Day 10: 24th June, 2011
Mohan was not feeling too well and decided to skip today’s ride to Hunder. Vatsala decided to keep him company. The rest of us rode towards Hunder. Later that day Mohan and Vatsala rode towards Hemis and spent their day at Thiksey Gompa, Shey Palace and Hemis Gompa.
The most exciting part was going to be riding on Khardung La. Khardung La top was just 40 kms from Leh. On either side of K-Top were two military posts called South Pullu (on the Leh side) and North Pullu (on the Khalsar side). We stopped for breakfast at the military canteen in South Pullu and I thought we had the most amazing Paranthas. We got to see yaks in the wild, Himalayan asses, mountain goats and some exotic looking birds. The roads were in terrible condition from South Pullu to North Pullu. We climbed our way to K-Top with a lot of effort, lot of pushing and a lot of encouragement from the rest of the team. We reached K-Top and the place was teeming with tourists, who had formed a bee line near the board that said “Khardung La – Height 18380 feet – World’s Highest Motorable Pass”. We were the stars up there. There were a few other bikers also, but ours was the only group that had 5 women, one of whom was a single rider (also possibly the youngest woman rider to have reached K-Top), and a 62 year old (also possibly the oldest rider to have reached K-Top). Also, we were one of the noisiest groups around. Up till now, we were told and we believed that one should spend as little time as possible on top of any pass. Khardung La smashed that rule. We spent 2 hours on top, singing, dancing, posing for pictures, sliding on snow, more sliding on the snow, throwing snow balls at each other, bathing in the glory and glamour, posing for pictures on other people’s cameras (well only Pops was doing that), sipping hot tea, melting ice (you know what I mean), lots of conversations, celebrating Nam’s birthday...
Those two hours would probably rate the highest on the fun per hour scale. We dearly missed Vatsala and Mohan here.
After we had had more than our fair share of fun, frolic and laughter, we rode on further north. The roads were as adventurous as they could be till North Pullu. But it didn’t matter to us anymore. It was just a topic of conversation. The worst roads wouldn’t take much more effort than great roads to ride on. We had lunch on the way and kept on riding. The landscape would change so drastically. During the first half of the day, we were riding through some of the coldest, snow clad mountains. By afternoon, we were riding along beautiful rivers that seemed to be racing with us, cutting through rocks that were forming some unbelievable structures. We had seen rocky, muddy, icy hills in every possible colour, size and shape. As we moved further north towards Diskit and Hunder, we saw unbelievable deserts. The versatility was too good to be true. We needed to pinch ourselves consistently to believe it was not a dream. The deserts were not mere stretches of sand but vast deserts complete with double humped camels.
We reached Hunder in the evening and checked into a hotel which was basically an assortment of lovely tents. The camp was brand new and we got a great deal. Just as soon as we checked in, it was time to go for a camel ride. All of us went for it, except Shubra and Pops. Pops because he only enjoys riding and Shubra because her mood was off because I had got irritated with her for stopping on the way for no reason at all.
All of us went to the nearby camp where there were numerous camels waiting to take tourists for a ride!!! There was a gorgeous stream near by, where all of us took refreshing head dips and headed for the camel ride. It was indeed a ride worth being taken for. Moms sat on a camel and was scared that the neighbouring camel was going to eat her feet. Ponni’s camel was screaming for mercy, unable to bear his weight. Most other camels were posing happily for pictures. After round one, Satvik went to the camp to fetch Shubra and Pops. By the time they came, the camels had all been retired for the day. So we went into the sand dunes for a long chat. We ran races, we collected rocks, we heard ghost stories, we laughed our hearts out, we played in sand, we watched the sun set and we returned to the camp.
Camp fire was waiting for us at the camp. No one danced, no one sang, but everyone had a ear to ear glee on their faces. Me and Nam had a fabulous dinner and crashed into our tents. We were clueless about what the rest of the world was doing.
