“Cholbe gari Haldibari.” – These words of Ritinkar aka Rabindranath on the first day was like the anthem for us during the month long tour.
Every bike enthusiast in India who loves riding his bike has atleast once dreamt of taking his machine to the bikers mecca – that is Ladakh. Ladakh, considered one of the toughest and most inhospitable terrains to ride a motorcycle, has pretty much turned into a pilgrimage of sorts for bikers in India. I was no different. Since the day I first met my beloved “Dhanno” it had been my dream to ride it to Ladakh. My first plan to do Ladakh was in 2013, but family commitments meant that I visited Ladakh sitting inside a coop. I had enjoyed the trip but watching other bikers breeze past our traveller had me sulking deep inside. Then I planned the trip for 2014 and this time again Ladakh had to take a backseat as marriage came calling and I started a new chapter of my life. The badass biker turned into a bazaar going bengali babu. I was giving up hope about completing my dream ride. Then came 2015 and this was my last attempt at the Holy Grail of bikers in India. Months came down to days and days to hours and finally I was on my way to live my dream.
The Characters :
Priyanka Bhattacharjee – My dear bou. I will refer her as Riya since everyone knows her by that name. More than a wife she is my best friend and the only lady member of our group. Her enthusiasm and co-operation was significant in completion of my dream ride. Everyone including me was worried about her ability to complete the journey but she surprised us all by her fitness and enthusiasm. Favourite dialogue – “Babai ma k bole debo.”
Akash Jain -The bachha in our group. Although he was the quietest one among all of us but his quips were a delight. He was nicknamed the rally boy during the course of our ride given his affinity for riding at rallying speeds during the trip.
Brajesh Jha – Nicknamed “Birju”, “tedhe-medhe Brajesh” he was the entertainer of our ladakhtolly. From his jokes to antics Brajesh was the livewire of our group. Not a single morning started without some ROFL moments from him. But like all brave men he too had a weakness and it was nallahs. Boy was he scared crossing the nallahs. All his smooth talking evaporated whenever we were staring at some nallahs. He was our accommodation negotiator at each place and got us good deals everywhere. His most memorable line was at Kunzum La – “Bhai mazaak mazaak mein, bohut dur aa gaya re.”
Ritinkar Sarkar – A fellow banker like me by profession, Ritinkar who hails from Krishnanagar has displayed all qualities of the bohemian nature throughout the trip. His poetic quotes of “cholbe gari haldibari”, riding dreams and other show of poetic traits led to him be nicknamed Rabindranath. He was our photographer during the ride and all of us owe him for clicking all those Facebook cover and profile pictures.
Bikash Agarwal – The stunt rider of our ladakhtolly nicknamed “maut ka kuan“, Bikash was like the missing link of every great group. From his talkative episodes to his numerous falls to having an excuse for his accidents Bikash was our most celebrated member of the group. He had always something to tell in every discussion and mostly those were said at the worst time possible. But without him the other five would had less fun. He had met with a severe accident last year but recovered in time to join the ride. Regardless, of the number of crashes or accidents or pain he faced, Bikash never backed down from the challenge and completed the whole trip. His oft-used quote during the trip – “Tu SBI k Green Channel Counter se dus hazaar vej de mujhe, aur Innova ka invoice mail kar de.”
Saura Bhattacharjee : The narrator of the story. A bike trip to Ladakh had been my dream since I had bought Dhanno way back in 2011. This time I was hell bent on completing my big dream and I did it in the most memorable way possible with the best group of people.
Preparing for the ride
The planning had been going on for the last 3 years. All possible routes, accommodation facilities, places not to miss and every other detail had been pondered over again and again. But then nothing keeps you prepared during a huge trip like this which we learnt later. Bottles of beer, packets of cigarettes were wasted with the excuse of discussion regarding the trip. But two days before the trip Ritinkar and Brajesh were not even sure whether they would be able to join the ride. So the last two days went in shopping, repairing, again shopping and other stuff. Our Ladakh trip was for spreading awareness about”Save the Girl Child.” Press conferences were held and our ceremonial flag off was done by the Joint Director of Tourism. We went for interviews in radio stations to spread awareness about our ride and the mission. I along with Riya had to give an interview to a news channel regarding the trip on the day of our official flag off.
