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Beyond Biking: Our Pilgrimage to Khardungla

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Written on 2:47 AM by Mrudula

Passionate bikers rejoice at the mention of the world-famous route from Manali to Leh, leading to Khardungla. Acclaimed as the Highest Motorable Road in the country, the mention of this 18,389 ft summit conjures up fond memories of our 15 day
Mountains are the beginning and the end of all natural scenery - John Ruskin
Mountains are the beginning and the end of all natural scenery - John Ruskin
destination Khardungla jaunt, which four of us Mukund, Pramod, Sri Krishna and me undertook during August 2006, riding high on the Enfield Bullet.
Writing about a trip that seemed to last a lifetime is hard, I’m attempting it anyway. Even the numerous snapshots shot using the best cameras are no comparison to the sights we saw and the stillness of the mountains we dwelled in.
Bangalore-NewDelhi-Kufri-Kasauli-Manali-Kelong-Sarchu-Leh-Mulbek-Kargil-Srinagar-Jammu-NewDelhi-Bangalore, like most pilgrimages the journey is cherished and when you finally reach the destination after battling unpaved, narrow roads and various hardships it’s a divine feeling. The climb up from New Delhi was spectacular, terrifying in a few places. It started raining as soon as we began our ascent upwards; soon after we left Shimla and the lashing rain whipped us in full fury.
After having sent our bikes to Delhi from Yeshwanthpur railway station, Bangalore, we flew to Delhi on August 4th 2006. The next day, we headed to Shimla from Delhi. Verdant valleys, steep gorges, splattering rain, misty mountains….the journey to the mighty mountains had finally begun. Once we crossed Narkand and headed to Jalory Pass, visibility dropped and a surreal feeling of riding in the clouds crept in. We encountered a bike breakdown and to top that the road ahead was shut due to a landslide. We halted at Kasauli that night, although, our initial plan was to reach Mandi. Continuing onward the next day, we reached Kullu and moved ahead to Manali where we halted.
After a day’s break at Manali [which was well used for servicing our bikes and stocking up with sheets, boots, chords and woolen wear] we proceeded towards Leh. The route was dotted with picturesque hamlets including Koksar, Thandi and Keylong. We had to stock up fuel for our journey from Thandi itself, till we reached Leh, as there is no fuel station from Thandi for the next 350 kms. We wanted to reach Jispa, however, it was expected to be crowded with tourists and we chose to halt at Keylong itself.
Leaving the lush green sights at Keylong behind, we moved ahead the next day, hoping to stay at Pang that night. On the way, we encountered various hues of the desert. We crossed Baralacha La and Kellinsar and reached Sarchu, where we stayed that night. Sarchu is located on the border between Jammu & Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh. Blessed with the finest landscape, this place remains untouched by change. We decided to stay here for two things, firstly, the chai shop guy promised us to rent a good tent and the secondly, the last Teka (wine shop as referred in this region) of Himachal Pradesh was just opposite to our tent. We had a lot of chai, old monk and finally hot Maggie before we crashed. Three out of four of us didn’t sleep well that night, we were not sure if this was because of the monk inside or the mountain outside.
As the day dawned, we set out, without any clue of this being the toughest yet the best riding day of our trip, crossing the Gatta Loops, ascended the Thangalanga Pass[Second Higest Pass in the World] and rode down to traverse Rumtse, Upse and reached Leh. Breathtaking scenery delighted us, just as the natural inhabitants of this region [predominantly the Ibex].We had all extreme conditions today starting from landslides, rain, hailstorm negotiating thick slush while crossing more plains, and end of the day we had clocked 320kms … my personal best on the mountains. After Manali, Leh was the place we rested for a day. We spent it leisurely to obtain the required permit to visit places in Leh and service our bikes. The next day, I clearly remember as August 13th was the day we had set out for. We made it to Khardung La, the highest Motorable road in the world, at 5302m [18650 ft]. As we headed back, we savored the beauty of the majestic mountains for one last time and Mukund sang ‘Yaadon Pe Basar Karte Hain’ from ‘Namkeen’ as a befitting finale to a memorable journey.
Bad weather forced us to abandon plans to visit Pang-gong lake after we had returned from Khardung La. We headed to Kargil from Leh on August 15th, hoping to reach Kargil to celebrate Independence Day. The monastery at Alchi and Lamayaru, on the way to Kargil delighted us with its beauty and simplicity. The rushing waters of the River Indus appeared to be competing with us, as we rode. A flat tyre and bad weather, yet again, forced us to ride in the night, next to the LOC and stay back, this time at Mulbek, around 60 km from Kargil. At daybreak on August 16th, we left to Kargil. We dwelled on the trying times faced by the Indian army here as we had breakfast before heading to Srinagar. The desert was disappearing behind us and we were approaching green plains. Sonamarg was our first stop where breathtaking scenery seemed to be guarded well by the CRPF jawans. We had to climb down the Maruthi Service Station famed Zozi-la pass to reach Sonamarg. We reached Srinagar at the end of the day. Even the tight security here didn’t stop us from enjoying the panoramic vistas and magnificence of the Dal lake and the Shankaracharya temple.
If you ain't the lead dog, the scenery never changes - Lewis Grizzard
If you ain't the lead dog, the scenery never changes - Lewis Grizzard
Traders display their wares on the shikaras, kids commute to school on boats, birds fly high around the lake - Who can gauge the turmoil here through this sight? As the sunset that evening, we all knew our trip was drawing to an end. The next day we loaded our bikes and left to Jammu, in a Sumo and then reached Delhi by bus. We were back in Bangalore on August 19th , enchanted and intrigued….that’s the magic of the Himalayas…you get addicted! The end of every journey is a beginning of another. True, as we were already planning our next trip to the Himalayas.
- Chandan

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