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Posts Tagged ‘Road to Ladakh

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

The Ghumakkar In Me…

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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…


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!


‘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…



‘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…


‘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…


‘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.

Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Ladakh…the ride to Leh…

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Part 3 of the Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Ladakh…

Day 6: June 28, 2012; Kaza to Keylong: This was the day all riders were having nightmares about – we were about to experience the rather dreaded water-crossings en route. There were speculations doing the rounds whole of the rest-day – how easy or difficult the ride’s going to be! Our morning briefing and tips shared by the RE Team did little to prepare us – I could sense palpability amongst a lot many of us. Yet, with the passion of riding in our hearts, we started our ride for the day.

Next 60kms to Losar was a great ride – I witnessed superb panorama all around – Spiti Valley continued to offer mesmerizing views. I encountered a mix of good to ‘not-so-bad’ roads during this stretch and we took only 90minutes to cover this distance.

Losar is also a police check-post, where one needs to enter the details for self and the bike.

A quick, refreshing tea-break at Losar charged me enough to ride 19kms uphill towards the first Mountain Pass of the journey – the Kunzum La, which is a tenuous link of the two valleys of Lahaul & Spiti, at 4551m AMSL. This pass has much-revered Hindu Goddess Durga’s Temple located a little off-route, which all travellers encircle, offer prayers and only then ride ahead.

To me, Kumzum La Pass appeared safer and provided easy ascent and descent. The panorama as viewed from the top was breathtaking. The lofty Shigri Peak can be seen right in front in all its grandeur.

Nature enthusiasts may note that the famous Chandra Taal (meaning the Lake of the Moon) is located before this Pass. From the town of Battal, a 6km motorable road takes you to the lake, which is situated at a height of 4300m AMSL. Though we didn’t go to this lake, I am told about it’s stunning beauty and that its deep blue-water is the source of the Chandra river.

From Kunzum La, I descended the Pass and arrived at the Chandra Dhaba, our scheduled halt for lunch. Hungry us! See our meal-plate and you’d understand what was our sumptuous lunch for the day!

Here, we met travellers coming from the opposite direction, who told us the water crossings were fairly bad this time – and that there were several of them one after another! Shucks!

After a 90-minute break or so, we resumed our journey.

Well, what we encountered hereafter made me opine – there is nothing that is truly waterproof while riding a bike on this terrain! Gumboots, rain-shoe-covers, poly-covers, expensive riding boots – all failed rather miserably from preventing the gushing water to seep in and soak us. It seemed the river changed its course and started flowing on what I call ‘no-roads’ itself! Some of us rode through this ordeal, some fell down and some needed support to pull the bikes out! See for yourself…

Water-crossings were aplenty – and as more and more came our way, I turned bolder, as if I decided to not let them scare me. Rode I on!

For the more vivid experience, do watch the videos on ‘youtube’ posted by the Royal Enfield Media and other fellow riders. One of them can be accessed at:


Gradually, we crossed all of them, and reached the town of Koksar, which is the police check-post. This is the point from where a route goes towards Rohtang Pass and Manali. We rode on after a brief stoppage of 30-minutes here; post completion of police formalities and feeding our tired bodies once again – the water-crossing had taken their toll! See my drenched shoes!

From here on, the road towards Keylong was both good and wherever they weren’t in the 43km stretch, we didn’t mind – the worst of the day was long over!

Riding a total of 180kms from Kaza, we reached Tandi. It is a small village, located 7kms before the town of Keylong. This is where the river Bhaga meets the river Chandra to become the Chandra-Bhaga/Chenab.

The adjoining signage would tell you the significance of this town to all road-travellers to Leh – it has the last petrol pump before Leh, which is still around 365 km away. However, I noted later that the next petrol station is located at Karu, which is 40kms before Leh; making the total distance without a petrol pump to 325kms. So, this is your last chance to fill your tank. You won’t miss it; there’s nothing else around and the sign is big enough. As they say, if signboards were celebrities, this one would have been their superstar for sure!

Here, the RE team came to our rescue. Depending on the mileage our respective bikes were giving, they purchased and stored spare petrol – 3 to 5 litres per bike. Typically, a 500CC RE needs about 3l and a 350CC needs approximately 4l to make it to Karu.

