Sunday, June 23, 2013

How We Got Leh'd!

If it's not a road trip... it's probably not a trip!
Yes... Before life takes a different course, lets do it!. It was around early April of '13. I and my friend started planning for a bike trip to Ladakh. We started reading travelogues of people who did motorcycle trips to Leh/Ladakh and started collecting information. Routes, essential things to carry, places to see, places to stay enroute... everything. Initially, I was little scared mostly because I am a bike illiterate and have to go as a pillion. Secondly, it was only two of us going and people's experiences with acute mountain sickness (AMS) in Ladakh region due to high altitude and scarcity of oxygen already made me little breathless. I ended up reading a lot of literature on AMS and ways to prevent/cure it. We decided that we'll take the Jammu -> Srinagar -> Leh/Ladakh route and return via Leh -> Manali -> Chandigarh! Couriered our machine, Bullet (Royal Enfield, 350CC), to Jammu and boarded the train to Jammu on 29th of May '13. We took Mangala Express from Mumbai to Delhi and Rajdhani Express from New Delhi to Jammu. God, we were quite lucky! Got all the tickets through Tatkal :-) Penning down whatever I remember about one of the most wonderful things ever happened to us!

Day 1 (29th May): Boarded the train to Delhi at Mumbai (Panvel Station) in the afternoon. The journey was a okay dokay type. Was traveling in train after quite a long time, so treated ourselves with almost all the snacks and food items available on board.

Day 2 (30th May): Reached Delhi (Hazrat Nizamuddin Station) at around 1 PM. It was my 1st time being in Delhi by train. Our next train to Jammu was from New Delhi Station at night. Went there, kept our luggage in the cloak room and thought of doing a little hitch hiking. Had a stupendous lunch in KFC at Connaught Place. It was extremely hot in Delhi, temperature soaring to around 45 degrees. So returned to railway station and just killed our time. Boarded Jammu Rajdhani. It was my 1st time again in a Rajdhani Express and I was really impressed. Had a nice dinner on board and slept. We had to wake up early next day as a the train reaches Jammu at 5 O'Clock in the morning. 

Day 3 (31st May): We reached Jammu and an autorickshaw guy took us to a hotel, probably one of his acquaintances expecting some commission. Had a lot of tasks at hand that day. Collect our bike  from the courier, fix the carrier in it and start on our joyride! Everything happened so smoothly. Specially, we never thought that the rucksacks we were carrying will fit so well in the bike with the carrier. We ate our lunch, fitted our bags to the bike, checked out from the hotel and started with our ride at around 2:00PM. Initially it was little uncomfortable for me to sit pillion wearing the safety gears and all. We planned that we should cover a distance up to Patnitop that day before the nightfall. It was an extremely hot and humid afternoon in Jammu.  But the ride to Patnitop was amazing. Stopped once or twice for a hot cup of coffee and some snacks. We reached Patnitop by around 7:00PM and checked into a cozy little hotel called "Patnitop Huts". The place was too beautiful and the was chilly. It reminded me of a evening in December in Shillong. The guy in the hotel cooked some amazing food for our dinner. Finally went to sleep, planning to wake up early the next day.

Day 4 (1st June): We checked out from the Patnitop Hotel and started for the day's ride. We had Srinagar to reach in our mind. The road was good and scenic. Kashmir Valley is rightly called the Paradise on earth.  Finally reached Srinagar by around 4:30PM. Thought of covering some more distance and decided that we'll halt for the night as Sonamarg, which was another 75KM from Srinagar. We took the Srinagar - Leh Highway, and the ride from Srinagar to Sonamarg was very beautiful. Reached Sonamarg by around 8PM. We checked into a hotel and could see the snow in the mountain just ahead of our room's window. It was very cold there. The place was on an altitude of around 8500ft. and I could feel a little breathlessness. Initially I thought it was a sign of AMS, but probably I was just tired. We had  rode around 310KM that day. Both of us fell asleep just like that after our dinner.

