Halfway across India to Ladakh, 15 years back.......

Discussion in 'Epic Rides' started by GurgaonTrails, Jun 3, 2012.

  1. GurgaonTrails

    GurgaonTrails Adventurer

    Joined:
    Feb 22, 2012
    Oddometer:
    94
    Location:
    India
    The year was 1997 and I was living and working in Bombay (now Mumbai). My schoolmate and buddy Amol had also moved to Bombay. We were 25-26 years old, high on life with new jobs, and newly in love with our girls who later became our wives. We both owned and loved riding bikes.

    I read an article in a magazine about some enterprising folks who had driven through this really rough road up to Ladakh, high altitude adventure nirvana, up in the extreme north of India in the Himalayas. And we decided we had to do it on bikes!


    This was the objective
    [​IMG]
    #1
  2. GurgaonTrails

    GurgaonTrails Adventurer

    Joined:
    Feb 22, 2012
    Oddometer:
    94
    Location:
    India
    We would take what we had. I rode an Enfield, old school cast iron block 350cc four stroke single, four speed with a shifter on the right. Amol rode a Yezdi, an Indianized version of a Jawa. Single cylinder 250cc two stroke funny bike – you pressed in the shifter and swung up and over to become the kick-start!

    By way of research – one single magazine article. By way of preparation – bought a rain over-suit, borrowed my friend’s dad’s air-force boots, tied a bag to the pillion seat, took leave from work for a month and headed out. Didnt get maps, Google Maps didn’t exist. Being young and foolish does make things simple.

    We had a rough plan to take the less commercially used of the two routes to Delhi, via the middle of India. Delhi was 1500 kms away, Ladkah another 1500kms. It was going to 45 degrees centigrade all the way.
    We went wrong the moment we exited Bombay. No wait....even before......


    Yes skinny “ribbed” front tyre......high-up highway handlebars.....lots to learn....

    [​IMG]
    #2
  3. GurgaonTrails

    GurgaonTrails Adventurer

    Joined:
    Feb 22, 2012
    Oddometer:
    94
    Location:
    India
    I met Amol at 4.30am at the beginning of the end of Bombay. With a big grin on his face he told me his engine seized last night! He was in a hurry coming back from visiting his girlfriend 200kms away, overheated and killed his engine late at night. Who does that on the night prior to leaving on a cross country 6000kms trip??!!

    Anyway, the Yezdi loves pain. Pour in extra oil into the petrol mix and flog a dead engine. The damn thing runs. The only thing is we could not go faster than 50 kms/hour. And we had to stop every hour to let the engine cool. And we crossed half the country like that. Dead slow. Stop every hour. To this day Amol claims that we stopped every hour for me to have a smoke......

    So that was before even starting off......

    But just as we left Bombay, we missed a crucial turn in the heavy rain and rode blissfully unaware for more than an hour. We were now on the very route we had wanted to avoid. Eventually we figured something wasn’t right, asked for directions and found back-country roads to bring us to back to “our” highway. Cost us a few hours and maybe a 100kms extra.

    And then we stopped and went. And stopped and went.....and found ourselves at the end of the day at some dusty old town and crashed for the night at some beat up crappy hotel/motel. But the morning always brings new cheer....ready to ride.


    ATGATT?? I have the boots, don’t I? There may even be helmet somewhere around......
    [​IMG]
    #3
  4. daizawaguy

    daizawaguy n00b

    Joined:
    Dec 5, 2009
    Oddometer:
    8
    Looking forward to hearing more about your trip!
    #4
  5. GurgaonTrails

    GurgaonTrails Adventurer

    Joined:
    Feb 22, 2012
    Oddometer:
    94
    Location:
    India
    More coming right up sir, had to run off for an errand. It's been a great use of a hot weekend, reminiscing......amazed to remember so many details too.
    #5
  6. GurgaonTrails

    GurgaonTrails Adventurer

    Joined:
    Feb 22, 2012
    Oddometer:
    94
    Location:
    India
    The ride through the state of Maharashtra, whose capital is Bombay, was surprisingly pleasant. Lots of windy roads, super lush green in the monsoons, and not too much traffic. Sadly, no photos taken.

