on you. Brake, Skid, Brake, Skid....and finally after I don't know how many minutes I reached down. We sure saved up in kilometers but ended up probably spending triple the time in getting down this. Pranay started his descent only after I had reached half way down. I've clicked a few photos of Pranay coming down, the gradient is really not evident from these pictures though.

    

Pranay after completing the 'shortcut' 




This is how the slope looks....




View from half way up the slope




Looking down from the halfway point

 


The Road Ahead!




We initially started taking shortcuts as practice runs for Marismek La, but this short cut left us with more than what we had bargained for and decided that henceforth we wont be using any more shortcuts.  We were glad to be back on tarmac after this episode. Amit and Veda were anxiously waiting for us as we had taken more time than they thought we would. From here on it was more or less a non-stop ride to Diskit. At the time when we reached the Khalsar turn off the sun was starting to set and we soon would need our headlight, the only consoling factor was that it wasn't going to be cold as we were at a mere 10500feet and Diskit just a few kilometers away. As we arrived in diskit we were pleasantly surprised to see many options to stay. We found a nice cosy place to stay for night. The charge for the night for 300 bux if I remember correctly. Dinner was served to us cooked at the host's home and even though it was just the standard fare of rice daal roti and sabzi it was tasty as hell. 

After my nearly failed attempts at night photos in Drass, I went out again to capture the night sky.

Moon Setting behind a Hill





The starry night sky





Owing to the drop in temperatures in the night I retired back indoors soon enough. We had to have our rest for tomorrow was going to be yet another exciting day.

There was something about the peacefulness of this place which struck a cord within me somewhere, I fell in love with this place and decided that I must come back here sometime soon. As soon as I hit the bed I was fast asleep, not due to tiredness but the peace surrounding me.
Day 8 : Diskit - Panamik - Leh


Sunday, 27th September: 
Rays of sunlight peeking inside through gaps in the curtain gently woke me up this day. And the moment I was conscious the first thing that hit me was beautiful silence which would only be momentarily broken by some animal's sound. Today for once we were awake pretty much around the time we had decided. Outside our small little guest house in Diskit was one of the peaceful mornings of our trip. There was something magical about this quaint little town which I still am not able to decipher. I had mentally decided to come back here sometime in the future.

Our guesthouse for the night in Diskit





As we got about getting ready for the day ahead of us and packing up all the stuff back in again, some decided to get their hands down and dirty with photography. Even I joined the club after I had finished my daily routines and packing up all my stuff. Here's a brief result of that....



   

After we all had satiated our quest for photography we saddled up our bikes in order to leave. Veda discovered that he had left his bike keys in the bike the whole night, thankfully we had the bikes parked within the compound of the guesthouse. The cheerful host bid us farewell, not before charging us a very nominal rate for the rooms and a slightly heavy rate for the food. Our plan for now was to head towards the sand dunes of Hunder, but before we were shocked to see a Kendriya Vidyalaya in Diskit village. I remember one of us did click a picture of it, but I can't seem to find it to post it here. As we moved out Diskit, a couple of village kids excited on seeing our bike waved frantically at us. 

Hunder is less than 10kms from Diskit and it did not take us more than a few minutes to reach the outskirts of Hunder. We stopped outside of Hunder to admire the sand dunes for a short while. The only other thing that was compelling us to move further was the camels in Hunder, neither of us apart from Amit seemed really interested in see camels of all the places here.  So after a brief photo session be turned around to return to the Khalsar junction. We stopped twice before that, again for photos. Once at a place where we could the reflection of the mountain in water and once at the straight patch of road that runs right across the river bed. 

The Sand Dunes of Hunder

 

  


Mountain Reflections & Shyok River







          


We grouped up at the Khalsar junction for a small break. Me and Pranay were especially excited on doin 110'ish on the small straight patch of road just before the junction. In the Nubra valley apart from the sand dunes of Hunder the other attraction that we had heard of were the naturally occurring hot water spring of Panamik. Not that we intended to bathe in the springs but we just needed an excuse to ride further into the Nubra valley. Apart from these two there is of course the more important significance of this place i.e. it leads to Siachen. The road quality was more or less the usual all throughout, I had fun evading the odd pot hole here and there. We rode fast through the route as for quite a bit the roads were arrow straight at places. With hunger knocking around wildly in our stomachs we pulled over at the sign of the first town that we came across, Sumur. Only place was open and they served only hot maggi. We gobbled it down as if it was the tastiest thing in the whole world. Although we did not have much to do, but still we had a timeline to meet and that was to be at Khardung La but 3 PM as we thought that any later and we might not be allowed to pass through! We started from Sumur and soon enough had to stop for another photo break.

Roads leading to Panamik



  



Panamik soon came but with the springs no where in sight, I infact ended up crossing the village and going further till I realised that the springs were indeed behind us. It took us numerous stops to ask the exact location of the spring from the villagers. But none of them really told us where exactly the springs were located, they just pointed in the general direction and we had to hunt for it like hounds looking for their prey. It must have taken us almost half an hour of hunt to figure the exact location. The turn to the springs is pretty obscure and the path leading to the spot is even more weird, its almost as the path is fit only for wild animals, but we saw a decent sized dump truck moving on it. It was a  moment for us. Excited at the thought of seeing the source of a mountain sping the anticipation just pushed us to walk up the path impatiently....Only to discover this....

