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Old 12th September 2014, 14:47   #1
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Default Dreams of Leh: A couple's motorcycle ride to the Himalayas - Part I

Dreams of Leh

Dreams of Leh: A couple's motorcycle ride to the Himalayas - Part I-img_3986-panorama005.jpg

‘Kashmir se leke Kanyakumari tak …’ (From Kashmir to Kanyakumari) Many films in the 80s had this cheesy dialogue, either to describe heroin’s evil father’s kingdom, or fame, depending on the scene. Kashmir and Kanyakumari are the two states that form the head and feet of India. Kanyakumari instills the vision of the famous rock temple of Vivekananda, and perhaps the three-seas union (sangam) that brings the three colored sand together. But what is the image of Kashmir? Thanks to the great bollywood, ranging from ‘Kashmir ki kali’ to ‘Mission Kashmir’, for most general populace Kashmir meant Dal lake and pine trees.

But in the ninety’s, because of our ever laborious neighbor, a name became known to every Indian household – Kargil. An unexpected intrusion by Pakistan under the pretext of discussing friendship lead to the ‘Operation Vijay’ mission of Indian army. After losing a large number of young Indian soldiers, and taking the lives of even more enemies, the war was won.

Even though Kargil and its surrounding areas are part of present day’s Kashmir, they weren’t always so. Jammu and Kashmir are predominantly Hindu and Muslim areas. There was another state, called Ladakh. It housed Tibetan culture, mainly Buddhist religion. Kargil falls in Ladakh region. Ladakh had a long history of kings and battles, with its King living in his grand palace in Leh – the capital of Ladakh. In 1850s, Jammu’s King attacked Leh, and captured the palace. The royals of Leh were moved to Stok, and the palace has been uninhabited ever since. Now majority of sights in and around Leh consists mostly of ‘ruins’ of past glory.

Ladakh, with its ever changing Himalayan scenery, was always famous for the challenging treks. In last decade, it has started becoming famous for road trips. It has been shot in numerous TV advertisements, and a number of movies, notably Three Idiots and Jab Tak Hai Jaan.

Leh is connected to Srinagar and Manali at two sides, via numerous passes (ghaats). Tourist access to Ladakh is for only 4-5 months in a year. Rest of the year, most of the roads are under snow, and only army and local vehicles plough the land. The passes usually open around May – June every year, and in November they are closed due to snow. The best season to travel to Ladakh depends on the traveller’s preferences. Adventure seeking souls wishing for snow driving/riding go in initial or end months of the season. In June – July, one may face a good amount of rains. The family guys and those who are looking for scenery go in August – September, Ladakh’s summer months. In October – November, most of the hotels are closed as the tourist season is nearing its end.

There is one more factor in the planning of Leh journey – the situation in Jammu and Srinagar. Every year around 15th August, the situation usually becomes critical due to either religious or political tensions. Roads may get blocked, curfews may be in force around those areas. So, the best time for an average tourist is after 20 August till 15 Sept, where one can see most of the natural beauty with much less probability of any natural or man made calamity.

The saying ‘Road is better than the inn’ doesn’t hold any more truly than it does in Ladakh. There are numerous travel agencies that arrange tours across Ladakh, with good amount of creature comforts. But the best way to enjoy the land is to travel by yourself. Every year, a lot of cars and motorcycles prepare themselves to the ride to Ladakh. Some of them actually go, and many of them continue dreaming till the next year.

For many, this next year never arrives. Life and sanity takes over, and the dream of Ladakh never materializes.

Last edited by ani_meher : 12th September 2014 at 15:09.
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Old 12th September 2014, 14:49   #2
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Default Re: Dreams of Leh: A couple's motorcycle ride to the Himalayas - Part I

Determined and destined

I and Nandinee – my wife – are avid motorcycle tourers. We have toured quite extensively in west Maharashtra, especially Konkan and surrounding areas of Pune. We had our first taste of out of state long ride in Rajasthan. This was the first time that we crossed the state border for a motorcycle tour, and we were absolutely thrilled. The experience of riding in a different state is really something that words can’t express. You are in new lands, with new people, and yet you feel connected to them. Such motorcycle tour means not just simply following the tourist trail, but rather connecting to lives of people you meet on road and at the hotels.

Travelogue at:

We had an absolute blast on that tour, and wanted to head to Leh for the next tour. We had seen the Leh photos and read the travel blogs countless times, to get acquainted to Leh. We found that tere were quite a number of itineraries for Leh, ranging from 2 weeks to even 3-4 weeks.

