Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The Ultimate Motorbike Trip: Manali - Ladakh

This is supposed to be one of the most challenging and exhilaration biking routes in the world: Delhi-Manali-Sarchu-Leh. My own experience confirms this. The nine days seemed like an overstretched dream that beat all the odds of reality. So many things experienced and learnt. I can go ahead and write a super long trilogy of a blog as someone suggested. But I will keep this extremely brief, going more into those critical moments in our trip… some which gave us a reason to smile for eternity… some which shook our very foundations of will power and faith. At the end of it, I was just happy to come back rugged, tanned, leaner, meaner and alive.
Srinath, Sanjay (Srinath’s bro), Praveen, Prasanna and Srinath’s dad were the others on this trip. We rented a 500cc Bullet, 2 x 350cc Thunderbirds for this trip. Srinath got his own newly bought Thunderbird for this trip.
We got as many “fundaes” on this motorbiking trip as possible before starting. They didn’t even cover 10% of what we experienced. When you set out on a mission, make sure you are thoroughly prepared or you have infinite will power in case you turn out to be a fool. We really turned out to be fools, heavily underprepared for the weather, terrain, food, strain, bike problems etc. But we had the will power to beat all odds.
We planned this trip for 9 days, during the last week of July 2010, on a watertight plan: 3 days onw ard journey, 3 days stay at leh and 3 days return journey, covering around 3000 km in 9 days. A total roadmap to become zombies on paper.
We had to cover Delhi – Manali stretch on day 1, starting at 6am. Srinath’s dad who rode his Thunderbird, met with an accident on the highway immediately after Sonepat. The silencer fell on his leg and burnt his skin and twisted his muscles. Bike was damaged badly. Fortunately we were able to get to a doctor as well as locate an enfield showroom. We lost several hours there. Srinath’s dad took a cab and went back to Delhi to take rest. While we were supposed to reach Chandigarh by 10am, we ultimately reached there by 5pm.
When we started ascending the hills, it was 8pm and still 267km to Manali. The heavy truck traffic killed our coordination. I was riding Srinath’s bike in which the headlight pointed upward due to the accident. In the night, I was able to see all the trees but nothing on the road. With deep valleys on my left and trucks charging at me with heavy beam lights, it was really scary to drive. I should have fallen into the valley a hundred times over, but during moments like these I had to focus on the tail light of the vehicle in front of me and just follow it with all faith no matter how blinding the truck lights from the opposite side were.
We stopped at 10:30 for dinner, covering only 40km in 2.5 hours. Manali was still 220km away. Dinner boosted our morale and the truck traffic ceased by 11:00. We rode till 1:30 in the night with amazing coordination, but did a zombie-ride in the last 1 hour which nearly had us killed. We finally stopped at a cockroach infested motel for the night
We got up at 7am on Day 2 and by the time we got started on road, it was 11:00 am. We knew that the best we could do was reach Manali and just halt there for the night. The ride was pretty peaceful one and we reached Manali by 5pm. There was one incident though. I switched to a different bike on Day 2. There was a 1km tunnel entering which I discovered that my light wasn’t working so I started following the vehicle in front. On a bend the vehicle in front went right but I couldn’t follow it properly, hitting the wall on my left. I kept switching the light button on-off several times hoping it would work but it didn’t. 5 mins in complete darkness with no vehicle in front or back and no fking light in the tunnel, all I could do was honk to save myself from any oncoming vehicle. The lights finally switched on, and it was relief seeing the daylight when I rode outside
We were supposed to reach a place called Sarchu on Day 3. Rohtang pass was really rough and there was a huge traffic jam at one point

