Come June, the adventure biking community start gearing up for a ride of a lifetime. Our dream of riding over the mighty Himalayas finally came true this June’11. Can’t believe that with just 2 months of preparation time we were able to complete this dream ride and back in the concrete jungle before we realised.
Caution: This post is quite long and detailed so do bear with us.
View of the himalayas from Kashmir
It all started in March / April when a few Rotary friends from IFMR (International Fellowship of Motorcycling Rotarian) decided to take on the challenge of riding across some of the toughest terrains in the world. Both my wife and I wanted to be part of this journey and decided to join them but for a shorter version (11 days) of their 17 day trip.
Being a Jawa and Yezdi fan since childhood and part of Bangalore Jawa Yezdi Club (BJYMC), I was keen to do this trip on one of these bikes. Thus began my hunt for a good second-hand Roadking which is tough to find considering the market demand for these bikes now. Finally, just about 5 weeks before our trip I managed to find a healthy 1996 model in Yelahanka, Bangalore and immediately picked it up and sent it for service.
We had to do a practice ride to Ooty to test our bikes on the steep Kalhati route after which I decided to replace few parts. It was necessary for the long ride especially since we were the only one riding doubles. Repairs included new piston rings for additional compression, clutch plates (very important), all lubricants, handle bar, heavy duty clutch & brake cables (very important), resetting rear shocks, double tubing of tyres, new carburettor, back rest, additional luggage carrier and mirrors on both sides.
List of important spares to carry on the trip:
Extra wheel tube, petrol pipe, spark plugs, clutch cable, wire binders, headlight bulbs, york n levers for both left and right side, chain links, spare ignition coil set, foot pump and full tool set.
We also had to buy a 45 litre saddle bag and magnetic tank bag from Cramster (not water proof though), minus degree sleeping bags (Decathlon or Army Store), ankle shoes, lots of woollen socks, woollen gloves, thermal wear, two pairs of riding gloves, balaclava, good helmet, fish net & bungee cords to tie our luggage, plastic garbage bags to cover our saddle bags & backpacks, thick riding jackets, knee and elbow pads, good raincoats, peanut chikkis & energy bars, Glucon D and coke / bisleri bottles to carry extra fuel. Most importantly, we had to get physically and mentally fit for the challenge up ahead.
Srinagar*, Sonamarg, Zoji la pass (11,500ft), Drass, Kargil*, Fotu la pass (13,500ft), Lamayuru, Nimmu, Leh*, Upshi, Tanglang la (17,582ft), Pang*, Lachalang la pass (16,600 ft), Morrie plains, Sarchu, Baralacha la pass (16,050ft), Jispa, Keylong*, Rothang la Pass (13,051ft), Manali*, Kullu, Mandi, Bilaspur*, Chandigarh*(The destination marked with asterix (*) were our stop over points)
Total distance covered – 1,390 Kms
Total fuel cost with oil – Rs 3,900
The Ride: 2nd – 12th June’11
With our departure dates fast approaching, we packed our bike via Gati cargo to Srinagar which was our starting point of the journey. Gati charges Rs 6100/- plus packing for Srinagar due to the terrain and security reasons but delivers the bike in 10 – 12 days time. We joined the rest of the 3 riders from IFMR (Sathya, Ravish & Jayaprakash) at Srinagar on the 2nd of June when we flew from Bangalore to Srinagar via Delhi. The three others had started six days before us from Chandigarh and completed Amritsar, Wagah Border, Jalandhar, Dalhousie, Dharamshala, Vaishnodevi, Kathra & Jammu. Our stay in Srinagar was at Peacock Houseboat which is in a quiet corner of Nigeen Lake. Bashir, our houseboat owner helped us a lot in getting our bikes cleaned and ready for the journey.
Houseboat in Srinagar
Team with bikes before the ride
Day 1 – We started at 6.30am on 3rd June and stopped at the nearest petrol bunk to fill our tanks and rode for about 40kms to stop for breakfast at a dabha. The staple breakfast in these areas is Aloo paratha and that is what we had for most of our journey. After breakfast, the terrain began to change drastically and the roads began to deteriorate. At an average speed of 30 – 35kmph we crossed Sonmarg and reached our first check post. The road towards Zojila pass was due to a massive traffic jam with over 100 lorries stuck on this steep pass. We were lucky to spot a kannada speaking officer who let us through. This was our first real experience of the harsh terrain which we had to encounter throughout this trip.
Himalayan valley on Srinagar – Leh route
Truck traffic on Zojila pass
Having negotiated the lorries and the slush we finally reached the peak of Zojila at 11,500 ft which was the highest we had ever been. The snow covered peak was a sight for sore eyes but we couldn’t enjoy this for long as we were running out of breadth due to low oxygen levels at this altitude.
