7

Day 24: The Curse

Disclaimer: I have tried to recreate the events, locales, and conversations from my memories of them. The below-expressed views, opinions or analogies are personal and may not be in line with the widespread conceptions. Please go to Motorcycle Diaries -> India: Ocean To Mountains (or Click here) to check out the previous events.

Date: 22nd August 2016; Intended Route: Ambala – Kurukshetra – Panipat – Sonipat – Karnal – Delhi

 

“Patience is not the ability to wait, but the ability to keep a good attitude while waiting”

It was time for us to ride to the Capital city of India. We had a grand breakfast in Ambala and started riding towards Delhi. As we were approaching Kurukshetra, it reminded me of the epic battle of Mahabharata and the bug in my mind became itchy. I stopped on the highway and started to Google the places which we could visit in Kurukshetra. As the search results were getting loaded, a passerby stopped his scooter and asked “Kya bhaiya, Bike racer ho kya (Brother, are you a bike racer)?” and he was not the only one to ask this question. In North India, they don’t understand the concept of a rider or biker; they just relate it to speed. So if you are riding a mid-range motorcycle in the Northern part of India, everybody assumes you to be a bike racer.

I said “Yes”. The way he looked at me, for a moment, I thought he caught my lie. He asked “Then why did you stop?”, and I said “The guy I am racing with was nowhere in the vicinity. And I won the race”. Maybe he was convinced. He got excited and started congratulating me. I felt like showing off a bit (yeah, I live for the cheap thrills). I asked him about Kurukshetra as in the places which we could visit. He said “Wahi mandir makaan hai. Isse acha Delhi main jaiye aur mauj kijiye (It has the same old temples and architectures. It’s better to visit Delhi and enjoy your time over there)”. My itch subsided after talking to that demotivating bugger.

Before the bug could crawl up my mind we had reached Delhi. And the first thing we saw was the India Gate. I was just stunned to see it for the first time. It was majestic. And from there we could spot the Rashtrapati Bhavan too. So we decided to ride on the Rajpath (King’s road), the road between India gate and the Rashtrapati Bhavan (Presidential home), and I can’t express my feelings, it’s considered as one of the most important roads in India, it is where the annual Republic Day parade takes place. I would say, New Delhi was very well planned and maintained. The roads were awesome, people obeyed the traffic rules, and it was clean; at least when we were there. It deserves to be the capital of India.

After checking out India gate and Rashtrapati Bhavan, we checked into a room at Paharganj, it’s somewhere between New Delhi and Old Delhi. My partner was exhausted due to the heat, so he decided to take his time off. And I was behaving as if I was on steroids or you can say Sun was going easy on me! So I decided to go ahead with our usual plan and the bad luck came along with me. Yeah, anyway I needed some company.

I had my lunch and started riding towards the Red Fort. When I had looked into the Map, it was just 2 KMs away from our room. And I thought it’s going to be a walk in the park and I was so wrong. Point to be noted here is, I had to cross Old Delhi to reach the Red Fort; and like the name goes, Old Delhi is an antonym of New Delhi. The problem was the road went through a market. After riding for 100 meters, I had to switch off the ignition and just enjoy the view of it. I am not really sure if ‘enjoy’ is the right word to describe the situation. The vehicles were not moving at all. After half an hour, I just wanted to get out of that place. But I was trapped in the jam. There was an Auto rickshaw in front of me, a horse staring at me on my left, an ox shitting on my right, and a cycle rickshaw which was almost parked in the luggage carrier of my motorcycle. And the Sun started poking on my face. Sounds fun, huh! I was cornered there for 2 hours, 2 fucking hours.

After struggling and crawling my way out of the jam, when I was almost about to reach the Fort, the police started sending back people due to heavy traffic, all the lanes were blocked. I had no other choice but to move on to my next destination, Lotus Temple. Red fort was a horrible experience; and after going through all that, I thought I would never come back for it. I was glad to get out of that mess.

The streak of bad luck didn’t end there when I reached Lotus temple, I got to know that it won’t be open on Mondays. And yes, August 22nd was a Monday, phew. After riding for 24 days, I had lost track of days and dates. So again, due to lack of choice, I had to move on to the next place, Qutub Minar. Accidentally, it was open but people were not allowed to go on top of it, maybe because it was too old to handle the load. Few monuments around Qutub Minar were already worn out. But I hope they are trying their level best to preserve one of the world heritage sites.

