Saturday, 11 February 2017

Part 3 - Exploring the Unexplored- A visit to the world's Highest Motarable Villages.

1. Day 4 : The morning of 5th June 2014, I woke up in the surreal surroundings of Kaza town. As usual Abhinav and Paranshu were still sleeping. I went out to the terrace of the hotel and looked around. Kaza was situated in the midst of barren moutains of spiti valley. Spiti river running alongside the town and the snow capped peaks gave the terraces of this town a mesmerising view. The streets were full of dogs and people had started with the daily business. There was a soothing calmness in the air. I took a long breath and inhaled a 'never experienced before' freshness in the air. The temperature was somewhere in the  lower single digits but the cold winds made it seem colder. I woke up Abhinav and Paranshu then and we kept a target of 0900 hrs for us to start for the day's activites which included getting our bikes repaired a bit and a visit to the Key monastry and the world's highest motarable village, Komik. Abhinav had a lot of welding to be done on his lugage carrier which was broken at a number of joints. He dettached his luggage carrier and left it at the shop and we went ahead for a visit to the legendary Key Monastry. It is a Tibetian monastery located on top of a hill at an altitude of 4,166 metres (13,668 ft). I had some contacts there at the monastry thanks to my sister who had spent few months here for one of her research projects on snow leapords. We met the monks and they were kind to let us visit all the places within the monastry and enlighten us with the rich heritage and history of the monastry. We also had the local herbal tea that they prepared specialy for us. I must say I have never been a big fan of the way these herbal teas taste but there was a special tingy flavour to that tea. It was nothing like i had ever tasted before. This special tea is prepared with a special herb that is found only at the higher reaches of the spiti valley mountains which means they can only be picked during summers as the rest of the year there is no vegetation due to heavy snow cover. After spending about an hour in the monastry, we were to head for Komik which was known as the world's highest motarable village but we were told that rapid road construction in the region keeps shifting this title to new villages every year. Hence, Komik was no longer the highest motarable village. After some discussion amongst themselves monks told us that  a village called Gete is now the new highest motarable village. It was a bit farther away and we had not considered any distance greater than 25 kms in our day's plans.

2.  Anyways, we headed for Gete. We crossed Kibber and komik soon and continued ahead towards Gete. The landscape kept us mesmerised all the way. The sky never looked so close and so blue before, the mountains were green all the way and snow could be seen at a touching distance. Oxygen levels were going down and bikes were not able to  pump out even half of the power they usually do. It was getting tougher for the Bullet to climb with the pillon sitting. Finally after reaching the highest point of the road we stopped and took a break. We realised if we kept moving ahead we won't be able to return before dark and that was not at all recommended in these parts. So we turned back and our aim to visit the world's highest village was left unachieved. Nonetheless, we had our lust for adventure fully satisfied. We could have never imagined the beauty of this valley without seeing it with our own eyes. It was a world out of this world and no sight, not even the surreal leh valley, can be compared to the spell this valley puts on you.    

3. We returned back to Kaza town by 1700 hrs in the evening. We did some shopping in the local market. The market was full of many local souvenier shops and local garment showrooms. T-shirts and sweatshirts with funny and adventure tag lines were the highlights of these showrooms. We did buy some of those and few other souveniers and then headed to our hotel. Abhinav then got his luggage carrier back from the welding shop. We then went out for dinner and after a sumptuous meal, we retired soon to our beds. Day 5  was going to be a tough ride as we had to leave the Spiti valley and enter the Lahaul valley which meant we had to go through glaciers which were melting in this season. This would also mark our entry into the second phase of our ride, the much familiar, Laddakh valley.  

