Friday, March 12, 2010

THE ADVENTUROUS TRIP TO LEH!

THE ADVENTUROUS TRIP TO LEH



12TH AUGUST 2009:


Reminiscing those glorious fourteen days of my life ………

Finally the wait was over. I was at the airport in the wee hours, waiting for my baggage to be checked in. I saw glimpses of my friend who had dropped me, as he looked at me through the glass wall and I bet he would have thought that I was one lucky guy, who was about to realise his dream. But the things many people would not know are, that the two weeks I spent with the other four team mates (Sandy, Hillman, Jason and Varun) are the days, I for one would never forget for the rest of my life.

I was sitting in the lounge after the security check, recapitulating the enormous struggle, the obstacles and operational hazards that I had to cross to undergo to make this trip possible. The hour long chats; the Skype calls; the endless research to find out the optimum and best road route to Leh, figuring how much it would cost for the logistics and trip as a whole; making a list of haves and have-nots for the trip, the list was endless. I knew for sure, that I would be in for surprises, but now when I look at it, it is really an awesome experience to mentally relive it all again; frame by frame, sequence by sequence, how we pulled it off, overcoming all unforeseen challenges along the way.

I boarded the connecting flight from Chennai at 5.00 am, to New Delhi via Pune and it took more than 4 hours for us to reach New Delhi. The price one has to pay for adopting a frugal stance from day one; though not the best option when travelling at normal times. Well anybody can go to Leh and return spending money lavishly, but to do it with a shoe string budget and yet get the best of both the worlds; was the only reason that overwhelmed me into taking this arduous extra-long route. It was value for money that mattered.

After collecting my baggage and calling folks back home, I was off in a pre-paid taxi to my friend’s place, at Dwaraka. New Delhi was a lot different after 10 years, from the last time I had come down to the Capital. The climate here has for sure taken a beating. Thanks to the whole lot of factories that keeps flooding the outskirts and make sure they stay in the Top 3 of the world’s most polluted cities. I had to take leave from my friend’s house as soon as I reached there, as our bikes would have reached the railway station a couple of hours earlier. I took the Metro and I must say that was the only good thing I saw, which has changed over the years. As soon as I reached the Station, the scorching sun had welcomed me by showering me all its radiant warmth, and to top it all with 80-90% relative humidity, nature’s hospitality was at it heightened best!!!. Added to the agony were the long hours of power-cuts in the Capital City!!! What more can you ask for?

I was of the opinion all this while, that Chennai was the worst place to be at! I changed my opinion ever since I made this trip there. In fact I swore, if any Delhite or anybody from any State makes any comment about Chennai, being the hottest and sultriest place to be at, they would have had to hold the rotten end of the stick, thanks to a possible flurry of the choicest un-parliamentary phrases, I would hurl at them. Before making this trip, I had half a mind of settling down at New Delhi later in life. No way will that ever happen, after what I experienced in New Delhi. My choice now has narrowed down to Bangalore in the South and Chandigarh in the North.

AT THE NEW DELHI RAILWAY STATION/AIRPORT:

This was the day I got exhausted to the core. I reached the station around 11.00 am and was there till 5.00 pm. I was totally irritated by seeing how the touts work over there. They lack discipline, completely unorganised and take their own sweet time to do things. It drove me crazy as hell. Finally, I got all the 3 bikes on an auto carrier and got them back to my friend’s place. I hadn’t eaten a thing and that made me completely tired. I went straight to my buddy’s bed and slept for a few hours. Sandy and Ranji’s (Hill man) flight landed at around 10.15 pm and I was there at the airport by then. After getting their luggage, the two of them got into a cab and I followed them on my bike to Paschim Vihar where we were supposed to stay with my father’s friend. That did not happen as Uncle went off to Agra that morning and was not able to return back to Delhi as he missed the evening train. After a misunderstanding of sorts, the three of us finally checked in a Hotel R Star at Gurgaon, opposite to the Airport Runway.

13TH AUGUST 2009:

After a long and tiring night, next morning, Sandy and I got up and left for Dwarka on my bike, to get his bike. Hillman was taking a nap till we came back. As soon as we were on the road, I got a call from Varun who said that he has arrived at the New Delhi Airport. I told him to meet up with Jason and wait for us at the airport. We reached Dwarka and got Sandy’s bike from the flats. We picked the 2 chaps at the airport and went back to the Hotel. The room was in a mess and came as a shock to poor old Varun, who thought that we were all set to go! This was just the beginning and would become more of a normal routine during the two weeks ahead, which I guess Varun would get used to or let’s say forced to get used to!!! J After some planning and discussions, we stuffed only the bare necessities into our bags, leaving all the remaining personal effects at my Cousin’s place at Janakpuri Extension. She was so happy to see us after a long time. We bade adieu to her and as none of us had eaten anything, we went to a nearby hotel and satiated our hunger pangs. I decided to take Ranji with me to Dwarka to pick up his bike. By the time, we returned I saw Varun and Jason sleeping like innocent babies and Sandy was not to be seen around. He had gone to a browsing centre to find out information about our trip. When we both were done, we took the bags and waited for Sandy to return. We decided to split into two groups. Varun and I went to Gurgaon to get the sleeping bags for all. Sandy, Hillman and Jason left for the Castrol Bike Zone to get the bikes fine-tuned for the trip. We reached the place after calling the dealers ‘N’ number of times.

I won’t forget an incident which happened when we were in Gurgaon. There was this hot sexy babe we bumped into and the chivalrous guy that I am, I wanted Varun to have a word or two with the sexy babe. But Alas! That was not to happen. Our Man was frozen, more like a statue after what he saw in her. “What caused him to disconnect beats me totally - I don’t know”. That still remains a mystery. J

Anyways, we got ourselves a good deal and bagged four of the sleeping bags for Rs. 4,400/-. It was almost 6.00 pm and we were nowhere close to where the Castrol Bike Zone was located. After asking the bystanders and auto wallahs and making rounds on the same road, we finally found the place.

CASTROL BIKE ZONE- GURGAON:

Oh this was my first achievement, getting a sponsor for Bikers Fraternity and I must say I was impressed with the way the mechanics handled our babies. They normally close their shop at 6.30 pm but that day, it closed somewhere around 8.30 pm. I never saw that kind of dedication from their Chennai counterpart, where I give my bike every time. We took snaps with the Mechanics and the Owner who played a good Host! Jason utilised the time we spent in the garage by getting a portfolio of sorts done by taking self-snaps in the same place a dozen times. J It was drizzling a bit when the bikes were all set to go! Once it stopped, we left for India Gate.

INDIA GATE:


It was close to 11.00 pm, when we reached India Gate. It took us nearly 2 and half hours to reach the spot. Delhi is a big place and fellows like us who are here after a long time can easily get lost. Sandy and I left for our Cousin’s place to dump the goods. It took a while to figure out where Janakapura Extension was? We finally found our sister’s place, dropped the bag and took the parcel rotis and butter chicken she had ordered for us. When we finally found our way back to India Gate, the boys were all lying down on the lawn. All of us were tired and once we had the rotis & curry, we got ourselves completely recharged! At around 1am, we left the humid Delhi for good, and our trip kick finally started.

Varun and Sandy on the Avenger took the lead, followed by Ranji (Hillman) on his Bullet and the tail-enders being Jason and myself on my Pulsar. That was the formation we followed. On our way to the Chandigarh Highway, we lost track of the other two bikes / bikers for some time as I saw Ranji’s elbow guard flying off from his bike, and he didn’t realise it. I tried honking, but in vain. We picked the elbow guard and tried to catch up with the other 2 bikers, but only could see Hillman at a distance, but no signs of Sandy and Varun. Ranji then follows me, and we end up in front of the New Delhi Railway station, near to the Ajmer Gate. There, we were asked to stop by the Delhi Police who were patrolling that area. Sandy called up and I told him that we were waiting near the station. One police official talked to Sandy and finds out his current location and gives him directions to the Railway Station. It was quite obvious that the cops were trying to fleece money from us by finding faults on our bikes. The officials demanded 1000/- as fine for not having all the necessary documents. We had all the documents for the bike and I told the cops that we wouldn’t require a NOC as we are not residing in that city. Sandy’s patience finally wore off! He felt that there was no point being Mr Nice Guy! The Angry Young Man asked the cops to prove their point by showing us where it is written in the Rule book! He even said that he would be more than happy to pay them more money if they prove the point. The cops, who made up all the baseless charges, had no other choice but to leave us. We left the place at around 1.30 am, followed the same pattern, Sandy/ Varun leading, Ranji in between and Jason /myself following them both.

