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|1st August 2010, 10:05||#62|
the story continues...
Day 2 starts with a bang. No really! The twins break the door down at 6:30 in the morning… The morning becomes infinitely more interesting as an Innova load of 5 good looking women and 2 geeky looking guys offload at the ‘motel’ for breakfast.
We are immediately elevated to the cool biker dudes as we come downstairs to eat a quick breakfast and begin to load the bikes up. Needless to say, we secretly enjoyed the discomfiture of the geeks!
While loading up, I notice that the twins bike is looking just a little queer. A closer inspection reveals the front shock absorbers exist no more! They were destroyed at some point in the ride last night with no lights.
Getting to a mechanic at the next town, the front fork oil is drained and changed. The shockers are hammered out to their full length and we finally leave at about 12 pm.
Riding through green hills, with very little traffic to bother us and roads that were peachy, we make good time and are feeling pretty good about ourselves. We pull into a roadside dhaba for a late Maggi lunch and photographs…
We need to pick up Digvijay’s tent short of Manali, which will ostensibly give us accommodation for another 2, since my two tents hold a snug 3 people apiece. We bypass Kullu town and climb towards Manali from the other side, giving us gorgeous views of the valley and the river flowing in it.
Saddle sore sets in again, but the necessity of getting to Manali before nightfall gives us very little opportunity to stop and ease the pain.
Rolling into Manali, the search for Bullet mechanics start anew, since the twins have had their shockers plunge and stick twice already. Jaiveer also needs to get his gear sprocket changed to a 16 toothed one to help in the long hard climbs ahead. He in his wisdom has ridden with his long bottle silencer, which destroys pretty much all the torque that the bullet is capable of producing.
A Sardar is found in old Manali who will do both jobs in 2 hours. While rates are being negotiated and the work defined, two of us go off in search of a cheap place to bunk.
Students, people who’re in the process of chucking jobs and part time employed persons operate on modest budgets!
Then the Sardar loses the plot. Throws a tantrum. Then he roars off in a huff on a perceived injustice to his already battered and fragile ego.
We are left up s**t creek.
Another mechanic is found, begging and pleading is done and he agrees to only do the twins’ front fork. Jaiveer toodles off to find another man to do his job(s) and is successful. In the process of his clutch cover being opened, he shucks out another fistful of cash to replace his clutch plates as well.
A mad 8 km run to an Enfield spare parts shop at 11 in the night, a crazy *** dinner at a joint (pun unintended) billowing with pot being smoked in every nook and corner, rain and the news that there are huge landslides at Rohtang notwithstanding, we check into a decent joint for the night at about 1 in the morning and collapse into bed.
to be contd...
|1st August 2010, 20:26||#63|
and some more...
Bathing, shaving and changing for what would be the last time in the next 5 days, we load up loosely and head to the petrol bunk on the way to Rohtang to fuel up. Tanking up and filling our jerrycans with between 16 and 20 litres of extra petrol per bike, (the landslide made Tandi a doubtful proposition) we secure everything down, just as we come across a dude in a Range Rover who wants to know whether Rohtang is open.
Err…we’re sitting in the exact same place as you dumbass. How should we know? (We’re just jealous he has a Range Rover!)
Promising to call him if we make it through (yeah right!!), we head out for what is ostensibly the real start of the trip. Passing trucks, climbing quickly, I come across a bend and my gear lever rides halfway up my buttocks. I see my life flash before my eyes as a mammoth tanker bears down on me from behind.
I survived - by a whisker.
Dismounting, tightening and checking that all was well, we continue onwards and upwards. Screeching to a sudden halt as a solitary policeman flags us down in front a huge line of cars, SUV’s, jeeps and assorted modes of transport. We are informed that a tanker has gotten stuck in the continuous landslide and effectively jammed the Manali – Leh road till further notice, so no one’s going anywhere.
“But we’re going to Leh… we were told the Tuesday ban does not apply to people going to Leh, so we want to head to Marhi and wait”
“Sod off” was proclaimed by said policeman (albeit in a more polite form).
So… we sat and ate Maggi. Drank chai and tried our luck with our Army connections. It didn’t work. A white Scorpio laden with people and a solitary Enfield with 2 white helmets shoot off past the barricade, further convincing us that bribery and corruption are rampant in our country.
That destiny would have things to say about the 2 white helmeted Enfield, was unknown to us at this point!!
Along comes a serving Major General in the Army and discovering that he and Digvijay’s dad had served together in the past, helps us to tag along behind him past the offending blockade. We were on our way!!!
Till Digvijay screeches to a stop.
One of his jerrycans has sprung a leak and precious petrol is being lost. Unpack. Pull out first aid (in this case black electric insulation tape), bandage the offending jerrycan up and re-pack to find that the blockade below has been opened.
EVERYBODY crosses us with a smirk. I wonder why?
We ride upto Marhi and inch our way up the horrific road to Rohtang. 300 metre long, slippery, mud filled sludge fests abound. Darkly rumbling clouds add to the general sense of brooding as I drop down to the back to keep an eye on everyone.
The twins suddenly stop and their bike goes ominously quiet.
