RRGwrites

On life…and learning

Posts Tagged ‘Ghumakkar

Motorcycle Diaries… Road to Ladakh… The Trip Is Ready!

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Road to Leh Blog

Trip is ready! June-July 2016… anyone joining 🙂 ?

Travel Diary Of A Non-employed Man…

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RRG in Bliss

Well, for those who know me, it is rather difficult for them not be startled as they read the title of this blog 🙂

It is for the very first time in my nine-year long career that I am not working! Well, read it this way – for the very first time in my life, I have taken a long break whilst moving between jobs… and I am really not complaining, for a change, you see…

While the above picture is taken at a virgin beach at Pondicherry, where I am presently stationed, my travel started with driving Guy (my new jeep) to Lucknow. 11 hours straight! I took NH-2, and covered towns of Agra, Etawah and Kanpur to reach Lucknow. And boy, what a ride it was! With rains lashing Guy for most part of the journey, this is how it looked the next morning – the true Jeeper’s Jeep:

Guy at Lucknow

Lucknow was a totally ‘food-festival-holiday’ for me – I just refused to dine at home! Zeeshan ke Shaami, Galauti Kabab aur Boti-Paraathe, Sadar ke Gol-gappe, Naushein-Jahan ki Dum-biryani, Udaigunj ke Salim ki Gosht-biryani, Chowk waale Tiwariji ki Thandai – you name it and I had it! And despite being there for four full days and even with ‘highway on my plate’ style of travel, I still missed a lot – couldn’t eat Idris ki Imli ke Koyle waali Biryani, Ratti ke Khaste, Chaudhary Sweets ki Ras-Malai, Madras Mess ka Masala Dosa… all now parked in the menu now for the next time. Insha Allah!

Lord knows, I am a biker at heart, love riding True – my Royal Enfield Classic. And to me, what Rishad Saam Mehta, a travel writer and Bullet enthusiast, is absolutely right when he calls it “a meditative motorcycle — on a Bullet on the highway, you feel alone and happy…”

And yet, you will have to trust me, driving a Thar comes closest next to it. I was alone, and happy, while driving Guy for all those long hours. Nothing between me and silence… no phone, no email… sheer bliss of belonging to the road! An absolute marvel of a machine, I drove it for 10 hours non-stop on my journey back to Gurgaon! Only to fly off to Pondicherry…

As my wife Neha calls it, I am thoroughly enjoying my ‘currently non-employed’ status to the hilt! Does my grin in the picture above not say that? 🙂

Detailed travelogs will follow on Ghumakkar.com soon. I now sign off and go back to bliss!

The Ghumakkar In Me…

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True

2012 has been really exhilarating. It brought back the biker alive in me…

Just received a flattering commendation from Ghumakkar.com; the Motorcycle Diaries earned for me ‘Featured Author’ citation – a much coveted acclaim amongst the traveller’s fraternity. Ghumakkar is a well-known travel-website, which is home of many like me who believe ‘Travelling is Good’. They had earlier acknowledged the travelog series ‘Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Ladakh…’ as their ‘Featured Story’ in October 2012.

Vibha Malhotra, editor of Ghumakkar, wrote in the citation:

None other than our own Rishi Raj Gupta, whose Motorcycle Diaries have touched new heights both literally and figuratively, is the Featured Author for the month of December 2012. He is an avid bike rider and for him, riding a bike is one way of being one with your surroundings while travelling. He has climbed mountains, defeated difficult terrain, and worked his way through stark, desert landscape on his faithful companion, his bike…

Later, in the month of December 2012, Ghumakkar interviewed me and published the same. Read on…

It all began when in December 2011, Neha, my better half, who doesn’t take no for an answer for long, persisted and booked the new Enfield. However, as she ordered the bike, I still had some dilemma playing in my mind. Whether I’d be able to ride it to my fullest enthusiasm of old times or the hectic work-life would take over after the initial euphoria of a month or so? It was a tough one. Yet, when the desire prevailed over the dilemma, next big question was – should I go for the height of selfism – the single-seater option – one I always wanted to cruise upon?