I came back to our lodge by 8 PM and with all its lights and colors, Paharganj was like Las Vegas at night. After taking a recess, we decided to go to Chandni Chowk for dinner, Old Delhi, again. I explained the situation which I faced earlier to my partner. And this time, we played it smart. We decided to walk those 2 KMs. There wasn’t much of traffic at night, it was nice, and we had our dinner and rode back on an exclusive Old Delhi rickshaw. The damn thing really helped in expediting my digestion process by mixing all the food we ate that night. But it was fun. By the way, we also decided to visit Red Fort and Lotus Temple the next day. And you thought I would give up huh! I never do 😀

 

P.S. I know the situation in Delhi has changed in the last few days and it has been declared as one of the most polluted cities in the world. I hope things come back to normal soon.

12

Day 23: Rest in Peace

Disclaimer: I have tried to recreate the events, locales, and conversations from my memories of them. The below-expressed views, opinions or analogies are personal and may not be in line with the widespread conceptions. Please go to Motorcycle Diaries -> India: Ocean To Mountains (or Click here) to check out the previous events.

Date: 21st August 2016; Intended Route: Jammu – Kishtwar – Killar – Dalhousie

 

 “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes…including you”

After almost 20 hours of sleep, my eyes were wide open. I could even stare at the sun without blinking, I felt rejuvenated. And we were grateful that we were still converting oxygen to carbon dioxide. Due to a general strike declared in Jammu, there were no restaurants open since the previous day. We were surviving on Rajma-Chawal. We were eating the same thing at the same place for both breakfast and dinner (luckily we didn’t wake up for lunch). And FYI, it was horrible. We somehow managed it last night but we couldn’t take it anymore, we were fed up with it. Today, we were not in a mood to eat the same thing again.

We decided to have our breakfast on our way to Jalandhar. We saw a hotel at the end of the ghat section. When we asked about the situation in Jammu, the hotel guy said he wasn’t even aware that it was Bandh in Jammu last night (*slow claps*). He said only the city might have been affected by it and there was not much of an impact at the suburbs. Anyway, we came back to the topic and asked him the options from breakfast. He said that the only thing they could serve at that time was Roti-Rajma. And I was starving. As you already know by now, we never got much of a choice, so we ate Roti and Rajma; yes, Rajma again. God, I hate it. I had to stuff it down my throat.

As we were following the reverse itinerary, we were supposed to ride via Kishtwar – Killar – Dalhousie, which is considered as one of the most dangerous roads in the world. But when we reached the intersection where we had to take the deviation for Kishtwar, we just saw it from a distance and said “maybe next time”. We already had enough adventure for one trip. And we took the divergence to Pathankot.

We reached there by 1 PM and had our lunch. And accidentally, there was no Rajma, God was merciful. After a long time, we were riding on plain land, an altitude which we were used to. And I was already missing the landscapes of Leh Ladakh. We could feel a drastic change in the climate. On our way to Jalandhar, I started feeling dehydrated. I thought of taking a break and top up the fuel. I also developed a craving for Lassi. I asked the guy at the fuel station where I could get the best Lassi in town. He directed me to a food joint called “Pappu Di Hatti”. Though the name was funny, the snacks I ate were quite lip-smacking. Even the Lassi was really good but not as great as the one I had at Amritsar. While I was enjoying the snacks, I also made a phone call to my home after a long time to let them know that I had made it out alive.

From there on, we started riding towards Ambala where we decided to call it a day.

 

P.S. And yeah, that night I was shitting pellets of Rajma 😛

20

Day 22: Curfew Ride

Disclaimer: I have tried to recreate the events, locales, and conversations from my memories of them. The below-expressed views, opinions or analogies are personal and may not be in line with the widespread conceptions. Please go to Motorcycle Diaries -> India: Ocean To Mountains (or Click here) to check out the previous events.

