Chapter 4 : Kargil - Leh
6th June 2014
We stayed put 10 Kms short of Kargil, at a considerable height. While Sunny had gone up-slope (the army establishment being there), Capt Sanjay, Hemu and self, waited downstairs gazing at the starry sky. The air had a fresh scent to it. Though it was both chilly and chilling. I could not help thinking of the 99 Kargil War and the fallen heroes. We could see nothing and we hardly spoke during the 20 long minutes that Sunny took to come and tell us that he had managed a guestroom. Hum kahaan hai, Hum kya kar rahe hai! was all that each one of us could feel.
|The town of Kargil, as seen from a height|
As day broke, we realized at what height we were! We could see smaller settlements below and rocky cliffs on almost 3 sides. It was here that we christened our bikes “Mad-No-Mads”. Wonder why we didn’t do it earlier. Guess we were now, getting into all sorts of gear. Capt Sanjay, the early-riser had cleaned the bike and made it ‘chakachak’ in his own words. Sunny followed suit and within no time, the carriers were loaded again. We had a sumptuous breakfast of paratha sabzi, decked up in our protective gears and started.
This was by far the least of all adventurous days and the smoothest of all rides. We thoroughly enjoyed the bike ride and did not miss the bumpy and the challenging stretches.
|En route to Leh, the best stretch of road!|
We crossed Namika La at 12,800 feet and Fotu La at 13, 471 feet. Now began the cold-desert topography with not much vegetation in view. Landscapes seen never before and curvy as also straight stretches of road, never riden on, before, totally made the day! Pure bliss! This was one day where riding pillion was totally worth it as I could feel no panic, no stress and thoroughly enjoyed the collection of songs I had on me! While Sunny was over-whelmed with the ride, I was, with every single of the million frames that flipped across! Upon eyes closed, I see them even today.
It is true that Ladakh is scenic. But I think the best part about our ride was that we clicked way fewer photos than we ourselves had imagined and let the visual appeal do the rest. The impact that this place, its scent, the air, the topography and the landscapes has on you and the way it touches your soul is to be felt rather that photographed. Unless the sole aim of the trip is photography.
Anyway, took a lunch break at around 2.30 as tummies were groaning. Found a decent ‘converted dhaba’ which was actually someone’s home with food made-to-order and we called for thalis. The owner had a sort of a mountain dog though it was the most scared creature I had ever seen. It was just the breed I guess, as later; I realized that it was only a pup. We hogged onto bhindi sabzi, rajma, rotis, daal chaawal and spoke very little as we were all famished! The homemade pickle added spice to the drowsy afternoon and spiked up our ride. There was a truck repair shop right ahead, so we thoughtfully emptied our bowels, drank water again, paid the guy Rs. 243!! (yes, that cheap) and started again.
|Lamayuru, the Moon Land!|
Crossed the town of Lamayuru. Known for its moon land, this small town is nestled in between a topography that resembles the moon and is quite mesmerizing. Although personally, I did not find it as exquisite as the other places I saw in the region. Perspective. The soft orangish or yellowish craters add a tinge of desert look to the land.
Crossed yet another town of Khaltse and reached Nimoo. Got a slight cramp in my left thigh so took a quick halt. The sun was way over our heads but there was still a lot of time for it to set. It looked like we were going to make it to our destination in daylight!! Rode a few kilometers and took a touristy halt at Indus-Zanskar confluence.
The greens mixing with the muddy waters and serpentiling with greater force looked breathtaking from a height. We stalled a little as the spot was beautiful and finally took some photos, with Leh within comfortable reach. Proceeded and took a halt again just outside of Leh as it was tummy-calling time! Ordered a plate of momos (veg and non-veg). More pups (this time visibly) to play around with and called up OTG (a more-than-‘friend’ly person :p). She had lived here sometime back and Capt Ghumman, her husband (our otherwise neighbors!) had generously booked a guestroom for us. Spoke to her and hung up as the bill arrived (much to our shock) Rs.400 for 2 plates of momos! Headed towards Leh and started hunting for the Cantt. The town looked buzzing and alive with not only locals, tourists and crowded shops but also with bikers. This was our ‘confluence’! :p
We reached the guestroom and changed as Sunny and self had to go meet his childhood friend who had also come on a similar ride with his friends. Met Ambar and Nupur (his wife who had just flown in to Leh that morning and fighting altitude sickness) and two others and their stories too, were enthralling. Zoji La had given them a tough time too. Worse, it was raining when they were riding. Although not quite underneath them, I looked up and thanked our stars! They (the riders) were now planning on scaling Khardung la and Pangong in the coming days. A quick coffee, a silly joke on how the tall Ambar would have to tie Nupur at the rear of the bike now, had me in splits. I laughed so hard that my eyes watered!! Quick goodbyes and we were back with OUR riders-in-prime. Eagerly awaited was Khardung La now! The famously toughest, highest point of the trip.
Route : Kargil - Namika La (12,800 ft) - Fotu La (13,471 ft) - Lamayuru - Khaltse - Nimoo - Leh
Distance covered : 234 kms
Total time taken : Around 10 hours (7 hours of actual riding + lunch/confluence/tea-time halts)