14TH AUGUST 2009:

We kept riding and finally reached the Highway. After riding for 2 hours, we stopped at a Hotel to have some Chai as all the three bikers, at times were feeling sleepy. We met this interesting gentleman or should I say Magician cum poet, who entertained us with his Magic tricks and dedicated one sher- sheyari on kudrat (environment), when he came to know of our primary purpose-Spreading Awareness on The Melting Himalayan Glaciers! We bid adieu to the Magician and his assistant and rode again only to stop at around 5.30 am or so at another Dhaba as it was raining cats and dogs! Varun and Sandy took a cat nap, while Jason and Renji were taking snaps wearing the Black Hat! Close to 6.00 am, we were back on the roads again, when the weather cleared and the sun emerged through the clouds to our relief. Our stomachs were growling and we decided to stop on the way at a Dhaba, somewhere in Haryana for breakfast. We had nice Alu ka Parattas with ounces of Makhan on it and Curd. We even had Lassi, but it did not turn out to be as good as I expected. We feasted our tiring eyes on some local beauties (kudis) and lazed out for a while. Then we set out again to accomplish our mission.

This was a beautiful stretch, and after a couple of hours, we started feeling sleepy again. We then stopped at a Dhaba, where we slept for an hour or two. After getting up, we asked for Chai. It was a hot and humid day, so to keep myself cool, I emptied a jug of water over my head. Apparently, the same didn’t work out for Sandy as his body was in an immunocompromised mode. Soon after that, he caught a bad viral fever, which stuck to him for the next 2 days. It was pouring cats and dogs in some areas, but we moved on undeterred as we had taken more breaks in this trip already than we normally do. So it was more like, even Hell comes down, Chandigarh would be the next stop. But, if things had to go the way I wanted them to, it would not be a very gruelling challenging trip. We stopped some 50 kms. from Chandigarh nearby Ambala. It was around 1.30 pm or so. That’s when Sandy breaks the news and tells all of us that he’s got this sick fever. L He was of the opinion that he has Swine Flu, Oh my God! I don’t want to describe the scene anymore. After having our lunch, we left for Chandigarh. Once we reached the City Beautiful, Ranji’s bike started giving some problems. I remember him saying it was something to do with the Battery box. So we are off to this place called Motor Market, which to all us bikers looked like a one stop place for any bike related issue. I was impressed. When we reached this place, we stopped at a mechanic’s place who would rectify Hillman’s bike in some time. Meanwhile, Sandy and I left to the nearby hospital to get him diagnosed. We went to PGI (Post Graduate Institute of Medical Research) and decided not to go further, as I was sure that Sandy could pick up nosocomial infections. Thanks to the sickly people who throng the place.

I then called in Dad’s friend Mr. Rajinder Sharma if he could help us out. I asked him, if he could give us the number of his Family Doctor, and he messaged me back with the number. We rode back to Motor Market, where we got Sandy’s front tyres replaced with brand new ones. We even got the bungee cords which would keep the luggage intact.

At around 7.00 pm, the frustration started to build within all of us, as we were not able to achieve the target. After lot of heated discussions, we left Chandigarh heading for Ropar. At around 10.00 pm, we are nowhere close to the Manali route and landed up at a Dhaba, where we decided to have our dinner. All of us were totally tired, ordered for rotis and some veg curry. Hillman was in no mood of riding any further, while I wanted to ride the whole night to cover up the distance. Well, finally we decided to ride till Ropar and stay at a Gurudwara there. We even gave directions to the fellows who asked how to go to Manali, but the Irony was that we weren’t able to figure it out ourselves! We rode for couple of hours round about Chandigarh. Midway, while doing so, at one particular curve, Ranji slipped into slushy pit. We took his bike somehow, and he finally admitted that he might have got sleepy after all the riding. J From then on, I was riding his bike, while he was sitting with Sandy. Varun and Jason were on the Pulsar. So after riding for a while around we reached a place called Chunni, we happened to meet some Sardars who said, “Sirji aap ko kisi ne mislead kiya hai, asli rasta to oos taraf hai”. Sada munda…Oye Kudiye! Joh boleh so nihal wo hi Sat Sri Akal ….balle balle… is all I could understand from whatever they muttered in Punjabi J There was this other Sardar who would say that Manali is only 70 kms. from where we are. The short cut it seems…lol J yeah right! Finally, we gave up all hope to hit the highway and went back to Chandigarh. We tried knocking the doors of the Gurudwaras on the way, but in vain! Ranji was alert again, and rode his bike, I was riding Sandy’s bike with him, Varun and Jason on the Pulsar. Somehow we lost Jason and Ranji and were riding somewhere in Mohali, I guess. We called up Jason to find out that they somehow found their way to a Hotel at Sector 32, Hotel White Palace. After riding for an hour or so, and making ‘n’ number of calls, we finally saw the boys at the hotel entrance. We had to pay Rs. 2500/- for a room, which looked to me more like an attic. Well, I guess we boys didn’t have any choice at all! Before I could I realise, I was snoring away to glory.

15TH AUGUST 2009:

We got up around 10.00 am and I checked on Sandy to see if he felt better. When I placed my hand on his forehead, it was piping hot and he was getting worse as the day progressed. After everyone freshened up, we checked out from the hotel and got into a cafĂ© Coffee Day, which was near the hotel. I called Rajinder Uncle, who was busy as his neighbour’s son committed suicide. At the time I called, Uncle was at the mortuary. When I told about Sandy’s condition, he told us to wait for couple of hours, as he would have to come all the way from Mohali to meet us. I had also called in my Dad, who had asked me to go meet one of his old friends, who was put up at Sector 8C. Dad had the address with him and sends it via sms. Jason and I left in search of that Uncle’s house, while the three of them stay put at Coffee Day. We somehow found out Uncle Sharma’s residence, but he wasn’t staying there anymore. So we left the place soon. On our way back, we passed by Neh Chand’s Rock Garden, and I decided to show Jason this magnificent place. We did see things out there in 10 minutes, took snaps and left for Sector 32, where the boys were waiting for us.

Uncle had come in by that time. Sandy and I accompanied Uncle in his car and left for the Clinic. We got Sandy diagnosed and doctor said that it was a viral infection and a day’s rest or two, should get him back in shape. We got the medicines and came back to Coffee Day. After a small discussion, we decided to halt at Anantpur Sahib, which was close to 120 kms. from Chandigarh. We got our baggage, tied it to the bikes and left Coffee Day around 7.30 pm. Uncle was guiding us the way till the Highway and we were following his car.

ABORT MISSION- JASON:

Midway, Jason who was sitting pillion on my bike got a call from his Mom. I could sense some kind of bad thing happening by the way Jason was expressing himself. He then tells me that his Grandpa is critical and is in the ICU. I overtook Uncle’s car and everyone pulls over. Once I broke the news to everyone, I could see that frustrated look in everyone’s face. We then decided that Jason backs off and leaves for Chennai. Uncle then dropped him at the bus stand, and we continued on our way to Anantpur Sahib. I was riding Sandy’s Avenger with him as a pillion, Varun on my Pulsar, Ranji on his Bullet. We rode for close to two and half hours through the slushy road and finally made it to Anantpur Sahib. It was around 11.00 pm when we reached the Gurudwara. We called up Sandeep Singh, the caretaker of Gurudwara, referred by Rajinder Uncle to get the rooms booked. We got a Big room with four Beds with A/C for Rs. 200/-. After dumping the bags, we rushed to langar hall (place where we get free food) and had something to eat in turns. Varun and I walked around the gurudwara and took some snaps. We went back to our room and slept.

