It was planned barely 20 days before embarking on my journey to Leh. I was supposed to be going with Akshay, a school friend and couple of his friends. Planning and discussion began about a month before the journey.
Later, his friends dropped out due to personal issues and even Akshay had some health issues and couldn't come. It was going to be another "solo" ride. I had transported my motorcycle exactly 5 days before my flight to chandigarh. I was to fly to Chandigarh from Bangalore on August 16th, 2014. The transport agent informed that the motorcycle consignment will reach Chandigarh on the 16th, the same day I arrive.
Day 1 - August 16, 2014:
As I arrived at Chandigarh and headed towards the blue dart office, I got to know that the motorcycle had not arrived. I had to find a hotel and settle down first. I headed to a hotel at Sector 36 and checked in. As I kept following up with the Blue Dart cargo company, I got news that the motorcycle will arrive at Ambala, 45 kms from Chandigarh.
Day 2 - August 17, 2014:
I decided to take a taxi to Ambala, and, if possible, take delivery there itself. That didn't work as the cargo company declined to deliver there and mentioned to collect it at Chandigarh on Monday morning.
With 2 days gone in the actual itinerary, it was time to "change" the plan and ride to a different stretch. George helped with an "overnight" itinerary and I was ready to head to Shimla the next day.
Day 3 - August 18, 2014
Finally, my motorcycle arrived and I had get it from the Blue Dart godown. As the motorcycle had no fuel, the day started of with pushing the 200 kg monster for about 1.5 kms in the scorching sun in search of a petrol bunk.
I filled up the tank and went back to the hotel to check out and prepare for my journey. My motorcycle did not have any additional fittings like Panniers and Crash Guard. I also had to buy spare tubes and some puncture fixing items, including a foot pump.
I went to Sector 21 and got all that I needed, in one store. Once, everything was fitted to the motorcycle, it was almost 3 in teh afternoon and I was on my way to Shimla. 50 kms into the journey I met one guy who was also heading to Shimla on his TB500. He was a dental student (forgot his name). Spent some time with him and had snacks before continuing the journey.
Enroute, I stopped to have some corn. That was the only break I took before reaching Shimla. The hill was really winding upward and as I reached the city, it started getting cold as it was about 8PM. I finally checked into a hotel and settled down for the day.
Totally, 125 kms travelled.
Chandigarh - Solan - Shimla
Day 4 and 5 - August 18 and 19, 2014
I was warned about altitude sickness by friend and colleague, George, who had been to the Ladakh region in 2011 with his friends. Based on suggestions and some advice before the journey, I stayed a day at Shimla (Day 4) and went around town taking a small walk and having some nice food and beer.
Day 5 began and I left in the morning after having a hearty breakfast. Rain was expected throughout the journey, but nothing really came up. I continued to ride all the way to Rampur. The road was clean and good, yet really winding. I stopped at a small wooden building for lunch. It looked like a small restaurant and the food was filling. It began getting a little cold outside and there was some mist around.
As I continued to ride, I had plans of stopping at Bawa Nagar, yet, the day wasn't over. Just after Rampur, started the "actual" ride along a river in the Lahaul-Kinnaur-Spiti Valley. I had just entered the Lahaul valley and headed to Tapri, a very small village (?) in the middle of nowhere. That was exactly where the "bad" or not-so-great-yet-gull-of-gravel road started. The journey was going to be tough from here, I said to myself.
Day 6 and 7 - August 20 and 21, 2014
I had mentioned about altitude sickness earlier. I decided to stay at Tapri for a day (to acclimatize) and then continue towards Reckong Peo. The sky was getting grey and I could feel a few butterflies in my stomach. Being a first timer to this region, I wasn't sure whether it would rain or not, yet I realized that landslides were a common sight there.
I started towards Reckong peo on Day 7, barely 35 kms away. Mind it, 35 kms isn't like on a national highway across any other part of the country where it takes about 30 to 45 minutes to cover. This stretch was really broken and due to frequent landslides, the road was in tatters. As I had feared, I ran into a landslide on the outskirts of Tapri. The national highway that connects all the way to Kaza, was closed.
the rickety ride just began. Until Tapri, all was rosy enough, now begins the challenge. I asked locals about directions and they showed me a "slope" which was steep enough to be called a "hair-pin bend". I began riding up that road (?) (or probably should i call it a "route"?). As I continued going up, the route was worse than expected. Getting to the other side of the highway was getting tough.
