Ladakh Bike Trip (Sep 10 to 20, 2009)

Ladakh was going to happen…and it was going to happen sometime soon. Technically, I was in Ladakh when I was trekking in northern Lahaul (Himachal Pradesh), which is also a part of the Ladakh plateau. Ladakh originally was nearly double of what it is today, in terms of area. It contained the present day Ladakh, Kargil and other Balti areas which are in PoK like Gilgit and the whole of Aksai Chin along with certain areas of Tibet. It is known for its stunning landscapes and mountains. It is a high altitude cold desert.

I planned for my trip back in March, fresh from my Konkan bike trip. I was prepared to do this solo too. One can go to Ladakh between July and September. July is warmer but whether is unpredictable. September is colder, but the whether is stable. I chose September, and it did not disappoint! The standard bikers route to Ladakh is to ride to Leh via Manali. Bikers generally start at Chandigarh or at Manali itself. It is a two day ride from Manali. This is really one of the most stunning rides a person can do anywhere on this earth. The problem with doing this is that one spends two days to get there and two days to return. So, one is short of time to explore the real Ladakh. I had about ten days to fit everything into, so I decided to fly to Leh and arrange for a good bike (are there any?) there. I had spoken to some rental agencies a couple of months in advance, but really, one needs to see and feel the bike to know whether it is fit enough to go through what it was going to go through.

I flew to Delhi on the 8th of September and spent a couple of days with my cousin in Gurgaon. I was lucky to choose Kingfisher as Jet Airways pilots had decided to start behaving like government bank officials….they went on a surprise strike! I have to mention that the airhostess on my Kingfisher flight to Delhi did take me to the cockpit after landing at Delhi and introduced me to the captain, who showed me around. I have plenty of memories with Delhi, and always have loads of people to catch up with. But we aren’t talking about my Delhi meetups! My cousin very kindly dropped me to the airport at 5 am or so on the 10th morning and I departed for Leh via a 6:10 am Kingfisher Red flight. The flight towards the end is a spectacular one with great views (see pics) of the mountains from the plane. The landing is quite tricky…the pilot takes a sharp left bank and suddenly straightens out to touch down at Leh airport, which is actually an Indian Air Force airport.

It was a pleasant 8 degrees when I landed, but the sun was out and I was enjoying the weather. My guest house had sent some one to receive me at the airport. It really is a great feeling to have some one hold a placard that reads your name. We drove approximately 3 km to reach Mahey guest house located at Tukcha road. The guest house is a nice cozy place, with a beautiful garden and farms in the front. The farms are also owned by the family that owns the guest house. One is served ‘farm fresh’ vegetable for food. The view (pic on the left) from my room was breathtaking, with Stok Kangri standing right in front. I rested for the day, arranged for permits and met my rafting organizer in the afternoon. I had to meet the District Commissioner and convince her about my permit to Marsimek La.

Wandered around Leh and visited Shanti Stupa (pic on right) in the evening. Did not use the stairs but chose to trek up to exert my lungs a little, keeping in mind that I had to do rafting tomorrow. The views from Shanti Stupa were excellent. I also witnessed a ‘Bhabhi-Nanad’ fight right there, where the ‘Nanad’ was alleging that ‘Bhabhi’ was poisoning ‘Bhaiyya’s’ mind against her. Some one requested them to shut up, as they were screaming at ‘Shanti’ Stupa! I descended down and visited KT Phuntsog at Planet Himalaya to check out the bikes. I wasn’t happy with any, but KT then got a newish 4 speed Electra and I immediately liked it. He wasn’t sure if I could negotiate the reverse gears, I told him that my first bike was a 1983 Bullet Standard. I had the carrier fitted on the bike, and did the needful to ensure that it was in good condition. Later, KT’s friend Manish joined us. Manish is a prolific biker and I had a pleasant conversation with him. Manish also provided me with some spares like a tube and cables along with a tool kit. Manish it seems, was returning from Tanglang La, where he had gone to fix a bike that was abandoned by a tourist who was riding it to Tso Moriri. I was quite content with the bike, and it seemed quite good, apart from the fact that all bullets in Leh are ‘mufflerless’ so make too much noise. This one was also misfiring quite a bit….but I somehow liked the bike and didn’t want to change it. This later turned out to be a super decision. Had dinner at the guest house and rested.

