Ladakh – Part One

Part One: The Stage Is Being Set

All my bags are packed I’m ready to go
I’m standin’ here outside your door
I hate to wake you up to say goodbye
But the dawn is breakin’ It’s early morn
The bike is waitin’ He’s blowin’ his horn
Already I’m so lonesome
I could die …

It was a long lived dream. I dreamt it almost every night since last 3 year, I lived through the dream. A full bike trip to Ladakh.

I already have a benefit of being a resident of Delhi-NCR. I don’t need to transport my bike from other part of India, I can just start from my apartment parking, and the highway in front of my apartment straight takes me to Leh in 3-4 days.

It’s not my first trip to Leh. I had been there in 2012, with my family, another family. But that was just, a family trip. Just a safe trip, half by flight, half by hired car. Since then I had dreamt about a second trip there, on my bike.

No, I’m not a hard-core rider. I ride bike, but so far the maximum distance I have traveled in a day was within the city limit, maximum 100 – 120 kilometres. I had read almost all travelogues of bikers available in the internet, I planned and re-planned my day-wise journey multiple times. I even took an attempt last year, in 2014, but due to different reasons, it did not materialize. One main reason was, of course, my bike.

200nsI bought a Bajaj Pulsar 200 NS bike in 2013 December, its due services were still not over by June last year, so I did not dare to take risk of a long journey without completing the initial due services. I had to park the dream for one more year.

This year, by end of February, I woke up again. I would have to start. I would have to go. The highway was calling me – day and night. It was a call I couldn’t ignore anymore.

I was having a very hard time in my office –  not sure whether my leave would be granted or not. Due to this doubt I was not able to take firm steps for initial preparations. It’s a long-long journey, almost 4000 kilometres full round, not advisable to go alone. I needed to team up, partner with some other persons, I needed to buy few things, a saddle bag, some clothing, some tools for my bike, some riding gears for myself. It was totally a puzzled situation – can I make it this year?

On 22nd April I was released from my project assignment (as it happens in IT Industries), immediately managers from other accounts bee-lined behind my profile – someone wanted to send me to London, someone else offered me a position in Belgium, someone else at Johannesburg, someone else at Hyderabad.

It took a while to me to finalize the next assignment – by that time it was already 10th May. My plan was to start on 6th June. Would I be granted a leave? Would I be able to make this dream trip? I was not sure. I started negotiation with the new Account Manager in a diplomatic way.

Day Date Journey Distance
1 30th May, Saturday Delhi-Jammu 600 km
2 31st May, Sunday Jammu-Srinagar 310 km
3 1st June, Monday Srinagar-Kargil 265 km
4 2nd June, Tuesday Kargil-Leh 240 km
5 3rd June, Wednesday Acclimatization at Leh 0 km
6 4th June, Thursday Leh-Diskit 125 km
7 5th June, Friday Diskit-Panamik-Leh 190 km
8 6th June, Saturday Rest, Local site-seeing at Leh 50 km
9 7th June, Sunday Leh-Pangong 220 km
10 8th June, Monday Pangong-Leh via Marsimik La 270 km
11 9th June, Tuesday Leh-Tsomoriri 190 km
12 10th June, Wednesday Tsomoriri-Sarchu 230km
13 11th June, Thursday Sarchu-Manali 225 km
14 12th June, Friday Manali-Delhi 550km
15 13th June, Saturday Buffer Day

Oh yes, in parallel I was searching for partners too, for my trip. But if I cannot confirm my own journey date, how can I convince others to partner with me?

The Account Manager seemed to be as diplomatic as myself, “Oh buddy, it’s a great plan indeed. Had I been in India, I would have joined you …” Thank you Sir, but that does not solve my problem. It’s not just a trip, it’s a dream I have nourished for last three years. If you cannot approve, it’s OK, I would not protest, but I just cannot kill the dream, I’ll have to stop preparations and start planning for next year, same time. The dream will remain unfulfilled.

The Manager was hesitant, “OK, apply for leave, but try to modify a bit, if possible, cut it short”.

I said – “See, it’s a motorcycle journey, all the days and distances are calculated. It cannot be cut short. But if you want, I can change the start date from 6th June to 30th May – one week in advance. I’ll come back and join on 15th June instead of 22nd June.”

