Quest to Ladakh

24th May 2014
Photo of Quest to Ladakh 1/29 by Rajendra Prasad
Photo of Quest to Ladakh 2/29 by Rajendra Prasad
Day1- All set to roll
Photo of Quest to Ladakh 3/29 by Rajendra Prasad
Photo of Quest to Ladakh 4/29 by Rajendra Prasad
Waiting for fellow riders with Nishant & Manu
Photo of Quest to Ladakh 5/29 by Rajendra Prasad
With Anuj at Hoshiarpur before start of ride
Photo of Quest to Ladakh 6/29 by Rajendra Prasad
Lunch Time
Photo of Quest to Ladakh 7/29 by Rajendra Prasad
Photo of Quest to Ladakh 8/29 by Rajendra Prasad
Photo of Quest to Ladakh 9/29 by Rajendra Prasad
At Zoji La
Photo of Quest to Ladakh 10/29 by Rajendra Prasad
Photo of Quest to Ladakh 11/29 by Rajendra Prasad
Photo of Quest to Ladakh 12/29 by Rajendra Prasad
@ Kargil War Memorial
Photo of Quest to Ladakh 13/29 by Rajendra Prasad
Evening session at Kargil
Photo of Quest to Ladakh 14/29 by Rajendra Prasad
with Amit @Mulbekh Gompa
Photo of Quest to Ladakh 15/29 by Rajendra Prasad
Photo of Quest to Ladakh 16/29 by Rajendra Prasad
Photo of Quest to Ladakh 17/29 by Rajendra Prasad
Off-roading with Amit on his Xenon
Photo of Quest to Ladakh 18/29 by Rajendra Prasad
Gang at the Shanti Stupa, Leh
Photo of Quest to Ladakh 19/29 by Rajendra Prasad
Photo of Quest to Ladakh 20/29 by Rajendra Prasad
Sand dunes at Hundar, Nubra Valley
Photo of Quest to Ladakh 21/29 by Rajendra Prasad
at Chang La
Photo of Quest to Ladakh 22/29 by Rajendra Prasad
The Majestic Pangong Lake
Photo of Quest to Ladakh 23/29 by Rajendra Prasad
Photo of Quest to Ladakh 24/29 by Rajendra Prasad
Hemis Monastery
Photo of Quest to Ladakh 25/29 by Rajendra Prasad
Photo of Quest to Ladakh 26/29 by Rajendra Prasad
Photo of Quest to Ladakh 27/29 by Rajendra Prasad
Photo of Quest to Ladakh 28/29 by Rajendra Prasad
RB gang
Photo of Quest to Ladakh 29/29 by Rajendra Prasad
Royal Bikers at Pangong Lake

My Quest to Ladakh, May-June 2014

The impulse to travel is one of the hopeful symptoms of life.”

Very rightly quoted by the American writer Agnes Repplier which perhaps summarises my recent road trip to Ladakh- QUEST TO LADAKH 1.4, the best. We, in our routine life often forget that the essence of being happy is doing what we are longing to do. This road trip of mine was a long desired one & the very decision to join it was a selfish & impulsive one. It was so because I did not had a logical answer/explanation to these doubts popping up in my mind at that time, that - I was not going to see my beloved for 2 weeks & letting her to manage life/household on her own, turned down a family trip to Australia which my parents badly wanted me to join, I might end up being jobless for a longer time as I had to quit my current job to break-free, the risk of injuring myself on the trip would have had its own consequences & so on…And today, as I write my travelogue, I am full of pride that I had made the decision to venture out with my rider friends from Royal Bikers (RB) gang towards Leh-Ladakh - the Mecca of every RE rider. RB core team Manu, Amit, Varun & Nishant had put in commendable efforts to help me live my dream.

Though I wasn’t expecting any miracle to happen during /after the trip but was hopeful of getting to know a different perspective of life, which eventually I did. Not only that I was pleased to test myself in the extreme conditions & survive the toughest rides while getting along with 40 strangers.

The preparation for the ride was an exciting time. The group chat on Whatsapp had made all 40 riders aware about all necessary (& unnecessary) accessories, gears, dos & don’ts, importance of carrying ‘towels’, medicines and many more stuff. Every day a new topic was being discussed there where almost every rider participated. One fact that was being underlined through the discussions therein was that we all wanted to be best prepared for the ride & were over excited and raring to go.

The 14-day trip to paradise (initially planned for 15 days) started on 25th May’14 from the gates of KayTee Automobiles (KT) with the following (planned) itinerary:

Day0- May 24th- Assembling at Mahipalpur, Delhi;

Day1-25th- New Delhi - Hoshiarpur (440km);

Day2-26th: Hoshiarpur - Udhampur (245km);

Day3-27th: Udhampur - Srinagar (252km);

Day4-28th: Srinagar - Kargil (218km);

Day5-29th: Kargil – Leh (240km);

Day6-30th: Leh;

Day7-31st: Leh – Nubra (130km);

Day8-June 1st: Nubra – Leh (130km);

Day9-2nd: Leh - Tso Pangong (210km);

Day10-3rd: Tso Pangong - Tso Moriri (320km);

Day11-4th: Tso Moriri - Tso Kar (90km);

Day12-5th: Tso Kar – Jispa (220km);

Day13-6th: Jispa – Manali (140km);

Day14-7th: Manali – Bilaspur (180km);

Day15-8th: Bilaspur - New Delhi (390km)

However, there was a small change in the schedule. Unfortunately, the route had to be altered after Day9 as the Manali route had not opened for the motorcyclists till that time. Contrary to our expectations, the return journey was more eventful, full of incidents & adventure which brought the best out of us. Read on to know more.

Follow the link to view the Trip Album-

Day0 - Hello All! (24th June, Mahipalpur-Delhi) It was the day when all riders had assembled at the Modesty Palace Hotel, Mahipalpur for the briefing session. The introductory session started with Manu introducing the core members & informing all the riders about the key points for a safe ride, way of riding, dos & don’ts etc. One of the important rules of the ride was, that no one being allowed to ride under the influence of alcohol/drugs & it was clear from Day 0, to which everyone adhered with. It was an august gathering of all riders from various spheres of life & having one common thread binding everyone- Riding their RE machines to Ladakh! It was amazing to see the passion of the riders who had come down from various parts of the country including Chandigarh, Faridkot, Panipat, Gwalior, Varanasi, Mumbai, Nagpur, Baroda, Ranchi, Hyderabad & Vizag. There were a few who had bought their bike just to join this ride & some even had come on a ride for the very first time. I was not the only one there, some like me, had quit their current job to accomplish this dream ride. Hope they too had a backup option. I had met some of the riders Maneesh, Tarun, Anuj earlier during a warm-up/breakfast ride to Murthal & went on to be close buddies forming our ‘foursome’ group and having awesome time together. It was amazing to see the enthusiasm among the riders, be it the youngest rider of 23 years old or Shivaraju, who is just 50 years ‘young’. In fact he was one of the most active riders of the lot who is a trained para glider & avid trekker. The group had a good mix of professionals working in public & private sectors, govt employees, bank employees, engineers, defence personnel, railways employee, chefs, entrepreneurs etc. who were ready to shed the comfort of their respective air conditioned offices & face the gruelling conditions en route. Also, this ride was going to be a test of our patience, perseverance, ability to adapt & accept situations. It was Day0 & extraordinary events were expected to occur. Pardeep stuck his feet in his new RE boots & was helplessly reaching out to every rider as he was unable to off his shoes. Finally I & ‘Pahalwaan’ Varun had to put in all our strength to pull them out to bring him relief. Another rider Rahul who woke up that evening to discover that his bike was not functioning well & ‘missing’ beats was seen tensed as he was trying sort out the problem. He was directed to Kaytee workshop where the accompanying mechanic Rajinder managed to resolve the issue. ‘Missing’ Rahul appeared to be less than happy entire the ride as his bike was demanding some or other maintenance almost every day. To avoid such hassles fortunately RB had organised free check-up camps which most of us had availed to ensure that we have a trouble-free ride. Unfortunately riders who had missed attending the ride were the once who majorly faced issues. It was a basic duty of the rider to ensure that their machines are ride-fit & those who missed a thorough check-up, did it at their own peril. After the formal introductory round & exchanging pleasantries, riders had their dinner & were ready for the D-day when they kick-start the ride to Paradise. Four of us- Manu ‘sardaar’, Varun ‘pahalwaan’ Nishant ‘orange cap’ & myself went to KT to get the flex banners fixed on the back-up truck which was carrying the spares, our luggage, mechanic & lot more. It took some time to get that fixed after which we rushed back to be on our beds by 11.30pm as the wake-up call was at 4.30am & I did not want to be left back on first day itself.

