On Top of the World: The Travelogue Part-7

We woke up at Sarchu to a chilly morning. The sun was rising and gradually trying to peep from behind the towering mountains. The entire landscape was spilt into two halves-one glistening in the rays of the rising sun and the other still waiting its turn. We were served with a hot cup of tea by the tent owner and in a short while, we got ready to take on the final leg of our Leh-Manali ride.

We were roughly 220kms away from Manali. Ahead of us were quite a few pressure points and our ability to reach Manali would have solely depended upon on how we handled them. But now, we were not anxious or nervous since we had gained a lot of confidence after riding on similar terrains for the last 13 days. We knew that there would be some difficult spots to overcome but we were also well aware now, that with a bit of care and lots of team work, we would be able to sail through.

With that self-assurance and confidence, we began our ride from Sarchu. Sarchu is located in a valley so a good part of the road on both sides of Sarchu are plain, straight roads with hills on both sides. While you get the advantage of riding on straight roads, the disadvantage lies in the wind that sails through the valley which could be sometimes, very powerful and cold. This usually hampers the speed of the bike and you end up taking longer time to cover shorter distances. Our first pressure point was the Baralacha La pass. It was again a high altitude pass and as we kept ascending, the temperature started to dip and we saw ice and snow all around us. Thankfully, the roads were in good condition so we did not feel a lot of difficulty reaching the pass. We hung around for some time taking pictures and videos.

The Messiah at Baralacha La Pass

Before leaving for the ride, I kept myself updated about various water streams on this route. Especially, this year due to the incessant rains, some of the hitherto dormant water streams had woken up again and with lots of fury. I knew that between Baralacha La and Jispa Camp there were a few water streams with most dangerous one being the Rani Nallah. Since I had the experience of crossing water streams before during my solo ride to Ladakh and the ride to Spiti Valley, I thought it made sense for me to have a huddle with the group and remind them of the basics that one needs to keep in mind while negotiating the water streams. a water stream can be covered via three points-the head, the body and the tail. The head is the part where water descends from the hill, the body being the center and the tail being the part where the water falls down the gorge. Usually, it is recommended to cross the stream at the “head” point since it is this point where the water is not very deep.

While crossing water streams the following things need to be kept in mind:
1. never approach the water stream at high speed
2. Always stop and survey the flow and depth of the water before deciding on the path that you would want to take.
3. Look out for hidden boulders and stones. Sometimes, you may only see the tip of what could be a bigger stone lying underneath the water. If your bike climbs one of these, you are bound to slip
4. Never be scared of getting your shoes wet. You have to ensure that your legs are ready to balance yourself in case of a slip
5. If you are more than one, ensure that you help each other out while crossing the stream especially if the stream has lots of water
6. Never let the bike’s ignition to go off. Keep giving throttle even if the bike gets submerged in water. If the bike switches off, don’t panic just try and push the bike out as soon as possible
7. If you are not very confident about riding through a stream, you could put the bike in the first gear and push it through the stream. You will end up completely wet but then you would stand a better chance of crossing the stream

So after this short lecture of crossing water streams, we started from the Baralacha La pass. En route, we crossed a few smaller water streams and while doing so our shoes, socks and legs were completely drenched, damp and cold. In a short while, right at a turn we came face to face with Rani Nallah. I could hear the intimidating sound of water gushing down from the mountain from quite a distance. While the sound was intimidating, the sight of the water stream sent shivers down my spine. It was already mid-day so the sun was in its full glory due to which the water level at the Nallah had risen considerably. I got down from the bike and along with Sandeep, went ahead and surveyed the situation. I wanted to be sure about the point from where we would need to take our bikes. In order to check the water level, I stepped into the stream and I was shocked to see that leg got immersed till my shin. Though I was wearing riding boots, a lot of cold water went inside my boots and my feet almost froze. But then I could figure out the route that we would need to take to negotiate this fury safely. After the reconnaissance, I had a chat with my group and we decided to cross the stream one by one. I was the first one to cross the stream and I had Jitendra, Sandeep and Prajosh helping me out in case I lost my balance. One by one, each of us crossed the stream. While the stream was in its full fury, we also ended up putting a brave face crossing over the stream. After everyone crossed the stream, we all took a pause and looked back at the challenge that we faced and overcame.

