Since I started my journey on my bike to Ladakh. I remember I started on 30th July 2006 from Hyderabad. Now when I recall that trip of mine, it just gives me goose bumps that I actually accomplished it. Mmm... Let me recall where was I on 4th of August, yeah today I had reached Keylong, capital of Lahaul Spiti. Oh yes, I have preserved my entire itinerary somewhere. Let me pull it out... Here it is -
30th July - Flew from Hyderabad to Delhi
31st July - Delhi -> Chandigarh
1st Aug - Chandigarh -> Narkanda
2nd Aug - Narkanda -> Manali
3rd Aug - Rest at Manali
4th Aug - Manali -> Keylong
5th Aug - Rest at Keylong
6th Aug - Keylong -> Sarchu
7th Aug - Sarchu -> Leh
8th Aug - Rest at Leh
9th Aug - Rest at Leh
10th Aug - Leh -> Diskit
11th Aug - Diskit -> Hunder -> Panamik
12th Aug - Panamik -> Alchi
13th Aug - Alchi. Visited Indus/Zanskar confluence, Basgo, Likir andAlchi Monastery
14th Aug - Alchi. Visited Lamayuru monastery
15th Aug - Alchi -> Drass
16th Aug - Drass -> Srinagar
17th Aug - Srinagar -> Jammu
18th Aug - Jammu -> Delhi by bus
19th Aug - Delhi
20th Aug - Flew to Hyderabad
It was uforgettable, life changing journey (may be bit exaggerated but definitely a milestone in my life) which I am fortunate I undertook. I was maintaining notes of the trip, very religiously initially and later cumbersomely but I still have them. When I came back I tried to write a travelogue out of them but it proved to be a hearculean task for my temperament. Just like you require special preparation to undertake such a journey through that moonscape, you require skill to articulate it in writing. Anyways, I am closing my eyes and trying to recall some golden anecdotes from that trip.
Higher the risk, higher the reward, thats what I can call the first memorable incident on the initial part of my trip from Shimla to Manali. Just before Jalori pass though not that high but supposed to be test of man and his machine, front type of bike got stuck between stones and slush, what the road was left after a stream decided to run over it due to incessant rain. The bike wouldn't move whatever method we tried. Then came a godsend saviour, a Ladakhi guy called "Motep" who was veteran of such roads and was driving alone to Leh. May be his experience or his strength or both, he lifted the front portion of bike and brought it out of slush. What a relief it was. Once we crossed over the pass, in that wet atmosphere, we got to see some of the best views of the trip. Clouds swept over valleys, rising higher through cervices of hills as if hills are on fire. A small village was nestled midway on the mountain, its blue house and triangle capony sourrounded by mist. Amazing. My partner rightly said, we've stuck goldmine.
At Keylong, met an interesting guy who hailed from Jammu, a pea trader whose job was to load peas being grown in the region, do some accounting and then send them to Azadpur mandi in Delhi. Suprisingly he was an MCA but did not find a desk job interesting. Now he travles around this region to fields, meets farmers and spreads this trade throughout Lahaul Spiti, his brother being posted in Kaza. He told us about a ritual specific to Lahaul spiti. Around 15th August, there is a fair held in Keylong where young boys and girls of marrigeable age are asked to come in the middle of a ground. Boy is free to pick any girl he chooses but girl is free to resist and run away. If there is competition among boys, then a boy has to face it and win over. If he captures the girl and keeps her for the night, then they are married the next day. Doesn't look like it is fair to the girl but there might be specifics which probably could be understood only if we go that fair !!
Baralachala pass (16000 ft) got us a couple of companions who stayed with us upto very close to end of this trip. Two very affable sardars on bullets from Chandigarh who were trying to push their bikes up the mountain slope due to landslide. We helped each other and got through with it. I still haven't sent them the CD containing pictures of this trip. I will send that on this anniversary. One more guy joined us, a British, thrice than my size and riding a 500cc bullet, an explosive engineer on an year long vacation through many countries in the world, going solo to Ladakh! Whoosh! I once took him as a pillion rider on my bike. I wish I could see how this scene looked, a monster sitting on a puny bike with equally puny rider.
