One word makes every adventurer hold his breath in anticipation… one word makes every naturalist think of the ideal place to be with nature… one word makes every traveller think of an exotic destination… one word makes a pilgrim think of salvation… ‘Himalayas’. With its rugged mountain peaks, evergreen forests, bone chilling cold ravines, sacred temples and yoga ashrams, Himalayas is a near ideal destination for everyone. For a Biker, negotiating the winding, curvaceous, scenic and ruggedly mountain roads through the snow capped Himalayan ranges is as close to getting to nirvana itself. Riding in Himalayas is different because, there isn’t enough oxygen in the air we breathe; strong winds threaten to blow the biker off the road; the sun burns down with its ultraviolet rays and there are more potholes than asphalt which calls for extra care and skill to stop from teetering off the road.00
Being hard-core bikers and adventurers we decided to ride across the mother of all mountain regions – Himalayas. Our team comprised: Gaurav Jani, Kyle Pereira and Hanif Sama from Mumbai; Khushwanth Rai from Delhi; Col. S.S. Rajan, Rangavittal, Satish Rao and myself from Bangalore. We assembled with our thundering steeds at Delhi to start our sojourn via the Grand Trunk Road towards the mighty Himalayan foothills of HP.
The first stop was at Simla the capital of HP. From here on mountains dominated our journey, the roads weaved and wound through a beautiful countryside where there was more forests and greenery and lesser human habitation and villages. A ride of about 121 km from Simla took us to Jalori pass (alt. 10,280 ft), sited between two mountain peaks covered by a green cover of pines. One by one all the bikers put putted onto the pass and by the time we finished photo session it was misty and getting cold. That night in the thatched hut at Shoja village was memorable as we feasted on self-cooked noodles and soup.
Calamity struck the next day… Ranga’s brand new and gleaming all-chrome bike met with an accident with a HP State bus hit the bike. Luckily nothing happened to him, but the headlight and silencer of the bike were damaged. Amateur mechanics that we were, it took us nearly five hrs to fix the bike. We forged ahead with a firm resolve to reach Manali before night and reach we did, but only at 11pm. The only saving grace that day was the courteous staff at 38 Border Roads Task Force Mess who were waiting for us with steaming roti, alu sabzi and dal.
The next two days we stayed at Manali servicing our bikes to prepare them for the tough Manali-Leh road and also took in the local sights like the Hidimba Temple, Manu Temple, and some spectacular views of the Beas. We wheeled ahead and hit the Leh road – the most challenging stretch of our journey – 475 km of pure adventure, five high altitude passes, broken and unpaved, crisscrossed by glacial streams, absolutely no sign of civilization for hundreds of miles and only one petrol bunk in the entire stretch.
Rohtang pass (13,050ft asl) a mere 51 km from Manali is easy to ride to. Tall snow capped peaks present the beautiful face of Himalayas and welcome the visitors. A descent of 22 km and we reached Khoksar village about 90 km before the last town on this road Keylong, our night halt. Refuelling of bikes and purchase of fuel to take us through the rest of the journey was the top priority here. The road ahead appeared more like dirt tracks interspersed with flowing streams, rickety Bailey bridges on the verge of collapse till Baralacha La (16,047 ft), the coldest in the region. Our next stop was Sarchu, the border of HP and Jammu and Kashmir. Here since there is no habitation other than one tented hotel and a military transit camp we spent the night in tents chilled to the bone thanks to the 80 km ph Himalayan winds.
Mountain sickness claimed its first victim, Hanif started vomiting and said he was feeling giddy and feverish. It alarmed us no end so we pumped Hanif with medicines and cajoled him to have some soup and noodles. We took turns, taking care of Hanif during the night, scared as we were 170 km away from the nearest hospital. Morning dawned bright and clear and Hanif was also feeling better, we started our journey putting Hanif between two other to monitor his progress.
