Leh Ladakh Travel Experience Essay

Finally that day comes which I am waiting for so long. I pack my bag pack grab my flight tickets for Mumbai-Delhi- Srinagar. We almost reach to our destination, I left all my worries behind and get excited for my trip to Ladakh. I planned my trip for 10 days

How to reach Ladakh;

By air: You can directly to Leh from Mumbai/Delhi

By road: You can reach by two ways;

  • Srinagar – Leh; 450Km approx, On the way to Leh from Srinagar you will pass through Sonmarga- Zoji la- Drass- Kargil and Lamayuru
  • Manali – Leh; 480Km approx, people says Manali- Leh highway is more Prettier then Srinagar- Leh highway

But we opted Srinagar- Leh highway. Day one I spend in Srinagar, the day i arrived in Srinagar there was strike and all the shops are closed. We take private cab and reach to Dal lake gate 9, from gate 9 we take shikara to Young Bombay house boat.

House boat attendant give us warm welcome to us and serve Kahwa ( local tea). There are lots of affordable house boats at very low price. In evening we went to Nehru garden and floating market in Shikara. In floating market you can get Shilajit and Kahwa but don't forget to bargain with them because their initial price is very high and after negotiation they will come to half of initial cost. We saw sunset at Dal lake in shikara and next day morning at 6:00am we take local cab from TRC circle for Leh. From 6:00 Am you can get cab for leh or Kargil after every 30 min. Most of cab takes over night halt at Kargil but some cabs of Leh starting from JK10 take you directly to Leh, which usually take 10-12 hrs depending upon traffic and landslide.

The route is far more convenient as far as availability of food and petrol is a concern to you. On the way to Leh from Srinagar we pass through Sonmarg-Zoji la-Drass- Kargil and Lamayuru and reach Leh late night, landscape in the route is awesome. Next day early morning we rent 500cc Bullet bikes which are far more convenient to carry fuel in High Mountain. Don't book bikes online, before taking bikes take test ride and check for brakes, tyres and engine oil.

Pangong Lake; after taking the bikes we went for Pangong lake, we try to make early start for Pangong lake but not able to make it so we reach Lake at late night. Distance of Pangong Lake from Leh is 150 KM but it will take 6-7 hrs to cover this much distance. Terrain to the Pangong lake is so picture perfect that it looks like someone made strokes in the canvas. We do star gazing in the Pangong lake, and take lot of pictures.

You can get homestay and tent near the Pangong lake, but it’s recommended to take tent facing to Pangong lake. We take one such tent from Grand Pangong Lake which cost me around 1000INR. Early morning I wake up at 5:30 AM to see sunrise at Pangong lake, and take lot of picture at different angles J.

Then we went back to Leh, for next two days we visit the nearby area of Leh and monasteries (Lamayaru, Limir, Alchi , Santi stupa and Hemis).. Each monasteries is different form one another with beautiful painting and carving on it. We saw sunset at conjunction of Indus and Zanskar river. If you are interested in Kayaking or river rafting this is ideal place for you, some private owned company conduct rafting and kayaking in the conjunction of two river.

After spending two days in Leh, we went for Nubra valley we halt at Khardungla pass which is highest motorable road in Ladakh region at an height of 5395 Mtr. It is recommended not to stay more than 30 min because air is very thin over there and our is not acclimatize for such height in such a short span. We are lucky enough to see snowfall at that point. After drive for 6-7 hrs we reach Hunder also called as white desert. Where we can find camels with two humps. We stay at home stay and enjoy local food and next day early morning we left for Leh and visit Diskit monastery in the way. It’s an open monastery with huge Buddha Statue which I never seen in my whole life J.

Last days of my trip we spend in Leh to understand the local culture. We visit the local market and do some window shopping. In this way my visits to Leh finish, with a promise that I will come back again.

Dal Lake
After returning back to our house boats had our breakfast, by this time the korean guy had given a mini concert for 5 of us and it was great. A mix of english and korean songs and this guy has plans of making it big as a pop-star, a sure reality if he taps on his talent :). It was time to leave and the destination for today was Drass, famous both as the town in epicenter of the 1999 Kargil war and as the 2nd coldest inhabited place on earth after a town in Siberia, Russia. When we were leaving Srinagar i could sense a lot of unrest among the people enroute, civilians and cops at many places were having a heated argument, we were not sure what the reason was but it was time to get out of Srinagar and as fast as possible. We didnt want to get bogged down by a curfew and wasting a couple of days so early in the trip. Anyway later came to know that this was a norm in Srinagar.

