Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Ladakh…Leh – the land of monasteries…

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First thing first – True’s care! Our RE Team Leader Aakash had announced last evening that the bikes should get serviced, if needed, early on this day. True was cruising all fine and needed no service. However, eight days of grime, dirt and dips in water forced True to take a bath! So, I initiated the hunt for a bike/car wash center nearby. However, it being Sunday, Leh was largely shut and I had to drive 8kms on Manali Highway, all the way to the hamlet of Chogalmasar Jamba, where across the bridge exists an old acquaintance’s garage; a person whom was meeting after good six years! But, just like all other people from the hills, he was extremely warm and forthcoming. So, True was given special preference in queue.

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Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Munsiyari…Birthi Falls

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Well, didn’t I say in the last blog that silence has a very pleasant sound of its own? You should come to Birthi to experience what I mean. A couple of days away from the madness of the cities, away from what some of us call life, are always welcome. Mountains are such heavens of silence and solitude. And when you get back from this heaven, you come away feeling saner, rejuvenated. You come back a better one…

There is nothing extraordinary about Birthi, at least on the face of it. It is a tiny village, with couple of shops on road and the KMVN guesthouse perched atop a hill, right on the main road. However, what breaks the silence and the dullness is the mighty roar of a waterfall, called Birthi Falls. This is what makes Birthi fall on the tourist map and makes it really a place worth visiting.

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Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Munsiyari…the Sound of Silence…

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There is so much to see – age-old photos, long-standing maps, coins from all over the world, documents, local utensils & other items, wind-up gramophones, hand-made saddlebags, wooden bottles, native dresses and attires, hand-crafted shoes…so much that I can’t portray it in words and even if I venture to, I need to write at least 10000 words!

With our hats off to Dr. Pangtey, Nitin and I came back for lunch to the hotel by 2:00pm. En route, we crossed several beautiful living mountain streams – there’s something magical about these streams, indescribable in words. I’ve always been fascinated by them…the mountain-lover in me wants to halt at everyone, wishes to explore the start of each such stream and secretly plans to some day even live next to one such stream!

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Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Munsiyari…here we come…

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By now, Nitin was up and ready with his arms and ammunition – the Camera! Gaurav guided him to a viewpoint they constructed right the top of the hill, located at a 5-minutes trek. Nitin came back with amazing set of images – spectacular mountain panorama of evergreen Himalayan ranges and valleys. The views of major peaks like Chaukhamba, Panchachuli, Nanda Devi, Nanda Kot, and Kedarnath are distinctly visible from there. Sitting leisurely at the camp, one couldn’t even fathom what vista laid just a five-minute trek ahead! This was a clear sky day, which offered a 180-degree Himalayan view. I must share with all readers here that such vast panoramic view can been seen only from Binsar and Kausani in Uttarakhand. In fact, there is a location called the ‘Zero Point’ here, which offers amazing views of the magnificent range. Binsar also offers an excellent view of Almora town.

As we sipped the superbly made herbal tea, prepared from the herbs grown in-house, Gaurav helped us with sourcing five litres of petrol from Almora through his contacts. This was done as the next filling-station was at Berinag, another 65kms ahead. Since we rode almost 430kms on day one, I didn’t want to take risk of running on an empty fuel tank in case of any exirgency.

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Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Munsiyari…Ride to Binsar

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Well, I must share that I have travelled on some very lonely stretches; this was proved to be the scariest of all. Completely dark it was, we brothers rode our bikes non-stop in the only source of lights – the bikes’ headlights! This was a typical forest track, and rains made it all the more difficult to negotiate the ride. We stopped several times to check the signal of the phone – no respite. What made us ride ahead in this pitch dark jungle located upon the mounts in the dead of rainy night was the my belief/experience – people in hills don’t lie! After all, the guard had said that the forest track would end in 13kms and route to Dhaulchhina would emerge!

Bang on right he was! Just as my bike’s meter clocked 13kms, we came out to a neat tarmac. By now, we were completely drenched and shivering. And it didn’t help that there weren’t any signage that could guide us to either left or right. Fortunately, mobile phone’s signals were back and we called the Camp to locate the address.

30minutes later, amidst heavy rains, we arrived at Dhaulchhina, a hamlet where Binsar Eco Camp was located above a hillock.

