5 months before the trip : A group of 10 people are going to Leh!
Three months before the trip : The group is now reduced to mere 4 people!
One day before the trip : The last person who wants to go on the trip with me calls up and says he can not make it!
Looks like, I have to go alone on this trip, so be it! I pack my backpack and get a bus from New Delhi to Manali, which will start my two-week-long trip to the mountains and the land of La's and Tso's
Get a bike by any means
Day 2: When I got stuck in foot long mud at Rohtang Pass!
After having a cup of tea at the tents on the footsteps of Barlacha la, we continued to move towards Sarchu. We reached Sarchu by 2 pm, had our lunch, met a couple who was traveling across India for almost an year. They gave us a few insights about the road and weather ahead. By this time, some of the riders in the group were starting to have symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness! Anyway, they took some rest at Sarchu and the other started towards Pang, for the second night stay.
Got to converse and share my trip stories with a Monk!
Fighting our way through snowstorms at Khardung la and sandstorms at Nubra Valley
This is when other riders decided to head back home after attempting Khardung la (the highest motorable road in the world!) but I convinced them to go with me all the way to Turtuk, the last village of India where civilians are allowed(Pakistan is just 7 Kms from this village)
On our way to Khardung La, we witnessed snowstorm, vicious roads covered with silppery black ice, a head on collision of two trucks, bikers skidding on thick ice sheet. After a tiresome ride with captivating views of the mountains and literally driving in the clouds, we reached Khardung la top.
The feeling you get when you reach the top, is none less than of an achievement. The weather at the top will turn tables in no time! with hard sun at one moment and snowfall after five minutes. It was advised to not stay here for more than 15-20 minutes but we spent two hours without any difficulty, waiting for other riders. The top has an army camp and a canteen run by the army jawans, and they serve maggi with hot tea(yes MAGGI!) They told us that their maggi was not banned! :P
After taking descent from Khardung la, we crossed Khalsar, Hunder, Diskit, Changmar to reach Turtuk. The way to Turtuk will give you the feeling of what the last man on Earth would feel like! we crossed through sandstorm driving through the Shyok river, which originates from China and makes it way into Arabian sea through Pakistan. By 4 pm we had reached Turtuk
Turtuk, the last northernmost village of India
On 14th June, I arrive at Manali Bus stand after an overnight journey from New Delhi. After some efforts, I managed to strike a deal with one of the bike rentals but all of the ATMs in Manali were out of cash! Sunday, bloody Sunday!
Anyhow, I managed to get the formalities done, got the rented bike serviced, double checked on my stuff and waited for the next morning...
So I started out early morning to Rohtang Pass. The bike ride was comfortable and the pleasure you have when you breathe and feel the cold mountain wind is ecstatic. It took me two hours to reach the Rohtang top. During my descent, while making way to an oncoming bus on a muddy and slippery road, I got stuck with my bike in an ankle long mud. I tried to make my way out of the mud, but high altitude and chilly weather hardly leave you with any energy to do such hardship.
15 minutes later, a group of bikers, also on their way to Leh came to my rescue. They helped me to get my bike out of the muddy road and invited me to join their group! After a while, other riders in their group came along and my rescuers introduced me to them like this, "Meet this new crazy guy over here, he is traveling solo on 150cc Pulsar(The RE's failed on the tough roads ahead, but my pulsar did not :P), he will be joining us in our group."
We made our first halt at the police check post at Kokhsar, which is the first village after you descent from Rohtang Pass. Had some Maggi and Tea and started our ride to our first night-stay stop, Jispa! We stayed in a decent dormitory run by the HP Tourism, which was located just on the banks of Bhaga river. Jispa offered some beautiful scenery but it was nothing but a start of our journey in the snow capped and treacherous mountains next day!
Riding in wet shoes all day long!
We started out from Jispa at around 7 a.m and had our breakfast at Darcha. This was where we had to cross the first cold water stream (water nallah). I managed to get my shoes wet in the stream (Always get a pair of gum boots from Manali before your trip, lesson learned!). Anyhow, I tied my wet socks on the rear view mirror of the bike, and continued ahead in wet shoes to Zinzing Bar and then the mighty Barlacha La Pass!
Barlacha la had rough terrain all the way with either thick black ice on the road or water gushing down from the melting of ice walls across the road. It was there, we witnessed the wickedly attractive Suraj Taal Lake, the source of Bhaga river, The lake had chunks of ice in it. It looked like nothing that would ever go in this thing would ever come out!
