Ladakh and Kargil - By Daman Sidhu
7 of us from Inddiethumpers had gone on a trip to Ladakh in the summer of 2003 and I maintained a daily log of all that we did and here’s a look at the log :) hope you all enjoy it.
Day 1 Friday, 6th June
The big day arrived, after a week of preparations we were all ready to roll out our bikes and for the Magnificent Seven to head towards the highest roads in the world. We planned to leave around 6 in the evening today but as usual everyone arrived late plus I had some packing to do. So we ended up leaving Andheri at 8:30 PM with Waseem, Shweta, Amal, Rajiv and Paresh to give us company till Surat. My bike stalls near a petrol pump while everyone moves ahead, managed to start it after sometime. As we move out of Bombay it starts to rain heavily. We have our dinner at a nice place that Bruce suggested. By the time we reached Vapi everyone was sleepy, the time is around 12, we find a hotel there and pack up for the night.
Day 2 Saturday, 7th June
Started late, which I discover later, is actually quite early compared to the time we all get up the next few days on the trip. As we are getting ready to leave we discover that Rajiv’s bike is punctured and that too the front tyre with discs. Found a puncture repair shop easily but it proved an exercise to remove the tyre from the disc. Meanwhile two more thumpers Ronnie and Srikant join us as they are heading on a smaller club ride to Saputara with Waseem. We bid adieu to Waseem and Co who head towards Saputara from here and also to Amal and Shweta who head back home to Bombay. Bruce and Nikhil's bikes started giving problems and we could not manage good speeds as a pack. Had some fun with a CBZ fellow near Surat, entered Godhra to find a big crowd gathered around us. Headed towards Udaipur from there. It was extremely hot in the day and we did not really push the bikes too hard for fear of something going wrong only in the beginning of a long journey. Probably the jackets and full clothing we were wearing was what protected us from getting sunstroke. Rode till late in the night and entered Rajasthan around 12 amidst heavy truck traffic. Almost slept a few times on the empty stretches of the road. We finally stopped 50kms short of Udaipur at a dhaba, had our dinner there and slept at the rooftop of the dhaba itself- the first use of sleeping bags that we brought.
Day 3 Sunday, 8th June
We are already behind our schedule but cannot go faster because of the problems in Nikhil's bike. Seems his floating bush is gone. I get restless because we are behind schedule today, but there’s nothing that can be done about it. Rajasthan is fantastic in its own way - it’s grave, hot and dead and still inspires awe. Even at full noon when the sun is harsh there is a haze in the sky because there’s dust all around in the sky. You cannot even see the sun in its full glory because of so much dust. The roads till Ajmer are fantastic. Ajmer to Jaipur is a different ball game though because there is a huge amount of truck traffic there. Nikhil had a heatstroke and we make him drink lots of glucose etc.. Along the way we get separated but finally manage to meet up in Jaipur. Drop the plan to heading towards Delhi after much conversation and decide to go leave early morning for Delhi. Eat decent food and pack up at a nearby so-called Inn for 400 rupees for everyone. While some slept inside the house a few of us preferred to sleep outside in the lawn. We had a sound sleep.
Day 4 Monday, 9th June
Started in time from Jaipur… around 9-10AM :) The Jaipur-Delhi stretch made me experience the worst heat I’ve ever seen in my whole life. It was so hot that one could roast a chicken in the air. Got Prickly heat all over the body. Delhi seemed very far off…finally reached Delhi and Mahendaru motors- the place where we were to get our free services courtesy Royal Enfield around 5. A few of us had come ahead while a few were behind. Nikhil's bike totally ceased and the kick lever refused to budge near Gurgaon. Meanwhile I talked to the owner of the workshop and he agreed to waive off the labour charges off Nikhil's repair. So Rajiv towed Nikhils bike 30 odd kms to the workshop. My close buddy and the moderator of Delhi Bullet Club Royalbeasts joined us at the workshop shortly and so did Kartik and Sachin who also belong to Royalbeasts and are great friends. The mechanic tightened my bikes chain too much and it was horribly overheating to my agony…I discovered this much later in the evening and could not find a spanner to loosen the bolts… so had to wait till next day. The heat in Delhi was so much even in the night that the whole bike was hot as an oven, even the mirrors are heating up. Sameer in all seriousness tries to explain this is because of engine and we all have a good laugh at him :D. We all put up at Ajeets huge place at South Ex. for the night where we got fantastic hospitality from Ajeets mom. Later we had a good dinner with the Delhi guys at a dhaba at Gurgaon where incidentally I managed to loose my cell phone.