Enroute Sonmarg

Sonmarg

Roads between Srinagar and Sonmarg are very scenic, gurgling streams, lawned up green grass on either sides of the road, huge intimidating mountains, awesome roads and to top it all a slight drizzle. Sonmarg truly matches its namesake which means "meadow of gold".  Also we started to witness snow glaciers high up in the mountains the first sighting for the trip. Just then Zojila pass appeared, our first serious hurdle for the trip. Standing tall at 11,575 ft this was our first high altitude pass to be crossed on bikes. And as expected the road high up to the pass was real bad, having narrow pathway and was downright scary , with bottomless drops. Eventhough this is not as high in altitude as the passes which we had planned to cross such as Khardungla and so on, this really tested our nerves. But slowly and steadily we climbed and crossed it. By now the traffic which was pretty decent had totally thinned out, and we knew that we have entered the gateway to Ladakh, and the landscape around us gave an affirmative nod with greenery gradually thinning out and brown , bald mountains making an appearance. (Reason being Ladakh is in the rain shadow region enclosed between Himalayan Ranges in the south and Karakoram ranges in the North ). We were now in the largest and most sparsely populated district in India.

The shadow of the clouds give an awesome appearance on these brown mountains, an effect amplified when compared to other mountains. After crossing Zojila the roads again became decent and we started to enjoy the unique scenery never having witnessed them earlier in our life times. At one point Prasanna clicked a picture of an army camp and the army guards came running towards us. I sensed trouble, but after checking that we were really tourists we had a nice conversation with them, and one statement by the soldier which I remember is "यह जगह देकने के लिए अच्छा है, लेकिन रहने के लिए बेकार है", signifying the hardship the soldiers have to endure in these remote places. They wished us luck and we moved towards our destination.


Mighty Zojila Pass
First View Of Ladakhi Landscape
Finally we reached Drass in the evening at around 6 pm. There were around 3-4 decent hotels here in drass and after checking out couple of them we settled for Hotel City View who charged us 500 bucks for 5 people. Drass was chilly even in this time of the year and from this town we could view the famous Tiger Hills, the focal point of 1999 Kargil war. During the war the Pakistani's had almost captured this town, knocking at its door.

Food at this place was bad , but you cant really expect more, in such remote places. We had planned to visit the Drass war memorial some 7 kms from the town , but after reaching there got to know that it was closed since some Brigadier was paying visit , else the memorial is open till 8pm.

Drass

Day 4: 31 Aug 2011, Drass-Kargil-Mulbek-Fotula Pass-Lamayuru (165km)

Drass War Memorial, Bimbit
This day was Ramzan and being in a muslim dominated town, we wanted to leave as early as possible so as to avoid witnessing slaughter-fest. Left quite early in the morning and directly went to the war memorial enroute to Kargil. This place is a must visit, a reminder of the sacrifices done by our armed forces to keep us warm and cozy in our houses when they fight with intruders in highly inhospitable conditions. There is an indoor exhibit room and outdoor memorial. An army officer accompanied us explaining the nuances of the 1999 Kargil war. After spending nearly 2 hrs at this place it was time to leave. The destination initially was assumed to be a ride all the way to Leh, a distance of nearly 280 odd km , but as we know everything is unpredictable when touring on bikes. One thing you will notice when touring in J&K is that lot of kids give high fives and one hand clapping , probably a tradition started by westerners who tour a lot in there regions on bikes and we were more than happy to continue that. But nevertheless my first attempt at a riding and moving  hi-fi with a school going kid failed miserably. There was a palm to palm contact instead of less sturdier finger contact and it must have pained like hell for the kid, since it surely did for me :D.

Tiger Hill, Focal Point of 1999 Kargil War
Town Of Kargil
After Drass, majority of the roads are in bad condition, with few good stretches in between. Hence as expected the average was low. We had expected to have breakfast in Kargil , but thanks to Ramzan all the restaurants were closed and we decided to move further on. The average was further brought down when Senthil's rear tyre got a puncture. Now it was left to us to fix the tyre, but we failed miserably. Even though I am an expert in fixing cycle tubes, we couldnt even remove the rear wheel which was screwed in real tight and to top to all Senthil didnt have his bikes tool kit. We tried and tried with whatever equipment we had , but all attempts were futile. Ofcourse we were trying to unscrew the wheel nut in the proper direction, but the nut was not at all budging. Some fellow travellers on the road stopped and offered help (good thing abt J&K, everyone is ready to help each other), but still it was unsuccessful. Hence it was decided to ride the bike all the way to the next town, i.e. Mulbek to the puncture shop. Hence after shifting the luggage from Senthil's bike we left in search of a puncture shop and found one in Mulbek. Now this guy took almost 1.5 hrs to loosen the wheel and that too with help of proper equipment and overcompensating manpower (read the 5 of us :P)

Mulbek

Finally after the tube was replaced we started moving forward. Leh still seemed possible even though it was midday and roads were bad.But as it goes without a mention, the view were simply awesome. The river Indus was accompanying us on the major part of the journey and the view of the valley on either side of the river were breathtaking. But as things started to settle down after the initial hiccup, again we got a puncture in Senthil's bike after crossing Hansikot. We had ensured that the puncture guy had checked the tyre for any sharp materials , but after getting a puncture so soon we were wondering what could be problem. Having no patience of again removing the wheel and checking for puncture we decided to go till Lamayuru and look for puncture shops. But we had one small bump enroute, "Fotula", the highest point on the Srinagar-Leh highway at 13479 ft. But the roads till the top were awesome and  it somewhat made matter easier for a bike now running on its rims :P. From Fotula it was all the way downhill till Lamayuru , and by the time we reached the town it was pitch dark.

