Thursday, July 4, 2013

Manali To Leh- Ladakh : Heights Of Paradise !

Conquerors on two wheels of this mighty - high adrenaline journey pronounce "You'll never be the same again after your first ride”. Well it has certainly changed mine.
Sometimes you see things that just make you wonder !
It has been almost a year, the day I set out on the mother of all motorcycle rides ‎,biggest motorcycle ride of my life so far (Manali-Leh-Manali). Memories are still fresh in the mind and every moment of the day feels like it happened yesterday. I so wanted to share this experience with other like minded people but lacked the motivation to write it down. Finally after a long wait of one year I am almost there, thanks to a very cleverly put up advice by a friend of mine –“If you ever want to live up those happy moments again in your life, Chronicle your journey!”

Here it goes:

The so called planning for the trip started in mid April alongside my two month MBA internship in Gurgaon. Making notes of essential things to carry, travel expenses, going through various blogs, articles and travelogues for whatever information I can gather. Above all a great trip needs a partner/buddy and there came my dear friend Sanjeev Singh aka Anna, an officer in Indian Army (Whose position & Skills were adequately utilized during the trip) ;)

Anna !

Day one: Chandigarh to Manali

The journey started with a bus ride from Chandigarh to Manali. As expected during the month of June, temperatures were at its peak. And yes we were in an ordinary Himachal Roadways bus. Ropar -Bilaspur passed by, but no sign of rain or any relief from soaring temperatures. Finally we reached Mandi which is on the banks of Beas river, 3 hours journey from there along the river to Manali brought that much needed relief. As we entered Manali around 8 pm we got stuck in a km long traffic jam, we decided walk all the way (almost 3km)to our Himachal tourism hotel with our heavy backpacks. As expected Manali was cold and gave us a glimpse of what's installed for us in coming days.

Day Two: Manali to Tandi

Our first task for the day was to hire a motorcycle for the trip .To put things into perspective -The lowest there on the route is somewhere around 3500m which might be the highest you've ever been to and what better way to handle one of the strangest and adventurous drive on so called Royal Enfield - Bullet! For next couple of hours we tried few places and finally got what we needed. The chosen one was Royal Enfield- Electra 350cc (2011 model). {Generally, the cost of hiring a bike/motorcycle range about Rs 700 – Rs 1500 per day per bike. Of course the exact rental price depends upon the modal, make (bullet, Enfield, pulsar etc) and condition of the bike you choose}. We got ours at a very reasonable cost of Rs 900/day (Thanks to our bargaining power).They provided us with a fully fledged tool kit along with some basic instruction on repairs.

All geared up!

Around 12 pm we started our ride from Manali full on high spirits(full tank) but low on confidence since it was our first time riding a 350cc on such a long trip. But as the Km's passed by it grew (confidence).It is highly recommended to get started as early in the morning so as to cross the Rohtang pass with least traffic 
movement. We had to pay a price of starting late.

Traffic making Rohtang ascend more difficult!

They never stop coming!

No one can predict weather on a pass!
No Highways only Slushways here!

All passes enroute are easily above 5000m except for the famous Rohtang pass at 4000m which is just beyond the Manali valley. But that too was covered with a blanket of snow. Before you underestimate Rohtang because of its short height let me tell you that it's the sniffiest of all the passes en route. Loose gravel washed down from the mountain side often combines with fresh rains to form such a potpourri of quick sand that everything that sticks its foot in it - gets stuck easily!And there we got stuck in a heavy traffic jam for almost 3 hours. It was almost 4 pm when we were across Rohtang pass. With a sigh of relief we descended from 4000m to 3000 m to reach Khokhaar. This small village has a check post where all the vehicles passing by have to register their details.

1st checkpoint at Khokhaar!

School at Sissuu !

And it rained!
 As it was almost 6 pm and it was getting dark, we needed a place to stay. We reached Tandi which has a transit camp (Army).Thanks to my Fauji partner we managed to get a room in the camp and all the related facilities. ;).Physically tired navigating through heavy traffic on the pass, feet deep muddy waters and snow capped roads, it was time to go to bed early since we needed a early start next day to cover the lost miles. Thanks to that great CO (Transit camp), our lunch at Sarchu and night stay at Pang  next day were taken care off. We covered almost 120km on our 1st day on two wheels.

Anna & the Ride!

Day Three: Tandi to Pang

As planned after a hefty breakfast we started early from Tandi. But before we crossed the Tandi village, a very important task needed to be carried out - Tank up. Tandi has the only petrol pump on a stretch of almost 460 km's. Fully loaded we moved towards Jispa which is around 40 km from Tandi and highly recommended for its beauty, the place we were supposed to reach last day. On the way to Jispa , we crossed Keylong which is one of the largest town on Manali -Leh highway and has the only ATM on the 400 km stretch. Roads are superb and one can run the machine at full speed even though you ascending every moment.
You can't afford to miss this!

Taking you along!

Around 20 km from Jispa is Deepak tal/Patsio .A very beautiful small water body alongside the road. A perfect place for a small break. As we moved ahead we reached ZingZing Bar (It’s not the Bar you think) ;) A nice calm place with few dhabas and small nullahs across the road full of ice cold water from where the ascend to Baralacha La pass(4890 m) starts. The road was all black tarmac with the famous views of this tarmac cutting across the huge snow walls.

