The Chronicles Of Ladakh

Discussion in 'Travelogues' started by Vargis Khan, Dec 21, 2015.

  1. Vargis Khan

    Vargis Khan Administrator Staff Member

    I look at the watch in my cellphone. It is just slightly past 7 PM. The sun is setting down and the skies are red with evening twilight. Karzok is merely 40 kms away, as I am being told by the locals, and if we hurried, we will comfortably make it there before it gets dark. I look at my watch again and then the skies. It is going to be a dark night, with no moon in the sky. As dark as the last night was. It was going to be pitch black. I am in doubt, I am hesitant but there is no other choice. It is not the fear of riding in the dark but the fatigue that has taken control of all of us. We are tired, nearly exhausted and none of us wants to continue riding further. But there is no choice. Either ride or stay here and spend the night in a nearly shattered room with no glass on windows, dirty mattresses & blankets and with a strong stinking smell. I look at my watch again.

    "How is the road?" I inquire of the locals.

    "As good as it is here" They tell me.

    I look at the road, fresh black tarmac. Riding 40 kms on this should not be a problem. I look at Sunny and Shoaib with inquiring eyes but they just shrug their shoulders. The answer was clear, "Whatever you decide"

    I ask Rohit and he immediately says no, for he does not want to risk riding in the dark. But there is no other choice. I kick start my Royal Enfield. She roars back to life but tells me nothing about her rear tyre that already has a nail piercing through it. She keeps silent about the air that is slowly escaping through the punctured tube. And so we ride again, the last 40 kms of the day, to Karzok. To the banks of Tso Moriri. Little do we know that these last 40 kms are going to take us nearly 6 hrs to cover and that all of us are about to risk spending the night on the road.

    That we are about to risk getting lost, in the middle of nowhere, on a dark night.

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  2. Vargis Khan

    Vargis Khan Administrator Staff Member

    It is the month of July.
    In the plains, it is the month of long and hot days. It is the month of the Sun.

    But hills are different.
    In the hills, the sun is kind.
    In the hills it does not burn. it gives warmth, like a mother wrapping her child in her arm to protect it from the cold.
    Yes, the weather is pleasant in the hills in the months of the Sun.
    These are the months of celebrations.

    The streams are fierce, they are strong. For this is the month of the Sun.
    They are little kids playing in the street, with not a care in the world.
    They are reckless, they are well fed, for the Sun shines upon the mighty glaciers, melting their pride and providing enough for the streams to celebrate.
    But all kids are afraid of the dark, and so are the streams because then the Sun will be gone and the cold will threaten to freeze them to death.

    Trees have no such worry.
    They rejoice whether its night or day.
    For now is the time for them to show their true colors.
    The color of green.
    The color of Orange.
    The color of Yellow and so many.

    Colors are available in plenty, all around.
    It is no loner the winter when everything is white.
    Flowers blossom and present a feast for the eyes.

    And where there are no trees and flowers, colors still prevail.
    For they are also in the sand,
    In the rocks,
    And in the hills.

    Kiangs are back. There is plenty of grass available for them to graze upon in the valleys of Chanthhang.

    The Ducks and Cranes are back too, to enjoy the warmth of the season.

    But the glaciers are angry.
    Its their time to fight the heat and retain the snow, their pride.
    They are anxious for the winter to return.

    And the locals are angry too. They are upset.
    They are upset about the terrorist attack at a Buddhist site in Bihar.
    They are protesting.
    They are calling for a bandh, a chakka jam.
    They are furious.

    And to this land of beauty and colors we went.
    To this paradise we went.
    Yet again,

    We crossed the mighty passes, some in the dark.
    We traveled on roads so good, so bad, so confusing,
    And even where there were no roads.

    We witnessed the cold of the land,
    We witnessed the colors in the sand.

    We witnessed the fury of the locals,
    We were threatened by cops,
    Almost manhandled by a mob,
    Questioned by the army,

    We were lost,
    We were tired,

    We saw the kiangs so magnificent,
    Birds so beautiful,
    And chased by dogs so dangerous.

    But again we went,
    To the paradise.
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  3. Vargis Khan

    Vargis Khan Administrator Staff Member

    Day 1 - Delhi To Manali

    Like everything else in the world, it all began with an idea. An idea to return to a place no less than the paradise itself. An idea that had been lingering on in the mind for 3 years, ever since our last trip to Leh. The last time we sat on the banks of Pangong Tso, a decision was made. Decision to make it an annual thing, to come visit Leh every year. Little did we know of how difficult it was going to be. Three years had passed since our last trip but the memories did not fade. Everything remained fresh in mind, like it all happened yesterday. We were mesmerized by the beauty of Ladakh and the feeling only fueled our efforts to return. For three years, every year a plan was made, only to be postponed for next year. So a plan was again made in the 4th year and so began the preparations.

