Everyone who enjoyed the wishful Riding series would know what this means to me. This was an ever present dream, that itchy feeling which would not go away unless scratched. Well that itch has gone away (for now) coz I finally fulfilled my dream! partially as yet but still I can proudly say “I HAVE DONE IT!”
The Manali – Leh road trip has also been rated at No.4 in the top 5 road trips of the world. Wonder why? Then read on to get a glimpse of what makes it the Top 5.
June 27th 2009
After a week of postponing the ride plans due to technical and financial issues, and time issues and itinerary changes, we (three riders) finally hit the road for Mandi. made good time till Ropar where we stopped for lunch at 11:30 (who has lunch that early in the morning?????)
Once we wound up the hogging routine, it was nightmare. As the ascent started at Kiratpur, we realized that one of the bikes was lagging behind. Reached Swarghat, took a breather and decided to rectify the problem. The fuel mixture of the suffering bike was set too lean and as a result, it was just not getting enough petrol to give out the power it was supposed to. Tampered with the mixture screw and found that it was jammed and the only way to free it would be to drill out the jammed screw and put in a new one. Unfortunately, no workshop till Mandi was equipped to handle this task. Managed to hit Mandi by 7 in the evening, and asked around about who would be able to do the job. Located the dude with the drill, removed the carb and got the problem fixed or else we would not have been able to ride any further and checked into the hotel Spice Route on the NH 21. Simple, decent rooms with clean toilets and a more than decent pricing and some amazingly yummy food, which was served on the roof top with the gushing Sutlej giving us company in our drinking binge. The only drawback of the hotel was the absence of air conditioning which was very much required. However, even if it was present, it would have been worthless due to the low voltage supply. The reason for this is that the electricity supply was limited to Mandi town and this extension line was a temporary stopgap arrangement. In a month or two, the connection and supply would be regularized and then the AC’s would kick in and things would become rosy for the place and the travellers.
June 28th 2009
Decided to get up early (duh!) and be on our way to Keylong by 7. We had decided to give Manali a brush as it was filled with crazy tourists and the hotel rooms were hard to come by and even if we did manage to get one, we might just be paying through our nose there. Good thoughts but the implementation of the same is the difficult part.
Managed to get up by 8 and after a mandatory cup of tea, got our lazy bums moving to get ready for departure. Checked out of the hotel by 10 and we were well on our way to Keylong. a couple of kms ahead, we stopped to fill up our tummies with some bun-omelete…
The 110 kms were a dream as usual but this time around, the lack of rains was very visible. All things which should have been lush green were a depressing brown… dehydrated and parched and waiting for the Rain Gods to do their stuff… Even the Pandoh Dam was not looking its usual beautiful place. The water was gushing through the open gates but the surrounding areas were… well depressing.
Crossing the Pandoh, we hit a ascent and pretty soon we were zooming off. Reached the tunnel and it was the usual fare. Once you have done this route to death, like I have, you just dont see the spark which one gets on this route. Reached Kullu and decided to take a break.
Sipped on water and had chocolate and when we were about to leave, I twisted my foot. A real bad sprain as I could not even stand and had to take about 30 minutes just to be able to stand on it. Once I was confident that there was no fracture, we rode on but then realized that changing the gears was a really painful task. Had a strategic break and a huddle and decided not to go beyond Manali as it would mean unnecessary strain on the injured foot, we made arrangements for a hotel room in Vasisth. Reached the hotel, checked in and then started the recuperation procedure (not with the alcohol you ninny!) .
This time around, it was hot water soaks with all the desi jugaads we ever knew. Mustard Oil, Phitkari, Salt, and then someone suggested roasted crushed onions with haldi as a fomotation pack… That was surely something I had never heard of but was desparate to try even that… anything and everything to get back on my feet and to start riding.
Thankfully, just the hot water soak worked wonders and the next day, I was able to walk (limp around) and stand on my feet. The gear changing was still a bit of a pain but managed to figure out a way to reduce the strain on the ankle. Checked out of the hotel and were on our way to cross Rohtang on our way to Sarchu when all hell broke loose.
There was a huge pile up of vehicles on their way to Rohtang. We had managed to reach Palchan when we encountered the jam and decided to have a breakfast halt. This is where we also fixed the issue of gear slippage I was facing on BB. The jam cleared up in about 45 minutes and we started riding again. Then the road surface started acting up. Potholes the size of the entire road, no roads, rocky terrain, mud, slush, traffic and people… in enough numbers to drive anyone crazy resulted in us taking 3 hours to reach Marhi.
Rohtang Pass was another 10 Kms further up. Limped in at Rohtang and took a cursory halt for Maggi.
