Ladakh 2015 – Journey to The Land of Juley

Building roads through more than 15000 kms long sensitive border is a task which in itself is unbelievable even in dreams. In addition to it the toughest challenge in someone’s job profile is to maintain such a road that is constantly hammered by rain, ice, sun and landslides.  An organization would need supernatural power and will to even think of that. Yes its BRO (Border Roads Organisation) that made it possible (http://www.bro.nic.in/index.asp?lang=1&projectid=9). This time we would try to explore places which would be almost impossible without the presence of BRO.

We at “Rolling Wheels Motorcycle Touring club” always believe in the ability of the rider, not the power of the engine. We believe in the capability of a rider and how familiar he is with his machine. If someone is well versed with the vehicle he is driving, it is very simple for him to feel when the vehicle needs his attention or when it is having a slightest of hiccups. There are several footprints we left till date around the nation, all on regular commuter motorcycles and the notable part is that a 125 cc went places with other higher capacity bikes.

Locals says that ..

Only Place in The World Where One Can Suffer Frost Bite and Heat Stroke at the Same Time

and BRO says ..

  • Enjoy my virgin nature

Yes probably you are guessing right. I am referring LadakhJ. 4 years back we,Rolling Wheels were first entity to showcase beauty of Ladakh through an 11 Episode Travel Documentary, “DU CHAKAY LADAKH”, a journey on motorcycle, which is still getting telecasted in air. This time we are going to cover plateau where Himalayan Range meets with Karakoram Rangeand The Changthang Plateau as well.

 

A small intro of Ladakh:

 

Ladakh is a land like no other. Bounded by two mightiest mountain ranges of the world, the Great Himalaya and the Karakoram, it lies athwart two other, the Ladakh range and the Zanskar range. Ladakh lies at altitudes ranging from about 9,000 feet (2750m) at Kargil to 25,170 feet (7,672m) at Saser Kangri in the Karakoram. Thus summer temperatures rarely exceed about 27 degree Celsius in the shade, while in winter they may plummet to minus 20 degree Celsius even in Leh. Surprisingly, though, the thin air makes the heat of the sun even more intense than at lower altitudes; it is said that only in Ladakh can a man sitting in the sun with his feet in the shade suffer from sunstroke and frostbite at the same time!

We all at Rolling Wheels Motorcycle Touring Club, were in discussion on upcoming month long tour. Different places were suggested by everyone, but the ultimate surprise was by our dearest, Sanjoy Da, he presented a detailed day by day month long plan from Kolkata to Ladakh. We knew that he was in Kashmir this year in February with his family. But we didn’t know that it was his intention to collect information on his upcoming dream. It’s always a pleasure to be associated with one of the most reputed motorcycle touring clubs in the country not only because of its achievements, but for the valuable gems, like Sanjoy. We all at RW are so lucky to have our families, which always provide every kind of support in every scenario, no matter if it’s a 7 days or a 40 days tour.

 

There were several discussion and meeting held before we left for the journey. Most of those were at Sanjoy Da’s house where we not only got an environment to discuss, but also a warm welcome from him and his family everytime. I still remember, we were going to Sanjoy Da’s house with my Son (5 months then) for a meeting right after his vaccination and naturally he was crying out loud. But it was his family that did everything to stop him crying so that we could successfully complete the meeting. At Rolling Wheels, we were-are and always will be a Great Family.

It was May-2015; time to decide the Team for this epic journey and we had our first set back, we came to know that Sanjoy Da, the initiator of this trip will not be able to go due to his business problems. Frankly speaking no one was willing to go on thus we were planning for some other destination. Finally we all decided to chase the dream which Sanjoy da dreamt of because by then the dream was ours it had manifested deeply in our minds and it was fuelled by the non-stop motivation and encouragement from Sanjoy da. Team was finalized as ..

Swarnadip ————————- KTM Duke 390 cc ——————– (Thirsty)

Bobo ——————————- Bajaj Pulsar 180 cc ——————– (Whistler)

Ankan —————————– Bajaj Avenjer 200 cc ——————- (Soti)

Arup (myself) ——————– Hero Honda CBZ Extreme 150 cc — ( Blade)

Pratap —————————– Bajaj Pulsar 150 cc ——————— (Clutchy)

Dev ——————————– KTM Duke 200 cc ———————- (Fallen)

The start date of this remarkable journey is finalized as 5th June 2015, Friday.