Finally, when the flat stretch was over, it was time to "descend" the hilly route to join the national highway again. I had already completed 20 kms in "that" route and I was looking at a "bridge" that we had to cross, and just then there was a traffic jam, for a kilometer. No space to go and I had to wait for 1 hour. I was hungry all of a sudden. After crossing the bridge, I reached a small dhaba and decided to have food. Momo's in soupy noodles was a treat to the stomach.
After gulping down two bowls of soupy noodles with momo's, I was about to leave, when a couple of german tourists dropped by, on their motorcycles, Mick and Henry. I had a small chat with them and 3 of us decided to travel together from there for the next 4 days.
We rode towards Reckong Peo from there and stopped at Reckong Peo for the day. We found a small hotel for Rs 600 per night. The Kailash Parbat stood majestically against the window of my room.
Totally 55 kms travelled, against the actual distance of 35 kms.
Tapri - Reckong Peo
Day 8 and 9 - August 22 and 23, 2014
After Reckong Peo began the "Kinnaur" valley. All this while, we rode with the sutlej river running parallel to the road, mountain on either side and the river in between. To enter the Kinnaur Valley, the German nationals needed to get an Inner Line Permit (ILP). I befriended a guy at the information center opposite the District Magistrates office and took his help to obtain permits for Mick and Henry.
As there was little fuel, we decided to fill up the tank and move ahead. Unfortunately, the "only" fuel station had no petrol and we were stranded. Fuel was to arrive the same day but was delayed due to the landslide, and we had to wait. During the "waiting" period, the two germans decided to get their ILP's worked up. The ILP's took only an hour and on Day 9, fuel was available. We refilled our tanks, had breakfast and were ready to leave. It was about 11 AM as we planned to leave for Phoo. The next fuel station was available at Kaza, around 150 kms away, and nothing in between.
Our friend from the Tourism Information Center informed us about a landslide on the highway near Reckong Peo. Now, our only option was to stay back for a couple of days and then take the highway, or take a more difficult route which was to be 20 kms more than the actual highway. We took the second option as we did not want to get stranded. After 6 kms, the road started getting tough to ride and we were riding along a muddy track by the side of a mountain, and the majestic Sutlej could be seen running from where we were riding.
At one stretch, the road was full of gravel and mud, the route was getting worse by the kilometer and we had already spent 2 hours, simply to cover 10 kms. All of our motorcycles, despite being 500 cc engines, none could take the bike up the slope. Henry took a run up and tried to speed the machine up the slope, and only managed to fall down in the gravel. Mick helped me by pushing the motorcycle from behind. A few thrusts up and with Henry's help, my bike was up the slope. I rode for about 500 metres, and stopped, to go back and help my german friends.
Once Henry's motorcycle was taken up the slope, Mick also joined the party and we stopped at a small turning where we stopped by a few rocks, to sit and relax, as the 1/2 km stretch took an hour for us to cover, analyze and then decide to move on. From there, we took another small walk to check out the route. It wasn't bad, We had actually crossed the "dangerous" stretch. From there on, till Dubling, the ride was smooth and we covered another 25 kms in less than an hour. Again, mountain on both sides and river in between.
It was almost 5:30 at Dubling and we decided to reach Pooh, another 20 kms away, by 7:00 PM as it gets "really dark" beyond 6:30 there. We took enough money with us at Reckong Peo so that we didn't have to think of non-working ATM's. As we thought, we reached Phoo at 7:30 PM. The road had become muddy and more tough to ride, but we managed to reach Phoo.
We found a hotel and settled down. The owner was a young guy who had studied at Loyola College, Chennai (forgot his name, though). Some beer on the terrace of the hotel made was a wonderful experience, beneath the stars and a deep valley against the hotel balcony.
Totally travelled 85 kms in 7 hours. Tough route.
Day 10 - August 24, 2014
At Phoo, we checked out the ATM, there was no money and no network too. After we reached Phoo, all cell phone networks, barring BSNL ceased to work.
We began the day quite early, after breakfast. It was about 9 AM and we continued to ride towards Tabo. We stopped near a bridge for a small video recording session as Mick, Henry and I took turns to ride our motorcycles from along the bridge and up the road by the mountain.
We continued to ride up, and enroute, we met a "group" of riders, all the way from Indonesia. We spoke to them for some time. They were going to Leh, via Kaza. We stopped at Nako village to see if there was anything interesting. Except for an army base and the village, it was mountains, mountains and mountains only everywhere. We were very close to the border of China.
The road up to Nako was winding enough. I was in the middle of a mountain desert. Not a sign of a leaf. Rocks, stones and sand all over the place, and of course, the beautiful view of the valley. On the outskirts of Nako, we met an army officer, had some tea with him and spent some time talking about our travel experience. It was time to head towards Tabo. We thanked the officer for the tea and a great conversation, decided to move on. The road down was winding. We had to stop at another checkpost, which was the "entry" of the Spiti-Valley.
