The Start : This was the journey which, quite frankly, made any other bike trip less than 1000km seem like nothing, atleast for me. We had been planning it for months and there have been doubts of each one dropping out but finally we made it, except for Praveen.
After a month of thorough planning, we were ready by the end of August with all the spare parts, memory cards, equipments and medicines. We got our bikes onto the trains at Ernakulam North on August 27’th 2011, and waited for the 2 days to be over, quite eagerly. I got on the train at Palakkad to join Lijo Kuriala(@lijok) and Anand Subramanian(@theanand), the journey was quite uneventful, and THEN we reached ‘Delhi’.
New Delhi, Aug 31 : The dry heat was unbearable, our luggages were very heavy, we had to pick all that up and walk 1.5KM to the other end of the platform to get our bikes, all this, while wearing the biker jackets which was meant for the Ladakh cold. About a Kilometer away from where Anna Hazaare ji were on ‘hunger strike’, at New Delhi Station we had to overpay the railway officials to get our motorcycles out.
Meeting my schoolmates, Anil and Chetan felt nice.
Then somehow making through the Delhi roads with Google Maps, we reached Paharganj to meet our fellow riding mates, Sanjoy Banarjee & Rajesh Gowda.
To be honest, on the first sight, we disliked the whole idea of living in a crowded delhi street, an area without proper protection for our bikes. Sanjoy, somehow convinced us that it was the only option left. Got a good A/C room for 1000Rs in a hotel filled with westerners (aka hippies).
Sept 1 – Journey started from Delhi towards Amritsar on 1st September morning, in the hot weather. We reached the 70 mile stone Dhaba, apt name for the restaurant as its location being 100km from Delhi. The delicious Aloo Paranthe and lassi was a delightful start for our hungry stomach and our journey. Though the same dish was continued at every restaurant on rest of our journey.
Deviating from Ambala into Punjab , I was feeling quite nostalgic about my schooling there. We did quite good speeds on the four/six laned highway and reached Amritsar by night. We had some time in our hands so decided to visit “Darbar Sahib” (Golden Temple), one of the most peaceful religious place I have been to and so awesomely lit up.
Anand was so deeply mesmerized by the generous ways of how the temple works, that he took a video DVD from a Hawker kid expecting it to be free.
Distance : 460KM
Night Stay : Amritsar, Punjab ( 31.62516, 74.87828 )
Room Rent : 800Rs (1 Room, 5 People)
Sept 2 – We decided to see our friendly neighbour country, Pakistan. Or so we thought. Heading to Wagah-Attari Border, we had no clue that the gates for border ceremony would be closed in the morning and we would have to have the expensive noodles filled with flies all around. A quick visit to Jallianwala Bagh (wiki) and then started for Udhampur.
Udhampur, being inside the J&K state, except Lijo’s, all of our mobiles were out of service. J&K only allows BSNL Post-paid connection to work within the state for outsiders. And that’s how Lijo became our official Phone guy.
Distance : 283KM
Night Stay : Udhampur, J&K
Room Rent : Rs 800/-
Room Rent : Rs 200+200 /- (2 Rooms)
Sept 3 – With an unpleasant night stay at a cheap hotel behind us we headed for the cool hills, excited to wear the winter liner in my Jacket. The journey till Srinagar was pretty tiresome because of the traffic, with many convoys of army trucks. We tried not to take breaks fearing the convoys might overtake us again.
We reached Srinagar outskirts by 4pm, a owner of a Shikara (wiki) there coaxed us to take his Shikara as the night stay. His helpful son took us around town, in the few hours we had left to roam before nightfall. The decorated rooms inside the Shikara were a treat to the eyes, we were just enjoying the view outside chatting up on the balcony, when the brother of the owner tells us its time to sleep and joins us in the small room. Yes he would be sleeping with us in the same room.
