Thursday, July 31, 2008

Laddakh Diary – Day 5.

9th July, 2008.
Route: Keylong – Jispa.
Distance Covered:

The long day of repairs.

Laddakh_20080709_165917 At kokhsar Sudhakar noticed that his bike does not have a single drop of engine oil. It was surprising as he had filled up engine oil in Manali and bike can not consume engine oil in such short journey. We noticed an oil leak but that was under air filter, another Laddakh_20080709_103441surprise.

Morning he went to Yogesh at Keylong, suggested by Ashok the mechanic from Manali. The engine oil leak was puzzling, one by one Yogesh opened up his engine almost completely. Finally the problem was that somebody Laddakh_20080709_101334had literally stapled up engine  oil pipe. The oil leak was from there; instead of entering the engine oil was flowing into his bike's air filter. Also somehow water had entered into his engine and the result was corrosion of nuts and bolts in the engine. Cleaned all the Laddakh_20080709_181240mess and by the time the bike left workshop it was already 3pm.

The original schedule, to reach 'Sarchu' by the night, looked impossible. One option was to stay one more day at Keylong. We chose to ride further, after around 22 km and an hour's driving or so we Laddakh_20080709_181723reached a place called 'Jispa'. The most beautiful place we  had seen so far. We decided to halt for the day.

'Jispa' is a small village, very small village with only one hotel, IBEX, a dormitory and few tents for stay. The view from our hotel room was just amazing.



Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Laddakh Diary – Day 4.

8th July, 2008.
Route: Manali – Rohtang La – Kokhsar – Tandi – Keylong.
Distance Covered: 118 Km.Laddakh_20080708_082757

The day that would be the most crucial for the tour. Again had to take cold water bath but it was comfortable. The weather was nice, not cold, not warm, not cloudy, not sunny. The first and foremost thing that was necessary Laddakh_20080708_093818was to search for an Air filling station. The petrol pumps in these region rarely offer filling up air in vehicles.

The ride from Manali was  good, the road was good, the progress was rapid. I thought I don’t know why people curse this roads, if roads are like these, we really don’t require Laddakh_20080708_100353much time. The landscape started getting beautiful and more beautiful as we started ascending on the Rohtang La Pass. The snow capped mountains on one side, lush greenery, and the river Beas on other became the regular sight.

Laddakh_20080708_102057 Somewhere on the middle of the ascent to the Rohtang La Pass, we stopped for the first time for breakfast. The hotel was empty, but as soon as we ordered two more groups stopped; later that became the common sight. Wherever we used to stop for breakfast,  Laddakh_20080708_104218lunch or dinner the place used to get filled pretty soon.

The traffic to the ‘Rohtang La’ is quite high. Towards the top, the road starts getting worse; At few places the melted snow flows through the road to the valley; add to that the dirt fLaddakh_20080708_111156rom double lane’ing work in progress made the road slushy at few points. After  crossing ‘Rohtang La’ around 19 km’s later we found ourselves at Kokhsar checkpoint where everybody needs to get registered before embarking on further journey. The rods starts getting worse Laddakh_20080708_124327after the “Rohtang La” top. Even though it is decent all the  way till Jispa or Darcha the progress was slow.

We stopped at Kokhsar for Lunch. The next stop was Tandi, where we were get petrol for the last time before reaching Leh.Laddakh_20080708_182544

The day’s halt came at Keylong. Rooms at hotel Chandrabhaga were full but we got two tents. Shantanu and Madhavi slept as soon as we kept our baggage's in tents, did not even get up for dinner.



Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Laddakh Diary – Day 3.

7th July, 2008.
Route: Kullu – Manali.
Distance Covered: 42 Km.

The day of rest and bike checkups, the most crucial part before starting further on the journey, as there would potentially be no proper mechanic shops until we reach Leh.

On the way to manaliStarted from kullu around 8.00 and reached Manali around 10-  10.30am. Had  breakfast break on the way to Manali. Found Bajaj Bike point, owned by Ashok, on the Manali-Leh highway along river Beas, where we were to get our bikes checked and Snow capped peaks visible from our hotel at manaliserviced, where we were to get mechanic to accompany us during the trip. After giving our bikes to Ashok for checkup, we checked into a Hotel in Manali. The atmosphere was surprisingly quiet hot that day. Had cold water bath. Snow capped mountain peaks were visible through the windows of our room for the first time in our journey.

Ashok's garage. Our bikes parked for inspection.The pulsars are quite rough and tough bikes they were in perfect conditions; there was absolutely no need for any high altitude engine adjustments. Just tightened breaks and adjusted chain tension and wheel balancing. Sudhakar’s thunderbird needed attention and was in garage for most of the day. Hotel room at manaliWhen the mechanic opened his bike, there was absolutely no engine oil in his bike and this had resulted in worn-out clutch plates.

