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Capital: New Delhi
Area: 3,287,263 km²
Population: 135.26 Crores
Language: Hindi, English, regional
Currency: Indian Rupee (INR)
Road Length: ~4,320,000 km
Road Details: The Road network of India is the second-largest road network in the World with a total length of around 4,320,000 kilometres. The Indian road network consists of 1000 km -Expressways, 79,243 km -National Highways, 1,31,899 km -State Highways and Other major district and rural roads. Embracing a whopping length of 6,373 km of National Highways and a road network of 150,876 km, Rajasthan, India’s largest state, has the longest road length in India.
Roadtrip name: The Ladakh dream
Distance: ~2,500 kms
Route and Map:
Delhi > Manali > Atal Tunnel > Shinku La > Gumbok Rangan > Phuktal Monastery > Padum > Singe La > Leh > Chang La > Pangong Tso > Leh > Tanglang La > More Plains > Sarchu > Atal Tunnel > Manali > Delhi
Ride on: Left side
Metric System: Speed is in km/h and temperature in Degrees Celsius. Fuel is measured in litres.
Machine: Indian FTR 1200 (2019): 1,203cc | 120+ bhp | 117 Nm | kg (kerb)
Travelling has been getting easier and easier since COVID has waned off, sort of. We, at xBhp, have done the #roadTripUnited since, but there was something of an itch that needed to be scratched. For a motorcyclist, it is very difficult to stay away from Ladakh for too long. So when it was decided that we were going to take up the pilgrimage yet again, it was time to settle on a motorcycle. Among the ones we had in the xBhp Garage, our eyes went to the Indian FTR 1200 straight away.
We have ridden the Indian FTR 1200 extensively and we know how capable it is. But Ladakh is a place that can bring the best of machines down to their knees. Regardless of the machine you choose, Ladakh is a gamble. But after nearly 2,600 km of riding in every condition imaginable, we can say that the FTR 1200 was not a gamble, far from it!
The ride included cruising on the highways for which the Indian FTR 1200 offers all one can ask for. Loads of power, loads of stability, engaging yet comfortable ergonomics and most importantly, cruise control! No matter how much you love to ride, highways can be exhausting. On the Indian FTR 1200, Cruise Control has been implemented flawlessly. And it is very easy to use as well. Get to the desired speed, and with two clicks on the switchgear, you are ready to cruise in control.
For the most part, we locked it to around 80 km/h and the FTR 1200 does not even break a sweat at that pace. The engine is nice and relaxed, with negligible vibrations, and a smooth rumble emanating from the exhaust that not only keeps you alert but also keeps you in the loop in terms of the dollops of power that your right-hand controls.
After the highways, we were greeted with twisties. The suspension of the FTR 1200 is supple enough for the roads but in the corners, it really comes into its own. It lets you attack corners like a motorcycle much more focussed. The handling is predictable and the brakes are just stellar, should you encounter something untoward. We have always been all praises for how the fantastic geometry and chassis design have come together to provide one with perhaps the most deceptively good handlers available in the market.
After the smooth tarmac, what awaited us is perhaps one of the most gruesome tests of both man and machine. As we neared Ladakh, there were no roads for kilometres on a stretch. The path was treacherous with dust and gravel dotted with many water crossings. Steep inclines and declines. Even the well-made roads here were narrow and serpentine, lined with rocky mountains on one side and canyons on the other.
The Indian FTR 1200 is not an outright adventure motorcycle and yet again, a deceptive one. It is not a razor-sharp corner carver either but it did very well and it was the same story when we did not have tarmac to cling to. You just switch the ABS on the rear end off and go for it!
The grunt from the engine is enormous and once you get a hang of arresting and controlling the slides, all you need to do is to give it some beans to go sideways. And it can do it in Rain and Road modes too! So imagine what the Sport mode did! The latter two modes do have a bit more intervention from the traction control system which keeps up with your shenanigans but it can be switched off too. And that is when the Indian FTR 1200 really comes into its own- the raw and visceral motorcycle it was meant to be, unbound from the shackles of electronics.
