Thursday, July 31, 2008

Delhi - K Top - Delhi ( On a 100 cc and a prayer)

When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money.

Anonymous.




Day Zero

A Day filled with excitement and anxiety. I have set a tough challenge for myself and I am set to start it next day. Leaves applied, bike is ready, luggage is set and there is no looking back now. As the clock strikes 2.30 AM on the 21st June, I am out alone for so far the biggest adventure of my life. I had office work and trip preparation to manage simultaneously. Day ends around 12 in the night and I am off to sleep. A pretentious one.

Day One

My phone alarm woke me up at 2.30. I woke up and realized, It had started. My excitement took over. I slipped into my riding gear, picked up the keys and I was ready. Rosie(My bike) was loaded with luggage last night. Some amazing rope work by Paras in fitting my 3 bags on the bike with perfect stability. Everybody in the family was up to see me off. I went down started my bike, first gear and I am off…My goal for the day is Manali. Approximately 700 Kilometers from Delhi. I hit the GT karnal Road and eased through the heavy truck movement. I have done most of my riding in Delhi and I am not used to overtaking the vehicles from the right but i decided to follow the discipline all my way (which I successfully did). I crossed Sonepat Panipat, Karnal, Kurukshetra and Ambala. After Ambala I stopped for tea. While having a generic chat with the tea stall owner I realized that I had missed the turn to Chandigarh and I had reached Sirhind which was not on my route. In my problem resolving chat I figured out that there was an “inroad” which will take me to Ropar (next stop from Chandigarh). With hope I embark on this new route. Since there were so many places I had to pass, I often stopped and asked for directions. To feel like a local, I even called Amrit to ask how to ask directions in Punjabi. “Ropad da rasta kidro” was my mantra and I passed through the beautiful green and yellow Punjab which I would have missed had I been on track. I was loving every bit of my losing the way. Crossed Ropad, Kiratpur, Swarghat, Bilaspur, Sundernagar and Mandi. Manali was still about 200 KMs away, and it started to rain. I took it as nature’s cue and decided to halt at Mandi. Checked into a cheap hotel for 200/- a night (I was overshooting my budget as I had decided not to pay more than 150/- a night for accommodationJ). I took a quick bath and walked out to check out the busy little town. Mandi is town nestled in the mountains. Well planned. It has a wonderful Central park with a 3 storey shopping complex under it! Yep it’s true. You will have to see it for yourself to believe it.

Day Two

My phone also doubles up as my alarm clock and was very critical in ensuring that I start riding on time everyday. I rode out of Mandi post a yummy 11 rupee breakfast. I had to reach Manali today and I wanted to make it by lunch. I was riding alongside river Beas. It was simply beautiful. About 20 KMs to go before Manali, I noticed a Raft on the roadside. I turned my bike and only to see the most beautiful rapid I have ever seen in my life. Water gushing past at a breakneck speed with the unique rock placement made it a wonderful zig zag rapid. I have a whole day to reach Manali, I was ready to do this rapid if they let me do it. The guy who owned the raft walked up to me and started chatting. I decided to take a pit stop. Timoo, runs an adventure travel company in Manali. Rafting is where his expertise lies in. We sat next to river Beas and chatted for long. Occasionally interrupted by curious customers enquiring about the rafting trip. Timoo, now a good friend of mine is a Leh veteran. His piece of advise was, once you cross Rohtang Pass forget about rain. My happiness was short lived when he said if it rains, it snows!! OK FINE! I spent about 2 hours ‘resting’ next to the river mostly just gazing into that mighty rapid (BTW they wouldn’t let me do that rapid as it is grade 4. I can do it if I am doing an expedition over it.) I was offered a free rafting trip. Next time I promised Timoo and moved on. Reached Manali in no time and headed straight to Jeyzer’s office. I planned to surprise him as it had been a while since I had been to Manali. Jeyzer had left that place a few years back and had started his own adventure company. It took me 5 phone calls to trace him in Manali and speak to him. He came with Vishal in no time and we chatted for long. He offered me a stay at his place which I gladly accepted. He said he will be cooking tonight and I can also see the Italy Spain Euro Match. Nishant and Maggie were also in Manali. They were on there way to Kaza. I met them and we had coffee. I also met their fellow bikers and some more bikers who were going to Leh. Rosie had come a long way and it had to be inspected. Knowing Manali, I knew where I had to go. Raju Mechanic behind the old bus stand. He wasn’t there but his reference attracted immediate attention to my bike. Jitender, Raju’s pupil spent an hour on the bike and also arranged a wash. All gleaming, I rode her and magic! I don’t know what he did to the bike but it is roaring. It is making these thundering sounds I had never heard from it. I did some shopping for the trip and headed to Jeyzer’s place. I met Jeyzers wife Chimey (A very sweet lady). I was treated to some home cooked mutton, rum and a football match before I finally dozed off. Guys you rock!!! Thanks a ton to all 3 of you for converting my one transit night in Manali into a pleasant homecoming!!

