Another addition to my gallery
My first bicycle trip from Srinagar to Leh traversing about 450 Kms. Though I have been cycling since childhood, cycling amid Himalayan ranges had been completely exotic. Panoramic view around these beautifully carved road through the heart of mountains, allows you to sweep through the nerves and veins of nature and get lost in its bliss. No matter how far and long you ride, it never gets mundane. Mystifying and ever changing beauty will let the wandered in you wondering for the secrets of scenery behind every corner, heart thumping for the desire to go farther and beyond.
Original plan was to visit valley of flowers around this time (Indian independence Day, 15th August 2014), but due to heavy rains in the region, route got blocked and trip was cancelled. As a consequence of which another unplanned journey shaped up; had not thought of a visit to Leh this year until I saw a cycle expedition organised by Yhai in Leh region. Though itinerary din’t appear very exhilarating, it ensued the thought of going for cycling expedition, which I have been wishing for quite some time and so started exploring more about it. Manali to Leh appeared to be very common route among cyclists and somehow I was thrilled by the idea of it and started exploring the groups organising cycle expeditions in the route. Contacted many and all of them seemed to charge hefty amount of money just for logistics and other arrangements on the way. Though joining a group sounded very safe and convenient, I din’t have the budget to go with it; moreover planning my own itinerary was exciting. Talking to random people who travel often and reading through online media, realised that lot of people plan their cycle journey on their own even with a very small group of 2 or 3. Checking out the alternatives and reading on various factors, finally decided to cover from Srinagar to Leh based on various factors. Bingo! that was it, finally had a route to travel now had to do research on how to go about it.
By now, our team of wayfarer was all up and excited about this trip; which included Poonam, Sunil and myself. First thing first, we needed a good bike if we were going to roll it on through Himalayan mountains for almost 450 kms. Soon enough, all of us managed to get decently good bicycle at reasonable price. Pulsating with enthusiasm we decided to warm up our muscles and went on a short cycle trip to Sinhagad Fort around one end of the Pune city covering 80.9kms to and fro this route with an elevation of 1,504m. Apart from three of us gearing up for Himalaya trip, Amit joined us for this short trip to Sinhagad. I had been to Sinhagad fort before a few times, though never through road, instead had hiked everytime from the base. So it was a total bliss to ride through lush greenary around the city and the hill atop which fort is mounted; particularly on a rainy day when it was not pouring hard and harsh, instead it sweetly drizzled to brush off our weariness and sweat along the journey making it more joyous and memorable.
Fort was very crowded, so quickly had our lunch at the top and started our journey back. Well this short cycle trip was worth a trip as we got a fair idea of our requirements for a long mountain trip on bicycle. For example, my left knee hurt in between with a tinge of pain surging through it and I knew I need a good knee pad. Steep wavy descend from the top was awesome fun with the realisation that though you need no effort for a joyous descend in mountains, but certainly need to have total control over your bike and power brakes.
Two weeks to go and we had to get all the gears required for the long perilous journey…. helmets, biking gloves, biking shorts, shoes etc. We(Poonam and me) made trips to Decathalon store in Pune Wagholi and unfortunately both the times my cycle got a puncture in the rear tyre while coming back. First time hole was not so big and with fully pumped up tyres I could manage to ride it back 10kms to my place; but on our second trip it was horrible as it got a big hole, not leaving me with an option of riding without mending the puncture. Since I could not get anywhere on the highway to get it repaired, had to walk all the way back(10kms) to home while it was pouring cats and dogs. And I knew we needed to have puncture kit with us, for the days of trip on highway.
Just a week before we had to leave for Srinagar, I started disassembling our cycles (Poonam and mine). It was easy with Poonam’s cycle but got miserably stuck with particularly one screw in my cycle which refused to move even after multiple tries and all my efforts. Thanks to Sunil who jumped in for the help and managed to unscrew it and get all the parts isolated and detached. With all my jugad instincts, picking up stuff from hardware store and doorway (waiting to be dumped into dustbin), to my delight I managed to pack up our cycles as securely as it could be. Yo-ho! I saved a lot of money here, as cycling bags were worth no less than 4k and I managed to pack it up for even less than 400.
