The Trans Himalayan Experience

Many riders dream of doing the BIG ride, The Dream Ride, which tests not only the machine but your determination and grit and makes you feel small in the cycle of life of all things mortal.   These are not just words, or efforts to make you understand the difficulties, but the feeling one gets when riding on the toughest terrain our country has to offer.   This is also the name of an itinerary which I promote, traversing through the Shimla Valley, Kinnaur Valley, Spiti Valley, Lahaul Valley and then into the Ladakh region.

Till August 2009, I had only dreamt of doing this route on a motorcycle (detailed dreams here)… all this changed when I got a booking for this sector and started the preparations in full swing much before August.
Preparation involved taking care of hotel bookings, airport pickups, bikes to ride, spares, mechanics, support trucks drivers, first aid kits, branding and signages, flight tickets, oxygen cylinders, Souvenirs and Gifts as memorabilia and the experience of a lifetime…    

Day 1: Delhi to Shimla (By Air and then by Road 360 Kms)    

With all stuff in place and already shipped to Shimla, from where we were supposed to kick off the ride, we arrived at the airport for the flight to Shimla at 0600 Hrs… checked in and were waiting for the boarding to start when we heard that our plane had developed a technical snag in the airconditioning and would need 3 hours to be fixed… a delay at the start of the tour is usually not a good sign… we waited patiently for 3 hours… went crazy doing some experiment with the camera and clicked some of  the planes…    

    

    

    

    

Finally at about 1015 Hours, got to know that the plane was fixed and that the boarding was on… went out of the boarding gate and were held in the bus for another 45 minutes… the news was that the weather at Shimla had worsened and that the visibility was less than 3000 Mtrs, which as per VFR (Visual Flight Rules) was way too less for a safe landing at Shimla… No ILS at Shimla Airport…. Result of the entire excercise: We wasted precious time flying to Shimla, diverting to Chandigarh and then back to Delhi at 1500 Hrs.    

While we were left high and dry, stranded at Delhi Airport, we called up our transport service provider and arranged a cab for Shimla.  1530 Hrs, and the cab appeared and we boarded and were on our way to Shimla.    

Managed to reach Shimla by midnight and checked into the hotel.  All plans for the day had been dashed and we just barely managed to crash on our beds and pass out.    

Day 2: Shimla to Sainj (125 Kms)    

Due to the exertions of the previous day, our plans to depart at 0800 Hrs for Sangla were dashed as we finally managed to leave only by 1300 Hrs as we had to collect the bikes which had been shipped to our campsite in Craignano, a couple of days in advance of the arrival date in Shimla.    

1300 Hrs and we started riding and it felt good.  Just as we were nearing Narkanda, we met our first roadblock in the form of a traffic jam.  Being on bikes, we managed to squirm our way out of the melee and started riding again.  We crossed Kingel and kept riding.  The day had its share of scares as one of the riders decided to overtake a truck… from the Left (wrong) side. with oncoming traffic, the truckie cut his way left and that was when the rider in question veered left, went offroad, hit a huge boulder the size of a football, which just barely missed his leg.  This was followed a bike skidding on a turn and the bike and the rider kissing the road.    

As we were waiting near Sainj, the riders decided on hanging up the riding boots for the night in Sainj.  This decision was something everyone of us would remember our whole tour as it had some devastating rippling effects later.  The decision resulted in me scampering around to locate a suitable place for the night halt and cancelling the stay options at Sangla.   since we had hung up the boots and the keys for the night, One of the riders, who is a professional photographer we went crazy with his camera, and I started clicking mine… this is one of the best ones… my pride and joy…    

    

Day 3: Sainj – Rampur – Recong Peo – Spello – Nako – Sumdo – Tabo (300 Kms)    

This was the route which we had to travel on to make up for the lost riding time the day before.  300 kms of good, bad, slushy and some back breaking roads.    