Our itinerary planning logic is very simple. First, we don’t race the trains. We will travel in train as far as it goes, and then ride on bike. I find it really tiring to ride all day on a highway, praying for my life that may I be spared by any drunkard behind a driving wheel. It is much preferred to travel in a train, and take the bike with you as luggage. Second, we don’t give preference to only ride or only sight-seeing. Ideally the itinerary should have a day’s riding followed by a day’s sightseeing, so that both the rider and pillion enjoys the tour in their own ways.

With these simple rules, we turned to India’s famous touring forums for determining the itinerary. I will definitely suggest any budding tourist to first run their itinerary across such forums, as far too many knowledgeable persons guide you with firsthand knowledge. We finalized an itinerary that was not too much taxing in terms of kilometers logged per day, and not too relaxed as to miss out any important place. We could get motorcycle on rent in Leh itself, or even Manali, but we wanted to experience the circuit fully, with our motorcycle. So the itinerary was for 3 units, us 2 and the motorcycle. We would ship the motorcycle to Srinagar by a private courier, we would reach there by flight, and then carry on with our journey.

Government arranges a Ladakh Festival – a typical tourist attraction for typical tourists – every year. It starts on 1st September and goes on for seven days. We planned our tour so as to coincide with this festival. It’s first day of opening is said to be consisting of magnificent processions. We bought the flight tickets for Srinagar, started making inquiries about parceling the bike and started to count down the days. We were absolutely sure that we would go for the Leh tour. Leaves were approved, all the necessary preparations were done, all that was now pending was to wait till the departure day itself. Or so we thought.

In July – August 2010, a communal tension started to brew in Srinagar. Every day I would open the newspaper dreading to read any further bad news regarding the situation, and to my dismay something or the other had even worsened the already tense situation in Srinagar. As the matters started becoming worse, the courier companies started refusing any Srinagar shipments. No company would take my motorcycle to Srinagar, the maximum they could deliver to was Jammu, about 300kms before Srinagar. It meant a lot of rescheduling of tickets and leaves was in order.

Still determined to go, we started making alternate plans of visiting Leh. How about we go from Manali route? What if we take the flight to Jammu, collect the bike, and somehow sneak past the Srinagar situation? We were so determined by our plan, that we pledged no man made barrier can stop us undertaking this dream tour.

But in the mid night of 5-6th August 2010, nature ended all our plans. In the morning of 6th August, a news flashed on my moniter: Cloud burst in Leh. What’s a cloud burst? Is it like a balloon bursts, when it is unable to hold any more water? Hope it is not too bad. With unsure mind, I clicked the headline, and got a shock that shattered our plans. An unprecedented cloud burst in Leh region triggered massive flash floods, taking around 250 lives.

A cloud burst is an event when a lot of rainfall falls in a very short period of time, on a focused area. So the impact of an otherwise normal rainfall is too high. In this case, Leh experienced an extremely heavy rainfall for 30 minutes, that matched its entire year’s worth of rain.

The region sustained massive damage to the infrastructure. Many buildings were destroyed, bridges swept away, roads damaged, and many lives got scarred for lifetime. The next few days were full of confusion, and of blind hope for Ladakhi people. But as the news started getting clear, it became obvious that the plans to visit Leh in any direction had to be dropped. There were some adventourous tourists still heading to Leh, and assuring that it was the time when Leh needed support of its tourist. But being a couple puts a lot constraint on how much adventurous you can or should become.

With extremely heavy heart, we realized nothing can be done against nature’s wish, and cancelled our plans. We did not know when in future could we actually gather enough leaves and courage to undertake this journey.

Last edited by ani_meher : 12th September 2014 at 15:10.
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Old 12th September 2014, 14:55   #3
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Default Re: Dreams of Leh: A couple's motorcycle ride to the Himalayas - Part I

It was not the end of motorcycling touring for us, though. We went to Kerala – Kanyakumari trip later.

I competed in Wrangler’s True wanderers competition, along with numerous in-state tours.

However, Leh always remained at the back of our minds, how we had to cancel the plans due to completely external forces. Nandinee would sigh every time whenever the song ‘Udti hava sat ha vo’ would come on TV or radio, because of the Leh road scenery shown in the video. Every time, she would ask ‘When would we go?’ And I had no answer to that except ‘Someday.’