They’ve snapped a throttle cable, which we thankfully have spares of. As we begin to open up the top of the carb and the throttle assembly to replace the cable, a mechanic traveling with a group ahead of us is conjured up and he helps put the sunshine back in the twins’ lives.
In the meantime, Digvijay and Jaiveer return to tell us that ahead is chaos. We’re better off staying where we are (about 1.5 kms short of the stranded and slowly keeling over tanker).
Angelina is looking grubby, there is time to kill and a convenient stream flows 15 feet from where we are stopped. Angelina gets a much deserved bath!
Hunger overtakes us at about 4:30 pm and we decide to head down to eat and re-group. Rajma chawal never tasted better, except for Nitin who looks decidedly 2 different colors of green. Arrive the two white helmeted Enfield riders looking quite sullen, to our unabashed glee. (It’s always nice to see someone else battling **** luck as well!) Right behind them pulls up bribery and corruption Scorpio as well. Introductions reveal that they are a bunch of friends from Bangalore and Bombay (I refuse to call it Mumbai) also on their way to Leh.
In the interim, our group decide that it’s not worth going back down to Manali, so we shall pitch our tents on the hillside and try and beat the queues early next morning. A scout reveals a relatively flat patch of ground and space for the bikes to be parked close by. . We call it a night...and damn was the night cold!
to be contd...
Last edited by bblost : 3rd August 2010 at 13:49. Reason: Please refer the rules. Mentioning alcohol, directly or indirectly is strictly prohibited. Thanks
|1st August 2010, 22:24||#65|
and some more yet.... :)
Motorcycles, cars, trucks, busses, jeeps, cyclists and other associated living beings start to roar past our tents from 3:00 in the morning. Digvijay sticks his head out and proclaims, “the pass is open”. I grapple with the thought of getting up, striking camp and heading out… I quickly dismiss the thought and go back to a fitful sleep.
Waking at 5:30, I use a pair of binoculars to confirm that Digvijay is an ***! Rohtang remains well and truly blocked, with the tanker still hanging precariously over the edge. We decide to wait to strike camp. Clean up as best as we can, buy overpriced but sweet chai and devour hot omelet’s with butter and bread. Spreading plastic under our sore butts, we bask in the early morning sunshine as we watch other sorry sods charging up from Manali, to ultimately return in a couple of hours beaten by the tanker above!
Today is decision day. If we don’t ride through Rohtang by the evening at the latest, Leh will need to wait another year. Ashwin needs to be back at work on the 22nd morning and we’ve lost too many days already. Striking camp, we are faced with whether we want to cook our clutches on the way up to wait on top or just stay where we were.
We went down.
Then after a couple of phone calls from the single PCO that exists here (mobiles refuse to work in the valleys, as the reception arrives only near the ridge line) we decide to ride up and wait it out on the hill (mountainside!) Alternate plans of going to Dharamsala (hrrmph) begin to get drawn up, to a complete lack of enthusiasm from all concerned.
As we wait (directly in line with the stricken tanker about a 100 feet above us) two familiar white helmets pass us, joining the already large group of waiting onlookers. Ram, a cinematographer from Bombay and his fiancé Vinuta, a gentle soul working with Greenpeace in Bangalore make contact once again!
In the course of a conversation, Ram happens to casually remark that they were riding upto Leh on a rented bike and that he’s a first time bulleteer, with 2 months of bike riding under his belt.
My immediate reaction, “dumbass idiotic cartoons are going to get themselves killed and make the headlines tomorrow.”
What came out of my mouth, “That’s not really such a great idea…Why don’t you guys ride with us?”
They readily accepted!!
The afternoon was spent snoozing in the sun and waiting. A sobering piece of news trickles down the mountain that 2 boys have died in the cold, stuck on the pass for the past 5 days.
At about 4:30 pm, Army recovery trucks make their way down the road, to cheers and shouts that the tanker had been recovered. Light vehicles from the top will be allowed down in 15 odd minutes. 5:30 pm sees the first of the stranded cars from the other side come past to tumultuous cheering, big waves and bigger smiles from all of us.
All that they wanted to do was get the hell off the mountain. Fast.
At roughly 6 pm, the cop controlling traffic miraculously disappears after declaring that traffic from this side can now go through. Motorcycles of all shapes and sizes jostle and squeeze past everyone else and a mad dash for the pass ensues. It’s each man for himself and we covered those 2 kms at a speed that I thought would break the bikes.
We finally arrive at the landslide that had caused all the trouble in the first place, and are confronted with a narrow path of calf deep muddy sludge, which extends a good 200 odd metres end to end. To add to the fun, the landslide continues unabated with rocks, mud and fine dust all slipping and sliding down the hillside, adding to the sludge already churned up on the ground.
Ram goes through first with Vinuta wisely choosing to walk instead. He struggles as he reaches the apex of the run and comes very close to frying his clutch AND stalling in the middle of the mess. A crowd of onlookers exhort him on and he clears it to the other side. All eyes then swing towards me.
I have an epiphany.
I mutter a prayer as I pat Angelina. We enter the mess and she rides it like she does this day in and day out before breakfast!! She is magnificent. As we come through the other side, a cheer goes up from the motley group of truckers who have bravely waded into the crap to help out whoever they can. They are a hardy lot and I wave to them in appreciation as I look to the heavens to also thank HIM.