An early morning departure saw us crssing Rampur and as we were nearing Wangtu, all hell started to break loose… there was a road block due to the dynamite blasting being carried out to widen the road…    

Wangtu: First Pitstop of the day just after the blasting site

  

Two of the Four Riders

Two of the Four Riders

  

A Biker is never far from his Beer

A Biker is never far from his Beer

After refreshing ourselves with the beers and some photography, we started riding through some really tough riding terrain… Slush, Broken roads and really wet conditions due to the water spray from the Dam Site.  We finally managed to reach Recong Peo by about 1300 Hrs, covered with the slush and mud mix.     

We parked our bikes, went to the local operator for the permits, and 20 minutes later, we were ready to leave when the hunger pangs hit.  We went to a fairly decent place called Little Chef’s in the town, just off the main chowk and an hour later, we moved on.   One of the bikes, a personal toy of one of the riders, was giving us some trouble as it had not been run in, so another halt was called for and we had to haul it up in the support truck, unload the second bike so that he could ride, resulting in us wasting some precious sunlight and time.  Thankfully, it was at about 1600 hrs that we managed to cross the Murling Nallah… earlier, this was the most dreaded stretch on the entire route as a 4-5 km stretch was considered to be a high risk area with a huge water crossing, really big boulders sticking out of the road, rocks falling from up above and a chance of a mudslide just waiting to happen… this has been closed to traffic and the diversion which has been constructed on top of the actual Nallah and now there is  just a 25 Mtr (Yes you read it right Mtr – Meters) of the $hitty stuff.  But small does not mean no problems.  The dip is deep and the water level in it is about shin high, with rocks and stones popping out along the way.  This was crossed over and we were near Nako by 1700 hrs.  Decided to take a breather and a butt break and some photos were called for…    

That is Adam proclaiming: I AM SUPERMAN!!

That is Adam proclaiming: I AM SUPERMAN!!

Landscape near Nako

Landscape near Nako

Riders on the Storm

Riders on the Storm

Landscape near Nako

Landscape near Nako

We had registered ourselves at the checkpoint in Spello and thankfully, all was going well except that one of the riders was not feeling too well and had decided to ride in the support truck and one of the mechanics was riding in his place.  The bikes were new and all the electricals were operational, as they came into use as soon as the sun set.  This was after we had crossed the Murling Nallah and the photo op above… as soon as the sun set, we started the most scary part of the ride as we had to ride in pitch dark conditions, unknown road conditions and sheer drops on our left and a sheer rock face on the right… no traffic to follow… we were on our own, the support trucks miles behind.    

Being Point Man in such situations is a nerve wracking task… you gotta be spot on with your riding as others would be following you.  Thankfully, Frank, the guy in the orange jacket was riding behind me on the right flank and was illuminating the part of the road which was out of reach from my head lamp’s beam.     

We stopped over at Sumdo Checkpost and got ourselves registered, had a smoke with the cops there and were on our way to Tabo.  The going was slow and we reached Tabo at 2130 Hrs without mishaps and breakdowns and any scares.    

Parked our rides in front of the hotel and thanked the Almighty for seeing us through the day without any problems.  All riders were busted, and tired and because of the scary ride were wound up tight as a coil spring… We released the tension with some beers and smokes and had dinner and called it a night.     

Day 4: Tabo – Dhankar – Lalung – Kaza (80 Kms)    

Being an easy day with just 80 km of riding to be done, we all woke up late and had a relaxed laidback breakfast.  The other riders decided to go have a look at the 1000 year old Tabo Monastery and I stayed back to wind up the settlement of bills and to get the bikes topped up on fuel and have them checked up for mechanical fitness.    

Landscape at Tabo

Landscape at Tabo

Landscape at Tabo

Landscape at Tabo

After the sightseeing tour of  Tabo, we all departed for the next destination Dhankar Monastery… The road to Dhankar is about 15-20 odd Kms from Tabo, a road which branches off the main highwayfrom Sichling Village… thankfully, it is very well marked by a gate at the start of the uphill road.    

