Travelogue - That's how i got Leh'd


Your mind is the best editor

- John Jose

A great scholar having said that. I'll take the privilege to write about my dream, a biking trip to Leh, Ladakh. Ever since I had a disaster three years before in Spiti, my biggest lesson in life, I was planning for this trip. And I left no stone unturned. You are going to see a lot of 'I' here because only after Spiti I got to know that 'I'm' important. It's me who has to plan. So two years of planning, one year of execution, a lot of drama beforehand. What was the result? No marks for the result. We killed it!

Photo of Travelogue - That's how i got Leh'd 1/2 by Vikram Mn

This one time I wasn't really worried about what the outcome was going to be. I wanted to carry on the trip in exact dates, the exact dress and even the exact slippers. Even during trip, I wasn't really worried whether we'd be able to do certain stuffs or not. I went. I saw. I was satisfied. Can't get better than that.


Going back to 2013 August when I was still new to travelling. I remember the day when I was coming back from Chandrataal. When I knew I had lost. Tears brimming out of my eyes, the exact moment when the tears came out of my eyes, I stepped in a puddle and made my shoes wet in almost zero degree temperature. Will never forget the day.

Similarly this time, it was about 100 Km to Leh, I couldn't stop grinning, every time the number of kilometers got reduced in sign board I grinned more and more. It was pleasure, pure pleasure. It's not every day you live your dream.

Before reading you've to know about the characters in the travelogue.

Vikram - Myself

John - Infoscion turned ex-Infoscion

Parthi - Infoscion whom I befriended through another friend

Arun - Fun master, eater of the gang

Mani - Bangalore man, who took my saddle bag to Chennai.

Bharath - DHL

Day 1 - Storm before Calm

A lot happened. Really a lot. It was a day when my poster released, I had to proof read the PDF, pack both my and John's luggage in one bag and not sleep throughout the night. The train was at 5.15 AM, so we had booked cab for 3.00 AM, which came on time and we boarded it without further delay along with packed food which my mom prepared till 1 AM. That's when I switched off the net, which remained off for the next 17 days.

Photo of Travelogue - That's how i got Leh'd 2/2 by Vikram Mn

We had to wait for half an hour in station for rest of the gang to arrive. They came around 4.15 AM with loads and loads of luggage. We boarded a semi full train at 5 AM and packed our luggage. Within minutes everyone started sleeping and got up around noon. The packed Idly was over within minutes and again we went into slumber. I started reading 'The Good Earth' and John, 'Volga to Ganga'. Mine was quite engaging and his was engaging him as far as I saw. Before 'The Good Earth' I thought of completing the 'The Prophet' which John had brought but soon got to know that it was a very tough read. Had to appreciate myself for the same. Otherwise it'd have been just waste of time.

The major part of the day people were trying to evade transgenders who were terrorizing us. To our horror the count was a lot this time. It was fun when Arun and Mani run to a corner like a mouse getting to the hole, when they see them.

For dinner we had my tamarind rice and Chapathi and Thakali + Coriander thoku which Bharath had brought. Thokku was out of the world. I'll make sure that I take that thokku next time when I go on a train journey for more than a day.

Day 2 - A Merry Monotony

As far as I know I've always loved train journey, nothing like it. Waking up in a shaky compartment at the time you want, sunrays above your head, you still feel like Mother Nature shaking the cradle for you.

Photo of Chennai Central, Tamil Nadu by Vikram Mn

Our breakfast for the day started with food from Bharath's home, sadly for us the tamarind rice was spoilt, rest were edible and we hogged like hungry dogs. And if that wasn't enough, for the whole day we used the thokku in one way or the other. Others befriended a Punjabi guy and a Tamil lad in the train with whom they were playing cards.

The friendship with Punjabi guy came at a cost. We had to pay him Rs. 200 for his deed of smoking in the train. The Tamil lad was quite helpful in letting us know about the mobile networks and various roads in Leh as his uncle was or is an army officer.

That night was reserved for soup stories by fellow inmates. Everyone had a story except me. By that time I had finished my book and was seriously thinking about how I could be not thinking of anyone or anything at all. I kept on repeating the dialogue to John saying that I wasn't thinking of anything. I was literally, living the moment. Neither happy, neither sad. It was a weightless feeling. He said I had attained Nirvana. May I had, maybe I have. Whatever it was, for the sake of better word, nice.

Day 3 - When we Hit Jammu and Bed Bugs hit us.

Almost the whole of next day too was spent in train with bad food and less sleep. The whole of three days, we saw the whole of India to be green. It was raining everywhere and was so pleasant in train. We started packing our bags before the last station came. And were so excited to get out of the train. I was able to catch up with few scenes in OK Kanmani. Sweet memories!

Photo of Travelogue - That's how i got Leh'd by Vikram Mn

I woke up really late, around 10.30 AM. Bharath and Mani were telling trains were literally passing through markets in some area before Ludhiana. When I woke up in Ludhiana there was one Malayali military uncle buying woolen stuff one after the other for children, wife and relatives. That's pretty much the story of their life for military people. Going home once in a while and buying gifts for them.

Around 5 PM we got out of the train which was around four hours late. We had to shift our luggage to parcel office and then get the bikes out. We had to pay a hefty sum of 1300 as bribe to take out the bikes. It's always an irritating job to get the bikes from train. I went out, checked the room in Vaishno Ashram near station which everyone suggested and filled up the petrol in bike for myself and cans for others. Thanks to the one liter petrol I had in bag which saved me from the tyranny of having to push the bike. If that wasn't enough we were scrutinized by the RPF or original RC. All he wanted was a hundred rupees which we didn't give even though a couple of us didn't have original RC. But I was scared more so because I wasn't sure where else they'd be asking original RC. Thankfully after that Babu, none asked.

Once we parked our vehicles to our satisfaction and settled in our AC room John and I went out to get our photos done. Worst photo ever of mine, then spent some time in Local Park. As we had left John's phone at home we were not able to contact them. Again we went down for dinner as they had already had. Rajma chawal was decent but did a terrible mistake of ordering Sambar Vada which he squeezed right out from water, in front of my eyes, dipped in sambar and gave. Horrible, horrible it was.

