Saturday, December 30, 2006

"Solace" find in KG Basin

A visit to Coastal Andhra was due for a long time and I was waiting for right time, weather and company. Last week (Dec 2006 end) got the chance to go Kosta which is the local name for coastal Andhra Pradesh region. It has a few smaller regions namely Konaseema (Godavari river delta), Diviseema (Krishna river delta), Circar (region from Vishakhatnam to Rajahmundry) etc. We (me along with four other friends) deliberated on the itinerary and kept it flexible and kept revising the plans to maximize the opportunities. One of our friends was to join from Chennai at Rajahmundry. The plan was multi-purpose, to ride in a ferry over sacred Godavari river, travel on branch railway lines in the region, eat local cuisine and generally explore the area. We did not consult much on the internet because there is not much documented.

We chose to go to Rajahmundry via Bhadrachalam by ferry on river Godavari. We reached Bhadrachalam by overnight train from Hyderabad. The ferries run from a place called Kunavaram and Sreeramgiri around 60+ km from Bhadrachalam due to lack of depth in the river here . We couldn’t make it due to lack of time as boats supposedly leave on time at 8 AM. The ferry service does not cater much to tourists, so information is difficult to come by and not reliable. However we still went upto Kunavaram in an Ambassador which took its sweet little time dropping off newspaper to various points and murdering a dog by running over it. At Kunavaram we decided to take a bus to Rajahmundry but this too was a disappointment. First the bus was an ordinary, rickety bus and did not take the route through “Agency forests” so a distance of 190 km took 6 hours to complete. “Agency forests” are tribal regions, have forest covers and no outsider could buy property in the region to protect tribal lifestyle. This is the naxalite zone in AP. Anyways the journey took us through places which I otherwise would have never visited.

Rajahmundry is an important town in AP and lies on south-east corridor between Chennai and Kolkata. It is also famous for being constituency of late former PM of India, Narasimha Rao. At Rajahmundry we visited Pushkar "revu" which is close to legendary but now defunct "Havelock" railway bridge. "Revu" in telugu means bank of river or "ghat" in North India. There is a new bridge built alongside Havelock for trains. There is also a distant rail-cum-road bridge.

We decided to take a boat across Godavari to Kovvur and catch our connecting train to Kakinada from there. To our utter disbelief entire boat which could seat around 50 people was ready to take us across for INR 300 only.

The Godavari river is quite wide at Rajahmundry which can be gauged by considering that bridges are around 3 km over the river. During monsoon, the river swells like anything and almost looks like sea. It was an enjoyable ride with cool breeze on the roof of the boat with no other passengers, watching sunset and trains passing over the new Godavari Bridge. From Kovvur we caught our train to Kakinada.
Kakinada is an important town in Andhra but hardly anybody would know about it outside. Our intention of coming to Kakinada was to travel on Kakinada – Kotipalle branch line. But to our disappointment the train did not run on time (or did not run at all) and officials at the station had no clue!! Rather than wasting time at station we caught a bus to Kotipalle which is on the banks of one arm of Godavari. Godavari splits into three branches after Rajahmundry namely Gautami, Vashisti and Vynatheyam. From Kotipalle we decided to cross the river by boat and have a holy dip in Godavari as well. A boatman was ready to take s across. Ahhh, it was really amazing feeling to take a dip with water just about chilly with slight wind in the air. Actually we had to take two boats as the river is so wide that there is an island in between where we bathed. The boatman played lifeguard to us while we bathed in the river. After the dip we got a glimpse and indulged with local fisherman to pull up fishing net from the water.The boat to cross the second leg was typical country boat with men, women, paddy, bikes etc. all piled up a la "Swades" style.

We crossed the second leg, caught an auto to Amalapuram which was around 15km. Amalapuram is a town made famous by popular telugu song Aa ante amalapuram… Though the town did not have anything to write about but had a lot of STD boothes and greeting card shops. May be the urban culture is bit late in spreading to countryside. We went to a local mess and had rice and fish. Later we caught a bus to Pallakolu. From there we caught a passenger train to Narsapur. Narsapur is again on the banks of the Godavari which is the main arm after its trifurcation. Morning we decided to visit Antarvedi where main portion of Godavari meets the sea. Apart from that Antarvedi hosts a lighthouse and a temple dedicated to river Godavari. We had other option to visit Kolleru lake which is spread out in a large area and plays host to migratory birds including Siberian crane. To reach Antarvedi we had to again cross Godavari from Narsapur side to reach Sakenathpalli and catch an auto from there. Antarvedi is around 15 kms from there. Since we headed early the whole atmosphere was very nice. It being morning so there was slight chill in the air. The sun was mild peeking through haze and palm leaves and us riding along the narrow country road flanked by palm trees and paddy fields made the entire ride highly enjoyable.

Once we reached Antarvedi, we headed straight to the lighthouse. We managed to climb it by charming one of the staff members with a fee of Rs 5 per head for entrance. The view from lighthouse is out of the world alas it would have been gorgeous had there been no haze. We could clearly see Godavari meeting the Bay of Bengal, small villages, banana plantations, small ferries in the sea and further away a glimpse of some oil/gas well structure. This region is rich in oil/gas and Reliance has explored them at many locations in KG basin.

I managed a feat of sort visiting both the origin and end of river Godavari. I had been to origin, Triambakeshwar near Nasik some 10 years back. After visiting the temple and a breakfast of Ulattoo which is like Dosa/Uttapam but not exactly, we headed back to Narsapur.

We decided to go to Vijayawada instead of Machilipatnam directly so that we have better options to stay and catch some train action at the station. We stayed at AC dormitory at the station which was decent for the asking price. Next day we caught a bus to Machilipatnam. It is 70 km from Vijayawada. I expected it to be a tourist town unlike the places we visited till now but it wasn’t. I could not spot any touristy stuff there. This town had lot of importance at the time of British and it was headquarter of Guntur but slowly it lost its importance. It is famous for “Kalamkari” art form and “Bandar Ladoo” which is nothing but “Besan ka Ladoo” of north India. We went to Manginapudi beach about which I had heard a lot. It is around 12 km from the town through scenic road but beach did not have much going on except that it was secluded. Neither were there any shops/shacks nor any people but it was pristine. Actually the timing was wrong, 10 AM on a working day, what could you expect?

We came back immediately and caught a bus to Avanigadda enroute Repalle. This was Diviseema region in Krishna delta. There is a road bridge over Krishna river just before Avanigadda which is 3 km long. From there we caught an auto to reach Repalle. The intention of coming to Repalle was to travel on Repalle – Tenali branch line. Tenali is on main Delhi-Chennai trunk route. Repalle too was a chaotic and non-descript town like any other town we visited till now. We came to Tenali by passenger train and immediately caught another one to Vijayawada. This was my second visit to Vijayawada but I had not visited anything except station and bus-stand so decided to do some sight-seeing. I along with one more companion Tejender, who became my guide and had lived in the city, decided to venture out. We straight away caught a bus to Kanaka-Durga temple which thankfully had very less rush. Then we came to Prakasam barrage built over river Krishna and from here two canals originate to irrigate regions nearby. Then we caught a bus to travel on Bandar road which is one of the two arterial roads in Vijayawada, other being Eluru road. We also visited Ilapuram and Modern CafĂ© hotels there which are the good places to have food in Vijayawada. In the night we caught Narsapur express to come back to Hyderabad.