a landslide just before Jispa Camp

After crossing the Nallah, we stopped over at Jispa Camp for a tea break and from there, we pretty much had a smooth ride till Koksar. Here we stopped for lunch. We spotted at this rickety, old dhaba for lunch. The best thing about these small places and dhabas are the fact that you don’t have to pull your hair out deciding what to eat from a never ending menu card. Usually, the food choices are fairly less and simple-you either get dal-rice or you get meat rice, so easy to make a choice. At the dhaba a funny incident happened-as I was having food, I was also constantly looking at my watch to keep track of time. The owner of the dhaba, a very kind and old man, walked over to me and looked at me and then looked at my watch. I was wearing one of the fast-track army collection watches. I was quite proud of the watch so I flashed it to the dhaba owner. I was anticipating that he would say-“kitna badiya aur mehenga watch hai?’ Instead, he pulled his sleeve up and flashed back his…hold your breadth…Rolex and I ended up saying what I thought he would say to me. It was quite an ironic incident and the folks around me had a hearty laugh much to my embarrassment.

After we finished lunch, we geared up to face the final onslaught-Rohtang Pass. From Koksar, the road till Rohtang top was fairly smooth. It was very different from what I had experienced 2 years ago when I did this route during my Spiti valley ride. Very innovatively, small bridges were built where there used to be water streams. Now, the water would no longer flow on the road but underneath the road. It was quite a relief to such an arrangement since I remember a couple of water streams between Koksar and Rohtang. The weather was quite sunny and bright and we soon made it to Rohtang Top.

The Nomads at Rohtang Pass

To my utter surprise, the top was absolutely deserted with not even a single tea stall open. As soon as we reached the top, the weather started to change and from bright and sunny it became cold, foggy and depressing. The deserted surrounding at the top also reminded us of what lay ahead of us in terms of road conditions. This year, the slush on the road between Marhi and Rohtang Top made a lot of news as it caused a lot of traffic snarls. It got so bad that the district magistrate’s office in Manali had decided not to allow any outside state’s vehicles without a valid permit. Our only hope was that because we were descending and not ascending therefore, we should not be facing any problems. As the weather turned rainy so we did not waste much time getting back on the road. For a short distance from Rohtang Top, the road was quite ok and then it began.

After crossing roughly 5-7 km, we reached a point where there was no road. Instead, there was only slush all over the place. Our bikes skidded as if we were riding on a sheet of ice. The slush was so deep that our we legs would have submerged till our shin and I knew that if the bike gets stuck in the slush then it would be quite difficult to get it out and it could also end up damaging the clutch plates. In fact, while keeping myself updated about the road conditions before the ride, I came to know about many bikes and even jeeps and vans that struggled to climb Rohtang Pass due to the slush. There were many who had to cancel their trips due to this. On top of the slush, we also had to encounter the foggy weather which reduced our visibility to a few meters ahead of us. At certain spots, we had to push each other’s bike to get it out of the slush. The entire stretch lasted for roughly 12-15 kms and when we reached Marhi, it felt as if our worst nightmare was now over.

