They say life is not measured by how many breaths you take but by monetnts which take your breadth away. i can say after this trip, I lived a long life! 10 people, 1600 kms in 5 days, altitude upto 15,000 feet, a cold desert! I will write about he Epic Journey through the highest mountains of the world on a bike which would not qualify even as a small bike in the US market. Its not about the bike you ride its about how you ride it.
[Courtsey: Bunny Punia. This article was published in Bike India magazine.]
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This is also paradox of life. Most incredible journwy of my life and I could not get time to write the log. Soon after the trip i got admission call from Babson and the trip log for the great journey never got finished. But I know Bunny has done a much better job.
A ride to one of the remotest parts of India, where tarmac is a luxury, where coming across one vehicle an hour is considered lucky, where normal tourist don’t dare to even venture out into. Sixteen people attempted to do a ride to this location, six made it back in time. Read on…
Anthony Hopkins, the old lad from the movie “World’s fastest Indian” said, if u don’t follow through in your dreams, you better be a vegetable in life, a vegetable like a cabbage. Most of us have dreams, have passions. Most of us are really mad about certain things. Like my colleague Varad More who dreams of the fastest ride across India on a Gixxer. I too had this one dream, one goal, which I somehow wanted to achieve this June. At any cost. And I did it. Yes, we bikers are a different breed, as I mentioned in some earlier issue, we can go any lengths to realise our passion.
3rd June brought together sixteen enthusiastic bikers, all ready to start a ride of their life. Nine bikers from Delhi, three from Bangalore and one each from Pune and Hyderabad along with two pillions set out as the sun tore the horizon on the beautiful NH-1 towards the Hindustan-Tibet highway, NH-22 with a feeling of joy and adventure. But things are not always destined to go on like you want. Day 1 saw one big crash, one rider falling ill and another one’s arm wound getting worse, which only meant that we could ride till Shimla, 355kms from Delhi the first day. What a pity! At night after dinner, we all had a meeting in one of the rooms and it was decided five people would head back, including two pillions, as it was raining ahead on the route we intended to take. This combined with one of the riders returning back after getting a call from his office meant from sixteen, the number reduced to ten from Day 2 onwards!
Something brings many of us back to the Himalayas. It’s difficult to describe in words, the answer lies up there. The guys from down south looked forward to the remaining four days, after all till date they had only seen these majestic formations in pictures, and always daydreamt of riding around here. We left the capital city of Himachal Pradesh by almost 11am, hours behind schedule to take the winding and steep roads to Narkanda, situated at 9000feet above sea level. Thankfully, roads were good and weather-gods were by our side. We rode down towards Rampur, which lies along the ancient trade routes to Tibet, Ladakh and Afghanistan. It used to be the capital of the mighty Bushahr Empire in the 18th century which had its borders well into Kinnaur. Today Rampur is one of Himachal’s most important market towns. This is where we got the first glimpse of snowy peaks in the background. The roads were almost flat here and we were down riding next to the Sutlej river. But it wasn’t long before darkness creeped in and civilization started vanishing. The 2005 floods had taken their toll on the road and bridges big time and tens of people were killed at that time. It was after a town called Jeori that the roads vanished, making us slow down considerably and ride in dark. The initial plan of night stop at Ribba was changed to Recong Peo, the district headquaters of Kinnaur. At this route, the last gas pump is at Powari and its advisable to tank up here.
At dinner, we all realised how much behind we were w.r.t our initial plan and how badly we needed to plan out things. With double thoughts in my mind, I dozed off, hoping for the best for the next day.