Overall it was a nice and hectic trip which I could have never performed the way we did, hopping from one place to another, visiting ordinary towns through rice-bowl of Andhra with miles and miles of fields, water bodies and palm trees. The trip could have not been possible without my four friends all of whom belonging to Andhra and so could speak to local folks. Still they told me that the dialect in these parts of Andhra is very different from Hyderabad. The coastal region of Andhra in my opinion is quite beautiful and is similar to Kerala to some extent but with almost nil tourist infrastructures. There are no good hotels or restaurants, information is very little and hard to come by and some good spots are not well-developed and language being a problem. But the advantage is that region is not spoilt and if you are a purist, then you could enjoy things as they are. The coastal cuisine is though renowned but we couldn't try much as there were no good eateries in any of the towns which are either advertised or cater to the tastes of urban tourists. It is mostly “river-food” as against “sea-food” that is available because fishing and Sericulture is done in rivers or fresh water respectively. The entire economy of this region is due to these twin rivers. They provide irrigation to rice-fields which are ubiquitous. Farmers here produce three crops per year and in prosperity they are comparable to farmers in Punjab. River is also source of fishing and sericulture. We crossed the river Godavari about ten times and Krishna about five times by boat, bus and train.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Lake 'n' Fall

I and Amit, my friend decided to visit Nagarjuna Sagar on a sunday few weeks back. Due to previous night’s heavy dinner and late rising, we got delayed a lot to start for Nagarjuna Sagar. It is a reservoir formed by building a dam over river Krishna in Nalgonda district of Andhra Pradesh. The place is 160 km from Hyderabad on the state highway to Srisailam, Guntur, Nellore etc. It is the largest masonary dam in the world. Don’t ask me what does that mean :-) When we reached there, the road over the dam which is drivable was not open due to security. So, we crossed over the river on a bridge to the other side and reached the “developed” area of Nagarjuna sagar by AP tourism. The bridge is a great vantage point to see the dam and river Kirshna meandering away. The bridge itself is a great sculpture, resting on slender pillars quite above the water level. Imagine, standing on the bridge and then suddenly the gates of the dam let open to pass water. You’ll be blown away just by seeing that water gushing towards you. In the river bed down below close to the dam, one could see vestiges of old broken bridge. May be once a gate was opened a little too much :-) The “developed” area has boating launch center used to ferry people to an island of Nagarjuna konda where artifacts found during excavation from this site way back in 50-60’s are kept. Anyhow we missed that being criminally late. But as a solace, we floated on a coracle in the sagar for 15 minutes for Rs. 20 per head. The ride was adventurous because of its small size and round figure and wobbly nature when it passed over ripples caused by a passing boat. The coracle-man created a special effect by rotating the boat in good speed. We non-swimmers, scared from inside stopped the fellow immediately. He kept on muttering something about the places nearby but we couldn’t understand anything, language being the barrier. Later we went to Ethipothla falls which is further 10 kms from this site. There was sizable gathering there. The falls are around 150 feet deep with plenty of water and 2-3 streams falling over. This water then later meets 3km downstream with Krishna. There were some tribal folks performing their folk dance much to the indifference of crowd present there. They distinctly looked like nomads from Rajasthan and not A.P. but I had no intentions to confirm. As soon as sun set, the area around falls and fall itself was illuminated with fancy lights of various hues. It was magical and the lights kept on changing their colors. We sat there looking at waters which were looking more like illusion. Due to time constraint we had to leave early.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Guntakal & Gooty

On 9th September, 13 railfans from three cities landed in Guntakal and surrounding areas for railfanning. We all started on 8th evening from respective cities namely, Hyderabad, Pune & Bangalore and met in Guntakal in wee hours of 9th Spet. I along with other members from Hyderabad caught Kacheguda - Yeshwantpur (7603) from Kacheguda.

Guntakal station was awake even at this ungodly hour with trains coming and going. That is what happens at stations between two major cities, majority of trains arrive in the night and station is abuzz with action. While we waited for Pune gang to arrive, we got to see antics of a crazy platform-dwelling women who looked like perfoming some gesticulation on arrival and departure of trains.

Morning 7 AM we took Guntakal - Pakala MG train and went upto a place called Garladinne. The ride in SLR with early morning freshness and rocky terrain and such a large group was very very pleasing. Then we took a BG passenger from Hindupur - Guntakal and got down at Gooty. Gooty has a diesel shed which we visited after obtaining permission from Senior DME. Later we went to have lunch at "Ravi Teja" restaurant in Gooty town and took a bus back to Guntakal. Spent some time at FOB a bit away from the station. All 13 of us standing over FOB in a sleepy little railway town must be quite amusing for the passers-by. Anyways, in the evening we bid good byes to each other a caught trains to our respective destinations.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Ladakh Odyssey

I was always fascinated by high mountains and especially this region called Ladakh in J&K. I had seen some visuals, documentaries and adventure tales from this land mostly about riding the long highway to Leh. I myself had a wish to go on a long biking trip and I shared this thought with couple of adventure seeking friends. After some deliberation one of them agreed to join and we were started preparing for it. It looked silly that both me and my companion didn't go for this trip while we were in Delhi and now both of us out of Delhi, I being in Hyderabad, and him being in Pune, the logistical difficulties were one notch up. First of all it would involve transporting the bikes to Delhi, till Delhi leading to extra cost and leaves etc. Anyways, the project was so huge that these were minor hiccups. We fixed up the period of days in which we would travel keeping some buffer, I started preparing for the trip. A major preparation was learning about the bike and fix minor to major problems like tyre puncture, changing clutch and brake wires, spark plug etc. For this I consulted a private mechanic who overhauled my bike and him and his assistant taught me about various aspects. They also helped me purchase some extra tools, spark plug, tyre tubes, headlight bulbs etc. I practiced changing the tyre i.e. getting the tyre and putting it back. I did not deflate and inflate the tyre as I did not have the pump. Anyways, this much was enough for now. Then changing/tightening clutch /brake wire and spark plug. I was getting confident by the day. We also decided to do a small (in comparison to what we were up to) ride up to Sholapur which was approx mid-way between Hyderabad and Pune. For me it was 300 kms. This was meant to gauge our stamina whether we face any issues in long rides and just to get a feel. On one Saturday I started from Hyderabad and it took me around 6.5 hours to reach Sholapur. My companion also came and we spent that day roaming around, visiting Siddheshwar temple and having a drink and nice dinner in the hotel. Next day after lunch we bade good bye to each other and left for our homes. I came back to Hyderabad in 6.5 hours averaging just below 50. Anyways it was not about how fast we rode but how well and effortlessly we rode. We read a lot on the internet and forums about route, medicines, clothing, weather etc. We deliberated on how to send our bikes to Delhi. The private cargo transport companies charged a lot so we finally settled on sending bikes by train. I made a trip to the station to know the timings and other formalities which are to be done etc. The petrol tank has to be emptied, the bike to be protected by stuffing etc. and papers in order. There are guys right outside the parcel area who do the bike packing for some charge. I booked my flight tickets up to Delhi and did some shopping like raincoat, woolens (hand gloves, balaclava). Specially for this trip I ordered a Saddle bag and Tank bag from Cramster. The saddle bag fits across rear seat of the bike and can be used to carry stuff. The tank bag has magnates which stick to petrol tank of the bike. Apart from this I took one regular traveling bag which I kept on the rear seat, all tied up using bungee cord which are ropes with elasticity and hooks at both ends to tie to any part of the bike. The arrangement worked out well for me.