Day 5 (2nd June): The morning was quite chilly. The hotel guy told us start early as we'll have to cross Zozila Pass.  We had our breakfast, filled up the tank in our bike. We filled two jerry cans with fuel as well (see the pic above) as it might so happen that we wont get any petrol pumps till Kargil. The idea was to reach till Drass or Kargil before its dark. As we advanced on our trip from Sonamarg, we gradually started ascending a mountain which will take us to Zozila Pass. The roads started deteriorating to almost no roads and the terrain started becoming too hostile. The never ending army convoys added to our woos. In many parts, I had a get down as it was not possible for the bike to go with so much weight and a pillion. At times, a thought crossed my mind, "We should not have done this trip". There were warning boards saying "shooting stones ahead" and my friend even felt a few on his helmet. God! Zozila was scary. Specially, it was the first "La" we were crossing! But as they say, "Darr Ke Aage Jeet Hai..... Fight Fear.....!!!!" We fought the terrain, our fears and finally reached the top of Zozilla Pass. You start entering Ladakh region after Zozilla.

The road after Zozila was relatively good apart from some stretches. We stopped in many road side stalls, had Omelets with Maggie and tea. Visited the Kargil War Memorial. Finally reached Kargil by around 4:30 in the evening and decided to halt for the night. Zozilla had taken away most of our energy that morning. Kargil seemed to be a small, sleepy town. Had Chicken Thupka and Momo, checked into a guest house and slept. We did not even had our dinner that day.

Day 6 (3rd June): A long night sleep made us feel very fresh. We checked out from the guest house by around 8AM and started our ride. We were intending to reach Leh that day. We realized that we had very little cash left in our hand, and if we had to pull over before Leh, we'll be in big trouble as there was no ATMs enroute. We tried ATMs of 3 different banks, J&K Bank, SBI and HDFC, but could not find any cash. The locals told that none of the ATMs had any money in it and asked us to wait till 10:30 or 11:00, when the banks will open and put cash in the machines. Finally, we could get cash at around 11:00, we filled up our fuel tanks, jerry cans and started our ride. The ride from Kargil to Leh was amazing. The roads, the scenary was just amazing. You get a place called Lamayuru enroute to Leh. God! it looked like Indian Grand Canyon. Really enjoyed  this part of Srinagar - Leh Highway and kudos to Border Road Organization for doing such a fantastic job. It must have been extremely difficult for them to build roads in such hostile terrains. But, just amazing job done. Hats Off! We reached Leh by around 7:00PM that day. Leh looked more like Goa if you replace all the mountains with seas. Lots of tourists, Indian as well as foreigners. After some searching, we could find a nice hotel. The hotel owner was an old lady and she was too kind to rent us a spacious room in a very decent rate. The hotel is called Kunga Hotel in the heart of Leh town, and is recommended for anyone willing to have a nice stay at reasonable cost. Had our dinner with some yummy Tibetian food. I was feeling a little breathlessness, staggering gait and could realize that an altitude 11500 feet is showing it color.  Both of us were too tired  and slept like logs of wood!

Day 7 (4th June): Woke up late, had yummy aloo paraths for breakfast. We had to make our inner line permits for visiting places around Leh. We queued up in the District Commissioners office and made our permits and by then it was already late afternoon. Had a heavy lunch and again slept. By the time we woke up it was already evening. We visited the local markets and streets of the town to get a feel of the place. Had dinner and slept. The next day we planned to go to Pangong Tso, the lake of 3 Idiots' Fame!

Day 8 (5th June): Checked out from our hotel, and started from Leh for Pangong Tso at around 10AM. The lake is about 150KM from Leh and is across Chang La, the 3rd highest motor-able road in the world. The journey started with a nice tarred road and as you climb the mountain range it started deteriorating rapidly. There were a few places where the melted water from the glaciers made its way through the so called road! As a pillion, I had to get down, and carefully cross the water to avoid getting swept away. My friend is an excellent biker and bravely crossed all such obstacles. We saw wild animals like ponies, yaks, mountain goats in our way. After riding for the whole day, we reached Pangong Tso in the
evening at around 5:30PM. We checked in to a cozy tent, did a lot of photo session around the lake and rode around the place. Chinese border is just 70Km from there, but we did not go to see it. The Swiss tent we stayed, called Eco Huts, was very good. We were served excellent food in the place which was literally in the middle of nowhere. 