First of all, the time we have chosen is when road to Ladakh will be at its initial days. 4 years passed by. Many tourists now a days love to choose this region as leisure destination. So, we can presume that roads will be in better shape than we saw 4 years back but had no idea what scenario we have to face on our journey days.

We have never taken bikes in Train. So, had to collect information and permission to bring our companions with us. With all adventurists, traveler, enthusiast’s blessings good always happen with us and there was no exception for this time as well. I got to see one of my coaches of my initial Cricket career days, who play for Railway now a day. It was a chat for sometime with him and other officers and the atmosphere got crazy for motorcycle touring J. We shared our journeys and came to know that many of them are aware of those via media. Strange to see that we are so popular and people are there who love us for giving a new definition to motorcycle journey. Anyways we got permission from top officers of Railway and everything is booked.

It was 4th June 2015 and we spent almost 8+ hours for packing our companions with fully empty tank L

It was 4th June 2015 and we spent almost 8+ hours for packing our companions with fully empty tank L

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Bobo’s  dialect:

Excitement would be a weaker word to describe the pre-ride preparations of Leh & Ladakh, for me the more apt word would be anticipation. I was waiting at Hamid da’s dhaba(a local meeting point on highway) since 2011 and finally could kick off on 4th June 2015. It was till that place I had gone to see off  team Rolling Wheels for the 2011 tour of Kashmir. The word kick off held a different meaning for us, as it was more like lift off, no we did not take a flight. It was Himgiri Express from Howrah and the boarding process was more hectic than riding to Jammu. In total it took three visits to the station to confirm the booking of our motorcycles on the same train that we had our reservations in, thanks to the CPLI Howrah without whose help the whole process would have been impossible. We were informed in advance that there was a shortage of staff and we had to load our bikes ourselves but on reaching the station to our horror apart from our six bikes three more bikes of a different group was to be loaded, the person in charge of loading said that not more than three bikes can be loaded in a single luggage compartment due to space issue. But we surprised him by loading six bikes comfortably in one.

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It was 7th June but our train was late. Instead of 12:30 noon we reached at 3 pm and finally the moment arrived. We got ready with our gears and preferred to take it till exit rather than waiting for help to arrive. There are lots of procedures before we could exit the station with everything, specially our motorcycle. It took sometime but we were lucky to have a police personnel who was excited after seeing us and even helped us getting petrol from a nearby fuel pump. We poured a bit of petrol in everyone’s bike, packed our luggage and bid the helpful gentleman goodbye and started our journey at 5 pm. Together we had our lunch at Vaishno dhaba outside Jammu station …

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We were feeling so glad after getting our motorcycles and enjoyed the lunch for long. We even didn’t notice but it was 7 pm as it felt like it was 4 pm. We decided to leave. We all visited the petrol pump again to get our tanks full. The journey was amazing through excellent road and few long tunnels. Suddenly we saw a big snake. Pratap tried to capture, but it got vanish in dark L. We preferred continuing the journey further.

 

We were feeling so glad after getting our motorcycles and enjoyed the lunch for long. We even didn’t notice but it was 7 pm as it felt like it was 4 pm. We decided to leave. We all visited the petrol pump again to get our tanks full. The journey was amazing through excellent road and few long tunnels. Suddenly we saw a big snake. Pratap tried to capture, but it got vanish in dark L. We preferred continuing the journey further.

 

We decided to stay at Udhampur. As usual Swarna and Ankan went and found an excellent stay for the night. We parked our motorcycles but found Bobo’s Whistler had a flat rear tyreL.We decided to fix it next day and went to our rooms.

 

Next day Bobo and Swarna left to fix Whistler’s tyre and we packed our luggage during their absence, they came soon and packed their luggage as well. It was 11 am and we left. Our plan was to reach Srinagar but we were a bit late for this long journey. We stopped somewhere around 12 pm for lunch.

