After the futile effort of sightseeing in Leh due to the bike troubles and all that pushing & pulling, I had decided to crash out and enjoy my drinks in relative comfort of the hotel confines… Well that did not do much of good to me… woke up at 0530 hrs to a splitting headache… Not a very pleasant feeling if you ask me.
A whole bottle of water and several cups of tea later, I felt like I was bordering on feeling like a human and decided to get ready for the big ride… 52 kms of high altitude extravaganza which would see me, a normal run of the mill bloke, at 18380 Ft ASL… the highest I could go… I mean an out of shape, physically unfit individual like me… Many of you might disagree by saying “I am in shape. Round is also a shape.” I would counter by saying “The round shape is only good if you fall… loads of padding to keep the injuries to a minimum” (Have a blast figuring out how I know about shapes and injuries ;-))
Anyways, I get ready and have a bite to eat… the queasy feeling of a still lingering hangover is not very pleasant, preventing you from filling in your breadbasket to your heart’s content. I suffer from similar consequences… Gotta work hard on trying to convince myself for this.. “Gone are the heydays when you could guzzle a bottle of hooch… time to let go of old habits and start doing stuff in moderation, suitable to your age and body’s capacity to take abuse.” The mind would listen but the heart would say “Chuck It”
A small breakfast later, I don the jacket, gloves and the helmet and approach BB… kick start and she thumps… Its time to mount, engage the clutch, put BB in gear and thump away to fulfill a long cherished dream. I head north and pretty soon, I exit Leh. Never having been here, I am a lil apprehensive about the way I am taking… but the feeling of riding after a much needed break manages to keep the apprehension under control and I keep thumping… 10 Kms, 20 Kms, 30 kms… Huge snow capped mountains beckon me constantly but the order of the day is the conquest of Khardung La. Without any Kodak Moment stoppages, I arrive at the last 10Km stretch, crossing a rock formation which in local parlance is called “India Gate”.
Decide to take a breather and pop the clutch and hit the brakes. Parking on the shoulder of the road proves to be difficult due to the not too wide road. Decide to move on from there and halt at the next wider shoulder on the road. Now is the time to entertain the shutterbug in me.. out comes the camera and I go click click click… By far the best form of shooting… Ever. The cigg is about to finish and its time to get ready to move on and complete the conquest. easier said than done… the last couple of kilometers are really of the killing variety… steep roads and the lack of oxygen prove too much for almost all carburetted vehicles and most humans. BB & I also are huffing and puffing… finally after a herculean effort, we finally reach a flat top land… ride or a minute or so and I see a board… “Welcome to Khadung La – The World’s highest Motor-able Road at 17380 Ft”
Seeing this sign marks the end of a lifetime’s dream… I have done it !!!!!! A dream has been fulfilled and now I can really say I am a biker !
Of all the people I know, who have come to Khardung La, 90% of them are motorcycle enthusiasts and riders. Now I know why those people go crazy almost every year… taking out time to do this pilgrimage of sorts… Year after year… every year, without fail.
I hand around talking to the “Jawans” posted there… one of them is from Andhra Pradesh and although we share no bond except being Indian, and me bing indebted to the hardships they face to keep us safe, we get chatting… I ask “Why doesn’t the Army build roads till the summit?” The answer is “Why waste money and effort when the road is going to peel away when it snows and we clear the roads” sensible answer and decision… This leads to a session of Q&A revolving about the life and the daily routine at such heights and general chit chat… In the meanwhile, I am offered to share with them a cup of tea… The BEST cup I ever had… and awesome company of really tough men who brave the weather, cold and lonliness just to keep us safe.
While chatting, I am advised that if I want to reach back to Leh safe and sound, I should make a move as the weather takes a twist as evening approaches… it starts getting windy and rain/snow is a common occurance in the evenings… with this warning, I decide to haul ass and suck gas… But the departure is marked with a hollow empty feeling… K-Top has been conquered… now what ???? Or is it the other way round? K-Top has conquered me? WOuld i also beocme like the other people who have to make this pilgrimage?
With these depressing thoughts, I kick start BB and with a heavy heart, say Good Bye to all that is around me… Snow capped peaks, the brave men and the other tourists who come to this place for the novelty of the experience… Time to head back and cross the “India Gate” again…
The return leg is uneventful… the only company I have is that of BB, awesome Himlayan Peaks and my ever present thoughts… depressing as they may be, they are a part of me… as is this experience, which changes every person… You start looking at things differently, stop taking everything for granted and start respecting a lot of things… Mother Nature most of all.
Arrival in Leh is marked by commotion and crowds which I leave behind as i enter the hotel… Park BB and go to the room… time to contemplate what to do next… Riding to Leh had been an unfulfilled dream till some days ago… cnquering K-Top was too… now that I have ridden to Leh and been to Khardung La… what else was left to do while I could still ride a motorcycle???
Then a thought/memory flashback hits me… The “Jawan” I had chatted up with on K-Top did mention a bunch of riders from down south, doing a round trip of India… a “Parikrama” of sorts… so could that be something I could also do ???
With these thoughts cheering me up, I sip on my poison and partake some of the “snakes” rustled up by the kitchen… Well its time to relax a little and then start preparing for the ride back… plan to start by 7 in the morning so that I can reach Sarchu by evening…