Enigmatic quest to Ladakh & Spiti

It’s better to see beautiful things at regular intervals than just dreaming about it every other night or talking about it thousand times. 

That’s what made me & my rider- Rajendra, decide that we are getting Leh’d again and perhaps every year. And to fulfil our quest for additional dosage of adventure, it was decided to add Spiti Valley in the itinerary. Well that addition did enhance the severity of this trip, but we were blessed with the serenity of the Valley, happy memories for life & some good souls whom my rider calls friends.
While planning for this trip the Royal Bikers team- Manish a.k.a Manu, Varun a.k.a. Vroon, He-man, etc., Nishant & my rider froze the route, destinations enroute, timing  etc. after several rounds of discussions, just to ensure that the riders see as much we can & ride back home safely. And thankfully that happened, but Nishant couldn’t join, leaving the three musketeers to lead an entourage of 34 riders & pillions abiding the ~3700 kms journey.

Trip Itinerary

  • 21st June – Delhi – Mandi
  • 22nd June – Mandi – Sissu
  • 23rd June – Sissu – Sarchu
  • 24th June – Sarchu – Leh
  • 25th June – Leh (rest day)
  • 26th June – Leh – Hunder (Nubra valley) via Khardung La
  • 27th June – Hunder – Leh
  • 28th June – Leh – Tso Pangong via Chang La
  • 29th June – Tso Pangong – Tso Moriri
  • 30th June – Tso Moriri – Sarchu
  • 1st July – Sarchu – Sissu
  • 2nd July – Sissu – Losar via Chandra tal and Kunzum la
  • 3rd July – Losar – Tabo after visiting Pin valley
  • 4th July – Tabo – Kalpa via Gue and Nako
  • 5th July – Kalpa – Narkanda
  • 6th July – Narkanda – Delhi

On the penultimate day all riders from across the country had assembled at the Gurgaon hotel where accommodation was arranged for all. The briefing which started very late for some unavoidable circumstances gave enough time to the riders to meet, greet & cheer over a glass of beer. It was important for the first timers (all except the organisers) to understand the terrain better & know the rules that we were required to be followed to ensure a safe trip for all of us. Thankfully everyone patiently & inquisitively heard them, got their queries resolved and were prepared for getting on the trip of their lives.

It was good to see riders from different spheres coming in to fulfill their long cherished dream of ‘Getting Leh’d.’ Also it was impressive to know that 3 female pillions were riding with their respective riders and this had surely made them earn more respect for taking up this challenging task by embarking upon this journey. The Doctor couple (Dr. Ajay & Nidhi) from Sambhal (UP) on their almost ‘vintage’ RE Electra, which passed out several times during the ride, but refused to retire during the trip. The newly-weds, Jay & Ridhi, who had the courage to take this ride as their honeymoon trip, surely was a crazy thing to do. Priyanka, the talented Bollywood cinematographer who took some beautiful clips while learning to be a pillion during the entire ride & she fared quite well in all she did.  It will be unfair to leave Kevin McLeod’s journey. Kevin, a 53 year ‘Young’  lad who had started his trip much before  from his hill city- Kodaikanal and traversing several miles while paying visit to his family in B’lore, AP, MP, UP etc. enroute and reiterating that ‘Life begins at the end of our comfort zone”. The crazy set of friends from Pune, who had left their homes (in their PJs) early morning to see of 2 friends for this trip, eventually got carried away  and accompanied them in the car all the way to Delhi & them to Leh. They bought clothes from Delhi to beat Ladakh’s cold & this will the most insanely crazy thing that one could tell other which sharing their Leh experience.

