Ride Through the Land of Lamas
One word makes every adventurer hold his breath in anticipation...one word makes every naturalist think of the ideal place to be...one word makes every traveller think of an exotic destination...one word makes a pilgrim think of salvation...Himalayas. Yes, the Himalayas with its rugged mountain peaks, evergreen forests, bone chilling regions, ancient temples, makes it an ideal destination for everyone: traveller, pilgrim or hardcore adventurer.
For a Biker, visiting Himalayas is one thing and riding on a motorcycle across the lofty mountains is totally another thing -the supreme challenge to any true bike enthusiast.
That is what we decided…… to ride across the Himalayan terrain of Himachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir. Gaurav, Kyle and Hanif from Mumbai; Khushwanth from Delhi; Col. Rajan, Ranga, Satish and I from Bangalore. We were perfect strangers till one day when the force behind the tour - our passion for traveling on motorcycles, united us into an e-group 60KPH. Col. Rajan and Srinidhi formed the backup team in the Maruti Van while the rest of us rode motorcycles.
The next 2 days were spent at Manali servicing our bikes and sight seeing. After that we proceeded ahead towards Rohtang pass towards Leh - the most challenging stretch of our journey. 475 kms of pure adventure, with 5 high altitude passes, ranging from 13,000 ft asl to 17600 ft asl. There are sections of the road which are crisscrossed by glacial streams, broken and unpaved. The spectacular scenery makes all the risk and trouble worth its while. The sharp hairpin bends and very narrow sections were all part of the game.
We reached Rohtang pass (13,050 ft asl) with the snow capped peaks of the Himalayas towering around us seemingly wishing us all the best for our sojourn to the highest roads in the world. We descended down to Khoksar village and drove on to halt at Stingri - the last town on this road. We refueled our vehicles and bought enough fuel at Tandi to take us through the rest of the journey, for the next petrol bunk was 370 kms away at Leh.
After Stingri we moved ahead through dirt tracks and roads covered by flowing streams, across rickety Bailey bridges which felt as though they would collapse any moment, to reach Baralacha La, the coldest region here, at an awe inspiring height of 16,047 ft asl. The next stop was at Sarchu, the border of HP and J&K. We spent the night in tents. The roads were better after Sarchu and it was an unforgettable experience riding up the Gatta Loops a stretch of 13 kms which has 21 sharp hairpin bends and a height gain from 13,776 ft to 15302ft asl. Shortly ahead, we reached Nakii La at 16,416 ft asl. Our journey took us through the rugged mountains across Lachlung La at 16,616 ft asl.
The next morning saw us riding through mind-blowing terrain with wind-eroded mountains, where tunnels form with the force of the fierce winds. The road to Pang. was flanked by steep sandstone cliffs on one side and a valley sloping sheerly on the other. Here the winds blow at speeds of more than 80 kmph making it very difficult for vehicles. This is the real challenge for any biker; the endurance of the bike and the rider are tested to the limit.
Mountain sickness rears its ugly head and makes you wish you were back home. The altitude doesn't give you enough oxygen to breathe, the winds threaten to blow you off the mountain side, the sun beats down on you mercilessly almost burning you with its ultraviolet rays, and the potholed roads make you feel you will teeter off the road.
This was a testing time indeed. A stretch of 96 kms to Rumtse via, Tanglang La (17,852 ft asl) with nothing in-between except the rolling mountains. A steep ascent from Pang led us to More Plains, a vast plateau flanked by high mountains on both sides and a 33 km long road which snakes through the plain. There is not a soul in sight and no sign of civilization, nor a drop of water. The road across More Plains seemed to stretch endlessly into the land of Lamas. A few kms of ascent towards the pass and we entered into a snow storm. It seemed as though we were hit by a blizzard. Our visors were getting fogged making our visibility almost nil and if we opened our visors the snow flakes hit us like shards of glass. It was scary till we reached Tanglang La, where we stopped briefly to click photographs before readhing Rumtse.
After Rumtse we moved ahead to reach Leh while visiting the Buddhist Gompas at Hemis, Thikse and Spituk. Hemis Monastery is the oldest in the Ladakh region and is a seat of Buddhist culture and religion. We wondered at the beautiful murals and the enormous statues of Buddha/ Maitreya/ Chamba and Taradevi. Thikse Gonpa is the largest in the region and is built covering a huge hillock. Spituk monastery is situated very near Leh city and dates back to 14th Century AD.
Ladakh is a unique region with diverse landscapes: brown sandy deserts and purple, rust cliffs amidst snow clad mountains, where summer is lush green and winter is snow white. And the people are always willing to help travellers, a smile seemingly permanently imprinted on their faces, despite the rigours of their lives.
Our onward journey was to the unexplored regions of Nubra Valley via Khardung La (18380 ft asl) the worlds highest motorable road. The road took us through the most exotic regions where we were beset with surprises throughout our odyssey. The first a stretch was of sand dunes in the middle of snow clad mountains. We had to rub our eyes and pinch ourselves to believe that there exists a desert amidst the snow peaks.
The next surprise waiting for us was at Panamik - a small village where there are hot springs. Here we had a rejuvenating bath. Imagine a stream of boiling hot water emerging from the middle of a snow capped mountain.
We returned to Leh and started our journey towards the Kashmir Valley. Our first stop from Leh was at Mulbek. We had to cross two high altitude passes, Fotu La and Namika La, before we reached Mulbek. Fotu La at 13,479ft asl is the highest point on the Srinagar - Leh road. Between Leh and Mulbek we visited Gurudwara Pathar Sahib, built in the memory of Guru Nanak's visit to Ladakh; the ancient monastery, Lamayuru Gompa; and Magnetic Hill where we witnessed a natural phenomenon which defies gravity, any vehicle moves uphill by itself due to the natural magnetic field acting on it in this region.
Mulbek is a historical site which houses one of the 5 statues of Buddha located in Ladakh which are of the Bamiyan Style. The Buddha statue, about 30 ft in height, is an imposing statue carved across a vertical rock-face, standingindependently amidst towering Himalayan peaks. From Mulbek we proceeded on towards Kargil, where the historic Kargil war took place, halting at Drass for the night. Drass is another hot bed of infiltration and also the second coldest permanently inhabited place on earth.
Srinagar was hot. For the first time we realized that we were heading back to the big, bad, polluted civilization. We spent a couple of days at Srinagar, and proceeded towards Jammu via the famous 3.5 kms long Jawahar Tunnel at Banihal. We crossed Batote, Kud, Patni top and other tourist destinations on the way to Delhi where the tour reached its grand finale.
Photo Credit: L.V. Srinidhi Raghavendra
Editor: Romola Butalia   (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.