Hot Springs of Panamik



   


3 pic Panorama of the view from the Panamik Springs




The sulphur coated rocks from the hot water springs might have been one of the marvels of nature, but they did not appeal to us. Partly because we had grandiose expectations from the little spring. But this minor disappointment was not a setback of any sort, we had ridden on some beautiful roads scenery around more than made up for it. 

We started back towards Khalsar and decide to split up into two groups. One group was of Veda and Amit who were more relaxed riders, me and Pranay formed the other group who would ride fast, stop to take pics and then catch up with the relaxed group. We decided to regroup at Khalsar once.

On the way to Khalsar



      


Just beyond the Khalsar Junction, before the Khalsar Village



    


Along Shyok just before the Army camp at Khalsar Village



    


After crossing the Khalsar village we decided not to stop too often run back to Khardung La. As it was already 1.30 PM and by our time-line we just had an hour and a half to reach back to the top. We stopped at a few places where we had stopped the day before briefly. But the most important stop was for the place where me and Pranay had our small offroading misadventure the earlier day, we wanted to show Amit and Veda what we had been through.

Tsati Village at the entrance to Nubra




The slope that we 'offroaded' on!






The Valley before Khardung Village



 



We reached North Pullu checkpost at about 3.15PM. Much later than we had originally planned, but we weren't stopped at there so we proceeded further towards Khardung. We had not eaten any lunch and were hungry as hell, eating in North Pullu would have meant a spending a lot of time here, so we decided to eat on Khardung La instead. Just when we were about to leave a couple guys came asking us for tools, they had a bullet with a flat tyre. Whats more these guys were totally unprepared for the ride, they had just rented these bulls in Leh and ridden it across Khardung La without any spare or tools whatsoever. Brave souls they were ! And incidently they belonged to one of the popular travel forums in India. Amit and Veda pushed ahead of us so that they don't get left behind in the climb. Me and Pranay started a bit later, Pranay's bike had given a starting scare the day before at Khardung La and he as worried about it, so on the climb up he decided not to stop anywhere and pushed up without stopping. I on the other hand took breaks here and there to capture a few pics. It had snowed the earlier night and as I got further up I could feel the cold biting in through my multi-layered thermals. First time on the trip I could get really close to some proper, clean snow. Here are some pics from North Pullu till the climb up.

From North Pullu to Khardung



       



As we reached the top, the first thing we did is we headed to the canteen. No posing shots today...only food. Finally relaxed after a bowl or two of maggi each and numerous cups of black tea we finally were feeling nice and relaxed. After a few minutes spent in conversation I decided to explore a little bit, I want to climb up till the view point hunt a little above the pass. Pranay who had been there the earlier told me not get worried with the initial breathlessness that will attack me at the start of the climb. This tip really helped me a lot. I took numerous breaks till I reached the hut only to realise that we can climb a lot higher! I felt better acclimatized after the initial few meters and decided to climb further. It was relatively tougher terrain, but I did not feel any AMS related symptoms and was not worried. The view from the top was like reward for all the hard work involved in climbing till that place....This is what I could see from there...

The view from the top!



  

The camp on Khardung La visible and roads coming from North Pullu



Enroute the path lead by the prayer flags



Stopped Mid-way along the climb



  

By the time I had finished my adventure we had packed up to leave it was well beyond 5PM. The wind had picked up and the temperatures were dropping rapidly, any part of the skin that was exposed would feel as if there are a 1000 needles pricking it. As usual Amit and Veda left ahead of us, it was a good plan. But they did not know that Pranay's bike would throw its a tantrum at that altitude. No matter how much cranked Pranay's bike it just refused to start, it was clear that the battery was acting up. Dhakka start was the only way to go, at this altitude and temperature dhakka start was a herculean task but we managed. I took a few minutes to get my breath back. My bike luckily started at the first crank itself. As I slowly rolled down still trying to recover from all the pushing of Pranay's bike, I was shocked to see that he had again stopped and was trying to start his bike. It had stalled and shut once again, no problemo exhausted as I was had to push start the bike again. This time it started and Pranay did everything to not make it stop again. This time I needed a longer break to recover from the burst of energy expenditure. After a few minutes I could ride normally with decent amounts of oxygen in my body. I caught up with Pranay who was riding slowly to allow me to catch up. The ride down was super fun, with me and Pranay blasting down the twisties. We did have our scary moments with gravel lining the sides and middle of the road, but by now were used to it and we just floated down all the way till Leh. The sun was started to set as we began our descent, and it was twilight for the final few kilometers.

All in all it was a good 2 days spent towards exploring Nubra valley and crossing Khardung La.....

Day 9 : Leh - Pangong Tso


Monday, 28th September: The night before had been loads of Momo's and Beer, so I din't expect that I would be getting up any early in the morning. So we stuck to our tradition of getting up late and starting even later. Amit was much better in this respect, he had had bath and gotten ready to move at the time when were batting our sleep eyelids. With the new SLR at hand, the photography keeda bit me again and took the opportunity to click some pictures whilst the others were suiting up.

Good Morning Leh!



