On Top of The World: The Travelogue Part-4

The weather in Leh was not all that bright and sunny. There were huge patches of clouds shrouding the sun now and then. The mountain ranges all had thick clouds for their head gear as they draped the tip of these mountains. It got me worrying since with such thick clouds, I was anticipating rain followed by snow fall. And snow on the road was not a healthy company to keep as it would have made our bikes slip and skid. We decided to leave for Khardung La pretty early.

The plan was to start as early as 0530 in the morning and attempt to reach Khardung La by 0800. Then, leave the top by 0900 and attempt to reach Diskit in the Nubra valley by about 1200 noon. Later, the plan was to visit Hunder and also ride all the way to Turtuk, if possible. The next day, the plan was to visit Panamik, if weather permitted and then return to Leh via Khardung La. I set an alarm for 0400 hrs before going off to sleep since we were planning to make an early start.

The only thing punctual in this world, all the time, is the alarm clock. The “monastery bell” alarm in my blackberry chimed to break the cozy silence exactly at 0400. Our hotel had this open area that had an amazing view. The day did not break yet. It was still dark outside with a faint ray of light coming from the moon that was just getting ready to call it a day. I went out, as soon as I got up, to check on the weather. When I looked up on the sky, my heart dropped down to my stomach. The clouds were looking dark and ominous and I sensed that there was going to be a heavy downpour. I decided to postpone the ride by an hour and quickly sent messages to my fellow riders who didn’t bother to check it since they were hardly awake. I quickly changed the alarm in my phone to 0500 and went off to catch up on the last hour of comfortable sleep under the quilt.

The alarm did it again. It chimed to shake me off my slumber and the time was, you guessed it, 0500. I instantly got out and the sight of the sky brought my heart from my tummy back to where god wanted it to be. The sky looked a lot clearer but some dark ones were still hovering around on the hinges. We all quickly got ready and set off on our ride to the top of the world. It was still very early for the locals. As we meandered through the desolate streets, the thumps from our bullets acted as a harbinger of a new day. Soon, we left the main market of Leh and were on the road to the top of the world. As we climbed higher, the weather started to turn cold. With pretty steep ascent, our bullets had to muster all their might to climb on them. We were literally freezing despite wearing multiple layers of clothing. The only relief was that the roads were pretty decent. Just a little while later, we hit a roadblock. Anil advised that Jitu’s bike was giving trouble while climbing the ascent. So much so that he had to climb down and push it. We waited for a while and he along with Prajosh and Himanshu showed up huffing and panting. Obviously, at such a high altitude pushing your bike is not the ideal definition of adventure. After discussions and consultations, we forged ahead but soon realized that Jitu had been left behind facing issues with his bike. I could see “North Pullu” from afar and this was a place where we had to stop to give our permits to the authorities. I suggested that we should go to the checkpoint and wait there.

"North Pullu"

As soon as we reached North Pullu, I instantly got off the bike and ordered tea. The tea was very refreshing and sent a stream of warmth through our frozen bodies. Jitu showed up along with Prajosh, Sandeep and Ashish, being an expert in fixing bikes got working on Jitu’s bike to see if he could fix it. After some time, it seemed that the bike was fixed. Since I was not fully confident that Jitu’s bike has been fixed therefore, I suggested that he can park the bike at the check point and hop on to any of the other bikes as a pillion. This way, atleast, he would be able to reach the Khardung La top. However, Jitu was determined to reach the top on his own bike. After all he had traveled for nearly 1500km to achieve this feat.

We finished up with the permit formalities and started off to cover the remaining 8 km to reach the Khardung La top. It was from this point that the roads started to deteriorate. Add to this, the cold weather and it was a perfect recipe for an adventurous ride. It seemed like it had rained the previous night so the roads were obviously slushy and watery. There were huge potholes and stones were strewn across a better part of the road. We carefully navigated through this virtual video game where our objective was not to crash on any of these obstacles. The bone chilling weather further demoralized us but soon, I could see the ritualistic prayer flags signaling the proximity of the Khardung La top. The first to reach were Ashish, Harsh, Royd and me. We were followed by Sukrit, Gaurav, Aditya and Abhishek. Then we simply waited as there were no signs of Jitu, Himanshu, Prajosh and Sandy. I was worried about Jitu since his bike was giving problems. While we waited for the rest to show up, we clicked a few photos standing next to the board that announced that we were now standing on top of the world. Soon the rest of the pack showed up and those who had reached earlier got to know an amazing sign of team work as Prajosh, Sandy and Himanshu took turns with Jitu to push his bike just to make sure that he reaches the top with his bike. Now, the entire group-The Nomads-were standing proudly on top of the world. As we stood there gazing at the board that said-“you are standing on the highest motorable road in the world at 18,830 ft”-there was snowfall. Wow! two amazing experiences hit us simultaneously.