Keylong is the administrative headquarters of Lahaul-Spiti and is an oasis of green fields, on the banks of Bhaga River. It is located at an altitude of 3080m AMSL. After a long-hour’s wait at the Tandi pump, we rode towards Hotel Dekyid located in the town of Keylong. It had turned dark by this time and we rode carefully on the bad-roads, continually asking the locals about the address of the hotel. I reached the hotel at about 8:15pm. It was a neat and clean place, a RE regular for years – the several years’ Odyssey stickers were the testimonial of this fact!

A hot shower can do wonders to your tired back! That done, I ate a light dinner and went of to sleep by 11pm.

Day 7: June 29, 2012; Keylong to Sarchu: As the ride was of only 130kms, the riders thought it would be an easy day. I knew it wasn’t going to be so – we were to cross world’s third highest pass today – Bara-lacha La and then ride into the Sarchu Valley.

Our first halt of the day was Darcha, which is a small village located about 32kms from Keylong. We crossed the scenic town of Jispa en route, where the greenery was highly captivating. Good roads with few bad patches took us about an hour to reach Darcha. All passing vehicles must stop at Darcha’s police checkpoint for checks. We left Darcha soon after and started the ascent towards loopy roads that led us to Bara-lacha La in another 90minutes or so.

Situated at 4890m AMSL, Bara-lacha La is about 40kms from Darcha. The name means ‘pass with crossroads on summit’ (roads from Ladakh, Spiti and Lahaul join at the top). This high mountain pass in the Zanskar range connects the Lahaul district in HP to Ladakh in J&K.

Bara-lacha La was all clad in snow. Luckily, the roads were devoid of any snow, making it easy of us riders to sail through. You’d notice that unlike other key milestones, I haven’t posted any image of a plaque reading Bara-lacha La – actually, I could’nt take any – there was a huge jam ahead, as we climbed up the Pass. I saw an oil-tanker overturned and fallen off the road, taking the signage down with it! Thankfully, the truck hadn’t taken the plunge into the gorge. It appeared to be a very recent accident – the driver of the truck was safely back on road and was assessing the damages done. The Border Roads Organization that manages these roads was very quick to respond; they had already arrived with a crane and were working out a rescue plan.

Advantage Biker! We quickly made our way through the mounting traffic and descended to the famous Bharatpur – our lunch halt of the day. This place is something – all full of colourful dhabas!

The images would tell you how we sank into the cozy mattresses and treated ourselves to food – maggi, eggs, et al! All through our journey, Dhabas like these acted as saviours for us riders – warm and hospitable locals, trying their best to serve us, without any intention to overcharge for anything they sell!

Our break at Bharatput was a long and tiring one – 3.5hours; the support vehicles were stuck in the jam at Bara-lacha La! Waited and waited, we all felt drowsy and lethargic! It was only at 3:30pm that the support vehicles arrived and we resumed our ride towards Sarchu.

45minutes later, we entered the Sarchu valley. Sarchu, also called Sir Bhum Chun, is a tented camp town located on the boundary between states of HP and J&K. As we rode into this beautiful valley, rows of tents could be seen one after the other. This was our overnight halt – first night in tents. Since the journey along the Leh highway is at high altitude and variable road conditions normally takes two days, the travellers and tourists use this spot as an overnight stop.

No sooner the sun went down, the weather turned dramatically colder, and the howling winds started to threaten to blow my tent away. Within a span of only an hour, we experienced freezing cold. The riders quickly queued up to refill their tanks from the stored petrol. Remember RE team stored additional petrol at Tandi?

I quickly ate my dinner – food was pathetic! However, it is important to have a filled stomach, so I ate somehow. Immediately thereafter, I tucked myself inside the quilt and an additional blanket on top of it! It was so cold that I slept with my warm-inners on!

Sarchu is a place where you can first experience acute mountain sickness and that could be dangerous. Thus, our doctor asked us to set an alarm for midnight, when we would get up and check upon the health of our roommate. Once that done, I slept peacefully.

Day 8: June 30, 2012; Sarchu to Leh: Slept peacefully last night, only to wake up to a freezing morning at 6am and to find there wasn’t any water in the tap – it was frozen in the pipes! I simply brushed my teeth using mineral water, washed my face and geared up. Soon after, cozy sunrays made it confortable to bear the morning chill.

During the briefing, I could notice considerable excitement. After all, this was the day for which we all were waiting eagerly – today we would finally ride into Leh! Another reason the anticipation was higher than usual was the fact that we would cross three famous passes today – Nakee La, Lachulung La and the second highest pass of the world – Taglang La! We would also cross Morey Plains today – the cold desert at 4000m AMSL!