4. Day 5 :- Next day we left Kaza town by around 0700hrs and our target was to reach Gramphu which was around 137 km from Kaza town. We kept the distance unusually low as we were aware the route is a complete mess and we wont be riding fast enough. We also had a Pass enroute to cross, the Kumzum La, at height of 4590m (15090 ft). We were looking forward to witness the beauty of this less known pass. By around 1100 hrs, we were at the Kunzum La, an amazingly beautiful pass with some snow scattered around here and there. What was amazing was the Kunzum La Stupa situated right at the top. The stupa was very well maintained even though we could'nt find anybody there. We paid a visit to the stupa and offered our prayers most part of which was to the mother nature for blessing us with such owe-inspiring beauty.
We descended the pass and came across a board at a y- junction reading  'Road to Chandrataal'. I had heard a lot about Chandrataal and its picturesque surroundings but a trip to Chandrataal and back would mean adding about 50 Kms to our route. Condisdering the time constraints, we could'nt afford a visit to Chandrataal and with the regret, we moved ahead. We reached Batal in a short while which had a few locals setup Dhabas. We met some truck drivers there and after talking to them we realised that the road ahead to Gramphu is in the worst condition ever. Their reply to our enquiry was rather a sarcastic remark saying " Aage toh raasta bohot achcha hai " followed by a laughter. They got serious though soon and told us that our timing to travel through this strecth could'nt be worst. We had to move between two glaciers and after 1200 hrs in the afternoon the water levels  gushing down from the glaciers on to the roads increases to a dangerous level and it becomes very difficult to cross the streams. We were given all the scare that they could and then left wondering - what now ? Well, nothing much could be done now that we had come this far. We had our light lunch and started ahead with a nervous heart.     

5. We soon got to experience the dark side of these natural masterpieces. As soon as we left Batal we came across a number of streams, each one getting more difficult than the previous one to cross. Everytime we thought to ourselves ' what worse than this can come our way?' and everytime we were surprised by mother nature in a fearsome way. We also crossed some snow logged strecthes where somehow we dragged our bikes through terrifying  and slippery snow and mud slush. My bike with its shorter wheelbase and smaller Wheels did slip down on one of those. The frequency of the streams in our way was getting freakishly high and so was the intensity of water flowing through them. And hence the time involved in crossing each one of them was also getting longer and longer. It was now that our nerves got the better of us and we started to get worried a little. Paranshu was the one with least sense of humour or adventure left in her now. She kept reminding us of how far we still had to travel and that we wont be able to make it the way we were moving. Worst part was that in our knowledge there was no other habitable place before Gramphu now. It was brave of her to keep her nerves and her fear under check as we crawled through the streams. The last one we crossed was the worst. There was almost a river running on the road! Bullet somehow made it across that river but I had to take a fall in that bone chilling, knee deep water and push the bike across with Abhinav's help. It was already 1700 hrs by then and it was about to get dark in next half an hour. We discussed our contingency plans of staying the night under open skies in that weather and kept ourselves prepared for the worst. Moving ahead, we were relieved that the streams were behind us. However, to add to our woes, it started to rain with heavy winds. As we were about to give up hope of finding any shelter, Chhatru came to our rescue. Chhatru was a small bridge head on the Chenab river with two shops and a Dhaba. Our happiness knew no boundaries as soon as we saw those constructions emerging out of that hellish view in front of us. Luckily the dhaba did have a small under construction cottage that the owner gave to us on rent for the night. We were still in shock from the scare the route gave us. We had never been through this scary an experience in our lives before. We had even considered death due to extreme cold as a possibility! Anyways, all that ends well is kind of .. u know ..  this saying is not at all apt here. We still get chills down our spine remembering that day ! Trying to think positive and gathering left over courage for the next day's ride, we crashed to our beds. Below are some of the screenshots off my Sony hdr recordings that barely picture the horror we went through.

When My Bike Took a dip.