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Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Ladakh…Riding Back Home…

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All through the route from Debring to Keylong, the weather was pretty cold. Morey Plains, Pang, Sarchu, Lachulung La, Nakee La and the Gata Loops were all familiar now – there weren’t any surprises in the store en route, barring the fact that weather was dramatically icier this time. I kept craving for a hot cup of tea – such was the chill in the weather. With clouds over our heads, and rain looming, we rode almost non-stop and arrived at Bharatpur, which was our stopover for lunch.

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Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Ladakh…at Tso Kar

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As we entered the mountainous terrain, I observed the colour of the flowing river on our left – so different than the rivers we were used to see during this ride!
Out first break of the day was at Rumtse, the same hamlet where we stopped on our way to Leh a few days ago.
As I sat down here, I observed an acute silence amongst riders, as if all excitement had gone missing, as if we left it at Leh. There weren’t banters flowing around, no one was pushing each other, no laughter; only a passive wait…till this Ladakhi kid showed up.

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Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Ladakh (Bidding adieu to Leh)

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While returning from this point, I took a brief stop at the Magnetic Hill. This has always been a site of amusement for me. This hill is located on NH1, at around 45kms from Leh, at a height of 11,000 feet above sea level. Rumour has it that this hill has magnetic properties! In fact, BRO has put a signboard too, which lends considerable credibility to this rumor, at least for the first timers! There is also a square box-area painted on the road where the signboard requests drivers to park the four-wheelers in the neutral gear. According to the prevalent myth, the magnetic properties of the hill are strong enough to pull cars uphill! In reality, the effect is at best an optical illusion and there is no magnetic property in the area. I have experience this twice now. Yet this place is a crowd-puller and is now a popular stop for travelers to Leh. I am publishing an image I took last year!

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Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Ladakh (Leh to Hunder)

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While descending, I saw the River Shyok flowing at a distance. As I rode further, I came across the road widening into sandy plains long-drawn-out between the rows of mountains. I stopped and filled in the changing views – the river, the mountains, barren sandy plains on which the roads look like thin, dark lines drawn till horizon. Hereinafter came several small villages, where kids would waved at me, tempting me to given them a Hi-five! The mountains around me were full of gravel, which threatened to come down anytime! This was indeed one of the most unusual places on the planet!

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Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Ladakh…at Khardung La

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Once I arrived at the Pass, it took me a while to get myself and True photographed next to the signboard which says “Khardung La, 18380ft, Highest Motorable Road in the world” – there were so many tourists around – I could see people from all part of the country and the world!
You see the above colourful signage? It belongs to the café at the Pass, claiming itself to the highest café of the world; where one can have a much-needed cup of green tea along with some snacks.
The walls of this café speak about the story of Maggi! A very interesting read…

Now, you’d be surprised – Airtel works here! After all the troubles I had with the network all through the journey, it was a pleasant surprise! Did you notice the tower in the adjoining image?

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Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Ladakh (Sarchu – Leh)

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After 20kms of very good roads, we hit the under-construction roads. Bad, very bad they were! It was as if I was riding perennially over speed-breakers! The area appeared uninhabitable and has no construction at all, and also no population, save the migrant construction workers. Its was an extremely tiring and tedious ride; we also were forced from time to time to off-road into sand and ride wherever the roads were blocked for construction – BRO is constructing a two-lane road here. I always find riding in sand really painful and painful it was even this time. As we ascended, the road became worse – it is all under construction. Heavy amount of gravel on the road made the ride very tiring and I was in fact forced to stop several times before reaching Taglang La – the second highest motorable pass of the world. This was the worst patch to ride till now.

Despite a mild headache (one shouldn’t wait at high Passes in such case), I rested at the Pass for a good 15minutes. I needed it, badly!

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Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Ladakh (Kaza – Keylong – Sarchu)

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Bara-lacha La was all clad in snow. Luckily the roads were devoid of any snow, making it easy of us riders to sail through. You’d notice that unlike other key milestones, I haven’t posted any image of a plaque reading Bara-lacha La – actually, I could’nt take any – there was a huge jam ahead, as we climbed up the Pass. I saw an oil-tanker overturned and fallen out of the road, taking the signage with it! Thankfully, the truck hadn’t taken the plunge. It seemed to be a very recent accident – the driver of the truck was safely back on road and was assessing the damages done. The Border Roads Organization that manages these roads was very quick to respond; they had already arrived with a crane and were working out a rescue plan.

Advantage Biker! We quickly made our way through the mounting traffic and descended to the famous Bharatpur – our lunch halt of the day. This place is something – all full of colourful dhabas!

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