Day 11: 25th June, 2011
The previous day, we passed through Diskit which had a beautiful Gompa. Me, Nam, Moms and Pops decided to leave early and go visit the Diskit Gompa. The Gompa was fantastic. It had two parts. One had a huge statue of the Maitreyi Buddha and another was at a higher elevation which had the temple. To reach the temple, we bought tickets from an extremely cute looking monk and then climbed up the hill first on bike, then on foot. By the time we reached the temple we were panting for breath. The view from the top was mind blowing. We could see greens, deserts, streams, mountains – icy as well as dry. Right in the focus was the large statue. There couldn’t have been a better place to meditate. After we opened our eyes, we interacted with the monks and learnt a bit about Buddhism and about the significance of some of the items that were inside the temple. We also learnt about the 6 phases of the cycle of life and death. Our camera’s battery had died and we really missed it. Nobody else visited the Diskit Gompa and we did not have any pictures of the place.
We got out and headed away from Diskit. We met the other riders at the Silk route junction, about 10kms after Diskit. All riders had come except Shubra and Satvik. Everyone else rode ahead when a jeep came from Diskit and informed us that Shubra’s bike had a puncture. Me, Nam, Manju, Somanna, Pops and Moms rode back to help them. The others had rode on and there was no opportunity for us to communicate this to them. We reached the spot where their tyre had got punctured and Me and Satvik took the tyre to Diskit on a truck to get it set right. We got it repaired and tried to get some extra petrol, but without any luck. With so many ups and downs, having sufficient petrol till we reach Leh was a threat looming upon us. But, we had one issue to handle at a time. So, we took the repaired tyre and got a lift till the market area in Diskit on an army truck. From there, we had to find another ride. While I waited by the roadside and drank water from a stream along with a donkey and its pony, Satvik convinced a local to drop us to the location where the tyres were punctured. That fellow was so kind that he decided to drop us despite his own petrol tank being empty. Petrol was a major issue in these localities and he had asked a friend of his to get him 20 ltrs from Leh. Half way through, his friend was returning with petrol which we took and sped to the spot. We fixed the tyre and bought 5 ltrs of petrol from this guy which we shared among 4 bikes. Just when we thought the misadventure is over, we couldn’t find the check nut; because of which the wheel was rubbing against the chassis. We rode that way till the silk route junction, but realised that this couldn’t continue. Shubra and Satvik rode back to Diskit to get a check nut. Me and Nam waited at the same point for their return. Moms, Pops, Somanna and Manju rode ahead. Shubra and Satvik had to cajole many a people to remove a check nut from one of the bikes that had come for a repair and give it to them. Interestingly, most of the people who helped us - the puncture guy, the guy who gave us a lift and the mechanic were not willing to charge us as they believed the were helping us “insaniyat ke vastey”. Did I tell you about the hospitality of the people here??
After all the madness, when Shubra and Satvik returned to the Dhaba where Nam and I were waiting it was 3:00 PM. 3:30, we started riding and that was the craziest ride of our lives. We belted through some of the craziest roads of Ladakh and reached Khardung La Top by 7:00pm. In contrast to the last time we were there, there were no people at all just the 4 of us and another group that was travelling across north India in a Tata Safari. We patted each other’s backs and started riding down. Satvik’s bike had taken a toll during the ride to K-Top and was not co-operating as well as he would have liked. On the way down, we crossed a good number of streams and tackled some really bad roads with little or no light. There were yaks, mountain goats, donkeys and cows that had stationed themselves in the middle of the road for the night. It was quite scary to face these creatures which were behaving quite erratically to the sound of the Bullet engines. It was getting really cold and with slightly wet feet, my legs were shivering. I could feel my toes turning purple and the chillness climbing through my nerves. The winds were cold and it was becoming difficult to breathe. In the nick of time, Satvik’s bike refused to start just as he was approaching a fairly big water crossing. We did not have any option but to leave it there and ride on. We thought of riding to South Pullu and getting some army truck to take the bike back. We were told that no vehicle could go into those terrains after dark and our only option was to come back the next day. We decided to have the world’s best paranthas for dinner at the South Pullu military camp and head back to Leh. We reached Leh at around 10 PM.
The rest of the group had reached Leh by afternoon, who were welcomed at Khardung La top by Mohan and Vatsala.
If you missed out on reading the previous part of the story, you can read it here: The Himalayan Sojourn 1.0- Part 5- Sarchu to Leh
More Pictures from the two days of The Himalayan Sojourn 1.0: