Ladakh was going to happen…and it was going to happen sometime soon. Technically, I was in Ladakh when I was trekking in northern Lahaul (Himachal Pradesh), which is also a part of the Ladakh plateau. Ladakh originally was nearly double of what it is today, in terms of area. It contained the present day Ladakh, Kargil and other Balti areas which are in PoK like Gilgit and the whole of Aksai Chin along with certain areas of
I planned for my trip back in March, fresh from my Konkan bike trip. I was prepared to do this solo too. One can go to Ladakh between July and September. July is warmer but whether is unpredictable. September is colder, but the whether is stable. I chose September, and it did not disappoint! The standard bikers route to Ladakh is to ride to Leh via Manali. Bikers generally start at
I flew to
It was a pleasant 8 degrees when I landed, but the sun was out and I was enjoying the weather. My guest house had sent some one to receive me at the airport. It really is a great feeling to have some one hold a placard that reads your name. We drove approximately 3 km to reach Mahey guest house located at Tukcha road. The guest house is a nice cozy place, with a beautiful garden and farms in the front. The farms are also owned by the family that owns the guest house. One is served ‘farm fresh’ vegetable for food. The view (pic on the left) from my room was breathtaking, with Stok Kangri standing right in front. I rested for the day, arranged for permits and met my rafting organizer in the afternoon. I had to meet the District Commissioner and convince her about my permit to
Wandered around Leh and visited Shanti Stupa (pic on right) in the evening. Did not use the stairs but chose to trek up to exert my lungs a little, keeping in mind that I had to do rafting tomorrow. The views from Shanti Stupa were excellent. I also witnessed a ‘Bhabhi-Nanad’ fight right there, where the ‘Nanad’ was alleging that ‘Bhabhi’ was poisoning ‘Bhaiyya’s’ mind against her. Some one requested them to shut up, as they were screaming at ‘Shanti’ Stupa! I descended down and visited KT Phuntsog at Planet Himalaya to check out the bikes. I wasn’t happy with any, but KT then got a newish 4 speed Electra and I immediately liked it. He wasn’t sure if I could negotiate the reverse gears, I told him that my first bike was a 1983 Bullet Standard. I had the carrier fitted on the bike, and did the needful to ensure that it was in good condition. Later, KT’s friend Manish joined us. Manish is a prolific biker and I had a pleasant conversation with him. Manish also provided me with some spares like a tube and cables along with a tool kit. Manish it seems, was returning from Tanglang La, where he had gone to fix a bike that was abandoned by a tourist who was riding it to Tso Moriri. I was quite content with the bike, and it seemed quite good, apart from the fact that all bullets in Leh are ‘mufflerless’ so make too much noise. This one was also misfiring quite a bit….but I somehow liked the bike and didn’t want to change it. This later turned out to be a super decision. Had dinner at the guest house and rested.
On the 11th morning, I was to meet Dawa (rafting guy) at 8:30 am. A few others and me were taken to Chilling, which is the starting point of our rafting. The total length of the rafting journey is 28 km (Chilling to Nimu) in the Zanskar river. The rapids end where the Zanksar meets the Indus. There were 16 participants…to be divided into 2 rafts. We were provided body suits to protect us from the freezing cold water and the winds. I promptly refused to wear it…as I was there for the cold! So…Mr. Vijh was going to raft wearing a T-shirt and shorts! The rapids are Grade III ones, but the flow of water is much lesser in September than what it is in July or August. The second of the rapids that we crossed was a huge one…and we were all drenched in a matter of seconds. The water was freezing and I was loving every bit of it. We had to negotiate 6 to 7 such rapids. I was the person who sits right in the front. I was on the right and Ben, an American was on the left. It is much tougher to be in that position and you really need to be quite strong to deal with the rapids. We stopped at around half way for a much needed break. There were a few more rapids and then there were smaller ones. This is when I took some photographs while rowing. Towards the end, we were very tired and the flow of the river had reduced. Due to this, we had to continuously row. I even swapped positions with Ben, because my right and his left arm were hurting badly. We reached Nimmu, after 28 km in approximately 3 hours. At the place where we docked, the organizers (Splash Adventures, Leh) had organized for good warm lunch, needless to say that it was much needed.