Low hanging clouds made for a scenic view at Marhi

waterfalls seen enroute to Manali from Marhi

We took a bit of rest at Marhi and then proceeded towards Manali. We had not booked any hotel for our stay at Manali so we literally had to hunt for a place to stay. And its never easy for a group of 11 bikers to get a place to stay. Bikers are not usually on the preferred type of guests at a hotel. Sad but true. I knew this hotel where I had stayed a couple of times and it was situated in old Manali. So Sukrit and I went to find out if there were rooms available at this hotel. The others waited for us in new Manali. Anyone who has gone to Manali and has visited old Manali would know how adventurous the route is as soon as one crosses the Beas river bridge. The road literally rises at a 50 degree ascent and also a couple of precarious hairpin bends. We quickly figured that the hotel had rooms available and struck a deal for the group. I volunteered to ride back where the others were waiting so that I can get them to the hotel. With the hotel rooms fixed, everyone was very eager to reach the comforts of the hotel room and crash for the day. The ride from the waiting point to the hotel was awe-inspiring. 10 bikes meandering through the serpentine roads leading to the hotel, left on lookers gasping for their breadth. We spotted many who had their mouths wide open and as we entered the passage to the hotel, we jointly accelerated to let out a roar from our bikes. The Nomads have arrived in Manali.

The next day, Gaurav decided to stay back at Manali while Royd and Ashish left very early in the morning in an effort to reach Delhi on the same day. The rest of us took it easy, got out bikes checked and started for Keeratpur. It was nasty ride during the last 35-40 kms between Bilaspur and Keeratpur and we found a rather sub-standard hotel for our stay. The next day, we began our final leg of our odyssey to Delhi. From Keeratpur, it was all plains so the ride was pretty smooth and boring. All of us eventually made it back home by evening.

Sometimes I wonder that if the Manali-Leh road was all smooth tar all the way, would it still hold the same level of reverence and awe. And even as I type this, I can hear my subconscious mind say-“No way”. I feel that the conditions in which one has to ride the Manali-Leh road are what makes it an unforgettable experience. This is an experience from which you can not only learn a lot of about riding but it is one that would also leave you a better person, one who can take on challenges with a positive frame of mind and maturity. A lot of people say that a ride to Leh can happen only if its in your destiny. Given the difficult conditions in which one has to reach this heavenly abode, I can safely claim that the ride is no less than a pilgrimage. You don’t ride there when you want to, you get a calling.

I put together the videos taken during the ride to make a short movie. Video credits go to Sandeep, Prajosh, Jitendra and Himanshu. Photo credits go to the entire group. Background music courtesy goes to my idol-Gaurav Jani and his upcoming movie “the motorcycle changpa” and various other tracks. see it to get a sense of what we went through.


  • Anil Misra says:

    Brilliant, both the ride and the write-up.

  • Nandan says:

    The guide for crossing a water-stream is a very handy thing. In another conversation I was having with Devasmita (about having a small post on ‘how to shoot awesome travel pics’) I was mentioning her that there should be a place for ‘these guides’, which are not any specific tavel experiences per-se but indeed learnt over travel. Whenever we do think through enough, it would be worthwhile to have a section for ‘Bikes’ and a ‘Guide on Crossing a Nallah’. May be. :-)

    I would imagine that Rohtang would have been really tough. Off late, from everyone I talk to or read, it seems that the whole Rohtang road needs a big makeover. I drove on this stretch in 2009 June and it was one big mess. Now this whole permit thing is another pain. Not sure whether you had a chance to look at Auro’s post on Rohtang. He was there last week of October. – https://www.ghumakkar.com/2011/10/23/rohtang-pass-and-manali-rohtang-road-review/

    Please post the video separately as well on http://www.facebook.com/ghumakkar

    Good Luck and best wishes to AMExplorers. :-) I would raise a toast to all of you brave souls.

    • Vas says:

      Hi Nandan, i could not respond to your post earlier as i was travelling with my family to chennai, trichy and tirupati. just came back yesterday.

      i agree that there should be a separate section for “guides” where ghumakkars can share their experience. i will look forward to share my expertise whenever you need them :-)

      Rohtang was no less than hell. it was like a perfect ending to our odyssey like ride. it kind of kept us on our toes till the very last minute. Till we crossed Rohtang we could not have heaved a sigh of relief. i did go through the exclusive coverage by Auro regarding Rohtang. i am hoping it would be better next year as i plan to cover spiti valley hopefully with my better half…

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