My First Bike Trip to Ladakh

The entire herd

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This was the bird I was talking about, can someone please identify it? Monal pheasant maybe?

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Our plan to not stop till Sarchu failed miserably given our low energy levels, and we stopped again for a butt break after Gata loops. By this time, a bunch of vehicles was climbing down the loops, which meant that the Leh - Manali road must have been cleared. The first vehicle to overtake us was a Safari whose driver seemed to be possessed. He was driving at a breakneck speed at that altitude, that road quality, and on bends as well. I half expected to see the Safari turn turtle further up. Thankfully, nothing like that happened.

We must’ve reached Sarchu by about 7:00 pm, much to the pleasant surprise of the boys. They had expected us to stay back at Pang and call it a day there. With hugs and high-fives, the group was synced up once again. We had ridden for a good 12 hrs on roads that were probably worse than the Sarchu - Leh leg, and almost the same distance. The time taken was less than before, and it was less exhausting as well compared to the stretch to Leh on the way up. The only difference between the two being a good night’s sleep. We all freshened up, had dinner, exchanged stories of the day’s ride, and then crashed for the night. The plan for the next day was only to reach Sissu, so the day could begin late.
 

Day 12: Sarchu - Manali​


The night before had been comfortable, partly due to the fact that we had split up into two tents, getting more space per head, and partly due to the fumes of kerosene in our tent - acting as a strong sleeping pill. We woke up fresh and active, except Gunjan who had a strong headache due to the fumes. After a quick breakfast at the dhaba, we were off by 8 o'clock. The boys had gotten ready and had left half an hour earlier. Today was definitely going to be two mini-groups riding up at different paces right from the word go. The early morning sun was most welcome and soothing. Having shot too many pictures on the way up to Sarchu, we decided to make haste. We resisted our urge to stop for tea at Bharatpur city and were at the top of Baralacha La in 1.5 hours. There were two water crossings before the pass and both of them were pretty tame at that time of the day.

We spent a few minutes at the top and parked our bikes right next to the prayer flags. So short was the break that most did not even bother to take their helmets off. I, on the other hand, have a habit of making myself as comfortable as possible, even on the shortest of breaks.

Tsarap Chu at Sarchu Plains

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The climb towards Baralacha La shall begin soon, for now, we enjoy the ride in the plains

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Prayer flags adorn the Baralacha La top


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The riders rest, none of them seems keen to take their helmets off.


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The pristine lake that is Suraj Tal

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A lone dozer stands resting near the top

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The winding loops that is a pleasure to ride upon, while descending Baralacha La

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The colorful establishment of SASE at Patseo


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After Suraj Tal, we mentally bid adieu to the arid lands of Ladakh and entered the Lahaul valley. The roads onward were absolutely priceless. I don’t think even the roads of Delhi can match up to the smoothness of the roads on the descent of Baralacha La! The ride till Deepak Tal was smooth, devoid of any water crossings, and we were there by 10:30.

We decided to finally break a bit longer and have some tea at the sole dhaba at Deepak Tal. Having made good progress till then, we discussed the option of stretching all the way till Manali that day. No one was conceptually averse to the idea, but the decision itself was left for later. We marched on and were back on the saddle by 11 am.

Jugni rests near Deepak Tal

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The greenish waters of Deepak Tal, next to it lies a dhaba as well

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WanderB strikes a pose at Deepak Tal

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That is called manning the highway :)

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The end of the trip is near, near Jispa

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The overall altitude of the ride had gone down, but the sun was as harsh as ever. Our level of discomfort naturally increased. The camera was packed inside the tank bag, and breaks were kept at a minimum.

Moving ahead, we saw Gunjan and Yeshu heading back towards our direction. Having not seen us for a while, they had turned back expecting us to have landed in some trouble. Yeshu was not pleased with my idea of breaking the mini-group and was worried, but I guess he understood when I shared the reason.

By Tandi, all of us were pretty much roasted in the baking sun. We moved on toward Sissu after refueling a bit. The refueling was essentially not required, but we still got it done. Reaching Sissu at 2 pm, we started searching for the boys, as this was supposed to be the night halt for the day, but alas they were nowhere to found. Neither were there any dhabas at Sissu where they might have stopped over. We assumed that they must have decided to make the final assault till Manali and hopefully were waiting for us at Koksar.