All in all, the Indian FTR 1200 is a capable motorcycle. But as we spend more time with it and push it more and more, we keep falling in love with it again and again. And as we have said earlier, it is not the jack of all trades. It is nearly an ace of all trades in the right hands.
For a long time, I have wanted to ride to Ladakh. It is a pilgrimage for most bikers and it is the creed of bikers that dictates this. Every biker needs to ride to Ladakh once. For me, it was not just the ride. Being a photographer and a videographer, I wanted to capture the essence of Ladakh and what it means to be a part of that landscape. Finally, at xBhp, I got the chance to do so.
Initially, it was planned that I would take my own motorcycle there. But that plan changed quickly. The xBhp Garage is home to some of the finest motorcycles out there but there was one that was begging to be ridden to Ladakh. Or maybe it was me who projected that wish of mine upon the motorcycle. Indian FTR 1200- Indian Motorcycle’s street tracker.
I had heard about its ballistic performance quite a few times. Then, all of that hearsay was substantiated once I got to ride it. After that first brush, I was sure that this was the motorcycle that I was going to take to Ladakh and realize my dream! Though it would need some work to be ready for perhaps the most arduous ride that it had seen, it had everything I needed to make the most of my time there.
The work it needed was mostly utilitarian. Adding some structures for it to be able to support stuff like phone mounts and luggage. And some safety bits such as frame protectors and swingarm protectors. The folks at Zana Motorcycles did a fantastic job of fitting the FTR 1200 with everything I needed for this trip. So, the destination was set, the itinerary was decided, and the motorcycle was ready. It was time to go!
Delhi to Manali
The first day involved riding from Delhi to Manali- around 600 km of tarmac, for the most part. All in all, a fitting test to see if the Indian FTR 1200 can go the distance. It did and how! Up till Chandigarh and slightly beyond, we had smooth highways. The FTR 1200 was not only quick, smooth, and stable, but also equipped with something that is a boon on long-stretches of highways- Cruise Control. That combined with a roomy seat and comfortable ergonomics, I didn’t even notice the hundreds of kilometres that went by.
Nothing is perfect though and the FTR 1200 is no exception. Though stellar in the performance department, the relatively small fuel tank meant that I had to refuel around every 200 or so km. But that can be forgiven because the Indian FTR 1200 is not exactly a tourer, even if it does so well at being one.
As soon as the straight roads gave way to serpentine mountain roads, another aspect of the Indian FTR 1200 shined; handling. It is such a steady and sorted motorcycle that muscling it around the bends feels sublime. The wide handlebars provide a lot of leverage. Combined with the chassis, suspension, and geometry, it makes the Indian FTR 1200 a very communicative and wonderful handler.
Another thing that I noticed on the way to Manali was the attention this motorcycle gets. The Indian FTR 1200 is a beautiful motorcycle but more than that, it is the uniqueness and its characteristic exhaust note that grabs people’s attention. From roads to fuel bunks, eyeballs were something this motorcycle was never short of. After reaching Manali, I decided to get some rest because the next day, the real journey was going to start!
Manali to Gumbok Rangan
The plan for the day was to visit Gumbok Rangan and ride there via Shinku La. The day’s ride also included crossing the Atal Tunnel. As usual, there was heavy traffic before the tunnel and this was where I felt the weight of the luggage a bit. And this is one of the problems with finely tuned and purpose-built motorcycles. Add-ons tend to mess with their carefully crafted geometry. But as soon as we picked up some pace, the dollops of torque from the engine took care of everything.
After riding through the 9 km of the tunnel, I was pleasantly surprised. It was like a whole different world on the other side. The traffic is minimal, the surroundings are beautiful and the quality of the roads is amazing. With a green valley on the left and mountains on the right, riding does not get much better than this. These were my thoughts so far but as you can guess, it was going to get even better.
