Biking Off LADAKH and KASHMIRs….

Well to begin with, the very maniac to go Ladakh started off quite a while ago in April’08. Actually, I was just checking out some brochures for adventure tours for my cousin, and Ladakh just bounced upon me. Then, some spectacular nature photos and research about the place shifted the gears to plan in for such a trip. Checked out lot of friends to join me up, but u know, the very name of Kashmir is synonymous with militant activities, puts everyone off. Still a couple of them agreed but opted off atlast. Now that, I was completely crazy about it, I took the refuge of great power of internet and we were ready as a biking group having people from Ludhiana, Rajasthan. Well, the adventure started from there itself, going along with strangers in a completely no-organized way!!

(DISCLAIMER: Well, let me clarify to you all- this is an experience of a person who's pretty much a casual biker not into long-distance biking, probably might had done maximum of 50-60kms biking in a single day and that too on city-suburban fine tar/concrete roads over a poor 100cc bike!!! Well its me- a traveling and nature enthusiast onto my first biking expedition in the regions of Ladakh and Kashmir)

The journey started off on 6th July from Pune to Mumbai. Boarded Swaraj Express off for Ludhiana and after 26hrs of tiring journey did I reach. We started off for Manali the very same day (i.e. 8th July) at around 7 in the evening.We were 6 guys Adi, Kaku, Rahul, Karan from Punjab, Gajju from Jaipur and me from Pune (all met on internet) all set to create history and loads of memories for ourselves to cheer about. Well, I wasn’t having the bike then, so was riding pillion with one of the group mates, Karan. The lush green woods and streams across had a soothing effect over everyone. Night was getting darker and darker,the riding even as a pillion was really torturous. A small nap here and there and you are done!! So, I had to have loads of cuppa of chai to keep myself alive in absolutely true sense!!!:) Actually that night itself, witnessed one of those bike problems and you know late night, remote places and no one really an expert mechanic, played around with nuts n bolts n get bike back to running state.

Ultimately in morning around nine, got the view of Beas River and then it was assured that Manali’s just closeby. After a long journey, 9th of July was kept off for rest & some basic bike repairs. Now, here is where, I rented a bike-Pulsar, for riding pillion isn’t any joke. Actually, I was crazy about going to LADAKH and biking wasn’t on my mind that much but yeahh if you are riding your own bike and I’m talking about great Himalayas, it’s a absolutely high feeling!! After the whole lot of finale preparations, the actual journey to Himalayas was to begin. Everybody was geared with un-matching enthusiasm and great determination to go all the way up to KhardungLa, the highest motorable road of the World.

10/07/2008: MANALI – Marhi – ROHTANG TOP (3987m) – Koksar – Sissu – Gonda – Tandi – KEYLONG (Total: 115kms)

So, began the 1st day in Himalayan rally from Manali on 10th. Loaded up the luggage/bags onto our machines(bikes). Now loading-up luggage is a well to-do job…it need to sustain those pothole-ridden roads. I did notice bags having magnetic arrangement with other bikers, being loaded up over the petrol tank. So, I suggest all you dear bikers to purchase those kind of bags, it can be really worthy the biking trip for tying up bags every day is terrible time-consuming job yet u are worried about bag falling off every now n then while driving.

Well, the Rohtang Pass was the first pass en route the whole journey. The road en route Rohtang was really a test for bikers, not that much because of heights but due to its torrid roads and your first tryst with high altitude passes. Obviously, the ascent coupled up with terrible ‘kichad’(mud!) at places was a torture for biker as well as their bikes. To top it up, some streams across roads add up to our excitement and adventure. En route we had tea at Marhi, a very small town dotted with food stalls and dhabas. Usually, people going to Rohtang take break at Marhi. Ultimately, we reached Rohtang at an altitude of 3987m. It was about 2 in afternoon but at passes it gets more chilling as the clock ticks off noon