I was cruising at a good speed on that stretch and did not judge a bend for what it was worth, and hit a ditch in the middle of the curve. Thankfully I did not lose my balance, but the bike hit the ditch hard, and there was a loud clang. With Koksar not that far ahead, we thought of breaking there and checking the bike.

The boys were nowhere to be found even at Koksar, and all we could do was to assume that they had gone on to Manali. We had the choice of staying put at Koksar and taking on the mighty Rohtang monster the next day. But all of us were surprisingly feeling energetic enough to take on the monster, and so with that decision out of the way, we proceeded for lunch.

Lunch at the dhabas was very refreshing, they do make some really nice mutton momos and the meat chawal was heavenly, but my mind was somewhere else. The loud clang had resulted in a broken right luggage carrier which was now precariously attached to the bike by just one bolt! There was no way in heaven it would survive the onslaught of Rohtang. A desperate search for a welding guy at Koksar did not yield anything. Several solutions were discussed, some of them being:

Unload all the luggage from our bike. Get all the luggage on some passing vehicle to be picked up later at Manali.

There was a trust issue in the above idea, so an alternate was to ask the girls to chaperone the luggage till Manali.

The girls did not want to break up, obviously, so another option seemed to be to go back all the way till Keylong - get it welded and stay the night there, but with the boys missing - sync up could become a nightmare.

The fourth option was to tie the carrier up with as much rope as we can find and pray for the best. Should anything go wrong, plan no. 2 could be invoked at any stage.

We found rope with which Yeshu and I tied the carrier to the bike as tightly as we possibly could, and then left the rest to God. We took the lead this time and were going extra slow to ensure that the stress on the carrier was as less as possible. Aarti was at all times on the alert checking the ropes frequently just in case they were giving away. But soon we realized that the rope solution might actually work, at least till the slush fiesta ahead. On our ascent to the pass, the sun was hot and bright, but we could see thick white clouds at the top and probably even on the Manali side. Near the top, we were forced to break for a good 30 min while a dozer cleared the path ahead. It was 4:30 pm when we finally embarked on the last stretch towards Rohtang top.

500 m before the pass, visibility dropped down to an absolute zero due to thick fog and a slight drizzle. Our camera which had finally come out at the dozer break went quickly back inside our waterproof tank bag. Rohtang top wore an absolutely deserted look with all the dhabas having closed down already. The downpour had increased, and finally, it looked and felt like Rohtang, if you know what I mean. The climb up had been fairly straightforward, but what lay ahead was the real deal.
 
Beyond Rani nallah was the place where it started getting real nasty. The slush made the bike swing and fishtail like crazy. My Quechua shoes hung on, battling the thick slush, trying to get a foothold, while the ropes that bound the carrier to the bike fought against all odds to not break. The road ahead was jammed up, thanks to an Innova from Delhi whose wheels were spinning in the slush. Although the queue was long, since we were on bikes, we managed to get to the very front. This had its own daredevilry involved wherein at a point or two, Yeshu and I had to maneuver our bikes on the very edges of the road. Meanwhile, the poor Innova spun and spun with a clueless driver at its helm trying hopelessly to get out of the rut. It was finally taken out by a local driver who offered his services after getting impatient. No wonder the Manali administration has decided to ban non-HP vehicles to cross over Rohtang. Maybe they should conduct a slush test before allowing HP and non-HP vehicles alike.

Needless to say, both the girls had dismounted and were walking their way downhill on the narrow track that was left of the road due to the jam. Finally, after struggling for a good 1.5 hours, we made it to the Marhi dhabas by 6 pm or so. We’d conquered Rohtang! Sighs of relief and high fives were followed by pakodas and chai as we celebrated the defeat of our common enemy.


Devilish clouds hang over Rohtang ahead

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The clouds as you can see is pretty thick

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And the madness that was Rohtang, Kudos to Gunjan to have taken this shot

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In our excitement of making it till Marhi, we did not realize that it was still very foggy and pouring and the journey till Manali might actually be more treacherous than usual. It took us a good 2 hours to do the distance between Marhi and Manali, all thanks to the thick fog which finally cleared up near SASE (after Palchan).

