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Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Ladakh… Preparation Begins

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New Delhi – Ladakh – Srinagar – New Delhi. This one is the Holy Grail for all the bike riders of the world – 3200kms of the toughest terrain any biker can bargain for. Starting the preparation. Having done it already in 2012 as part of Royal Enfield Himalayan Odyssey, 2012, I know what it takes.

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This motorcycling journey would cover 3 mountain ranges, six passes and touch the daring heights of 18,380 feet at Khardung La  – world’s highest motorable road and brings you to Ladakh – the land of high passes.

Last time, I rode there I was 30. Now, I would be 36. Can the body sustain the ride? The weather, the oxygen or rather the lack of it, the terrain, et al? It commands a grilling fitness regime before you even venture into thinking about this Trip – both for you and your Enfield. Trying to stay true to it.

Despite the challenge it offers, there isn’t any dearth of bikers who have done this trip – you’d find so many of them, try searching on Google! However, my earlier travel to Ladakh taught me a useful lesson – every ride to this Himalayan abode will be a new test, an altogether different one every time you venture on it; it doesn’t get any easier with earlier experience that one may have of riding on to this absolutely stunning journey.

This ride can be a truly difficult learning experience – it tests you on much more than expert biking skills; it teaches many things too – about yourself! Every biker dreams about this Trip. Having done that already, I am daring to relive this dream yet again this year, and making it go real very soon.

“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”. Those were the words with which Dr. Venki Padmanabhan, then CEO of Royal Enfield, flagged off the 2012 Himalayan Odyssey, 2012.

Am I trying to find that boy in me? Shall keep you all posted on this ride of a lifetime!

PS: Read here about more on Motorcycle Diaries

Written by RRGwrites

January 26, 2016 at 12:40 PM

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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