The other guys all come through in various forms and shapes as well, till I see a familiar blue and chrome Enfield come through with an unfamiliar rider sat atop her! Jaiveer’s bike got taken over by a mechanic halfway through the sludge, when his clutch almost went belly up. She came through and was parked with the rest of the bikes to cool off. Running back to help the other bikes picking their way through, the lack of oxygen at 12000+ feet makes you feel like shite. Twice over.
Once everyone made it through, we took a 15 minute breather to get our wind back, as the bikes all cooled down. Some of the expressions on people’s faces said it all. Digvijay had jumped in and pushed the twins struggling bike a good 100 metres.
He was really suffering.
But, we were through! We were going to Leh! Hell yeah!
We start climbing as the pass is still about 4 odd kms away. Passing other groups of bikers, thumbs up’s are exchanged and everyone is cheered on, since the feelings are exactly the same. We rocket past the actual pass with it’s deserted chai and snack stalls as darkness quickly engulfs all the ridges and valleys it can find.
The road (or the lack of one) on the other side is madness. Rocks the size of two fists and potholes that will happily swallow the starship Enterprise (literary liberty at it’s finest!!) and then it happens.
Ashwin’s bike switches off.
In pitch black darkness. In the middle of nowhere. On the wrong side of a 15000 foot mountain. Joy.
Flagging down a passing mechanic coming up from the other side (what are the odds of that happening?) he delivers the grim news that the clutch plates are toast. The nearest repair point is Keylong, a mere 150 kms away, but he has a group traveling behind us. They have a mechanic and spare plates and assistance is promised. We decide to wait for the group at the bottom of the valley at Gramphu.
In the interim, we did ask Ram and Vinuta if they wanted to carry on ahead, with the rest of their friends. It was only fair since we were going to slow them down as well. They declined and to their credit did say that they’d thrown their lot with us, for better or for worse!
Ashwin is either a singularly brave or stupendously stupid sod (keeping in mind that the decision to do what we did do was mine!!) He rode the stricken motorcycle, without an engine or lights about 12 – 15 kms downhill on abominable roads, with a cliff edge drop of about 6000 feet at any given time.
He pushed, pulled, braked and cursed his way down the mountain till we finally arrived at a couple of dhaba huts that passed as Gramphu.
Eyes peeled for enfields coming down the road, dinner is also ordered. The group behind us, a bunch of noobies from Google and other associated blue chip companies arrived in a trickle. They were christened 22 by the boys for some obscure reason that I now forget. Along with them arrives the mechanic and his clutch plates. Topiwas his handle and through the trip, Topi would come to our rescue on a few more occasions!
He was a cracker. In the light of 3 different torches, the clutch plates were changed and the clutch adjusted at 11:15 pm. With the wind howling around our ears and the cold numbing fingers and noses, our gratitude was immeasurable. A 500 Rupee note exchanged hands, cups of tea were shared by all and with a cheery wave, off they went, heading towards Keylong.
This left us with dinner to be had, which we did; The question of where we could sleep remained. The dhaba owners kindly showed us a piece of land just below the road that would ostensibly take our tents and make a handy camp site. So with the light of the same three torches, we set camp at 12:00 am, unloaded as little as we could from the bikes while trying to keep the cold from biting our bums.
We climbed into our bags and dropped off to sleep before anyone could so much as say, “good night.”
to be contd...
|2nd August 2010, 12:01||#66|
rest of the story unfolding - slowly!!!
cheers mano... and thank you!
the bikes that had issues were either the ones that were rented or the one that was borrowed. even the one that was borrowed was a new machine and had been in the workshop for 3 days getting 'ostensibly' serviced and readied for the trip...
mine, my brother's and the other 500 on the trip were good and remained true till the end of the trip. so, the problems actually occoured only with these other 2 bikes...
anyhow, there's loads more of stories yet, so enjoy the rest of the read!
stay sane and be safe mano
|2nd August 2010, 19:43||#67|
Having slept the sleep of the dead, I wake to the sounds of one of the twins pottering around outside the tent. (the other one was sleeping in my tent!) Emerging into a cool crisp gorgeously typical mountain morning and a steaming hot flask of ‘kadak chai’, life couldn’t be better.
(well it could, I could have a billion bucks – but that doesn’t count!)
With a pack of mules stood just upwind of our tents, I had to take some pictures of the setting and the place. Since we were already horrifically behind schedule, we were going to make a run for it and were aiming to get to Sarchu at the least…Pang was an option but no-one seemed keen to explore the option very much!
We struck camp and tidied the place up, returning it to it’s (more or less) untouched state. Loading up the bikes was slowly being perfected into an art. I had got my loading and wrapping time down to under 7 minutes and it was getting better every day!
There is a technique to it and with trial and error, I had actually found a very efficient system where my backpack would pack against one of the tents I was carrying and also double up as a really comfortable back rest. (one of the joys of riding solo on a trip like this!!!)
Anyhow, to get back to the events at hand. We pack, we load, we secure, we leave.
All but Ashwin.
