Wednesday, June 15, 2016

MECCA FOR BIKE RIDERS - PART 2 - LEH TO HUNDER TO LEH

DAY 6 (DAY 4 OF BIKE TRIP)
Date: 8th August 2014
Route: LehSouth PulluKhardung La TopNorth PulluKhalsarDiskitHunder 
Distance to be covered: 120 kms

We hired an Enfield standard so that we can leave behind the 4 wheeler and just ride the bikes for next 2 days. We carried 20 liters of petrol in jerry cans (There are no petrol pumps on the route except in Karu). We had 2 reasons to be super thrilled – 1. Conquering the K-Top (Khardung La Top– the highest motorable road in the world) and 2. Visiting the sand dunes at Hunder (Nubra Valley).   


Curvaceous Roads to South Pullu
The road leading out of Leh was very rustic with typical Ladakhi houses (brick & stone walls with wooden carved doors & windows.) lining up the road on one side… The road till South Pullu was in an excellent condition due to diligent maintenance by Border Roads Organization. A steady climb over the twisting road offered a panoramic view of Leh town with Stok Kangri peak in the
South Pullu in front of Stok Kangri
background. 
Huge mountains interspersed with trees and dainty ladakhi houses at the base offered an excellent view. It was very inspiring to see few cyclists riding down the K-top as it requires a lot of physical and mental strength to ride a cycle on this terrain and that too at such higher altitudes. After taking a small break
Road to K-Top
at 
South Pullu, we started our journey to conquer the K-top. Beyond this point, the roads started getting bad and climb was steep with substantial gain in altitude. The road condition started getting worse and the last few kms were really miserable. Just 2 kms before K-top, one of our bikes (rented one) stalled. We tried everything to get the bike started but with no result. Finally we had to call the rental service and asked them to come and fix our bike. Meanwhile all of us headed for K-top, with me and Atul in a mini tempo (thankfully it was passing by and agreed to take both of us to the top).

K-Top Conquered
Hurray!!! We finally reached Khardung La (Pass of Lower Castle). I felt like jumping and announcing the world about me being on the highest motorable road in the world. Over here even walking few steps was draining us out, forget about jumping. We were warmly welcomed by a soldier who offered us hot water to drink. Looking around I saw a medical post with few bunkers, Sarva Dharma Temple and
Snow Capped Mountains
Ganapati temple with prayer flags all around. It is not advisable (according to the soldiers) to stay here for more than 20-30 mins as the rarified atmosphere really hits hard. The oxygen over here is so less that it’s very common to feel nauseous, dizzy and even fainting. We were ecstatic on being here witnessing the power of nature, at the same time
Road to North Pullu as seen from K-Top
we were anxious about our stalled bike. At one point, Prasad started feeling dizzy
and had to be given oxygen immediately. While others were in the bunkers, I was enjoying the scenery which was simply stunning with the white snow-capped mountain peaks all around at almost a touching distance. I was having a gala time clicking pictures, chitchatting with other travelers and enjoying cool refreshing mountain air caressing my face. It was a rejuvenating experience. While chatting with the soldiers (who were playing carom in this freaking cold), I was shocked to hear that temperatures drop to -40o C with almost 10 ft of snowfall during winters. During the summer, temperatures hover around 20o C but the weather could suddenly turn worse and it may get bitterly cold. Hats off to the ‘Jawans’ who not only stay here but also work in these hostile environments.

Finally after almost 2 ½ hour of being on K-top, we headed down to North Pullu on the replaced rental bike. Proud of us to survive in this cold and at this altitude. As a pillion, though I was getting protected by the riders, I was shivering with cold.  I could only imagine how much more hard time the riders were having! Respect!!! The decline was lot worse than the ascent and I could feel each and every part of my body being jolted. On reaching North Pullu, seeing us in a bad condition, army people took us inside the camp and made us sit around a heater, offered us much needed coffee.

Here onwards till Khalsar the roads were again in a good condition, which was what all of us needed after the bumpy ride. Just before the bifurcation (Diskit on left and Panamik on right.), we had our dinner at around 9 pm (we had to literally plead to the owner of the hotel to open up and give us some food). Post dinner we headed for Hunder, the road was arrow straight and it was thrilling not knowing what is around us. All we could see was the road being illuminated by the headlights, the tail lights of the bike ahead of us and the moon illuminating rolling sheet of white on both the sides of the road. I didn’t know at that time that we were riding through the cold desert.

Serene White sand dunes
Finally we reached Hunder, secluded yet beautiful village sitting like an oasis in the middle of white desert in Nubra valley. This place is famous for its wide spread continuous dunes, Bactrian camels (two-humped camels found only in this region) and its breath-taking natural beauty. The tourists swarm this high altitude desert to watch the sand dunes glittering in moonlight. Our abode, Habib Guest house, was at a walking distance from the sand dunes and we were fortunate to see the surreal white sand dunes in the moon light at midnight. Awesome and a very appropriate way to end the day!!!