Date: 20th August 2016; Intended Route: is to cross Srinagar somehow, alive

 

“When you want something, the entire universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” – Paulo Coelho

Tonight was the night where we had to hold our nerves together. The plan was to cross Srinagar with the Army convoy which would pass from Sonamarg at 2 AM. And we had plenty of time till 2. We had our dinner and started talking to each other, sharing the experiences of our trip. Though our fellow riders were assholes while riding they were really good to talk to. Meanwhile, the old man and his helper started to clean the hotel; it was almost 10:30 PM. As we saw they were done with the cleaning; we paid the bill and started walking out. But the old man said we could stay if we want until the Army convoy arrives. He was really kind to offer us a place to rest. They pushed all the tables and chairs in one corner so that they could lay a mat and sleep, we told him to switch off the lights so that they could take a nap comfortably and we won’t receive any unwanted attention from the outsiders.

As all 6 of us were conversing and getting to know more about each other under a zero watt bulb, the clock struck 12 (it was 20th August), and we heard a gentle knock on the door. As the old man and his helper had slept, we were hesitant to attend the door. We heard the knock again; everybody started looking at each other. The old man woke up and opened the door. As they were talking, we became curious. Suddenly a man came in; he was donning Khaki, uniform of the police. He had seen our bikes parked outside. He said we couldn’t stay there because we would be in trouble if the miscreants found out. He told us to go back at least 3 KMs; we negotiated with him saying that we had got a place here to stay till 2 AM and there was no guarantee that we would find a similar place within the radius of 3 KMs. He also said that the army convoy which was supposed to come at 2 would pass only by 4 AM.

Check post # 1:

When we said that the other policeman (at the check post) had told earlier that the convoy will come at 2, he started blabbering and that confused us. Though we understood that he was demanding bribe indirectly so that we could stay at that place, we were suave and played naively. The old man interfered and the police left the place.

After a while, he came back again. He said the tension had increased, and the agitators were becoming aggressive. This time he told us to go back. We took our luggage and went outside, and started negotiating with the guy. He said the convoy will come at 2 AM but we need to bribe his supervisor so that we could tag along with the convoy, which we knew was a lie. He wanted cash, the bribe for giving us the right info.

We asked him the amount; he said to give whatever we thought was right. Since he gave us the option, we took out a 500 Rupee note. He said his boss won’t even agree with 1000 bucks (now he was playing suave). We said “Then, you quote your price!” and the fucker said 2K.We tried to negotiate and bring it down to 1.5K but he didn’t concur. At the end, we didn’t have much of a choice but to agree with him.

We had to stuff 2000 bucks down his throat so that we could rest there in peace and we started waiting for the Army convoy to arrive. We saw the convoy passing in the opposite direction at 1:30 AM. In order to protect the civilian vehicles, they were placed strategically between the army trucks with armed men, in case if any protestors attack. We thought the fleet would escort the vehicles till the next check post and would come back. So we got ready and went out.

As we were waiting for the convoy, the policeman who took the bribe came with a fellow officer and told us “There is no guarantee that the army convoy will come back”, he said it’s safe at night to move and we could cross the check post, if we want. We had to trust him. He cleared the check post and we started moving.

Check post # 2:

We took the bypass road to Srinagar aiming to pass over the city and move via the outskirts. After few KMs, we saw few flashlights in the middle of the road. As we approached, we found that the road was blocked by few men. We didn’t wanna take a U-Turn and give a wrong signal. They stopped us and pointed the torchlight on our face and started staring at the luggage. The good thing was they were creating nuisance only for the inhabitants and not for the travelers. They understood that we were riders and we were not from Srinagar. Without any questions, he said 300 bucks, 50 per motorcycle to move past. Considering the situation, again we didn’t have a choice but to agree. We were prepared for such incidents.

After we went past them, we were stopped at the next check post by the police. I thought we would go broke by the end of it but he was a good man; he was not looking for any bribe. The policeman was genuinely concerned for us, he told us to move separately i.e. by keeping a safe distance and not in a gang (it didn’t make any sense to me). He also told us to stop the vehicle and answer the questions politely in case if any of the Kashmiris obstruct. We acknowledged his counsel and crossed that check post.

