“I’m in love with cities I’ve never been to and people I’ve never met”. -John Green
Travel, to many, come as a hobby or passion and to some, it comes as a way towards life. People travel, trek, scale mountains, explore cultures, cross borders, ride the ocean and yet their eyes sparkle everytime they set their sail to take another voyage.
Rajath Karthik: The ‘Snow’ Traveler
“… travelling is just not an experience but a beautiful learning in many ways”. Rajath Karthik, hailing from Mysore and working in Bangalore has an interesting story of how he fell in love with travelling. “Snow was my reason to become a traveller. I had dreamed of playing with snow. To make my dream come true I started travelling which turned out to adventure as well. I have been travelling from my childhood and have continued till date.”
From ‘No Ladakh’ to the ‘Pack-of-10 to Ladakh’
You know how they say that Leh-Ladakh calls the nomads itself, well the same was true for Rajath. He chose to take on the Leh-Ladakh Bike trip on Thrillophilia, to which he quotes, “Though I am not a person who wants to go on the bike for adventure, I had to say yes after seeing all the pictures and the video clips on YouTube”.
Rajath not only chose the trip himself but also tagged along with his cousins and friends, making his own small group of 10 on this trip. Rajath’s travel plan had a total of 17 people in the group which incidentally he recalls, “…7 members were new to me and my group. The bonding started when we got to know that 5 of them were also from different parts of Karnataka. Later the last 2 also joined the party as we got to know that they worked in Bangalore. So my experience with my fellow travellers was very homely as all of us were from the same state which helped us to gel quickly.”
Time for Ladakhi Preps
You should know that as majestic as the Land of High Passes – Leh-Ladakh seems, it also requires you being properly informed of what you’d be facing on the trip. Everything in this trip needed preparation. “I started collecting basic information like; how many people, when do we travel and whom do we approach for package etc. Finally, the headcount goes up to 7 including me in the month of March 2017. We did our basic research on what all places we wanted to see, which route we wanted to ride, whether we wanted to rent bikes or ride our own bikes and the best dates to travel. After more than two weeks of search, we decided to rent bikes and opted for pillion package through Thillophilia as they gave us the best package which suited our budget and their travel dates were also suitable for us. So, 10 of us which included me, my cousins and friends were all set to leave Bengaluru on 19th July 2017”.
The Travel Excerpts: How Ladakh Wooed the Group
Rajath and what he mentions as, his extended family, of 17 fellow travellers began their trip in July 2017. Rajath had beautifully detailed his experience of the following days in his own excerpts:
“With all the excitement none of us had a peaceful sleep that night and reached the airport on time. Every one of us had 2 pieces of luggage; one which had our clothes and the others had bike gears with all packed food as lunch was not part of the package. Finally, we reached Jammu & Kashmir. After reaching the hotel and a bit struggle to find vegetarian lunch, we had a peaceful boat ride in the famous Dal Lake for a couple of hours and did some shopping before reaching the hotel. At the end of the day, we had some formalities and forms to be signed along with the briefings for our Day 1 of the bike ride. I was excited and nervous as I had never ridden a bike for such a long stretch and also for the responsibility of rest of the 9 members”.
“We started our journey at 8 AM sharp from Srinagar towards Kargil after all the instructions from the guide. Our ride started very next to the Dal Lake until we exited Srinagar. All of us got a very beautiful view of the lake. There was plenty of quick photo secession on the way which had started when we stopped over for refuels. Just after a couple of hours, we encountered our very first river crossing. As we crossed the river, on our right was the Amarnath Shrine Basecamp and then entered Drass which is the second coldest inhabited place on the earth. As we proceeded the greenery around us was diminishing and all we could see was rocky hills. Soon we entered Kargil region and we had to stop at the military check post for inspection. Soon after lunch, we reached Kargil War Memorial which was on my bucket list”.
“We had approximately 250Kms to ride to reach our next destination Leh-Ladakh. For the first few hours, I really felt like I was riding a bike in The Great Canyons of USA. On the way, we stopped at Lamayuru Monastery, it was a beautiful monastery and the oldest which was built on top of the hills. We started our journey after lunch and the road from Srinagar to Leh was just mind blowing and kudos to Border Roads Organization (BRO) for making our journey memorable. Interesting fact, during the curves, I was riding the bike in 2nd gear but there was one curve where I had to force turn using 1st gear and the reason was that I was riding in front of the Magnetic Hills. Soon I was happy to see ‘Welcome to Leh’ board and we were welcomed by a spectacular view alongside with plenty army camps. We were accommodated in our hotel and planned our next day which was local sightseeing on our own”.