Actually, we didn’t find enough ice out there at Rohtang Top, though we could spot snow in patches here and there. Some of us including me faced some high altitude problems esp. headaches, courtesy- lack of oxygen. Slept there at food stall for a while, had some noodles, tea and then took Diamox, a tablet especially meant for AMS(Acute Mountain Sickness).Caution: Diamox being diuretic..u need to drink more water. While some of our group mates were having really good gala time there at Rohtang Top, I didn’t wish to be there for long. Ultimately we left from Rohtang downwards to our destination KEYLONG. Now, the roads conditions were pretty good as compared to earlier. Once I was down from Rohtang, I really felt great, total peace, was actually off heachaches. Now the route was Koksar-Sissu-Gonda-Tandi-Keylong. Well it was just Addi, Gajju n me there while others had rushed over ahead. We took a break near river bank and yeah…...thats River Chenab, a fast flowing Himalayan river. Had loads of fun and foto-shooting there. Moving ahead to Tandi and then to Keylong, it was about 6 by then. Then we’d to scout for our remaining partners there and mind you Keylong’s a pretty huge village as such with State Bank as well. It was really difficult to search for partners in such a situation.Luckily, a Bangalore biking group member whom we’d met at R-top, helped us locate our people. Had an easy sleep and food at the hotel there. Next day, we were supposed to go back to Tandi to fill our petrol tanks full.

11/07/2008: KEYLONG – Stingri – Jispa – Darcha – ZingZingBar – BARALACHALA PASS (16042ft) – BHARATPUR (approx. 90-92 kms)

Now begins the second day, all geared up to touch the destination SARCHU. Well, in the beginning we went back to Tandi to fill our petrol tanks for that’s the last fuel station, about 365 kms before next fuel station in Leh region.While on the way, we spotted a monastery, thereby went uphill & paid our respects to the very first monastery of trip, Shashur Monastry, Keylong. The moment we entered, the monks were just completed with their prayers and were having snacks. They called us and offered us tea and biscuits. That was so nice of them. Further, we had a talk with few of them regarding our tour. They told us that if we could make it to Hemis next day, probably we could participate in Hemis Annual festival. I’d heard lot about it- Dragon dances but wasn’t having specific knowledge about its time and duration and further our group was a biking enthusiast one so ppl weren’t that interested into such cultural stuff.

Well, we started off from Keylong bit late at around 1 in afternoon but distance to be covered was as well just around 115 kms. Now, our major destination to reach was Barlachala Pass (16042 ft.). The route was Keylong - Stingri - Jispa - Darcha - ZingZingBar - Baralachala.

En route we crossed an army camp at Patsio. Well, we were just getting used to army/military camps. Anyways person heading to J&K definitely need to get used these..isn't it?? It was getting really CHILLER as day progressed further. We reached a place called Bharatpur, very small village. Had some some soup and just planned to settle down there itself instead of going further 25 kms to Sarchu on the advice of some truck driver who suggested us that that place was is pretty cheap and good as compared to Sarchu. But ya, one of our partners Gajju man, a big time rusher had rushed all the way to Sarchu and took a tent there. It was really cold night and further sleeping at height was really terrible. Most of us had severe headaches but that’s how the trip goes on. The tent owner said many people returns from there without making it to Leh. hey...wat a pity for those guys!!! The tent owner-couple were really kind, made teas and maggis but the damn you really don’t feel like eating anything in that state of aches. They told that they were there just for 3-4 months and rest over time farming in their village. Well, imagine their lives, living in those hostile conditions at those good heights without much access to world as such. Well, that’s the struggle of mankind…for basics of ivelihood….Salutes their Great Spirits!!!

It was really wonderful experience chatting with those tent-owners and staying there in that huge tent. Btw,I suggest all you fellow travelers to stop over at Sarchu as its pretty much lower altitude than Bharatpur so probably you may not face high altitude problems there. We knew its going to be big journey next day. First of all reaching out to Sarchu and then touching over to Leh the same evening as per our plan. The total distance to be covered comes out to be around about 282 kms.

