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Thread: Vesta tours and travels: Dreams of Leh

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    Icon7 Vesta tours and travels: Dreams of Leh

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    A long term dream made true,
    An achievement of a lifetime is made.
    And yet, one sits in silence by himself
    And feels; a lot has already been said.

    Long stints of riding alone
    With no soul in sight;
    Where every turn is a surprise
    And every view, a delight.

    Hundreds of miles of tough riding
    Himalaya towering all around.
    Solitude is your only friend
    And motorcycles beat, the only sound.

    Water crossings and stony passes abundant
    Every mile makes its presence felt.
    Yet when children wave and bikers greet you
    You can feel your tiredness and all the worries melt.

    Extremely hot and extremely cold
    Your night and day feel part of worlds apart.
    Riding to Leh is not the brains decision
    Its the evil conspiracy of the heart.

    __________________________________________________ __________________________________________________ ________

    I am happy to report that I have completed a motorcycling trip to Leh with my wife and my motorcycle Suzuki GS150R (Vesta) in August-September 2013. I have uploaded the travelogue of one part of the trip to Wrangler True Wanderer Contest. You can read the story on:

    True Wanderers 3.0 - Entry Travelogues

    If you like the story, please vote on the travelogue page! Comments/suggestion/reactions most welcome on this post.

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    Moderator B7ACKTHORN's Avatar
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    Default Re: Vesta tours and travels: Dreams of Leh

    Experience Approved. And thumbs up for the "poem".

    Cheers!
    VJ
    animeher likes this.
    Once upon a time, a guy asked a girl 'Will you marry me?'
    The girl said, 'NO!'


    And the guy lived happily ever after and rode motorcycles and watched sport on a big screen TV, went fishing and surfing, and played golf a lot, and drank beer and scotch and had tons of money in the bank and left the toilet seat up and farted whenever he wanted.


    THE END

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    Default Re: Vesta tours and travels: Dreams of Leh

    You sir are a super hero couple. A true inspiration. Reading your other tlogs and cant have enough of the amazing pictures and great write up...
    There is no happiness for him who does not travel!
    The fortune of a man who is sitting, sits; it rises when he rises; it sleeps when he sleeps; it moves when he moves.
    Therefore, Wander!
    - Rigveda, 1500 - 1000 B.C.

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    Default Re: Vesta tours and travels: Dreams of Leh

    Thanks B7ACKTHORN for approving the thread.

    Thanks for the kind words, rusty_mechs.

    In case if anyone is interested (and has spare time to read ), here are some of my past travel stories on xbhp:

    http://www.xbhp.com/talkies/tourer/1...uple-tour.html
    http://www.xbhp.com/talkies/tourer/1...rajasthan.html
    http://www.xbhp.com/talkies/tourer/1...ven-steps.html
    http://www.xbhp.com/talkies/tourer/1...i-one-day.html

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    Default Re: Vesta tours and travels: Dreams of Leh

    I and my wife - Aniruddha and Nandinee - are avid motorcycle tourers. 'Vesta' is our motorcycle's name, the beloved Suzuki GS150R. We have toured quite extensively in west Maharashtra, especially Konkan and surrounding areas of Pune. We had our first taste of out of state long ride in Rajasthan. This was the first time that we crossed the state border for a motorcycle tour, and we were absolutely thrilled. The experience of riding in a different state is really something that words can’t express. You are in a new terrain with new people, and yet you feel connected to them, and the lands. Such motorcycle tour is not simply following the tourist trail, but rather connecting to lives of people you meet on road and at the hotels.

    We had dreamed of going to Leh for a long time, but nature or work kept on coming in our plans. In 2010, we were all set for Leh ride, with the tickets ready and bookings done. But nature ended our plans abruptly when one night, an entire year's worth of rain fell down from the sky in 30 minutes, washing away Leh and surround areas in the horrendous cloud burst.

    We continued to tour in the country over the next years, but the dream of riding to Leh never left us. So finally in August - September 2013, all the stars aligned and gave a green signal for our ride of a lifetime. Discouraging people were dime a dozen, ranging from couch tourists who have seen the entire world through TV, to actual retired army persons who were once posted in Ladakh. However, we went ahead with the plans, and had the time of our life for the next 3000 kilometers that marked the ride of Ladakh.

    The Leh – Ladakh trip can be roughly split into 3 parts,

    1. Reaching Leh
    2. Exploring surrounding areas
    3. Returning back from Leh

    Each of these parts deserves a story of its own, and it would a great injustice if one crams it all into a small write-up. The Himalayas offer different insights from different approaches, and deserve not just a few lines, but huge books to describe partially what they convey.

    In this blog, we would see the details of the second leg of our wandering, the exploring of surrounding areas of Leh.

    After a wonderful ride through Patnitop, a shikara tour in Dal lake at Srinagar, a tasting of Kahwa – the Kashmiri tea – in the laps of mountains at Sonamarg, and a ride through the treacherous Zozi La that included a tumble on the rocky roads, we had reached Leh.

    We had rested for a day for getting acclimatized for thin oxygen levels at such high regions, gotten our necessary permits from the DC office and were eager to start our journey towards exploring the surrounding areas of Leh.
    Last edited by animeher; 04-01-2014 at 03:09 PM.
    Bindass Axomia and nadz11.ns like this.

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    Default Re: Vesta tours and travels: Dreams of Leh

    To Nubra valley

    While checking out of the hotel for one night, we went to the reception room for asking where to keep the luggage for the night, as we were coming back to the hotel tomorrow. In the reception room, many posters were displayed showing the surrounding tourist attractions in Leh. There was one beautiful lake shown, with a nice reflection of hills ahead. The photo was titled Nubra Valley. I didnt know there was any lake in that valley! We were heading that way now, and there was no time to search online. I hoped we would catch that lake while en route.