Our bikes on top of Zojila Pass
After a few mandatory pictures, we continued on our journey towards Drass which is the second coldest inhabited place in the world. Just before Drass, we crossed a Kargil War Memorial and Tiger Hill where our brave soldiers fought to protect our country during the 1999 Kargil war. After a simple yet tasty lunch at Drass we proceeded towards Kargil which was our stop for the night. We reached Kargil (8200 ft) around 6pm and checked into D’Zojila Hotel @Rs 1350 per room.
Drass near Kargil
View of Kargil town
Day 2 (4th June) began early and after fuelling our bikes again, we rode in the dust covered terrain with a halt for breakfast around 9am. After aloo parathas and omlets, we continued on our journey towards Lamayuru monastery crossing Namikala pass at 12,198 ft and Fotula pass at 13,479 ft which is the highest point on the Srinagar – Leh route. With mandatory photo sessions, we reached Lamayuru at 1.30pm.
Diverse terrain on the Kargil Leh road
Bare mountains on the way to Leh
Lumayaru Monastry 110kms before Leh
Followed by a quick lunch and tour of the monastery we were back on the road towards our dream destination. Having crossed a bad patch of road, we hit another checkpost after which the road improved and was almost downhill all the way till Leh. We crossed the mighty river Indus and entered Leh around 6.30pm to camp at Hotel Thongsal @Rs 1000 per nite which is towards the outskirts on a hill. This was our home for the next 4 days while we wandered around.
Local kids near Leh
View of Leh town
Day 3 (5th June) was quiet as we relaxed, applied for our permits and visited Shanti Stupa. The highlight of the day however was our visit to the Hall of Fame which houses photographs and stories of brave soldiers who sacrificed themselves to protect our borders. This tour was very touching and brought tears to our eyes. We also got to sample few local cuisines and delicacies during our stay in Leh not to forget shopping at the Tibetan market for imported goodies and t-shirts with route maps.
Hall of Fame, Leh
Weapons used by Indian Army during Kargil war
Day 4 (6th June) was our visit to the famous Pangong Lake. This is about 150 kms from Leh and the route is very scenic across Changla pass at 17586 ft with lots of frozen lakes and sand dunes along this route. Pangong Lake is the world’s second largest or highest salt water lake with a length of 130kms and width of upto 6 kms. Only one third part of this lake is in India with the rest of it in China occupied Tibet. This is a must visit for all tourists visiting Leh. Cabs charge about Rs 5600 for a one day round trip to this lake.
View from Changla on the way to Pangong Lake
Pangong Lake, Leh
Pangong Lake, 145 kms from Leh
Day 5 (7th June) was peaceful with a lazy start to Kardungla the world’s highest motorable road at 18,380 ft. This pass is on the way to Nubra valley and is about 45 kms from Leh. We spent about an hour at the peak taking pictures and eating noodles at the world’s highest cafeteria. We were back in town by 12 and it was time to get some tuning done to the bike as it was struggling to run due to lack of oxygen. Found one mechanic on the Leh-Manali road about half a km from town called Mohan Sharma (Ladakh Automobiles) who can be reached on 09419242643. He is the only mechanic who has experience working on Jawa and Yezdi bikes and helped tune my bike to some extent.
World’s highest motorable road – Kardungla, Leh
World’s highest cafe, Kargungla, Leh
Day 6 (8th June) – We were back on the road towards Manali and dropped in at Thikse Monastry which was on the same road. After another round of photo sessions, we continued to encounter one of the worst rides of our lives.
Thikse Monastry – Start of our return journey from Leh
Coldest day of our trip across Tanglangla
By the time we reached the peak of Tanglangla at 17,582 ft (second highest motorable road), our feet were soaked in ice cold water and heavy snow fall made our journey impossible. We quickly changed our socks, put on some plastic covers on our feet before wearing our shoes. We decided to continue as staying there could have proved dangerous for our hands and feet. After a grueling 2 hour ride, we reached the temporary camp site of Pang at 2.30pm which charges about Rs 100 per person for the nite. This is the world’s highest transit camp at 15600 ft. Our hosts were kind enough to make us some hot soup and maggi to keep us warm and kept the stove burning all day. We quickly snuggled under our sleeping bags and rugs inside the tent to recuperate and recharge ourselves for the ride ahead. This was by far the coldest day of our entire journey and all of us wanted to just give up and take a cab back to Manali. Beware, these camps do not have bathroom or toilet facility.
