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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 🙂 ?

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.


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…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…



‘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…Leh – the land of monasteries…

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Part 4 of the Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Ladakh…

Day 9: July 1, 2012; Rest Day at Leh: Good Morning, Leh! Though it was a rest day and ideally the tired me should have slept till late, I woke up pretty early. Well, that’s what I got used to doing for last so many days now!

First thing first – True’s care! Our RE Team Leader Aakash had announced last evening that the bikes should get serviced, if needed, early on this day. True was cruising all fine and needed no service. However, eight days of grime, dirt and dips in water forced True to take a bath! So, I initiated the hunt for a bike/car wash center nearby. However, it being Sunday, Leh was largely shut and I had to drive 8kms on Manali Highway, all the way to the hamlet of Chogalmasar Jamba, where across the bridge exists an old acquaintance’s garage; a person whom was meeting after good six years! But, just like all other people from the hills, he was extremely warm and forthcoming. So, True was given special preference in queue.

Washed and shined, True and I got ready to see around. There were several things to see around. I had secretly wished to visit Pathar Sahib Gurudwara here, when I was leaving Delhi. So, as soon as I got ready, I rode off to this holy shrine, located about 25kms from Leh, on the NH1! Yes, my friends, NH1; the same NH1 that starts at Delhi and goes to Leh via Srinagar and Kargil! To see this signage at Leh is some feeling! Kahan se kahan aa gaye, road wahi rahi!  

Some details about Leh, as learnt duting my earlier trips and also with information and excerpts from the official Leh website – http://leh.nic.in:

Leh was the capital of the Himalayan kingdom of Ladakh; now the Leh District in the northernmost state of Jammu and Kashmir, India. Leh, with an area of 45110 square kms, is the second largest district in the country, after Kutch, Gujarat, in terms of area.

I would say Leh is extremely rich in cultural heritage and honesty. It is popularly known as land of monks and monasteries. Since the 8th century, people belonging to different religions, particularly Buddhism and Islam have been living in harmony here. Besides these two communities there are people living in the region who belong to other religions such as Christianity, Hinduism, and Sikhism, who too live in harmony and form a vital part of the society.

Mountains dominate the landscape around the Leh as it is at an altitude of 3500m AMSL. The whole of the district is mountainous with three parallel ranges of the Himalayas, the Zanskar, the Ladakh and the Karakoram. Between these ranges, the Shayok, Indus and Zanskar rivers flow and most of the population lives in valleys of these rivers.

Ladakh is called the Hermit Kingdom due to its remoteness and inaccessibility. The principal access roads include the 434km Srinagar-Leh highway which connects Leh with Srinagar and the 473km Manali-Leh highway which connects LEh with Manali. Both roads are open only on a seasonal basis, largely between months of June to October. All though our journey this time, I observed that the Border Road Organization (Project Himank) has been tirelessly contributing a lot to the overall development of Leh by constructing and maintaining a vast chunk of road network.

Leh’s Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport has daily flights to Delhi. Last year, Neha, my wife and I had flown down from Delhi and found the airport pretty functional, albeit extremely vigilant for security measures.

Since its opening for the tourists in 1974, Leh has registered an increasing number of tourists attracted towards it, because of its landscape, culture, tradition environment etc. and that it still has much potential for adventure tourism. Hemis, Alchi, Lamayuru, Shey and Thiksay are some of the most popular monasteries of Ladakh, which attract both domestic as well as foreign tourists. The Leh Palace overlooks the town of Leh and is worth a visit. Pangong Lake, which is 60% in China and world highest motorable road Khardung La are also major attractions for tourists. You’d recall the last few scenes of the Aamir Khan’s movie – 3 Idiots; it made Pangong Lake highly popular!

Let me come back to my day at Leh…The road from Leh to the Gurdwara Pathar Sahib is in pretty good condition. You’d take the NH1, which is also called the airport road. The panorama is spectacular – you’d drive on a road surrounded by mountains from all sides, and would gradually see River Sindhu, aka Indus on your left.