The road from Nakee La to Lachung La and Pang was the most terrible road in our whole journey. We drove through off roads, water streams, muddy roads and what not, it will shake your bones but then again the view around us started to get better and better! After 3 hours we reached Pang, which is the highest transit camp at a height of 15500 ft. The mountains around Pang are carved by nature so well that you often mistake the shapes on them for some man made structure!
This place will bring you down to your knees, if you don't come prepared.
The coldest night of our lives
We spent one of the coldest night of our life in one of the tent. The temperature dropped to sub zero at night. Our bike seats were covered with ice in the morning and one of the rider in our group was so sick that he had to be carried forward in an Army truck, one of bikes got stranded and had to move back to Pang after it's spokes got busted due to the heavy weight.
Onwards Pang, was Moorey Plains! 40 kms long stretch of smooth road to Tanglang la, the second highest motorable road in the world at a height of 17400 ft. We couldn't spend more than 20 minutes at the top of Tanglang la as the extreme height was reducing the oxygen intake with every breath you take! The road from Tanglang la to Leh was well built and maintained by BRO (Border Roads Organisation), thanks to the Indian Army! We crossed some sparsely populated village till we reached Leh by 4 pm, booked a guest house on Fort road and called it a day.
This was a lazy day. We visited the nearby monasteries, Old Castle in Leh city, Thiksey and Shey Palace. This was where, while searching for some water, I went to a Buddhist Classroom. The monk who was the teacher, greeted me with great spirit, showed me around the place and blessed us for a safe trip ahead. We were offered a cup of famous Butter tea aka Po Cha in Ladakh by the cook of monastery, who was a nice person!
This is the day, when we rode for Pangong Tso, the tourist Buzz of Leh and the highest saltwater lake in the world! On our way, we crossed the Chang La, which claims to be third highest motorable road in the world(may be in older days). After traveling through cold deserts and barren lands with a few villages on the way, we reached Pangong Tso by 2 pm. The first view of this enchanting and surprisingly beautiful lake will enthrall the idea of utopia in your mind!
I remember spending 3 hours on the lakeside doing nothing but just sitting and looking over the lake and then the sun went down. We were told that near Pangong lies the unofficial highest mountain pass, called Marsimik La!
In the evening, we lit a campfire by the camps we had booked by the roadside a few yards from the lake. The night was starry and the sky was clear. I prepared my camera to capture some of the beautiful shots of the Milky way galaxy, I have ever captured in my life! It was a night to remember, as I stood outside by the lake in cold to capture the timelapse of Milkyway across the sky.
Turtuk, the last village of India has its own story to tell. This village was reclaimed by India in the 1971 Indo Pak war among some other villages. The people are amazingly beautiful and they live simply! The village's water source was the water stream from the glacier up in the mountains which was divided into separate canals for different purposes. The village is divided in three parts, the upper portion of the village is connected to the older part of the village by bridge built by Indian army which hangs over a gushing river stream that comes running down from the mountains above.
We stayed in one of the guest houses and the owner of the place, Mr. Hussain Baig gave us some information about the history and culture of the village and told us that the people here belong to a mix Aryan and Mongol race.He promised us to show Pakistani camps and bunker on the mountain next to the village in Pakistani territory.
The next morning, we had buckwheat bread and omelet in our breakfast. Mr. Baig, took us to a monastery situated on a high place near the village. As promised, he showed us the camps and bunkers of Pakistani army with his binoculars. On our way back to the guest house, he took us through the alleyways of the village introducing us to the always welcoming people of the village, be it elders or the kids. After a while, we bid farewell to our new friend and guide, and started our trip back to Leh.
Said goodbye to my new friends!
This is the day when we had to part ways as the riders in my group had to go through the Srinagar Leh highway, and I had to take the Manali-Leh highway again back home. I bid my farewell to them and drove back home with a great experience and love for the road and unknown places. During these 10 days, I met some insanely awesome and kind people on the road. All the discomfort you have to face due to the harsh weather and road is worth the heavenly places and location you find yourself in while riding to Leh. After doing this trip, one thing I know for certain, this Manali to Leh roadtrip is called the Mecca of riders and photographers for some reason, and to find out this reason, you will be left to do nothing but travel more and more! So go grab a bike and hit the road, my friend, the unknown awaits you!
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