    Of course there had to be preparations. Ladakh is not a place where you can just pack your bags to go. A trip to Ladakh requires a plan and preparations. First a plan had to be made, carefully.

    First aspect of the plan was "when". After much thought, first week of July was decided and when was dealt with.

    Second aspect was "who". From past experiences I had learn that this part can not really be decided and finalized until the D-Day. So this was left out for the last couple of days. For now, a group of 4 was decided upon.

    Next part of the plan was "Where". Of course it was going to be Ladakh but where in Ladakh? What do you see in Ladakh when you had already been there and seen it all? Answer was simple, see all of it all over again. Get mesmerized all over again. Fall in love with the virgin beauty of Ladakh all over again. Re-visit the already visited places and add some new destinations.

    Then came "How long". After much addition and deletion, 10 to 11 days is all that we could manage.

    And hence the preparations began. The first and the most important part of preparations was to get the motorcycles ready and hence began the process of repairing and replacing. With careful instructions to the other three, I got my own Royal Enfield carefully inspected and services. Whatever seemed doubtful was replaced. And the other three motorcycles were treated the same way.

    Once that done, preparations shifted to the passes required to cross Rohtang and to visit certain areas in Ladakh. I knew that passes for Chanthhang were not being given out in 2012 but if still was the case, I couldn't find out after spending hours on the web. Finally I found a contact in Leh and called him who agreed to arrange for the passes for Chanthhang and other places as well. Similarly I called a contact in Manali and he agreed to arrange passes to cross Rohtang. Sole idea behind getting passes arranged beforehand was to avoid spending time at DM's offices in Manali and Ladakh, since we were already short on time.

    And hence planning and preparations were completed. All that was required to do now was to count days till our day of departure.
  4. Vargis Khan

    Vargis Khan Administrator Staff Member

    It is strange how slowly time passes when you are waiting for something or someone. Every hour, every day seems like ages. And when the moment arrives, time flies by so quickly. Everything gets over before you even realize it.

    With all preparations done, We too waited for the moment to arrive. The moment when we will be able to start the journey that we were all so eagerly waiting for. We counted weeks and then days. We were anxious, we were restless. We kept our fingers crossed for the waiting period also consisted of a day when this plan almost got canceled, yet again.

    And finally the day arrived, the moment arrived. Against all odds, plan still remained as planned.

    Once again we wanted to start as early as we could, possibly by midnight so we can comfortably make it to Manali the next day, without any rush. Rohit had told us well in advance that he was apprehensive about riding after dark in the hills so that was another reason for us to start early. So we can reach our destination while there was still sunlight left in the skies and check into a hotel before it got dark.

    But a plan is a plan, just a theory. There is no guarantee that it will stick. A plan can not predict the future.

    And so it happened that we were all still sitting at work, well past midnight. I was fumbling around on my Laptop's keyboard, trying to wrap things up, while other waited for me patiently. But I could feel their keen eyes on my back, wondering how long it was going to take me. I could still sense that question that was lingering in all their heads, that how long it was going to take me to finish work. They kept wondering and I kept trying.

    And by the time I did shut down my computer, it was 4 in the morning.

    We all rushed to my place, wrapped our bags in polycovers, tied them up on motorcycles and the clock showed 6 am when our journey finally began.

    Rohit and Sunny were the first ones to leave. While I was doing a final check to ensure that we did not miss anything, I noticed the confused look on Shoaib's face. By his actions of checking his pockets and looking underneath several things lying on my table and bed, I figured he was trying to find something.

    "I cant find my key" He said.

    "Motorcycle key?" I asked.

    "Yes" He said and continued searching.

    After 15 minutes of looking everywhere in my room, I noticed that Shoaib was wearing a Blue Jeans.

    "Did you wear that to work last night?" I asked.

    "No" He replied, "A formal trouser. I just changed into this Jeans"

    "And where is that trouser?"

    "In the bag" And he pointed towards his bag that was already well packed and roped on the motorcycle. And thus the mystery of missing key was solved.

    So another 15 minutes were spent in unpacking the bag, taking the key out of the trouser and packing it again.

    We were almost 6 hours behind schedule. That didn't sound like a good start but it wasn't all that bad either. We were all just glad that the trip had finally begun.

    Soon our motorcycles were cruising on NH1, or Grand Trunk Road or Shershah Suri Road.

    But it is just a road. A long monotonous ride. There are no shers here, and no elephants with big trunks. It isn't even grand anymore. Maybe once upon a time it was when for more than two millennia it remained a lifeline for traders, running from Chittagong till Kabul. But now its just a road. There are other roads that are far better and grand than this one.

    Now it is just NH1.

    Our first break came after Moorthal and after feasting on Aaloo Paranthas, we were on our way again.


  5. Vargis Khan

    Vargis Khan Administrator Staff Member

    Road was long, journey was tiring and destination far away hence we tried to keep our breaks as few as possible. After a long ride in the sun and what seemed like ages, we finally neared Chandigarh.