Day 5 Tuesday, 10th June
Today we all got up lazily and all goto Karol Bagh to get the luggage racks fixed on the bikes. We decide to leave Nikhils bike in Delhi only as it has a newly done up engine and hell come as pillion with us. Sameer decides to take him along with him on his 500. Anyway on reaching Karol Bagh we are joined by Kartik and also meet Vaibhav and Raja of Royalbeasts, see some fantastic bikes in the market including 5 Shining RD350's and a few good looking BSA's too. Sameer and Anshu get their seats made again by Khajanchi Seat Maker while we all put up luggage racks. We also visit the famed Lalli Singh but he seems only interested in working for foreigners and he politely refers us to some other mechanic. So much for his reputation. Anyway by the time we were finished with the whole process it was pretty late and we did not have time to goto Delhi Cantoment area to search for Army Shoes and Gloves, we decided to pick them on the way in Manali and headed for India Gate where i got my bike corrected from John's Garage. After dinner at Ajeets place we left in the night for Chandigarh. 7 people on 6 bikes now. Nikhil was with Sameer. He had packed up his stuff so well and so much on his bike that a person sitting behind could literally sleep without falling off the bike. Just as we left Delhi we tanked up at a petrol pump, one poor souls came upto Nikhil and asked him whether we were going on a tour… Nikhil’s reply was no we are crazy loons and pack up and ride whenever we feel like… poor fellow was put off :) so much for biker attitude :) we took one wrong turn while leaving delhi and ended up on the Noida Toll Road… Man that was the best stretch I’ve seen till date to rip on and that’s what we did :) After coming back on track to Chandigarh, we rode on all night but felt sleepy in times so we parked our bikes just a little off road and opened the sleeping bags and slept there by the roadside only. Cops came to inquire after sometime, but they were good cops, I told them that we were just tired so taking rest and they said oh ok and left.
Day 6 Wednesday, 11th June
Nearing early morning Anshu and me ripped ahead and for at least 50-60 odd kms had our throttle locked almost all the time, we gave lot of big Sumos and other cars a run for their money and a weird look on their faces… There were lot of small insects in the air and after sometime my helmet was stinking with so many of them dead on my visor. Ended up around 7 or 8 and Rajivs family Friends place in Chandigarh.Slept like logs for half the day, I visited my relatives. Fantastic hospitality we got there too :) I was worried from some noise from my engine which seemed like floating bush gone... So I put 2 tins of nulon in the oil. Bruce also put one in his engine oil. Left a little late passed through Mohali and headed towards Ropar and then the Himalayas Via Manali. The Ghats started finally. Night driving in the mountains is a different ball game though, Sameer and Rajiv had a few narrow escapes. We ended up that night again at a dhaba rooftop in Swarghat after eating at the same place.
Day 7 Thursday, 12th June
Left in the morning for Manali via Kullu, saw the true glory of Himalayas but this was just the beginning. It was pretty normal day with stops along the way to see a Dam,pay respects at a Temple etc and the usual leg pulling. Sameer pissed off a mechanic in Kullu when he tried to tell him what to do with his bike :) We ate momos (a Tibetan dish) at Kullu. Reached Manali around 6 I think, found a mechanic called Raju, he was not free but when Sameer gave him his reference he agreed to do our bikes, Nikhil was annoyed with me over an issue, I apologized as it was my mistake and smoothened things. We went shopping some of us called home, bought gloves and shoes, petrol cans for everyone. After searching for hotel for sometime and arguing with a hotelwalla found a good Hotel in Old Manali and packed up there for the night.
