Tuesday, September 28, 2010


When was the last time you thought of doing something with all your heart and soul, and went ahead and did it?

I had a dream myself, to go on a road trip from Mumbai to Leh, on my motorbike and here is my story.

The thought for a road trip came to me, when life was becoming very monotonous in Mumbai. I work for an advertising agency. Living in Mumbai is no cake walk. You sleep late and wake up early. And what happens in between is what we call… Bombaiya life. I have lived in Mumbai for almost 5 years now. Coming from a small town like Jamshedpur, it was always difficult for me to adjust to the mumbaiya lifestyle. Fast and unforgiving.

When I came up with the idea of a solo road trip, not many people encouraged me on the idea. Some were very helpful, some apprehensive and some questioned me with a 'How would you? Amidst all the YESes and NOes… I started planning for the trip. Because it is you, who has to be sure about the decision and not the naysayers. So I told to myself, come what may, I am going for it!

a road to Leh
Kashmir valley

The Pre-preparation: I fixed on a date, 6th June, 2010 for commencing my journey. When you are traveling on a motorbike and that too alone, you need to be extra cautious in your preparation. I did servicing of my bike, TVS Fiero FX 150cc, one week before I was going to leave for Leh. My bike is 6 years old hence I needed to have it checked properly. I checked my motorbike tyres, engine oil, clutch and accelerator wires, shock absorbers, tightened all the bike screws, and checked the lights and horn, and also my fuel indicator meter (very important for your journey). I changed the tubes of the tyres and kept the old ones as spares. My tyres were Ok by what the mechanic said. but if your bike is old enough, change the tyres. hy take risk? I changed the spark plug too. I kept an extra clutch and accelerator wire as spares. All the spares were kept in my bike’s dickey space. So I had to buy one of those too.

My expenses were climbing. Since I had to ride for almost 8-10 hours on an average, I had to buy comfortable clothing. I bought two track pants and a couple of boxer shorts. I already had some half sleeves soft cotton t-shirts. I realized later that I should have had some full sleeves too. My skin will never forgive me for the tan that I gave it after the trip ended :) I had to buy a raincoat cum jacket. Thermal wear, I realized the importance of it once I reached Leh. I researched about Leh and the people who have made it on a bike to Leh, on various websites, and found out about AMS (acute mountain sickness). AMS is nothing but a sense of Nausea and vomiting feeling that you get once you reach altitudes that are way above sea level. AMS happens because of decrease in oxygen level at these altitudes. So I bought some tablets. Diamox is what the websites suggested as a precautionary measure to keep you away from AMS. I bought some other medicines for loose motion, constipation, headache (Himani balm), fever (paracetamol) and dehydration (electrol). Since it was peak summer, I had to keep myself hydrated so I bought a Glucon-D packet and Odomos (for the scare of mosquitoes). I had to buy a water proof trekking bag. It was coming out to be a bit costly so I bought a normal but big trekking bag and bought a plastic cover to wrap it in case of rainfall, sasta and tikaoo, and it worked.

Other items that I carried were Sunscreen (30spf). Torch. Lighter. Rubber bands. Needle and thread. Deospray. Pair of chappals. 2 pairs of shoes.(I did a mistake not buying gum boots. They are a must in Leh.) Lots of spare plastic bags. Washing powder (small sachets). Clothes washing brush (small one). Toothpaste. Toothbrush. Tongue cleaner. Shaving kit. Some magazines or books for my spare time reading.

I had all my bike papers in place. Registration papers, Insurance and RC copy. I kept photocopies of each. I kept some passport size photographs of myself. I didn’t buy shin guard and arm guard because they were proving to be really costly. So I left that to luck and god. I had a helmet I changed its visor (very important to have a clean visor).

The Chittorgarh Fort

The journey: India is so so…. beautiful that you don’t need to visit any other country. You have everything here in India. Deserts, snow clad mountains, beaches, temples, mosques, exquisite mountain ranges, rivers, seas. You ask for it and you will find it here in India. All the nature’s creations are here in our wonderful homeland. I had never gone up north and hence I was more curious as to what nature beholds in its arms. As I traversed from Mumbai to Leh, I stopped at various man created and mostly nature created marvels and couldn’t believe my eyes at the magnificence of the structures.

