A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.
Story so far :
We had started on our motorcycle trip to Ladakh from Siliguri and reached New Delhi safely after a visit to Taj Mahal and Agra. But on reaching Delhi we got news of cloudbursts enroute Ladakh which meant we had to take the unknown route through Spiti valley and enter Ladakh.
Rally Ride to Narkhanda
After spending a busy day in Delhi repairing our motorcycles it was time to leave Delhi. We all arrived at our rendezvous point by 5 am. Akash was joining us for the ride from New Delhi. We reached the starting point without any trouble but Akash missed a turn and ended up in front of India Gate before turning back and meeting us up.
The full Ladakhtolly left Delhi and unknowingly we started on the trip that would become a lifetime memory for each one of us. Anklesh, a riding brother from Delhi, was waiting for us at the outskirts of Delhi as he was to escort us upto the breakfast point. We left Delhi and blazed through the fantastic highway at full throttle. We reached Murthal and stopped at Gulshan Dhaba for aloo paratha and desi ghee . I ticked one of the checkboxes from my to-do list in the ride. Anklesh bade us goodbye and we started again at full throttle.
We rode through Panipat, Kurukshetra and reached Zirakpur by noon. After a bit of asking and deciding we took the route towards Shimla. Soon after Panchkula we left the plains and took to the mountains. The hot and humid weather was replaced by a cool breeze which soothed our tired souls. After lunch at a roadside Dhaba just a few kilometres before Shimla we rode forward towards Narkhanda. The tarmacked roads slowly started making way for broken and gravely surface which slowed our speed a bit. A shivering cold weather welcomed us at Narkhanda. A bit of enquiries and negotiation and we had booked ourselves a room for mere Rs. 1000. The hotel was a bit away from the highway which we had to reach after negotiating a steep, muddy road.
Akash slipped on the slush while taking Riya to the hotel on his motorcycle but no one was hurt. We were a bit worried about the road conditions ahead. On further enquiry we were informed that a bus from Kaza arrives everyday at the bus stop by 8 pm. We chatted over tea, pakora and waited for the bus to arrive. Finally, when the bus arrived we where busy buying our quota of Old Monk for the night. With no information gathered we merrily arrived at our hotel, had our medicines, dinner and retired for the night amidst giggling, jokes and laughter.
On The Rocky Road to Kalpa
We woke up early, freshened up and started on our adventure down the World’ Most Treacherous Road . The locals had advised that the roads would only get better as we moved further ahead but that seemed like a bad joke played on us by the locals.
The roads started breaking up soon after leaving Narkanda and turned from pitched road to stony chips road to no roads in a day. 10-15 kilometers from Narkanda the mighty Sutlej River came into view and it looked both beautiful and dangerous. The Sutlej was to accompany us for the rest of the day and beyond. The roads were bad but the landscapes were dreamy and made us forget all our exertions. We rode like hell through the gravel and sand laid path called as a National Highway.
We crossed Rampur and stopped briefly for lunch. The roads were worse than what we had expected and it meant our plan of reaching Nako or Tabo would not be possible. So we started riding again through the pebbly surface skidding, adjusting regularly but fatefully never crashed. We crossed Jakri, Jeori and reached Wangtu from where the road got bad-ass. It seemed like somebody had played a sick joke on the people of this region by dubbing the road as a National Highway.
From Tapri the National Highway was blocked and we had to take a 20 kms diversion to reach Chooling. A steep climb took us past a few mountains. Our concept of “100kms for a fag” had turned to 10kms for a fag. We were all dust covered with every possible exposed parts covered in dust. We crossed Karcham, where a huge hydel project on the Sutlej, welcomed us and there I witnessed a rainbow over a flowing river for the first time. We finally reached Reckong-Peo and stopped for a tea break. DD (Our friend from Delhi) called us to ask how much we had covered and on hearing that we had covered almost 200 kms through that hell of a road he replied in a manner of disbelief and laden with expletives. He informed that there had been another cloudburst at Rumtse and the roads towards Leh were closed. All six of us were depressed with the news and it meant our chances to visit Leh and the other places were becoming impossible.