Check post # 3:

There was a chain of vehicles for a KM or so at the next check post. We took advantage of the motorcycle and went zigzag to reach the inception of the queue. It was not the police; it was the CRPF who were guarding the check post and they were not allowing anyone to pass through. We started talking to the CRPF guys to allow us to pass since we were the only ones on 2-wheeler. After few minutes their commanding officer came by, I understood, he was from the Southern part of India from his accent. I peeked at his badge and I presumed that he was from Kerala (a Malayali). And I said, “Namaskaram saare (Hello sir)”. And the thing about being a Malayali is we don’t see each other eye to eye when we are in Kerala, but we appreciate the camaraderie outside of it. I knew I had struck the right chord by initiating the conversation in his mother tongue.

I started to convince him so that we could move on. He said the road was blocked for our own safety and he also said that this place is not suitable for traveling anymore. It had become hell. People were throwing stones and firing bullets at police, CRPF, and Army. It had become a civil war zone. He recommended not to visit this place again until all the issues are resolved and even though if we wanted to visit, he recommended us to take the other route where we don’t have to cross Srinagar again. In the end, he confided to my perseverance. He opened the gates for us and warned us to return if we encounter any group of inhabitants on our way. We agreed to be on the same page and started moving again.

Check post # 4:

Somehow we were halfway through and we were stopped at the next check post saying the curfew is on and we couldn’t proceed. Since I had convinced the CRPF guys I was confident enough to convince them too. But the policemen over there were a bit harsh and arrogant. We tried to talk our way out but they were not listening, they didn’t want to hear a word. The officer told us to shut up and step back. Meanwhile, he went back to the check post and was engaged on his walkie-talkie. We swallowed our words and stood in front of him with a pout on our face. We had lost our hopes. All of a sudden, the officer walked up to us and said that we could pass. I had no idea what changed his mind. I would say it was our lucky day. We all just said thank you and went past the rest of the folks.

Check post # 5:

It was 4 AM and we were not far from the next and hopefully the last check post. I don’t know what was wrong with the police in Srinagar, they always contradicted themselves. The same happened here. When we enquired, the police said we could cross the check post only after 6 AM. Since it was already 4 and we didn’t have the energy or the will to negotiate anymore. We parked our bikes and stood there in silence. One of the policemen came along and started breaking the ice with us. He wanted to make us comfortable. He explained the situation of the police and the people living in Srinagar. He said the things will improve in Srinagar and told us to come back for it. He was a nice man to talk to.

This time, all the people waiting in the queue lost their patience. The rest of the folks started persuading the police and since it was already 5:30 AM the police decided to clear the traffic jam and allowed everyone towards the Jawahar tunnel, the concluding terminal of Srinagar. The 2.85 KM long tunnel is the only thing which connects Srinagar and Jammu by road. As we were on our way towards the tunnel, we saw many vehicles which were thrashed on the roadside. There was no one in the vicinity. It was a really bad scene, I hate to say this but it felt like Iraq (which I have seen only in movies).

By hook or crook, we reached the tunnel by 6 AM. There was a huge queue to cross the tunnel and reach Jammu. As per the rule declared in the emergency situation, the tunnel will be functional only from 8 PM to 8 AM. After the overnight ride, we had to wait for 2 more hours to reach on the other side. While we were having a cup of coffee, the CRPF guys asked us why we came to this place! And everyone laughed. We said, we are coming from Ladakh and just wanted to cross Srinagar, they said that we are lucky that it’s over for us. They sarcastically said “It’s India on the other side of the tunnel” as if they were considering Srinagar as Pakistan itself. The soldiers were frustrated with that place and were desperate to move out.

Finally, the gates of the tunnel opened by 8 AM and we had a million dollar smile on our face, we were lucky that we had escaped and not survived the war. It was Jammu on the other side of the tunnel. We started riding through the ghat sections, it was okay at first, but after a while, sleep started haunting me. My eyelids had become so heavy that I had a tough time to keep them open. Since we had skipped the whole night’s sleep it had become intolerable. I told my partner to stop at the first lodge we encounter. Riding through the curfew was still fine but those 2 hours; I would never forget those horrible 2 hour’s ride. It was the only time I almost dozed off while riding. There were a couple of instances where I was about to go head on with the trucks that too on the hairpin bends. I was lucky enough to survive it.

Once we had come past the ghat, we parted ways with our fellow riders from Delhi. And meanwhile, we got to know that a general strike was declared in Jammu. But we were lucky enough to find a motel. We checked in at 10:30 AM and had our breakfast. The next thing I remember was my partner trying to wake me up saying its 10 PM. We went out had our dinner and slept again. We had one hell of a sleep; it was much needed after a very long day.