16TH AUGUST 2009:

ANANTPUR SAHIB (GURUDWARA):

We got up around 10.00 am or 11.00 am, as we knew we didn’t have much to do for the day. We had a discussion the previous night, as to what would be the POA (Plan of Action) for the rest of the days. We thought it would be advisable to stay put in Anantpur and leave the following day, giving a day for Sandy to recuperate. We had our breakfast and left to the markets nearby the Gurudwara leaving Sandy at the room. Ranji bought a Kirpan (the religious dagger) from the market. We then took our bikes and thought to visit the nearby places. We had lunch at a local dhaba, as Ranji was getting sick eating the rotis and the curry they serve at Langar Hall. We had some rotis, tomato curry, lassi and Cokes for lunch. The lassi was horrible. I thought, being in Punjab, you get to have first class Lassi. I was so wrong! After taking snaps at a park and with Ranji almost losing his bag, we left for a field where Varun and I took part in Kabadi match played by the young kids there. Ranji wasn’t interested in anything apart from taking snaps. We did have loads of fun playing with the agile young lads; wish we had some kudis in the team too, for us to showcase our skills. J Anyway, after taking snaps with the local lads, we left for our room. After coming back, we did bit of planning, had dinner and went back to sleep. (Not included the part where Sandy tells us that he is feeling sick and then we have loads of arguments that night)

17TH AUGUST 2009:

We got up around 6.00 am in the morning and by around 10.00 am we left the place for Manali. We follow the same pattern. Varun was riding the Avenger I guess with Sandy as pillion, Ranji on Bullet and me on my Pulsar. We stopped at a temple where we tied some holy bands to protect from us getting into new hazards, which I got used to by then…lol J stopped at a few places for ablutions and even to take snaps. We stopped for lunch and refilling gas for our bikes at around 1.30 pm. There we met some folks, who had made it to Ladakh, a couple of times and they advised us as to how to go about the journey! Ranji and I got sick of eating rotis, though I made a contrary statement the previous night to Varun and I quote:- ‘When in Rome, be a Roman’. When the witty bugger reminded me of this, I couldn’t do a damn, but just give him one wide shameless grin J and eat the jeera rice, which was not at all good. I was even getting tired of having vegetarian food all the way till here. Every place we went, all they would have is Shahi Paneer, Paneer Kofta, Paneer ##$@%$$!

After filling our tummy, next thing in line was to get the bikes filled. We finally got the Pollution check done at that petrol bunk, which were trying to do right from Chandigarh! We rode again and we stopped sometimes to get some blood moving to our numb bottoms or to buy some mineral water, which we started having a lot along the way! The mountains were lovely; especially the 2-3 kms. tunnel, which we passed, was simply mind boggling. I was riding alone in this part, Sandy and Varun on Avenger and Ranji on his Bullet. Somewhere down the road, was the tunnel, which would cut across mountains, and it was a wonderful feeling to ride in that 3 kms. stretch of tunnel. The temperature was so cold and it would have been pitch dark, had there not been any road lightings. Everyone in our group was so impressed with this tunnel that we kept talking about it for hours.

I stopped at the Mata Durga temple on the way and offered prayers to the Mother, asking her to help us all to complete this trip somehow! I liked the Prasadam we got (kind of puffed rice) kept eating and munching a lot of them. It drizzled on the way, but we kept going. At around 6.00 pm, I saw Ranji at a chai shop waiting for us all. Twenty minutes later, Sandy and Varun joined us. I remember Varun introducing me to a lady who said she was from Leh! She looked more like a Tibetan to me. There was this Airport at this place where we had this Chai. I don’t remember the place. Let me check the google maps. Eureka! I found it. I think its Bhuntar, somewhere near Kullu. Boys, let me know if I’ve gone wrong. We rode again for an hour or so, and we stopped at this small village to buy some petrol cans. I was having a nice time playing with those huge dogs, feeding them biscuits. We left the place soon, and after riding for an hour or so, we reached a Check post. We stopped there and had to pay some kind of Green Tax. I think they charged Rs. 100/- per vehicle. We met a tout at that place, who then took us to a Hotel where we stayed put for the night. After dumping our bags, we left our hotel close to 10.45 pm. We didn’t order food from the hotel and decided to go out and have it in the Market place.

The night life is pretty good out here. I heard from the locals that they are open till 1.00 am or 2.00 am in the night. It was a nice stroll to the market place. We got ourselves Thermal wears, gloves and head gear to protect us from the chilly winds. We then went to this HIMALAYAN Dhaba where we had some Non Veg after a bloody long time. J We had rotis, Tandoori Chicken, Chicken Gravy for dinner. Varun, I guess for the first time could see me not grumbling about not having something nice to chew J We went back to our room and after watching Cartoon Network on TV for 10 odd minutes, we slept off. How can I forget this part! Our Man Varun was talking about awareness programme to the owner of that hotel. I had left them both to talk and when I returned to the room, the owner was talking about his younger kid being a mischievous brat and our man was giving the owner suggestions to change his name. Giving him Numerology tips! Never knew our man was a King in this field too J

18TH AUGUST 2009:

We got up around 6.30 am and left the place around 8.30 am. Yeah! No matter how early we get up, we would end up leaving at 9.00 am or 10.00 am in the morning. This is a well-known fact, I knew from Day 1. Our Sunny boy Varun was not giving up on that though, not for the first few days at least. J We left the hotel, heading for Rohtang Pass. The place we passed by was stunning, and though we initially planned that we wouldn’t stop every now or then, the natural beauty was so awesome that we happened to stop every now and then. We took loads of snaps, and I for once thought to ride on the Black Beauties that were grazing on those mighty mountains. We stopped at a tented camp (hotel), where we had our breakfast. I think it was 50 odd kms. from Rohtang Pass. This was one amazing place. We had omelette and bread. The omelettes were yucky, half cooked. We had no choice but to eat them. As usual, Ranji was taking snaps and this time around he trained a puppy there in 2 minutes.

We left the place and our journey uphill started. Ranji was the first fella to leave followed by Sandy on his Avenger and Varun and I on Pulsar. They weren’t any tarmac on the way up; the road was covered with pile of wet mud, which looked more like tons of chocolate syrup poured on the road. There was this one stretch where we had to wait for the land mover to take out the excess mud, as it became increasingly difficult for even cars to pass through. Ranji had somehow escaped that part. After riding through these tough roads, I was getting tired and our dietician pal Varun kept giving me the supplements that would keep me going - The Kish Mish (dried grapes). That did help us throughout the trip! Finally we reached Rohtang Pass, where I saw Ranji and Sandy waiting for us. We took snaps of ours and the yaks which you get to see there. We bought mineral water which cost us around Rs. 20/- to Rs. 25/- per bottle.

We had a small Awareness Programme with the tourists, who had come down there and in 10 odd minutes we left the spot. Ranji leading, followed by Sandy and then by us (Varun and me). The mountains mamas were so awesome. We clicked loads of snaps of iced clad Mountains and the dusty road. We did see the Army convoys every now and then. Suddenly, there was a stretch of beautiful road and we would then increase our speeds from the normal 10-15 kmph. to 60-70 kmph. The beautiful roads stopped after 5-8 kms. as there would have been water flooding some parts of the road and that stretch would have cracks. Then it’s back to the usual snail speed.

The views we got to see of the Mighty Mountains from there were breath-taking! It was close to 5.00 pm and it started raining. We were far from any place to take shelter. Then we stopped at this rocky kind of a cave, not exactly a cave! I hope you get the picture. We waited there for some time. My knees were aching and I told the boys that there is some kind of tent down the curves and told them that would be a better place to halt. It was still drizzling and we made it to that tent. It turned to be a hotel. We stopped there. We were all shivering even though we had our rain coats on. I guess most of us were partially wet. We ordered for 2 or 3 rounds of Chai followed by a round of Wai Wai Noodles or Thukpas as the locals say there for Noodle soup. It was close to 6.30 pm when it stopped raining. We left the place and thought we couldn’t make it to Sarchu which was 140 kms from where we were, and decided to ride another 20 kms to this place called Khoksar, where we would halt for the day! We only did a measly 71 kms. the whole day. We reached Khoksar close to 7.45 pm. One thing about being up in the Himalayas is that it does not get dark so soon. So we boys were lucky that we could ride till 8.00 pm every day.