Bags packed and cycles secured, we had to catch our train to Delhi at 3 in the morning on saturday. After full day work on friday, I was hastely occupied with getting medicines for the trip, ready to eat edibles for the train journey and then packing them all. It was 1a.m when finally I flattened myself on the bed after bathing and all dressed up in a ready to go state. I could barely get any sleep and alarm rang up at 2a.m when I had to call the auto(pre arranged) to come, pick up and drop us at pune station by 2.45. Finally we were at pune station to know that train was delayed by an hour. At that hour, early in the morning when you had no sleep at all, one can do nothing but to pace up and down the platform to keep oneself awake until train arrives. It turned out be a long wait as train arrived something around 5a.m or little later when we finally boarded the train and got ourselves settled there. After a while we dozed off to sleep and woke up after a little while due to all the noise around. After a long time I was travelling in sleeper compartment and let me confess it, I thoroughly enjoyed the journey for 1] You save a lot of money 2] I had a good novel with me to keep me occupied and be not bothered by my surrounding 3] Whenever I took a break I could see everybody moving around without the barriers of curtains and so you get to observe a lot of people around you. Though I guess Sunil who was travelling with me got quite bored in the journey as he finished his magazine in few hours and had nothing to do and could barely sleep due to noise and only person travelling with him i.e me was completely engrossed in my novel by then and nothing could drag me out of it.
We hit Delhi to unite with Poonam joining us from here on. The bargain queen “Poonam” got a good deal for cab ride to airport and we head directly to airport. Reaching there much before our scheduled departure, we had enough time to freshen up and fill ourselves with delicacy of food before we boarded the flight. Finally we were on board and ready to fly and it did not take us much time to anticipate it being Sunil’s first flight ever with his eyes popping out with glimpse of every hostess passing by and to top it all his unbeatable remarks on every act of theirs. When flight started to descend in Srinagar, we got beautiful mesmerising view of mountains and Srinagar city.
Ah we were there to find a rather small and disappointing airport as there was nothing to eat inside and we were all hungry. We decided to stay in a house boat on city’s most sought after and famous Dal lake. Aha! we got a good deal in a deluxe boat which also had a terrace to it, atop which we assembled our cycles in the evening with a breath taking view of Dal lake and beautiful colorful sikaras waving their course around it. While sun was marching it’s way down behind the Dal Lake, engulfed and awed with the mystic beauty spread all around us, we were assembling our cycles one after another. A big Kudos to Sunil here, as this(cycle) being the most important part of our journey ahead which was mostly done very well by him single handedly, we merely assisting him with little tid bids in the act.
Owner of the boat and their cook being very helpful and friendly person also assisted us during the process and after it being all done, we had a good long chat with him about Srinagar, his life and our whereabouts, profession etc etc. He also mentioned the Kashmir special dishes and suggested us places to go for dinner.
Bingo all set up and settled in, we were ready to go out for the dinner and venture out a bit. We went to one of the places suggested by Rias (boat house owner) and ordered Rogan Josh (Kashmir special suggested by Rias) with roti. After having considerable fun of chit chats over the dinner, we went on for a walk on the road along Dal lake. Witnessing the lighted house boats and its glittering reflection in the long outstretched Dal lake was no less beautiful than watching the the stars twinkle in the open sky. After a while, back to our house boat, we planned to get up early and go out for a ride/walk around Dal lake; but in such luxury and peace we all slept tight and long until sun was shining high and bright outside.
As we had to get the carriers attached to our cycle, we had to wait until the buzz in the market. Finally around 10, all geared up to embark on our journey, all three of us finally got our cycles rolling on the roads of Srinigar to get to cycle store and get the carriers attached. After making 2-3 rounds in the Srinagr market around clock tower, finally one shop keeper managed to get one that could fit Sunil’s cycle. Poonam and me were still hassling around the market while Sunil was getting his fixed. Finally our search ended at Hero Cycle store and to our luck he had only 2 such portable carriers which could fit our bikes. Not to miss, shop owner was a nice man and after knowing we are going to ride upto Leh, offered his card saying “call me if you face any problem with your cycle enroute”.
