Leh Ladakh Bike Trip: When Ladakh turns a traveler into storyteller
Rakesh Prasad – A fellow traveler who met in one of the many expeditions to the Himalayas. For those who are seeking a candid take of the renowned Leh-Ladakh bike can check him out on his Facebook Page. We at TheThumping Nomad couldn’t let this budding storyteller let go unnoticed.
Diary, 27th may, 2018
Jammu ….The Prelude
The first half of the first day was horrible. It was easy to leave Jammu,1 hour behind schedule. The temperature started soaring up high once we were nearing Udhampur. Bulldozing our bikes amidst heat, dust and smoke was a daunting task. The Backhoe loaders and construction workers on the road added to our woe. The temperature had crossed the 40 degs by 9 am. Wearing the fat, 3kg — bike jacket (compulsory for the riders), knee, elbow guards, helmets made me feel like a medieval knight, going to a war armoured to the brim. By the time we reached for breakfast at 11am, near Jawahar tunnel, all our black armours had turned grey due to dust. My body was boiling.
Crossing the Jawahar tunnel made me feel like, entering a paradise. The air suddenly became cool and crisp. The green Chinar, Walnut trees lined the stretch punctuated with white flowering trees. We had entered the Kashmir valley. The meadows, fields, farmers against the blue backdrop of mountains were an enchanting sight.
Srinagar was a piece of cake now. Dal lake was still in its glory.
Diary entry, 28th may, Srinagar to Kargil
“Today…. Off to Kargil”
The drive could have been uneventful, but the spicy thrill would have been missing. We started late from Srinagar. It was almost mid noon when we reached Sonmarg. The snow capped peaks, the lush greenery; the sparkling rivers…. all were amalgamated into the Canvas. The beauty was enchanting. The drive was a pure bliss, and it continued till we entered the mighty Zozi la after Baaltal. And then all hell broke loose. We all were stuck in a jam. No room was left even to maneuver our bikes on the road. The road was steep, broken and narrow. But the beauty around was captivating. Zozi la caters to numerous tourist vehicles including the gigantic Indian Lorries.
We experienced Himalaya in its raw form as the rain started at around 2 pm. The huge chunks of glacial ice with moraine were under our wheels. It was slippery.
The legs ached, the back hurt, the heart skipped beats but the adrenaline rushed. Reaching Drass was a daunting task and we did reach at approx 4.30.
We all were wet, shivering as we entered the “2nd coldest inhabited place” of the world, Drass. We could clearly see the peaks of Tiger hill & Tololing famous for the Kargil war.
We took little rest and several cups of tea.
The rest of the drive bought us to Kargil at 8.30 pm, exactly 3 hrs behind schedule.
Diary entry.29th may. Kargil to leh.
“The journey to Leh begins today”
Himalayas have many faces. Each face has its uniqueness. The lush green valley’s were now turning into brown barren mountains. Everything seemed to be drenched with brown. As if the creator was left with that only one color in his palette. The mountains were brown, the homes brown, the people brown, and the stones brown…… But the sky was azure Blue. The most beautiful aspect was to see the shades of sunlight and shade on the valleys. I concentrated my photographic skill on this phenomenon. The scattering clouds created this dramatic effect. A part in deep shade, the next valley in a light shade and the next one fully exposed in the sun light…… All under the snowy peaks. The drama of lights was in its climax here.
Crossing the town of Kargil was an easy ride. The road winded up and we reached Namik La (La means pass) at an altitude of 12190 ft. I was surrounded by the vast brown barren valleys with snow capped peaks. The wind was fierce.
At this point where I had stopped to take some snaps, I got the message that my daughter, Manjari had passed the CBSE class 10th board exam with 95% and the school average percentage of all the students is 83%.
The journey started and my next break was on the banks of river Indus. What a contrast of colors. The blue water cutting across the brown valleys under the deep blue sky, dotted with fluffy snowy peaks and with white clouds.
The road was smooth and we reached Leh. 40 kms, before entering Leh we tried to experiment the effects of Magnetic Hill (if u don’t know, please search the net).