Day 3

It was an early morning rise. The ride so far has been smooth but it is the road ahead which was more treacherous and interesting. Jeyzer helped me with the luggage. Thanks again Jeyzer. Phone Nishant only to know that they had just woken up. Ok so I will not be riding them. Checked out of Manali with a promise to return. As soon as I hit the road for rohtang, I was in for a surprise. A Traffic Jam approximately 5 KM long!! Apparently, I was not the only biker. Bullets thundered around me. I heard there was another way to reach Rohtang. It was through a village. I followed the u turning bullets and hit the alternate route. We found more traffic but moving. The bike got moving space of 10 meters every 5 minutes!! I had met some of the fellow bikers last night with Nishant and Maggie. Harsh, Rohit, his wife, his brother, his friend and 3 more bikers from Hyderabad. We had a lot of time to talk and discuss the route ahead. Rohit and his group was on his way to the Spiti Valley and has done Leh before. I took note of every bit of advise he had to give. Eventually the traffic cleared and I was riding the clear road or “no” roads. I have done this track twice but every time the road has a different challenge to offer. Familiar smooth, broken roads and streams made a nice simple obstacle court to prepare me for the journey ahead. I reached Rohtang. Rosie was running smooth and almost flawless. I did have to stop and tie my bags again as one of the bags fell off the bike. Took half an hour and did a good ropework which lasted well for the day. The mountains are still green but the vegetation is decreasing. The black snow covered peaks are visible in the background. They were all around me and i felt like they were standing guard to me and the road. It is a feeling I cannot explain. I was in perfect harmony. I halted when I saw the Spiti group Nishant and Maggie were traveling with. I chatted with them for a while and moved on. It was a short but a very nice chat. So much said that I knew that if I ever met them again, they will be very happy to see me. Hoping to see them later on the road, I moved on. After a fey minutes, I noticed a signboard indicating the diversion to Kaza. I realized that the place I had met them was Gramphoo the junction. I couldn’t even bid a goodbye to them. I rode further to Kokhsar and later reached Tandi. Tandi was the last petrol pump before Leh. This was my only chance for all my fuel needs. Filled up the tank and a reserve can. I knew for sure that Rosie wont be gulping fuel but took a reserve just to be safe. (Don’t even think about moving ahead without a reserve if you are on a Bullet). I lost the reserve can later in my journey so the fuel in the tank lasted me all the wayJ (Something which I had not guessed at Tandi). I was riding in the Lahaul valley now. The scene around me had changed. The mountains were brown in color now. The vegetation had decreased further and the road was steep uphill. I reached Keylong which is the capital of Lahaul. A small village nestled in the brown. I stopped at a small restaurant/hotel for lunch. OK from now on whenever I mention restaurant, it will also mean accommodation. It is dormitory type and doesn’t cost more than 50/- a night. While waiting for the food I chatted with the waiter boy. I was curious about what happens to this place in winters. I wondered if people lived here in those months. He told me that the locals stay but the outsiders working here, leave before it starts snowing. But people here are not disconnected form the outside world. There are helicopter flights to Manali for 1400/- for a return transfer. Interesting eh!! Hear this.. Every village has an access to a helipad!! My food arrived. Made a few phone calls. I moved on. I was stopped by the local cops for a routine bike paper check. (Guys, keep your papers in order as these guys are strict and they don’t even accept bribes) Evening was falling and I decided to call it a day at Jispa. Jeyzer had already arranged an accommodation at Tushita Camp.