We went to the Army Quarters and found out that there was one Himachal State Tourism Guest House nearby. We went to that place. Varun and I went to meet the official to ask if we could take room to stay. He would then ask us to write a letter with all our details for security reasons I presume. He told us that they were no rooms they had, but gave us two alternatives. One was to travel 14 kms more to one of their guest house. The other one was to use the dormitory room. We chose the latter one. We paid Rs. 15/- per bed for a night. The cheapest stay we ever had on this trip. Enter Dormitory - the room is warm, but has a very unusable common bathroom. There were no lights in the rest room. It was bloody dark and kind of smelly too. But, we didn’t have a choice. We met this Cyclist enthusiast from Amsterdam, who was cycling all the way from Manali to Delhi. We did exchange our views with him.

One funny incident I recollect is about Ranji showing off his photography skills to this gentleman, who we later found to be an ace photographer. Lol J You should have seen the look on our Man’s face totally embarrassed, a Kodak moment I must say chaps! It was quite heartening after a long weary ride to get a good laugh at Ranji’s expense. That’s the day we all tried wearing the thermal wear for the first time, and we (Varun and I), tried the sleeping bagsJ. We went in turns to Sunny Dhaba nearby and had our dinner. Ranji and I went first and had some Rice, rotis and Mutton Curry followed by Sandy and Varun. It was pretty cold outside. I remember the locals saying that it should be around 2-3 degrees Celsius and that’s pretty normal for them. We came back, talked for a while, charged our phones, which were of no use, as there was no network for all of us except Sandy’s BSNL mobile. Around 10.30 pm we hit the sack.

19TH AUGUST 2009:

I got up around 5.00 am and tried calling the guys, but all of them woke up some time around 6.00 am. We had do the routine packing of bags. From then on, it became our (Varun and myself) job to fold those sleeping bags. I wanted to attend nature’s call, but the place was so bad that I thought I would do it on the roadside, when we take a break. We went to the same Sunny Dhaba and had some parathas. We guys wanted to buy some warm clothing, and the owner of Sunny Dhaba took us to one small room where a guy was selling second hand stuffs. All of us got some woollen and cotton socks as they got wet on our way from Rohtang. I got a pullover, tracks and woollen gloves. This was the first time we got to use that Air pressure pump kit. After checking the tyre pressure, we were only to leave that place around 8.30 am. Sandy took the lead, followed by me, Ranji was somewhere behind.

The roads were so good that I couldn’t resist myself going at 40’s anymore behind Ranji. I think I overtook Sandy and I was least bothered if they were behind us or not? I think they were. I remember keeping a bet with Varun about how much he thought we would cover the entire day? He replied back saying that he hopes that we would cover close to 155 + or – 5 and I said we would around 165 kms. We were in for a shock later that day to see we covered more ground than we expected. We did around 230 kms in those mountains in a span of 12 hours minus 2 odd hours in breaks. That’s was the first time Varun felt that something worked well in our favour. We stopped at Sissu for 10 odd minutes to have some Chai. Then the next stop was at Tandi. That was the last petrol bunk on that road. The next bunk they claim was 365 kms away at Leh.

We met this Slovenian family who was on their way from Leh. This Slovenian Dude came in a Land Cruiser with his son and his son’s girlfriend. Our ladies’ Man was soon hitting on the Slovenian babe. Bugger! We filled our tanks and even the jerry cans and left the place. It was close to 10.30 am. The roads weren’t that good from there. Some places, we had to make our way through when the goats would cover the entire road. The next stop was at Keylong, where Varun and I stopped, while the others carried on. After riding for quite some time, we reached Baralacha Pass, which was around 16,000 feet above sea level. Varun told me of some kind of ritual which one has to do, when they pass that area. We then left the place after taking some snaps. Before we left, we met Ranji at that spot who predicted that it may snow soon. And guess what! It really happened. Hillman’s word came true. We both were so thrilled seeing snow for the first time in our lives. We then stopped at a place where we went to scrape some ice from the mountains. It was so much fun. We thoroughly enjoyed that part.

We rode again for nearly 2 to 3 hours till about 3.00 pm. I was feeling drowsy and so wanted to take a nap. I asked Varun to ride for some time, and as soon as we started climbing the Gata loops, while taking a turn we went off balance and fell. I had some raisins and water and started riding. 10 minutes later, while taking a sharp turn, we slipped again, this time on fresh tarmac. I still wonder? They were 20 loops, which we crossed and then we reached the vast plains of Sarchu. On the either side of the valley are the Mountain ranges of Zanskar. The landscape got monotonous and we climbed towards yet another Pass called Lachlung La Pass at 16,616 feet above sea level. It was around 5.00 pm, when we stopped for a break. We were living on raisins and mineral water till then.

We met an Iranian Gentleman somewhere in his 40’s with his kid. I had to excuse myself from that conversation as I had a crisis situation to be taken care of first! All through I was only uploading, now , I had to download!! I went outside to find a suitable place, where I can ease myself. Finally I located one bathroom, a primitive bathroom, similar to the one they have in Slum Dog Millionaire. I paid 10 bucks to the lady who owns a shop and this bathroom. This was the only bathroom in that camp. She said she would allow only someone if they stayed at her place for rent. Seeing my desperation, she gave me the keys. I paid her 20 bucks and rushed to the bathroom. When I entered, I found out that it did not have any latch, so I wouldn’t be able to close it from inside. It was windy outside, and it kept that flimsy tin

bathroom shaking every now and then. It was tough for me as I had to hold on both the sides of that tin room like our man Atlas and shit in mid-air as I wasn’t accustomed to squatting. It was one hell of an experience, akin to firing Agni missiles right on target!!! When I came back to the tent, I was a very relieved, happy man. No tensions at all! I ate bread and omelette, had some noodle soup, and then left for Pang.

We bade adieu to the Iranians. It was around 7.00 pm and Sandy stopped at a place and waited for us. He then asked us for water, which was over. The mineral water left was with Hillman and he was nowhere to be seen. Sandy then decided to go down to the stream and collect some water. On his way up, he splashed some water on his face and his eyes were burning. After some time, he was back to his senses! Varun gave him the raisins to quench his thirst and passed some to me. We kept riding through those treacherous mountains and crossed many Steel bridges made by the Army. It was around 7.45 pm and it started getting dark. It was tough riding on those roads. 10 minutes later, we reach this check post where an official calls us up. I go in to meet the officer, sign in a register giving in all details of us. He then tells us of Ranji, who was waiting for us and just left for Pang which was 10-12 kms away. I thanked that official for the info he gave me, as I started getting worried about Hillman. Soon, we found Hillman waiting for us in front of a hotel (tent), where we checked in for the night.

As soon as I got inside the tent, we got to order hot chais and we warmed our frozen hands from the fire, which came out from the gas stove. We ordered Rotis and Dal and soon tucked ourselves into the sleeping bag and slept. The temperature outside would have been minus 2 degrees Celsius or so. I was reluctant in getting the luggages from the bike. Luckily, Ranji and Sandy went outside to get them. Sometime later, Varun and I went out with the torch light which would go off every now and then as it had some kind of loose connection. There was this funny incident which happened then. Our man would hold the light in the direction where I went to pee and when it came to his turn, this torch went off and he was peeing in the dark. I was trying to get that torch on and shake it and the ray of light happened to fall on few ladies, who happened to walk on that road. I then put the spot light on our Man who was still pissing and these Tibetan ladies happened to see this scene. They were laughing and making some kind of joke in the local language. Our man was blushing and as we walked inside, the ladies in the house looked at him and started laughing like crazy J I still wonder what the ladies saw and talked about? It was close to 10.00 pm and we hit the sack. I missed this part. When we went out, we looked at the sky which was so beautiful. I never saw so many stars in my entire life. Forget about stars… I think we saw many milky ways like ours from this wonderful pollution free place. I have never seen the sky with crystal clear clarity, housing millions of bright stars – I now realise the effects of pollution in the cities that deprives us of such awesome spectacle.