 

P.S. I know it’s almost twice the size of rest of my posts. Thanks a lot for being patient and sticking with me till the end. I hope it was worth a read

4

Day 21: Storm is coming

Disclaimer: I have tried to recreate the events, locales, and conversations from my memories of them. The below-expressed views, opinions or analogies are personal and may not be in line with the widespread conceptions. Please go to Motorcycle Diaries -> India: Ocean To Mountains (or Click here) to check out the previous events.

Date: 19th August 2016; Intended Route: Lamayuru – Kargil – Drass – Zoji La – Sonamarg – Srinagar

 

“The show must go on.”

I was so into NH1 that I don’t even remember when we crossed Lamayuru. The road was damn effing awesome. Everything was great till afternoon, but while we were having our lunch, we got to know that couple of days back; there was a terror attack in Srinagar, in which a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) Officer was martyred; even the militants involved were neutralized after exchanging few rounds. We knew the situation in Srinagar was bad but it had become worse. The curfew was still on.

It was a crucial day for us; crucial with respect to decision making. We had to decide if we wanted to cross Srinagar or not. When we checked with the residents and the truck drivers passing by they said, Army and CRPF allowed people to pass through Srinagar after midnight, from 12 AM to 6 AM. It was just word of mouth information with no credibility whatsoever.

Post lunch we reached Drass and decided to check out the Drass war memorial. I had noticed a couple of bikes in the parking lot, loaded with luggage and with number plate from my hometown. As we were about to enter the memorial, we saw a group of riders coming towards us. I presumed that the bikes parked outside belonged to them (It’s not that difficult to spot a Malayalee) and I was right. They were from Kochi too and we got into a conversation. They said they were coming via Srinagar. Now that was a relief to see people coming out of Srinagar, alive! They told us their experience and gave us some tips on how to cross Srinagar. We got inspired by their story and considered to cross Srinagar on the same night.

As they bid farewell, we entered the war memorial. I would say, it’s a must visit place in Drass. “Drass War Memorial built by the Indian Army, located in the foothills of the Tololing Hill. The memorial is located about 5 km from the city center across the Tiger Hill. The memorial is in the memory of the soldiers and officers of the Indian Army who were killed during the 1999 conflict between India and Pakistan. The conflict later became known as the Kargil War.” I respect the Indian Defense Forces from the bottom of my heart for their patriotism and sacrifice for the country which we feel only during India – Pakistan cricket match. While we were going through the relics of the Kargil war, I felt proud of the fact that my dad had served the Indian Air force for 20 years.

While we were departing from the war memorial, we saw 4 riders overtaking us. I felt relaxed to know that we were not the only dumb ones who were trying to cross Srinagar, there were 4 more. While we were near Zoji La, we saw few riders halting. They were the same guys who overtook us; in addition to that, there were 3 more. And they said they had just crossed Srinagar. They gave us quite a lot of detail on the entire Srinagar situation. They were trapped over there for around 14 hours, so they were well versed with it. They even mocked us saying “Srinagar is a fireball now; while everybody is running away from Srinagar you guys are running towards it.” And I said, “Look who is talking, you are the ones who just crossed Srinagar”.

They also advised us to climb Zoji La before sunset and they left for Drass. It was nice talking to them. Meanwhile, we (all 6 of us) decided to ride together until we cross Srinagar. 4 of them were from Delhi, though they were nice, they were riding like a bunch of assholes, no respect for the road or the bike. While we were on top of Zoji La, I witnessed one of the most beautiful sunsets. While I was enjoying the beauty of it, they moved on, and I was least bothered about it. However I was the one who proposed to ride together, at one point, I thought, I wouldn’t mind breaking that covenant. I knew we were getting a bit late; nevertheless, I stopped at Zoji La to take few wonderful snaps.

After a while, I saw everybody halting at a check post. The police asked us why we were riding into Srinagar at this point of time and they were not happy about it. Despite the fact that it was not a really good idea, we insisted them to allow us to pass the check post. And so they did. As the other group of 3 guys had said it was safe to ride till Kangan, we thought of riding till there and see the situation; and then take the next course of action.