Tushita Camp is not an ordinary camp. It is run by 3 guys and solves the noble purpose of a transit camp for the travelers passing by. It had a bonfire, food and company of fellow bikers. I met Harsh and the 3 bikers from Hyderabad. I chose to sit with the camp guys. Gyalson, Yuntan and Pritam. I am not a guest here but a friend visiting (thanks to Jeyzer) We chatted late into the night. It was a wonderful stress reliever knowing that I had Baralachla and Gata loops to do tomorrow. I also met Rahul a solo biker from Delhi.

Day 4

Gyalsen woke me up and I freshened up for the next days ride. Thanks to the hot bowl of noodles from Gyalson and good ropework by Pritam on my luggage, I had a good start for the road ahead. I crossed Darcha. The brown landscape wont change and doesn’t seem to be changing any sooner. But color of the mountains were changing. They were now dark brown and will eventually turn black. Jet black! I crossed, Baralachla, Sarchu and Gata loops (Those who know about Gata loops – I fell off the bike attempting one of the short cuts) and was about 32 KMs away from Pang (my stop for the night) when I heard a ‘phat’ sound. I knew it was something I had feared the most. “A puncture”. A puncture is an immediate halt to the journey. You no you are not moving ahead. Nightfall, food, bed to sleep, no sleeping bag. All these thoughts may try to throw your mind off the edge. But my advice to those attempting such a thing is “ DON’T PANIC” I parked my bike a started walking up hill looking for help. I saw some construction workers. They told me about a parachute tent guy a few kilometers away who might know something about mending a puncture. I had a spare tube. All I needed was someone who knew how to dismantle an LML Energy rear tyre. It is a little more complicated than a bullet. Light of hope. I decided to drag Rosie all the way. 1 KM up hill and 2 KM downhill off road! There was a very important factor that I was ignoring. I shouldn’t be doing anything which makes my heart beat faster. At this altitude, oxygen is scarce and I should be taking it easy to avoid mountain sickness or a heart stroke. But I pushed till I saw the tent. With more enthusiasm I pushed. I finally reached. I saw some fellow bikers who had started with me from Manali. They saw me but continued to ride towards Pang. One of them, Harsh, stayed back. He earned a friend in me for that. Next step was to get the puncture fixed. Unfortunately, the tent guy didn’t know how to dismantle the rear type or to fix a puncture. I was planning my next step when I saw a convoy of Army trucks stopping there for refreshments. One of them overheard my conversation with the tent guy. He curiously asked me the problem. With a smile I told him where I was from and what I was doing here. And of course also about the puncture. He walked up to Rosie and started inspecting the rear tyre. “Do you have a tool kit?” he asked. “YES” is said. I immediately got down to untie my luggage. I also showed him the spare tube I was carrying. He got down to dismantle the rear tyre. Seeing him do it, every body joined in. All of a sudden there were army men, about 16 of them mobbing my bike. They took charge and everybody helped. They filled air and put the tyre back and took a test ride to check the brakes too before handing it over to me. I was ready to go. I clicked picture with them and promised to mail them(which I did) We all rode together and reached Pang. Harsh was with me all through this. It was a 3.5 hour adventurous ordeal. Thank you very much guys!!!! You saved my life!!

Pang is a part of the cold desert in the Laddakh region. High altitude. You can feel the shortage of breath. Saw the biker group I mentioned before and checked into a 50/- a night dormitory tent. The only accommodation there. Suresh and 3 women run this place. They are Laddakhis and come to Pang only for few months. Tough life mate. I have run out of camera batteries. Retired for the night.