As it happened, as per standard practice we rode to the main road and I’d wait till everyone assembled after which we’d ride out together. SOP was that you were responsible for looking after the bike immediately behind you only. So the rider up front knew that everyone was there, the last bike (wagging the tail) would have his headlight illuminated to signal the end of the group and that everyone ahead of him was present.
So, Ashwin would normally wag the tail and in this instance, he was not wagging!
Going back down to the campsite, Ashwin is straddling his bike with what would soon be christened the ‘Ashwin look’ (you’ll recognize it in the photographs of the trip!!). His bike had started, but refused to pull in any gear. I tried it as well and had the exact same result.
By this time, the twins and Digvijay also arrive and between us, we help Ashwin push the bike up to the road. There was no option but to do what Ashwin had done the night before. Coast with no engine! Just that this time, he could see where he was going or over which cliff he’d plunge to his (untimely) death!
I did feel sorry for him. Somewhat.
About 15 kms away, we reach a settlement and the mechanic there says he does not work on bullets and that the nearest mechanic would be Sarchu. An Army transit camp caught our eye towards which we then headed.
By this time, Ashwin was at the end of his tether and had decided that if the bike was not fixable here, he was heading back. He’d load the bike onto a truck, catch a bus back to Manali and then head back to Delhi.
Using my dad’s Army background, we managed to speak with the OC (Officer Commanding) of the camp, who instructed his SM (Subedar Major) to have the bike looked at by the mechanic stationed there. No promises were made and a deal was struck that if the bike couldn’t be fixed, he was happy to load it onto one of the Army convoys that were lined up and waiting to head out to Manali. Since Ram’s ride had also developed a worrying hiccup and a missed beat, a decision was made that they would ride out to have it looked at in Keylong and we’d catch up with them there to save time.
Ashwin’s bike went to the mechanic, who bent down. Tightened the clutch cable. Started the bike and rode it out for a quick spin. He returned and looked at us like we were morons (he wasn’t far wrong at this stage!)
Lesson learnt, smiles firmly back on our faces, thank you’s and Ram Ram’s were said and our group of 5 was good to go. We went. Like the wind. The scenery on the other side of Rohtang changes very rapidly. From the verdant green of regular hillsides, craggy mountain peaks start to emerge. The roads get progressively worse and the dust starts to really fly. We snaked our way past trucks and tankers and most of them would see a group of bikes coming and give way to all of us. Except for some nut jobs (invariably with a JK01 number plate) who took great pleasure in making us eat plumes of sand and mud.
We finally arrive at an Indian Oil sign which signals our entry to Tandi. A board proudly proclaims that this is the last petrol pump for the next 365 kms.
I’d hate to be the guy who rolls up here and says, “shit”!
About 2 groups of bikers were already re-fueling as a tanker was dumping it’s precious contents into the deep dark recesses of the petrol pump. We spot familiar faces under familiar white helmets! Ram and Vinuta had decided to take it easy. Take a few snaps. Have a bit of a stroll. Refuel. Hell, they were on holiday!
Fuel was topped up, (not that we needed to) considering we were carrying enough fuel to sustain the Indian Army in Leh for atleast a month. (yet another case of literary liberty!)
Riding into Keylong was an anti-climax because it looked very different from what I remembered it. My memories of the place were of a quaint, quiet, sleepy little hamlet that was astonishingly pretty. The reality was that it had ‘evolved’ into a typical grubby little wayside village that dots the hills today. The ‘benefits’ of economic progress.
On trips like these, you quickly become a loosely constructed BIG group of bikes, because you keep bumping into the same people everywhere. You’re either ahead of a group that catches up somewhere or you roll up to a group that was ahead of you… Acquaintances become friends and friends either become buddies for life;
or one of you kills the other.
It’s that simple and really that basic.
Lunch eaten in a dhaba with another group that we kept bumping into and became friends with, all the bikes were checked for engine oil etc in preparation for the attempt at Baralacha la within 2 hours ride of Keylong. All of us were short. (get your minds outta the gutter…) Lubricated….(behave) and rejuvenated, we head out again.
The roads are being widened on this stretch and some of the completed sections are a joy. Wide sweeping tarred perfection, cutting swathes through gorgeous hillsides. Photographs were a necessity. I rode out ahead, set up and signaled the rest to follow. They arrived riding about 5 miles from each other. Not the ideal situation when you’re trying to frame 5 moving motorcycles in a panoramic view of the mountains. So THAT was a success.
Then arrived the mountain ‘streams’. In a car, these pose relatively very little problem unless you’re carrying some serious bad luck with you. On motorbikes, the scale, game plan and complexity of the operation escalated to another league.
Snow melt forms rivulets that cross the roads. The rivulets remain gently gurgling, beautifully sparkling streams before noon, because the snow has not had a chance to melt yet. Post noon, when the snow has borne the full brunt of the fierce sun, these same gentle streams turn into rabid, snarling, snapping vicious terriers of icy cold and very very fast flowing water.
We arrived at the first of these at 3 in the afternoon. Really smart.
SOP was that I’d ride upto the stream, pick the safest route through and wade into the mayhem. Depending on how I’d fared, the rest of the guys would either follow the same path or we’d find an alternative route through the water.