Then a thing happened in my life, which ends most of motorcycle tourist’s touring spree, especially of couple tourers. I bought a car – Cheverolet Beat Diesel. Touring on a motorcycle vs touring in a car, is a difference of zameen and aasman.

On motorcycle, we would think twice and trice, whether we really need to carry this sweat-shirt with us? How much bottles of water should be carried? The luggage space being limited, and the bikers being exposed to all elements, we had to plan the tour in all angles. First how much to pack with us, and second, our travel times. We have ridden in extreme heat, extreme cold, heavy rains, so no scenario was non-experienced. Though the best time to ride was invariably the one where both of us would feel comfortable, that is in 7am to 11 am and 3pm to 7pm. Irrespective of how much powerful headlight a motorcycle has, it is nowhere as safe as a car to ride in darkness. In car, we can just pull up the windows, switch on AC, put on some movie and travel at any time.

Also the luggage space was virtually infinite – especially for the two of us who were previously limited by the space on motorcycle. Suddenly our 2 main constraints of any tour planning – luggage and time – were diminished. Also, we could take my parents with us, so that pulled us towards car touring even more. The bike travels were slowly limited to city travelling alone, and that too very few rides a week. The bike, which used to travel for 2000 kms on a tour, was now doing hardly 1000 kms a year.

But even though car touring was much comfortable and much safer than motorcycle touring, all was not well in paradise. The main element of any touring – being connected to the journey – was sorely missing in car travel. Sure we could be travelling at any time of the day, and could care less about outside weather. But on a motorcycle, a field with a rice crop was not just a visual sight, but we could fill our lungs by the smell of the crop. Similarly, the wind would bring with it the beautiful intoxicating smell of rains on a hot afternoon. The clouds would shadow us from the blithering heat, and we would thank them for providing us little comfort on this otherwise hot afternoon. In car touring, we were missing all this connectedness with outer world. Also we started noticing the difference of tone and approach, when one speaks with the locals by pulling his car window down, and when he speaks by pulling up the visor of his helmet. When on bike, everyone seems much more approachable and friendlier than in a car.

I hoped that my promise to ride to Leh ‘someday’ may materialize. But seeing the trend of upcoming work- loads and career paths we have chosen, it started being a distant goal to achieve. Till one day in 2013, being burdened by too much uncertainty, I wanted to have at least one certain goal to look forward to, and I announced:

‘This year we are going to Leh!’

Last edited by ani_meher : 12th September 2014 at 15:11.
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Old 12th September 2014, 14:57   #4
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Default Re: Dreams of Leh: A couple's motorcycle ride to the Himalayas - Part I


As if to reconcile my announcement, and to keep reminding me of that promise, now the wake up song in my house was ‘Udti hava sat ha vo’! The home computer's wallpaper was changed one day to some lake.

‘Did you change the wallpaper? What’s this lake?’ I asked.
‘It’s Pangong Tso, the lake that we will see in Leh ride.’ Got replied curtly.
‘Dear, we haven’t even bought the tickets yet, the leaves are not approved, and you are already peddling in the lake?’
‘You can’t peddle in Pangong tso, it’s a restricted lake. Peddle all you want in Dal lake at Srinagar.’

I realized that Leh tour was not a ‘maybe’ event anymore.

The trip was on now, and I started working towards it. The itinerary was already with us – the same one that we finalized 3 years ago. Ladakh festival, for some mysterious reasons, was shifted ahead to 20th September, 20 days ahead than its usual 1st September opening date. A few copy-paste traveler sites were still mentioning the date to be 1st September, but Leh’s official website http://leh.nic.in/tourist/calender.html gave the concrete answer that the festival was on 20th September. We also toyed with the idea of covering Amarnath Yatra, but that too was scheduled to end on 22nd August, 4 days before we would reach. As the main goal of this tour was to experience Leh in its glory, that is summer days, than attending any festival or visiting temples, we decided to go ahead on our tour planned for 20 days – from 24th August to 11 September 2013.

This time, we decided to keep the tour as exhaustive as possible. We skipped all the adventurous shortcuts, and planned to stick to major routes. The planned journey was coming around 2500 kilometers. It was more than the motorcycle had covered in past 2 years! Planning itself is half the fun of any tour, and here we were the having the fun for second time. The tickets were bought, leaves were sanctioned, and hopes were held high.