The Entry for the road to Dhankar

The Entry for the road to Dhankar

The road to Dhankar

The road to Dhankar

Adam, waiting for the other riders

Adam, waiting for the other riders

James (front) and Frank (back)

James (front) and Frank (back)

James and Frank

James and Frank

Landscape enroute Dhankar

Landscape enroute Dhankar

Sight to behold (clicked from on top of the Dhankar Monastery)

Sight to behold (clicked from on top of the Dhankar Monastery)

Sight to behold

Sight to behold

Some staying Quarters at Dhankar

Staying Quarters at Dhankar

After spending some more time here, admiring the scenes and the landscape, we decided to give Lalung a miss as no one wanted to ride more than necessary and started riding back downhill to the highway so that we could make a beeline for Kaza, about 25 kms away.    

Sore and tired from the previous day’s tiring and stressful ride, we all decided to ride easy as the roads were in good condition and finally reached Kaza by about 1400 Hrs.    

At Kaza, in front of His Holinesss abode

At Kaza, in front of His Holiness's abode

Same location

Same location

Once we were through the photo op, we moved on to the hotel and decided to plonk ourselves and rest and relax.  Lunch was a relaxed and simple affair as was dinner.   We had plans to ride to Kibber Village and Kye Monstery, but decided against it, given the exhaustion we were suffering from.    

Day 5: Kaza – Keylong (via Kunzum La)    

This was the ride I was dreading as Nandan had mentioned in one of his e-mails that the road ahead of Kaza was a complete goner… no riding surface of any sort, so be prepared for rough shod off road riding all the way through to the Manali – Keylong road.    

We kicked off, expecting the worst, but were plesantly surprised to be greeted with a newly paved road surface worth riding like Valentino Rossi.  Smooth tarmac, a rested body and the excitement of hitting the first high altitude pass on the entire ride was enough to get us all going and pretty soon, post breakfast, we were zooming off on our way to Kunzum La.    

Enroute Kunzum La

Enroute Kunzum La

  

Landscape enroute Keylong

Landscape enroute Keylong

  

A snap for the Promo Poster

A snap for the Promo Poster

  

 Soon we were at Losar and another check post and registration later, we started riding… but not before asking the locals about the road conditions.  The news was not good as they said that the road condition is “rough”… on asking how rough, they said “Rough”… and they were not wrong.  The next 150 Kms were as “Rough” as it could get.    

The road surface seen was the best piece of road on this stretch

The road surface seen was the best piece of "road" on this stretch

  

Bara Shigri Glacier (I think)

Bara Shigri Glacier (I think)

  

Kunzum La @ 5300 Mtrs ASL

Kunzum La @ 5300 Mtrs ASL

The riding had not been easy… being a street rider, it never is easy to be riding on rocks, pebbles, gravel and broken roads… but managed to survive and reach Kunzum La without much damage… except a swipe by one of the rocks on the previously injured Big Toe of the Left Foot.  A brief rest and a Parikrama of the monastery/Temple for a safe journey ahead later, we moved on…    

Beyond Kunzum La in the Lahaul Valley

Beyond Kunzum La in the Lahaul Valley

The rough riding started and stayed with us till we hit the turn on the Manali – Leh road, about 4 km short from Kokhsar.  This was preceded by a halt at Chattru where we had something to eat as we had not eaten since we had left Kaza.  Piping hot Maggi never felt better than it was that day… The only spoilsport to the perfect setting was a group of tourists who were upto no good… smoking a Chillum.    

While having the Maggi, we saw dark clouds gathering above Rohtang Pass and felt a rainstorm coming on… thankfully, it was only a sparse drizzle and did not impede our riding in any way.    

We reached the Keylong-Manali turn and headed out towards Keylong and a couple of kms later, we were at the Kokhsar checkpost where we had to register ourselves once again.    

And then we started riding… an earlier experience on this stretch was sheer pleasure and this time around, things were even better.  Wide perfectly paved roads and no traffic= Riding pleasure + feeling of oneness with the machine.    