Distance : 231KM
Night Stay : Srinagar, J&K
Room Rent : Rs 1700/- (w/ Dinner for 5 People)
Sept. 4 – The temperature there was around 10° C in the morning. After a quick tour of Dal Lake, we started for Kargil. This was going to be the real thing, less population, high altitude, astonishing beauty. All that would have been great if we weren’t in a tension filled mind of finding our lost friend. Few kilometers before we reached Sonamarg, Sanjoy had disappeared. He was riding in front of us till then. When we stopped at Sonamarg for a break, we figured he would be waiting for us down the road somewhere.
Rajesh reminded us of that the upcoming Zoji la pass was often called Godzilla Pass. We found the view to be breathtaking ! You could see the tiny army base while you were climbing the treacherous hairpin curves. Sadly Lijo’s 300mm lens didn’t have a stable tripod to get a good shot.
By 3 PM we reached Drass, allegedly the second most coldest inhabited place on earth (in winters ). Having lunch in a pretty decent restaurant, we were getting more worried about Sanjoy, its been 4 hours without any news of him, no cell phone connectivity and only major pitstop before Kargil was Drass and he wasn’t there. Only consolation was a word by another motorcyclist heading to Srinagar, who said, he ‘might’ have seen a guy/bike similar to Sanjoy’s heading to Kargil.
After an hour wait at Drass, we decided to move forward, otherwise we couldn’t have made to Kargil by nightfall. My cold was turning into fever by now. By 6.30pm when it was getting darker, I had all kinds of scary thoughts in my mind (Sanjoy had all the Snickers and Gatorade with him). I’m pretty sure Lijo was fuming too. And then .. at a army checkpost before Kargil, Sanjoy dada was standing with a mischevious grin on his face. I’ll skip the ‘dealing with him’ part .
Reaching Kargil by nightfall, we initially had trouble finding rooms in the hotels where we had planned. Then we found a better deal at “City Guest House”. This was probably the best room for the price in our entire journey. Although the restaurants there were far below quality, a maggi noodles would have been far better for supper.
Distance : 203KM
Night Stay : Kargil, J&K
Room Rent : Rs 800/- (w/ hot water, clean sheets, carpeted room)
Sept. 5 – We hard to cover the worst roads today, 95% of the 125KM won’t be paved, will be filled with rocks, numerous ‘Nalas’ (water crossings), dusty as it could get and no restaurants to replenish. We were heading for Rangdum, if time allowed, till Padum which was another 105KM. It was 9 in the morning when we started. I was on antibiotics by now, Sanjoy’s health seemed bad as well but somehow he was motivating us to move on. Our health was going down by the time covered 30km (3hours), now Anand came up with this magical man-made creation, ‘Panadol’ Tablets. That seemed to take almost all the fever away.
This route, although painfully slow, had amazing views. As we neared Rangdum, The snow on the mountains around us started increasing, so did the lovely landscapes. Though, I was getting a bit impatient and wanted this painful road to end, with my frustration high. What I did was, I increased my speed without much regard to my bike, then reach few KMs ahead from the group and would wait for them while I rest and shot pictures. This practice led the guys calling my bike a Tractor, coined by Lijo. This was an addition to the name ‘Funda baba’ which Sanjoy gave me for my over explanation of my knowledge.
Rangdum is a tiny village with few small houses, a guest house, a restaurant and a monastery 6KM away. This monastery is the place of worship, the kids school, satellite phone booth and a small army post. They say Rangdum is usually under the snow most of the months, up to 4 feet at times. As Anand points out, there were hardly any youngsters, mainly there were old, kids and women. The population of this place hardly crossed 50 people. In the tourist season, tourists would outnumber the locals.
It was getting dark and cold when we reached Rangdum. The AMS was showing up as we reached the guest house, we could hardly walk few steps without resting, unpacking the luggage from the bike was a long shot. The caretaker’s 14 year old kid gave us two of the three rooms there, Another biker in the third room. By the time, we put the luggage and started for the restaurant, I was feeling dizzy and was blabbering, begging to Sanjoy to get me to the restaurant asap. The hot soupy noodles at the restaurant and a diamox tablet made me feel much better. By night, Lijo and Anand started having severe headaches.