6. Next day we woke with our thirst for adventure restored and since the route ahead of Gramphu was well known to us, we could ridea bit more carefree. The Manali-Leh route has been a priority task for the Himachal Pradesh tourism in the last few years and hence I was sure that the route would be a lot better than it was back in 2011. We started from Chhatru by 0730 hrs and reached Gramphu by 1000 hrs. We did encouter few streams here too but compared to ones we crossed a day back, they were a piece of cake. We took a long halt at Gramphu, Spread out our clothes in the sun on a table of a restraunt and ordered some proper indian aloo ka paranthas. It was after 100s of Kms that we got to see such huge crowd of people and vehicles. The traffic from Manali to Leh and back had increased many folds in last three years. Gramphu also marked the re-start of the proper black tarmac ahead. we reached Tandi (45 kms)  in a short while which has the only fuel station of the 360 km long route ahead before Leh. We got our bikes filled and continued ahead till Keylong. Keylong a medium sized town in the Lahaul Valley which has decent hotels and restruants and is a traditional halting point for travellers. We decided to rest for the day there and give our bikes the much needed check up.  The route ahead was going to be much easier for us but we already had a disliking for the amount of the man made invasions which had taken over this once beautifully isolated valley. Tourism dept is doing its best to make the route much more accessible for travellers but in the process is robbing these parts off their inherited isolation which was the essence of their beauty. Well, this is a bitter truth that we travellers will have to accept with a pinch of salt I guess.

To be Continued ( In Next Blog)                                   Previous Blog  

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Part 2 - Entering the unkown.

1. Day 2 - Shimla - Reckong Peo ( 226 Kms) -  Waking up early and setting up the timelines for the trip was my responsibilty by default. We were ready to hit the road by 0730 hrs. We checked our route once and realised that we about to enter into a much isolated region of Himachal Pradesh that day. And the famous roads caved into the mountains that we saw in the videos before the trip were also a part of the day's ride. We left Shimla and took a halt for breakfast enroute. As we crossed Rampur, The geography around us changed drastically. There were cliffs, cracks, gorges and a much smoother black tarmac around us. The famous caved roads were here too !! It was as if we were entering a different world. An energising and overly joyfull feeling egulfed me as we cruised through what was only a trailer to a movie full of graphic special effects and out of this world landscapes. We had our early lunch at a place called Bitthal on the banks of satluj river. Soon we were gaining altitude climbing through the twisting winding roads among a picturesque landscape. By evening that day, we had crossed the hindu region and had entered the Buddhist region of Himachal Pradesh. We decided to take the halt at Reckong Peo, a small, beautifull town, around 15 Kms off our course. We had to go a little more offcourse to find a decent Hotel but the effort paid off and we parked ourselves for the night.


Day 2 Ride

2. Day 3 :- Day three started off with the usual ritual of me waking them up and going out to soak in the  lovely fresh breeze off the atmosphere. Reckong Peo looked stunning in the morning. The town was situated at the slope of a mountain and had a wonderfull view of the mountains in front and beyond. We got ready by 0700 hrs and joined our course back to enter the Spiti region. Our destination for the day was the biggest town in Spiti, Kaza.  As soon as we set on our course the landscape became more scenic and picturesque. The mountains started to loose vegetation, weather got more chilly and the roads became narrower and dangerous to ride on. The road moves along satluj all the way till Khab, a small village after crossng Pooh, around 80 Kms from Reckong Peo. From there, Satluj moves towards Tibet and we move along Spiti river towards Kaza. We had our lunch at Nako, another small village enroute. We had a little session with lunch when all three of us tried describing our feelings. The beauty around us had stolen our hearts. The mesmerising landscapes we saw in the videos, which looked like some sort of special effects were actually true!! We were right there, in the midst of the best of the creations of mother nature. A world so untouched, so unexplored and so pure in its existence, it blew our minds. We compared it to Laddakh and the fact that Laddakh has now been invaded, to some extent, by modern times (something we cant do anything about ), made Spiti truly a better experience for most of the travellers. 

Day 3 Ride
3. We continued ahead and soon it was starting to get dark. There was almost no sign of any life around us other han the loud swirling Spiti river. However, kaza was not far so we continued riding after dark. By around 1930 hrs we could see the civilization coming back to life. We could see lights at a distance and some houses far off. We hit Kaza town by 2030 hrs. The town market was half closed but as we entered, we became the centre of attention right away. People offering hotel rooms started to run alongside our bikes. We chose one hotel which was yet to be inaugrated (so we got rooms quite cheaper)  and ended the day's ride. Days ride was a wonderfull experience and we could'nt wait to see how beautifull Kaza was !    