Even though I was no new comer when it comes to motorcycle riding, living on past glory is not really my thing. And I have always kept ‘humbleness’ on top of the list, when it comes to dealing with nature. Nature in its extreme form can be a best friend or worst enemy, depending on which receiving end you are on. Call me superstitious, but I have certain set of superstitions to abide. Never curse the road for its bad condition when you are riding on it, never show pride to mother nature, and never ever insult or doubt the bike.

This time, as we were heading to Himalayas, I was really nervous. To face the lord of mountains, while carrying and caring for the most precious person in your life, is doubly stressing. So for refreshing my riding, I rode through the ghats of Tamhini. Even though they lived up to their glory and had plenty of bad patches, I later realized that nothing can really prepare you for Himalayan rides. You can ride on bad ghat roads and think that you are ready to take on the high passes. You are not ready. When you are staring on the rocky uneven sharp U turn with a steep incline, while your feet are cold from the last water crossings, you realize that no preparation can come even close to this real thing. But this story is for the later parts.

Connectivity in the hills was a matter of concern. Only BSNL network works majorly in Jammu and Kashmir. Other operators do work, but mostly the coverage is limited to main cities. BSNL has the maximum coverage. Also, out of state prepaid connections don’t work at all. You have to have a postpaid connection if you want to take your home mobile to J&K. One can get a prepaid sim BSNL in J&K, but if something goes amiss in the process of aquiring a prepaid connection, then you are out of contact for the duration of the trip. So we got a BSNL postpaid connection as well.

BSNL is really in the era of huge paperworks, and their main office in Camp area, Pune really feels like they will be much more comfortable working with papers and files, than working with computers. Additionally, BSNL has perhaps the worst range in Pune, so I couldn’t check whether the internet plan was activated or not till we crossed Pune.

Towards preparing ourselves for this ride, we started regular exercise. Yoga and pilates were preferred, as they focused more on flexibility and inner strength, than building muscles. We started to prep the motorcycle as well.

There are 3 main luggage possibilities on a motorcycle. One is ‘tank bag’, where a bag fitted with magnets is stuck to the metal fuel tank. Other is ‘saddle bag’, which looks like a saddle mounted on horse. Like the horse, the saddle bag is basically two bags connected by a middle portion which acts like a seat, so that when it is mounted on a motorcycle on rear seat, the pillion can sit on it and have the two bags on each side. Third, we can take shoulder bags for luggage. This is the least preferred mode, because no matter how light the bag is, it still strains the shoulders of the rider or pillion whoever takes it. Lastly, we can keep some small bag between pillion and rider, but it can’t be big as to cause inconvenience.

Some people have ‘tail bag’ as well. It is a bag that is mounted either on the grab rail of the pillion, or on some stand fabricated at the end of motorcycle – hence the name ‘tail’ bag. But in rides like Ladakh, it is not recommended, as it makes the motorcycle rear heavy, especially with a pillion.

We already have a tank bag that is going strong. We had a saddle bag as well, but it was showing signs of heavy use, and seemed it might fail us sometimes. So got a new one prepared out of water proof material. Saddle bags have a tendency to brush off the paint from bike’s side panels, so we got a fabricated extension so that the bags can be mounted well on the motorcycle without any scarring to the paint.

The main worry on any motorcycle ride is not mechanical failure – that usually is very low probability event if you are taking good care of the beast. But one can get a puncture anywhere, and in barren lands of Ladakh, this could mean a lot of headache. So I bought a Honda Tuff-up tire tube (as luckily the tire size of Unicorn and GS150 are same), and packed the existing tube as spare. This tuff up tube is almost twice the price of a regular tube, and less prone to punctures or tire bursts due to puncture. It is filled with some kind of a gel, that seals any hole in the tube immediately, so that you can ride to the next puncture-wallah than to push the bike. Luckily I did not get any reason to test this claim, and there were no punctures over the entire ride.

Over past few years of motorcycle touring, I have slowly purchased the motorcycle protective gear one by one, so we did not require any new purchase towards safety. Jackets were brushed off the dust, helmets were polished, knee guards and gloves were cleaned. All in all, all three of us – I, Nandinee and motorcycle – were ready, and counting down days till we leave.
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Old 12th September 2014, 14:58   #5
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Default Re: Dreams of Leh: A couple's motorcycle ride to the Himalayas - Part I

Last minute shopping

We were scheduled to leave on 24th August, on one of the longest duration train in India – the Pune Jammu tawi express. It takes a whooping 41 hours with 63 stops. But there was no other train from Pune to Jammu, so we had to endure this journey.