Delhi to Himalayas and and beyond

Next morning, as the riders kicked their machines & began their Quest for Ladakh & Spiti, I & my rider were equally thrilled to get Leh’d again.  I was getting impatient to get over the initial leg of the journey & hit the hills of Manali which we eventually did. It was a hot day, followed by thunder showers which drenched all riders & exciting enough for the first day’s ride. Eventually it was quite late by the time we reached Mandi as we were lucky to have saved ourselves from a landslide that occurred as we were to cross the spot located about 30 kms. from Mandi. However, we were not lucky enough as we wasted an hour to make road for ourselves & get out of that place. The riders were tired after the day long ordeal through the broken & WIP roads which was a precursor of the road ahead. Next day after a late breakfast we began our journey for Sissu and this day we both were even more excited as we had to cross the first pass of the day- the wet, snow laden, treacherous & equally exciting Rohtang Pass. It was the day when I was having severe trouble with my T-cone set which resulted in severe wobbling & increased difficulty in steering. Our doctor on the trip- Babloo diagnosed the problem, though temporarily & it was decided that the faulty part had to be replaced. Thankfully my rider found a new set from the RE workshop in Manali which was bought to be replaced at the end of the day. Manu & my rider had to wait at Manali to get clearance documents for our truck (our saviour) which carried the luggage, spares et all  while other riders went ahead enjoying their ride under the sun, through the pass. By the time we got the clearance, it was already 4pm and heading towards the pass was more challenging at that time. Manu & we started our climb post 4.30 pm ensuring that their truck was coming along safely. This ride through the Pass was an unforgettable journey. Handling a bike with unstable handle, going through the pass when everyone had deserted the place & finding ourselves in the middle of nowhere, getting covered in the clouds, gave us the perfect adrenalin rush that we were looking for. Also it was our first tryst with the snow-capped mountains & the riders did not refrain from stopping by to click some memories. As we reached Sissu, much later than the scheduled time, Mr. Thakur’s Hotel Triveni came as a blessing for the tiring riders. His warmth, delicious food & comfortable stay arrangements was more than welcoming and riders enjoyed every bit of it.

Into and through the streams and land of La’s (passes)

On day 3 we started early in anticipation of water streams & also to ensure that we reach Sarchu well under the sunlight. Thanks to Babloo who got up early to replace the faulty part & I was raring to go again. As a golden rule, all riders had to tank up at the first fuel station every morning and this day, fortunately it was the famous Indian Oil station at Tandi which is the must-stop point for all riders as the landmark signboard read: ‘Next filling station 365 km ahead.’

One of the water streams enroute Sarchu

One of the water streams en route to Sarchu

All riders posed to get clicked with this landmark signboard while it took an hour to complete filling for all machines, our truck & the fuel cans that were kept as a backup for the machines. We began our journey while passing through the scenic Spiti Valley, covering the happening towns of Keylong & Jispa, riding past the Gompas, waving monks & locals amidst the green valley. As we took a break for lunch the sunny weather gave way for a drizzle which made it more exciting to ride. Post Jispa, challenges on the road multiplied as we crossed almost 15 river passing which where water flow was narrow to heavy. And out of those 3 were the toughest, where all riders were had to help each other by pushing us to cross it. There was a decent chance of flowing down with the stream if a rider was not guided well or if his confidence debilitated in the middle of the stream.  It was a brilliant team work of all the riders that everyone came through unhurt and yes, with dozen of stories to narrate later. Unfortunately this adventurous stint had left every rider with a wet feet as their boots weren’t high enough to prevent water flowing into it and sadly everyone had to ride on with a wet pair of socks on. Some riders were seen trying to beat the chill by using plastic bags beneath their socks, but that weren’t of much help either. Along with the streams we gradually climbed up till 16000+ ft to conquer Baralacha La (4890 Mtrs).

Everyone was ecstatic to have ticked 2nd of the many passes of the trip & it was a special moment for us as we were able to go through this path which we couldn’t complete last year due to severe weather. It was already late & we had wasted significant time at the water crossings and the condition appeared deteriorating with a mild snow fall at the pass. So the ride leaders hurried on to stop next which was the Camp at Sarchu. It was an eventful day where the riders braved all extremities & saw some picturesque sights including the lakes – Deepak Tal & Suraj Tal. Zing Zing Bar was a funny name of one of the locations enroute where the riders were looking for a ‘Bar’ to stock up for the night, which actually was a perfect stopover for the riders to refresh themselves & give their machines the needed break. Reaching Sarchu & locating the camp in the middle of barren land surrounded with snow-capped mountains, everyone was excited, but that excitement was short-lived. With the fall of night, temperature dipped sharply making it impossible for them to wash their hands or go out of their tents. To add to the woes, the facilities weren’t as good as it was expected & the camp in which my rider, Manu & Vroon had cozied themselves as it had several holes, thus allowing spine chilling air cause enough discomfort entire night. Somehow the tired day on road helped them to fall asleep to wake up & narrate the trembling tales of the chilly night, over the much needed cup of morning tea. I am sure, like my rider, many must have avoided using water for even completing the ‘basic tasks’. Some riders were already feeling low due to the low temperature but managed to head out for the destination for the day- Leh.