12/07/2008 : BHARATPUR – Sarchu – GATA LOOPS – NAKEELA (15547 ft) – LACHULANG LA (16616 ft) – Pang – MOORE PLAINS – TANGLANG LA (17582 ft) – Rumste – Gya – Lato – Upshi – Karu – Thiksey – Choglamsar – LEH (around 280 kms)

Well the 3rd Day begins-12/07/2008…and I tell u….I found the most wonderful scenic beauty on this very day. We started off at quarter past 6 in morning. Had to cover a long distance that, no lousiness…just had to get off…but yeah it was damn difficult off from cosy blankets. Well things don’t go that easy man, motorbikes also do ask in for your due attention. And, on that freezing morning, what else can u expect, I was screwed up kickin my rented bike. Damn it was not working. Luckily, after couple of minutes it started off and we started off for the yet another chapter of our journey. The roads to Sarchu are mind-blowing

You would find all the nature’s wonderful creations in sand and clay of various textures and structures. Huge deep valleys on one side while gigantic mountains with sharp road turns on the other makes riding all the very interesting n thrilling. I was really enthused by all that and felt good that we covered that patch in the morning rather than evening. You know, I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate that nature and further capture it off that greatly under low lights, had I reached Sarchu a day before in late evenings. Ultimately we reached Sarchu. Loads of luxurious tents planted out there.

And, herds of sheep grazing over vast grasslands. Amazing site…country side…feel like to be there forever!! We met Gajju Bhai and had breakfast. While I had developed aversion for those fried up aloo parathas our ppl from Punjab were simply crazy abt it. We started off from there crossing…Nakeela, Lachulangla, Tanglangla Passes in succesion while Gata loops and Moore plains added the further more spice to our journey that day. Well after Sarchu, major attraction was GATA LOOPS. Actually, they are 21 road loops charted out within mountains

Well while covering loops I went on counting and to my surprise it wasn’t just getting over…all that was getting me into trance. Ultimately loops ended off and yes..we made it to Nakeela pass, which is at very descent 15547ft. Further bit ahead, we had tryst with Lachulangla @ 16616ft. While getting down from there, we had some really awesome views which are going to be with us for rest of our lives. There are some Palace kind of natural formations off sand and clay. That actually lends you speechless, looking at those magnificent gigantic structures that the nature or the HIGHNESS has offered to you. Well, it’s us who need to appreciate and preserve these wonders. HATS OFF to CREATOR of all of these. Now that was the time I was really really feeling as though I’m not on the earth…well off to very highness places!!!! Well the journey continues….I crossed a check-post and bid adieu to Himachal Pradesh and now I was into Jammu and Kashmir. Wow!!! Soon I reached PANG, a famous village for camping, at around 10. Had an amazing vegetable soup there. I was feeling great, well it’s the food that gets up upright every now n then. I suggest you travelers to have proper intake of food. While going across Manali-Leh, you’ll find lot of places offering Punjabi food esp. parathas at many places. Yeah, you do get really nice noodles, soups of various kinds like vegetable and momos, tsampas(local food) at many places. Well, actually you should be prepared to have noodles everyday till you reach Leh as thats somethg which is guaranteed available in all villages/campsites along the route. Personally I prefer taking soups and tea every now n then, it keeps me upright but a good breakfast is a must for the long day esp. while biking you don’t stop as such for lunch but just have breaks for noodles/soups/tea.

Then I was geared up for Moore Plains and obviously further to the world’s second highest pass TANGLANGLA. The Moore plains are just yet another facet of LADAKH. Long-Long huge plains, they get u, seriously. You do get into trance and especially if you driving alone. That was my case.

But the very beauty and variety this place offers is simply unmatching. A lot of road building was going on along that path, so had to take sandy routes, which was as well an interesting experience. Well soon I was on to TangLangLa and that wasn’t that usual for me as it was pouring then and driving up that height of 17582ft under those conditions for 2rd highest pass is definitely a test for driver. By then, I had covered a total of 364 kms from Manali in Himalayas. Well, that was not my destination, had to go much further. Descending down under rains in totally shivering state over those muddy watery roads was really terrible but you don’t have to think in those situations…just go on and touch the destination that’s how you work...:) Very soon then I made up to a village, where my gang was waiting for me. Had some tea and without any rest I rushed over with them. Here's where two guys from Patiala- Rubal and Abhinav alongwith their Enfield joined our group. It was still pouring hard and I was all soaked up as I took the liberty of not wearing any rainsuits. Now, I shut off my camera…well, that was the culprit that kept me behind…but thats me a nature enthusiast!!:) I came across yet another shade of purple and mauve colored mountains while nearing Leh. And Sindhu river joined us near Upshi. Many of you might be knowing that Sindhu(Indus) river is majorly into Pakistan before getting off into Arabian sea. Crossed a number of fringe villages- Gya, Lato, Upshi, Karu, Thiksey, Choglamsar before landing up in Leh. It was painstaking experience to find a place in Leh after the tiring journey. Well, got a pretty OK place that night. well that day, 2 of my team-mates fell prey to the rains, had an accident. But not that severe, so everything was going upright. Next day was Sunday…and rest day for us. Well a very deserving rest day…badly needed that!!