Chapter One : Delhi Chalo
Every rider loves the butterfly effects in his stomach on the night before a trip. Ladakh meant there was no exception. Tanks were filled, saddles were up and all riding gears were ready the night before.
At the starting point
We reached our flag off point at 6 am where already members of our Royal Enfield riders club Teesta Thumpers were waiting to see us off. After lots of hugs, wishes, encouragements and blessings from my parents we kick-started the trip, which would turn out be a lifetime experience for all of us, amidst cheers from our riding brothers, parents and quite a lot of spectators. Our club members escorted us till Bagdogra and thereafter it was the five of us (Akash would be joining us at Delhi). After gongoniye riding for almost an hour we took our first stop as Ritinkar’s newly purchased hydration bag was leaking water. Our next stop was at Islampur where Brajesh took his parents blessings while we gorged on tea and biscuits. While starting from Islampur, Bikash gave Brajesh’s parents a scare when he toppled over while trying to stand his motorcycle.
We rode through Kishanganj, Dalkhola onto Purnea More from where we took towards Muzzafarpur. Roads in Bihar are butter smooth and it meant 90-100 kmph ride.
We stopped at a dhaba a few kilometres before Araria for breakfast. The weather was getting warm and we had to take off a few liners from the jackets to get comfortable. We had decided on a target of riding a 100 kms before taking pee or puff break and maintained that all through. We were interrupted quite a few times though by bee-attacks with me being bit on my neck once.
A rider named Aditya and a few friends of his, was waiting to meet us outside of Darbhanga town.
When we reached the dhaba, Aditya and his friends were ready with water, chips and food for us. They insisted on having lunch at Darbhanga but as we were running late we pleaded sorry and after thanking them for such warm hospitality started again. We had lunch at a roadside dhaba about 10kms before Muzaffarpur. We started again at around 4 pm and reached Gopalganj at 6.30 pm. It was getting dark and Gorakhpur was another 100 kms from there. We were indecisive about riding another two hours to cover up some more distance and spent another half hour deciding. Finally, when we started for Gorakhpur I found Dhanno had a flat tyre. We took it as a sign of staying the night at Gopalganj and then a hunt for a cheap but decent hotel started while the puncture was being repaired. After some enquiries from local people Brajesh finally negotiated a fair accommodation for us at a pretty good and cheap hotel. Motorcycles parked, ID’s checked by a CBI-officer like hotel owner, luggages unpacked and there we were lapping up the first days experience over some chilled beer and chicken tandoori.
I don’t remember exactly when had we planned to ride to Agra but it was Bikash who had come up with the proposal. A few more bottles of beer, some ill planning, lots of purki and we were back on the road at 6 am in the morning. We just had 3-4 hours sleep and today we were supposed to ride another 750-800 kms approximately.
We left Gopalganj and crossed borders to move into our third state (Uttar Pradesh) and reached Lucknow by afternoon. The heat was unbearable. I was hell bent on having some tunde kebabs and galoti kebabs as they are the most famous dishes in Lucknow. But how would we know that Lucknow’s traffic was much worse that our very own Calcutta. Jams, road diversions, people ,cattles and the unbearable heat was taking its toll. After spending more than two hours trying to clear ourselves out of the jam we reached a restaurant that served tunde kebabs. But to our dismay it was closed due to Id. Crestfallen, depressed we had our lunch at another nearby hotel and started for Agra. It was already 5 pm and dusk was settling in. But we continued towards our goal and after quite a few more tiring hours of riding reached Agra at 1 am. Bikash originally hails from Agra and he was supposed to be our guide but he too got lost and there we were – riding in circles through Agra at 1 am with no inkling of our stay for the night. Finally after quite a few more circles and wrong turns we were at the gate of Agra Airforce Cantonment. Bikash had arranged for our accommodation at the officers mess in the cantonment. The rooms took away all our tiredness and we continued our adda till 4 in the morning. Also Bikash got a sore ass from the almost 800 kms run which was our main topic of entertainment that night.