29th July (Hyderabad)

It was a long and hard day for me. My sister and her kids were staying with me before they moving to Chennai where my brother-in-law was searching for a home on rent. I got their ticket to Chennai and dropped them at Kacheguda station in Secunderabad. After that I went to make sure that bike is loaded at Hyderabad station. Even though my bike was marked for loading next morning, still it was not loaded in the parcel van when I reached the station. I had to bribe overall 120/- to two people to ensure that bike is loaded in the morning Andhra Pradesh (AP) Express. The need was mine so I did not mind as railways don't promise delivery on specific dates and they do their own prioritization. I had to catch a flight to Delhi @ 3:40 in the morning so packed everything and slept for 2 hours from 11:00 PM to 1:00 AM. I had already booked a cab for airport which came on time at 1:30 AM and reached Begumpet airport @ 2:00 AM. Had to pay Rs. 500/- for the cab!! Since I had not slept for last two nights well enough, so slept throughout in the flight. Got down at airport at 5:30 AM and straight went to family friend's residence in Sarojini Nagar and slept.

30th July (New Delhi)

My companion lost his mobile phone on his way to Delhi so there was no way to contact him. After waiting for his call went to station to at least get my bike. As I reached Parcel office, touts caught hold of me. Since I was not carrying the RC, which I thought might not be required, I let the tout be with me. Bike was on platform and it needed to be brought to the parcel office. After visiting Parcel office of Hyderabad and New Delhi, I think how openly the bribe things work. Everyone has a cut from the bribe. After 120/- and 1.5 hours, my bike was out. After that went to Karol Bagh to meet my companion who was getting his bike fixed from a mechanic shop named Gurdayal. Karol Bagh's bike market is quite an interesting place. It is Mecca for all the bikers in the world. Apart from mechanics, all sorts of modifications, accessories are available here. There were lot of vintage bikes in shops eating dust. I could see lot of foreigners who were looking for a bike to ride on a trip similar to us. One way of renting the bike is also to purchase the bike from here and sell it back over here. We met couple of foreigner guys who were planning to go to Spiti on bike and were getting their bike ready. The mechanic profession here is passed over to next generation. The shop that we were sitting in was there for past several years initially run by the father of the mechanic who was also there in the shop. Rather than going by the book, these people fix up things by experience. Here I saw a rare bullet which runs on diesel. By evening the mechanic fixed up my companion's bike and we were hopeful of riding the next day.

31st July (Delhi - Chandigarh)

We had decided to meet at Gurdayal in Karol Bagh at 12:30 PM. I had arranged everything on the bike while starting from home. After some more adjustments I was ready to hit the road.

After getting some more consultation from the mechanic we left the place @ 2:30 PM, quite late. Getting out of Delhi was a task due to all the traffic and it was killing hot. We drove and took our first break for lunch at a roadside dhaba. After that thanks to good road (NH-1) we covered distance steadily and reached Chandigarh at 8:30 PM. We went to my acquaintance's house in Chandigarh and had home cooked dinner and slept early to rise early in the morning.

1st August (Chandigarh - Narkanda)

We left home early at 5:30 AM to gain good ground. We passed through Kalka town which was crowded. From there we got first view of hills and bade goodbye to plains.

Soon we reached Dharampur. The place is famous for its station on Kalka-Shimla narrow gauge line. I went up to this quaint station and refreshed some memories. After Dharampur due to a bifurcation we got parted. There was a board stating Barog 6 ^ and Solan 15->. I took the Barog route and waited for my companion for 15 minutes. When he didn't turn up, I went as far back as 10 km only to realize this confusion. Then I rushed towards Shimla with full speed but my companion had already reached outskirts of Shimla. In between I admired the beauty of Shivalik hills. There was a temple at top of some hill or a colonial style bunglow. The hills of course were green and gentle.

When we joined back my companion went away looking for 2T oil for his bike which we found very close to where we met. I also had first damage in bike. The speedometer wire had come out of front wheel due to which both speedometer and odometer did not work for some time. I got it fixed with the shop where we got the 2T oil. After that we decided not to enter Shimla town lest we get stuck in the traffic. There was already a jam in progress at the entrance to Shimla. We took the bypass and joined the road to Kufri after Shimla town. We witnessed what is called a chotta (small) Shimla from a distance.

We reduced our target of reaching Shoja and settled for Ani. After Kufri weather changed suddenly. Clouds came all over and mist was formed. There we took a break and clicked each other all geared up on our bike among fog and mist.

I felt like we are just going to get lost in mist but rain obliged. Rain was pelting but we still drove but had to break in between as it was unbearable. The rain drops felt like needles. With helmet on head it was difficult to drive as neither can you keep the visor open as rain drops would hit your face and nor can you keep the visor closed as you wouldn't see anything. We inquired with some locals as what is the pattern of rain. Would it stop after some time? On their advice that rain may not be there ahead, we proceeded but rain & clouds played hide and seek with us. However, we were rewarded with stunning views in between.
While we were going through this we decided to keep moving by calling to each other keep moving. After rainy ordeal and passing through slush of a fresh landslide we reached Narkanda and straight went to hotel Hatu. It was nice and comfortable Himachal Tourism hotel and thankfully had rooms available. We booked a Deluxe Room for Rs. 1000/- and it was quite comfortable. Just before Narkanda rain stopped and we got some stunning views of hills draped with clouds with deep green valleys below.

There was this dutch group of 8-10 people who were riding bullets from Manali to Leh and further to Lamayuru on an organized tour staying in the same hotel. One of the guys from this group was quite friendly and talked to us. There were two assistants with the group, one of them mechanic and there was one Qualis vehicle following the group carrying their luggage etc. The mechanic guy was fed up with the group as complained that they banged their bikes every now and then and he had to repair them. We kept on meeting them at different locations up to Leh. The leader of the group was a lady who also drove a bullet.

2nd August (Narkanda - Manali)

Our start from hotel was on time but got delayed when I couldn't find my wallet but found it later in my bag itself. Anyways we started while it was still drizzling as we did not know when it may stop. We broke for a quick fill of stomach by gulping down bananas, milk, chocolates etc. School education seemed to be quite a high on agenda of government and parents as every village enroute had kids in school uniform going to school. Even in that morning chill and rain, kids were lined up to catch their bus to school at a remote village further from Narkanda. After sometime whole atmosphere changed and it was bright sunshine. We descended a lot of height up to 1500 mts to cross Sutlej river.

We easily reached Khanag which is the base of Jalori Pass with lots of photo-op in between. As we reached Khanag it started raining heavily. It rained so heavy that we were thinking of options.

Then a news came that there is a khud around 1 km up from Khanag crossing which is a difficult task. My companion went and surveyed it and found that we can try to cross it. At Khanag there was nothing much and had to do with just tea, milk and boiled eggs. The khud was actually a patches of stream which brought lot of slush from the mountain.
We decided to try in turn and my companion maneuvered it fine but I got stuck in one of the pits. The front tyre got stuck in a pit with huge stone in front. I tried a lot by racing the bike but it did not budge. Luckily there was one solo biker on bullet who was trying to cross the Khud at the same time. After seeing our predicament he got down to help us. He lifted the front tyre and placed it in such a way that I could take bike forward. I thanked the guy profusely. His name was Motep and he was from Leh. As profession he used to do rafting, trekking etc. in Ganges and was heading towards Leh for the season of rafting in Indus & Zanskar. I think without him it would have been really difficult. After that we reached Jalori pass at 3185 mts. It was first major pass and there were many more to surmount. There is a temple at the top known as Jalori Jot. I bowed to the deity and thanked for helping me out. The descent also was really bad with hardly any road, all stones and rubble with mud slush and streams of water.