Up till Tandi, I thoroughly enjoyed the ride but there, I had to get the motorcycle refuelled and also load up the jerry cans with fuel since there were no petro pumps ahead till Padum. I was carrying two extra jerrycans with 8 litres of fuel each to have a backup in case the petrol stations were far apart. After refuelling the motorcycle and a bit of rest, I was back on the road.
Darcha, the real adventure began- the real adventure of Zanskar. As the tarmac ceased to exist in many places and the rawness of the landscape took over, the ride became even more exciting. The road from Manali to Darcha was more or less good but as the altitude increased, rough patches on the road became more commonplace.
I am happy to report that the suspension of the Indian FTR 1200 took everything in its stride. They went down along with the quality of the roads but it was fun. But the last 50 km till Gumbok Rangan were truly treacherous. During this journey, the elevation of the roads goes up to 16,580 ft at Shinku La. The real trouble was getting down because the declines are steep as you head down towards the Gumbok Rangan valley.
Another issue was that by the time I reached Shinku La, it was quite late. Now, the later you reach the more melting ice you find on the road. This translates to water crossings and mud on the road which gets really, really difficult to deal with in some areas. While the Brembo brakes on the FTR 1200 do a stellar job, I could tell that the ABS was having to work overtime to keep the motorcycle from sliding too much.
The added weight also increased the level of difficulty. After covering the first 20 of the last 50 km to Gumbok Rangan, I thought that the worst was past me. The last 30 km proverb otherwise. Big boulders and water-crossings were a common sight and worse yet, it was freezing cold. But I expected this and therefore, I made sure that I was well-equipped. Rynox H2GO socks came to my rescue as they kept my feet both dry and warm. It took me 2 hours to finally make it to God’s mountain but it was well worth it.
After a few pictures of the motorcycle in front of the beautiful mountain, it was time to get some rest. The stay in Gumbok Rangan was fun. It is a remote area but very beautiful. It was mostly undiscovered for a long time but as more and more people get to know about it, more of them decide to visit.
As tourism grew, the options to stay the night have improved as well. Initially, there was not a lot that one could do but now there are a few options for camping. So while staying here is possible, camping at 17,450 ft is not for everyone. I was doing alright but the dark clouds that were taking over the sky looked ominous. And as I wondered about what it would be like if it started to snow, it did. The temperature made it a little difficult but then, it was nothing I did not expect.
Gumbok Rangan to Phuktal Monastery
After the stay in Gumbok Rangan, the next place to visit on my list was Phuktal Monastery, the oldest monastery in the Zanskar region. It is nearly 2,500 years old and therefore, it was a must-visit place for me. I started my ride a little late. I only had 35 km up to Dolma campsite. The road till Dolma, or the lack of it, was mostly off-roading but it was a rather straight road.
This is where I decided to push the FTR 1200 a little more and see the other side. I set the power mode to Standard and switched the ABS off on the rear wheel. And what a transformation the motorcycle underwent! Its character completely changed and it was almost like a rally bike now. The Dunlop DTR-3 tyres were good on the tarmac but just as good off it. Be it the suspension or the chassis or the brakes; the FTR 1200 was unbelievably fast on these kinds of roads.
By the time I reached the campsite, it was time for lunch. So I did that and then left to visit the monastery right after. The trek is roughly 3 km up and the same down. It takes around 5-6 hours to complete (both ways) but that depends on your walking speed as well. But if you do decide to take it up, it is going to be one of the most memorable treks in your life.
Before that though, you have to ride for 5 km from the campsite to the starting point of the trek. The road was evil. It was one of the most difficult roads I have ever ridden on, on this trip and in my life. The trek itself was moderately difficult and most people would not have any problems. But it is absolutely beautiful. You find yourself walking along the Zanskar river. The blue river on one side and the red mountain gorge on the other; it is a feeling that is very hard to describe in words.
The climb is steep and then there’s a steep decline towards the riverbed. Then there’s a wooden bridge that is newly made, especially for tourists. The view you get here is enough to justify your whole journey. After crossing the bridge and around 20-30 mins more of walking, you find yourself in front of the gate to the Phuktal Monastery. Then another 20 mins or so of walking and you finally reach the 2,500 years old monastery. The road to the trek and the trek itself made for a tiring day but the place was well worth the effort.