Day 8 Friday, 13th June
Left as usual at IST(inddiethumpers standard time) from Manali and from here I believe our actual journey starts, the rest was just a trailor of things to come. After a great breakfast amidst the fantastic valleys before Rohtang Pass we headed towards our first pass-Rohtang, the sceneries along are just mind blowing and I believe no picture can do true justice to what we were to see in the next few days. Rohtang Pass was covered totally in snow, it had a huge tourist crowd, probably this is the farthest most of the regular tourists would come. Had a snowball fight with Sameer there and some tea and left from there… the oxygen was less there and it could easily be felt as even moving around a little bit caused breathlessness. Descended from the pass real fast as it was getting increasing chilly with cold wind blowing and sub zero tempratures starting. Both the hands and feet became numb by the time we descended from the mountain had tea as soon as we descended and everyone warmed up a bit as it was raining outside. This was the only time we experienced rain during the whole ride. After following the road through the valley for a long time we landed up at Tandi around 8 o’clock. Tandi is the last place you will find petrol before Leh, which is 375kms from there. But the petrol pump was closed. We decided to stay there, but no accommodation was available, a local suggested we ride to Keylong which was 7kms more and put up there in the HTDC guest house which is what we did. The guesthouse was great and we got a bargain from the manager. We took a good dorm, only problem was the bathroom had no lock, but then who cares :) Had the last good food before Leh. Very tired we thumpers lay to rest that night.
Day 9 Saturday, 13th June
Got up in the morning to what seemed to be a lazy day, I wanted to stay there in Keylong only and bask in the morning sun and gaze at those snow capped mountains the whole day. Started after a decent breakfast from there. Went back 7kms to Tandi to fill up petrol, took an extra 10lts in petrol cans I was carrying. The greenery of Himachal slowly gave away to mud and stones of Ladakh. At one place a landslide was happening and we had to stop for 5-10 mins for the bulldozer to clear the road. The rivers and streams flowing on the road had started. One of them was pretty long and formidable, yet we managed to get thru getting quite wet in the process. We crossed a lot of them on the way to Baralachla. There was 3-4 feet of snow on either side of road near the top, the road was filled with water, which was ice cold, and the moment you put your foot down in it, it goes numb. All the feet were wet and numb by the time we came down from the pass. The light was also fading a bit. We stopped at Bharatpur which is at the bottom of the pass and had some warm Maggi and tea to keep the cold out, there were 6 tents in that place and its been termed as a proper town in the Map :) Bruce was getting feverish here and we made him sleep for sometime in the tent. Some of us bought thick yak Wool gloves and socks from here to keep the cold out. We could actually see the vapour rising from the shoes as they were drying in the sunlight.We decided to move on and hit at least Saarchu which was around 30 odd kms from there. Most of the road was in a valley after this till Saarchu. Just before we hit Saarchu we came across what they call Paagal Naala (Mad Stream). All the bikes got stuck here and we had to get down in knee deep water which was always getting colder as it was nearing dusk and push the bikes out. Quite a difficult task considering that breathing was a major problem at 15000 feet :) Anyway soon we pulled the last bike out and the bikes silencers were pouring water out like they were hosepipes. Saarchu was 5 odd kms from there and we reached there just before it became completely dark. We met with some chaps from Navy there who also were crazy like us to go from Lonavala to Khardungla on their bullets. These guys were on their way back. Had a good conversation with all of them. The tent was very crowded and we all had to literally squeeze ourselves to bed. I could hardly move an inch we were so packed up. Some of the guys were not feeling well, gave them dispirins after having Rajma Chaaval as meal in the tent itself. We also had some Brandy courtesy Sameer to fight off the chill. The night passed with difficulty and I had to breath hard quite a few times due to breathlessness. A truck driver Rosy told us of the 21 Gata loops ahead and advised us to leave on time to cross Pang in time as the Bridge was broken and one can cross the river only before 1 o clock. He also told us of a boy who died hungry on the 19th Loop and whose spirit haunts the loop. He advised us to take some biscuits to offer at a small temple there.
