Finally! The trip accountby amogh on 29/08/2006
I’d first want to thank everyone who has been so helpful and made this trip possible. I take pride in saluting the brave soldiers who have dedicated everything for our safety – “We gave our today for your tomorrow”. I spent a lot of time in army bases and transit camps, and I cannot even begin to describe their hospitality. A BIG SALUTE TO ALL OF THEM.
I had never thought I could do something so risky/dangerous. Truly the most adventurous thing I’ve done so far.
PS: Thanks to deponti for transcribing and editing the account from my diary.
6th: ONE ON ONE
Km: 33318 to 33790 (472 km)
Time: 0530 hrs to 1630 hrs
I drove off alone on NH 1 from Delhi… a perfect one on one! My bike, a Suzuki Fiero, sailed delightfully down the road, and I clocked 100 kms and took my first break. Riding a bike for long periods of time in the same position can get a little painful…but there’s no alternative. At about 0800hrs, I stopped at a dhaba for parathas. The 6-lane highway was amazing. I was easily able to do 80 to 100 kph. I reached Chandigarh by 1000 hrs and left the lush green fields behind. Then, misdirected by a local, I took the Kalka-Shimla road, and realized the mistake only when I reached Kalka. Someone then directed me to the Nalagarh-Manali road instead of the Rupnagar highway…and for 40 km, I rode down one of the worst roads I have seen. There were landslides and the road was bumpy and slurry. I finally joined the highway, and reached Mandi via Bilaspur. I checked into the HTDC hotel and got a discount on the room as I was alone– I just had to pay Rs.200! I was dog-tired, and my whole body was aching, so I hit the sack. I woke up an hour later, and went roaming around the markets of Mandi ( the word Mandi means market)…life looks so peaceful and simple here, yet not devoid of all luxuries and modern amenities….
1. Never take the Nalagarh route!
2. Stay in HTDC hotels, they are clean, cheap, and safe.
7th: HIGHWAY STAR
Km: 33790 to 33900 (110km)
Time: 0900hrs to noon
The road from Mandi to Kulu is an amazing one…cambered and banked perfectly. The Himalayas on either side, and more mountains waiting, far away… I remembered the song, “Highway Star” by Deep Purple, and was feeling like one too. The Beas river followed me (though flowing in the opposite direction), right next to the road…all that separated me and the mighty river was 10 ft of horizontal distance, and vertically, a distance varying from 10 to 300 feet. Thinking about its nearness was scary…a little loss of control, and I’d be in it… I crossed the Kulu tunnel, inaugurated the previous day by the CM, Birabhadra Singh (I had seen his motorcade pass through Mandi the previous day.) The tunnel is over a kilometer in length and pretty cold… I reached Manali after a really bad stretch of road after Kullu, around 1115 hrs. Checked into the HTDC Hotel Beas, and the mighty river was roaring just outside my room at a distance of 50m! I went to the market and bought a few R K Narayan books (to make me feel back at home!) At 1500 hrs, a guy who runs an adventure company came to visit, and we went to check out road conditions, as 22 bikes had apparently returned after going halfway the previous day..because of the heavy rain. Rain is not common in the higher areas, as they are practically deserts. However, the road, according to various sources, had just been cleared, and I decided to go on. I bought some gloves, a polythene sheet for rain protection, some jerrycans (and filled them with petrol while topping up the bike). And luckily, I decided to check on the oil…and turned out it was indeed low, probably because of the heat during transportation from Bangalore to Delhi. Chatted with the adventure gear shop guy for a while and then came back to sleep.
1. Most trekking equipment, good quality stuff made in China, can be bought at Raju’s trekking shop.
2. Bikes can be rented from Upinder; but be careful while renting bikes as a bike in bad condition could cause frequent breakdowns, as I saw later.
8th: THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY
Km: 33900 to 34080 (180 km)
Time: 0900 hrs to 1730 hrs
The roads were either minimally GOOD (I could cruise on the slightly uneven tar at 50 kph) or BAD ( broken, with water crossings eroding the surface completely) or UGLY (a truck going in front of me on the soil stretches, throwing up mud, bringing down visibility to less than 5 meters, is ugly, trust me!). After crossing Rohtang (which was really cold for a guy from the plains), where visibility was less than 10 meters, the mountains were gigantic. These mountains have an irresistible pull….their power and majesty could mean that a small mistake or loss of control could prove fatal…a slip for about 5 meters and I could end up in the abyss. The Himalayas were “naked”…there had been no snow lately and I could see, finally, the terrain that lay beneath the snowy mask. At Jispa, where I stopped for lunch, I met 5 bikers who had started from Manali 5 days earlier, and had various problems/breakdowns with their rented bikes. They were planning to go back. My faithful sweetheart gave no problems, and cruised along well. Even at river crossings, she bounced like a mare! I crossed Darcha and saw a German girl, sitting alone on a rock, with a parked bike nearby. I offered help, and she said her husband had gone to get fuel as they had run out…truly amazing adventurers! I finally reached Patsio Transit Camp and did some experimental photography.