   


It was about 9.30AM when we finally moved our lazy butts out of our guest house, then started the hunt for a place to have breakfast. We all finally agreed upon Gesmo Bakery which seemed to be a place serving some yummy continental breakfast. Well the yummy part certainly worked in our favour, but the speed of the service was well quite in the opposite direction. We ended up having an extended breakfast which lasted almost 2 hours. After we had filled our tummies to much over the recommended level, we proceeded to fill our bike's tanks with some expensive liquid. My bike's front tyre was running a slightly lower pressure, so I even tried to fill in air at the petrol bunk. But much to my dismay instead of filling in air the defective machine ended up reducing the pressure even further. Now the meter showed 12psi, this was not only sad but also risking considering we had Marismek la ahead of us the next day. I asked around the petrol bunk guys if there was anywhere else I could fill in air, they pointed in the direction of the Manali highway, which was excellent news considering that we were headed in that direction. In the meanwhile, Pranay had gotten to work with the electric compressor that we were carrying only to figure out that it was not working. Anyhow with high hopes we proceeded on the Leh-Manali highway, I stopped at the first petrol bunk that I got. Only to discover that even their air compressor had conked off. Nothing else to do but proceed forward, one of the guys at the bunk said I'd get one at Karu. So again we proceeded forward, this time we all rode a little fast, not because of my tyre pressure issue but more because we had loads of distance to cover.

The ride from Leh on the Manali highway was beautiful and seemed promising, we were going to be heading down this road all the way 2 days later. But for now our journey went only till Karu, where we took a left towards Shakti which lead to Chang La. Again at Karu the same story was repeated, the petrol bunk guys did not have their air compressor working. Now the only option left for me was to go the HeMan way, that is using the foot pump. With a heavy heart I proceeded further down the road, but destiny's star was shining at that point of time and I spotted a guy repairing truck tyres. I asked him if he would fill air for bikes, he said it will cost me 10 bucks, I was more than happy and paid him 20 instead. Now I my ride was back to its usual state. We retained our usual formation, where I lead the pack and Amit followed me and who was followed by Veda, Pranay was as usual the tail gunner for the pack. Beyond a certain point after the Karu turn the roads improved quite a bit and it was evident that it was freshly laid this season. Slowly and steadily I increased my pace as I started enjoying the smooth tarmac rushing beneath me, the 220 was gobbling mile upon mile like a hungry stallion. A minutes later I realised that I had gone much ahead of the pack and took a break right where the climb towards Chang La began. Just before the climb started there was another road that diverted from the base and went along the base of the mountain. Now this road was even yummier and was pitch dark black top in the midst of that desert. Later on I realised that it was the road that comes from Wari La, something which we had decided to leave for next time. After a brief wait of a few minutes I could the streak of three bikes and I decided to push forward on the hill path.

Not that I am great at corner carving, but hills is something I enjoy riding in and it just puts me in a state of trance. Again I was pacing up the twisting winding roads like there was no tomorrow. Around one of the U turns I saw a earth mover coming down in the opposite direction, since the roads were thin I just pulled over off the road and signaled them to come forward, but on seeing me they had slowed down too, I signaled them again to pass. If it would have been a taxi or anything like that I would most probably gunned the throttle and passed through whatever gap they had left me and in the process it would have scared the driver a bit too, but the BRO deserved more respect than that, and so I pulled over. I could see inside the earth mover the three guys were wide eyed and in a state of shock. I don't they expected a civilian tourist to let them pass, then they shocked me with their reaction, they started the earth mover and started descending when the passed by me all three of them stood up and saluted me, I did the same in return. It was one of those moments which cannot be really put into words and this brief exchange of salutes is something that I will always remember from this trip. After this I rode a little bit more distance and decided to stop for the guys to catch up. I glanced at my watch and it was 1PM, the only thing ringing through my mind was Pagal Nallah!!

Waiting for the guys to catch up!
The road to Wari La in the second picture.



 

Pranay was the first to appear and I guess the relatively sedate Amit and Veda must have bored him to death. We moved forward only to take break in five minutes, this time we had moved to the other side of the mountain.

Roads carved into the Mountain, Can you spot Veda and Amit?



  

Roads leading to Chang La





We grouped here and rode in formation again. The roads soon gave way to barely roads and finally it was just a dust trail, I guess that's where the snow line began. We all took a pit stop at the first glimpse of snow and out came the cameras shooting everything in sight.

Just before Chang La and the road leading to it!



   


We reached atop Chang La at about 2PM, the climb had taken us a good one hour. Chang La might be lower than Khardung La, but the cold was equally biting into our skin here. After a few of the customary poser shots with the Chang La boards I went to pay my respects at the Chang La Baba mandir, opening my riding boots, socks and knee guards proved to be an herculean task due to the cold and relative lack of oxygen. I din't take much time as my feet were going numb on the cold stone. After which we took a few more poser shots. We had read about the free tea offered by the Indian Army here and Veda had been waiting all day long for this freebie. After multiple rounds of tea we moved on, our break here had lasted an expensive 45 mins and thoughts of Pagal Nallah were again racing through my mind.