Photo of Mahipalpur, New Delhi, Delhi, India by Rajendra Prasad

Day 1- Riders, Kick-start your machines (25th June, Delhi) Day1- All set to roll Got up before my alarm shouted…perhaps it was the excitement that did not let us sleep & we all were ready in our gears & luggage loaded on our bike/truck by 5am. We moved out from our hotel & assembled at KT to start our ride together. At the gates of KT, found another group of riders who had come to see-off a fellow rider. Felt good to see the brotherhood among riders. But the goodness feeling vanished when they began to ride with us. Few maniacs from that bunch who were riding like idiots, as if they own the road and bikes are meant to perform stunts & cheap show-offs. Thankfully, they accompanied us up to Murthal & then we were cruising on the highway on our own. It was a sight to watch. The caravan of our bikes spread over almost a kilometre were pumping our machines DUG DUG DUG…toward Hoshiarpur, our pit stop for the day. We had our breakfast stop at Zilmil Dhaba, Karnal where Sushil joined us. Salute to this guy who had decided to join the ride a couple of days back, borrowed the bike from his friend & came in without any gears (last one was kind of irresponsible act). After sumptuous parathas, chai & interactions between the riders for an hour over the breakfast we moved ahead. Manu & Varun were leading the troop while me, Varun ‘Spicy’ (coz he works at Spicejet) & Nishant (aka Orange Cap due to his distinct Orange colour helmet) were at the tail end ensuring that all riders are heading correctly towards the destination & that no one was being left out. A break after every hour’s ride was scheduled to replenish water/energy drinks & remain hydrated. Such breaks also allowed us to regroup as some of the riders were stopping by for some or other reason. Smaller incidents were bound to happen viz ‘Missing’ Rahul’s bike issues, punctures etc. were expected & thankfully the halts/pit stops were planned accordingly. An unfortunate event occurred while we were entering Haryana border when a Punjab Roadways bus tried to ride my bike & almost crushed both of us. Thankfully I managed to get off my bike as soon as I realised that I was hit, but my bike was damaged. Lying on the ground as I turned around to see my bike which was crumbled under the bus, I thought that my ride was over. However, thankfully the bus had stopped as soon as it hit my bike & its wheels spared both of us. Else someone would have been writing a blog mentioning me & my bike. I was shaken by the accident & tried to get up. Found that my bones were at the position where they should have been & could not see any blood. That gave me the confidence to scream at the driver to reverse his bus & get off my bike. As the bus reversed, I saw the digital console, silencer, leg guard, petrol tank & rear part of the bike severely damaged. Thankfully the tyre was spared. The leg guard & saddle bag (borrowed from my friend Vaibhav) took the load & saved my bike for being written off. Our back-up truck arrived the spot & RE mechanic Rajinder took control of the bike to make it ride worthy. As me & Nishant were shouting our lungs out at the idiot driver who was not ready to accept his mistake, some Manu & Varun joined us in a while. The driver made a mistake by trying to scare us by telling that he knows some ‘gundas’ in the region. All we had to do is make a distress call to get the entire gang (who were waiting ahead for a water break). Seeing the gang, the driver perhaps had pee’d in his pants & agreed to compensate for the damage, which was a negligible small amount compared to the loss incurred. But after an introspection later on, I thought it was necessary to teach him a lesson & it was the better way that to indulge in fight & hooliganism that we generally see in such road accident cases. The presence of ~40riders had turned the scenario completely & the power of one group had helped to resolve the issue quickly without even requiring to touch the driver. Thanks to every rider to have returned back for the support & especially Nishant, Varun & Manu for managing the situation so well. Felt good to be riding as one group. And was feeling better that I was wearing the riding jacket & trouser which protected my bones & saved me from a major injury. Once the issue was resolved I checked myself thoroughly for any pain/injury & found a bruise on my right knee which was manageable. Basis this experience, I requested all fellow riders to put one their riding gears & they had saved me for sure. Rajinder’s sincere efforts had ensured that my bike was moving in the best possible way & my beauty had started in the first kick itself. As it roared, I was assured that my ride was not over yet and we regrouped & moved ahead. En route we lost some riders who went off-track & waited till ‘Spicy’ Varun brought them back to the designated location where me Manu & Nishant were waiting for them. We had lunch at a Dhaba about 70 kms. away from Hoshiarpur. The ride was getting difficult after every hour even though we were riding in the plains as the scorching sun was testing every rider’s endurance levels & all were drenched in sweat. Thankfully the weather changed for good as we approached Hoshiarpur & brought us some relief. Finally we reached our hotel- Shiraz Regency, Hoshiarpur at 6pm & checked in to the allotted rooms. It was an eventful day & we had travelled ~450kms in the scorching heat, crossed several towns, agricultural fields along the highway & reached the pit stop safely without much damage. Evening time was free time for partying, chatting with fellow riders & getting our bikes fixed. I went out to look for a garage where my bike’s leg guard could be mended but returned back with dismay and hoped that it would be repaired at the next destination. I had also requested Amit, who was to leave Delhi next day (to join us in his SUV), to get a new Meter console for my bike which he happily agreed & obliged. Chankey, the most active rider on the Whatsapp group had joined us at the hotel & was quite opposite his perceived imagery and kept us wondering if he was the same guy who used to be a super active on the Whatsapp group chat. The evening went discussing days experience with fellow riders over dinner & planning for next day.

Photo of Delhi, India by Rajendra Prasad

Day 2 & 3 – Ready for hills (26th June, Hoshiarpur); Distance Covered ~440kms Sardaar Manu was particular about the departure time & instruction was clearly written on the wall the very first day – if any rider was late, no one would wait for him & he had to reach the destination on his own. Perhaps this dictat ensured that everyone was geared up & present at the restaurant by 7am for breakfast. After getting the luggage & bags packed, we clicked some pics before setting off for Udhampur (J&K). Getting our bulls refueled was important to ensure that we don’t stop midway & waste time there, so everyone got theirs refueled every morning. The excitement in every rider was evident through the gleam in their eyes & the never-say-die attitude kept them going irrespective of the hot & humid weather conditions. All they wanted was to ride on the highest mountable road – Khardung La & cherish that feat lifelong. It was a majestic view when our entourage of REs went roaring on the National Highway. Some vehicles stopped by to give way to the gang & salute our spirit. Wherever we stopped for water/food break, localities used to get curious about us & kept inquiring about the purpose of the ride. Knowing about our passion, some appreciated, praised our courage and some even told we were nuts to get on this road journey. A puncture repair mechanic even offered free services to us in once instance. Perhaps he was one of the few who would have understood why we were there & respected that. And this respect was earned by every rider who ventured out to fulfill his dream, braving all hardships. While having out lunch at a Dhaba, around 80kms away from our destination, I met Mr Faryaaz, a RE showroom owner from Srinagar, who was delighted to see our gang & invited us to come over to his workshop. The events of punctures & smaller problems continued as we were about to leave after lunch when Jai’s bike had a flat tyre. I reached out for the portable air pump that was kept in my saddle bag & discovered that it was damaged in the previous day’s incident. Another loss added to the list. Thanks again to the backup truck where spare tyre was kept to keep our wheels rolling and his punctured tyre was replaced with a spare tyre which enabled us to leave the place sooner. We opted for a short-cut route to reach Udhampur faster which took us on the testing ‘track’ for the very first time. It was the start of the hills & at places it was pure off-roading track which I enjoyed thoroughly. It was then when I realized that there were some more damages in my machine when it kept off-balancing on the broken roads. Not only that, the damaged chain cover broke & got stuck between the chain & chassis area, producing a dreadful noise. Thanks to Spicy Varun & Nishant who noticed the same & we had to stop to rectify the problem. I had to get my hands dirty with to remove the broken part which was stuck there. In the process, I went off-balance & my left hand accidentally touched the silencer which was not less than a furnace at that point. This mishap burnt my little finger and added to my agony. Unfortunately none of us were carrying ‘Burnol’ in our personal first aid boxes that time so tried a ‘desi’ remedy- applied ‘Colgate’ toothpaste on the affected area. Guess the remedy had worked as I was felt relieved after applying it around the burnt area. Unfortunately I was unable to wear my glove and that had made my ride difficult, as the heat from sun rays & hot smoke emitted by passing vehicles were adding to the burning sensation. Also the opted route with several potholes & severely damaged resulted in taking more time than the regular long route. It was testing indeed as few riders had tasted the dust while falling off their bikes & most of us got a first-hand experience to set our expectation on the road ahead. It was a relief to enter Udhampur city after a 50km torturous ride & we checked into Dolphin Hotel around 6pm after a drive of ~240 kms. Getting a bath to rub off the dirt & sweat was the first thing we did & then gathered at room of the lively mates from Mumbai, discussing each other’s experience & forecasting how torturous our ride was going to be at the Passes en route. As glasses were filled with coloured water, music & dance went beyond acceptable limits. So ‘Sardaar’ had to intervene in his way which had annoyed a few. Perhaps it was the first instance which shook some of the riders & importance of being in limits & enjoying without disturbing other was underlined. Over dinner came across a unique food item- ‘Fish Paneer’ which was surprisingly a vegetarian item & we all were inquisitive to know more about this one. We couldn’t stop laughing to know that it was Paneer cut in the shape of a fish & hence named so. Perhaps the chef in our gang, Mrinmoy & Sunil were stunned more than anyone else after learning this secret recipe. Chats & strategies continued at the dinner table & bonding grew stronger between the riders which was a welcome move. The plan for next day was intimated to all with a caution that it was going to get tougher thereon and every one was happily looking forward for the tougher ride ahead. Day3- Passport to Srinagar (27th May, Hoshiarpur); Distance Covered ~685 kms. We all were excited for many reasons, primarily that we won’t have to bear the heat anymore as we were going to cruise at a higher altitude and my reason was that I will be riding between the hills to reach Srinagar- the city which is one of the most beautiful places in the world & that I always wanted to visit to. I applied medicines & bandage around my burnt finger to be able to ride on with a gloves which was important for a better grip & control. Initially it was painful to put on & take off my gloves, but off late, I got used to it & focused on enjoying the curves of the hills. Riding through the hills always gave me a different kick & pulls me to join a ride. For many riders it was their maiden ride through the curves and everyone seemed enjoying it. After setting out early at 7am we took our breakfast halt after crossing Patnitop around 70kms away from Udhampur. Unfortunately the dhaba was short of resources to feed all of us at one go so our back-up truck driver- Hasmukh, displayed his culinary skills by making Parathas for most of us, which surely sorted the confusion & helped us to leave the place early. The road to Srinagar on NH1A was well made & glimpse of snow-capped peaks made it more appealing. We kept clicking the hills, majestic roads & effusive river as & when we stopped for our hourly breaks. By now, most of us had formed smaller groups with like-minded fellow riders, though we remained a part of the larger group during the ride. I was travelling with Maneesh aka ‘Shahrukh/Jwala’, Tarun aka ‘Beauty’ & his brother Anuj, the Air Force engineer. We crossed the famous 2.8 kms long Jawahar Tunnel around afternoon and cheered throughout the tunnel, enjoying the echoing sound of our machines & also clicked some snaps inside (not knowing it was prohibited). As we came out the tunnel gang was waiting at the point known as ‘Titanic View point’ where we clicked some more pics & felt good to get a 360degree view of snow-capped mountains. Also came to know about Spicy Varun’s fall just outside the tunnel which was not serious and again his leg guard had saved his bike while the riding gear saved his skin & bones. We had our lunch at the Dhaba where I had left my sling bag containing my wallet, ID documents & other important stuff. Moreover I discovered it after driving for 40 kms just before entering Srinagar. In a jiffy I tried reaching all possible riders who were behind me. Thankfully came to know through Nishant that Amit had picked the bag when he had stopped at same dhaba for lunch. I thanked god & considered myself fortunate enough to get away with this unwanted trouble. At that point I felt that Amit had saved my trip from getting ruined & breathed a sigh of relief. Before entering Srinagar, I was sure that my bike needed immediate repair & had coordinated with Mr Faryaaz at Srinagar to arrange for aligning my rear wheel. I was 30 kms away from the city & had to reach within 30mins at his workshop in the city to get the problem sorted. Mr Faryaaz happily agreed to keep his shop open by an hour beyond his daily working hours just to help me out. We reached Srinagar & assembled at Tourist Reception Centre (TRC). We all were stunned by the hostile treatment of some of the localites present there, when they started hurling abusive & offensive words at us & shouting- ‘40 Indians have entered into Pakistan on their bikes’ and instigating us by doing stupid things to create a rift. We got a hang of the prevalent unreceptive conditions so kept our cool and kept ignoring them. I along with Tarun headed towards the RE workshop & got my bike fixed & some more damaged parts were repaired. While coming back me & Tarun were some more lunatics tried to stop us mid way but we managed to avoid confronting them & headed towards our hotel. The very image of a beautiful Srinagar in my mind, with equally beautiful people, was dented & me along with other fellow riders were feeling unsecured in the city. This was an different & unexpected experience altogether which we wish to forget. In the evening we were taken to Nagin Lake area where a sumptuous dinner was arranged & we enjoyed Kashmiri cuisine at its best. We also got on to the Shikara for a short ride around the lake & regretted for not being able to stay in a house boat. It was getting cooler by night & our drive back to hotel our first tryst with spine chilling cold. Also most of us were not expecting the sharp drop in the temperature & were not dressed adequately for the same. However the day ended with a mixed experience of great picturesque hills & valley of Kashmir & some unpleasant incidents which I wish to forget & forgive, to keep my journey through the valley a memorable one.

