“The man who belonged to mountains, his soul was full of adventures, didn’t fear any heights or depths, he was all in one Reckless,Wild,Young and Crazy”
I kept on delaying to write about the best ride of my life and what kept me from writing about my ride to Leh,Ladakh in a Royal Enfield was the fear that the miraculous place and the amazing experience could never be put into words, Although I wrote about some Do’s and Don’ts about a motorcycle trip to leh and I hope it was useful for you guys.
So trying to put the feel into words and tell you all about the emotional waves that this awesome trip gave me, I open my diary and on reading the very first paragraph I virtually stand in that beautiful road in the deserted land emptying that feeble jerrycan filled with petrol into my Royal Enfield 500.
JUNE’15 Haridwar, India
It was a hot June afternoon in Haridwar (Uttrakhand,India), I was hardly surviving that summer internship in a transformer production house. The tin sheet roofing and the heavy machines running day and night made the hot summer miserable for me, while my friend Aditya (@aeddy_rowdy_raghuvanshi) was having the time of his life, as he lived like he was in Vegas on holidays, A bottle of whisky would go down almost everyday weather you want it or not. All thanks to Aditya.
After surviving some twenty days with the company and ofcourse Aditya’s whisky I got a call from Sudarshan (@sudizzm) saying “bro lets ride to Leh, let’s make the plan work this time” as the plan failed badly last time and we end up going Kheerganga and I have no regrets about it, as the kheerganga trek (Himachal Pardesh, India) was amazing. The first thought that hit my mind during the call was SCREW INTERNSHIP, SCREW COLLEGE, JUST GO. But the mentor was kind enough to grant me leave for I had made some perfect excuses.
Manali, HIMANCHAL PRADESH
After a week from the day of that call we met up in Manali (Himachal Pardesh, India). Sudarshan (@sudizzm), Arjun (@sharma0508), Ayush (@ayush_1892) and me(@thegokulblog) spent some lazy camp days in old Manali as the café culture and peace in old manali is unbeatable.
I have a Royal Enfield 350cc but for this ride of a lifetime we wanted nothing but the best. So, we hired three brand new Royal Enfield 500cc and took a test ride to Kasol which is 75 km from Manali, where we met Ananta(@ananta0829) and Anamika(@anameeca999) .
Except me all five of them were friends from a long time and I only knew Sudarshan. But in no time I joined the party and we all had a really good time in kasol and I bet none of us can forget that party when we laughed and drank* till 3. Next day after a nice brunch in café Evergreen in kasol and saying goodbye to anamika and ananta we head back to Manali.
The Badass SDM
After two days we four were all geared up for Leh. We were in the queue for half an hour in the SDM office in Manali for the permission of vehicles to leh and the SDM herself came out and announced that the two wheeler riders could go without the permission from the office as she had already called the check point and granted permission for all two wheeler riders, there was cheers and applauses all over. This badass move of hers was encouraged by the huge number of riders in queue because of whom she would have gone crazy granting permission to all of them one by one. It was around 5 o’clock in the evening when we were done packing energy bars and filling jerrycans with petrol and the machines were ready with our backpacks tied at the back.
Leaving from Manali
We started our ride shouting and singing. It was already dark while we reached the check post prior to Rohtang pass.
We crossed Rohtang pass during the night. The meaning of Rohtang is soul torture and that we knew was for real during the ride. It is the first pass on manali-leh highway and the height of this pass is 13,050 ft.(3,979 m) and while riding from manali till rohtang we attained around 6350 ft. of height in just 51 kilometers (31.69 miles). This gave us an idea what lies ahead in this adventurous journey. After almost loosing Sud’s riding gloves which would have ended our ride and Arjun almost hitting a big rock as the fallen backpack from his motorcycle misbalanced him we crossed rohtang pass and reached Koksar.
Koksar is the first point of civilization after rohtang pass which was situated in a lesser height, where we found a nice guest house for the night and the guest house owner himself was a cook and served some delicious Himalayan dinner, by delicious Himalayan dinner I mean rice and pulses that’s what you get in almost every Himalayan journey everywhere in India.
The next morning, soon after a heavy breakfast we were all set to ride again, ride against every odd and ride through every beautiful mountain.
