We were all up early morning and changed into the riding gear. Our first pit stop was Tsomoriri Lake. The road was 220 km long with intermittent bad patches. The ride was a bit bumpy. After a while we reached Upishi. Upishi is a crossroad, and one of the roads lead to Manali. After the check post drills, we asked a guy to help tie our luggage as the bags were flailing about.
The guy turned out to be a cop from Srinagar. He advised us to drive carefully as the roads ahead are too narrow with bell curves. He said he just came back from an accident spot and narrated the whole story to us.
The first 20 km was a pleasant ride but the next 50 km was pure hell. The roads were still under construction, it seems. We rode in second gear mostly. Our next stop was Mahe.
The terrain kept changing. Initially, it was totally white sand and then it turned red. The best was yet to come though. The road was carpeted with violet sand. I was confused,‘Is it really violet or is it my shades?” I stopped the bike to take in the mountain. Wow! God is architecture major. He meant business.
The violet flooring gave way to pitch black rocks. I saw a little green in the mountains for the first time. We met two riders from Tsomoriri. We asked about their journey and the condition of the road. They said the road was good except for the last 15km. There was no road in Korzok village. The terrain was the most beautiful I had seen in Ladakh. We really wanted to stop at every turn but we were pressed for time. The ride took a toll on Chachan’s knee and he decided to take a walk rather than ride pillion.
It was 7’o clock in the evening and the light was starting to fade out. We got a stay nearby. My health was not at its best due to the day-long ride and unfamiliar weather condition. We ate the dinner from a nearby restaurant. Most of the places we went offer good mutton fare. We all went to sleep early that day.
Next day, we woke up early but like the day before I was a bit under the weather. I was throwing up through the night. I stayed in the bed as my friends went to see the lake.
Later, Chachan said he can’t ride the bike and suggested to ferry the bikes to Karu. He talked with a local guy and made the necessary arrangements. I was not sure about the decision as I wanted to ride but my health wasn’t helping. We were all a bit concerned about the first 15km off road (read as no road) ride. We went to an army medical camp to check on my health. The doctor consoled me saying it’s quite normal for tourists. He gave me tablets for vomiting. I took one and barfed it after some time. Meanwhile, the clock was ticking away, and we had to return immediately. I made up my mind to ride the bike. Though my friends were against my decision, my persistence broke their defence. The bikes roared to life again.
We chose a route covering Tsokar lake and Taglang la pass in Leh-Manali highway. The bikes were running out of petrol. The villagers said we can get petrol from a nearby village in Sumdo. We crossed Sumdo after filling up and the road was OK for a few kilometres. It took us 2 hours to cover the next 50 km through no-mans land. The road was hell, to say the least. I fell off twice en route. Chachan said he will take over the handle but I didn’t capitulate until the second slip. We had lunch at a restaurant near Tsokar lake.
We reached Leh-Manali highway around 6’o clock. Finally, something that fits the description of a road. Huge sigh of relief. The whole ride enabled me on the confidence front to cover the entire Leh-Manali road. The sun was sinking and a chilly wind was blowing with vengeance. We went full throttle towards the destination as the climate was turning more and more hostile. We crossed Taglang pass. The downhill ride from there was tough, and we settled in a small home stay 40 km away from Karu.
We started the journey by 8’o clock morning with the intention to cover Pangong and return to Leh on the same day. The climate was completely different from the previous day. The sky was cloudy. Drivers coming from Karu side told us that is has been raining in Karu. We put on our raincoats. It was pouring by the time we reached Karu. We had our breakfast. It was snowing heavily in Chang La and the drivers advised us against going on. Even the army patrol was cancelled owing to choppy weather. We had no choice but to wind up for the day. Ringo was so disappointed. It was his dream to visit Pangong. We told him we could do it on the coming days but he insisted that we go for it right away. Apparently, that wasn’t a risk worth taking, given our time constraints and riding experience. We decided to go back to Leh and hit Khardung La pass, world’s highest motorable road. Khardung La is only two hours from Leh and we could easily make it back in time.
The road to Khardungla was good and we met many riders along the way. Meeting riders, and getting that nod of recognition, or a passing smile really warms the cockles of your heart.
The ride was smooth until the snow started falling. It was snowing heavily in Khardung La pass. We froze some good moments in our cameras with shirts off. We spent around 30 minutes and reached Leh by 4’o clock.
Our next destination was the Hall of Fame in Leh, an Indo-Pak war memorial maintained by the Indian army. The soldiers told us about the martyrs of the Kargil war. We were enlightened on the history and topography of Ladakh. We got to know about the Siachen military base camp, one of the highest military bases in the world and the special weapons and vehicles used by our soldiers there. The temperature in Siachen glaciers goes down to -70 degrees in winter. The soldiers are on a rotation in every 2-3 months in these regions. There was a special screening of Kargil war documentary. We also witnessed a parade arranged by our soldiers for visitors. Contrary to our expectations, we realised it would at least take a day to cover the entire Hall of Fame with the attention it deserves.
Meanwhile, Ringo was pushing us to go to Kargil on the same day. It was already 7 pm. His plan was to ride in the night as far as possible. We told him we were tired and needed rest. He was disappointed. We all felt sorry for him- he was with the wrong group. We returned to Mehboob Bhai’s villa with a bottle of Smirnoff.
We started early next day. The climate was perfect. Our plan was to cover Pangong in the same day as Chachan was taking rest and we didn’t want him to stay alone for one more day. We rode a little faster than usual. Chachan advised us to try to cross Chang La pass before sunset if we were to make it back on the same day. The road was narrow and quite dangerous near Chang La pass. We were keeping a track of time.
There was a deviation along the way due to road works and we had to take an alternative route for 5km before we hit the main road again.
Crossing Chang-la pass turned out to be quite a task. It was snowing heavily and the condition of the road added to the misery. And to make matters worse, the oxygen level was depleting. The bikes were breathing heavily. The road was filled with army trucks and tourists vehicles in the summit.
It took us one and a half hour to get past Chang la. The rest of the road was full of dangerous curves. We reached the entry gate of Pangong by afternoon. We passed a cold desert and a green patch of land along the way. The road was tricky with ups and downs.
The first look at Pangong lake felt like the first rains after a decade of drought. Pangong Lake is at the India- China border. The lake became a popular tourist spot after the movie ‘3 idiots’. You can even find a Kareena scooter beside the lake. We took some good pictures at the spot.
We were in a hurry to cross Chang la before sunset and we were literally freezing at the summit. On the way back, we met a fellow rider from Britain. His bike’s breaks weren’t working. We joined him for the rest of the journey. We lost our way along the route but got back on track later. The ride had taken a toll on our shoulders.
The last day of the trip was set aside for photo shoot and shopping. We rode through the Kargil road for about 50km, went to the magnet hill, and took some good snaps. Then and there, I made a mental note to cover Srinagar-Leh on my next trip to Ladakh.
We hit Leh by evening and did some shopping. Special mutton stick and mutton potti from the street made our day. Chachan went back to the Himalayan garment shop for the leather jacket that caught his eye. But unfortunately, the jacket was not for sale. The shopkeeper bought it from Srinagar two years before. We had some funny conversations at the shop.
The eight days in Ladakh opened our minds, brought back the good memories of our life, awakened the sleeping traveller in all of us, changed our view about Kashmir and Kashmiri people It is indeed a paradise. There was no fear.
Signing off and looking forward to getting back to the land of monks soon.
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