Photo of Hoshiarpur, Punjab, India by Rajendra Prasad

Day4- Passing by the reclaimed hills (28th May- Srinagar); Distance Covered ~ 945kms Every morning we all were excited about the upcoming ride & braced ourselves to be ready for the new challenges that we were expecting during the ride. This morning we all were excited to leave our mark on the infamous Zoji La (pass) which is the 2nd highest pass on the Srinagar- Leh NH 1A road. The 9 km pass is located at a height of 11575 ft. above sea level and was going to be our first tryst with dusty roads, deadly pot holes, streams & iced roads with snow walled passages. We were asked to put on the thermal lining in our biking jackets & pants and I was looking forward to get on the pass as quickly as possible. As we left Srinagar for Kargil, on the Srinagar-Ladakh Highway (NH 1D), we crossed Sonmarg & other beautiful smaller towns- Ganderbal, Kangan, Gund etc where the green valley greeted us with warmth. We took the liberty to take numerous breaks as we did not want to miss to capture the scenic valley in our cameras. River with strong water currents flowing beside the highway, snow on the mountains nearby, cotton-like clouds in the blue sky combined with a bright sun made it the perfect start for the ride & tempted us to click pictures after every 10 kms ride. However we resisted that & kept moving with the gang. The real test of the riders was we had approached Zoji La. The initial phase had dust and potholes & then there were 2-3 feet deep holes, no roads, mud & slush, snow alongside, water logged stretches, light stream of water from the melting snow and much more making it the perfect off-road strip and our first ride on such strip a memorable one. There was a huge traffic which was delaying our pace & at times forcing us to find our way between the trucks & ride along the edge of the hills which was fascinating & thrilling too. Some riders fell, got stuck but no one was hurt while passing this stretch. During our halt atop the pass for a photo opportunity, a slump of ice dripped down the mountain & fell on a rider’s bike which was parked behind mine. It appeared as if a bucket full of elephant’s ‘shot’ was poured on his bike’s meter console. We all laughed in a unison on being told it was Chankey’s. We then rushed to help him clean it & avoid causing any damage to his bike due to this. As we moved ahead the torturous road continued till Drass testing our patience & endurance. After crossing the Pass, we halted at a small Dhaba about 15 kms away from Drass for lunch and found that every rider’ s attire & bike was covered in dust due to the terrible road conditions at the Pass. I was happy to teach the dhaba owner how to cook & serve scrambled egg with Maggi & we gulped a plate each with Frooti. The small dhaba was not equipped to feed everyone at one go, so we waited patiently for food & shared our ride’s experience. As we left toward Drass, I found my rear break not working at all which was a scary development to happen in that terrain. I tried all my luck & means to bring my bike to a halt in the first instance. Thankfully I was accompanied by my ‘foursome’ gang who kept driving with me at a slow pace to give me company & help me reaching Kargil safely. Thankfully the 70 km stretch from Drass to Kargil was smooth sans any pot holes. It was a pleasurable drive which would have been an enchanting one if the rear brake was working fine. At that point of time I had a real test of my biking skills while riding up & down hill, especially around the curves & turns, sans my rear brake. Initially I thought reaching Kargil was almost impossible that day but with support of fellow mates & my determination to not to quit & take on the challenge to reach the destination safely, took me home. I was confident of managing the bike by the time I drove it for around 20 kms. We did not stop at Drass for tea/coffee as we were already late due to my slow speed. BTW Drass is the 2nd coldest inhabited place in the world & is the gateway to Ladakh, located at an altitude of ~11000ft. and is a beautiful town that is worth pondering. About 10 kms away is the Kargil War Memorial which we visited and it refreshed our history & updated my knowledge about the Kargil war. The memorial had the names of all martyrs engraved on the wall of fame & the small museum therein was helpful to aware the visitors about the fight & how Indian defence forces collectively kicked the Pakistani intruders away in 1999. Felt more secure how conveniently we are enjoying our lives because of our brothers are guarding the borders braving adverse conditions. Felt proud of our defence forces & wished to contribute someday as they do. Fellow rider Samir, who proudly flies the fighter aircraft Mirage while working with the Air Force took us through the features of the MIG 21 which was stationed at the memorial. It was an informative session by Samir & Anuj (both from Air Force) to know how we kicked Pakistan out of our soil last time. Thankfully we had stopped at this historic point to know about the war and pay our homage to the real Heros- our defence forces. After the hour long stay & photo shoot we headed towards Kargil & enjoyed the ride between the scenic valley. Need to mention Border Road Organisation’s superb job for up keeping the road in the best way & enabling us to sail through them with ease. We reached Kargil at around 6.30 & checked in at Hotel D’ Zojila. While checking-in, came to know about Pahalwan Varun’s mishap which had injured him & thankfully it was a manageable situation. After basic first aid & medicines, he felt better & it brought a relief to all of us who were concerned about the lead rider. The weather was getting cooler & we were waiting eagerly for the back-up truck to arrive to be able to get the warm clothes out of our bags. Finally it arrived after a delay of 2 hours as it was stuck in the traffic at Zoji La. I had informed the Rajinder (support mechanic) about the issue & was assured that it will be done next day in the early hours. The evening was fun time with every one meeting in small groups & discussing the day’s incidents & experience with each other and discussing preparations for the next day’s ride over Hooka, smoke & cheering glasses. The camaraderie between the riders was becoming stronger after travelling every kilometre together and sharing, listening to each other’s stories every evening. It was an end of another eventful day with a ride through the spectacular valley, pass & roads and preparing us for the tougher days coming our way.

