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Old 18th September 2012, 11:41   #1
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Default Six Wanderers Ride to Ladakh


An idea, they say, can change your life. And up until now we believed that inception (of an idea) was one of the most difficult things to do, if not impossible. However, it did happen in our case. During our last visit to the region back in 2011, an idea incepted in Aarti’s brain that we had to do the circuit on a bike. With neither her or me being a biker, the idea was difficult to implement, if not impossible. However, inception had happened, and like a virus it had traveled from her head to mine.

The last time I rode a bike long enough with a pillion was back in 2004, when we were still in our courtship period. It was on my Splendour from college days, and a ride from Delhi to Rajasthan border was sufficient to give me a stiff back. Biking, of course, is not a child’s play and I was pretty skeptical to begin with. Needless to say, so was Aarti. That’s when a certain push was needed from external sources. That’s when our wonderful friends came into the picture.

On a comfortable October evening, we started discussing the idea with them. The response was immediate. We all are at that point in our lives where the inflection point exists, and with respective families planned not far away in the future, an idea of a group ride to Ladakh found immediate takers. We all shook hands, and made a pact that the next year come what may, we had to do it.

With KD, Sagar and Yeshu already being experienced riders to the region, the onus was on newbies like Gunjan, Aarti and me to prepare ourselves for this journey. But wait, before the story can move ahead, introductions are in order.

The guy with a passion for Goddess, his 2006 model Electra. The guy whose first biking trip was to Ladakh. He speaks of the Manali - Leh highway as if speaking of a dear child. A designer by profession, he has an eye for beauty, and a heart of gold. If you are active on twitter-verse, chances are that you would know him already (@nithinkd).

KD on the Great Indian Road Trip on their Katoom
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KTMs apart, his true love is his Goddess, a 2006 model Electra
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A 27 year old boy with a penchant for double meaning one-liners. And yes, they are pretty classy. Introduced to the world of riding back in 2010 by none other than KD himself, his first trip to the mountains was on Vertigo, a 2008 model Yamaha FZ. A biking trip enthusiast ever since, his next few trips were to Spiti and Ladakh in the following years, converting him from a newbie to a bad-*** rider. A developer by profession, he works with maps, making it a perfect fit for his meandering soul. Sagar and KD would also be mentioned collectively as BOYS plenty of times later in the log. Married men tend to lose their BOYS status the moment the deal is done!

His balaclava seldom comes off, Sagar
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That's his love Vertigo, a 2008 model Yamaha FZ
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You can ask her to dance on any number you can play and she would come up with some exquisite moves. Ever since her first trip to the mountains (to Narkanda), she has been eager for more and more. Her trip to Spiti last year was a teaser, and being a Ladakh virgin, she was eagerly looking forward to visit the land of high passes soon. A consultant by profession, taking out two weeks for the trip was pretty difficult for her. I tell you, a consultant’s life is not easy.

Ladakh virgin, well not anymore - Gunjan
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This Punjab ka puttar is the one responsible for your personal accounts going haywire - if you are married that is. Being in the business of selling female grooming products online, he knows the perfect gifts for your better half and at better prices as well. Just do not introduce his website to your better half, if you have not done already. The first time he rode to Ladakh was in shorts, and was always amused when we talked about protective gear and other logistics. In the end, as it turned out, he was the one who was best prepared for the trip. His Jugni, a 2004 model Bullet, was the least troublesome bike.

YeshuB, the punjab da the true puttar - husband to Gunjan
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Jugni, the true blue 2004 model CI engine bullet.
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Aarti and Harsh (me): Well, you can go through our other logs to get to know more about us.

Aarti, the trip inceptor
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Harsh, the man who always had his *** on fire on the trip
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The newest bike on the block, WanderB
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With introductions out of the way, allow me to continue with the story as it happened. With us not even having a bike, the plan was initially formed to rent one from Delhi - ensure that it is in proper condition and ride out. However, we wanted to give biking a try first. Thus we ended up on a short day ride to Neemrana. KD was gracious enough to lend us Goddess for a day, and even allowed us to borrow his gear. As it turned out, the ride was fantastic. A bullet is any day much more comfortable than a 100cc Splendour. I was sold. They say that the first flight seals the bond, in my case the first ride did it. With my office being shifted to Noida, a bike would be a perfect solution for my daily commute and a comfortable one at that. Soon enough, we thought to go for another ride, again on Goddess, and this time a longer one. A weekend trip to Lansdowne was planned and that too turned out to be enjoyable. I never imagined that riding a bike on those twisties could be so pleasurable.

With biking worries sorted out, the next problem was the machine itself. We didn’t have one of our own. With biking looking to become a long term hobby, and one that might be useful for daily commuting as well, we decided to take the plunge and finalized on buying a 350cc RE Classic. However, the first test ride of a 500cc had me hooked, and in keeping with our “one-life philosophy”, we decided to shell out another 50k to go 150cc up in engine capacity. The delivery happened 3 days later, thanks to Naveen Chillar, otherwise we were looking at a 3 months delivery schedule.

A week later, after completing the 500km ride-in schedule somehow, we went for another riding trip to celebrate the new year in Rishikesh. Our group of 4 riders with 2 pillions and some other friends joined in as we watched 2011 turn into 12. The ride was fun, and moreover, our riding group seemed well in sync, and as we parted ways after returning to Delhi, we knew that nothing could stop us now from riding to Ladakh in June.

However, a few months later, disaster happened. KD and Sagar backed out of the planned trip due to their work schedules. Gunjan and Yeshu were circumspect of undertaking a biking trip without KD (we all had our hopes on him for fixing the bike on the fly should anything go wrong). So they too backed out. Now it was just the two of us with a shaky plan to Ladakh. We stuck on, and decided to do it alone. A different plan came up which had to include a crash course in bullet servicing as well. Logistics were increasingly difficult to plan, but we were determined.

Thankfully, two weeks before our scheduled departure, things turned for the better and almost simultaneously everyone was back on track. The trip had to be delayed though, and after several iterations to accommodate everyone’s work schedule, 21st July was finalized as our departure date. We had time on our hands and numerous trips to Karol Bagh and other places later we were all set with carriers, saddle bags, protective gear, rain gear, spares and of course clothes. The excitement was palpable - this was supposed to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience and we eagerly waited for the D-day...