Time for a back flip! 

 Baralacha La is considered as the most beautiful pass among all these highest passes of the world that comes along Manali–Leh highway. As we approached the Baralacha La the beauty  got meaner and meaner. Temperature dropped to almost below 3-4 deg Celsius. Few km's from the pass lies the beautiful Suraj Tal turned into ice. (starts melting only after July) .It takes a lot of courage to stop at this pass even to click a picture, all you want to do is get off it as soon as possible. Month of June is the time when Rohtang pass is opened and most of the route is snow peaked and snow melting making roads more inaccessible.

They ride without an engine! #Respect #Japs

Ice walled roads!

Landed on moon?

Cutting through the ICE!

Yes its a river! #Frozen

Suraj Tal

The descend from the Baralacha La pass begins and the road starts to deteriorate in just 3-4 Km's. Along the road is the standing still (frozen) river coming out of Suraj tal till Killing Sarai (named for obvious reasons).Our stop for lunch was Sarchu Transit camp. This is from where colors of ladakh start to unfold. One can see Km long white tents along the straight road as an arrow and inspires the high speed devil in you to come out and conquer it. Here Project Himank welcomes you and Project Deepak bids goodbye.
Name says it all!

 As we moved towards our night pit stop at Pang we had to cross the famous 22 back to back hair pin bends named Gata Loops just before Nakee La (4738 Mtrs) as well as Lachung La (5079 Mtrs) which was the third highest motor-able pass of the world. The signs of vegetation were getting dearer and dearer and almost null able as we continued our climb. After covering almost 60 Km from Sarchu we reached Lachung La. One more pass conquered :).From here to Pang is almost 26 Km, which turned out to be the worst stretch of the trip. Road is totally dusted and bumpy. After travelling almost 200 km from Tandi we reached Pang transit camp (Highest in the world) for our night stay. We both were all broken physically and mentally after that day's ride. Thanks to comfortable room and sleep at the camp we were able to get back that energy and inspiration back to get back on the track to cover rest of the Leh stretch.

Where you headed ,Rider!

Sit in a box and watch paradise passing by or ride a motorcycle and be in paradise!

Hard to choose:Mountains or River!

Here meets the grasslands and the mountains!

Lachulung La - 16616 feet!

Day Four: Pang to Leh

We left pang early in the morning and started the most difficult and also easiest part of the trip .That easy part is called as Moore Plains. Suddenly the daunting cliffs are separated far away from each other and we were exposed to a flat, plain bed of soil, where we were literally making our own roads. This flat bed is called Moore Plains and almost spanned for almost around 25 Km's straight ahead.

Dirt track-Make your own way! #MoorePlains

 The arduous part was the climb towards Tangang La (5328 Mtrs), world’s second highest motor-able pass and highest pass on the Manali – Leh Highway.It was very cold and windy at the top making us almost breathless. We stopped there for a while and interacted with a biker's group coming all the way from Bangalore. They were on bikes ranging from CBZ,Pulsar, Enfields ,Dukes to even BMW's.

world’s second highest motor-able pass !

After rolling down from Tanglang La, we started our last leg of the journey. We were back on black top roads making the ride a bit easier. The descent was quite steep. The first village on the way towards Leh is Rumptse. Almost 30 km from there lies another village named Upshi where one has to last time register the names at the check post. On our way to Leh we made a pit stop at Karu army base to meet up with a friend (He's a Fauji too!!).After having some evening chai at the base we moved to our final destination Leh. Our stay in Leh was organised by one of our college senior (Rattan Bhandari) posted there in one of the Engineer's regiment (Army).This turned out to be one of the best stay of our whole trip,a place situated on top of a hill giving a clear view of Leh airport and open spaces around Leh. For next two days it was our base camp.It turned out to be long night eating, drinking and bringing out college stories.

Beautiful formation near the gateway of Ladakh!

Connecting us to paradise! #Upshi

Electrifying mountains!

Day Five: Leh to Pangong Tso 

We woke up late as we had plans of going only till Pangong Tso  (3 Idiots lake) and returning the same day. We rode around 170km from Leh toward China border to reach this lake. Cruising on barren high mountains we saw lush green valley’s spreading out beneath us and sometimes suddenly we ended up landing in one. We came across lush green grass, hordes of sheep, goats, horses, asses and yaks grazing on them, streams flowing by, guarded by snow top mountains!

khoob chang La ahey! #Marathi

Surreal !

Making a living!

Blue diamond from a distance!

One can see the lake much before you reach there-A blue diamond with enormous shades of colour. The moment we reached there we were more of surprised to see so many people-something similar to Chandni Chowk on Id day. To escape this madness we rode away towards other end to meet calmness and that soothing lakeside breeze. We went mad to see the ever changing colours of the water and the sky in the background. There was so much inspiration floating around. We so wanted to spend a night there but the time was running short on us. So we after having our lunch and collecting some souvenirs from a souvenir shop run by Army moved on to our ride back to Leh. Later in the evening we went to visit a Gurudwara Pathar Sahib around 20 km from Leh. We called off the day early and planned to visit places nearby Leh-Ladakh next day.