Photo of Srinagar by Rajendra Prasad

Day 5 & 6- Getting Leh’ed (29th May- Kargil) Distance Covered ~ 1163kms Next day, had to wake up early to get hold of Rajinder to repair the malfunctioned rear brake. Realised that 5am was too early for him to get into action so I did some exercises & ran around 2-3kms on the hilly highway enjoying the spectacular view of the river flowing beside Kargil city. He started working on my bike at around 7am & found that I the brake fluid had drained out after the accident and had caused this issue. It was a tough job to find the fluid at that point of time as the shops open only after 10am in the small city and we didn’t want to waste our time waiting for them to open. So I went places to get some help but returned empty handed. In the meanwhile had asked all riders to move ahead & not waste time by delaying the start of day’s ride. Amit & the back-up vehicle had stayed back to help me out. Hasmukh, our truck driver came out with a few bottles of spare lubricants stored for his truck & fortunately one of them was bottle of brake oil. That brought a big relief to us as it meant my bike would be running in few minutes. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen that way. Rajinder kept pumping the rear disk brake which wasn’t able to produce the required amount of vaccum for its functioning. Even after trying for an hour, there was no light of success & Amit suggested to get my bike loaded onto the truck and let Rajinder carry on the repair work as the truck moved towards Leh, the day’s destination. It meant that I won’t be able to ride it & enjoy the drive through the hills. Since we did not have a better alternative, I agreed & loaded it onto the truck. Felt abysmally low to see my bike on the truck & hoped that the problem was resolved before the next halt. I got on Amit’s car with high hopes that I will be on my bike at the upcoming scheduled stop, which again did not happen. We stopped at Mulbekh Gompa (monastery) located 45kms away from Kargil where the 9 mtr. Tall Maitreya Buddha’s statue is carved out on a large rock overlooking the highway. As we reached there, the trio of Maneesh, Anuj & Tarun were waiting for me to join them. As they came to know about my bike’s condition, they happily offered me to carry as a pillion on their bikes as they knew missing the bike ride in such a scenic location was depressing. It felt better to have made buddies with such good souls but had to turn down their offer & got onto Amit’s car hoping that my bike would be ready soon as Rajinder was continuously working to mend it. As I left Mulbekh in Amit’s car after clicking some snaps there, we saw some off roading opportunity. Amit, an avid adventurer, rider & much more was kind to seek my opinion before setting off for the adventurous ride. I realised that I had to make the most of the options available to me at that point so happily agreed to Amit’s off-raoding adventure plan & thankfully I did so, else would have missed an experience of my lifetime. His car- Tata Xenon, a 4x4 beast which got on to the hills easily and made the trip a real adventure one. From getting on top of the hills, following unchartered routes to making new short cut roads to reach the other end of the hill, we didn’t let-go any off-roading opportunity and with every such stint, our hunger for getting on the adventurous track grew exponentially. A big thanks to Amit for the off-roading trip of my life. We clicked photos, shot videos & did every crazy stuff in the secluded hills and was delighted to be in the car that day. Surely did not miss riding at the point of time. Enroute, we halted at Fotula Top (13479 feet), the highest point on the Srinagar-Leh road and tried to capture the scenic hills in my camera through numerous clicks. The road was well built, curvy & risky at times, treat for every traveller passing the valley with evident change in the color of hills. Through the day’s drive noticed the change in color of the hills which was dusty as we left Kargil, then turned brown, followed by a shade resembling purple, then red, green and finally white, i.e. snow. It was altogether a different avatar of Mother Nature which one has to witness to believe & relish. We were fortunate enough to ride through the hills & made the most of it. We had our lunch as we stopped at Lamayuru, which the small town 127 away from Leh and is the address for the oldest & one of the biggest monasteries in the Ladakh region. The food in the region is worth mentioning. Simple, delicious & fulfilling are perhaps the best words to describe it. Had lunch at a road side dhaba (Zambala Restaurant) which claimed to serve Chinese, Italian, Tandoori & Indian food. After lunch I was inquisitive about the progress of the repair and kept nudging & pleading the mechanic to be able to ride even it was 50kms away. We headed towards Leh & kept exploring the virgin routes & kept passers-by guessing of what we were up to. In fact a tourist stopped us & asked what we were trying to do atop the Magnetic Hills to which I happily replied- ‘Off-roading at its best’. Magnetic hills took me by surprise when I found that an external force was pulling our car backwards when the car was left in neutral. Had seen several videos on this but experiencing it there was a different feeling altogether. We also offered our prayers at Gurudwara Pathar Sahib located around 20kms away from Leh and had tea & snacks Langar there. Finally we reached Leh at around 5pm & headed for the Tata workshop to get a suspected problem in the car checked. The workshop at Chomlangsar, about 10 kms from Leh had shut down by then and we then we we headed towards our hotel. We were slated to stay in a cozy guest house – Paul’s Guest House, which initially appeared quite small but was one of the better places that we had stayed. The location of the hotel, homely atmosphere and above home cooked food by the owner made our stay a memorable one. As we all settled after having a delicious Kashmiri meal, I kept enquiring about the chances of getting the bike’s brake issue being resolved & also started exploring for alternate options. Post dinner, we all sat in smaller groups & continued our stories & plans for next day, which was a free day to get acclimatised & explore the city. We decided to get up later than our regular wake-up time & take it easy next morning. Next day (30th May, Day 6) I woke up at 6.30am & went out to lookout for Rajinder who was equally frustrated for not being able to fix the brake, but was determined to fix it at the earliest. Since he wanted to sleep for another 30 mins so I set off for a run & explore the beautiful Tibetian town. After running for a couple of kilometres & running out of breath, I headed back to him & we started our pursuit to fix the brake. I spoke with few bike shops (who lend out RE to visitors about the problem) & they happily agreed to help, but only after 10am. I did not miss the chance to enjoy a cup of tea with freshly baked croissant from the German bakery outside our hotel with Varun, Amit & his brother-in-law, who had joined us that morning. After our breakfast, I went back to the parking area where my bike was being worked upon and was told about the miracle- that the problem was fixed & I was ready to ride on my bike. It brought a big relief to Rajinder who was trying to fix it for last 24 hours. I happily set out for exploring the city with fellow riders and had roped in Kamal Thakur who was well abreast with the city & its history. We covered quite a few places including Shanti Stupa, Hall of Fame (War memorial) where we revisited the Kargil battle stories in detail, watched videos/illustrations to enrich our knowledge about the historic battle, Spituk Monastery overlooking the Airforce runway, Indus viewpoint, Shey Palace, Thiksay Monsatery, Druk White Lotus School also famous as Rancho school from the blockbuster movie- 3 Idiots. We did not leave any opportunity to capture the historic monuments and also kept clicking on the go as we had decided to take pillion riders for the city tour & save some fuel too. While coming back we braved rain, dust storm and almost were being carried away by the strong winds. We managed to ride back safely & as planned, spent the evening shopping for Tibetian antiques, jewellery for my beloved, Prayer flags for friends and Leh’s special embroidered T-shirts for myself. In the evening all riders gathered over drinks in their private space & then collectively at dinner which was finger licking good. Everyone was equally excited & thrilled for the next day’s ride to Nubra valley through Khardung La, the highest motorable road in the world. Manu shared the next day’s plan along with precautionary guidelines. We bid good night little earlier that night, as we had to get up & leave early next morning.

