It was a unanimous suggestion from whoever we discussed the matter with that Leh-Kargil should be the first bike trip one should do post getting acclimatized to the Ladakhi climate.
Blue woke the Crusaders up and I decided to make tea for everyone. Due to the obvious scarcity of cows and maybe other logistic issues, milk was almost a scarce resource. Milk powder was the common substitute used all over the region. I am neither a fan of milk powder tea nor a fan of boasting about myself, but that morning’s tea was one of my personal bests.
Off we went for our first Ladakh biking expedition, with all our biking gears set and luggage packed up tight. There is a curious case of Pete’s big red bag but we will talk about it when the incident comes.
We took an initial halt in the market to buy cans for reserve petrol and also at the only petrol pump in town to get our tanks filled up, and the crusaders took off.
I was obviously the pillion rider but the feel was amazing. It was exactly like the pictures we had seen on the net. Big barren mountains, wilderness on both sides, and miles and miles of tar road ahead.
All of us were so engrossed in enjoying the maiden Ladakh bullet ride, taking photos in the Ladakh wilderness, that we didn’t think about time and distance which lay ahead to be covered before sunset.
It was only at our first halt at a tea stall in the middle of nowhere that we realized that we needed to buckle up and hit the gas because afternoon was coming on to us and we were not even halfway.
And hit the gas we did!
A little too literally in the case of Captain.
So I was initially pillion to Hotshot, who according to my post trip analysis was the most sound rider to ride along with. Then I was moved to sit with Blue, who wanted me to make things interesting so we started playing songs on his JBL speakers. So we four- me and Blue on one of the bikes and Pete, Maverick on the other were riding in tandem with Captain’s bike being way far ahead of us. The roads were smooth so all of us were enjoying the ride and the speed when we saw Captain, Hotshot bent worriedly over there Bullet. We could see drag marks of tyre on the road and sensed something was off.
Apparently Captain was enjoying the ride and the speed a little too much. And at a point in road he had to hit the brakes really hard for a stop, and the brake got jammed into that static state.
We were stuck.
It was afternoon, we had not had food and we have still not covered much distance, close to 120 kms were yet to be covered.
We needed to find a mechanic. There was a tyre shop and a small restaurant ahead where Hotshot and I waited, meanwhile Maverick and Blue went to Khaltsi, a town we just passed to look for a mechanic.
It was a painstakingly long over an hour wait at the restaurant for us where we dealt with some nosey Kashmiri locals. During this time we later heard that finding a mechanic was not happening the way we all expected. Finally few armed forces personnel helped us with some jugaad techniques.
Everyone was frustrated, tired, hungry and in a state what we call “BT”.
We quickly rode out planning to go non-stop till whatever time we can.
We traversed huge expanse of really high barren mountains, and stretches of wilderness before entering the region of Kargil. The region was fairly greener and more populated than other places. But now the setting sun was beating down on us making it extremely difficult to see the road. This time I was behind Maverick who usually paid very less attention to ride quality.
You know there is a common observation, when you feel like using a urinal the pressure on the bladder is moderate, but as you approach the urinal which if by chance is at a distance then by the time you finally relieve yourself the pressure on the bladder reaches an unbearable level.
Same happens on trips with the highway milestones. As you approach your destination the fatigue, excitement and everything together takes toll on your minds. Such was the last stretch of 20 kms approaching Kargil. As soon as a toll booth around 8kms outside Kargil city stopped us we all just parked the bullets and dropped dead on the tables of a nearby tea stall.
This was when one of the biggest downsides of bike rides hit us.
Pain in the ass!!
230 kilometres of ride and our whole body was creaking in unspeakable languages.
The next half an hour reaching the Kargil 0km milestone and finding a decent place to crash in for the night was a rush because it was already dark and we were tired.
The image what Kargil name brings to the minds of most of us Indians is very very different from what Kargil city actually looks like. But we were never really were in the mood to enjoy beauty of Kargil city at that point of time and we got another bomb dropped into our laps.
KARGIL- DRASS- KARGIL – LEH
So crossing the bridge over Suru river we stopped short at the first decent lodge we saw. It was night and we wanted a cheap place to crash. Few minutes of negotiations by Captain and Blue, and we were on the beds within minutes. But the bomb was still exploding in our laps and minds, and we had to sort out dinner plans too.
The bomb was that the only “thing” to watch in Kargil, the second largest city in Ladakh after Leh, was the Kargil Memorial, which was located in Drass, 60 kms away from where we were at that moment. For bunch of guys who have rode 220 kms on bike from Leh, 60 more kms should not have been a big deal, but thanks to our college for enrolling only bright minds of the country, all of us were quick to figure out that it would mean additional 120 kms above the existing 220kms which we would need to cover tomorrow before sun down to reach Leh.