Day 5

After a good night sleep, I was up for another eventful day. It was the day when I was supposed to reach Leh the capital of Laddakh. After an open air crap and chai, I went to check Rosie. After a few futile attempt to kick start, Rosie woke up and died again. I tried again and Mr. Murphy strikes. The kick pedal broke!! Ok so I have a bike loaded with luggage and no kick pedal. (My bike doesn’t have an electric start. Those who do, be thankful) I smiled and told my self “DON’T PANIC” The other bikers did see my problem but I didn’t expect any help from them. I fetched for the next truck leaving Pang. It is the pit stop for the truckers too. So a lot of trucks going. I need to find the empty one leaving as soon as possible. After a few pitches I did find 2 Himachal trucks. They offered to carry the bike for 2000/- I t was not the money but the break in riding which I didn’t want. I said no. We finally decided that I will put the luggage in the truck and jump start my bike all the way to Leh if it breaks, they will come eventually. (In mountains I have to overtake the trucks that is the riding rule. Always overtake from the right and only overtake if he permits you. NEVER overtake from the left. Even on the hairpins.) So it was and I was ready with Rosie (without the luggage! I am sure she was very happy about it. I mean who minds a no luggage run!) I was on the ascent and it was the day when I cross Tanglang la (Worlds second highest motorable road) but before that was Morey Plains. A 25 KM long flat stretch of land. Just by the look of it, it is geologist’s paradise. It is a paradise in it self. I fell into a pretentious road of sedimented sand. I went straight into it and had a fall. It was like a desert of Clayish free flowing sand and I am in it with my bike. Ok so I fell but that was not the problem. The problem was how to jump start the bike again. It was a flat stretch so I had to push the bike but this was no road but a stretch of sand. What I did to get moving is something I will not do justice to by putting it in words. Do ask me if you meet me. So I was back with my bike started. I drove slow till I saw tar again. Post Morey plains was a 16 KM uphill to Tanglangla…..roads or “no roads” were quite challenging but the sunny day was making this one of the best rides. Crossed Tanglang la and reached Upshi. On the way I also met a lady (age 45+) on a Hero Honda Splendor (a 100 cc bike) going to Manali. Her husband was on an Apache (150 cc). We discussed weather, the road situation. I told her about the treacherous paths that lay in front of her and she promised me a 4 lane highway till Leh) the ride was excellent. I found a phone in Upshi. Called home and Jeyzer. While calling I just had an intuition that the trucks carrying my luggage passed by me. I was if a fix that did the trucks pass or not. Decided to ride anyways. On the way I asked the locals about the truck parking area in Leh. I was told to go to the FCI building. I reached Leh in a state of worry. I must admit. I found the place and the trucks haven’t reached. I decided to get my kick start fixed in the meanwhile. It is tough to find a Energy FX spare kick in Leh. This is what I realized in that half an hour. (I didn’t have a kick start for the next 2 days in Leh. I was jumpstarting it all the way.) The trucks arrived and I packed the luggage back and paid 500/- for the service. I entered the main bazaar and gave Nitin a call. I met Nitin at hotel Ri Rab. Also present were Chospel and his family. I have met Nitin and Chospel at a friends wedding in Delhi and we discussed mountains all night. Coming to Leh was also coming to them. I was directed to take a bath and shown my room (freeJ) Thanks much guys!! Ri Rab is going to be my pad for the next 3 days. Lavi, the manager is now a very good friend. After a long bath trying to find my real skin color, I was out on the streets. Looking for a nice place to eat. I go into a restaurant and order a Lebanese dish. It arrives and looks excellent! But I suddenly feel repulsive. I try having some but I have lost my appetite. I worked hard on eating something but found solace in a lemonade. I was on lemonades, milkshakes, coffee and water for 2 days. It was an AMS (acute mountain sickness) symptom. But as long as I was taking fluids I was doing the right thing. Water has oxygen in it. The Changspa area is like a better version of Manali. Multi-cusine open air restaurants and foreigners. I decided to come to KC open air restaurant to see the Euro semifinal on big screen. It is a very popular hangout for tourists to spend the night amidst friends and strangers in perfect harmony. I also met Rahul, I biker I had met in Jispa. He had arrived the day before. I also met his roommate Yok who was an Israeli tourist who had trekked his way to Lamayuru from Darcha. Both if them were good fun. Rahul is a solo biker too. 3 of us went to see the match together and Germany won.