At about 2 in the morning, we heard loud knocking noises at the guest house main door. We tried ignoring it for sometime. It was almost freezing, no one was interested in getting out of the bed. I hoped Lijo or Anand, in the other room would get it. After about 20 mins of continous knocking, Lijo finally opened it. I went to see the moron who woke us up. Two truckers wanted to sleep in our rooms as it was freezing winds outside but we couldn’t risk letting the strangers inside our room, so we asked them to take shelter outside the room, in the varandah. Fortunately they had sleeping bags and were gone by morning.
Distance : 127KM
Night Stay : Rangdum, J&K
Room Rent : Rs 500/- (100 per head)
Sept. 6 – We went up to Darang Durung glacier which was en route to Padum and then come back to Rangdum to take the day off. The three rupee sattelite phone call at the Gompa was considerably cheap for a place in middle of nowhere. As for food, we had rice in the evening. You only get rice/roti if you order before hand.
Sept. 7 – Rode back to Kargil to stay at the same place. On our way, Anand had a minor accident caused by a car, nothing serious though. At Kargil, All of us fixed our bikes rattling noices and Sanjoy’s headlight which had come off.
Sept. 8 – Heading for Leh, the view was getting boring with all the mountains painted brown and hardly few valleys. The road, though, was amazing when compared to the Zanskar area. The BRO did a great job and had paved about 80% of the Kargil-Leh Stretch. As we neared Leh, traffic started increasing, causing jams and as our luck had it, we got stuck at two landslides loosing about 3 hours. By the time, the slides were cleared it was dark. The Leh Valley was pretty spooky to ride in the pitch black night with wind speeds which could topple us. Fortunately, We got a room at a decent price.
Sept. 9 – Another day off. Me, Sanjoy and Rajesh did a quick visit to the Sanchi Stupa. Climbing to the top, through the steps on the steep hill took about an hour. Although the view from the top covered all the Leh town. We went to Mr. Juma’s workshop, he did whatever he could do to fix the choking in our bikes due to the altitude. Sanjoy’s and my bikes being 150cc had the main problems.
Sept. 10 – This was the big day, Nubra Valley through Khardung la. “La” means mountain pass in the tibetian language.
Khardung la, allegedly, the highest motarable road in the world (not!). Going uphill early morning was not a great idea. The fog was very thick, it was freezing cold and my bike could hardly move in first gear. That too when I had left behind my saddle bag with heavy luggage at Leh. At the top, Few good army men took us into their bunkers, else we would have fallen sick in that cold. An hour in the warm room with a hot glass of tea and we were ready to move on.
At North Pulu, few Kms from Khardung La we had our breakfast, Thupka, a local tibetian noodles. The Nubra Valley was amazing, good roads all the way, almost nil traffic, beautiful villages on the river basins. We reached Diskit by 4pm, after freshening up, headed to see the famous double humped camel. These camels were used for transportation on the Silk route in the ancient times.
Anand, The “Feel like God” pic.
Lijo, walking away from the troubles of life.
Distance : 127KM
Night Stay : Diskit
Room Rent : Rs 800/-
Sept. 11 – Headed back to Leh after a quick visit to the Sanchi Stupa near to our hotel in Diskit. The route was scenic and got us some amazing pictures. The same route meant, passing through Khardung la again, but this time, over taking an army truck convoy. Although after crossing Khardung, we felt proud as ever. Then to wipe the smugness off our face, this lady cyclist was passing the pass on her bicycle, huge respect for the lady.
Sept. 12 – I was thrilled today to get to see the great blue Pangong Tso. We started early morning after breakfast at Café Jeevan, an amazing place for breakfast on Changspa road.
This route included Chang La, another mighty mountain pass, were you get free hot black tea. We headed on through the nicely paved roads till we saw the amazing blue lake, just awesome. About 8.5km from the start of the lake, is Spangmik, where we took shelter at a nice lady’s home. Home stays are far cheaper, comfortable and help the locals than the fancy tents at exorbitant rates. The lady made us one of the most delicious dinner in the whole journey and having dinner in a ladakhi kitchen makes the mood all the more better.