20TH AUGUST 2009:

We got up around 6.30 am and went about doing the routine things we’ve been doing for quite some time now like packing up the bags, folding the sleeping bag et al. We had our breakfast, a glass of hot milk with Bread and Omelettes. We had a puncture shop nearby, where we checked our tyre pressure. That’s when I realised that my engine oil leaked a bit and when I checked the oil gauge, there was not much engine oil left. I asked Sandy to take Varun with him, as I didn’t want to strain my baby anymore. I just prayed to the lords above to make sure nothing wrong happens to my baby. We left Pang around 8.00 am in the morning after taking snaps with the jawans, who had come down to the hotel for Chai.

We started climbing upwards and after an hour or two, we reached the More plains. This was one beautiful place, surrounded by mountains all over and lot of loose sand. There was no road at all. I took the lead here and soon saw the boys not following me. When I turned to look in for them, they were busy taking pictures. We soon left the place and started riding again. It was difficult to ride on the loose sands, and soon I saw Sandy and Varun on the avenger slipping from their bike and falling on the group bringing about a heap of dust in my direction. Nothing happened to both of them, not even a scratch.

Then Varun walked for about a kilometre where the road started again. We met many bikers coming from Leh towards Manali and they wished us good luck! There was a good stretch of road and then followed by no road at all for the next 20 odd kms. We then passed through an Army camp and started ascending towards another Pass called the Tanglacha La Pass. We stopped at a tent. We had chai and started speaking to the Jawans posted there. We came to know that it was the last day the chai wallah’s shop would be open, as he is closing down for winter. The next time he would be back at the pass is sometime around May. After 20 0dd minutes, I started feeling giddy. These were signs of AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) I was sure about that! I had an aspirin which did help me a bit. I started descending from the pass and in sometime I started feeling normal. After descending that pass, I was a happy man! I got sick of riding at low speeds in that horrible road. The valley had awesome roads all the way till Leh.

This was the final leg. I accelerated my throttle and off I was, GONE IN 6O SECONDS. J I rode in those beautiful roads through those spectacular mountains. The colours of the mountains kept changing from Dark Chocolate to Pink to Purplish at some places. The shapes were also something I had never seen anywhere in my life. I shall attempt to explain what I saw in words. Even if I did try, I would only be able to narrate to the extent of 20% of how it actually looks like. Not that I’m bad in narrating, some things are better left to be seen than written. I crossed Upshi and Leh was just 70 odd kms from there. I happened to see a board which said Welcome to Ladakh! I was jumping with joy; people would have thought I was a crazy biker doing all those crazy acrobatics while riding. Oh Lord! I was on top of the world. That tired look I had all throughout the day faded in a jiffy and soon you could see me humming the songs from Nirvana, Godsmack- I need Serenity and Deep purple- Life on the Fast Lane.

I reached Upshi and soon Sandy and Varun reached the spot. While I was waiting for Hillman, Sandy and Varun rode downwards towards the Indus River from where they collected the holy water in their plastic bottles. We left for Leh which was 60 odd kms as soon as we saw Ranji. We reached Leh in an hour’s time, somewhere around to 4.30 pm. We stayed at a hotel wherein we booked 2 rooms. One for Sandy and Hillman, the other for Varun and myself. Sandy and Hillman hit the sack as soon as they reached the place, while Varun and I went down to the market to have Lunch. We went to this punjabi Dhaba, where I had Thali and Varun had Parathas. We came back to the room and I dozed off as soon as I lay down on the bed. At 7.00 pm or so, we both left to the Market place. Sandy and Hillman were not in their room too. We walked around, took snaps and finally had dinner at this nice candle lit restaurant. We came back to our rooms and hit the sack soon.

21ST AUGUST 2009:

We got up around 7.30 am. We all freshened up and left the hotel in an hour’s time. I went down to the District Collectors Office to get the permission to enter K-top (Khardungla Pass). Meanwhile, I asked the guys to have some food and get to the DC’s office. That day, Dalai Lama was to visit Leh, so the DC was not available till Noon. So, since there was a delay in getting the permission, we decided we use this time wisely. Ranji got his bike fixed up, I got mine done yesterday. I had to top up the engine oil and Sandy had to change the Brake shoe. He did it by himself after he got the spare part.

We met the DC who reached the office around 1.00 pm. We got his signature on the paper and soon left for K-top which is 37 kms. away from the LEH City. It took us close to 4 ½ hours to ascend and descend the hill. Varun and I were the first bikers in our group to reach the spot. I shouted at the top of my voice and the guards who looked at us, initially frightened smiled back at us. We made it to the Highest Motor-able Pass. It was a major achievement. We clicked snaps, played with snow and soon you could see Ranji making his way downwards to the Valley. Sandy and Varun were at the Souvenirs shop to buy some merchandise. After 20 odd minutes, being in that place, I slowly started getting giddy! I was hit by AMS again. I honked to make sure they come to me, but the buggers were busy glued to something else. I somehow managed to speak to the army people, and they helped me out by giving me hot water and some tabs to counter AMS. Diamox, I guess!

We soon left for the City where we stopped for 10 odd minutes. It was close to 5.35 pm, when we left Leh City. Our plan was to cover as many kms. we could in that short span of time. We kept a target of 125 kms., but managed to do some 100 kms. It started getting dark at close to 8.00 pm. The snaps taken here were amazing. After riding for 3 hours or so, we stopped at Khaltse at 8.45 pm by the side of a Dhaba. Hillman wanted to rest there, while we thought it would be wise to reach Lamarayu, which was known to be a bigger town, then where we were! There was only one hotel here at Khaltse! I went with the local there and had a look at one of the 3 rooms had. I came back and told the folks it was not worth staying! Soon, we left the Dhaba for Lamarayu. We never knew, the road ahead would be so hopeless! It was difficult to ride through those horrible narrow roads. We were riding at a snail’s pace, as we wanted to avoid puncture.

Whenever a truck from the opposite direction passed by at reasonably high speeds, it would take the dust little while to settle down and that proved to be so dangerous as we could hardly see anything in those conditions. Moreover, with truckers who only know to turn on the High Beam, it can’t get better than this! I know, everyone would have thought to have stay put at Khaltse, especially Hillman. I’m sure, he was thoroughly pissed off, but you got to know that we had to do this if I had to reach Delhi on the said date! A few kms. before Lamarayu, Ranji’s (Hillman) tyre got stuck in the gravel. I got down from my bike and helped him out.

Close to 11.00 pm, we reached the sleepy town of Lamarayu! We were then hunting for a place to stay. For a moment, it looked like we would never get a house to stay and might have to spend the whole night in that biting cold! A particular hotel we got in was different from any other. It did not have an entrance gate in the ground floor. It had a flight of stairs, which would take you to the first floor and there you have the Main Gate! There was no reception, no nothing! I woke up an old man who was sleeping near by the door. I asked him, if we could get a room. Lucky for us, an American tourist, who was to turn up tonight called in earlier that night and said that he would not be able to make it! We took that room, though the place looked like a dungeon! We had no other choice. Hillman was so damn pissed, none of us wanted to talk about it. All I wanted is to have some good night sleep and hopefully a good supper!

I asked that Old Uncle if he could prepare something, to which he replied that, the kitchen was closed. I was so hungry that I could have eaten a wild boar all by myself! I was so irritated by the way things were happening! Looking at my sickly picky face, he said he could probably make some soup and egg fried rice. I couldn’t believe my ears. I hugged that Old Uncle and said that was more than enough! Back in our room, we dumped all the luggages and the cramster saddle bag to the corner of the room. One fact many would not know is that in this part of Kashmir, you don’t get Electricity for 24 hours. Yeah! They have it only for 12 hours from 11.00 am to 11.00 pm. We couldn’t even charge our phones. Damn! But anyway, it would have been of no use. Only Sandy’s BSNL connection would work. That was the only way we could have been contacted in that area. We all tucked ourselves in that sleeping bag of ours by 11.30 pm.