I went through okay, discovering a large hole in my path, which if negotiated slowly would not pose a problem. Everyone else discovered the same hole in their path. Some discovered it at high speed as well, with amusing but potentially catastrophic consequences (the person who discovered said hole at high speed… knows who he is!)
The intensity of these streams keeps getting more and more severe as you climb ever upwards. With each subsequent crossing, Vinuta and one of the twins would wait to hitch a ride on a passing benevolent trucker while the rest of us got a seriously cold soaking.
We were headed to Zingzingbar (which would make a really cool name for a bar in Delhi) but in this instance is the staging point for the final ascent / assault towards Baralacha la pass, the 1st of the high passes to be negotiated on the way to Leh. But before that, Jaiveer hails us down.
He’s got a flat.
We are conveniently located minutes from a tyre puncture repair man. We gleefully pull into said tyre puncture repair man’s little shack. Tyre puncture repair man promptly refuses to fix the puncture. “It’s too much work” says he.
I almost hit him.
But I don’t. (He’s the only one who can repair this flipping tyre in the next 150 kms)
So, the Tibetan woman who runs the adjacent tea and snack stall which sells ‘tost’ amongst other things, gives him a piece of her mind. He is forced to start work on the tyre. He has no clue and that becomes evident in the first 15 seconds of him sitting down. We however refuse to take chances and swap the old tube out with a new tube, which he somehow manages to do after much stuggle and cursing, in the super quick time of one and a half hours.
All of us buy sachets of shampoo and wash our hair and faces out with the cold running water readily available from an outside tap. We finish up, and head out. It’s a pretty and uneventful ride from there to Zingzingbar, where we stop and clothe up, glove up and generally ensure we are now warm.
From Zingzingbar, it is a steep and sheer climb towards the pass, which never seems to end… the saving grace is that the road’s brilliant and the GREF were working double time to keep it that way. We then arrive at the largest of the water fording of the day.
About 60 odd metres across, but with water almost upto the knees. The water was fast and furious, but I thought I had a good read on a possible line. With adrenaline making my heart thump 60 to the dozen, I entered the water bang in the centre…and I knew pretty much immediately that I was in trouble.
The current was too strong and I hadn’t come in with enough power.
I was steadily pushed towards far edge of the drop off point. The silencer being under water means that if you stall, you then have a very expensive engine rebuild on your hands. Losing power rapidly, I pushed with my legs, scrabbled with my arms, revved the nuts off the motor and lugged the clutch to within an inch of it’s life…
I honestly believed at one point that the bike was going to get washed over and drop off the side. But she pulled through finally. With both rider and machine hyperventilating, she was parked to one side with the motor running while I ran back to the water to help the others coming through.
Seeing what had happened with me, everyone else entered right at the top of the stream and exited the water at the opposite but downstream end on the other bank.
I went back into the torrent 3 more times.
Jaiveer almost stalled his ride in the middle of it all, and his screams of, “I need a push…I need a push” galvanized another 2 to also jump in to help. The twins also got pushed out of the water. Ram though rode through it like a pro!
Oxygen being a rare commodity at these heights (we were well above 14,500 feet at this point and would be even higher for the next 25 hours), it took a good 10 minutes for everyone to get their wits back. We continued up eventually, overtaking a convoy of oil tankers belching smoke and struggling up the winding road to the top of the pass.
About 500 meters short of the pass, you suddenly pull upto a magical place called Suraj Tal. It’s a glacial lake, formed by atleast 3 glaciers emptying their collective water content into it. Mesmerizingly beautiful, it demanded that we stop and admire. So we did.
Jaiveer had parked his ride and left his helmet balanced on the mirror. It dropped off. It started to roll. It started it’s inexorable journey towards the icy cold waters of Suraj Tal. It must have been the altitude… because I bolted after it.
Crazy, Dumbass, Numbskull thing to have done.
With, “Let it go…Dada, don’t…” ringing faintly in the back of my head, I bolted about 5-6 feet down the rocky, slippery and steep slope of the hill. I caught the helmet before it rolled away and climbed back up towards the road. That’s when it hit me. The stupidity of what I had just done. And my head spun with the lack of oxygen!
16,500 feet is not the best altitude to go running around in and that is an irrefutable conclusion.
Seeing the tankers approaching, we quickly finished pictures, packed and rode out ahead of the trucks. Riding past walls of ice on both sides is pretty cool. (cold is also quite appropriate), and Baralacha la does not disappoint on this front. All the way through, is a gorgeous sheet of snow and ice. As you cross the pass itself, the right hand side drops away gently to a vast glacier that graciously curves away down the hill. It’s jaw droppingly beautiful and probably the prettiest pass you traverse on the entire trip.
But we were cold. We were really cold. With our feet soaked inside our dripping boots and the sun going down rapidly, the wind chill drops the temperature by atleast another 15 degrees. The altitude doesn’t help matters and a dull persistent headache now becomes your constant companion. The thought that Sarchu was still another 25 odd kms away gnaws at the back of our minds.
