Planning- It has been over two years that Ladakh was on my wishlist. Social network posts and motovlogs were enough to spark the wanderlust in me. The tough part was getting the 15 day leave from the medical college where I was working in.
Finally the chance came after I completed my MD exams in June 2017. The second most difficult task was to find a good riding partner. It came in the form of Lord Ram (just kidding), who was eager to join me for this once in a lifetime experience. Ram Shankar, a veggie, a Banarasi, and most importantly a good rider with a 500 cc Royal Enfield desert storm in a good running condition. I was on my 150cc Yamaha FZ v2.
We planned out the itinerary such that we would cover the whole ladakh circuit from Delhi via Srinagar to Leh (Jammu & Kashmir) and return via Manali (Himachal Pradesh) back to Delhi. We planned to cover the distance of roughly 3700 kms in around 18 days with 2 buffer days in case of any emergency. Apart from the routine places like Pangong tso, Nubra valley where most tourist flock to; my target was to explore the remotest part of Ladakh and head to villages like Turtuk (which was the northernmost village of India), Hanle (has world’s highest observatory at 4500m). Taking off road routes to some of these areas was also a part of the plan.
The ladakh circuit map was printed out. We chalked the map, marked all the distances, riding time, fuel stations, our night halts and watched youtube videos to get accustomed to the remote routes which we would be taking.
We planned to take Duronto express from Allahabad till Delhi and start riding. It was 20th june 2017, around 5 pm we headed to the station and packed our bikes and booked them on the same train to Delhi. After dinner it was time to head on to Allahabad Junction. We loaded the bike and went to our seats in 3rd A/c coach. To our surprise a few of my students came to the station to give a see us off. Rose garlands were given to us and with customary selfies the train started and we had to jump on the train to begin our journey. Both of us were overwhelmed by the lovely gesture and had a transient celebrity like feeling. We dozed off to sleep.
Next morning Duronto had arrived 30 minutes late and we received our bikes outside platform number 16 in New Delhi station. We packed our luggage and headed to Karol bagh where we would be staying for the day.
Riding to Ladakh is not a test for the rider, it’s a test of the ride- the bike in one the most extremes of enviroment. The weather in mountains is unpredictable with temperatures varying from 30degress to -10 degress. During our journey we were expecting to cross rivers, streams, bad roads, drive in ice, snow, slutch and sand in deserts of Changthang.
So proper riding gear was of paramount importance and all I had was a basic helmet.
Karol Bagh, New Delhi has one of the largest bike market in the country. After a quick stop we roamed around the market. I bought a claw bag to fit all my luggage on the rear end of my bike and tank bag. I also got an ‘all weather’ riding jacket with separate rain and thermal liner. A puncture repair kit, clutch cable and accelerator wire were some bike essentials that I got. Ram fixed fog lamps on his enfield and got some stickers. A group of riders started from Karol Bagh that afternoon and our excitement had doubled after watching them leave for Ladakh.
Day 1- The Ride begins- Delhi to Amritsar (490 kms)
Finally D-day arrived. As all my friends know I am not a morning person. But excitement of the long awaited ride made me wake up at 3.30 am. We geared up and packed our things in the bike. The claw bag, which I had bought the day before, needed proper alignment and had to be tied to the rods on both sides of the rear wheel. Since it was our first time it took a while and we started our ride at around 4.30 am in the dark. I fixed my mobile in the mobile case on the tank bag and switched the GPS on to help us with the route till the high way. In around 25 minutes we were on the Delhi-Chandigarh National highway only to realise that we forgot to refuel our bike. Though it was not an emergency Ram’s bike started showing the red light in another 20 minutes. All the pumps were on the other side of road which required turning back a long way on the highway. We finally fuelled up near Panipat. The four lane expressway helped us cross cities in a flash and we reached Karnal to head towards Ambala Cantonment. The road towards Chandigarh headed to the right and we had to follow it straight to Amritsar.
We took our first break after 4 hours of riding 220 kms. It was time to hydrate with Shikanji and mineral water. At around 10.30 am we had lunch in Punjab at a road side dhaba on the outskirts of Ludhiana.
We had to cross through the Ludhiana and had taken the flyover alongside the Clock Tower. The hangover of the four lane high was intense and in an acute turn I almost slammed into the sidewalls of the bridge and had a narrow escape. It was more of a wake up call. After riding for another three hours in the best of road conditions we finally reached Amritsar at 2 pm sharp. Our hotel was right on the edge of bus stand and the hotel took another 30 minutes in the congested roads to get to.
Amritsar, a bustling city on the Indo-Pakistan border area, is the most holy place in the Sikh religion. Visiting the Golden Temple was always on my wishlist. We came to know that Flag retreat ceremony in the India Pakistan border was scheduled to be held at around 6 pm. After lunch and quick power nap we headed towards Attari border. The 30 km drive took us around 40 minutes and we parked our bike and headed towards the check in room. The Army office informed that bags were not allowed inside the arena so I had to put the bags in store room adjacent to the office. The Flag retreat ceremony here was the largest in the world and happens every day from last 40 years. We were in the long queue for entry in a sea of passionate and patriotic crowd. Some of them had the Indian national flag painted on their cheeks while others waved the tricolor. “Bharat Mata ki jai” was the first of the many cheers we joined our voices in. After security check we headed to the Arena and, to my surprise, we saw a jam packed pavilion with at least 5000 people in the gallery. We were guided to the floor along the street as all the seats were full. The border gates were 10 metre distance and an empty gallery was visible on the other side of the border. The army chiefs were shaking hands. In sometime the programme started and the anchor injected adrenaline rush with is energetic voice. Soon the audience was called upon to walk with the country’s flag. This was followed by dance and the march ceremony to conclude. It was so crowded that getting pictures was a really tough job as I was not allowed to stand. The marching ceremony ended with retreat both countries flags. After singing and shouting both of us ending up with cracked voice and a patriotic heart. At dusk we headed back to city and headed towards Golden temple. The temple complex was renovated and revamped few years back. On the first look, the lights and floorings of the market road reminded me of Senade Square in Macau which I visited 10 years back. Rest houses, hotels and many markets led us to the gates of Golden temple. After depositing the shoes and washing our feet it was time to head to the main temple. After entering through the gateway, there was a lake in the centre of the complex which housed colourful fishes. The Golden Temple was right on the centre of it. On the first view I was awestruck by the beauty of the temple. The complex was full of devotees but the ambience was quiet and peaceful. We took a walk across the lake and headed towards the entrance. We had dinner with roti, daal and kheer in the Langar (a punjabi version of community kitchen where free food is served to all the visitors). It was already 11 pm at night and after spending sometime clicking pictures we headed back to our hotel and called it a day.
- Delhi to Amritsar- 450 km
- Approximate time- 9 hours including two breaks
- Road conditions- excellent
Gearing up for Day-2…….