Clouds were everywhere on the mountains, some going up and creating a feeling that mountains are on fire. At one such point we saw a small set of houses up in the mountain slope shrouded in mist. My companion very well mentioned that we have struck gold by witnessing such scenes.

Once we reached Aut and joined to main Chandigarh - Manali highway the road felt like velvet as it was well paved. The entire stretch from Narkanda till Aut was wilderness with thick and wet forest and being an internal road there was hardly any traffic. The Beas river running alongside was in full flow with water droplets creating a haze over the water.

After some struggle we reached Manali by 8:30 PM covering 220 km that day. We checked into hotel Beas view, room #401 which according to my companion had view of Rohtang as he had stayed in this hotel before.

3rd August (Manali)

Today was the rest day for us so we woke up late at around 10:30. Entire sky was cloudy, so could not get a view of Rohtang from the hotel room. Anyways, after getting fresh we went to search for a mechanic. After some search we found one each for our bikes. My guy changed the oil, cleaned air filter, spark plug, loosened the chain for 170/-. He did not see any requirement for changing clutch plate which would have been difficult considering the only Bajaj service center close by was at Bhuntar, some 50 kms away. I heaved a sigh of relief when another guy who checked the clutch said it was alright. We went to Mission hospital as my companion was not feeling well. Later we had lunch at Chopstick which is a Tibetan restaurant. We ordered roasted chicken. Food was average but quantity was huge. After wasting half of the chicken and having Tibetan herbal tea which is nothing but warm water with some herbs we left. Later we shopped a bit for my companion like gloves, cap etc. in local market. Due to all these occupations we did not venture out much in Manali.

4th Aug (Manali - Keylong)

We started from Manali @ 7 AM in rain and fog as we didn't have much choice. Entire stretch was slushy with some small good patches. The fog/cloud/mist was very dense and our clothing was getting wet. We reached Marhi which is 36 km from Manali.

We had our breakfast at one of the restaurant which was just waking up and started for Rohtang. Entire stretch up to Rohtang was having dense fog and at Rohtang it was quite chilly and windy. Somehow while shivering I took photo of the BRO mark for Rohtang pass.

After Rohtang skies opened up a bit and it was down several kms through loops to Koksar.

It is at the bank of Bhaga river which comes from Spiti Valley and meets Chandra river at Tandi. From Koksar to Sissu, weather was fine and we drove leisurely with lots of tea & photo breaks. Twice or thrice we had to cross streams but nowhere close to difficulty of Jalori pass.

After Sissu it started raining again and lasted till Keylong. What the hell, this is our fourth day of rain. We were fed up of rain with wet luggage and clothing. Our hotel rooms till now were just spread out with wet clothes to dry. We reached Tandi and filled up at the only petrol station on this route. There is a board claiming that next petrol pump is only at Leh some mere 385 kms away.
I was averaging around 30 kmpl and with 18 lts petrol tank it was enough for me to last till Leh. We met up with the same group of foreigners whom we had met at Narkanda again at Tandi petrol pump. The guy who talked to me at Narkanda was very excited to see us. At Keylong, we stayed at hotel Valley view the road to which itself is not short of adventure.

Due to some pipes getting laid, the whole road was dug up in the market. The room rent for Valley View was 500/-. It did had some nice view of mountains around. There was another stay option at Jispa ahead of Keylong as there is a nice hotel called Ibex over there but we did not go that far.

5th August (Keylong)

Due to snag in my companion's we had to stay for one more day in Keylong. Having nothing to do I decided to go to confluence of Chandra and Bhaga rivers at Tandi. Bhaga river is the one which follows the road from Koksar and Chandra is the one which comes down from Jispa side to meet at Tandi and becomes Chenab which flows into Kashmir and further to Pakistan. The confluence was grand with both rivers full of water and carving an edge where they meet due to different shades of muddy water. I crossed over the Tandi bridge and went up to the Ghoshal village which came out to be the biggest village of the Lahaul - Spiti district. Around the confluence there was some construction going on and there were some kids who posed for picture from me.

As I came down to Tandi it started raining and had to take shelter in a tea shop at Tandi bridge. There I met one interesting character in the form of a young Punjabi guy named Manoj Sharma. He is basically from Jullunder and does business of transporting peas from the various areas in Spiti and Lahaul to Delhi. He was fairly educated had done MCA and did some software jobs but left to the lure of peas business which brings him much more money. He is the youngest son in the family. His family is well educated and very prosperous. He visits all the nearby villages where peas are grown and bought by local traders. He then loads them in his trucks and take them to Delhi where these local traders again sell the peas to them. For whatever amount the peas are sold, he gets a 7 percent commission. So, if a truck gets sold for 1 lakh, he makes cool 7000/-. There are several trucks like this everyday. He kept on rattling his views on life in general and description of his family, life in field, life in software, his girlfriend and even a local NGO Pragya. He is a teetotaler but drinks sometimes and smokes as well though it is a taboo in his family. He then took me to his room and showed his educational certificates which were very impressive. He told us about a tradition in Keylong. There is a festival in Lahaul - Spiti which happens every year on 15th Aug. People from all over the district congregates, then there are cultural programs and at around 12 midnight boys pick any girl they want to marry. There is a circle in the ground in which girls are asked to assemble. Once it is announced to pick boys rush to pick the girl of their choice. If the boy manages to keep the girl for one night, next morning their marriage is solemnized. Girl is free to resist and if there are many suitors for a single girl then they have to struggle among themselves. He told us that there are times when girls approached him to pick them up. But he says that a girl from Keylong wont last in the heat of Punjab. After a few drinks in the hotel with us he left not before exchanging the contact info. He does all the traveling between villages on his own bike. This guy had already done 28 thousand kilometers since Feb this year and his bike lasts only for one season. In between he drives all the way to his brother in Kaza who does the same business there or to his home in Jullunder and Chandigarh.

6th Aug (Keylong - Sarchu)

We started early at 6:15 AM while it was still drizzling. We rode up to Jispa some 30 km from Keylong before stopping for breakfast. It was very cold today and due to rain it was chilly. After some overtaking of trucks which were generous to give us side, we reached Zing Zing bar. Not sure how the name came out to be. There was a small placid lake there whose name is Deepak Tal.

From there the ascent to Baralachala pass started. The mountains around were barren with lots of erosion due to rain and snow probably. Sometimes it seemed that at any point, the mud and stones could come down and cause a landslide. The road was already damaged by rain and the landslides. Midway to the ascent to Baralachala, we faced our first hurdle. One of the loop of the ascent was closed due to landslide and water had breached the road. So to reach the other end of the loop somehow the vehicle had to be pushed up the mountain slope. When we reached vehicles like Qualis, small trucks and even bus was in the process of being pushed up.

We did not have any choice as it was not clear when the debris of landslide will be removed. That day being a Sunday someone was saying that BRO will be on leave. So we decided to push our bike through that path. I tried without luggage but got stuck at one point. There I was helped by a couple of Road Survivors from Chandigarh who were also trying to do the same. They had bullets. They pushed my bike and I pushed theirs. Eventually we all managed to reach the top. The way we pushed the bike was by not riding it but keeping it in first gear and racing and running alongside. My bike belched out such sounds which I never heard before. I was afraid that it may cause some damage to the bike but thankfully nothing serious happened. Once we crossed this hurdle I was slightly relaxed oblivious to havoc that weather is going to play. As we started ascending weather got worse, clouds enveloped the hills dropping visibility and then it started raining with cold winds and road was deteriorating. It was hellish experience going through slush in such biting cold with fog and nobody there to reassure. Throughout some 10 km to the ascent I did not find anyone and I was really scared. But as soon as I reached the Baralachala top others joined me and sky also opened up a bit.