Distance : 156KM
Night Stay : Home stay at Spangmik
Room Rent : 200Rs w/o food
Sept. 13 – ‘Marsimik La’ at 18,314 ft, is higher than Khardung La, though there is no paved roads there, its more of a ‘make your own road’ till you reach the pass. The highest point is where an army truck is placed with 3 guards in it, its about 4KM from the actual India-China line of control. There is nothing much to see really, just an adventurous route which gives you the feeling of having achieved something. Its true they say, there is a fine line between being adventurous and stupid.
On the way to the top, we met Mr. Gaurav Jani, maker of the award winning film “Riding Solo To The Top Of The World”. He rode with us to the top, helped us push Sanjoy’s bike. We had to remove the air filter all together in order to get it moving. The last 500m or so was almost like hell. Mine and Sanjoy’s 150cc bikes took it real hard to move even with us pushing it. It was a glorious movement for all of us. Gaurav shared us his Aloo Paranthas and accompanied us back to Spangmik, a awesome replenishing diet at the deserted place.
We continued towards Spangmik. The fuel left was low thanks to the constant low gear accelaration at Marsimek La, but worst hit was Sanjoy. Unfortunately, we met this army guy at the restaurant who offered us full tank petrol for 300 bucks. Now Sanjoy was on top of the world learning about this and immediately took the guy to his base while we waited at the restaurant, 20 mins, Sanjoy arrives with the widest grin on his face, Which, sadly, turned gloomy when we learnt that the filled fuel was in fact, Diesel. An hour of cleaning tank and carburettor with petrol, the bike finally came to life.
It was dark by now, after evading some new ditches in the road we reached the homestay for dinner. Headed back to Leh, the next day.
Sept. 15 – An adventurous day indeed. We started for Tso Moriri today, this lake was famous for its flora and fauna, compared to Pangong which hardly had any living beings around. Our destination was ‘Karzok’ on the banks of Tso Moriri. The roads were smooth till Tso Kiagar where the roads ended abruptly. Tso Kiagar was another lake on the way, we were actually confused whether it was Tso Moriri. Proceeding through the sandy/soft soil , then through complete sand, the path was getting scarier. To add to the doubt, the sky started filling with black clouds. I mean, if it wasn’t for the deserted place, I would have sat there and enjoyed the view, but that wasn’t the case. The sand road became wider were Anand decided to race me, he won and got it in his head that his avenger is a true off-roader, hence, he started riding off-road ever since. (Even when there was road). The Sand road ended, to become a very hard rock filled path, then it started to rain. It was pretty much like a hell breaking loose when we saw Tso Moriri, the road just divided into two without any sign board. We had to choose between two roads going opposite ways through the bank of the lake.
We decided to take left as darkness was creeping in and we didn’t have a clue how we were going to stay in the rain/cold. About 5KM later, we stopped a jeep coming opposite, they said, there is nothing for miles except a small village near Indo-China border. We were confused, taking out Lijo’s 70-300mm DSLR lens, we panned to the other end of the lake to find few building with lights. Hoping that was Korzok, we proceeded back to the road. We also corrected two other bikers coming the wrong way. Reaching Korzok, we were told by the private guest house guy that it would cost us 3000Rs for a room including breakfast and we would have to take 2 rooms. Searching our way inside, we settled in the homestay there for 200/- per night for all of us.
* I hadn’t seen anything I liked the whole day, the food at the small restaurant was below average and worse, for the loo we had to revert for something really old style and disgusting.
Distance : 210KM (Approx.)
Night Stay : Home stay at Karzok
Room Rent : 200Rs w/o food
Sept. 16 – Leaving Tso moriri, we really looked forward to riding through the famed ‘Moore plains’, a vast land mass. At Sumdo, to turned left for Manali side (refer map), there we managed to fill up our tanks for 100rs/litre from a local lady as there was no fuel pumps till we reached Tandi, the next day afternoon.
