July 02, 2017

Leh Liya

The funny thing about the toothbrush that you forget to pack - 
Is that it reminds you that its not like you are never coming back

De-Kaak did what a Kaak does best. He stood up, ...whenever required. And fell as well - sometimes without honor and elegance. So did I. So did De-Bong. Amongst the usual many, the three of us had made the successful transition from 'Leh Trip' whatsapp group to the 'Sahi me Leh jane wale' whatsapp group. And after a fairly considerable number of cold fucks given (and taken) for every kilometer covered, some well counted tumbles, pitch dark nights, bitch cold winds, a lifetime of snow - thunder - rain - mountains - boulders - rivulets - waterfalls and a la la of passes (rohtang la, barlacha la, lachung la, tangla la, chang la, khardung la, terimaka la) later, those 515 Kms were inched. It took so much. It gave so much.
If nothing, atleast de-Kaak fulfilled his dream of eating 'biscuit in Diskit*', 'pastry in monastery' and being made a 'Burbak** in Durbak***' by the time the journey had (un)folded.

*Diskit is a place in Nubra Valley, Laddakh, J&K
**'Burbak' means 'a dim-wit but not necessarily an asshole' in local Bihari lingo
***Durbak is a place in Laddakh one crosses enroute Pangong Tso (The 3 Idiots Lake) 

Sooo ZEN!

explicit language
do not read between the lines
rights to exaggeration and bragging reserved
its not how it happened; its how I remember it
no characterization intended
data and information may have been skewed to suit the story-line
everything is relative to your perspective


The sky is bluer on the other side...
Its not just the grass. And its the other things too. And its beyond vocabulary and pixels to express or capture them. Nevertheless, an effort with both has been promised. Since the weary of word are in majority (myself experiencing a shift as well), I will throw in the pixels first.

The Road to Leh is the first and the longest of the multiple videos in this post. Again, this compilation is merely a part of the big whole that those sights are... - stitched together what our limited pixel prowess could capture (and when I could delve into the daredevilry of pillion riding on bumpy tracks/roads with both hands free - often glove-less in biting cold).
Special mention to de-Kaak's de-laand 'GoPro' (itek) with which we shot the best parts of the journey - only to throw it all away in the end as those five fucking GBs were the most unusable bit of footage shot in history of trip-video making. Losing those shots were demoralizing to the extent of not wanting to write this post. However, the blue calm was still captive within - or the other way around. Here's what our good old phones could muster.

The ideal way to go about the narrative would be to do it linearly - describing the events in the order in which they happened. Not doing that here. Rather, going by the memory slate, will be putting down the stickiest ones first.

Like all the wise men said - Its the journey..
Its as cliched as it gets. But actually - the arrival in Leh - after those 515 KMs scaled over almost 4 days - was very anti-climatic. You are riding - riding - riding - and you are in Leh. No big gates or banners of welcome.
But then, a while later it does sink in and you feel like putting up that 'feeling accompolished' status of facebook (thankfully no internet).

And you realise -
...that the journey was great - all those permutation and combinations of lands and scapes (which you will tell yourself that you had seen in one movie or another), phasing from one form to another.

...that the journey was unpredictable - as many people you will ask about how much time will it take to get to XYZ place, as many answers you will get. Each with their own description of road condition and weather report. The variance lied between reaching some place in 'do ghanta' (2 hours) to 'ghanta pahunchoge aaj wahan' (you will not reach there today <in a sarcastic tone>).

...that the journey was tough - the oxygen wasn't the only thing thinning, but also the will (at times). Bikes break down. Bitch cold water streams to cross. Snow storms chasing you. Long lines of vehicles at passes. Finding campsite before sundown (thankfully that happens at 8 PM!). Long bad stretches of road (or the absence of it).

...that whatever the journey may have put you through - at the end of it - there are no regrets - but plain satisfaction and the sense of contentment and self appreciation (irrespective of how many times you fell).
Once we were relieved of our bikes (some Manali-Leh association spat which resulted in our bikes being taken away), we checked into a proper hotel after the longest time and celebrated the completion of phase one grooving to 'come together' <video below>.