There was also a guy on a Honda high end bike all packed up. At the hurdle I talked to a lady whom I kept meeting on the road till Leh. Our destination for the day was Pang but due to the hurdle we lost close to two hours and settled for Sarchu. As we came down from Baralachala terrain started becoming mysterious. There were odd shaped mountains and valleys.

Some 8 km before Sarchu, we took a bend and came to a valley very wide with grassland on one side and road running in between. The mountains on both sides were gorgeous. There we met the French lady again and while talking to her it came out from my mouth that this is heaven. It was not an exaggeration at that point because for last few days we never saw sunlight in a nice background and without tension on our mind about reaching the destination.

Sarchu was just a group of some 10-15 self-sufficient tents. The tent we chose was run by a Nepali guy. They cook and clean utensils in the tent only. A tent has dormitory style accomodation with beds in a circular embankment.
We settles in the tent and were later joined by Road Survivors on bullets. Their names were Sandy & Vicky. As there was nothing much to do we slept early. In between were joined by two girls who were wife and sis-in-law of the man on exotic Honda bike. The guy had burnt his clutch plates on the hurdle while ascending. The two girls were from Holland and nice to talk. Actually the husband-wife couple had left Holland an year back and traveled through Europe, Iran, Turkey, Pakistan etc. and now were in Ladakh. Since the wife's sister had joined her and three people couldn't ride on the bike, that is why they were traveling on state transport bus to Pang. Here I saw a state transport ordinary bus from Delhi - Leh. That is 1000 km journey through most arduous terrain taking 3 days at least would be lot of fun to do. Unlike expected Sarchu was not that cold even when I woke up at 2:30 AM to take a leak. Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) was on my mind so as precautionary measure I popped a Diamox tablet.

7th Aug (Sarchu - Leh)

This was the most ambitious day of the trip till now. We decided to do the stretch upto Leh which is like 270 km in a single day through two passes Lachungala and Tanglangla. It seemed possible due to two easy stretches in between, 45 km of Morey plains and 50 km from Upushi to Leh which is very good road. The morning was sunny though we had to shit in the open. We were now 5 people, two of us, two road survivors and one British guy David who became friendly with Sandy and Vicky and decided to ride with us. We all started at around 7:15AM and rode in tandem till Lachungla pass. Infact there is one more Pass before Lachangla called Nakeela but never heard of probably because it gets shadowed by big brother Lachangla. While ascending Nakeela, there are 21 loops called Gata Loops.

We came down from Lachungla and hit Pang which had tents exactly like Sarchu. Before Pang we crossed a major stream of water and curved into a valley with weird rock & mud formations like ant holes and needle hole. Some private tents were also there. There were lot of Israeli groups in Pang. Ladakh is favorite destination for them to relax after their grueling compulsory military training. After having breakfast, we left Pang and came to Moray plains.

Due to riding on bullets Sandy, Vicky and David went away pretty fast on level road. Me and my companion got split due to different judgment of road ahead. The road paving people had closed a section of the road due to breach by rainwater so we had to drive on the ground which was loose mud and gravel. Driving on this stretch was problem due to rear tyre wagging every now and then. I saw an army truck on the right. I thought that was the alternate way and followed it. It was not proper road but tyre marks said that it was used. The army truck turned back and went away leaving me all alone. I was again scared as I was alone may be on wrong path and clouds started gathering. After some time I saw some trucks come from the opposite side and I confirmed that this "kuccha" path also connect the road to Tanglangla. After some time I joined the main road. I rode alone for some time. The bikers from dutch group overtook me which assured me that I was on a correct path. After sometime my companion also joined who had taken a different path. What is the characteristics of Moray plains? The easiest stretch didn't come out that easy after all.

Just before ascent to Tanglangla we met Vicky and Sandy who had gone ahead of us but taking rest. It was reassuring to speak to some known faces in the vast expanse. My companion wanted to rest his bike for some time and also to take out his store of petrol that he had filled up in my tank. As there was clear sign of rain, Sandy, Vicky and David left. What a bad luck! As soon as we started ascending, it started raining heavily. As there was no place to stop and road being bad, we just c0ntinued. In a rush to reach early, I went considerably ahead of my companion. There was no point stopping for him as I could not have done anything. I just rode, maneuvering my bike from potholes, gravel, mud etc. overtaking few trucks as well. All this while visibility was very low and it was chillingly cold. Thankfully, I had worn inner wear for the first and only time in this trip and gloves which saved me. My companion was riding without gloves and weather was so bad and cold that I was thinking whether I would see him again. I thought probably he would leave his bike and hitch hike on a truck. It was biting cold and even after wearing gloves how would be manage without them. The sight of Tanglangla pass was welcome just like it was for Baralachala. The top had lots of snow and hills around it were snow-capped.

After some time my companion also appeared whose sight was pleasing. We left the pass after some time and reached Rumtse which was 25 km of down slope from the top. There again in a tent we met Vicky, Sandy and David. Vicky was not well as he was feeling really cold. They had to face snow as against rain in our case while ascending. After a cup of tea and maggi we two decided to move first as bulleteers would catch us soon. The road here till Upushi was fine though rain and flood water had breached the road at many places. Now we felt the ease of two wheelers as how easy it is to push them through landslides and mud-water slush as against the four wheelers. A truck had jammed the road but enough space was left for two-wheelers so we rode on. But just before Upushi, the Gya river which was flowing beside the road had washed away a portion of road and any vehicular movement was not possible. But fortunately GREF bulldozer was already on the job cleaning up some portion of the hill to make way.
Here we were joined by Vicky. We were the first ones to go over the cleared patch. After that there was no looking back and we zoomed all the way to Leh thankfully without much hiccup. Just before Leh we met the leading lady of dutch group whom we first met at Narkanda and was waiting for other group members to catch up. We simply smiled and entered Leh at arond 7:00 PM. After calling up home and letting the folks know that we are fine, it was time to look for accommodation. We based ourselves at Fort Road which was abuzz with activity and lot of tourists were floating around. We all went like emissaries to various directions looking for hotel but most of them had no rooms. We wanted to stay together but after not finding any hotel with enough accommodation, we decided to split. David went to a high class Mogol hotel, Vicky and Sandy to Padamling and me & my companion to some guesthouse (name don't remember) away from city center. It was a small but well carved out room for Rs. 800/- which I thought was expensive.

8th Aug (Leh)

Today was rest day after two days of continuous rides from Keylong to Sarchu and Leh. Especially the last day was mind blowing with three passes, climbing Tanglangla in rain and breach @ Upushi all thrown in one one day. Waking up was a bit late. We had decided to meet Vicky and Sandy @ Padamling hotel by 11 AM. But they too were late to rise. After some chat, gossip and humor we went to find Tibetan Kitchen, the famed restaurant according to Vicky. The food was good and cheap. After that it was time to get our bikes checked. My companion had invited David as well to come and get his bike's footrest fixed. We went to Mohan mistry mechanic shop on the road to Chogmalsar. After some checks, loosening of chain and tightening of brakes, we came back David riding as pillion on my bike. Dinner was at La Pizzeria which was ordinary. Since they didn't have license so they were serving beer in a teapot. I was feeling a bit cold, so came back to hotel early and slept. I asked few travel agents who arrange Inner line permits but they said permission to Nubra is not being given for last four days due to closure of road. Our plans to Nubra seemed in jeopardy and were thinking of what else to do. My companion was insisting on trek to Stok Kangri peak which is 6000+ meters and is the highest non-technical peak. Non-technical meant not taking permission from Mountaineering Association. Rafting on Indus is what I came up with.

