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Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Ladakh…Riding Back Home…

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Part 8 of the Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Ladakh…

Day 13 to Day 16: July 5-8, 2012; Debring – Keylong – Manali – Chandigarh – New Delhi: This was the last leg of the ride. A ride that took us to the farthest off places. The places, where life appeared so different, surroundings appeared so serene, away from the chaos of the urban world, no phones, no emails, no meetings…we only answered the call of the mountains…

Since the route was more or less that same for a large part of this journey, I am skipping the daily details and writing the last part of the travelogue in one go.

All through the route from Debring to Keylong, the weather was pretty cold. Morey Plains, Pang, Sarchu, Lachulung La, Nakee La and the Gata Loops were all familiar now – there weren’t any surprises in the store en route, barring the fact that weather was dramatically icier this time. I kept craving for a hot cup of tea – such was the chill in the weather. With clouds over our heads, and rain looming, we rode almost non-stop and arrived at Bharatpur, which was our stopover for lunch.

Yet again, our break at Bharatpur was a long and tiring one – 4hours this time; some riders and the support vans were lagging behind. Once fed and rested, we all felt drowsy and lethargic! Rainy clouds were intimidating over our heads, and it didn’t help our morale that many of us had packed our rain-gear inside the main luggage! Dreading the impending showers, everyone passed this time really impatiently. However, we left only after everyone of us arrived and was accounted for.

Crossing Bara-lacha La, Darcha and Jispa, we reached Keylong by 7pm.

Next morning, much time wasted by at the petrol pump at Tandi – remember the legendary petrol pump I wrote about earlier – first after 325kms from Karu! Luckily, Sun God shone upon us with all its might, boosting our energies and the riders appeared all geared up for our ride to Manali.

After a largely uneventful ride for 45kms, we arrived at Koksar, which is the police check-post. This is the point from where a route goes towards Rohtang Pass and Manali and another one towards Kaza – the route we came from. Our wait was longer than expected here – men at the Police post appeared hell-bent on creating bureaucratic hurdles, something that we hadn’t face although our earlier journey. Moreover, the traffic appeared more chaotic than earlier – we learnt that there was huge jam all through the mighty Rohtang La!

Well, jammed it were. And it didn’t help that there was slush all over the highway. I had this fear looming inside me about riding in slush. And the bustling traffic didn’t help my apprehensions.

I am sparing the readers with details on what I saw at and around Rohtang – surprisingly, I didn’t find this Pass any tougher than Bara-lacha la. If it were not for slush and traffic, it would’ve been a smooth sail. However, I must say, riding amidst the clouds atop the Pass was some experience I would never forget…

After Rohtang, it appeared as if it were grand picnic spot all over! As if entire Punjab and Himachal gathered there! Eateries were aplenty on this stretch and so were the arrogant, abusive drivers! Honk, abuse, honk, abuse! Welcome to the neo-plains crowd!

Negotiating this heavy traffic jam, we riders descended Rohtang and arrived at Marhi, a small village en route. This was an extremely crowded place, with hordes of eateries and car parks. I was amongst the first few to arrive in here. This place turned out to be good fun! Our ‘boys moment was back! See for yourself.

Drive from here to Manali was easy – good roads and moderate traffic took us to Manali in next one hour.

Manali, a fabulous hill-station of yesteryears, is now a severely crowded and chaotic town. It appeared to me as Karol Bagh Market on a Sunday! So, I didn’t enjoy the place as much as I enjoyed the ‘Tandoori Amritsari Fish’, a superb preparation that I found at a small jaunt in the main-market! That made the day for me!

Next morning, we woke up to mild rains. It was a long day ahead – ride to Chandigarh was over 300kms. First 150kms, we rode non-stop amidst rains. The Beas River, flowing beside us, was at it roaring best. In fact, there was so much mist over it that one couldn’t possibly see the flowing water!

Good thing that roads were in excellent condition. So, despite it rained really heavily, we didn’t face any untoward incident and arrived at Bilaspur, our halt for lunch.

The State Guesthouse, located just outside the town of Bilaspur, just like other State-run organizations, was more than reluctant to host 60 riders! As if we wouldn’t have paid 🙂

Ride from hereon to Chandigarh can be divided into two parts – one, which is atop the hilly terrain, where we faced heavily loaded trucks riding at less that 20kmph and the other part, where the highway towards Chandigarh via Mohali – for over 80kms, was any rider’s delight. What a contrast of a ride it were!