The day itself was not without drama. Gunjan fell sick a couple of days before our expected departure, only to get back on her feet on the D-day morning itself. The alternate plan was for us 4 riders to head out without pillions who would join us straight in Manali (by taking a cab from Delhi). Fortunately, all went well and we had an up and running Gunjan just before our departure.

Day 1: Delhi - Bilaspur.

The day before the trip is typically full of excitement - and for us it was even more exciting since “The Dark Knight Rises” had released. All of us had to take an additional half-day off from work just so that we could catch the movie before going. Yes, we are crazy about the Dark Knight series. However, it turned out to be a bit disappointing, fuelling apprehensions that sometimes the wait and hype can ruin the actual thing. The upcoming trip was also much awaited and much hyped...

Usually, we do Delhi - Manali in a single day in our car, and it takes us hardly about 12 hours. However, a bike ride, we found out, was different. We were thrown out of our cage, and into the sweltering heat of July of Northern India. We thus kept the plan on the easier side and decided to break the first day’s ride at Mandi or Pandoh. Little did we know that our stamina and bikes would give way much before that.

Each one of us has a different policy to commence the ride. Aarti and I start with a simple loud cry of “Jai Shri Ram”. Gunjan and Yeshu prefer to say “Jai Jai”. The boys (KD and Sagar) always begin their trips with a visit to the small Hanuman Mandir located outside IIT Delhi’s gate. We planned to rendezvous at the temple at 5 am and surprisingly everyone made it on time.

Route for the day
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WanderB all set, and raring to go
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WanderB poses again to set the mood before the ride
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Group riding protocols were put in place -
  • Always signal the rider if there is trouble ahead
  • Always keep your headlights switched on
  • Stop if you hear long uninterrupted honking from the rider behind you
  • Stop and wait if you don’t see the rider behind you for more than 20 mins

The ride out of Delhi was pretty smooth and the first break was taken at Murthal. Who could resist breaking there, to devour some of the tastiest parathas served on Indian highways, specially with generous dollops of white butter. Goddess (KD’s bike) had already begun throwing tantrums. She was experiencing sudden losses of power, which could be a sign of engine failure. However, since at that time things seemed fine, we decided to march ahead keeping our fingers crossed. It turned out to be a false alarm, and the problem thankfully did not occur again.

The steeds rest at Murthal
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The sweltering heat made us take a lot of stops even before we hit our lunch break somewhere after Ropar. There was a longish break at Karnal to sync up all the riders, another one on a deserted bus stop somewhere between Ambala and Banur. Speaking of the Banur route, although it is a fantastic bypass for Chandigarh, but sadly due to it being new, there are hardly any dhabas on it.

Lunch was relaxing in the shade of a giant tree at a dhaba. Hell they even had charpais where we could rest our backs for a wee-bit.

This lone bus shed was the only respite we got from the mid-afternoon sun on the Banur highway with boiling water to drink
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It was about 4:00 pm when we eventually trudged into the Lake View hotel at Bilaspur. Initially, the plan was to take a short tea break. However, as we got comfortable, energy levels sapped, and it was decided unanimously to end the day there. In any case, a night stay at Manali was scheduled for the next day, so it hardly made a difference if we stopped at Bilaspur or Mandi or Pandoh. Also, KD and my bike were behaving badly. His braking was severely affected and I was reeling with problems with my rear shock absorber. At each bend, on the hills, the rear tyre was touching the rim. A visit to the local mechanic took an hour, but both the problems were rectified - KD’s permanently and mine temporarily. As it turned out, I had to struggle with this problem all the way to Leh.

Some respite from the heat as we climb Swarghat
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After negotiating a bad stretch, we finally sight this at Bilaspur, where has all the water gone?
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Last edited by moralfibre : 7th October 2012 at 08:25.
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Old 21st September 2012, 13:17   #2
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Default Day 2: Bilaspur to Manali

Day 2: Bilaspur to Manali

The route for the day - short & sweet
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A panorama taken from the lake view hotel - HPTDC
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Aarti and I were carrying 5 bags as our luggage. Four of them were really small, fitted on either side of our “Ladakh carrier”. The 5[SUP]th[/SUP] bag was of a standard size and was strapped to the part of the Ladakh carrier that extends horizontally behind the pillion seat. Of course, all the bags were kept in garbage bags, wrapped with tarp, and then secured by bungees. Now, packing on Day 1 was relatively easier as half of it was done the night before and the bike was locked up in the garage. Day 2 made us realize the ills of carrying luggage on a carrier - it was quite a chore to secure the stuff safely each morning. Doing so on days when the previous night was spent in the comforts of a hotel was even tougher.

Day 2’s ride was short with only about 5 hours left till Manali, and so we all took it easy and eventually left at about 8 am. And oh yes, we ride slow .

The sun was beating down upon us making our progress slow again. The riding jacket, although necessary, was getting pretty uncomfortable as the day progressed. After Mandi, my bike’s rear tyre again started hitting the mud-guard as the adjustment done the day before had given up. It was in any case a jugaad, one that I realized I had to do on a daily basis now. I thought it was due only due to the bulky luggage we were carrying. But that was only a part of the problem, the real problem was discovered later...

Breakfast stop - note the spelling of the hotel. The guy was confused whether to keep it Karishma or Krishna so decided to go with the middle path
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A notice while one enters Manali, mentioning explicitly that all vehicles going towards Rohtang will require a permit.
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Anyway, we reached Manali without any further fuss by about 2 pm and straightaway headed towards Il Forno to have our favourite lunch. Being with a larger group gave us the liberty of ordering everything that was nice on the menu and sample each one of those awesome dishes. Too bad, the hungry monsters devoured before I could click anything. Recommendations - the pizzas (especially the ham one), chicken supreme and Fiametta for dessert.

This was probably the only time that Aarti and I did not stay at our beloved Johnson’s Lodge in Manali. With rising prices (3600 + taxes), it is getting increasingly difficult to afford that place. We settled where ‘the boys’ always go - Dharma Guest House, located above Vashishta temple.