Reaching Leh was an easy task now.
Today is rest day. The body is too tired. Will be visiting around the city.
Diary entry , 30th May Leh
Leh-The other side of the Himalayas
Himalaya sings in two different tunes.
The Himalayas,I had seen near my home ( Nepal, Bengal, Sikkim ) sings the melodious, soothing and soft Indian classical music. The valleys have soft curves, sprinkled with water bodies and streams….. amidst the lush greenery where variety of colorful birds orchestrate their musical talents. It’s like a plate of salad where you get all the colors of nature in its vibrant form. It’s like a frolic child who wants to play around, on and on.
The Himalayas of Ladakh is a high pitched metallic rock band. The beauty here is raw. The valleys are deep and straight. It’s so captivating that you cannot stare at it for a long period. It’s like a chocolate ice cream bar with a dash of white cream on the top. It’s like a matured man overlooking the past but stepping towards its zenith.
Today was a day to rest. But when 13 types of adrenaline are poured in a pot, a lot happens. Our bikes roared in and around the city of Leh. We went to those hidden corners where normal tourist doesn’t go. The best part was to go in a long stretch of desert and show off our biking skills. Everyone was ready to perform his Daredevil stunts and get the attention of my camera.
Evening hours were meant for shooting the lights of Leh with the rising moon in the backdrop. I was successful to some extent in getting a few shots.
Today the bikes will be tested with their strength, when we drive up to 18600 ft. At that altitude, the oxygen will be less and so would be the combustion of engine. We would be entering the Nubra valley after crossing the Highest Motorable Road of the world, the Khardung la. I can see from leh, that the pass is totally blanketed in snow. It is going to be a hell of a drive, today.
We are told that, there won’t be any network or electricity for the next 3 days in the Nubra Valley and Pangong Lake. Maybe, I have to wait for next 3 days, to get in touch with you all.
Meanwhile, please enjoy the pictures of
“फटा poster….निकला Hero”
Diary entry, 31st may, 2018
Hunder, Nubra Valley.
The Himalaya has given us a lot many things. It gives us rains, forests, rivers, beauty, tourism and a lot many.
Today it gave me a new Friend.
The worst part was, we already had started late.
Two of our riders had lost the way, and had travelled 42 kms in the wrong direction. The next hitch was when of the bikes started giving trouble. Our team, did have a mechanic with us, still it took an hour to fix it. Khardung la could be seen up there, enveloped in melting snow.
If anyone has not cursed मेरीतोफटगई or लगगयीमेरी….. should once try driving a bike through the Khardung la Pass. It is the highest motorable road (pass) reaching the altitude of 18380 ft. The road is terrible but the views are mesmerizing.
After the grueling ride we entered the Nubra Valley. The Shyok River became our road partner. It was soothing for the eyes to see some green patches along the road. A beautiful long, pitch black and straight road bisected the valley. The banks had long stretches of crystalline white sand dunes. All 4 aspects of nature……..the mountain, river, greenery and desert sand dunes were spread all around. The engine throttled as our speed maximized. The altitude was low and oxygen content was high. It saved us, as one of our bikers was already suffering from altitude sickness. We crossed the famous Diskit monastery, which has one of the highest Buddhist statues.
The destination was a small village, Hunder on the banks Shyok.
3 new bikers had joined us from Leh. One of them was carrying a guitar. The evening was welcomed with the echoes of his guitar, and his soothing voice. He sang his own composed songs too.
We became good friends, as I too showed off my skills of classical music. (It was my hidden talent). We shared ideas about his upcoming new album. It was decided, I would take his pictures……for the cover page of his album, the next morning.
Tomorrow it’s going to be Turtuk, the last Indian village on the Siachen Region.
The Himalaya has made a traveler
And now it’s making me a STORY TELLER
Diary entry, of 1st june,
The impulse to travel is the most hopeful symptom of life.
The Himalaya has been attracting us since long ages. Its enigmatic beauty has kept on mesmerizing us on and on. I have been hypnotized by its splendor….. And thus it calls me back again and again. The moods and landscape of the mountain changes every second and every inch. The view I saw a minute back, gets transformed into a new vision. The Himalaya symbolizes strength, silence and sympathy. It’s introvert in nature…..