This day (Day 4) was the best journey, where me & my rider enjoyed every mile of  ~250 km journey from Sarchu to Leh. After crossing the Sarchu state border, once transcends into the majestic Zanskaar Valley,  and our ride through the entire valley eventful & fulfilling. Barely 20 kms from the camp was the famous Gata Loops.  As I was about to start climbing the Gata Loop characterised by 21 hairpin bends amidst spectacular landscape wherein the ascend begins at 13870 ft. and ends at 15300 ft. it gave my rider few opportunities to try our skills by taking the uncharted route & fulfil our quest to go off the road. The entire stretch of Gata Loops reminded me of the movie ‘Hills Have Eyes’ as the area was barren surrounded with, rocks & narrow roads and of course the blue sky accompanies with patches of clouds. There is local legend revolving the Gata loops which my rider became aware of later, after reaching Leh and subsequently doing some research on it. Its is believed that the story of Ghost is true which make travellers leave filled water bottle at a particular point to feed the soul of a driver who died of thirst in that loop. But thankfully, neither the so called ghost met us nor did he trouble us. After crossing the loop, we crossed another pass Nakee La (15547 Ft) and then climbed higher to surpass Lachung La (16616 Ft). With each Pass crossing, the riders experienced newer landscapes and their skills to ride through the passes got bettered. As we descended further my rider stopped by Kangla Jal, a stretch characterised by mysterious formation of mountains, just before Pang, and after wondering at the peculiar formations, we headed towards Pang.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going

When the going gets tough, the tough get going

En route to Pangong Tso

En route to Pangong Tso

There, all riders had regrouped for lunch and were already tired due to the pathetic road conditions and frequent change in altitude. Also it was the point where all machine’s tummy was fed with the fuel being carried in the saviour van. Manu surely won some brownie for arranging this & not charging premium for the petrol that was put in our bellies. After filling up, we moved ahead & were lucky to not find bigger & tougher water crossings during the day and were looking forward to ride through the scenic Morey Plains. It will be unfair if a rider doesn’t relish his ride through the 45kms flat stretch sans slope or bend at 15000 ft height surrounded by lush green vegetation and mountains, a.k.a Morey Plains. The road was no less than an air strip and inviting me to ride full throttle but was restricted by my rider. This was the best stretch so far in our journey where this plain stretch left the riders spellbound. This also shows the tremendous hard work & efforts of the Border Road Organisation who are continuously working on such high terrains to enable us pass through safely & make our journey memorable. Tanglang La (17852 ft.) was the next pass & the 2nd highest pass of our journey.

Since Manu & my rider were at the tail throughout the day’s journey, they took the liberty to stop frequently to get themselves clicked & also ensured that the saviour truck follows them on the correct path. Now the riders were almost accustomed with the thin & chilly air at the Passes and perhaps were enjoying it. Moving on, we got the first glimpse of the Indus river while approaching the small town of Upshi and it appeared that the river was welcoming and guiding us towards the most important destination of our trip- Leh.  After doing the round of checks at the check posts at Upshi & Karu, we finally entered Leh and my rider was happy to update ‘Got Leh’d Again’.  While others, who were other on their maiden journey, were visibly elated to achieve this feat. After settling down in their rooms, riders had a jolly good time with their drinks, chakna & stories of course. Braving the hardships together during the journey, sharing food & spoon at times, leaving no scope of pulling a leg of fellow riders and standing by beside anyone who had issues on the road & many more of such instances.. this was perhaps the next level of their camaraderie. As the famous saying goes,  ‘It doesn’t matter where you’re going, but its who you have beside you”, for us its happy souls following us or leading ahead.

Juley! Basking in Leh’s Glory

On Day 5 it was a much needed rest day for us & for riders to roam around the Leh city. Though it wasn’t a bright sunny day at Leh & with rough weather conditions at the Khardung La which was under heavy snow & was being visibly bad condition as it appeared from our hotel and was later confirmed by hotel owner & local cab drivers. This raised a doubt on the chance of crossing the Pass next day.

However, without paying much heed to the next day’s chances, most of the riders left out to take a glance at what the charming & exciting city had to offer. In the small town, you would surely see more bikers & bike rental shops around, also the warmth of locals greeting you ‘Juley’ (hello) cheering you, coffee/breakfast at the German cafes which is more than tempting, easy & relaxed environment will make anyone consider settling down in the city. At least my rider had seriously thought about it, but couldn’t do much for the love of his life who hates living in cold places. On this day when sun was playing hide & seek and wind was chilly with sporadic drizzles, riders decided to play safe & took a car to venture out towards the monasteries, Leh Palace, Magnetic Hills and other ‘touristy’ must visit places. While some went out to explore what the refugee markets had to offer & get customised memorabilia T-shirts made for them & their friends which include my rider too. The day went well for us as we got a deserving rest & riders too had a day out at Leh. At night, discussions were held among the organisers about the chances of being able to cross Khardung La which was closed the entire day & had lesser chances of clearing up next day. Also, Manu’s excitement had a new level as his pillion for life (read wife) – Sakshi was going to join us the next morning & manage Manu.