13/07/2008: Rest day in LEH and SHANTI STUPA Sightseeing

Well, had a great sleep and everything was going quite easy. Actually, that day was the last day of the Hemis Monastry Festival, which is considered to be really auspicious event. I really wanted to make it to it but lousiness of our people made it all late, and then I’d to scrap-up the plans to go Hemis. We changed over to better guest house near Women’s Alliance in Leh. It was really neat and spacious. Then, we headed over for lunch and I went over to have afternoon nap. Some of the people went over to Hemis while Gajju did some shopping. It was really rejuvenating after having very good sleep and food. Well, rest day actually reenergized me.

As I checked, day was nearing dusk, so quickly rushed over to Shanti Stupa to have amazing sunset views from there. Well, for all of you who don’t know Shanti Stupa is Japanese Monastery in Changspa area of Leh city. It’s a magnificent monastery built uniquely according to Japanese Architecture. The stories of Buddha’s life are very well scripted pictographically with the wonderful paintings. Being situated on hill-top, Shanti-stupa offers a whole-sole view of Leh city.Had really awesome sunset views from there.The platform at Shanti Stupa caters to loads of visitors whether Indians or foreigners. I met a group from Bangalore who were supposed to be participating in a marathon to be held in Leh in couple of days from then. Also, had a chat with a couple of tourists from Mumbai. U know Mumbai, me being a Pune-ite, it was good feeling talking to people of our region after long time. They’d been to Nubra Valley, so I took a bit of idea regarding road conditions and time required. They were really in praise of our biking act. Well, its actually nothing big deal!!! you know :) Actually you find lots of Mumbai and Maharashtrian tourists there in Ladakh. After lots of photo-shoots of Leh city and Shanti Stupa, I went ahead downwards. There I chanced upon a place so called as Tisseru Stupa, took the road to that place. Actually, it’s an archeological place (kind of a Khandar). Just hanged around that place for a while then it was the time to get back. Meanwhile, I checked out some market places to get the feel of the city...:) Returned to guest house just to know that guys who had been to Hemis just made it to packing or rapping ceremony ;) as such. The day ended with loads of rest and peace. Next day, lots of work was supposed to be carried out…from fetching permits from DC office to going off to Khardungla, and then further heading to Nubra Valley.

14/07/2008: LEH – KHARDUNG LA – Khardung – Khalsar - DISKIT (Nubra Valley Beyond Himalayas)

The day started on very easy note. The lousy mornings and then some shopping and money fetching from ATMs took a hell lot of time and before we knew, it was already 1 in afternoon after having lunch. Advice to all you dear visitors, if you are using ATM card, well get over to ATM center quite early in morning as it being a hotspot for tourists, military people as well as many locals, gets crowded as day progresses. Since, there’s just one State bank ATM and other one’s I guess J&K Bank, you can simply imagine the rush to these places.Started off quite late for KhardungLa, world’s highest motorable road. The road to KhardungLa was pretty OK…well the definition of OK changes over there after biking in those terrible areas ;) As you approach heights, snow covers and water draining off from it, creating muddy places…potholes all can be seen, felt and experienced by you and your bike…..come on that’s highest motorable road not that usual metro roads….has to offer you interesting paths…isn’t it!!

