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Old 19th November 2009, 22:12   #1
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Default Thoughts Of The First Civilian On The Highest Motorable Road In The World!

What would be more offbeat than travelling on a motorbike on the highest motorable road in the world, that too, all alone? And this was way back in 1989 and the bike was RX100 from the YAMAHA stable. Though a mere 100cc, what a great bike it was!

The 470 kilometres Manali- Leh road covers the most formidable mountainous terrain, passes over five high mountain passes- the Rohtang pass ( 13500 feet above sea level) Baralacha pass ( 16100 feet) Changle ( 15010 feet) Changlangla (16616 feet) and last but not the least, Tanglangla ( 17580 feet) above sea level.

I was the first civilian to have travelled on this road, the day this road was opened for civilians- July 17<sup>th</sup>, 1989. This is a military road, an important link for the army for the transport of men and material to the border posts. Earlier, it required an inner line permit for even Indian nationals to travel in this region. This road is buried in snow for almost 8 months in a year.

A few words about this road would be in order. G.R.E.F. the road construction wing of the Border Road Organisation has lost almost one life for each kilometre of the road constructed, a ‘memorial’ to above 400 personnel. My salute to them! The terrain is utterly inhospitable and weather extremely unfriendly. The temperature suddenly plummets below 0 degrees and during winters, the normal night temperature hovers around – 35 degrees and daytime, shoots up above 40 degrees.

It passes through 5 high passes, is the highest motorable road in the world, GREF plough’s about 1.7 lac . C.U.M.T of snow for every 100 kms which takes over 3 months, employing over 300 personnel and about a dozen snow cutters! At many places, the road is covered with over 20 feet snow.

Though open for just about 90 days in a year, it assumes importance because of it’s strategic importance, being so close to hostile neighbours.

I had started my journey from Bangalore and had reached Delhi early July, making halts at several places in between. The journey was un-eventful and passing through Kasauli, Solan, Shimla &amp; Kullu, I reached Raison, where the Himachal Tourism runs a camping site on the banks of the river Beas. I pitched the one-man-tent with a little help from the caretaker of the camp, Shri Brahma Dutt. Raison is an apple orchard country and according to legend, the Pandavas visited this place, atleast thrice in their chequered lives! Next to the camp site runs the river Beas (derived from Rishi Vyas) where I had an exhilarating cold bath. This being the first night out in the open, without the protection of the “ four walls”, the wind howling and the gurgling waters of the river making tremendous noise, I barely slept that night.

Early next morning, leaving the apple country behind, I reached Manali where I had breakfast of aloo paratha with dahi along with delicious pachranga pickles. After meandering around for a couple of hours in the Manali market, I tanked up the bike tank with petrol and an additional 25 litres in 2 jerry cans that I had purchased at Bilaspur, the previous day. Beyond Manali, there would be no petrol pump for the next 470 kms, till I reached Leh! (remember, this was way back in July 1989! When I travelled later in 2004, I noticed that a petrol pump had come up in Keylong, the District head quarters). The next 41 kms to Rohtang Pass is a driver’s delight. A halt at Marrhi, some hot tea, I met the Prince of Leh – Karma. He was on a bike with a friend, they were both on a Bullet mobike, accompanying them was another Ladakhi, on a brand new Yamaha RX 100, purchased from Chandigarh and proceeding to Leh.

After a brief halt, we all travelled together, admiring the breath-taking view of snow peaked mountains from the top of Rohtang. All tourists turn back at this point (1989, remember!) We reach Khoksar (from Manali, the other side of Rohtang). Here, I had to make my first entry at the police outpost. From here, the road was restricted to the Military and I am proud to be the “ 1<sup>st</sup> entry” in their register!

Late in the evening, we reach Keylong, the district head quarters of Lahaul, 110 kms from Manali. It has taken almost 10 hours to reach and we decide to stay at the Dak Bungalow’s 2 tents for the night. Karma’s friend has a problem with the bike, several local “mechanics” tries to repair the bike but the bike catches fire instead! Heard the adage- too many mechanics spoil the bike?

Karma and myself share one tent and we talk of our families, culture, the hardships the Ladakhis face due to the extreme inhospitable weather. We talk late into the night and then doze off.....