Went directly to the best hotel in the town which was Hotel Moonland and booked 2 rooms for 800 each. Had a pretty decent  traditional Ladakhi/Tibetian buffet filled with Momos, tupka, chowmein etc. But sadly there were no proper mechanics/puncture shop in Lamayuru to check the wheel rim which we were suspecting in the first place. So it was decided that we ship Senthils bike in a pickup truck with all the luggage and other's follow it on bikes.  
Forula Pass

Day 5: 01 Sept 2011, Lamayuru- Magnetic Hills- Leh (139km) 

Lamayuru Town
According to initial estimates this was supposed to be a rest day, a day were we lazed around and did nothing in particular , having covered 700 and odd kms. But thanks to yesterdays turn of events we were still around 140 km short of Leh. The first thing in the morning we went to the Lamayuru monastary eager to take a look inside an age old monastery (the one at Bylakuppe is a recent one), but sadly the doors were locked we had to be content roaming around the main buildings spinning the prayer wheels at every possible opportunity. After coming back from the monastery it was time to leave for Leh, we loaded the bike on the back of the pickup truck and left the place.


Just after Lamayuru is a site called moonscape where the surface resembles the surface of the moon. Frankly speaking I saw the entire Ladakh region to resemble moon's surface and not just this one site in particular. There were lot of road blocks on this route thanks to some maintenance work carried out by the BRO (Border roads organization), but the road condition between Lamayuru and Leh are real awesome. You could cruise non-stop. And the beauty of this land is that the views you get in one place is totally different from views you get at a different section of the highway, so the chances of getting "brown mountain fatigue" is less. In short the views offered in Srinagar-Leh highway are completely different from Leh-Manali highway, so it is always preferable to enter via one highway and exit via another, so as to enjoy both routes.

No:1 in terms of scenic beauty


Enroute we came across magnetic hills. According to the internet this gives an optical illusion thanks to a horizon lined up differently. But we were not seeing any illusion, after spending a lot of time doing circus on bikes we finally gave up. As we neared to Leh, there were a lot of snow capped peaks in the surroundings, a awesome contrast to the brown colored mountains, surrounding it. Also caught sight of Stok Kangri peak. Soon we were entering the town of Leh and as our pickup truck went to a mechanic others went in search of a hotel. Found a decent budget place, Hotel Shanti Deluxe charging 1.6k for 5 of us in 2 rooms. By this the time was 3 pm and we asked the hotel manager whether we can get Inner line permit (required for places near the Chinese border) today itself and he replied in negative and told he can get the permits the next day if we paid some 1800 for 5 people for 6 days permission, which seemed too much since I read somewhere that it cost 20 bucks /person/day coming to a total of 720 for all the 5 people. So decided to give DC office a visit and to our surprise the DC office was still issuing permits and to our great luck we were issued the last permit for the day at 4 pm. and costing exactly 720 bucks :P. (For details regarding ILP go to bottom of this blog) Those who came after us had to return disappointed.


A snow capped peak, probably Stok Kangri
Got our bikes checked for the long journey ahead and by evening decided to do some sight seeing in Leh. Went to Shanti Stupa which gives a pretty decent views of the Leh city and after that decided to visit the Leh palace, but the roads to the palace were so confusing and whenever we asked a person he would send us via a totally different route. Finally exhausted we just dropped any hopes of going to palace since it was already dark and we had to big day tmrw. One more thing I observed is eventhough Leh is filled with more western tourists than Indians, the locals do not discriminate between them and us , as seen and observed in other places frequented by western tourists in India, which makes Leh all the more likeable.

Shanti Stupa, Leh


Day 6: 02 Sept 2011, Leh - Khardungla Pass- Diskit - Hundar (131km)


Today was an important day. We were to attempt climbing the mighty Khardungla Pass, the highest motorable road in the world at 18380 ft. Kinda like Mt.Everest for bikes, even though there is Marsimik La at a much higher height, but it is not termed motorable and more of a dirt track. Day started with us leaving Leh town to climb Khardungla and plan was to cross the pass and go and stay in Nubra Valley. But soon enough all our bikes started to struggle to climb this high altitude pass.