On the way, another bike accident and some repairs snatched 2 hours. And while crossing a critical stream at 7pm, my bike fell into the water. It couldn’t start and it was too dark to repair it. Since there was another stream ahead, all of us parked our bikes and with heavy baggages started walking. There was no soul for miles around and it was super cold. There was a light in at some 5km distance which was our only hope and we kept inching towards it in our drained out state in the cold. Fortunately we got a lift from a military truck which was doing its emergency rounds to drop us off at the nearest camp. It was a relief to come back to life from the brink of losing all hope.
The first half of Day 4 was spent on trying to get my bike repaired. That included taking out the water in the carburetor and fixing a puncture. Thanks to bike expert Prasanna and Srinath for the bike fundaes. I learnt so much hands on stuff all there was to learn on the bikes. We reached Sarchu camp that evening and halted for the night.
Seemed like the first 4 days were worth it for all the hardship we had to go through… bike repairs, accidents and terrible roads. Day 5 was the ride of a lifetime. We kept biking and encountered such variety of terrains… dusty plains, green valleys, snow covered mountains, a ride through mountains with a grand canyon type of look, a place looking like the climax location of Indiana Jones’ Last Crusade. Wow! This is what I was alive for. After all the rough terrain, around 100km from Leh started the smooth tar road. By this time, the desire to reach Leh was on a super-high. Couldn’t resist gliding at 100 kmph on the Thunderbird, give hi-fi s to school kids lining up on the road to give me one, greet fellow Enfield bikers with a thumbs-up signal, get a hero’s welcome by people waving at our convoy formation ride on the streets. I had finally reached heaven. Some pics of the ride:
Srinath’s dad flew down to Leh to get our hotel booked and we joined him. We stayed for one day in Leh. Visited magnetic hill (which was just overhyped) and got the bikes repaired.
We planned to return via a different route: Srinagar-Jammu-Delhi since the onward journey was really tough. On Day 7, we started toward Srinagar and the road was really pathetic. At the time of sunset, we were caught in a hill, with steep narrow path full of slush. At the same point we were struggling to get the bikes through thick layers of wet mud, fog engulfed us completely. That was a brilliant “horror-movie” moment. We had to ride really close and tight to not get lost. We couldn’t reach Srinagar that night but we stopped at Sonemarg that day, 80km from Srinagar.
On Day 8, we set toward Srinagar and on the outskirts we were warned of all hell breaking loose with rapid stone throwing. And I like a brave warrior volunteered to lead our 4 bike convoy. We took a pic of us just in case something happened:
As we rode, every face looked hostile. Every person looked like an enemy. I am not being prejudiced when I make this statement. We were sure happy to have come out alive without any harm done on us. At night we reached Udhampur where Prasanna and Srinath’s dad took bus to Delhi. Prasanna was having terrible stomach problem in the previous few days and Srinath’s dad’s leg still heal. The rest 4 of us went to have dinner. After riding rhrough all the dust, we looked like coal mine workers and we were laughing looking at each other. After dinner we continued on the Udhampur – Pathkot highway where we stopped at a hotel at 1:30 in the night.
When we were sleep riding in the middle of the night through highway bypass we spotted a camel in the middle of the road chewing grass at a random place with no civilization for miles around it. It was such a moment where I really couldn’t differentiate between dream and reality. A hardcore “Inception” moment
On Day 9, we had to do a marathon ride to reach Delhi by 7pm since Praveen and Prasanna’s flight was at 8pm. 500km in 10 hours. We stretched our riding like hell through the roads of Punjab and reached Kurukshetra by 3:30pm. Sanjay, who was riding Srinath’s Thunderbird yet again, met with an accident at 100kmph when he was pushed aside by an overspeeding car. Though he didn’t get injured, the vehicles which applied breaks to a screeching halt, sent 2 people flying out of a bike which rammed into one car which did the sudden break in front of them. That was a totally shocking moment. It was God’s grace that he came out alive. But the bike was totally bent and twisted.
Me and Srinath sent Sanjay and Praveen on a bus and arranged for truck to tow the other bikes to Delhi. It was a good decision as Praveen and Prasanna were able to catch flight. After returning the rented bikes to the agency, we returned home by 11:30 to Srinath’s house in Gurgaon. I had lost every bit of water in my body through this ordeal. I managed to catch some sleep and wake up in time to catch my flight next morning. It was such a relief to be back in Bangalore


Shankar said...

man! that was some ordeal ... glad you made it back safe ... i am sure you had loads of fun doing this ...still ... so many accidents ....damn!

B Shyam Sundar said...

Too much da !!

Anonymous said...

Sure u guyz had a great time:)

Ravi Sashank said...

That was one hell of ride. A journey of a life time indeed. I had a similar one but a milder-and-shorter version of such a biking trip & i can relate to every moment you described here. I wish I would have a trip in Leh-Ladakh with my IITM gumbal.
One thing that I am afraid of is as you get older the chances of getting on such trips are fewer as friends get busier and move farther. So glad that u guys made it. It will for sure be etched in your memories and people in life would envy you for such things :).

Desba said...

@Shankin and Shyamsundar: thanks guys

@Ravi Shashank: dont worry about getting old.. most of the other biker gangs were seasoned riders who were married and in their 30s;
You can always come back to do this bike trip

Arun said...

wotha dei... too much machi! good to see that you returned with all the fingers intact. You should consider selling the masala script to an Indian version of motorcycle diaries.

Desba said...

@Arun: I wish you were in the trip with us. No wonder this route is every biker's dream...
You should plan for it sometime

Vignesh said...

Dude! That sounds like one heck of an experience da! Awesome stuff!

Anonymous said...

Dood too bad. A friend and I rode from Bangalore to Stingri and then back and up to Srinagar and back not too long ago. Surprisingly not a single accident. I hear ya about the light. Get the ground wire checked. Its the usual culprit in Thunderbirds.