So it finally came. The day I was waiting for! 6th June 2010. Everything was set. I had a sound sleep and woke up by 4am. Took bath, dressed up, and prayed to god. Got down in my building basement, where my bike was standing. I tied up the luggage. I had two bags. One was carrying all the clothes and stuff, and the other carrying some snacks, bike papers and my camera (Canon 1000D). I started from Mumbai by 5am. It is very important to start early to avoid traffic. I was very happy I was singing with the audience being the highway and my bike. The roads were empty. After half and hour or so… I touched the highway. It was dark no doubt. I could smell the freshness of the air. I had made some rules before the trip that I would not drive in the night, would drink mostly mineral water and would drive at a safe speed evaluating the traffic and road condition. I was driving at a good speed. Everything was going as planned. I was enjoying the ride. The traffic was minimal. I zipped passed through the highway roads. My first halt for the day was Udaipur. A beautiful city no doubt. I reached there by 11pm in the night. I was really tired. Took the hotel room. 850Kms on day one. Not bad. I congratulated myself and slept like kumbhkaran.

Got up early the next morning and it was drizzling. Went to Udaipur city palace. In the wee hours, around 7:30 am. With some luck from the palace guards I could see the palace from outside. They were guarding my bike, that was outside the palace. I left my luggage to someone else’s mercy! But they were good people so I wasn’t that much worried. I saw the lake palace. But there was no trace of the lake surrounding the palace! None the less. The city of Udaipur is very beautiful. I headed for Jaipur but on the way I saw Chittorgarh bypass… it was not in my schedule but I said… might as well have a look. I turned my bike and went to the Chittorgarh fort. And I would have cursed myself if I wouldn’t have seen the palace. Its amazing! Spectacular. A man made marvel. A 7km long fort with a whole village inside the fort. The walls surrounding the fort overpowers your imagination and is very intimidating.

From Chittorgarh I went to Jaipur. Reached there by 6pm. Searched for a hotel, a little tedious process, and stayed there. I didn’t ride that much on the second day. About 450Kms but did a lot of sight seeing.

I loved Jaipur like anything. The people are sweet and so is the city. The pink city in every way is Pink. Most of the city walls are pink. A little congested though but the city carries a sense of heritage in it. I went to see the Hawa mahal. It is in every sense of the word floating in air. A beautiful man made structure again. The city palace and Jantar mantar doesn’t open before 10am so I had to wait. I passed some time having some mouth watering Parathas! Yummy.

I went to see Jantar Mantar. It’s fantabulous! India is so rich in its history and its educationists were so brilliant, that you have to see Jantar Mantar to believe there educational supremacy. NASA scientist should come here to see our desi inventions dating thousands of years back. Then I went to see the city palace. Absolute brilliance! I will keep on using these adjectives in my write-up; otherwise I won’t have any words to explain the places. Ha ha. The maharajas of Rajasthan seriously had an eye for grandeur. Everything that they made was grandeur. I saw the Amer fort in Jaipur. The walls of the fort made me think of the Great Wall of China. You have to see it to believe!

From Jaipur I went straight to New Delhi. I had given too little time sightseeing Jaipur. I resolved to visit again. You just couldn’t get your eyes full with the magnificence of the city.

As I reached Delhi I came across the worst traffic during my travel. I had a friend in Delhi. So I stayed over there for the night (thanks Sagar) and took the next day off from driving. Did my bike servicing, saw old Delhi, traversed in the Delhi metro and had a good night’s sleep. I wanted to visit Delhi on my way back from Leh, which never happened unfortunately. Delhi is so huge that you need atleast two day to see the city in totality. But I didn’t had time. So I had to move towards Leh.
From Delhi I went to Amritsar. Took a hotel and went straight to the Wagah border. It was a heart touching moment to see the Pakistan border at such proximity. Both the sides of the border were filled with slogans of Bharat zindabad and Pakistan zindabad. You feel a sense of nostalgia and feel very proud to be an Indian. I also felt very emotional seeing both the countries, which were once united, being divided now. All the people who gave there lives during the partition, the train to Pakistan and all those images just runs past your mind. Images that you have seen through books, movies etc. just make you all the more emotional.

There were more than 1000 people in the stands watching the combined parade by the BSF and the Pakistani army personnel. The Wagah border is a celebration of freedom, and at the same time it’s also a bridge between the two nations, that are united with soul but divided by borders.