Phuktal Monastery to Padum
The next day, I started my journey toward Leh. Riding along the Tsarap river was fun but the roads in the Zanskar region are a nightmare. In some places, it is really hard to manoeuvre the bike. It is mostly because of the surprises. You are going at a decent clip and suddenly you find yourself in a riverbed of fine dust. Those places are a bit tricky to navigate. But the Indian FTR 1200 fared quite well even in those conditions.
After roughly 40 km of such paths, we finally had some tarmac- proper blacktop. I had gotten used to it by now and yet, it surprised me how versatile a motorcycle the FTR 1200 is. As soon as I hit the tarmac, I started riding like earlier; pushing in corners and keeping up a decent pace on straight roads. After a little while of spirited riding, I reached Padum.
Just before I reached Padum though, I could already feel the landscape change and it was gorgeous- a deserted valley surrounded by mountains. I could already tell that it was a perfect place for photography and night sky experiments. I planned to stay here for the night and went for a homestay that was around 2-3 km away from the population- a perfect place for those who love peace and quiet. I had planned a rest day here and so, I also got to explore and experiment with the night sky to my heart’s content.
Padum to Leh
The plan for the next day was to continue to ride to Leh but I decided to go via Lingshed instead of the Kargil route. I had the Tsarap river for company again and the roads I encountered were flawless. It almost felt like an airstrip. Now that I had enough experience with the FTR 1200, I engaged the Sports mode and the party was on! The engine could now unleash all of its power in the visceral manner that it likes to. I had already gotten the motorcycle and the jerry cans refuelled so I continued my journey at a decent pace.
For around 30-40 km, I had nothing but wonderful tarmac and I enjoyed every bit of it. And then suddenly, it all disappeared and there were no roads. These were nearly trails that I had to ride on to reach my destination. And it is not just the road, it is the whole landscape. It almost felt like we were on an alien planet. Mountain, dust, water, the colour of the river; everything was different and seemed unreal.
With all that, the level of risk increased as well. So I switched off the ABS on the rear and engaged the rain mode. I decided to take it slow and get accustomed to the kind of road I had. Another thing that really tests your patience here is the silence. There is nothing except the sound of the river to make do with. As you keep going, the altitude increases as well.
On our way, we reached a mountain pass called Singe La. From there, I took a different route towards Photoskar and Lamayuru, from where I reached the Leh highway. But the last few km to the highway were very hectic and very risky. Treacherous terrain, no one around to help, no shops or stalls for food; just empty and testing roads. The tyres of the FTR 1200, though not meant for hardcore offroading, still dealt with nearly everything and I did not have as many scary moments as I thought I would.
After I hit the Leh highway, the road was good so I decided to pick up the pace a bit. Sports mode on and I was back at it again. The tyres may have taken a beating, but they were still holding on. After a while, I reached Leh. The plan was to visit Pangong Tso the next day but before that, I needed some rest. So I called it a day in Leh.
Leh to Pangong Tso
The next day, I started my journey towards Pangong Tso after refuelling the motorcycle and the jerrycans. The famous Pangong Tso is nearly 225 km away from Leh city and it is 5 hours’ worth of riding. I had started a little early to make it to the lake on time. On this route, you have the Indus river by your side.
After a while, I reached the Karu military base camp. The roads had been really good and I was told that I could expect decent roads up ahead as well. I got the documentation done in the Police Camp in Karu, and was back on the road. From Karu, I had around 190 km to cover before I reached Pangong Tso.
On the way, I got to scale Chang La, situated at a dizzying 17,688 ft. After Chang La, we rode towards Durbuk and to Pangong Tso from there. Not long after, I found myself on the Pangong Lake road and this is one of the most beautiful rides one can undertake. A massive blue lake on one side and deserted lands on the other- it was like a scene right out of a movie.