    

Since it was already 3PM we had to rush henceforth, the decent from Chang La was quite painful as the roads were in a pretty bad shape. But then once we were past the snow line the roads improved again. Here on we stopped taking too many breaks for pictures too. We had not had anything to eat since we left Leh and the super heavy breakfast at Gesmo gave us enough energy to keep pushing ahead. The landscape and scenery from here was very dramatic and itch to bring it under my lens kept bugging me, but Pagal Nallah made me forget all that. We only stopped where we could not control the itch any further. The descent till the plains was a bit tricky, but once we were on the plains around Tangtse we thought we could speed up but the bumpy roads would just not let us do that.

The roads beyond Chang La till Tangtse



    




The Army presence was pretty strong around Tangtse and the only signs of life in the valley. A group of 4 geared up bikers passing through that area was getting some good attention from everyone around. We had initially thought of stopping at Tangtse for lunch, but the time crunch meant we just push forward. Beyond this the landscapes got even better and I promised myself that I would stop for pictures tomorrow on our return journey, but for now Rip! Rip! Rip! The road here is pretty risky where there sudden depressions on the road built for the water to pass through, one of these caught me unawares and resulted in a long skid mark being left on the road. The Michelins were doing their job extremely well, in all the ripping the group had again split up, so I slowed down and Veda caught up with me pretty soon. We both then rode together, I did stop at a few places to take pictures and let Amit and Pranay catch up, but they dint so we proceeded further ahead.

Roads beyond Tangtse

  

I knew Pagal Nallah was just around the corner, it not the wet crossing that I hate, that part I love. Having wet socks is the thing that scared me the most. I was constantly on the look out for a stream that would easily gulp my bike and me in one shot but nothing appeared for long time. Then the roads suddenly just broke into really bad gravel, there was some construction work for a girder bridge in progress and we had to ride around it. While going around it had to cross a small stream which was a breeze and done in one shot. Me and Veda took pics of each other crossing the stream. After crossing the stream we realised it was not just a stream it was what was left of the notorious Pagal Nallah. The BRO had built multiple pathways around the stream so it breaks into multiple paths and the strength of flow is reduced considerably.

Pagal Nallah, or what's left of it!



    

We laughed at the Nallah and our bad luck of not witnessing what Pagal Nallah really was like in the earlier days. Pranay and Amit had still not caught up with us till this time so we decided to take a break a little further. What we saw next was a sight for sore eyes....

The First Sighting of Pangong!!!





  



We had made it in time, it was 4.30PM and we had reached Pangong without any issues. My bike hit 44444kms exactly at this spot! Overjoyed to get a closer look me and Veda rushed ahead without waiting for the left behind Amit and Pranay to catch up. We passed the Army camp and the tents of Lukung, on the way we also saw the turn off for Phobrang village which tomorrow we would have to take. Spangmik our destination was clearly visible in the distance, here we waited for the others to catch up and in the meanwhile went crazy with our cameras.

Pangong Tso in all its glory!



   

A Pano shot of Pangong!




After a long gap Pranay and Amit finally arrived. We decided to stay in Lukung itself rather than riding all the way till Spangmik as staying in Lukung would help us in a early start the next morning. We did not stay in the tents, instead we got the huts for 400 rupees for the night. We dumped our luggage in the room and just crashed in bed. After I had rested for a little while I decided to venture out with camera as there was still enough day light. On the way out Veda asked me where I was off too, I replied 'I am going to explore'. Veda was instantly interested after a few minutes he started along the same path as I went, soon enough Pranay followed suit. Much later even Amit decided to join us. I headed in the direction of Spangmik, thinking I'd go till there and come back. But it seemed too far off and and instead got off the road and ventured towards Pangong. After the inital loose gravel finished off, it gave way to loose sand with the rear of the bike digging into the sand it was a tough ride to reach the shore line. Finally after I reached I stopped, I could hear another engine struggling in the sand, after a little bit of searching I could see it was Veda stuggling in the loose sand. I wanted to take my bike right next to the lake, but the effort in reaching there was too much and realised that the pictures that others took with their bikes was from a different location. We spent a lot time posing and clicking here, till we realised it would be get dark if we dint start any sooner.



        




We soon reached back our rooms as darkness descended upon Pangong. The caretaker was given instructions for dinner and he also prepared some snacks for us. After a few minutes of chatting, I could not contain the itch to click and stepped out again to try my hand at night photography. It was beautiful and chilly at the same time, the slight breeze blowing added to the chill factor. I spent the next half an hour clicking and trying to get the hang of night shots.

Our abode for the night







    

A self portait!




The guys were calling out to me since I had stepped out they kept shouting about some Aloo thing, I was more into taking pics at that time. Once I got back to the room, I realised what I was missing out. The caretaker had prepared some salted potato fries, which to our Gesmo breakfasted tummies was the tastiest thing we had ever eated in our life. By the time I reached only a little bit was left so ordered a few more plates till dinner got prepared. Dinner was a simple affair of rotis and some mutter panner along with the salted potato fries. As the night grew colder our bodies wanted us to rest as tomorrow was a tough day ahead of us, Marismek La had to be conquered. But I had other plans of the time, I dragged everyone out of the room for another round of night photos. All of us tried our hand at clicking long exposure shots, there was another group who were taking a 20 minute exposure shot. Only if I had the camera remote, I mentally made a note of buying the remote as soon as I got back. It was getting chillier by the minute and the moon was slowly setting behind the mountain, without the moon it would have been really difficult to walk back from the lakeside to our rooms.

Group shot besides Pangong!