1. Gumboots and good quality gloves are a must
2. While crossing nullahs, cross in one stretch and never stop halfway; else you might not have enough torque, and might get stuck.
9th: THE LONGEST DAY
Km: 34080 to 34221(141 km)
Time: 0830 hrs to 1600hrs
I didn’t know what else lay ahead of me…but today, perhaps, was the longest day… I crossed 3 passes this day, with rain, snow and treacherously bad roads. From Patsio, until I reached Sarchu plains, the road was pathetic, with frequent water crossings. On the unbroken roads of the Sarchu plains, I felt like a king again! After a lunch of Maggi at one of the Sarchu tent dhabas, I left Himachal Pradesh behind, and was in Jammu and Kashmir. The roads were amazing all through…Whisky Nullah, Brandy Nullah, and the Gata Loops. After I crossed Nakeela Pass, the road turned terrible again. It’s almost a pattern that roads are broken on either side of the pass. While crossing Lachalangla, it started raining, and the raindrops would instantly turn to snow due to the freezing cold. It was amazing to see…and at the same time it was killing me.The rain was pretty harsh, but I took a bold decision to carry on…and in 15 min, I was out of the rain. The Himalayas are scary at times… I looked down and felt how high up I was, and the road below looked like a ribbon, and the cars like matchbox toys…This magnitude cannot be captured by the best camera in the world…one just has to BE there. My heart often skipped a beat when I realized that just 2 feet separated me from death…. I couldn’t believe *I* was doing this, I had no clue how dangerous it would be when I started out. I still can’t believe that *I* rode through those roads alone…truly, this is the most adventurous, dangerous thing that I’ve ever done. When I was about 10 km from Pang, I saw the most incredible view …the sandstone formations in the mountains! They were so awesome, I couldn’t believe my eyes. It looked like the ruins of a lost civilization, and it reminded me of the scenes of the Grand Canyon from the movie, “Mackenna’s Gold”. Behind the Armycamp, where I stayed the night, was a valley with these formations, and the light moving across them as the evening progressed, was unforgettable…
1.NEVER get awestruck by the beauty and size of the mountains…while riding!
Route: Pang-Moray Plains-Tsokar Lake-Tanglangla-Rumtse-Lepshi-Karu-Leh
Km: 34221 to 34430 (209 km)
Time: 0830 hrs to 1615 hrs
The last two nights were quite bad in terms of sleep; the lack of oxygen was taking its toll. Otherwise, though, I was feeling fine. The Moray plains were such an incredible sight…but even before I could get a good look I saw that the road was blocked, and I had to take a detour on the y path. 2 or 3 trucks were stuck there, too. I had met a couple of friends the previous night at Pang, and they suggested that I take a 10 km detour and go to Tsokar Lake…so I did that. But on the way back, I got lost in the plains as the track suddenly petered out. And to top it all, it started raining too…I didn’t know which way to go. Then I spotted a vehicle moving in the distance, and thankfully, was able to figure out where the road was and made my way to it across the slushy plains. Quite a scary adventure it proved to be! I then crossed Tanglangla (La means pass)…the world’s second highest pass…it continued to rain. Rain and cold winds are a deadly combination. I had lunch at Rumtse, and finally reached Leh, the capital of Ladakh.
Kms: 34430 to 34490 (60 km)
Time: Through the day
I didn’t do much this day, just roamed around a little in the city and came back to rest. The city is too dusty and the weather is either too cold or too hot…irritating! The people in the Leh army base were very hospitable. I shared my room with an Army Major who was a Kargil hero; another one, with his good nature and his sweet children, made great company. I Called my parents and well-wishers who had received no news from me for the past 2 days, as even army satellite phones were down.
12th: I’M SO HIGH, I COULD HEAR HEAVEN
Kms: 34490 to 34600 (110 km)
Time: 0900 hrs to 1400 hrs
The road to Khardungla, the highest motorable pass in the world, is a challenge in itself. The first 30-odd kilometers are fine; but the last 8 to 10 kms are a steep climb. The weather too was bad and the visibility was less than 5 meters.On the way, my bike almost got stuck in a nullah– it wouldn’t accelerate and there was too little oxygen, and I was getting really anxious. Somehow, I managed and reached the top of the pass. I felt, quite literally, on top of the world…the feeling is out of this world, too! After a week’s driving and hardship, I was finally there! I nearly shed tears of joy….and I could only remember one song….”I’m so high I could hear Heaven.” I met 3 bikers from Bangalore and talked to a minister from Shimla and his family in his VIP motorcade, the whole family was very excited about my adventures. I came down back to Leh, rested, and went out to a restaurant for dinner with my Army Major friend and his family.