I reached the shrine at about 1pm. Gurudwara Pathar Sahib stands at the place where Shri Guru Nanak Dev Ji is believed to have vanquished a demon. Shri Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the founder of Sikh religion and the first guru, is well respected by Tibetans, who consider him a saint. Gurudwara Pathar Sahib is also worshipped and venerated by Buddhists. Tibetan Buddhists venerate Guru Nanak as Guru Gompka Maharaj and as Nanak Lama. The gurudwara is maintained today by the Indian Army. It is a tradition for vehicles to stop and pay obeisance at the temple.

Neha and I visited this shrine last year, and we had unfortunately missed the langar, as it is held only between 1pm to 2pm daily. However, this time, some very senior army officer and his team was visiting to offer their prayers and the langar was organized. So, lucky me! I had the honour of eating the langar here. Also, hungry me! I hadn’t had one proper square meal, that too such good tasting one, in days! So, as guru’s prasad, I ate and ate and ate!

I thanked Babaji for bringing all us riders safely to Leh and prayed for our safe trip back home. I was really happy that I could visit and offer my prayers here…

Once I came back to Leh from the Gurudwara, Aman and I visited the famous Hall of Fame Memorial, a place every Indian citizen must visit.

It is a glorious monument, which was set up by the Indian Army XIV Corps as a Museum cum Memorial to the War Heroes. 

It is also hailed as a ‘Museum of Ladakh’s Culture and Military Heritage’ and houses a War Memorial. It is open to public and is situated near the Leh Airport, about 7kms from the Fort Road.

You can see the memorabilia, distinguished defence personalities with biographies, images and several other details on Ladakh. There is a complete section devoted to the Kargil war, where the weapons used by the Pakistan Army and the other belongings of enemy soldiers found at war site.

Remember Capt. Vikram Batra, Param Vir Charka (posthumous), our Kargil war hero? ‘Ye Dil Maange More…’. See him in the picture to your left…

Another section of this building is entirely dedicated to Siachen, which is strategically the most critical war-sector for India; often referred to as the highest altitude battlefield in the world. On display are soldiers’ clothing, snow-shoes to keep their feet from frost bites, instruments of daily use; their day-to-day food, mainly frozen and packed, which is heated by lighting small balls of Hexamycin tablets, as it is difficult to ignite fire at a temperature going south of -30 degree centigrade!

The Museum also houses information related to Ladakhi culture, way of life, history, vegetation and animals found in this part of the world. It is interesting to read in detail about Zorawar Singh, the dogra ruler, his explorations into Ladakh, his battles with king of Ladakh and the advances his army made in China.

Visiting this place is certainly a thrilling and proud experience!

Aman and I came back to the main Fort Road for lunch – Leh offer very good food at reasonable prices, in several eateries on the Fort Road and around. Some of the good places to eat are the German Bakery and Summer Harvest restaurants.

Post our lunch, we visited the local market – you have hundreds of stores selling T-shirts with catching slogans – right from ‘Free Tibet‘ to ‘How I Get Leh’d‘ to the cheesy ones like ‘My Brother Went To Leh And All He Got For Me Is This Lousy T-Shirt‘, and many more cheesier ones! You can get them made as per your choice too at nominal rates. We bought a lot of them!

There is a huge Tibetan Market that sells very interesting stuff – mostly local – ornaments, coins, pots, the works. You can but some very strange-looking locks – very different ones than what you’d see anywhere – all made by hand! Must buy as a souvenir! This was the place where I met this sweet kid!

That evening, I experienced something really unexpected. Many of my fellow riders – strong men with considerable riding experience – young and old alike – expressed their longing to go back home. They were missing families! Their kids, even wives! Some of them even expressed a desire to book their bike through courier and take the next flight home! Strange, isn’t it?

No. I didn’t find it strange. I found it quite natural a feeling. Men can be labelled strong and aloof and what not, all of us miss our near and dear ones. It is completely sane to be soft at heart – who said riders don’t have heart?

However, as I went to bed, I knew I would find everyone back with a bang – energetic and raring – for the morning briefing next day. After all, we were about to ride towards arguably the highest motorable road of the world – the Khardung La…what a feeling it would be…

To be continued in the next blog


‘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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