The boys were over-joyous to see us as they had abandoned all hopes of us making it till Manali that day and had already ordered in dinner and were about to crash. We exchanged our stories of horrors faced in that slush. They had an equally bad experience with KD losing his precious Nokia N8 and along with it all his shots from the trip.

We crashed that night, completely tired, and did not even make plans for the next day. Supposedly we had to check out of the hotel at noon and head towards Delhi. Ya right!
 

Day 13: At Manali​


No one woke up before 9 am the following morning, none wanting to give up the comforts of a cozy bed. Over chai at our adjoining balconies, everyone mutually agreed to spend an extra day at Manali before heading out for Delhi. After all, it was still a Thursday today, and even if we left the next day, we would be in Delhi latest by Saturday afternoon.

Agenda one for Manali day was a good brunch, and so we found ourselves at World Peace Cafe in Vasishtha, a few hundred meters from our hotel, which by the way was called ‘Hotel Hollywood’. We enjoyed the lovely view of the Beas from the cafe as we dug into our sumptuous brunch. A thick cloud cover remained, denying us the view of the lovely snow-covered peaks.

It was pretty cloudy and gloomy on that day in Manali - view from the hotel balcony

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The next objective was to get the bikes fixed for the final haul to Delhi. I had to also get the luggage carrier repaired. I had in mind a cheap welding job so that it could hold up for the next 600 km, as it was pretty obvious that the carrier would have to be thrown away upon reaching Delhi. The bikes were adhered to at different service stations along the road to Rohtang. They even got a well-deserved shower at one of the Chevrolet service stations for 70 bucks per bike.

While the boys were getting the bikes fixed and cleaned, the girls had gone up to Mall Road to get some shopping done. We all finally got together at Il Forno for a late lunch. Thereafter, we headed back to the hotel to rest and pack.

While the others rested, Aarti and I spent the evening at the Lazy Dog Cafe in Old Manali. The Cafe is located right next to the nallah there and is a good place to hang out and chill. We spent quite a nice evening there, just sitting and chatting.

The rest of the group joined us at the cafe later in the evening. We all then headed for dinner at another restaurant in Old Manali (Moondance Cafe) where, apart from dinner, we ordered some other stuff; well, let's just keep it at that. And let's just say that the quality was exquisite when used at a party later in Delhi.

We then called it a night. Having had a rather restful day, our plan was to shoot for Delhi the next day.
 

Day 14: Manali - Ambala​


All that remained of the trip was a long ride back to Delhi. The ride in the hills was bearable, but just thinking of riding through the hot and humid plains in the sweltering August heat made us cringe.

We began the day early, at about 6 am. It was raining cats and dogs, so apart from being a dull ride, it promised to be a wet ride as well. We all had our rain gear on, but none of us was 100% rainproof despite multiple layers of protection. Rain and landslides, with their related hold-ups, accompanied us all the way till Bilaspur, after which we got some respite. Lunch was a simple affair at the lake-view hotel run by HPTDC.

Post lunch, the humidity started taking its toll on all of us. A minor accident was up next. Thanks to the road construction work near the HP - Punjab border, Jugni lost control, and Gunjan fell off the bike. Much to my horror, I could see her falling in my rearview mirror. Fortunately, she sustained only minor injuries, and after giving her first aid, we moved on towards Ambala.

A massive jam before the cut towards Banur saw us progressing slowly ahead and it was only by sunset that we managed to reach the Haveli at Ambala. We decided to take a longish break for an early dinner before pushing off for the final haul till Delhi. As we rested, our low energy level started to make its presence felt and it was mutually decided to crash for the night at that motel itself and make the final short ride to Delhi the next day.

Day 15: Ambala - Delhi​


There was no rush to start early, so everyone slept in a bit late and we pushed off by 9 am from the motel after having a decent breakfast. The ride to Delhi was smooth without any untoward incidents. The trip came to an end with high fives near Munirka, and we all went to our separate homes.
 
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