The bumpy roads broke our carriers and we welded them as soon as we reached keylong.
Before reaching keylong we took a halt at a beautiful turn to keep a little hydrated and ofcourse to click pictures, while we were posing and the mountains did their part, An old man was passing by and he just stopped on seeing our machines loaded with rucksacks and the carriers with petrol jerrycans. He inquired if we were going to leh as he was sure we were. He was a man of good heart and a great knowledge, usually my travel dairies has a lot of gold hearted persons I meet on my travel, maybe it’s the Himalayas that they have such a good heart. The old man suggested us some places to visit while in leh and gave us some DOs and DONTs to have a safe ride, after a while of a great chitchat we waved cheers and good bye and continued our ride.
Keylong, Lahaul spiti, HIMACHAL PRADESH
Keylong is 25 km from koksar and it’s the only place where you can find an ATM machine in manali-leh highway and keylong is one of three places where you can find a mechanic in 500 kms manali-leh highway.
After crossing jispa and Darcha which are 16 and 78 km from keylong respectively we continued to ride as the aim was to reach sarchu that evening.
Sarchu was still 116 km from darcha and while continuing to ride towards Sarchu we encountered several streams with freezing cold water from the snowcapped mountains. Riding through the stream flowing on road with a current that could land you down the cliff with your motorcycle is really a tough job but a thrilling one and that was exactly what we were there for.
After crossing these crazy flowing streams we took a halt at Baralacha-La pass whose height is 16,500 ft (4,890 m). after clicking some nice pictures and having a little fun in the snow we continued to ride. Usually Baralacha-la is the pass where most travelers encounter symptoms of AMS (acute mountain sickness). Symptoms of AMS can be seen while in mountains you are in high altitude. AMS causes headache, nausea, dizziness and vomiting. Luckily we were totally fine and there were no signs of AMS. Descending from baralacha-la pass to sarchu we were covering the last patch of worst and most adventurous road in manali-leh highway.
In the evening we reached Sarchu. Sarchu is all tents and desert. We found the tented accommodation we booked for that night, before we started the ride in Manali and then we realised that booking the accommodation with the company we hired our motorcycles from was a bad idea as they charged way too much than the actual rate of the accommodation. The night in Sarchu was the longest night in the ride as we were all dealing with AMS, our body refused to function at the height of 16,500 ft. and our heads were about to explode. While the AMS didn’t hit me already I thought I was just fine and only my friends had AMS (acute mountain sickness) I fixed myself some drinks from the bottle of whisky I was carrying in my rucksack that helped me sleep for few hours but around 2 at night I got a taste of what my friends were already facing. the camp bed in the tent seemed to revolve round and I could barely breathe and my head was about to explode.
Next morning (which happened soo late) I dragged myself out of my bed to check up on my friends and still we all were dealing with the problem. During the breakfast I met a rider group who were returning to Manali from leh they were 40 people with one of them injured and had put his motorcycle in the recovery van. One of the riders gave me some pills for AMS that helped us to function a little, Putting our backpacks in the motorcycle was the toughest job for the day because of the dizziness. I tied the once again broken carriers by the rope we luckily found the day before lying on the road and the rider group gave us some tools to tighten some bolts.
NOTE: if you are hiring a motorcycle for leh, make sure you have everything you need in the toolbox that the travel company provides you. We learnt it the hard way as our toolkit had everything except what we needed.
The day was not meant for us as we were still not well but we had to ride because we started it to finish the ride and nothing could stop us from doing that. On day 2 we passed through Nakee-La and Lachung-la. You must be wandering that why there is –La behind the name of every pass or mountain. Well we were curious and we inquired about it. In ladakhi language La meant mountain hence lachung-la meant lachung-mountain, nakee-la meant nakee-mountain and similarly for other high altitude mountains.
After riding around 70 kms we reached pang and it started raining , the aim was to ride further but the small halt turned out to be the night’s stay at pang in a really really cold tent with stinking blankets which we did not care much about at that time.
In the evening the sky changed colour miraculously in pang and I spent the evening enjoying sunset with tea and listening to James blunt.
COOL BRO ROAD SIGNS
Border roads organization-BRO has done an excellent job on making motorable roads at the worst place possible.
The road signs put up by BRO are hilariously awesome and proves that they have an amazing sence of humour.