All our effort seemed to be going in vain. But then we decided we will spend some more time in Spiti and Lahaul giving us time for the road to get cleared. Ritinkar opined that 10 kms from Peo was a place called Kalpa and it was famous for its proximity to the Kinner-Kailash. So we planned to call it a day in Kalpa and enjoy the grandeur of Spiti. The road to Kalpa was an steep uphill and the motorcycles were having a tough time going up. There was huge traffic which meant more trouble. After taking one such sharp and steep bend I saw Bikash with his motorcycle stuck on the road. We pulled over and helped him out of the crash and while we were toiling at it Bikash was busy clicking pictures of Kinner Kailash.
Bikash informed that his motorcycle was losing power but no such trouble was found and we advised him to use the gears properly. A brief visit to the Royal Enfield mechanic in the main bazaar of Reckong also could not convince Bikash that it was his wrong use of gears and not power loss of the motorcycle. Finally, we reached Kalpa and checked into Hotel Blue Lotus. The hotel was owned by a Bengali from Coochbehar who had come to Kalpa 22 years back and fell in love with its beauty. We checked into our rooms and freshened up. The view of the mighty Kinner-Kailash while sipping hot tea sitting on the terrace in front of our rooms took away all our tiredness.
After some snacks we went on the lookout for medicines and much to our joy found a shop that sold locally brewed drinks made from the famous Kinnauri apples. But we were told that selling liquors to tourist was banned. So boom we went back to the hotel and got ourselves an empty water bottle. For Rs.50 we got a bottle full of apple wine and we were very happy about it. The hotel owner warned us that local wines were strong and we needed to exercise caution before gulping it all down. I quit after 2.5 glasses and the rest surrendered after 3-4 glasses. Quite a lot of wine was wasted but a bit more could mean hangovers next morning, broken glasses, lost keys and even vomiting drunkards. So after dinner we slowly crept back to the comfort of the warm quilts dreaming of butter smooth highways and Ladakh.
Day of the Dead !!!!!
I always believe that the ride is what matters and not the destination. It is not important to reach a place because I have planned to do so but rather reach the place only if you want to. Brajesh did not agree with my philosophy before but then places like Spiti and Ladakh change your thoughts pretty quickly.
After a nice warm sleep we woke up the next day and were ready to rock-n-roll (literally). We knew it was going to be another rocky and dusty day with loads of off-roading. We did our breakfast paid our bills and were ready to start. Riya wanted a group picture with the Kinner Kailash in the background but Brajesh and Ritinkar’ hurry to leave meant we started from Kalpa without the group picture and a grumpy face as my pillion. The road from Kalpa to Reckong Peo was the only smooth road that we would be getting for today. Soon after we were again on the famed National Highway using all our riding skills to stay straight and ride safely through the gravelstone highway.
An hour and so of riding and we reached a bridge where we stopped for clicking pictures. Riya was so angry that she clicked our pictures but did not join us for a group picture. Today we were in no hurry and had planned to ride aaram se. We continued on our adventures till Pooh were after a brief halt for document checking and entry we started again. The weather was hot and the barren rocky mountains made the weather all the more unbearable.
We reached Khab which is the sangam of Spiti and Satluj rivers and also the point where the NH 22 moves forward to Shipki La. We spent a lot of time resting under the shade cooling off, clicking pictures and planning as to what we would do next. Akash hurt himself while trying to click a picture and was saved thanks to his armoured riding gears. We bade goodbye to Satluj, our companion so far, and welcomed Spiti who would now take us into “The Middle Land.”
The ride from the sangam made us understand why this road was called one of the most dangerous roads in the world. A sharp steep incline with zero chances of making any mistake made sure that we were high on our senses and skills because a small skid or mistiming could go a long way down (to be exact 2000 metres) into the Spiti river. We took some click breaks and to enjoy the awesome scenic vistas in front of us before riding through the hairpin bends onto Nako and Spiti valley. An hour and half later we were at Nako Lake after a bit of circling asking for directions.
The green pastures amidst the barren landscapes seemed mesmerising to say the least. Nako Lake, is nature’s gift to mankind in a reminder of what I think is “Every beast has its beauty.” After a tough trek down to the lake and few clicks later we were back again riding towards our next obstacle – the ill-famed Malling nallah. Everyone had warned us to cross the nallah well before noon to avoid the huge rush of water and we raced from Nako to cross the nallah as fast as we could. But Malling nallah was a complete let-down as we did not even understand that we had crossed it. What we mistook as a normal water causeway turned out to be the much hyped Malling nallah. Relieved at having crossed our first obstacle with so much ease we rode comfortably enjoying the panoramic vistas of Spiti valley below and beside us. The beauty of contrasting small patches of green amidst all the barren landscape was just indescribable. In one such instance to check the beauty, Bikash had moved close to the edge of the road and we all had thought he was going down. But then Bikash bhai told that he did that under control.
