Ladakh Odyssey – Part 1 of 4

This series is about my bike trip to Ladakh & Nubra Valley in year 2006. Its long time since I did this trip but still quite vivid in my mind. I was maintaining a notebook during this trip. I had started documenting it but soon gave up due to enormity of task. However, I recently found the same notebook and with encouragement of Ghumakkar community coupled with spare time at disposal finally documented the entire journey. My first post on Ghumakkar was “Ladakh Nostalgia” which was a retrospect of this trip. This is narrative of entire trip. Here is a condensed map of the route we took.

Approximate route of the trip



I was always fascinated by high mountains and especially this region called Ladakh in J&K. I had seen some visuals, documentaries and adventure tales from this land mostly about riding the long highway to Leh. I myself had a wish to go on a long biking trip and I shared this thought with couple of adventure seeking friends. After some deliberation one of them agreed to join and we started preparing for it. It looked silly that both me and my companion didn’t go for this trip while we were in Delhi and now both of us out of Delhi, I being in Hyderabad, and him being in Pune, the logistical difficulties were one notch up. First of all it would involve transporting the bikes to Delhi leading to extra cost and leaves etc. Anyways, the project was ambitious that these were minor hiccups.

We fixed up the period of days in which we would travel keeping some buffer. A major preparation was learning about the bike and fix minor to major problems like tyre puncture, changing clutch and brake wires, spark plug etc. For this I consulted a private mechanic who overhauled my bike and he and his assistant taught me about various aspects. They also helped me purchase some extra tools, spark plug, tyre tubes, headlight bulbs etc. I practiced changing the tyre i.e. getting the tyre out and putting it back. I did not deflate and inflate the tyre as I did not have the pump. Then changing/tightening clutch /brake wire and spark plug. Anyways I thought this much was enough for now. I was getting confident by the day.

We also decided to do a small (in comparison to what we were up to) ride up to Sholapur which was approx mid-way between Hyderabad and Pune, 300 km from former. This was meant to gauge our stamina whether we face any issues in long rides and just to get a feel. On one Saturday morning I started from Hyderabad and it took me around 6.5 hours to reach Sholapur. My companion also came and we spent that day roaming around the town. Next day after lunch we bade good bye to each other and left for our homes. I came back to Hyderabad in 6.5 hours averaging just below 50. Anyways it was not about how fast we rode but how well and effortlessly we rode.

We read a lot on the internet and forums about route, medicines, clothing, weather etc. We deliberated on how to send our bikes to Delhi. The private cargo transport companies charged a lot so we finally settled on sending bikes by train. I made a trip to the station to know the timings and other formalities which are to be done etc. The petrol tank has to be emptied, the bike to be protected by stuffing etc. and papers in order. There are guys right outside the parcel area who do the bike packing for some charge. I booked my flight tickets up to Delhi and did some shopping like raincoat, woolens (hand gloves, balaclava). Specially for this trip I ordered a Saddle bag and Tank bag from Cramster, a company which produces such bags. The saddle bag fits across rear seat of the bike and can be used to carry stuff. The tank bag has magnates which stick to petrol tank of the bike. Apart from this I took one regular traveling bag which I kept on the rear seat, all tied up using bungee cord which are elastic ropes with hooks at both ends to tie to any part of the bike. The arrangement worked out well for me.

29th July (Hyderabad)

After preparing through the day I went in the evening to make sure that bike is loaded at Hyderabad station. Even though my bike was marked for loading next morning, still it was not loaded in the parcel van when I reached the station. I had to bribe overall 120/- to two people to ensure that bike is loaded in the morning Andhra Pradesh (AP) Express. The need was mine so I did not mind as railways don’t promise delivery on specific dates and they do their own prioritization. I had to catch a flight to Delhi @ 3:40 in the morning so packed everything and slept for 2 hours from 11:00 PM to 1:00 AM. I had already booked a cab for airport which came on time at 1:30 AM and reached Begumpet airport @ 2:00 AM. Had to pay Rs. 500/- for the cab!! Since I had not slept for last two nights well enough, so slept throughout in the flight. Got down at airport at 5:30 AM and straight went to family friend’s residence in Sarojini Nagar and slept.

30th July (New Delhi)

My companion lost his mobile phone on his way to Delhi so there was no way to contact him. After waiting for his call went to station to at least get my bike. As I reached Parcel office, touts caught hold of me. Since I was not carrying the RC, which I thought might not be required, I let the tout be with me. Bike was on platform and it needed to be brought to the parcel office. After visiting Parcel office of Hyderabad and New Delhi, I think how openly the bribe things work. Everyone has a cut from the bribe. After 120/- and 1.5 hours, my bike was out. After that went to Karol Bagh to meet my companion who was getting his bike fixed from a mechanic shop named Gurdayal. Karol Bagh’s bike market is quite an interesting place. It is Mecca for all the bikers in the world. Apart from mechanics, all sorts of modifications, accessories are available here. There were lot of vintage bikes in shops eating dust. I could see lot of foreigners who were looking for a bike to ride on a trip similar to us. One way of renting the bike is also to purchase the bike from here and sell it back over here. We met couple of foreigner guys who were planning to go to Spiti on bike and were getting their bike ready. The mechanic profession here is passed over from generation to generation and this place has lot of history. The shop that we were sitting in was there for past several years initially run by the father of the mechanic who was also there in the shop. Rather than going by the book, these people fix up things by experience. Here I saw a rare bullet which runs on diesel. By evening the mechanic fixed up my companion’s bike and we were hopeful of riding the next day.