 

As soon as we finished our lunch, we started again and it was around 1 pm. The more we were progressing, it was getting tough for us to drive. The only reason was illiterate driving culture of J&K State. There is no police checking or patrolling. Drivers are so rough we can’t simply imagine. They do not know the use of indicators, manual signaling or even basic rules of overtaking. Vehicles run haywire even overtaking at turns. We all got puzzled and we were really feeling unsafe driving with them. Apart from Army vehicles we didn’t see a single vehicle that followed rules. Later locals confirmed that hardly 30% drivers have original licenses. Anyways it was a really tough ride for us. We stopped couple of times for a quick snack or tea break. During one of these halts we were lucky enough to see this beauty at Titanic view point …

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Titanic view point is famous because it will give you the first glimpse of Kargil Valley at a distance.

 

The volume of traffic was also a bit high as it is one of the two entry points to this heaven and finally we reached Srinagar. Typically, most of the locals of Kashmir are now so much professional. Roads are full of agents who do hotel booking, car booking etc. for tourists. They might provide correct information only if you are booking hotels or cars with them. Now days, there are lots of agents roaming around the city, once called paradise. Asking anyone about a route was actually diverting us to somewhere else. So, finally we went inside a hotel, check with them, validated the same in GPS and left. We were infront of Dal Lake and it was 9:15 pm.

 

Brief:

 

Dal Lake is in Srinagar. This lake covers an area of 18 square kilometers. It is in history since Mahasarit, an ancient Sanskrit text. It is also said that a village named Isbar to the east of Dal Lake was once the residence of goddess Durga. This lake has seen many decades from Ancient times of Mughal Era to British rule and still continuing.

 

It was nice to see all houseboats lit up completely and reflecting on the water of Dal Lake …

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We were soaked and looking for a stay. But all the accommodations were charging too high for one night. Frankly speaking we found the place too noisy, dirty and ridiculous drivers were driving roughly beside the lake, even performing drag races as few vehicles were there at that time of the night. We were thinking to stay somewhere which was at least calm & peaceful. Suddenly Ankan called us and confirmed that he managed a good houseboat accommodation at unbelievable rate. It was 11 pm and we decided to had our dinner first and then go to houseboat. It was very good veg dinner and we went to houseboat around 12 am.

 

It was really an excellent houseboat accommodation and I couldn’t resist taking snaps first and then bring luggage…

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We gossiped a lot with the owner of the houseboat and came to know the real scenario of the last flood that engulfed everything. We all were feeling cold and decided to go to bed.  It was excellent feeling staying in wooden houseboat facilitated with bathtub as well (which was of no use at least for us). We all slept around 2:30 am.

As usual we woke up later around 8 am. Our plan was to reach Sonmarg and stay for the night. But, team decided to enjoy a day at Dal Lake.

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By that time we found that my Blade and Pratap’s Pulsar needed a few repairs. We were in doubt if we could get someone who understood our requirements and we were glad to meet Imtiaz (with the help of Parvez, our houseboat owner). He is a real gentleman and an excellent person. Our bike’s were not getting enough power after 60 kmph and he just fixed it within seconds with a few small adjustments. Great part was that he also called us and demonstrated the problem and the solution. Hats off to him, not because he fixed the issues but for his behavior, temperament and friendliness. Guys going through my write up can ask anyone in Srinagar for Imtiaz Automobile just beside KralKhud Police Station if you need any kind of help for your motorcycle.

It took some time to fix issues and our companions are ready by 1 pm. Apart from Pratap & myself everyone was enjoying the beauty of Dal Lake and lifestyle of locals around it capturing snaps, videos and fishes(Bobo). We had a discussion and decided to visit Gulmarg on the same day. Team regrouped infront of Imtiaz Automobile within few minutes and we left thanking Imtiazbhai from bottom of our heart. The first few kms were again through illiterate drivers and finally we reached highway leading towards Gulmarg. We were feeling hungry and thinking about trying local food. Before we think and decide where and what to have in our lunch, our dearest Parvezbhai took us to a good roadside hotel and the lunch was …

Non-veg items available in Kashmir are mostly of sheep meat. Every item had its uniqueness and all are amazing in taste. Starting from kebab’s to Gustawa to all other items, preparation and taste were amazing. Lunch of 6 folks for that day was the costliest deal of the entire tour rounded up at Rs. 7000/-. It was initially real shocking to us but later ignored just because of the amazing taste J. We paid the bill and left for Gulmarg.  Road was amazing through green pine & fir forest and finally we reached Gulmarg.