    Today the route would pass through the worlds highest motorable road Khardung La. Though it is not really the highest motorable road in the world the new measurements proved that the height of the pass was rather enthusiastically reported still it remains a great challenge as ever. In many blogs I had read how motorcycles would fail on this pass, and how people from cars and SUVs would have to get down in order to reduce the load for the vehicle to make the climb. I was going to take on the pass on a 150cc motorcycle with a pillion, and I hoped I would make it to the top. Nandinee and I have been riding together for many years, and crossing this tall pass together would really mean a lot.

    The Leh Bazaar that you pass any time you go out of Leh deserves a mention. It is so full of life, with happy tourists wandering around, traditional Ladakhi women selling their fresh vegetables on the street, the general chaos of a typical Indian hill station; the whole atmosphere is a wonderful start of the day.




    The Khardung La road starts just outside Leh, and goes up and up for 42 kms. At the end of 42 kms, you find yourself on top of Khardung La, called K-top. 42kms travel seems nothing in city terms, but in Himalayas, it means a long travel. Especially uphill on a loaded motorcycle. But the scenery keeps you good company. We first passed through the tiny roads of Leh, and then a comparatively larger road leaded us to the pass.

    We rode slowly for about 35 kms on those well laid road, half because we wanted to enjoy the panoramic views of Leh as we climbed higher, and half because the motorcycle wouldnt run fast due to constant incline. We passed many cyclists and tourist vehicles on way. While making all the turns, chatting and laughing, we came across a halt where many vehicles were stopped. It was the North Pallu, the military checkpoint at Leh side of K-top. We submitted a copy of the tourist permit to the security booth, had a quick coffee, and gazed in awe at the road ahead. Right from the North Pallu, the road was broken. And according to the tea vendor, this was much better than the roads ahead! Worrying about what lies ahead; we gulped the hot coffee and mounted Vesta.

    The road ahead is a curious mix of sand, pebbles and rocks. The incline increasing by a degree every mile doesnt help either. Luckily I didnt have any luggage. Only my tankbag was accompanying us for this ride. Vesta was making its progress steadily, taking every precarious turn very cautiously. The speed went down slowly, and sometimes it was reduced to hardly a crawl. I can still feel the tensed mood in which I rode ahead. I have ridden on worst roads, in worst seasons, but this was above it all. And yet, safe roads that laid just a few kms behind were not even on our minds. Himalayas fill up men with madness, and ours was to cross this pass safely, under any condition.

    The decreasing speeds were noted by my pillion as well. On every steep incline, she would copy me and lean ahead with me, to try and reduce the weight on rear tire. Every now and then, the road would disappear behind a turn, and I would secretly hope in my mind let this be the top, let this be the end of this struggle. But taking that turn would reveal an even steeper road with even worse condition. The last few kilometers were the longest, where all 3 of us were really tired. Vesta from having to work so hard and both of us mentally. I will never forget the last kilometer, when I was struggling not to stall the bike due to low speeds, and I heard Nandinee bucking up the motorcycle Come on, baby! Just a few kilometers! You can do it! You have done worse than this. Looking back at it, it feels stupid, but at that moment, it was just what we required, and finally Vesta took us two-up on the feared K-top, the highest motorable road in the whole damn world.



    K-top is a small flat area situated at the center of the Khardung La. It provides a much needed breathing stop to vehicles and travelers. At its both sides, bad roads lead to North and South Pallu, both military establishments. At the top there is not much to do, except to freshen up, take picture below the board that marks the Khardung La Top, and recover from the shock that you actually did it.



    After all of the above was done, we started moving ahead. The road that led down matched in quality to the road that led up, and so next 7 kilometers too were equally fun. As we were coming down now, at least there was no fear of stalling on a tricky turn. The worst that could happen was you could lose control and fall in the steep valley, but lets focus on the positives now!

    After bumping and banging down the rocky road, we reached South Pallu, where the road condition went up dramatically, especially in light of past 15 kilometers. I submitted my permit to the guard at the booth, and was talking with Nandinee about plans ahead, when two military persons approached us. It turned out that they too were from Maharashtra from Nanded and were posted here for 2 years. They were military drivers for driving the trucks. After learning that we were going to Diskit a village with supposedly better accommodations than Hunder where the sand dunes are - they suggested me to ride onwards to Turtuk. It is the last stop on this route that a civilian can go to, but it is 90 kms ahead from Hunder. When I said I would pass the opportunity, they tried to console me saying the road that goes to Turtuk is same to the one that I would pass to go to Hunder. Asach aahe sagla pudhe, (ahead its like this only); they waved their hand around and explained. I remembered my visit to Tanot in Rajasthan, where we were similarly denied by the Army to go to BP-609, the last military check post in India. A soldier there had tried in similar way to too make us feel good Sir its like this only! Guess military people are different from the outside, but on the inside they are all the same.



    After I took leave of them, another biker approached me. He was from Bangalore, and his group was having their bike repaired on Khardung La descend. Why wasnt he there with the group? I asked. He replied:

    Oh, its a small problem with the bike thats keeping me from taking small halts.
    Yeah? What is it?
    You see, the air screw fell off.

    My jaw hit the floor.

    What the hell? How did that happen?!

    A quick explanation for importance of an air screw for non-technical readers. Most Indian motorcycles use carburetor for using petrol. When petrol burns, the bike generates power and thus moves forwards. This burning of petrol is controlled by two screws, fuel screw which controls how much petrol should be burnt and air screw that provides the air to assist the burning of fuel. If one of them is not tuned properly, then one can have all sorts of problem ranging from low power to low mileage.

    Here my friend from Bangalore was missing the air screw, and the implications were quite severe. He lost the screw somewhere near Zozi La, where a local mechanic had tried to adjust his carburetor for higher altitude. So his motorcycles average was at an all-time low, and hence he couldnt afford any quick stops.

    So whats the next plan? Staying at Hunder? I asked.
    No, we will go see the Sand dunes and turn back to Leh today only.