Weaving into turns and doing a sort of “Salsa/Dirty Dancing” with the bike, we reached Keylong by 1700 Hrs and parked ourselves into the rooms.  Tea and Pakoras and more tea and pakoras later, we were ready to hit the bed… but dinner bells rang and we answered it.  After a filling dinner, we crashed to prepare ourselves for the next day’s ride to Sarchu.    

Day 6: Keylong – Sarchu (80 Kms, via Baralacha La @ 16500 Ft ASL)    

The day started easy with us waking up and getting ready for breakfast at 0800 Hrs.  The day also greeted us with good news; Joe, who had been feeling under the weather since Tabo figured that he was fit to ride the short distance.   All luggage packed up and loaded in the support truck, we started riding for Sarchu.  We took a halt at Darcha, where we had to register ourselves once more.    

Enroute, we clicked some good shots of the Deepak Tal near Zingzing Bar:    

Deepak Tal

Deepak Tal

Soul Trails Bike @ Deepak Tal

Soul Trails Bike @ Deepak Tal

  The riding was easy and pretty soon, we were close to Baralacha La.  Having overtaken the other riders who had stopped for a photo shoot, I zoomed on ahead and waited for them at one of the turns to be able to click some riding shots for the website:    

Riding to Sarchu

Riding to Sarchu

 Since I was off the bike, the gentlemen rode on and I had to deal with two people from the Road Workers’ Gang who needed a lift about 3 kms up the road.  Accommodated them on the bike, and pulled away and dropped them off at the DET a little way up.  This resulted in me being left behind and having to play catch-up with the rest of the riders.  But it is not advisable to be speeding on stretches which can be trecherous… so rode slow and steady.  Kept at it and was soon rewarded with the sight of the Suraj Tal, which was devoid of all snow and the beauty.  This was a different kind of beauty though… Stark naked and harsh…  

Suraj Tal - Harsh and stark

 Also saw a couple of riders riding from Manali on rented bikes, and waving them a parting bye, moved on and stopped at Bharatpur, where the rest of the riders had congregated.  A cup of tea and some chatting session with the owner later, moved on for the destination of the day, which was a easy 10 kms away.  Perfectly paved roads, beautiful weather and good moods prevailed and we were about 5 kms short and had stopped for a photo-op…
 

A Waterbody 20 kms before Sarchu

 

 

 About 5 km from this place was the camp we were supposed to park in for the night.  Apart from a flat tyre here, the ride till now had progressed without any problems and the going had been good.  Taking care of the flat tyre, we moved on and parked ourselves at the campsite.
 
After a brief rest, one of the riders, Joe Bonnello, decided to oblige us by clicking some snaps, fit for the company brochure…
 

 

This done, we all decided to rest up for the big day tomorrow, when we travel 225 kms and hit Leh.  The night was spent tossing and turning as most of us were feeling the effects of the hgh altitude and some of us had to be given a shot of oxygen, which was being carried in the support truck… taking out the cylinder and carrying it to the tent and then putting on the regulator and the breathing appratus was a difficult task due to the low oxygen levels, but managed to get the act together and satisfied that “Aal izz Well”, decided to call it a night.
 
Day 7: Sarchu – Leh (225 Kms, via Nakeela (15447 Ft), Lachulung La (16600 Ft), Tanglang La @ 17500 Ft ASL)   

An ealry morning departure saw us leaving the Campsite @ 0700 Hrs and riding to the himachal Pradesh border about 20 kms away.  Along the way, we traversed across the Nakeela @ 15447 Ft, which is the lowest mountain pass on the road from sarchu to Leh.
 
 

This was followed by crossing the Lachulung La @ 16600 ft and we finally were on our way to Pang.  At 15840 Ft ASL, Pang is a temporary camp setup for the travellers.  The arrival to Pang is marked by a watercrossing called Kangla Jal, which, in August was unfortunately dried up.  a couple of kms ahead, we had to register ourselves at the J&K police Camp, and another couple of kms ahead, we ended up in the Tented town of Pang. 
 
We halted there for about an hour to tank up on fuel, breakfast and water.  Soon it was time to move and we headed out to Tanglang La over the Gata Loops, which is a series of 21 hairpin bends, starting at 13780 Ft ASl and in a stretch of 17 kms, take you up by 1500 Ft to 15302 ft ASL.
 