“BE GENTLE ON MY CURVES”
“DARLING I LIKE YOU, BUT NOT SO FAST”
“DON’T BE A GAMA IN THE LAND OF LAMA”
Are some of the cool road signs in Manali-Leh highway.
Pang TO Leh (THE LAST SPRINT)
Next morning we again had a heavy breakfast and we were on the road again, this time is was the final sprint. After leaving pang we struggled with the road one more hour and then it was all easy ride. The open straight highway we always saw in movies and youtube videos was infront of us and we were actually riding on it, Even after riding half of the distance to leh just that road gave a chill to our spines as we just started .
While riding to Leh from pang we passed through Taglang-La pass with a height of 17582 ft. which is the worlds second highest motorable pass, and the conditions didn’t let us take a halt at that kind of height and we had no regrets as we had plans to go to worlds highest motorable pass after 2 days.
The machines running on 20-30km/hr now on this road we hit 110-120 km/hr and it was amazing. Riding on a beautiful straight highway surrounded by deserted snow covered mountains and shepherds with sheeps gave us a feeling of being in an music video. After riding for a long time we started to pass by some trees like they have been planted and stupas came frequently and that was a sign that we were about reach to our destination the heaven on earth “Leh” . Soon after the stupas and planted trees we reached a bridge to cross a river, there sat a guy who was collecting tickets and charging RS 20 per motorcycle that gave us the surety that we reached Leh.
As soon as we reached leh we booked a hotel ASAP and parked our bikes deep, as we were not allowed to ride rented bikes from any other state in leh, ladakh. We spent the evening and the night sleeping and just lying around and that may have included a couple of drinks.
The next morning we left for Pangong-tso lake in a cab we booked last night. The 175 kilometers of dusty and bumpy road led us to Pangong lake. Enrouthr to pangong lake we passed through Chang-La pass with a hight of 17386 ft. from sea level, the height made breathing a problem there that’s why we kept moving towards our destination.Four friends riding 500 kilometers of Manali to Leh in a Royal Enfield, that is one of the best things to do in a life, that was a hell of experience which kept us thrilled and amazed. Still after all this experience our hearts pounded as faster as they could as we saw signs of reaching Pangong lake.
With a radius more than 100km, 70% of which lies in china, The Pangong-Tso lake in ladakh is a place of major tourist attraction. It is said that this amazing lake changed eight colours during one whole day as the sun changes its position.
The army motorboats taking rounds of the lake, honeymoon couples clicking pictures in different poses, maybe to cherish this moment till their old age. Solo travelers taking their time alone , families enjoying yak rides, couples and riders renting camps for the night were the cheerful scenes in Pangong lake when we just stepped in.
After stepping out of the cab we joined the party for clicking photos after a moment of amazement. And I couldn’t stop myself to get off my shoes and step in the water and GOD.!! It was freezing cold and Arjun got the uncalled reactions in camera ,though I was supposed to pose cool. After some wondering we all sat and recorded a time-lapse video of the lake while we chit-chat in our happytimes.
The time was running so fast, Its funny how time seems to run so fast on your happy days. Every new sun brought a new adventure and new destination and that’s the exact kind of life I always dreamt of. The dry weather of ladakh didn’t let us be in best of our health but who cared about that, at the time all we cared was our next destination.
The next morning was the most exciting one as we headed to Nubra valley and were passing through Khardungla pass.
Khardungla pass is the world’s highest motorable pass situated in a height of 18,380 ft. The moment we reached khardungla pass struggling through the harsh roads laid down by BRO-Border Roads Organizations at unbelievably difficult places, A feeling of accomplishment made my heart pound faster and the board at the top read “HIGHEST MOTORABLE ROAD IN THE WORLD” and even after knowing that fact my heart skipped a beat after reading it in the board actually standing there.
After doing some photos with the army officers and thanking them for the bravery they show protecting us from such difficult places, we saw something standing even higher than the board, it was kind of a praying pillar and a bit higher from that painted were army slogans in the stones with their battalion names and we saw no living soul up there that questioned the authority to go up there. We asked a soldier if we may climb up there, he replied “see if you can make your way through snow and big rocks”.