We reached Kangan by 9 PM. When we enquired at the police check post, they said we can cross it only after 2 AM. We started riding backward to see if we could find any hotel to grab something for dinner and wait till 2, but all the shops in Kangan were closed due to curfew. While we had lost all our hopes and parked our bikes for a chit chat, a man standing on the balcony of the opposite building asked if we wanted to have dinner, and we all shouted together “YES” as if we were waiting for someone to ask. We went inside through the back door and he served us food, although it was not that great we didn’t have an option, at that time, an option was a luxury which we couldn’t afford. The only thing we had was time; we had to wait till 2 AM so that we can cross the check post and ride through Srinagar.

 

P.S. Tick tock, tick tock.

8

Day 20: Kiss of NH1

Disclaimer: I have tried to recreate the events, locales, and conversations from my memories of them. The below-expressed views, opinions or analogies are personal and may not be in line with the widespread conceptions. Please go to Motorcycle Diaries -> India: Ocean To Mountains (or Click here) to check out the previous events.

Date: 18th August 2016; Route: Diskit – Sumur – Khardung La – Leh

 

“There are no traffic jams along the extra mile.”

We got the adequate amount of rest the previous night and that helped in compensating my lack of sleep. The lady at the paying guest offered us Ladakhi bread for breakfast. As they served the food, she looked eagerly at me with a smile on her face. I hadn’t even finished my first bite and she asked: “how’s it, do you like it?” I swallowed that nibble and said: “It’s… great, mmm, very yummy”. It was like a pancake but a bit ugly and less tasty. It was not that bad but I murmured in my mind, “What is this shit, regular bread would have been better“.

We vacated our room and started riding towards Sumur. We wanted to check out a Monastery over there, and it wasn’t that great. As I thought it would have been better to skip it, I saw few 6-year-old kids along the roadside with a broad smile on their face and their hand stretched out. Initially, I thought they wanted a lift or some help. I slowed down to see if everything was alright. They started cheering for me when I was approaching them real slow (I had no clue whatsoever!). One of the kids shouted, “bhaiya, haath do (give your hand)”.  I was like, huh! Anyway, I stretched my hand to my left and the kids gave me a high-five real hard. I was wearing gloves but I still felt those clap. Damn, that moment just made my day. Can there be a better feeling than getting a high-five while riding your motorcycle? Naah. Skipping Sumur would’ve been a mistake.

As per the itinerary, we had to reach Leh by the end of the day, and for that, we had to cross Khardung La again. This time, it was not very pleasant. It was damn cold and cloudy, I was afraid that it might rain and if it would have, I will not be writing this post now. One way or another, we crawled to the top. And unlike last time, it was not crowded at all, so we had our small photo session at the top giving all the macho poses. We crossed Khardung La and reached Leh by 4 PM.

Since we had a couple of hours left, we decided to go the extra mile and head out to Drass. The minute we went past Leh; man, I was mesmerized. I challenge you, if there is any national highway in India which is more sensual than NH1, I would ride on that too. However bad your mood is, that road will undeniably bring a smile on your face. If it didn’t then you must be dead, because there is no way on earth that it won’t happen. As I was enjoying my ride, I saw a set of people standing underneath the hoarding which said “Magnetic Hill, The phenomenon that defies gravity”. I had heard a lot about it. People say that when we park the vehicle on the marked lines, the vehicle starts moving uphill by itself. I felt it was a scam, though it looked like a plain road, I could see the slope of it. The vehicles were not moving uphill, they were actually moving downhill. And that disappointed me.

Anyway, we decided to move and mark our trail on NH1. After covering around 35 KMs, I told my partner to stop. I wanted to ride that stretch again. We rode backward for 10 KMs just to relive that moment, I was addicted to it. NH1, you beauty!

Finally, we decided to call it a day at 6:30 PM. We checked into a room and went out to have a cup of coffee where we met a doctor from Srinagar. He was quite interesting and a travel freak too; he had been to many parts of India including Kochi and Bangalore. Generally, people of Srinagar are kind of Jihadist (pardon me, for my poor choice of words) but he was quite open during our conversation, I guess the reason being traveling, it moulds you as a different person altogether. He explained to us about the situation in Srinagar and gave us a workaround. He advised us to cross it after midnight. And we just hoped the situation in Srinagar to improve by tomorrow. If we don’t complete the circuit by crossing Srinagar, we had to ride all the way back to Manali which will take few additional days and put us behind the schedule. I just hoped for the best.