    In disbelief, I glanced at my wrist watch. It was already past 1 pm, and two bikes of the three in that group were having problem. Hunder was still quite some distance away, and the sand dunes even further. I felt it was very unlikely event that he would be able to cross Khardung La in daylight should be follow his plans. But a gentleman never discourages another, no matter how outrageous the plans may sound. So I only wished him luck, and rode further. However, I did not see any of the 3 bikes later, so unless they passed me and returned when we were off the road, I think they returned from South Pallu back to Leh.

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    Default Re: Vesta tours and travels: Dreams of Leh

    Firstly, when I saw the name " Vesta tours and travels " I thought its will be a thread of a tour operator who will post photos to attract more customers but surprised with a fantastic tlog. Lovely Couple, nice photos & beautiful writeup. Keep riding || Keep Inspiring

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    Default Re: Vesta tours and travels: Dreams of Leh

    As for us, now that the roads were good, it was a go. The road from South Pallu wind all the way down to flats towards Hunder. We halted at Khardung, the small village that gave its name to the legendary pass. A non – ceremonious lunch was in order, at a road side shack of a locallite. The food was nothing to write about, but the smiling service of the old lady made up for it. There are a number of hotels in Khardung village, and tourist vehicles were stopping there. However many vehicles chose to blaze past the village to make a run towards the destination. Or maybe they were heading to Turtuk and had a lot of ground to cover. As for us, we were very much within the safe time limit, and hence proceeded leisurely, taking in the mystical ride in sight.



    The road ahead is sloped at times, but is never dangerous. At Khalsar, we came across a fork in the road, where the ghaat ended. One road was going to left towards the flat lands, and other was clinging to the mountain that we rode down from, and disappeared out of sight. We halted at the fork and started looking around for help or hints. There was none. I remembered that I have a map of that area in the tankbag. A quick glance revealed that we were to take the left road. Later we realized that had we taken the right road, we would end up taking the Wari La route to Pangong Tso – an extremely tough route that we had deliberately avoided!

    The road went straight for extended patches from this point onwards, until a time when we were riding in dessert land! It was unbelievable to see so much sand here in the middle of Himalayas, and yet here it was, riding on the wind, covering up the road and coating everything in its golden haze. It covered the mountains on the left and the valley on the right. It was hard not to stop every now and then to wonder and admire the miracle.





    The large mountains in distance reminded us we were riding in Himalayas, and yet the desert was making us believe this was Rajasthan! It was a surreal ride here onwards.


    A short while afterwards, we came to a junction. Continuing ahead would take us to a bridge to Panamik, famed for its hot springs, and taking left from the junction would take us to our tonight’s destination. Panamik hot springs is an interesting phenomenon, where there are springs of hot water right in the middle of the cold river. However we have already seen a number of hot springs elsewhere, and had no time for Panamik.

    The left road to Hunder is a straight-as-an-arrow road for quite a distance. The wind roaring in the helmet, the bike whirring along, and strutting at a good speed, it is a serene experience. The sun was playing peek-a-boo from the mountain as it went in and out of sight. The road isn’t as smooth as the baby’s bottom at Nimmu, but it has its own charm. At the end of this road, we climbed up a small ghaat, and a similar sight with a new twist was awaiting us. For all our rides, we were used to having a river flowing madly on one side and mountains clouding us on other. Here, there were mountains on one side alright, but on the right, there were only remains and small streams of a river. Was there really a river that had shrunk in summer? Or is it like this for all year? Judging by the dry sand all around, it seemed little far-fetched to imagine the small stream on our right to be a roaring full bed river at any time.









    The village of Diskit was very near now. We passed a number of small villages and finally saw the Diskit village at right side of the road. The Tourist Reception Centre at the village is marked prominently, and we went there by habit. But it was closed. The guide book didn’t have much information about this village either. But as we were there at 4.30PM, we had the sunlight to our advantage, and decided to roam around to find a nice place for putting the anchor down.

    We checked a multitude of hotels. A common point for all of them was, all had a small lawn full of blooming flowers in front. But the similarity ended there. A lot of them were closed because of the off-season. There were some which seemed open, but even after calling on top of my voice, I couldn’t wake up the attendants from their siesta. A few that were open, didn’t have TV. In the end, on a local’s suggestion, we came to hotel ‘Sand dunes’. This hotel was open and operating well. There was a newly constructed room that I really liked at the first visit. So bargained with him, hit a deal and checked in.


    It was getting cold out, so the thermals were put to use. We were informed by the owner that the light comes only from 7 to 11 PM every day. Rest of the day there is no light. I realized why there were no TVs in most of the hotels!

    Hunder region is famous mainly for its sand dunes, and many tourists prefer or are made to stay at Hunder. We did not fancy living next to sand dunes, so chose the Diskit village as our halt. After a hot coffee, we started off for the dunes, which were only 12 kms from Diskit. The road is a typical Ladakhi road, bit good, bit broken, surrounded by earthen houses separated by long distances, and hardly anyone crosses your vehicle from either side.



    Now the sand in distance was no more a barren sight that we saw on the way to Diskit. There was sand, but there were many green patches growing in between. Even when the dunes area starts, there are small green patches that peek from here and there.



    Nearing the sand dunes, the roads improved drastically. As it was about 6, the sun had still not gone home and the sand was lit up from his gaze. There were many puddles on route that reflected the sky shakily in their rippling reflection. Though I didn’t venture out to check the depth, to me they didn’t seem deep, going by the grass and the rocks pointing up from it.

    Nearing Hunder, we could see a lot of vehicles gathered at a distance at our right hand. That was the entrance to the dunes, we deduced. The road has some small toll, a ride on pebbles, and voila, you are in the parking lot of the dunes! A small non confidence inspiring shaky wooden bridge takes you across the small stream to the dunes.

    Now the question of many tourists on reaching any spot is,
    ‘What to do?’