In spite of all we slept at around 11, after seeing the chaos in Parthi's room with all luggage out. Within an hour I felt as if something was biting me. But I didn't tell it to John. I had a similar experience couple of months before in Behrampur when I alone had been bitten by bed bugs. After few minutes I tried to wrap the bed with bed cover, there seemed to be some respite and I slept on and off till 3.30 AM.

That's when the guys from other room woke us up and told about the bug story. They hadn't slept at all. Parthi was telling that he was even thinking of sleeping in the space in front of bathroom. After they told their horror story of seeing the bed bugs for the first time in their life, I got scared and wasn't able to sleep. We decided we will start off early and reach Srinagar by afternoon. Funny us.

Day 4 - One 'Hell' of a Ride

It took close to four hours for the four bridegroom bikes to get ready. In spite of waking up at 3.30 AM we started at 10 AM from our place after a quick chai. Within minutes, rains poured and we had to take a break to wear our raincoat for half an hour. It was pretty much the story of the day. For every one hour ride we took half an hour break, had Tea like 20 times, food like 10 times and water like you-can't-count number of times. Our breakfast place where we had a bread omelet with Kheema and cheese, with kind of weird chutney was out of the world. Sadly forgot the name of the dish.

Photo of Jammu by Vikram Mn

Within a couple of hours we stopped for lunch, then for tea again where we met a Karnataka gang and throughout the journey there were Pakistan flags flying here and there. As it was the first day we all stuck to our position with Bharath being the lead, Mani behind him, Arun being the middle man, Parthi in front of me and I was the tail along with John as pillion. We stuck to our task and were disciplined.

The time that we had decided of, to have reached Srinagar was just a dream. At that time we took our lunch break, having barely crossed 100 KM. We then took pictures of Kashmir Valley, passed through the second longest tunnel in India, by passed many Pakistani flags which I didn't understand the significance of being waved. An army personnel stopped us, I was scared first as I didn't have original RC but he seemed to be a person from Tamil Nadu and wanted to say 'hi' to us. Once he started being nice I was reminded of the military men in 'One Life to Ride' where they'll take Ajit and talk for half an hour. I wasn't in a mood to waste so much time but I also knew that if he insisted I'd be handicapped like how Ajit was in the book. But contrary to what I thought the military personnel willingly shared his number and asked us to call in case of any emergency. He informed us that the area that we were had 100 percent Muslims and asked us to not stop at any juncture where Pakistani flags were being waved. Bharath tried to ask about it but his response wasn't fitting.

By the time we came out of the ghat section it was close to 7PM. We thought we had reached Srinagar, so had a tea break but we didn't know that we still had to go through a lot of traffic, with horrible roads, inhumane dust and horrible traffic for the next two hours. Finally we were chased by brokers for House Boat which was decent but Parthi and Arun insisted we take a room rather fearing we wouldn't have proper sleep as it was hell the previous day with bed bugs. We heeded to their request. This meant I still have to wait a few more years for house boat experience.

Our room was a decent one, we were dead tired. Had dinner at 11 PM. Parthi and co. went for shopping after that, real gutsy fellows, them and don't know when they came back. I took bath and slept by 12 as I had to wake up by 5 AM the next day.

Day 5 - An almost well-tuned ride.

Nothing much to complain about our Srinagar to Kargil ride. It was the first of 15 days where I had to take the terrible task of getting up early and waking others, only to be seen as villain. Add to it there was cash pooling where I had to ask 1K per day. As usual I was the dirty dancer this time too.

Photo of Srinagar by Vikram Mn

We skipped breakfast, had tea and Marie Gold biscuit before start. Started around 10 AM again. It was the day we had to cross the mighty Zozila Pass which everyone had been scaring us. Got news that it was open. Had to lie to others about the opening time about the pass but when we reached Zozila it wasn't like anything which was mentioned in blogs before. It was raining again that day and was getting colder and colder. It took us a while to come out of heavily guarded Srinagar, where there were police everywhere. Every petrol bunk, ATM and anything of slightest importance were surrounded by lot of police personnel's. In general the town was quite tension filled.

As soon as we came out of the town the passes were quite enchanting, as it had rained, the greenery was even more beautiful. It took us a while for us to wear the cotton gloves and on top of it latex gloves and various other things. When we finally hit Zozila we weren't even aware as there wasn't any vehicle crossing us, it was raining, it was misty, roads were barely there and we got the first glimpse of what to expect. Mani's FZ was struggling like anything, there was a point where my bike along with John went behind but we overcame all odds and reached Zero Miles which was dead cold.

Without inquiring we ordered a number of Maggi, Tea and Bread Omelet. Even an omelet for a poor shepherd who had only 500 sheep's. Bill came to an atrocious 970 rupees there. The innocence of the mountain people seemed to have been lost. You'll hear more about this guy later. But Zero Mile was one hell of a point with chilly winds, snow, rain, hot chai. It was brilliant.

Once we got out of Zozila it wasn't much of a deal. I took lead and drove quite ahead of the rest. There was an Elephant shaped rock before Drass which I wasn't able to figure out in spite of trying for few minutes. We waited around half an hour for the rest to arrive. We thought it was going to be easy from there as everyone said that we were about to enter the best roads of the whole journey.

They were true but we wasted a lot of time in Kargil Memorial in spite of getting few good photos and had to do a scary one hour right ride in the amazing Drass - Kargil road. If it had been day time it'd have been even more fun.

We reached Kargil, haven for non-veg lovers. The sheekh kebab aroma greeted us. We took an amazing room for 1900 and came out for dinner. Arun and John had Chicken which I consciously avoided thinking about the past. I had a pathetic Kashmiri pulav. The tandoori chicken mostly went waste with most part being eaten by Arun. Mani, the one who ordered got scared of the chicken seeing the size of it. I was upset as I had lost my handkerchief which I had solely bought for the purpose of taking photo in Pangong. So I took bath, ate and slept in a jiffy. Others where meddling with something or the other for a while.