22ND AUGUST 2009:

We got up around 7.00 am, paid the room rent, which was Rs. 400/- and the food cost us Rs. 300/-! That was pretty expensive for 4 fried rice and 4 soups that didn’t taste that good! Well anyway, left the place at 8.45 am and the road ahead was way much smoother than the ones we travelled yesterday! Hillman took the lead followed by me for some time, until Sandy overtook us. We reached Fotula Pass, the highest motor-able Pass on the Srinagar- Leh Highway. Took some snaps there and left as we did not have much time in our hands to admire the inexplicable beauty of the Mountains!

The roads were amazing and it was good to ride at good speeds in this stretch of the Mountain. The roads are narrow, and I think we saw fellows from BRO (Border Road Organization) widening the roads. It’s going to be a 2 lane road soon; but one thing is for sure, though it will bring more safety, I’m sure it will kill the thrill factor. I guess we could say that we were one of those fortunate bikers, who drove down in those narrow risky, treacherous roads and experienced the unique thrill that the future generation bikers would miss out on! We rode for a while and we slowly started descending the terrain to the dusty town of Kargil! We filled the gas and moved on to the narrow lanes in the city! We saw Jawans every 100mts. armed with fully loaded AK-47 all throughout the town. There were many barricades seen too!

It was almost 1.30 pm and all of us decided that we should have our lunch. I was so happy, because from the time we left Chandigarh, all we had is Vegetarian food and I was so bored eating the same. The raisins were much better than that! So, we stopped at this typical Muslim Restaurant to have some food. I saw them making some Afgani Kababs and Rotis and I was like WOW! I’m sure going to have a tasty lunch. But that wasn’t in store for us. The Hotel owner refused any one of us entering his place to eat. For people who don’t know, I found Kargil not a friendly destination for the visitors. Most of them hostile, may be because they are under the constant threat from the lunatic extremists. We all got so offended, but didn’t want to argue with them. We went to this other hotel nearby run by a Muslim man! He was a nice person and we had ordered Rice, Mutton balls Curry & Chicken Curry. I really liked the food, may be because it was after a week or so, after I had some meat. Hillman didn’t quite like it and I had his share of Mutton balls too!

Soon we left towards Dras, where we for long were waiting to see “THE OPERATION VIJAY” KARGIL MEMORIAL! After crossing the town, we were back on the Highway. Nearby Kargil town, we stopped at this Memorial in the name of Shri Bahadur Singh. History says that it was due to this man, we have this portion of land. He was a brave warrior and did not let the Pakistani Army infiltrate into our territory. Along the way, all of us got very patriotic and were humming all Patriotic songs! We were so close to the border. We have the Indus River- Chenab I guess, which flows by the side of the road we were riding on. On the side of the river bank is the disputed area. A lot of those infiltrators operate from that mountain.

It was kind of scary and at the same time you get a thrill when you know especially when there is a placard by the side of the road which says “Be Careful- The enemies are watching you” We passed many such memorials on our way to Dras. Around 3.00 pm or so, we reached the outskirts of Dras. Sandy was the first to reach the Kargil Memorial. You would have to ask Varun to know how excited and at the same patriotic I was, the moment I reached the Memorial. This is one place I say, EVERY INDIAN HAS TO BE ATLEAST ONCE IN HIS LIFE! I happened to see these emotive captions in the gallery and I got really moved by it, tears brimming in my eyes, with pride and patriotism. I quote “BRAVE OFFICERS WHO GAVE THEIR TODAY FOR OUR TOMORROW”.

Ranji came in by then, and started taking snaps of Tiger Hill & Tololing surrounding us. These are the points we captured from the Pakistan Military and Allied Forces! They have a gallery in that memorial where you get to see the used rifle cartridges, mortar shell, helmets, things captured from the intruders and photos of the Victorious Army Jawans hung on the wall. I liked one such hung on the wall. It was so funny that I couldn’t control my laughter. It was a cartoon on how Pakistan General looks after every war fought with us. The 1st one being picture of the general with his arm fractured, the 2nd being his arms and leg plastered, the 3rd one being the General being completely plastered, and the last one comes with a statement asking What Next? I even commented saying that the next one would be the General in a coffin! J

I saw some other visitors who gave me a stare, that stare really send some chills down my spine. They looked like the local Mujahedeen’s or something! I felt really uneasy after making a comment on that picture. It was 4.10 pm and Hillman was the first to leave the memorial towards Zojila Pass. Sandy followed Hillman. All that chills made me so nervous that I wanted to pee. I saw that man standing near his White Qualis. I was shit scared! Varun asked me why I wasn’t leaving, and I kept giving him lame excuses and spend some more time in the bathroom, waiting for them to leave the spot. After they left, Varun did ask me what was wrong. I would say nothing at all! We started off from the Memorial saluting all those Army officials we saw on our way. Sandy and Ranji were nowhere to be seen. It was Varun and I all along in that stretch of road, till we reached the base of Zojila Pass. I overtook Hillman after a while, and was riding on a straight stretch of road, which was so smooth, which made me feel as if we were riding on the Indian Military Air Strip!

Little ahead, I saw a White Qualis stopped by the side of the road and the occupants were washing their hands from the stream nearby. My heart started pounding faster than the piston’s back and forth movement in an Engine. I just wanted to get away from their sight ASAP. I rode as soon as possible and somehow covered ground. That was the last time I saw that car. Phew! I rode for some time and saw Sandy taking snaps of Zojila Memorial at the base of Zojila Pass. This is often called as the Gateway to Ladakh. Perched at an altitude of 3465 mts. above sea level, it is located in the main Himalayan Range on the Srinagar - Leh Highway. This is one of the most dangerous Passes we crossed in this region. When we were on our way to the top of this Pass, we could see the Dras Valley on one side and Kashmir Valley on the other side. It was an amazing sight to see. When we were at foot of Zojila Pass and were waiting for Hillman, we did hear some artillery firing somewhere close by! From here on, we followed the same pattern. Sandy would be leading, followed by Hillman and I would be the last one. Soon after, two roads divulged in treacherous terrain and sorry “I couldn’t travel on both, and be one traveller alone I stood, I looked down to one as far as I could to where it bent in the curves. I took the one less travelled by and that has made all the difference”. Ahem!!! Sorry folks! Got bit poetic. I had to somehow fit these lines from the Poem ‘Road Not Taken’ by Robert Frost.

Well, back to the story, we were riding on one of the most dangerous Passes in the Kashmir Valley. The views were breath-taking! I wish we had more time in our hands, so as to spend the whole day clicking pictures of the serene mountains. There was a road block way ahead! There is an interesting thing one must know about Zojila Pass. It’s a one way. The road is too narrow for two cars to pass in opposite directions at the same time. And we are talking about Trucks here. These guys took the wrong route to get to top of the pass and had blocked the way for vehicles who wanted to descend from the pass. It was close to 6.00 pm and it took at least 30 odd minutes to clear the road block. Soon, we were back on our bikes again and came across the most beautiful place I’ve been in my life so far. This place is called Sonmarg also known as “Golden Meadow”. We had to stop at so many places here to take snaps. We couldn’t just leave without taking them, though we had very less time in our hands.

We stopped at J&K tourism hotel to have some tea. It was 7.00 pm and in a hour it would turn dark. We were 87 kms. away from Srinagar. This was our target for today! I didn’t want to miss on that for any damn reason. While we were having our coffee, Varun was of the opinion to stay in a Boat House for the night! Everyone liked the idea, but then we had to think about the bike’s safety too. We didn’t want to wake up the next day to see our darlings (Bike) burnt or blown away into pieces by some Radical group, who operate in this city to create chaos and fear in the city. So we zeroed in on a normal hotel, which would have a parking lot by the side of Dal Lake. It was around 8.45pm, when we reached the outskirts of Srinagar. There were no signboards or anything of that sort that could guide you to Dal Lake. We found it very difficult to navigate through those narrow by-lanes of Srinagar. There is no Night Life in Srinagar. You don’t get to see a single soul after 9.00 pm. It’s a sleepy city. We were so hungry, that we stopped at the next hotel we saw on our way. We didn’t want to take a risk on that. We had rotis, sheek kababs and chicken curry. This was way much better than the one we had for Lunch.