The Falls
All through the way, there were numerous waterfalls, some even frozen. But this section is not about them. Its about you being sprawled on tarmac, gravel and dust, occasionally with  a 180 Kg machine on you.
As we were keeping count, the final score was 1 for de-Bong, 5 for me and 9 (5+4) for de-Kaak. On four instances, me and Kaak tumbled together. First two were in Manali itself - much before it could be blamed on the road or the altitude. There was no grace involved. On a jammed hairpin curve enroute Rohtang, we both lay face down embracing our bike.
The onlookers asked, 'Kahan tak jane ka plan hai?' 
'Leh', we said. 
Leaving their expressive retort to our and your imagination, we got back on the wheels, and fell again.
me - 2
de Kaak - 2
de Bong - 0

You would think that that was enough for the day. So did I. And I m sure so did de-Kaak. But then we crossed Rohtang, and the roads disappared. The path was wet and muddy and was strewn with boulders and ditches. Barely moving at 5 KM/Hr, it was an effort in itself to be not thrown off the bike into the ravine running side by side. Then came the treacherous point. de-Bong navigated it first. We could see that it was difficult. On our turn over it, the weight of ours and the machine swerved too much to the right. We were sprawled face down again. Feet stuck under the weight of the bike. I do not blame de-Kaak for this one. This was all centre of mass and gravity.
Like last time, we got onto the wheels after letting the moment pass. Like last time, we fell again.

me - 4
de-Kaak - 4
de-Bong - 0

The first one for de-Bong and the last one for me came to pass on the third day - about 5 kms before our stop for the day. The curve again was way too gravely for the wheels to not skid.

me - 5
de-Kaak - 4
de-Bong - 1

de-Kaak had his final fall about 50 Kms before reaching Leh. He was parking the bike and the bike kicked him off a good 5 feet away. It was too unfair to count this as 1 fall, so de-Kaak's falls were doubled. Later he was awarded one more for his GoPro fiasco. Take that de-Kaak.

me - 5
de-Kaak - 9
de-Bong - 1

In Summary - Things started with a flight from Bangalore to Delhi and then an overnight Bus to Manali - from where we started off on 2 Royal Enfield 350. A less than ideal 4 PM start towards Rohtang la saw us driving in dark for the last 10 KMs. Koksar was the first pit-stop. Having made ourselves believe that we had covered a tough (details in later part) 60 KMs on day 0 itself, Day one was started off on quite a chilled note. Another late start and 60 KMs later, de-Bong's bike refused to start - making us come back 7 KMs to Keylong. The day was lost to bike servicing. After overcoming the de-Kaak's demoralising vibes to ditch bikes and take the rest of the tour on 4-wheels, we had a determined early morning start the next day. And one by one we crossed one milestone after another. Jispa - Darcha - Patseo - Zingzing Bar - Barlacha la - Sarchu. Sarchu was to be the stop for the day, but we were there at 3 PM itself. A good five hours of daylight left. with another 250 KMs remaining, we thought to cover another 80 on the same day and set off to Pang. Getting to Pang meant crossing the Gata-Loops (22 hairpin bends) and the Lachung la pass. The great day as it was for us, we ended it at Pang without much hassle (other than de-Kaak dropping off his petrol keg which we thankfully spotted lying on the road).
The final stretch was the best in terms of road and weather conditions. The only hurdle being de-Kaak's de-Ch** bike...

de-Kaak ka de-Ch** Bike
Ever since we crossed that big water crossing after Zingzingbar on Day 3, de-Kaak's bike seemed to lose all power whenever the gradient was greater than 5%. Any sign of an uphill climb and de-Kaak's bike would refuse to move at a velocity greater than 6.2 KM/Hr.
The water crossing we blamed it on was indeed the most difficult one of all that were crossed. The current was rapid, depth was over ankle high and the rocks and stones weren't settled enough for wheels to traverse over easily.
To help your imagination, remember that the great army of Alexander returned home just because they got stuck on a water crossing.