    Next day’s riding was more of the same....stop and go.....cold down the bike / have a smoke.....but interesting riding through a low-usage “highway” through the heart of India. We would never have seen these parts otherwise. Almost no cities, mostly just villages or small regional towns. We were aliens here.....who rode motorcycles with luggage on highways?? Even today, motorcycle touring, while much more popular, still has a very very small following.

    The second day ended abruptly, a police check-post stopped us from travelling further at one point in the evening. They said the area ahead was tribal and notorious for highway ambushes and robbery....cool! But in any case, we slept out in the open at a “dhabha”.....a really basic quick highway stop, Indian style, where truckers halt for meals, etc. Dhabas proliferate on highways throughout India and are quite a part of the driving culture.


    Park & Sleep.....eat in bed J
    [​IMG]
    #6
  7. GurgaonTrails

    GurgaonTrails Adventurer

    Joined:
    Feb 22, 2012
    Oddometer:
    94
    Location:
    India
    The fourth day we had the first bit of bike trouble. While re-fuelling we spotted a stead leak in my fuel tank. The humidity of sea-front Bombay had corroded the tank, and the Enfield emblem mounted on the side by screws basically just drilled through with my knees pressing the tank. No sweat. We plugged the hole with M-Seal, a local epoxy type putty – normally meant for plastic. After an hour’s wait for the putty to set, we were off. The “fix” held all the way to Delhi! Other than that, it was kinda boring that day....riding through a more populated area....

    Epoxy drying...Amol pretending he doesnt enjoy wathcing epoxy dry....
    [​IMG]



    See – helmet......safely tucked away!
    [​IMG]



    Another “dhaba” somewhere on the way...
    [​IMG]
    #7
  8. GurgaonTrails

    GurgaonTrails Adventurer

    Joined:
    Feb 22, 2012
    Oddometer:
    94
    Location:
    India
    We stopped that night in Agra, famous for the famous monument Taj Mahal. Like good tourists we went and visited Taj Mahal. But the highlight was the night in the super-luxurious Novotel Hotel :D Last shower was 3 days back....and now we even had a bathtub. Luxury.

    And then a dusty busy highway full of traffic to Delhi. I stayed over in Delhi for two days with my parents while Amol headed on another 250kms to Chandigarh to his parents. It had taken us 4 days for what is now a 2 day drive. My Mom almost didn’t recognise me with the shaved head, four days of tan and a soot blackened face.

    The two days were good though, got a new petrol tank and got the bike serviced. Another friend’s dad hooked me up with an Army issue high-altitude waterproof jacket. Life saver later!

    I then hooked up with Amol in Chandigarh. He had got his engine re-done, including re-bored. In two days! And here we were heading off to climb some of the highest mountains in the world, on dirt tracks, and the engine had to be “run-in” on the run.


    First look at the beginning of the mountains
    [​IMG]



    And we're in....the mountains finally..
    [​IMG]
    #8
  9. GurgaonTrails

    GurgaonTrails Adventurer

    Joined:
    Feb 22, 2012
    Oddometer:
    94
    Location:
    India
    The year was 1984 (I think) and we were living in the most beautiful state of Kashmir, India, when a younger brother of my dad came to visit. He had ridden across half the country on a motorcycle, alone, with a shaved head. I was 12 years old and I thought that was just the coolest thing ever in the world. I am now 40, and I think no differently about motorcycles even now. Maybe even more so.

    Coupled with stories about riding in Army motorcycle convoys from my Dad and seeing Dispatch Riders on big green Enfield bikes all the time as an Army kid.....what would you expect? That boy had to ride!

    And in 1989/90, another of my uncles had done a journey to Ladakh on this road that no-one had even heard of......the now popular Manali Leh “highway”. Newly “developed” at the time by the Army to supply their border posts with China as an alternative to the road via Kashmir. They went in a 1.1 ltr small Fiat car and the harrowing tales of hardships and breakdowns stayed with me.

    All these things came together with that magazine article.....It would be Ladakh, it would on motorcycles and the head would be shaved. Only now, on retrospection, could I connect the dots of childhood influences.