 

P.S. I still dream about NH1 😀

3

Day 19: No Man’s Land

Disclaimer: I have tried to recreate the events, locales, and conversations from my memories of them. The below-expressed views, opinions or analogies are personal and may not be in line with the widespread conceptions. Please go to Motorcycle Diaries -> India: Ocean To Mountains (or Click here) to check out the previous events.

Date: 17th August 2016; Route: Pangong Tso – Nubra Valley

 

There is pleasure in the pathless woods, there is rapture in the lonely shore, there is society where none intrudes, by the deep sea, and music in its roar; I love not Man the less, but Nature more” – Lord Byron

I had a horrible night; I wasn’t able to sleep due to cold and the food that they served at the camp. Though the tent was able to protect us from the chilly wind, it couldn’t withstand the frostbite. Funny thing was, last night we were making fun of people who were farting in the close by tents and as you know, Karma is a bitch. And it bit me in my ass too. Yes, now you know what I mean when I said I had a horrible night. I was dropping nuclear warheads in that region. When I woke up my face was as if I licked a lemon, bitter and pale, but I made lemonade out of it and decided to check out Pangong Lake.

And I was stunned. Despite the fact that I had seen it in pictures and movies, I didn’t expect it to be the way they portray it. It was the most beautiful place I had ever seen. I could see the reflection of the blue sky in the crystal clear water, I felt like taking a dive but when I checked with one of the inhabitants, he said it was not allowed. And I have a thing, I like to defy people, when someone says “it’s not allowed” or “don’t do it”, that’s the first thing I am gonna do (yeah, I am an idiot at times). Even on that day, I had the craving to take a plunge. But I quenched my thirst as soon as I touched the surface with my bare foot. It was damn cold, so I controlled my emotions and satisfied myself with a ton of snaps. I wanted to stay there until the afternoon so that the temperature would be back to normal and I could fulfill my wish to take a dip.

The problem was the route to our next destination; it’s a stretch where we will not find any help or fuel for instance. It belonged to no man. And yesterday when we were talking to few guys at the camp who had come from Nubra valley, said: “There was no road for few KMs and whatever left off was submerged in water”. Which was expected since they rode after sunset! I was hoping it to be better in the daylight. So we had to cross it before 6 PM at any cost, and we headed straight out to Nubra.

When we checked about the road condition with few of the Army men at Durbuk, they said: “No one has arrived from Nubra this morning.” They advised us to proceed with caution. Things were better at first. Roads were okay and we also noticed few SUVs coming from the opposite direction, which was a good sign. Bur after few KMs there came a point where there was a swamp as big as a cricket ground and we were not sure in which direction we should ride for Nubra. I saw few workers carving a stream to make way for the water in the middle of the marshland. So I parked my bike few meters before the muddy ground and went on to check with them. When I asked for the directions, one of the guys just pointed his finger to my left. Though I was sure that he pointed in the right direction, we decided to follow the trails of the vehicles which had passed before us. The key was to maintain a constant speed, not too slow that we had to put our feet down to balance the bike and not so fast that we would go skydiving. (And it’s always preferred not to make any abrupt maneuver while crossing a land with reduced traction.) We had a tough time riding through the slippery mud and the rocky streams, which was, in fact, the easy part. The hard part was just about to begin; the road under construction was garnished with loose gravel which was not hard-pressed by the Road roller. That caused my tire to dig in as if I was riding straight into the ground. I had to push my motorcycle back and forth to pull out the tires every time it got stuck; and that 200 meter’s stretch had worn me out.

We decided to take a break after that and found a roadside eatery where we met a couple; the gentleman was from Delhi and the lady was a German. She was a nice woman and he seemed like a nice guy, at least he was not faking his accent like the guy who didn’t know Sunny Leone. We had a good time conversing. Then they moved on to Pangong and we took our course of action. The roads were much better after that. We reached Hunder (Nubra Valley) by 5 PM and checked into a hotel at Diskit. Though I was eager to catch up on the lost sleep, I had ample time to listen to some splendid music after 18 days, oh god that made me feel a lot better.