I went back to my hotel room and took a little rest. And then went on to see the Golden temple. In the night, the reflection of gold in the water looks stunning. I did a darshan of the guru granth sahib in the night itself. The temple is a work of art. I visited it in the morning again. In the morning the temple gives different hues of gold and blue mixed together. I then went on to see the Jallianwala bagh. I just can’t explain the feeling. I hated Brigadier General Dyer all the more. I wanted to be a revolutionary myself and born in the same era and wanted the opportunity to kill Dyer.

I saw the Well were many women and children jumped, to save themselves from the murderer Dyer. It is covered with fencing now. You can also see the gunshots across the garden walls in Jallianwala bagh.

It was a very emotional experience.

I moved on with my journey to Jammu and Kashmir. As I entered J&K I was greeted by wonderful landscapes and beautiful mountain ranges. I halted at Batote, a small village in the J&K valley. The mountains are full of pine trees and the roads are also good to ride. I experienced first sense of cold here so I bought a pair of gloves and sweater.

I went from Batote to Sonamarg, crossing through Dal Lake. I didn’t stay over at Srinagar because it is a sensitive area and I didn’t want to take risk. Remember I am traveling alone! I took an overnight halt at Sonamarg, another small village amidst the snow fed mountains. Kashmir is heaven- Jannat hain. No doubt about it. The land is so fertile that I can’t put it in words. You see snow fed mountains, rivers flowing in the valley. Pine trees all along. So much of vegetation. Flowers blooming everywhere. Wonderful people. In Bihar and Jharkhand we see cows and buffaloes grazing the fields. I saw Horses grazing on those beautiful snow fed mountains! It’s a picture to be put as your desktop wallpaper. Absolutely breathtaking!

After Sonamarg it’s a difficult terrain for a biker. I was greeted by bad roads, thin snow fed roads. Muddy roads. No roads at all! I drove through Zoji la Pass which is considered a very difficult road for bikers. Due to ice melting on the mountains small pot holes develop on the roads. So you have to cross those potholes. If your feet go into those pot holes you will feel the icy water in your feet. So you should carry lots of socks to keep on changing (remember i didn't had Gum boots!). These pot holes are called naalas by bikers. Either you tie a plastic bag around your shoes or have gum boots to prevent it from getting wet. Your shouldn’t ride in with wet feet or there is a scare of contracting feet frost. Where your skin comes out due to excessive moisture in your feet. This was just the beginning. The Srinagar-Leh route has lesser number of Naalas then the Manali-Leh route, which supposedly has some 80 odd Naalas! I passed through Drass and Kargil. The view was getting breathtaking at every corner. I wanted to stop at every turn and take pictures with my camera. But I had to reach a destination and I couldn’t stop everywhere. Lesson learnt: Have ample time if you are a photography enthusiast. You can’t do both biking and photography and keeping up with the schedule at the same time or carry a small pocket digital camera with you, so that you can click random pictures.

Time seems to have come to a standstill. I am getting lost in the mountains. I am feeling very small in front of Mother Nature. The expanse of the mountain ranges is beyond my imagination. I am riding there amazed by the huge mountain ranges. I can hear the breeze. I opened up my helmet’s visor to breathe the fresh air of the mountains. On my way I saw Tiger hill, the place where the Kargil war was fought. You could never believe that a war is fought at such an altitude. Its snow fed and beautiful to look at.

I had a night halt at Lamayuru, a small village in J&K, popularly known for its monastery. I was just 120 kms from Leh. But night driving is strictly disallowed in the mountain terrain for a lonely biker. The roads are pretty bad and there are landslides in the night. And you can never predict the weather in such areas. It might become quite cold in the nights and the temperatures dropping below zero degrees centigrade or you might encounter rainfall.

I went to the monastery in the morning after taking bath and doing my morning chores. It’s a decent looking monastery. Then I went ahead towards Leh. My destination was getting nearer by the Kilometer as my bike was traversing the distance.

The road after Lamayuru was in pathetic condition and the rains spoilt the driving experience further. I saw landslides happening in the mountains. A decent size rock fell just near my bike. I was fortunately taking shelter below a out-stretched mountain creek. The road work was going on in those areas. I was fortunate to have no punctures during my trip. The only thing I scared throughout the trip was a puncture. Because I wasn’t carrying a puncture kit with me. And in those areas where there is little or no habitat for many kilometers at a stretch, you are at the mercy of your luck. In case anything happens then you have to wait for a truck or army vehicle to pass and ask them for help. But fortunately for me, I didn’t face any problem.