Jaiveer though makes the decision for us. His bike is parked at the first big ‘dhaba tent’ as we come about 500 feet down from the pass. He is ensconced inside, with his feet over a hot tawa that the proprietor/cook/looker after/super efficient/welcoming and very very hard working Tibetan woman has organized. She must see a lot of fools like us on a regular basis!
That was it. We all piled into the place, unloaded our gear and basically took it over. Mustard oil was rubbed vigorously into numb and senseless feet as heat was applied in copious amounts to said senseless feet. Lovely ‘one size fits all’ woolen socks were bought and worn. Sleeping bags were pulled out and gotten into. Quilts were pulled over the bags. Rice, dal and omelet’s were devoured AFTER tea and soup. Diamox is handed out to everyone to help them through the night. Flexon is had by some to quell the aches and pains accumulated over the last 5 days.
Ashwin begins to look ill from around this time.
But, you couldn’t move us if the world ended that night.
to be contd...
Last edited by bIte tHe bulLet : 2nd August 2010 at 19:45.
|3rd August 2010, 07:40||#68|
Join Date: Mar 2010
Thanked: 64 Times
Excellent travelogue Bite tHe bullet! Really enjoyed reading your journey sofar. Your writeup is simply honest, witty, humorous and you have an uncanny ability to record even minute details amazingly. Your write up has all the masala to keep us glued to the very end and wanting us to read more! Even among the many adversities you guys have faced, you have not forgotten to have FUN!!
|4th August 2010, 13:17||#70|
thanks mano... the material is just writing itself!
want to also put it down while the memories are fresh in my mind - at my age it all gets fuzzy real quick!!!
thanks for reading the nonsense... some more shall be up shortly.
more on it's way.
stay sane and be safe guys,
|4th August 2010, 15:39||#71|
some more of the story...
“Good morning you lovely ladies and gents!” I cheerily call out at 5:15 am the next morning.
Not one of the fugly sods so much as stirs….
Except for the lovely Tibetan didi who immediately wakes, and rushes off to get, “garam chai” going on the kerosene fired stove.
A few choice words of praise and persuasion later, everyone else moans and groans out of their sleeping bags. The twins and Digvijay are feeling the altitude, Jaiveer is struggling (not that that’s surprising!) My head feels like it played ‘chicken’ with a ten ton bus…and lost.
Vinuta and Ram though look like they’re on a picnic in the Mediterranean. They’re unscathed and chipper! Damn fools.
But the star of the show is undoubtedly Ashwin.
He just looks like ****. (pardon my French of course.)
He’s really struggling with the altitude since he’s on medication that doesn’t allow him to have Diamox. And his kooky doctor told him that he’d acclimatize on the way up, since he was driving to Leh.
An hour and a half later, with the bikes loaded and our feet wrapped in plastic bags, then inserted into relatively dry boots, (we still had two more ‘nalas’ to ford), we head out for what will be our longest day in the mountains. 275 kms to Leh, which is what the target was.
Achievable, completely do-able and right to plan.
That is of course if everybody was on the same plan. Jaiveer evidently wasn’t, since he had a flat front tyre (again.) I ride back to the stricken rider and machine and have a mini hissy fit. We then collar Topi (the same mechanic of the curiously named 22 group, who had valiantly replaced the clutch plates by torch light) to help.
With the ‘new’ (a day old tube can’t be called ‘old’) tube replaced with a ‘newer’ tube, we set out finally at 9 am, just as Farah Khan and an assortment of Bollywood technicians pull into camp. They are part of a film crew with Aishwarya and Akshay shooting in the area.
The roads are non-existent and a green looking Ashwin quickly tucks in behind me, as we overtake trucks and assorted other modes of transport. Reaching the valley, we find we are the only two bikes. Waiting about 7-8 minutes, I resignedly turn around, ask Ashwin to stay right here and make my way back up the mountain. Coming round a bend 5 minutes later, white helmeted riders and the rest of the gang come into view. A fouled spark plug killed the rented AVL 350 in it’s tracks. Replaced, the bike starts with it’s familiar but reassuring hiccup based beat and we ride back down together.
The terrain now is beautiful but in a dangerous kind of way. Tall, sharp edged and craggy mountainsides shelter slowly moving mini glaciers. Sparkling streams with the purest water glisten against the backdrop of snow, rock and ice. Greenery is almost non-existent and deep ravines and canyons become common sights, of the many small rivers that are birthed in these spectacular surroundings. If the distance to be covered today wasn’t so vast, many photo ops would have been utilized. As it was, we slowed down in a couple of places, but otherwise went hell for leather.
Fording a wide nala just minutes short of Sarchu, I’m glad we were doing it at 9:30 in the morning as opposed to 6 in the evening yesterday. It would’ve been vicious last night and none of us had the strength left yesterday, to be able to take another battering of this volume.
Crossing Sarchu and it’s many tented camps, we race past numerous Army check-posts as we climb and dip many times on a road that is metalled for the most part. We finally reach the Gata loops, which are a set of 21 hairpin bends up a mountainside, raising you from about 12000 feet to 15000+ feet in a space of about 10-12 kms or so (you stop counting after a while!) There are off road paths, carved into the mountainside by 4 wheeled vehicles which bypass the loops, but most of these are far too adventurous for fully laden 2 wheelers to attempt!