“All my life I wanted to do something big, something bigger and better than all the other so called bikers. I had waited months for this ride and it was now or never for me. I had to do this at any cost. But I couldn’t just break from the group and go ahead all alone. It was my responsibility to make sure every one rode together. I was in a fix…”
Day 3, Monday the 5th of June brought a wide smile on our faces. As we had entered Recong Peo at night, we didn’t notice something. What we saw from our windows blew us away. The mighty Kinner Kailash peak, towering above the town at a dizzy 19965 feet was covered in a blanket of snow. Clouds hovered around the mountains and the whole scenery around the town looked awesome. But we had to carry on and after we were done with the daily routine of tying our luggage and checking bikes, carried on. But broken bridges and no roads made things worse. Time flew by and it was almost an hour past mid-noon and all we had covered were hardly 30kms. We decided to break up and carry on further. Till early this year, from Kinnaur, it was almost impossible to ride across to Spiti due to the Malling Nullah, a mountain prone to landslides on hourly basis. But an alternate road had been constructed through Nako, around 11000feet high. The hard decision to send back the pillions on Day 2 seemed totally justified now as the terrain became very un-forgiving. When all hope was about to vanish, we were greeted by smooth tarmac roads few kilometres before Nako. Consisting of numerous loops, the tarmac was pot-hole free, civilization ceased to exist and all we could hear was the wind noise inside our lids. The bikes struggled to climb even the minutest inclines due to thin air but when you have breath-taking scenery to soak yourself in, you don’t need to complain. The bikes were performing well till now but group had broken up into two, ours with four bikes and the second with six. The new road via Nako was full of hairpin bends and the inclines made us come on top of the mountain and awesome views greeted us on every turn. But joy was short-lived when we took the first hair-pin after Nako to join back on NH-22. This was worst than we thought. A so called path was crafted out of the hills, with sand and rocks all around. The path was wide enough for just one four-wheeler to pass through and average speeds fell to hardly 15km/hr. Fear of tyre puncture and cuts creeped in and how we wished we all had tubeless rubber with us. No doubt, they are worth every penny in such sort of conditions.
We entered Spiti valley just as the sun was about to go down but still had no trace of the second group. Left a message at Sumdo checkpost to let the other group know that we would be stopping the night at Tabo.
The Spiti Valley forms a unique socio- physical unit of Himachal Pradesh. This rugged valleys lie at the height of (3000 to 4551 meters) above sea level and sweeping view of this magnificent Himalayan terrain are common. This magical land consists of a network of soaring mountains and deep valleys. With a population density of only 2 persons per sqare kilometre, Spiti is probably India's lowest population density area, along with Zanskar. Time stands still here and if you machine lets you down, you are left at the mercy of god. No kidding. Night was at the Monastry guest house and Tibetian food was gulped down with glasses of water, a very important factor to keep AMS (acute mountain sickness) at bay. This was essential as we were to ride as high as 15000feet the next day.
As we went to bed at 10, we were still unaware of the happenings with the second group. Did they make it or got lost in the numerous un-marked turns? It was well past mid-night when we heard banging on our “deluxe suite” monastry room. Fearing trouble, we four got up together and gathered to open the door, only to be greeted by the second group, which had unbelievably made it to Tabo after riding more than four hours in dark through narrow rocky roads! Talk about adventure! Stories were exchanged and it was assuring to know that all the bikes were still performing well.
“When you don’t have any human beings around for miles and the road surface threatens to rip the bike’s suspension apart, all you can do is pray hard and carry on…”
It was pre-decided the last night that those who would want to indulge in photography would ride only till Gramphoo, less than 200kms away, while others would ride till Manali, 250kms away, through two passes, the first being close to 15000feet high. Six of us left Tabo at half past six for the most difficult and at the same time the most scenic ride of our life. The first 47kms to Kaza, close to 12000feet high, took two hours. The road was cut along the Spiti river and all we had for company were mostly barren mountains with little snow on the top. Kaza is the headquaters of Spiti Valley and also has the world’s highest electronically operated fuel pump run by IOC! There is no pump till Manali, around 200kms away and hence it’s advisable to have enough fuel in your tank. After a good heavy breakfast, we packed along snacks and enough water to combat AMS and set out for the most enduring part of the ride. 200 kilometers, no roads, two mountain passes, no civilization, no cell-phone connectivity, rain and what not.