Our ride for the day was about 255kms. With comforting sun over our heads, we started at 8am. Our camp was located about 7kms before Sarchu and as we rode ahead, I could not help but get absorbed in the nature’s abundance – the sky was never this clear over my heads and the view never this captivating. The view of rock-formations around River Tsarap were unbelievable. However, as the day ahead was going to be long, I enjoyed the panorama but I didn’t stop much and rode continuously towards the famous Gata Loops. We crossed Sarchu’s police check post; Leh was 250kms from here. After this, we entered the boundary of the J&K state.

The flat terrain and straight roads near Sarchu did not last long. After crossing River Tsarap soon after Sarchu, the road starts ascending.

As I scaled the good roads, I saw two interestingly named bridges – Brandy Bridge and Whisky Bridge! Wonder why they were named so!

Then came the Gata Loops! These are 21 hairpin bends that will take you from 4190m to 4630m AMSL. You’d hit Gata Loops after 25kms from Sarchu tents. These bends took me up by more than 1500 feet in less than an hour’s time. The views from Gata Loops were too good. Clouds and the sundays were playing magic over the rocky mountains!

However, here I was reminded of the caution our group-leader Santhosh Vijay gave at Kaza about the oil-canters and their dangerous habit of taking shortcuts at these loops. Evidently, these trucks ply between Ambala to Tandi and Leh ferrying petrol/diesel and the drivers get paid about Rs.35K for a return journey – high incentive for a trucker, leading to hazardous driving habits! Watch out for them here!

At the top of the Gata loops is Nakee La, located at an altitude 4740m AMSL, which for some reason is not as famous as other Passes on this route. The terrain is very dry after Nakeela with no streams or rivers en route. The ride ahead was monotonous as the road descends into a dry valley and quickly climbs up towards the next pass – Lachulung La, which is located at an altitude of 5059m AMSL.

Hereafter, the road becomes serpentine and moves down through a narrow canyon – this was all very picturesque! Sadly, I didn’t stop and take any pictures – I simply enjoyed the ride. As the road descents to Pang, life was infused into the scenery from the clear flow of a stream – Kangla Jal. It soon widens to appear like a river, flowing next to the army camp of Pang, at an altitude 4600m AMSL. Just across the road is an army camp where a sign proudly proclaims it as the ‘world’s highest transit camp’.

Pang was about 80kms from Sarchu; and was our first halt of the day. We met Dorma Aunty – the sweet lady who runs the Shanti Dhaba. Our RE teammate Aakash told us stories about her kind behavior and good food from his earlier experiences. After filling myself with yummy omelets and rotis, we moved ahead towards Morey Plains. The plain area started after covering around 4 km uphill road from Pang. The road is mostly on the plain for around 30–35 km, before it again starts to rise to Tanglang La.

Voila! The roads that led to Morey Plains were superb! I relished riding at 80kmph after days and days of bad roads! Ride’s going be superb now, so I thought.

How grossly mistaken I was!

After 20kms of very good patch, we hit the under-construction roads. Bad, very bad they were! It was as if I was riding perennially over speed-breakers! The area appeared uninhabitable and has no construction at all, and also no population, save the migrant construction workers. Its was an extremely tiring and tedious ride; we also were forced from time to time to off-road into sand and ride wherever the roads were blocked for construction – BRO is constructing a two-lane road here. I always find riding in sand really painful and painful it was even this time. As we ascended, the road became worse – it is all under construction. Heavy amount of gravel on the road made the ride very tiring and I was in fact forced to stop several times before reaching Taglang La – the second highest motorable pass of the world. This was the worst patch to ride till now.

Despite a mild headache (one shouldn’t wait at high Passes in such case), I rested at the Pass for a good 15minutes. I needed it, badly!

After the Tanglang-La descent, we reached our last stop of the day – Rumtse village, which is located at 14000ft AMSL. A brief halt here helped me relax with a cup of lemon tea and a chitchat with BRO’s road-workers, who hailed from Jharkhand. These workers, I observed, were painstakingly constructing the road all through our journey. Far from there homes, they were engaged in hard labour at the most inhospitable terrains and in harshest of weather! Some toughness this act merits.

Leh is about 80kms from Rumste. The roads hereafter were not-so-bad and gradually turned good as we entered Karu, a town having the first petrol pump after Tandi. All through this stretch, small villages, green fields and kids saying ‘JULLEY!’ – a greeting in the Ladakhi language –  added life to the relatively straight road to Leh. We crossed Upshi and Shey Palace en route to enter Leh at about 7pm.