    Well, play with your kids, chat with your wife, sneak a peek at that cute girl, do your usual. But people want some activity at every place. So here the activity is riding camels! The camels are bit different from the usual kind. They are still as unhygienic as every other camel, but have two humps on their back. Also, they are the least camera shy animals I have seen. Heck in some of the pictures I saw people were taking of the camels, the camels seemed more at ease than the person posing in front of them!



    ‘Can you believe it Nandinee? Riding stinky camels on top of Himalayas! Let’s do it!’

    ‘Do it and I am hitching a ride back.’ Came a curt reply.

    So the camel ride was out of the agenda, though I must admit the back breaking ride through the Khardung La matched the fun of the camel ride.

    There is not much to do in the dunes really, except to roam around and take up the camel ride if that’s your thing. It does provide a nice change of scenery and one can spend a nice evening here, just sitting on the sand looking over the horizon. The camel-wallas too are not pushy sorts, so one no and they leave you in peace. The camels though turn their heads and follow you around by their wide tennis ball eyes and the gaze that says ‘I know your secrets!’

    Even though there was nothing to do, it was one of the times where doing nothing felt better than anything else. It was a clear blue sky with a few cotton balls for clouds dispersed here and there. Laughing families and snorting camels filled up the ambience. We lost track of time chatting about Khardung La, its sneaky turns, the group of bikers, the soldiers and the biker with lost air screw. After a while, we noticed the sky started showing a grander and deeper colour of blue, and people started returning from the rides - the clock had ticked onwards. The stray dogs sniffing here and there started packing up too, and heading back to village. We took our cue, bid goodbye to this wonder of a dessert in the middle of snow, and headed back to our hotel.



    Camels enjoying sunset



    It was easy ride on familiar roads back to the hotel. At the junction of the village, I saw two foreign motorcyclists with puzzling look in their eyes. Sticking to the code of biking brothers, I approached them and asked whether they needed any help. It turned out that they were short on fuel. There was a petrol tank near the village, but it seemed so desolated that it was more apt to be rented out to horror movies than to be operated as petrol bunks. So I directed them to the village shops where they might find some petrol sold for premium, and returned to our hotel. The lights had come, and the life was seemingly the same as in the towns. But underneath this mask of normalcy, there was a strange reality, where you would find sand dunes in Himalayas, and camels, and electricity for 4 hours every day.

    The dinner was in the hotel, as there is no other option available. We were only two guests that night, but the food was good and the service warm. Hunder was our first outing outside of Leh, and the sand that the wind carried in our hairs and clothes followed us till Leh.

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    Default Re: Vesta tours and travels: Dreams of Leh

    Back to Leh

    The hotel had provided an emergency lamp should someone needs light in the night when the electricity goes off. We hadnt needed to use them, and Nandinee said they should have also given an alarm, to wake up snoring beasts like me. Ignoring her snide remarks, I grudgingly got out of bed for breakfast and a little exploring of the town and the hotel.

    The hotel housed a lot of flowering plants, and it was nice to stroll around. Many small and large flowers were growing along a few apple trees.





    After a photography session and a hearty breakfast, we took one last ride in the village. We clicked a few shots, packed out stuff and mounted Vesta to ride back. We started the ride at about 10.30 am.





    There was a monastery near Diskit that had a 105 foot statue of Maitreya Buddha. A clear marked road goes uphill on right while coming back to Leh. The statue sits on top of a hill, and from there you see the monasteries in distance placed on an even taller hill. We prayed at the feet of Buddha and climbed down for joining the road back to Leh.



    The returning ride was progressing steadily. But when we came to a point where we were passing some puddles next to the roads reflecting the mountains, I remembered something and halted the bike. The view to my left, of the puddle reflecting the mountains, was the same on seen on the poster of Nubra valley! So it was not any river or lake whose reflection was advertised, it was this puddles!




    It was amusing and somewhat irritating, to have assumed that the grand reflection could be only seen in a large lake. Here there was this small puddle, hard for anyone to drawn even if he tried hard, and yet being the selling point for a place. Talking and laughing in our helmets, we rode further.

    When I was crossing a ghaat enroute, we saw two men in dusty clothes, waving around and shouting Sahib ruko! (sir please stop). Generally, as a rule, I never stop on deserted lands. But something in my mind made me stop at a distance. They came running towards us.

    Sirji paani do! Pyaas se jaan jaa rahi hai! (Sir give us water! We are thirsty!)

    I was very surprised. They appeared to be the road workers that one can see working on lonely roads, and just yesterday Nandinee had asked me where they got water from, since all the area was so deserted. Seeing them ask for water was unexpected and hitting in the guts. We had two water bottles with us, so I passed them one and moved ahead.

    At Khardung village, we stopped for lunch at one of the better looking place. It was a buffet system with a fixed charge for unlimited food. Something different than what we saw in the tours across Leh.

    After lunch, we both felt a bit tensed about approaching Khardung La. Yesterday we were filled with madness to cross the pass two up, but after seeing the pass in person, and how the bikes needed repairs, we were in two minds about crossing it. Suddenly an idea popped up. What if we asked for lift for Nandinee in one of the tourist vehicles? I saw an Innova in my rear view mirror, which I waved to stopped. It was carrying a foreigner couple. I explained the need for lift because of the bad roads, and asked them for a lift till the North pallu. They obliged, and soon I was riding alone towards the Khardung La.

    Todays ride was equally challenging as yesterday, but the silver lining was that only I was at risk of falling. After tackling turn after turn of miscalculated angles and patches sewn with huge rocks, I finally bumped up the roads and saw someone clicking my photos. Before I could strike a bollywood superstar pose, I realized it was my own pillion clicking the photos.

    After a small halt on top and a bouncy ride down to North pallu, I was joined back by the wife on the safe roads and we rode back to Leh. As the road was now all the way down, it was a very fast ride and we were back in Leh by 4.30pm. There was a room prepared in the Leh hotel for us, with our luggage already moved in. The service was impressive.

