Thinking of doing some adventure considering you are a biker, and then the place is ‘Ladakh’. Plan for a road trip where the journey would mean much more than reaching the destination. This place is swarmed by tourist from all over the world. I have fancied this idea for quite some time now, and here I am, all set to narrate, one of the hard-hitting journeys of the world. We reached Manali from Delhi by bus covering 520 km after an overnight journey. Looked for a cheaper accommodation, there are plenty on Old Manali road. Old Manali has beautiful lanes with cafes make it more techno and the hippy culture surrounding it makes it a fusion of celestial ambience. Next day we were leaving for the bike trip so, we had to test our rented bikes, they were shining black Royal Enfield (350 cc) on full throttle, the sound of that beast made us more restless. The first day ended with inquisitiveness and anticipation because the other members of the group were arriving next day.
Rest of the gang arrived in the morning. We introduced each other with some handshakes and smiles. They all seem very adventurous and keyed up, after all, the most enthralling bike expedition was about to embark on. “Later we got to know each other and became buddies for life”. After refreshing up, we went to “one of the Cafes in Old Manali ” which was located in the pristine surrounding with the river flowing by. The sound of the river and wind made it look like some fancy meet up. This was our first day at Manali which ended in knowing about each other, with few dim-witted jokes and some intellectual Gyaan about life. We also encountered a faint light in our mind which was going to kindle for the rest of our intrepid journey.
Next morning, we were all set for the ultimate ride. We again checked on our bikes and took a ride with the mechanic. She has to be audacious enough to ride on one of the most stunning & dodgy terrains in the world. I hoped I was not missing anything before my trip (My Helmet, Riding gloves, Riding boots, Balaclava (Facemask), Waterproof jacket, Windproof jacket, sunscreen, Shades, Warm Jacket, Cargo pants and pair of woolen socks) oh! Looked perfect everything was in order. We placed our rucksacks on the side of the luggage carriers (luggage carriers are available in Manali on rent as well). Meanwhile, everyone rode to the petrol pump to refill the fuel tank in Manali. Around noon, we finally headed for Jispa.
We crossed Rohtang pass (roads were very muddy and if it rained, the ride would undoubtedly be, difficult). With twist and turns on the mountains, the wind on your face, wheels swirling on the road and cutting the edges of the mud, sometimes it felt like we are on Merry go round. While the rider always gets to sit like a king, the pillion makes room for adjustments as the bumpy ride begins. Later we halted at Marhi check post to verify our permits (Inner line Permits required for Pangong and Khadungla and also carry extra photocopies of that) after a while we took a short break at Tandi for fuel (last petrol pump before Leh) then took another pit stop at Keylong to withdraw money from the ATM which was inside the Keylong town. We reached our camp at Jispa around 8 pm. Clicking pictures on the way was our favourite routine, abundant tea breaks to keep us warm and Maggi helped keep our tummy happy, soon-to-our-staple-food for the rest of our trip in Ladakh region.
Next day around 11 am we left for pang, we passed Sarchu, Nakeela pass, Lachungla pass and 21 gata loops, a series of hairpin bends looping down. On reaching Pang, one of our bikes was punctured, so began the hunt for a mechanic. It is always an added advantage if someone from your group has an adequate knowledge about the bike. (Carry clutch wires, brake wires, sprocket, air filters, gas pump, jack or the alternative is to go with a mechanic). We were 20kms away from Jispa, it was about to get dark so we had to be swift in order to get things done in time. It looked like some mission, roads were scary, could hardly see anything on the road.. After a lot of hitches, we finally managed to get the bike repaired. Sleeping at 17000ft became pretty unmanageable. Drinking adequate amount of water in every half an hour interval is advisable so that your body “never runs out of your body (did you mean: keep your body hydrated?)” and will save you from dizziness. During a headache avoid taking any medicine without consulting the doctor. Water is the source of oxygen and will prevent you from altitude mountain sickness. Keep your first aid kit ready with all essentials like pain killers.
In the morning around 11 am we left for Leh that was the most awaited destination. The view from Pang to Leh was breathtaking. River flowing with you and change of colours in the mountains made it looked like some spectacular post card or some fancy nature calendar which I used to admire when I was a kid. This is the reason people say ‘Ladkah is beyond imagination’. One has to experience it to see the beauty; it cannot be described in words. In the afternoon, we reached Upshi where we had lunch, had Thukpas for the first time. While entering Leh, the feeling was incredible, it seemed as we have conquered some battle. We all felt like free souls who were in search for freedom. Tree underlining the roads, rugged brown mountains with different shades, beautiful valley, local people busy in their routine, clouds flying with you, everything seemed so unreal. After three days of most beautiful and hard-hitting ride, we reached Leh and checked into our pre-booked hotel.
Once you are in Leh, relax and let your body acclimatize to this sudden change of altitude. This day we had something different on our mind. Our adventure spirit was kind of high, so we opted for rafting. Don’t step out without applying sunscreen as the Leh region is the only place on earth where one gets blisters and sun tanning at the same time. Initially, the plan was to explore Leh palace and monasteries but we opted for rafting. Rafting at Zanskar River, 27kms stretch from Nimmu to Sangam was altogether a different experience. It cost us around 1300 per person for rafting including pick and drop from the hotel which we booked through a local agent. Do not miss on exploring monasteries; they are worth visiting like Lamayuru Monastery, Alchi Monastery, Hemis Monastery, Shey Monastery and Leh palace. For shopping, one can go to Tibet refugee market, there are many local shops displaying hand-woven rugs, carpets and shawls.
Next morning we packed our bags and rode to Khardungla, the highest motorable road in the world which is situated at 18,580ft. View from the top will leave you spellbound and the massive landscape that surrounds, will give you a nature hangover – “in my terms”. Colorful prayer flags on top of the mountains and the ferocious wind would want to take away with her. The whole view was spectacular and overwhelming. We were at level with the snow clad peaks like we have gone for tête-à-tête with nature. After coming back, we went to visit Shanti Stupa. The Shanti Stupa features the photograph of the current Dalai Lama with the relics of the Buddha at its base.
We left for Pangong Lake around 1:30 pm and reached there by 5:30 pm in the evening. After every two days get your brakes fixed by a mechanic for the reason that breaks are one of the most crucial parts on those high passes. Your shoes are likely to get drenched in that cold stream while crossing so do not forget to carry an extra pair of socks and shoes. On reaching Pangong Lake, we had come to terms with our “heart in mouth” condition. Every glimpse of the surrounding was awe – inspiring like we have seen in movies and postcards. Truly, it was more than that. We pitched our tents near Pangong Tso which was again an amazing experience. Make sure you take the permission to pitch your tent otherwise officials will impose fine.
After having an appetizing breakfast near the lake we left for Leh. While returning, we went to visit Thiksey monastery. Next morning two bikers left for Mumbai by flight from Leh and rest of us came back to Manali. We took the same route to save on our pockets and this time, the experience was more splendid than before. The first day we stayed at Pang, Jispa and then Manali. After reaching the final destination Manali, we left for Delhi around 4:30 by overnight bus.
The road trip to Ladakh is not only a ride with numerous experiences but it has also turned me into a storyteller. To begin a journey to this place need no words, I can’t run and hide from the feeling that my heart still beats for this paradise. I wouldn’t mind settled there forever where mountains know no lie, where the river is always free and the nature is bound to change. Now I know the process of turning my dreams into reality.
Traveling- it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller- Ibn Battuta’