 

P.S. Just to clarify, Lord Byron has nothing to do with Game of Thrones 😛

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Day 18: Nature’s Essence

Disclaimer: I have tried to recreate the events, locales, and conversations from my memories of them. The below-expressed views, opinions or analogies are personal and may not be in line with the widespread conceptions. Please go to Motorcycle Diaries -> India: Ocean To Mountains (or Click here) to check out the previous events.

Date: 16th August 2016; Route: Leh – Hemis – Pangong Tso

 

“I wandered everywhere, through cities, states and everywhere I went, the world was on my side.”

After spending 3 nights in Leh, it was time to move on. As I was loading the luggage on my motorcycle, few of the guys who had checked into the motel last night started conversing. They were coming from Delhi on an SUV and had a hard time to reach Leh. They said the bridge at Sarachu had collapsed (which we crossed a couple of days back). Whoosh, thank god, I started believing that I had broken my jinx, which was great news, only if it were true.

There were few issues with our bikes which we wanted to fix before heading towards Pangong Lake; my motorcycle’s speedo cable was gone which made my console dud. I guess it happened when I changed my tires in Amritsar. My partner’s RHS mirror was broken as a result of the fall he took at Rohtang La. When we enquired, we found that there was no Yamaha Service Center in Leh but there was a Royal Enfield SC.

We rode straight to the service center only to know that it was closed. We checked with the nearby construction workers, they said: “It will be open only by 10 AM but there is a garage close by if you guys are in a hurry”. Since I didn’t want to waste any time to fix a minor issue, I decided to go on with the local mechanic. Over there, I met the same guy (whom I met in Amritsar) riding with his 3-year-old daughter and wife; they were coming from Pangong Lake. He told us to reach Pangong before it gets dark because the water level in the streams which we need to cross goes up after sunset. We were glad to meet them for the information they provided beforehand.

In the view of the fact that there were no petrol stations available once we cross the city, we decided to get the fuel top up at the last petrol station in Leh. By the time we reached, they had run out of fuel. It was not a good idea to wait to refuel at the last station; we should have done it at the filling station which we encountered on our way. Though we had additional fuel in the jerry cans, we chose to ride backward for around 25 KMs to get the top up and then advance to Hemis monastery. In my opinion, it was nothing like Thikse. It was just another structure with a roof, walls, and tons of restriction, especially for photography. I would say, keep the place as optional and visit only if you have more than enough time.

Anyway, it was time to ride towards the lake post lunch, but the Police stopped us at the first check post. They asked for a self-declaration form which we need to provide to visit Pangong. There was nobody at the Police check post when we came back with the form which we got from a shop round the corner. It was not surprising; it happens in India all the time and we were aware of these situations. So without further ado, we started riding towards the lake.

The nature of the road changed after every 500 meters. By this time, we were well versed with it and were advancing with necessary caution. After few KMs, we got a stretch of awesome road within the perimeter of Durbuk, an army base camp; they know how to maintain the road and the surroundings. It was almost 7 PM and we were 10kms away.

As my friend had indicated, the water level started rising after sunset. Gradually, we saw water flowing from the parallel stream to the road. There was a point where almost 10 meters of the road was submerged in water. I stopped my motorcycle to inspect the marshland since it was dark and muddy I didn’t notice any kind of pot holes or low-lying water logs, and I assumed the road to be in a good condition. So I took a leap of faith. And wham, my bike was submerged in water at the engine level. I had to crank up the engine to make sure that the engine doesn’t stall. Because if it did, there was no way I could have pushed my bike off that mess. With the heart in my mouth and instinct in my brain, I steered the bike towards the right but my motorcycle landed in another pothole and the rear tire got stuck. I accelerated hard to drift my way out of the mud. As soon as I got out, there was a stretch of dry grains of sand like the ones you have at the beach. As a result of high revving, I lost control in the sand. This was the third time in the last one minute where I went off-guard. Anyway, after chewing my heart for few minutes, we reached Pangong. Since it was getting cold and dark, we enrolled ourselves in a camp which was providing tents around the lake. This was the second time we crossed our budget for accommodation but it was totally worth it.

 

P.S. While we were having our lunch, we met a guy who didn’t know Sunny Leone and the irony was, his GF believed him 😛