Day 10 Sunday, 14th June
Got up at around 8 I think, it was quite cold but the sun was coming up and heating things up. I took my shoes and socks outside and placed them in the sun and immediately saw the vapour rising from them… Ice had formed in them last night from the water left over :) Went to the loo in the open, brushed, washed the face with warm water (courtesy the tent chap) and we were ready to roll. We met a foriegn chap with a Yellow Bullet there who was also on the way to Leh, his bike was giving him problems. Sameer and Bruce helped out a bit and off we were. The 21 loops are something to see. The road basically goes around 100-200mts one way and takes a U turn up and again the same..this way there are 21 Loops in the road. We somehow missed the 19th loop for which we had taken those biscuits though everyone was looking for it all the time. Probably it was behind one of those trucks we passed. We crossed Lachung La Pass and then Kangla Jal. Then we all came to the river at Pang, we had no choice but to go through it, the guys we had met earlier last night had told us of the way to take through the river which was not straight but we had to first go downstream and then upstream. Did that all the bike through- we had lunch at the Tents at Pang and shortly after that we came to the Fantastic More Plains. Nothing I can put in words can describe the beauty of Flatlands at 15000 feet which stretch around 50kms.We saw lot of Yaks and Mountain dogs there. Oais had and unfortunate accident there but the good truckers came to help and soon he was riding again. But we lost around an hour in the process. This resulted us in being very late in crossing the second highest pass in the world- Tanglang la; we crossed this pass at around 6PM- Big Mistake. There was Ice all over the road and water and the fact is there were no road only huge potholes that were difficult to maneuver. Add the fact the road was too narrow and there was a gaping fall at the other side. As soon as we got down Rajiv started shivering badly and had a high fever. We took off his shoes and made him like in a shack for sometime with blankets, I rubbed his feet to warm him up. We heard the next town where all of us could get accommodation was around 30 kms away called Upshi. I was in favour of going there while most of us were not. We couldn’t find accommodation for all of us here so we decided to move on till Upshi. Rajiv rode pillion with Sameer then while Nikhil rode his bike. On the way Rajiv vomited once and became better after that. All the while we were in a fantastic valley with Indus River flowing by the road. We reached Upshi by 8 or 9 I think and found a Punjabi Dhaba there packed up at the rooms above the dhaba and had a hearty meal as this was a welcome break from the Maggi we were having all the time. All of us had a Dispirin and slept like logs that night.
Day 11 Monday, 15th June
Started around 10 from Upshi after having a good breakfast of Aaloo Parathas and butter. Reached Leh around 12 finally. There were lot of Gompas on the way and we started to see the Tibetan Monks and Army camps now. We reached Leh and everyone called up home. Tried to find a hotel and finally found a good one called Hotel Ling Zi near the famous German Bakery. Rajiv and me went to the District Magistrates office to get the permission to goto Khardungla. While this was being done we also went to the Leh festival in the adjacent Polo grounds and saw some archery competitions being held. We bought T shirts as soveneiurs for us. Later in the evening all of us sat in the hotel lobby and saw Tom Cruise in 'Born on the 4th of July'. Later went around the market, and went to a cyber café - the Internet costs 120 Rs. per hour there!! Anyways I just sat for 15 mins and sent a mail to the club. Had good sizzlers at a nice joint there and packed up for the night with a few drinks.