Monday, 26 December 2016

The Magnificient Spiti Valley and A Revisit to the much Changed Laddkah July 2014!!

1. Intro. I was intorduced to the magical world of biking early in the year 2011 when I bought the Yamaha R15 V1. With my very first trip to Laddkah, I learnt the nuances of biking the hard way. Since then I did many trips across central and north India but the most eagerly awaited trip was the revisit to the Laddkah valley. My friend and fellow rider during the Laddakh trip in June 2011,  Abhinav, had done the same trip for three consecutive years since 2011 with different fellow riders! Hats off to him for managing that! I on other hand, did try to accompany them every  year but could'nt manage my leave with their's. Finally, in 2014, I planned in advance and made sure that I get leave in June/July. I got in touch with Abhinav and told him my plan to do the trip agian, this time in July. He expressed his willingness but a lot had changed for him in three years. He now had a girl friend, Paranshu, whom I also knew as a friend and who wanted to accompany Abhinav in this trip. So, he planned to get her along as a pillon and he also suggested that this time we should make the trip much better in every way. So just then Spiti valley came to my mind. My sister, who is a wildlife conservationist, visited Spiti valley for few months for one of her projects and mentioned about the place to me. I wacthed videos on Youtube following some of the famous biking groups and there was a lot of buzz about the majestic Spiti valley bieng a biker's paradise those days. So I suggested adding Spiti also to our trip and increase the duration to 15-16 days. Adding Spiti would mean adding another 2000 odd Kilometers to our trip. Plus, Spiti was still an unexplored part of the country and less was known about it. Over the next few days we did some research on it and the more we learnt and saw, we got  more excited about Spiti. The incredibly stunning Key Monastry at an altitude of 4166m (13,668 ft) and the world's highest motarable village, Komik seemed to beckon us. It was an unanimous and super excited 'yes' from all three of us! Over the years, riding in all kinds of roads and terrian, we were prepared for any kind of challenge and so this time we did not need much time to gear up for the ride. However, I was much better equiped this time with the saddle bags and the tank bag on my bike. I did buy a Sony HDR AS30V ation cam to record the ride. The camera came with a helmet mount and i managed a bike mount as an option. Abhinav and Paranshu were to start from Delhi and myself from Jalandhar, where is was posted then. We planned to meet up somewhere after crossing Chandigarh, on the Himalayan Express way to Shimla. The route we decided was as follows:-

Delhi/Jalandhar- Shimla - Narkanda-  Reckong Peo -Nako - Kaza - Losar- Gramphu - Keylong- Sarchu- Pang- Leh - Drass- Srinagar- Udhampur- Jalandhar/Delhi.

We kept a total of 16 days with One complete day for Kaza  and four days in Leh to go around Khardung La and Pangong Tso. The total distance was somewhere around 4000 Kms. It was by far the grandest of trips we had ever done! A fitting one to pay our respects and tribute to the grandeur of mother nature in those remote parts of the country! 

Bike Mounted Sony Action Cam.