The evening at Chandigarh was very relaxed; we were heading back home! Chats, dinner and drinks, not necessarily in the same order, went late into night. Discussions took place on all possible areas – Indian Culture, the ills of dowry, friendliness that biker-riders share on the road and car-drivers don’t, et al. No one even mentioned Delhi, as if we all wanted to avoid the ride’s end…some bonhomie this were…

Next morning was electric! This was the last day of our ride – 16 wonderful, eventful days were about to come to an end. Photographs and hugs were galore…kind of farewell before we wished farewell at Delhi…

Superb highway between Chandigarh and New Delhi took only 5-6 hours for us to arrive in at Gurgaon. We rode on NH-1 yet again! The same NH-1 that was also present at Leh! Riders, many of them, confided in me how they hated riding on such nice roads, they missed the ‘no roads’ of the mighty Ladakh! So true, it was…

A big bash at a South Delhi Pub marked an end to this glorious journey. The ride of the lifetime, it was. Royal Enfield team was at its hosting best, and we cheered every time a rider’s photograph was projected on the screen.

Late that night, when I was biding goodbye to my friends, a strange feeling of loneliness hit me. Next day wasn’t gonna be the same – no early morning ride, no Maggi as a staple diet, no fearing the heights, no looking forward to that next big Pass…

Words of Venky came back to my thoughts…“If you go to the Odyssey as a boy, you will return a man; if you go as a man, you will return a sage, and if you go as a sage, surprisingly you will return as a boy”.

Three months down the lane now, the echo of these words haven’t left my mind…indeed, the odyssey has had a casting effect upon me…

Odyssey came to an end on July 8, 2012. However, memories of the odyssey are etched in my heart and mind, forever.

Mountains are calling yet again…I am getting ready for the next ride…

Till the next ride, good bye and safe riding!

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‘Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Lodakh…’ was written in 8 parts. You can read all 8 parts of this travelog here.

Published during July-September 2012, this series of travelog – ‘Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Ladakh…’was recognized by Ghumakkar.com as their Featured Story of the Month, October 2012.

Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Ladakh…at Tso Kar

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Part 7 of the Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Ladakh…

Day 12: July 4, 2012; Leh to Debring & Tso Kar: From this day, our return journey to New Delhi commenced. On the Day 12, our ride was from Leh to Debring, which is located off-Morey Plains, about 150kms from Leh, crossing Upshi, Rumtse and the mighty Taglang La.

In the morning briefing, I could observe that the riders didn’t want to leave! The fun was in arriving at Leh and not in going back. We wanted to stay, soak in the beauty of this wonderland. I know many of us that day decided in their hearts that they would come back, very soon.

When we started from Leh at about 8am, the weather was bright and sunny. We again rode through the beautiful, green patches on the Leh-Manali highway, passing Shey Palace and a large number of monasteries, Stupas and rock carvings on this road. Shey was the summer capital of Ladakh, so I learnt from a passer-by, as I stopped for a water break. I could not help but soak in the beauty of the palace built on the hill. The palace, mostly in ruins now, were built first in 1655, near the Shey village and were used as a summer retreat by the royal family of Ladakh.

I rode through amazing Ladakh scenery, road guarded by rock walls. This stretch is full of village on both sides, and the ride is really pleasant. I regret not stopping again and clicking the pictures of the roads surrounded by tree all through the route for about 30kms; where the parents of the school-going kids gave us riders the most amused looks, as if saying, “Well! There go the spoilt ones!”

From this signage at Upshi, the right turn goes 30kms to Rumste and the left takes you to Tso Moriri, another famous lake at Ladakh.

As we entered the mountainous terrain, I observed the colour of the flowing river on our left – so different than the rivers we were used to see during this ride!

Out first break of the day was at Rumtse, the same hamlet where we stopped on our way to Leh a few days ago.

As I sat down here, I observed an acute silence amongst riders, as if all excitement had gone missing, as if we left it at Leh. There weren’t banters flowing around, no one was pushing each other, no laughter; only a passive wait…till this Ladakhi kid showed up.

This kid came as a breather, Dorje his name was. Extremely sharp and friendly, he quickly became very popular with us. Running all around, chasing stray dogs, offering smiles to shutterbugs, he was raw energy! Then, one of us introduced him to an Apple iPhone – the Tom Cat application! You would see his amazement in the adjoining pic. Amused he was; he made all kinds of noises – soliciting response from the Tom Cat and laughter from us! He was some fun!