Day 12 Tuesday, 16th June
The Big Day arrived this is what we have all come here, so far away from home. As usual we left for Khardungla around 11AM in the morning, the distance of Khardungla top is around 40kms one way.It took us around 2 hours to reach the top. We passed some Israeli guys on bullets also on their way up. At the top you get a feeling like you’ve achieved something great :) and we were all in a very good mood. Lots of snaps were taken. Chatted a bit with the Israeli chaps and came down to Leh to have a good lunch. We decided to leave for Kargil. I was feeling a bit low so asked Nikhil to ride my bike. We started from Leh at around 5:30 for Kargil. Sameer landed in a very big bump and when I came down something crunched. Got down to see his weld of the rear shock had broken. I went back on my bike with Nikhil. Missed Magnetic Hill on the way and decided to stay at a place called Khalsti around 8 or 9 I think. Bruce and Anshu went to an army camp to inquire about the town and almost got shot. The whole camp shut off their lights and 2 soldiers with torches right on these guys eyes came running towards them with guns. Anshu started shouting Dont shoot dont shoot we are tourists, then the army chaps told that you are not allowed to enter army base like this and we have orders to shoot on sight. Guess our guys got a bit lucky. We found a PWD guesthouse there and packed up for the night, with Rajiv mumbling off in his sleep.
Day 13 Wednesday, 17th June
After having our breakfast in the morning and repairing Sameer’s shocker, we left for Kargil. We gave lift to some Tibetan monk kids on the way. Boom!! Just before Kargil, I was taking a turn with Sameer in front of me, Sameer took a weird sort of a turn and braked sharply, so did I, unfortunately my front wheel got locked and both me and Nikhil hit the ground hard, with the bike rolling out from under us and we both rolling on top of each other for some distance. Luckily no major injuries, we both got away with just some bruises and the bike had also stopped just short of a cliff. Its rear mirror and front head light was broken, no damage apart from that. One kick and it roared to life. We met some truck drivers on the way who were very happy to see us and offered us lift from Kargil till Srinagar if we wanted :) We reached Kargil in the evening, passing at least 150-200 army trucks on the way. Locals told us never to overtake an army convoy as they had shoot on sight orders for people trying to over take them. Anyways as we reached Kargil, we could see the whole city from the top of the mountain we were coming down from, but unfortunately we could not click any photos in this region as that is banned. Every house has a bunker built in and the petrol pump fellow showed us the snow capped Pakistani mountain. I also saw a few blown out buildings in Kargil where Paki shells had fallen they had blown huge holes of 7-8 feet in thick stonewalls and there were splinters all over the inner walls of the now desolate building. Again we found a government guest house, went to the market and called home. I bought a pair of shoes there, as my existing ones were almost split wide open by now :) The people there were generally very hostile towards us or any other tourists for that matter. After having a nice dinner we were told we will have to leave in the night for Srinagar because the road which we have to take is Shelled on by Pakistanis in the morning so its not allowed to cross in daytime. At night there is no firing across the borders so all the convoys leave in the night. We had quick dinner and tried to sleep.
Day 14 Thursday, 18th June
Was woken up from whatever sleep I got at 1 o clock by Sameer… first though i didn’t want to get up but then the thought of spending one more day in Kargil did not really excite me, so I got packing. We all left the guesthouse by 2AM a little behind schedule of 1:30. We were supposed to reach a place called Minamarg by 4 AM. From Minamarg the army leaves the convoys together, normally at 4AM. Soon my sleep disappeared and we were riding hard avoiding all the potholes and wondering if this was the road the shells fall on. By the time we reached Minamarg we were freezing cold. There is a huge glacier there and we had to cross Zozilla pass which is literally cut thru the glacier. Bruce's and Anshu's bikes had a lot of spokes broken so we decided to put them up on a truck to cross the pass since if anything went wrong on the pass we would be stranded in middle of no where. We loaded all the bikes in the truck. the truckwalla was a sardarji called Amrik Singh. Bad decision to load the bikes in truck- all the bikes fell on each other and my bikes tank was badly dented. When I saw the damage my heart went out but nothing could be done now. We stopped for breakfast at Sonmarg and the driver convinced us to