    We were still very fresh today, and had a lot of sunlight time in our hands. So we decided to visit the tourist places in the town, the Leh palace and the Shanti Stupa.

    The leh palace sits on top of a hill, and watches over the town of Leh. There is a small entry ticket, where a usual little corruption racket is possibly going on. I didnt get any ticket on payment of the entrance, citing the reason of out of tickets. The man next in line complained that even last week he got the same reason. I guess the ticket vendor might be sneaking off small sums of the entrance fee, which was sad as the palace seemed it needed all the finance it could get.

    From the door itself, we saw dark lanes inside the palace leading to darker alleys and shaky stairs. There was no electricity that day, so we had to rely on what little sunlight could find its way inside the structure. For being a palace, it was notably dark and gloomy. I expected palaces to be brighter and roomier, but what do I know? I wasnt born in a palace!

    Nandinee wanted to turn around from the first sight itself, but I prodded her and climbed up the stairs.

    At 1st level, there is a temple where you have to remove your shoes outside. For a non Buddhist, the temple would look similar to other ones like in Lamayuru. Still, it was very quiet and serene, and the brightly painted pictures and statues were impressive.

    There is a room nearby that had some posters that probably informed the readers more about the history of the dynasty, but as it was dark we couldnt see or read any poster.

    The stairs continue upwards, and continue rising till 9 stories. On the upper levels, there are a few terraces here and there, so you can come out in sun, breathe in fresh air and see the town of Leh below. There are restoration works going on in the castle, so in a few years the castle may look as it would have looked in its prime time at least on the outside. On the inside, I wonder how it would not look dark and gloomy except by larger windows or brighter lights.

    View of Leh from the palace



    Some of the parts of the palace seemed in pretty dangerous condition. Some daredevils were venturing out to those parts, but my quota of adventure was already over today, so we didnt step in those areas.



    After the palace, we headed to Shanti Stupa. The way goes through Leh town, and there is a nice ice cream shop at the corner of the taxi stand. A cone of happiness and we were on our way to the stupa, which was ahead of the road of our hotel.

    We had stopped short of the shanti stupa road on our first night in Leh, because of the dogs and the lack of street lamps. Now that we had daylight, we had the chance to ride on that road. The road passes through a small bazaar housing a number of curio shops, eateries, cafeterias and tourists agents. There are a number of large hotels on this road, and we spotted a number of familiar names of guest houses that have received favourable reviews on internet. This seemed a good area for tourists to find hotels in.

    The road to Shanti stupa is a little steep. Shanti stupa was built in 1991, partly by Japanese Buddhists assisted by the Buddhists in Leh. It was constructed as a vision of peace, hence the name of Shanti stupa.

    There was a small uphill walk from the parking to the stupa. We passed a meditation hall on way, where we saw people searching for a quite time and a deeper insight. The circling road takes you to the back of the stupa. It is a two level structure, depicting a number of scenes from Buddhas life in sculpture form. As this stupa is situated at a height, you can see the town of Leh spread below. I realized this was the best time to visit the stupa, as the sky started turning deeper shades of blue, and the stupa lit up in its glory.


    The town below too was getting accustomed to the darkness, and we could see light bulbs slowly coming to life in distance. Soon Leh was basking in the yellow lights of street lamps dotted by the lights in houses and hotels. We would have loved to spend more time near the stupa, but we remembered the bark of the dogs, and so returned while there was still a little sunlight and the sky was not totally black.

    Tomorrow we were going to Pangong Tso, the lake in 3 idiots. The road would go via Chang La, another high altitude pass. I remembered the discussion with a seasoned rider on my first day in Leh. When I asked him which pass he thought was the most difficult, I expected the answer as Khardung La, it being the highest pass and all. But he had answered Chang La. It was forgotten in the chats and the laughter later, but I remembered it now, and wondered how bad could it be?

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    Default Re: Vesta tours and travels: Dreams of Leh

    Towards Pangong Tso

    While getting ready for today’s ride, there was an unsaid tension in my mind. Crossing the mighty Chang La. Actually ‘changla’ means good in Marathi, and it was ironic that the pass holding this name was the most notorious one. Exactly how difficult was yet to be seen, but the moment was not too far away now.

    I woke to an upset stomach, owing fully to the extremely horrible food at ‘Leh View Top’ restaurant last night. We wasted a few precious morning hours trying to find a chemist for the medicine. In the myriad of collection of medicines that we carried with us, we forgotten this particular medicines, and it was making us do ‘runs’ literally. It was a Sunday, and a lazy hill town such as Leh got even lazier on Sunday. Most tourist shops were open, but they informed that medical shops would be opened only after 11am! That was too late, and we were becoming worried by the moment, because we had to be at Pangong Tso at sundown. The ice on top of the hills starts melting due to the harsh afternoon heat, and the streams crossing the road get progressively wild as the day nears its end. Crossing the mad waters was not exactly something we were looking forwards too. Luckily, we found a hidden medical shop on first floor of a building in the bazaar, and blessing him and my stars, I took the medicines and moved on to our journey.

    The exit route from Leh remains the same, through the big carved gate that welcomes you to Leh on your first visit. Today our road was going straight all the way to Karu, via a village named Thiksey. Just after Leh, we spotted a number of motorcycle mechanics on the left hand side of the road. As garages were something of a rarity, we made a mental note of their location.

    The roads are exceptionally good, and one can do nice speeds on these roads. We passed through tourist spots such as Thiksey and Hemis, both famous for their gompas – Tibetan temples. At Karu, there is a fork in the road. Left takes you to the Chang La pass and ahead, whereas right fork takes you all the way to Manali. There is a petrol pump at Karu, and this is the last one that you will see for about 250 kms from here on! As our itinerary didn’t call for too long a riding for a tankful of petrol, we didn’t stop to fill up.

