In May 2019, Esha, her husband Kartik, and two of their friends, called us to enquire about motorbiking in Ladakh in August. After some discussion, they decided on the perfect route, and paid an advance to book their seats. In the next few months, they did their research, bought gear, planned how to capture their GoPro footage, and spend endless hours dreaming about roaring through Ladakh.
Only to hear on the 5th of August, just a couple of weeks before their trip departure, that Article 370 was being lifted in Jammu and Kashmir, which would mean curfews, unrest, and dark days for Kashmir. While our prayers were with Kashmir, we had to make sure our customers were safe, and any upcoming trips were re-routed and communicated to everyone.
Finally, at the end of August, they set off for their trip with an amended itinerary that avoided any difficult areas. Here’s what Esha Sinha Choudhary wrote about her trip:
A land of colossal mountains, highest passes, ever-changing landscapes and pristine lakes, yes! you guessed it right, I am talking about Ladakh.
A dream destination that tops the bucket list of any adventure junkie!
After planning for almost 3 years, we finally hit it off!
Me, my husband Kartik, our friends Shishik and Pawan were determined that it’s now or never. So we got going by selecting our travel partner, ‘The Great Next’ and making an advance payment in the month of May. Now this made us smile wider because we knew that whatever it may be, we are going to be riding at the end of August.
Here, I must mention the efforts put by the besties – Shishik and Kartik (my husband) for selecting the travel company ‘The Great Next‘ and taking care of accounts and all other necessities, while I and Shishik’s husband Pawan, relaxed and waited for the day to arrive!
We decided to go with a travel company instead of taking our own bikes (which we initially planned) because we wanted to relax, enjoy riding without being worried about stay, permit etc and also we wanted to meet people whom we have never met before, that is other fellow riders in the group and it was so well done. Our travel partner was right there to take care of stay, food, bikes, fuel, permits, medical assistance and all that we could have thought of and our group of two other pillions and 2 solo riders was all what we could have asked for.
Our trip co-ordinator Harshal from ‘The Great Next’ sent us the route itinerary after asking us about our preferred dates. Our 11 days trip had to start in Srinagar by picking up the bikes covering Sonmarg, Kargil, Turtuk, Pangong Tso, Tsomoriri, Nubra Valley, Leh, Sarchu, Jispa and then end in Manali. The excitement reached its peak by now, I won’t lie, I could not stop smiling knowing that I get an extra day to look around in Srinagar as I haven’t been lucky enough to explore it till now, though I am already in my 30s 🙁
Finally, after a lot of video watching, multiple visits to Decathlon, setting up the camera, buying a GoPro, unlimited gears for the GoPro (husband’s requirement) just when we thought we are ready, we received a bad surprise on the T.V.
It was the starting of August and Government declared to lift off Article 370 from Ladakh. All we could think of was about our trip: all flights to Srinagar were getting canceled and roads were blocked by Indian Army to ensure safety and security.
Well, our men were relaxed and just sat back being couch potatoes, while I and Shishik (Shishik did more) kept following up with the airlines and Harshal (our trip co-ordinator), who was patient enough to calm us down and made us believe that whatever it may be, our trip will be on, but we may have to change the route.
Finally Harshal sent us the updated itinerary, minus Srinagar, Sonmarg, Kargil and Tsomoriri. I was a bit sad but then again the excitement of seeing Ladakh on a two wheeler told me to cheer up and go with the vibes.
So now our new route was: Manali- Jispa-Sarchu-Leh-Nubra Valley-Turtuk-Nubra Valley-Pangong Tso- Leh-Sarchu-Manali
Since now we were taking the same route back, all 4 of us chose to skip the return by bike and decided to stay back in Leh, explore the city and then fly back from there.
Finally after a lot of wait, unlimited excitement and planning, the day arrived! Shishik and Pawan reached Delhi from Bengaluru, and we were all set with our back packs!
On 30th August, we boarded our bus to Manali (we decided to take an extra day, as it’s Shishik and Pawan’s first visit to Manali)
(Day-1) Otherwise, reach Manali on this day.
Checked into Hotel Seven Hills followed by a briefing given by Nitin from the travel company and the most exciting part was meeting the beasts – Our Royal Enfield 500CC bikes and the trip captain- Tenzin (a part of the awesome trio of trip captain, driver and mechanic)
(Day-2) Started the bike trip from Manali, rode to Jispa covering Rohtang La and Baralacha La approx. 138kms, spent the night at Gemur Tent which has a lovely river view and is surrounded by beautiful mountains. Enjoyed the bonfire at night while bonding with fellow riders from the group.
(Day-3) Rode from Jispa to Sarchu which is only 80 kms, and stayed there at a tent. Now here you must not forget wearing your gum boots and rain pants. You have to cross Baratpur Nala, which is called a Nala but turns into a massive water crossing when it rains.