It was 18,380ft and breathing issues increased when we used our hands and feet like a monkey to reach the top. At the top there was no one else except us. I can’t describe the emotional waves that hit me at that peak. We decided not to do a lot of chitchat and take a little time for ourselves. 5-10 minutes of silence at that top with myself and I had my life figured out, the things I wanted to accomplish and the way I wanted to live. Something in me just got alive, the rusty old engine of dreams got fuel to function, since that day I crave such emotions and travel places and there is peace in every destination and every new place made me dream higher.
What saddens me most is people don’t respect environment, they take it for granted and keep destroying it. If for only one day the environment took us for granted, as I assume the day will soon come if people didn’t respect environment there will be no people and no environment to talk about.
Even at the top of world’s highest motorable pass we saw plastic wrappers and plastic bottles thrown all over, descending from the top we collected the trash as much as we could and while we were disposing at dustbins at the army post down the hill, the so called tourists gave us a look like maybe we were crazy or members of some NGOs to clean others trash.
“I REQUEST PEOPLE TO PLEASE RESPECT THE ENVIRONMENT AND CARRY A BAG FOR YOUR NON BIODEGRADABLE WASTE WHILE YOU ARE IN A TRIP AND DISPOSE IT AT A PROPER PLACE”
As we move further to Nubra Valley while descending from Khardung-La pass, we took a halt at a beautiful place where a lot of bikers were having their brunch in those beautiful cafés, I missed my 8283 (my Royal Enfield 350) so very bad at that moment, while I was deep in thought of my machine an old man knocked on the glass of our cab and I struggled with the manual glass roll down window and it took ages to roll down the glass as it was jammed, the first thing the old man did after the window was down is, he joined his hands and said “khardung jana hai,mujhe chod doge khardung tak” (will you please drop me to khardung village) in a very weak and shivering voice. I said “hop in” in a fraction of second but still he won’t get in. I enquired “what happened?” he said “the driver will not like it and will yell on me” he was such an innocent old man it took me 5-10 minutes to assure that the cab driver will not be angry and the driver was back from his small break and we gave the old man the front seat alongside the driver and the old man told a bit about his village, his grandchildren and the culture in khardung village.
Soon after we passes through khardung village the amazing road to Nubra valley gave us the feeling like we were some actors in a music video and the cab driver had some amazing old Bollywood records which rocked our ride.
Like oasis in the desert, like a shelter to a homeless and woolens to a poor in December. The Nubra valley in Ladakh is a lush green valley in between the cold desert.
Major attraction of the place is Double-humped camel rides in sand dunes in Nubra valley.
After roaming around barren land for a week and then going to a lush green valley and stay in very economical guest houses who serve food grown in their own backyard is a bliss.
After taking a walk in sand dunes in the evening, The night in Nubra valley I spent jotting down some feels on my dairy and the morning called for a U-turn to Leh.
We were back in leh the evening and after some shopping and dinner we were soon asleep like dead men as the plan for next day was Crazy.
THE LAST DAY
Early at 5 we woke up and started packing, by 6:30 we bid Au revoir to this beautiful heaven on earth and we were on our way back to Manali as soon as we filled our motorcycle tanks and Jerry cans with petrol.
The mixed feelings accelerated our motorcycles on our way back to Manali, the joy on being on that thrillingly beautiful road and the sadness of leaving Leh fought within us.
After a while, as soon as we were out of leh, the big rocks, the small creeks, the road signs and even the small pits in the road were now known to us, the route now was like our daily route.
After a little while we were struggling with the conditions of our motorcycles as we did not give it a touchup in Leh, the carriers were almost off the machine and were tied with a strong rope that we so luckily found on our way to leh from manali and good thing that I always carry a knife while I’m traveling, which helped us to cut rope into three and keep all the carriers in the motorcycles attached. As we rode further the bungee ropes that we strapped our backpacks with started to shred into threads and soon our backpack rolled in the road with no mercy and we had to divide the remaining bungee ropes per motorcycles and try not to break them as we were already short of bungee ropes.
We didn’t even reach to Sarchu and one of the motorcycles mysteriously stopped, when I tried to inspect the problem, the motorcycle was not taking up the load to start and I figured out the spark plug is the problem and pulled out the plug below the fuel tank and removed the plastic covering over the plug wire and tried to start the motorcycle again but I failed badly, then it was obviously sure that the side spark plug was faulty but one needs a special tool to take that plug out.
