"Extreme off road riding, extreme climatic conditions, mud slush, dry river beds to water streams running high, we drove all the way through it, It's an EXPEDITION of a LIFETIME"
Me with my friend had been discussing this trip for long and best time for making it to Ladakh is after May and before October is what we both knew. It was August and I had just come from Dubai so had some handful of holidays in hand and he also got over from some project, we both decided to do this, teaming again for 1 more HELL OF A RIDE " Tour-de Ladakh"
So here is what me and my nerd surd friend covered in 14 days and approx 3400 kms on our BULLS.
Delhi - Amritsar - Patnitop - Pahalgam - Srinagar - Drass - Kargil - Leh - Hunder (Deskit) - Pangong Tso- Pang - Keylong - Manali - Delhi
Normally people do Delhi - Ladakh via Manali and back from J&K route but we chose to do so via Jammu and back from Manali. I believe the greatest advantage with us was gradual increase in height which didn't affect us much i.e. AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) was not that hard hitting. All people I know off who have done this via Manali complain about AMS hitting too much and they prefer to stay at Serthi or Sarchu as people call it before moving to Pang and ahead, to acclimatize themselves. On our way back we met few who were dizzy and puked a lot once they reached Pang.
Day 1: Delhi to Amritsar, 460 kms
As I mentioned in my earlier itinerary also, alarm clock is my good Nigger friend, so after shaking me up for couple of time we left early in the morning ~4am. We reached by 12noon since roads are amazing to drive with no toll tax to pay ;). Took a hotel near Gr8 Golden Temple, 2 person INR 1200 max.
We freshened up and had a fair chance of visiting Wagah border closing ceremony which is worth a watch. Try to avoid Sunday for that, it's crazy out there. Also people stop you to park your vehicle much before the main gate, keep moving, when you see military people near boundary you will get govt. public parking on the left side. Cigarettes and other stuff not allowed so keep in it in your tool box. For photographers carry at least a 70-300mm lens for getting cross border clicks. Leave immediately once flags are down else you will get stuck in traffic. You can get your bull checked to in Amritsar (Punjab is a good hub for bulls).
In the evening we went to Golden Temple and took blessings of Almighty, visiting the main temple would have taken too much of time so for us it was just few hours in the temple compound. if you have a day in spare you can spend the night at the temple, next day you can then visit Jallianwala bagh too. Since for us it was just that night so we marched back to hotel after Golden temple.
Day 2: Amritsar to Patnitop, ~300 kms
After delicious punjabi parathas and Amritasri kulctha with tea, we left for Pahalgham. Right from Pathankot rain started and me being the smart one didnt even carry tarpal for my luggage. After much stopping at many places for shades we kept on moving. From Madhopur you get into J&K, roads are good till Samba then a little hilly terrain. I think we stopped after crossing Udhampur and before hitting roads uphill, for little lunch as all the way we didn't get anything to eat.
We could only make up to Patnitop as we got stuck in traffic jams, rain and hailstorm. One can actually make up to Pahalgham if you leave early morning and God of Rain is not with you :)
Day 3: Patnitop to Pahalgham, ~180 kms
We left at ease ~8am, ride is on hilly terrain. Serpentine roads welcome you with amazing views, full of greens and valley with flowing water just kick start your day. Driving along the river and passing through Ramban and Veronag, we stopped after reaching Anantnag for some lunch. Military trucks in long chains passing by and you get the first feeling of being in Jammu. The shop we stopped already a waiting, one more group of 4 (2M and 2F) were there. Sometime you wonder why you bought a bullet when the person in front of you is riding to Ladakh in Boxer with a pillion :P. Well after little filling our tummy we started again.
We reached Pahalgham at around 3pm, took a hotel near Taxi stand, Hotel Woodstock I guess. There are others like Volga, Mountain view which are quite expensive. After lunch I chose to have a ride to Amarnath, its around 40kms from there and you ride through beautiful views with white water flowing on your right.
Don't be mistaken that you can take blessings of Amarnath Almighty as it's a 2 day walking from the point where road ends, Chandanwadi camp :)
Evening you can spend having good dinner though everything closes early. All sort of food is available so not a problem for anyone. City is quite peaceful after dawn so have a good, night walk after dinner.
