Friday, February 5, 2016

Ladakh Dream Ride

|| प्रियांका प्रसन्न  ||
(Thanks to permission from my wife, Priyanka, for this ride!)

If there was one road trip that was always high on my bucket list, It was a trip to Ladakh on a motorcycle. 
The dream unfolded in September, 2015. A 3 week long leave from work and of course permission from my wife was all that needed. It's all you need in life any ways! Wait a minute...How can we forget the Old Monk from Ladakh, It was for his blessings that made our trip all the more memorable!
Parag, my colleague and a good friend joined me for the ride.

So here is how it went...

The plan was to transport the bike through train via parcel to Jammu. Then take a train to Jammu and start riding from there on. Of the two possible approaches to Ladakh, the Srinagar-Leh was the preferable one, mainly due to the gradual ascent and less trouble having altitude sickness. The other route, Manali - Leh, although much interesting, it's unpredictable in terms of weather and road conditions and also chances of suffering from altitude sickness were more.

From Jammu onwards  the route that we took was...

Jammu - Srinagar - Kargil - Mulbekh - Leh - Khardung La - Nubra Valley - Leh - Chang la - Pangong Lake - Marsimik La - Spangmik - Merak - Tsaga - Chusul- Loma - Hanle - Kyun Tso -Salsa La - Chumur plains - Tso Moriri Lake - Tso Kar Lake - Sarchu - Keylong - Rohtang La - Manali - Kullu - Chandigarh - Panipat - Rohtak - Jaipur - Ajmer - Mount Abu - Ahemdabad - Surat - Mumbai - Pune 

DAY 1 & 2
The 40 hour train journey

Started the journey form Pune. Took the Pune-Jammu Jhelum express. It was my longest train journey so far. 40 odd hours on train! Decided to make it more adventurous by booking a II class ticket instead of a more comfortable AC ticket. A train journey is always exciting in India and this was no different. The route passed through some beautiful landscapes in Madhya Pradesh. It got a bit crowded around Delhi though. Also met few interesting army men in the train and it was good to hear some interesting stories from them. So overall, it was an exciting start to the trip
BTW, It was because of  the blessings of an old monk, we could enjoy the train journey in all its grandeur! :) 

The 40 hour journey from Pune to Jammu

Jammu - Patnitop

Reached Jammu at around 10 in the morning. Got the bikes from parcel office without much problems and pushed them to the nearest petrol station. It was real hot weather in Jammu. Once we got the fuel, we set on towards Udhampur from where on we started to climb the ghat roads.

The ride starts!

 The highway from Jammu to Udhampur is an excellent one with stunning bridges, tunnels and some  beautiful vistas that it offers

The great highway towards Udhampur. In those hills, Vaishno Devi shrine is located

Escaping the hot weather of Jammu and entering the cooler Patni top area

Way to Patni top
After a tiring train journey and the hot weather, it was quite a relaxing time at Patnitop area. The JKTDC is an excellent place to stay with a huge area. After a quick dinner, settled for the night
The night was also blessed by the old monk.
A nice looking cottage at JKTDC

Patnitop - Srinagar

After a good sleep, got up early and started for our next destination, Srinagar but not before a delicious aloo paratha for breakfast
No great trip ever happened without good food!

So after having the breakfast moved up and down the winding roads, crossing the Jawahar Tunnel to this view...That's a first look at the Kashmir Valley

Kashmir Valley first look from Titanic view point
Once down into the valley, you see those beautiful sights that you've heard so much. There is quite a bit of army presence and they work hard to safeguard the land. We felt quite normal passing through the valley and there wasn't any anxiety. Only anxiety was to reach Srinagar and taste the wazwan!

The panoramic valley
Once we reached Srinagar, we settled into a hotel by the Dal lake and then decided to take a very touristy Dal lake tour one of the colourful Shikara...

The beautiful shikaras
The Shikara ride is quite relaxing with beautiful views around only to be interrupted by an occasional boat selling something

The laid back ride

A fruit seller stopped by

Spot the lily

Another seller
And here comes some hot Kahwa...