Now this place has the best view that Manali can offer its visitors. With the Pir Panjal looming ahead and the Beas gushing below, the views from Dharma’s balconies are to die for. However, the biggest disadvantage of the guest house is that one has to climb a good 200 steps from the road before one reaches it. We were not too tired that day, but we all agreed that staying there while returning might be difficult.

With luggage checked in, the next step was to get the bikes fixed and pick up permits for Rohtang the next day. I forgot to mention that we had asked two different sets of people to arrange permits for us. One was a random travel agent searched on the net and the other person that KD happened to know. And thank god we had a backup as it turned out that the travel agent was unreachable. Eventually, no one checked our permits, but the unreachable agent did give us some frayed nerves. KD’s contact came through and by late evening we were all settled and ready for the real adventure to begin. Rohtang, early reports coming in said, was not as big a monster this year as it was in 2011, but with thick clouds looming, we knew things could turn for the worse overnight. And so we planned an early departure.

The next day turned out to be quite depressing, with our camera becoming the first casualty of the trip...

The view from Dharma Guest house, Vashista towards Manali town
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The view towards Pir Panjal (or Solang valley)
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Old 21st September 2012, 13:32   #3
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Default Day 3: Manali to Jispa

Day 3: Manali to Jispa

The route plan for the day
Six Wanderers Ride to Ladakh-00-routemap.jpg

It was supposed to be a make or break day for us. A monster by the name of Rani Nallah lay ahead as the first and the biggest hurdle of the trip ahead. For the uninitiated, just before Rohatang top exists Rani Nallah, a rider’s and even a driver’s worst nightmare. There is literally no road at the Nallah and the 4 km stretch before it, and one has to ride/ drive on pure slush, especially in the rains. This slush fiesta is at times almost knee deep. Many have returned back from this point with burnt clutch plates and hopes of doing the Manali-Leh highway lost somewhere in the slush. Last year, the slush monster made us wait for 9 hours in our Safari, the boys lost their center-stands, foot-pegs, etc. in it and Gunjan and Yeshu lost the entire front bumper of their Ritz. Thus, it was natural for the entire group to be really scared when clouds descended on Manali early that morning and it started to drizzle. The implication was clear, it must be raining cats and dogs up there, adding to the enormity of the slush monster we all so feared...

We’d made an early move out of Vashishta. Carrying all that luggage down from the hotel was a task by itself, and despite the cold drizzle, we were all sweating before the ride began. With a cry of “Jai Shri Ram”, as always, I disengaged the clutch and WanderB hurtled down Vashisht’s steep descent. The drizzle soon increased and all electronic gear had to be packed securely. The drizzle changed into a downpour by the time we reached Kothi, increasing our anxiety pangs! Suddenly, out of the blue, on a corner my bike lost a bit of control, and a thud was heard. The first reaction was to check if Aarti was still behind me, thankfully she was alright. One of the bungee cords had given way and all the luggage from our left carrier had been thrown off some 100 ft behind. It was a pain to tie it back on in the pelting rain, but thankfully we were carrying spare bungees just for such an occasion. It’s ironic that the bungee broke, given that it was tied too tight just to ensure no luggage movement while ascending the monster.

The ride till Marhi had taken us hardly 1.5 hours. The jeeps descending Rohtang were not too filthy, a sign that was heartening. With no jams visible on the road above, we finally relaxed a bit and decided to have a cuppa with something to feed our starving stomachs. We left soon enough, fearing a traffic build up. The rain gods relented and the pelting gave way to a light drizzle.

Climbing towards Rohtang top - just before the drizzle changed to a downpour
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The boys gearing up mentally for the final assault towards Rohtang Top - at Marhi
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To be honest, what we saw was pretty unexpected. Rohtang could not have been better behaved. As people at Marhi had told us, the pass had seen a bout of dry weather over the past week, drying out most of the slush, barring a few stretches. With overnight rains, it had deteriorated a bit, but it had no resemblance to the monster we had all seen at almost the same time last year. Nonetheless, it was a monster all the same, just a bit tamed. WanderB did lose power at quite a few places bringing my heart into my mouth. I tried to minimize using the clutch, with the bike powering through at low RPM with sufficient torque. Burning the clutch plates on the ascent was the last thing I wanted. The boys, who were riding ahead, too faced little trouble. Jugni (Yeshu’s bike) struggled the most with a 350cc engine, a pillion and quite a lot of luggage. Poor Gunjan had to walk on some stretches where Jugni was not able to pull through. As we waited for them to catch up on those stretches, we shot. We finally synced up at a dhaba at Rohtang top. We all cheered, thinking that the worst was behind us, or so we thought.

A short break and a few cuppas later, we were all set for our journey ahead. The descent was a bit disappointing. As expected, the other side of Rohtang was bone dry! How can one side of a mountain receive so much rain while the other remains completely dry? Amazing! Should’ve studied geography a bit better back in my school days. Although dry, the descent was more painful than the ascent, with the road ridden with potholes.

Almost near the top - the pelting stopped, the mist cleared and it was bright and sunny. Slush was gone too
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We wait for Jugni to climb
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And there she is, The blue "tarped" bullet near the Alto - gasping for breath
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Pitstop for tea - high fives happening with the monster being tamed by all
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The clouds drifted by as we sipped tea and rejoiced
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Even the damned loo looked pretty beautiful
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The quintessential chorten shot at Rohtang Jot
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Beginning the descent towards Koksar
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A point to be noted here - beyond Rohtang, people now know that bikers are either heading to Ladakh or to Spiti. Either way, a certain camaraderie exists, with each passing vehicle, bike or car, gesturing their best wishes for the journey ahead. This is a concept unique to riding, one that was new to us. In a car, it is typically just us two exchanging philosophies of life at large. Aarti and I did miss this banter, but tried to compensate some by communicating either in sign language or by hollering at the top of our voice.

The break at Koksar was routine. A few maggis and chai were gulped down before we marched on. The boys decided to make use of the lovely tarmac and broke free from the group. The couple riders ambled along trudging comfortably on the delightful tarmac, especially till Gondla. We tried to catch up with the boys to show them where the Rohtang tunnel exit point was located, but the ever increasing distance between us ensured that our honks were never heard. At the next scheduled stop, the gas station at Tandi, they were disappointed to know that they’d missed the tunnel, again!