The road had become quite a habit for us already. But before Sumdo we passed a stretch of road with signs of “BEWARE OF FALLING STONES.” Well, falling stones we had heard about earlier but then we experienced it. While everyone were hit by small stone chips falling from above Ritinkar was saved by his riding gear as a big stone fell on his shoulder from quite a height. We raced through towards safety but then safety in Spiti is a joke.
High winds were blowing down gravel rocks from the very mountain we were riding through and as we crossed it an advise came to my mind. One of my father’s colleague had told me that “The road through Spiti keeps changing and it might happen so that the one you use during the morning might change to a different one by evening”. It seemed his words were true. We were both scared and excited at the same time and we loved that feeling. We reached Sumdo, which is the start of Spiti, and recorded our details at the checkpost.
Our next stop was to be to visit Gue village which was a detour from the main road. Gue boasts of a living mummy dating back 600 years. We had to take a detour before the village of Hurling to reach Gue. A concrete gate welcomed us and we rode through the banks of the snaky Gue nallah and onwards. It was an 8 kilometre stretch but bad roads ensured that it took us almost half and hour of riding. The last stretch from Gue village to the monastery was a path of big boulders strewn across. Bikash tumbled over, Brajesh tumbled over and after quite an effort I had to ask Riya to get down as it was impossible to ride in that condition with a pillion. We reached the monastery and a strange eerie silence welcomed us. Riya was a bit tensed regarding the mummy.
Whew !!! You have to be there to experience that awesome feeling of thrill and spine-chilling fear run down your body. A mummy seated inside a glass chamber with eyes and teeth still visible is a sight that shall always stay in my memory – ALWAYS. We were all a bit apprehensive to enter but finally we gathered courage and went in. We closely watched the mummy and saw that his nails were still growing. An armyman approached us and he was a Bengali. We chatted with him quite a bit and got to learn it’s history. The jawan told us that the mummy was a monk who had given up his life meditating. He also told that the nails of the mummy grow and are cut by the locals regularly. He allowed us to explore his bunker and also showed us the Chinese outposts which were very nearby. We also learned that recently locals have found a stream of water coming out from the millenia old barren rocks just near the village and believed it to be religious. After spending a few moments clicking pictures with both the Bengali dada and his colleague we started back for Tabo through that horrendous boulder laid road.
The road conditions improved suddenly after Hurling. We raced through the scenic roads enjoying the beauty of Spiti and thanking our luck for helping us visit a gem of a place in India. We reached the sleepy village of Tabo at dusk. The first look of the village got us bowled over and we fell head over heels in love with the place.
Tabo was nicknamed as “The Spain of India” by us not quite for the surroundings but for the feel and essence of the place. The small village was teeming with people but still there was a calming and soothing silence. Me, Brajesh, Riya and Ritinkar went on the lookout for a hotel and luckily we found one that suited our demands pretty well – damn cheap, neat and clean and hospitable.
The hotel, located beside the Tabo monastery, was a huge property with numerous rooms complete with 60w bulbs. We checked into our room/rooms – it was two rooms with a common bathroom and no partitions in between. Warm water was available and we all freshened up and then I and Ritinkar went on the lookout for some tonic. After quite a search through the narrow dark lanes of Tabo we found a deshi sharaab ki dukaan.
The hotel’s dining room was full but still we managed to get ourselves a corner and then RUM and music led us into the night. After a pretty late dinner by Tabo’s standards we reached back to our hotel. We could relax a bit as next day we had to travel a mere 50 kms to reach Kaza which meant we had all the time in the world. “Rani, rani, Rani, ………….. was still ringing in my head as I passed out to dreamland.
Highway to Hell !!!!! What a Shocker !!!
“A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.“
Next morning we woke up late. The sun was glaring outside and it was as hot as in Uttar Pradesh. We went out to check out Tabo monastery and was fried to the bone within minutes. Tabo Monastery, dating back to 996 AD is one of the oldest functioning monastery in the Himalayan region. Due to its old paintings the monastery is known as the Ajanta and Ellora of the Himalayas.