The calm lake

Those famous house boats

The gorgeous sunset


The stunning sunset
After going through various options for having wazwan in Srinagar we decided on Mughal Darbar. They have a set wazwan which serves one. We ordered two such sets and we weren't disappointed. 
Few of the dishes that make it up
  • Gustaba/Meat balls
  • Rista ( Meat balls in a spicy gravy)
  • Kababs
  • Rogan Josh
  • Tabak Maaz
It didn't cover all of the traditional dishes of wazwan but pretty much gave a gist of it. I'm sure you must be quite hungry too reading this. It's a must have if you are in Srinagar or anywhere in the valley. I particularly loved the Gustaba!

The mouth watering spread


After starting from Srinagar, there was an initial plan to cross Zoji la pass the same day. We started from Srinagar early morning. The road to Sonmarg is quite beautiful and sure to bring you into cheerful mood. The beautiful Sindhu/Indus river gives you company throughout

A break on the way to Sonmarg

Once we were at Sonmarg, we were awestruck by the beauty of the place and decided to stay back. Had read about the JKTDC bungalows near the Thajiwas glacier so enquired and booked one of the bungalow and headed straight to the place. The Thajiwas glacier is quite popular with tourists in general

The picturesque  JKTDC office at Sonmarg
The fantastic views from our bungalow....

The view from the balcony
We decided to go on a small hike to the base of Thajiwas glacier and it was quite a refreshing hike

Our bungalow with a beautiful backdrop

A beautiful lake en route to Thajiwar glacier...

A light hike and some great views...

The old monk again appeared and blessed us, we slept with no problems after that.


No soon we started from Sonmarg, hoping to cross the Zoji la pass soon, Parag's bike encountered few problems with pickup. The pickup trouble somehow persisted all throughout the trip when none of the mechanics could diagnose the problem.

Had a quick breakfast of omelette and ladakhi bread and pushed off towards Zoji la pass

The pass started no sooner we left Sonamarg, the climb to the pass started here ...

Stopped to have a look around
On the right is the camp for Amarnath yatra and the valley is seen in below snap...

Amarnath valley
Just starting to climb the pass...

That's the mighty Zoji la pass..quite intimidating indeed...once you cross the pass, you enter into Ladakh region

Notice the army trucks on the right side corner of the road?

The army trucks all lined up to come down the pass

The mighty mountain in the background...

Now, that small stretch could be nerve-racking!

And finally we climbed the Zoji la pass...We were quite lucky to get a traffic free and slush free passage...have seen worse pics of the pass but luckily wasn't to be the case with us

Parag enjoying his time at the top

And officially we were in Ladakh now :)

The breathtaking entry into Ladakh!

The grand entry into Ladakh
The landscape turned barren with turquoise rivers and the scale of mountains was huge!

Some awesome looking roads

Reached Drass. The original plan was to ride into Zanskar valley taking the Umba la pass from here but due to problems with Parag's bike we decided to head straight towards Leh. That also meant we had to abandon our Zanskar valley plans :(
Zanskar anyways need a good separate trip so something for the next time

Wasn't that cold though...
Soon crossing Drass and towards Kargil one starts to encounter the familiar names from Kargil war

A visit to Kargil war memorial is a must. Felt very proud of how our soldiers fought hard and defended our heights and re-captured our posts against impossible odds. A proud feeling indeed.

No words!
An interesting area in the memorial is where captured bunkers from Pakistan and things are kept...not to be missed!

The famous tiger hill on the right. The war was also testimony to courage of Captain Vikram Batra and others who laid down their lives defending the country. A visit to the very well kept war memorial is a proud feeling. There's also a cafe serving tea/coffee and snacks at nominal rates

The route towads Kargil...Surreal feeling!

Beautiful backdrops along the road...

Amazing landscapes after Kargil towards Leh

It was getting quite dark when we reached Mulbekh. Decided to stay one of the guest houses there. It was a very warm and welcoming Ladakhi family. Mulbekh I felt was located at kind of crossroad between the Muslim culture and Buddhist culture.