 

Gulmarg is a hill station in Baramula district of Jammu and Kashmir. This town lies like a cup shaped valley in the PirPanjal Range of the Himalayas at an altitude of 8957 ft. 56 kms from Srinagar.

It was nice to see the PirPanjal range around us. But we were feeling afraid as we could see the entire sky behind us was engulfed in dark clouds. We hardly spent 5 minutes and decided to return ASAP. We hardly crossed the beautiful road through pine & fir forest and it started raining. Drizzles soon became hail and then profuse rain within minutes. We got stuck for more than an hour. As it started drizzling again, we decided to leave. We started driving and slowly as we were drenched. We did stop any more as weather was bad but suddenly we were shivering in cold, Bobo got flat tyre again. It was 8 am and all the tyre repairing shops were closed. As a true friend in need, Parvez requested again to a local tyre repairing shop in their local dialect and he was ready to fix Bobo’s tyre.

With the help of excellent lights of Dev’s duke, repair work was done very soon and we left for our houseboat. We had our dinner first and then went to houseboat keeping in mind next day’s journey, as much as we can cover.

We all woke up by 6:30 am next day. Everyone was packing his luggage and prepping up their rides. Finally everything got settled by 8:30 am. We bid our friend ParvezL good bye and left with Kargil in our minds. But again things were not moving correctly. Now Pratap had a flat tyre. It took time to fix his tyre and we observe dark smoky cloud is just in front of us.

We were infront of some girls school (can’t remember the name) where the mechanic was fixing the flat, it was here that I observed the horrible habit of crossing roads. School girls were crossing road, without even looking at either sides of the road. We observed a girl being hit by a motorcycle when we were at Imtiaz’s Automobile shop. Again infront of our eyes we saw another school girl crossing the road, looking downward and got hit by a bus. It was not that hard as the bus driver managed to break on time but the schoolgirl was pushed away few feet. Locals saw, bus driver shouted, but who cares, the school girl just stood up and went ahead. We were just praying, God, please give us more patience to drive carefully through this non-sense.

As soon as we started, again it started raining and we had to stop for a few minutes. But the remaining journey till Sonmarg was excellent through Sind river by our side. We reached Sonmarg at 12:30 pm. It was too crowded with tourist. We decided to have lunch comparatively at a lesser crowded place.

As we were enjoying lunch and it started drizzling again. We put on our raincoats and left Sonmarg. Initial journey started through a huge traffic jam as there were 2 accidents with loss of 23 lives. Among those there was a family from our hometown Kolkata as well. So, army men were stopping all vehicles every now and then to clear the path. In between we were clicking pictures of the nature …

Now we are going for our first milestone, driving through one of the world’s most deadly pass, the mighty Zoji La at an altitude of 11649 ft. Though often referred to as Zojila Pass in the foreign press, the correct English translation is Zoji Pass or simply Zojila, since the suffix ‘La’ itself means pass in several Himalayan languages.

We started driving and now its time to roll on Zoji La. I think it will be better to showcase, the rest of the journey through this mighty pass, through pictures only …

Every year this pass receives heavy snowfall and thus is closed for six months every year. But this year the snowfall is a bit more. BRO and Army cleared 40-50 ft of snow. It was in deadly condition as we had that huge snow wall on one side and straight steepness on the other side. In addition it was still drizzling and road was full of mud and craters. It was really tough but we enjoyed the adventure of crossing such a‘La’. Now it started raining heavily followed by snowfall and we got stuck at Zero Point, just before Zoji La ends, at around 3 pm.

It was a bit of pain for us as it was cold, feeling numb and we were drenched too. It was a painful halt of 2 hrs 30 mins. at Zero Point. Though we had 6 cups of coffee along with 3 fried egg and 1 packet of potato chips. But surprisingly it cost us Rs. 820/- L. There was no sign of relief in terms of having a clear weather and we couldn’t stay more as we were loosing sense at finger tips. We didn’t have any other choice, but have to ride further. Our gloves were completely wet but with no other choice we moved on …