Mighty Khardung La & mysterious Nubra Valley

From this day onwards, perhaps it was the beginning of better days ahead as far as ride, arrangements and many more. Sakshi had joined Manu & was instrumental in turning things from good to better.  As riders were gulping their breakfast, news of weather being kind on them came in & that the roads had opened up. Everyone including us readied ourselves to conquer the so called highest motorable road in the world – the expansive Khardung La (Pass) at 18380 ft. above the sea level, which offers one of the toughest road, challenging terrain & volatile weather conditions to its visitors. Thankfully some riders thought through their mind by not taking a chance of riding there when they were not confident about riding in those conditions. And they booked a cab for themselves for this ~150 kms journey to Nubra valley.  The road to the top seemed tougher this year as it as under repair but wider than last year. Marred by frequent water pits, streams & dipping temperature with every kilometre, it was giving the riders a startling thrill. All riders were categorically told to keep themselves hydrated to avoid falling prey to Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), which they did. This year thankfully none of the riders were affected by AMS which allowed them to enjoy the journey and they might be thanking the trip planners who kept reminding them about drinking water to avoid the illness, whenever it was discussed during Whatsapp conversations or during the ride. Though a portable oxygen cylinder for the riders was mounted on my rear seat, which was thankfully not required by the brave riders.

Ladakh Bike Ride

Spituk Monastery overlooking Leh city

Spituk Monastery overlooking Leh city

On reaching to top of the pass the ecstatic riders did not leave any opportunity to get clicked beside the legendary sign board with expression – ‘been there done that’. There we found that the road ahead was closed temporarily as an army truck went down the hill while crossing the snow covered path. This surely made some of the riders sweat but thankfully no one gave up. Jay & his beau Riddhi, rolled back to base as she wasn’t feeling well & didn’t want to continue further. Thankfully they were travelling in a car that day and made enough sense to go back to Leh for the lady to take rest. However in their car Dr Nidhi (w/o Dr Ajay) was also travelling & she, unwilling though, had to go back with them which could have been avoided as she was fit & willing to go ahead up till Nubra.  Well as we moved ahead, we couldn’t found that snow had blocked the road & our brave army men & BRO team were working to clear that. Perhaps crossing this snow laden stretch alone wouldn’t have been possible & each & every rider helped fellow rider to cross the toughest part unscathed. After the delayed start in the morning, this stoppage had delayed our ride further & we finally managed to reach the Camp almost when sun was about to rest. Bonfire, music & loads of fun over discussions were being carried out before dinner including freezing the next day’s ride plan.

View from Khardung La top

View from Khardung La top

It would be unfair if I don’t mention about out ‘motographer’ Ashish who was putting in tremendous effort to film the trip for his documentary. And all riders happily obliged him by posing for him & sharing their thoughts for his documentary :). Next morning most of the riders went ahead to see the cold desert of Nubra featuring white sand & double humped camels (Bactrian camel), which apparently is exclusively found in this part of the county.  While most of the riders enjoyed their time at the desert, the motographer shot the musketeers on the long road with snow-capped peaks in the background, desert by the side & under a sunny & blue sky.  This is the road that leads to Siachen base camp where our brave heart soldiers have been holding the fort atop in extreme conditions & ensuring our safety. After returning from the desert expedition, everyone assembled at the Camp & left for Leh through the same route, which wasn’t in better shape on that day too. But with the help of fellow riders all were pushed & pulled through the ice covered roads safely & were back at base by noon. This gave them enough time for taking a last round of the city markets & buying some more woollen stuff to beat the chilly night at Pangong Lake. One gear that some of the riders bought for themselves was a pair of waterproof boots to prevent their feet from getting wet at the water crossings. My rider’s boots were already worn out majorly due to the onslaught at the water crossings & was allowing water to seep in easily & even after riding them for 30000 kms, he still wanted more from them.

Pangong Tso & Tso Kar

Another morning & we were ready ride to Pangong Lake & bid adieu to the city of Leh finally. We were thumping and moving as quickly as possible to ensure that riders reach designated camp well in time, after crossing another pass – Chang La at 17688 ft above the sea. Like other passes this one was also tough to ascend, cold, dry but worth conquering again. On that day my rider & Vroon was responsible to get the truck along as there were several check points enroute and their presence helped the truck to move swiftly.  Sipping a cup of coffee at the restaurant on top of Chang La where people generally comfort themselves and bikers, bikers do enjoy the attention they draw from the tourists during such halts and this day it was no different.