31st July (Delhi – Chandigarh)

We had decided to meet at Gurdayal in Karol Bagh at 12:30 PM. I had arranged everything on the bike while starting from home. After some more adjustments I was ready to hit the road.

Ready with bike

After getting some more consultation from the mechanic we left the place @ 2:30 PM, quite late. Getting out of Delhi was a task due to all the traffic and it was killing hot. We drove and took our first break for lunch at a roadside dhaba. After that thanks to good road (NH-1) we covered distance steadily and reached Chandigarh at 8:30 PM. We went to my acquaintance’s house in Chandigarh and had home cooked dinner and slept early to rise early in the morning.

1st August (Chandigarh – Narkanda)

We left home early at 5:30 AM to gain good ground. We passed through Kalka town which was crowded. From there we got first view of hills and bade goodbye to plains.

Leaving the planes behind

Soon we reached Dharampur. The place is famous for its station on Kalka-Shimla narrow gauge line. I went up to this quaint station and refreshed some memories. The Kalka-Shimla trains make used to make a longish halt at this station for refreshment. After Dharampur due to a bifurcation in road we got parted. There was a board stating Barog 6 ^ and Solan 15->. I took the Barog route and waited for my companion for 15 minutes. When he didn’t turn up, I went as far back as 10 km only to realize this confusion. Then I rushed towards Shimla with full speed but my companion had already reached outskirts of Shimla. In between I admired the beauty of Shivalik hills. There was a temple at top of some hill or a colonial style bunglow. The hills of course were green and gentle.

Colonial style bunglow on the way to Shimla

When we joined back my companion went away looking for 2T oil for his bike which we found very close to where we met. I also had first damage in bike. The speedometer wire had come out of front wheel due to which both speedometer and odometer did not work for some time. I got it fixed with the shop where we got the 2T oil. After that we decided not to enter Shimla town lest we get stuck in the traffic. There was already a jam in progress at the entrance to Shimla. We took the bypass and joined the road to Kufri after Shimla town. We witnessed what is called a chotta (small) Shimla from a distance.

Chhota Shimla from a distance

We reduced our target of reaching Shoja and settled for Ani. After Kufri weather changed suddenly. Clouds came all over and mist was formed. There we took a break and clicked each other all geared up on our bike among fog and mist.

Foggy road in Kufri

Me on my bike @ Kufri

I felt like we are just going to get lost in mist but rain obliged. Rain was pelting but we still drove but had to break in between as it was unbearable. The rain drops felt like needles. With helmet on head it was difficult to drive as neither can you keep the visor open as rain drops would hit your face and nor can you keep the visor closed as you wouldn’t see anything. We inquired with some locals as what is the pattern of rain. Would it stop after some time? On their advice that rain may not be there ahead, we proceeded but rain & clouds played hide and seek with us. However, we were rewarded with stunning views in between.

View enroute Narkanda

View enroute Narkanda

While we were going through this we decided to keep moving by calling to each other keep moving. After rainy ordeal and passing through slush of a fresh landslide we reached Narkanda and straight went to hotel Hatu. It was nice and comfortable Himachal Tourism hotel and thankfully had rooms available. We booked a Deluxe Room for Rs. 1000/- and it was quite comfortable & warm. Rain had stopped just before Narkanda and we got some stunning views of hills draped with clouds with deep green valleys below from the hotel courtyard.

Hotel Hatu, Narkanda

View from hotel Hatu

View from hotel Hatu

There was this dutch group of 8-10 people who were riding bullets from Manali to Leh and further to Lamayuru on an organized tour staying in the same hotel. One of the guys from this group was quite friendly and talked to us. There were two assistants with the group, one of them mechanic and there was one Qualis vehicle following the group carrying their luggage etc. The mechanic guy was fed up with the group as complained that they banged their bikes every now and then and he had to repair them. We kept on meeting them at different locations up to Leh. The leader of the group was a lady who also drove a bullet.

2nd August (Narkanda – Manali)

Our start from hotel was on time but got delayed when I couldn’t find my wallet but found it later in my bag itself. Anyways we started while it was still drizzling as we did not know when it may stop. We broke for a quick fill of stomach by gulping down bananas, milk, chocolates etc. School education seemed to be quite a high on agenda of government and parents as every village enroute had kids in school uniform going to school. Even in that morning chill and rain, kids were lined up to catch their bus to school at a remote village further from Narkanda. After sometime whole atmosphere changed and it was bright sunshine. We descended a lot of height up to 1500 mts to cross Sutlej river.