Neha again came to the fore and supported the decision of bringing home the single-seater pleasure that I later named ‘True’. As I rode it home, I remember making a resolution to myself in January – I would ride to Ladakh.

For a much-employed professional like me and with the nature of the job responsibilities that I have, to many it appeared nearly an impossible task. 18 days off work! Not easy…

Well, I did keep the resolution, and how! You all have travelled to Ladakh with me on the Royal Enfield Himalayan Odyssey’. And not only Ladakh, I ventured on to many more rides this year – Pushkar, Badrinath, Munsiyari…

With Motorcycle Diaries clocking over 11000kms in 2012 till now, and readers & Ghumakkars being more than generous with their admiration, it feels really nice. It is wonderful to resume riding again just like the old times, humbling to receive accolades for these rides, amusing to inspire people for joining the league of leisure-biking, fun to be able to belong to the road, all over again!

Motorcycle Diaries have many more pages to come; that is something I am sure of…

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You can read all travelogs written under ‘Motorcycle Diaries’ here.

Written by RRGwrites

December 3, 2012 at 3:02 AM

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.

Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Ladakh…the Nubra Valley

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Part 6 of the Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Ladakh…

Day 10: July 2, 2012; Leh to Khardungla and Hunder – Part-II: At Khardung La, the thrill amongst us riders was pretty high. Many of the riders climbed atop the snow-clad peak, in one go! They just overlooked the caution against over-exertion – ecstasy was way too high and with adrenaline pumping, even the ones reaching southwards of their age made it to the top in flat five minutes! Then there were hugs, rather bear hugs flowing amidst congratulations! I had not seen so many of us hugging each other so lovingly! Photographs with friendly and till-then-not-so-friendly co-riders were clicked alike all over the Top. Similarly, everyone wanted that glamorous signage and their bike to be clicked in the best possible pose!  Emotions were at an all time high and the band of brothers was in its full form! Accurate or not, we were just elated to ride atop this magnificent top of the world!

Forget men and sages; this was indeed our ‘boys’ moment.

This frenzy continued for about 30-minutes, after which some of us started to ride ahead and gradually the rest of us followed.

The stretch after Khardung La top was as bad as the ascent. However, it was equally panoramic if not more! Snow all around us; it seemed a different world altogether. We also encountered a convoy of army trucks; and the traffic was really slow. So, it did give me an option to stop several times and capture the magical Himalayas. Some snippets for your eyes…

After 14kms of descent, roads became better and we sailed through easily to reach North Pullu. This was our lunch-destination. However, this place boasted of only two Dhabas and as it turned out, they weren’t very well equipped to manage the 65 hungry souls!

Good weather, excitement and whatever little exertion till now the day had brought upon us ensured we seek sumptuous solace in Maggi and mutton-momos! So, amidst all fun and frolic, we ate whatever came our way! See Dr. Sashi and Mayil Anna – all smiles!

After a short break, we proceeded towards Hunder; a small Ladakhi village wherein lay the famed Nubra Valley.

From North Pullu, the ride to Nubra Valley is about 75kms. The ride was smooth, with roads in very good condition.

As the snow-clad peaks passed by we entered the desert-terrain, the view of the rocky mountains and gorges became really captivating; one of the stretches in between was really out-of-the-world – the view was fascinating. Sadly, I didn’t stop much and hence, now regret having very few images of this part.

En route, we crossed villages of Khardong, Khalsar and Diskit. Diskit is the district headquarters of Nubra Valley. This village is also famous for the Diskit Monastery, which was built in 1420AD. Rested on top of a hill overlooking the town of Diskit, the monastery provides some spectacular panoramic views.

Between Diskit and Hunder lie several kilometers of sand dunes. I was stunned to see white sand dunes all around me! Ladakh never fails to surprise the rider in me – this is a desert at a height of over 10000ft AMSL!

I must say that I encountered very unusual views as I entered Nubra Valley.

While descending, I saw the River Shyok flowing at a distance. As I rode further, I came across the road widening into sandy plains long-drawn-out between the rows of mountains. I stopped and filled in the changing views – the river, the mountains, barren sandy plains on which the roads look like thin, dark lines drawn till horizon. Hereinafter came several small villages, where kids would waved at me, tempting me to given them a Hi-five! The mountains around me were full of gravel, which threatened to come down anytime! This was indeed one of the most unusual places on the planet!