It was also the day when my rear wheel brakes gave up mid-way while we were travelling downhill on a broken path. Controlling me was next to impossible at that moment. But somehow, he managed & we were stopped by a rock at the road side. This reminded me of our last year trip where I had to travel in the truck due to similar problem & we both were praying and hoping that the break start functioning soon. Thankfully Vroon was there to boost up my rider’s morale, who thought that he won’t be able to ride me to Pangong. After taking a transitory break there while waiting for the saviour truck, they kept trying to mend it and EUREKA.. it starts functioning. Our doctor Babloo diagnosed the problem & figured out that due to extreme weather conditions, terrible roads & frequent engaging of brakes, the break disk got exceptionally heated up, thus resulting in malfunctioning of my braking system.  After it cooled down & started functioning we left that spot, he rode me much slower while avoiding using it frequently. This stretch of the journey, after the Chang La (Pass), was characterised by desert, rocks & curvy roads which was adventurous at every turn. Sadly Varun’s bike also gave some troubles which Babloo had to mend. Finally we reached the Camp before sunset, where all riders had reached long time back.

The first sight of Pangong Lake was hypnotic. It’s cool blue essence was special and worth taking all the pain & risk. We came to know that most of the riders had the courage to take a dip in that freezing water and perhaps had ‘iron balls’ apart from an iron butt.  The night was celebrated discussing the heroics of the brave men of the gang with metal body parts and another eventful day ended with a sub-zero temperature at night, which is a common phenomenon at this spot.

Pangong Lake, Ladakh

Pangong Lake, Ladakh

The toughest route, towards another lake

Sitting by the lake, watching the sun coming up is an out of the world experience which once must do. Thankfully Priyanka captured the sunrise & that came out to be a splendid time-lapse video. After all, it was shot by a professional cinematographer, who is skilled, & does the job really well. Spending time by lake is the best thing one could do here & keep gazing at the clear blue sky, changing colour of the lake water and wonder how lucky they are to be able to witness this transcendent beauty.

After the morning breakfast all riders geared up for the longest and the roughest ride in the valley (~350kms) to Tso Moriri (lake), the largest high altitude lake in India located at just over 15000 ft, which lies in the Chumathang Valley region. As we moved ahead Dr Ajay’s machine, which was the most experienced among us, and frequently troubled him, shot more troubles for him thus resulting in loading it on the saviour truck. And this wasn’t the first instance. Previously, Eshwar’s bike also had a major problem which damaged his entire rear brake mechanism & had travelled significant distance inside the truck and was repaired after our arrival in Leh. By the time we reached Upshi & had our lunch, some riders realised that the ride was tougher that their expectation & rightly assumed that it was poised to get tougher in the coming days. So some of them decided to part ways & head towards Delhi via Srinagar. All riders tried to convince them that riding together they would have completed the journey, but they were determined that their quest had fulfilled and decided to move out on their own towards Srinagar to reach Delhi and we kept moving towards Tso Moriri (Lake). The road from Upshi to Kere (around 75 kms.) via Kumdok was horrific & painful too. With literally no roads along most of the journey and travelling at around <20 km per hour, reaching Tso Moriri seemed impossible on that date. During a tea break we saw a bike coming at a rocket speed towards us and what they discover it was their mates who came back… everyone was delighted to find that the chaddi-buddy duo Karthik & Manjunath, dropping their quitting plan & returning back to join us and complete the trip. Seeing them every rider was delighted and patted them for coming back. My rider who was close to them was overjoyed to have them back in the troop. On his return, Karthik told that he did not want to feel like a looser for the rest of his life & that made him turn back to join the gang, even though they rode much ahead towards Leh.  Someone said, our heart is free, we need to have the courage to follow it. On their return Karthik & Manju demonstrated that, vividly.

The journey to our destination for the day became tougher as night fell and thankfully Manu led from the front. There were chances that we could have been attacked by animals or even dogs which eventually happened when a group of dogs wobbled him. After all hardships we reached the small habitation beside Tso Moriri at well past 11pm where the BSF team allowed us after a thorough scrutiny. The riders were not in a position to do anything but fall on bed for a much needed sleep. The day finally ended after a marathon ride of over 12 hours marred by several unplanned stops & exigencies, but more importantly it ended that day.

In the morning with renewed energy, riders rode up to the banks of the banks of Tso Moriri (Lake), which is also known as the Mountain Lake, located in the Rupshu valley of Changthang sub division of Leh at a height of around 15000 ft. The gorgeous lake is about 28 km in length from north to south and is about 4-6 km in breadth and about 100 feet average in depth, while the maximum depth is 248 feet. It was our first visit to this lake & happy that after all the hardships, we were treated by the picturesque lake with barren hills & snow-covered mountains as its backdrop, which was delight for the cameramen. Ashish, Amol & Priyanka were busy clicking the pics & others were busy posing. Perhaps impossible to not capture this place to relish later at the comfort of their homes. This region is well known for the Changpa’s tribe , the Nomads of the region whose life has been documents most aptly by legendary rider Gaurav Jani in his documentary-Riding solo to the top of the world.