Delhi Chalo !!!
Next morning we woke up late after the exhaustions of the past two days. After freshening up we had a nice breakfast and then we took an auto for Taj Mahal. On the way we learnt that Ritinkar could not take selfies as his hand were too small to reach.
Also, we learnt that people of Agra are born talkatives and Bikash bhai was from Agra. We reached Taj Mahal, paid knowledge fee of Rs.750, sweated in the intense hot and humid weather, clicked more than enough selfies, dualfies, groupfies and facebook profile pictures before finally returning back to our base. We were accosted on the gate of the Air Force cantonment for taking pictures within the premises. Bikash had a flat tyre and it meant another hour waiting to get it repaired. We left Agra and started for Delhi at around 6 pm.
We were pretty excited to ride our machines on the Yamuna Expressway. But again there was catch. Since the road was made of concrete slabs the tyres would get heated up pretty fast which could lead up to a tyre burst. Also the pieces of tyres on the road did not help us. So after every few kilometres we would be checking our tyres and cooling them off. In between the rains arrived in cloud-loads and slowed us down. Finally we arrived at Greater Noida at around 10 PM. Dhritiman and Anklesh, two of our friends from Delhi had been waiting for us with juices and water. After a chit chat and freshening up we all parted ways. I was supposed to stay at my maternal aunties’ place in Noida, Bikash at a friend’s house, Birju and Rabindranath at one of Brajesh’s friends house. Akash had already arrived at Delhi and was staying up at a hotel. We bade each other goodbye and then I, Riya and Bikash went on a heady journey through Noida to reach our destinations. After riding another 30-45 minutes we finally reached our destination. Tomorrow we were supposed to repair our motorcycles at Palam.
Yeh Delhi hain mere Yaar
Woke up early as I had to be at our recon point by 9.30 am which was somewhere after crossing the DND flyover. Left mashi’s home amid angry rants of “ekdiner jonne esheo saradiner jonne gari sarate chole jachhis.” We met Brajesh’s childhood friend Nur Quazul Bash aka Sunny and he was our compass, GPS, guide and everything. We rode through Delhi traffic for more than an hour to reach Palam airport and from there Dhritiman guided us to J.B. Auto Parts owned by one Jagbir bhai who is a famous Royal Enfield mechanic in Delhi. He is the only person in the country to have been offered a Royal Enfield dealership by the company unlike others who have to apply for one.
Our bikes went into repairing mode and we all spent time chit chatting. Met a lot of nice guys like Pankaj, Akshay and there we got the news that all routes going into Ladakh were closed either due to cloudbursts, landslides or trouble between local taxi owners and outsiders. Both the routes via Manali or Srinagar were closed and would take atleast 3-5 days to be reopened.
There itself we decided to reach Ladakh via Spiti as it would give us a few more days and hopefully by that time the roads would be open. I had been planning about Ladakh since the past four years but knew very less about Spiti. Jagbir bhai, Dhritimaan, Amit Puri, Pankaj bhai and Akshay who all had been to Spiti advised us on the roads to take in Spiti and places of interest. While our bikes were getting repaired we went back to the drawing board to know more about Spiti and the places to visit and see.
The bikes were repaired and we all were set back by a few thousands. I had to replace the disc brake itself and it cost me another couple of thousands. Our bikes were finally prepped and ready to roll and it was 10 pm already. We thanked all and bade them goodbye and reached home at 11 pm. My mashi, sister, wife and brother were all angry as I had spent the whole day repairing my motorcycle. We were supposed to leave early morning the next day and so after dinner I went to bed with dreams and thrills of a new route and adventure.