    Note – Think of this as a self-indulgent Ride Story rather than a Ride Report.....and it may just be a bit less strange and boring. And who says wandering was to be restricted only to actual riding.....
    #9
  10. GurgaonTrails

    GurgaonTrails Adventurer

    Joined:
    Feb 22, 2012
    Oddometer:
    94
    Location:
    India
    It was time to head out again, on to stage 2 our journey, the ride through the mountains to the jump off point of Manali. Manali is in the state of Himachal Pradesh, the Himalayan mountain state. Beautiful town but now over-run by tourists in the summer, back then it was pristine.

    In the two days in Chandigarh, Amol had also found and bought a leather jacket for riding in the cold and a pair of some type of boots. Remember, even today it’s nearly impossible to find riding gear here except in 3 or 4 of the biggest cities. Back then, unheard of.




    Welcome to Himachal Pradesh....why, thank you very much!
    [​IMG]


    Catchment area of a huge dam, near Mandi

    [​IMG]


    Bliss.....
    [​IMG]

    Admiring the beauty....
    [​IMG]
    #10
  11. GurgaonTrails

    GurgaonTrails Adventurer

    Joined:
    Feb 22, 2012
    Oddometer:
    94
    Location:
    India
    We reached Manali in the evening, found ourselves a hotel we could afford and stepped out to absorb the atmosphere. There were lots of Israeli tourists, as there are even today. Signs still remain today of Manali’s heyday as the summer Hippie capital of the country....winters would ofcourse be in Goa.


    It is now so crowded in season that I'd much rather get my overdose of traffic jams in Delhi only....



    Here's what we had done so far, almost 2000kms and counting (but not really).
    [​IMG]
    #11
  12. Cariboostrom

    Cariboostrom Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jul 15, 2008
    Oddometer:
    586
    Location:
    Quesnel, B.C. Canada
    I'm loving your ride report (or your trip down memory lane!). More please. What great memories!:clap:clap
    #12
  13. GurgaonTrails

    GurgaonTrails Adventurer

    Joined:
    Feb 22, 2012
    Oddometer:
    94
    Location:
    India
    We got our bikes checked in the morning. Thankfully, Amol’s bike was running well and would give no trouble for the rest of the trip. The mechanic tweaked my air/fuel mix to leaner, so as to adjust for the high altitude coming up. We were already at 7000 feet and would hit 13500 today itself.

    We also learnt that the upcoming nearly 500kms stretch had no fuel stations. There was one about 90kms out at Tandi, but fuel availability was not guaranteed. So we went to the market and bought 10 ltr fuel cans. With the 14 ltr tanks, that would give us a range of about 600 kms. In the simpler days before "safari" tanks, this was just a matter of finding a rope and tying the damn cans on a convenient spot on the bike :wink:

    All this meant a late start and we left Manali at 1.00pm. As soon as we started climbing out of Manali, we were riding inside clouds......this was not mist, it was actual cloud. As wet as rain, as thick as fog. Every now and then, there would be a break in the clouds and we would get greeted by breathtaking vistas of the valleys and the mountains. This was still the green part of the Himalayas, below the tree line. I still remember the views, the smell, the feelings.....

    We took so many stops for photography, and for tying and re-tying our luggage (and fuel cans), that the day was slipping by. The roads were rough, lots of small water crossings, and slush and bog. By the time way crossed over Rohtang Pass (13,500 feet) and started our descent on the other side, light had already started fading.



    [​IMG]


    [​IMG]



    [​IMG]



    [​IMG]




    One of my all-time favourites

    [​IMG]




    [​IMG]


    When I crossed Rohtang in 2006, I was appalled at the mess of humanity up there. Thousands of tourists rolicking in a patch of filthy snow......obviously we Indians are less effected by altitude.....


    Back in 1997, there was just that one "dhaba" up there (or maybe two at most)
    [​IMG]

    And a lonely two-some who we saw pushing a bike with a flat tyre from some distance away.......they took ages to reach us while we ate some Maggi noodles. They were from a village or twon from the Lahaul valley, over on the other side of Rohtang.

    Many other people have written this, no harm repeating - apparantly "Rohtang" means Mountain of Bones" or "Mountain of Skulls"......not sure how true, but it's kinda cool riding up this "dangerous" mountain.