Day 6 - Lone Ride, A Near Escape and Epitome of Happiness

I wanted to lead that day. We woke up around 5 AM. And got ready by 8 AM for breakfast at our lodge. It was regular aloo paratha + omelet + tea for breakfast. We started around 10 AM as usual for the ride. Roads were a mix of good and bad that day. I lead for most part and went to a lot of Gompas en route. In a Gompa which we went after the big Buddha statue they received us with lot of love and gave chocolates, badam fruit and insisted us on having mountain dew. It was a decent ride till the Army Canteen where we ate Momos and Aloo Tikki for lunch. Only when the rest of folks got there after a long time we got to know that Mani's FZ was creating problem. Initially they decided to go on without taking a break but as we didn't have a mechanic shed in the vicinity we had lunch there.

Photo of Kargil War Memorial, National Highway 1D by Vikram Mn

Arun used this time to get into Army restroom. The timing was impeccable. Every time Mani's bike would create a problem, Arun would disappear with his tissue paper. But he was such a sport. It's not easy to ride when you have dysentery. It's an energy sapping issue. To show all your problems as if it's a joke isn't an easy task.

After that it was just John and I. We took off initially and there was a way where the road was blocked when we were thinking whether to go that way or not, a local suggested to go ahead. We went through the road. Visited Lamayuru Gompa, almost waited there for an hour. First I went to Gompa, asking John to stand so that we could stop them if they come. Then John went to visit Gompa. There was a broken or burned house which looked like Skeleton from He-Man. In spite of such a long time they were nowhere to be seen. We were in a dilemma to whether wait or to go ahead. As many had said that we'd get cell phone signal in Leh we thought we'd reach Leh, so that at least if they are in any crisis they'd be able to contact.

After Lamayuru we entered through a road which smelled danger. There were violet color mountains everywhere. John said that he felt as if he was in some place in Interstellar movie. I too thought as if we were in different planet. I started feeling happy from that moment. It was a lone ride, almost a lone one, with one of my very good friends. It felt special. I always wanted to be alone when I reach Leh. I thought it was going to happen. Next to the violet mountain road was the road which taught me a lesson.

I mean I wasn't over confident as such but I had never had a fall till that time. In the violent mountain road we asked a person whether the road is passable because we could smell danger in the road, it was eerie. The answer by the worker wasn't convincing. We decided to go ahead with the road. Only after few minutes we got to know why it was blocked. There was a JCB machine which was working on the roads, there was just space for a single person to walk through it.

From top I wasn't able to look at the road, John said, "this looks very dangerous man." I was like, "If it's easy everyone would go to Ladakh." Only after taking a U turn I saw how bad the road was. From one end of it where the road wasn't paved I asked the JCB guy whether it was okay to cross it. He said Ok. I started the engine to cross it. As if it's a danger sign, the reverse sound of JCB was ringing. John said, "There is some sound." I replied saying that it's the reverse sound of the JCB machine. We continued from there and I put break near JCB. As it was full of slush we had a fall. Didn't realize what happened next. After crossing John informed that I was about to fall and hit my head on the JCB's tyre. John pushed it in an instinct. I wasn't deterred. In fact I was happy. That was the only experience missing, the fall. John asked me whether I'd need water or something. I thought he was shaken. I didn't talk much as I was afraid I'd scare him more.

Only after we came down from the road we got to know that it was the blocked road which we had crossed. There was a marking with beer bottles. All the vehicles were coming in opposite direction. Only then we realized that others could have made it through that way and our wait in Lamayuru could be a waste of time. Soon enough there was a partition where we weren't sure which way to take. Thankfully a police vehicle came and guided us to the correct path. These confusions are the things that make travel interesting. You get to know how good your intuitions work.

It was a joy ride from then on. Nice roads, roaring waters and clean road. The flow was great. We stopped at the last point before Leh, Nimmu, the place had a miraculous water cooling system. Had bread omelet and chai in quick succession. That place also had a camp fire kinda thing, a culture which I adore in Himalayas. It wasn't there much in Ladakh region. By the time which we thought we almost lost the rest of the gang, they zoomed past us. Arun and Parthi quickly informed that Mani's bike broke down. Mani along with the bike were going in the car before them. They all looked pretty pissed of me as we had left before them.

From there the ride was a dream. Back when I was good in studies and very good in Mathematics I used to get happy as soon as writing half the paper correctly, thinking I'd get centum in the exam but end up losing a mark or two. But this time it was different. I could start seeing Leh boards, 100 KM, 90 KM etc. etc. it was getting closer and closer. I wanted to lead, I wanted to be first, and I wanted to travel alone. Nothing happened. I was the tail, I was travelling with a pillion and I was with a group. But one thing happened. I was happy, I was happy beyond words. It was a dream, you plan for something for such a long time and the moment when everything comes together. Nothing like that. If there had been a camera inside my helmet, it'd have captured all my stupid grins. I truly felt that I could die after the moment. I was so very very happy. Shouting at every Leh board which I passed and when we reached Leh it was the Climax of happiness. I felt being on top of the world. I don't think others were that much happy as they had bike tension. The Good Samaritan who helped us with the bike transport didn't take any money at all. It was like a welcome sign, "Welcome to the good part of the World."

John on the other hand was getting restless to use restroom. While the bike was getting ready I met a fairly knowledgeable guy who was talking about the route to Pangong and Nubra. It always feel special when you know more about a place than the local. John on the other hand wasn't enjoying the conversation at all. He was roaming here and there with the toilet paper to finish of his duties. Unluckily for him, it was getting dark and we wasn't finding any abode. Finally he gave up exasperated, "enada panitu irukinga, vaanga poi room eduakalam" ( what are you people doing still? let's go take a room). Then we went to a restaurant and he finished off his duties, I finished my chai. His face became normal only after that. He was telling he was feeling more happy now, "going in Ladakh than going to Ladakh"

While returning we made phone call to our home from STD booth. As the phone wasn't working, a person sitting nearby gave us his phone and didn't charge anything. When you are happy, everything around you looks pleasing. That's how it was.