30 minutes of wasting time later, we were on our way to Keylong. The other side of Rohtang was equally bad with the snow melt covering a patch of 3 kms and us having to ride in a river which was covering the road. Once he bad patch was over, we decided to take a breather and figure out our progress, which had been really slow due to our inexperience with this kind of riding surface. Every meter we had covered was done cautiously as we were aware of the remoteness of the location.
Decided to give the Sarchu stay a toss and decided to wing it the old fashioned way: Ride till sunset and then look for a place to crash for the night. Post this decision, we started a bit of relaxed riding and managed to reach Koksar, registered ourselves at the police Checkpost and moved on.
Got some welding work done in a small village called Gondhla and bumped into some riders from Delhi who were also riding to Leh. Unprepared with no spares, no spare fuel, tanks running on empty and not suitable attired… wearing slippers for riding on this terrain and no protective gear… well to each his own… I prefer safety over dashing swash buckling daring looks and was covered from head to toe (Helmet, Armoured Riding Jacket, Knee Guards and Calf Length paratrooper boots) to take on a batallion of Riot Police with Lathis :-)
Fixed a small problem on one of the bikes of the other group and we headed towards the town of Keylong and hopefully hit a place called Darcha for overnight stay. Hit Keylong by about 5:30 and asked for the way and were advised not to go as it would be 3-4 hours before we reached Darcha, which was only 35 kms away. Paid heed to what the locals had to say and we decided to stay over in keylong. Unsurprisingly, there are only two hotels in Keylong. One is the HPTDC Chandra Bhaga, with some amazing scenery.
The other one is hotel Dekyid. We stayed at the Chandra Bhaga and crashed for the night. Bumped into some bikers from down south, who were taking it real easy… they had planned to spend a couple of days in Keylong and then move on to Sarchu and the Pang and then Upshi and then hit Leh. Well some people just dont have to do much to realize their dreams… and some have to struggle to make it happen. Such is life and well what the heck? While we were preparing for the night of rest, we decided to try and gun for Leh on the same day. Well if the HPTDC buses could do it, we could also be in Leh by evening. Decided to have a wake-up call at 0400 Hrs and departure by 0500 Hrs. Spent the night tossing and turning as the acclimatization process kicked in…
29th June 2009
Got up in the morning all fresh and raring to go. The only difference was that it was 7 when we woke up. All plans for hitting Leh today were dashed and we decided to head out till Sarchu or Pang, whereever we could be before sundown. That taken care of, we ordered the tea and also asked for the packed breakfast to be sent up. Got ready and were about to leave after packing up that we realized, today Diamox would be a necessity as we were heading out to one of the toughest locations to spend the night. Popped a Diamox and started riding. The roads were really in a bad shape with the road making gangs making sure to get the roads as good as possible. But theirs is an uphill task and they were bending over backwards to ensure the roads were made, but tis a time consuming process and all we got was gravel strewn road, which could cause accidents if you rode recklessly. The going was really slow but definite as we kept passing road markers pointing that the next place Darcha was coming closer and closer. Enroute, we passed a small Gompa which was about 6 kms from Darcha.
the remainder of the road to Darcha was a veritable mess. Pebbles, rocks, gravel, broken water lines flooding the road. Darcha beckoned and we answered. we were in Darcha in about 15 minutes and were treated to a beautiful sight
Took a halt for breakfast and got talking to a BRO official who was dropping off one of those behemoth road construction equipments in Sarchu. He advised us of the road conditions and said that we should be in Pang by 4 or 5 in the evening. and that this would be the best option for us, rather than wasting about 3-4 hours of good time by staying in Sarchu. Post breakfast, we bid adieu to the Dhaba owner and saddled up for riding to Pang. and about 15 odd kms ahead, we came across our first dreadful pie… a crossing with gushing and raging waters.
This was followed by a couple of water crossings which were kiddos in front of this…
Post this wetting of the trouser legs, we must have ridden for about 45 minutes that we saw this body of water… it was being fed by a stream of snow melt, so it must have been a fresh water lake… this goes by the name Deepak Tal
A brief halt for photos later, we started riding and ascending towards Baralacha La… our first high altitude pass to be crossed for the day. Took ample amount of breaks as we were well on time for the day. schedule wise we were running late by a complete day, but sights like this leave you breathless and wanting for more… so we indulged ourselves.
since we were going up, we started encountering Snow and ice at regular intervals. Halted again to rectify the fule mixture as we felt the bike lagging in power on steeper climbs, and indulged in some play with the snow…
As we started ascending, it became cold and the riding became tough with dirt tracks strewn with pebbles and rocks
As we were nearing the Baralacha La summit, we had to ride through a corridor of snow… piled about 10 feet high on both the sides.
The corridor opened up to one of the most breath taking scenes ever… the Suraj Tal.
More on this in a later post…