The roads for quite some time are ok but soon they change into our worst night-mares. Elevation increases gradually from 12000feet at Kaza to 13000feet at Kiato to 13500feet at Losar and finally 15018 feet at Kunzum pass. This is one of the most toughest passes in India. There is no road, lot of hair-pin bends, rocks and dirt and snow on the side of the road. We came across overturned trucks lying aside in the valley and numerous workers moving away landslides. At such altitudes, its best to keep sipping water and one should avoid exertion too. The bikes, including Karizmas, refused to go into 3rd gear and had to be kept in 1st for over fifteen minutes before we made it to the top. As I switched off my bike, the surroundings took me in. 20000 feet high peaks, covered in a white sheet, towering above us. Complete silence, just the occasional wind noise and the sound of the bells from a small temple where every one payed a visit. I took a bottle of water, walked up a hill and sat there for a while. I had dreamt of this for months, prepared for days and rode close to a thousand kilometres for this. My eyes were glued to my three year old Karizma. It once again stood by me on yet another Himalayan trip. 38000kms on the odo, worn out chain set and clutch plates, engine ready for an overhaul and broken side panels! And she still got me here. One of the million reasons why I am in love with her…
After a rest of close to two hours, our group carried on for the ride ahead. Unfortunately we had to bypass Chandratal lake because we were running outa time but vowed to come back once again soon. We crossed many small glacial zones and soon rode along a river with huge mountains on both the sides topped up with snow. Six of us again broke up as time passed by and it wasn’t long before I realised it. As I took another turn, what I saw overwhelmed me. In front my eyes lay a part of Bara Shigri Glacier. It’s difficult to explain the sight. White snowy clouds started wrapping up the hills around and then I saw something on my tank bag, they were ice-crystals! I looked into my RVM, not a soul in sight. I took out my bottle and took a sip. As the freezing cold water hit my teeth, it sent a painful shock down my whole jaw reminding me that I badly needed a root-canal. I popped a Dolamide and carried on. Some distance after Batal, noticed a small sheltered dhaba and decided to stop for tea and eggs. The place was very cosy and warm. Fortunately others joined in soon and we all feasted on omlettes and chai for a good hour.
The remaining stretch to Manali via Rohtang Pass was again the same routine. 2nd and 3rd gear roads, rocks and slush. This was where the exhaust from the Unicorn came off its mounting points as well as the cylinder head. As we touched the Manali-Leh highway at Gramphoo, I realised why no one does Spiti Valley. The whole route from Tabo to here demands too much from both man and machine. It will make you cry with fatigue and torture your machine to the limits. It was here that the second group’s Karizma had to be taken in a pick-up! Rohtang greeted us with clouds and walls of snow and we headed down to Old Manali for a well deserved warm bath and hot food.
“The journey had almost ended. We had been through heaven and back. Form 40+ degrees to 0. It was back to basics. No hi-tech cities, no entertainment. It seemed to have happened all so fast and now it was time to go back to pollution, traffic jams, electricity and water problems. Why cant I stay and live here forever?”
The ride, or I should call an adventure was almost over for us. The next day would be a boring 565kms to Delhi. The second group couldn’t make it to Manali and took a day more to reach Delhi. In the end, of the total sixteen people who started for this ride, six went back by Day 2 and only six made it back in time on Day 5. Three bikes had to be put in a Mahindra Pick-up on different days while Unicorn’s exhaust came off. Speaks enough of the harsh and unforgiving terrain we came across. Infact many riders rate this route technically more difficult than Manali-Leh due to the fact that the latter route is used by Army and kept in good condition. But the scenery, the Olympian Himalayas easily made it up for the torture our bikes had to go through and the ache in every part of our bodies. We took a thousand pictures, hundred of videos to cherish those moment forever. It was back to the hustle-bustle of city life, but it also meant planning the next ride! Been there, definitely done that. So was it all worth it? Oh yes, definitely worth every single bump, every single gear shift, every single turn.