Day 4: Pahalgham to Srinagar, ~100kms
Since it was a short distance to cover my friend Jazzy B didn't bother much except the fact that we realized that hotel owner (who was also a punjabi) has a beautiful daughter too ;) Well it's never too late but in this case it was :) so after little breakfast we left at around 8am and easy ride down the hill. Passing though the green pastures and enjoying our ride slowly we reached Srinagar by 2pm, Dal lake, used to be an attraction once but not now and it is becoming dirty day by day. DO NOT halt at any of the hotels near Dal, many broker there would give you discount and nice offer for boat house near Dal lake only. Reason being for your movement between boat house and market you will have to take shikara for which you pay every time. Also you will have to park your bulls on road in the market place.
Keep driving along the Dal till you reach Nigeen lake near Hazratbal mosque, take boat house there. We staryed at Golden Flower boat house, nice people and treated us well. We got parking in their compound so it's quite safe. Charges are around 1500 for 2 people and they charge around 300 rs for dinner per person. If you are lucky you will get entire boathouse in 1500 (if they don't get other customer for the night). Ask for a masala chai while you freshen up. Visit Hazratbal mosque + local markets are good to see.
Drive your bull to Pari Mahal (around 20 km)a must go place for an awesome view of entire Srinagar, Not to be missed!
Ask the boat house person to arrange for shikara ride, they get at more discounted price than govt. rates. Evening at around 5.30 leave for shikara ride, he should take you from old city (quite dirty as a matter of fact now) towards Dal lake.
Have your clicks, njoi the ride and back to boat house by 8pm. Alcohol is quite expensive so arrange if you want when you are in market place. Once back prepare for your ride next day, get air checked, your petrol cans filled at least 8 ltr per bull to be on safer side. If you are a hookah lover it's a good idea to have a session on the open boat house. Sleep after your beer and dinner :)
Day 5: Srinagar to Kargil (via Zoji La), 200 kms
It's better if you can find out about road status beyond Sonmarg before you leave. This was the first time we had 1 tab of altitude medicine eg. Diamox to avoid AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness), before we left for Kargil. Leave by 8am max, it's a direct road from Nigeen. Nice view with lot of military trucks passing by, till Sonmarg roads are good with little ups and downs. At Sonmarg you might be stopped for papers and if Gods of unluck are with you i.e. to say if there had been landslides in the Zojila pass, you would be stopped at the Sonmarg police station itself. No way to go further and local cops would tell you that it will route will open after a week and there is all military and BRO up clearing the route. The later is true and clearing of landslides is done too fast. For 2 wheelers they let you go but you have to be convincing.
As I said, we also got stuck at Sonmarg station due to cloud burst, 15 landslides were there, we were informed by cops that route will open after a week. Holy crap, our complete schedule was for a toss now and we started calculating. We were waiting at the barricade only and happened to meet other bulletiers, a gang of 7 who just arrived and were also stopped. We somehow ducked the local cops (there is a hostel between Zojila and Sonmarg which helped ) at station and reached the point where military was, the landslide sight, where all military was. All vehicle movement was stopped from both sides and we could see gigantic cranes at work. Landslides has washed complete road off, looked like an avalanche which has taken everything with it and rumbled 10,000 ft down the valley.
Yes got stuck for 4 hours, wandering here and there trying to spend some time. After lot of persuasion an officer allowed us to go. Trust me you get Royally Screwed while crossing Zojila especially when there is have been landslides and there's mud slush all over. You get the first flavour of extreme OFF ROAD riding. All vehicles were stopped and no movement of 4 wheelers, I believe we were only 9 to 10 riders trying to find some road to move ahead in that sloppy and sloshed place. At places where there was flowing mud slush, it was freaking dangerous given you have a 10,000 feet down valley on your right. With our wheels half in the sludge we had to get down and pull like never before. 1st gear, vroom vroom, oil burning and your silencer cranking, even your bull thump getting muffled and you panting with your legs inside the sludge, striving to cross it through. Wait so if you have a 350 cc with you, this is the tome for you to give yourself 2 min and ponder that why you didn't go for 500 cc. We both had 350 cc with us and we could see all new 500 cc, UCE engine though were striving not that hard as we were to ride here. You might notice a little change the way your bull sound, no worries it's just that he is lil tired (it's the air in high altitude which becomes thin, you will have to get it tuned in Leh).