After some 20-25 Kms of bad roads, it was getting better. After another 20 Kms I came across one of the the best highway roads in the country. NH1D. It was just beautiful roads dissecting the mountains. After Nimmu you see the magical mountains known as Magnetic Mountain. It is said that if you put your vehicle on this road, the vehicle starts moving on its own, without ignition. It is said to defy all the laws of gravity. I put my vehicle on the area marked for experimentation but nothing happened. I moved on. The valley looks so mystical. Leh is full of mountains. You name any size, color or type. You will find it in Leh. The valley starts attracting you and you feel as if you are going to get absorb into the mountains. You can see the earth and sky meeting at the horizon. You get so intimidated by the whole view that it is hard to define in mortal words. You see the Indus valley in its full magnificence. Your eyes will just see mountains everywhere.

I salute the creator of this land. God is the greatest creator. No doubt. He has given so much... and all for free. He has created so much for all of us to see. The mere sight of the Indus valley sooths your mind and body. Finally I reached Leh. My journey from Mumbai to Leh had already taken 9 days with a day off at New Delhi. Because I needed to stay in Leh for almost 4 days, I found an economical hotel near the main market for Rs.300 a day. Paul guest house. I just rested for a while, but when I looked at my watch, that while was already 5 hours and it was 10pm in the night. I think it was because of the feeling of nausea. I just wanted to sleep.

In Leh for going to places like Nubra valley, Tso Moriri and Pangong Tso Lake you need to take permits. Because these areas are sensitive and touch the China and Pakistan borders.
So you need to keep a day for getting the Permits from the DC office, and at the same time you can do some local sight seeing. I went to see the Hemis and Thikshey Monasteries. The Buddhist monasteries carry a lot of heritage and culture in it. I also went on to see the Shanti stupa, the Leh palace and the Shey palace, which are in tatters and not that picturesque. I just loved the Thikshey monastery. It’s surrounded by mountains. And is such a beautiful monastery to look at.

The city of Leh is very crowded and everything comes for a price. It’s really costly. The markets are filled with souvenir items, but it comes for a high price. You have to bargain a lot but you will never know the correct price to bargain it for.

The next day I planned to go to Pangong Tso lake, the 3 idiots movie lake. I started early, a mistake, because it had snowed the previous night. The road had become very dangerous for commute. 4-5kms before reaching the beautiful Chang la Pass (17586 fts. above sea level) I saw ice on the road. My bike skidded and I fell on the road. My first fall of the trip. I didn’t get hurt that much but nature was telling me to not go any further. I saw my tyres and it was in bad shape. The treads had started to wear off in the rear tyre and the middle portion of the tyre had smoothened and become flat. Under no circumstance I could have made it to Pangong lake with those tyres. It was a big setback. It had started to snow and you never know what the condition will be in Chang la and after that. And how will be the road condition? Most of the four wheelers were also facing the same problem of their tyres skidding. Some put chains around the tyres and made it run and some returned back to Leh. While inspecting the condition of the bike I spoke to an army brigadier who was traveling with his family. He had a army vehicle, a 4x4 Tata Safari. While I was speaking to him, he strictly advised me to not go any further in this condition. He offered me a proposition that I couldn't resist. He told me to leave the bike their itself and come along with them, since they were also going to Pangong Tso. I locked the bike and left it in the mountains! I went along with them in their vehicle. The brigadier had a son who was a little younger to me. We became good friends. And throughout the journey we shared a great rapport. We reached Pangong Tso and couldn’t believe my eyes at nature’s creation. It was the most scenic place of my trip. It’s absolutely beautiful. It looks as if a painter has put some ink in the water and painted the sky and water with magnificent blue. You will see different hues of blues. The shadows on the mountains keep on changing due to the clouds which play with them and the reflection of the mountains on the water is spellbinding. It’s magical! But we had to return the same day so we left after spending about an hour there. But it is highly recommended that if you go to Pangong Tso. You must stay there to experience the real beauty of the place. When I came back (around 5pm) my bike was still standing in the mountains. I started the bike. Bid goodbye to the army family. Exchanged phone numbers and left for Leh, back to my hotel.