The climb is spectacular and the 500 with it’s inherently strong torque curve thrives in environments like these. Although all the 350’s coped brilliantly as well (considering 2 of the 4 were carrying pillions and baggage). Getting to the top of the loops, we stopped to let the bikes cool off as we shed a couple of layers of clothes as well. The ubiquitous photographs dispensed with, saddle sore massaged out, we re-alight and continue on.
Climbing through a couple of pretty high passes (all above 15,500.00 feet), which are singularly un-inspiring and surprisingly non-decrepit, the ride is dusty as hell, and as uncomfortable as a wet set o’ knickers. Add the very sharp sun into the already volatile equation and the recipe for merry mayhem is primed and ready. (I’m what in the Indian film industry would be called ‘darker than dusky’ and even I burned!)
Just short of the ascent into Pang is the last water crossing of the trip. This was probably the easiest of the lot that we went through. And it is where I almost dropped Angelina. Without getting into the details, suffice to say, she did not find it amusing and I heard no end of it from her for the rest of the day!
Reaching Pang, which is probably where the Devil goes to play when he’s bored…(it is truly an evil place) we stopped to eat lunch. Jaiveer, Ashwin and Digvijay all pass out inside the ‘Dhaba tent’ we crawled into. Two of them decide to not eat anything, lest the contents of their stomach spew into the surroundings shortly thereafter… We definitely don’t insist as the ‘Ashwin look’ is looking pretty grim by this time.
Lunched, we get ourselves noted at the police post as we leave (which is a joke, because according to official police records, a man by the name of ‘Batman Singh’ went through Pang riding DL3SAR3360 on the 16th of July) The absurdity of it all necessitated me to blurt it out to the officious *** taking down details. Anyhow, we climb out of Pang and finally arrive at the More plains. A spectacular piece of land, a plateau at about 14000 feet, More is simply stunning. The gorgeous road at More is also mind-blowingly superb.
The complete 7 feet 2 inches of it.
I kid you not.
You ride onto More and you are confronted by this gorgeous black tar topped inspiration for poetry and the good things in life, and 6 seconds later, a sign proclaims ‘Diversion – inconvenience regretted.’ So you are shepherded onto a dirt track that has been churned into a quagmire of fine, dusty, sand. Said sand does everything it can to make your motorcycle go in the diametrically opposite direction to where you want it to go. And it makes you want to wee yourself. Certain member(s) of the group did use the (lack of) facilities when we promised not to look…
All of the slipping and sliding finally undid me and I unceremoniously dumped Angelina in the mud. Damn….Which was gleefully captured for posterity by Digvijay. Damn.
Righting myself with only a slightly bruised ego, off we went till the twins’ carrier fell apart.
It just gave up. It was all too much for it. It just…fell apart.
It was tied up and resurrected with nylon rope, jute rope, bungee cord, electric tape, band aid, good wishes and a fervent prayer; since the biggest climb till now i.e. Tanglangla was less than 20 kms away.
We started off (again) and climbed the crappiest non-road that you can come across. We climbed through rock, we climbed through water, we climbed through dust. With less than 500 metres to the top of Tanglangla (which is a pretty mighty 17,582 feet), our white helmeted friends grind to a sudden halt (Their bike stops as well...)
We try everything we can. Try the choke, check the electrics, check that there’s fuel, kick the tyre with unabashed fury (and promptly fall to the ground gasping for air). It sits there like it’s enjoying the sylvan surroundings. Then we undo the spark plug (didn’t we change it less than 6 hours ago?) more out of wanting to do something than any real hope that the problem lay there.
The plug was blacker than the soul of the reaper. It had fouled so badly that the extra plugs we were carrying all had a combined heart attack (you get the point right?) We changed the plug and she roared to life.
In the meanwhile, Ashwin who has been progressively getting very quiet all this while, has quietly got off his motorcycle and walked over to the precipice. Sitting on the mud, 2 inches from flinging himself down the mountainside, he is looking 3 different shades of green, 2 shades of grey and a mottled purple. We spur him on. “Come on Ashwin buddy….we’re almost there. It’s all down-hill from here to Leh…Come on doh…”
He mounts the motorcycle and we all charge upto Tanglangla. At the pass, we get off to take pictures that must be taken. I remember calling everyone to quickly sit, so we can start heading down. Ashwin takes one step towards me and two steps backwards.
If Digvijay wasn’t next to him to support him by his arm, Ashwin would have just keeled over and fallen to the ground face down.
I knew then that he was in serious trouble.
Flagging down a passing Tata Sumo taxi after a Delhi registered Tavera refused to take Ashwin till Upshi, the driver took one look at Ashwin and asked us to load him into the car. Vinuta was volunteered to ride with Ashwin and tasked with keeping him awake, since we needed one of the twins to ride Ashwin’s bike down.
The Sumo sped off with Jaiveer in hot pursuit. Leaving the twins with Digvijay, Ram and I also started out. Overtaking Jaiveer who was caught in traffic, we caught up with the Tavera that had refused Ashwin a life saving ride. Politely beeping him with our horns to get past, the vehicle continued to block our way.