Tso Moriri

Tso Moriri

After breakfast we headed for Tso Kar (lake) which was about around 90 km ride but took more than 4 hours to reach. All thanks to the off-road track which fulfilled all adventurequest of my rider and yes it was a painful ride for me as well. Perhaps there wasn’t even 500mtr of tarmac road and riding on this was a new thrill all together. The lake was unique and surrounded with salt deposits all around. From a distance it didn’t appeal much, but as it was covered with white coloured sediments all round & little amount of water in the centre, but was certainly distinctive when we came closer to it. On reaching this salt lake, riders halted for lunch & some of them even took off time to call up their homes from the satellite phone available at the sparsely inhabited locality near the lake.

After moving on I was desperately gasping for some tarmac & was motivated by my rider that we were to hit the Moore plains again to reach Sarchu, out halt for the night. It was quite late by the time we reached the camp which was not as bad as it was on during our previous stay, but still won’t recommend to say at Planet Himalaya Camps. My tank was almost empty & most of my fellow machines had gulped more than the estimated quantity of petrol so my rider bought couple of litres from locals at a hefty price of Rs 300 per ltr. which was certainly pinching. Some of my fellow 500 cc machines did the same which had hurt them as well.

The mystical Spiti Valley

For the next two days, we took a familiar route to reach Sarchu i.e. and then to Sissu through the water steams, again. It was the 12th day of our ride when we left Sissu towards the mystic Spiti valley. My rider had heard several exciting stories about the mystically beautiful valley which is a must visit for those who travel abroad & gaze the scenic locales there. The Dalai Lama suggests, one should visit someplace where he had never been before and so we are. Spiti was it which we both & the entire clan were eagerly waiting to explore.

After Gramphoo, we took the road towards Batal following the narrow path chiselled out of the mighty mountains and abundance of greenery to soothe our eyes. The only shortcoming was it the ~100km trip to Losar was sans road and ideal for off-roading fun. This stretch is a part of the Tribal Circuit of Himachal Pradesh which had lot more exciting stuff in store for the riders & us. Passing through a spectacular terrain of river valleys, cold desert mountains, high passes, snow capped peaks, icy lakes, mighty glaciers, an exotic tribal country dotted by monasteries, yaks and lamas, we couldn’t have asked for more. The road till Batal was rocking in real sense with rocks, full-fledged streams & rivers flowing through the roads. It would had been tough for many to cross these routes unhurt, had the riders were not riding together. Without being asked for everyone was extending their hands, removing boulders from the streams (amidst freezing water) for fellow riders and giving them the confidence that together we would cross this one too. All this was being done for someone & by the riders whom they had met few days back.

In fact, it didn’t matter if the other person was from the group, any possible help needed, by any traveller/rider they all were up for it. On reaching Batal, most of the riders were either drenched or dead tired or both & looking for a much needed lunch break. And they stopped at Chandra Dhaba where they came to know about its owners- Dorje couple, who were real life heroes. They had saved several lives during the unfortunate Ladakh cloudburst (2010) & were aptly rewarded at several platforms apart from being featured in leading dailies, which were up on display there. Riders were served delicious, freshly cooked meal which they enjoyed thoroughly.  At that point, some riders had planned to take a detour & visit Chandratal Lake which is a popular trekking destination too. So some of them went ahead towards the lake while remaining continued their journey towards Losar & Kunzum Pass (>15000 ft) was the next stop. Alike all other passes, the roads were in severe condition, especially at the turns which was dangerous & challenging.

At the Pass riders took a break to click some pics of the charming view around of the temple & lamas and moved ahead towards our destination which was around 20 kms away. The descend was even more enthralling & treacherous. The riders became aware of a new danger sign marked on the boulders by BRO ‘Kaichi more ahead” which meant the road ahead was were in similar to the scissor handles (shape of 8) and of course decorated with boulders making it a ride to remember. It took more than 2 hours to reach the village. Seeing the ‘Welcome to Spiti Valley’ gate was one happy moment for them as it meant end of the torturing journey for the day  & thankfully it was still sunny when we reached the beautiful stay location there- Nomad’s Cottage. However my rider’s happy feeling was short lives as he discovered that the boutique property could accommodate some of the riders and they moved back towards the village to spend the night at another hotel. However the riders who went towards the lake took much longer to reach & their delay was worrying for the organisers who were planning to go back towards the lake to find them, in that pitch black, chilly night. Thankfully they arrived, else it would have been another tough ride for me as well. However their ‘Chandratoll’ story was hilarious & is still being trolled by the group members whenever that detour is being discussed. Next morning we all were set for our journey towards Tabo, another splendid journey of just over 100 kms. between the hills, through the smaller villages & stupas. Since the riders were already feeling the thrust of their backs, all thanks to the off-roading track throughout the valley, stops had become more frequent now. These breaks were much needed for us too.

