“If I could describe my bike trip to Ladakh in one word, it would be: intense. In every way!”
A Spanish digital nomad from Spain, Tomás has been travelling non-stop for the last few years. He has been to 60+ countries and is a pure adrenaline junkie!
But, why do we say so? – Tomás is a licensed skydiver, a certified skipper and a scuba diver. While these thrilling adventures are not enough to satiate his adrenaline rush, the Spanish `nomad went ahead and learnt to ride motorbikes in the streets of Hanoi, Vietnam!!
A trip to India and that in India seemed long due for him and the ‘Leh Ladakh Motorbike Trip‘ was his Indian calling! Tomás Arribas Simón took this trip with Thrillophilia in the summer of June, 2017.
He shares, “After I learned about Ladakh and the highest motorable road in the world, I was sure it was something I wanted to do – ride and reach Khardung La, the highest motorable pass in the world! It was an opportunity I could not miss!”
We know for sure by now, an adrenaline junkie is only an understatement for this traveller!
A Transparent Experience with Thrillophilia
Tomás talks about his experience with Thrillophilia and shares-
“I did a lot of research, contacting many travel agencies so I could join a group for a fair price. Unfortunately, all of them quoted me a much higher price than I initially expected, because I am a foreigner.”
“The only travel agency that didn’t try to rob me just because I am not an Indian national was Thrillophilia. They gave me the same price as to anyone else in the group. So, in the end, I chose to book with them!”
The communications with the Thrillophilia staff were good and prompt, to say the least. I received final details about the tour operator, around 2 weeks before the trip start date. The excitement started to build up! Yes, it was coming!!
The Early Days Of The Trip
So finally, the date of the trip arrived! The group was supposed to meet near a metro station in Delhi to get the Volvo to the Valley of gods Manali. Once there, I got to meet the people I would share the trip with. I was the only foreigner, with many people being from Bangalore and other parts of India. But luckily enough everyone turned to be great and awesome travel companions!
The Volvo bus was of a decent quality, even playing Baahubali 2 in the TV for entertainment which was nice for me as I didn’t see the movie before. It was a long trip to Manali and we finally reached in the early hours of the next day!
We were supposed to get our bikes in Manali as per the original itinerary, to do a test ride and local sightseeing, but unfortunately, due to issues with the bikers unions in Manali and Leh, we would only get our bikes in Sarchu, a camp between Manali and Leh.
Manali was a scenic beauty in itself and we did local sightseeing on foot there, visiting the Vashisht wooden temple and hot springs, and the Jogini waterfall which was very nice! I also had an amazing trout sizzler in a place called Freedom Cafe that I would remember for the rest of the trip!
Things to do in Manali: https://www.thrillophilia.com/things-to-do-on-a-manali-trip
Places to visit in Manali: https://www.thrillophilia.com/places-to-visit-in-manali
Manali Tour Packages: https://www.thrillophilia.com/manali-tour-packages
On our next day in Manali, we took a tempo minibus to go through the Rohtang Pass and reach the camp in Sarchu. We had to take our motorbikes from Sarchu. While on the way we stopped at Snow Point, full of people playing with the snow!! Quite a sight to see!
We finally reached Sarchu late in the night, and after dinner went to our tents, to sleep in what would turn out to be one of the coldest nights of the trip!! The tents had proper beds and attached bathroom, which was basic and nice for people to spend the night at.
Finally, It’s Time To Ride!
The next morning it was finally the time to ride our bikes! I got a quite new black Royal Enfield 350 Classic, with barely 700-km on it! I was a bit worried as it was my first time riding a Royal Enfield, and in fact my first time riding a big bike, having been riding only 125cc bikes and scooters. But once I got used to the clutch and gear shifting, it was surprisingly easy to ride.
Along with our bikes, there were 2 support vehicles, drivers for them, guide and mechanic. My bike did have problems starting at first, but our mechanics solved it.
Worth mentioning that even though in the contract it said we would have to give 10000 rupees deposit for the bike, this was never asked for.
The Long Way To Leh
It took us longer than expected to reach the land of high passes Leh! Our first real challenge was the Gata Loops, with 21 hairpin bends!! From here we had to ride to Pang. Here, we were acclimatizing to the high altitude and refreshed ourselves with a nap to recover from body pain.
The first part after Pang was very pleasant, going through plains. It was the first time we could ride our bikes to full throttle, managing to reach 100 km/h in a fully flat road in good conditions; it was a great and an exhilarating feeling!!
The Tough Ride through Tanglang La Pass
After Leh came to another challenge: the time to climb Tanglang La Pass, the second highest mountain pass in the world!