13th: FUN TIME!
Kms: 34600 to 34820 (220 km)
Time: 0930 hrs to 1630 hrs
I had breakfast, and after meeting the Army Major, left for Khalsi, where I was welcomed by the same Kargil hero whom I had stayed with earlier. I also met another Major’s wife, with whom I had spoken on the telephone; a very sweet and hospitable lady. After sharing their breakfast and lunch, I bid them farewell and left for Kargil. On reaching the Kargil Air Force Station, I met a Squadron Leader, who turned out to be really cool and jovial. I also met a Flight Leiutinant who flies fighters in Bikaner; We did lot of fun things, saw bofors firing on a mountain in front of us. Woot! that fun it was! Then the three of us sat and chatted, had a drink and dinner…and chatted on till 1am. It turned out to be the most fun-filled day…In the morning, too the Squadron Leader and I played table tennis and badminton…and by the way…I could see Pakistan from the balcony of my room at Kargil Air Force Station!
14th: GRAND FINALE (OF NATURE?)
Kms: 34820 to 35050 (230 km)
Time: 1045 hrs to 1800 hrs
I started a little late, as the Squadron Leader left for Delhi, and some VIP’s were visiting too. I crossed Kargil, and I could see a couple of signboards which said, “Caution: You Are Under Enemy Surveillance”. About 10 kms before Drass, I visited the Kargil War Memorial, which was the scene of Operation Vijay…the feelings I experienced are quite indescribable. My eyes filled with tears, and I felt so patriotic about these great warriors who have given their lives for us. The memorial is built on the foot of Mount Tololing, which was captured by Pakistan. India re-captured it in the war. I also saw Tiger Hill, and other areas re-captured by India. I signed the visitors’ book and then drove to Drass– the 2nd coldest inhabited place on earth. However, it looked normal– and green! After this, I touched Gumri. Beyond that, all signs of the road ended, and I encountered the worst road of the whole trip. I was stopped at Zhozhila Checkpost; they were not allowing any trafffic (14th being Pakistani independence day and 15th beings ours). The weather was also going from bad to worse, and I was getting panicky. Finally I met the man in charge of the place…and he happened to be a Kannadiga! He was really happy to see me, and allowed me to go ahead. I was about to cross Zhozhila, when it started raining really heavily….so much that I found it hard to drive. I cannot describe how bad the roads were; I was close, in my mind, to losing all hope….With the heavy rains lashing me, and my clothes and shoes wet and cold, I made it to Sonamarg. I was in such a plight that I couldn’t enjoy the Kashmir valley. As I crossed Sonamarg, the rain stopped…but dust was awaiting me instead! Large numbers of trucks kicked it up as they drove, bringing visibility down again to 5 meters or less. To make things worse, I got stuck in a massive traffic jam, with 40 to 50 trucks also stuck in slush. The police would not let me go further….until I met someone there in the Army, who was also from Bangalore. He helped me go further. I really don’t know how my bike managed to cross the dreadful slush. For all practical purposes the road was closed, and then there was a huge causeway as well….even bystanders were awestruck. But to keep things in perspective, I heard that a girl from Bangalore had also been on this road in the morning, when it was open. She was alone, too…apparently, a Software Engineer. I crossed all this dreadfully difficult terrain and was completely drained, not having had lunch either. The road from then on was really good, but I was still in no state to enjoy the valley views. I saw a machine-gunner every 500 m for the next 75 kms, all along the highway. I saluted each of them…and could see their rock-like, emotionless faces soften and smile. I felt blissful. My trip, I thought, was more than successful. I felt satisfied, and my heart jumped with joy that I could make one moment of difference to these men of the mountains, and make them smile. I reached Srinagar with ten times the usual security, in view of the Independence Day, August 15th, and finally got to the Air Force Station, and spent the night at a Wing Commander’s home. I went to the mess for dinner with him.
15th: BACK HOME
I left my bike at the station; she had been such a dependable and faithful companion, taking me without a single problem over inhospitable, steep terrain. I got picked up in the Air Force Gypsy and was dropped at Srinagar Airport. The security was unimaginably tight…they would not allow me to carry anything in the cabin baggage…no iPod, no medications, no wires, no batteries…. My baggage was checked 6 times, as the whole city was on high alert. I reached Delhi and decided to take an even earlier flight back home than the one I had booked on ( I had originally planned to do the trip until the 18th, but cut it short due to the security issues)…and flew home to assure my anxious parents that I was back home, safe and sound!
Couldn’t take too many photos, thanks to rain. The ones I took are here