It was pretty pleasant when we reached Khardungla-Top at around 4. But just within a couple of minutes, we were all blessed by the snow fall there and then all the party began…..all dancing, singing, bhangras...having the best ever time at the highest motorable road in the world. Stayed for quite long at K-Top, purchased some souvenirs/T-shirts at Souvenir Shop there, had some noodles and tea there. We had all planned to go ahead to Nubra Valley but something went wrong…Adi n other guys cancelled the plans to move ahead to Nubras. Since I was determined for Nubras, I went ahead along with Gajju.

Crossed Khardung village around 5.30. Meet lot of army people and many of whom had served in Pune cantonment, felt really homely chatting with me. I got to know precise distances of places ahead from them. Gajju and I went ahead and were planning to stay at Hunder that night. Landscapes out in Nubra Valley are simply outstanding, actually I believe Nubras pretty much an integral part of Ladakh and everyone who bows down to Leh should pay their visits to this wonderful place. Now let me explain you, what’s all tht special out there. It's one of those places which offers great landscapes including huge Karakoram ranges to Deserts in Hunder region to really peaceful Gompas and yes hot water springs at Panamik. And to add to all that, its a paradise for all the bird watchers!!

Further that evening, journey continued, sun was setting in…moon basked out in glory and yes, there was yet another advent waiting in for me. That evening, Gajju the crazy driver zoomed off. It was getting quite dark. My rented bike barely lightened the road headlights being weak and unaligned made me drive very slowly only after judging the road ahead. I guess it was around 8.15 or so and there I bounced upon 2 roads and no demarcation/directions. Well how do I explain the degree of remoteness in that area….didn’t see a single vehicle whether its army truck or a safari after
around 5…damn dark with no villages in my sight. Well, at that so called junction itself I fell off…some petrol off as well…I just chanced upon particular route where I could site couple of lights down in the valley…thought may be that’s Disket. Still quite in doubt and just out in panic state, I luckily met a safari after 5-10 minutes, I simply asked that driver to get me to a place to sleep that night. He told me that I was on wrong road and he was going to Disket…so obviously I was to follow him. Well, that’s the state; I had been through, at around 8.30 in night - remote areas - alone biking - lost the path…and that time you require no food or people either, just an abode to rest till sun basks in. I definitely treasure those moments now… And yes to all you dear travelers, the people in Ladakh region are really helpful, trust them, they aren’t the same corrupted lot from our metros…really good people with innocent clean minds!!! Driving over, I reached the guest house in Disket at around 9. Well the day ended with loads of interesting experiences.

15/07/2008: DISKIT – Hunder – Diskit – Khalsar – Khardung – Khardungla – LEH

Having learn't my lesson last day, I started up in any case… it gets really torturing to drive my vehicle with headlights in dark.Gajju had already rushed off from there.So, I started off alone early at 6.30, went all the way to Hunder. Yes, this was one of those reasons to be in Nubras. Well without adding more to your curiosity levels, I tell you, it’s the place where you find sand dunes…yeah that’s the LADAKH desert.

It’s surrounded by huge mountain ranges with snow peaks from all around. If you might have forgotten, this place is just 60 odd kms from K-Top, highest motorable road with all snow around. That’s Ladakh for you!! You find it all from huge gigantic mountain ranges, deep valleys to greens plains to high altitude lakes. Well that’s what attracts you to this place with a variety of geographical and physiological features. To add to it, it also do have semi-arctic climatic conditions in winters, temperatures go upto -30 C. Salute to all Ladakhis…they strive really hard to make living and existence in such a hostile place.

So, the journey continues, I checked out the Hunder region, and met a group from Bangalore most of them from IT background. I joined those guys And it was pretty smooth then. Well…how can I forget the mouth-watering Dosas and Idlis there at army canteen in Hunder. Well, getting South-Indian food in the north-most of India was simply great!!! We moved over from there to reach the check-post beyond which visitors aren’t allowed. Ohh..Just 90kms short from India-China border. Then on we went to have camel safari in desert.Those camels with two humps are called Bactrian camels . Watching those snow clad mountain peaks and green patches along with the magnificent sand-dunes, while on camel safari was absolutely awesome. Where do you find all these at the same place? It’s absolutely a God’s wonder, rather a gift to mankind, isn’t it???