 

 
 
There is a shrine on the 19th loop, which according to the lore was made by a trucker who found a 9 year old boy dying of thirst and hunger.  In his memory and for a safe trip, all truckkies now pay their respect by leaving water and some food to appease the soul of the dead child.

 I also laid my offerings there and moved on towards Morey Plains… a stretch of 45 kms , at an average altitufe of 15000 ft.  At the beginning, we managed t get together and click a snap.  One of the riders had already moved on ahead so he wasn’t in the frame… (well neither was I but the BB was there!!!!)
This was the last of the snaps till we reached Upshi as we separated.  These guys were hardcore MX riders and me a lowly street rider… they were at home on these riding conditions and me… well I was like fish out of the water.  Struggled and flapped my non-existent wings but managed to reach Upshi about a couple of hours later.
Surprisingly, these gentlemen were only 10 mi nutes ahead of me… so I guess I ain’t that bad and literally, DO NOT SUCK AT RIDING!
From here, I started riding in the support truck to click some riding shots… again for the website :-)

Finally managed to reach Leh by 1600 Hrs and then there was a goof-up… In our urgency to locate the resort we were staying at, we zoomed on ahead and got separated due to traffic.  30 minutes of frantic searching, we managed to get together and settled in the comfy hotel.
Day 8: Leh – Khardung La – Leh (80 Kms)
 
After a much needed rest and sleep, everyone was bright and spiffy and raring to conquer the Highest Motor-able Road in the World @ 18380 Ft, made across the Khardung La.  This was preceded by the ever spresent shopping spree to the markets of Leh.  After a brief touristy spree, we rounded back to the hotel and dressed up for Khardung La.
We had already arranged for the permits earlier and got going at about 1300 Hrs and were lucky to bump into the motorcade of His Holiness Dalai Lama, who was in town. 
I got a brief glimspe of his smiling face and my day was made!  My trip was more of a success than I could ever imagine!
The remainder of the ride was just a side trip for me.  For the other riders, a dream come true.  Riding to Khardung La was easy and we were there in two hours flat.
Clicked some snaps for the memories and then decided to beat a retreat as we had already been goofing off up there for about 30 minutes… anything more and we would have been struck with altitude sickness.  Joe fulfilled his dream, Adam and James had the kick of their lives and Frank got to do the “Knack Knack”… the world’s highest “Knack Knack” till date!

The ride down was again an experience as we “coasted” down… engines off, horns working and the sound of the wind rushing at you as you head downhill at 40 kmph.  Beautiful experience.

Reached Leh, and headed out to the market for a celebration snack.  Bushed after riding long distances, we decided to call it a day and headed to the hotel for the night.

The Next Day

Got up early to be ready to reach the Leh airport by 0600 Hrs and were on the flight by 0700 Hrs.  We took off and were in delhi by 0930 Hours.

15 Comments

  • Ram says:

    Simply stunning. It was like reading a fast paced thriller.

    Excellent description. The supporting pictures say it all. Some of the pictures are awesome.

    Having been associated with the ATM industry and having installed ATMs at the difficult hilly terrains of Keylong, Kaza and Leh, where movement of equipments and manpower was an extremely difficult task, I can understand what all you must have gone through.

    Taking a cue from Kapil Dev’s add of yester- years, I can proudly say-

    BIKER DUDE THE JAWAAB NAHIN.

    God bless you and the Soul Trails.

  • priyanka says:

    d journey from Narkanda to Leh is itslf resplendent.. brilliant snapshots.. v share d xerox of most of dese pics though… :) but d-dirt-bikes do add a charm to dis off-d-road expedition… i missed out on dat.. thnx for d post.. it has taken me back to d glorious Himalayas in d middle of chaotic piles of files.. :)

  • amita says:

    nicely written and great pics

  • As ever Dude, your description are always so fast paced and had so many beautiful pictures that its fun to go through it.

