A Full Day Rest in Leh
Day 17, 28th June, 2013
Today we had decided to give ourselves the rest we deserved. We woke up pretty late in the morning. We had decided a day before that today we should go for shopping. But by the time we finished our breakfast it was 11 am. We thought why go shopping in the scorching sun. Instead we’ll go shopping in the evening.
We did actually go for shopping in the evening. I had decided to buy souvenirs for all those whom I remembered when I had a near death experience at the Barlach-La. We wandered around in the market bought some stuff from here some from there. Then we entered a book shop. I wanted to buy “Tibetan Chanting” audio CD for myself which Avinash and Maithili had already bought couple of days ago. We had decided to buy this CD the moment we heard it for the first time at the Shanti Stupa. I saw Avinash buying two documentaries on Ladakh. I thought he was buying it for himself. Meanwhile Rajesh-Kinjal left the shop to see if they can get a bullet on rent so that they can come to Khardung-La and Nubra Valley with us. Rajesh was pretty confident that his bike can’t make it there. Therefore he chose this option. We were glad that he did. But he insisted that he wanted only the 500 cc Bullet. We finished our shopping and came back to the hotel. We decided to meet up in the garden area of the hotel in 10 mins to leave for the YoYo’s place for dinner. I got ready and reached the garden area first and sat on a chair, waiting for Avinash and Maithili. Rajesh and Kinjal had not returned from their Bullet hunt. Avinash-Maithili arrived and sat on the chairs near me. Avinash took out a gift wrapped packet which he had kept hidden till then and gave it to me. I read the message on it and realized that it was a Birthday gift for me from Avinash and Maithili. I opened it up and saw the two documentary DVD’s that Avinash had bought at the book shop. It was a sweet gift for me from a very sweet couple. I thanked them several times and told them that we’ll watch these documentaries together once we reach our hometown – Mumbai. I went to my room, kept this gift in my bag and returned to the garden area.
When I reached the garden area I noticed that Rajesh and Kinjal were back but were looking a bit upset. Rajesh told us that he couldn’t find a decent bullet for himself and hence decided to stay back in the hotel till I, Avinash and Maithili return from the Nubra Valley. We told him not to get upset and make an attempt on Khardung-La and Nubra valley on his bike itself. If the bike can’t make it we will load it on a utility vehicle and make it to the destination. Though his bike was doing perfectly well on the flat roads, only high altitude passes was something he really worried about. He didn’t agree with us and decided to stay back. Finally out of five riders only three were going to complete this journey. We had our dinner at YoYo’s place and came back to the hotel a little late. When we went to sleep we were half expecting Rajesh to change his mind and expected Rajesh and Kinjal to be ready for the ride the next day in the morning.
On Top Of The World
Day 18, 29th June, 2013
We woke up early, got ready and loaded our bikes. I checked on Rajesh’s room. The doors were shut and there was no light on the other side. I realized that he had made up his mind not to come. We didn’t knock on his door. We thought he’d feel bad seeing us leave.
By 7 am we were off riding on the Leh road. We went through a crowded section of the Leh city and then took a diversion for K-Top (Khardung-La Top). Then the road took us through narrow alleys and through a small village. Soon we were out of the village and in a very short time we could see the same village down the cliff. We were ascending towards the K-Top. We were riding on an open road with only mountains on our sides. The roads were good and the ascend was gradual. We enjoyed this ride. This was one of the rare occasions when we rode at considerably higher speed than our usual pace. We saw many cyclists pedaling their way towards the world’s most highest motor-able road. I visualized myself, Avinash and Maithili riding our bicycles on K-Top. Three of us have this thing in mind to reach K-Top on our bicycles but we are still not trained enough to turn it into a reality.
We arrived at a police check post. Avinash and I entered inside. It resembled a house more than a police check post. The officer asked for a copy of our permit and wrote down our bike registration numbers on the backside of the copy. He asked us where we were going. When we told him that we are headed for Nubra valley, he handed over an orange colored paper to us. We read it. It was a pamphlet about a Sand Dunes Festival on 29th & 30th at a place called Hunder in Nubra Valley. We thought that we were so lucky that the festival is starting on the same day of our visit. We decided to make a stay at Diskit and visit Hunder for the Sand Dunes Festival. Both these villages were part of the Nubra Valley and were just 7 kms apart.