Many of you might think, why stay after riding for such a short distance. The answer is, to get acclimatized. Now you are at a height of 14,070 ft and yes! the night might be difficult for many. You may experience headache and breathing difficulty due to lack of oxygen, so I suggest pop a Diamox the previous night.
But hey! hey! all the photographers out there! You all might just forget about oxygen scarcity because Sarchu has the clearest sky and you will certainly get to capture the Milky Way and Star Trails.
(Day-4) Now after a sleepless night, again we were all set to hit the roads and rode 250 kms to reach Leh. After Sarchu, you will be entering J&K/Ladakh, also it is the day to encounter Nakeela Pass ( 15,647 ft) and Tanglang La (17,480 ft) you will experience off roads till Pang after that the roads are as smooth as silk.
Travelling in Ladakh is as scenic as it can be but I found nature at its best with mountains changing colours, a river on the right with all sorts of colourful flowers, just a few kilometers before we entered Leh.
Spent the night in Leh at a hotel, explored the market, bought ‘How I reached Leh’ t-shirts (they have all possible routes embroidered in all sizes and colours), had a hearty dinner at Tibet Kitchen (must visit for local food.)
Oh yes! Here you get new bikes since H.P bikes are not allowed in J&K. Ensure that you check your bikes and get it fixed by the mechanic from your support team (our’s was Avik, who is a champ). Though the bikes look shiny, but J&K bikes are not well maintained.
(Day-5) Rode from Leh to Nubra Valley (comprising of 3 main villages Diskit, Khalsar & Hundar) covering approx. 160 kms. Today we also got to witness the ‘Mighty Khardungla.’ You won’t find the yellow board that says: ‘Welcome to the highest motorable road in the world.’ It is no more the highest but who cares? It is still the mighty one.
The road from Leh to Nubra is full of sharp and blind carves, so extra caution is required here. After reaching we stayed at a hotel in Diskit.
(Day-6) Rode to Turtuk from Diskit approx 90 kms. Well, they say this is the last village of India beyond which you can’t travel. I didn’t find it very exciting since I already visited Wagah Border.
But yes, holding our ‘Tri-Colour’ high and singing the National Anthem definitely gave goosebumps.
On our way back we visited Hundar, the Cold Desert (Khapa-Chan.) You get to watch traditional Ladakhi dance here, ride ATV and watch the famous Bactrian Camel (two humps) I would only say watch, because I am strictly against riding on animals and would urge everyone not to do so. Please remember that your holiday is their everyday, so please don’t ride on animals!
Spend the night at your hotel. Before you leave Diskit, make sure you visit Diskit Monastery in the morning.
(Day-7) Rode from Nubra Valley to Pangong Tso covering a distance of approx. 150kms. Now here you are! Do not, I repeat do not leave without putting on your gum boots and rain pants. Today you will encounter 3 river crossings, the second one will have you looking for route to ride, it did give me shivers when we had to cross these, though they were not as scary as some parts of the roads which we already crossed, but I really didn’t want to fall down and get in contact with the freezing water, so I almost fought with Kartik (the husband) got off the bike, walked to cross these rivers (we were lucky, the water flow was not much as we travelled during ‘No Rain’ season.)
After reaching Pangong Tso, we checked into our tent, enjoyed our evening tea (you get evening tea at every tent), took off our biking gears and put on our best attires which we saved for this spot and got ready to get photographed.
We reached there before sunset, experienced the best shades of ‘Blue’ and an unforgettable Sunset. A con that I found is, the impact of Bollywood and 3 idiots at this beautiful lake site. I mean, I really would not have wanted to spot yellow scooters and 3 idiot bums in a place as scenic as this, but what to do. We Indians and our craziness for Bollywood and the local people’s need to earn money – all this has made a certain spot at the lake site pretty commercial. So I chose to ignore it and took shelter inside a Yak tent with my friend Shishik to run away from the super cold breeze.
We got talking to a localite who said that during winters, it goes down to -30/-40 degrees and Pangong Tso freezes but only localites know how to cross it, others who tried stepped at the wrong spot and got drowned. At night we had a great time playing games and listening to ghost stories from our trip captain Tenzin and driver Arun around the bonfire.
(Day-8) Rode to Leh from Pangong Tso covering a distance of approx. 225 kms.
This was a difficult day for me! 20 kms of off road riding through snow avalanche area almost made my back numb but being the strong woman that I am 😉 I made it! I’m just kidding! I actually forgot the pain after seeing another highest pass – Changlang la. Right before reaching Changlang la, we stopped at an army check post where they have placed flasks of hot lemon tea and warm water for free for the travellers – how kind our saviours are, isn’t it?
I must say it was really cold on this stretch! Throughout our journey we had only experienced pleasant weather but the moment we started from Pangong Tso till Changlang la, we experienced cold that hits your bones while riding, so stay well-prepared!