And as the altitude increases your mind starts playing moody and in very unexpected ways. You feel a tinge of depression, headache etc, all this because of lack of oxygen (actually its oxygen pressure and not %) at this high altitude , there is less than 50% of oxygen content at Khardungla (at 5602m) when compared to sea level, so you know what we were facing. Soon reached South Pullu till which the roads were good, after this roads become bad till the top and this part of the road we didnt actually enjoy riding both mentally and physically. There were a lot of girls on a cycling expedition from Youth hostel (YHAI), but as expected majority of them were walking and covering the climb than cycling all the way, but still this requires a standing ovation to even think of attempting such a feat.

Khardungla , Worlds Highest Motorable road, kinda like Mt.Everest for bikes :)
Khardung Village at a distance
Finally we reached the top. This was the highest altitude I have reached (on firm ground :)) at 5602 m beating previous personal record of 5030m during the Roopkund Trek done the previous year.  There were a lot of bikers getting their snaps taken in front of the "Highest Motorable Road In the World" boards. Of course we too got those, had some tea, got a souvenir T-shirt and in process we spent nearly 45 mins at the top. This was a big mistake. The army recommends not to stay more than 20 mins at any high altitude pass, be it Changla, TaglangLa or KhardhungLa. And becoz of the extended stay each member of the group was hit by AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness), right from mild headache to severe headache and vomiting (Mr. Vineeth, just check him out in the Khardungla Snap :P ). I too was having mild headache and this headache stayed on for the entire day even after descending to much saner altitudes.



While descending the roads were bad till North Pullu, and after that it becomes good. We stopped and had  maggi's (a dish most commonly found in these regions) here. After North Pullu you have officially entered Nubra Valley and man there were some breathtaking views along the way. Deep valleys by the river Shyok, and some towns totally covered in greenery against the brown background giving great contrast views.  Every 5-10 mins I would stop and take a snap. This is the prime reason why I decided to ride solo else all this routine would make my pillion rider pull out his hair in frustration :D.  After Khalsar village there is a 'Y" fork, one going to Diskit and Hunder and another going to Sumur, Panamik and Siachin Base Camp. We took the former and we had plans to stop at Diskit to visit the gompa/monastery , but somehow we missed the entrance and decided to visit the next day on the way back, since all of us were in irritated state thanks to AMS.

Sand Dunes of Hundar

After Diskit within a few kms start the famed sand-dunes of Hunder. But this high altitude sand-dunes were totally pale and white in color against the much livelier , red/brown sand of Rajasthan. Went in search for a homestay and found Olgok Home Stay. The owner was a good fella charging 800 bucks for 5 of us. Food was lipsmacking :). After dumping all our luggage we went towards the camel safari, with Bactrian camel found in these parts of the region, a reminder of the Silk route legacy of the yesteryear's which passed right through this region. The double humped camels looked strong and healthy hence I too decided to go for a ride, which I usually avoid in other circumstances. The ride was pretty amusing, but the most painful part was when the camel gets up and sits down. Having a tender part pressed against a hump in an incline is pretty painful :P. After the safari spent some time sitting in the sand dunes and by night fall returned back to our homestay, had dinner and slept like logs.

Double Humped Bactrian  Camels

Day 7: 03 Sept 2011, Hundar - Diskit - Sumur - Khardungla Pass- Leh (172km)

Diskit Monastary
First thing I noticed in the morning was that the headache had vanished miraculously :). So was pretty determined not to repeat the previous days mistake. Today we were to return back to Leh having a detour to Sumur enroute. Left Hunder pretty early and we directly went in search of the Diskit Gompa. The first thing that catches your attention is the nearly 50ft tall statue of Maitreyi(future buddha) in the Gompa's premises. After paying the required entrance fee we climbed to the Gompa which is situated on the edge of a cliff and requires a steep climb both on foot and on vehicles.

Monks In Diskit Gompa


Finally reached the entrance of this ancient Gompa. There were a lot monks going through their daily morning prayers, chanting them in a very hypnotic fashion I must say. Also surprisingly there was a temple for Goddess Kali, I dint know abt Buddhists worshiping Hindu gods even though there is a lot of similarities between the 2 religions. Spent nearly 2 hrs exploring the gompa , its surroundings and the huge Maitreyi statue. We retraced our steps back to Khalsar and took a deviation towards Sumur. This road goes all the way to Siachin Base Camp, which supports the forward posts on the Siachin Glacier facing both Pakistan and China on 2 sides , but of course they are restricted areas and for civilians like us getting permission is close to impossible.

Entered the village of Sumur and this was cozy little place, surrounded by fields, mountains, trees, rivulets and houses. Decided to visit the Sumur Gompa, which seemed to be much younger than the one at Diskit. There a monk came to talk to us and we came to know that this guy had stayed in Mysore for nearly 4-5 years. We actually found quite a few locals who had been to Mysore for education and probably bcoz of its proximity to Bylakuppe. He chatted with us for quite some time and then it was time to leave.