It was now almost noon and we decided to break for lunch at Keylong. Aarti and I broke from the group to get her helmet fixed (a screw from the visor had fallen off). Since it was a jugaad screw with a dozen washers on it, it had to be tightened almost every day. It did work though. Of course, Aarti had to bear the brunt of several “sar ka screw tight kar le” jokes for the rest of the trip.

There’s a nice restaurant (if you can call it that) near the bus stand at Keylong. The place serves one of the best mutton momos and meat rice I’ve ever had. While having lunch there, we contemplated riding all the way to Sarchu that day but decided against it eventually. Why rush unnecessarily when we had plenty of time on our itinerary? With Jispa being our scheduled halt for the day, we enjoyed a long, relaxed lunch. I caught up on some of my office emails as after this the next two days would be without any form of connection. A couple of urgent calls had to be made to office, and thus Aarti and I decided to stay back a bit while the others moved on to Jispa.

Jugni moves on wonderful, freshly laid tarmac immediately after Rohtang
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The freshly laid tarmac gives way to old and broken tarmac, which was eventually replaced with rubble to ride upon. Seen also is Chandra meandering down from Batal.
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Welcome to Lahaul & Spiti - a world of change after the maddening crowd till Rohtang. It's amazing how after covering a short distance of only 12 km, one is in pure barrenness.
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Huge conglomerate housings give way to a lone house at Koksar.
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The wind-bowl that is Koksar makes it the coldest place in Lahaul
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Sagar waits impatiently for others to mount their bikes and ride on, after our relatively longish break
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Ripping fun between Koksar and Sissu
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And there is our "Rohtang saviour", the much anticipated tunnel to Lahaul
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Sissu waterfall - quite a sight
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The green fields at Gondla, Gyanphang peak is shrouded under clouds
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Approaching Tandi, look at the enormity of the scale
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Guzzling the best brew that Indian oil has to offer
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The boys get to smoke outside the pump, of course
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Immediately after Keylong, there’s a small water crossing. It was a bit deep with pebbles completely out of sight and an immediate climb to dry ground. Since morning, I had hung my camera around my neck to enable me to stop and shoot quickly. Emboldened with my success at Rohtang, I was feeling a bit over-confident and did not read the crossing correctly. The depth was much more than anticipated and worse, the pebbles lying underneath broke my momentum. I did manage to clear the water crossing safely, and climbed onto the dry patch, but lost my momentum at the end. I had to stand on my feet to get my balance back but sadly it was on a lateral incline and pebbles slipped underneath my foot. I lost my balance and the bike started tilting towards the right. I tried to muster all my strength to get the bike back in upright position but ever so slowly, the bike kept sliding and eventually fell into a puddle on the right. The camera splashed in water for a brief moment and I had to let go of the handle and break my fall with my hands. Aarti had ample time to climb off the bike, and thankfully she did not fall. The entire sequence played out in less than 5 seconds, but the details will be sketched in my mind for a long time to come.

I got up on my feet immediately, and quickly started to pull the bike back in the upright position. I managed to bring it half way and with a final push from Aarti, all of us were back on our feet, all but one. The Nikon D3000 was injured. The splash was sufficient to fry the electronics of the camera. A quick check showed that the LCD panel was flickering, the battery seemed dead and nothing was responding. My heart sank. The 3[SUP]rd[/SUP] day of the trip and catastrophe had hit.

We reached Jispa soon enough, and got to know that the others had finalized a home-stay at Jispa since both Ibex and Padma were completely booked for the night. It was for a reasonable 800 a night for a room, and was the name of Greenland cafe, Sadly, at that time, I could not have cared less. My entire energy was fixated on the camera and ways to get it up and running again. It was clear that water had gone inside the camera, and it had to be dried asap. What was needed was a hair dryer.

I should tell you a side-story while I’m at it. Ever since the planning stage had begun for the trip, the couples had been asked to cut down on their luggage. Every minute item was scrutinized and approved by the group, and redundant items were thrown away. In such a scrutiny, I had authorized the removal of Gunjan’s hair-dryer from the luggage list. The decision had not gone down well with Gunjan and I had already heard a lot on that topic from her. The proverbial last laugh, as they say, was hers. If we had that hair dryer on that morbid afternoon, things would have been much easier.

An idea struck - why not use the air compressor to dry the damn thing? Soon our luggage came out, but we realized that none of us had gotten the cigarette lighter fixed, each having thought that the other must have done it. This brought the grease monkey, KD, into action and after some hustling and bustling we got the cigarette lighter attached to the battery. But 15 mins later, after overheating, the compressor connector melted and gave away. The camera was still not operational, and I had abandoned all hopes.

I spent the next few hours mostly sulking, thinking of robbing the SBI ATM at Leh to buy a new camera from the store right opposite. There were other ideas too like stealing a camera from those who were on their way back to Manali, without their memory cards. None of them seemed to be solid enough. That was when I had a brainwave - all I needed was a hair-dryer. Though no one from our group had it, there were lots of pretty ladies at Ibex who could! I ran out on the pretext of taking a walk before dinner, and bugged a lot of pretty girls, ladies and old women at the hotel for a hair dryer. They sympathized with me, but they too were not carrying any. Finally, a lovely angel, a lady from Maharasthra, who cared enough about her hair, was found. She willingly lent it to me with a simple yet effective statement: “This better be back before I sleep, my husband is a Sardar”, followed by a “just kidding”. The point was well-taken nonetheless. Aarti spoon-fed dinner to me while I dried off the camera for the next hour, and finally it worked! The camera was alive and kicking again. With a prayer on my lip, I switched it off again, to let it dry a bit more overnight naturally, returned the precious hair-dryer, thanked the lady and retired for the night.

The day had been long and tiring, not so much physically as it was mentally. A new hope had sprung and all our “Jai Shri Rams” were kicking in... and they did not disappoint, for tomorrow there will be more pictures to share.