After Mani's bike got ready we went in search of room. As usual it was night time so we got a pathetic room for 800 rupees and had dinner at 11'o clock. The only relief was we didn't have to get up early the next morning. It was such a relief to not have an alarm and sleep. Also not to look as if an early morning villain in front of others.

The food was bad, there was commotion in restaurant and we were joking thinking of how it'd have been if the helper of Mani's bike had accepted the request of dinner and had come there.

Day 7 - Unrest in the midst of Rest

The one day without alarm I woke up at 8 AM. Rest were sleeping. So went ahead and had tea and some snack in Punjabi Dhaba which was awesome. After coming back I could see that Bharath had woken up. John was still sleeping. By the time I lazily came out of the bath, rest of the gang had gone to bike shop. John was still sleeping. So we too went ahead to the mechanic shop. Along with Mani's carburetor, mine too had to be tuned. After that, bike was revving like anything.

Photo of Leh by Vikram Mn

Once that was done, we checked with GATI about bike transport and also about bike rental for John in some other shop. We had breakfast at a classy roof top restaurant. Afternoon we started for local sightseeing. Went to a Gompa, a gurudwara which severely reminded me of Rang De Basanti because we all had to tie our head with the saffron scarf. It was more memorable because of the boondhi and tea they served and a cat which was more than willing to pose. Our final abode was to a good for nothing Magnetic Hill where drivers were standing bored knowing nothing was happening there.

Finally John and I started from there, waited around airport for some half an hour. My headache was increasing. After half an hour as we were not able to meet the rest of the gang we stupidly went to Sanchi Stupa by taking the stairs which exhausted us even more, had a Ladakhi salty chai and went directly to bike shop.

In the Bike Shop we had to wait close to three hours and a commotion happened. We almost had a fight, I don't regret it. I feel proud to have got confidence enough to fight but it didn't become a full on fight. We had to go out of the bike shop in search of bikes which we didn't get. It was pathetic to go again to the same shop for bikes. But we got the bikes for the rate we asked for. Bullet Electra at 1000 rupees per day. It was needless trouble for John, which if not for me would have ended smoothly.

Only while returning John remembered to have had keys for both the rooms. Arun was standing there in the lobby for more than two hours. He accepted the apology without even making a face. He was such a sport. A big sorry to you, Arun for making you wait. Rest didn't have dinner. John and I went to Punjabi dhaba, had rice and dal along and brought Tropicana for the rest. Next day we were planning to go to either Nubra or Pangong, whichever gets opened. First preference we gave to Nubra because of the lower altitude. Gave the regular standing instruction to get up at 5 the next day and leave

Day 8 - When the roads opened

It took the regular time of 10'o clock to start our journey in spite of waking up at 5'o clock. This in spite of not having luggage that day. Mani was pillion that day. We had Aloo Paratha in Punjabi Dhaba along with Gulab Jamun to stop the flow, if you know what I mean. Before that John and I checked with the DRS office whether the road to Pangong and Nubra are open. He didn't reply affirmatively for both. But when we asked the taxi drivers they were sure of Pangong and skeptical about Nubra. So we decided to go to Pangong.

Photo of Travelogue - That's how i got Leh'd by Vikram Mn

What's worse was Bharath wasn't wearing his favorite outfit and Parthi didn't carry his tripod for Pangong. The only reason for which he brought the tripod.

We filled our tanks full and started to Pangong. After about 15 KM it suddenly occurred to me and I checked with the rest of the folks about documents for bike. It was a relief to know that they all had it. In another five kilometers there were a group of bikers who were returning, saying that the road was closed. I was heartbroken. After all the effort I wasn't willing to go empty handed. Others too were disappointed. Pangong was everyone's dream. But luckily for us, a tempo traveler asked us to follow him and took us in a different way to Karu. We had to detour like some 10 KM and go on a separate way. In all, our time was wasted by travelling 20 more kilometers to Karu. But we were glad that at least our plan wasn't spoilt.

We paid a fee of 50 rupees per person for god knows what and started our journey to Pangong. It was a smooth ride from there to first check post where we talked with a Tamil military man who filled our water bottles with warm water. He informed that from Chang La roads are bad and has full snow. We reached Chang La in quite some time where we had our Maggi lunch because that was the last point where we'd be getting food. We also clicked some pictures in the third highest motorable pass. Chang La had one or two small stream crossing and lots of snow. Roads of course were bumpy but it wasn't a bike killer so we didn't face much difficultly in crossing Chang La.

After Chang La, roads were a bliss. We stopped for taking photos of famous Marmot of that area. As Marmots were surrounded by a lot of pretty women it took us some more time to come out of the area. Once we reached Thiksey we had to pay a toll again for bikes/ourselves. Next 30 KM was pure heaven. We reached Pangong in no time and got the photos that we wanted.

The next one hour went for tent searching and calling our kith and kin. It was a decent time pass in STD booth as it had a Punjabi kudi who looked like, as John said, fresh out of the ramp. We got a tented accommodation along with dinner and breakfast for 1500 rupees for a tent. We took two tents for six people which was quite comfortable.

After getting freshened up Mani, Parthi and I met with a Tamil gang in the dining room, they were reciting their stories of crossing the Zojila Pass at night and staying in the same Zero Miles tent which I had mentioned earlier. They said that they had to pay 4500 rupees for one night stay along with food. If you ever go by that way. Remember that its one place you must avoid. John and Bharath who had gone to watch the lake came back just in time for dinner and heard the gist of their stories.

Dinner with dal rice, roti and papad was filling. Even though the repetitive songs were irritating as I had the access to their computers, I could play some good known songs. Post dinner I had a comfortable sleep of seven hours.

Day 9 - When everything fell on place

Turning back, I guess it's the only day when things fell on place. We got up by 6'o clock, had breakfast of bread, butter and omelet and started by 9 AM. In an hour we reached Thiksey monastery which wasn't any different from other monasteries. It'd have been good if we had learnt about the monasteries and the culture to appreciate it better.

