Wishful Riding – Leh to Sarchu to Manali

For the sake of keeping it short and in order to avoid a writer’s block, I would be condensing two days of riding in one post.

After the conquest of Khardung La, the ride back was some what depressing… what would a person do if the one thing which kept him going was a dream fulfilled? But these bouts of depression did not last long once BB was parked… had other things to consider… should I do the return leg of the journey from Srinagar/Jammu or come down to Manali and hit the plains from Ropar? and whether it would be easier than reaching here?

Considering the extra time needed to complete the Leh – Jammu – Amritsar – Delhi leg would screw up the budget and play havoc with the timelines, I decided to return via Manali. The route would be Leh – Sarchu – Manali – Bilaspur – Delhi. The difficulty part was left for later… Will face what ever comes my way.

Sarchu, at a distance of 227 kms, would be one hell of a ride and I would have to avoid stopping over at the drop of a hat if I was to complete the journey in the relative safety of sun light. My target was to be able to reach Sarchu latest by 5-6 in the evening so that I could squeeze in a healthy night of rest and also have some time to be able to chat up with the people who put up the makeshift camps where travellers to & from leh stop over for the night over endless cups of tea.

With the day’s plan of action set, gobbled up breakfast and cleaned up BB. decided to pay a farewell visit to Juma who had worked on BB earlier. Reach the airport road only to find the shop closed. I realized I was probably too early for any commercial activity to start. Drop a note, thanking him and with hopes that I would be meeting him every year now, I bade farewell to Leh. Exited Leh for the road to Upshi and I was faced with the first hurdle of the day. a jam. a truck driver got careless and his truck turned turtle, blocking the way. hvaing had to wait for the crane service to come and pick up the shattered pieces of the truck, the time was whiled away by means of photography.

While the wait is going on and the camera is clicking away to glory, a thought pops up… I should probably post the article on Ghumakkar in a series of snaps rather than words which usually is the norm… This brings about a furious activity of photography and finally when I have exhausted th batteries, I have managed to click close to about 4-500 snaps of the entire journey till now. Thank God for the person who invented the digital camera. The dude should be nominated for a Nobel Prize for services rendered to click happy people like me. Imagine the cost of photography if I had a film based SLR… I would have gone broke getting the rolls developed and then I would have had owed money to the good men in the photolab I use for printing my snaps.

Pretty soon, the belly up truck is righted and towed away… leaving the whole road wide open for BB to gobble up like a stallion on charge. She rides like a miracle and soon the town of Rumtse beckons. A glance and a pass later, I am on my way to Tanglang La… the first of a series of passes which I would have to cross to be able to reach Sarchu. The somewhat early morning ride sees me riding with full alertness and I am in tune with what is passing me by. as I ascend the summit of Tanglang La, the clouds part, letting in a stream of sunlight… now comes the hard part… Do I stop and click snaps or carry on non stop? Not being one to ponder too much on such questions, I pull the clutch, engage neutral and coast to a stop on the shoulder of the road. I can see the twisty road which would lead me back into civilization… not a place I really want to be but you cant act like a wanderer for the rest of your life… not to mention I was starting to miss my lil angel… so a quick 5 minute halt, the shutterbug entertained, BB rolls again on the way to Sarchu. a little while later, I start riding on the most interesting part of the geographical landscape of the route… The Morey Plains. Imagine finding a perfectly straight piece of road in the middle of a route which is famous for its trecherous twists and the Gata Loops… Nature never ceases to amaze me.

The 45 km stretch of this road is gobbled up and work my way up the Lachung La pass. Again a halt for a couple of snaps and off I go… towards Nakila Pass… With all high altitude passes behind me, I relax and take the first decent stopover. Take out some packed stuff which I had gotten from the hotel’s kitchen, I quell my hunger pangs. a swig from the canteen and I am ready to light up the second cigg of the day. Along with whatever I am doing, the shutterbug keeps itself busy… click click click click…

Now I really have to the picturelog thing… Would be a nice change for the readers who have to put up with my crap and would be a heck of a lot easier than trying to write all that has been experienced… they say a picture is worth a thousand words… so let me test the actual worth of the snaps I have clicked.

A halt of 20 minutes stretches to 30 but I am not panicking… 40 odd kms are what remain between me and Sarchu… I have about 3 hours to make it there… lazily, I bring BB to life and straddle her… and roll on towards Sarchu. 15 kms into the ride, I get a flat tyre…thankfully, I did not take a spill… that would have been dangerous and probably would have meant the end of one of the carrier racks which was loaded with fuel.

The usual drill of upacking, jacking up the bike, loosening the nuts and removing theaxle and removing and replacing the old tube with a new one and putting the wheel up onto BB’s rear axle eats away 45 minutes. This is after having an electric air pump to pump the air… I wonder what would have happened if I had picked up the foot pump… would have been huffing and puffing the whole night to fill the darned tube upto the specified air pressure…

Stowing away the tools and packing up the carrier takes away another 20 minutes. 1 hour gone, I am not left with too much of time to be in Sarchu. Night riding, although fun can be a harrowing experience if your bike breaks down and if the terrain is unfamiliar… You would not find too many motorcyclists doing these rides in the dark.

Finally limp into Sarchu, find a place to crash, fill up the tummy and promptly doze off… after popping a Diamox. Why take a chance with AMS?