Helmet Mounted Action Cam
All Set to Start.
Abhinav & Paranshu

2. Day 1 - 3rd July 2014. (Jalandhar/Delhi - Shimla 346/216 Kms)  It was a similar feeling I had three years ago. A sleepless night and butterflies filled stomach with the first light of the day hitting the curtains. I had done the major loading of my bike previous night before sleeping and only minor things were left. When I looked outside to check on the weather, I realised it was very cloudy. By around 0545 hrs, I was ready to start for what was going to be the mother of all bike rides! And just then rain god decided to make the ride even more special. It started to drizzle as I left jalandhar cantt. All my luggage was waterproofed and since it was the pleasant summer rain, I didnt bother  putting on rain proof gear myself. It was the first apportunity for me to test the waterproof claims  of my Sony action cam. As soon as  I left the cantt road and hit the Jalandhar - Chandigarh highway, it started to pour down heavily. The open, smooth road with minimum traffic at that point of the day and the rain made it a perfect start of the trip. I had to cross few water logged areas before reaching Chandigarh but i could comfortably reach Chnadigarh by  0800 hrs. At any other time of the day crossing Chandigarh would have been a exhaustive job but I did it with ease. By around 0930 hrs I reached the huge toll outside Chandigarh which read 'The Himalayan Expressway'. The toll, by its looks, promised the road to be an absolute dream to ride on. And it felt that way for around 10 Kms after crossing the toll after which I was back to same old narrower mountain road with busy traffic where one has to stick perfectly to his lane and one small mistake could be life threatening.  I travelled for around 5 kms after leaving the point which marked the end of  so called 'expressway' and also the end of the rain. I decided to wait for Abhinav and Paranshu there while drying up myself. The couple on their first bike ride together, were however riding quite casually. I remember Paranshu mentioning her desire to do such a trip with us many times before. So I could imagine her excitement and  also Abhinav's nervousness to carry a pillon and all the other stuff. By around 1230 hrs a Royal Enfield entered the scene and there they were. It was around 1 and a half years back that we  three last met. We exchaged greetings, I complained of them bieng late and Abhinav justoified his bieng extra cautious while carrying Paranshu along with both thier stuff. We continued ahead soon and stopped at a Domino's near by. We had a lot of catching up to do about our lives while having our brunch. As we left Domino's, it started to pour down again !! 

A Masterpiece by Paranshu

Brunch Break

3. We enjoyed the rain all the way till we reached the outskirts of Shimla. Before we entered Shimla, we were all dry again. The ride was wonderfull and we could'nt have asked for a better start to the trip. We entered Shimla by around 1800 hrs and we checked into a decent hotel. After freshening up a bit, we roamed around in the famous mall Road of Shimla, had or dinner and bought Some rainproof gear from a Wildcraft outlet. We continued chatting later at the Hotel, catching up on the lost time and discussing the trip. The trip in its planning stage had every indications of bieng the best one in India. The three valleys, Spiti, Lahual and Laddakh  are three of the remotest and most exotic of the places not only in India but in the world. Covering these three in one bike trip was indeed a hair raising thought!! We slept off with stomach full of butterflies and high on euphoria!!    

                         The Start Through the Jalandhar Cantt Streets

                                                      Pouring Rain Before Shimla



Monday, 5 December 2016

The Spectacle That is Laddakh! - Gettin Leh'd !! The end of a dream ! (Day 6,7&8).

1. Day 6 - 16th June 2011. ( Drass - Srinagar 148 Kms). The Morning in Drass was a pleasant one. As usual, I woke up early ( by around 0515 hrs) and had a nice refreshing walk around the camp. The camp was located in a beautiful valley just before the Zozi La pass. The snow claded mountains could be seen all around with sun just starting to kiss the tops. We had to leave the camp before 0700hrs  as a convoy of around 50-80 Army vehicles was to start at 0700 hrs. Gettin stuck behind the convoy would be a troublesome thing since the roads rarely allowed overtaking. Waking up Abhinav again was a task but we managed to leave by 0645hrs. The road from the camp was okay in the beginning with occasional pot holes. The green meadows and the vast grassfileds along the road made it a wonderfull ride. But this was until we started to climb towards Zozi La.  The condition of the road deteriorated drastically and we struggled a lot to keep going. We had to keep taking halts every now and then to relax a bit and check the luggage. There I noticed that my rear tyre was stil loosing pressure. Probably, noone fixed the puncture properly afterall. I filled the tyre up again with the foot pump and continued. As we climbed slowly the road started to get scarier. We had heard of Zozi La bieng one of the most dangerous roads in the world and we witnessed it just like that. The road had turned into a narrow mix of dust and soil with space only for one vehicle pass at a time.There were no blockades on the side to prevent the vehicles from sliding off into the 1000 ft gauge. The road looked as if it was going crack open and  fall apart at any moment.  What made matter worst were these huge trucks going  the same way. I managed to be ahead of the trucks but poor Abhinav got stuck in between them and had a nice dirt bath. However, the hardship of Zozi La was followed by the reward of the beautiful Sonamarg valley. Such is the creativity of mother nature we witnessed all through our trip! Sonamarg is a picturesque valley along the Jhelum river with lush green meadows surrounded by snowcaped mountains. We rested for about an hour at Sonamarg, had our brunch  and  got my bike checked again to a local mechanic. He did find a puncture open and fixed it. Hoping that now the bike wont have any punctures left, we set out for Srinagar.