We reached Leh at about 5: 30 pm and were quite tired. I headed straight to Planet Himalaya, where my bike was ready. I filled fuel, and also took some spare fuel in a canister, that can be conveniently fitted in the carrier. I rode to the guesthouse, and parked for the night (the bike and myself). I feasted on ‘Aloo Parathas’ and curd, which is a luxury in Leh. The next morning, I was to depart for Hunder, for which one has to cross the World’s highest motorable road —Khardung La —18380 feet ASL.
I woke up at about 6:30 am. Today is the 12th of September. There was warm water, so I could get ready comfortably. I left one bag with my lodge owner (Chimet Rigzin —Mahey Guesthouse) and look one that I tied on the carrier…and I was off. Khardung La is about 54 kms from Leh. The road initially is a little bad but by the time one reaches
Looking back just before I reached Khardung La, the views and the road cutting through the huge mountains looked breathtaking. Many years back, I had seen a similar picture (of the view I had ..pic on the right) of the ‘Road to Khardung La’ in a calendar at my grandparent’s home. It was back then that I had decided to go there one day. I reached Khardung La top in about 2hrs and 20 mins from Leh. There is quite a bit of activity there, mostly due to an army post and the tourists. My GPS showed an altitude of 17732 feet with an EPE of 60 feet. So, Khardung La is nowhere (by my civilian GPS) near the claimed 18380 feet. Some people explain that the hill adjacent (which houses some telecommunication tower) is 18380 feet. I took numerous photos there, including a cherished on with the board that reads, Khardung La, The World’s Highest Motorable Road 18380 feet! I met a couple of American journalists (with a newspaper called the Christian Science Monitor, based in New England,
Across Khardung La lies the breathtakingly beautiful Nubra valley. It started the long descent into the Nubra, crossing places like Khardung,
I reached Hunder and before getting to my guest house, went up to a place called Hunder Dok. This is as far as a civilian can go. I spent some time with the army fellows manning that post, and then returned to Hunder village, straight to my guest house (Snow Leopard Guest House, Hunder). It is worth mentioning that I also crossed the headquarters of the famous 54 RCC of the BRO, which maintains Khardung La and so the road from Leh to Panamik/Chalunka. Snow Leopard guest house ( is a really beautiful place with flowers at full bloom surrounding the cottage. The
The 13th of September…I wake up feeling fresh and raring to go. Kumar and I went for our hike which was small but quite steep at places. The views from the top were very good. We returned and had our breakfast and I (and they) decided to drop the planned visit to Panamik. So, we left for Leh. Around half way to Khardung La, one of the bikes from the B’lore rider got punctured. So, their car stopped with the bike, trying to fix the puncture. They had all the required spares and more. I asked Kumar to join me till
Today is the 14th of September and I am to ride to what is supposed to be the most beautiful lake in the world. I had not coordinated with the B’lore group, so I left for Pangong on my own. At Upshi, where the road bifurcates with one going to Manali and the other to Pangong, I met the B’lore group, who obviously had left before me. We decided to meet for lunch at Tangtse, which is after crossing the
I reached Tangtse and the B’lore group arrived shortly. I had Maggi noodles, and boy were they delicious. Here, I also inquired with a local about Marsimek La, and to my surprise not only did he knew about it but also gave me valuable guidance on how to get there. I left for Pangong Tso and soon I could see the B’lore group’s Toyota Qualis in my rearview mirror. I have to mention that most of these roads were freshly laid and 51 RCC had done an exceptional job. Soon there was a board on my left which read, ‘First view of the world famous Pangong Tso’ and there it was…although one could get just a glimpse. Slowly, the lake started unveiling itself, and every corner that I crossed expanded the view. I finally reached Lukung and could see the Pangong Tso in all its glory. I rode down right till the lake and did some photography there. I also tasted the water, which wasn’t very salty. There were a couple of Indian Navy patrol boats there, as the
Today is the 15th of September…the big day. I woke up at about 6:30 am, and went