The highest transit camp in the world – Pang
Day 7 (9th June) looked brighter and we were glad to be back on our bikes. We had to encounter two more passes Lachalangla at 16,600 ft and Baralachala at 16,050 ft before we entered Himachal. The lush green trees were a sight for sore eyes after having gone through miles of snow covered mountains and dusty plains. We reached the little town of Jispa around 2.30pm and stopped at a road side hotel for lunch and decided to ride up to Keylong as there was no mobile network at Jispa. We had not spoken to our family for over two days. We reached Keylong at 5pm and found a very nice river side hotel Deykid @ Rs 800 per nite. We were glad to have a hot water bath and warm rooms after two cold days.
Crossing Lachalangla Pass
On our way to Jispa
Day 8 (10th June) – We were at the last leg of our grueling ride and riding up to Rothangla was a breeze. We stopped to try out the snow scooter which was a thrilling experience. Once we crossed over the top, the scene changed completely as the whole place was packed with tourists. Our ride down to Manali was the most painful one with miles of cars and jeeps stuck on the road due to a landslide. Being on a bike has its advantages as we were able to sneak through the traffic and knee deep slush. Our descent to Manali took about 3.5 hours due to the traffic but we were down finally around 4pm. Our three friends decided to continue riding till Mandi while my wife and I decided to halt in Manali for the night. We stayed at a slightly expensive hotel called Lord’s Regency in New Manali with a lovely view of river Beas. The evening was spent walking around Mall road to shop for gifts. Manali is packed with tourists during this season with almost every hotel fully booked and the roads packed with cars.
My wife and I crossing Rothangla on the Leh – Manali highway
Road to Manali town from Rothangla
View of Beas from Manali town
Day 9 (11th June) – After breakfast we visited an apple orchard but since it’s off season, we could find only baby apples. We checked out and continued on our journey towards Bilaspur which was our stopover for the nite at a distance of about 180kms. We stopped at Kullu for lunch on the banks of the river and continued on the winding hill roads towards Mandi. Before Mandi we encountered the longest tunnel in India with a length of 2.8 kms which was an interesting experience. The bike sounded excellent with the echo inside the tunnel. This is a very scenic route with the river following us all the way till Mandi but the traffic on this route will bother you as overtaking is difficult. We stopped 3kms before Bilaspur at Hotel Sagar View (Rs 950) for the nite with a lovely view of the town.
Apple orchard in Manal
Longest tunnel in India before Mandi which is about 2.8kms in length
Day 10 (12th June) was the last riding day of our trip with a distance of about 140kms. Once we entered Punjab the terrain changed and it was flat road all the way to Chandigarh. We reached our hotel White Palace by around 12 noon and the weather was hot and humid. Our friends were at this hotel & ready to depart as their flight was one day before ours. So after lunch we bit farewell to them and met one of the core members of 3 Biker’s Club, Chandigarh – Deep. Was nice to meet a fellow Yezdi biker from a different region to exchange some quick notes.
Condition of my bike after completing our journey
Day 11 (13th June) was quite slow with a ride around the city hunting for a good book store and back to Gati Cargo to check in my bike. This time Gati charged us Rs 3200 plus packing charges of Rs 700. Once that was done we got back for lunch and left for the airport for our 4.00 pm flight. We landed in Bangalore at 8.30 and were home by 10.30pm. Thus ended one of our most exciting journeys ever.
Important things to remember:
· Never take your eyes off the road while riding as the terrain is very beautiful but the road is equally dangerous. You might end up with a fall if you get distracted even slightly. Stop riding if you want to appreciate the landscape, take pictures and then continue.
· Carry your bike spares with you all the time and always ride in a group. You will need help from your friends to push your bike at certain points if you get stuck.
· Carry 3 copies of your bike papers and your identify proofs along with original ID cards incase you are stopped at check posts and for inner line permit at Leh.
· Always keep your raincoats handy as the weather might change quickly.
· On the Leh – Manali route, carry atleast 2 – 4 litres of fuel as emergency and always carry your own engine oil as most petrol bunks do not sell packets or loose oil.
· Carry good branded helmet which will cut off outside air flow. This is very important as the cold air will hit you while riding. You will also need good waterproof gloves.
· Altitude sickness medicine is called Diamox & its homeopathic equivalent is Cocca 30 (6 nos – 4 times a day). If you are riding up from Srinagar side, you can manage without this medicine as the climbs is gradual. Pls check with your doctor for any side effects before using this medicine.
· Always put your clothes and electronic gadgets inside plastic bags before packing into saddle bags as they are not waterproof.
· Only BSNL Postpaid connection works in most of the region with Airtel, Aircel and Vodafone postpaid available at Leh.
· Carry enough t-shirts, good thermals and thin sweater to wear multiple layers while covering the snow covered passes.
· Book your stay at Srinagar, Manali and Leh in advance since you might not get good places during the peak region.
· Always maintain constant speeds and do not be in a hurry to complete the course. The terrain is bad and might hurt your bike if you over speed.
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