Hence you need to listen to its …….. SILENCE.
Today’s morning started early, with the photo session of Vicky. We sat down on the sand dunes of Shyok River and I practiced my awful hidden talent.
I moved on to meet a lonely wild Bactrian Camel (2 humped) grazing in the fields. It posed with me to get clicked.
Wild asses grazed around in the back drop of the brown slopes.
The biking then continued for another 102 kms to reach the last Indian Village, Turtuk. We needed to cross the Army Transit camp of Sianchen. It was a memorable experience for me, but a routine exercise for the Indian Army. Salute their dedication and zeal.
Turtuk is a small, cute village and is at the end of India. The best part was that none of the shops in such a remote locality charged a penny more than the MRP for any goods. The people were so warm and hospitable. All along the drive we saw small villages after every 20 km interval. As we were entering Turtuk, the black clouds had covered the sky. It started drizzling and was very cold. I feared the rains, but I was told that it never rains heavily here. And if it does, it would be a cloud burst…. as it happened in 2011 in Ladakh where thousands were killed.
Then I came to know a very interesting fact. Before 2011, Ladakh never experienced any rainfall. In 2005 – 06 the govt. initiated to plant a lot of trees in the valley. A special breed of trees was planted, so to survive the harsh climate. It turned out to be a successful venture. Greenery spread in the valley. These trees invited rainfall…. Which resulted in the cloud burst. Rains are not all invited here, as the entire slopes are barren…..made of mud and loose stones. Rainfall will thus cause massive landslides.
Afforestation thus proved to be a curse here.
It’s evening now and the camp fire has started. As my back is screaming, I have decided to give it a rest.
Electricity and WiFi is available in Hunder from 7 – 12 pm. Tomorrow it’s going to be zero electricity and network tolerance zone. We would be in Pangong Lake.
Diary entry, 2nd June.
Hunder(Nubra valley) to Pangong Lake.
Visualise this- wild horses, sheep, wild ass, pashmina goats, Kiang ( a type of wild horse ) grazing in the field against the backdrop of snow capped peaks, the streamlet with crystal clean water meandering in the lush fields feeding the wild and our bikes speeding and dissecting through this dreamland.
We managed to start on time from Hunder. Filling up our bikes and taking an extra fuel in the cans was a necessity as we won’t be getting any filling stations for the next 320 kms. The road climbed up overlooking the Nubra valley. It then entered the banks of the Shyok River. The grueling off road drive took a toll on our body. We were crossing a zone…. where to our left was Pakistan and China was on the left side of the ranges.
The first sight of Pangong Lake was seen from the top….and the view was scintillating.
Was the color of water blue? No, no, it was green. Oh no, it was aquamarine or turquoise? It’s impossible to describe the color. Even my photographs too, won’t be able to display its mesmerizing color.
Take a litre of salt water; add 100 ml of blue, green and purple dye to it. Poar an ounce of exhilaration. Mix some pain, adventure and the sound of silence to it. Garnish it well with 200 ml of adrenaline. Add some toppings of sacrifice, dedication, zeal and energy to it…..and don’t forget the sacrifice of your family.
What you now get is the true color of the Pangong Lake.
The contrast of the deep brown valleys and the Pangong color of water was an astonishing sight. The sunlight played its game with light and shade peeping through the scattered clouds. It gave a dramatic effect on the valleys against the deep water of the lake. The drama reached its pinnacle at sunset. The snow peaks were glowing orange, the water turned more deep blue, some parts of the valleys in shade and the other reflecting its light – power. It reached its climax and only sound I could hear was of my camera shutter and the lapping sounds of the waves and the squeals of albatross.
Pangong Lake is a salt water lake at an altitude of approx 14000 ft. Why salt water??? (Remember Tethys Sea??). It’s a 130 km long lake, whose 70%of the area lies in China. It’s so deep that even submarine has been plied in it.