Day.6

It is the day when I reach halfway of my journey. I will go to Khardungla (world’s highest motorable road) today. I reached Chospels office and picked up my permits. Anxiously, I was on my way, the roads were nice and they were steep. After an hours ride, i was there. On the topmost motorable part of the world. Felt nice. I rode back to Leh. I spent the day checking the villages out, went up till Shey and back at KC in the night for the second Semi final. Rahul and Yok were there.. I also heard some rumors about some problem in Srinagar over some land acquisition issue and the locals were stoning the passing vehicles. I did not pay much attention to them. Spain won.

Day I decided no riding for the day and just chill out. I had made a lot of friends in Leh in the last 2 days. Some of them plainly amused to hear about my journey and offering all kinds of help (including free food J) Apart from Nitin and Chospel, Abid, Sangge, Larpen, Lavi, Salil and one more guy whose name I don’t remember, Rahul, Yok, Julie, John, Tom and more whose names I don’t remember. We all were quite a group who loved football. I kept crashing into them on streets. This was a clich├ęd “day at leisure” I was to start riding to Kargil tomorrow. The news about tension in Srinagar was correct. I kept asking everyone who I met who was coming from Srinagar about the developments. I was told for bikers it is a safe passage and should not be a problem. I decide to reach Kargil and monitor the situation from there. I met Chospel and told him that I will leave next day. Rahul was also riding out to Delhi so I knew I will see him again. Bid goodbyes and “almost” goodbyes to everyone.

Day7

Started little early. I crossed the airport, Gurudwara Patthar Sahib, Khalsa and Lamayuru and I met Rahul too on the way. Rahul is on a bullet and it is usually me catching up with him. Like I met him at Lamayuru having breakfast. Lamayuru is a few KMs away from Leh on the route to Kargil. It has famous festivals which we see on TV and is very popular amongst tourists. The landscape is a little different. You can see houses which are etched and constructed in the mountains. A very interesting architecture and engineering. The road was well tarred but it had sand and gravel on it all through the way making it very dangerous. I had to slow down much as I had city tires on Rosie and not the dirt or off-road ones. Slowly I moved on. I crossed the Matreyi Buddha statue and moved towards Kargil. I was entering the Islamic Jammu and Kashmir. Buddhist multicolored prayer flags were replaced by green flags and Laddakhi was replaced by Urdu on walls. The difference can be strangely felt and noticed. I found a petrol pump in Kargil. I entered the Kargil town area and was searching for a hotel when I saw a familiar sight but at an unfamiliar place. I saw a group of men crossing the road in dhotis and some folded above the knees in a particular style. I am a malayali and this style of dhoti tying was very “malayali” I slowed my bike and yelled at them to attract their attention. I asked “ Malayali..??” They were so thrilled to hear that word. Everyone nodded and started walking towards me. All smiling. It didn’t take more than a minute and they figured out my name my exact location in Kerala and my relatives whom one of them knew!!! I asked them what they were doing here. They were the cooking staff of a Malayalam movie crew which was shooting here. With my little knowledge I asked who the hero was? Mohal Lal they said. Ok readers…many malayali generations, including mine have grown up on Mohan Lal movies. I am a big fan. I promised to meet them in the night. I found a 200/- room to rest my bones. I met the cooking staff at the hotel. They were so happy and I was treated to a full Malayali meal for dinner. Free food J