The starry night sky besides Pangong!







   


After monkeying around with a torch light for the long exposure shots we headed back to our rooms. The moon did finally set on our way back and we were enveloped in complete darkness, thankfully Amit was carrying a torch with which we managed to reach without a hitch.

Tired from the day's riding and a stomach full of salted potato fries we all hit the sack and feel asleep immediately. I got up in the middle of the night as there was some loud noise outside almost as if there some sort of wild animal, later realised that it was only Veda out for a piss. I checked my watch it was around 3AM, as I glanced out of the window what my eyes saw is something that will be etched in my mind forever. The sky was filled with stars more than anything I had seen earlier, after the moon had set the number of stars visible had increased drastically. I was half tempted to step out to click photos again, but the warmth of the blanket covering me made me change my and was back in deep slumber again.....


Mighty Marismek La tomorrow......


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13. Day 10 : Pangong Tso - Marismek La - Leh

Day 10 : Pangong Tso - Marismek La - Leh


Tuesday, 29th September: Restless I went to bed the night before, not because I was tired, not because I was excited and definitely not because I was bored to death. But I think it was the anticipation of the toughest day of this entire ride laying in front of me that was the cause of restlessness. I did not sleep well, just turning and tossing around. With broken sleep, I would check my watch every time I woke up. I heard the Innova that came in late at night almost at about 1AM, I even heard some scratching and loud noises just outside my room, which I was convinced that it was a bear of some sort wanting to break into our room at 3AM. Later I learned that it was Veda out for a pee . Around that time I just happened to glance out of my window I saw the most beautiful night sky I've ever seen in my life. The number of stars dotting the sky was just mindblowing, I was tempted to get out with my cam but the cozy blanket and my not so good night photography skills ensured that I don't leave the warmth of my quilt! 

At about 5.30AM I was up and about, packing my camera and tripod heading out towards the lake to get some of the sunrise shots. The sound woke Pranay up too and he wanted to tag along too, hearing us even Amit and Veda got up in the next room and decided to join us. At about 5.45AM shivering in cold the four of us strolled to the lake side, the sun was not yet up but its rays were peeking from behind the mountains. A sight so lovely that I cannot describe it in words or even capture it in a camera. Here is a brief presentation of what we witnessed.

Good Morning Pangong Tso




Amit setting up his tripod for a few shots



    


I was actually waiting for the sun to peak in from the behind the mountains, but it was taking awfully long. Disgusted we finally just went back to our rooms, just as we reached the sun finally managed to show itself. Some clicking madness ensued and soon we were bored. We had more important things to think of today, as today was going to be the toughest day in the entire trip. We were going to conquer Marismek La. We were not scared or nervous, just some amount of apprehension if our machines were up to it or not. We decided not to leave too early so we rested for a while and finally left around 7.30AM from our huts. To make the ride easier we had left most of our luggage in the rooms and were carrying only bare essentials. Time came to start the bike's, and my bike started in the first crank. Pranay's bike miraculously started within a few cranks a good sign I thought. On the other hand Veda's carb'ed 220 with the so called fundoo gizmo call AutoChoke refused to come to life. The only thing that could be done after that we me and Veda running around to get the bike dhakka started. It did not take too much effort, but was definitely a sore thing at the start of the ride. The people in the neighboring huts were woken up by the minor pandemonium we had created.  Their half sleepy eyes and brain could not comprehend why would 4 idiots leave at this hour in the morning, if only they knew of our perilous journey ahead.

Without much ado we thundered out of Lukung in the direction of Phobrang, though our ordeal from 3 days back was still fresh in our minds and the resolution of not to take any shortcuts ever again in Ladakh. But alas the itch never subside we took a nice shortcut just out of Lukung to the road that connects to the Phobrang road. Once past the gates of Phobrang Model Village we were greeted with nothing but a desolate landscape with no signs of a village around. As usual I was leading the pack and was riding a bit ahead, though it was not really cold as the sun had started warming things up quite a bit, but sudden gusts of wind which came down from the mountain side would chill me to the spine. Up ahead in the distance I saw some white stuff lying on the road, and as I got closer I could see that it was flowing water which had frozen over night. I was excited at the prospect of having my very first black ice crossing, so I stopped to indicate to the others who were behind me about this 'crossing'. As soon as the other joined in there were mixed reactions ranging from fear to apprehension regarding crossing this. We took a few photos to commemorate the moment 

The so-called Black Ice crossing




Later on closer inspection we realized (much to my dismay!) that the water was actually flowing and it was not black ice. So we passed over it with ease. This was the largest one that we encountered, beyond this there were a few more smaller sized one all the way till Phobrang. I felt pity for the people of Phobrang and was really amazed as to how they managed to live in such a location and climate for their entire life. My biggest fear was that the ITBP would turn us back saying the conditions are not favorable, etc. But I think it was our lucky day, they let us pass through without a fuss. And thus began the arduous climb to the world's highest not so motor able road...

As soon as the climb began, the combination of bad roads and a cool climate set off a circuit in my brain and I was off... Speeding away on the broken trail leaving a dust cloud behind and also my much disgusted companions. The valley gradually opened up in front of me and I could see the trail going all way till it lost itself in the mountains in the distance. I gone so much further ahead that I could no longer see my companions anywhere. This is where I decided to take my first break and out came my camera. As I was clicking pictures, the guys started trickling in slowly. First one to reach was Amit, followed by Pranay and finally Veda.

