Our journey inspired by “When the going gets tough, the tough gets going”- Unknown
“ only the best of friends and the worst of enemies come to meet us”- INDIAN ARMY
PREPARATION FOR THE TRIP
It was mid may and I was familiarising myself with what had happened around me for the couple of months. I had just entered this very real world with something changing or being changed from a very monotonous routine life from ship.
However my friends were already amidst planning for the trip, in which I was a part but had no clue where is Ladakh. My friends have had done their research by inquiring the pioneers in their office who had been there before or had a slight knowledge of the region and noted down the minute details needed for our road trip.
But then came the biggest constrain off all.. THE BUDGET.
So even we had the details and the plan we restricted ourselves to two jeans (for 10 days) and a pair of thermal wear and a borrowed jacket which would act as our armour and make us look like the Wrangler in the bike for all the photos that we are going to take.
After setting up our backpacks which included the sunscreens, the lipstick (lip guard), Bose speaker and sunglasses and usual medicine ,my friends educated me about the place and I did my study, (still was not able to remember the places names) .The flight tickets were booked from Chennai to Chandigarh and back and we decided to hire the bikes from a guy who is in Manali without knowing Hindi. One guy in my friends office gave this contact and we had to not only ask for bikes but bargain.
Some how we manage to speak with that guy in butler Hindi and understood that there was a fight between biker unions of Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir. (Enna koduma sir ithu). As the time for taking off was around the corner we were still not sure about the bikes. Then we somehow managed to find a guy who spoke in English and offered us re 500 cc bike at a much affordable price. And I decided to send my bike through GATI COURIER.
THE TAKE OFF:
6 of us met in the apartment at OMR where my friends live and started our journey before ravukalam. The Ola cab driver got irritated by our selfies and poses and dropped us in the airport with a annoyed face. We entered the airport full of anxiety and excitement about the trip and went in for scanning our baggage’s and check them in . In our group there were two guys who were making their debut in the airplane and we had to request two window seats for them. But we were able to get only one and the rest of us were scattered. Still we convinced our-self that a suitable pair will sit besides us. And the Indigo airlines were prompt in following their schedule and we took off seeing the beaches of marina fade off….
CHANDIGARH TO MANALI- SLEEPLESS DRIVE:
And after 3 hrs of flying and with only water given by the lazy air hostess inside our stomach we reached Chandigarh, the planned city. As we were struggling to stand with our backpacks full and our stomachs empty the cab driver called and we started towards Manali. We told the cab driver to stop at a place where we can have our first meal of the day. He took us to a restaurant called HAVELI which is on the outskirts of Chandigarh. It looked very luxurious and we had to listen to our bellies first. So we entered and had a very pleasing finger licking food with lassie’s as desserts. Then we hopped in the car and as soon as the car hit the highway the driver became a vin diesel and started driving in a way that had to be featured in the next part of F&F.
and had to reach a place called MANDI 120 kms before Manali to pick up my bike which I had sent 2 weeks back. We spent nearly half an hour to find the warehouse of GATI as there were no streetlights. It was a small facility and my bike was parked at a corner like a mummy. We unwrapped all the protective materials and checked for damage and found only small scratches. The bike was ready to roar and we filled up the tank and Himalayan started in a press of a button. So I pulled on my driving gears
Along with my pillion rider Aravind and rest of my friends sat back comfortably in the Innova cab and started from Mandi around 12:30 am in the morning. The cab driver disappeared in a blink of an eye. I was very happy to be in the saddle of my bike, riding it in an unknown place ;at the middle of the night, I was feeling like a astronaut in mars. The roars of the river Beas and the unpredictable turns in the roads were our companions and the headlight and the sign boards were the only guide for our travel in the dark.
Finally we reached Manu temple, old Manali where our home stay and our beds were ready.