Photo of Kargil by Rajendra Prasad

Day 7- Testing La (31st May- Leh) Distance Covered ~1463kms It had been a week since we left our home, office, beloved families, and unwanted stressed situations at work to live our dream in the lap of Himalayas. And this day was very crucial in the entire itinerary, as we were slated to cross the highest motorable road in the world- Khardung La, situated at an altitude of 18380 ft to reach our destination of the day- Nubra Valley. The valley was located around 150kms away in the north-east region of Ladakh. Though there is an ambiguity on Khardung La being considered the highest motorable pass, but nothing has been proven yet, so we were more than happy to take it as the highest one. We all were looking forward for this day not just to add a feather on our helmets but to test how strong we were as a rider. As we set off after having a light breakfast & hearing the stories of last year’s ride where riders got stuck in the snow storm, we hoped for a safe & memorable ride. Experienced riders in our group had instilled the confidence among many newbies enabling them to ride ahead without fear. After crossing South Pullu check point the road becomes less motorable & more dangerous with presence of loose rock, gravel, snow, mud, slush etc., all ingredients to make it the even more dangerous than any other pass in the region. The BRO was at work to upkeep the ~40km stretch, but the climatic conditions kept damaging it frequently, making it the most difficult terrain to conquer. From that point to Khardung La Top we had to ensure that we did not take frequent breaks dur to the low oxygen level in the atmosphere making us prone to fall prey of High Altitude sickness. Unfortunately, our Varun (pehalwan) was the first one to fall sick. After riding barely 2km from South Pullu he experienced breathlessness, head ache & felt sleepy, all being the symptoms of the illness, and was unable to ride further. Oxygen puff was given to him from the portable cylinder that Manu was carrying for the entire group. His bike was taken back to the check post to be parked at the military camp & he got into Amit’s car. Other riders were asked to cross the stretch as it was not safe to be waiting there. We kept moving towards the top which was around 9kms & it took us almost >30 mins to reach there. It was a moment of achievement for me & many others to have braved all extreme conditions & reached the Khardung La top. We halted briefly at the top for the feeling of this achievement to sink in & also for the photo opportunity which eventually would be the certificate of our achievement and a important memorabilia to remind us of our feat throughout our lives. Our brief halt was getting longer as Varun’s health had detoriated & he needed to be taken to the Army Medical camp there where his oxygen level was found to be ~42%, which was way lower than the normal limits. After restoring his oxygen levels we set off towards Nubra Valley & had to cross the remaining 8-9 kms stretch till North Pullu where the torturous pass ended. Keeping a count of the remaining kilometres to North Pullu, I kept myself motivated & tried to reach there as quickly & safely as possible. Needless to say the weather was freezing & my fingers had become senseless making it difficult to drive. However the view of the pass was worth the sweat/cold. Where ever I could set my eyes, it was snow covered mountain with small streak of roads covered with snow, gravel, rock & sludge. It was fun driving through the stretch as it was a maiden experience for me & I enjoyed it thoroughly. After reaching the north post, I breathed a sigh of relief & felt better also because I saw my foursome gang mates waiting for me there. Also I had started feeling uncomfortable as I headed towards Nubra. Realising that most of the fellow riders had already advanced ahead, we decided move quick to catch up with them. Unfortunately, the illness caught Anuj & me too as we moved ahead. Anuj’s condition was not good as he was vomiting along with showing other symptoms of the illness, while I was experiencing a terrible headache which was shutting my eyes, to get some relief. I tried to keep myself awake & not pay heed to the pain and ride as quickly as possible. Meanwhile Anuj’s health was getting bad. We stopped at a small restaurant about 20 kms away from the north post where our lunch was arranged. It was quite late for lunch & weather was freezing cold. We were told that as we moved downhill towards Nubra which was comparatively at a lower altitude, we would start feeling better. At that point of time we were hungry & the simple yet delicious buffet lunch was tempting. We tried to have it quickly & leave the place. The intensity of the headache was increasing & making me impatient. Before leaving on Amit’s insistence I & Anuj took some puffs from the oxygen cylinder and it was a great relief for me at least as it pumped enough energy into me to be able to complete my ride without much difficulty. I kicked my bike & kept riding non-stop till I reached Nubra Valley. Unfortunately I was unable to stop for rest of my gang members as I wanted to cover maximum distance before my regained energy fizzed out. About 30kms before Nubra, we braved a dust storm & it was a sight to watch. A straight, long stretch of road with sand on both sides & other end not being visible, which was leading us to towards the other hill. Thankfully the storm was not strong & lived a short life. I managed to catch up with Mrinmoy, Ebrahim & others fellow riders from Mumbai and reached Hunder in Nubra valley directly. The drive to Hunder will be a memorable one as we had to cross a long stretch of road between the desert, curvy streaks on the hills overlooking the sand dunes, steep rocky mountains, snow covered hills at a distance, clear blue sky making it a picture perfect drive. I felt happy again to have chosen a Thunderbird 500cc RE to drive through this route as I saw other bikes (non RE) struggling to cross it while I zoomed past them with ease. Our stay was fixed at Royal Camps, a beautiful camp site with water stream flowing within the camp area and the camps were extremely comfortable. As feared the energy/relief received after the oxygen puffs fizzed out as soon as I reached the camp & I hit the bed after taking medicines. Felt absolutely fine after resting for couple of hours. However had to miss the visit to the sand dunes & camel ride there, which other riders had been to & enjoyed their time there. Also came to know that Anuj, Varun & Uncleji (manager of bike servicing) had to visit the Army Hospital for the treatment & were feeling better after being treated there. The doctors also informed them that their situation had detoriated because they had stayed there more that the prescribed time period of 15-20 mins resulting in low level of oxygen in the body. Also they did not drink enough water to replenish the oxygen levels. In the evening, we gathered at the Camp fire area which was quite cozy & comfortable to continue our chatting & sharing the day’s experience. The discussion went on long as more & more riders joined in to share their feedback & experience. A delicious dinner at the end of a tiring day was all we wanted & enjoyed every bite of it. Over dinner all riders were reiterated about the dos & donts to avoid any further casualty during the next day’s return trip to Leh. Also the chances & confirmation of our trip via Manali, which was not open yet, was being asked by many. Post the never ending discussions on the next day’s return plan, we all departed to rest in our beds. Our gang of four who had missed the trip to the sand dunes had decided to move out early before breakfast to visit the same.

Photo of Khardung La Road, Leh by Rajendra Prasad

Day 8, Jaldi chaLA to Leh (1st June’14- Hundar,Nubra) Distance Covered ~1600 kms Next morning as decided, four of us had set out early to visit the dunes which was an enchanting sight. I was fortunate enough to see the green bushes, white sand dunes, brown mountains, snow-capped peaks all in one frame & were delighted to be there. We got our bikes on the dunes & clicked some pictures there before returning to the camp for breakfast. On reaching back found that everyone was ready on their bikes to move out & so we skipped our breakfast and moved out with the gang. The fear of falling prey to the Altitude sickness shook many riders & heard that many riders having taken Diamox tablet to pass the Khardung La test. I ensured that I stayed hydrated & stopped every 30 minutes to drink water and also wanted to cross the Pass at the earliest. It worked and I was absolutely fine at the top. While riding to the top of the Pass, light snow drizzle made it a tougher ride and also a memorable one. I made a brief halt at the top to enjoy the beautiful place again without any fear & panic this time and clicked some more pics and also bought a T-shirt as a momento from the Army store there. Then we quickly had set out towards the South Pullu post and had our breakfast - Maggi & juice which was very much required at that point of time. Since we had started quite early, we reached Leh by 2pm and had the remaining day at our helm to shop, eat & do whatever we wanted to. Around late afternoon, we set out looking a German bakery which was visited by Amit, Manu, Nishant & others last year. Finally we got it & had some delicious food there & the chit-chat over food made it a good hour spent. We also checked out another Tibetan market & brought some more stuff for home. Also shopped for few more customised t-shirts which were the best souvenir for a rider to carry back. We also tried the momo’s at a small but busy restaurant while enjoying the IPL final match. Then we headed towards our hotel & gathered at the dining area where everyone was called to sort out the difference among the riders. All erratic riders were cautioned & riding rules were reiterated to ensure it was followed by all. Post dinner we watched the decisive last few over of the IPL match which KKR won & then headed towards our rooms to hit the bed.