Further, on the back journey visited Disket Monastery. Had beautiful views of green farms/ plains from atop the Gompa. Having fun and food at places, we started off for K-top.I got an opportunity to meet Ladakhi singer(forgot the name though!!) along the way at one of those dhabas across the road. It was absolutely great to chat with him, he used to travel Khardungla pretty much on regular basis on his moped.Wow, I thought!! Well, this time around the atmosphere was really pleasant but we had a convoy of 50-60 army trucks ahead of us. Crossing them while ascending and water running off those muddy roads was by then quite usual but still thrilling experience.Well, we overtook the whole convoy, irritating the truck drivers by popping off in their rear view mirror often.Alas, we reached the K-Top. But started off quickly under the fear that convoy will pass over ahead of us. Just rushed over to Leh. I moved in with those guys in the Druk guest house. Had a very peaceful evening and also checked out some travel agents for Pangong Tso lake trip. Dear Travellers, I’d like to tell you, it’s a very novel concept of sharing safari/taxi in Leh. You’ll find lots of travel agents near State bank ATM with their boards put up outside for finding partners for sharing safari to places like Pangong Tso, Tso Moriri Lakes, Lamayuru, Nubra valley. So, if you are solo traveler…fret not…you’ll find lots of sharing safari options which will be quite economical as well.

16/07/2008: LEH – Hemis – Thiksey – Shey Palace – Stok Palace – Sindhu Ghat – LEH

This day, I planned off to cover all monastries and museums around Leh. Well, my dear Bangalore partners went ahead to Kargil. The guest house owner asked me to take one of his foreign customers alongwith. Well, it’s a huge vacation for foreigners here in Ladakh. Most of them spend time with their pals when switching from one job to another. Around about 90% of tourists in Leh are foreigners. Many of them stay for month or so…relaxing, mediating, traveling….well a wonderful vacation in Indian currency!!

I started off for Hemis Monastry, the biggest in the Ladakh region about 45 kms from Leh. It's construction dates back to 16th century and still you can see for yourself the glory of this place. Hemis festival is considered to be one of the biggest festivals in Ladakh. So, whoever plans to travel Ladakh in the period of June-July, do plan in sync with the Hemis festival. It’s more of a cultural event with dragon dances and monks draped in colorful robes dancing as well. Since it’s the place where one can taste the slice of culture of this region, this festival is a big hit with tourists. Further, while coming back, I visited Thiksey and then Shey Palace. Further on, went to Stok Palace, a place where descendents of Nymgyal Dyansty used to stay. Now it’s converted into museum where ornaments, utensils of dynasty are showcased. Lots of Buddhist paintings are as well displayed. I also chanced upon to see the conventional Ladakhi wine fermentor made of Yak’s skin.

From there on, I went to Sindhu Ghat, place from where Sindhu river is considered to be originating. Returning from day’s tour, I reached Leh, had some food(that’s just some cookies from Geman Bakery!!) and then checked out market place. Well, I had met my groupmates that day, and we had planned to make a move to Kargil and further to Baltal next day. So, that was the last day in Leh, and I started over for last minute shopping that evening. Collected some T-shirts, braclet-necklace of stones for sister and some audio CD’s of Buddhist/Tibetan/Ladakhi songs. Well, I suggest dear travelers, who possess a musical ear to purchase “Om Mani Ratnam” CD that’s very peaceful bhajan, you can start the your day with. Moment I reached back, I was hell hungry, just survived on some Germany bakery cookies all day long, so just requested my guest house owner for a veg noodle soup, which was the only thing available! Ultimately, at peace day ended in packing up. Next day was a huge day and we were supposed to cover around about 350kms.

17/07/2008: LEH – Lamayuru – FOTULA Pass – Kargil – Drass – ZOJILA Pass – BALTAL (Base camp for Amarnath cave Yatra) 
(225 (Leh-Kargil) + 125 (Kargil-Baltal) = 350kms)

The day started off very early. Well, whatever I might say about that rented bike, it didn’t broke down ever in the trip. Well, credit should also go to the rider…isn’t it?? ;) Started off early, along the way came across Magnetic Hill. Now this is a place whether it’s said to be experiencing some magnetic effects/pull. Well, I didn’t experience any pull onto my vehicle while driving but who knows whether it’s for real or not…anyways doesn’t matter!! Further ahead we went all the way to Patter Sahib Gurudwara. Actually there’s a story behind the establishment of Gurudwara in the Land of Lamas. Later on Buddhists wanted to have a monastery built up there, then army took the area under its control and now the Gurudwara is taken care by Indian army. Had a very peaceful time there.