    I knew their was a diversion near Roopnagar that serves as Chandigarh bypass. It goes through Berut and merges in the highway again after Chandigarh. I did see a few diversions but wasn't sure which one to take and didn't want to risk taking a wrong turn and waste a couple of hours finding our way back. So we continued on NH1 and crossed Chandigarh by noon.

    Road was still smooth. Road was still inviting. Grand Trunk road may not be so grand anymore but one good thing about it is that it remains in good condition through-out the year. We took a quick refreshment break after Chandigarh, had a few glasses of sugarcane juice and hit the road again towards Kiratpur Sahib.

  6. Vargis Khan

    Vargis Khan Administrator Staff Member

    I traveled on this road just a few months ago, while on our way back from Tirthan Valley, so we knew that the road was going to be bad around Kiratpur but boy were we surprised. It was worse than the last time we encountered it. Potholes that we saw as small babies few months earlier have now grown into full size monstrous adults. They were in fact so large that even truckers were avoiding them and our cruising speed now turned into a crawling speed of merely 15 / kms per hour. Road did get a little better after a few kilometers but our average speed could not get past 20 to 25 kms an hour and it made me wonder how long it was going to be before we reach Manali.

    The only comfort we found was in the thought that road will be much better after Bilaspur / Mandi.

    Somewhere along the way here came our first breakdown when the rear tyre on my Enfield went flat. We were carrying a puncture repair kit but none of us was in the mood of doing the job ourself. A passerby told us that there was a puncture repair shop just a few meters ahead. Rohit and Sunny went ahead, came back with the mechanic and after more than an hour wasted, we were on our way again.


  7. Vargis Khan

    Vargis Khan Administrator Staff Member

    While the wheel was getting fixed, I decided to click some shots.



  8. Vargis Khan

    Vargis Khan Administrator Staff Member

    5 torturous hrs of avoiding potholes, overtaking trucks, smoke finding its way from exhaust pipes of trucks to our faces, dust eager to get into our eyes, finally saw us reaching Mandi.

    But the ordeal was far from finished. After Mandi, road did get better but by now we were completely exhausted. None of us had slept the night before and fatigue was starting to settle , in both our minds and bodies. By now the idea of breaking the journey at some place in between rather than continuing to Manali had occurred to all of us but we couldn't afford to reach Manali the next day because we we short on time.

    With our minds set on Manali, we started from Mandi. Until now were traveling at a modest pace, enjoying the natural beauty around us but after Mandi, we had to accelerate. For the last 150 kms, as the sun was starting to settle down, our average speed remained over 40 kms / hour. Rohit and I were riding ahead with Sunny and Shoaib a little behind us. Rohit was the most eager one to reach Manali as he was nervous about riding in the dark.

    We took a quick breather at SunderNagar, enjoying the setting sun over the lake, and were on the road again.

  9. Vargis Khan

    Vargis Khan Administrator Staff Member

    Saw this at the dam before Kullu, amazing sight.

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  10. Vargis Khan

    Vargis Khan Administrator Staff Member

    After Sundernagar, Sun went down faster than I imagined, as if someone just turned off a light bulb. It was dark all around and the only things that remained visible were the ones that our headlight shined upon. Following each other's tail lights, we kept pushing on and the clock showed almost 11 Pm by the time we entered Manali.

    Original plan was to contact the guy I had asked to arrange for our Rohtang passes but while I was paying for the entry fee at the barricade just before Manali, the guy at the counter suggested that I can still get the passes arranged. It surprised me because it was nearly midnight and there was no way that DM's office was going to remain open that late. As it turned out, now the passes were being given out at the same place where you pay the entry fee rather than DM's office. I knew how it was going to be, getting passes at midnight would mean paying a little extra but I didn't mind it because it meant we could start early again and don't have to go finding my contact at Manali in dead of the night.

    I was right. I did end up paying more than the usual but within half an hour, we had the passes in our hand. Once this was done, next task was but only one. Find a hotel, check in, eat till our bellies refuse to take any more and crash for the night. But this was not going to be easy as well. Finding a hotel wasn't a problem but finding a hotel who can still serve us dinner was definitely doubtful.

    While searching for a hotel, we noticed a dhaba that was still open. It looked like the guy was just cleaning up before closing but to our relief, his answer when we asked, "Kuchh khaane ka intezaam ho jaayega?" was yes.



    It was nearly 1 am when we finished up eating. We paid the guy and just when we thought to go look for a hotel, disaster struck again. My Enfield's rear tyre was flat again.

    This is the last thing any of us wanted at this hour but couldn't do anything about it. Finding a puncture repair shop at that moment was out of question and we did the only thing we could, found a hotel at reasonable price, rode my Enfield to the hotel on a flat tyre and crashed under the blankets.

    And thus ended a long and monotonous day. So far, we had traveled slightly over 500 kms and have had 2 breakdowns already.

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