DAY 7 (DAY 5 OF BIKE TRIP)
Date: 9th August 2014
Route: Hunder – Khalsar – Agham – Wari La – Sakthi – Karu – Leh 
Distance to be covered: 160 kms

The moment I opened the door of our room, I was stunned by the beauty of the sand dunes and huge mountains looking down at us. Today we had to conquer the less travelled pass - Wari La (one of the toughest high altitude passes of Ladakh) I was apprehensive but what the heck… bring it on dude!!! 


Magical Land of Nubra
After having heavy breakfast we hit the road which was in good condition and we could see a vastness of sand dunes on our left. The white sand dunes, brown mountains and blue sky created a magical land before us. After Diskit the road was arrow straight with sand dunes on both the side. The view was surreal and simple WOW!!! After sometime the river took place of the sand dunes. The
Indus River
untouched,
 untainted beauty of the roads – breathtakingly beautiful vegetation along the river – everything seemed to have a tale of its own. On taking a mini break at Khalsar, we headed for Agham. The virgin beauty of Nubra Valley and traveling with like minded people was making this journey unforgettable.



Riding in extreme isolation
From Agham we took a turn for Sakthi. We took a break here to eat whatever we had coz we knew we would not be able to take a halt again if we were to reach Karu before night. Initially, the road seemed to be taking you inside a canyon but after a while the valley expands in front offering some breath-taking views. Suddenly I realized that we had not seen a single soul after crossing Agham. We were
Himalayan Marmot
just 
riding in extreme isolation of nature on our own. The mountains with snow capped peaks towards Wari La started to appear, standing tall and handsome. Initial ascent was gradual with lots of twists & turns, soon the climb started getting steeper and the riders had to put in a lot of effort to balance the bike on hairpin bends. There are just too many hair pin bends on this route. On our way to W-top we were lucky enough to see Himalayan Marmots (Belonging to the squirrel family these cuddly mammals with their squat body and short stocky limbs are swift to retreat into their burrows at the slightest hint of human approach). It was difficult to take their photos but finally few of them decided some publicity may be good for them and allowed us to take their snaps. After this point the roads started deteriorating and finally ended up being just a dirt track. Last few kms to Wari La (17400 ft), were
Dirt Track to Wari La
tricky with steep incline and rough roads making it very difficult to ride without skidding. All of us had a close escape on this stretch. The route is treacherous and the isolation along with steep incline at some place can turn up the white faces even for locals.
Eventually, we made it to the top of Wari La and feeling of excitement from nervousness jumped in… It was quite a pass, completely desolated, no one around, no shacks, nothing not even a bird to chirp. We knew our feat was commendable. The descent down from Wari La seemed to be equally tough, steep at times but the roads were comparatively better.


The roads from Sakthi were smooth so we managed to reach Karu before dark. After taking a tea break, we headed to Leh where we were dying to crash on the beds and sleep like a babies. 


DAY 8
Date: 10th August 2014
Rest at Leh


Anil Lama (Thangka Painting Shop)
This day turned out to be way different from what we had planned. Not going in much detail, we had issues with hiring taxi. Nonetheless, we got a much deserved break. Sunit bought Seabuckthorn juice, a berry which grows wild in the Spiti valley and is found in abundance along the river beds… The taste is not so amazing but it’s worth trying it…. Instead of sight-seeing we decided to shop. We bought T-shirts, Paintings, Prayer flags, souvenirs, etc, etc, etc…. After shopping we went for breakfast at café known as “My Secret Recipe”. Awesome place to eat… Later in the afternoon, while the guys went to DC office to get the permission for Chushul route, I decided to wander through the streets of LehLeh is one of the few destinations in India which is traveler friendly and charming. It’s a place which is easy to fall in love with… I could hear “Om Mani Padme Hum”, a Buddhist mantra wherever I went. The chant was captivating and it didn’t take much time to go in trance… On asking the meaning of the chant, I was told that Om represents the divine energy; Mani (Jewel) representing love & compassion; Padme symbolizes wisdom (wisdom of silence and emptiness) and Hum unifies spiritual methods with wisdom. It represents the spirit of enlightenment. Hum destroys the suffering. One of the shop keeper said that the chant signifies infinity.  Besides the colorful panel of rectangular prayer flags and the engraved rocks, this mantra travels along with you.

The best part of Ladakhi culture (according to me) is the way the natives greet you with the word “juley”, wearing a smile that comforts you to the core. Just loved it…. I got so impressed that I started saying Juley to anyone on the road, be it the natives, tourists or the shopkeepers. Just fell in love with the word… 


For dinner, we went to La Pizzeria to celebrate our successful conquering of Khardung La and Wari La… We had a nice time there and by midnight we were ready to crash on beds.      

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