The quaint home-stayish type bunglow at Jispa, Greenfield Cafe
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The bikes got a good washing to get off the dirt from Rohtang.
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Old 25th September 2012, 22:11   #4
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Default Day 4: Jispa to Baralacha La top

Day 4: Jispa to Baralacha La top

The route map for the day
Six Wanderers Ride to Ladakh-00routemap.jpg

The camera had been disbanded and left alone in a corner of our room overnight to dry out more. So as soon my eyes opened on day 4 morning, the first task was to check if everything was all right with it. Thank heaven it was, and I clicked to my heart’s content, switching between different modes to check it exhaustively. Getting ready for the day was then quick and easy. With my mind uncluttered, a spring was back in my feet. I can get a bit melodramatic at times.

We soon departed for our destination for the day - Sarchu. It was hardly about 90 km away from Jispa, and we had ample time to do it in. A longish breakfast break at Darcha ensured that we actually began the day at 9 am. Anyway, even with all the photography breaks, we were not going to take more than 4.5 hours to reach our destination. So why rush. The detour for Zanskar Sumdo came and went, and both our hearts skipped a beat. We really want to go back to that enchanting place and camp there for a night. But all good things in life have to wait.

Bhaga river spreads wide near Darcha
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The breakfast stop at one of the Darcha dhabas
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Earlier this bridge did not exist and vehicles had to cross this 'pagal-nallah' by going down all the way to the river bed
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The view extends to nearly the climb of Baralacha La - one can see the road winding throughout
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A long time ago (two years back I think), a notorious monster existed just before Baralacha La which people had fondly named the Zingzing Bar Nallah - a water crossing on a U-turn. We had not seen it so far in any of our trips as it always had a bridge, but KD swore it existed and had scared us to death with some horror stories of it. It had to wait though, as two relatively smaller monsters awaited us just beyond Darcha. The first water crossing was relatively easy, but the next one was a sight to behold.

I was fresh from my nightmare of an experience the previous day on a relatively simple water crossing. So seeing this big one, I panicked. The first action was to request Aarti to disembark and take the camera/ tank bag with her. Gunjan had to do the same. KD went first, and cleared it without any troubles, so did Sagar, and so did Yeshu. My heart was beating wildly as I entered it, half expecting to fall head over heels somewhere in the middle. There were many who were standing by, waiting for (I think) the sight of a bike and biker crashing in the middle of the water crossing. Of course, to help the poor biker. Thankfully, with a combination of momentum and torque I came out unscathed, and even with dry feet, thanks to a very effective combination of gaiters and Quechua shoes, purchased just for this trip. I really should pause and thank Sachin Gupta for suggesting those gaiters and even offering his Quechua shoes to me for this trip. Realizing that the girls were unable to find a steady path to cross over on foot, I went back in order to do some hand-holding and that is where the effective combination of Quechua shoes and gaiters fell apart, soaking up as much water as it could retain. What followed was a very uncomfortable ride all the way to Sarchu, where thanks to an early arrival, my shoes could dry out for the long ride the next day. Even the best of protection gear cannot help you if the water is half-knee deep and at that momentum. I had learnt my lesson, do not rely on protection all the time, they only work 98% of the times.

The road leading to Baralacha La is a wide, two-laned, extremely smooth highway. The boys took the opportunity to rip and were out of our sight until the next break. We ambled along, soaking in the beauty of the now deserted road, something that would not change all the way till Tanglang La. Deepak Tal was as green as ever, it even boasted of a dhaba now! The SASE post at Patseo is always a pretty sight with those colorful tents and so is the military base just ahead. The climb for Baralacha La began, and for a change it was a pleasure to begin a climb a high-altitude pass, unlike the dreaded Rohtang. The next scheduled break was just before the dreaded nallah for a cuppa. We got to know that a bridge had been built bypassing the nallah making our ride up even easier.

The momentum can be seen at this water crossing - it was one of the nastier ones, even that early in the day
Six Wanderers Ride to Ladakh-12dsc_6001.jpg

Deepak Tal - It looks as tranquil as ever
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Patseo - This boasts of a SASE (Snow and Avalance Establishment) base - which by the way is also a client of ours
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Bhaga meanders through the wide valley just before the climb of Baralacha La begins
Six Wanderers Ride to Ladakh-17dsc_6009.jpg

A short break later we found ourselves hurtling towards Suraj Tal and managed to reach there by 11 am. The boys were extremely disappointed with the lake this time. So far they had been used to seeing it all frozen and covered in white. However, this time, all the snow had already melted. The lake was completely unfrozen but the lighting over it was magical. Gunjan was disappointed as well as her expectations were set for a whiteout, and so was Yeshu who had also seen the lake only frozen. Aarti and I, having seen the lake like this the last year, were only too happy to take a break and capture the awesome lighting over it. I climbed a bit to take a shot of the lake including our bikes and managed to do it successfully.

Even at 5000 m ASL, my breathing pattern was normal and there were no signs of AMS. This was the first time we had decided to take Diamox from Day 2 since the exhaustion levels were higher on a bike. We saw a trek group consisting of 5 foreigners descending Baralacha La with an entourage of ponies. Upon asking the porters, it became clear that they had been on the Chandertal - Baralacha La trek, a trek which I have had my eyes on for quite sometime but have been unable to do it. But I assure you that sooner or later, this route too will be covered by yours truly.

A long way up on the climb of Baralacha La
Six Wanderers Ride to Ladakh-18dsc_6013.jpg

Jugni takes on a bend. A bike with a pillion hardly tilts, as you can see.
Six Wanderers Ride to Ladakh-19dsc_6020.jpg

Pit-stop at what can only be called Zingzing Bar dhaba
Six Wanderers Ride to Ladakh-20dsc_6027.jpg

Even the trucks stop here for a short pit-stop
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WanderB poses - aah she looks lovely
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This nallah was earlier quite infamous, one can see the U-turn water crossing. Now there stands a bridge.
Six Wanderers Ride to Ladakh-24dsc_6043.jpg

Wonderful tarmac all the way till the top
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Play of light at Suraj tal was exquisite - typically it's all white, now a mixture of brown, azure and black
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As always, prayer flags adorn the mighty pass
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One day, I shall leave my vehicle and start walking towards Chandertal from here. As always, good things in life will have to wait.
Six Wanderers Ride to Ladakh-39dsc_6081.jpg
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Old 6th October 2012, 16:12   #5
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Default Day 4: Baralacha La Top to Sarchu (and Around)

Day 4: Baralacha La Top to Sarchu (and Around)

After spending sometime at the top of Baralacha La, we proceeded towards Bharatpur and stopped there to check for Bharti. It was KD’s fourth time on this highway, and over the years he had gotten friendly with a dhaba owner at Bharatpur by the name of Bharti. Sadly, this time she was not there. It is strange that how these people touch your hearts so much that you remember each and every one of them. In some cases, they remember you too, and it is always nice to be remembered. A quick tea break again. Yes, I know we do drink a lot of tea, and we do stop very frequently at dhabas, but a cigarette is typically incomplete without tea to accompany it with. True story.