    There is a checkpost at Karu, should you go to Chang La road. After this check post, the traffic waned down a lot, and many times ours was the only vehicle on road. The road started sloping upwards slowly, and held that incline for a long distance and a really long time that seemed eternity. It was no fun dragging Vesta on a mild incline for miles after miles, where there was hardly a straight road. After a while, we began wondering how much more we had to climb! The road showed no sign of sloping down or getting straight. We would look up the hill that we were climbing, sigh, and continue the slow journey upwards. Luckily the roads were good, but we could not yet appreciate it till we faced bad roads later. Many times, we would see the upwards road wind many turns, and disappear after a bend. Hopeful in our hearts, we would proceed to slowly reach to that bend, just to reveal many more kilometers of the same twisting upwards road till our eyes could see, and till that too would disappear behind another bend.

    Even though the roads did not change in gradient, the atmosphere certainly did, and soon we were shivering slightly under the jackets. When I looked up to the hills in front, I could see a bit of snow shining on the top. So we took a break, and donned the thermal wears that we were carrying with us.



    After a military post, we felt that the pass had started. The road went very rapidly from being acceptable to bad to unbelievably hard. Soon we were riding on steep inclines in extremely bad conditions scattered with rocks and pebbles and sands. Every now and then we would cross a stray stream trickling its way down. The chill factor increased a lot, and our speeds were reduced to a fraction of what we were doing before.

    This was definitely more difficult than Zozi La or Khardung La, we both thought, and we had yet to cross the pass! This was only the initial climb. On one such tricky turn where I had to maneuver the motorcycle on an upwards turn full of pebbles while trying to cross a stream, it got too tough to ignore. Luckily a Scorpio was travelling behind us. We asked for lift for Nandinee till the top, and away she went in the car. After the fragile luggage was deposited safely towards the destination, I rode upwards tension free. After tackling turns after turns that seemed to be designed for testing rather than convenience, I finally reached the Chang La top.

    Nandinee was already on the top, courtesy of the SUV. And so was yesterday's biker group. They were returning from Pangong Tso, and were ecstatic from the experience. Many happy faces from the group conveyed clearly that they had enjoyed their visit a lot. A few of the group advised me on the roads ahead, the hotels to stay, the rates to bargain and such. Additionally, I could see the weather becoming gloomy towards Pangong Tso direction, and they too confirmed that. Still, undaunted by the threatening weather, we decided to continue on our journey.

    One of them gave very specific advices about a water crossing of about a 100 meters (!), and a broken road much ahead that needed a detour from the muds at the side of the roads. Both of the advices really saved our skins.

    On the Chang La top, the army has a small store, where the visitors get a fee cup of hot tea, and some other paid items. After a visit to that store, we began scouting for a vehicle for getting a lift ahead till the road recovers. We found a Tavera that was carrying two girls from Thiland. I was amazed to see them travelling by themselves in such terrains! My pillion joined them for the journey ahead till the safe roads, and I rode ahead in order to find a good spot to pick her up.

    The road leading down the pass was another marvel, topping the difficulty level of climbing up. Many times I thought that I was lucky this was a downward slope, and wondered what would be the case tomorrow when I would travel upwards. Soon I reached that water crossing that I was warned by the fellow biker. I stopped my bike just before it, and looked ahead in wonder. Here it was, a patch of roads about 100 meters ahead, that was simply covered by flowing water. This was not just a normal stream crossing, or even a crossing where the water is only a few inches high. It looked at least 6 to 8 inch deep, full of pebbles as big as my palm. I was sure the water too was not exactly heated up so as to make the travelers comfortable. I looked around in despair, to find whether there was some other bypass for this waterway, but there wasn’t any. So this is it, I thought, and plunged Vesta into the water. I held on to the throttle, as I did not want to be in an unfortunate situation where Vesta would stall and I would have to put my feet down in the stream in order to balance ourselves. I kept on bouncing around, with every pebble in the way threatening to slip the bike. With a little bit of skill and a truck load of luck, I managed to cross the patch without stalling, but not without getting wet. Vesta bounced so much in that already flowing water, some water was sprinkled on even the top of my helmet! But better to get sprinkled than getting full on wet, I thought, and moved ahead thanking my stars.

    After a while, I came across a military establishment. This seemed like a trend here, that before and after a hilly pass there would be some military establishment, and there would be totally banged up roads in between these two posts. However the road ahead was looking much better, so I halted to pick up Nandinee, who was behind in that tourist vehicle.

    Soon we were united, and after thanking the two girls and wishing them luck ahead, she joined me wondering how the hell I managed to not fall. Guess the fall of Zozi La was still fresh on her mind! At the military check post some distance ahead, where I submitted the permits, I asked around for any hotels for lunch. There was a village just after that post that had some hotels, and afterwards it would be directly at the lake. As it was already lunch time, we took that detour, and got in a hotel to grab a quick lunch. Another solo biker was having his lunch there. I could see from his Bullet number plate that he was from Mumbai, but decided not to disturb him in his solitary meal. As he too was heading the same way us, we could catch up later.

    At these hotels, there were mainly rice dishes on the menu. We noticed that many such small hotels made mainly rice dishes, and hardly any roti or paratha dishes were seen on the menu. After the lunch, we joined the main road again towards Pangong Tso. The road ahead was pretty straight, and good most of the times. But whenever we would get comfortable at the speed, suddenly the road would disappear, to reveal a big ditch in the road. This might be formed because of the melted ice at the left side crossing the road to meet the river at right. Such ditches appeared from time to time, and kept us on our toes wondering how far the next one might be. Every now and then, we would cross a small stream crossing such ditch, and I was reminded of the advice by Capt Nandu’s nefew, ‘Post noon, the ice starts melting on top of the hills and the streams increase in speed as well as size. So reach as soon as possible’. The number of water crossings was quite high, but none of them was dangerous, at least none yet – barring the first 100 m one.