The road was even more challenging for our saviour van driver who drove that truck superbly without any major troubles, except that his engine surely needed an overhauling on completion of the trip. Moving ahead & enjoying the journey, riders halted almost mid-way just before Key Gompa (monastery) to visit the biggest monastery in the Valley. From a distance it appears no less than a huge colourful palace on the hills & it’s impossible for the riders to restrain themselves from clicking the architectural marvel from a distance, of course, with us in the frame. The view of the valley atop the Gompa was enthralling & my rider wanted to spend a night there amongst the monks, where peace was aplenty. After a quick photo session & looking the place, riders decided to head towards Kaza, giving Kibber village a miss.

Kibber is supposedly world’s highest habituated village connected by motorable road and we needed to ride further upward to reach the village, which would had resulted in further  delaying the day’s ride. After reaching Kaza, our belly was again filled with petrol from the station that we saw after Tandi. Kaza is perhaps a bigger town with access to better basic facilities & infrastructure. After lunching at Kaza we headed towards Tabo which was around 40kms away. Given our experience in the valley, we expected to reach the hotel in 3 hours but eventually took an hour extra. The road ahead was full of gravels & mud and to make it tougher, it rained as we left Kaza. On finally reaching our hotel at Tabo, many riders (if not all) thought of having a bath, as the temperature there was allowing them to do so. Evening get-together/ pain sharing were an integral part of the journey which every rider looked forward to and this evening was no different, wherein individual stories were shared & next day’s plan was decided.

Next morning riders went up to the caves which makes Tabo famous and where monks used to meditate earlier. To access the caves, one needed to climb a small cliff (can’t be considered as a trek for sure) & see the town from the caves. Also, the unique monastery at Tabo, is a must watch for all visitors, which riders didn’t miss out on. Its exteriors were uniquely made of Mud & like all holy places in the region, blessed the riders with positivity & energy for the remaining leg of the ride. For obvious reasons, the ride towards Kalpa, started late again due to these activities and had to leave out Pin Valley , a national park in the region, well known for its spread. My rider was already feeling low about several aspects including that fact that the ride was nearing its end and also that it was the last day in the Spiti region. So we both decided to enjoy our ride through the remaining kilometres of the Valley & vowed to come back sooner to explore it further in detail. This day we bid adieu to the Spiti River which was flowing beside our route. Nako, was the last notable town in Spiti valley which made way for Kinnaur Valley alongside Sutlej River, near Khab. The ride through the Kinnaur Valley was equally fascinating. The route was characterised by scenic roads chiselled out of the mountain’s chest which makes the entire journey through the range more exciting. The gushing sound of Sutlej and the caravan of riders zipping through the hills was thrilling ride that would be difficult to forget. Of,course the powerful waterfalls needs to be mentioned which kissed us as we crossed the bridges. It was dangerous sight but perfect gave the riders a dose of adrenalin rush.

Change in geography was evident from the surrounding mountains that had turned from green (in Spiti) to dry, brownish rocky formations. Officially, the road from was the most treacherous with several boards displaying warning message- “You are driving on the most treacherous road” and asking riders to ride carefully. The route was marred by frequent landslides, gusty waterfalls which appear dangerously exciting as you pass them. In fact we escaped a landslide which was being cleared by the BRO staff. It was the day when Kevin’s machine had a puncture mid-way and our saviour van which Manu & Vroon were accompanying was stuck in a landslide about 10 kms behind us.  It took about couple of hours to clear the road by BRO guys who were always on their toes, mending the roads continuously. This leg of the ride was not only hazardous but sucking out live out of us too. In fact Manu’s machine was also giving some troubles due to which he & his beloved travelled some distance in the truck with his bike loaded inside. My handle again had with same wobbling issue &  infact it was every machine that had visible share of wear & tear, but thankfully being a Royal Enfield, we survived all the way & reached the Recong Peo or ‘Peo’ as called by locals. After taking a brief sigh of relief, there riders waited there for others to assemble & ascended towards Kalpa which was still about 30 mins. away. So by the time we reached the beautiful city of Kinnaur Valley, it was dark & we all were again too tired, gasping for a long rest. However, riders didn’t rest before their evening round of discussion over drinks & food.