General view above Sutlej river

Sutlej View Point

Looking down Sutlej View point

Sutlej river in full flow

We easily reached Khanag which is the base of Jalori Pass with lots of photo-op in between. As we reached Khanag it started raining heavily. It rained so heavy that we were thinking of options.

My bike bearing pelting rain

Then a news came that there is a khud around 1 km up from Khanag crossing which is a difficult task. My companion went and surveyed it and found that we can try to cross it. At Khanag there was nothing much and had to do with just tea, milk and boiled eggs. The khud was actually a patches of stream which brought lot of slush from the mountain.

Road breach where my bike got stuck

We decided to try in turn and my companion maneuvered it fine but I got stuck in one of the pits. The front tyre got stuck in a pit with huge stone in front. I tried a lot by racing the bike but it did not budge. Luckily there was one solo biker on bullet who was trying to cross the khud at the same time. After seeing our predicament he got down to help us. He lifted the front tyre and placed it in such a way that I could take bike forward. I thanked the guy profusely. His name was Motep and he was from Leh. As profession he used to do rafting, trekking etc. in Ganges and was heading towards Leh for the season of rafting in Indus & Zanskar. I think without him it would have been really difficult. After that we reached Jalori pass at 3185 mts. It was first major pass and there were many more to surmount. There is a temple at the top known as Jalori Jot. I bowed to the deity and thanked for helping me out. The descent also was really bad with hardly any road, all stones and rubble with mud slush and streams of water.

Road down from Jalori Pass

Clouds were everywhere on the mountains, some going up and creating a feeling that mountains are on fire. At one such point we saw a small set of houses up in the mountain slope shrouded in mist. My companion very well mentioned that we have struck gold by witnessing such scenes.

Unknown village shrouded in mist

Mist rising on the mountain slope

Once we reached Aut and joined the main Chandigarh – Manali highway the road felt like velvet as it was well paved. The entire stretch from Narkanda till Aut was wilderness with thick and wet forest and being an internal road there was hardly any traffic. The Beas river running alongside was in full flow with water droplets creating a haze over the water.

Beas river with haze above water

After some struggle we reached Manali by 8:30 PM covering 220 km that day. We checked into hotel Beas view, room #401 which according to my companion had view of Rohtang as he had stayed in this hotel before.

3rd August (Manali)

Today was the rest day for us so we woke up late at around 10:30 AM. Entire sky was cloudy, so could not get a view of Rohtang from the hotel room. Anyways, after getting fresh we went to search for a mechanic. After some search we found one each for our bikes. My guy changed the oil, cleaned air filter, spark plug, loosened the chain for 170/-. He did not see any requirement for changing clutch plate which would have been difficult considering the only Bajaj service center close by was at Bhuntar, some 50 kms away. I heaved a sigh of relief when another guy who checked the clutch said it was alright. We went to Mission hospital as my companion was not feeling well. Later we had lunch at Chopstick which is a Tibetan restaurant. We ordered roasted chicken. Food was average but quantity was huge. After wasting half of the chicken and having Tibetan herbal tea which is nothing but warm water with some herbs we left. Later we shopped a bit for my companion like gloves, cap etc. in local market. Due to all these occupations we did not venture out much in Manali.

6 Comments

  • astroaditya says:

    Amazing… Be it your narration or snaps…. It’s my dream trip and i am planning for the same on bike this year in june…. Waiting for your next post…..

  • Roopesh , Simply no words to describe . Beautiful narration and equally supported with beautiful pics. I think , for most of us Leh- Ladakh is a dream destination. Hope my this dream turns into reality soon.

    Sahil

  • Nandan says:

    Yes, I clearly remember reading your earlier story and the numerous requests of penning the entire story in detail :-)

    Pics of size 640 X 480 would look even better. Never been to Leh.

  • Roopesh says:

    @astroaditya – Thanks and all the best for your trip.
    @sahilthegoodguy – Thanks. Surprisingly Ladakh seems to be exotic but very easy to visit just a plane ride away.
    @Nandan – The image size is result of copying from my blog which shows smaller sized images. I will try to have them bigger in subsequent posts. Ladakh is the ultimate driving destination though have to be careful with a four-wheeler.

  • Onil Gandhi says:

    in my previous trip – Car Tip Mumbai – Manali – Mumbai (http://www.ghumakkar.com/2010/06/20/car-trip-mumbai-manali-mumbai-4550-kms-in-15-days/) i had desperately wanted to do shimla-jalori pass-manali but ended up through the national highway.

    how would you rate the roads on this section for a car trip?

    • Roopesh says:

      The Shimla – Manali via Jalori should be doable by car except the stretch around Jalori pass which is doubtful. The gradient is steep and road was bad. I did the trip 4 years back so current situation may have changed. I would suggest to go in a light car in a dry season.

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