From here, ride to the Taglang La was about 30kms. Much to our pleasant surprise, a large part of the road that was under-construction when we came a week ago was now constructed! So we sailed on really quickly towards the sandy patch of the Morey Plains.

As I always hate riding in sand, this time too, I found it pretty exhausting. However, this time, I had a better idea about how not to hold on the clutch (that could burn the clutch plate really fast) and let True find her own course in the desert. Finally, we reached our scheduled breakpoint – a small dhaba amidst nothing, standing tall in the desert.

Weary that we all were, especially after negotiating the monumental Taglang La and the sand, this dhaba provided much needed rest to our backs, some frolic and tasty Maggi! Here, we were to regroup, and then get ready for the moment of the day – this was our destination for the legendary group photograph, the trademark of the Royal Enfield Himalayan Odyssey.

As we rode into a chosen barren patch, we were asked to build a formation, with all riders standing in one straight line! Now, that’s some tall asking, as making 65 riders do that, maneuvering the bikes in sand back & forth, forming one straight line – the photographer had a really tough time organizing and achieving this tall feat! Yet, the picture came out really well. After this legendary pick was clicked, we moved ahead towards Debring, our night-halt destination.

Debring Camps are located about 5kms off the road, and you’d really need to watch out for the signage, else, it is easy to miss it and you’d keep riding towards Pang, which really won’t be fun.

We reached the campsite at about 3:30pm. As I crashed into a chair outside the camp, I observed that these tents didn’t house a washroom. Shucks! We were to use the common, make-shift toilets, built at a distance from the main tent area! That too only 5 toilets for the whole gang! Not a pleasant news, it was indeed…

As the evening set in, the view around our camps turned really good, surrounded with mountains all around us – the setting sun and the clouds created a magical view. See for yourself…

After settling in, many of the riders decided to drive further 3kms towards the Tso Kar – the Kar Lake. Tso Kar means ‘salty lake’. I learnt from the caretaker of our tent that the local people extracted salt from this lake till late 1950s for their consumption. I was in no mood to go see the lake, despite the fact the euphoria around it was pretty infectious. Deciding to stay and chill-out, I joined some friends, Guru, Max, Mayil Anna and Dr.Sashi – the group ganged together outside the tents – the daily rituals of Rum & Fun took off. Mayil Anna found a way of sourcing a Rum bottle even in this barren, remotest part of the world! As the fun ensued, an otherwise non-happening day turned real fun. Take a look…

Little did we know, what events were unfolding at the lake’s shores…

During this gala, a rider came and shared that Mauro, one of the riders, got stuck in the salty marshlands near the lake with his bike. However, he also shared that there wasn’t any danger and others around him are helping. So, the party continued without any disruption, even as Santhosh, our RE leader, and few other dashed off to the lake.

However, very soon, Aakash, our other RE leader, came rushing and asked few of us to get ready with torches and ropes; Mauro couldn’t be located, he shared.

A chill ran down my spine. What is happening out there? Why cant we locate him?

Some of us got ready with warm clothing, and took as many torches as available – it was around 6pm and soon to turn dark. Sadly, the Trip Wagon was not available, it was on another mission to locate a missing rider who had probably overlooked the obscure turn to Debring and driven straight ahead. So, we had no choice but to drive the Innova to the lakeside.

The mood in the vehicle was intense! We readied ourselves for the rescue-mission and tried to evade any negative thoughts. Ernesto, Mauro’s friend from Uruguay, mentioned that Mauro was a strong guy, we all knew it, and that he would be all fine. So we wanted him to be.

As we reached the Kar Lake, I was astounded to note the dimension of the lake; although it was not an appropriate time to note the very apparent beauty of it! It was magnificent! From one corner to the other, the walk must have been about 7-10kms!

As the Innova neared the lake’s shore, we felt the swampland under the tyres! Sensing danger, we were forced to stop the vehicle at a distance from the shore; now, the search was to carry on the foot. Leaving some of us at the base, five of us dashed off towards the lake. After a while, at a distance, we noticed Sibi, the tallest of all, standing atop an elevation, signaling at us using his flashlight.

For the first time in my life, I was walking on the swamps! The land under me appeared all whitish and wet, as if made of salt soaked in water! It was an intense feeling and yet, we were determined not to go back without finding Mauro.

The walk to the place where Sibi stood must have been over 3kms. Catching our breath and gulping water, we walked non-stop. As we reached there, we heard the good news, Mauro was located, and how!