The last stretch towards Sarchu was all that was left for the day. The trees had left us long back, and a landscape of brown, black and white with shades of pink accompanied us now. Sarchu plains never cease to amaze me, their green vastness seeming to go on forever.

Several luxury camps have come up just before the Sarchu check-post, but we had decided to put up at a dhaba immediately after it, which was KD’s favourite. Just before stopping for the day, we did a photoshoot on the Sarchu plains with all our bikes.

The descent begins towards Bharatpur "city", can be seen towards the end of the valley
Six Wanderers Ride to Ladakh-40dsc_6084.jpg

The colorful dhabas of Bharatpur - they looked comfier and cleaner than those at Sarchu.
Six Wanderers Ride to Ladakh-42dsc_6089.jpg

This is where we were stuck back in 2010, for two days.
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This entire mountain was covered in white and the water was completely frozen when we got tuck here in end of June, 2010.
Six Wanderers Ride to Ladakh-46dsc_6099.jpg

KD shooting something, Sagar shooting KD and me shooting both of them
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Parked for a butt break and a group bike shot
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A group biker shot as well
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The fantastic Sarchu plains begin, the luxury tents can be seen to the right.
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A shot on the move, courtsey Aarti the pillion
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Tsarap Chu meanders between the huge plains
Six Wanderers Ride to Ladakh-55dsc_6117.jpg

The dhaba was simple and cosy. They had a huge tent where all 6 of us could fit in, and a clean bathroom too (of course not attached). We had a good lunch and decided to snooze for a while. I took the opportunity to just lie down, knowing that sleep would never to come to me during the afternoon. My shoes, which were soaking wet, also got a deserved break and lay in the hot sun outside. Quechuas are difficult to get wet, but once they do, they are even more difficult to get dry.
After resting for a while, I came back out to stretch a bit. A “firangi” was loitering around looking quite perplexed. Upon striking a conversation with him, I got to know that the entire group had misplaced the one wallet in which they were carrying Indian currency, and now all they were left with were American dollars. The first phrase that strikes you in such a situation is ‘never keep all your eggs in the same basket’. Anyway, the deed was done, and now they were in a soup. With no currency at all, their ride till Manali was in jeopardy. He requested me to take 100 dollars in exchange for INR of an equivalent amount. Thankfully, I had some spare cash lying around for emergencies just like these. Eventually, my first ever high altitude currency exchange happened, and I got a sweet 100 USD for 5000 INR. That was also my first high altitude profit! Just hope that those dollars were not fake. I’ll get to know soon though - my colleague will use them on his trip next week.

By evening, I was getting a bit cranky and decided to head off somewhere and explore areas near the river bed. The dhaba guys told me of a bridge over Tsarap Chu going to the village on the opposite bank. They warned that the road is pretty bad and boulder strewn, but said reassuringly that the bike should be able to cross through. It was supposed to be only about 7 km away. Aarti decided to join me too, and together we left. Immediately after the dhabas, a track went straight towards the driver, which was a bit sandy and strewn with a lot of stones. After a bit of exploring and going at the edge of the river bank, we located the bridge at a distance and took the final descent. WanderB was doing fine, but we were horribly missing Kiyang here. . The problem was that at places which were too sandy or boulder(y), Aarti had to disembark and walk a bit. She was not too tired, but not feeling too energetic either. The last 200 m were too rocky for her to be sitting on the bike, so she decided to stay back while I went to the bridge. The bridge was too narrow to be able to carry a Safari to the other bank, but smaller cars could’ve just made it. The drop on the other side of the bridge was considerably steep, so I decided against taking it and returned to pick up Aarti. The short excursion was fun, and we soon returned to our dhaba to... have chai!

A Google Earth screen shot elaborating where the bridge was located
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The track was sandy at first...
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... then it became completely bouldery
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I went till the bridge leaving Aarti behind
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But came back soon since there was hardly any scope of going ahead, and the RoI did not seem to be worth it, honestly.
Six Wanderers Ride to Ladakh-59dsc_6129.jpg

The rest of the gang were up and about by the time we reached back, and the evening was spent playing with the cute dogs there, one of which was called Sho Sho. We chatted a bit with the dhaba owners as well, who were originally from Nepal, but now settled in Kullu valley. The tents came under the jurisdiction of Keylong for which they had to pay an annual fee of about 15k. They typically pitched their tents in June and stayed there at max till mid October. The last year they had converted their shack into a pucca tent, making it easier for them to leave stuff rather than carry all of it every year.

They say that the worst night of them all is the one travelers spend at Sarchu on their way to Leh. For us it was no different. Being right on the highway with many trucks passing by, noise pollution was on the higher side. Not to mention some snorers in our group. No, I was not one of them, and since Aarti is reading this too, she also wasn’t. Gunjan was the first one to feel giddy after reaching Sarchu and was badly affected by AMS. She was not able to sleep, getting up frequently to get some fresh air. Thus Yeshu, who is generally a sound sleeper, was not able to catch much shut eye the entire night. I was sleeping next to a pole supporting the roof, which kept me from sleeping the way I wanted to, and thus I kept shifting the whole night, hardly getting any deep sleep. Poor Sagar, who was sleeping next to me, was terrorized the entire night each time I moved. And poor KD, who was sleeping next to the entrance kept feeling cold air gushing inside the tent the whole night.

We somehow braved the uncomfortable night, only to get up groggily on the longest day of our ride... Not a good idea.