There were 18 places where landslides which have happened due to cloud burst, BRO along with military was still working on it to clear that sludge from the route. Because of landslides complete road were washed out and there were only patches with flowing black mud which looked horrendous to cross. Continuous clutch driving and in an attempt to get through Zoji La sloppy and slushy, dirty black mud sludge made our clutch plate loose, it felt like either clutch plate or the wire is gone. Trust me you are going nowhere ever if so happened. We got some rest at places where huge JCB were working and we could see everything rumbling down 10,000 feet like a crash. Wait did I mention carry water with you. You would be needing it like HELL.
Okay so once done with it we threw ourselves for some cleaning, pheww.. taking ours and our bulls breathe back and ahh.. everything in our bull was up and running, God Bless my mechanic. Driving ahead we encountered traffic which was stopped for kms and people eager to know when they could cross the MIGHTY ZOJI LA. Once you move a lil ahead beautiful panoramic views are all the way.
Having past that it was late in the evening and we got stuck in heavy rain and could only make up to Drass. As an icing on the cake no hotels available in Drass as everyone halted their itself, got a dormitory somehow for the night and baba rum to keep us warm.
Tip: Saddle bags should be well above silencer especially when carrying petrol, cause with bumps your bags keep settling down.
Day 6: Kargil to Leh (via Futu La), mini Tibet , ~280 kms
We left at 7 in the morning, passing through the famous Tiger Hill (famous Kargil war which was conquered) we stopped at Kargil Memorial and pay respect to the brave soldiers. The wall doesn't carry all the same, these are just the high designated ranks. There were lacs who sacrificed themselves for us. You can buy souvenirs from there to remember Kargil hero's. After passing Kargil valley once you reach the top you get to see the entire Kargil valley.
We got our canister and tanks topped at the petrol pump here. Passing through Fotula top, which is the highest point in Srinagar - Leh road. you will be reaching Lamayuru, "Land of Lama's", you get a splendid view of the place before you hit the actual city. 'Juley' is what you say when you greet someone there in Lamayuru. Have lunch their at Dragon hotel, an authentic Chinese food. You will be riding through some nice serpentine road bends after that.
The hairpin bends looks amazing from top, after that you will be hitting a straight long road (don't take off as there are few bumps and small bad road patches).
You can stop at Magnetic hill and try to experiment, though we didn't notice anything explicitly. Superb road, nice breeze and magnificent views and curving through Indus view point and some check post you will hit Leh, A Jewel in the Crown of India. Hotels are easily available, try taking something near the main market. We stayed in a hotel opposite taxi stad near Leh palace, hotel Khangri. Once you unload and relaxed a lil, we asked the hotel person to arrange for the permissions (they charge some 200 rs extra) necessary for all places viz. Khardungla Pass, Nubra Valley, Warila, Pangong etc. There are many places to roam around but I mentioned what we did.
Okay so after so many days of driving and ours + bullet bones giving up + a little of AMS which joined us in Leh we had a day rest. A good massage after all these days of ride brings some energy back was required. So as my friend decided o stay back I did some reki, got it done for 500rs though its legally not allowed in Leh anymore. We just spent the evening strolling around market and then headed for dinner at dreamland. Nice authentic soups and food with chilled Vijay Mallya was good. Umm.. end of another day of our voyage.
Okay now since you are at quite high an altitude you need to get your bull tuned. At 4 kms from petrol pump towards the Manali road there is a bull mechanic on the left, Mohan Sharma, he is a nice guy, get your bull checked overall + the tuning for mountain ride. After that we made for 2, 3 monastery viz. Shey, Stok, Thiksey. Thiksey had too many stairs so we just had a click and back :). By the time you are back, permission would be in your hand. Spend the evening in the market, you can buy local stuff out there, don't miss the awesome Momo's, Thupa and soups out there. For non-veggies their a stall at the market crossing near State Bank ATM, with delicious kebabs and other stuff.