With its one last accessory mounted to it, our cycle and we were ready to embark on our journey from hereon. Collected our bags from the boat house, bid our good byes to Rias and the helper on the boat. Though charges for the house boat was a bit on the higher side, I would say it was worth the money as it is well located and very clean and nicely maintained. Owner and the helper around are warm people; again not to miss Riyas offered his number and asked us call him for any trouble or hassle we might face during our journey. Out on the road, we had our lunch and finally set off the long journey. Sikara guy told us that instead of directly starting from the highway road from Srinagar, we could instead ride around the Dal lake which would finally meet the highway and so we took this rather long but beautiful route along Dal lake. After all the hassle in the market and getting the luggage fixed on the carrier, it was already around 3 o’clock so we decided to halt at Gandarbal which would be around 30-35kms away considering we were taking the longer route. Considering it was not a long distance to cover, we rode at a very casual pace, stopping at places to click the moments around Dal lake and its beauty.
Finally we reached Gandarbal and started exploring for an accommodation for the night. After going around for about half an hour we could not find anything here and a local told us to ride farther to Kangan where they have guest houses for tourists. It was already past 6, sun had started its descend and our next destination was 20kms away from this point. We started riding up and down the road as fast as we could and finally reached our destination at around 8p.m. Last few kilometers was tough on us as we could not ride fast enough even if wanted to, cause it was pitch dark around us and we had no lights mounted on our cycles. Finding the tourists looking for accommodation, a huge crowd gathered around us, trying to help us find an accommodation. While we were wandering around in the streets of this town, we heard gun fires and overheard the locals talking about the encounter going on at some distance away from the place. Finally with their help, we found one after about half an hour. We finally settled in a room which had no electricity though city and building itself had electricity in it and so we had to manage in candle light. Guest house owner’s nephew Inaam got us food from his home and we finally dozed off to sleep after some chit chat among ourselves and with Inaam.
We got up early and our first task was to get rid of our baggages as my carrier had already given up and it was impossible to carry my bag on it. In the little altitude gain that we had to cover on the first day, even Poonam found it a better idea to get rid of the baggages as we were to face higher challenges ahead in our journey. Opposite our guest house was a jeep stand and we went there to check if they go to Leh and if they could drop our bags at a place in Leh from where we could collect after we reached there. To our disappointment we could not find anything to get our baggaes transported. Back to our guest house, we found Inaam arranging for our breakfast and after talking about luggage problem, he offered to check with his dad and find out if he could help. He spoke to his dad, who came after a while and arranged to get our baggages transported to Leh and dropped at one of his cousin’s restaurant, Bud Shah in Leh. Finally after keeping bare minimal required stuff with us, we started our journey ahead at around 10a.m. Stretch from Kangan to Sonmarg is epic of natural beauty. Mountain and trees standing straight and tall, racing higher and above each each other manifests a scenery which I had seen only in movies and portraits. Sind river trachles all along the ups and downs of mountain route, humming the chants of peace and joy, roaring the glory of nature , creating a magnificent refreshing music to get lost in it. Each curve and corner on this route unveils beauty in a altogether different form. We stopped at various places to cherish it and seep in the charm of the enigma all around us.
Finally we reached Sonmarg, at the begining of this small city there were tent houses available on rent. Both Poonam and Sunil not having the experience of staying in tent before were quite fanatic about staying there. It was available at a pretty reasonable price and bargain queen as usual did her job well to get a good deal. We settled in the beautifully located tents here with the picturesque view of hilly pasture land with horses grazing through it and magnificently snow clad mountain standing tall behind it.
By now we had gained considerable altitude and it has started it toll over both Sunil and Poonam. We had dinner in a kind of open tented setup and headed for the sleep in our tent.
Tented accommodation had added to the sickness both Poonam and Sunil were suffering through due to altitude and they were feeling even worse by morning. Sunil had already puked out everything inside him and Poonam was on the verge of it and denied to eat anything. Nevertheless getting some medicines from the chemist, we started our journey ahead to the most challenging part of it. We had to reach Drass at at distance of 64kms, crossing the most dreaded Zozila pass. We had to ride through Zozila pass with an ascend of 1000meter spanned on a strech of 23 kms, of which first 10-15 kms is very beautiful.
Steep ascend is not the only challenge but the last 7-8 kms of route to Zozila is totally dusty, bumpy and narrow without any trace of concrete on it. Poonam and Sunil who were already not doing well were in no state to ride the bike after half way through Zozila pass. Both of them were having severe headaches and altitude was making them feel sick. Sunil still managed well to walk through the rest of the route to Zozila pass, but it got really tough with Poonam. I had to stick with her and had to keep saying something or the other to keep her going.