The climb up was arduous, with increasing headache and tiredness due to the altitude, and temperature dropping as we went higher and higher. Once we finally reached, it was time for the prized picture with the sign (amazing is it not?).
With all the excitement, I was also exposed to AMS (Altitude Membrane Sickness) and its symptoms were really kicking in. My head felt like it was going to explode, and some people even vomited. So we had to make our way down quickly!
After Tanglang La, there was a mix of good and bad roads. As we spent more time than expected resting in Pang, night came upon us, so we had to ride through the cold darkness to finally reach our homestay in Leh.
Reaching the homestay was like a small miracle, after the tough ride with AMS symptoms. It felt like reaching a palace – a warm house and hot food being serve! We slept like babies that night!
The next day was an easy day, so we could finally get acclimatized to the altitude, doing local sightseeing around Leh. We visited the confluence of the Hindus and Zanskar rivers, which happens to be the highest place in the world where one can do rafting.
We also visited the Shanti Stupa which offered an incredible panoramic view of Leh; and the army’s Hall of Fame, with very interesting information about the conflict and battles in the area.
We also visited the Magnetic Hill, which turned out to be a total hoax but at least we had a laugh trying to see if our bike would go uphill when in neutral (it certainly did not)!
We also went to the Leh market at night, where some people bought Ladakh t-shirts, and also very important – Buddhist flags for the bike’s handlebar, for good luck!
The Highest Road in the World Is Here – The Khardung La!
After another night, and finally fully rested and acclimatized, it was the time I had been waiting for and one of the main reasons I decided to take this trip: we were going to ride the highest motorable road in the world, the Khardung La, on the way to Nubra valley!
As Tomás shared this with us, we sensed that his excitement and anticipation for this ride was very very high!
Starting from Leh, the road became worse and worse until it barely deserved to be called a road anymore. It became more of a muddy, rocky river, which forced us to ride very slowly and carefully to prevent falling down.
My feet were completely soaked (Don’t trust Decathlon’s “waterproof” trekking boots!) and then came the snow, with the temperature dropping as we ascended more and more. All this plus the high altitude affecting the bike’s power made for a very slow and arduous climb!
But, all was worth it once we got sight of the Khardung La – and finally being able to take the picture with the famous sign!!!
We had a lot of time for pictures. There was an avalanche that blocked the road to Nubra Valley, and we were stuck in Khardung La for more than two hours. We thoroughly enjoyed the scenic views of Khardung La!
Because of the avalanche, we had to ride in most of Nubra during the night, reaching our camp very late. But this time it was not cold, the temperature in Nubra was very pleasant actually, and the camp was a bit more “upscale” than in Sarchu.
Camels in The Snow At Nubra Valley
After a dearly needed night rest at the camp, we finally were able to see the Nubra Valley in daylight. A high altitude cold desert, with dunes and even double-humped camels! It was surreal to ride camels in the dunes while being surrounded by snowcapped mountains.
We were supposed to ride to Pangong Lake that day, but the night we arrived at the Nubra camp we were informed that the road from Nubra to Pangong might be blocked due to landslides. There was much discussion among the group on what to do, if try our luck and push to Pangong, or return to Leh. We finally contacted our tour manager for advise who advised for us to go back. So, our only option was to ride back to Leh passing through Khardung La again.
Adapt or Perish – The Ride Backwards
The ride back was much more difficult. The weather turned for the worst, with quite heavy rains and snow. There was another avalanche on the way to Khardung La and again we were stuck for hours before we could continue. The temperature was also much lower than before due to the change of weather, so much that at some points I was afraid my feet and hands were getting frostbite. I was hugging the bike’s engine to get some warmth in my fingers.
And it was in these conditions that I had my first fall – my bike slide under while crossing a torrent of water and trying to dodge another bike that was coming in the other direction. I was unharmed but the leg guard of the bike got damaged. I believe it saved my leg though! Luckily another member of the group was riding close to me in that moment and helped me pick up the bike out of the water and ride out of the situation.
We didn’t stop in Khardung La this time, as the weather was terrible, so kept going back to Leh as quickly as we could under heavy rain, all soaked in the night, into the warm, welcoming homestay. It was a very adventurous and exciting day for sure, even if our plans were totally messed up!!
Will We See The Pangong Tso Lake?
So there we were, back to Leh, but determined to visit the Pangong Tso Lake. The road from Leh to Pangong was open, but we were informed that conditions were really bad, especially to go with bikes. So, in the end our tour manager hired a tempo minibus so we could go to Pangong Lake and come back on the same day. Going by bike would mean having to sleep in Pangong and we would extend the trip for 1 extra day. With people having flights already booked for the return, this was not feasible.