Most of the day we spent at the Hotel. Finally after all bikes were services we ventured out in the Manali Hidimba temple, manalimarket. Had late afternoon snacks in place of lunch. Roamed into the market, went to hiddimba temple (there was ghatotkatch temple as well), went back to  the market. Sudhakar and Shantanu purchased hand gloves for rain protection. Had dinner at a continental hotel and went back to sleep. Tomorrow would be a big day.

Manali MarketColourful shop at Manali market






Manali market at night

Trying woolen caps at manali







Manali Market






Tomorrow we were to cross the last petrol pump at ‘Tandi’ before reaching ‘Leh’, a journey of 365kms without petrol pump, without cell-phone or a landline network. The only mode of civilian communication is the good old postal office.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Laddakh Diary - Day 2.

6th July, 2008.
Route: Chandigarh – Bilaspur – Mandi – Aut – Kullu.
Distance Covered: 280 Km’s.

The Day marked tLeh 023he start of the tour. We had planned to start early by 5.30-6, but finally we managed to leave 7-7.30.  The day involved riding bike mostly through the highway between Chandigarh and Manali. A distance of around 320 km’s in comfortable 10 hours of daylight.

Leh 060Shantanu had been looking forward to the famous Jallory Pass, the steepest climb in India. Others were not that keep, but deep inside had a feeling that the bike’s performance on climbing this Jallory pass will have indication of the things to come in the next 15 days of the tour.

Leh 052The morning was pleasant,  the weather  was just perfect, not cold, not hold, slight presence of rain in the air, a perfect start to the tour. We crossed Chandigarh and Mohali, and soon we were on the Manali Highway.

Manoj was in the lead followed by me, Sudhakar and Shantanu. Sometime around 9.30-10, Shantanu called up Sudhakar to tell that he has a flat rear tyre. Leh 025The tube had literally cut, no chances of repairing. All the tools were with Manoj and since he was leading he sped off and there were no signs of him. After sometime Manoj came back thinking of some problem, but by that time Shantanu had found puncture shop pretty close by. The Puncture guy, removed the rear wheel for replacing tyre but couldn’t fit it back correctly. Sudhakar, Shantanu and Me helped him put back the rear wheel. After loosing an hour and half or so we started again.

The progress was slow, not Leh 027because of problems, but we were enjoying the beauty of the nature and partly Shantanu became very cautious while overtaking trucks. Sometime in the afternoon the rains started and there were no signs of stopping, reducing the progress speed. The rest of the day was uneventful. The Road was in superb conditions, with no potholes and double lane the speed was very good.

Somewhere near Bilaspur, we stopped for Lunch. Ordered Aloo Leh 003paratha’s and Lassi as punjabi’s eat. The waiter asked whether we need butter or dal along with Paratha’s. We ordered dal and 3 butter. The guy came back with 3 NutraLite butter packets(200ml).  Sudhakar was stunned. We promptly returned back 2, the remaining 1 also we couldn’t finish.

Even though the progress was good, with innumerable breaks for taking photographs and general tiredness, we could only reach Kullu by evening. We decided to halt at Kullu for the night.

Tomorrow being the day of bike checkups we were relaxed. Leh 102 We did cross some ghat sections, but the much awaited Jallory Pass did not show up or we forget to realize its presence. Later locals confirmed that we had to take diversion near AUT from the highway to reach Jallory Pass. We passed through a tunnel near AUT, the tunnel kept going on and on. After coming out of it, it clocked 2.8km’s on odometer.


Friday, July 25, 2008

Laddakh Diary - Day 1

5th July, 2008.
Route: Bangalore – Delhi – Chandigarh.
Distance covered: 2298 km's.

The day started quite early; surprisingly the cab driver was at our place even before our alarm rang. Got ready, picked up Manoj and then Sudhakar on the way. Manoj had forgotten his bike’s papers so went  back to his house again and then left straight to the airport.

The journey looked predictableLeh 006 and comfortable, little we knew that  time that it will take a lot longer. We reached Delhi sharp at 10.00 am and were out of airport by 10.30am. The flight was comfortable, the journey pleasant and on time, as always with Jet airways. Took a pre-paid taxi to the nearest Metro station, Dwarka sector 11. The Metro station is surprisingly very clean and well maintained. We were to board metro till ISBT; it involved change of metro at ‘Rajiv Chowk’ or as previously known ‘Cannaught Place’. The journey by Metro took longer than expected, reached ISBT by 1.00 pm.