Left early after a quick tea and breakfast towards Leh, The overall road from Srinagar to Leh is in excellent condition and quite breathtaking

The view from guest house in Mulbekh
Looked like some common magpie...not sure about the name

The kids at the Ladakhi house

Namki La: One of the few passes that you come across en route Leh. These passes don't seem much compared to the Zoji la

Some amazing barren landscapes...

Fotula pass: Another of those little passes

The whole road is pretty scenic to ride on

After some time we could see the Lamayuru monastery and the little village...a picture perfect village

The place is also known as moon land because of the strange moon like terrain here...

Its then downhill from Lamayuru towards Leh

Beautiful roads...amazing weather...a ride too good!

The blue waters of Indus river 

Straight roads as we approached Leh...
We quickly went to the DC office to obtain permits for Chusul-Hanle stretch. The luck favoured us and we got the required permits after spending about 2 good hours at the office as the required officer was busy. After the permits thing was sorted out, we checked in into a guest house by name Aisha. 500 per room with running hot water and free wifi was all that we needed. As we were tired, took rest for the rest of the day

Fantastic stretch of roads upto Leh


After a good breakfast at a nearby bakery, headed straight to Khardung la...

The road immediately starts climbing from Leh city towards Khardung La

The snowcapped mountains begin to appear before the pass

Finally at the Khardung la pass...
Bike parked at the pass
The Khardungla is claimed to be the highest motorable road but there are quite a few that beat it...
Marsimik la, which we did conquer later on is the highest pass in Ladakh. Mana pass in Uttarakhand is still higher...that goes for another trip!

The customary photo at the pass
The other side of the pass is where you climb down into Nubra valley. The road from North Pullu before the pass and South Pullu after the pass was not in a good condition, other than that roads were quite good

Some snow at the top
The downhill is much than what you climb. Nubra valley is considerably at a lower altitude from Leh. As a result, veggies are grown there and also the temperatures are bit on the higher side as well

A momo break while going down to Nubra/Hunder

The flat straight road at Nubra valley. The shyok river runs beside it. From here one one can go towards Turtuk on Indo-Pakistan border or another road goes to Siachen base camp

The gorgeous looking water body near Hunder

Another shot of the lake/pond

The famous sand dunes of Hunder start to appear

The sand dunes

The famous two humped Mongolian camels. Most probably left out by people travelling on the silk route

Camel rides are very popular here...Should have taken one ride but not sure why I thought otherwise...not every day that you get to ride a mongolian camel!

Met a group a monks who plucked some wild leh berrys for me and told me about the rich medicinal properties of it. It seems it 10 times medicinal than Amla and known to have anti-cancerous properties

The Leh Berry grown in the wild

The old monk of Ladakh didn't disappoint and as usual blessed us both. Rest I don't quite remember...


Although there is a road between Nubra valley connecting directly to Pangong Lake via Shayok, the condition remains questionable. We also had kept a bit of luggage at Leh so had to head back

Photo-op on that flat road

Parag rao!!

Leh city at the night. Thers is the Leh palace and mosque. Forgive me for the poor quality photo from my phone

DAY 10
LEH - Rest day

Tired from back to back rides, we decided to take a rest day at Leh. Also, we took the opportunity to sort out our bike problems to an extent

DAY 11

The excitement of getting to Pangong was quite high. Via Leh-Karu we started to climb the Chang la pass

Monastery near Karu

The mighty Changla pass!

The road from Changla onwards was quite scenic and pure treat to eyes and the mind

Few Marmot encounters on the way to Pangong

Another of the marmot gang...they were quite habitual to human presence there

The first view of Pangong lake!

And here was the first wide view of the lake...quite stunning indeed but also bit more touristy thanks to the movie Three Idiots, which was shot here. Such places should be banned for shooting movies so they aren't commercialized so much(Quite a selfish thought, I know!) Nevertheless, its a great place to visit.
Almost 3/4th of the lake lies in China

The prayer stones

Spent a beautiful day at Spangmik. That's where most of the accommodations are found.