On our way, was ‘Tso Kar’, a beautiful lake with hot water geysers, though you would have to be lucky to see one. Proceeding from the lake, we reached Moore, joining the Leh-Manali highway. I was a bit bothered by the uneven sand in the plains but Anand seemed to be right at home with his long wheelbase bike. The road construction was going on and the last 20 something kilometer before ‘Pang’ was amazingly smooth paved tarmac. Though after Pang, ride till was bit rough till the Gata Loops. Passing through a mild snowfall and trying to help a idiot who thought it would be night to take his 4×2 Jeep through a muddy shortcut we reached the loops. Gata Loops are a collection of 21 hairpin curves that take you from an altitude of 15,302 ft to 14,000ft, at which ‘Sarchu’ is placed. We reached Sarchu as the night fell and settled for Tin Sheet Tent, we slept rather comfortably but it was extremely cold and with a night long of dogs barking .
Distance : –
Night Stay : Aluminium Tents
Room Rent : 100Rs per head w/o food
Sept. 17 – A bright sunny day, and we were in Himachal Pradesh ! Himachal Pradesh truly is a beautiful state and one can certainly feel the difference when entering from the Ladakh section. Ironically, this was the first time we actually saw snow on both the sides of road. We headed towards Manali, by noon our phones started working.
There was the difficult pass which had to be crossed now, Rohtang Pass. Infamous for having the dirt road on the twisty mountains, the road is a mixture of snow, mud and gravel and heavy traffic on narrow path. Thankfully we were descending, though the frustration level was high when it started raining.
Unlike our journey till now through the rough hills, this was filled with traffic. We managed to get to the bottom but to our dismay Sanjoy had not arrived yet, even after half hour of waiting. We knew something was wrong as he was just 5-10mins behind us. Me and Rajesh went to look for him and there he was, getting a ride in a local jeep, with his bike loaded in it. Sadly his bike was dead. We proceded with the jeep till Manali untill we found a workshop. It was night and nothing was left to except to eat and sleep. Fortunately we found pretty good hotel on Mall road for a decent price.
Sept. 18 – By 10am, we got back Sanjoy’s bike from the workshop, after a heavy breakfast we started downhill. Sadly, the hills were going to end, the heat was starting to show up. We were going back to the real world – Dust, Traffic and Chaos. The road downhill was like hell, dusty and filled with potholes and blinding trucks at night. This days planning seemed to have some huge flaw, we were hoping to reach Chandigarh by evening. Sadly we reached the great city at 11pm. Without any proper decision from any of us we headed for Delhi. Slowly it was evident that it wasn’t a great idea. Reaching Karnal, we stopped at a tea stall on roadside, where all went to sleep the very moment they sat on the chairs. Waking them up was hard, but we proceded from there too tired.
Reaching Delhi at 10am next the day, we were riding out bikes for 24 hours straight, which included a hill decent.
Sept. 19 – We were too tired after the sleepless night ride, yet we roamed in Delhi to look to packup our bikes. Sadly, we couldn’t parcel the bike in train as it wasn’t possible in Delhi stations, we would have to ship it as luggage in our train the next day. So Sanjoy and Rajesh shipped their bikes while we went to the room to sleep.
Sept. 20 – Early morning went to meet my friend in Ghaziabad. By noon, Sanjoy had managed to miss his morning flight, and booked another one for the evening. Travelling in the Airport Express Metro was a very pleasant experience, truly world class. After leaving Sanjoy, Anand left to visit his big shot uncle in Posh Delhi while we roamed the Chandni Chowk. It is amusing chaos there, a swift doing a full U-turn in the footpath etc.
Sept. 21-23 Gave our bikes to be loaded onto the our train, The mighty Rajdhani Express with the new model bogies hauled by a WAP-5 Engine. The train journey was a treat all the way upto Trivandrum, pampered with food services by the attenders in the spacious 2-Tier coach. Anand, got down at Ernakulam.
Sept. 24 – Me and Lijo reached Trivandrum, the xBhp gang was there for our welcome flower bouquet. Got our bikes right then and parted our ways.
I rode back to Alanallur, Palakkad after few days of rest at my aunts place. Reached my home on 27th after a wonderful month filled with adventures and fun. I would love to do this trip again, but on a better, colder season with a better bike to experience what the wonderful hills had to offer.