My First stop



    

The Teaser Pic...




After this we decided to split up into groups of two which again turned out to be bad idea as me and Amit gradually moved further away from Pranay and Veda as they were moving a lot slower than us. The terrain up untill now had been pretty much of a cakewalk and I did not expect it get any worse, big mistake . Me and Amit decided to take a stop to allow Pranay and Veda to catch up with us. So yet again the cam came out of its bag. If you look at the pics closely you will be able to see the path getting lost into the mountains.

Waiting for Pranay and Veda





    


Pranay arrived with a grumpy face, because he being a fast rider Veda slow progress over the broken terrain had taken a toll on Pranay's patience. And here we decided to ride as a group henceforth, coz incase anyone's bike fails we will all be there to help out. So group pic was clicked to celebrate the moment.


In our entire Leh ride the moment that happened next will always be etched as the toughest moment of the entire trip. Due to loose sand I had slowed down to negotiate a section with a slower pace, at this point Pranay overtook me and was in the lead now. After a few kms ahead the road forked into two, gut feeling said take the right one but it was too late as Pranay had already ventured on the route that went left. No other choice left but to follow him, I had a bad feeling about this in my gut and soon it was proved why so. This left side trail was initially hard packed, but gradually loosened up and the incline suddenly increased. The loose sand coupled with the massive gradient suddenly meant we had hit a wall. Pranay's bike was caught in loose sand and it just refused to move out of its place. I got down from my bike and pushed his bike up which finally ensure his bike managed to climb, now with my bike I did not try any heroics I just tried to push it with the little help from the engine power to push it ahead. Cold air and the lack of oxygen in it now suddenly out of nowhere made its presence felt I could immediately feel my body gasping for breath. Next was Veda's bike, this we decided to ride it around instead of pushing it. Now only Amit's bike was left and Pranay thought it would be easier to push it up. That he and Amit did manage to do, but it left Pranay gasping for breath very deeply. We all took a long break here drank a lot of water, allowed our bodies to acclimatize to the extreme exertion that it had gone through in the past few minutes. Let the pictures do the talking....

        


After this part the climb just got a bit tougher than before. But surprisingly after a the climb started we had not seen a soul apart from the rest of us and we were quite shocked to see horses grazing at this altitude. More Importantly there was a person who had taken them out for grazing. The terrain now just became too rough and I think even the incline was too much, there came a point where my bike was whining so much that I felt pity for it and just let go of the clutch so the bike just died down on its own. As I stopped I could also hear the other's engine straining away to glory. This path was not tough as such, but it was very demanding from the bikes. 

The path where my bike was crying for mercy






After a few minutes break we resumed our gruelling ordeal of punishing our bike to the limit! The final approach to the pass was now visible, but we did not know it at that time. We continued despite the engine straining underneath us, but I decided at that point that I will never do Marismek La again and if I do, I would definitely do it on a much much powerful bike. Something that can gobble up this terrain with ease.

The final few meters of the pass the gradient just becomes quite a bit, I'm not really sure if it was the gradient or the lack of oxygen but I could feel the engine straining quite a bit, but there was enough grunt to keep going. Pranay's bike had a AMS issue with the battery, beyond 14000 feet his battery would just give up. So we had to ensure that his bike did not stall at any point of time. But Mr Murphy was smiling at our fate and while negotiating a tough U turn the bike stalled and fell. Since it was a very low speed turn no damage happened as such, but his bike refusing to strike hit us like bolt of lightning. There was no way we could push start his bike given the terrain, and the only way out was go rolling down the slope and leave the clutch once the bike has picked up some amount of speed. Pranay quickly went rolling down the slope, I shouted away instructions of waiting till the bike reached atleast 18-20 Kmph. As I saw him roll down the scraggy surface a million thoughts raced through mind ranging from how were going to manage if this exercise failed and would his bike be safe if left here, would the Army help us, was there another way to start the bike... The gravity of the situation was far too much to take standing, I found a place to sit and had a silent prayer on my lips praying for his engine to come back to life, I could hear his first attempt he had gathered enough speed but the engine did not crank back, another attempt and still nothing, then a little gap to build speed and then another try and this failed too, I could see that Pranay had built up a lot of speed this time and he almost fell, the downward slope was coming to an end, and after three failed attempts my heart almost sank seeing him come near the end of the final slope, he tried once more and what's that.. I could hear his engine roar back to life. Prayers answered I stood up and did a small dance of joy. Meanwhile Amit's bike had stalled too and he did not have the strength to push start it. Since his bike had stopped at a relatively flat surface I could manage to push the bike and start it, but this move took a lot of energy out me. I stood breathing hard to extract whatever little oxygen available, in the meanwhile Veda had wandered all the way up to the pass and Pranay was back and was overjoyed and worried at the same time. Slowly but steadily the three of reach the top of the pass, I was the last one to roll in.

Yeah! We had done it.... all 18314 feet of it. Was I overjoyed, nope! Not really, the past 2 hours felt more like a conquest of just getting the badge of having done Marismek La. The ride was not enjoyable and the vista's did not have anything great to offer. This had been just a pain in the wrong places earn you badge ride. Yet, having achieved this it was time for us to pose for pictures. Don't go by Veda's look, neither he pushed anyone's bike neither he rode his bike when the we were at the place where we at the place where Pranay's bike got stuck 

Marismek La....