Then on we started moving for Kargil. In the meanwhile, we came across Link roads to Alchi, Likir Monasteries.

Further, came across Lamayuru and I totally agree that this is a Moonland. While driving through this region, you feel as though you are actually moving across Moonscapes. Really Awesome Mountain ranges!! Well, after crossing the Lamayuru region, yet another pass was waiting in for us. Yeah, that’s Fotula Pass (13479ft), highest Pass along Leh-Srinagar route. That was definitely a piece of cake by then. The road conditions there were pretty much dusty and road works were going on at many places. I’ve to admit that J&K government do maintain good roads inspite of high altitudes, snow and melted water washing off roads every now n then. But yes the same can’t be said about HP roads, those are simply horrible.

Going ahead, we had to reach Baltal as day’s final destination. In the meantime, found a good dhaba, had food and I went ahead. Adi was already quite ahead, while others were having food. That day, sleep trauma struck me. Well, after having a good food and then driving under bright sun, I was feeling terribly sleepy. Still I was going on, but after a particular limit it just very difficult to carry on and yes I treasure my life…don’t wana loose it that easily…hehe. Just took a rest in some village for time being. Probably, that short nap made the difference, I was again on my feet to shoot over to our destination. Reached Kargil at around 5 or so. Frankly speaking, after traveling so much I can tell you Kargil offers you nil as far as a clean pleasing town is concerned or for that matter even nature is concerned. But yeah, that place has very strategic importance. We did pay our respects to Drass War Memorial built as a memory for all those ‘shahid’ in Kargil War. Actually thinking, it’s only because of our great warriors that we were driving so easy in that one-time terror-infested area. A Salute to all the great soldiers across the border!!! We could view the tiger hill far off from the road. The road beyond Kargil is army protected. You can spot army personnel every 300-500 odd meters. At first, it’s quite shocking. “Enemy is watching you, be careful” that’s what is explicitly mentioned over boards across roads. After reading that, assimilating and absorbing it into your brains, you can feel the intensity of danger in those areas.

Well, our target for the day was still far fetched. It was getting dark and we had to cross yet another pass Zojila Pass. The roads at the Zojila were torture and that too driving under lights, it was really getting under my nerves. Ultimately at around 9 reached Baltal, base camp for Amarnath Yatra. We’d to pass through lots of army check-ups there before finally getting into that village. There’s too much security there. All our luggages were X-ray scanned, and finally we found peace after traveling 350kms that day.

18/07/2008: BALTAL – Sonmarg – SRINAGAR (100kms)

That day, everyone was in utter state of confusion as to whether we should climb atop Amarnath top. After the news that Shivling was quite short or probably in totally melted form, Adi, Me, Rubal and Abhinav planned to start over for Srinagar, while other 3 went over for Amarnath. Well, Srinagar is just 100 kms from that place. With lot of fun and photography, we reached Srinagar

The road i.e. NH1 is awesome, it’s really a pleasure to drive in the lush green Kashmir Valley. The total road from Kargil to Srinagar is patrolled 24/7. Well, guys it’s only because of these safe hands that we are so safe and secure. I’ll recall a incidence that occurred while going to Srinagar. We’d just halted for some photo-shoots and just within a couple of minutes we four found overselves all surrounded by 15 odd army people. Actually, two jeeps came out of no where suddenly and in quirk of second all soldiers down surrounding us and then the captain or commander made the entry. Well, this all might sound quite filmy to u guys but frankly speaking this all laid us in a shocking state for a moment or so. Then, we had to recite the whole story of our journey to army men. After reaching Srinagar, it’s a totally different kind of feeling. With the knowledge regarding recent happenings in Srinagar, there was always a suspicion whenever dealing with any person there. Day ended with a warm visit to Nishat Garden. Nishat is the biggest of all Mughal Gardens in Srinagar. Lately, we struck a great deal with a houseboat owner and booked house-boat for 2 nights. It was a wonderful stay at House-boat amidst Dal Lake.