Don't forget to pack up for next day, air check, petrol top up, camera battery charged, your permissions and papers handy, water and your driving gear.
Day 8: Leh to Nubra Valley (via Khardun La, world's highest motorable road), 180 kms
So my nigga all up in morning shook me well to make me rise from my slumbers. Aa Ha, this will be the next ride you would remember all your life so pop a Diamox and get going.
We kept only the necessary stuff with us and tried to travel light. Kept our bags at the hotel reception left in the morning for Khardung La Pass. We left for Khardun La and after spending some time at Namgyal Tsemo Gompa, a monastery where you get panoramic view of complete Leh and picturesque Himalayas, we headed again.
Wow amazing rockbound roads with ups and downs, so tighten your luggage properly with bungee cables. Dozens of fellow bulletiers will be accompanying plus the local kids boost your moral for reaching the peak. We had to stop at one place for submitting the permission, don't know where. Trust me the distance doesn't seem to finish, from ne mountain to other, hours of rough rocky and rock-ribbed driving, riding across gigantic mountains and pleasing views will finally take you to Khardung La pass.
Say Cheerz to yourself you, you finally made it, achieved what you came for, at the world's highest pass, 18,380 feet MSL.
Njoi a maggi at workd's highest cafeteria with Ladaki chai 'gur-gur' and a maggi story. You might find little difficult to breath, headache due to AMS little high at this altitude, take good rest.
Gear yourselves for another rough ride to Hunder though roads are rough for few kms only and then curvy roads all the way to Nubra valley.
Passing through splendid views, hairpin bends, admiring the different shades of brown and green, riding on amazing roads maintained by BRO and passing through the sand dunes and you will be reaching Deskit, Hundar.
Plan a night in tents, along the river, service is good in resorts and not that expensive also. Double hump camels are quite famous and you can drive to the valley for it, they charge some 10 rs per vehicle. Vivid sunset over mountains looks amazing.
If you have a day in spare you can plan to go further towards Siachen border. We only had a night stay at Deskit. Dinner and hookah with some beer yeah, peaceful night. GN guys.
Note: You will not get petrol right from Leh to this place, so keep your tanks full and carry 8 lts per head. There is a petrol pump at Deskit but normally its closed.
Day 9: Nubra to Pangong Tso (via Chang La, third highest pass), 260 kms
We left early in the morning for Pangong Lake after topping up our tank. Have a tab of Diamox and kick start, we made our way via Warila top, STRONG ADVICE don't take this route unless you are travelling in group. My surd friend who is a total nerd, convinced me to take it and we were only 2 riders. In a complete patch we didn't find a single bull rider and people who actually saw us were amazed by the fact that we chose this route. Complete rockbound and rock-ribbed road in long patches with so many turns that your head goes for a spin. In few patches you will have rivers beds with flowing water and strong steep up road full of pieces of rocks, tighten your luggage again, vroom vroom and get set go in 1st gear.
Okay so once you are down from Warila you will hit Shyok junction point, and you are in Serthi or Shakti now. This the place where you get some fuel for yourself and for the bull. There is a petrol pump at Khargu or Karu as people call, around 10 kms towards Leh drive down as you have no other options, get the containers also topped up. Which is why people come to Pangong Tso from Leh, you get fuel on the way and avoid Warila route. You won't get fuel anywhere between Shakti-Pangong-Shakti and given the kind of roads driving to be done, your bull will be eating a lot of gas.
There is more to come for you all the way to Changla ~30 kms from Shakti. All ball socket joints of your body and your machine would have shaken and massaged by the time you reach Changla and trust me even military people offer you free chai there to celebrate the fact that you made it here :P.
You are at worlds 3rd highest top at an altitude of 17,588 feet.
Okay so rub your bum cheeks and get started. All the way to Pangong lake ~70 kms from there is a ride what you just had. At Pagal Nala you would have to stop to get your bull nos. registered with check post. Okay so what we came to know about this Nala and why it is called Pagal is, during certain month of the year (not sure which one) the flow of this nala flows over the bridge and flow is so intense that you can't even cross it.