Slush Near Kharungla, Was an effort to cross this
As we were nearing to Khardung Village, on the base of the Khardungla Pass, it started to rain quite heavily. We were a bit worried since near the top it will be much worse. Anyway we took a break in this village and had a great meal at Maitreyi Open Air Restaurent(were huddled inside a tent for most part thanks to rain :P) and when we thought the rain subsidized a bit we moved. When we reached North Pullu at 16000 ft Prasanna was hit with mild AMS and Senthils bike was having problem with pull. So Prasanna sat pillion on my bike and we started the second assent to Khardungla Pass, it was actually fun riding with a pillion because you had to put full trottle and ride continuously on the damaged potholed roads no matter what , else you will loose momentum. When we almost reached the Khardungla Pass, we had a very close shave. When I stopped by the roadside and to our badluck on the slope side (with deep drop to the left and road to the right) to check whether others were coming or not, Prasanna suddenly dismounted putting all weight on right side of the bike which I didn expect in the first place. So as expected we had a fall (a stationary fall though) on the road, Prasanna on the ground, me too smelling earth and bike on top of me. Somehow with great effort I lifted the bike , which was so difficult at this altitude that I actually felt proud abt it later :P. Thanked our lucky starts since if by chance Prasanna had dismounted in the opposite side (ie to the left) it would have been a much serious case.



After this incident we were shaken up a bit, but we continued on , but nature had put up one more obstacle in front of us. A roadblock in form of a landslide, thanks to the incessent rains the past 24 hrs. It was actually snowing when we were waiting for the landslide to be cleared, with near freezing temp the limbs were going numb with cold. It was our first high altitude slush-fest, both man and machine getting stuck in nearly 1/2 feet of slush, and finally pushing it to safety which overall took nearly 1 hr of our time. Eventually we reached the Khardungla Pass and I didnt even stop there since Prasanna was already down with AMS. The downhill ride to Leh was quick and eventless and by evening we reached Leh.

Entrance Gate of Leh

Day 8: 04 Sept 2011, Leh - Karu -Sakti- Zingrail - Karu - Leh (190km)

Shey Palace
We had reached only halfway of the trip and by this time couple of members of the group (Prasanna and Senthil :P ) were loosing motivation and blabbering plans of ditching the bike trip and directly going home. In short they were home sick, and during all this time I was thinking "What did u expect on Bike Trip? A walk in the park ??" :P. Agreed touring on bikes is not easy as it sounds, it is very demanding and doing it for 12 days continuously takes a toll on the rider, but seeing the bright side it is one of the most exciting form of touring and of course a person needs to be reasonably fit to do that in these regions. We were to visit the famed Pangong Tso lake on this particular day crossing the mighty ChangLa Pass. But we couldnt be more wrong. This day is best remembered as the day were Senthil's bike was determined to give us some more hardship.


Left quite early in the morning in order to reach Pangong Tso lake by late afternoon and we never expected to come back to Leh. The weather didnt seem that favourable with constant drizzling in Leh. We expected a repeat of KhardungLa episode and were quite wary abt it. Around 11 km on the Leh-Manali highway we came across Shey Palace, which looked impressive. Eventhough it was not part of our itinerary we decided to have a look. But sadly on the inside it is quite the opposite of the word 'impressive'.  Hence after spending some 20 mins here we moved on. Stopped at Karu for breakfast, a staple diet of aloo parathas and the hotel owner gave us info that it was snowing at ChangLa and a Qualis returned back bcoz of that. Eventhough this made us even more jittery we decided to move on. From Karu we had to leave the Manali road and the beginning itself there is a check post were we have to submit our permits.


A Beautiful Monastary Enroute
The roads till now were good and we reached the town of Sakti and were gaining altitude in leaps and bounds. And suddenly Senthil's bike was having problem pulling both him and the pillion rider. We attributed the problem to high altitude and some dust in the fuel line and decided to move further. But as the altitude increased , Senthil's bike performance went down. We decided to return back to the nearest mechanic for check-up which was all the way back to Karu . So we rode back to Karu and considering the roads were good didnt take much time. The lone mechanic at Karu can be termed as inexperienced as the least. He removed the carbuerator, cleaned , tuned it and fit it back and all this took close to 2 hrs and surprisingly this didn help at all and Senthil again started to have pulling problem when climbing ChangLa the second time. We somehow rode till Zingrail which is the army base/checkpost before vehicles start climbing all the way to Changla (which was around 15 kms from here). Here we had a difference of opinion, some wanted to ride on and others including Senthil wanted to return back and get his bike checked and considering that the mechanic at Karu didn't inspire much confidence in us we decided to return back to Leh.