The temperature dropped drastically after sunset. It was windy. I had planned for astrophotography, but it was impossible to move out my tent. There is no electricity and network connection. It doesn’t have any local population too. The tentwallas set up their tents and stay here to serve the tourists only for 4 months. The average temperature drops down to minus 20s during the winters. Pangong Lake came into limelight after the movie, 3 Idiots. It has then been experiencing a huge influx of tourists. The eco fragile zone is now in danger.
The night was difficult for me. Oxygen content was low and I had some breathing problems. There is no vegetation around. It makes the air so dry and the altitude reduces the O2. Life is not so easy here. Proper acclimatization is must for the tourists who reach here.
Today, the plan is to reach Leh.
Right now, I am sitting in front of the vast Pangong Lake and writing this experience. It’s so cool and silent. The Himalaya is reverberating with positive energy.
I am meeting and talking to the best person, I have ever met.
…..and it’s ME.
What an experience to peep into myself and acquire self realization. It’s important to be Alone and Lonely… Sometimes
Dairy entry, 3rd June
Pangong Lake to Leh.
Driving on a 4 wheeler in the Himalaya moves your body……. Driving in a 2 wheeler moves your SOUL.
The altitude had taken me in its grip. It’s not an easy task to be a biker in Ladakh at this age. Youngsters, half of my age were surrendering. My body needed rest…. And it needed it badly. Could not afford to enjoy the sunrise on Pangong Lake. As I woke up at 9, the lake was glittering in the sun. You burn your skin once you are out in the sun; you freeze yourself once you are in the shade. But sitting on the banks of Pangong lake and massaging myself with mustard oil and then taking a bath in chilled water…… rejuvenated me. It was very difficult to say bye to the lake. The shades of water changed every moment. A new story unfolded every step. Pangong had so many stories to tell…. And each story was better than the earlier one. I felt like sitting on its banks and listen to its fables on and on.
Although, Khardung la (+18,000 ft ) is the highest motorable road in the world. We had crossed it while entering Nubra valley from Leh. Today we had to take a left deviation from Durbuk and cross the Chang la (+ 17000 ft). The road is more strenuous here. In fact, at certain places, there were no roads. Oxygen was scarce, and the combustion in the bike engine drastically falls down. The bike literally failed to overcome the steep uphill road. Gokul, our mechanic, came up with a wonderful solution. He removed the air filter, and solved the problem. The best pal in the group is Nagpal(FB-Nitish Nagpal). Many call him Naago. He is a chubby young chap of 25. We have devised a new way of overcoming our tiredness. When,I succumb to my back ache, he comes to me and we follow a ritual. We hug each other, and do the saastaang pranam to each other on the middle of the road and again bless each other. This ritual eases off all the lacunae and gives me a new zeal to move ahead. In the last few days we did it, at least 6 – 8 times in a day. Today, I needed it to follow it 12 times. I had shared the video of this ritual few days back. No members of the group know which date and day of the week it is. Everyone is so lost in nature. The morning starts with roar of laughter, the agonies of the day are vanquished with even bigger roars of laughter’s and the night ends with hilarious giggles. It’s difficult to remember each other’s name easily…. So everyone is called as chotu ke papa, chotu ke Chacha, chotu ke mama, chotu ke taau….. And so on. And the search for CHOTU is still on……
Today we will be driving to Sarchu.(+14000 ft). No electricity, no network there.
My soul is ready to be moved again.
Dairy entry, 4th June
Leh to Sarchu.
Today we broke all our records and drove almost 260 kms. The start was early at 7 am. The first lap of 95 km was an easy cake, which we covered in 1.5 hrs. Leaving Leh, made me sad. This was a drive which was the beginning of the end, of this trip.
Passing out an exam, is an achievement. But, passing through the high passes today was a big achievement. The first pass was Tang lang la (+18000 ft ).
It was a beautiful view from the top. We voted it to be the most beautiful pass. Patches of ice all around us and the mighty peaks gave a classic experience.
We entered the Moore plains. It’s a huge stretch of plain land with wild asses grazing around. The plain is situated at an altitude of aprox 13,000 ft.
