Road to Leh!

Brothers riding together

This July, I completed a motorcycle ride from Gurgaon to Ladakh, covering Spiti Valley, Leh, Kargil and Srinagar – one of my many trips to this part of the world…

Despite having done these rides multiple times earlier, why do I keep riding to these crazy terrains, where unless someone has actually travelled on a motorcycle? They wouldn’t believe what one would experience. What’s the lure of Ladakh still, when everyone and their mothers-in-law are riding/driving/flying there these days? When you ride from the heat of 45degrees Celsius to the chill of sub-zero degrees… at above 5000mtrs from the sea level, at Spiti and Ladakh, everything is world’s highest, and most likely, the calmest.

Middle of nowhere

Bad roads to Kalpa

It is a bizarre world where rocky hills & snowy mountains, barren deserts & lush green valleys, deepest blue skies & darkest clouds, serene lakes & roaring rivers, rains, gusts and sun – all the elements of nature miraculously fit in one scene together. Here squalls threaten to throw you off the cliff at the blinding turns at Maling… numerous water-crossings at Kaza make you face the reality of a dreadful fall.

When you ride on good roads, bad roads and no roads alike; cross over the highest mountain passes of the world en-route; experience riding in torrential rains and snow at the heights of Kunzum La and Baralacha La; in between the shooting/falling stones every now and then; where the 22 Gata Loops take you to the altitudes of bright and sunny Nakee La and Lachulung La; where full-of-slush mighty Jo Jila and blindingly foggy Tanglang La scare the wits out of you no matter how seasoned & experienced biker you are.

Rock cut roads

Prayers in the wind

Loops to Nako

Here Maggie noodles & bread-omelette become the staple food and where you stop giving two hoots what appears cleaner – your face or your shoes; witnessing the beauty of Spiti and Kargil valleys and the playground of clouds at the solitude of Morey Plains… from the serene calm of ancient monasteries like Key, Tabo, Dhankar, Hemis & Lamayuru to the scariest gushing waters of rivers Satluj, Sindhu, Chandra, Suru and Jhelum… here one gets tearily eyed remembering our martyrs, reading both the tombstones and the battle-honours at the Dras and Leh War Memorials; to the heavily guarded heaven called Kashmir… walking down the bustling touristy bazaars of Leh, to the quaint ones at Kargil and wearing the India flag with pride amidst glaring eyes at the infamous Lal Chowk at Srinagar.

Kids at Key

Karcham Dam in Sangla

At Lal Chowk Sri Nagar

Pathar Sahibji Gurudwara

And then, to observe the strange feeling of community when you see migrant labourers from our plains, toiling on these treacherous mountains building roads, huddling together for a modest luncheon, laughing and smiling merrily in much less than that they have. Our soldiers standing tall at our borders, which surprising do not give you an adrenaline rush but rather leaves you with a deep sense of gratitude… The unspoken brotherhood of fellow riders where the only common language is the love for riding and where all the stories of their rides unfold in an unhurried way, even those that are filled with life-altering thrills! From staying in dingy dirty camps at Pang to feeling dizzy at these daringly low-oxygen high altitudes, and then pulling yourself up every morning again. Praying at Leh’s Jama Masjid as well as the Pathar Sahibji Gurudwara and hoping to climb up one day the ‘pauris’ of the Shankaracharya Temple at Srinagar…

There’s never a dull moment on this ride… with an quintessential homesickness kicking once every day, one would wonder why one would ride to this part of the world! My reason – on my Enfield, here I am not a function of any goal-sheet, not in employment of a laptop or a mobile phone… here, I am much better slipping off my bike where I dust off & stand back again than the proverbial slip of tongue of the plains that sticks; not being measured for how accurately I ride… and back to the belief that nature has not ordained everything to be in a right angle and have rather allowed them all to grow and nurture in their own ways… These dozens of days and couple of thousand miles – I am on my own, talking to no one. And at these barren heights, I feel nearest to my maker.

War museum Leh

Leh Bazar

Key monastery

Kalpa morning

Drass war memorial

I remember the words of Dr Venki Padmanabhan, earlier CEO of Royal Enfield,

“If you go to (this) Odyssey as a boy, you will return a man; if you go as a man, you will return a sage, and if you go as a sage, surprisingly you will return as a boy”.

Not sure what am I returning as, but surely returning more peaceful…

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