One week prior, we popped in the parcel office at Pune station, to generally inquire about sending the bike as luggage. There are two types of sending motorcycle through train. One is parcel, where we send the bike as if it were a postcard or a package, and the receiver receives it at the destination, after a few days. Other is ‘luggage’, where we take the motorcycle with us on the same train, like a suitcase, and take it down the train ourselves. We have always preferred the ‘luggage’ method, because even though it is costlier than parcel, it’s very convenient to just collect the motorcycle as soon as you get down the train, and start the ride.

When we inquired about sending the motorcycle as luggage, the parcel office guys flatly refused sending the motorcycle by same train as us! It turned out that usually the express trains have 2 or more luggage vans – or ‘brake vans’ – but this particular train had only one luggage van, and hence it usually went fully packed. It meant livestock or perishable items would always be given priority above motorcycle, and there was no guarantee that motorcycle would be in the train on our dates.

Now our only way out was to send the motorcycle as parcel. I have never done this before; I always took it as luggage. But I hoped the procedure should not be much different than ‘luggage’ procedure, and went to the parcel office few days before departure, for parceling the bike. The procedure is as below:

1. Remove all the petrol from bike and confirm with the police that no petrol is in the tank.
2. Pack the bike thoroughly because sure as hell it will bang something or be banged by some other parcel. Better to pay 200-300 to the packers at the station for this.
3. Fill up the parcel form, and pay the money.
4. Get the receipt, write the receipt number on the motorcycle (or it’s packing).

Each of this step takes its own sweet time. So you should go there with a mentality of sage. Because by the end of the day, you are surely going to come out as a sage, with no desire for earthly things – at least for a while.

Taking out petrol from a motorcycle is quite a tricky job. A motorcycle has SO many nooks and corners to hide petrol in, it’s unbelievable! After exhaustingly removing 3-4 liters petrol from the bike, I will urge others to first remove as much petrol as you can when the bike is cold. Once you start it, all the petrol runs around and hides in the deepest corners, which will come out only on violent shaking or on police verification.

Then came the best part. Running around the Rail Babu’s, who suddenly got hungry, got calls either from mobile or from nature. It seems the police have a new required document – NOC from police station – to allow parceling the bike. Luckily the policeman posted at that time took mercy, seeing that we two didn’t look like Bunty and Bubly to steal any motorcycle, and gave us go ahead. But people who are planning to send the bike by train should be careful about obtaining this NOC before hand.

After an extremely tiring half day session, carrying 2 bottles of petrol and 2 exhausted bodies, we hauled ourselves out of the parcel office, the motorcycle neatly packed and waiting for its turn to go to Jammu.

It was at this moment, that I finally felt – We are actually going to Leh! Tickets could be cancelled, leaves be withdrawn, but now that the bike is sent towards Jammu, this trip is no more a probability, but a certain thing.

The train was departing on Saturday. On Friday night, to my horror, I found that the soles of my Orazo Motorcycling boots were peeling off! Good motorcycling shoes are never optional in safety, especially in Ladakh rides when you rely on your feet to balance in rocky patches. So army shoes were purchased at the last moment. I will definitely suggest army shoes to touring bikers, as they were very comfortable, dried quite fast, and provided good amount of safety, especially for ankles and toes.

And finally, it was on. We left the house in anxiety and wonder about next 20 days. Leh dream was materializing itself.
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Old 12th September 2014, 15:02   #6
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Default Re: Dreams of Leh: A couple's motorcycle ride to the Himalayas - Part I

The train ride

We got the train with ease, and found our seats. We pushed our luggage below the seats, locked it tight, and prayed to God for a safe travel, when the train gave a jolt marking its leave. The Jammu Tawi express is majorly populated by Army jawaans going to either their homes in Punjab, or on duty to Jammu and beyond. One such Jawan was on my next seat, and was making conversation.

He was quite startled by hearing our plans of the tour.

‘You are going by motorcycle to Leh? No!’
‘Yes we are.’
‘No! Don’t!’
‘Too late to reconsider now, motorcycle’s already at Jammu now.’
‘Oh. In that case, I wish you luck. Let me give you one advice for Kargil and Leh’.
‘Yes, sure. What is it?’
‘Make sure you wear underpants.’