Moore plains was a place where we all spent almost an hour.There were weird formation on the walls of the valley of the mountains. It seemed like caves and interesting designs made by aliens during the pre historic age.
We entered Himachal Pradesh after having our lunch in Pang.
Sarchu was nearing. It’s a small tent – village without any indigenous population. Many travel operators have set up their tents catering to bikers like us.
Situated at an altitude of aproxx 14000 ft, Sarchu is a dreamland where my imaginations went wild. It had the texture of Grand Canyon, the vast arid and green fields, the snow capped peaks, the undulating meadows and the crisp, cool, dry air. The beautiful landscape drawn on the canvass was enough to bring out the ecstatic joy.
The temperature dropped suddenly at minus 3 by 7 pm. By the time, we had dinner, it was bitter cold. Sarchu is a place famous for astrophotography. The wind was so harsh and temp. so down, it was impossible to come out of the tent at midnight.
We had a lot of fun today with the entire group.
In USA, my company had a GOLD standard policy.
G – Greet and smile
O – Own the problem
L – Listen
D – Deliver the Wow !!!!
I imagine this GOLD policy must have been inspired from the Himalaya.
Tomorrow will be the last day’s drive to Manali.
Diary entry, 5th June
Sarchu to Manali.
The morning call woke me up to find myself in the cold tent surrounded with the snow capped peaks. The temperature was in minus the last night, but the warm and golden rays of sun provided the hospitality which no tourism sector could do. We had slept under the billion star hotel, on the banks of fresh flowing glaciers. A steaming cup of tea boosted my confidence for the drive today.
I never had any passion for biking, at any age before. An advertisement on FB, caught my attention in early May. The Thumping Nomad, led by Abhay and Rahul bhai were organizing a biking trip from Jammu – Leh- Manali circuit. It was an internal instant pull that day and it’s the ultimate push today, as we were on the last 11th day of our biking. And the destination was Manali.
Everybody started with a heavy heart, bidding adios to the internal core of the Ladakh. The climb was steep till we reached the Baralacha la. The dazzling white iced valleys, peaks, frozen lakes in the wilderness took us to another spiritual platform. The biking was easy, but it was punctuated with hilarious river crossings. The sun was shining hot, which melted the glaciers all around. The roaring walls of water leapt across the roads. We fought these Battles of Waterloo a number of times. It needed precision and meticulous riding. It was like performing surgery…. Where the tyres the bikes cut through the fierce current over the bolder strewn patch…. Like a scalpel cutting through the muscles while avoiding the hard bones.
Sometimes it’s a necessity to be hilarious in times of danger. Our bikes, shoes and pants were getting wet while crossing these streams. Some of us fell in it, another needed to be pushed or pulled out with their bikes…. But our bleats of laughters defied the roars of gushing water. You all must have experienced railway crossings or river crossings in your life. But here we found the waterfalls crossing the roads. It was an open challenge between the force of water and the horse power of engines and skill – biking.
We reached a beautiful place with a beautiful name – ” Zing Zing Bar”.
Z Z Bar is a small hamlet providing the right atmosphere for a break for the bikers who are already wet. Everybody opened their drenched shoes as the warm tea and lunch warmed us.
Rohtang pass was yet to come. The problem with popular tourist destination starts with filth and ends with traffic congestion. The sight of plastic bottles, wrappers, empty cans strewn around proved that we were in one such popular tourist spot. Rohtang was covered in mist and fog as we crossed it. The black diesel smoke gurgled out from trucks and rich SUVs had even turned the snow — BLACK …. all along the way.
A 3 hour traffic congestion and moderate rainfall forced us to park our bikes and take shelter under a huge rock in the slope of the valley.
Manali was thickly crowded and was gasping with congestion when we entered at 10.30 pm.
It was as if someone was poking thorns in our eyes as we were seeing so many humans, shimmering neon lights, vehicles, traffic police, dust, shouting hawkers, bill boards, a traffic in pandemonium.
We had entered advanced civilization after spending 12 days in the cozy silence of Ladakh.