Flashback mid 2006:
Subhro, Arijit, Srikanth and yours truly had received sponsorship from a well-known lubricant brand doing business in India for us to travel on our Royal Enfield bikes to Ladakh and back. We had meticulously prepared for the trip with immense amount of attention given to detail. Unfortunately (or fortunately, when I look back today) due to some paper work formalities I had to fulfil for my further studies out of India, I was left with no other option other than pulling out of this trip, at the very last minute.
It took me a lot of time to accept this, the day when the team was flagged off from Victoria Memorial towards Delhi is still fresh in my mind as if it was just yesterday. I had accompanied them for approximately 100kms before making a U turn and riding back to town with literally tears in my eyes. It was painful.
What happened between 2006 and 2015?
Every year since 2006 I have been planning to ride to Ladakh. Every calendar year! And it just wouldn't happen – I guess that's what happens when your profession also becomes your obsession. That's when passion takes a back seat. The only way of comforting my soul was doing a couple of rides in Europe and extensively driving around the European continent and some of the Asian countries.
Let’s fast forward to September 2016:
Himalayan was already bought and kept in the garage since March. Thanks to Hero who made sure that the first Himalayan to be delivered in India was mine. I love the bike – everything about it – did a few short trips around Kolkata and I desperately wanted to take the bike to the Himalayas, for where it has actually been designed.
The season for riding to Ladakh was gradually getting over, many members of Eastern Bulls were regularly posting pictures on our instant messaging group, and the bug had bitten again.
I had requested Subhro, who we lovingly refer to as Buro (well now that he is 50, its official anyways) to assist me in attaching the panniers I had picked up in Asia on to the Himalayan and also to assist in arranging the logistics of getting the bike to his Delhi residence – this didn't work out on time.
I had casually mailed some rental companies in Manali and some accommodation facilities en route Manali – Leh , both of which answered in negative that season time is over – wow – things seem to be working in my favour, eh?
So, I finally decided to fly to India from Hong Kong on the 23rd of September and then probably ride to North Bengal or Sikkim for a few days. I arrived home in India on the early hours of the 24th and tried to get some shut eye – but thoughts about the fact that I would not be doing Ladakh again in 2016 made sure I did not get sound sleep.
After offering my prayers at the temple on 24th morning, I headed back home for lunch. Something was still bothering me and while I was having lunch I was also fiddling with my phone and checking flights for Leh, prior to which I had requested Priya (my wife) to buy Diamox (medicine against high altitude sickness) at a pharmacy for me.
Few calls made to friends in Delhi and those who have recently visited Ladakh advised me on the dosage of Diamox – and after lunch I started with half a tablet. It’s only after my first dosage of Diamox after lunch that I booked my tickets to Leh. By late afternoon on the 24th September one way tickets from CCU-DEL-IXL were booked.
Great – So I am going to Leh – and what’s even better – I don't have a bike!
Messaged Prashant from RTMC and Kartik from Royal Beasts and both told me not to worry, I’ll find something – that was a little reassuring.
Hurriedly packed my riding gear which was lying all over the house and rushed to the airport for my flight to Delhi – and guess what I forgot to pack the warm lining of my riding jacket – now how smart is that?!
25th September 2016
Boarded flight from Delhi to Leh in the early hours, and I was checked into the hotel by around 08:00. I was feeling absolutely fine with no sign of any high altitude difficulties. I was strictly requested by the receptionist to rest the whole day and not to undertake any activities. I obliged and headed to my room. I had asked the hotel to arrange a bike for me – preferably a white Himalayan. In the afternoon upon enquiring at the reception – they told me there were only black Himalayans available. Not being satisfied with their answer, I asked them to arrange a hotel car for me to take me around the bike rental shops and also some clothing shops where I could buy a fleece to substitute the warm liner.
Found a very professional rental shop who gave me a bullet 500 in top notch condition – with air filter and rear brake shoes changed to new ones right in front of me – the bike barely had 10,000 kms on it. I told them to deliver it to the hotel by evening.
26th September 2016
I was strictly suggested to take it easy for 48 hours, at least, but for the day I was “allowed” to go around Leh(the hotel reception staff actually reminded me of the Lufthansa airhostesses!) – So, I had decided to do Magnetic Hill, the Leh Palace and all the touristy stuff. The problem was I was done by 11:00 am with all of this and then I rode across a sign board which said Khardung La 49kms. So, restless like I am, you would know where I was heading? Yes, I took the road to Khardung La – and told my self – at the first instance of not feeling well, I shall make a U-Turn and come back to Leh. A very simple rule I had set for myself. The roads were considerably good, with negligible bad patches. The check post was a breeze and very efficient. The view was breath taking – no pictures would actually do justice, the place is such that every photograph at any direction you take would make people think you are a great photographer! Let me tell you, no you are not – it’s just the beauty of the place! You cannot make it look better!
Reaching the top was surprisingly effortless with only a patch of 10 odd clicks before K-Top which was really bad, VERY bad. This is where I was missing the Himalayan because the standing position comes very naturally on the Himalayan as opposed to the standard royal Enfield frames.
Once at the K-Top the usual photo session seemed to be a must. An American gentlemen insisted he should take a picture of me when he noticed I was just taking a picture of the bike against the Khardung La sign.
After the cliché pictures, I headed back into Leh arriving at the hotel early afternoon feeling very happy that I have finally, after a decade managed to be at the K-top myself.
27th September 2016
One place which always fascinated me – well at least from the pictures – was More Plains. So keeping that in mind and checking the mapsand a good filling breakfast to keep me going for the day, at 09:00, I made my way towards Upshi, where you take a diversion towards Tanglang La. The roads were beautiful with some very nicely paved turns, a biker’s paradise. There was a moment where a portion of the stretch immediately reminded me of my ride with Dodo from Madras Bulls and Aditya from RTMC in Romania at the Transfăgărășan – I had to stop and take a picture - a whatsapp picture was due to them at the end of the day, I told myself.
I made very few stops during the ride, but each of my stops happened to be a good fifteen minutes, where I would just sit down and talk to the mountains and relax. I cannot describe that feeling in words – you will have to feel it to understand.
After having ridden through Rumtse, Tanglang La, Debring and Pang I continued my ride before realizing I had to head back to Leh the same day. I finally made a U-Turn at Biskynala which is probably just 15kms short of the Gata Loops. Had I left just an hour earlier, I would probably be brave to do the Gata loops and head back. The phone without any data or signal told me it’s already 13:00 and I thought it’s not worth taking the risk to ride into Leh after sunset.
With a good 200kms ahead of me, I started back towards Leh. One of the advantages of riding solo is that you cover good amount of tarmac in no time even if you are not riding at considerably high speeds.
My stops were getting shorter and my speed was gradually increasing as the weather had started to get considerably cold. The fact that my clutch cable snapped around 60 odd kms before entering Leh did not help a lot either. The fuel went into reserve, and as luck would have it – just while I was changing the fuel tap to reserve I noticed a gas station ahead of me!
Day 2 came to an end with above 400kms covered and some great riding done. It was a great feeling to be riding a royal enfield bike in the mountains again.
Once in the hotel I did some research what I could do the next day. There was a small problem – everything I wanted to do meant I needed to check out and camp at the destination. This sounded fantastic but not realistic given the fact that Priya was at the verge of completing an intensive course she has joined, and the last thing I needed to do was add to her tension. Checked and booked flights for the 28th September and I prepared myself to leave Leh with a smile.
I will be back in Leh, very soon, very often – I promised myself.
See you in 2017, Himalayas.
Founder – Eastern Bulls