Photo of Nubra Valley by Rajendra Prasad

Day 9, The Majestic Lake after yet another La (2nd June, Leh); Distance Covered ~1730kms It was the day when we had to test ourselves & our machines again as we commenced our journey towards the majestic Pangong Tso (Lake). To reach there we had to cross Chang La another deadly pass located at an altitude of 17590 ft and is also the 3rd highest motorable road in the world. One of the driving factors was our hunger to see many more scenic locales & this hunger helped us to achieve one feat after another. We wanted to leave early, again as always, and this time there was more genuine reason, that the best time to visit the lake is before 3pm. So the entourage kicked their machines & went roaring as they left Leh. We four tried to stay together and took smaller breaks to stay hydrated & not miss any photo opportunity. Enroute the 240 kms drive through the hills, we passed several small towns, army posts & numerous stupas which characterise the region. The 10 km stretch of Chang La was as expected to test our skills again with similar characteristics as that of the previous passes -mud, pot holes passages covered with snow, water melting from snow resulting in formation of streams & mud slush… the perfect ingredient for an off-roading track. We slipped, skidded, fell but managed to surpass it without much damage. In fact our ride to Khardung La had made us a seasoned rider to over such challenges by now. At the Chang La top, we gathered for a group photo & no one wanted to leave the opportunity to climb atop the milestone rock, resulting in a chaotic situation there. At the top, there is a Chang La Baba temple (which we did not visit) & small eatery joints where we preferred not to eat to save ourselves from the altitude sickness. So after halting there briefly, we left & headed towards the lake. I had met my rider friend KK again at the Top who was returning to Leh after visiting the lake. The roads were well maintained post Tangste, a small town enroute and we tried to speed our way to reach there at the earliest.. Though we couldn’t ride fast enough as sand, gravels prevented us from riding at a higher speed. We were aware that we had visited the region which a local Ladakhi saying describes as the land being so barren & passes being so high that only the best of friends & fiercest of enemies would visit them. Another saying describes the region as the only place where one can suffer frost bite & heat stroke at the same time. That’s the characteristics of the region & makes it dangerously unique. At Tangste, all of us were very hungry & waiting for the food stop. Unfortunately we could not find a eatery there & time was also running out. Nishant went into the village to check out ofr the same & fortunately found out one. But at the point it was already about 1.30 pm and were were about 1 hour away from the lake. Having food there meant that we would have missed the best time to be at the lake. So through a poll we decided to keep moving and stop at the lake where food options were available in plenty. We rode for another 45 mins to a point where we got a first glimpse of the lake & were delighted to see the beautiful blue lake surrounded by the mountains. Finally we reached at the lake front where we had parked our bikes to enjoy the beauty of the scenic location. Wanted to thank the Army & BRO to have maintained the roads so well that enabled us to reach all destinations safely, in one piece. We headed towards the restaurant where Maggi was ordered for all & for the first time in I life I saw 50 maggi packets being cooked in one vessel. It took no time to gulp down our bowl of maggi post which we rushed towards the lake front with our bike for capturing memories. Almost every one cried ‘meri lo’ ‘meri le lo’ while asking fellow riders to posing for the camera at the lake front. The reflection of the snow-capped mountains on the lake water make it the most mesmerising sight & I was left awestruck by its beauty. The color of water changed frequently from white at the shores to green, turquoise & many shaded of blue keeping everyone guessing the secret behind it. The water was pristine & clear making it a pleasant sight to see the rocks beneath. Also need to mention the Brown-headed Gulls which playfully move around the lake. It was a delight to watch them as they swam in the lake & fly all around in a group. I saw a reflection of all these free birds in my fellow riders who were equally happy to be there & living in a worry-free environment. Then we headed towards the camp- Redstart at Spangmik which was 5kms away from that point. The Swiss tents at the camp was warm & cozy, with comfortable beds & attached toilets and also it was closer to the lake, thus making the stay a memorable experience. After settling in our camps we did not wish to remove our biking gears as temperature was dipping sharply. Though after much reluctance we got off our gears & put on the heavy winter war and in the evening we headed towards the dining area where, as usual, shared our day’s experience and had unlimited fun. The innocent & stupid jokes, incidents over the cup of coffee, hooka & drinks took away the entire day’s fatigue and recharges us with fresh dose of energy. Perhaps this sharing & laughing activity should be a mandatory act that we all should indulge into as it not only de-stresses us but also makes us realize the importance of living worry-free, even though it’s short-lived. As dinner was served, more riders joined the party & plans for next day’s return ride to Leh was charted. The amount of petrol left in the bike’s tank was also worrying some of the 500cc riders as we had travelled almost 250 kms during the day & there was no petrol pump for the next 200 kms. RB team enquired & found out that fuel was being sold in ‘black’ enroute & it was out only option to refuel out bikes if required, and ride worry-free next day. Everyone was equally anxious on the update of Manali route being open and kept fingers crossed when Manu & Amit informed that the call on taking that route would be taken the next day after reaching Leh. We all were praying for the route to open else we would had to start our journey back from Leh through the same route and also meant that we would be missing the remaining destinations- Tso Kar, Tso Moriri, Sarchu, Keylong & Manali. As we went to retire in our camps another round of discussion between four of us and fellow rider Ranga started in my camp which I was sharing with Jwala (Maneesh). We decided to leave early towards the point where the climax of the movie- “3 Idiots’ was shot. The camp staff had provided a hot water bag to be placed below our feet & it had made the bed even more warm & comfortable to get a good sleep.

Photo of Leh by Rajendra Prasad

Day 10, Bagful of pebbles & happy memories (3rd June, Pangong Tso); Distance Covered ~1970 kms As we woke up, found the sun shining bright and the lake appeared ever more glorious than yesterday. We wanted to freshen up fast but was unable to do so as water in the taps had frozen. So had to wait for hot water bucket to arrive & got ready quickly. The camp staff informed that the temperature had dipped below -3 degrees last night and it was quite normal around this time. We set off for the movie’s shooting site on the two bikes of Beauty (Tarun) & Anuj as it was 350 cc thunderbird which had enough fuel to reach Leh without refuelling. The shooting site was fascinating and scenic locale engrossed us with its beauty. I am at short of words to describe the splendid location which is the best location that I had visited till date. We were the crazy four on that secluded stretch giving our best shots & capturing memorable moments in our cameras. Memories that I will cherish for my entire life. The more time I spent there, the desire to stay there increased & I surely did not want to stay there just for a night but for more than that as this place had a seductive pull to keep every visitor hooked up to its beauty. We headed back to the Camp for the breakfast & tied our stuff on our bikes for heading back to Leh. There was no mobile connectivity in/around Pangong. Thus we were cut off from the world of FB, Whatsapp & other social media tools and thankfully so, as it allowed us to indulge in the serene beauty of Mother Nature, which very few fortunate people are able to experience. I wanted to call Papa from the lake front and inform them about this amazing place on earth & that they should visit here soon. I was glad that I did not accompany them to Australia as the road running parallel to the lake was thousand times more mesmerizing than the Great Ocean Road. One has to visit this amazingly beautiful place to witness how beautiful our country is & that we are unaware of such locales which can happily surprise us. In the words of Pico Iyer –‘We travel initially to loose ourselves and we travel, next to find ourselves.’ After losing myself here, I began my return journey & hoped come back soon with my beloved wife. We did not take many halts on our way back to compensate for the late start. Unfortunately, Maneesh met a freaky accident where a rock rolled down the hills to hit his bike and making him fall. Unfortunately we had just advanced ahead of him after the hydration break when this incident happened. Thankfully his bike wasn’t damaged much & he wasn’t hurt seriously either. As we waited for him around 2 kms ahead from that place, he came screaming at us for not being there when he was lying on the road. We felt sorry about the situation and tried to cool him down by joking about the incident. He was cool enough to take it sportingly and we moved ahead after a short break. En route we saw the dismantled parts of a bus which had fallen off the hill above. It was scary to visualise the fall into the valley from the road atop. We tried to ride safely and reached Leh around late afternoon & stopped at Karu to have our lunch at the road side dhaba. Some of the riders planned to visit the Hemis Monastery which was 10 kms away from Karu (45kms from Leh) and we four also agreed to join. We took a detour to visit the biggest & richest monastery in the region. This place also hosts the Annual Hemis festival which is one of the key festivals of the region. It also has a museum which houses a collection of ancient remnants like the statue of Buddha made of copper, stupas made of gold and silver & several sacred Thangkas, murals and various artifacts were preserved there. As we moved out of to continue our journey to Leh, found Rahul (‘missing’) stranded with his bike and waiting for help. We checked his bike to find a minor electrical problem and the fuse needed to be replaced. It was sad to know that the innocent rider was unaware about the location of fuse box which is a very elementary part that every rider should have known. We replaced the damaged fuse with a new one & his bike was ready to move. It seemed that he was still unhappy with his bike’s performance as it was on day 1 and also clueless about whom to hold responsible for it, perhaps needed to introspect his actions too. Each once of us had taken due care to ensure that our bikes were serviced by experienced mechanics, which perhaps he had failed to do & was facing issues frequently. On reaching Leh we four headed straight to the bike washing centre. Though I was reluctant to clean my machine because I felt that the dirt & mud stuck all over the bike narrated the ride story in its unique way. In the words of a rider, the dirt signifies your experience and should always be there to narrate the ride story. Still went ahead to clean it up to avoid any chance of break down which clould have been caused by the dirt. Another reason was that, I along with every other rider was hopeful to be able to cover the Manali route & wanted to have our bikes at its thumping best. After the wash I got waited for fellow bikers who were getting their bike checked from a famous local mechanic Mohan Sharma. Although I was sure that my bike was roaring at its best, still wanted to be doubly sure so asked him to scan through my machine & he reassured that all was fine. Since this stay at Leh was not planned in our itinerary, so our hotels were far away and we four had put up at Hotel Jorchung where our dinner was served. Over dinner, we came to know about the bad news that the Manali road wasn’t open for bikers & we had to take the same route (Srinagar) back to Delhi, which was less alluring now. We had our dinner at the hotel where an unpleasant heated discussion among some riders which was an unpleasant incident & felt pity for them who wasted their energies on fighting over smaller issues rather than making the most out of every moment. Perhaps this was also a test of its kind which every rider goes through in such long rides.