    At the end of the road with ditches, we came across a huge patch of broken road. This was the point warned to us by the group of bikers. So we looked around and found a muddy track going in the sands at our left. We proceed cautiously. In distance, we could see a father-son pair on a bullet. They signaled us the path hidden in the mud. Nandinee got down on foot, and walked ahead, guiding me the safe path to cross the broken road. Very slowly, I took Vesta on the slippery path, and managed to cross that broken road without slipping anywhere. We thanked the motorcycling father-son duo, and moved on.

    After a while, we could see sand around us, similar to Hunder road. While we were talking amongst us that how this looked similar to the Hunder path, suddenly the road disappeared completely, and we could see only sand in front of us. Stretching our sights ahead, we could see black tar road ahead. It seemed that for this particular patch, sand has overtaken on the road, and we would have to travel through sand. This was a very scary option for me, as riding in sand is perhaps the toughest task. You have hardly any control of the bike’s steering, every undulation in the sand decides which way the handle will turn, and you only have choice to wring the accelerator and hang tight praying dear lord.

    A local jeep was approaching from rear. They stopped near us, and the driver offered to give lift to Nandinee for that sandy patch. An elderly lady was already seating in the passenger seat. This was a better alternative to ridding two up in unknown sands, so Nandinee got in the jeep and moved on, while I started gathering courage. The sand was looking about a foot high, and the condition of the road beneath it unknown. To my surprise, a very battered looking Maruti 800 full with 5 passangers overtook me and entered the sand patch at speed. Looking at it, I too feigned courage, and gunned Vesta.

    The moment my front wheel touched the sand, I could feel the control taken away from me. Bike was riding as if a drunken man going post to post, looking for lying down. In sand, I couldn’t even put my feet down in fear that it would get stuck and would drag me behind. Puffing up a big cloud of sand behind me, I managed to pass that patch in perhaps the most unceremonious way.

    Breathing deep, trying to compose myself, I took a turn hoping to catch the jeep, just too see even bigger sandy patch in front of me. It was around 200 meters long. I could see the Mumbai biker riding in that patch on his bullet, and the way he was dancing around, my heartbeats increased their tempo to another level. Heck, let’s do it one more time, I thought, and rode ahead. Same drama of riding on direction less motorcycle, and just when I was at the end of my wits, the patch ended, and I prayed a lot that let this be the last one. Riding in water was better than this, because at least I could put my feet down and see the bottom. God seemed to have his ear open this time, because this wish was granted immediately.

    When I flagged down the jeep, he informed me that there were 2 water crossings ahead, and it would be better if we would continue the present arrangement. Tensed, I moved ahead to cross two large water crossings one after another. In one of those crossings, there was simply no road. There was a tar road just before and after the crossing, but during the crossing, there was only rocks and pebbles with ankle to knee high water. I wondered how the Maruti 800 would have crossed this patch, but we couldn’t catch them, so evidently they crossed all those hurdles safely.

    This particular patch of sands and water crossings was hardly a kilometer long, but it was surely the toughest one so far. I picked up Nandinee from the jeep and inquired whether there were more of such patches ahead. Luckily this was the last one, and the road ahead was clear.

    The jeep moved ahead of us, and we started making way on the uphill climb. It was already past 3.30PM, and we had yet to cross pagal nallah.

    Pagal Nallah is a wild stream of water enroute to Pangong tso. It was a very famous and feared point, where water would flow wildly post noon. Hence it had the name Pagal nallah – Mad stream. However there is a new bridge built over the nalla that has tamed the path. Yet, how tamed a wild animal could be? We were heading towards it to experience it in person.

    After the upclimb ended, we could see a lake in the distance. Hopefully it was the lake that we were heading to, the Pangong Tso. The roads are pretty definitive, and there is hardly any chance to take any wrong road unless you were actually planning to.

    I came across a bridge joining two hills, with a stream speedily flowing underneath. I realized this was the Pagal nallah. The new bridge is built up on a height, but the nalla underneath still makes its presence felt. It was hard to imagine how the ride would have been if this bridge was not built. Crossing that wild stream was a scary thought, and the fact that people have crossed it on all types of vehicles at all times of the day seemed really unbelievable.

    We were not totally kept away from the adventure of the past, it seemed. Just ahead of the bridge, there came a small water crossing. Small by the standards of past 100s of meters of water crossing, this was about 4-5 meters long. It was flowing on a concrete bridge, and I was supposed to ride over it. Even though the water was hardly 3-4 inches high, it was flowing pretty fast and the road underneath had a nasty slope towards the flow, so as to wash away anything that came in the path into the valley the stream was flowing into.



    For safety, Nandinee got down and I crossed the stream slowly. Crossing the stream, I parked Vesta and waited for her to cross the stream from a safe point and come over. But this was taking too much time, so I got down to investigate more. There was no place that she could safely cross the water without getting wet or risking herself being washed away! I walked to the start of the stream, but it seemed to descend from top of a hill, and had no safe crossing point. The only crossable depth seemed on the road that was sloping dangerously towards the valley. Also, perhaps our eyes were playing trick, but it appeared that the intensity and quantity of water being flown was increasing as the time went by, and the flow was looking dangerous to cross. There was no railing on that road, so should someone fall in that stream, there was nothing to break his journey of being washing away into the valley except perhaps his luck.

    As time began to roll by, we started getting tensed. I remembered Bollywood movies where Hero would walk across hazards and rescue the heroin stuck in calamity. Here my own wife was stuck across the stream, what could be the better opportunity to prove my heroism? I am not usually this dumb, but perhaps the cold weather had shrunk my brain to the size of a peanut, and I decided to play superman.