I had my stay decided in the Merak Village. I reached my homestay there around 5 PM. The sun had not set yet so I had the opportunity to witness the sunset on one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, which is situated at around 13,000 ft! It does not get much better than that, I can assure you! And after the sun had set, I also got the chance to witness the night sky.
The next day, I had to head back to Leh city. It was a sombre affair as this place was not far from heaven on earth- absolutely beautiful and mesmerizing. But I made up my mind that I will revisit and the next time, I will prepare in advance so that I have more time on hand! Coming back to the journey, we took the same route back to Leh city and made it back before it got too dark.
Pangong Tso to Leh
The next day, we stayed back in Leh city as we had plans to visit the Shanti Stupa. It is a famous destination for sightseeing as it gives you a view of the whole city from the top. But the best part about this is the sunset. When the sun is on the horizon, about to set, the dimly lit city looks beautiful. It is a dream sight to behold and if one is here, they should definitely watch the sunset here.
Leh to More Plains
This day in Leh marked the start of the end of this trip. The next day, I had to ride to Manali and then to Delhi. Now, I could have gone with the same route that I came from but I decided to make the most of this trip and take a different route. So I made my way to Karu Military Campsite but from there, I diverted my route to go through More plains.
The terrain in Ladakh is so diverse and ever-changing that it is hard to keep a track of it. After some off-roading, I suddenly had a smooth blacktop at my disposal. So the FTR 1200 was put in sports mode and I started riding a bit more freely. But one must be careful as in some areas, the road is a bit dusty and in some, there’s gravel. I made my best efforts to be aware of my surroundings and not get too engrossed in or used to the smooth roads.
The road I was riding on was NH3, which is a commercial road and there are a lot of trucks. Sometimes, it was a little weird to be stuck in traffic with trucks at around 16,000 ft above sea level. The best part though was the condition of the road. It was absolutely flawless and all credit to the BRO for maintaining these roads. In what seemed like a very short span of time, I was nearly 100 km away from Leh city already. I was already closing on Tanglang La but didn’t even notice how the km went by!
More Plains to Manali
In Zanskar, there are some places where there is an absolute dearth of roads. But the connectivity and the condition of the roads are getting better by the day, all thanks to the efforts of the BRO. After the ascent that was Tanglang La, it was time to descend to More plains. A stretched-out valley with roads that are fit for an airstrip. Again, this allowed me to maintain a good pace and cover a fair bit of distance quickly.
And then there were more- 21 hairpins of the Ghata Loops! Looking at this route from up top makes it seem like a snake that is wrapped around the mountain. As tempting as it is, one must be a little careful as despite the road being in a good condition mostly, some bad patches can catch one off-guard.
As I kept at it, I entered Himachal Pradesh so Ladakh was left behind but the scenery was still there. There was one more pass to conquer- Baralacha La, situated at 16,910 ft above sea level. The roads were still a little tough but not as bad as the roads in Zanskar. These roads were more manageable. More than the pass though, what excited me more was Suraj Tal. The perfect blue lake is a sight for sore eyes.
Heading towards Manali, we took the same route afterwards; Darcha, Keylong, Tandi, and Sissu post where we finally reached the Atal Tunnel. Crossing the tunnel, I felt a bit sad. This was obviously one of the best roadtrips I have taken up and so, predictably, it felt like it was over too soon.
Manali to Delhi
The next day, I was going to be back in Delhi but the one thing I had with me was the surreal experience. 10 days, different terrains, different landscapes and above all else, the Indian FTR 1200; I am going to miss all this. After spending 2,500 km with the bike, I developed a special bond with it as I got to know about all that it is capable of.
So, if given the opportunity, would I go to Ladakh again? Yes! Will I take the Indian FTR 1200 with me? Heck yes!
How we prepared for this trip:
The task of adding accessories such as a top rack, a saddle stay, a bash plate, and a radiator guard was done by Zana Motorcycles. A big thanks to them for making our FTR 1200 adventure-ready.