The Zozi La's Dirt Bath.

The Haws (High Altitude warfare School) Training Site.

An Open Air Class in  Progress in Sonamarg.
2. From Sonamarg, Srinagar is some 79 Kms and the road was much better. We reached Srinagar by 1500 hrs that day and decided to check into another one of the transit camps managed by the Army. Abhinav had a few friends in Srinagar, so after having a bit of rest he went to meet them. I decided to roam around the town and visit the famous Dal lake. The evening ride around the beautiful Srinagar town  was a refreshing one. We were back in the camp before dark and had our dinner by 2000 hrs.  Next day was going to be another low in the already lowering graph of riding experience  of our trip as we were already missing the magnificient landscapes of Laddkah. We had decided to reach Pathankot on the next day which was around 450 Kms. 

3. Day 7 - 17th June 2011 (Srinagar - Pathankot 445Kms).  We started from Srinagar by 0700hrs and had a long distance of around 450 kms to cover. But the difference in the road condition compared to all previous days was evident the very moment we started. The traffic was below average and we cruised at about 70-80 kmph. We stopped at a temple ruin just outside Srinagar and clicked few pics and videos. To my delight, my worries of the ride bieng a boring one in comparison to our previous days were over just as we exited Srinagar. The lush green trees slanting over the road made a natural corridor for us to ride through. It was again a wonderfuly different experience. Other than that the whole route was full of lush green landsdcape and twists and turns. I was enjoying the turns specially! Soon we entered the Jawahar tunnel in Banihal. The engineering marvel  is 2.4 Kms long and has two separate tunnels for oncoming and ongoing traffic. It was yet another first time experience for us to ride through. The tunnel exited into Ramban, where we took a halt and had our brunch. We started again after our brunch and by around 1400 hrs we were in Udhampur. 
The Wonderful Transit Camp in Srinagar.

The Serene Natural Corridor.

4. After taking a small halt at Udhampur we inquired about the Jammu bypass. It was a road which by passes Jammu and leads straight to Pathankot. We had heard that it goes through small villages and traffic is very less. We got initial directions to hit the bypass road and we were on our way. The road was surprisingly isolated and hardly had any traffic on it. We cruised through the entire 110 Kms in one go and by around 1630 hrs, we entered Pathankot. Pathankot has a special place in my heart as I had spent three years here in my childhood days. My father was posted here in the years 2009,2010 and 2011 and I did my 9th , 10th and 11th standard schooling in KV- 3, Mamun cantt in Pathankot. We checked into a hotel and without wasting much time, I set out for  Mamun Cantt to refresh those memories. I rode through familier roads which kept flooding me with old times. I entered the Mamun cantt and reached KV-3. The nostalgia had overtaken me completly and I could not help but to enter the school. The watchkeeper denied entry at first but after I told my reasons and my profession, he allowed a quick walk around the campus.  For the next half an hour, I was completly out of my zone and had enetered the lovely days of school. The classes, the walls, corridors, labs, assembly ground, the football ground everything was mostly the same!! My heart melted as I saw my name in the 'Roll of Honour' board outside the Principal's office. Well, the emotions had to be curbed as the wacthkeeper was walking beside me. I soon bid farewell to the school and went back to the hotel.  Day 8 was going to be the last day and we both had different destinations. Abhinav had to reach back to Delhi and I had to reach my home in Rudrapur in Uttarakhand. Delhi was within an easy ride away as the national highway leads directly to it. Me on the other hand had to cover a distance of around  670 Kms on the map going through Ambala, Haridwar and Najibabad. So we we decided to part  our ways in the morning. 

The Ranjit Sagar Reservoir.


Reminescence of The Past.

The School has Performed Much Better after Our Batch.!!