    There is a section on the climb called the "sinking zone", which has regular mud slides and deep bog and road blockages. Pieces of the ground just sort of break away and go tumbling down.
    #13
  14. GurgaonTrails

    GurgaonTrails Adventurer

    Joined:
    Feb 22, 2012
    Oddometer:
    94
    Location:
    India
    This is the madness that is Rohtang now.....as seen on my 2006 ride through there. Sad.
    They're building a mega tunnel under Rohtang.....soon there will be thousands of tourist in the valley beyond. God help.....

    [​IMG]



    [​IMG]
    #14
  15. GurgaonTrails

    GurgaonTrails Adventurer

    Joined:
    Feb 22, 2012
    Oddometer:
    94
    Location:
    India
    All the photos were taken by point and shoot cameras....you know the type with film, in the pre-digital era. Mine was a really simple and cheap one, with a manual thumb-wound film forward. Amol's was slightly fancier.....with a longish lens and a pop up flash and batteries!

    Mine used to be in the pocket, pull out and snap! Amol's camera lived in his backpack, inside layers of waterproofing plastic. And each shot would take us a month and a half.....

    Proper photography, with DSLR cameras, is still something that scares me. I dont know a single person who started that and didnt become possessed by it. I'm still point and shoot and still get great shots. Ofcourse, with subjects like the Himalayas, it's a fairly easy task.
    #15
  16. whizzerwheel

    whizzerwheel Using Occam's Razor

    Joined:
    Aug 10, 2006
    Oddometer:
    1,276
    Location:
    Settled In
    Nice report!
    #16
  17. Joe Houle

    Joe Houle Adventurer

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 2012
    Oddometer:
    20
    Location:
    Lower Alabama
    I agree, awesome!
    #17
  18. GurgaonTrails

    GurgaonTrails Adventurer

    Joined:
    Feb 22, 2012
    Oddometer:
    94
    Location:
    India
    Hey, thank you all. I was quite sure people would be bored stiff with all the rambling....:D
    More coming up soon.
    #18
  19. GurgaonTrails

    GurgaonTrails Adventurer

    Joined:
    Feb 22, 2012
    Oddometer:
    94
    Location:
    India
    The rest of the ride that day was quite freaky. We were tired and cold. And then we came to our first proper water crossing.....we had never done a water crossing ever....both of us. Except for the bits coming up to Rohtang. In fact we had only driven on tarmac ever!


    So here we were, at 11,000 feet altitude, in the twilight ..... we could see how long the whole crossing was but it was raging and it sounded like it was falling off a cliff not too far to the left. Ofcourse, there wasnt really a "cliff" but it did fall into a small river rushing by right there. We obviously couldn’t stay here, it was too cold and we didn’t even have a tent.

    So after chucking in a few rocks to gauge depth we figured it wasn’t too deep. Our boots were not waterproof, so we decided to take them off so as to avoid riding in wet boots and risk frostbite. And Amol headed in, bounced around on the rocky bottom and made it across. Then it was my turn.....and the first thing was the shock of how cold that ice-melt water was on bare feet.....and I think I went in a few inches to the side of where Amol had gone......and plunged in tyre deep where he had found hardly 8-10 inches.

    Here, Amol crossing......check out the bare feet.....the photo and the memory just dont reconcile.....maybe it's the wrong photo....
    [​IMG]

    Now it was dark. Really dark. Our headlights provided nothing but a sarcastic chuckle by way of relief. And the sense of direction and scale was totally lost. Truck lights seen coming towards us would never reach.......we could see valleys away.....

    We made a commitment not to ride these unknown roads at night, from the next day! But that day we had to, and eventually made our way to the small town of Keylong. Found a little hotel and crashed....I’m not even sure if we took our boots off. It had taken us 9 hours to cover 120 kms.
    #19
  20. GurgaonTrails

    GurgaonTrails Adventurer

    Joined:
    Feb 22, 2012
    Oddometer:
    94
    Location:
    India
    Some more photos from that day:


    The "must do" pose for Ladakh.....It's involuntary...everybody does it....cant be helped :)
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]


    [​IMG]
    #20