After reaching Leh that evening, the biker group decided to take a break. We all believe and swear by safe riding and hence we stayed away from all kinds of intoxications in the past few days. But as this was the last day of being together and we didn’t have to ride, hence we celebrated the night with loads of beer at our hotel. I must not forget taking the name of ‘Six Fields Wheat Beer’ here, it is manufactured in J&K and can easily give a run for money to any imported wheat beer.
(Day-9) In the morning we said goodbye to our group who took the same way back and also to our bikes provided by The Great Next. I won’t lie, it was an emotional moment 🙂
Post that the four of us decided to spend on food and shopping. Meanwhile we hired 2 Royal Enfields 350CC for Rs.11,00 each/day, You can easily hire bikes in Leh – Check with your hotel for assistance or just google it.
We entered the World Garden Café located on Changspa road, followed by a visit to German Bakery for lunch later. The bakery serves the yummiest desserts. In the evening we rode upto Shanti Stupa. Try to reach there before 8 pm so that you can grab a cup of kawa or coffee at the café and sit back to enjoy the view. Later we chose Café Il Forno for dinner.
(Day-10) Visited the Thiksay Monastery followed by Leh palace, Zanskar-Indus confluence, Gurudwara Paththar Sahib and Kargil War Memorial (be there before 7 pm to visit the museum and watch the light and sound show.) Oh yes, we also encountered Magnetic Hill on the way, which I felt is a bit over hyped.
(Day-11) Left hotel at 6.30 am to catch our flight at 9 am. The airport is just 9 kms away from the city, so you can stay away from the fear of missing your flight. And if you are fond of sleeping in the flight, then please don’t! You will miss the scenic take off and snow capped mountains once you are up in the sky.
Well, this marked an end to our long-awaited, most discussed and planned trip.
Someone in Manali told us that “when you go up there and come back, you come back as a different person”, now I can connect to his thoughts. The experience of seeing ‘Nature at it’s best’ and encountering some of the riskiest roads, will make you value ‘Mother Earth’ and your life more. Nature can be so surprising, it can mesmerize you every moment with something new.
I feel Ladakh is still so beautiful because not many have reached there and those who have know how to value and protect ‘Mother Earth.’ So, let’s ensure that we all do our bit in protecting this ‘untouched-by humans’ part of our country from the species who travels and creates mess that’s ‘human.’
I am thankful to Kartik, Pawan, Shishik, our travel team and travel partner ‘The Great Next’ for making it happen. It was pure adrenaline rush that we experienced in these 11 days.
And yes, it is rightly said that, ‘4 wheels move the body but 2 wheels move your soul.’ Everyone must ride up these beautiful roads at least once in life.
Things to keep in mind if you are riding during August-September:
– Carry very few clothes- You actually won’t feel like changing so keep it minimum, carry comfortable pants as jeans is not very comfy while riding.
– Carry rain jacket, pants, balaclava cap, gloves, polarized shades, and put them on everyday (if you are not wearing biking suit). My friends laughed at me for wearing rain jacket everyday but it saved me from the wind and dust, and also saves you from applying sunscreen.
– Buy a good pair of gum boots otherwise it doesn’t save you in the river crossings.
– Good quality helmet, knee and elbow guard is a must, after all safety is beyond everything.
– Dress in layers, so that you can take it off when you feel hot. If you are travelling in September, then a sweatshirt and wind proof jacket is more than enough during riding but keep your rain coats handy. The weather is unpredictable.
– Sarchu and Pangong Tso will be cold, so keep thermals, woolen cap and gloves for these places
– While riding from Pangong Tso to Leh, make sure you wear thermals, jacket and then a wind proof jacket. As I said, it will really be very cold
– Never overtake or honk, specially when you see army vehicles. They will let you pass anyway when they see you coming.
– Do not miss a chance to salute our Army Men. My respect for them have increased more after seeing them live in the extreme climates just to save us.
-On the way back from Zanskar-Indus confluence, pay a visit to Gurudwara Pathar Sahib. It is said that Guru Nanak Dev ji stayed there and now our Indian Army is maintaining the Gurudwara. You must experience the way they welcome you and make you feel taken care of
-Save some space in your bag if you want to shop in Leh, but do not forget to bargain. Don’t forget to visit the Tibetan Refugee Market.
– Speak to the locals – they are very sweet and friendly people and you’ll learn a lot about their lives here.
– While riding in Ladakh, it’s a total MYTH that you have to survive on Maggi. At the smallest of cafes and highway dhabas, you get a long menu to choose from and the food is yummy. You must not forget to try the local delicacies.
– Well, I am going to end with a note for crazy dog lovers like me, throughout the way you are going to meet these fluffy and cuddly dogs known as ‘Gaddi Kutta’. Please feed them and play with them. They have so much love to give and will only add to the memories of your trip.
So, what are you waiting for? Get ready to get Leh’d!
Check out Esha’s travel pics on Instagram (and she’s a spirited animal rights advocate, so you’ll see some beautiful stray doggie pics too).
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