for a stroll along the lake for some photography. The B’lore group left for Leh without eating, but I needed to eat before leaving, as I knew Marsimek La (M La) would be a tough ask. Till this point, I wasn’t even sure if ITBP would allow me to go to M La solo. I started my journey towards Phobrang, the last ITBP post before M La. On my way to Phobrang, there was an ITBP policeman on the road, who gladly accepted my invitation to hitchhike. I had a nice conversation with him, and this helped me greatly in the ITBP Subehdar Uttam Singh agreeing to let me go to M La. After finishing the permit related formalities, I had tea with the Subehdar and left for M La. Just before leaving, he asked me that cameras aren’t allowed, so if I had one, I should deposit it. I had anticipated this and had thus concealed my camera from Lukung itself. There was no way I would have gone to M La without a camera! The track (there’s no road) in the beginning was quite good, although it was sandy at a lot of places and I nearly toppled more than once. In a few minutes. After about 6 kms, there was a steep sandy section with more than one track. The shorter tracks are steeper, and unfortunately I took the shorter one. In no time my bike stalled and in fact, it started rolling backwards. I somehow managed to turn it around and went backwards to try the other route. The other route (towards the right) was quite steep itself, but allowed one to keep the momentum going and thus negotiate the gradient. I still had to alight and push the bike a little at a couple of places, in first gear. Pushing the bike is quite a pain due to low oxygen levels. I had to take a small break after doing so, which I utilized for photography. It was then that I realized where on earth I was standing. For a second, I was a little scared! I soon continued on the tracks and again there were many sandy slopes which one needs to be careful on. I fell down, which was more of a topple, at one of them. There was no damage to the machine or the man. I continued and soon I could see M La at a distance (you can make out where a pass is by looking at the mountains). This gave me the much required energy as it was getting very cold and windy at this moment. I was at 16000ft now. Then I crossed some relatively flat and easier sections to come up to a point from where the last ascent began. Looking at the gradient, I seriously doubted the ability of my Bullet to overcome it. After a few metres, the bike stalled repeatedly and there was no way it would get to the top with me on it. So I had to now permanently alight, and push it up along with the engines own torque. Its pretty unbelievable that an Enfield Bullet with 27NM torque, full accelerator in first gear doesn’t even move an inch. So it was like, five meters at a time. After five meters or so, I had to stop for at least two to three minutes to recuperate, breathing heavily.
Each time I stopped, I had to look at the track and decide on the next short term objective, that is the next point that I had to push up till, before I could treat myself with a breather. My GPS showed 17000ft now. I looked around and I realized that I was high and alone. I could see the pass clearly now. Just before the pass I could see some camp like structures, which looked abandoned. I continued on my painful ordeal and even dropped the bike one, as the wheel got caught in sand and the bike tilted towards the wrong side. It took me a good two minutes to pick it up! Slowly and steadily I was getting there. I checked my GPS and I had finally crossed 18000 feet, the first time I saw this reading in my GPS. I was dead by this time, and I was having serious thoughts of leaving my bike here and hiking up the remaining few hundred feet. But the adrenalin of reaching the top made up for the low oxygen levels and the cold. I dumped a lot of stuff from the bike including my helmet, spare petrol, tool kit, spares etc. near that camp that I mentioned. It took me another 15 minutes to reach the top from there. At 11:35 am, I reached Marsimek La, and became one of the only people to reach the top solo, on a solo permit (pic below left). I spent around 15 minutes at the top, photographing and recording videos. It was extremely cold and windy, and I was probably closer to
I kissed the Marsimek La milestone, paid obedience to the ‘Chak De Mandir’ and started descending. The descent was obviously very steep and I was struggling to keep the bike under control. I had my second fall soon, during which my spare petrol can and my camera tripod were completely damaged. Luckily I was fine and so was the bike. The remaining journey back to Phobrang was full of desperation, as I somehow wanted to be teleported there! Just before reaching Phobrang, I took this photograph and then concealed my camera just the way I got it. I was greeted by an excited Subehdar Uttam Singh who congratulated me for the feat and so did some other soldiers. Then I spent some time browsing their records to see if any other solo biker on a solo permit had gone here, and I couldn’t find any. He too said that I was probably the first one, or one of the only ones. I was low on petrol now, and technically there wasn’t any petrol pump till Leh, which was 145 km away. I left Phobrang and asked around at Lukung for some petrol, and I managed to find a couple of liters in black (for Rs.70 a liter).