After riding for few minutes, finally the rain stopped. It was a relief for us, but we couldn’t spend much time enjoying clicking snaps as we were already running late. It was almost 7:15 pm when we reached Drass and it was nearly dark. So, we decided to stay at Drass for the night.  While Swarna, Bobo &Ankan were busy finding accommodation, I started gossiping with a local grocery shop owner, named Mushtaq Ahemed. By that time, our accommodation was fixed just beside that grocery shop in Nawab Ali’s “Ali Da Dhaba”. By the name might suggest that it is a restaurant, but it has also had rooms with hot water 24 hrs. Most importantly, the reception and care that you will get in this hotel is simply amazing. We got freshened up ASAP and went for dinner. Food was very tasty combined with Mr. Nawab’s utmost friendly behavior. From locals we came to know the real picture of Kargil war, how locals helped our Army, how we won the battle of Tiger hill etc.

Brief:

Drass is a town of Kargil district of Jammu and Kashmir. It is at a height of 10990 ft (3230 mtrs). However, the mountain ridges range between 16000 ft to 21000 ft. Drass valley is the World’s 2ndColdest inhabited place and India’s coldest. This valley starts from the base of Zoji La (La means pass in Tibet language). This town is also referred as “The Gateway to Ladakh”. This small town became popular since 1999 war between two neighboring countries, India and Pakistan and India regained once again the Pak occupied Tiger Hill and Tololing peak. The inhabitants of DrassDards, are also referred as “guardiansofLadakh”. Dards of Drass are Aryan in build (now mixed Kashmiri – Aryan) are known for their courage, bravery and straight-forwardness. Most of the Muslims of Drassare Sunnis.The language spoken by the locals of Drass is ‘Balti’ which is a Tibetic language spoken in Balitistan, a division of Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan and adjoining parts of Ladakh, India. In local dialect ‘Balti’,Drass means Hell. Drass’s climate is subarctic. In winter the temperature climbs down to more than −40 °C. A war brings miseries, but in Drass, it has brought affluence too. It has changed the town that had been the epicenter of the armed hostilities between the two neighbors, from its architecture to its lifestyle. 15 years passed by after Kagil war and now Drass is a tourist town with money, new houses and jobs for locals.

It was a special feeling staying at a battle zone and seeing Tiger hill from our window, which remember us about the devastating war. I couldn’t resist myself but documented whatever information I had receive till then and found it was 2:30 am. Everywhere it was completely dark. Only visible object was snow caped Tiger Hill J. I went to sleep ..

Next morning we woke up around 8 am. There was another guy from Bangalore (originally from Kolkata) was staying with us. We previously planned to leave early. But that guy was in mood of joining us and was actually insisting us indirectly. But we always follow protocols strictly and can’t share our plan or journey with anyone, no matter if he/she is very close to us being in a tour. So, we tried to ignore his request and thus got late enough. He left around 11 am and we finally managed everything by 12 pm. It was really too late for our journey but sometimes some things happen that is beyond our control. With a plan of visiting all important places around Kargil and complete the journey till Lamayuru, we bid Mr. Nawab, Mr. Haji (owner of the property), Raju Nagvi (a great enthusiast and knowledgeable about nearby road condition) with a promise of meeting again and started …

As per Shimla Agreement, signed in 1972, both the countries, India & Pakistan had agreed to pull out troops from both the sides during winter due to heavy snowfall. Till 1999, India did not deploy any troops at their posts in winter. India was not even aware that when Pakistani intruders had gained entry in the Mushkoh Valley of Drass, during heavy snowfall. Mushko valley considered as unsuitable for human habitation. This is the valley where the former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf had arrived as the then Pak army chief to give instructions to the Pak intruders regarding the war. Experts believe that the reason behind Musharraf’s visit to Mushkoh valley was that Pakistan wanted to first take control of the valley and then to seize Kashmir gradually.

Soon we came across a signboard which says “Bhim Bhat”. There is saying that stonyfied body of Bhima (from Mahabharata) could be seen. History says that all Pandavas, except Yudhisthir fell down on their ascend to heaven. This was the place where Bhima fell down. Our main motto was to reach Leh as early as possible and in this hurry we missed Draupadi Kund as well as there was no proper signage. We also came across Harkha Bahadur Memorial, just before entering Kargil. This memorial is in name of Subedar Harkha Bahadur, commander of Royal Gorkha Rifles who swam across the icy Suru (Shingo) river and forced Pakistanis to withdraw from Kargil.