The next morning, they plan to stay in Keylong, “import” a mechanic from Manali and Rezin- the Ladakhi, decides to stay in Keylong. During breakfast, i meet a Danish couple, who are travelling on 2 Yamaha 600 CC bikes.

The tarred road after Khoksar had tapered off, and then on, the “road” was rough, slippery with mud and snow, surrounded by deep gorges on both sides. They decide to accompany me and after a hefty lunch, we are on our way, hoping to reach Sarchu, 115 kms from Keylong.

The terrain got more difficult every kilometre that we travelled. The road was so tough that, we could not reach Sarchu and it was well past sunset that, we reached 2 abandoned tin sheds. We planned to stay in the tin shed for the night. We had managed to travel just 85 kms that day.

Getting up early next morning, we were amazed to see the pond behind the shed had frozen during the night. Though July is summer in this region, the night temperature plummets well below 0 degrees &amp; during the day, it shoots up above 35 degrees centigrade. Though bright and shining just a few minutes earlier, the sun just disappeared and the sky was covered with dark clouds within no time and lo and behold, I experienced my first hailstorm! As we started towards Sarchu which was still 28 kms away, there was a rock-fall and we had some difficulty in going through the debris.

We reached Sarchu a couple of hours later, where we came across a police check-post. It took some time for the officials to permit the foreigners to drive through, with a lot of convincing from me. Later, the Danish couple and me decided to part ways, as they had plans of trekking in this region for a few days. They were short of petrol and borrowed 10 litres from my stock.

The next two and half days were a harrowing experience to me. I had expected to cover the entire distance in one single day. That was not to be! The entire journey of 470 kms from Manali to Leh took all of 4 days!

Though the snow on the road is cleared off by GREF, the snow on the mountains and hills on the sides of the road start melting as the sun rises. The trickle early in the morning, turns into torrential flow of cold water from the slopes, onto the road, going down the valley. At about 3 to 4 spots, you cannot cross across after 3 or 4 pm, the height and the flow of the r is enough for you to be carried away down the valley. I came across such a rapid where the height of the waters was almost 3 feet, I decided to drive through. Unfortunately, the rear wheel got stuck in between two stones, I panicked, raised the accelerator which engaging the clutch and then, the most horrendous happened- the clutch plates got burnt! With great difficulty, I go the bike out from the water, had to spot jog for almost 45 minutes to get the numbness out . With a lot of tinkering and scraping of the plates that, I could resume my journey, albeit, at the speed of just 5- 10 kms an hour. Most of the journey then on, was in the 1<sup>st</sup> and 2<sup>nd</sup> gear due to the clutch burn out.

I was in a pretty bad situation. Because of the high altitude and lack of oxygen, I had a severe headache, breathless even with a little exertion, I could barely think straight. A shoe bite which hurt real bad added to the miseries. And now the clutch plates! During the night, I had a nightmare; the soldiers find my body, totally frozen! I realised how ill- equipped I was- no essentials like the torch/ matches/ watch/ proper winter clothing. With no pain killers and the shoe bite hurting, half the time I was riding in hawai chappals. The only solace was the breathless (no pun intended!) landscape and scenery.

The next day, I had to cross the formidable Tanglangla pass and the pace that day got slower because of tracts of sand. The next few kilometres, traversing was extremely difficult, more so with the burnt clutch plates. I had to invoke all the Hindu Gods to proceed further. Late evening, I reached the Upshi Military check post but could go no further as vehicles cannot travel beyond, after 6 pm. So near yet so far!

After 4 days of hard driving, totally famished, a groggy head and blood shot eyes, I entered Leh. Truly a Shangri-La for me. I felt, after these four days of such experiences, that I had matured by over a decade and much wiser. A piece of advice to a would be solo traveller on this route ( remember this was in 1989) Keep a diary, as the saying goes- ‘ Dead men tell no tales’.

Trouble had begun in this region in 1989.....Leh was under curfew for almost a fortnight due to some violent incidents but fortunately, as I entered Leh, there were police vans going around, announcing the relaxation of curfew during the day. The petrol tank was almost dry and topped it up at the Indian Oil’s highest petrol station at 10500 feet above sea level.