It's only at 4 or 5 am in the morning i.e. before ice starts melting flow is quite mild. You will be driving through the circumference of the mountains, you feel little relaxed once you get the amazing 1st view of Pangong though therez yet a distance to be covered to reach there. There is a collection of tents and you can rent out tent or rooms in Pangong camp resort or drive all the way to Spangmik (where 3 idiots was shot) and rent out tents there, many resorts are available there also. Blue water with strong wind by the lake side makes you feel relaxed at night.
Day 10: Pangong Tso to Leh, ~200 kms.
We went on a ride to Spangmik early morning since we rented rooms on the other side. Brilliant blue water and it glistens with sunlight on it. Amazing view and we kept on clicking all the way.
We took are bulls down to the red huts and spent some time there imagining Kareena by our side :) (though she pretty ugly to me). We have met 2 more riders from Pune in Leh and they also accompanied us to Spangmik and all the way back to Leh after a group click in Spangmik.
We then left for Leh after breakfast at around 11am, a stop at Shakti again for all kind of fuel. By evening you should be in Leh, same hotel with our luggage and room. Spend the evening shopping and eating, driving jackets are quite good in Leh so pick one if you want. You can also but customized t shirts, get your map drawn on it. We got our complete route on a t shirt.
Day 11: Leh to Pang (via Taglangla, 3rd highest pass), ~200 kms
Hmm another jaunt waiting for you, top up your tank and containers. We packed all of our stuff and cleared the bill at night so we could leave early in the morning for Pang. As you keep moving up the hill towards Taglangla breath taking vivid, picturesque nature compositions awaits you, cheerz to BRO (Border Road Organisation) for maintaining the roads at such altitude. Stop at multiple places for capturing it, Taglangla altitude of 17582 feet. Marvellous views with valley on all side.
Ahead to that, Moore plains awaits to test yours and your bull strength. Be cautious in Moore plains as there is a high probability of your bull getting stuck in sand, you will almost die dragging it out if so happened.
Passing through the Pang valley and driving though mountain circumference you will be hitting Pang, highest transit base camp as per Indian army. Normally people don't stop here for the night cause of its altitude and they move to Sarchu. At Pang you will only have caboodle of tents as an option for the night. Temperature drops a lot in evening and at night so stay warm. We did meet few riders who were coming from Manali were dizzy and actually puked when they reached Pang for the night stay. We actually reached Pang quite in the evening and didn't wanted to risk so we stayed and were okay health wise except my sardar friend was feeling exceptionally cold had 3 blankets on top of his jacket layer.
I believe our decision of entering from Jammu helped us, gradual increase in altitude helped us to acclimatize better than others. Sudden increase in altitude gives you headache, makes you feel sick and dizzy which is the reason people coming from Manali stop at Sarchu only.
Day 12: Pang to Keylong, ~200 kms
Okay I am tired now, feels like I am riding with you :) and if you have gottan here reading you must be tired too. It was a sunny day and temperature had dropped a lot overnight. One doesn't even feel like going their morning ablutions :) After having 5 6 cups of tea, we started to get ready. Once we left and as day headed, mercury also made it way high. Gata loops are calling you riders. At Pang you can actually dump your oil containers if you want cause petrol pumps are then available at short distances. Passing through the valley of red sand you will be hitting Gata loops, that will take you for a spin, STRONG ADVICE you might find some trails off road as shortcuts, DO NOT take them, stay on the road and drive carefully. Well I think I forgot to mention, my fellow rider i.e. my good friend Jagga is a kind of mountain rider and drives fast and quite easily in zig zag routes. 21 hair pin bends of Gata loops didn't take much time for him to cover, by the time I made it to the bottom, he already had been waiting from last 15 min.
Sarchu around 70kms from Pang where you can stop for lunch, you are now in Himachal. At Baralacha La you will again have to stop at check post for registering yourselves. You will be passing through Suraj tal, looks amazing when Sun is falling on it, you can actually stop for a click. We got stuck at so many places as it has rained yesterday and roads had gone off.