Exactly what part of my appearance triggered the gentleman’s imagination that I might require such advice, I couldn’t figure out. I tried looking deep in his face, to see any muscle twitching for laughter. But he was serious.

‘Sir you can forget anything, but don’t ever forget to wear underpants. After a while, once you are in the cold areas, you will curse yourself “Why did I try to save money on underpants?!”’.

‘Umm, do you mean thermal wear?’
‘Oh! Sure I’ve got the thermal… the underpants alright.’

I turned my face towards the broken window on my side under the guise of trying to catch the view, and hid my laughter. A sound advice, but in danger of being seriously misinterpreted, just because of a word.

The railways were extra happy with us, when we selected two window seats. The glass on the window pane was shattered so artistically, it was hard to believe that it is glass and not a painted picture. I would have thought a broken glass would have a clear patch where it is hit, and the cracks in the glass would orbit around that point. But in case of our window, it was uniformly distributed with cracks.

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Usually, window seat for a long journey is a very inviting option, as you literally see the world moving outside your window while you sip on your tea. As this option was turned away from us, we started chatting and planning up our tour. We were armed with our usual weaponry, prints of blogs about hotels and sight seeing, and Lonely planet. At the time of reviewing our reading material, I realized I forgot the maps on the desk back home. I thought maps may not be required at all, as we knew most of our route by name. But this mistake did bite us later, when we were clueless about next path, and without any internet connection. But I will save that story for later.

The train food deserves a special mention. Previously, train food meant mildly hot and barely identifiable vegetables, with their particular taste of iron vessles. But now the situation is changing. The food that we had was quite good by railway standards. Didn’t try any non-veg dish, but the veg dishes were not bad at all.

On the third day, since morning, slowly the occupants of our coach started leaving at their destination. The advising Jawan too got down at Chakki Bank, wishing us luck. We packed our bags, and anxiously started awaiting the Jammu junction. The train was initially running late, but later the motorman really pushed the peddle, and we entered the Jammu terminal at sharp 10am, the scheduled time.
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Old 12th September 2014, 15:03   #7
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Default Re: Dreams of Leh: A couple's motorcycle ride to the Himalayas - Part I

Hot and humid Jammu

One step out of the train, and we both started sweating heavily, as if we were in Mumbai. It was unbelievably hot and humid. On motorcycle, our luggage would be neatly packed, but while on train, even the jackets and helmets and the guards required separate bags. Carrying all those bags in that blistering heat was really an experience I would hope wouldn’t repeat.

As the motorcycle had already reached Jammu before us, I had to go fetch it. So wife and the bags were parked under a ceiling fan on the platform. The fan was mounted so high, that I thought perhaps they were expecting it to wind all of the platform. Nandinee didn’t look in any mood to be shown such curious observations, so I swallowed my words, and started sniffing around for my motorcycle.

After asking around for parcel office, I found the office and my motorcycle – with its tail mudguard bent at curious angle – in an underground office with a steep slope as access way.

After handing out the receipt for the motorcycle, I was reminded that I required some identity proof as well. So back to the luggage for getting the copy of licence, back to the office to get the motorcycle.

Once I got the motorcycle clearance, I saw that it was parked right at the bottom of that huge long slope. How was it going to get out? Petrol was not allowed inside the bike, as it was still on platform.

‘Er, excuse me Sir. How can I take the motorcycle out?’
‘Yes, you can.’
‘No, I mean how. Do I get a porter for this? Can I add petrol here?’
‘No! You just push it out!’

The clerk replied with disdain, giving me a ‘kahan kahan se aate hai’ look and buried himself in a register as old as time itself.

Huffing and puffing, with the motorcycles dry weight of 150kgs not helping, I pushed the vehicle up the slope. The Sardar policeman at the railway door took pity on drenched-in-sweat me, and cleared me to go with the motorcycle.

Parked the motorcycle and went to fetch Nandinee. Inspite of the highly thought of and highly placed ceiling fan, she too was very sweaty and irritated.

‘Isn’t Jammu a cold place? Were our text books lying to us all these years?’

After being married for certain years, you have come to some realizations about your wife. A newly married husband would have wrongly assumed that the wife was actually asking for his opinion, and might have got killed while trying to answer these questions. However, seasoned husbands know the difference between questions and general remarks of frustrations. I understood her questions were not directed towards me, but rather to herself, where I just happened to be the audience. So nothing was required by my side, except to get out of this hot place as soon as possible.