go with him till Srinagar as he said bikers will attract peoples attention and you never can trust the people in those parts. While travelling we saw Army jawans standing at only 50mts distance all along the road. We also passed a lot of army convoys with gunners sitting on top of the trucks with LMG's. Looking at the beauty all around us I was wondering what an irony it was, GODs own land, wasted by GODs own people. Amrik dropped us on the Srinagar Jammu highway and after unloading the bikes (which itself was a big exercise) we headed towards Jammu. We wanted to cross Jawahar tunnel before 7 as we heard that’s the time it closes (later we learnt this info was wrong). Had a decent lunch at a dhaba and saw countless more convoys, we waved at most of the jawaans we saw standing by the roads and they waved back too. These chaps are doing a great job for our country in that hostile environment and kudos to them. We also met countless hostile stares from the locals before we reached Jawahar tunnel, normally there is very strict checking there by J&K Police but this time they were very happy to see an enthusiastic bunch of crazy loons and happily waved us off without checking even a bit. The tunnel is very damp and is 2.5 kms long. As soon as we crossed the tunnel we saw a huge anti Mine truck from the army, which we learnt later was an African truck and one of that costs 92 lakhs. India now builds such trucks on its own, still costing around 54 lakhs. Those trucks can go on any amount of mines without harm. We passed a place called Khooninaala where lot of people used to die from stones falling on mountains from vehicles, no one knows where the stones come from since the mountain top is flat. They have built huge wire nets there to stop the stones from falling on the road. We packed up around 30km before Patni Top at a local Dhaba rooftop.
Day 15 Friday, 19th June
Got up lazily at the dhaba and left for Jammu, pretty uneventful ride apart from the fact that all of us got separated on the way. We reached at the Hotel Natraj in Jammu where Rajiv had managed to get a place for us all thanks to his mom. All of us slowly came in and we freshened up, saw the market a bit, called up home and then we left for Chandigarh at around 8 PM. I called up my cousin in Chandigarh to tell him all of us would be staying over. When we all entered Punjab via Pathankot we actually felt the tension ease out. I was on home ground now :) Bruce had a narrow escape while overtaking an army truck, courtesy bad signalling by Sameer who was ahead of him. Anyway we rode on till Chandigarh but in between started feeling very sleepy so saw a petrol pump after Hoshiarpur, parked the bikes there and slept there itself.
Day 16 Saturday, 20th June
Woke up at the pump in the morning and woke people up around me. We washed our faces at a big hose in the pump and then rode for Chandigarh. Before Ropar the road was very beautiful as there was a canal running all the time along the road for 20 odd kms. Reached Chandigarh and everyone had a bath and slept. Later in the day we went to a pub with my cousin showing us around. Slept late again. Rajivs bike was making funny noises today.
Day 17 Sunday, 21st June
Woke up real late, had breakfast and then lunch in Chandigarh only and left for Delhi. Pretty uneventful ride apart from the fact that me and Sameer rode real hard in between and gave some Zens and Palios good company again. After Ambala at one place my carb had come loose from hose pipe and it took us half an hour to find that out. Nearing Delhi the plan was to stay at Sameer's uncles place. Everyone got lost in the traffic, later on I went to my relatives place and stayed there and ,we picked up Nikhils bike from Ajeers place and Nikhil put up at his relatives place while the rest of gang packed up at Sameer’s place.
Day 18 Monday, 22nd June
Went to Mahendaru Motors to get the servicing done. Found out that our other boys from Bombay along with 60kph riders were there too. Met Gaurav, Histu, Zenosh, Nicky, Allwyn etc there and wished them luck on the roads ahead. They were Ladakh bound too. They told us the conditions on roads from Bombay to Delhi were much worse now, with cyclones and strong winds. Zen had a fall and had injured his hand. I was getting late for office and was really behind schedule so I decided to take a flight back home and send the bike by train. Rest of guys except Nikhil decided to ride back. Nikhil felt his bikes work was done a new so hell wait till he gets train reservation.
Day 19 Tuesday, 23rd June
Woke up lazily,went to Nizamuddin station with Ajeet and packed up my bike. Later went to Ajeet’s place and in the night boarded the night flight to Bombay. Picked up my bike a week later from Grant Road Goodown. The trip was over but the memories will remain forever. Hope I’ll do Ladakh again next year.