My german friends had to show the ILP. I had to sign a register. Took just 5 minutes, and we were on our way again. A few kms, away, a marriage function was happening and we stopped to dance with the family, in the middle of the road. They were drinking beer and also distributing some sweets. We took the sweets offered and spent some time, dancing with them. We had a little more to reach Tabo.
On the outskirts of Tabo, the extra fuel from the can developed a hole and began leaking. I got that filled into the tank and threw the can away.
We found a small home stay at Tabo and settled down for the day. The food and hospitality by the owner of the homestay was amazing. Nice tibetan food with some beer
60 kms travelled totally.
Phoo - Nako - Tabo
Day 11 - August 25, 2014
We started the day pretty slowly as Kaza was the next town to stop at and we had only 50 kms more to travel. Tabo is a small village. A 1000 odd year old buddhist monastery makes it more significant.
We took a tour of the monastery, came back to the homestay, got ready and decided to move on to Kaza. We were in need of fuel and Kaza was the next town with a fuel station. The road to Kaza wasn't too bad and the ride was pretty smooth. It barely took 2 hours for us to reach Kaza.
We dropped our bags at a hotel near a petrol bunk and decided to take a tour of the market area inside down. An Indian Oil petrol bunk at Kaza was known to be the highest altitude petrol station in the world. We wanted to fill up our motorcycle tanks as the next available petrol station was Manali, for me, and Keylong for the german friends. We were told that fuel would arrive in the evening. So we had to wait.
We took a tour of the market area. Henry wanted a small video of the barber shaving his beard for him. I simply obliged and shot a video and some clicks on my cell phone. We were shocked at seeing the ATM. An SBI ATM, but no money in it. The 2nd such thing after what we saw at Phoo. We thanked our brains for suggesting us to carry enough money at Reckong Peo itself.
It was about to rain, so we decided to head back to the hotel and fuel our motorcycles. With tanks filled, I knew another fuel can wasn't required as I had only 200 kms to travel back to Manali. It was time for beer and some food.
Total distance covered - 50 kms.
Tabo - Kaza
Day 12 - August 26, 2014
As the day started, my german friends had to travel towards Keylong, about 190 kms or so, which was going to be tough for them. I bid adieu to them and saw them leave Kaza town at 7 AM. I decided to start by around 9 or so. I packed my luggage and was heading towards Manali. I took one wrong road and ended on the route towards Kibbar village. I got a beautiful view of the Key-Gompa monastery, another 1000 odd year old . As I was going to travel a longer distance, I decided to not go inside.
Some locals helped me with the road towards Losar, the next town enroute to Manali. I came back and got onto the correct route. The road towards Losar wasn't any easy and the route was getting back to tough from seeing good roads. The mountains were flowing back onto me. It was like an illusion.
Losar is a small and "sleepy" town. When I reached this place, there was hardly any activity. Except or a couple of shops, everything else was closed. I stepped into a small house type hotel and had some rice with dhal. After lunch, it was time to move on to Batal or Chhatru. I couldn't make up my mind. From losar, the road was going to be very tough. I had a small hunch that I was going to see a tough day ahead. It was about 1:30 in the afternoon and I had another 5 hours to go, but not enough time to reach Manali yet.
As I continued towards Kunzum Top or Kunzum Pass or Kunzum La, the route became tough. Reaching atop Kunzum La, I saw a bus and some vehicles, and a few people standing. I rode upto the top and only to see a small monastery and a closed building. I stayed there for a few minutes and continued towards Batal. This time the road was downstream. The road was full of mud, gravel and stones. I was always cautious of not getting hit by a "shooting stone", ones that roll down a mountain like a surprise. I had travelled to about 4500 mts above sea level.
The road towards Batal was really broken and the view of the mountains on the other side was breathtaking. I stopped at a junction that splits to chandartal lake onto the right. As the lake was about 12 kms inside, and I was heading towards Manali, I decided to go towards Batal. As I reached Batal, I was surprised to see my german friends at a dhaba. I stopped by to say hi to them and also have some chai. It was getting pretty cold and the time was already 3:00 PM.
As I was talking to Mick and Henry, a group of people entered the dhaba. A couple of people were talking in tamil. After a long gap of 12 days, I was listening to the sweet language. I began a conversation with them. They were part of a trekking group and I got to know that they were from Sivakasi. As I was talking to their son, I got to know that he too had studied at The Lawrence School, Lovedale, the same school I went to. I had a brief talk with him and it was almost 4:00 now. The german friends had left earlier as they were traveling further.