There was some confusion over whether Leh 016 we would get VOLVO to Chandigarh or not. One could observe a typical Govt.. attitude especially at the Punjab and Haryana roadways booking counters at Delhi ISBT. The guys were literally sleeping at the enquiry counters and they themselves were not aware whether VOLVO to Chandigarh would come or not. Their only answer was to wait and watch; thankfully bus arrived by and left promptly at 1.30pm. We were to know later that there is only one Volvo that runs and it is not actually a Volvo but a look-alike, and it had not been operational for past 2 days because of breakdown.

Reached Chandigarh by 7.00 pm. Shantanu, Manoj and Sudhakar checked-into the hotel in sector 17C. The hotel was worthless for the price paid. Rushed around Chandigarh to buy a Helmet, and woodlands shoes. It seems market in Chandigarh closes by 8.00pm.

Got a call from my Aunt, who had been to Laddakh few weeks before; she and parents strongly objected going on bike trip to Laddakh. Convincing them was a tough job and to add to the problems the phone battery died in between. Worst, access to any contact was lost because of the died battery. For the first time the realization of our reliance on the cell phones hit me; the address book, the phone numbers, appointments, notes and what not; everything came to a halt. Went back to Shantanu’s hotel, charged cell phone for 5 minutes, wrote all important contact numbers in a diary and then proceeded back to collect the bikes.

It certainly looked easy and quick to collect bikes from the courier company, but it wasn’t; almost another 3 hours, to be precise 23.55, to take bikes out of the premises. What looked trivial things like unpacking bikes, getting petrol from the nearest petrol bunk, starting the bikes, finding that one of the bike’s key is comfortably in the bags at the hotel and getting that key back took eternity.

Madhavi’s cousin had been waiting patiently for us for dinner, which was really late and we had to leave early morning at 5.30 from their place.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Laddakh - Day 0

4th July, 2008. Distance covered: 0 KM.

After heavy debates we were ready for the tour, which was supposed to last for 16 days. No body knew what surprises each of these 16 days would bring. To be on safer sides, we decided to ship our bikes (A thunderbird, a Pulsar 150, a Pulsar 180, and a Yamaha Gladiator) rather than renting them at Manali or Delhi or Chandigarh [Pulsar 180 of them to carry a pillion].

After collecting/reading all possible information that was available on the Internet and talking to friends who had earlier been to the tour we knew of places where things could go wrong, we knew places where we could find mechanic, we knew where petrol would be available, where roads would be better and where not, what possible problems that will happen to the bike, when should mountain sickness e felt etc. But nobody knew, nothing of such sort will actually happen.

The night is short, not much time to sleep. Flight to Delhi is at early morning 7.30 am, but because of distance to the new international airport we would need to start by 4.30am. The 4 bikes are ready already, the 5 riders still need to embark upon the journey.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The long awaited journey…

Planning for this started quite some time back, as far as couple of months back. Shantanu, the lone ranger had been doing bulk of the research on the route with tentative dates fixed around June end, others had quickly forgotten about it after the initial discussion. Shantanu’s call that we would start on 5th July got everybody thinking and then everybody started collecting material. Few years back, when few colleagues from my company returned from this trip, this trip had been in my mind. Every year, something or other used to push things further. Finally this year it looked materializing.

For bikers in India, the Manali-Leh route is considered as one of the best and opens only during June to September every year. This route provides unlimited supply of nature’s beautiful scenic vistas, challenges of riding in the mountains and also easily is the toughest bike riding route. Internet and friends revealed lot of information, some scary some encouraging, and finally for the first time Leh looked a possibility.

Plan involved renting bikes, preferably bullet or karizma, from Delhi and ride via chandigarh – manali – keylong – sarchu – Leh limiting the distance to be covered on each days travel to 120-150 km's allowing ample time for acclimatization and sight-seeing, enjoying the ride rather than rushing through the route for the sake of its completion; but it was not be. We ended up revising plan again and again scraping the previous one. The starting point for ride kept changing constantly between Delhi, Chandigarh, and Mandi; and this must have been the most heavily debated topic of the plans.

Majority would certainly consider this as foolish but only those who embark upon such journey would know what it is. There is something in that, something hardwired, maybe wrongly, in the brain that keeps telling to do treks and newer and newer journeys.

Come July 5th, and I am off to the one of most memorable, hopefully, ride of my life, perhaps the longest and hardest, only one where I can say I am at the top of the motorable road in world. I am about to embark upon a journey to the Himalayas, the land of laddakh, through the river streams and passes to the place known as ‘Leh’, to the desert located at the highest altitude, and off course, the coldest in the world, to the lake which probably is also at highest altitude in the world.


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