Leh – here I come!! What an amazing feeling it was! No words can do justice to elation that I felt when this picture was being clicked.

I checked in at Hotel Namgyal Palace on the Fort Road. A leisurely hot-water shower took away a lot of pain of the tiring day. Good food and nicely done room soon made me forget all the miseries of the Sarchu tents!

The next day was to be the rest day – I was in Leh and there was so much to see around. And then, we were to drive to Khardung La – world’s highest motorable road! With these thoughts, I dozed off…

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…

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Part 2 of the Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Ladakh…

“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”.

With these words, Dr. Venki Padmanabhan, the CEO of Royal Enfield, flagged off the Himalayan Odyssey, 2012 from the India Gate, New Delhi, on June 23rd.

Listening to these words, I wondered, what would bring the above-mentioned changes in us? Both True (that’s what I call my latest Enfield) and I pondered alike…

Well, now that I am back home after covering over 3000kms on this ride of a lifetime, I can tell you it did bring out the boys, men and sages in & amongst the 60 of us riders! The group had riders aging 21 years to 62 years, from fittest to not so fit, extroverts and introverts alike, riders having tremendous riding experience to those having very little experience of riding a Royal Enfield, et al. Riders came from all over India, and parts of the world too! We had doctors, engineers, entrepreneurs, managers, and students amongst us. Married and happy ones would ride together! And what united this diverse group was our passion for riding an Enfield and this band of brothers came together to ride on this fascinating journey to this rather inhospitable land of passes, mountains, roads and no roads, and to the highest motorable road of the world – it was passion and boyish exhilaration writ on faces all over when I saw them first.

It has been six days that I have come back, and haven’t stopped thinking about it as yet. The overwhelming experience has been quite enriching and before I started to pen down this blog, I had several thoughts coming to me – should I simply write a travelogue, or I should write about the elevating experiences I had before and during the entire trip.

Let me try and attempt both.

Day 0: ‘Day Zero’ would constitute months of preparation – working on a grilling fitness regime, getting the bikes ready, buying loads and loads of required riding gear, the works! The enthusiasm over the yahoo-group was simply infectious – you’d note the boyish excitement spread all over! Finally, on 21st & 22nd June, we got together at the Vishwa Yuvak Kendra, New Delhi and completed the scrutiny of gear, bike and the physical fitness was tested – try the 5km run plus 50-push-ups in 60minutes – you’d understand what am I talking about!

Day 1: June 23, 2012; New Delhi to Parwanoo: A day that shall always remain etched in every rider’s memory. The day when we turned into celebrities! The day when, as it appeared, every bike-enthusiast turned at India Gate to flag-off the Himalayan Odyssey. Interviewed & clicked by media, Cheered and waved, congratulated and photographed, envied and hailed, and after receiving the blessings of the Buddhist monks, Dr. Venky flagged off the ride.

I tied the blessed flags to my bike, said my prayers, waved to well-wishers present and started on to this dream ride…

On NH-1 and then on NH-22, the ride of 270kms from New Delhi to Parwanoo, a hill-town near Chandigarh was largely devoid of any mentionable events, barring the fact the Mayil Anna, one of us and a great senior of mine had a narrow escape when a rogue oil tanker barged onto his ride! We learnt – protection gear pays, it really does!

Passing the curious onlookers and braving the severe heat, all riders arrived Parwanoo and reported to our respective hotels – Shivalik and Windsmoor. It was an easy day’s ride and day ended with loads of beer flowing all around. We were getting to know each other, chatting about what not and also tended to our bikes; ready to roll on the windy roads that lay ahead…

Day 2: June 24, 2012; Parwanoo to Narkanda: We resumed the day after a short briefing. Straight roads had already given way to the serpentine roads as we entered Indian State of Himachal Pradesh (HP) yesterday. Good roads lay ahead and we drove towards Chail, via the Kanda Ghat. After this turn towards Chail, narrow roads started as we rode towards Kufri. After crossing heavy traffic jams at Kufri, we took our lunch-break at Theog, about 11kms after the Kufri town.

We reached Narkanda at about 4pm, covering about 155kms. Hotel Hatu of HPTDC was a very good place to give rest to our bodies and bikes. A brief medical check ensued – to check any untoward symptoms that we may have developed in last two days.