I bid adieu to my Lawrence School (10 years junior to me) friend and began riding towards Chhatru. Barely 500 metres away, I stumbled upon a few stones and lost control of the motorcycle. The weight was dropping onto my right side and I had to let the motorcycle go down. The two bags opened up and I had the biggest struggle of lifting the motorcycle and dropping it to the other side after getting the side stand open with my hands. I switched off the engine with the button meant for it.
As I got the bags tied to the motorcycle again and was ready to continue, the motorcycle did not start. I got scared for a moment as I was still 100 odd kms away from Manali and in the middle of nowhere, my motorcycle won't start. I saw a jeep approaching and I began to frantically wave my hands signalling them that I needed help. As they came close, I saw the button to the engine was switched off. I felt a little funny for a moment as I almost gave myself a big shock. Now that the jeep had approached, I didn't know what to do. I simply told them what happened, and took some water to drink.
I thanked them and began my ride towards Chhatru. I wanted to reach some place and "settle" down for the day as the ride was literally hard and this journey was too much of off-roading. There was more to come, as I was riding. There was a huge herd of sheep that I had to get past, and it was really tough to ride through them. I came across 2 water streams, one of them going downhill and taking a curve to the right. I was to ride into that. I did so, but with too many uneven stones inside the water, I almost lost balance again. I had to drop my feet into the water to gain balance. Finally, at 6:30, as scheduled, I reached Chhatru and found a small dhaba.
As I stepped into the dhaba, I met a bangalore based couple, who were on a one week ride fro Manali to Kaza and back. Their luggage was so much, they had hired tents and sleeping bags which was much more than their actual luggage, and on one motorcycle. I informed them about the water streams and the route ahead. We had a brief conversation and I helped them in pitching the tent. It was finally time for some beer and food. The dhaba owner had everything available. I stayed there for Rs. 100/- for that night. The owner gave me 6 blankets, 3 for the head to use as pillow and 3 to keep from the cold.
Totally travelled 130 kms in 7 hours.
Kaza - Losar - Batal - Chhatru
Day 13 and 14 - August 27 and 28, 2014
Except for the Chandra Baga river, there was no other sound I could hear. It was already 6:30 AM and I was getting ready to leave to Manali. The bangalore couple and I exchanged a few words, had tea and decided to pack up. I still have 70 kms to travel and the famous Rohtang pass was only 17 kms away. They had warned me about a couple of water streams that i had to ride through. Keeping that in mind, I began riding up hill. The ride was tough.
As I joined the Manali-Leh highway, I was stunned at the amount of truck traffic. It took me about 2 hours to reach Rohtang pass top. I met a couple of bangalore based riders on the way. They were heading to kanyakumari by motorcycle. I really couldn't spend time with them. I began riding down from Rohtang top to Manali, still 52 kms away.
After covering 15 kms downhill, I received the first phone call in 10 days. Remember, I had mentioned about no network connectivity after reaching Phoo. My sister was in a state of panic. There was too much of "drama" and people were literally wondering what had happened to me. As I spoke to my sister, I informed my brother and a couple of other friends, and then told them that i'll be available for full time phone calls in about an hour or two. The ride down was really tough as I struggled to ride against the army trucks. There was no support to the side of the road and I had to stop at many places.
I reached Manali at around 2 PM and checked into Johnson Lodge, a hotel in old manali.I got details of an NGO named RADHA and visited them to donate some of my old clothes that I had never worn during the journey. I met the lady who runs the home. I spent about 2 hours talking to them. They were self-financed and never took donations. I came back to Manali and then it was time for dinner and some beer. I stayed for a day extra at Manali.
Day 15 - August 29, 2014
I had a flight to bangalore on the 31st, so I decided to get back to chandigarh on the 29th in order to transport my motorcycle off to bangalore. As I started from Manali, it was already 9 AM. There was a lot of truck traffic and I reached Mandi at 12:30 PM. One Masala dosa costed me a hundred bucks, wow. I continued from there, riding continuously. It began raining in between and I saw more bikers traveling against my direction. I waved a hand to them and they waved back too. As I reached Chandigarh, it was almost 8 PM.
I woke up the next day morning and had to transport the motorcycle from the Blue Dart godown, the same place I got the motorcycle from. A whole day's rest with some food and beer and I was ready to fly back to bangalore on 31st, Sunday after a wonderful, challenging and mind blowing journey.
Hope to catch up with another journey, the ride across tamilnadu in 2013. Until then, happy reading.