Photo of Thiksey Monastery Leh Ladakh, Leh Manali Highway, Thiksey by Vikram Mn

I took lead from there, we decided not to have lunch in Chang La so we came down somewhere near Karu where we had our lunch around 3PM. In the process there was some stream where I left the gloves and had to return to the spot to get it back. Good that I remembered it early, otherwise a lot of time could have got wasted on it. In spite of that we were well on time. Food was the regular dal rice, omelet etc. only difference here being, black tea was for fifteen rupees and normal tea was for ten rupees. After a discussion he accepted both for ten rupees.

This time we passed through the road which was blocked the previous day which had a stream running in the middle of the road. Because of that we were not able to visit a monastery on the way, but it didn't make much difference. We crossed the nasty stream much to the annoyance of a police personnel who was regulating traffic. He was irritated as we went before he told us to go.

At Sheh Palace, Arun left from the place and we continued checking out the palace which wasn't any different from any of the monasteries. As a rule our last half an hour was terrible. With dirty helmets, pathetic roads and roaring headlights, the drive in the highway to Leh was hell. If not for that it was a decent ride for the day. But we couldn't go on without a black mark for a day.

As soon as we came back we went to renew John's bike and bought mutton momos for everyone which was terrific but the chili chutney spoilt the flavor of it. A dish Parthi wouldn't forget for life.

We decided to have a good dinner so went in search of a South Indian restaurant called Chaska Maska. By the time Mani got hold of the restaurant John and I made calls to our home. We had pathetic Dosa, decent Chow Mein and excellent chicken sandwich for dinner. If you ever eat in this place, their sandwich is to die for. Don't miss out on that.

Day 10 - Of headaches, riots and rhapsody

It was one day when everyone were super excited as they'd be going to the world famous 'highest motorable road in the world' place. For me it was different. Had headache first up in the morning so wasn't very sure of how I could take it. Kept calm and continued getting ready. At the back of my mind I was thinking that I had slept really late, that's why had headache.

Photo of Travelogue - That's how i got Leh'd by Vikram Mn

Others got ready as usual and we went to fill petrol. Directly took the path to Khardung La thinking we'd have breakfast on the way. Sadly for us there wasn't any breakfast point. The first hour of drive had great roads and my headache too kept on increasing. We stopped once to eat the snacks which the other guys carried with them. Sugar candy was such a relief.

Our next stop came quite soon, near the first check post where we had to fill the application form for six of us along with the bike registration number. John took the registration from form the nearby tea shop. And as his bike didn't have the registration number we had to write his chassis number. We decided to go ahead with tea and breakfast at this place. The disinterested tea shop guy gave our usual routine of Maggi and Bread Omelet with further disinterest. So for all of it took more than an hour for us.

From there to Khardung La top, the road was a constantly ascending bad road. So it took us a lot of time to reach the top. Felt good to be on top for some time in the midst of people who were looking in awe at us as we had TN registered bikes. It wasn't as crowded as I expected so we got few decent clicks. My headache was aggravating and so was it for Parthi and Mani. John being the health conscious guy made the rest to vacate the place soon.

The next one to one and a half hour too was terrible for us. Everyone started to choke. Parthi was jokingly asking me to tell that the road will get better soon. I thought it to be different but answered 'yes' for him. The road indeed got better within minutes. But in that one hour we crossed innumerable number of streams which varied in every way.

In the next check post we met French travelers Antoine and Adelaide along with photographers from my area Fahad and Siva. While we were planning to cruise from there, around 2.30 PM we were stopped by a group of bikers near a dhaba where they said that road to Nubra has been blocked because there was a landslide in Khalsar so people were protesting as government officials hasn't made any effort to visit the village. We used the confusion point to have lunch so that much time wouldn't be wasted.

It was 3PM by the time we finished our lunch. We were debating on whether we should go ahead or not. I decided that if we had to return we had to return immediately as we wouldn't be able to reach Leh otherwise on time. It meant we would have an extra day in our hand at our disposal to cover the Manali stretch. Bharath wanted to give a try as he had come till that. I didn't find logic in staying at dhaba because if we had to go to Hunder the next day we wouldn't be able to return to Leh the same day.

We kept on asking about it with every taxi driver who came our way, there was a taxi which went ahead of us in spite of us telling that road is blocked. He was so casual about it, he was so sure that the road would get open. After hearing from the driver we started off to Nubra but was quickly stopped by another SUV traveler who said it was a riot there, he advised us to proceed when a bunch of vehicles come from opposite direction. We waited for it and it happened in a while. We all let out a 'hooo' and started off with greater vigor.

The roads from there was a treat to go. Within an hour we reached Khalsar, the devastated village. The village was in such bad condition which made me feel for them. I could understand the angst as to why they were protesting.

Once we crossed Khalsar we traversed to muddy, smoky dust roads. Which generally is my favorite. I have always wanted to ride in the mud road circuit with dirt bikes. It was almost close to it. Once we crossed the mud roads we took a small break and shared our Snacks. It was almost near Diskit and we had only ten more kilometers for Hunder, our destination.

From there we went to the Buddha statue in Diskit, John and I alone went to monastery after that. Thanks to the photographers, we all got few great photos. We were relaxed as we had reached Diskit by 5 PM and had a lot of buffer time before us. There is a left turn following Diskit to Hunder, that's one hell of a road. Even though short in distance it could be compared to Magnetic Hill to Leh road or the More Plains road, that's how good it was.

After crossing that road we were able to see the sand dunes of Hunder, Adelaide seem to have spotted camels but we weren't but I loved the changing Vista. Hunder gave me satisfaction. It meant that we completed all the places that we had planned in Leh.

Having Adelaide and Antoine wait near the entrance, John and I went in search of room to one side and the others on the other side. Quite ironically the room which our first acquaintance in Leh said was the costliest at 2500 rupees per tent. We then enquired a guest house which cost of 2200 for three rooms which was quite economical. Rooms too were quite spacious. In fact it was our best room till then.