Fair enough, both parties agreed and I applied for leave. In the mean time I could not resist myself from buying a pair of elbow and knee guards, chain lubricant, Balaclava. In the weekend I took my bike to Karol Bagh to fit a mobile mount and a mobile charger.

From a travelogue site, I got a partner too – Mr Mandeep Singh. He was also starting on 30th May. First we exchanged our mobile numbers, then we started sharing plans in WhatsApp, and then we decided that next weekend, 23rd May we’ll meet at the nearby Bajaj Servicing Centre. We’ll meet for the first time, we’ll exchange and discuss our plans and we’ll finalize the itinerary.

22nd May, I went to the Adventures 18 shop at Anand Niketan, to buy a Viaterra Claw saddle bag, a perfect match for my Pulsar 200 NS.

And then came 23rd May. We met at the Bajaj Centre. Mandeep has the same Pulsar 200 NS – the same colour as mine. His bike looks like a regular street-hitter, different stickers of Engine Oil, Gear Lubricant, Tire Companies are stuck in the entire body of his Pulsar. He seemed to be well informed about the repair and maintenance of his bike; he knew how to change Engine oil, how to fix a flat tire, how to tighten the break and what not! On the other hand, I just know how to ride a bike – nothing else. I was extremely happy to get him as my partner. Mandeep works in the Central Excise at Delhi. No one from his Organization has ever conquered Ladakh on bike, he is the first one, so he is extremely hopeful that Central Excise would sponsor his entire journey – he has already applied for the sponsorship. He has relatives at Ambala, he often rides to Ambala Cantonment and back – so he is familiar with long journeys. (For those who can’t visualize, Ambala City and Cantonment is approx. 220 kilometres away from Delhi).

I was feeling nervous. I know nothing about bike maintenance, bike repairing, I have never rode beyond 120 kilometres in a single day, can I continue with this expert? Mandeep assured me: “Just hit the road; don’t look at the distance. Just ride, and you’ll see how you would be crossing hundreds of kilometres with little effort. And don’t think about other issues, I know everything about bike, I am carrying all the repairing kits with me. I am also carrying a tent and a double sleeping mat. You just carry a clutch plate, clutch cable, chain lubricant, and if possible, get a sleeping bag. As long as you are with me, don’t worry.”

I was consoled. I was relieved to have him as my partner.

My leaves were finally approved on 26th May. I immediately whatsapped Mandeep. Mandeep is actually starting on 29th night. He’ll go to Ambala at his relative’s house. So on 30th morning I would have to ride alone till Ambala, and from there we would continue together. Our first day target is covering till Jammu which is six hundred odd kilometres away from Delhi. So I would have to start in early morning in order to avoid the notorious heat wave of North India as much as possible, and to reach Jammu by the evening.

Mandeep messaged back – his leave would be approved in a day or two. He was planning to change the tires of his bike as he had already completed 40 thousand kilometres. And yes, he has bundles of bungee cords, so I won’t need to purchase any. He would give me some from his stock.

27th May, I thought of having a small dry run. At 7:30 am I started my bike from the parking lot, and then cruised along the highway – NH 1. This road goes straight to Leh via Jammu and Srinagar. I crossed Geeta Colony, Kashmere Gate, Majnu-Ka-Tila, Sanjay Gandhi Transport Nagar – stopped at the Delhi border and then turned back. The mobile was fixed at the mount, the charging point was working properly, the headphone was connected and plugged into my ears – all working perfectly. Total eighty kilometres I rode, I was feeling so comfortable, and gaining confidence. Eighty kilometres, home to home. If it goes like this, I can cover six hundred kilometres easily.

While returning, I borrowed the sleeping bag from my friend Koushik Sarbadhikary, a doctor in the Indian Army posted in Delhi.

In the evening I whatsapped Mandeep again – won’t you show pictures of new Pirelli tires?

Mandeep replied immediately, Boss, there’s a big problem. My office has not agreed for the sponsorship, and along with that they have cancelled my leave application too.