Finally when we were at the end of Zozila, Poonam completely gave up and I promised her to not go very far and we will stay at nearest possible location, from there it appeared that 1 km downhill there was a village. While I was tryig to convince Poonam that it was only a little ahead we had to go, a German couple Jan and Katrina neared us who were also riding bicycles from Srinagar to Leh and got Poonam some medicines.
Since it was all downhill from there somehow she managed to get there, but after reaching the place we found that there was nothing more than an army camp at that place. We spoke to an army personal to know there was nowhere to stay before Drass and it was already 6p.m. Seeing Poonam’s condition it appeared completely impossible to me for her to ride 41kms further ahead before it got dark. After talking to many passing by vehicles, we finally agreed to send her in a bus which had vacancy for only one person and agreed to drop her at Drass. Bus driver appeared nice and good humoured with decent crowd in the bus for us to trust and send her ahead alone with them and so we did. Loading her cycle, she was gone with the bus and Sunil and me had the challenge to cover 41kms ahead to Drass and only one hour in hand before it got dark. Thankfully road ahead was either flat or downhill and hereforth both of us rode as fast as we could. In the desperation to reach our destination in time, we had the best ride of our trip, almost flying in the air and within less than an hour we had covered almost 20kms or a little more. In the downhill trails, I am not sure whether breeze was blowing fast or we raced past it speedy enough for it to susurrus the melody which in that moment appeared as the elixir of life—the Philosopher’s Stone. It was getting dark very fast, I was loosing visibility and I was at the peak of my speed. Suddenly road got bumpy and I almost lost balance on the stony patch … to gain control I pulled my brakes hard and bumping on another stone I sprained the back of my neck but gained control over the erratic moves of my bicycle. By the time I came to an halt, I saw Sunil waiting a little ahead of me, it was barely visible and road was badly bumpy and isolated. He suggested to ask the passing by trucks for lift. Thankfully the very first truck approaching us stopped on our signal and promptly loaded us on without asking for anything in return. Ah he was a pretty talkative man and narrated us a good deal about the route, climate, travellers, his experience with them and many other stuff. Like many other localities we had stopped to and conversed with earlier, he too offered his number, asking us to call him anytime we faced problem enroute. Finally he dropped us in Drass and all this while my anxiety was how are we going to find Poonam, it was already 8.30. I was checking my phone every now and then, with the hope that she would get access to some phone and ring me on the only active number we had in journey which I was carrying. I remember bus guy had told me you will find her at Drass Police station and at that time I thought he was joking. With all our anxiety both Sunil and me were riding again in Drass and after going only a little ahead, we saw Drass Police Station on our right, opposite to which was a small hotel; at front of which we found Poonam seated. All well that end is well, though this was not end of our trip but certainly a good end to the most happening and crazy day of our trip. Sahil the bus driver was kind enough to drop Poonam at Drass and not taking any money from her; instead he got her tea and ensured she was feeling better before he left. Aha! according to Poonam he was not only nice but also very cute who like many others we met, gave her his number asking her to call him anytime if there be any need of help further in our journey. Only after reaching Drass and finding Poonam safe and looking better than before, I felt the delight of having gotten a ride in a truck on highway. I don’t know why but I felt good about having done that unexpected bit in our journey. Last minute thrills always make the journey all the more memorable. The truck driver was driving to Leh and later while returning back from Leh to Srinagar (I don’t remember on which particular day in our journey), he called on our number to check if we were doing fine in our trip. Later German couple Jan and Katrina we had met at Zozila also jouned us in the same hotel.
Since we were coming from Zozila, we were horribly dusty and hotel owner was kind enough to offer us hot water for shower. After hot shower, we savored hot dinner and slept like crazy until it was 9a.m the next day.
Getting up at 9 in the morning, still feeling heavy in head (hangover of the crazy previous day) we got up, freshen up, had breakfast and went around a bit in the Drass market to get batteries for my camera, some energy drinks. Back to hotel room, still felt and enjoyed laziness a little longer knowing that our next destination Kargil, was all downhill from this place. After a lazy start of the day, we finally packed up and started our ride to Kargil 58kms from Drass at 1 p.m. Mountains in this route changes their formation every mile and greenery was depleting as we went farther and ahead. Nevertheless it never ceases to awe you. There was very little greenery in this route and after riding for a little while we came across Kargil war memorial. We all stopped here and wandered around the memorial, clicked some snaps and then continued our ride further ahead.