9th Aug (Leh)

Today was again a lazy start to the day. I identified a bakery close to Vicky and Sandy's hotel where I would take my breakfast, plain croissant and Apricot juice. That would be sufficient for the morning. We had decided on the last day to go to Tourist Reception center and the DC office to get decisive information on Nubra. Since my companion was not around and so many people going to office would be an overkill, I and Sandy went to the TRC first. A middle aged lady the only occupant at the office, told us that the road to Nubra has opened and it was announced on the radio. We felt elated on hearing this and rushed to the District Magistrate's office which was close to Polo ground. The office was a typical of govt. offices you find in Delhi. You don't know whom to ask. An intern lady told us to write an application to Addl. Distt. Magistrate with details of persons etc. with subject Inner Line Permit(ILP) then get it approved by person sitting in the office titles Addl. Deputy Collector". He approved it without checking any credentials probably because we looked Indian easily. We took the application to Agrarian section where they have a form with format for ILP printed. We just need to fill up the names and address. The guy there asked me to come at 4PM to collect the permit which I promptly did. We also had to pay wildlife fee which is newly imposed for Inner line areas @ Rs. 20/- per day per person. So, for three days and 4 people we paid 240/-. Lunch was at La Pizzeria again. I had Thupka which was just noodles with some vegetables and chicken. I did not like it much. After lunch it was time to visit Shanti Stupa where I went alone. It is beyond Changspa on top of a hill from where you get a good view of entire Leh town. I need to talk something about the Leh town here after experiencing two days of stay. The town looks a foreign land with so many foreigners from all parts of the world and all the services are geared towards catering to them. You will find people from England, Germany, Holland, France, Israel and what not. In two days I was hard pressed to find Indian holidaymakers except few bikers like us. The town is full of STD/PCO and Internet cafes, money exchange counters, bakeries, roof top restaurants with all restaurants having menus for different cuisines like Italian and even Israeli. Even in Indian food, there is less spice and salt so we did not try a lot of Indian food. In the evening we went to original German bakery run by a Sikh since some 30+ years. This is actually the original German Bakery but now you would find lot of imitations in Leh town.
Anyways, Vicky was trying to forge a relationship with the owner but could not. The Sikh owner told us about a punjabi dhaba to have food which we were craving for so many days. The food was good close to punjabi style. After packing for next day we slept to get up and leave early. A small fiasco happened. My companion left his bike keys at an STD shop which got closed and he had to collect it next morning of course after some delay. During the day I visited Ladakh ecological Center. I was expecting a big array of shops and a fair like atmosphere but not to be. There was a shop of handicrafts where I bought a decorative wall hanging, a T-shirt and dried apricots. There was a library as well but just looked at the books and came back.

10th Aug (Leh - Diskit)

We start behind schedule for Nubra Valley. While I was waiting for others to fill up their petrol tanks, I made a visit to prayer wheels close by and rotated them to wish best of journey for Nubra.
From the word go, we started ascending towards Khardungla Pass also known as K-TOP which is 40 km from Leh town. Eventually it turns out that Leh town is almost visible from K-TOP. The road went up to Ganglas and then South Pullu where we had to submit a copy of ILP. From here we got involved in an army convoy which was taking fuel to border area camps.

The road from 15 km before K-TOP was very bad with potholes with water, gravel, loose mud and stones all thrown in at random. Our progress was slow due to army convoy trucks as well. Finally after 2.5 hours from start we reached the K-TOP.
It has a souvenir shop, temple and a canteen apart from various structures declaring the height and might of K-TOP. There was snow at K-TOP because of which it was chilly out there. I bought a hat and 5 key chains. After some coffee and smoke, we started down. Again the road was bad till North Pullu. The story of S&N Pullu is that earlier Yaks and caravan and now even army convoy cross over from North to South or vice-versa across K-TOP in a single day and rest for night after. From North Pullu, good road started but no respite from army trucks. Most of them were generous enough to give sides and we used to wave them to say thanks using left hand. In between we saw some yaks grazing in whatever green patches they could find.

Soon we reached Khardung village and settled in a tea shop. After laborious and lousy way of ordering we almost spent 2 hours there. I was insisting on leaving for Diskit but others were just passing time with nonsensical talks. We left Khardung village and continued from Khalsar village towards Diskit. After Khardung, the terrain started changing. We were loosing height in a great amount and soon saw Shyok river and its basin. The Shyok river is not one monolithic stream but several streams within its basin. It was quite below and we eventually had to come to its level. The river basin is basically the entire valley between two parallel mountain range. There were some green patches with trees, field and few houses among them.

The patch was actually around a tributary stream coming from high up from the mountain and meeting the Shyok river. We continued on the left bank of Shyok river which meets Nubra river coming from Siachen glacier. The confluence is not clear due to huge basin of both rivers meeting. Its hard to make out where the rivers meet. The basin otherwise is full of many streams, sand, stones and occasional greenery. After some driving close to Diskit we came to a location where we had to cross a flat patch of valley full of sand. When seen from top the road is just a think black strip among the field of sand. That stretch itself would be 2-3 kms. If we take out the mountains the road will look like coming directly from Jaisalmer in Thar desert.

We eventually reached Diskit and after seeing 2-3 hotel checked into Sand Dunes guest house. The guest house was quite comfortable with gorgeous flowers in full bloom and nice spread of food.
Diskit town itself was quite impressive. It has a Gompa high up in the mountain visible from everywhere but we did not visit it.
Apart from that Diskit had a road dotted with shops selling clothes, groceries, tailor, AV center and restaurants as well. There were cars and two-wheelers and lady drivers. It had school, hospital and even internet connection though it was not working. Surprisingly the shop-keepers were from plains a Rajasthani and Haryanvi. Prosperity of town could be attributed to presence of army as well. Due to army the roads to these towns are good and mostly accessible. Sometimes army adopts these border towns and villages which bolster the prosperity of town. Also these town are the only place for army personnel to come in contact with non-serviceman people. After a good nice dinner in the open, it was time to sleep.

11th Aug (Diskit to Panamik)

We got up late as we knew that ride is going to be short one to either Panamik or Leh. Due to some snag in bikes and general laziness and urge to fill up our tummies we left the hotel only at 12:30PM. First we decided to see Yak farm but road to it was broken and one local told us that there are no Yaks at this time. All of them are at high mountain Pasteur lands like the one we found close to North Pullu. So we decided to go to Hunder and check out the double-humped Bactrian camels. These camels were used by caravans to carry men and material. After some going up and down the army camp in Hunder, we were directed towards Sand dunes and shrub growth where we could spot camels loittering around. But when we got there, there were no camels to be seen. After asking a shepherd, he told that some 7-8 camels are owned by a guy who has gone to mosque for namaz but where has he tied up the camels is not known. We looked around a bit but could not find any. After some time, the camel guy appeared and asked for Rs. 50/- to show the camels. Since we did not want to waste our visit to Hunder specially for camels, we decided to pay. The guy took us to a growth of thorny shrubs where some 7-8 camels were sitting inside. After some clicking we came out and camel guy brought one camel out side.