The dying rays of the sun
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The last beam of light - before the sun sets completely...
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Firing up the skies as it goes down
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Sarchu by dusk
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Our hosts for the evening.
Six Wanderers Ride to Ladakh-69dsc_6168.jpg
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Old 8th October 2012, 01:40   #6
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Default Re: Day 4: Baralacha La Top to Sarchu (and Around)

First of all, congratulations for taking on one of the most difficult road in the world on a bike.
I always wait for your wonderful logs. Love your narration. I'm hooked. Keep it rolling fella!!


This is where we were stuck back in 2010, for two days.
Attachment 996435

This entire mountain was covered in white and the water was completely frozen when we got tuck here in end of June, 2010.
Attachment 996436 [/quote]

And yes!! I can vouch for it. Was on the other side of the blockade. You were returning towards Manali and we heading to Leh.

I can never forget the site of that dozer flicking the truck.
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Old 8th October 2012, 13:24   #7
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Default Re: Six Wanderers Ride to Ladakh

Thread moved from the Assembly Line (The "Assembly Line" Forum section) to the Travelogues Section. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 10th October 2012, 22:07   #8
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Default Re: Six Wanderers Ride to Ladakh

Rating this thread a well deserved 5 starts. Three cheers to the couples for taking the trip and to you for sharing the travelogue

I am so happy to see KD and Godess - it has been really long since I have seen or got in touch with him.

Do post the rest of the travelogue soon.
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Old 11th October 2012, 02:45   #9
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Default Re: Six Wanderers Ride to Ladakh

Great job but I have a couple of points of feedback - hope you take it positively.

I am simply disappointed at your continuing efforts to ride through the puddles. It is far simpler (atleast on pulsars) to put the bike into the first gear, walk it through the mess without any drama. Further words such as "momentum and torque helped me through" shows it to be completely wrong.

Then, just FYI - but atleast I have been shouting for years about the necessity to abandon this waterproof shoe nonsense. It is a simply pathetic solution that is actually rather counter productive if it gets wet. I had UK Army spec KSB karrimor shoes and my wife's simple nike shoes dried out in an hour. Guess who had cold/blistery feet all throughout? :(

btw, awesome job doing it on bike compared to sailing through in safari. No not for you - but for aarti . This has got to be one of the most scary/boring journeys for many a pillion for reasons which can be best understood by those who have been in that place!
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Old 11th October 2012, 07:15   #10
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Default Re: Six Wanderers Ride to Ladakh

Awesome trip and great write up. Can really imagine what you must have gone through. Look forward to the rest of the TL.

For me the best boots are the ones without lots of padding inside. There is no sponge to get wet and if water enters it dries out in a jiffy. I always recommend that people use full riding gear on trips like these, as opposed to jeans and then knee protectors etc., as it is a lot better in the event of even a minor fall. Less chance of road rash
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Old 11th October 2012, 21:56   #11
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Default Re: Six Wanderers Ride to Ladakh

Living the dream!! Awesome travelogue Sir! Was hooked start to finish. It will always be my dream to do this trip. Hope it soon materializes!

And truely awesome pics sir. Really breathtaking views captured beautifully! Also I have to say, I simply loved the Intro! Really nice.

Cheers man. Keep us posted!
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Old 12th October 2012, 17:47   #12
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Awesome TL once again Harsh...I have gone through your earlier thread for Ladakh...its awesome and beatiful photographs..

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Old 12th October 2012, 21:31   #13
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Default Re: Six Wanderers Ride to Ladakh

Amazing start to an epic journey and lovely pics. Looking forward to more updates over the weekend.

Btw in future if you happen to drop some electronic item in water, dont even try to turn on. 1st thing to remove should be the battery and let it dry before trying again to turn on. Turning it on while wet can do more damage. You really got lucky and we are glad .
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Old 13th October 2012, 09:35   #14
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Default Re: Day 4: Baralacha La Top to Sarchu (and Around)

Originally Posted by A M View Post
And yes!! I can vouch for it. Was on the other side of the blockade. You were returning towards Manali and we heading to Leh.

I can never forget the site of that dozer flicking the truck.
That was some blockage, Baralacha La was really something that year!

Originally Posted by theexperthand View Post
I am so happy to see KD and Godess - it has been really long since I have seen or got in touch with him.
Oh so we have a mutual acquaintance! Small world eh?

Originally Posted by phamilyman View Post
I am simply disappointed at your continuing efforts to ride through the puddles. It is far simpler (atleast on pulsars) to put the bike into the first gear, walk it through the mess without any drama. Further words such as "momentum and torque helped me through" shows it to be completely wrong.

Then, just FYI - but atleast I have been shouting for years about the necessity to abandon this waterproof shoe nonsense. It is a simply pathetic solution that is actually rather counter productive if it gets wet. I had UK Army spec KSB karrimor shoes and my wife's simple nike shoes dried out in an hour. Guess who had cold/blistery feet all throughout? :(

btw, awesome job doing it on bike compared to sailing through in safari. No not for you - but for aarti . This has got to be one of the most scary/boring journeys for many a pillion for reasons which can be best understood by those who have been in that place!
Regarding the water crossings, to be honest, I was disappointed in my abilities too, I guess that is one thing that comes with experiencec rather than anything else!

The water-proof shoe actually worked wonders later on, the only thing that it was not meant to do, was to wade off water for anything more than 30seconds! And that is more than enough of a time frame to do any doable water crossing.

Originally Posted by pganapathy View Post
For me the best boots are the ones without lots of padding inside. There is no sponge to get wet and if water enters it dries out in a jiffy. I always recommend that people use full riding gear on trips like these, as opposed to jeans and then knee protectors etc., as it is a lot better in the event of even a minor fall. Less chance of road rash
A full riding gear is indeed better. But we were not sure of our biking affinity and whether this trip was a one-off or something that would be repeated. Further investments will be made down the road

Originally Posted by thumpingheart View Post
Living the dream!! Awesome travelogue Sir! Was hooked start to finish. It will always be my dream to do this trip. Hope it soon materializes!
Thanks buddy. Finish is a long way off so hang on.

Originally Posted by Itssandeep View Post
Awesome TL once again Harsh...I have gone through your earlier thread for Ladakh...its awesome and beatiful photographs..