Enjoying the ride mostly on plain or downhills, stopping at every beauty spot to click a few snaps finally we reached at the confluence of Drass and Shingo river. We stopped at this confluence for quite some time clicking some fanatic snaps before we headed to not so far Kargil from here.
Finally we reached Kargil, to find Jun and Katrina already waiting for us outside a very nice guest house. Again our bargain queen did a brilliant job and we all stayed in this beautifully located place. It had a huge backyard with a lot of apricot, sunflower and many other different kind of trees in it.
Owner did talk a little too much but was a very nice man. We settled in our beautiful cozy room and after a while headed out for the dinner. Walking along the streets of Kargil, which after Srinagar was the first huge city having stores for everything and pretty huge population. Finally we reached to a restaurant named “Las vegas” and we certainly wanted to go to Las Vegas of Kargil and enjoy some good food.
After savoring the Las Vegas food headed back to the warmth and cozy comfort of our room. We slept tight through the night to wake up on the independence day.
It was early in the morning, around 5a.m when my parents called up to wish me for my birthday. Aha! one of the best b’day to remember. After packing our bags, had a chit chat with owner over our breakfast of bread butter toast. Before we left he also got us enough of fresh apricots plucked direct from trees for our journey ahead.
After knowing it was my b’day, he insisted many time to stay there for the day and celebrate my b’day. But staying in the luxury of his cozy serene hotel din’t appear more exhilarating than riding back on highway and so we decided so keep going on. Since it was Independence day and we were in Kargil, we checked if there is any place where flag hoisting happens and we got to know that entire city which is considerable huge celebrates the day at one common ground. We cycled to this place where flag was already hoisted and cultural program was going on. We enjoyed the show for a while and then were back on the roads.
Since the day before, we had been seeing boards of Army canteen and pictures of sumptuous food on it. We decided to have food at the Army canteen before we left the city, after checking with military people we got to know that it is further ahead on the highway in our route. So we were back on highway, it was a steep ascend and we continued to ride until we came to a point from where Kargil celebration ground and the city was visible in its entirety and we stopped there again to witness the celebration/event a little more. After a while, we started again and after a few kilometers of ascend we finally reached the Army Canteen to find it closed due it being a public holiday. Nevertheless there was a few army folks around who chattered with us for a while and offered us their personal stock of milk and tea.
They were extremely friendly, nice and funny to talk with. After enjoying the tea and good chit chat with them, we were back on the road. After a while we started to descend and as usual it was another joy ride of a descend. After a while we felt a few droplings hitting us and we stopped at a house and checked with them if could change there. After taking off everything that was not to dry easily, we started riding ahead faster as we could see black storm coming from behind and moving very fast. Finally when we saw storm was left far behind, we stopped at a place along the road to celebrate my b’day by cutting a half eaten cake. Yeah I was given a swiss knife to cut it, quite an amazing experience and feeling to celebrate b’day on NH-1 highway.
Again we saw the storm behind us and once again we were riding as fast as could to escape it and we reached our destination Mulbek exactly when storm was to engulf us. This time we got a stay in guest house exactly opposite the future buddha temple. We freshen up and got the room delivery of our chicken soup. Ah I can not forget Sunil breaking the pin drop silence with his chuski drinking stints. Wind was chilling cold outside, so after having a few snaps we quickly got ourselves curled up in our beds.
Enjoyed the royal candle light dinner (not by choice but cause there was no electricity); sometimes lack of choices/options make it simpler and more beautiful. Back to the warmth of bed and blankets, I got free entertainment over the hilarious conversation between Poonam and Sunil that night and I went mad laughing and by the end of end my stomach and jaws were hurting. After well spent day and b’day, with all smiles we slowly drifted to the most calm period of our day cycle. This night was not as calm as it ought to be and in the middle of the night Poonam woke me up almost on the verge of crying. She showed me various red patches on her skin, appeared that bug were biting the dame hard. I offered her to swap sides on the bed as I din’t face any issues until now. Even after the swap girl was still finding it hard and she could feel the bites here and there, appeared so that bugs were in her blanket and not in the bed and all through the night Poonam had to fight and struggle with them.