    Great. I hope that you will keep us enriching us with your never ending beautiful experiences and I am sure soul trail will hit the jackpot :-)

  • bikerdude says:

    Ram Sir,

    Thanks for the words and the blessings… they really mean a lot.

    Manish – Same goes for you

    Priyanka and Amita – Thanks for the comments…

    Now if only I could get Patrick, Celine, Nandan and the rest of members of the Ghumakkar Family to have a gander at this and then leave their valuable comments…

    Rgds,

    Manish

  • Patrick says:

    Suraj Tal – Harsh and Stark – That photo is just so mesmerising. It gives u a sense of how much in this world we havent seen yet
    Wonderful write up.

    The Other Patrick

    • Patrick says:

      Oh, I just checked the soul trails website – its pretty simple (I beleive its still under construction) and the facebook page too. how do you do the bookings and costs involved?

  • bikerdude says:

    @The Other Patrick,

    Yup the Suraj Tal is just mesmerising. You gotta see it clad in snow and semi froen waters, usually in the month of June to figure out why I said what I said about it.

    As for the website, its simple and yes it is a work in progress… I feel it is much better to have it up and running and to work on it and improve it continuously, rather than having a banner which says it is on its way soon…

    The bookings all happen online… with the finalizations money changing hands via wire transfers etc happening at a later stage, once the itinerary is fixed and plans have been firmed up and you are satisfied with all the arrangements requested…

    This may sound like the workings of a scam but I am working on that… recognition from the Ministry of Tourism etc etc etc and international representations etc…

    Long and time consuming process, but gotta bide my time… the tide will turn and soon Soul Trails, my dream, will be a name to reckon with in India!

  • smitadhall says:

    WOW!

    I’ll say that again. WOW!

    Really inspiring, great pictures and engaging. Suraj Tal looks so enticing! Brought back the memories of our Kaza-Manali drive. While we were there, all by ourselves, everything was new, unthinkable, skeptical. And we were just taking it in, one by one, anticipating and pitting it against the risk. we were so overwhelmed, that i almost told myself that this time I’m here, able to be here. I may never be here again. Wondered whether I’d have it to do an expedition all over a second time.

    And once back, I been longing to go there again. Maybe a manali-leh-srinagar this time.

  • Sandeep Nair says:

    Awesome post.
    As im going to leh-ladakh by june-july this year with bikers exploring this route. This post will come in handy. Thanks for the post and very well written ;)

  • Nandan says:

    Dude – chak de phatte !!

    Brilliant.

    Forget Kaza-Leh, even the Shimla-Kaza ride is one hell of a big thing because of all the million power plants HP govt is trying to build.

    Kibber and Ki are interesting, I would try to haul myself to write a small post.

    The fact that you did all the Spiti , all the Lahaul and then the Ladakh can only be felt. Super Inspirations, Leh should happen this year.

  • aurojit says:

    Hi Biker,
    Great description and snaps, befitting the thrilling, much coveted trip – this one. As Nandan says above, its was a real double whammy – lahaul-spiti + ladakh, in one go.
    Thoroughly enjoyed every part of it.
    Kudos.
    Auro.

  • bikerdude says:

    Ghumakkars,

    Apologies for the delayed/non response of all those comments up there… I have been shuttling between Chandigarh and Delhi… literally shuttling between these two places to get the darned website up and running, and that too in this blistering heat and worst, on state transport buses.

    The trusty BB has her entrails opened up and the mechanic is missing in action and the “La Poderosa” is not the kind of a bike you need to ride the flat lands between Delhi and Chandigarh… One Boring MF ride… which gives me the inspiration of writing about my experiences on the Delhi – Chandigarh route…

    Thanks for all the encouragement, words of praise, wishes and blessings. All of those mean a lot…

    Anyways, enough of ranting… you guys have enough of that when I post something, hence I will spare you all!!!!

    Regards,

    Manish

  • bikerdude says:

    @The Other Patrick

    Dude are you in any way related to Bulletwalas in Paharganj?

    Manish

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