Photo of Pangong Lake, Pangong Lake Road, Tangtse by Rajendra Prasad

Day 11, Heading back (June 4, ‘14, Leh); Distance Covered ~2220 kms As we started our journey back to Delhi through the same route through which we had arrived, we had two options with us- first one being we cry foul for going back without completing the pre-fixed route and hold the organisers by their collar because he had been repeatedly questioned about the same. The second one was to be flexible & accept the altered route with positive thought that we can see the remaining places during the next visit. Considering the numerous number of splendid locations that Ladakh had to offer, along with the beautiful skies, changing landscapes at every 20 kms, ideal roads to make the ride a memorable one and many more, I chose to be happy that there was lot to be covered & look forward to during my next visit to Ladakh. However some cribbers chose the former option & kept bitching about the shortcomings. I wonder they must have made a blunder by considering to get on this ride as rides are totally different from the organised packaged tours. Feel sorry for them that their tour (& not ride) was not as per their expectation & that they dialled Manu/RB Team instead of dialling a tour operator. We stopped at the Gurudwara Pathar Sahib & offered our prayers to Guru Nanak ji to ensure a safe ride back home. On our way back most of the riders found that their bikes was unable to generate enough power and it was due to the high altitude, where lower level of oxygen in the atmosphere was affecting the combustion of the machines. However we kept moving and tried to take breaks at regular intervals & stopped at Mulbekh for lunch. Jwala was facing issued with his rear break & was unable to drive comfortably. Hence we had to move slowly to ensure that he doesn’t face any issues enroute. After the lunch me & Anuj were quite frustrated due to the slow drive & decided to complete the remaining 30 kms stretch to Kargil in no time & eventually did by reaching there in next 30 minutes. This ride back to Kargil will be a memorable one as the road on that stretch was being repaired & made it a nice off-roading track to test our skills again and also because we drove crazily for the first time during the entire trip. Another aspect that is worth mentioning here is the creativity shown on the Road sign boards by the BRO for cautioning travellers to ensure that they follow the rules & have a safe ride to their respective destinations. Sign boards with caution messages such as- “Feel the curves, don’t test them”, “Be mild on my curves”, “After drinking whisky, driving is risky” & many more not only alerted the riders but also brought a smile. And these boards were seen throughout our drive covering the roads that we had travelled from Srinagar, to Leh, Khardung La, Nubra, Pangong, Chang La & so on. Found out a book on these interesting sign boards titled ‘Peep Peep Don’t Sleep’ had already been published & the author Ajay Jain had compiled the interesting caution messages very aptly. After reaching Kargil, we had checked in at the same hotel (D’Zojila) by 3pm and took our sweet time to unwind & rested till evening. We were in dilemma over the departure time next day as there were several inputs we had received about the road to Zoji La pass being shut, one-way traffic allowing only opposite side vehicles etc. My friend KK, who was returning to Delhi next day itself & all by himself, had asked me to cross the pass by 5 am to avoid getting stuck. At the dinner table, we discussed & decided to leave by 7am next morning for Srinagar and signed-off for the day.

Photo of Leh by Rajendra Prasad

Day 12 & 13, Heading back (June 5th, ‘14, Kargil); Distance Covered~ 2460 kms We kicked our bikes & headed towards Srinagar through the picturesque hills of Kargil which was not a new sight for us but fascinated me again. Unfortunately the ride had come to a halt after a splendid 70 kms ride at the check-post of Drass. As feared & anticipated the road was being repaired at Zoji La, which was 3 kms away from that check-post, & hence shut for 4 hours. To add to our misfortunes, only one-way traffic movement was allowed on the Pass and we were told that we can move ahead only after 10pm in the night. This meant that we lose the entire day by staying back at Drass and our return schedule, which was already revised earlier, gets delayed by a day. Samir & Anuj tried to speak with all possible resources to seek permission to move ahead, but luck didn’t favour us that day. They finally managed to convince the security forces to allow us to leave after 5PM which meant we would be crossing the Pass in low light. After a discussion with fellow riders we decided to move at 4am next morning & cover around 450 kms to stop at Jammu. Though some riders wanted to move out that day itself but understanding that majority of the riders are not comfortable riding at night, they changed their mind & agreed to ride next morning. So we went out to find a hotel in the small city & the gang moved into 3 separate hotels to rest for the night. Drass being the coldest inhabited place in the planet was expected to be cold at night & we were prepared with our warm clothing to fight the cold. In the evening to cheer up we get some liquor from the Army canteen and pulled each other’s legs over drinks & snacks. We had our dinner early to be able to get up & move out of the town by 4am next morning. Thankfully it was not so cold & temperature did not go below the freezing point and we had a comfortable sleep that night. Day 13, Testing time for all (June 6th, ‘14, Kargil); Distance Covered~ 2530 kms Next morning as planned, after getting up early, we packed our stuff & tied on our bikes and were ready to roll at 4am. It was still dark then & the ride through the pass was a different experience altogether. As we were entering Zoji La, at the starting check point, we ensured that we four and all other riders stay together to handle any challenging situation. Thankfully the day light enhanced its brightness enabling us to see the road better & also allowing us to see the snow clad hills in a new way altogether. As dawn folded & day light appeared the beauty of the mountains enhanced exponentially and leaving us mesmerised. I wanted to stop & click some snaps on that beautiful sight but feared that stopping mid-way would mean deviating from the agreed condition of driving together throughout & risking of being left out in that deadly Pass. The Pass was in fact more than dangerous at that point of time, due to the recent snow fall and had deep pot holes filled with water, slush & gravel making it the most difficult stretch to cross. We were already tired & scared as we reached the half way mark of the 9 km long Pass. The spine chilling weather was making the situation even worse as our frozen hands were unable to handle our bikes extremely difficult. I was lucky to have bought a pair of water proof boots which was utmost necessary to cross the water logged stretched which at times were 2-3 ft deep. Our ‘Jwala’ Maneesh who wasn’t wearing a water proof boot had a tough time while crossing the water stretches and riding with wet pair of socks & shoes in that cold weather. To add to our woes, there was decent traffic of trucks which was stopping mid-way and forcing us to get stuck in the deep slush. It took almost two hours to cover the deadly pass which is not at a greater height (11649 ft) but had become the mother of all passes with the sludge, ice, water, gravel, deeper pot holes throughout the stretch. And we were absolutely right when we proposed to rename it as ‘Godzila- the killer pass’ as we stopped at the first Chai point to wait for ever one. We recuperated over couple of tea glasses & left for our next halt which was decided to be around Srinagar where we planned to have our breakfast. As we were passing Srinagar, we were watching out for a joint where we could eat when suddenly were stopped by Sushil who was looking much hassled. Came to know that Ishwar had met with an accident with a local school student while she was trying to cross the road few meters away from that spot. My first though was that we were in deep soup. Firstly it happened in Srinagar, secondly the injured was a local college going girl & thirdly because Ishwar was injured too. I parked my bike & went inside the hospital to find Anant, Mohit, Ankit Jai, Rohit & Samir there with Ishwar who was being taken away for X-ray. The situation got intense as the student’s injury was serious & she had to be taken to a bigger hospital for treatment. Every minute inside the hospital was eventful with few hospital staff lashing out at us, localities shouting & trying to hurt us, a mob of around 150 localites had gathered outside the hospital in no time, who wanted to torch our bikes (which we came to know later). Thankfully an Army van, which was on patrol, arrived at the Hospital gate & dispersed the mob and that allowed us to bring our bikes inside the hospital compound, which was a safer place to park. Unfortunately the police constable who had come to check the situation & threatened us that Ishwar would be hanged if the injured girl had died. It was not expected for the policeman at least. However we maintained our composure & wished quick recovery for the girl & Ishwar who had a dislocated ankle due to the accident. The police also took away his bike & asked him to reach the Nayagaon Police Station to discuss further proceedings. In the mean while Mumbai gang also joined us at the hospital. Unfortunately a fellow rider, who used to boast about being great rider ran away from the scene and also tried to take me & others along with him. He was successful in taking along some riders with him. We were in constant touch with Manu, Tarun & others who were waiting outside. As Ishwar felt better, he left for the police station in an auto rickshaw along with the constable & all of us followed him. As we moved out of the hospital, we again felt the hostility of the localites present around us, though some of the hospital staff were considerate enough to deal with us & treated Ishwar appropriately. Gradually as we moved towards from the hospital towards the station all other riders, who were told to stay away from the hospital for the time being, joined us and we formed a roaring gang of 30 bikers following the auto. I felt happy & comfortable to see everyone riding together in a critical situation & knew that no one could harm us when we were together. With boosted confidence, our entourage reached the police station where only five of us were allowed to enter to discuss. In the meanwhile, Anuj had fortunately discussed the incident with an Army jawan posted at a traffic crossing who made him speak with the Major, who helped us big time. He brought Anuj to the police station & also called up the SP of Srinagar (Mr. Shailendra Mishra) to find a solution to the problem. As the SP reached the station, he called everyone inside his cabin & made us comfortable. Beyond our expectation we were served refreshments there. After being treated so well there, for a moment I thought we were the chicken who were made to eat well before being butchered J. But I was wrong, as Mr Mishra was a gem of a person & extended all possible help to bail us out. The only issue which had held there us was the condition of the injured student. We were told that Ishwar was free to go once she was out of danger & after settling the issue with her parents. We were hopeful that Ishwar will be freed by evening once the doctor gives a green signal. Her parents were quite supportive and kind enough for not filing a FIR against him. We considered ourselves lucky to have met Mr. Mishra, who himself was a RE rider & had shared his ride stories with us. He made us shift to a bigger & better station to be able to relax & wait for the situation to improve. Then we decided to get divided in two groups. One group consisting Manu, Varun, Saurabh, Mohit & Jai decided to stay back to bring Ishwar along. While another group comprising of Nishant, myself, spicy Varun & remaining riders were asked to move ahead towards Jammu. It was almost 2pm when we moved out of city after an ordeal of >6 hours. After feeding our burning stomach with some food at a dhaba at the city outskirts, we tried to cover the 275 kms distance as fast as possible & ensuring we remain together. However the hills & rough patches kept reducing our speed, resulting in reaching Patnitop at around 9pm. We had crossed a 10 kms stretch where traffic was stand still & at place there was no space for our bikes too. At around 10.30, we reached Udhampur, when we were about 70 kms short of Jammu and our bodies had given up. We had started the day at 4am & were on the road for more than 18 hours by then. So consensus was reached to stay back at Udhampur where we went around to search for a decent hotel & had dinner at a dhaba which was about to shut. Hunger bomb had blasted in our stomach at that point & even simple Roti & dal was tasting so delicious. On Anuj’s insistence, we four moved toward the Air Force station to put up with Anuj’s batch mate at his staff quarter. Also got an update that Ishwar wasn’t allowed to leave the city that day as the student was not released from the hospital during the day & was under observation. However the doctors & police assured that next morning they could move out. So all of them enjoyed at a houseboat in Srinagar to celebrate the favourable situation & get good rest to be prepared for a longer ride next day.