De-Bong managed to get his bike across with some difficulty. de-Kaak followed and got stuck. I went into the water and tried to push de-Kaak through. Water in the boots was the worst nightmare, but all that sacrifice still wasnt helping the bike move forward. Someone (also helping us push through) said - 'silencer me pani ja rha hai'. That made as much sense to me as the lyrics 'tamanche pe disco' does. It took another effort from de-Bong to get this bike off. But the damage had seemingly been done.
Every climb there onwards took de-Kaak one step closer to attaining Zen.
I dont feel he can ever forget the climb to Tangla la the next day. We wont let him.

The next big water crossing that came our way was on the way to Nubra valley (from Pangong) - it was literally crossing Indus on wheels and thankfully, by then we were on 4 of them instead of two and driving was left to the seasoned.

The places in between...

Koksar was the first place I thought I would like to get a tent and settle down...maybe start a family. It was a beautiful place surround by hills on three sides and a mighty waterfall coming in from one end and transitioning into a beautiful stream. Fantasies apart, Koksar was a big relief after the tumbles we had had post crossing Rohtang la.

Jispa - Sarchu - We didnt halt at these place overnight, else I m sure these would have replaced Koksar from the paragraph I wrote about it.
At Jispa, the tiny streams that had been running alongside seemed to have have swelled in volume. With even more number of snow capped peaks in view, this dwelling seemed ripe to bean up another fantasy.
Sarchu was where the landscapes changed. It had been hills and valleys all along. And then at Sarchu, it was an expanse of green on both ends and a thin tarmac strip running in between - bikes zooming by from both ends - hands rising in acknowledgement whenever two bikes crossed each other. Hills on one side and a deep gorge cut by the river on the other, Sarchu marked the end of Himachal bordered and we enetered J&K.

Pang was everything that we needed at the end of a gruesome day of riding for almost 12 hours. The arrival at Pang was even more welcome as it marked the end of the worst of the roads in the whole Manali-Leh stretch. The last 40 Kms leading to Pang in itself were quite challenging. One would wish for the road to end at every turn. Thats where we started getting the good road mirage  - where smooth tarmac seemed to be just around the corner but vanished as soon as you completed the turn.

Pang was located at the bottom of a ravine - the customary thick stream running across it and few warm camps and tents and strange sand/rock formations jutting out of mountains.
People had actually told us we may not find any stay options in Pang, but it actually replaced Koksar on my recent settlement plans.

Pang surprised me even more once we got out of there. It was like that was a separate universe altogether. Upon climbing out of the Pang ravine, we found ourselves in another vast stretch of green-grey-brown expanse. Looking at that, there was no way I could have said that we just climbed up. It was so flat. One could see Tangla la clearly in the distance (a good 70 kms away).

Nubra and Leh - Nubra, like Leh, was a little anti-climatic in nature. It was still beautiful - but the journey that we undertook to reach Leh/Nubra was in itself way more rewarding than the actual destination. Got full view of a cold desert, dunes and two-humped camels in Nubra.
Leh was like any other city, but with the most unique palace at its centre. It looked like all the houses were merged together to become one. I was walking in the streets trying to reach it and not being able to - only to find out that i was already inside it.

Pangong - Like i mentioned earlier, the blue is still captive within - and the other way around is true as well. You get the first view of the lake about 4 KMs before you actually reach it. There's no looking away from it that point onwards. The winds near it are chilly and its only so long that you can stand and stare at the blue waves smashing on the shore and the moving shadows of the clouds on the mountains on the other side of the lake.
We stayed the night at Pangong and as you can guess  - it replaced Koksar and Pang from the settlement storyboard.
The beautifully located tent we got for the night, only made the wish grow stronger. The 'tent' was way more than what we had come to expect of a tent. Here - have a peak below <video>.

Khardung la - this was one last Las in this trip filled with la crossings. The highest. The sunniest. Initially, bad weather threatened to remove it from our itinerary - but like everything else on the trip, when the time came, this came around too.

Nice Marmot
The final memory that will remain will be of the marmots we saw on the way to Pangong although what de-Kaak was looking for was a marmouth or Jeor Mormont.


The words like overwhelmed are made for experiences that getting in and around Leh is. You cant just be whelmed or underwhelmed. It was a journey that we were happy and sad to complete. It was tasking but totally worth it. It takes a lot and in the end, it gives you back enough to get back (without complaining for a while atleast) to being the busy and the tired and the pursuer and the pursued.