We left for Dal Lake and on that road booked in one Hotel Malik. We dumped our bags in one corner of the room and then transferred the pictures from the camera to the Laptop. That’s when I realised how much of importance the laptop made in this trip. Thanks to Sandy’s thinking, we were able to take a lot of snaps in this trip. I had a hot water shower, and that was so damn good! We surfed the channels on TV. It’s was nice feeling to get back to civilisation. J We then planned how much distance we should cover in the next day. We thought of skipping Jammu, and probably take the by-pass to save in time. We so wanted to go to Wagah Border and the Amritsar temple, which at this moment looked doable. Soon after discussing the plan for the next day, we all slept.

23RD AUGUST 2009:

I got up around 7.00 am and the boys were still at bed. I didn’t want to call the boys as I knew they would take ages to get ready and probably I would have to skip the plan. I left the hotel for Sankaracharya Temple. It was 6 kms. uphill ride from where I was staying. You have a Sivan temple up there and I prayed to the Lord that we should make it to Delhi safe and sound. It was a chilly morning and I made a mistake of not wearing a jacket. When I reached the hotel, I saw Renji and Varun taking snaps of the Dal Lake. Sandy joined in a little later, and we all went for a boat ride (Shikari). That’s where we bought the necklace and all the goodies for the Ladies! J We came back after an hour and went to the nearby Vaishnavo Dhaba to have some Hot Alu ka Parathas and Yoghurt. We left the hotel somewhere around 11.30 am and our next stop was supposed to be at Jammu bypass Junction. We rode continuously and then happened to stop at Banihal for lunch, which is 180 odd kms. away from Jammu bypass. It was 2.15 pm by the time we left the hotel.

We had the routine thing we have been having through the trip - Roti, Kapada, Makaan…oops..Roti, Panner Butter Masala and Moong Kali Dal, which was Varun’s favourite and not mine. I didn’t like it a wee bit! So, with our tummy full, we left for Jammu hoping we would cross the Jammu- Punjab border at Pathankot by 8.00 pm at the maximum and that was our next stop for dinner. As usual, Sandy was leading from the front on his Avy, Ranji in the middle on his Bullet and followed by Varun and myself on my Pulsar. We were riding for close to 2 hours and there was no sign of us getting down to a valley. This is the first time I think everyone in the group got sick of riding in those mountains. I overtook Sandy and Hillman because I was feeling really sleepy driving at a constant speed of 45-50 kmph. I was leading now and was cruising at around 70-80 kmph. and thought the boys would overtake in a while. There were no signs of both of them. I decided to stop nearby a tea shop at 4.20 pm, as I knew the other two might be feeling drowsy, while riding on altitudes close to 3000 mts. above sea level. One wrong turn, and we could land ourselves to the Highway to Hell!L After 20 odd minutes, I saw a white helmet far away! The helmet was our Hillman’s. I then told Varun that I could see them coming, assuming that Sandy was following Ranji. Meanwhile, we bought some mineral water and biscuits from a bakery nearby. Ranji came in and seeing no one following him, asked for Sandy!

Hillman said that he was riding solo for some time and he thought Sandy was leading. We ordered for tea and thought he would come in by the time we finished it, but there was no sign of our man. We tried calling him, but as there was some network issue, we couldn’t reach him. I started racking my brains thinking where I had overtook him last and told the other two that he would have been some 10-12 kms away from the spot we were! I took my bike and was off searching for my brother, thinking nothing untowardly should happen! This is one moment I won’t forget. I got so freaking tensed because I know Sandy normally catches up with the group in no time! This time, we were all drowsy and tired! I saw some police jeep and officials nearby an accident spot. I was shaken, and prayed to all the Gods and knew he wouldn’t let me down at this juncture. I parked my bike and walked towards the edge of the cliff and found out that it was a bus, which slipped into the gorge.

I, then asked the police officials if he happened to see my brother, gave his descriptions passing through this way. The official said he doesn’t remember. I told him, if you do see him coming now; just stop him there till I come back as he is not to be seen. The official agreed! I went ahead cruising around 80-90 kmph chanting the Lord Shiva Mrityunjeyam and Gayatri Mantram (sacred verses). After 5 odd kms, I saw him riding from the other direction and I waved my hand at him. Whoa! That was such a relief. I thanked the Lord Almighty on being so kind to us and then asked my brother to lead. On our way back, I gave a thumbs up to the police officials, pointing at my brother, signifying that everything was OK! We soon reached the Tea shop, where Varun and Ranji were waiting for us. I asked Sandy what took him so long, and he told us that he felt so sleepy, that he stopped at the side of the road, put the parking lights on and dozed off for some time. It was close to 6.00 pm and we were still 90 kms away from Jammu. We decided that if anyone wants to take a break, they inform the whole team in advance.

We left from the spot and head towards Jammu. It was getting dark and we were getting really irritated on those winding mountains. At around 7.30 pm, we stopped at a tea shop nearby Udhampur Railway Station and asked directions to the locals as to how to reach Kathua. When Varun was busy jotting down the directions in his notepad, I called in my friend who stays in Kathua, Jammu and also asked him for directions. I wanted to cross verify if we are not been taken for a ride by the locals! We rode on those narrow roads, which is supposedly the State Highway! There were no street lights, no nothing! It was as if we were crossing a jungle of sorts. I took the lead followed by Hillman and Sandy. They were no signboards telling us which route we have to take and so we blindly followed what the truckers told us.

Somewhere down the road, I saw a signboard which said we had to take a left towards Samba and after 10 odd kms. you would touch the NH-1 Highway! Sandy had asked some trucker who told him to take a right! Finally, after having a talk with the guys, we followed the signboard I saw earlier. We went through a jungle and it was just the 4 of us who were riding in those woods. Not even a single sign of a trucker. We rode close to 7-8 kms and boys started thinking that we are going on a wrong path! There was another round of altercation and by then a trucker was passing by. We asked him to stop, but they wouldn’t, thinking that we could be some dacoits. Sometime later, we saw a trucker and he stopped. He told us that we had taken the right way and said a few more kms down the road, we should take a left and that road would lead to the National Highway. As the trucker said, we did finally reach the NH-1D Highway. It was close to 9.20 pm and we were riding somewhere nearby Muthi Hardu. Parts of the 4 lane road were still under construction, so most of the time we rode on 2 lane roads. It was difficult to ride in those conditions with the truckers with their High Beams on, coming in the opposite direction speeding through! I took the lead again and all of us just wanted to cross Jammu ASAP.

By 11.45 pm, I reached Kathua and stopped at a HP Petroleum (Gas Filling Station) and called in Ranji to see where they both are! From our conversation, I found out that they had stopped in at a Dhaba some 15 kms away. I told them that I would be waiting for them at the petrol bunk. Meanwhile, I called Aman, my friend who stays at Kathua. I filled in gas for my bike and in sometime Aman came to the gas station to meet me. The last I saw him was close to 2 years back, when he came down for the convocation held in my college. We spoke for some time and I introduced him to Varun. Ranjith came in at that time and filled the gas. I told Aman I would come some other day to meet him and left for Pathankot. Sandy had taken the lead, and we caught up with him after some 20 minutes. All of us were exhausted and feeling very sleepy too. We cleansed our face every now and then with water to keep us awake, but it was getting worse as we were riding ahead. We somehow cruised our way through Lakhenpur and finally crossed The Jammu- Punjab Toll plaza! We saw a Motel nearby and thought it was wise to check in, rather than take a risk and reach Pathankot. We were happy that we crossed Jammu and now reached the Land of five Rivers- Punjab. It was sometime around 12.40 am we checked in to an A/c room, Room No 105. We were too tired to do anything. We skipped the dinner and hit the sack.

24th August 2009

We got up at 8.00 am and left the motel by 8.30 am after taking few snaps. We take a group snap, knowing that this was the last snap we would take till we reach Delhi. I very much wanted to go to Amritsar and Wagah Border, but decided to let go of it as we did not have time to cover up all the distance. I’m sure the others felt the same, but we were happy for a fact that we covered 95% of places we wanted too. That in itself is a BIG ACHIEVEMENT!!!