I wasn’t very sure about others but I was pissed like hell. On this, on my body, the fact that I can’t ride, on these people for dragging me to this trip, on basically everything.
Someone suggested we walk to the market and have something to eat. It was a bad idea.
Kargil might have been the second largest city but it was nowhere lit or lively as Leh. We walked through the dark roads for some distance but then decided to drop the plan. Fortunately right opposite to our lodge was one of the luxury hotels of Kargil, and yes it also had a restaurant where we could dine.
Post an year at Gurgaon’s Cyber Hub and Sector 29, the rates at the restaurant didn’t appear too premium to us. Only thing which kept reminding us of the place being pricey was the presence of a large NRI bunch from London.
The SIM boys did some “bhaav”-eating -something which I will keep using throughout the trip.
But the lodge had wi-fi and their phones didn’t have good connectivity so guess who had a good laugh.
Maverick was the one who was pushing for visiting a few local spots before we went to Drass in the morning, so everyone expected him to get ready first, but well things don’t always go according to plans.
Finally we planned to just visit the Plateau-nath Baba Mandir in the morning.
The place was where an old priest lived in his small hut and worshipped Lord Shiva. It is believed that during 1971 war a few Pakistan bomb-shells fell near the hut but none of them exploded. And when the priest threw them into the stream below, they all exploded, making the locals treat the place like a wonder.
My only issue with the place- I had to visit the temple without taking bath.
Anyways “Har har Mahadev!”.
We had some grand breakfast and quickly started our journey to Drass.
I was pillion to Hotshot who was my favorite rider. He was usually safe, cautious, and easy to talk up. But this time I was not sure whether he was rushing because the road was awesome or because he thought we needed to maintain a steady speed to make it back to Leh in time.
The route from Kargil to Drass was actually the highway to Srinagar, and it was as beautiful as it can get. It was nothing like the wilderness of Ladakh. We could feel ourselves approaching the green beauty of the Kashmir valley. By the time we reached the memorial situated on the foot of Tololing hill, we were actually contemplating changing the plans and moving on to Sonmarg which was just less than 100kms from there, on the way to Srinagar.
Kargil War Memorial
No words can describe what we felt there. It was built in the memory of the great Kargil War of 1999, and after our visit we could feel the pain millions of Indians would have felt during the time of war. It was not just pain, we felt pride, immense respect and along with all this a pinch of sadness and guilt on the thought that the ones who sacrificed their lives are not given their dues. The losses and causalities the country endured just defending its lands, were they worth it?
Again, no words can describe what we felt there.
It was close to noon and we started our long 290km journey back to Phandey House. We literally rode like it was a race against time.
We bid adieu to the city of Kargil, and now we (at least I) had brief time to really take a good look at the beautiful town as we went uphill away from it.
On the banks of Suru river just below the glacier ice tops, Kargil was a green and gorgeous place. One of the few things we noticed while driving through the bustling market was that the population of the town was pre-dominantly Muslim, unlike most parts of Ladakh which were Buddhist ladakhi people.
Hurrying through the town Hotshot and I missed the point where we were supposed to halt. Hotshot was riding at a different level and once we realized we missed it we had to make a stop to ensure the others were not looking for us.
We made good distance at steady speed when we took the next break around lunch time. Logically we should have had lunch but we were all tense about being stuck in the mountains when its dark, so we planned to stop only at Khaltsi next.
Khaltsi; it will be always etched in our memories because this is where Captain jammed his breaks when we were going up and now this was going to be the place we were gonna drop dead.
We already had driven around 200kms for the day and the asses of most guys were baked up like hell. Especially folks like me who were pillion riders for the whole time. It was somewhere just before climbing the last hill before Khaltsi that I asked Maverick behind whom I was seated to stop the bike.
Maverick was one of those who gave least importance to ride quality, and riding seated behind him was always a pain. But this time it was agony. I got down from the bike and I could feel my whole body screaming out. Captain and Hotshot stopped their bike, and approached us.
“What happened? Are you all right?”
“It is hurting. It is hurting a lot!”, and I started weeping all over the place.
Took some lying on the road and stuff for me to recuperate, but we sure did move on.
We reached Khaltsi by early evening. Six dead bodies stretched out on a random dhaba at the edge of the town. We took a long haul, ate, drank and gathered up whatever was left of ourselves.
We genuinely thought that we had maintained good speed and would avoid at least travelling on hilly terrains once it gets dark. But we were slightly off target.
We rode an hour almost in dark, on the hills. It was dangerous but the stars we saw that night. It was better than any video of beautiful night skies we see on Discovery Channel. It was glorious and mesmerizing, but we had to keep our eyes on the road because it was pitch dark.
We made it back to Leh. This was just the beginning of the adventures that lay ahead I guess.