Soon we left Hunder and came to Diskit. Here, there is a hand lever operated petrol pump of Indian oil though there is no building or any other paraphernalia.
Others filled up from there and soon we were on the way to Panamik. From Khalsar, we took a left to go over the bridge on the way to Panamik via Sumur. It was 35 kms from there. Panamik is a village with few guest house and 2-3 shops unlike Diskit. We stayed in the Pamaral guest house with a slightly mad host. Along with his wife he had two lovely kids. Whole family was our host.

At the dinner in Sezer restaurant we met a couple from Italy who were also staying in the same guesthouse. We talked a bit about India, Rajasthan and Ladakh region. The host was calling us people from India which I didn't like as if they are not Indians. They also have a term from down for people coming from plains. After waiting for others for sometime, I decided to visit the hot springs myself. It was some 1/2 km down and some 100 mts up the hill. There were few concrete rooms and barricades. But neither was there anybody and the whole place was dirty, uninspiring and water was flowing everywhere. There was brown-green algae or sulphur deposits that I didn't know. The water was around 60-70 deg Celsius.

12th Aug (Panamik - Alchi)

We woke up early as we had decided to go up to Lamayuru today which makes it like 150+70 km more. But due to laziness of others, we left at around 9:30 AM. But before leaving I had glorious view of high mountains shrouded in clouds and flowers in full bloom in the courtyard.

In the morning, I was contemplating going to hot spring and taking bath there. But as it came out the host was getting hot water for our bath from one of the channels out of hot spring itself. Then I changed my mind and decided to have my bath at guest house only. I did accompany the host to the place from where he was fetching warm water. There I met a guy from Varanasi whose accent was more bihari. He was employed in ITBP in intelligence section. He was telling stories of how they feel glad on meeting people from down. He also came to the guesthouse and met others. He says the temp in winter drops to -35% C and how they sill feel cold. Some people suffer from HAPO (High Altitude Pulmonary Odeama) and they are sent back. When he heard that I came from Hyderabad he got interested as his brother was studying in CCMB (Center for Cellular Microbiology). He was asking how were the prospects & my opinion whether he should send the brother abroad. He told us that Panamik is on the road to Siachen base camp which is some 50 km away.

We reached Khalsar among mountains with ominous looking clouds and mild rain.

And from there to Khardung, the same teashop where had tea while coming. From Khardung up to North Pullu, road was good but from there onwards road was bad also bolstered by army convoy. We reached K-TOP around 2PM. Descent from there was uneventful and generally easy. We went straight to Padmaling hotel where Vicky and Sandy had to settle bills. The host had promised to keep a room vacant for them on coming back from Nubra and that is why he did not take money when they left for Nubra. This stop delayed things. We further got delayed due to my companion went to make STD calls. By the time we left for Lamayuru, it was getting dark. We made a stop at Pathar Sahib Gurudwara hoping to get to eat in langar but it happens only on Sundays and today was Saturday. We left after getting darshan and prasad. It was really dark and driving was getting difficult. It was pitch dark except occasional vehicle from other side and only headlights from our bikes piercing the dark. Once or twice we had to come back in search of each other. There was a problem in chain getting lose in my companion's bike so we decided to take halt for night. We were at Saspol where there was no hotel. A shopkeeper directed us to go to Alchi which was just 6-7 kms. We heeded his advice and settled in a guesthouse in Alchi with a plan that we will start early and go all the way to Srinagar. There was a caveat that Zojila can be passed only up to 1 PM and is closed on Monday. The host of the guest house was nice as he woke up the cook who cooked a meal of fried rice which we gulped down and went to sleep. We did not spot the magnetic strip on the Leh-Kargil road where vehicles are known to go up against gravity as it was dark.

13th Aug (Alchi)

Vicky & Sandy came to our room @ 5:00 AM to wake us up and start for Drass / Zojila. Previous night I could not sleep for a long time thinking whether I should go with the rest or stay at Alchi for some time as my holiday was not yet over. It was decided that Vicky and Sandy would proceed as they did not have much leaves. Only in the morning I could make out our gorgeous guesthouse Choskor.

I decided to not waste any time and make full use of stay at Alchi. I first headed straight to Nimu to have a glimpse of confluence of Indus and Zanskar. We must have passed Nimu the previous night but ofcourse could not spot anything in the dark. The confluence was really grand with rivers adorning different shades of brown. The Indus river goes through a deep gorge before the confluence. I was mesmerized by the sight which also formed like three spokes all equiangular.

I clicked the confluence from every possible location on the main highway high above. I saw a road leading up to the base of confluence where some foreigners were taking dip and decided to go there myself. The road was actually under construction road from Nimu to Darcha via Padum. It was not clear how long the road has been constructed. The road to Padum is actually from Kargil. This will be an alternate road. Anyways, I climbed down from the road up to confluence. The foreigner group left by then and I was only one at the confluence. I dipped my feet into the water and sprinkled some water on myself as an act of bathing. The time spent at the confluence was truly magical. Two big, historical and grand rivers meeting in front of my eyes. Just imagine the origins of the two rivers. Indus, traversing whole of Himalayas and Zanskar coming from the most treacherous valley in Ladakh.

After spending an hour I came back to to village called Basgo which had a monastery and some boards were depicting it as Ancient Citadel. The broken down monastery was there but citadel was completely ruined with two walls still standing. Actually all the structures in Ladakh region are built of mud which gets eroded over time. The monastery was protected and one of the few world heritage sites. On entering the main temple, there were some people working on the paintings to restore them probably. There was no other visitor at that time. After looking at the paintings and huge status of Buddha, I came back.

Then I went to Likir monastery which is 5 km spur from the main road. Like all monasteries in the region, it was also situated on the hilltop. The view of the monastery from distance was magnificent. There were lot of foreign tourists at the monastery at this time. Today was some special day as there was lot of activity. There was some ritual going on the sides with probably lead Lama in full robe doing some kind of havans. I visited few temples which were all had religious objects like deities, thankas & all the walls were painted. I know Buddhist rituals and terms in bits and pieces but could not related much. Then there was a congrgation of all the lamas and students in a prayer hall where they chanted mantras and played musical instruments. Tea was also served. All the foreign tourists and I witnessed the ritual. The buddhists are very accomodating probaly due to Tibet factor. It is their endeavor to spread Buddhism and bring recognition to Tibet in international eye. After this ritual while I was preparing to leave, there was a procession of all the interns on the road.

I could not understand much so I left and came back to Alchi and visit the monastery there. This was not on a hilltop. It had 4 temples again having idols and pictures of deities with religious objects and wall were all painted. All this was not making sense to me. After clicking some customary pictures from outside, inside its not allowed I came back. There were lot of shops outside selling curio items from this region.

There is no STD booth in Alchi but a cyber cafe which suprisingly worked. It has enormous charge of Rs 3 per minute. In Leh, it was Rs 2 per minute. After checking mails I came back to guest house to pay attention to my disc brake as it was giving sounds of plates touching disc even when brake is not pressed. I took out the wheel, cleaned the plates but no use. The plates were still touching the disc. It may be due to malfunctioning of hydraulic system of break. I decided to live with it.

14th Aug (Alchi)

Today I decided to visit Lamayuru monastery which was some 50 km towards Srinagar. There is a village called Khaltse which has a petrol pump where I wanted to fill in for the onward journey. Also I hoped to find a mechanic. I filled the petrol but could not find a mechanic, so continued towards monastery. The monastery is the oldest in the Ladakh region and witnesses lot of foreign tourists. Also its location is dramatic, on a hilltop with moonscape hills around. Hills with lot of mud.

