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…
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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…
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:
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:
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…
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.