The Nomads On Top of the World

My bullet, "the messiah" standing proudly at khardung-la top

While we experienced joy and excitement, we also started to feel the early signs of Altitude Mountain Sickness. After all, some of us had already spent close to an hour now at the top. With Jitu’s bike giving problems and Harsh also sensing some flaw in his steed, it was time for us to decide on the next course of action. We knew that Nubra valley was not something to be missed especially now that we are so close to it. But we also realized that couple of our riders will not be able to make it since it was too risky to ride on with a problematic bike. I, personally, was very keen to visit Nubra valley since I gave it a miss the last time I was here. I did not want to miss it the second time. Now, Ladakh is not a place that you can just plan and start off. Many of us knew that this was probably the first and last time they were coming here so they did not want to miss out on visiting Nubra valley. Jitu was ever so gracious as he offered to return to the hotel along with Harsh and insisted that the rest should carry on. But then, this is the beauty of a road trip. You end up making such strong bonds with your fellow riders that if one is in trouble, you would not think twice before giving up on fulfilling your dreams. As the leader of the group, I took a decision that I will ride back with Jitu and Harsh and ensure that their bikes are checked and fixed before our next leg-Pangong Tso. Then, it was Sandy’s turn who also offered to stay back. Anil, Sukrit, Royd, Ashish, Himanshu and Gaurav were relieved to know that Jitu and Harsh will not be by themselves and based on our reassurances, decided to proceed towards Nubra. I thought, if not all of us, then atleast some of us should make it to this heavenly place. Jitu and Harsh were very disappointed but then they realized that they should use this time in Leh to fix their bikes so that they can safely make it to Pangong Tso.

With the decision taken, we bade farewell to Anil, Sukrit, Himanshu, Royd, Ashish, Prajosh and Gaurav as they rode on to Nubra Valley. With heavy hearts, Jitu, Harsh, Sandy and I started our ride back to Leh. Since this was a downhill ride therefore, Jitu did not face any difficulty. A little while later, to our pleasant surprise, we saw Prajosh returning. We quickly stopped and asked why he returned instead of moving on to Nubra. He advised that the road was very bad and there was a landslide that was being cleared. He realized that his rear tire was wobbling and therefore, chose not to risk being stranded in the no man’s land. So now, the five of us, made our way back along with Aditya and Abhishek. This was the first time that Aditya and Abhishek were coming on a bike ride. Although the covered the distance from Delhi-Leh by air, they were very keen to ride till Khardung La as a personal feat. Due to AMS, Aditya’s health started to deteriorate due to which even they decided to return to Leh. On our way back, Harsh had a close brush with death when on one of downhill turns, his front brakes failed. Luckily, he managed to control his bike with his legs and stopped it at the nick of time. In a short while, we returned to Leh. Jitu, Harsh and Prajosh proceeded to get their bikes fixed. Sandy, Aditya, Abhishek and I returned to the hotel and started to think on how we wanted to spend the next day since the rest of the guys won’t be coming back before evening. Aditya was longing to eat pancakes and pastries so we decided to go to a nearby continental restaurant. The food wasn’t great but the damage to our pocket was. In the evening, we visited the Shanti Stupa that was bang opposite to our hotel. It was a beautiful Stupa like structure built on top of a hill. The monument presented an amazing view of the city of Leh and had some breathtaking carvings of Buddha in his different stages of meditation. Far away, the majestic monastery above the superb Leh palace lay perched on a mountain top. A winding trek route would lead pilgrims and believers to the monastery from the palace

Shanti Stupa

the view of the monastery above Leh Palace

With that the seven of us called it a day. since we had the entire next day to ourselves therefore, we quickly made plans regarding places to visit in and around Leh. On top of our list were-Spituk Monastery, Leh Palace and the famous Hemis Gompa. With mixed emotions of disappointment on missing out on Nubra Valley and excitement of exploring Leh, we retired to bed.

4 Comments

  • Very good picture of monastery ………………………..

    and equally good post……………..

    keep travelling keep posting……………………………

  • Nandan says:

    Let me be the first to congratulate the entire group for this massive feat, amid difficulties, changed routes, non-stop travel and what not.

    Congratulations Vas, Ashish, Harsh, Royd, Sukrit, Gaurav, Aditya, Abhishek, Jitu, Himanshu, Prajosh and Sandy.

    I hope I got everyone here. :-)

  • Vas says:

    @Vishal–>thanks for your compliments

    @nandan–>yes you got everyone from the group…thanks for your congratulations. its quite encouraging :-)

  • AUROJIT says:

    Hi Vasanth,

    a very interesting account of the bike ride indeed. I followed this series because I planned to visit that sector during Oct this year.

    Though my plans for Oct already appears to be falling apart – the dreams and desires, nurtured by such engrossing articles as this one – perhaps would get manifested sometimes.

    Thanks for such an informative post

    Auro.

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