We could see men walking, at a far off distance. Santhosh and Mauro, with few others, they were at the fag end of the lake, and must have been at least 3kms away from us. They had signaled Sibi to stop, and wait for us, so as to save us the ordeal of walking all way in eagerness.

Sibi narrated the thrilling turn of events. As they all arrived for the search, they just couldn’t find Mauro anywhere for a good time. They walked and walked in vain; Mauro couldn’t be traced. Down and out as this search party was, Sibi saw a flicker over something at a distance – the last ray of the setting sun came reflected to this tall lad! It was Mauro’s helmet or the bike, and that gave them energy! They rushed towards him, only to find the Enfield stuck 2-feet under the wetland, just around the water, with a resolute Mauro trying hard to rescue it, himself all covered in sand and salt!

Santhosh gauged the slipperiness of the situation and took a wise decision to leave the bike there and bring Mauro back. It was getting darker and colder, and Mauro was all wet waist-down and fatigued – a fit case for an attack of hypothermia!

As Santhosh and others reached us, I noted they were all exhausted to the core – walking more than 10kms had drained all energy out of them. We were at 10000ft AMSL, where oxygen was at its lowest best; remember? Gulping from the water bottles we had carried from the camps, they caught their breath for a while.

As we walked towards the base, where the Innova was parked, exhaustion forced us to stop many times. Also, it was getting darker and we were walking over the wetland, with hundreds of holes dug in – homes to the reptiles! Scary, it was…

By this time, the Trip-wagon had also arrived on the site. Mauro was rushed to the camp in Innova; we all boarded the wagon. Warm inside, animated discussion took place on how to salvage the bike. Some said we should wait for the morning and arrange for a 4X4, to pull it out; few of us were of the opinion the we should try rescue it the same night, as we feared it would be guzzled by the marshes by the dawn!

By the time we reached back to the camp, it was pitch-dark and we were all cold to our bones! Luckily, the hot soup was ready; a really saviour it was! Needless to say, everyone at the camp wanted to hear the story! Yet, some of us, including Santhosh and Aakash remained focused and decided on a plan to rescue the dear Enfield the same night. Luckily, the camp-management had a Tata Safari with them – a 4X4!

A detailed rescue mission was planned. A signaling station was set, armed with powerful flashlights at the camp to exchange messages from the site. Ashokji, our tour-operator and also a vastly experienced & skilled trekker, was stationed there. Santhosh and Aakash, accompanied by few locals from the camp, reached the lake, where the bike was stuck.

It took more than three hours that eventful night, the might of a 4X4, and the strong will of few good men, which salvaged our dear Enfield. I wasn’t there at the site, so I am sparing the details; from all that you read till now, I am sure you’d gauge how much effort must have gone in this brave and ultimately successful attempt.

The best part of the mission – a Royal Enfield, which was stuck in the wetlands, covered with salt over two feet deep, braving water and cold winds for over 7 hours, started roaring in just one kick! This is some machine!

In the image below, you see smiling Mauro and his shining Enfield the next morning – it was the cleanest of all bikes – two mechanics serviced it the whole morning!

Later in the next morning’s briefing, Mauro expressed heartfelt gratitude to the RE leaders and the Band of Brothers! An experienced rider thought he was, he acknowledged that by riding to such a dangerous spot, he made a terrible mistake. Learning for all riders and readers, this should be.

In all my experience of riding in the worst terrains, I can tell you that a good rider is not one who only rides his bike well. He is one who takes utmost care of the surroundings and is mindful of the dangers of ignoring the Mother Nature. Mountains call us, allow us to ride atop their chests, tolerate us to surpass them – they do. And they host us the best when we respect the rivers, the winds, the snow and the hills, without trying to play them down.

As they say in the mountains, only expert swimmers drown, only skilled riders fall, only fittest of all fall sick, once the ego takes you over…

I am sure the above incident would help others absorb – be friends with the Mountains and the Mother Nature, don’t try to tame them down. It just doesn’t work…

Sadly, I couldn’t click any images of this magnificent lake. Earlier, I didn’t want to go and later when I was forced to, I neither carried the camera nor the intention to click any! Yet, I would like you to enjoy the panorama; so, sharing a superb image from a travel website bharatbooking.in.

On the Day 13, we rode towards Keylong…

To be continued in the next blog…

 

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‘Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Lodakh…’ was written in 8 parts. You can read all 8 parts of this travelog here.

Published during July-September 2012, this series of travelog – ‘Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Ladakh…’was recognized by Ghumakkar.com as their Featured Story of the Month, October 2012.

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