We had dinner at the nearby resort where the photographers were staying, it was a buffet dinner. Even though costly, the dinner was sumptuous. It was great talking to Antoine and Adelaide, knowing about their culture, movies etc. Antoine was quite impressed by our knowledge. The conversation continued after that but I came back to room as I wanted proper 6-7 hours of sleep and also I had to wake others up. So in all it was a satisfying day.

Day 11 - When we integrated to disintegrate

I woke up at 6'o clock and woke the rest up. Our breakfast was a modest bread toast and omelet. Nothing much to complain. It was decent. Antoine who had said that he might go to Panamik for hot water springs that day decided to come with us and en route we also picked up Fahad and Siva. We started at our regular time of 10 AM after taking a lot of photos.

Photo of Hunder by Vikram Mn

It was majorly a joy ride in the morning. We went nonstop for 50 kilometres and hit the tea shop where we had sat the previous day debating whether to go or not to go. After quick chai we started from there. Antoine used this time to rectify his camera from the professionals. I guess which was to no avail.

We continued with the momentum and reached the check post for lunch. Maggi as usual along with bread omelet and chai. Before that everyone took photos in a great stream background which had greenery, glaciers, yaks and what not.

The tough ride started only post that. There was a couple of mega streams which we had to cross. The first one we crossed as usual with few of them wetting their shoes and the rest going through with it. I was able to cross it without any problem. The second was majorly a success with most of them crossing it quite easily. When we thought that it was all over we had to cross one bigger stream which was both lengthy and deep.

I carefully removed my shoes and went to the opposite side, tying the shoes to Arun's bike. That's one thing I learnt. Never wet your shoes. Nothing horrible than that. Few of them wet their shoes. Once we all were about to start Parthi hit on a rock and his bike cable came off. He started feeling very guilty for that. It's always the people who feel guilty who suffer. The bike's temporary repair took an hour.

In the meantime we experienced hail where ice dropped on us sharply like stones, rather than being thrilled we were afraid as to what would happen if we get stuck like that. On the other hand there was a lady who got stuck in the stream. I generally don't go out to help people because our disaster team was quite voluntarily helping people out. So I stay away as too many cooks spoil the broth. It was the same that day too. But our volunteering team was busy rectifying Parthi's bike. John had gone to help the lady out. As he wasn't sure he called me. I went in there, lifted the cycle of the girl and asked her to cross the stream. John later said it was Macho and it did fell heroic but I wasn't in a mood for it. It'd have been a great capture on lens but sadly none were in a mood to take photo too.

After temporarily rectifying the bike, Arun, John, I along with Fahad, Siva and Antoine, Adelaide, we reached Leh about 6 PM. Went to Punjabi dhaba to have chai. We made Antoine taste Gulab Jamun, Laddu, Samosa etc. It's great when people from other part of the world relish your daily food and look in awe of something which we don't realize as something different.

From there we went to return John's bike, made call to our house, got bus tickets to Manali for John and went back. Only after coming back to room we got to know that Parthi's bike couldn't be repaired, as well as Mani's bike too. I asked John to take them to the bike shop, repair them so that we could start early tomorrow. But they had other plans. We all were supposed to meet at bar which I thought at that time itself that I wouldn't go, knowing that I wouldn't be able to get up early the next day.

It was first time for others who were getting up early daily and not having booze for more than a week, in a trip. It was understandable and they went to have drinks. After dinner in Punjabi Dhaba I packed everything, put up a note that we had to start early the next day and slept.

Day 12 - Of Breakdowns and Breaking Dawns

It was never meant to happen and it never happened. Guys seem to have come home at 2.30 AM. I thought they'd return around mid-night but it was worse. Mani had woken up to drop John at the bus stand. That meant that I had an extra hour sleep. Thanks to Mani. John still looked drunk, he was asking me not to get angry and take care of everything if others don't get up early. Mani had said that his bike hasn't been repaired yet. So we were sure that an early start was not possible but we at least wanted to cover one third of the distance.

Photo of Travelogue - That's how i got Leh'd by Vikram Mn

I started waking people up by 6'o clock. They did. It was a lazy morning. Having known that we wouldn't be able to reach the target Keylong we decided to reach at least till Pang which was about 150 KM from Leh, after repairing Mani's bike. We went to Leh's most famous bike mechanic, an Enfield expert, Mohan. At Mohan's mechanic shed there were already a couple of people waiting. So it took us close to three, four hours to get the bike rectified. We went and had breakfast in shifts. Arun was sleeping in my bike using my back rest as head rest. His right leg was in break and left leg in gear. He was automatically shifting gears in his sleep. The mechanic was laughing looking at him.

After getting Mani's bike ready we had our bike chains cleaned and lubricated. I suggested to put petrol at Karu and Bharath was suggesting to fill up petrol at Leh. Much to my dismay the Karu petrol bunk didn't have petrol. He told it'd take an hour for the petrol to reach the bunk. It was already 2PM. Parthi and I went to have lunch. The cloud was getting overcast. Bharath and Arun slept in petrol bunk listening to Chinese song.

In the lunch place where we had omelet and dal rice we met the CTC gang whom we had met the previous day in the crisis point. Seems they too had planned to go to Sarchu and as Karu petrol bunk didn't have petrol they went all the way to Leh to fill petrol. Their updated plan was to reach Pang like us by the end of day and reach Manali the next day, which I felt to be quite ambitious.

Bharath was excited about it and others too said that we could tag along with them. Arun meanwhile got up from his deep slumber and recited his dream story where there he went to a monastery and a man in flames sat next to him. He was calling him as 'theenjavan' meaning a burned out man. When Parthi woke up from his sleep Arun said that he was the 'theenjavan' who had asked him to move aside. In reality when Arun was sleeping Parthi had asked him to move and slept near him. It was a laugh riot there. At around 3.30 PM we filled our petrol and started from Pang.

Roads were generally good. Few were clicking pictures of us as it had become a tourist route. Many were coming in opposite direction to us. The route to Tanglang La, the second highest motorable pass in the world was freezing like hell. We were wearing three gloves but still we weren't able to feel our hands. When we reached the Tanglang La top we were hardly able to feel our hands. We were jumping like Armstrong in Moon as it was so cold out there. For the next one hour, in addition to the cold the roads were bad but Arun and I hurried past it and it was such a relief to see the good road after that stretch and empty our bladders.