    

The 4 'Posers'

 

 

   

It was almost 11AM and we had the entire arduous ride back till Phobrang village and also we had to ride back to Leh the same day. So with quite literally nothing better to do we packed up and double backed our way back home. I let the other go as I wanted to spend a few moments on top clicking pics of my bike. As soon as the guys were far enough that I could hardly hear their engines I realized the folly of my move, incase my bike refused to start there would be no way for me to communicate to any of them about it. I placed trust in my bike and decided to go ahead clicking the pictures as intended.

Me, My bike and Marismek La



 

While I'm sure that day was one of the 'warm' days, but it was still so cold that if my hands were out exposed for too long they would start feeling numb. I had to keep my hands inside my pockets to save them from the freezing wind. I started my descent a few minutes later, I had decided to take a few more than normal photo stop along the route. In the process my riding partners had gone quite far and they would stop at times to allow me to catch up. I caught up with them only at the ITPB outpost. You can actually seem them as specs in some of the pictures.



         

Beyond Phobrang, almost at Lukung beside Pangong Tso

     


It was close to 1.30PM by the time we got back to our rooms and it was getting terribly late to reach Leh. We quickly packed our stuff and ordered lunch. I managed to put back everything pretty fast and lunch had not arrived till then so I went out to get some clicks of the sun falling on Pangong and giving it the magical colors.



     



Naturally we were famished after the Marismek La ordeal and hogged on the lunch served to us. The ride back was going to be fast because we did not want to be descending Chang La in darkness. So lesser breaks was order of the day. I again stood back a little longer than the other as despite the tight time-line I had some I cannot type pictures to be clicked. After the initial few clicks I realized that it would not be possible and I have to yet again leave something for next time.....

Our place of stay @ Lukung



The Road just before Pagal Nallah



Beyond Pagal Nallah





 

Beyond Tangtse





We stopped at Chang La for some of the complimentary tea, Veda would not let us go without having some of it being the freeloader that he is . We must have reached Chang La top at about 4.30PM. The descent was yet another rip fest once we went past the snow line and decent black top appeared. As usual the time crunch meant no stopping for pictures anywhere. The ride down was fun with me and Pranay blasting down the twisties like there was no tomorrow, on the other hand Amit and Veda took it slow and easy. We regrouped just before Shakti village.

Long Live BRO





Amit was startled at the pace with we came back and he wanted to ride back at an easy pace, not wanting to split up the group we all decided to have a nice and easy run back to Leh. A relaxed ride ensured that we reached Leh in our own sweet time. But most of it was done in the dark, along the way we could see so many other bikers coming into Leh from the Manali route. It felt that we were in Mecca of Bikers... 

This was going to be our last night with Amit as we were going to begin our return journey the next day. So we collected our T-shirts and decided that the 4 of us would wear our tee's for dinner. 

After Dinner shot in our 'Leh' Tee's




Our Tee's were a bit different from the usual pattern that they offered, we had it customized to show our entire route including Marismek La.  It was celebration night for us as we had done something today not many people in this world have done yet. Marismek La will forever remain as just an achievement, nothing more!

Bones tired to the core, muscles sore we crashed into bed. For tomorrow is yet another long twisty journey along the scenic Manali route.....


To be Continued.....
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Day 11 : Leh - Sarchu


Wednesday, 30th September: We being the proverbial slow starters, we lived up to our name on our last day in Leh. Today we had to pack up all our things in addition to all the things that we usually do to get late.  The cycle of things to be done was packing, bathing, fueling up and breakfast. When all of it was done, it was not before a good part of the day had passed and we were nearing mid-day. The destination to be reached today was Sarchu, its a good 260 kms away. And starting late in the day and being trigger happy go hand in hand in making one late to reach. The final shot just before Leh.

The last pic at the Exit of Leh Town




It was a slightly sad moment that our trip was coming to an end, but we had the fantastic Leh-Manali route to look forward too, which was promising to say the least. As we passed through the familiar route which we had taken to day back to head up Chang La pass and finally end up in the beautiful Pangong Tso it was just a rush of memories which is something that will not be forgotten in this lifetime. In this trip we didn't enter any of the monasteries and neither did we click them. They simply didn't figure in our area of interest at that point of time. But I really wanted to capture atleast one of them, so along the return route I pulled over at Thiksey Monastery for a quick shot of its imposing facade.

Thiksey Monastery




We went on riding at a quick pace to quickly leave as much civilization behind as much as possible. We took our first break after an hour of riding, just to hydrate and quickly make backup plans for they as it was evident we were not going to make it to Sarchu before nightfall. We had been forewarned by many of the experienced people that staying in Pang is inviting trouble for AMS as its at an altitude of 15000+ feet.

First Break after leaving Leh

 

Soon enough we found ourselves climbing up Tanglang La, now this might be the third highest pass amongst others, but when it comes to difficulty level it was right there at the top. This was simply because the road surface was really bad, thanks to the construction taking place and the ascent to the top was really quick, it didn't take us much time to reach there. To add to the difficulty in getting there was the fatigue of the last 9 days of the trip, along the "fight" to climb Marismek La the previous day had taken a toll on our bodies and it was showing up right here. By the time it we reached the top it was about 1.45PM. This just meant a quick stop with a few pictures and ride on.