READY STEADY PO- ROHTANG PASS #1
We overslept a little bit as we were very tired and we went to the bike hiring shop after a small brunch. There we were given two bikes -RE 500cc with the so called “Ladakh stand”. We mounted up and all our bags and tied it up in place with elastic ropes. Then test rode the vehicles with the bags mounted to check the balance. We started from the hiring shop around 15:00 And proceeded for filling up the tanks . Then we started towards Rohtang pass which is our first crossover. The initial road was broad and was easy. As we started to climb the roads become narrower and traffic was heavy. The trucks, the buses, the tempo travelers were dominating the road and we were like minions running in between the elephant legs. And at one point where we had to make a hairpin bend my friend lost his balance and fell from the bike . Luckily he hung up at the edge of the road and we hurried towards him and caught him in time. One more roll would have coated his life. We made the driver sit for a while and gave them some water and asked him to relax a bit . This is the kind of welcome that Himalayan roads will give for a amateur rider. Still we continued towards Rohtang pass and stopped at top to click some photos of the brown dirty ice. The ice was very dirty like the collar of a white shirt due to lot of tourists and their cars.
PLANNED FOR KEYLONG AND ENDED UP AT SISSU #2
Next we came across the first check post where we had to show our permits and when we crossed it we found a big hoarding saying BRO. These guys(border road organisation) had planned and laid roads across the hilly terrains. After crossing Rohtang pass the roads were nothing less than a dirt bike track with hairpin bends in between. We were hopping and skipping and it was like we were riding horses rather than bikes . Somehow we crossed our first obstacle and moved on to a kachha road and before we could recover there came a second obstacle, icy cold water streams with rocks and pebbles. We didn’t realize how cold the water is until we dipped our foot inside. “Oh my god!” it was freezing… But we had no other choice but to cross the stream.. one bike got struck in the middle and we had to pull it out . We were not able to feel our feet and we were rubbing it with our hands till we could have some feeling. We realized how bad it was for us for not spending on good water proof shoes. We started again and rode across the beautiful mountains all around us slowly but steadily till evening to reach a place called sissu..
STAY @SARCHU SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST #3
The hotel room was quite big and we had a sumptuous dinner at sissu and untied our bags and dried our shoes. We had a good sleep and next day we headed towards pang . On our way we stopped at Keylong for aloo paratha and a cup of chaai and to call our homes with Bsnl postpaid sim. Then we proceeded via various streams and broken roads and crossed the baralachala pass to reach Sarchu which was around 7'o clock in the eve and we were looking for a tent to stay. The problem with high altitude staying is that the oxygen level is very low and we cannot do any activity due to the cold weather. We entered a small road side shop which was having a menu of Maggi noodles, bread omelette and daal chaawal. We ordered bread omelette and Maggie and found the egg to be half cooked . But no other go had to eat it to bear the cold. We asked the guy in the shop for a camp fire and he made it using coal and some wood. We were literally keeping our feet in the fire to beat the cold and feel a bit warm.
After that we planned to get up early the next day. but the temperature’s dropped and I went my feet very cold and food didn’t digest and I had to vomit to feel a little better. It was a sleepless night and everyone was lying with their blanket covering their body and their eyes wide open. The howling winds in the mountain, the cold and a deserted place were making us very uncomfortable to sleep. Next day the sun came up early and we were a little relived to see it. My friend ordered tea and I was in a hangover from yesterday’s vomiting . He planned to take me to the army doctor in the nearby camp . There to our surprise was a Tamilian army doctor. He was very happy to see us and so were we. He ask us take liquid diet and gave us some tablet for the vomiting to stop. The road was good to a extent and we climbed up to a higher altitude to reach paang and stopped for lunch and had daal chaawal, fried rice and proceeded through the Gata loops towards Leh. From Sarchu to Leh the mountain landscapes were varying beautiful First there were plains, then hairpin bends then more plains. The mountains were like suddenly made of ice , after a few kms they turn into sand and then turn into rocks… No words to describe.With heavy winds and cold weather trying to tear us apart , the heat from engine and the pumping of the heart kept us moving forward. We crossed the second highest motor able road in the world and rode towards the horizons to reach Leh. We reached Leh by evening 8:00pm and were searching for a room to stay for the night.