Thanks Sandeep.

Originally Posted by supertinu View Post
Btw in future if you happen to drop some electronic item in water, dont even try to turn on. 1st thing to remove should be the battery and let it dry before trying again to turn on. Turning it on while wet can do more damage. You really got lucky and we are glad .
Actually I do know that, but at that time the mind just blanked out! I will try and remember that in the future though
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Old 13th October 2012, 12:49   #15
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Default Day 5: Sarchu to Pang

Day 5: Sarchu to Pang

The route plan for the day
Six Wanderers Ride to Ladakh-00-routemap.jpg

The plan was to get up at 4 am and push off by 5 am to cover the 240 odd kms between Sarchu and Leh. In a car, this might hardly be seen as a problematic stretch, but on a bike, with those road conditions, it is quite a tough task. Getting up at 4 am was not a problem, as none of us could sleep properly the entire night. Wearily, we got out of bed and stumbled all over to kick off the day. It was only by 7 am that we all finally managed to shake off our laziness and proceed towards our destination for the day, Leh.

It was a bit cloudy almost all the way till Pang, making the start a bit chilly. The boys vroomed ahead, while Jugni and WanderB trudged along. Sarchu plains have tarred roads, but they are not smooth, and if you zoom past 40 kmph, the bounciness of the track is apparent. My bike was especially bad as it was groaning with each bounce. I kept the bike at the dead center of the tarred road to minimize those bumps and this strategy seemed to work a bit.

The bumpy tarmac over Sarchu plains
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The Twing Twing bridge marks the border between Himachal & Ladakh (or Jammu & Kashmir to be precise)
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The lighting was perfect, and out came the GND filter, a new addition to my arsenal. Immediately after Sarchu, we took the looooong U-turn, which has always made me wonder why they don’t build a bridge to shave off those 10 extra kms. And as always, this thought was immediately followed by another - “the fact that there is a road at this place is more than enough, stop complaining, you jackass.”

The shortcuts at Gata Loops were looking as delicious as ever, but taking them was a laughable option, especially with that weight on the bike. I muttered under my breath that the next time I'll surely get all of them. The boys waited for us at the top of the Loops, and upon seeing us they rode ahead, while we waited in turn to catch a glimpse of Jugni trudging up. Upon seeing them, we too marched on towards Nakee La. The roads were pretty bad this time around. The tar had peeled off at most places, and it was only at about 9 am that we finally managed to reach the top of Nakee La. There again we waited, and waited, and waited for Jugni to catch up, and it was a good half an hour before they did. Apparently they took a break just before Nakee La. Gunjan's AMS was getting worse and by the look on her face, one could tell that she was really not feeling well.

We decided to pause for a while after descending Nakee La and before climbing Lachulung La. The dhaba there served delicious ginger-lemon-honey-tea which helped us, and especially Gunjan, to relax. We also met a gang of Japanese-Korean-Chinese people who were doing a recce of the road to set up a travel business after they go back to their respective countries. We took the ‘longer’ route to climb Lachulung La as short cuts were a strict no-no. The tarmac had peeled off at most places, making the climb of Lachulung as miserable as the descent of Nakee La.

A cyclist couple were on their way towards Leh, about to climb the Gata loops. This contraption was useful and hilarious both at the same time.
Six Wanderers Ride to Ladakh-05dsc_6185.jpg

Tsarap Chu heads towards Zanskar, while we climb those 21 bends and gain 400m abruptly.
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The long roads descending Nakee La and then ascending Lachulung La can be seen. The distance as the crow flies might not be much, but it takes more than hour to cover it
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WanderB waits for Jugni at Nakee La
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The tents between the two passes
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Trucks halt here as well for a cuppa and a break
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Approaching Lachulung La
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WanderB sitting pretty atop Lachulung La
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The roads snakes down the pass
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And then came the stretch both Aarti and I so love! The landscape between Lachulung La and Pang is as dramatic as it gets, the colors varying from white to brown to black to at times even yellow and pink. Those high mountains let in just about the right amount of light creating a play which is simply poetic, specially at that time of the day. The tiny Lachulung river adds to the charm of the place, the desolateness of it all making it look almost post-apocalyptic.

The road does not complement the awesomeness of the landscape at all. Not an ounce of tar ever seems to have been laid on this stretch.The moment one crosses a retired monster by the name of Kangla Jal, ‘that’ bridge can be seen along with ‘that’ gateway formed by wind. The enormity of the scale is hard to digest, even the road all the way to Pang from there is just classic. The ant hill type formations on mountain tops soon become visible, and the Grand Canyon-ish feel of the place simply cannot be ignored. We finally made it to Pang by 11 am, taking just under 4 hours to cover the horrible 86 km stretch.

An interesting thing happened at Pang. A family of about 10 members were travelling in a rented Qualises (2 in nos) from Manali and heading towards Leh. I think they were Gujjus. The elderly and the young alike were impressed by our group riding all the way from Delhi towards Leh on bikes. A unique request followed: They wanted us to give ‘joy-rides’ to some members of their family on our bikes. Now we typically do not deny requests from strangers, but this was just absurd. A long haul to Leh still remained and with energy levels already sapping, it was hardly a time to offer joy-rides. Not to mention that the request itself was pretty bizarre. We politely declined, citing paucity of time, and moved on.

Dramatic scenery is an understatement between Lachulung La and Pang
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It boasts of one of the most inhospitable terrain of the region
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I don't think that anyone has ever contemplated of even opening a dhaba on this stretch
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'That' bridge is visible down below, immediately after Kangla jal
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The bridge and the gateway to Changthang
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If you can spot Jugni in this photograph on the road above, you would then maybe get an idea of the enormity of the scale of this scene
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The wind tunnel effect plays around with the topography and creates some amazing wind swept structures.
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The structures are formed by wind-erosion over centuries
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Finally Pang comes, a sight for sore behinds
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The punishing terrain, whether one is coming from Sarchu or Moreh plains, makes Pang a mandatory stop.
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Team Raid de Ladakh goes on Ladakh Expedition 2009 MileCruncher Travelogues 156 2nd October 2009 08:23

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