Photo of Kargil by Rajendra Prasad

Day 14, Marathon ride to home (June 7th ‘14, Udhampur); Distance Covered ~2900 kms It was decided to move out at 9am next morning but the fatigue caught us badly resulting in delayed start. After breakfast & refuelling our bikes we headed for home (Delhi) at 11am on the final day of our quest, with around 650 kms to ride. We all were fervent to get back home and thought to take breaks after covering longer stretches. It’s easier said than done. The hot weather & scorching sun made it extremely difficult to ride for more than 45mins. at one go. We bid farewell to the hilly roads at Jammu and were back on the plain highway post that. It helped us to cover around 80-90 kms every hour. The rising temperature which went well beyond 47 degrees was testing our patience & endurance levels as well. It was becoming impossible to ride without drinking water after every 30 mins & seemed that the water was evaporating from our bodies. The heavy riding gears was causing lot of discomfort, but didn’t even think of riding without them. At times after being impatient, I was riding little faster than the remaining 3, only to slow down & wait for them to arrive. Perhaps this was an advantage that a 500 cc bike had over its 350 cc counterpart. We were easily clocking around 120 kms while the latter was finding it difficult to cross the 100 km/hr mark. However learning from previous day’s incident, we ensured to drive together with our speed hovering around 90km/hr. During our breaks we took updates from Amit about Ishwar’s release & were delighted to know that they were set free around 12pm. At the start of the day’s ride, Nishant had suggested to stop for lunch at Haveli restaurant at Ludhiana by around 3pm. We had reached the venue around 45 mins late with Amit, who was accompanying us throughout. During our last day’s ride it would have been wonderful to ride with all riders together in the similar way we drove on this route 12 days back. This couldn’t happen as few riders did not bother to stay back & support during the exigency, some had to stay back with Ishwar & those who started together from Udhampur were scattered, perhaps due to more frequent breaks taken by some riders. However within a span of 30-45 minutes every one had arrived at the restaurant, tired, drenched in sweat and exhausted. Came to know that Ebrahim & Sunil had lost their way while Mrinmoy, Ankit & remaining Nagpur team who were riding together reached as soon as we had reached. Maneesh shared his incident where he had met with a small accident when a bike had abruptly hit him. Thankfully he was lucky to not fall on the road like the other guy who had hot him & he accelerated away from the scene to avoid any unfavourable situation, like the previous day. In fact during an informal chat with the police & army officials at Srinagar, we realised that if we had ran away from the spot, we would have saved ourselves from the trouble. Maneesh understood this & did not bother to stop at the spot and rightly so because he wasn’t at fault either. At Ludhiana, getting into the air-conditioned restaurant seemed to have injected new life into our bodies & after getting refreshed over sumptuous lunch we left within an hour. While leaving some of the riders began to contemplate riding the entire stretch uptill Delhi that night. Finally some riders halted at Ambala and it was a sensible decision because stretching beyond the point when your body retires is dangerous. However we 4, Nishant & Varun rolled ahead & were determined to go all the way. While leaving the restaurant Tarun & Anuj requested us to stay back at their home at Panipat. It was getting late & we were getting signals that our body fuel was draining out fast. However the ride at night was more comfortable & easier than riding during the day. We kept taking breaks at regular intervals and for water, stretching our muscles and refuelling our bikes & stopped at Panipat toll where we bid farewell to the brother duo with whom I had enjoyed thoroughly and formed the foursome gang. We decided to move towards Delhi & not to stay with them as we also wanted to reach our home & sleep there. So we parted after hugging & thanking each other & hoping to get on a new ride sooner. Maneesh & me left for Delhi along with Amit. We had reached Delhi border at around 1am & by then I had already dozed off couple of times, so had to stop to wash my face & get refreshed. The last 20 kms appeared like another 200 kms & was not getting over quickly. At Mukarba chowk we finally bid goodbye & headed for our home, sweet home. Riding for ~650 kms was extremely tiring but within i was excited to bring back enough memories & stories to share with everyone. In the words of Ibn Batuta, “travelling leaves you speechless & turns you into a story teller” which summarises my 14-day expedition aptly. The experiences from even the smallest distance travelled, the mesmerising sight of the hills, the tranquility of the lakes, the roughness of the rocky hills, the potholes, the treacherous terrain of the passes have left a permanent impression on my mind and I will cherish it lifelong. As someone said- “In the end we regret the chances we didn’t take.” And this time thankfully it took the chance and got on board to live my dream. Not only I joined the trip, I celebrated it throughout. Today as I sit down to watch the pictures & get into introspection mode, I realize that this journey has changed me to certain extent. The very thought of getting on the trip after quitting my job was something that I wouldn’t have dared to do few years back. Thankfully I did it without any regrets as the experience gained on this trip is monumental & will treasure it till end of time. Some of my friends acknowledge & appreciate it while some may consider it utter foolishness. I am able to appreciate the smaller things we see every day and have become adaptable to the extreme situations/conditions such as crossing the deadly stretches in the wee hours & enjoying it rather than cribbing about it or being happy about having Maggi for lunch & not blaming the organisers for a proper lunch arrangements & many more of such instances. This trip also had reinforced my self-belief and has strengthened me to take on the challenges head on & without being anxious of any situation. Perhaps my accident on Day1 had made me stronger mentally & made me believe that even though everything may not go our way, but with determination we can make our way to the top. The scenic locales, rivers, lakes, have made me fall in love with nature & now would not object if Subha (wifey) wants to place some plants in our balcony, which I had strongly resisted till now. I had shared a room with 2-3 riders who snored dangerously & even farted and thankfully learnt to adjust to every situation instead of cribbing about it like some of my fellow riders.As riders, we needed to understand that being on a road trip there would be several ups & downs & we should be ready to accept it with a smile. Perhaps this contended attitude was the key to enjoyment & rediscovering ourselves. Unfortunately most of my rider friends from Delhi were found to be less accommodating to changes while friends from other parts were quite cool about the adjustments. I do not want to start a regional war by making this statement but, unfortunately, this was experienced and my belief that riders from Delhi were more adaptable was changed. However that does not change my equation with them & my bonding gets stronger every time as I revisit the days spent with them. In the words of Tim Cahill – “A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles”. I am proud that I have more friends now & together we have covered >3500 kms and have stood by each other in testing times & even to get clicked together at a scenic locale. This trip has also made me realise that India is more beautiful that I thought it was. I would surely want to travel more & see the unseen than lusting for a foreign location. The wanderlust has seeped deep into my blood & my quest for travelling on my Royal Enfield is going to take me far into the unknown territories, making me meet new riders/travellers, sharing & learning from their experiences. Henceforth I would perhaps travel more to enjoy the journey rather than the destination. Lastly, I cannot end without thanking the superb team of Royal Bikers- Amit, Manu, Varun(s) & Nishant. Thanks for making this ride ‘The Ride of my life’. We get better with every experience & wish that the experience gained in this trip will help us burn our tyres for many more kms. We should not be disheartened by the unpleasant incidences but be happy that we braved them, took them head on & came out with flying colours. Fellow riders- Manoj, Dhiraj Patil, Anant Singh, Shivaraju Mariyappa, Anurag Sharma, Rohit Mantri, Mohit Sharma, Gopal, Ranga Rao, Sunil Bhatija, Manish Bhatija, Ebrahim, Navin Bhatia, Mirmoy, Ishwar Hingorani, Anurag Chaurasia, Amit Ganotra, Chankey Raj Singh, Ankit Rathi, Amit Bhatnagar, Rahul Mohan, Pramod Gupta, Samir Abrol, Vikas Garg, Jai Prasad, Kamal Thakur, Saurabh Saxena, Pardeep & remaining ones for being a sport & I am glad to be on this ride with each one of you. A big thanks to my foursome gang - Anuj, Tarun & Maneesh with whom I have conquered the hills honking our signature tune (which now has been patented ;) & only we will be using it). The families of every rider deserves a bigger round of applause for allowing them to join the ride covering the some of the most dangerous routes and helping them living their dreams. Kudos to you guys. Not to forget, my family, friends for your support & encouragement. Papa, I will be with you in the next trip at any time you call me, provided the destination is in India. And above all Subha, my super wifey, for being the best friend & pillar of my support. It wasn’t possible if you had not got me this bike, encouraged & kept poking me about my ride & its preparations, getting my ride list ready, packing & many more…Love you for all that & wish you join me on the next long ride to experience the magic together. In the words of Buddha- “Its better to travel than to arrive” and I wish to travel till It arrives. Check the Trip Album here-

Photo of Udhampur, Punjab, India by Rajendra Prasad

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