We were on our way to Ropar and trust me guys, whenever I saw the Sign Board which would say Take a left turn for Amritsar (105 kms) and Right for New Delhi (375 kms) I would find it so difficult to take the turn to New Delhi! This was really frustrating! To top it all, my bike was in the reserve and I had to fill gas in the next gas station. I missed out on a few as I was totally dejected that we couldn’t make it to Amritsar. Soon, we found ourselves in a very bad situation. There was no petrol left in our bike and it stopped on the State Highway. With Sandy and Hillman somewhere else, I knew we were in for a big shit! I pushed it for 10 odd meters before trying my luck again. To my surprise, my Babe was roaring and I knew I had to find a gas station before she goes off again. I did not make an eye contact with Varun till such time we found a petrol bunk. I rode for another 2-3 kms. and my babe stopped right in front of HP gas station. I looked up in the sky and thanked the Lord above to get us through this mess. One thing about my babe is that she never lets me down! I love her so much and I’m sure Varun would feel the same.

We rode till 1.30 pm and I stopped the vehicle after seeing Sandy’s Avenger parked on the side of the road. Hillman soon reached the spot. This was close to Ropar. We called Sandy and found out that Our Man was busy having Lassi and Samosa Chat at a nearby Sweet Shop. We went there and ordered for the same. This is the first time I enjoyed having Lassi with Butter (Malai Maar ke). I had two whole glasses of Lassi and Samosa Chat. It was something all of us thoroughly enjoyed. My engine was giving trouble and had to pour 500 ml. Engine Oil to cool the babe. After having Lassi, all the four of us had a smile on our face that lasted till we reached a crowded town. This is where all of us were finding it a little difficult to get to the highway. Varun and I had taken the lead and were stopped by the Punjab police as they got suspicious about us riding in their small town for quite some time. After a thorough enquiry, we were let off! That was the second time we were stopped by the police, the former one being near the New Delhi Railway Station. The police personnel told us the way to reach the National Highway and soon we were riding on the smooth and broad roads.

From here on, we maintained close to 100 kmph. till I reached the outskirts of Chandigarh. I stopped there to give a call to both Sandy and Hillman, only to find that they were some 70 odd kms from Chandigarh. We called Uncle Rajinder and he told us to come to Sector 27 to pick the bags Jason left in a hurry on his way to Delhi. As soon as we reached the City Beautiful, our worn out face started to brighten up. Thanks to all the Chicks in Chandigarh! We met Uncle, who asked us to join him for Lunch and told that we would join him when the other two reach the city. We soon left for Rock Garden at Sector 1, near Sukhna Lake. While Varun was busy taking snaps of exquisite artwork made by Nek Chand, I was busy admiring God’s most beautiful artwork - Women. Sandy gave me a call when we were at rock garden and asked us to come down to Yummy Yummy Food Court at Sector 37-D. It took us some time to reach the food court. It was close to 4.25pm when we reached the spot. Hillman had left for the Dhaba near Ambala. We spoke to Rajinder Uncle and his friends for couple of minutes before leaving for the Dhaba. It was close to 4.45pm, when we finally left the mall.

Sandy took the lead and we were following him till we reached the Highway. All I wanted now was to reach New Delhi as soon as possible. I crossed the Dhaba where Hillman was waiting for us. Sandy stopped for Hillman to start and we waited for both of them some 20 kms. away at a gas station. On their way to the Gas station, Sandy met with an accident.

From what I heard from Hillman, Sandy was ahead of him and wanted to overtake a car which was ahead of him. The guy who was riding the car was swaying from left to right not giving way to Sandy. This happened for nearly 10 minutes and Sandy thought it was high time to teach the guy a lesson. He overtook from the right, and from the opposite side there was a car overtaking a lorry, which absolutely left no space for sandy to move. Sandy braked and was at around 40-50 kmph. and his handle got stuck to both the cars and his balance went off, thus leading the bike to skid. Sandy luckily escaped unhurt but the crash guard took the brunt. Once they came to the spot we were waiting for, we planned that we would ride as fast as we could reach New Delhi. I only came to know of the accident once we reached Delhi.

It was close to 5.30 pm and we were 150 odd kilometres from New Delhi. Sandy took the lead followed by me and the last one who rode the last leg of this exciting bike ride was our very own Hillman. We rode for 3-4 hours and there was no sign of Sandy who was leading or Ranji who was behind me. As we reached the outskirts of Delhi, I figured out that we have reached the Capital without having to look for a Signboard. Guess how? Thank the pollution! I reached Delhi at 10.30pm and found out that Sandy had reached the place at 10.10pm. Ranji reached the spot close to 11.30 and found it little difficult to find his way to India Gate, where we asked him to wait. Sandy, Varun and I met the Fraud Mallu (FM) Delhi guys at a food joint in some happening hall. That’s when we got a call from Ranji saying that he made his way to the Capital. We were all happy for each other as we somehow made our way through! We soon left for India Gate and met Hillman waiting for us.

We then went to my cousin’s place to get our bags we left there. She got a room booked at Kerala House and we left for the place soon. Hillman had got a room booked nearby the Railway Station. Varun had an early morning flight, so he thought it would be wise for him to stay at the airport. It was close to 2.30 am when we left for Airport from Kerala House. We had Monce with us to guide the way till Dwarka. From Dwarka, the Airport was close by. We dropped Varun at the airport, gave him a brotherly hug and left for Kerala House at Janpath Lane, Delhi. We crashed off as soon as we reached the room.

25TH AUGUST 2009:

I got up around 8.00 am and met many bigwigs of Kerala – Politicians, while having my breakfast in the Hall. My brother-in-law is the Central Minister and that’s how we got ourselves a room in this Guest House. We did not stay there for long and we left for our cousin’s place not that far away. We called up on Ranji to find about his whereabouts. Sandy and Hillman’s flight were scheduled between 5.00 pm to 6.00 pm in the evening, whereas mine was somewhere around 9.30 pm. The bikes had to be sent back.

We went to the Railway station after having a sumptuous lunch at our cousin’s place. We called in the touts who had helped us taking the bikes from the station in the beginning. The prices of sending the bikes from Delhi were costlier, than while sending the bikes from Chennai. They were quoting 4550/- per bike, then we got it down to Rs. 2800/- which is also comparatively higher than what we spend to get the bikes transported from Chennai to Delhi for Rs. 1900/-. From what I heard from the locals, it wouldn’t cost us more than Rs. 2100/- including packaging et al. They are two trains which run on a daily basis. We booked the vehicles in Grand Trunk (GT) Express which leaves at 7pm or so. Sandy and Ranji left for the Airport earlier so as to catch their flight. I was at the Railway station till they boarded our bikes. The touts can be very cunning, if you don’t watch them. As suspected, the buggers didn’t load my vehicle in GT Express, as it was already booked by some other party. The tout was trying to make an extra buck, but he forgot the fact that he was messing around with a Malayali (Mallu)!!! I gave those touts a piece of my mind and paid only Rs. 2650/- per bike for being dishonest! I had no choice but to give them as I didn’t have much time in my hands.

My flight was at 9.30 pm and had to reach there atleast one hour before take off! I left the place at 7.00 pm and took the Metro from the Railway Station till Pallika Bazaar. I bought some shirts and sandals as you get things cheap at this underground shopping mall. Left for Airport at 7.30 pm from Connaught Circle in a taxi. It took us more than a hour and 15 minutes to reach the airport. I went to the Spice Jet Counter and got myself the boarding pass. I had my dinner in one of those Food Malls at the Airport and also got women’s sandals from the Duty Free shop for Mom.

I was the last one among the 4 bikers to leave from Indira Gandhi Domestic Airport Terminus. While boarding my plane, I was sad for the fact that I will not be riding soon as all our bikes have to be fixed up and happy for the fact that the trip which SEEMED TO BE IMPOSSIBLE IN THE START WAS POSSIBLE IN THE END!!!!! IMPOSSIBLE IS NOTHING!!!

Hope Adidas reads through our blog and sponsors us for our next trip. I would like to thank CASTROL once again for supporting us in our Dream Ride!~