Tanglang La Top

     

The Roads beyond Tanglang La


  

Soon enough we found ourselves on the More Plains, now all along we had seen people running on absolute no road, it was just a desert trail that one decided to make their own road through. Sadly for us when we were done with the More Plain we realized that our route was not the one that almost everyone else takes. We took the "Road" through More Plains . We just kept going on the under construction road on More Plains, it was basically a straight road that was not completely constructed, there were patches where we would have to get off the road into a complete dirt patch. It was fun initially, but the dirt and constant fear of falling down and then having to pick up a heavy bike made this experience almost horrendous. Veda got left behind as he is not comfortable with the riding in the dirt and me & Pranay just wanted to get this section done with as soon as possible. Soon enough we were blasting our way even through the sandy'est of the roads. It took us nearly 45 minutes to cover the entire stretch of More Plains. By the time we were ready to descend into Pang we were pretty unsure of how we wanted to proceed, as nightfall was only a few hours away but Sarchu was a good 60 kms away from us!

Entry to More Plains



    

Roads leading to Pang

   

It was about 4.15PM by the time we entered Pang, there was just a solitary tent offering some thing to satiate the hunger of our stomachs. Maggi and hot tea for our lunch needs. As we sat there contemplating if we should stay here here of push forward to Sarchu over our cups of tea and a bowl of hot maggi, I decided to walkover to one of the truckers who had just arrived in the direction of Sarchu, I asked him about the road conditions and the approximate amount of time it would take to travel to Sarchu. He confidently told us that we can reach in 2 hours, it made sense, it was just a matter of 60kms. Averaging 30kmph is very much doable in the hills if you push hard... But that was not to be! 

The roads beyond Pang were terrible and thanks to the heavy load that I my bike was carrying, coupled with the overall fatigue I was bit low and this reflected in my riding. I just could not keep up with Pranay and Veda, going over this extremely bumpy road beyond Pang I could help feeling a fear creeping in that we will not make it alive that day . The horrible roads just din't end and after a while I decided to push my speeds up a bit that din't help at all. Lachulung La came and went, Nakee La came and just went to, I managed to catch up with the rest at Nakee La, overall I wasn't able to capture many pics due to the lack of time as. Nakee La and Lachulung La as two passes that were passed in quick succession. We were atop Lachulung La at about 5.20PM and we reached Nakee La to at about 5.50PM.

Beyond Pang

  
 


Lachulung La



 

Nakee La



  

  


With the sun going down behind the hills the temperatures started hitting south and boy it was getting colder. The famous Gata Loops came up about 20 minutes from Nakee La. We stopped here to admire the beauty of the 21 loops, sadly it was getting too dark to get any proper pictures. Pranay decided to stay back to shoot a video of us descending the loops, which he also later realized it was too dark to capture anything. As it got dark, whilst we were in the middle of descending the loops, an internal switch got activated similar to the time of dusk after Lamayuru . My speed suddenly increased and I was soon blasting away quite ahead of the Veda. Pranay had fallen behind as he was shooting the video.

Gata Loops



  


We reached the base of Gata Loops around 6.30PM, and it was completely dark by that time. What followed in the next 1.5 hours was one of the most scary, adrenaline ridden and dangerous moments of our trip. There were BRO made bridges that we had to cross, which looked pretty much doable during the day time. This was the first time we were tackling it at night. One my first bridge there was a truck ahead of us which went over the bridge and noise it generated was a spine chilling rattling of the plates loosely laid over the top of the bridge. I stopped at one to click a picture.


If you notice the image closely there are gaps between two adjacent plates, going over this was not only risky at night but also bloody scary . Me and Veda decided for Pranay to catch up with us, despite him having his light saber HID's we had to ensure he was riding with us. After a little while he caught up with us and it was the just three of us blasting through the canyons under the cold moonlight.

There came a short patch of road where there were some markings and a tent, I could not catch that and neither were the others able to catch it. Somehow something felt weird as might lights were not lighting up the road ahead at that speed I was not even able to comprehend what it was. A few more seconds later and meters ahead I realized there was NO road ahead. A quick jab to the brakes and my tyres luckily brought me to a stop and the others as well were able to stop. We stopped a few meters short of what was actually a high precipice, there was a bridge that was supposed to be there but it was there. Shining around the light we later realized that there is another path that goes around the existing road to meet the path for the stream below and we had to ride over the river bed. Half shaken and half adrenaline raised we headed back to the markings which I had missed, and two men came out of the tent we had just passed. One of them was hurling abuses at us for not hearing them, it was next to impossible to hear them anyways in all road of all three engines. Apparently they were workers who are supposed to divert traffic to the appropriate route. Finally after a bit of offroading we managed to ride over the river bed and back up to the road on the other side of the ravine.

A few kilometers ahead we finally reached the tents of Sarchu. All three of us heaved a sigh of relief inside our helmets on finally reaching. We settled in had a quick dinner and were off to bed for tomorrow was going to be yet another trying ride.

A Night at Sarchu

 

The night sky at Sarchu