    Even though Nandinee was shouting from across not to cross the stream, I put one feet into the stream slowly, hoping that the waterproof shoes prove their worth. Taking a few brave steps ahead, the water suddenly felt too strong to stand in. The icy cold stream found its way inside my shoes, and chilled me to the bones. The cold shock was nothing like I had ever felt, and I instantly felt so weak and so out of control of my own body. It seemed perhaps only the stream could control my fall. Staggering and trying to gain control, I fumbled my way back to Vesta, without feeling anything from the legs except extreme numbness. Nandinee was standing with worried eyes and hand on her mouth, and I hurriedly removed the shoes and wet socks to get fid of the the icy water in them.



    I guess Almighty took a mercy on my condition, because at that time, a jeep appeared from my side, going towards Leh. I hailed him and requested him to bring back Nandinee from across the stream. What seemed like an unsolvable problem for past half hour was solved in 2 minutes. The gentleman crossed the stream in his jeep, picked up Nandinee, and reversed back to bring her to my side. I thanked him profusely, and started rubbing my feet and toes to make them feel warm. We saw another bullet following our path, and it seemed a couple was riding it. I hailed him to stop across, and informed him about the strong current of the stream. He too took the same decision, and crossed the stream alone. I offered to stay till we get some ride for his wife to cross the stream, but he asked us not to worry and to move on. So we wished him luck and continued our journey.


    We were already very tired due to all the adventures of the day, and were looking forward for reaching our destination for tonight. This particular water crossing was right at the top of the hill, so we had mostly downward sloping roads of good condition here on. There was a small patch of hotels on our right, and we might have halted here in normal journeys, but today we had no energy or mood to break the already broken journey even more, and hence moved on to our destination ‘Spangmik’.

    Spangmik is a village in close vicinity to Pangong Tso. While it seems romantic to stay near the lake, we were actually hoping to put some distance between us and the lake due to the falling temperatures. We had already heard frozen stiff stories from past travelers, and didn’t want to freeze our buns off to the Himalayan weather, which was threateningly showing sign to turn for the worse now.

    The Pangong Tso is a huge lake. It is 135 kms long and 5 kms wide. Currently only twenty percent of this great lake lies in India and remaining is captured by China in 1961 war. I met a number of military persons who were quite bitter about the loss of control over Pangong tso in the war. As per them, there was hardly any military presence here till 1961, and it was an easy conquer for China. Spangmik is pretty much the last village from India side where we could find accommodation.



    When we reached Spangmik, we could see many sites with tents sprung across. There were very few concrete houses, most of the tent hotels are of cloth only, which were fluttering wildly on the winds. We searched a few hotels, when I met the Mumbai Biker. He was riding alone from Mumbai, and had grand plans of adventures ahead. Wishing him luck, we continued our hunt for our abode at night. After checking a few tent sites, and skipping a few that required climb up or down through extremely tattered roads, we saw a nice site with tents located on top of a small hill. It was ‘Camps of Ladakh’ site, where Shahrukh Khan had stayed during the shooting of Jab tak hain Jaan. I remember this, because I was repeatedly informed of this very proudly by every person of the hotel.

    But with or without this legacy, the tents were likeable, and the manager offered us a nice deal. This was the first time that we were staying in a tent. Usually we assume that a tent is the lowest possible accommodation short of sleeping under the sky, but here the definition was different. These tents were quite luxurious, with sit out areas, double beds and attached toilets and bathrooms. They were supposedly weather proof too, and bolted down securely.

    We took the luggage in our tent, and dressed up to explore the surrounding area as we had daylight. When we came out of the tent, we saw our neighbours were senior citizens and struck a conversation out of interest. It turned out that both our neighbours were highly accomplished businessmen from Mumbai. It was nice to see that Leh trip was being done by people in all the age groups, and not just limited to hot blooded youths. They were equally perplexed by the fact that we – a couple - were travelling on a motorcycle.



    We came down the hill for taking a stroll, but soon the winds increased a lot, so we dropped the idea of walking around, and headed back in the tent. There is no TV or any other entertainment that could pass time. But when you have got the huge lake sprawled in front of you, with a chatty partner on the next chair and a hot cup of coffee, no such outside equipment was needed to pass the time either.



    The service at the hotel deserves a mention too. They provided hot water and tea whenever we demanded. The room was sufficiently equipped with warm blankets, and more blankets could be made available on request. Having such facility and service available this far from major towns was a wonderful experience.

    The dinner time was 8.00pm, but it was preponed to 7.30. The food was great, and it tasted even better on the backdrop of such an adventurous day. We were informed that the time out for lights was at 10.00pm. I could not see any electrical poles coming to this place, so it was clear that all the electricity at the hotel was from a generator, which would be shut off at 10. We returned to our tent shivering heavily, and snuck under the thick layers of blankets. At that time, I remembered that the sky at Pangong tso is famous for its views. Since we were far away from a full moon, there was a good chance of watching the star lit sky.

    I came out of the tent, shielded my eyes from the surrounding light from the site, and gasped. Millions of stars and planets were winking above me. Watching a moon less night sky from a non-polluted space is always a breath taking experience, even to a non-astrological person like me. But at places like Pangong tso located on 14000 feet above sea level, it is an even better experience as the air is thinner. Coupled with the chilling wind, looking at the million candles lit up above, and wondering whether there would be similar someone on one of these planets looking up towards me, was a heavenly experience.

    I couldn’t let Nandinee miss this plethora of wonder, so I dragged her out with the blankets draped around her to come outside the tent. She came out very grumpily, but was similarly mesmerized by the heavenly beauty above us.

    The waves of water shimmered in a distance, very slightly visible. Here we were, shivering under an open sky, gazing upwards in wonder, with the great lake witnessing two crazy bikers living their dream.

    We returned to tent, and tried to find sleep among the cold atmosphere and in heavy winds that threatened to uproot the tents if they could. The blowing winds fluttered the windows and sit-outs of the tents. In the utter darkness that encompassed us, with no man made light available to illuminate it, we lied on bed, hearing each other trying to breathe. There is lesser oxygen in the air here than we city folks are accustomed to. I drifted away to sleep sometime near midnight, and dreamt of bumpy roads and windy weather.

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