Bullet Diaries – Getting Leh’d and Zanskar’d – 1

I have been trying to figure out for best part of last two weeks how to do this …. its easy to describe a road trip, some landscape, some histrionics, some passion and a good piece is ready. Ofcourse it was a road trip but also so much more. The objective here is to give you guys a feel of the road but more importantly share an experience of getting Leh’d and Zanskar’d. My confusions stem from the following questions..

Do i write about the amazing landscape of Himalayas that change the sceneries after every curve of the road ? Do i write about the amazing hospitality displayed by the natives of Tashi Dongzay village in Zanskar who dint even understand our language? Do i write about the kindness of a man who offered us shelter and food when our paths were obstructed by the landslide in kargil? Do i write about the happy souls who walked 8 kms with us to get breakfast and then carried enough food back with us to feed another 35 people a wholesome dinner? Do i also mention the raging waters that engulfed the engines of our Desert Storm as we tried to pass through and were conspicuous by their absence when we returned? I should also mention the fact that it was supposed to be a small 3-4 day ride to Leh for me but turned out to be a 17 day adventure, shouldnt i?

I guess i should, and try my best to share. For this was an adventure beyond what we generally associate with. Lets begin from where it started.

I run a small Bike Rental firm in Manali  called BIKERENTALSMANALI with my brother and we rent out bikes and organize tours to Leh Ladakh. Usually we know beforehand if either of us are going along with the clients, but this time was different. it was a last minute decision that i would accompany the group and as such, i dint have much time to prepare. Also i was planning to go for only 4 days, reach ladakh, n probably board a bus to return back to manali and resume work at my office. So i packed some clothes, my laptop, camera and got ready to set off early on the morning of 26th july.

It was raining quite heavily when i woke up.The grey skies and the downpour was casting doubts about the feasibility of travel early in the morning. However Sunil, Jhony, Neils, Jan, Bass and Marvin  were all ready and gung ho about the journey. So we packed our luggage, saddled and fuelled our bikes and set off a little after 7 am.  As we were driving up to Rohtang, the weather was also opening up. the mist and grey skies gave way to warm sunshine by the time we reached Marhi about 35 kms from Manali. The elevation of the place not only gave us great view of the nature but also brought us closer to the clouds. from seeing them all grey and moody above us is vashisht, to feeling them on our face at Kothi, we were now looking at the clouds from above in Marhi. And warm sunshine only complimented the beauty of the place. After a quick breakfast of delicious paranthas and tea, we continued on to Rohtang pass.

The road near Rani Nallah about 8 kms before Rohtang is infamous for being the worst stretch on the Manali – Leh Highway. With constant landslides, slush and fog it presents the most challenging riding conditions. Its not unusual for any vehicle to be stuck in a jam and spend hours there. We were however, slightly lucky as the weather had cleared and though the road still was very slushy, there was hardly a traffic jam, and credit must go to the BRO (border roads organization) who work endlessly and often thanklessly, to keep this stretch functional. It took us only about an hour to cross the stretch and be at Rohtang. We paused there to check how the bikes were doing and as expected they were in supreme condition and seemed to be getting warmed up for the challenges ahead.

As soon as you go over the curb at Rohtang, the sense on Ladakh calling sets in, maybe its so for me, since i am a native of Manali but the area and the road upto Rohtang is still the home stretch. Over the curb, is the Lahaul & Spiti Valley and the difference is landscape is quite prominent. While all you could see on way to Rohtang was greenery and waterfalls, Lahaul would mesmerize you with lack of it. Being in the “rain shadow” region of Himalayas, its not unsual for lahaul to have dry monsoons. Also, this year, it seemed the Khoksar road was in mood to compete with rani nallah stretch for being the most difficult. The roads were constantly winding and big holes on them dint make riding any easier. Thank god for our Bullets. we were genuinely concerned about the shockers but all went well. After checking in at the khoksar post we continued to Jispa via the beautiful keylong road. Little did we know that our friend Sunil, literally owns half of Keylong and we were about to be treated very unfairly too.

About 8 kms before Keylong comes Tandi, the last filling station till Leh. We tanked up again and since the board there provides the first of many landmark photo ops, also got the clicks for everyone. We halted in Keylong for lunch and that where almost everyone that we could see knew Sunil. Till Rohtang was my home stretch and here Sunil owned the place. while my territory was more mental, Sunil has the legal rights 😛 We wanted to stay overnight in Keylong and enjoy hospitality but Neils, the chief planner for our clients insisted on staying at Jispa, about 25 kms further. So, we continued and on the way it was nice to hear folk tales and contemporary stories from Sunil. Johny, meanwhile was busy enjoying the view through my sunglasses and checking all places for potential photographs featuring him.

We reached Jispa around 3 pm and went t the most recommended stay option Padma Lodge, but it was packed so we came back and tried hotel Ibex. As we parked our bikes and helped offload the luggage, Neils went in and got couple of rooms for him and friends, Sunil went and enquired about possibility of us getting a room too at the desk but was told off and just as he was coming back, another group of foreigners enquired about a room and were given 3-4 choices. It was very disturbing and needless to say we were furious. We do not know on what basis were we denied a room and foreigners accommodated. We know for a fact that they dint have any prior reservations either. to make matters worse, there were no phone signals. Sunil was boiling with rage and i m pretty sure if we had only been able to make that one call…. Well, we settled for tents right opposite to the hotel and these lads were not only kind and friendly, they offered a very reasonable accommodation at competitive prices.

The camp was a quiet place, with sound of water flowing nearby and the bonfire all adding to the experience of the place. I also met a cyclist from Germany, Francesca Heidenreich, who had been cycling from Leh to manali. we had a nice conversation and i admired her for the courage she displayed, not just cycling 480 kms, but doing so all alone.

Our first night was spent in a cozy tent by the stream reflecting on a pleasant drive but a very bad experience at the Hotel…




2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shikha gautam
    Sep 07, 2013 @ 14:26:50

    Very nice piece Anurag. You made it come alive 🙂


  2. rv
    Sep 09, 2013 @ 22:31:35

    Good one….I was just thinking abt this NYT before you posted…..something on journey….specially on BIKE RENTALS MANALI.


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