DAY 12
Marsimik La: The Highest motor able pass in the world at 18953 ft 

Got up early to see the mesmerizing sunrise...somewhere behind those mountains is China.
Today was the day to climb Marsimik la. Left early in the morning after a good breakfast towards Phobrang via Lukung. There is an ITBP post near Phobrang where one has to produce the permits. 
Camera and equipment has to be kept with them. Somehow forgot to keep my phone with them :)

Good morning Spangmik!

The guest house where we stayed at Spangmik

Breakfast before heading to Marsimik la

Clear blue water of the lake
The ITBP has made the ascent to Marsimik la an easy affair now. Not the dreaded Marsimik la anymore. Although still rough, its not much of a task now. We spotted our first wild ass here, also called as Kiang locally
The path where we came from

Finally we were there! DONE!

18953 ft! Highest motor able pass in the world...It was an awesome feeling

The bike at Marsimik La

The structures at the pass

Enjoying my time at the pass

Parag cherishing the time at the top!

Coming down to Phobrang

Wonderful sights!

The flat bed near the Pangong lake

Spend some time at the lake

Cute little kid at Spangmik
An army patrol speed boat in the lake.

Some mandatory posing at the lake...

With Parag

Three idiots point is what it is called now

Somebody was having a great time here!

Some night time shots at Spangmik

DAY 13

Today was the start of the real adventure filled roads minus the crowds. Thanks to the acquired permits, headed towards Merak, where there is a police checkpost and also it's a last village on the bank of the lake before the road turns away from the lake

The prayer stones against the backdrop of the lake

Cyrstal clear water of the lake

The road winds along the lake till Merak

Turquoise water!

This is where you will have to show your permits, beyond this the road pretty much kisses along the Indo-China border

Merak village
Some of those mountains are part of China. The border is pretty near from this point and I'm sure it is visible if you know where to look

Chusul plains...There is also an airstrip here which is not activated as it is very very close to the border. Here, it is also one of the many border meeting points between the two armies.

The amazing Rezang La war memorial. It's a must visit place. It was a proud moment for me.
Famous for one Major Shaitan Singh. Read about it here and here

The track from Chusul to Tsaga is a delight

Nobody in sight! The excitement and exhilaration that comes from riding such remote stretches is unmatched!

 A good looking lake on the left

The lake from wider angle

The amazing dirt track

The road is actually pink in color but probably not well captured in the photo

The road suddenly turns butter smooth from Tsaga

This also seems to be an airstrip, just before Loma

The beautiful Indus river entering into India. It comes from Demchok which is bang on the border. Permits are not issued for Demchok as it's quite a sensitive place

The lone Kiang

The bridge at Loma on Indus from where one has to take a left for Hanle

One super ride to Hanle!

I guess these are the Pashmina goats

Closer look at those goats

Something pink in between!

The Hanle monastery

The Hanle monastery as seen from Hanle observatory

The Hanle observatory that we visited

Some powerful telescopes in pollution free environment

A curious goat!

We stayed at Padma guest house at Hanle. Sonam Dorje, the host is quite welcoming and works at the observatory. The next day was going to be THE day i was waiting for. To take a dirt track to little known Kyun Tso lake, climb down Salsa la pass and through Chumur plains go straight up to Tso Moriri lake

DAY 14

This was going to be most exciting day of the trip and a long one too through one of the most deserted roads. We didn't see any vehicle cross by. I had heard about this route and also read a bit about it. The margin for error is very less on this route. Any deviation might land up you in trouble here as this place is very near to the border and the border posts. Mainly because it is a sensitive sector of the border. The permits are not issued any more for Chumur. So after a filling breakfast, we left Sonam's place. 

Another aloo paratha day!

The kitchen lined up with chinese crockery at Sonam Dorje's guest house

Leaving the Padma guest house
No sooner, we are on some of most remote and exciting roads. The surface was was quite slippery at times due to sand

The beautiful landscape...We were look out for any wildlife sighting

A short break

The every amazing landscape

Absolutely remote!