I was in utter shock. What was he saying???!!! I immediately messaged, talk to the office immediately. Tell them that you don’t need sponsorship, you’d go at your own expense – ask them to at least approve your leave. Mandeep messaged back – yes, I have been called by the Director on 29th morning. Whatever negotiations I would have to do, I’d do that day.

29th May. That means, just one day before my journey. Mandeep was starting on 29th evening. In case his Director does not agree to his arguments, what will happen? Would he still go? If he doesn’t go, what would I do? Would I go alone? But, I know nothing about bike repairing, I don’t have any toolkit, and I have never made a long journey before in my life! What would I do?

The news came on 29th evening. Neither his sponsorship nor his leave application – nothing has been approved. His Director did not listen to him at all. So – he cannot go. I would either have to cancel my journey, or start alone.

I didn’t even have twenty four hours in my hand. There was no point discussing these with my wife. She was already not in favour with my adventure, now if I tell her that I was going alone, it will be a mess.

I confined myself inside a room, tried to compose myself. There’s no point of turning back. The show must go on. There’s lot of things on the negative side, I don’t have partner, don’t have repair or puncture kit, don’t have the knowledge to take care of my bike, don’t have prior experience of long journey. But I have something at the positive side too. I have my leave approved, I have my plan finalized, and I have already been to Leh; so, from Srinagar onwards, the road is known to me, I know the quality of road for each and every kilometre in and around Leh. I know this is just the beginning of the season. I would get lot of bikers on the way, if luck favours, I could patch up with some of them, I won’t have to travel alone for long.

But I didn’t know when would I get anyone to team up with, I didn’t know whether I’d get anybody at all. Still, the dark tarred rode was calling me non-stop, it was pulling me like a magnet pulls a piece of iron, it was trying to hypnotize me like a python does to its prey. I had to go. I had to hit the road. Come what may. I would not tolerate a single obstacle on my way.

Slipped the sleeping bag silently under the bed, there’s no need to carry it anymore, and there’s no way to tell my wife that I was not carrying it for obvious reasons. Had an early dinner and went to sleep. Alarm is set at 4:00 am.

Thus it started, a novice, inexperienced rider’s trip to Ladakh. Never rode beyond 120 kilometres, dreaming of covering 600 kilometres, that too on the first day of journey. Is it possible?

Woke up at 4:00 am, silenced the alarm. Got ready. I looked at the face of my wife, sleeping cluelessly. She didn’t know I was going alone. I had given her Mandeep’s number, actually a wrong number by changing a single digit intentionally. I was feeling guilty, I was feeling apologetic. I was chanting few lines of John Denver in my mind –

There’s so many times I’ve let you down
So many times I’ve played around
I tell you now, they don’t mean a thing
Ev’ry place I go, I’ll think of you
Ev’ry song I sing, I’ll sing for you
When I come back, I’ll bring your wedding ring …

I got ready silently. Tied the knee-guard, elbow guard alone. The bag was already packed. The Viaterra Claw and one more bag. And some nylon cord, to tie them up on the back seat. I didn’t buy Bungee Cords after Mandeep’s assurance.

So kiss me and smile for me
Tell me that you’ll wait for me
Hold me like you’ll never let me go

‘Cause I’m leavin’ through the dark lane
You know sure when I’ll be back again
Oh babe, I have to go

I woke her up. We hugged each other, and we got downstairs – to the parking lot. And then I realized I did not learn the method to tie the saddle bag on Pulsar. There are straps, but I could not understand how to tie them up. Somehow they seemed to have been tied up, then I tried to tie the second bag on top of the saddle with help of nylon ropes. The rope was not long enough, but it loked like both the bags have been tied properly.

Waved goodbye to wife and started my Pulsar.

The apartment complex where I live it quite large. I just reached to the main gate, I felt some issue in the bike balance. Stopped the bike, looked back and I was right, the bag at top has inclined to the right side, the nylon rope has loosened. I was surprised, I tied it properly; how did it become loose? I re-tied it properly. I was also carrying a 5 litre jerry-can full of petrol, tied that also with the rope. Finally when I crossed the main gate of our apartment, it was 5:00 am. The eastern sky was getting illuminated with the early rays of morning.

My journey was started.


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