An ealry morning wakeup call is given by the campsite owner, who has prepared tea and some bread and butter… staying in a campsite means that you have to get your lazy bum into to the mess tent… And at 0500 Hrs in the morning means that you are bound to be freezing your lazy bum off to get that tea to open your eyes. The hot tea really packs a punch… a couple of sips and you are as awake as you can be. The bread and butter is gobbled up and you get ready to move on to civilization as today’s ride wouldsee you in Manali. The roads are not in a very good condition… the intermittent rains ahve played havoc and water crossings and telltale signs of past landslides become a norm.

This is where I stumble and take a spill… in the bone chilling waters of a water crossing. While navigating through a patch, my front wheel got stuck inbetween two rocks and would not budge. Trying hard to balance the bike, push it and free it from the rock results in the bike slewing sideways and I am drenched. Now I gotta fiind a place where I can have a quick change of clothes… no point in riding with wet clothes on and invite more problems.

I get on BB, keeping an open eye for a place where I can change, I ride on till Baralacha La… finally manage to convince one of the guards to vacate his post and I change my clothes… the entire set was sopping wet when I started riding post the spill… I am freezing and the kind hearted gentleman offers me a hot cup of tea. Chatting up with them, I realize how much of hardship do these guys endure? Imagine not having more than 3 people to talk to for a stretch of 6 months, when the entire region is cut off from the remainder of the country? No place to go to, no person other than your buddy to chat up with… God forbid if some emergency pops up.

With the hot tea going inside, the shivering comes under control and I start feeling like a freshly thawed out piece of meat. I thank the Jawan for the tea and his help, and ride on. These fauji guys actually admire people who do travel on these roads on motorcycles. Dunno why but they seem to share a bond with this crazy, eccentric and weird lot of people…

Soon, the ride sees me in Keylong. I park my exhausted rearside in the HPTDC hotel and order something to eat. Its here that I bump intoa friend of mine who returned back to the US after his stint here at the Consulate. We became friends after I bought his 500CC bike he had named “La Poderosa”… the name of Che Guevara’s Norton 500cc single… Translated into english it means “The Powerful”…

With some sharing of notes on the road conditions and riding conditions, we part company. I ride on towards Rohtang and the friend rides onto Sarchu. Once I reach Gramphoo, I am tempted to go towards Kaza as I want to avoid the hustle and bustle of Manali. The peace and quite for the past two days and now the cacophony of holiday makers, revellers and nuisance creators can become a little overwhelming… but again the timeline looms in front of the eyes… so I ride towards Manali. Crossing Rohtang is like getting sandbagged. one side is devoid of people and the other side is so full that finding a place to park the bike for a rest seems like an uphill task. Decided not to stop here, I ride on till I see a shack… I park in front of it and get off BB. Tea and a couple of ciggs later, its time to trundle on downhill to Manali.

45 odd kms of riding sees me parking the bike in the hotel and I strip BB of every piece of luggage piled on her. Since I am not riding tomorrow, I would like to take her for a thorough wash and a general check up. I lug the entire stuff to the room and run up the hot water for a much needed bath. Once the dirt and grime of the road has been cleaned, it is time to pour a drink and reminisce the ride and review the snaps clicked.

Time flies by and soon its 2200 Hrs… order dinner and doze off… the entire day has been a whirlwind of emotions… starting from Awe after waking up, to happiness on bumping into known faces and then longing for what has been left behind… this is followed by disgust at the sight of the huge population raping the environment… Huge number of vehicles belching diesel and petrol fumes ferrying endless streams of people to Rohtang and back…

These swings take ther toll and I enter into la la land for the much needed beauty sleep.


  • Nandan Jha says:

    Your story telling is getting better and better and better. The killer was “I met someone who has sold me his bike..”. Seriously start scouting for film-makers who need good script.

    One other thing which I wanted to write was that somehow I expected you to go slow and sort of run short of ideas once you have reached Leh. I was prepared that you would write a short post on your return journey but as it comes out, it has all the substance as any of your other posts.

    Keep writing, remember that you have to do Delhi-Kanyakumari as well :)

  • Ram Dhall says:

    Another breathtaking post – simply superb. The flight of imagination is par excellence. As Nandan has said, it’s becoming better by the day.

    Would await your next post.

  • bikerdude says:

    Nandan – Dont’ know if I would be lucky to actually bump into him. He did mention that he would be riding in that part in august… That statement of his came to the fore when I was writing… and since this is actually a wishful post, I guess I am allowed that much of a free hand :-)

    I did indeed feel a lil slowed down now that the exciting part of the journey had been completed… that is why I took some time in posting this… had actually been at it for almost 8 hourss before I could post it.

    Delhi – Kanyakumari…. I am planning to do a Bharat Parikrama… ride along the borders…. up North to east and then south and west and then back in Delhi. would be looking for sponsors for that.

    Ram Sir, Thanks for the words…

  • manish khamesra says:

    Manish Dude,

    You really had made me addicted to your wonderful writing style and to this wishful riding. One picture is worth thousand words, but for a writer challenge is to make readers see what he had dreamt and let me tell you that you immensely succeded in it. Very well done and I agree with Nandan that you should seriously look for a film maker who can transform your script in an equally beautiful film.

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