We were up again in this place surrounded by chilling wind. After having our breakfast, once again we were back on road, riding our bicycles. We had another another pass ahead on this day, Namkila pass. Soon after starting it began to drizzle and so we put our rain ponchos on. Mountains and climate on this terrain are pretty different; though climate got harsh in this part, mountains on the contrary appeared soft. Rather from distance, they had the look of sand dunes and din’t have the hard look of rocky mountains. They say it correct, looks are deceptive and now I know mountains are no exception to it. Appearing soft in their form, they were no lesser hard in their formation. Riding along the soft looking sand dune like mountains, we paved up and up along its soft tender curves and finally reached Namkila top to face all the more chilly harsh wind.
After few snaps atop the top, we started to descend and reached Bodhkhabru at the end of our joy ride. In the cozy setup of a small tea stall, we enjoyed hot maggi. We also met two folks from Denmark riding on bicycle along the same route, who got our cycles oiled. After biding good byes, we rode ahead and reached Haniskot. To our dismay we could not find many options to stay here, one and only obvious one was Jammu and Kashmir tourist guest house. Unlike most of our previous hosts, these guys din’t have the warmth of local kashmiri people and the lazy sloths were not even ready to come out of their bed and talk. Finally we all shamelessly entered their room and they continued in their reluctant manner as why they can’t accommodate us even though their was no one in the premise except two of them. Reasons given to us appeared all lame and we tried our best to get us settled in there by talking to their manager over the phone and also called up Yhai authorities who had booked the place in advance during that period. Though there was no Yhai group to arrive on that particular day, attendants by no means were ready to accommodate us and finally we called up Yhai head office being hopeful considering that both Poonam and me had active Yhai membership, but all this to no avail. While we were wondering what to do and were still trying to convince the attendants to let us in, watchman of the centre came there and after knowing the situation he offered us to stay in his room for that night which was in the backyard of the guest house. Room was in a total mess and dirty but still we had to be obliged to this man as it was getting late for us to ride further to the next stop and on top of that he also arranged for food for all 3 of us from neighbouring village. After having the simple tasty Ladakhi food, we asked him for the rent of the room, to which he just said “anything appropriate according to you would be fine”. Though room was very dusty and dirty, we still offered what we had been usually paying enroute for a room. Humbleness of this man knew no limits and he gave us hundred rupees back as he thought that was little too much for that room for a night. I felt amazed by the tender grace of gentleness these people epitomize; bearing the harshness of nature amid the hard daunting gigantic mountains … they are still very soft and delicate in their nature, radiating so much peace and satisfaction with life. Without thinking of the filthy state, that room was in, with a child like innocence he offered what he had; without even talking about any payment in return he handed complete possession of his world over to us by offering the keys. As soon as I stepped into this room, I found a leech exploring the red carpet of the room. After taking the leech out of our abode, we spread our mattresses on the ground and after dinner stretched ourselves on them. I had caught some cold by now and night was really cold; due to nose blockage I struggled all through the night to catch some breath and my mind was busy hallucinating leeches for night grazing over us. Somehow night got over and I was so delighted to see the first rays break through the darkness and hit our window.