Narkanda is a beautiful hill-town, located in Shimla District of HP. It is at an altitude of 2750m above mean sea level (AMSL) on the NH-22, about 65 km from Shimla. It is surrounded by the Shivalik Ranges that span a large part of HP. Evening was slightly chilly and gave a pleasant respite to our sunburnt bodies from the Day-1!

Day 3: June 25, 2012; Narkanda to Kalpa: Our destination was Kalpa; about 200kms away, continuing on NH22. We covered towns of Ramnagarbusair, Jeori, Poari and Peo enroute.

After experiencing superb roads descending into the town of Ramnagar, encountered what I call ‘not-so-good roads’ (wait for ‘bad-roads’!), where the JP Group of Companies is digging tunnels into the mountains. Taking our first break at Jeori, we found that it has no proper eating-places and most of us filled up our stomachs with whatever little available around.

Kalpa is a small town in the Sutlej river valley, in the Kinnaur district of HP, at the height of 2960m AMSL. During the ride, I observed for the first time the free-flowing Sutlej River, which races through deep gorges. As we reached the town of Kalpa, it was around 6:15pm. All of a sudden, it started drizzling. Our destination was Rakpa Regency Hotel, which was located above 8kms the main town and we rode in rain. Wow! The first feeling of out gloved fingers freezing, as we soaked in rain, was such a welcome change from all the heat the North India suffered whole of summer!

Once settled into the hotel, I took my time to notice the serenity of this sleepy hamlet, now sitting in the lap of snow-clad mountains in front of me – the Kinnar Kailash range of peaks. Also visible from this place is the sacred Shivling rock on the Chota-Kailash peak. I was told that this peak changes its color at different points in the day. That true or not, I did observe the pristine beauty of the peaks – both as the sun took shelter behind them and as it rose the next morning – some sights!

Day 4: June 26, 2012; Kalpa to Kaza: Next morning, we all started early, only to find out that there was only one petrol pump around, located at Peo. It turned out to be a very busy one too, with 65 of us in the queue. The riders took close to an hour getting their tanks filled, wasting about 60min of the precious riding time during the day. Thus, I would recommend you start at about 7:30am, as the distance to be covered was around 220kms to Kaza.

Covering 30kms of ‘not-so-good roads’, we reached the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) check-post, where the travelers must stop to get their inner line permits to continue upwards to the Spiti Valley. Luckily for us, we were only asked to get out details noted down and move on.

Viola! Next 15kms were superb roads – we cruised at about 80kmph! Only to be stopped for the rock-blasts! Yes, you’d encounter a LOT of them, and landslides, as you ride on this route – watch out! As you’d ride ahead, you’d come across what I call ‘bad-roads (wait for ‘no-roads’!).

Sutlej flows in its full beastly glory, as if determined to drown all the rocky mountains that dare come in its way.

As I rode though barren patches, I would not help admire the exquisiteness of the rocks all around – they were as spellbinding as the Grand Canyon, all through the journey on the Indo-China border. No images can describe this splendor!

During last 100kms, as the terrain turned bad to worse, I had consumed all my water. Thirsty and tired, I found water only at Dubling, after riding for over 3.5 hours. As I gulped down water, I couldn’t help observe that the same Kinley packaged water bottle we paid Rs.40/- at the HPTDC hotels (a premium of double the cost!) was being sold by this mom-&-pop shop at the MRP!

After covering about 110kms from Peo, we arrived in at Yangthang. This place came as a respite to us craving-for-food souls! Jumping at simple vegetable-rice and mashed-eggs, we ate like there is no tomorrow and relaxed thereafter.

After a long halt of over 2 hours for remaining riders (that’s the rule – we would wait for each and every biker at all scheduled halts), we started riding ahead at about 3pm.

What we encountered ahead is I call ‘no-roads’! At an altitude of 3500m AMSL, this is was the scariest patch I have ridden to in my life. Rough, narrow and steep ups & downs! Barren mountains all around us and the Sutlej roaring down below, my heart almost took a permanent place in my throat for next 30kms! So much so, I stopped at a place, chanted Ik Onkar and with the divine intervention providing courage, moved ahead.

Can you make out where is the road on the mountain that you see in the adjoining image to your right? I bet you can’t! Believe me you, there exists a road in that fine line that you see 🙂

Once in a while, I could see snow-clad peaks behind the rocky-mountains. Some sights I would love you to enjoy.