Leh Palace
So started the non-stop ride to Leh were we covered nearly 80 odd kms in less than 2 hrs. But sadly all the mechanic shops in Leh were closed thanks to it being a Sunday and we had to wait for the next day to get the bike checked. So we had entire evening to spend and so decided to visit Leh palace,which we finally reached after roaming /getting lost within the town innumerable no of times. Similar to all palaces in Ladakh , this palace too was a disappointment from inside even though from outside it looks impressive. From inside it looks more of a cow shed, sans the cattle and the dung :P. After this we went exploring the commercial streets of Leh, window shopping in most of the cases :). With this ended the day where we achieved pretty much nothing, a precious day lost into oblivion.This also meant that we would have to drop one lake destination and with a heavy heart Tso Moriri was dropped from the plan (sniff...snifff :'(  ....)



Day 9: 05 Sept 2011, Leh - Karu - Sakti- Zingril - Changla Pass - Tangste - Pangong Tso Lake(Lukung) (155km)

Changla Pass, Third Highest in the world
Today we were to reattempt climbing ChangLa and go all the way to Pangong Tso lake. But first thing we had to do in the morning was to get the bikes checked. We went to the mechanic from whom we had got our bikes checked the previous time around and this guy took just 10 mins to fix the bike. Shocking and surprising at the same time. Got my bike checked out too and we were all set to leave Leh. Our hotel owners wished us success and hoped we would not return back again as we did the previous night :P.



Left Leh at around 10.30 and since the views were a repetition of the previous day the ride till Zingrail was done in least possible time with minimum possible photo breaks. From Zingrail the roads turn a bit bumpy , but when compared to the roads of Khardungla , these roads are much-much better. Finally reached the top and surprisingly there were no crowd/tourists at the top, unlike the K-top even though this is considered the third highest motorable pass in the world (5360m). Lot of army guys speaking Kannada/Telugu/Tamil were present at the top and they were giving us a lot of "gyaan" on how to cope with high altitudes. Spent close to 15 mins at the top visiting the ChangLa Devi temple in process.

After ChangLa start one of the most scenic roads of Ladakh (which is super awesome considering Ladakh in general is simply mindblowing ), mountain valleys, innumerable rivulets, a thick carpet of soft grass flanking the rivers. And as expected on this route we took a lot of breaks, to enjoy the scenic beauty. We stopped at the town of Tangste for lunch which was pretty decent and moved towards our most revered destination for the entire trip.


Finally Pongong Tso Lake, My Dream Atlast Came True
Just some 5-6 kms before reaching the banks of the lake we start getting the first view, and even this first view was much more beautiful than my expectations. Few kms from the lake the roads turn bad , but we were not complaining. The first view of the lake had boosted our motivation to a very high level and we were hungry for more. Finally reached Lukung on the banks of the lake at around 5 pm. There in front of us was the sight to behold , to be remembered for a really long time. Went directly to the banks of the lake (which was actually not allowed and we came to know abt it much later) and were clicking the dream pics sitting on our bikes and with the beautiful lake in the background. One of the few traits of this lake is that it changes colors during the period of the day, Dark blue during the morning and evenings, Aqua green during afternoons, golden during sun-rises and obviously black during nights :). After spending considerable time to our hearts content we went to Eco-tents just on the banks of the Lake for accommodation. Got 2 tents for 1.3K , but on the inside it was nothing like camping tents. It had huge comfortable beds, with thick spreads for protection when the temperature drops considerably during the nights. Also their buffet hall was pretty impressive , even though the food was nothing more than OK.


After dumping all our luggage we decided to take a walk on the banks of the lake and it was an awesome experience. A serene one to be precise. After nightfall we returned back to the tents and spent time playing cards and so on. Went very happy to bed considering my dream of 4 years was finally completed :).



Day 10: 06 Sept 2011, Pangong Tso Lake(Lukung) - Tangste- Changla Pass - Karu - Upshi - Rumste (165km)

Sunrise
We woke up early (only 3 of us) to witness a spectacular sunrise in the backdrop of Pangong Tso Lake. I would recommend spending atleast a day near the lake to enjoy all its forms. Literally I was in love with this beauty. With every other opportunity I would sneak in to meet my love :). There were quite a few signs of wildlife at this high altitude lake (4250m). Ducks and Sea(Lake)-Gulls made the majority of that number. 
Just before noon when we had packed all the stuff on the bikes, we decided to ride some distance along the lake towards the village of Spangmik. By now the lake had changed its mood to Aqua Green and a couple of km ride turned to nearly 10 km ride totally. By afternoon we left Lukung after shopping for some souvenirs at Army shop and maggi at Army Canteen. It was time to start the return journey towards home via Manali.



As we started to climb ChangLa, it was Prasanna's bike's turn to give problem . It was now having a tough time climbing up and to make matters worse it had to carry Vineeth on its back :P. So it was decided that Vineeth take lift till the top and we got this within a matter of minutes :).  So riding solo Prasanna somehow climbed the pass, and this time we went for free tea offered by the Army for all the tourists who visit this place. Came back to the same mechanic at Karu who had messed up our bike the previous time around (Since we had no other option and bike's condition was not that bad , to ride all the way to Leh). This time around too he cleaned the carburetor (his standard operating procedure :P ) and this somehow made matter a bit better.