En route to Lahaul and Spiti, Himachal Pradesh

En route to Lahaul and Spiti, Himachal Pradesh

Green patches in barren land

Green patches in barren land

Perspective shot

Gliding through pure air

The apple valley of Kinnaur and Narkanda

It was a sunny morning which enabled us to enjoy the enchanting range from the hotel itself. It was the penultimate day of the ride and we were destined to halt at Narkanda that night.  While setting out for Narkanda, the hotel owner had informed us that a connecting bridge on the highway was under repair due to which we needed to take a detour. Unfortunately the alternate route was as treacherous as it was on the previous day & moreover, it was narrow and had fully loaded trucks plying on it. We were escorting the troupe through the uncharted road up till Karcham dam, the road was totally damaged with few patches of decent tar roads. On reaching the dam, we halted for others to join us & regroup before moving ahead. Then riders came to know it was Amol’s bike which had a puncture & Manu, Varun, Kevin were lending a hand to repair it. Perhaps they had learnt it the hard way last day during Kevin’s bad luck.  Opening & fixing tyres on a Thunderbird is not as easy as other Royal Enfield machine. It’s the disk break assembly which make it pretty tough to take out the wheel, unless you know how to do it. Thankfully my rider knows how to take off & fix my wheel & I gave both of us confidence to ride through the treacherous road fearlessly. Moving further, we crossed another dam at near Sangla, about 50 kms from Kalpa, from where one can head towards Chitkul, which is the last inhibited village of India on Indo-Tibet Border. Since that route was not a part of the journey, we left for next time & marched ahead on the comparatively better road. Our happiness knew no limits to find larger stretches of metal road coupled with the picturesque location in the valley, along the Baspa river.

With several breaks & halts we finally managed to reach the hotel at Narkanda and guess what we discover?? It was the best hotel we could have stayed to make our last night of the journey. Tethys Resort, is a well-kept ski resort in the tiny hill station and the riders were more than happy to find a luxurious comfortable bed to rest their bottom, that night.  Not only that, a bon fire was arranged to set the mood perfectly and all riders joined again to cheer for the last drink together on the last night of the trip. It was also a session where riders spoke about their highs & lows during the ride and gave their valuable feedback to the organisers. You must watch them sharing their experience in the awesome video clip made by our motographer.

Though everyone was happy & merrily enjoying the most memorable might of the trip, some where within, riders were sad about the fact that the ride was reaching its final stop the next day & wouldn’t be meeting the fellow riders who eventually became besties on the road. Everyone was thankful to Sakshi for being the best host & turning thing for better the trio (Manu, Varun & my rider) who perhaps had guided them to complete the incredibly tough ride with less hassles & more fun.

So it was the last time my rider was shouting ‘Chalo Chalo’ on the morning of 6th July at Narkanda. Last night’s hangover (fun) was not yet over & everyone seems to be in a relaxed mood & eventually they started much later than the scheduled time. It was the last time that we all were riding down the hills bypassing Shimla, towards home, sweet home. Though the riders could feel the heat as they rode towards Delhi, they were welcomed with heavy shower as they entered the city, late night. As we were riding down several memories were simultaneously being played in the rider’s mind- How quickly the riders from different places, cultures, origins bonded, How tough were crossing the water crossings, but together they enjoyed it even when their spine felt the chill of the icy water, back-breaking roads & no-roads that we conquered enroute, the fear of being left alone & then finding the organiser (at the tail) coming up to you & asking you- “sab theek hai” and then riding with them to catch the remaining gang, the assurance of the back-up team comprising of ‘saviour’ truck, the doctor & his team, the truck driver and the fact that if the bike breaks down, rider did not had to drag his machine or go back to fetch for a carrier van, the numerous chats during evening get together, some riders deciding to call it  a day mid-journey and two of them returning to join the trip back, pulling legs of the people who took it very well, and of course the magnificent locations that drugged them so well, leaving no choice but vowing to return next season. The trip would had been much more cumbersome if the local police & army were not as helpful as they were. And it becomes utmost essential to acknowledge & thank them for what they were doing to keep us safe. This trip was one hell of a journey and reiterated that Happiness is a way of travel & not a destination. As a Jajabor, me & my rider would want to continue this happiness ride till me reach our final destination. Such rides enrich us with lifetime experiences that makes us aware of things that we can achieve by ourselves, which otherwise were dreams for us & others.  Also my rider was richer at the end of the trip to have earned some more friends for life.

A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find that after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us –John Steinbeck

Colorful arc at Leh

Colorful arc at Leh

Machines by the Pangong Lake

Machines by Pangong Lake

Ladakh Bike Ride

Badass bikers