After more than a 150km ride through the rocky mountains, greenery at Chango was pleasant to the eyes. Also, the very fact that Kaza was only 40kms odd from here brought some relief to the aching back and hurting wrists – today was a long day!

However, after crossing Samdo, as I entered the Spiti Valley, which about 70kms away from Kaza, I was spellbound with the natural beauty that unfolded turn after turn. As I moved ahead, I reached the famous Tabo Monastery, which was founded in 996 AD and is located in the very arid, cold and rocky area of Tabo village, at an altitude of 3280m AMSL. With its original decoration and art images intact, it is considered to be the oldest continuously functioning Buddhist monastery in India and the Himalayas. The unique beauty of its art and its pivotal historical role in the transmission of Indo-Tibetan Buddhism and culture in the 10th and 11th century makes Tabo Monastery an historically significant site. Within the ancient monastery’s compound are nine temples built between the late 10th and the 17th century and numerous stupas. (http://tabomonastery.org). The famous Dhankar monastery is only 31kms from this place.

Riding ahead, I was enthralled to note the stunning beauty of the Spiti Valley, as I rode into this the gateway to the northernmost reaches of the nation. The setting sun made the view even more pristine…

Spiti Valley forms one of the Trans-Himalayan frontier regions of northern India with a population of around 10,000 people. The name ‘Spiti’ means ‘The Middle Land’, i.e. the land between Tibet and India. In the past the region was included within the boundaries of Tibet.

The town of Kaza, the capital of Lahaul-Spiti District, is situated along the Spiti River at an elevation of about 3800m AMSL. The valley is cut off from the north up to eight months of the year by heavy snowfalls.

My destination was HPTDC Hotel Spiti at Kaza. However, before that, I did stop at the only petrol pump located near the main market. See this amazing signage for yourself…

Due to high elevation one is likely to feel altitude sickness in Spiti. I too felt severe headache. However, a hot cup of green tea (I carried tea-bags with me!) and a Disprin, I felt OK after a while. Tired like hell, I was relieved to recall that the next day was our rest day. Pleased to find hot water’s availability and a descent bed, I dozed off to sleep after an early dinner.

Day 5: June 26, 2012; Rest Day at Kaza: Rest day it was – for the bike and not for us. Whole of the early part of the day went about servicing the bikes. We had negotiated half-journey to Leh by now and what lay ahead of us (please wait!), needed the bikes to be in the fittest conditions. Luckily, True was riding in its best conditions and needed only cleaning & oiling of the chain and a refill of the engine-oil.

After a thorough cleaning and washing regime, both True and I were ready for visiting the local sites. Aman, my roommate, friend and great rider, joined me and we rode towards Kibber, a village located at about 22kms uphill, at a height of 4270m AMSL. It contains a monastery and the Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary.

Enroute, after about 15kms, we came across the revered Key Monastery, which is a Tibetan Buddhist monastery located on top of a hill at an altitude of 4166m AMSL. It is the biggest monastery of Spiti Valley and a religious training center for Lamas.

The view from Kibber is amazing – it almost feels like the end of the world! And even this end of the world had a restaurant leased and run by men from lower hills! With other riders joining in, we ate our lunch at this place and then rode back to the town of Kaza.

The marketplace of Kaza is small, just like any other hamlet located on the hills. I spent some time roaming around; mostly interacting with local people. I noted that many of the traders/shop-keepers hail from other parts of HP, and from Jammu & Kashmir, the northernmost Indian state. They stay there for only the season – May to October every year and before the routes get cut-off, they go back to their hometowns, away from this cold, arid and inhospitable terrain.

Spiti Valley’s calm made me sit and think…this was just another world, way different that where I came from. The outlook towards life has very little to do with luxury or comfort; organizing the basic essentials takes most of the waking times. No one appears to be in a tearing hurry, not even the cab-drivers. Shop-keepers smile at the customers as they enter; and they aren’t trained by any retail training managers. Help is easy to come by, no one offers a doubtful look to any curious onlooker. This is truly virgin & untouched…away from the mad rush of the world I came here from…

Five days have gone by…the riders have come a long way. Some of us experience falling, some of us encountered bike-breakdowns. Some are anxious & apprehensive, some appear keen to face the challenge. Some simply remain pensive, may be thinking as to what lay ahead…

Tomorrow, we would ride towards Keylong…and experience the much-awaited and rather-feared water-crossings. With these thoughts, most of us would go to bed tonight.

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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