That is when I stopped being a gentleman. With my thumb placed firmly on my horn and a middle finger pointed skywards, I do believe the message got through to him. (Jaiveer apparently also flipped him the bird while using gentle and sweet worded language as he went by – prompting the driver to just pull over and let all the bikes through)
I can’t stand idiots. And especially those that refuse to help people in trouble.
Catching up with the rapidly descending Sumo, with the setting sun right in our eyes, the dust and rocks on the road combined to blur the edges of the already terrible road and (to quote a friend) a “cataclysmic drop”. The speed we went down these roads at is something I would never do again. And neither would Ram as he’s admitted in writing. Suddenly the Sumo veers off onto a dirt track. Seeing us follow, he stops.
“yeh shortcut hai…kya aapka bike aayega?”
“Haan haan. Of course”, said I
He drives off….and then pretty much drops off the mountain. At about a 40 degree angle. We follow and I pretty much wet myself. Knowing that Ram is right on my tail, I refuse to look in the mirror because the sight would make me spill the bike. We basically skidded down the side of the mountain in 1st gear, standing on our rear brake and with a locked front wheel.
Till my engine cuts out and I lose my rear brake.
I flew past the Sumo, barely dodged past a rock the size of a ruddy mountain goat, shot a couple of feet in the air as I rejoined the road and almost killed myself. Those 45 seconds or so were probably the longest 45 seconds of my so-far fairly eventful life.
It took a good 5-7 minutes after that to get my breathing back to normal, the bike came back to life as the rear brake cooled off and began to engage again. We continued with the Sumo, till he pulls upto a pipe sticking out of the mountain and announces that he wants to wash the car.
Ashwin is feeling better and is looking more human (if that’s possible.) Vinuta and Ram are convinced to carry on to Leh, since Ashwin and I would wait for the gang at Upshi and follow them in. Reaching Upshi, we buy the driver tea and snacks (he refuses to take any money) as we then wait for the boys to arrive.
We wait for the boys to arrive. For a very long time. Because they don’t arrive.
Quizzing a few truckers on whether they had seen 4 morons stuck anywhere, one of them helpfully answers saying 4 bullets are standing about 25-30 kms away with a flat tyre. Leaving Ashwin where he was, I rode out to retrieve the missing men and their machines. At 9:00 pm, alone in the mountains, at night.
Crossing one of the bikers we had lunched with in Keylong, it transpired that the flat had occurred on one of their bikes. I did give him the heartening news that all puncture repair joints in Upshi were now shut. An important piece of info gleaned from him was also that my guys were last seen, putting the twins’ carrier back together. It had apparently disintegrated again on the way down from Tanglangla, but that it had been repaired and they were on their way down. Continuing, as I came across a bend, the 1st of two Enfields coming down from Rhumse (the next village) slowed down.
The one behind him didn’t.
With the 1st Enfield supine on the ground, shoved to within inches of dropping into a fast flowing river 100 feet below, the 2nd Enfield lay across the road with the rider next to it. Horrified, I ran to the 2nd rider to help him to his feet.
He was a her. And he was a foreign(h)er.
Righting her motorcycle and checking by flashlight that she had nothing broken, we both went to help her Indian boyfriend up. Apart from a couple of cuts and bruises, he was fine but the rear mudguard of his bike and his rear tyre had now become ‘fast’ friends. Wedged against the tyre, the wheel was now well and truly jammed. With nothing more substantial at hand than my tent peg hammer, it was bashed into itself till the jammed wheel released. With them mobile and fine, I continued upwards.
On a particularly lonely stretch of road, barely 4 kms from where I thought the guys would have reached, I snap my throttle cable.
A frustrated, pissed off, wrong done by, from the gut, primal scream.
For two whole very long minutes.
Unpacking the motorcycle for my spare cable, the realization dawns that my spare throttle cable was with Jaiveer, since spares had been mixed up at the last campsite. With no other option, I undid the throttle assembly by flashlight, unloaded Angelina, parked her so she would cut out some of the very cold wind being channeled through the ravine; and rolled out my sleeping bag.
The last thought I remember as I passed out, was of an unwell Ashwin stood at Upshi, with no money and no warm clothes, save for the leather jacket on his back.
Oh, and that I was going to kill the rest of the boys when I laid eyes on them tomorrow.
to be contd....
Last edited by bIte tHe bulLet : 4th August 2010 at 15:46.
|4th August 2010, 20:58||#72|
Join Date: Dec 2007
Thanked: 16 Times
simply ridiculous. BIte the bullet, I guess you should consider writing a book on this trip, and probably made into a film as well.
|5th August 2010, 16:24||#73|
Join Date: Feb 2004
Thanked: 62,897 Times
@ bIte tHe bulLet : You are gifted, man! What a writeup. Why don't you post this report in the travelogues too? The gang from there is missing out. Alternatively, if you'd like me to copy your posts into a new travelogue thread, please PM.
Rating this thread a well-deserved 5 stars.
|6th August 2010, 08:46||#75|
Join Date: Feb 2004
Thanked: 62,897 Times
Travelogue posts copied to a new thread (Enfield Bullets, Friends and an adventure in Leh!).
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