The monastery was fascinating both inside and outside. The paintings dating back to the 10th century are still intact. The location of the monastery made it all the more enchanting. There were caves on the mountains bordering Tabo and beside the monastery. We learnt those caves were used by monks for meditation purpose. Our cameras went click click to capture the beauty of the place. After visiting the monastery and some shopping in a nearby shop it was time for us to bade goodbye to Tabo. While we were enjoying the mesmerising landscapes we overhead Bikash bhai yelling to someone -“Main tereko yaha k SBI ki Green Channel Counter se pachhis hazaar vej deta hoon, tu gari ka invoice banake vej de aaj hi.” That fantastic scene from Zindaagi Na Milegi Dobara came to my mind and I too wished to say – “Yaha pe yeh nazaara dekh, fir isko dekh…Kya ho gaya isse.” We had to wait a bit for Bikash to complete his business and then we started off for Kaza.
While we were waiting for Bikash at the loft outside our hotel sipping coffee and relaxing, Brajesh for the first time told that he wished we could stay over at Tabo for another day. Well, I knew inside me that places like this does things like that to people like them. Till today, an year after, Brajesh still longs to ride to Tabo and stay there for a week.
We left our hotel and got on the main road. A few meters later, we found the road leading to the meditation caves of the monks. A good-hearted hotel owner allowed us to park our motorcycles and leave our riding gears and helmets inside his restaurant. We started climbing the steep incline to the caves. The weather was hot and the barren rocks made the temperature rise up quite a bit. We were having a tough time climbing up the stairs. Bikash climbed a few stairs and then went back citing his inability to walk that far. Huffing, puffing and panting for breathe we reached the caves.
The wonderful view of the valley below us made all the tiredness go away. We spent quite some time clicking pictures, fooling around and posing for tashan pics. Ritinkar was our motographer for the trip and he went shutter-happy taking pictures. I ventured inside one of the meditation caves alone to record in my cam but the eerie silence had me scampering downhill to catch up with the others.
The road after Tabo started getting worse and a few kilometres later we came down on the worst part. A whole mountain had come down to the river bed due to to rains and we had to ride through all the boulders and mud. We had thought of reaching Kaza in an hour or two from Tabo but now it felt like we were in for quite a ride. Around 10 kms from Kaza my motorcycle started making a strange noise. I rode some more trying to find the reason for the strange noise but to no avail.
The road was at its worst in that stretch but we had no option as the noise did not bear good news. We checked the motorcycle and then Brajesh found the problem. My shocker was gone. Dhanno was unable to take the load in that hell of a road and had finally broken down. Our friends in Delhi had told us that there was only one mechanic in the entire stretch and that was at Kaza. Riya shifted to Brajesh’s motorcycle to lower the load on my motorcycle and from there we rode slowly and carefully towards Kaza. The last 5 kms before Kaza seemed unending. We finally reached Kaza and the first thing we did was enquire about the motorcycle workshop. Dipak, the mechanic, was the only Royal Enfield mechanic in between Shimla to Keylong and he had an attitude suited to the same. This guy is no good man and will not miss a single chance to suck you out of money along with his hostile nature. Dipak was the single bad person we encountered on the entire trip. Anyways back to the story, there was a huge queue at the shop of bikers like me waiting to have their motorcycles repaired.
After a wait of an hour the mechanic informed that he did not have any Royal Enfield shockers with him. But he could arrange a used shocker of Pulsar 220. We were in doubt regarding the feasibility of using that shocker but since the other option was to tow the motorcycle till Keylong which would mean missing out a major portion of the ride we decided to try our luck. Dipak informed that it would take some time to replace the shocker. We went about looking for a hotel. We were lucky and found a hotel rather cheap with a view to die for. We checked in, freshened up and after a lunch of momos went back to the mechanic shop. We met some riders from Mumbai and other parts of the country as well as outside the country and time passed by chatting with them about each other’s experiences. After a wait of almost two hours the mechanic finally got to my Dhanno.
He removed the broken shocker and fitted the much longer shocker of the Pulsar in it’s place. We still had doubts about the longevity of the shocker but he guaranteed that it would keep good till Leh atleast. From that moment we were riding on our luck. Our luck and the ride depended on the used Pulsar shocker bought for Rs.700 and which was bent due to uneven sizes. Well I shall quote a line I had read somewhere which said “An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.” – These lines seemed most appropriate for the rest of our story.