Lamayuru is midway between ascent to Fotu La, the highest pass on Leh-Srinagar road. The road passes through a narrow valley carved by a tributary to Indus. The monastery was similar to what I had seen at Likir with prayer rooms etc. But there were lot of foreign tourists here. Because of no directions probably I missed the main temple of Vairocarna but I was not very keen. I read some portion of the book Amazing Land Ladakh and trying to relate to what I saw in monastery. Soon gave up and decided to come back. The one thing I didn't like about all these monasteries was the smell which enmates in the rooms and they being dingy. It is a bit claustrophobic or asphyxiating. But I do respct their sentiments. I could identify few things like Tangyar, Kangyar, scripts, thankas and female deity Tara. This much was enough for me.
I had planned to visit Ri-dzong monastery as well but left it for next day if I had to stay at Alchi on 15th as well. Ri-dzong is supposed to be situated in more dramatic place which was evident from the spur that you see taking off from the national highway from Lamayuru. I came back to Khaltse and made few phone calls to fix up certain things at Jammu and at office.

There was a helper boy in the guesthouse. He was basically from Uttaranchal and working here. Whenever I asked him for water, he would ask back whether mineral water or local pani. 'It is what they use and probably get from a stream. At the guest house there was a French family as well with whom I talked a bit at dinner table. They were very gentle but poor in english. I had some conversation with the head of the family about EU etc. He told me that it was only for economic reasons o/w each country follow their own culture. He explained all this to me very laboriously. His daughter was charming and always smiled at me. His son was bit interested in talking to me. They were on adventurous family as they were traveling in local buses and walking even though they didn't know proper english forget about hindi. They had walked 4 kms to the guest house from the main highway. Later it didn't come as surprise as I saw many foreigners walking enroute to Alchi. Probably roughing out is their idea of holiday.

15th Aug (Alchi - Drass)

Today we decided to go upto Drass on the advice of guest house owner and few taxi drivers and locals. The drive was approx 230 km and with kind of road it looked easy. So, we got up at 8 AM and left by 10:30 AM. The drive upto Lamayuru was enjoyable with no traffic, good road and sunny weather. After Lamayuru it was ascent to Fotula pass the highest pass on Leh-Srinagar road. We stopped at many places for photo op. Lazily we came upto another pass Namik La & climbed down to Mulbek. We decided to have lunch here. The landspace till was more or less moonscape but frequency of green patches and habitation increased.

Here we met a group of foreigners going to Kargil. There were 4 boys and 2 girls on 4 bikes all bullets. The lunch was shady and I hoped it doesn't upset my stomach. From there we rode non-stop to Kargil. In a narrow passage of road there were two hens who ran helter-skelter on hearing the bikes. One of the hen probably came under my front tyre. Since we were at speed so could not look back at what happened. I hoped she is fine. I felt very bad @ this accident and was thinking all sorts of bad things that may happen to me as punishment. It was a bad omen. Soon we reached Kargil. From a distance Kargil looked beautiful set around the bend in Indus river which was sweeping lot of ground.

There were curious onlookers on the road soldiers as well as normal public. We went inside a market in Kargil to have tea. From Kargil the road became treacherous with lots of truck traffic from the opposite side. This could be due to release of traffic from Srinagar side of Zojila pass. This leg of highway passes closest to the LOC. There was a board on the roadside announcing in hindi Aap dushman ki nazar mein hain.

I wanted to stop and click some photographs but due to visibly high presence of soldiers did not want to attract attention. Eventually we reached Drass and checked into HillView hotel. The place is known as Siberia of India, the second coldest inhabited place on earth. That reputation reflected as it was getting cold as we closed in on Drass. On the road many kids want to do hand touch with bikers by extending their hand. I avoided most of them lest it may cause some imbalance. We have to be careful as well as some overzealous kid may cause accident. Many times they utter some comments which could neither hear so understanding is out of question. I hope they were not abusing us.

16th Aug (Drass - Srinagar)

In the morning I surveyed the scene around the guesthouse. There high rocky (rather than mud) mountains around with famous Tiger Hill behind the hotel. The day was sunny so it didn't felt much cold. There was a bomb shell in the hotel with a flower potted in it.

We started from Drass at around 9:30. Our destination today was only Srinagar. First few kilometers were fine but soon bad road started with loose stones and gravel. We were not going beyond 2nd gear on 20 kmph. In the valley below there were some groups of nomads we saw who were doing cattle grazing and making ropes. These people are the glimpses of the traders on the old silk route and Zojila pass one of the passes on the route. We were checked once by J&K police checkpost by just noting down our names and vehicle number. Before entering Zojila pass we were checked once again by Army guys who had a sniffer dog as well. There was not very serious checking only few questions and then let go. The soldier there was anyway from Vizag so became friendly on hearing that I came from Hyderabad. Just before Zojila pass, we were stopped due to some blasting that was going on for road widening. A bulldozer came and cleared the path in 15 minutes. Soon we crossed Zojila pass.
Zojila is not that trecherous or ascending from Drass except the bad roads but the descent into Kashmir valley is huge due to relatively lower altitude there. As soon as we got the first glimpse of Kashmir valley, it was splendid with trees and grass on the slopes with cute little stream flowing. This was complete contrast from the barren landscape on the other side frm which we came. Sight of trees and greenery was really soothing to eyes after almost 10 days.

We continued towards Sonmarg via Baltal. There was a convoy of army trucks descending along with us and just like previously we thanked them for for giving us side by waiving to them. There were soldiers posted at every 100 mts or so and we waived to them as well. They responded with equal enthusiasm. I had never been to Kashmir before except watching it in movies and I understood why it is called heaven on earth. It is ironical that such a place which should be celebrated is in dispute. We rode all the way to Srinagar and reached Dal lake late in the afternoon. Till then though we crossed many check posts but nobody stopped us. We wanted to stay in a houseboat but due to bikes decided to stay in hotel beside the Dal lake. After having lunch I did not waste time and proceeded to Dal lake. I hired a Shikara and asked him to take me around interesting locations. What I saw I had not expected. There is entire village thriving in this lake with houses, shops, schools etc. I recalled the old Doordarshan serial Gul, Gulshan, Gulpham which depicted life around Dal lake. Small kids and women were using the boats. I went to a Kashmir emporium and bought some stuff like bedsheet, kurta payjama and wooden decorative pieces.

17th Aug (Srinagar - Jammu)

Today I started for Jammu which is around 300 kms from Srinagar. I wanted to reach there by evening so that I could book my bike in the evening Jhelum express to Pune. Since it was longish distance to cover so rode continuously with only short brakes passing through Qazigund, Banihal, Ramban, Jawahar tunnel, Patnitop, Udhampur. At Jawahar tunnel before entering I was stopped by the police. They asked me curiously, "Are you an Indian?". When I said yes, they let me go. The tunnel was dark and dingy and I had to be really careful for 5-10 it took me to cross it. As I descended the weather became hotter and in Jammu I was sweating. I reached Jammu station at around 5 PM but the parcel office was closed and I could not book my bike. After few calls I managed favor from a friend in Jammu who promised to take care of my bike and parcel it later. After refreshing myself at his home and home cooked dinner I boarded a a Delux Volvo bus to Delhi. After staying in Delhi for couple of days with a friend I flew back to Hyderabad.

The trip was a life changing experience for me facing harships, elation, fear, joy and finally a sense of achievement. I rode around 2600 kms in 18 days.