The exquisite Nubra Valley lies north of Leh and leads to the peaks of the eastern Karakoram. Siachen Glacier lies further north of the valley. This used to be a restricted area until very recently; and is now touted as the most beautiful region in Ladakh. To visit it you need permits which are easily obtainable from the DC’s office in Leh. As I wrote earlier, South Pullu and North Pullu check-posts would require these permits to let you through.

Located on the ancient Silk Route, this was where the double-humped camel caravans historically used to trade between Yarkand and Leh and would have passed this way. You can still see the near-extinct specie of double-humped camels here! In fact, as a tourist, you can also enjoy a ride upon them, of course at an interesting price. After riding my single-humped royalty for last eight days at a stretch, I didn’t try that!

Nubra Valley houses its tourists in several campsites that have sprung all around it in last few years. Setting sun had turned the sight quite amazing and Aman & I decided to ride into the town, after settling down in our camp. The view around made my friend Aman gasp, “Amazing! This is that part of the world where sand dunes, rivers & water-bodies, greenery and snow-capped mountains exist simultaneously! What a wonder!” Well, he was very right. Nubra Valley is indeed a strange confluence of plainly opposite geographical elements! You’d see farms and deserts at the same time here! See for yourself…

As Aman and I rode into the town area, I was surprised to witness this well-laid-out town in the middle of a remote valley. Smartly dressed youngsters, decorated stores selling jeans and T-shirts, including Adidas merchandise, et al. It didn’t look any different from any other small Indian town! Herein, we met owners of the Anand General Stores. Once the discussion ensued, I could observe they were fellow Haryanvis! They turned out to be a father and son duo from rural Haryana, and were really glad when I greeted them with the customary ‘Ram Ram’, the favourite salutation of Haryana! As they learnt that I was from Gurgaon, they opened up and offered us tea. Sheer warmth flowed thereafter and amidst some heartfelt talk, they shared that they are settled in Nubra from last 40 years. Whew! Their forefathers came along with the armed forces and chose to settle as traders in this beautiful valley. World indeed is a smaller place!

Our stay was booked at a campsite called Hunder Sarai, a campsite that housed a flowing stream of water. Quite useful, it turned our later that evening, when the group faced a challenge – how to chill the beer! This cold water-stream came to resolve this mammoth issue – all we need was to keep the beer between two rocks; rest job was done by the chilled water!

Amidst the moonlit night, the campfire and bonhomie, we spent the evening! Details are classified 😉

Day 11: July 3, 2012; Hunder to Leh: The night at Hunder was pretty comfortable. Tents were of good quality and housed a clean washroom. Luckily, the weather didn’t turn as chilly as it were in Sarchu, so we all slept well.

The weather continued to be good the next day too, and we started our ride for the day at about 8am. The return ride, as always, was eventless, save the fact that the sand dunes appeared even prettier a sight in the sunrays!

A word of caution here; it is advisable to tank up at Leh itself and carry additional fuel, if needed, to see you through this round trip of about 260kms, since only Diskit has a petrol pump. This petrol pump is an interesting one though; it still runs on a hand-operated mechanism and shuts down at 4pm every day. It is worth observing the mechanism – you’d get only 5l or 10l of fuel at a time!

En route, what saved the journey from being a real bore was a huge Army trucks’ convoy. It took us about 30 minutes to negotiate the route, passing one-truck at a time patiently. We reached North Pullu well in time and again stopped at the same Dhabas for food. Here, we met a group of foreigners, who too were riding REs. For the love of biking, the world goes around…

Back at Khardung La in no time, it was surprising to note the reality of the human nature! All excitement of ‘riding atop The Khardung La’ was history in less than 24 hours! No one showed ecstasy anymore; in fact, many didn’t even stop! What an irony; albeit so realistic it is!

I was amongst the first ones to reach back Leh. Reason being; I wanted to utlize the time left during the day to drive about 50kms on NH1 towards the point of confluence of the Rivers Sindhu and Zanskar. I had seen this marvelous spectacle during my Ladakh-visit last year and was itching to go back.