Day 9 (6th June): We returned to Leh by climbing across the mighty Chang La again and reached around 5:00PM in the evening. The bike was showing signs of less power/pickup and so took it to the mechanic. We were told that it happened due to less oxygen. We changed the engine oil and filled air to the tires and returned to our room. Rested, had a nice dinner and slept early. We planned to start our return journey in the Leh - Manali road the next day. We have been already told many bad things about this road by other fellow bikers we met in Leh and so was little scared. The plan to visit Khardung La and Numbra Valley was ditched just in the eleventh hour and Tso-mo-riri Lake is planned for the next visit to Leh/Ladakh!

Day 10 (7th June): We started early in the morning at around 5:30AM. Rode, rode and crossed three  La's. Tanglang La (2nd highest motor-able road in the world), Lachung La and Naki La. We stopped in places like Karu, More Plains, Pang for tea and snacks.
The road was a mixed one of good, bad, extremely bad and sometimes no road. We finally pulled over in Sarchu for a night halt. We rented a tent just near the snow laded mountain. God! Sarchu was extremely cold. I found Sarchu kinda depressing as well! Also, you feel little dizzy and breathlessness there due to the high altitude and cold. We were already acclimatized and so did not have much issues. Slept under two thick blankets. It was bone chilling cold.

Day 11 (8th June): We woke up early in the morning and started from Sarchu at around 6:30AM. It was ice, ice and ice all over the road. After riding for around 50 - 60 KM we started ascending for Baralacha La. It appeared that Antarctica has shifted there. The so-called road was full of ice, and it was extremely slippery. While crossing this cruel La, we slipped and both of us fell. We were not hurt much, thanks to the safety gears we were wearing. I got a souvenir of a torn pant there. Took an hour halt at Zing Zing Bar after crossing Baralacha, and started with the next part. Rohtang La was the next obstacle in our journey to Manali. People we met told that the road to Rohtang was very slipper with mud, sludge and water bodies. We met three water falls in the road which had to be crossed with extreme care. But it was kinda nice. You don't get a waterfall in the road anywhere else! Gradually we crossed Ladakh, J&K and entered Himachal. Had our lunch in Keylong and made our way to Rohtang Top. During this stretch we were stopped by the BRO people for around 30 minutes as there were dynamites blasting being done. God! That was too much! Rohtang appeared easy compared to other La we crossed, but yes, it was full of sludge and very slippery. We descended Rohtang and finally reached Manali at around 7:00PM. It was so called "tourists' season" going on in Manali and it too us 3 hours to get a hotel room. A shabby room, but very expensive. Took a shower, had dinner and immediately went for sleep!

Day 12 (9th June): We planned to reach till Kalka that day, where we plan to parcel our bike by train back to Mumbai. We started at around 9AM and rode through NH21, the Manali - Chandigarh Highway. Kalka is a place 35km before Chandigarh. The road was good and it was a scenic ride as well through the green hills of Himachal. Someone told us the wrong way for Kalka when we were crossing a mighty hill called Swarghat and we reached some place, we dont know where. Two villagers guided us and finally we were on the right road for Kalka. We reached Kalka at around 10PM. Extremely wasted and exhausted, we checked in to a hotel just near the Kalka Railway Station. The next morning we have to parcel our bike by Kalka - Bandra Paschim Express.

Day 13 (10th June): After breakfast, we went to the railway parcel office and booked our bike to Mumbai. So, with our bike boarding the train, our motor cycle trip ends there. We checked out from the hotel, took a cab to Chandigarh and checked in to a nice hotel. Ate chicken cooked in a Hariyani style and slept for the whole day. Towards the evening, we went out to see Chandigarh. Both of us were there for the 1st time. Chandigarh is expensive but a very beautiful city. Nicely planned, awesome babes. We had a stupendous dinner at KFC.

Day 14 (11th June): We had our flight to Mumbai at 10:00AM. Reached Mumbai by 12:30. Went straightway to the Bandra Railway Station to collect the bike. After a brief hassles from the touts and dalals, we collected our bike by around 4:00PM only to find it punctured. It was raining very heavily and we had a face a lot of inconveniences. But, the only positivity was, what would have happened if there was a puncture while we were in our joyride in Ladakh. Our bike did not have any break down throughout the trip except losing its power/pickup in some places due to less atmospheric oxygen. Finally, fixed the tire and headed back home!

And, we got Leh'd!

YouTube: How We Got Leh'd!