In fact it turned out to be the best decision – on the way to Pangong Lake the weather became increasingly worse. So bad, that many bikers we crossed abandoned their bikes on along the side of the road to hitch a ride back to Leh!
I was really impressed by the drivers of tempo minibuses in Ladakh. They really go through anything and everything. Where other vehicles would get stuck – even huge SUVs, the tempos would get through. So even if we were not riding our bikes, the way to Pangong was quite exciting and adventurous!
The Majestic Pangong Tso Lake
We finally reached Pangong Lake and its beautiful turquoise waters!! What I didn’t like was all the props of the movie “3 Idiots” surrounding the lake for people to take photos with. In my opinion it takes away from its natural beauty and makes it feel like a theme park.
But, it was all limited to one small area. If you walk further around the lake you can enjoy pristine views of the lake waters!
After a late lunch break in the lake, it was time to return to Leh. The way back was quite eventful, as the rain got stronger and there was a lot of water in some sections of the road, so much that many vehicles got stuck and needed a lot of help to unblock the road. Again we were back to Leh very late at night, tired from the long trip, but satisfied to not have missed the pristine Pangong Lake despite the change of plans.
The tour was coming to an end, and the next day it was time to make our way back to Manali from Leh, again sleeping in Sarchu.
Again we went through plains, although this time it was under some rain and clouds, but still exhilarating to be able to go at top speed for a while.
Going up to Taglangla for the second time was much easier. Being acclimatized really made a difference – no headache, no tiredness, no vomiting… no problem! What a contrast from the first time!
In fact the whole way back to Sarchu from Leh felt incredibly easy, arriving to the camp while the sun was still up. The experience gained through the whole trip really paid up in the end, what was a grueling challenge on the first days felt like smooth sailing on the return.
Back to Manali
It was time to leave our bikes in Sarchu, as again we could not ride back to Manali due to the issues with the bikers unions. They were revised by the mechanics, and I had to pay 1200 rupees for the damaged leg guard, which I found reasonable. We bid the bikes farewell the following morning, and took a tempo back to Manali, going through the Rohtang Pass.
We were stuck again a couple of times on the road to Manali for hours due to landslides that blocked the road with big boulders, even having to wait for a bridge to be repaired. This is daily life in Ladakh! No one was even sure if we would have to sleep on the way, but we reached Manali in the end in one piece and with enough time to sleep at the hotel and catch the Volvo back to Delhi on the following day.
The Leh Ladakh Motorbike Trip was one of the most intense travel experiences in my life, unforgettable, and highly recommended. Full of adventure, tough times that will test your limits, and incredible landscapes that will make you feel like you just were part of a movie!!
My final score of both Thrillophilia and the tour operator would be 4 out of 5. It’s great to have booked through Thrillophilia who had no price discrimination for foreigners. I easily booked through them with their simple payment process. Their team took care of the problems with the trip between tour operators and had good communication channels when enquired.
Our tour operator adapted well to the changing conditions of road and weather to still comply with the itinerary as good as possible. Most of the issues and requests were solved. Staffs in the tour were locals and knew the land well, handled all paperwork and permits smoothly with minimum involvement needed from us.
Planning A Leh-Ladakh Motorbike Trip, Are You? Tomás Shares 10 Things To Know Before You Start The Trip!
- Buy proper safety gear in Delhi or bring your own. It’s much harder and expensive to get in Manali.
- Waterproof boots and gloves are a must. You will get wet very often while riding. Also, I suggest a raincoat.
- Do some practice on a bullet bike before, if you have never driven one. You must get used to gear changes.
- Bring altitude sickness pills for the first couple of days.
- Use sun screen.
- Bungee cords can be very useful to tie your smaller day backpack to the bike for more comfort. Big backpacks will go in the support vehicle and you don’t have access to it until the end of the day, sometimes not even until the next day.
- Bring both warm and light clothes. Weather and temperature can change dramatically in the same day.
- Take turns to ride the bike with the pillion rider. As a solo rider having to drive all the time, I was really tired some days, while people riding together were in better shape. You can also enjoy the scenery more when you are riding pillion.
- Bring a BSNL SIM card; other companies barely work out of Leh.
- 10 Expect the unexpected!
Tomás shares that he has the Killar-Kishtwar road trip in Kashmir on his bucket list next! Living by his favourite quote,
“Be as you wish to seem”
it truly has been a pleasure at Thrillophilia to serve our delighted Spanish traveller!