I moved swiftly to Tangtse, on the way to which I met this Swiss lady (on the left) who was cycling to Pangong lake from Leh, alone! I stopped at Tangtse and had Maggi at the same place, and also thanked the people who had guided me to M La, for their help. I quickly reached Chang La pass, and it was snowing there! But after completing Marsimek La, this seemed like a prank that ‘Chang La baba’ was playing on me. I crossed Chang La and in no time crossed Upshi, Thiksey, Shey and reached Leh. I did stop along the
Today is the 16th of September and I woke up at 7 am. I could see that it was snowing in the mountains (in the pic), so I decided to leave a little later for Dah-Hanu. One needs to travel on the Kargil highway till Khaltse, from where a road bifurcates to Biama-Dah-Hanu-Batalik. All these are Dardi villages. It took me about 5 hours to reach Dah village. I rode for nearly 80 kms along with the
Today is the 17th of September. I woke up at 6 am and wandered around the village for a bit. There was good breakfast served at around 7:30, post which Dolma was ready in the houses’ garden/farm donning the traditional ‘Chaiz’ (below). I took several pictures of her, out of which these few are almost picture perfect. I bought some home made apricot jam from Lundpa and then left for Kargil via Batalik. This road is generally closed for tourists, but since I held all sorts of permits and also a few army officers’ cards, they allowed me to pass through. Batalik is also a Dardi village, which was in the news during the Kargil war. It took me nearly 4 hours to reach Kargil and the road towards the end was quite bad. This is my first view of Kargil (below), nestled in the lap of these mighty
here for a day, and spend another day in either Drass or Mullbeck (towards Leh). But I thought a day was enough for here, and I had some shopping to do in Leh. The road to Drass was extra ordinary, with Pakistani p
osts looking at you through their binoculars. A board warned people of the same (right) . Mustafa added that before the Kargil war,
ling. We had tea at a small joint where we met some other travelers from
We left for Kargil after spending a couple of hours in Drass. We stopped at the superb Kargil War Memorial along the way (3 km from Drass). There was a War Gallery there, which was very well stocked and maintained. Here is one of my favourite pictures from the gallery (left). We left for Kargil, as it was evening, and I didn’t want to ride at night. The ride back was good, and we met the Gypsy guys once again. Their car was stuck in 4WD and they were struggling to get it back to 2WD. We reached Kargil in the dark and immediately feasted on some more great food. I slept after some more chats with Ilyas and Mustafa.
Today is the 18th of September and I woke up at the regular 6:30 am. I was to ride all the way back to Leh today (240 km). I left after some breakfast but soon the road turned horrible. There was a major road widening project that the BRO has undertaken, and as a result, the present condition of the road (or whatever one calls it!) was terrible. I crossed the Fatu La pass, which is the highest point on the Srinagar-Leh highway. But after all the big La’s that I have crossed, this one hardly counted. My back was broken by the time I reached Lamayuru (left). I stopped at Lamayuru for lunch and explored the Lamayuru monastery , which I found quite boring. The food was quite pricey too, and the owner/waiter was the first rude person I met in Ladakh. I left Lamayuru soon, and the road was now much better. I reached Leh by 5 o clock and was very tired. I unsaddled from my bike, thanked and kissed it, and went to meet Manish and KT at Planet Himalaya. KT removed the carrier from the bike, since I wouldn’t need that tomorrow. I did some shopping in the evening and treated myself to an excellent sizzler dinner. I went back to my guest house and spent some time chatting with Rigzin. I slept early due to the fatigue that BRO’s ambition had imposed on me!
Today is the 19th of September and I woke up at a leisurely 8 am. I had breakfast with a Czech couple Andre and Linda, from
Today is the 20th and I can hardly believe its all over. But if it doesn’t end, then it won’t begin some other time. Stanzen dropped me to the airport on time and I flew to
PS: Please scroll to the bottom of this page to see my complete photo album titled Ladakh on Bike 2009 and others.