Others came scolding us for driving so fast in bad roads. Arun lit up a smoke and we took a quick five minute break. It was around 6.30 PM then. We still had around 50 KM to go. Next stretch was a riot. More plains, the best road till date and the scenery was impeccable, it was freezing. We were driving at around 80 km/h. That 30 KM stretch was fabulous when even thinking about it now. People say that it's a great stretch to off road but we hardly had any time to think about it. It also had a number of camps and there was a route which goes to Tso Kar, may be some other time. When we almost reached Pang and was just about 10 KM to destination the sunlight went off, the road became bad and navigation became even tougher. Till the last kilometer we weren't able to see the Pang village. Everyone started getting afraid. With that cold and no lights we couldn't have gone anywhere else. We didn't even have tents.

But finally we saw a number of huts and one room which we selected so that we would be shielded better against cold and also because that room had the CTC gang. Our room was a five bedded dormitory for rupees three hundred per head. It had vegetables, chips, rations and what not. What's worse was it had a common toilet. But we were too cold to feel anything or think about anything. The temperature was around 10 degree. I slept keeping our mouth shut. Other guys were laughing with Arun commenting about his dysentery and cold. I got to know the story only the next day.

Day 13 - One Last Ride

Bharath and Arun were ambitious to get to Manali that day. Parthi wanted to get rid of the mountains so he too wanted to reach Manali by end of day but not even one percent of me was confident of reaching Manali by the end of day. Having heard from others about the road status and the distance of 300 Kilometres including Rohtang Pass, I was not having even a bit of doubt of not reaching Manali by end of day.

I said if we reach Keylong by 3PM we'll think about it. I was confident that we wouldn't even reach Keylong by that time. We woke up at 6'o clock rather than the regular 5'o clock routine. Mani told about the happening last night where Bharath seemed to have told Arun, "Mooditu iraen da" for which Arun seemed to have replied, "Naan mooda thanae da try panraen, mooda matenguthae," citing his dysentery. Poor fellow. He had to bear with it for more than a week. He had been drinking only juice for all these days and he's known to be a guy who eats heavily in his circle of friends.

Photo of Pang, Leh by Vikram Mn

As the CTC gang was getting ready soon the rest of the gang too was getting ready fast. The thing that I was trying from the first day but never happened till the last day. After breakfast we started off at around 9 AM. The roads were generally bad till Sarchu where we had our lunch. We crossed Gata Loops which was a series of 21 bends. But when I counted it came to 22. Thanks to the CTC folks who drove fast with their 500 cc bikes, our guys too kept up the speed as they were desperate not to lose track of them.

It was around 1'o clock and we all were tired like hell. The CTC gang too were contemplating on reaching Manali by night. Because last time they said that they had reached Darcha by that time. But this time Darcha was like 80 KM from there. My aim was only Keylong. Anything above it would be a plus. From Sarchu to Darcha the roads were reasonable. We had to fill out our details somewhere in the middle and from Darcha to Keylong too the roads were manageable. We reached Keylong around 4.30 PM. Our cut off time was 3 PM but at that time we thought it was doable.

From Keylong I cruised. We stopped for a brief moment in Tandi and decided against not filling up the petrol as it was crowded and we had extra petrol in our hands. I didn't want to be stuck in Rohtang Pass. I remembered the last time where I was feeling so pathetic to cross Rohtang in bus. This time when I saw Old Spiti Road in sign boards I was getting scared, I was alone. Thanks to the Indian Oil tankers I lost track of them and I didn't want to stop. I wanted to stop only after crossing Rohtang. I went on and on and finally met with CTC gang. I even overtook them and went.

When climbing up Rohtang a lorry driver was irritated as I wasn't stopping for him to get down. I was trying to calm my nerves. After that I went with CTC gang. Near the top of Rohtang Pass around 7 PM my petrol almost got over and I had to fill my tank. I started getting neck pain and was wanting to finish the trip as soon as possible.

Rohtang Top was misty and beautiful. The roads were wet and looked as if it had rained just then. Thanks to their tail lamps and head lights I was able to navigate the road. They stopped for quick chai in a tea shop and after few minutes rest of our gang came and had tea and cigarette.

It was all well till then. I in fact was overwhelmed. Bharath just told, "even if we take three hours from here we'd reach by 10'o clock." Unfortunately what he said became true. It started raining cats and dogs and the path became dark. This in the midst of fog which meant we had zero visibility. My neck pain got aggravated like hell, I couldn't turn my neck. I was finding so damn tough to concentrate. Shoes became wet and we had zero visibility. Arun and Bharath took turns to lead. One of them were in the middle. On the sides Mani and I showed lights but it was to no avail. Nothing was visible. At one juncture we even stopped all our vehicles to see which side the road was. That's how horrible the visibility was. Saying about it now might sound adventurous but we were tired beyond words and wasn't able to concentrate at all.

Thanks to the van which came after that. We tailed the van for next one hour for about 10 KM, till the misty path got over. After that it was Indian Oil tankers which were hundreds in numbers. We found it very tough to cross them. In all it was a disastrous last few hours journey. By that time I decided, come what may I wasn't going to go to Delhi by bike.

Once we reached the place which CTC guys suggested we called John and asked to vacate room which he had taken. I actually didn't want to stay there and spoil their plan to go till Delhi but stayed there as John too came. Rooms were one the best I've stayed thus far. I slept as soon as I went to room, went out to eat dinner and said that I won't be riding to Delhi. Worst thing was I wasn't even able to enjoy after achieving my dream of finishing Ladakh circuit in the way I wanted. I was never interested in riding till Delhi.

Dinner was decent and I slept like hell that day only to be woken up at 10 AM the next day.