19/07/2008: SRINAGAR Sightseeing

Well, this day can be considered to be rest cum sightseeing day. Visited Shankaracharya Mandir in the morning. Well, security and Srinagar are so synonymous that you can’t separate either from other. It is there wherever you go. By that time, we were also quite used to see army-military personnel all around. From there on, we went over to Nehru Botanical Garden, Cheshmashahi Garden.

For those of you, who don’t know, Chesmashahi is the place from where drinking water used to be shipped all the way to Delhi for Pt. Nehru. All these Mughal gardens are so well planned that the streams within the gardens are naturally getting down to Dal Lake. That’s the reason most of the gardens are facing Dal Lake. Being in Srinagar, and that too on bikes meant that we were to be checked at every junction and asked regarding all the required documents et al’. Yeah…being in Kashmir, you shouldn’t miss out on Kawa,
herbal tea, made of almonds etc…very very freshening!!

20/07/2008: SRINAGAR – Udhampur (NH 1A) – Mansar – Samba – Kathua – PATHANKOT (NH 1A) (330 kms)

Big huge day..actually we had planned to reach Ludhiana that day itself. But the tour wasn’t over as yet. And as you might have noticed our bikes were quite in peace till now but not any more. After a couple of kilometers, Adi’s Royal Enfield broke down. The clutch wire was broken. Luckily found a good mechanic across the road. We were well equipped, had a new clutch wire. So didn’t have any problem or else would have to go Srinagar to fetch. So, all you bikers never ever be slack in toolkit preparations for you might get a mechanic along the route but no spare parts. Further, the journey went on smoothly before I realized that my rear tyre was puncture. Just pumped in air for time being to manage till we reached a mechanic. We did reach a mechanic but I guess that person never ever had worked over bikes before. Then all the drama began. That mechanic or whoever, took a hell of time for all the puncture repairing. Adi was all but lost to his temper..anger n irritation was all on high. Well, all this bike pampering went over for around 2 hrs in all.
So, it’s always better to have a buffer time while planning your drive. It started pouring heavily. Geared up with all rain-suits we were totally on for the journey. But yeah….cleaning helmet visors and specs becomes quite irritating job while driving under rains. NH-1A is a very busy highway unlike those remote roads of Nubra Valley. Well here, overtaking becomes a regular chore to by-pass traffic.We passed over the famous Jawahar Tunnel, one of those longest tunnels in Asia. To By-pass Jammu, we took the route via Mansar to Samba to join back to the highway. Travelling over and over we chucked up around 330 kms to Pathankot by around 8.30 in the evening. Had food then planned to stay there itself rather than driving till late night.

21/07/2008: PATHANKOT – Jalandhar – Ludhiana – AMBALA (284 kms)

This day went over smoothly. I started off early but stuck due to some problems. Ultimately headed for Ludhiana at 11 in morning. Driving over NH 1 is a breeze. Reached Jalandhar and further over to Ludhiana. Had to collect some material from Adi, so called him to nearby place. But due to heavy rains there, roads of Ludhiana seemed to be yet another ponds. Collected stuff from Adi, and straight went off to Ambala. Reached Ambala and handed over bike to transport person, who transported the bike to Manali. Boarded the Jhelum back home.

This marks the end of my glorious journey to heaven on the earth whether Ladakh or Kashmir. Now, that I'm penning down my experiences, I can feel the intensity of all what I underwent n experienced...Well, the journey might have ended in reality but I'm still very much lost in the beauty and peace of LADAKH and the lush green treasures of Kashmir Valley.

Last but not the least I'd esp. like to thank Audi, a friend of mine who assisted and supported me for my preparations beforehand.And further I'm indebted to all those involved in my journey consciously or unconsciously for being so kind and helpful thereby making this tour one of my most treasured experiences of my LIFE....

And big thanks to all of you, who invested your precious time reading my travelogue. please do post in your reviews & feedbacks.


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