After such a tiring but exhilarating journey, Leh was paradise, where I spent 3 nights, relaxing, visiting the world famous Gompas- Buddhist monasteries, a trip Khardungla- the highest motorable road in the world, feasting on the exotic delicacies of Ladakh, wondering- given a chance, would I ever travel on the same route, again? (Yes, after this trip, I have had the opportunity of travelling on the same route again twice, but by car).
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Old 19th November 2009, 23:32   #2
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Great account, indeed, by the pioneer. Thanks for this, we are truly inspired.
How did you manage the Inner Line Permits?
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Old 20th November 2009, 00:35   #3
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Mate hats off you. You have done in 1989 twenty years back in Yamaha Rx100(my favourite bike) what a achievement.
Need more thoughts....
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Old 20th November 2009, 02:04   #4
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Very interesting ... helmets off to you! I can imagine how bad things would've been in 1989.

However, I would respectfully beg to disagree with the title. There's a legendary gentleman in Delhi, Mr Romesh Bhattacharjee. October 1975 is his triplog.
Recording climate change on Flickr - Photo Sharing! is one of his pics.

So while definitely not the first civilian - my total respects!

When you drop down to Delhi - would be glad to host you an evening and listen to your stories!
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Old 20th November 2009, 02:54   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by phamilyman View Post
Very interesting ... helmets off to you! I can imagine how bad things would've been in 1989.

However, I would respectfully beg to disagree with the title. There's a legendary gentleman in Delhi, Mr Romesh Bhattacharjee. October 1975 is his triplog.
Recording climate change on Flickr - Photo Sharing! is one of his pics.

So while definitely not the first civilian - my total respects!

When you drop down to Delhi - would be glad to host you an evening and listen to your stories!

There are 2 ways to go there, the one which I had used was opened the very day. There was an alternate route from where civilians were allowed (if you had contacts, that is). This route was the route which the army generally took, so closed for civilians.
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Old 20th November 2009, 04:52   #6
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there is a gentleman in Koregaon Park, Pune, now in his eighties, who had done the Manali-Leh route in 1985 types on a scooter. The same gentleman rode from Birmingham to Pune (YUP!) with his girlfriend in the 60's on his Royal Enfield (What else?)

So while the highway may have been OFFICIALLY opened in 89, there were enterprising riders who had done it before.
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Old 20th November 2009, 06:56   #7
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This is indeed a very laudable and brave achievement by Prateekm, no matter whether he was 1st, 2nd or 3rd.

Hats off to you Sir.
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Old 20th November 2009, 07:14   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by COUGAR View Post
there is a gentleman in Koregaon Park, Pune, now in his eighties, who had done the Manali-Leh route in 1985 types on a scooter. The same gentleman rode from Birmingham to Pune (YUP!) with his girlfriend in the 60's on his Royal Enfield (What else?)

So while the highway may have been OFFICIALLY opened in 89, there were enterprising riders who had done it before.
As I mentioned in my post, you could use the road if you had the Inner Line Permit which you could only get if you had good contacts in the army.

The day I visited was the 1st day when civilians were allowed.

P.S : This is actually dad's travelogue, just posted it here as I wanted to share with you guys

He's currently in Kashmir this week, so I am answering your queries by the info. I have

Regards,
Prateek
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Old 20th November 2009, 07:28   #9
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WOW - It is a difficult journey today and you did it almost 20 years back!
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Old 20th November 2009, 08:24   #10
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Truly fantastic and it does take a lot of determination and courage to do something like that. With no proper gear and in such hostile conditions, kudos to you dad. Awesome.
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Old 20th November 2009, 10:29   #11
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Congrats on what is surely an admirable feat
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Old 20th November 2009, 12:59   #12
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Hats Off to you Sir for doing this trip.

Please tell us more about your Khardungla sojourn as I understand it was opened only in 1987.
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Old 20th November 2009, 13:12   #13
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The hardships recounted are formidable, indeed. But I really wonder why were you so ill-equipped? Even if it was 1989, people knew what all clothes and footwear could be needed in that terrain. All the same, a brave feat
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Old 20th November 2009, 14:19   #14
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Did you mention this is your Dad's travel log? Hats off to your dad bro!!
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Old 21st November 2009, 22:53   #15
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Thanks for all the comments
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