Dusk never made me feel as relieved as it did on this day. Freshen up and without any breakfast we started early enough for the wavy ride along the mountains. On this day we had to cross another pass, Fotula. After riding a few kilometers, we stopped at one dhaba along the highway for breakfast. Savoured hot omelet with paratha followed with cardamom flavoured milk. Ah simple hot milk in that chill feels so divine. Feeling rejuvenated after the simple but delightful breakfast, riding on the steep roads from this point upto Fotula din’t appear very daunting. Pulling hard on the ascend, stopping every now and then to wipe off my running nose and to fill my lungs hungry for oxygen and let the heart beats get to a normal pace; I was determined to ride through the entire route and not drag my bicycle. I don’t know why but right from the start of the day, I felt very detached and melancholy on this day, may be after effects of a sleepless struggling yesternight. With all my zeal and determination, taking the lead I was riding alone all this time and I was only a few miles away from the Fotula top when driver of an army bus coming from opposite direction signaled me to stop. Moving to the other side of the road, I came to an halt by the side of bus. Bus driver warmly greeted and asked if I was in Kargil two days back. I let some fresh air get into my head and lung and before I answer him, I recalled … yes we left from kargil two days back. After my affirmation, his next question was if I had lost anything that day. I revisited the day in my head and recalled how we had stopped at one house along the road to change when it started drizzling that day and realised zip of the back pocket of my jersey was open and the bundle of notes comprising of 420 bucks was missing from it, which I had got in return from the shopkeeper where I bought the juice bottle from. As soon as I told him about me unconsciously dropping 420 bucks somewhere that day, he took out his wallet and and offered me a bundle of notes. This unexpected event made me repeatedly thank him with a heartfelt gleeful smile until he was already gone. Only after he was gone, various questions popped up in my head as where I might have dropped it and why he suspected it could be mine, din’t he see me while going to Leh (as he was coming from opposite direction) and most importantly what was his name? He so casually handed it to me and moved on as if it was part of his duty to get it back to me. Joy of getting something back, which you have lost and din’t hope for getting it back is simply marvellous. It was yet another lifetime memory/experience for me. Kudos to the Indian Army! Moving ahead, in a short while I was at Fotula top, highest point point on Srinagar-Leh highway. I rejoiced the scenic beauty around this place for a while until chill started zapping me. Soon after I noticed Sunil dragging his bicycle from one shortcut terrain. He too watched and snapped the beauty around and we silently waited for Poonam to arrive. With every passing moment chill was getting stronger and appeared to penetrate deeper through my flesh and bones and by the time Poonam arrived a strong sinking frisson was surging through me. She gleefully rejoiced having cycled to highest point of this highway. Once again we mounted our cycles for the adernaline rush of downhill joy ride; without any pedaling effort, having full control over our bikes we were racing past the zig-zag roads seeping in every bit of 360 degree panoramic helluva awesomeness. Within no time we were at Lamayuru, it was onlly 11a.m and we could easily ride to the next stopping point but Sunil, who was not doing very well insisted on staying at this place and relax for the rest of the day. So we all agreed and found a nice home stay in the small town of Lamayuru. We settled in our rooms and went out for Lunch.
After the delight of food delicacies, we were back to our room and sinking frission was getting stronger and bolder inside me, all I wanted was to be alone. Both Poonam and me went to our room and I lay myself on one of the beds. Sunlight making its way through the window hit directly on my face, its warmth was making me feel better and at the same a sudden unreasonable sadness was overpowering me, forcing me to pull my blanket over my head. Under the blanket, I found tears trickle down through both my eyes; reason of this untimely quiet outburst was beyond my understanding as my body suffered no physical pain, mind was as blank as it could be in a pin drop silence like that. Within no time I was fast asleep.This place has a strange feeling of overpowering calmness and sadness at the same time. Surrounded by mountains from all sides, it appeared as if all kind of sound, feelings and emotions are lost in a black hole and you feel nothing at all … no desire to speak, no desire to listen, all you can hear is your own voice without uttering a single word. I don’t know about others, but I certainly never felt the way I felt here, ever before in my life …. I think I just can’t justify the blankness/emptiness of the moment through words.
When I woke up, I was feeling much better; so may it was all due to struggle of previous night at Haniskot. After the power nap, I bathed and then we(Poonam and me) went to the terrace of the building to sink ourselves in the quiet calmness of this place where Sunil was already seated and happily listening to the music on his ipod. I could not bear the effect, quiet surrounding was surmounting upon me; as if calmness was only external and it was trying to shake everything inside me to the brim of agitation. After a while, we were seated in the huge dining room of the house, and even to an unsocial person like me who love to live mostly by herself it felt much better in the cozy setup amid lot of other people from different cities and countries. After a few hours of chit-chats, we were served sumptuous Ladakhi dinner and then were left to the darkness of our bedrooms to doze off.