Right after the police check post the smooth road turned rough. Our off-road session started. But after crossing the Mighty Chang-La twice, this off road was a piece of cake for us. Compared to Chang-La, this road leading to the pass was considerably wider. Khardung-La is the only pass that remains open throughout the year, as this pass connects to Siachin Glaciers, which is the most important Army post. Therefore the army and BRO (Border Road Organisation) maintains this road throughout the year. Rest of the passes in Ladakh are inaccessible during winter due to heavy snowfall. Whenever I used to feel that the road is turning torturous, I used to remind myself of the Mighty Chang-La and suddenly the road ahead would look like a four lane express highway. I was making a very good use of human psychology.
The road took countless twists and turns. After one turn suddenly I saw a crowd and heard loud bhanjans being played on loudspeaker. We had arrived at K-Top. We were at 18300 feet high in the sky, on the world’s highest motor-able road. A sense of pride and achievement filled our heart. I noticed lots of tourists taking photographs against any board which had a message “You are at Khardung-La at 18300 ft”. People were coming out of a small temple with tilak on their heads. The bhanjans and devotional songs were being played at this temple only. Tall soldiers wearing sunglasses were walking around keeping an eye on all the tourist activity.
We also saw many bikers who carried the same emotions on their faces as we did. Even though I waited four years to experience this moment, I had to leave as fast as possible from there. I’ve already had a bad AMS experience at Barlach-La and didn’t want to experience it again in my life. Therefore we took photographs and started our descent towards the Nubra Valley.
After around 20 Kms of off-road ride we arrived at North-Pullu. We stopped at a local food joint to have brunch. After a very long time in our trip we had a privilege to eat samosa which was so common to find in our hometown. Three of us feasted on those samosas, bread omelet and maggie noodles. It was mid afternoon. From there we rode further down towards DIskit. The road was a complete descent and curvy. Even though we enjoyed the road in the beginning, after long hours we started feeling bored. Since it was afternoon and we were descending towards a low altitude place we started feeling a rise in the temperature. The road, many times ran parallel to a gushing river. Many times we saw white sand on both sides of the road and sometimes on the road itself. We came across a diversion. The road straight ahead would take us to Panamik which was our next destination whereas the left turn would take us to Diskit and Hunder. We took a left turn. As we approached Diskit we saw sand dunes on the road sides. The wind was blowing sand on the road and it looked like hundreds of sand serpents were crawling on the road. We arrived at Diskit village and saw signs pointing at various hotels and home-stays available in the village. We selected Karakoram home-stay, as this had a campsite where we could pitch our tents. We rode in it’s direction and arrived at a large wooden door. Avinash knocked on the door. A young girl opened the door. When asked about the availability of the accommodation, she said rooms are available. She showed us our rooms and the campsite. The house was big and our room was on the first floor. The house had a spacious dining room. Camp site had a nice green grass pasture and parallel to it ran a beautiful water stream. The splashing and gushing sound of water soothes my mind. It was a good site for camping.
We booked one room for keeping our luggage and campsite for pitching two tents. One for Avinash-Maithili and one for myself. While we were keeping our luggage in our room, the mother of the young girl arrived. She wasn’t home when we arrived. She offered us tea. Once we settled there we decided to go to Hunder for a sand dunes festival. Within half an hour we reached Hunder. From within the Hunder village a narrow path was built which goes straight at the sand dunes. We crossed this narrow path and parked our bikes in sand. We saw many tourist vehicles parked there. The sight was beautiful. Mountains all around, sand desert in the center and a small river flowing right through it. The beauty of this sight can not be expressed in words. Tourists had gathered around many food joint tents. We noticed a herd of camels and a herd of humans taking rides on them. We went ahead and inquired about the cost of the camel ride. It was 180 Rs. per head but for the festival the charges were brought down to 150 Rs. Me, Avinash and Maithili hopped on our camel and took a nice ride. After a camel ride we went to a small cafe named ‘Cafe 125 – The best cafe on world’s highest motor-able road’. The menu of the hotel had dosa mentioned in it. Three of us were tempted to have a dosa after a long time. But unfortunately it wasn’t available. We satisfied our hunger pangs with samosa and vada. We came back to Diskit for our home-stay. Pitched our tents on the campsite, had our dinner and went to sleep in our tents. We had a very sound sleep that night in our tents.