Day 8

It drizzled a bit that morning. The fresh air gave me a perfect head start for the day’s ride. Heard the Srinagar situation was relatively calm as the situation had temporarily calmed down. I rode from Kargil and decided to reach Srinagar for the night’s halt. I left Kargil and entered the Drass sector. This area has a sentimental spot in every Indian’s mind because for the many lives we lost fighting the infiltrators in Operation Vijay. I was no different. This extremely calm area depicts a strange irony for people who know of times when peace was lost. I reached the Drass memorial which is a Memorial built in memory of those soldiers who achieved martyrdom in Operation Vijay. From the Memorial I could see the infamous Tiger Hill and Tololing peaks. I realized the degree of infiltration which happened and how strategic each of these high and barren mountain peaks were. A couple of helpful jawans at the memorial were eager to tell me the stories of the war. I spent some time alone with many emotions stimulating within. I took leave from the jawans and rode on. I simply couldn’t keep my eyes of the mountain tops and kept wondering how our army scaled those to defeat the enemy who was on top and could create casualties by just pushing rocks for the top. Excitement, anger and sorrow were 3 emotions I was feeling at the same time. I was crying. I reach Sonamarg and started seeing the effect of the Kashmir Bandh. The shops were closed but the place was heaven. You have to see it to believe it. The Glacier there never melts and remains round the year. I stopped for tea and rode on. I crossed Kangan and was about to reach Srinagar when I was stopped by an unruly mob. They were local protesting and found an easy target in me to intimidate. I told them who I was and what I was doing. They were quite excited about my journey and let me go. At the next crossing I had to stop at a CRPF barricade who checked my id and ask me a few questions before letting me go. Then again an intimidating mob and I sweet talked my way out and again a CRPF barricade. The whole place had a strange feeling to it. I could see burning tires, stones, and people. It was scary. My angry mob and CRPF hop on hop of encounter happened 5 times. I was 4 times luck but the 5th time I was hit by a stone and was also spat at by a local boy. This was the lowest point of my journey. I managed to ride on and reached Iqwan chowk. Where I managed to check into a hotel. I met more visitors who were stuck in srinagar just like me. The good news was that the hotel room had TV but the bad news was that amidst all this I forgot that it was the Euro final tonight. I missed it L

Day 10

I rode out of Srinagar early in the morning before people got out of their house and made my way to Pathankot. My last night stop before I reach home. Heave rains welcomed my ride and I had to stop and slip into my rain gear. I stopped at a shed which had a couple of CRPF jawans keeping guard. One of the jawaans happened to be a malayali. I rode further and crossed the Jawahar tunnel. It is India’s longest road tunnel. Narrow and Dark. I stopped for some free food at a community kitchen which was being organized for the devotees visiting the Amarnath Shrine. I was on a pilgrimage of my own so had no qualms about eating there. I crossed Patnitop, Udhampur and finally reach Pathankot. I was in the plains now. I bid goodbye to the last sight of mountains and promised to return back. Overnight at Pathankot at 200/- a night.

Day 11

Today will be my last leg of the journey. It was going to be a ride across Punjab. I crossed Jalanghar, Phagwara, Ludhiana, Ambala, Kurukshetra, Panipat, Karnal, Sonepat before reaching Delhi. The sight of Delhi was quite a moment. The smoke filled air seemed to say “Welcome home”. The Delhi traffic cops were the first of the familiar Delhi sights I saw. I had never been so happy to see a cop. Once in Delhi I was in for more familiar sights or experiences. Traffic was one of them. Slowly and steadily I made my was back home. I am wondering how to end this article. I ‘ll just say that this lonely dweller has just started. More to come soon!

Link to all pictures: http://www.flickr.com/photos/44327130@N00/





I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move. ~Robert Louis Stevenson

7 comments:

rohan said...

That looks like a tiring but awesome trip....

Littlemissgeaney said...

Wow.... i drifted off for a minute there and was high in the mountains of India. But then I came back down to earth and realised I was still in grey, rainy London. Sounds amazing, scary, exhausting and satisfying in equal measure! I'm coming with you next time, yes?

Pheno-Menon said...

Game any day lady!!!

Advent Aff said...

Dude.. really awsum... wish i culd tell you that we can plan again with the same Energy FX bike.. but mine totally worn out.. she cant take more pressure.. but ya sure will look out t plan again.. do keep in touch and let me know about your plans...

Puneet said...

Hi Ajay,
I went all on your foot print a week back till K-Top.
And i found that it wasn't so easy at all.
I had 100cc hero honda passion.

do mail me if on my mail agg-punit2yahoo.com.

thanks
Puneet.

Puneet said...

Its agg_punit@yahoo.com.

thanks
Puneet.

Rajesh G said...

AJ..Super Like.....