We got everything out, filled up the bike with petrol, packed up everything nicely, and rolled away. I noticed that the motorcycle was not behaving well, something was amiss, but I couldn’t put my finger on it just yet. So I brushed off any doubts, and headed ourself to Raghunath bazaar - based on the tip of the Jawan I met in train.

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The rear view mirrors were somehow not aligning themselves properly, and I didn’t want to ride without them. I couldn’t find my tool box packed somewhere deep in the luggage, hence couldn’t do the adjustment myself. So we went to Raghunath bazaar in search of a good mechanic. Sadly, the search was futile. With growing temperatures and growing tempers, it was becoming exceedingly irritating to further continue the search for mechanic for such trivial task.

Finally we decided to let it be, and to get the hell out of this burning city. While heading out, I saw a board poiting right towards ‘Tourist reception center’. In our previous travels, we had good experience of such TRCs which are by government itself. A tourist can get guidance on local hotels, sight seeing, and maps for further travel. Luckily on the way to the TRC, we found a competent mechanic who fixed the mirrors in no time and with no charge.
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Old 12th September 2014, 15:06   #8
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Default Re: Dreams of Leh: A couple's motorcycle ride to the Himalayas - Part I

We picked information booklets on further travel at the TRC, and got informed that there was a 40% discount going on in all JKTDC properties. This was a good news, as one would assume that the state run hotels should be in comparable or better state than other majority of hotels.

The time was almost 1pm, and we considered our options for the day. Our plan was to stay in Jammu, and to head to Srinagar next day. Now Srinagar was 300 kms away, and Jammu so far had nothing interesting to make us want to stay. So we decided to make a run for Patnitop, a hill station 110 kms from Jammu, on way to Srinagar. This way we would escape this burning inferno of a city, and would be nearer to Srinagar tomorrow. So the decision was made, Patnitop would be our host tonight!

We started our ride towards the chilly Patnitop, but the ride was all hot and unbelievably dusty. Trucks were plying on the highway NH1A as if they owned it, and bikes had to sneak their way past these giants rumbling on the way. There was a good hotel en route, so stopped for lunch there, and tried fiddling with the air and fuel screw of the motorcycle, as it was not responding well to throttle.

Post lunch ride, the road rides up and down many hills, as if it is singing and dancing in happiness to go to Srinagar.

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As we rode forwards, it became more pronounced that the motorcycle was not well. Somehow it was not responding to the throttle the way I remembered it for past twenty thousand kilometers. She slowly started to become breathless on the up slope, and the average speed around the ghaat slowly started reducing. First I couldn’t cross 60km per hour, then 50, then even 40kmph became tough to achieve on an upclimb. I was not having any unrealistic expectations from a 150cc engine, but this was simply not her behavior, and something was needing attention, something not in my league.

There were hardly any shops on road, and the time too was ticking fast. I didn’t want to reach an unknown location at night, so coaxed the bike and rode towards Patnitop. Finally it started approaching, with the milestones doing their countdown in kilometers. We were pointing the distance on every milestone to each other, to reassure ourself that we were going to reach despite of the motorcycle’s troubles.

‘Patnitop at 10 kms…9…8…. Then 2km…1km… ok here we are. Finally! Lets find some good hotel.’

Once we arrived at Patnitop, we passed a sign towards JKTDS resort towards right and a small strip of shops and hotels along the main road for hardly 50-100m. After crossing this shops section, suddenly we felt the road is now sloping downwards, and we were starting to climb down.

‘What the heck? Where is Patnitop? Did we pass it already?!’

I couldn’t believe it. I had read the Patnitop was a small hill station, but I could never have imagined it to be so small, as to comprise of just handful of shops and a JKTDC hotel!

As the sun had already taken leave, we were already using the leftover light that the Sun had forgotten to take away, and it was vanishing fast. So we headed to JKTDC hotel shown at the right hand of the main road. It was quite a climb towards the hotel, but the property itself was inviting and good-looking. We also noticed there were many motorcycles parked outside the hotel, with majority of them having Rajasthan registration.

We went in to check the rooms. Almost all of the room - from ground to ceiling - was made up of or covered with wood. The reason being, Patnitop gets covered in snow every year, and hence a wooden room stays warm in winter. We inquired about rest of the deal, and came out to discuss what should be our next actions. The prices were alright, but should we go to find some other hotels as well? Between this hotel and that small strip on the main road, I preferred JKTDC resort a lot.