“Our itinerary for the local sightseeing included Hall of Fame (Army Museum), Hemis Monastery, Thiksey Gompa, Druk Padma Karpo School (Rancho/3 Idiots School), Leh Palace and Shanti Stupa. All these monasteries gave us the history of Leh-Ladakh region. The Hall of Fame is a kind of museum which gives information about all the wars fought by India, the lifestyle of the soldiers, equipment used by Indian and the enemy army, details of flora and fauna in this region and a war memorial. We also made sure that we tasted some local dishes like Tigmo, Thupka, Thenktuk, and Momo which were very unique. We ended up our day with some shopping in the market before witnessing a beautiful view of Leh city and sunset from Shanti Stupa”.
“Our destination was Pangong Lake Which was famous after it was shown in the 3 Idiots movie climax. The road to reach Pangong Lake was under construction which means we had to ride the bike on a mud road along with loads of stones and this was off-road biking. After around 25 hairpin curves we soon reached the Mighty Changla Pass which is also the world’s second highest pass and we got the first glimpse of snow. From here we frequently encountered stream crossing and the water and also witnessed some Marmots, Himalayan Yak and Himalayan Goats when we stopped at ‘Jab Tak Hai Jaan’ movie shooting spot. Finally, we reached the campsite at Pangong Lake and I fell in love with the tent accommodation because I could get the whole view of the lake as I opened the entrance flap of my tent. We ended the day with stargazing where we could witness a lot of shooting stars too”.
“The plan ahead was to reach Nubra Valley and the next day travel back to Leh. We had some bad news; there was a major landslide on the way which connected Pangong Lake and Nubra Valley. As per BRO, clearing that road would take a long time so our guide made some changes in the plan and it was decided to travel back to Leh. We took very less time to reach Leh compared to the time taken to reach Pangong Lake as we knew the road better. Personally, I felt this was the most challenging ride on the entire trip considering the condition of our bikes as well as the roads. We reached Leh by 3 PM so we had the entire day to rest”.
“It was decided to travel to Nubra Valley via Khardung La pass and return to Leh on the same. It was a 320Kms journey in total and it would take a total of 10 hours of a bike ride. Since the sunset is very late and as we have sunlight until 7 30 PM, we thought of taking the risk. The road till Khardungla was again off-road kind experience whereas road from Khardungla to Nubra Valley was good. The road was very challenging but we managed to reach the world’s highest motorable road. We did not have any limit to our happiness and every one of us sensed that victory feeling of riding the bike on the highest motorable road of the world. All the efforts put in to reach this memorable place paid off. After a brief photo session and rest, we proceeded towards Nubra Valley. We were able to reach Nubra by 10:30 AM. Nubra Valley is also known for Double Hump Camels and we made sure we experienced a Camel ride. We then started our return journey after lunch by 1 PM. It was a quick ride for the entire team. We reached Leh sharp by 5 PM and made it a very successful ride”.
“Finally, it was time to say bye to Leh-Ladakh and I left the city with a satisfied mind as I experienced everything that I had expected. Sarchu was the destination for the day and we were on track by 9 AM. It started to freeze as we got closer to Tanglang La Pass which is the second highest motorable pass in the world. After lunch, it was time to descend through Gata Loops but dark clouds were above us. We had to bring in all our past 1-week bike ride experience to win the race between us and the dark clouds in the 22 hairpins Gata Loops. Once we down the loops, we had greenery around us again which was last seen before Kargil”.
“This particular day of the trip had a very short distance of 90Kms to cover and so we started a bit late than our normal time. There were 2 stops after crossing Barchala Pass; first at Deepak Tal Lake and the other at Suraj Tal Lake. They were very small beautiful lakes. By now we had entered Himachal Pradesh after crossing the Jammu & Kashmir border. Soon we reached the tents at Jispa by afternoon”.
“Even though it was the last day of the ride, we were still excited as we still had Rohtang Pass due today. We decided to drive slow and enjoy the last day ride. The weather was very pleasant which helped us to enjoy the ride. We had a break at Keylong and the road from here was again challenging in a different way. It was a slushy road and we had to ask the pillion riders to walk for few distances very frequently. With added trouble, we also had fog as we reached the Rohtang Pass. The visibility was less than a meter. As we started to descend, the roads even got narrower making it very tough to ride. The soldiers on the way were very helpful in assisting all the tourist vehicles and the bikers too. With their guidance, we safely ended our trip by reaching our last destination Manali. We were provided accommodation in a beautiful hotel in Manali”.
“Last day of the whole trip. No wake-up call, no reporting time, no riding plans and simply nothing. We were back to our usual mode by getting up late. Roamed around Manali and had a wonderful meal followed by shopping”.
Well, upon asking what he recalls from the experience, the thrilled Rajath says, “I visited all the places which were on my bucket list including Kardung La, Pangong Lake, Kargil, Rohtang Pass, Nubra Valley. Upon all, the best part was when I rode bikes on the world’s highest motorable road. Another interesting point which I personally enjoyed was the experience of change in climate, people, culture and nature from Srinagar to Manali.”