THE UNKNOWN ANGEL #4
We were hungry and standing in the market road of Leh when a Tibetan came across in an activa and asked us if we wanted a place to stay. We were hesitant to believe him and I agreed to go with him to have a look at the room which he said was a five minute walk from market. I sat behind him and he took me into some random dark streets to reach a hotel. I was very afraid and was prepared myself to encounter any attack. But it didn’t happen and I was introduced to a room which was quite big and the guy promised there will be running hot water all the time. Then I went back and got my friends and we settled down in the room and found that the hot water will be available only for a few hours in a day. Then we ordered some food and stayed there for the night
HALL OF FAME- A BIG SALUTE TO INDIAN ARMY #5
The next day we planned the local sight seeing which included Shey palace, magnetic hill, Sanchi stupa, Sangam river, monastery, hall of fame and Rancho school. We started off in our bikes and went straight to magnetic hill which was in switched off or not working. Even we parked the vehicle in all directions nothing happened. Then we headed to see the Sangam river which was very muddy. Then on our way back we we went into the hall of fame for the Indian army where we came to know the history of Ladakh and the sacrifices made by our soldiers in various battles. We were amazed on seeing the counters that exhibited the dress which our jawans wear in Siachin glacier and the things they use in their day to day life. We also saw the various PVC holders and the weapons claimed by our army from various wars from our enemies and the strategic planning made by our army to defeat the enemies. Behind the museum was Amar jawan for the soldiers who died in the battlefield and we prayed for their souls to rest in peace.Then we returned back to hotel and had daal chaawal made by the owner and dozed off.
MEETING THE BDAY BOY, AND THE HOLY LAKE #6
The hotel guy had promised us a Xylo for our sight seeing today but deceived us by arranging a Qualis. And there was no hot water in the morning and we had to take bath in the icy cold water to be in schedule. The first stop was at the b’day celebration of DALAI LAMA his holiness. He turned 82 and we got an opportunity to be a part of that celebration. We were not allowed to go inside a perimeter guarded heavily by police which needed special permission but we were able to have a look at him from a short distance.
The driver was jumping and was pushing us to get to the car as it was getting late and we had lots of distance to cover. After having the brunch we were travelling uphill in a very bad terrain where the driver had to push the engines to maximum. Still the car didn’t cope up and we had to get down and walk a little bit and we were exhausted. On our way we stopped at chanlang la which is one of the highest passes and were playing with the ice over there. Then after a 5 hrs drive we reached Tpangong lake. One third of the lake is with us and two third with China. The view was breathtaking and we walked along the banks for some time and clicked some pictures..In my opinion the lake didn’t live up to the hype the movies created and it’s not worth travelling the distance. The better option would be tsomoriri lake which is a little further and camping would be great idea. As our time was limited we had to come return after spending only an hour in the lake. It started getting darker and the road was scary to travel in daylight. Still we believed the skills of the driver and said our prayers to God and boarded the Qualis. The drive was a nightmare and there places where we were holding our breaths and there were places where we had to get down to help the car climb up. Somehow we reached back Leh and had a fight with hotel owner for not arranging a proper vehicle.
THE RETREAT #7
The next day we have to start our back to Manali and we got up a little late and Myself and Suraj went to the RE service center to pick up my himalayan which was given for service. We started after changing oil for the other 500cc and had lunch at Upshie . I started first and found that my friends are not following after half an hour. They had a issue in one of the bike’s . The spark plug was damaged and they were not able to start the bike. Then they managed to meet a mechanic and solve the issue. The royal Enfield showroom didn’t service the vehicle properly and we were waiting for our fellow riders for a while and we were scared about their status as there was no means of communication. Me and Suraj were asking the passer by riders if they saw any causalities. And if we go back looking for them we will be consuming a consider amount of fuel which we could not afford to waste. The next petrol bunk is 365 kms ahead. we were revealed to hear the bullet sound in the calm mountains and seeing my friends with the bikes emerge from a turn behind the mountain. As the dusk was turning into night we were approaching our stop for the day towards pang. We had a considerable amount of ground to cover and the road was welcoming without any bumps or potholes. On the way we saw one rider stranded and we just helped him with our spare spark plug and then reached pang around 8:00pm.
At pang the stay was much better than Sarchu as there was a asbestos sheet covered brick house. The walls kept the cold away but still u can feel the icy floors if keep your bare foot on it.