Sindhu, or the Indus River, locally known as the ‘Singhe Khababs’ (out of Lion’s mouth), flows in from Tibet and passes through Ladakh and flows into Pakistan. As you’d drive towards the outskirts of Leh town on NH1, you’d view this river.

The Zanskar River is in fact a tributary of the River Indus only. Flowing northwards, it meets River Sindhu at the village Nimmu, located at about 50kms from Leh town.

Last year when visited this place, I was amazed to observe splendid serenity all around. There were just no sounds; save the sound of gushing water of the two rivers. I have witnessed the Panch Prayags from close corners and the confluence of the five rivers en route to Badrinath as well as the Sangam at Allahabad; however, this confluence stands apart.

You’d cross Gurudwara Pathar Sahib, the famous Magnetic Hill and amazing scenery around you to reach this marvel of the nature!

See for yourself why I was so keen to visit this place! To make it appear clearer for the viewers, I am also publishing a image taken last year in broad daylight. Some view, it is!

For the rafting-enthusiasts, this is heaven. There are several travel agents around the Fort Road/Leh market offering white water rafting on the Rivers Indus and Zanskar.

While returning from this point, I took a brief stop at the Magnetic Hill. This has always been a site of amusement for me. This hill is located on NH1, at around 45kms from Leh, at a height of 11,000 feet above sea level. Rumour has it that this hill has magnetic properties! In fact, BRO has put a signboard too, which lends considerable credibility to this rumor, at least for the first timers! There is also a square box-area painted on the road where the signboard requests drivers to park the four-wheelers in the neutral gear. According to the prevalent myth, the magnetic properties of the hill are strong enough to pull cars uphill! In reality, the effect is at best an optical illusion and there is no magnetic property in the area. I have experience this twice now. Yet this place is a crowd-puller and is now a popular stop for travelers to Leh. I am publishing an image I took last year!

After the amusement at the so called Magnetic Hill, I rode towards the town of Leh. By now, the view had turned really beautiful. I couldn’t resist clicking several pics, of course with True being featured in all of them!

Once back in Leh, we went shopping. T-shirts and other memorabilia bought in plenty, Aman and I visited the famous German Bakery for dinner and it didn’t disappoint us – the quality of food was pretty good.

This completed our journey to the magical Ladakh. Herein onwards, our return ride would commence – back to Delhi.

Little did we riders know, what a frightful evening await us at Debring the next day…

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.

Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Ladakh…at Khardung La

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Part 5 of the Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Ladakh…

Day 10: July 2, 2012; Leh to Khardung La and Hunder: As I thought the night before, every rider was back in action – chirpy, set to ride – back with the bang! The band of brothers was briefed by the RE Leaders – Santhosh and Aakash on the route to Khardung La and Hunder, some tips about riding and the works. Soon after, we rode out of Leh in a formation of two, so as to add least disturbance to the locals – after all, 65 REs do make a hell lot of noise! As we ascended towards Khardung La, I could observe whole of Leh town and the homes built in the old Leh town too. The view was astonishing!

Claimed to be at a height of 5602m AMSL, Khardung La is a high mountain pass situated 39 km by road North of Leh. An early start would ensure that one reaches Khardung La without encountering lot of traffic. You will need an Inner line permit to cross or visit Khardung La. With a brief stop at South Pullu check-post, we proceeded ahead, only to find bad roads for 14kms to the top. It is ironical that even on the other side, i.e. after crossing Khardung La, I found bad roads for exactly 14kms towards our descent to North Pullu!

On the way, I came across this rather scary signage; do read it carefully in the adjoining image!

Khardung La – here I come! Atop arguably the world’s highest motorable road! What a feeling it was! All riders were elated!

You may visit the video I made here on YouTube (http://youtu.be/adxQCyMnDVA) to gauge the feelings I experienced once I completed this feat!

Special mention to Mr. GR Krishnan – he was oldest of us riders at 62 years of age. The true dude! He was simply jubilant to arrive here, riding his Thunderbird! Some grit and determination it took and we all witnessed his passion all through the journey…

At an age of 31 years now, I wonder would I be able to repeat the same feat when I turn his age…worth thinking!