So beautiful...unlike anything i had seen in my all my life!

Clear weather

You can't ask for a better weather!

One of the lonely kiang for company

The first sight of Kyun Tso lake. Not sure whether its a salty or fresh water but the lake seems at higher altitude

Parag capturing the beauty

It isn't easy here!

Lovely track!

The salsa la pass

The Chumur plains - It's a vast plain area with what looked liked a dried wetland. There were few tyre marks made by army trucks that we decided to follow. The path for about 2-3 km is absolutely treacherous. Our bikes were getting stuck all the time. Had to get off and push the bike inch by inch, it was one hell of an effort to get the bike out of this stretch. Riding on grass was also fruitless. It almost took us good more than an hour or so to cross the stretch

Great looking treacherous road!

The sand almost killed us!

One army truck did pass us at that time...they were quite bewildered to see us here but they too didn't stop the truck out of fear of getting stuck I guess

Once you cross this stretch you kind of get a heavenly feel as you hit the Chumur-Karzok road

Ahhaa! The Tso Moriri lake making an appearance

The route gives a beautiful perspective of the the lake

The beautiful Tso Moriri. This I suppose is the biggest fresh water lake in all of Ladakh

The clean blue water of the lake

The lake is a real beauty

A kiang seems to agree

Mesmerizing backdrop to a beautiful lake


The pack of kiangs running beside the lake

Amazing sight!

Decided to call it a day at Tso Kar

DAY 15

Left Tso-kar in the morning and joined the Manali-Leh road. From where on it was one pass after another. The route is no doubt one of the most breathtaking journeys in India

Not sure what it is called but its quite an unique thing

One of the first passes that we encountered on the route

Nakeela pass

Meet the "Wandering wasp", Juvena from Singapore. She in indeed an inspiration to us. She is travelling all lone and has been riding from Singapore all alone! Kudos to her...
Check out the Wandering Wasp journey

The famous gata loops...

We got a surprise visitor here!

A rare sighting of a group of Ibex

Another curious fellow...

A closer look....

The weather turned pretty bad just before the infamous Baralacha la pass with a mild snow fall

Suraj tal on the way down

Deepak tal just ahead of Suraj tal

The cloudy weather that came in from the plains

Amazing scenery in Lahual valley, just before Keylong

Mind blowing scenery on the way to Keylong

The halt at Keylong

DAY 16

The weather did not improve over night. Left Keylong early morning. The weather got really worse at Rohtang la with cold and rain

Awesome mountains!

Great looking valley
The waterfall at Sissu is quite a breathtaking sight

Reached Kullu totally drenched!

It was time to look after the tummy now...Delicious chicken tandoori!

The last thing that we remember in Kullu was taking this photo and then somehow things got blurry after that! :)

DAY 17

As we were having time on our hands, decided to ride back home and forego with the initial plan of taking a plane to Mumbai

The great views...

Another great looking aloo paratha at Mandi

DAY 18
We took an interior highway into Haryana. Had a lot of fun eating mouth watering huge Jalebis and interacting with Harvyanvi Tauu!

We both couldn't finish it!

Welcome to Jatland!

Chhora...tanne toh ek jalebi bhi na khana aata...

Bawale chhorre aayein Pune se...

Maro pranam tau ji!
Stayed at a hotel near Ajmer for the night

DAY 19

Took a de-tour to Mount Abu as it was just 25 km off the highway

No more aloo paratha!
Climbing Mount Abu...

Mount Abu is a true oasis for people of Rajasthan and Gujarat. Its suddenly a huge mountain out of nowhere!

The entrance to Mount Abu...Wonder what Shiv Sena is doing here :)
Jai Rajasthan!

The pleasant Nakki lake

It was one huge gathering to witness the sunset...watching the big crowd was more fun than the sunset

The oasis in the middle of nowhere

Never imagined such a lush jungle in Rajasthan!

DAY 20 & 21

Stayed at my Mama's place and took a days rest

DAY 22

Great looking highway before Mumbai
And finally reached home sweet home!

One helluva ride!!