Our next road was through the Gatta Loops – a stretch of 13 kms with 21 hairpin bends – an unforgettable experience riding up the loops to climb from 13,776 ft to 15,302ft asl. The ascent culminated at Nakii La (16,416 ft). A short downhill and a steep uphill (19 km) took us to Lachlung La (16,616 ft), the fifth pass on our journey, but we had to deal with second highest road the next day.
We crossed from vast green grasslands into a terrain of wind-eroded mountains, where winds of speeds 80 km ph and higher make it almost impossible for bikers to ride steadily. The endurance of the bike and the rider is tested to the limit on these roads leading to Pang valley, where mountain sickness again struck and hit Satish, who was diagnosed with high BP and was feeling breathlessness and nausea. We took him to the doctor at the Army transit camp at Pang, who pumped him with relaxation drugs and asked us to proceed fast and cross the pass before nightfall.
The next stretch – 96 km via Tanglang La (17,852 ft asl) – is through a vast plateau (More plains – 33 km) flanked by rolling mountains on both sides,
with not a soul or sign of civilization in sight and not even intervening streams or rivers to break the monotony of mountains. As we crossed the plain and started climbing towards the Tanglang La, a snowstorm started billowing. Our visors were getting fogged making our visibility nil and if we opened our visors flakes of ice and snow hit us like shards of glass. It was a scary ride of 14 km to Tanglang La.
The next stop was Rumtse, and then Leh after we visited Buddhist monasteries (Gonpas) at Hemis, Thikse and Spituk. Hemis Monastery is the oldest in the Ladakh region and is a seat of Buddhist culture. We wondered at the beautiful murals and the enormous statues of Buddha/ Maitreya/ Chamba and Taradevi. Leh city is unique surrounded by diverse landscapes, of lush green Summers and snow white winters, brown sandy deserts amidst snow capped peaks. Ladakhi’s seem to have a smile permanently etched on their faces and a simple Julley (hello) makes them overjoyed.
Our onward journey was to the unexplored regions of Nubra Valley via Khardung La (18380 ft asl) the world’s highest motorable road. The road took us through the most exotic regions where we were beset with surprises throughout our odyssey. The first a stretch of sand dunes in the middle of snow clad mountains. We had to rub our eyes and pinch ourselves to believe that there does exist a desert among snow clad mountains.
The next surprise was waiting for us at Panamik – a small village where there are hot springs. Here we had a rejuvenating hot bath amidst the snow clad mountains. Imagine a stream of boiling hot water emerging from the middle of a snow capped mountain. All around the whether is cold and freezing but the water in this spring is boiling hot.
We returned to Leh and started our journey towards the Kashmir Valley. Our first stop from Leh was at Mulbek. We had to cross two high altitude passes before we reached Mulbek; viz., Fotu La and Namika La. Fotu La @ 13,479ft asl is the highest point on the Srinagar – Leh road. Between Leh and Mulbek there are 3 important sights which we visited, Gurudwara Pathar Sahib, Magnetic Hill and the Lamayuru Gonpa.
Gurudwara Pathar Sahib is built in the memory of Guru Nanak’s visit to Ladakh.
Magnetic hill is a place where one can witness a natural phenomenon which defies gravity, any vehicle would move uphill by itself due to the natural magnetic field acting on it in this region.
Lamayuru Gonpa is a historical site in the region, it houses one of the ancient Buddhist monastery’s which exist in Ladakh.
Mulbek is a historical site which houses one of the five Bamiyan Style of Buddhas located in Ladakh. The Buddha statue about 30 ft in height is an imposing statue which is carved across a vertical rock-face standing independently amidst towering Himalayan peaks. From Mulbek we proceeded on towards Kargil the place where the historic Kargil war took place and halted at Drass for the night. Drass is also the hot bed of infiltration and also the second coldest permanently inhabited place on earth with temperatures reaching to as low as -650 C in winters.
Srinagar was hot and that was the first time we realized that we are heading back into the big, bad, polluted civilization. At Srinagar we spent couple of days and proceeded towards Jammu via the famous 3.5 kms long Jawahar Tunnel at Banihal, Batote, Kud, Patni top and other tourist places on the way to Delhi where the tour reached its finale.