According to plan we got up early and had tea. We then mounted the bags on the bike and felt exhausted because of the altitude. As we were about to start my friend spotted that one 500cc had a flat tyre. It is 15k feet and there are only a few tents and no mechanic. So we had to do the punctures by ourselves. So we quickly gathered around started to dismantle the back tyre which was punctured. We loosened the bolt , removed the axle and then removed the Tyre. But we were not able to loosen the tyre from the rim to remove the tube inside. Then we were searching for the tools that the bike vendor has given. There was only a hand pump, and spare tube. We were looking for help in the near by tents and a Telengana rider group was fixing a puncture in their tire. We borrowed their equipments and techniques to fix our tube and filled it up with air from the electric tire inflator which they had.Then we assembled back the tire and started our journey. We planned to reach keylong which is around 150 km away. We started and after riding for a 20 km we found again the tire was flat. It was one of the most unfortunate thing to happen. If we need help or to call some one we had to go minimum 20km. Then there will be not enough petrol to reach our destination. We cannot walk either . There were a few open trucks which passed by us but we believed in our skills and started removing the tube from the tire. The problem is that we had used the only spare tube which we had. One Israeli guy helped us with a spare tube . Then we managed to fix the tire and inflated it with a electronic air compressor from a Innova car. Then we again sat in the saddle and moved again thinking everything will be fine. But the twist came very soon and again the tire became flat. This was the third time. Even after changing new tubes something else is spoiling the tube. We were not able to find the exact reason. But one thing we knew is if we don’t make it to Manali by tomorrow we will miss our flights. We were thinking of how to reach sarchu the next Village to ask some assistance. But it was around 30 km away. Then came a group of Maharastra Royal Enfield Riders for our rescue. There were 4 guys and they were having a riding club and they were real professionals in fixing puncture’s. They helped us out by fixing our flat tire and fixing it back. Then we reached sarchu and decided we couldn’t risk our life by depending on our bikes and decided to load it in a truck and travel along with it to Manali.
THE TRAVEL IN THE OPEN TRUCK #9
Travelling in an open truck is quite easy as bungee jumping only thing is hold tight and keep some cushion for your bum and a helmet around your head. We loaded the bikes in the truck and 2 persons sat along with the driver inside and 4 of us have to sit outside along with the bikes. As the driver started the truck we were holding each other’s hands. When the truck hit the first pot hole we realized our decision of travelling in the truck was very wrong. It is like we have decided to do off roading in an open truck with no cushions and no quilt to cover us for the cold. The driver was used to these roads and he was at bliss driving in this rugged terrain. But we were already like sailors standing on the deck during rough weather. Now as we were doing this mission impossible we had to cross the baralachala pass and few other passes in this truck. It was freezing cold at night, and it is not advisable to travel these terrain at night time. But we did it. We took the tarpaulin sheet and used it as our cover all for the cold and crossed the passes to reach zing zing bar.
There the driver felt pity on us who were travelling like a brainless nomads sitting at the back of an open truck in the freezing cold. We decided to rest for a few hours there and start again. We felt asleep in a small tent sort of thing and the driver woke us up to continue our journey.
THE HOMECOMING #10
In the morning the sun was bright and we were not prepared for that. We had three t-shirts and a jacket to beat the cold. But now we were sweating profusely. We had to sit through the rugged terrain and hope for a piece of good road to soothe our bums. And it was like there are no good roads. We saw the enthusiastic riders who were starting their journey towards Leh and asking the truck driver about the condition of the roads. The truck driver sarcastically replied “very good roads, no problem”. And u can see the smile on their faces. The bikes were kissing each other all way long and there was a considerable damage on each bikes. The Himalayan indicator light was broken completely
And one RE 500 cc tank was dented badly. We reached Manali and handed over the bikes to the vendor and we rested for a while in a lodge opposite to the bike shop. We had a nice bath in the hot water went to the market Street to have some food. My friends were very excited to see some south Indian food shops and wanted to eat dosa , idly. But we were very disappointed on seeing the north Indian dosa. We had booked our cab till Chandigarh and the pick up arrived on time. We slept throughout the night and reached Chandigarh very early. So we decided to go to rock garden. The city was very well planned and the traffic volume was very less. We refreshed ourselves in the public toilets near the lake which was very well maintained and reached airport. There was a sardarji who was checking our tickets and he asked “chennaila enga?”. We have only seen sardarji speaking Tamil in Tamil movies, I was not able to believe it. Then we did our check in and said good bye to Chandigarh.
Travel the world, travel with friends, travel alone, travel out of your comfort zone, travel to find yourself, travel for finding out how the world is, Travel is a word which you will never understand unless you experience.