You will be passing though Zing zing bar, Darcha and Jispa where you can stop for refreshments, and driving through narrow muddy roads you will be reaching Keylong. At Jispa you can get your tanks filled again. Only few guest houses available for stay in Keylong so move in if you got one. Nothing much to go around here so relax on your bed.
Day 13: Keylong to Manali (via Rohtang Pass), 120 kms
Left early in the morning for Manali wondering what would be the situation of Rohtang Pass cause this will one another hell of the ride of your life. All the people that we have been meeting were telling about pathetic road conditions of roads in Rohtang. Okay so we stopped for a lunch at one of the turns, don't remember the name though. It's a crossing which leads to Spiti or Lahual Spiti I believe and as I mentioned my surd friend who is a travel maniac, light grew in his eyes for planning next excursion.
Driving through the serpentine roads towards Rohtang we finally reached the top. Okay so not as a surprise but roads were quite messed up with sloppy mud all around and we could see people dragging their vehicles all the way up. Amazingly few people decided to come on scooters and Kinetic Honda, I mean can you believe that.
The 8 kms stretch felt like 800 kms to cover, wheels half inside the mud, clutch plates crying, accelerator cable all twisted and silencer roaring trying to move the loaded bull even for a meter. After 4 kms we also somehow managed to take our bull to the side and waited along with others for some help to arrive. After an hour and few cups of coffee, my nigger friend realized that it's gonna take a lot of time for the BRO people to clear the non sense, guess he was true. So we kick started our bull and for another 4 kms our Bull cried as much as possible to get us out. Finally we made out and reached Manali at around 3pm. Getting the bull checked totally was required so we went to Anu Motor works and Enfield dealer workshop, he is quite famous for his work there and is on the way to Vashist. He was a mech in Delhi before and now owns a shop there. Resting my bull at his place for a check up we decided to roam around in Manali (though we have been here twice before). Hotel was around 1500 rs for a night being an ON season. We went to old Manali and a hookah and beer to relax, guess I forgot to mentioned that my friend is a big time hookah lover and wants to open a cafe too. Well after dinner we were looking for our bed, dead tired and just crashed.
Day 14: Manali to Delhi, ~570 kms
Okay so we left at around 7am for Delhi, tired like hell now it was road to home sweet home. Riding all the way my good sardar friend bid me adieu at Chandigarh and left me all alone to cover rest till Delhi. Since roads are good I kept on riding but by the time I was in Delhi outer, my head was heavy and spinning like a football. Took half an hour stop at a tea shop and tried to relax, never the less few more kms to reach home, dog tired I was. Traffic in Delhi was exasperating me, haggard and jaded I managed to reach home. After hitting the floor that overwhelming feeling of accomplishment and triumph ran through me 'Tour de Force, Conquered the Unconquerable'
Things to carry:
1. Your vehicle papers along with PUC and insurance.
2. Spares such as clutch and race cables. Spak plug, extra tube, kick spring, proper tool kit.
3. Oil containers, 5 ltr min.
4. 1 ltr engine oil
5. Tarpal to cover your luggage and raincoat for yourself.
6. Decent point and shoot camera along with your SLR, 8 GB memory card advised. 70-300 mm camera lens.
7. Riding gears, bungee cables and tyre inflator if possible.
8. Decent balaclava, very important. Ensure that stitching is done on the side and not the front end which is on your nose. Some cheap once have this problem.
9. New, scratch free transparent visor on your helmet, to avoid glares.
10. Medicines for high altitude, nausea and dizziness (Diamox).
11. First aid kit
12. Extra shoes and jacket to spoil in the trip.
Take some crash course from your mechanic on fixing small things.
Get your bull properly checked from your mechanic, change the clutch plates, carburetor if your mechanic tells you so, get all screws tightened too.
Get your bull properly checked in Leh as that is the only place where you get proper mechanic.
Many people fix their point and shoot camera on their handle bar or helmet (accessories available in market) to record the journey, that is a good idea cause never ever in your life you will be encountering such a voyage, carry multiple memory cards then.
Smokers and alcoholics carry your quota.
Proper riding gears (jackets and boots) are good to have, at least carry knee guards and extra pair of gloves.