I thanked Aakash – a superb team-leader, for all his guidance and support to us riders! He was the man behind many of us making it successfully to this place…truly remarkable guy with a great passion for riding!

Khardung La is the gateway to the Shyok and Nubra valleys. Built in 1976, it was opened to motor vehicles in 1988 and has since seen many automobile, motorbike and mountain biking expeditions. There is some charm in riding atop what is claimed to be the highest motorable road of the world! Maintained by the BRO, the pass is strategically important to India as it is used to carry supplies to the Siachen Glacier.

The weather at Khardung La can be really tricky – we were there on an absolutely superb day – bright sun shining over our heads and very little chill to worry about. See me and my friend Saurabh basking in the glory of sun-rays!

Don’t you get conned by this, dear readers! I would like to remind you that only early this June, the Army and police rescued more than 400 people trapped at the Khardung La, between South and North Pullu, due to landslides triggered by heavy rains in Ladakh!

Also, once here, do follow the basics – do not stay for long and don’t exert too much in excitement. It can be fatal! Read on the signage to your right…

Once I arrived at the Pass, it took me a while to get myself and True photographed next to the signboard which says “Khardung La, 18380ft, Highest Motorable Road in the world” – there were so many tourists around – I could see people from all part of the country and the world!

You see the above colourful signage? It belongs to the café at the Pass, claiming itself to the highest café of the world; where one can have a much-needed cup of green tea along with some snacks.

The walls of this café speak about the story of Maggi! A very interesting read…

Now, you’d be surprised – Airtel works here! After all the troubles I had with the network all through the journey, it was a pleasant surprise! Did you notice the tower in the adjoining image?

I also came across a souvenir shop selling Khardung La memorabilia, run by Army. The products are made in Karol Bagh, though! Worth buying, nonetheless, would be a small wooden plaque – it’d remind you that you were there! Like every other pass, there’s a temple at the Khardung La too – again run by the army. In the video I shot, you can hear the holy songs playing in the background!

Caveat: Well, the GPS and the Casio watch, both confirmed the newly spread believe that this pass is NOT really the world’s highest pass and that the elevations claimed by the signboards are rather inflated. The watch showed the elevation to be 5359m or 17582feet AMSL. This confirmed what I was being told for while by many other riders checking it on their GPS/watches.

Long ago, a rider friend shared his experience about Marsimek La, which is also in Ladakh. This pass, though largely not open to public, is also claimed to be arguably world’s highest motorable road at 5590m or 18634feet AMSL! In fact, there exists a plaque stating the same, mentioning the name of the BRO’s construction company! However, I am not sure if this pass can be really called motorable, as most of the army-men I have spoken with to confirm this stated otherwise. So, it is important to make a distinction between world’s highest motorable road and world’s highest pass!

Most recently, during my trip to Badrinath, I came across a revelation – another signboard claiming that the Mana Pass is now the highest motorable road in the world, standing at an elevation of 5608m or 18399feet AMSL. Mana Pass, or Dungri La, is located between India and Tibet, about 50kms from village Mana on NH58, also known as the last village on Indo-Tibet border, close to 3kms ahead of the Badrinath Dham. However, I was told that this pass is not open to public as of now and is heavily guarded by the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP).

So, while it is safer to say that while Khardung La is a very high mountain pass and also possibly the highest pass with a motorable road open to public, both the claims of it being at a height of 5602m AMSL and being the world’s highest motorable road may not be accurate.

Interestingly, I found Khardung La to be the easiest ride! After doing Kunzum La, Nakee La, Baralacha La, Lachulung La and Taglang La, I can say that I found Taglang La the most difficult as well as most beautiful. I am told Chang La, en route to Pangong Lake, is really steep, tough and strenuous. However, so was I told about Jalori La; however, when I crossed it, I didn’t find it difficult at all.

Would surely like to visit Marsimek La, Chang La and Mana Pass some day along with True…

From hereon, we rode towards the Nubra Valley – the cold desert of Ladakh…

Travelogue on Day-10 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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