From Karu we took the road towards Manali and it was good till Upshi. After that it turns really bad. With a lot of landslides and road cave-in into the river, running alongside the roads. Probably this is the remains of the disaster, Ladakh witnessed the previous year. Reached Rumste and within no time got beds in a home stay for 100 bucks per person. Here 5 of us were to share a room with a Canadian female cyclist , pretty much on a world tour, with an awesome determination. But apart from that what stuck me was her fearless attitude in sharing a room with 5 men who were complete strangers. Slept like a kid after having a  very tasty dinner prepared by the home stay lady.

Moonscape

Day 11: 07 Sept 2011,Rumste - TangangLa Pass - Morey Plains - Pang - LachulungLa Pass - Nakeela Pass - Sarchu - Baralachla Pass - Jispa (255km)

Climbing the Taglangla pass
Got pretty early in the morning since we had a long day on saddles. Left the home-stay at around 7 am and man it was freezing like hell this early in the morning. The worst affected were the palms and the fingers, eventhough everyone had protection in form of riding gloves. Soon after Rumste start the climb towards the TaglangLa pass and as we start the climb the temperature dropped making matters worse. We were desperately looking for some spots in direct spotlight of the sun to warm up our bodies. Finally reached the TaglangLa( 2nd highest pass) after getting almost frozen by 2 hrs of riding. Spent some time there and it was time to descend.

Morey Plains
Soon after start the famed Morey Plains. A place having a flat surface flanked by mountains on either side and running for around 40 kms. This high altitude plain has no tarred roads eventhough at many places they have started to build one. You literally make your own roads , and man it was such a great experience offroading in these lands. The best offroading destination I have been to, and it was so much fun traversing the plains at pretty good speed. The most thrilling part was while riding the bike in motocross style to absorb the deep drops and rises in the dirt path (a great advantage of riding solo :P ) . But surprisingly it was pretty hard to stand on ur bikes and ride for more than a couple of minutes in these roads. Respect for motocross riders :).

Morey Plains: An Offroading Heaven


Morey plains is pretty much the highlight of the Leh-Manali route. The other highlights for this day were 4 high altitude passes (TaglangLa, LachulungLa, NakeeLa, BaralachLa) and innumerable water crossings. Just after Morey plains is the Campsite of Pang. We had our brunch in here and soon enough start the climb to LachulungLa pass. The roads were bad again and not as fun to ride as Morey plains. The climb to this pass was eventless and as we started the descend I saw an empty truck taking a sharp right turn and going downhill head-on instead of taking the ghat roads. Observed the truck for some time, and still having an itch for offroading decided to ride this downhill dirt-path after getting an affirmative nod from Senthil who was following me. Yet again this part of downhill riding was equally thrilling with the downhill gradient of almost 45 degrees more than what we had expected :). Somehow everyone reached the bottom of mountain safe and sound and in process saving nearly 5 kms of riding in the not-so-thrilling ghat roads.

'X'-cited
Water Crossing
Soon enough start the climb to Nakeela Pass with the fact that LachulungLa and Nakeela pass are very close to each other. Yet another pass was crossed and we were heading towards the Himachal Pradesh border after crossing the Gata Loops (a drop from 4667m to 4201 m within 21 loops of road). Reached the town of Sarchu by 4 pm and this marks the start of Himachal Pradesh. Affter Sarchu start the climb to BaralachLa pass , our last high altitude pass for the entire trip.

But surprisingly the roads at the bottom were bad and awesome at the top which goes against the norm we witnessed at the other passes. But before we could ride all the way towards the top Prasanna caught sight of a single rain cloud and started to convince others to return back to Sarchu to be better safe than sorry. But nevertheless we moved on and later on this became a point to tease him with the title "Prasanna and the Single Rain Cloud" :P. At BaralachLa top was a gorgeous emerald colored lake called Surajtal. By this time Prasanna was literally speeding for the obvious reason stated above and I was the only one to stop at this pass to enjoy the view.

Downhill ride : we took the path which starts perpendicularly

After we crossed this pass we witnessed the obvious, we had left behind the Ladakhi landscape and there was greenery in all the direction. A pretty sight after 10 days of witnessing just brown everywhere :). Just before the town of Darcha was a water crossing. Eventhough we had crossed nearly 5 water crossings on this day with good success , at this crossing Prasanna's bike hit a stone and got stuck in middle of water. So we had to literally get into ice cold water and push the bike, totally drenching the shoes in process. From Darcha we moved towards Jispa , our destination for the night. Searched for some accommodation got in form of a homestay. Forgot the name, but the food and stay was good.