We sat on the ground hopelessly in the middle of nowhere and there was no one coming or going as far as we could see.
The flood of thoughts drowned all happy vibes and negative thoughts conquered all happy souls. We were now stuck in a cold desert with a broken motorcycle with no mechanic nearby and no tents and sleeping bag to spend the night, if it came to that.
Telling ourselves that the machine will start working itself if it cooled down was of no use as we waited far more than it took to cool a machine down. The hope and efforts were now slowly starting to accept the reality that we needed specific tool to take out the spark plug from the engine of the motorcycle.
Out of hopes and out of tricks/efforts we now sat in the roadside after pulling the heavy Royal Enfield 500 to the corner. My eyes started to look for any passing by truck to load that motorcycle on till manali but there was no other soul passing by which was strange as we waited enough time for someone to pass by.
After checking the toolkit upside down almost 8 times I cursed the rental service for not giving the tool we then needed and giving everything else to increase our load, maybe our luck was that bad or maybe it was the part of experience that this trip holds.
Hopeless we sat at the ground drawing dragons on the desert and we saw three bikes approaching us they were riding with no luggage and they seemed like racing.
One of them inquired about our problem, all of the three guys looked teenagers maybe one of them was 20-21 and the first thought in my mind was, they may have stolen someone’s motorcycles for the machines were brand new and they were not carrying any luggage in a 500 km ride of a barren land and also they were not dressed in proper gear for the ride, while I was between these thoughts Arjun told them about the problem with the motorcycle and one of them already started fixing it and the motorcycle was as good as new in no time and we resumed the ride with those three guys and I was still in doubt about them but I kept it to myself.
After riding for an hour we all stopped for some lunch and that’s when my soul felt relieved, Because they were no thieves but localities of Ladakh and they were going to deliver those bikes to Manali because someone who hired them from Manali was not able to ride it back and paid them a handsome amount to deliver the bikes to Manali and they told it was kind of a part-time profession for youngsters in Ladakh.
During the lunch, they told that they are planning to ride straight to Manali without a night’s halt the plan seem challenging because on the same route we took 2 nights stay while riding to leh and now they were trying to do it without a single night’s halt, but thrilling it was! And we all flashed a green light for the plan and we were on road in no time with a comparably greater speed and those guys became a real help when our carriers broke from every joint, they carried our fuel ,they waited for us if one of us was left behind and I felt guilty for making a wrong perception about them and we thanked them tons while we departed at Keylong because they had a deadline for delivery and for sure we were slowing them down.
We continued the ride and as we reached koksar we were out of fuel, we had some fuel left in the tank but ahead lied Rohtang pass to cross and being stuck in rohtang pass at night is inviting devil for dinner. We approached the man who ran the guest house where we stayed while riding to leh and he recognized us in the first look and he was so generous that he arranged us some fuel from his competitor guesthouse owner and when we left from koksar the generous guesthouse owner and his wife both stood in front of their canteen alongside the road and waved us goodbye and blessings, it was an amazing feeling but in the same time the way they waved goodbye I kind of felt bad for departing from such nice human beings.
VISITING DIFFERET PLACES AND CULTURES I FOUND PEOPLE ARE NICE INFACT THEY ARE AMAZING AND THEY JUST WANT PEACE AND HAPPINESS AMONG PEOPLE. I FOUND THE BEST VERSION OF HUMANS IN THE LEAST DEVELOPED PLACES, ARE WE DEVELOPING.? OR KILLING THE HUMAN IN US.? FIGHTING FOR MERE MATERIALISTIC THINGS ARE NOT WHAT WE WERE MADE FOR.
SPREAD PEACE AND HAPPINESS FOR THE WORLD IS AN AMAZING PLACE.
While descending from Rohtang pass it was zero visibility because of the fog and as soon as we reached Solang valley from where it was still 13km ride to Manali it started to rain cats and dogs thanks to our waterproof jackets and Arjun was most relieved one as he had Quechua rainproof jacket. We reached Manali at 1am and slept eating biscuits. The next morning after breakfast we left Manali to go back to our lives with new destinations in mind.