A dutch gang of oldies out to do some adventure met us at Narkanda on their consecutively numbered bullet bikes. They kept playing hide and seek with us till Ladakh. The leader was gritty lady who never spoke to us just smiled. We overtook them just before Leh.
Advantage of taking bike to these regions as against bigger vehicles is that you can get away with any kind of blockages like slush and rubble, climbing mountain slope and narrow passage. That is what happened when we cleared through probably 2 km of truck jam, a feet deep muddy slush, standing at the head of breach that Gya river has caused just before Upushi, 50 kms from Leh. Fourtunately, a bulldozer was working to clear a part of mountain slope for atleast smaller vechicles to go through. We were the first one to pass.
On the way to Khardungla, we learnt what an army convoy is. 40-50 trucks going in a line, squealing on every throttle or break application, dooming this world by spewing fumes through their chimneys. But the men inside were humane. They kept on giving us sides, not the snobbish behavior that we witness everyday in the city. The K-top as Khardungla pass is called has a sourvneir shop selling t-shirts, key chains, caps announcing the glory of the pass and exalting the one wears it screaming "I was there". Come on, 18,380 feet is not a mean feat. Earlier, there used to be free tea served here by army canteen to whoever comes here just as a gesture to his/her accomplishment but alas that practice was discontinued for some time now.
"How far is Siachen from here?" Where can you ask this question in India?
"These folks have come from India?" Where do you get to hear this in India?
Probably only place is Nubra Valley beyond Khardungla pass, close to Pakistan and Chinese border, much beyond consciousness of mainstream India, a warm and beautiful valley, a world apart from real world. Only thing is one can stay here for only 6 months a year only. To stay for rest of the year comfortably, you should probably need to transform into an eskimo.
I haven't been to Rajasthan but I have now seen sand dunes. Where? In Nubra Valley at Hunder. You have real sand there as you find in Rajasthan; this is what I am told. Only difference is in Rajasthan the sand gets baked at 45 deg, whereas here it freezes to -45 deg in winters. One more stark similarity is camels. They are known as Bactrian camels who have two humps as against their counterparts in Rajasthan with single hump. But they are elusive and very small in numbers. We could find them only after lot of hunting around.
Driving in night is not advisable but that is what we did when we got stuck in a situation when we started for our destination with wrong estimation of distance. We were to reach Lamayuru but much before, night fell and we four riders were left alone riding along with only a single beam of light piercing the dark. It was moonless night and stars were not visible. Scary...
Allahabad is considered the holiest confluence but confluence of Indus with Zanskar river at Nimoo is magical. Two rivers full of water and character, with different shade of muddy water. Indus light brown and Zanskar a deep brown both coming out of gorge in the open. You get to witness this from main road quite high up in the mountain where you can appreciate the symmtery in their meeting. They converge like a perfect V and you can distinguish their waters due to a line getting formed in the middle.
Who can forget Kargil and Drass which became household names in 2001 when last skirmish with Pakistan happened. We too were excited to pass through the locale which come closest to the LOC. There is a sign on that road which says "You are in the eyes of enemy" depicting how close we to the LOC. This part was tense with heavy presence of military all of whom had nothing else but oggle at us and we going along sheepishly.
First view of Kashmir valley coming from Drass after days of rugged, brown mountains without vegetation, watching trees on mountain slopes was most welcome. When trees finish, a greet carpet of grass is spread all over. Here starts one of the most dangerous areas in the world in one of the most beautiful settings. I pitied all those soldiers who were posted every hundred meters on the road sitting all aloof. We had an idea and started waving to them as we passed them. Wow, they were equally enthusiastic to wave back at us. Then I started looking for them on road, behind the bushes and trees, sitting on a cliff higher up. Everytime we got an equally enthusiastic wave back. It was sheer bonhomie all the way.
Srinagar, though considered fortified but we were not stopped even once. Dal lake is more than a lake, its an ecosystem, a flourishing town with a unique character never to found anywhere else in the world. It was sad to hear that it will soon be uprooted, if only the residents had been a little proactive in maintaing it upto the mark.
How I wish I could go on and on but just like this trip I will have to stop somewhere. Now let me go to sleep with these beautiful dreams. BTW, photographs from this trip are here.