Near Sarchu
Day 12: 08 Sept 2011, Jispa - Keylong - Rohtang Pass - Manali (134km)

View From Jispa
Today we were to attempt the "unpassable" Rohtang Pass, as put by some riders whom we met during the trip. So even though we had to cover just around 134km we left early. The roads were a mix of good and bad roads, but the views we got were real good. Greenery everywhere, innumerable no of falls, with a particularly beautiful one near Sissu, just visible from the main highway.

Eventhough we had heard horror stories of Rohtang pass, the climb upto the pass was nothing out of place when compared to the other passes we had climbed. But the real picture emerges when we start the descend. Since this side of the pass is on the Rain exposed side it was thickly engulfed in mist and in the beginning the entire picture didnt emerge with us encountering few sections of bad slushy roads, bad but manageable. But soon the slushiness of the road started to increase. What began as a couple of inches of slush had turned to nearly 1 ft at many places. The bike was literally struggling to move forward eventhough we were coming downhill. Surprisingly this was very tiring since pushing the bikes took a toll on us , eventhough this altitude is nothing compared to what we had encountered.


A Gorgeous falls near Sissu
There was a huge traffic jam , probably the highest traffic jam in the world - for record sake :P.. But being on bikes we were able to squeeze through the jam eventhough our progress was slow with us stopping every 20-30 m to have a breather. At one point I was ahead of my group and I was deceived by the depth of the slush and my bike literally sank into 1-1.5 ft of slush. Half of the wheel was invisible and the hold of the slush was so strong that the bike was standing without any support :P.  Revved the engine, but the bike didnt budge, called for help and within no time a Sikh, a foreigner(a biker too, taking a break :) ) and a BRO worker came and pushed/lifted the bike. Help available just a call away :). We took nearly 2 hrs to cover 5km of these super bad roads. After we crossed the bad roads we were literally thanking our good luck since if I had planned to start the trip via Manali and climb Rohtang Pass , the chances of trip being a failure was pretty high. Even imported BMW offroad bikes weren't able to climb up the pass and had to return back.


Rohtang Top
While coming down saw some people doing paragliding, so we too decided to do so. It cost us 600 per person after bringing it down from 800 with the ride lasting for 2-3 mins and maximum height of around 200 m. The paragliding session was mildly thrilling , with the most exciting phase being the take-off and landing :P. (check the video at the end of this blog). Unfortunately I had 2 bad starts thanks to no wind during my takeoff and only during the third time was able to successfully take flight. After the paragliding session we had food at the nearby "Fouji Dhaba", which was very good. We were still some 35kms from Manali , but the locals assured the roads were good all the way till Manali. So off we started and soon enough it started to rain pretty heavily. Out came the ponchos and rain coats and we were riding in mist filled roads. Pretty good experience. Dog tired after wrestling with bikes in mud/slush we finally reached Manali at around 5pm. Psychologically speaking this was the end of the bike trip, with just a formality remaining to take the bikes till Mandi since Manali didn't have an outlet for Gati , our preferred courier.  Went inside the first Hotel we got "Hotel Rohtang View" and got 2 rooms for a total of 700 bucks, pretty much an off -season I suppose. The rest of the evening we did nothing but take rest and sleep.

Slush and Mud: A Nightmare for Bikers
Me Stuck Up and Helped By the Foreigner- Rohtang Pass-----(Image Courtesy--Karthik MB)
               
Paragliding

Day 13: 09 Sept 2011,  Manali - Mandi (109km), Mandi-Chandigarh (Taxi)

Mall Road, Manali
The final day of bike riding had arrived. We were to ride till Mandi to courier our bikes back to Bangalore and  from Mandi we were to catch a transport to Chandigarh. Also we didn't want to do any sightseeing at this place since a majority of the places will be frequented by Honeymooners and we didnt want to look out of the place :). Anyway left out Manali sightseeing to be covered with my better half (whenever that happens :D) in a true blue honeymoon fashion :D :D.  Roads between Manali and Mandi is in great shape , but nevertheless it started to rain again.


The high point on this road is the 2.8km long tunnel near Aut which again was an awesome experience, reminding greatly of the 2.5 km Jawahar tunnel we encountered during the start of the trip eventhough the latter one has a single carriage way. We spotted the Gati office just a couple of kms before Mandi and our Biking trip came to a screeching halt. Registered the bikes for courier after providing the necessary documents and decided to hire a taxi till Chandigarh instead of slugging out in public transport. Couple of guys went and booked a taxi in Mandi town and after some time the taxi , a Bolero arrived. But we had a surprise in store for us.

The driver of the cab was the most foul-mouthed and rashest driver I had ever come across. Every other minute our heart would pound with fear seeing the reckless state of driving. By this time I was thinking that I was better off riding 1000 more kms on my bike than ride in this shortcut to hell. Somehow we reached Chandigarh safe and sound , although we had countless no of close calls. The driver took us to a hotel called Rajhans in front of the new ISBT bus stand. The area we were in ie sector 52 sucked big time and so did the hotel. Very bad first experience of Chandigarh in short :(.

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