I saw a set of other bikers coming back from Pangong Lake. The trick to biking in those condition is to start late in the day, so that the snow melts and you have a good road to travel on. No tyre, whichever make, can guarantee you a ride on snow.

The weather had started to deteriorate and there were spells of rain and snow in the Nubra valley so it was closed for a day. The forecast was more snowfall in the following 4 days and so I said this is it. My trip had to end like this. I missed out on going to Khardung La, the highest motorable road in the world, due to bad weather. So I need to come again to Leh to achieve that feat on a bike. Every bikers dream is to conquer that feat but I couldn’t do it. I was disheartened and the Leh weather was also taking its toll on me. I was feeling a sense of loneliness in Leh and wanted to go back. |I changed my rear tyres in Leh for my back journey. I started the next day for Jammu and had an overnight stay at Drass. Hotels in Drass were really pathetic. The worst hotels of the trip. Except the JKTDC hotel which was reasonably good. But all the rooms were booked. I made friends with one biker uncle who was from Chandigarh, he was traveling with his younger brother from Leh. Uncle was 56 years old. Can you believe a biker that age… on those difficult mountains? Uncle was worried about his fuel getting over. So I told him to take 1 litre from me since I had fuel. So he offered me to stay with them for the night. It was the cheapest stay of my Trip. I just paid Rs.100 for the night in Drass.

The next morning we started together. We had now become good friends and you should have seen Raj Sharma uncle riding through Zoji la Pass, mind blowing! Hats off to him for being such a sport. I have met very few people with such kind of will power and passion for biking. He drove for some time and then gave it to his younger brother who was also a good biker. We drove together through Sonamarg, Srinagar and then to Batote. I stopped at Batote for a night halt. They had to go to Udhampur. We parted ways, exchanged numbers. I took their photographs. Took blessings of Uncle and bid them goodbye. I stayed at the same hotel in Batote where I stayed in my onward journey. The owner was an ex-army man and a very kind man. The hotel name was Hill View. He also became good friends with me. My journey was coming to an end. On 20th June I reached Jammu from where I had a ticket to Tatanagar. I parceled my bike from Jammu to Mumbai, where my friend picked it up. Thanks Chinu. And I boarded the train, Jammu Tawi –Tata express to Jamshedpur on 22nd June and reached Jamshedpur on 24th June. It was very hot in Jammu and I had a total climate change from extreme cold to extreme hot. I scared for the worse. But fortunately nothing happened.

I will remember this trip for a long time. It will always have a special place in my heart. I spent more then Rs.25000 on my trip but it was worth every penny and the experience was priceless. I saw India in a new light. The rivers and mountains that I always read in the textbooks, I saw it all in reality. I traveled alongside the rivers. Made friends with nature. Saw 3 seasons on the way. Challenged myself to do something which not many people think of doing.

The journey made me believe that if you can dream it, you can do it. Don’t let others bother you with their negativity. Make your own path. Traverse them and let others follow it. Explore the world and in doing so you will explore yourself. Your strengths and weaknesses. Your true self. Traveling made me feel that I am alive. There is so much to see in this world. Go out and explore. Get out of your cubicles. The four walls of your office. Get away from the same 9-5 job. Tell your boss to shut up and take a vacation and explore something new.

I would like to give a special thanks to my family and friends who supported me. Thanks Dad. Mala. Kunu. Mohit. And lastly My bike... without which i couldn't have done this - My TVS Fiero Fx. It gave me no trouble whatsoever.

This blog post if just an extract/ synopsis. I can write pages on the experiences that I had. Maybe the pictures in the blog will sum up the trip for me. Hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed riding it. Please post in your comments. Thankyou.
The Hawa Mahal, Jaipur
The City Palace, Jaipur
The Jantar Mantar, Jaipur
The Jantar Mantar, Jaipur
Rickshaw puller relaxing, Old Delhi
The Golden Temple, Amritsar
The Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar
Immersed in faith, Amritsar
The Wagah Border
The River RaviBatote, Kashmir

Sonamarg, Kashmir
The Lamayuru Monastery, Lamayuru
The Thiksey Monastery, Leh
Magnetic Hill, Leh
The Pangong Tso lake, Leh
Click on the pictures to enlarge and download.