Day 14 - When I found the true meaning of Relaxation

Breakfast again was fabulous overhearing the thunderous Beas River. By morning I got to know that they too had decided not to ride till Delhi. Bharath so badly wanted to finish it in India Gate but sadly it didn't happen. I felt bad for him. We inquired about buses to Manali and started to GATI at around 2 PM. It was a joy ride. The roads were awesome. We stopped once for a quick break to have tea and bread pakoda.

Photo of Beas River by Vikram Mn

It felt good to travel in the same road but with success this time. The tunnels, the Shimla to Spiti like road, Beas River, mountains, waterfalls etc. It all felt good. John took Mani's bike and he sat as pillion in my bike from the break point to GATI. We reached GATI at about 6 PM.

GATI in Mandi which was so low profile last time had become big this time with office in first floor and people in it becoming trendier. Two years before when I had parceled by bike for rupees 4000 took me rupees 6250 this time that too after two hours of negotiation. He initially quoted us rupees ten thousand. There was some stupid rule by GATI where every bike would be taken as 300 KG I guess. Parthi was saying that he is willing to pay if he takes the saddle bag too along with the bike. It was funny.

We called the travels guy for the bus to Manali and booked it immediately once we got our deal. It was fun to do everything in last minute, packing bikes all of a sudden, getting into van for bus and getting into bus after making it wait for half an hour. The bus stopped for the dinner at the exact place I had dinner while returning last time. Only difference was I was relieved last time but this time I was happy. We heard for songs some time in Parthi's iPad and slept. It would have been perfect if I had watched Yeh Jawaani Hai Diwaani too that day.

Day 14 - Yeah Dilli hae merae yaar

Our bus was late by three hours. I was never really worried. I was able to sleep for more time. From the place where we got down we went to Rajendra Place where our guest house was booked. It took 300 per cab and we took two cabs. Thanks to the luggage.

Photo of Delhi, India by Vikram Mn

There was confusion among the rest of guys as to whether they should go to Agra or not. John and Mani were voting for Yes and the rest were saying No. they finally decided to go to Agra by hiring a cab. Bharath and I stayed back. Plan was that John would return to the guest house and the others would stay in Noida where they had their friend.

I thought of utilizing the time for local sightseeing but I was tired beyond words. I was able to go only to Lotus temple and even for that I felt really tired. I had Aloo Kulche for lunch which was fabulous. And travel in Delhi metro train is something I always love. Delhi girls are the best. Period!

Back home I came and slept for three hours. Had Pani Poori and veg roll as dinner in nearby chat shop. I watched a crappy Hollywood movie, 'Accepted' which felt lovely that day. Once John came, our plan was to go to bar but he came after the movie got over at 11 PM and looked pathetic so we decided to pull the plug. We slept for straight 12 hours.

Day 15 - When the first block of puzzle left us

John was to take train to Kerala that day. He wanted to buy jacket for his relative so we went to Karol Bagh by rickshaw where he bought a leather like jacket and a couple of wallets for one thousand one hundred rupees. Not sure whether it was a good deal or not but the stuff looked good.

Photo of Karol Bagh, New Delhi, Delhi, India by Vikram Mn

It's a sin to miss Chole Batura when you are in Delhi so we decided to try it in Karol Bagh but sadly for us only Puri Chole was available. It was fabulous nevertheless. John took the metro from there and got to station. I returned back home to watch TV again. The two days in Delhi was fabulous, that too without net. For a guy who doesn't stay idle even for a minute it was such a respite to relax. After all that's what you want out of travel.

Around 7 PM in the evening the rest of the guys came home. By that time I had gone out to have Samosa and Jelabi for dinner which was served right out of the Handi. Needless to say it was fabulous.

We took a cab to railway station well in advance at 8.30 PM as it was Independence Day, the next day and we couldn't afford to risk missing the train. You know about the security restrictions in Delhi during Independence Day. Thanks to Pradeep, my colleague who had cancelled the trip, we had an extra ticket to keep our luggage.

As soon as we got into the train we made one from the coupe to go to next coupe and Mani slept in the other seat in the next coupe. We had five seats in our coupe which we used to the fullest. There was a commotion in the next platform where people were fighting to get into general compartment. I always feel bad for people who go by general compartment. How tough it'd be for them and here we complain about going by sleeper class. Tamil Nadu Express timings are great. As soon as the train started we slept, after waiting for a few minutes for the TT.

Day 16 - The Limbo State

It all was getting to an end. But this time I was neither sad nor was happy. I was content. I was relieved. I had a fulfillment of completing something that I always wanted to do so felt relieved.

Photo of Travelogue - That's how i got Leh'd by Vikram Mn

I didn't eat much from train pantry that day. I knew how it'd taste. It'd have been great to have had the thokku we had on the first day. I woke up really late. Ate something and again slept for a few hours. Rest of the day we played Ace and 7 cards. It felt good to win in cards. I'm generally bad at card games.

There wasn't much disturbance on that day by transgenders too except for one Dil Chahta Hai kind of incidence where a transgender danced in our coupe to the song which we had put. As soon as she went we all laughed. She came back and caught Parthi laughing. It was funny.

Rest of the day went in catching up with the rest of the stories and thinking about future. It was a good end to the trip

Day 17 - The End

Every time I type a long travelogue it irritates me. I always think why I am doing such stupid stuff as to write by whole travel story. On one side I want a note where I could read about everything about my past if I get stuck by Amnesia but on the other side there is nothing. This will be rarely read, even if read it'd rarely be appreciated. Is the pain worth it?

Photo of Travelogue - That's how i got Leh'd by Vikram Mn

But when I come to the last day there is a pang in the heart thinking it's all over now the memories could never be re made. The beautiful suffering of documenting your happy times of life is over. Even if I rewrite it again it's not going to be same. It's a weird feeling.

On our last day this time it was different. For a change the weather in Chennai was nice. As soon as I got out of railway station there was 1A waiting for me with empty seats. I had exact change to give to the conductor and the conductor was polite enough to say thanks. Icing on the cake was when there was no traffic I reached Thiruvanmiyur in half an hour from Central.

It was all over. Bags were unpacked. Hunt for photos from various people began. Bikes got back with damage and follow up is going on. Then what happened. Life happened.

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