We were up again in the heart of silence. Freshen up, had breakfast, fastened our stuff on cycle and were ready to ride. We had to reach Saspol on this day which is 55kms away from Lamayuru. First 19 kms is a steep descend and a complete joy ride. Once again we mounted our cycle and without any effort from us, it gained its momentum. As we drifted farther, road was leading us deeper and deeper into the heart of mountains changing its hue to one shade darked with every twist and turn. A little further, riding down on curves of road carved between two parallel mountains, I felt sandwitched between giant daunting sentinels watching over us and ready to crush us down under its wrath if we dared to cross our limits. Gushing through the heart and veins of mountains we finally came to a point where roads were not going further down. Here on once again we were pedaling our bicycles to move along the ups and downs of the highway. We stopped at a point on highway in our route to munch something and energize ourselves. We ate some junkies and apricots, clicked snaps with a local lady passing by and moved ahead. Finally we reached Saspol and found ourselves settling in a nice Alchi view guest house. It was a nice wooden room with an awesom view of Alchi mountains and apple, apricot and lot of other flora & fauna in its yard. Ah! sitting in this room by the side of wall size windows with sun rays delightfully dancing upon us was the sweetest evening of our trip.
After a while we went out venturing for evening snacks and found wai-wai noodles in the cozy setup of a small stall. Back to the room, we chit-chatted for long, posed and clicked and finally caught small nap before dinner. Ah! dinner was super sumptuous and we were served in a traditional kashmiri setup. While having the food around 8.30 or 9, Katrina and Jan reached and we united again, some chit-chat over our experiences in last few days after we parted in Kargil and then we were all back to bed.
Enthused to cover last stretch of our journey and reach Leh, where Jimmy was already waiting for us to unite for the further exploration, we started early enough as we had to cover 60kms on this day, out of which most part of the route was uphill. Riding along the upwards wavy road along the mountain, we took our halt at a junction which inhibited a dhaba in the middle of no man’s land. We had omelet and maggi at this deserted dhaba which inhibited more chameleons than humans, they were all around this place. While having food, we enjoyed basking in the sun here. Energized again, we rode further ahead and embarked to the gateway of Leh. Riding through the uphills of this terrain, we crossed the beautiful and remarkably obvious confluence of two rivers, Indus and Zanskar and finally reached to our most awaited Magnetic Hill point. Aha! the pose and click time. We halted for good amount of time here, Poonam testing the magnetic effect of the acclaimed Hill over her swiss knife and Sunil doing his stunt of riding over the hill on left where “Magnetic Hill” was rock marked in bold for every passer by to know that they have reached this point. After Sunil’s stunt was over in which he broke his carrier and also hurt himself in various places, we started riding further. It was afternoon by now and we were all hungry and were all desperate to reach the famous Gurudwara on the Leh highway and were hoping to get Langar food for lunch, but ascend of this route was not to end yet. Finally we reached Sri Pather Sahib Gurudwara and enjoyed the snack and tea provided at entrance. We went around the the Gurudwara and finally were there for the langar food. After slurping up the tasty food; as per the custom, we washed our plates and were ready to go. Not too far and further journey was all downhill to Leh. Gleefully enjoying the joy ride, we finally hit the Leh. Crossing Spituk Monastery, Leh airport, famous Hall of Fame we were finally in the streets of Leh city. After finding out that Jimmy was not at his Hotel when we arrived and since charges din’t appear reasonable to us, we rode a little further ahead to the old bus stand and got good deal in Dimbir Guest house, next to Hotel Siachen and so our cycling journey was over in the heart of Leh city.
Before I mark it done, I realise that there are definitely pros and cons of being on your own:
* You have the flexibility of tweaking the route as per your wish and preference.
* You take higher responsibility of knowing the route and hence tend to extract more information from various means. Whereas in case dropping into planned trip, usually I relax and tend to rely on the group to deal with the details and let myself merely enjoy the moment and nature.
* If you keep a proper check, you can save a lot of money.
* You get to know the local culture and people better as you have to directly communicate with them to arrange for your accomodation and food.
* You have higher responsiblility towards everyone in whatever group size you are travelling.
* You have to take up everyone’s nagging & accountability, if it does not work very well for them.
* You have to drop few ideas if it does not suit others in the group. This only pops up because you tend to explore the alternatives as you plan your itenerary yourself. In case of jumping into some group which plans the iterenary for you, this conflict does not arise and certain bit of annoyance is avoided.
We (Poonam and me) were at Veronika & Viju’s place for Easter celebration. We were done with the lunch when other group arrived with a sweet puppy which immediately become center of attraction for all and we had a great time with puppy love.
Courtesy Veronika, Vijay & Poonam for the gala time 🙂