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While we were discussing, two tourists approached us.

‘Biker?’ One of them asked.

As there was no other answer possible while I am on the motorcycle wearing all the gear, I replied in honesty - ‘Yes’.

Whenever we introduce ourselves as touring couple, people are usually quite surprised. Somehow touring on motorcycle is imagined to be mainly single persons’ or at best male friends’ job. We had the same reaction from those two gents, whose faces lit up when we introduced ourselves. They were part of the motorcycle group which was travelling across India. They were travelling from Kanyakumari and headed towards Srinagar, for their K2K ride. Later they were planning to ride to Leh and descend towards Manali. Their group started arriving soon, and we were shaking a lot of hands and being enthusiastically introduced around.

I have never ridden in a group ever. In the initial years I was touring alone, and then after marriage, we tour as a couple, but alone. Never in a group. I think this is because we approach motorcycling as not the goal but a factor in our tours, and some groups may think otherwise. Also, attributes such as non-drinking and non-smoking may look good on a matrimony form, but in a group it may mean being an outlier. This was the first time I interacted with a group of bikers who are actually touring long distances, and not just doing Pune-Lonavala-Pune and calling it a great ride. And I liked the atmosphere going on around the group. Who knows, someday even we may ride in one such group.

The two persons we met, they had already scouted the area for hotels, and they had selected the JKTDC resort after considering a few. So we piggy-backed on their findings, and checked ourselves in the hotel.

It was already night by the time we went it, and it became very cold. But cold was much more welcome than the fumes we suffered in the day. We had dinner in the restaurant itself, and headed back to get sleep on a proper bed – for past two nights we were in train rocking ourselves to sleep.

My pillion rider fell asleep the moment she was horizontal. But my mind was full of thoughts. It was the first day of the ride, and my motorcycle was not responding as it should. The next mechanic – as per a shop keeper in Patnitop – was 12 kms away. Would the motorcycle hold up for next 12 kms? Hope the problems weren’t too severe and wouldn't increase; it would really suck.

Last edited by ani_meher : 12th September 2014 at 15:07.
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Old 13th September 2014, 16:03   #9
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Default Re: Dreams of Leh: A couple's motorcycle ride to the Himalayas - Part I

Thread moved from the Assembly Line (The "Assembly Line" Forum section) to Travelogues. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 14th September 2014, 20:03   #10
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Default Re: Dreams of Leh: A couple's motorcycle ride to the Himalayas - Part I

Your travelogue sure seems inviting....keep it coming.
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Old 15th September 2014, 00:44   #11
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Default Re: Dreams of Leh: A couple's motorcycle ride to the Himalayas - Part I

Great posts, very interesting! Please keep it coming.
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Old 15th September 2014, 13:27   #12
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Default Re: Dreams of Leh: A couple's motorcycle ride to the Himalayas - Part I

Come on Aniruddha, go on. Great story and a trip of lifetime. Already a cloud of suspense built over the motorcycle's performance. Bring it on...waiting for more to unfold anxiously.

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Old 21st September 2014, 07:36   #13
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Default Re: Dreams of Leh: A couple's motorcycle ride to the Himalayas - Part I

Originally Posted by ani_meher View Post
For many, this next year never arrives. Life and sanity takes over, and the dream of Ladakh never materializes.
I can so relate to you on this. Please keep the posts coming. BEautiful pics.

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Old 21st September 2014, 14:57   #14
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Default Re: Dreams of Leh: A couple's motorcycle ride to the Himalayas - Part I

Originally Posted by ani_meher View Post
After being married for certain years, you have come to some realizations about your wife. A newly married husband would have wrongly assumed that the wife was actually asking for his opinion, and might have got killed while trying to answer these questions. However, seasoned husbands know the difference between questions and general remarks of frustrations. I understood her questions were not directed towards me, but rather to herself, where I just happened to be the audience.

Anirudh, a great thread in making and please bring it on more quickly. Excellent style of writing and with a great sense of humor.

I am still laughing my head out with the above statement, a fact, which I have never seen being put accross so beautifully

Best Regards & Ride Safe

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Old 1st October 2014, 12:20   #15
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Default Re: Dreams of Leh: A couple's motorcycle ride to the Himalayas - Part I

Anirudha, hope you have not forgotten about this live travelogue. We are all waiting for the rest to unfold. Come up with more!

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