He sat there for hours!

Down the lane!

Love the birds!

Nadiya ke us paar!

Count the shades..1..2...3..4..5...

 Day Six: In and around Leh
Thiskey Monastery! 

As this was our last day in Leh, we decided to explore the city of Leh. We started off with visiting Thiksey Monastery which is situated at a distance of 17 Km’s towards south of Leh. This Ladakh Monastery is the most sacred Buddhist shrine to worship and celebrate Buddhist cultures. The Thiksey Monastery Ladakh is the largest monastery in Ladakh positioned at the top of a rocky hill built in the 15th century by Gelukpa monks. Next we visited Sangam (confluence of Indus & Zanskar Rivers) where the Indus festival was going on with some local performances. We spent some time there before visiting other tourist attractions like Leh Palace, Shanti Stupa and Sankar Monastery.

Left or Right ?

He owns the 'Sangam' !

Sangam of Riders at 'The Sangam' !

She used the sunscreen! I didn't!
 As it started to turn dusky, we moved back to Leh market to explore various shopping and eating places. Leh has one of the biggest Tibetan market where one can cheap fashionable clothes. Then we moved on to experience the highly recommended Jewan cafe and World garden cafe. Both these places lived up to their expectation. One can also try the famous German Bakery and Bon Appetite for their specials. For local cuisines one has to try La Terresse and The Tibetan kitchen on the Fort road. So our last day in Leh went by shopping and experiencing the local food and drinks.      

Avoid not to miss this place!
Changspa area near Nullah!

The place is so mesmerizing that one can spend hours hearing absolutely nothing. The night sky full of stars, astral and shooting stars makes you freeze that moment. The beauty of this place is such that it makes you to get up there and explore. Each day you spend there will only surprise you more.

Om Mani Padme Hum, the Buddhist mantra adrift with the flow of the wind, the aura surrounding everyone all over Leh.

Day Seven: Leh to Darcha

So our days in Leh-Ladakh were over. We needed to head back to Manali via same route. Sometime this really gets tough -traversing the daunting route full of bumps, mud, streams, high altitude, windy passes, freezing channels again after spending just few days in Shangri La. But it has to be done and to make it more interesting we decided to cover the 480 km odd stretch in just two days instead of three. Since we were now no less than experienced RE-Bullet riders ;)

We were supposed to reach Tandi covering almost 350 km by day end and rest the next day. We started very early in the morning to make it possible. We managed to reach Pang after crossing Taglang La by afternoon and had our lunch there. We crossed Lachunglang la by 2 PM and were on course to reach Tandi on time. As we crossed Killing Sarai and started ascend to Baralacha La, rear Tyre of our bike got punctured. That was the most horrifying moment of our trip so far. It was almost 5 in the evening, no one to be seen, getting cold below freezing point. Though were provided with extra tube and tool kit,it was getting almost impossible to change the tube with our  shivering hands(Doing the tube change first time in life), moreover it was a new tyre making it more difficult to remove the tube. Luckily we saw a BRO hut couple of loops below and went there to ask for help. A BRO truck driver came with us and helped us in changing the tube.

It was almost 7 PM and dark all around. We had a choice to get on moving or stay at that BRO hut for the night.But we took the risk and carried on with the journey crossing the Baralacha La late in the night when the temperatures goes below freezing point. To keep us going and active we started singing retro songs like Hai apna dil to anwara, Raat kali.etc. And it really helped. We descended very quickly covering Suraj tal,Patsio and Deepak tal. It was almost 10 PM and we decided to stopover at Darcha for the night as Tandi was 50 km more which looked impossible considering our condition. These dhabas at Darcha provide bedding @ 100 Rs/night. We ordered some food and took out very own reliable drink Old Monk Rum off our bags and celebrated the big day. Yes it was my birthday the next day. One of the best I have ever celebrated so far.
Stuff that dreams are made of!

Day Eight: Dracha to Manali

We started late as we had to cover only 100 odd Km's to reach Manali. Slowly and steadily with rush we reached Rohtang pass at about 11 am. But we were all prepared to witness the stupid constant traffic downside Rohtang pass. We had thought the puncture was what we had to deal related to bike, there came a new hiccup. Our Bike's exhaust pipe came off. Somehow we managed to tie it up with some wires lying on the road and holding all the way to Manali. It took us almost 3 hrs to cover the Marhi-Manali stretch thanks oncoming traffic .
Reaching the skies!
Take me with you!

Finally we reached the place and returned the bike. We were all tanned up and sweating in temperature of around 15 deg. Reason for being that throughout our ride the temperature never went over 6-7 deg.
This is how it came to an end, paving the way for many more such great journey to come and with a promise to go back to the mystic land of – LEH/LADAKH !!    

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
                                                                                                                                     - Mark Twain



  1. seems lyk u had a g8 journey ....i will also plan it wid a fauji point well taken...;)

  2. Great.. beautiful pictures, great story.. loved it. feels like I should take my bike now and rock the roads...
    share your journey pictures at as well.