On the 11th morning, I was to meet Dawa (rafting guy) at 8:30 am. A few others and me were taken to Chilling, which is the starting point of our rafting. The total length of the rafting journey is 28 km (Chilling to Nimu) in the Zanskar river. The rapids end where the Zanksar meets the Indus. There were 16 participants…to be divided into 2 rafts. We were provided body suits to protect us from the freezing cold water and the winds. I promptly refused to wear it…as I was there for the cold! So…Mr. Vijh was going to raft wearing a T-shirt and shorts! The rapids are Grade III ones, but the flow of water is much lesser in September than what it is in July or August. The second of the rapids that we crossed was a huge one…and we were all drenched in a matter of seconds. The water was freezing and I was loving every bit of it. We had to negotiate 6 to 7 such rapids. I was the person who sits right in the front. I was on the right and Ben, an American was on the left. It is much tougher to be in that position and you really need to be quite strong to deal with the rapids. We stopped at around half way for a much needed break. There were a few more rapids and then there were smaller ones. This is when I took some photographs while rowing. Towards the end, we were very tired and the flow of the river had reduced. Due to this, we had to continuously row. I even swapped positions with Ben, because my right and his left arm were hurting badly. We reached Nimmu, after 28 km in approximately 3 hours. At the place where we docked, the organizers (Splash Adventures, Leh) had organized for good warm lunch, needless to say that it was much needed.

We reached Leh at about 5: 30 pm and were quite tired. I headed straight to Planet Himalaya, where my bike was ready. I filled fuel, and also took some spare fuel in a canister, that can be conveniently fitted in the carrier. I rode to the guesthouse, and parked for the night (the bike and myself). I feasted on ‘Aloo Parathas’ and curd, which is a luxury in Leh. The next morning, I was to depart for Hunder, for which one has to cross the World’s highest motorable road —Khardung La —18380 feet ASL.

I woke up at about 6:30 am. Today is the 12th of September. There was warm water, so I could get ready comfortably. I left one bag with my lodge owner (Chimet Rigzin —Mahey Guesthouse) and look one that I tied on the carrier…and I was off. Khardung La is about 54 kms from Leh. The road initially is a little bad but by the time one reaches South Pullu, which is the first check post on the way, the road and the views start becoming overwhelming. J&K Police checks your Inner Line Permits (ILP) here and then you can proceed to Khardung La. Here, I met another group from Bangalore, with whom I decided to meet up in Hunder, as we were going to stay at the same place there. The last 6 km before Khardung La are tough. The road is unmettalled, there is ice all around, it is cold and my damned helmet visor broke in the morning. Also, there are many army convoys that come straight at you, so you need to slow down to make way for them, which results in you losing your momentum. Due to the steep gradient and altitude, the bike struggles to move from a complete standstill.

Looking back just before I reached Khardung La, the views and the road cutting through the huge mountains looked breathtaking. Many years back, I had seen a similar picture (of the view I had ..pic on the right) of the ‘Road to Khardung La’ in a calendar at my grandparent’s home. It was back then that I had decided to go there one day. I reached Khardung La top in about 2hrs and 20 mins from Leh. There is quite a bit of activity there, mostly due to an army post and the tourists. My GPS showed an altitude of 17732 feet with an EPE of 60 feet. So, Khardung La is nowhere (by my civilian GPS) near the claimed 18380 feet. Some people explain that the hill adjacent (which houses some telecommunication tower) is 18380 feet. I took numerous photos there, including a cherished on with the board that reads, Khardung La, The World’s Highest Motorable Road 18380 feet! I met a couple of American journalists (with a newspaper called the Christian Science Monitor, based in New England, USA) there, and he interviewed me about my ride and experience. He also interviewed me about the whole ‘Enfield Bullet in India vs. Harley Davidson in the USA’ thought. I hope I get to see something about me in that newspaper soon.

Across Khardung La lies the breathtakingly beautiful Nubra valley. It started the long descent into the Nubra, crossing places like Khardung, North Pullu and Khaltse. The Bangalore group that I had met at South Pullu had two bikers who had caught up with me, so we stopped at Khaltse and had something to eat. A few kilometers on, the road splits with one going to Panamik (en route Siachen base camp) and one to Hunder via Diskit (en route Thoise and Chalunka). The places mentioned in brackets cannot be visited by civilians, and are right on the LoC/LoAC. I filled some petrol at a premium at a hand operated petrol pump (on the left) in Diskit. The road to and after Diskit is set amongst absolutely incomprehensible scenery. The Diskit monastery is visible above the village. Diskit was an important waypoint on the ancient Silk Route. I decided against stopping for too long at Diskit and moved to Hunder. The scenery kept changing and suddenly it was like a desert with sand and sand dunes around me. A little before Hunder, there is a small right turn that takes you to the Hunder Sand Dunes and Double Humpback Camel breeding place. The camels were quite extraordinary, and were also very aggressive! A few people from the Bangalore group felt that it was worth paying 150 bucks for a 10 minute ride on the camel. I was happier photographing them. I also met an India Air Force pilot (chopper pilot) and his family there. He is posted at the Thoise airbase, 18 kms ahead Hunder. He showed me, in the mountains that stood ahead us, the route that they fly for surveillance called ‘Yankee Point’, probably because it resembles a ‘Y’.

I reached Hunder and before getting to my guest house, went up to a place called Hunder Dok. This is as far as a civilian can go. I spent some time with the army fellows manning that post, and then returned to Hunder village, straight to my guest house (Snow Leopard Guest House, Hunder). It is worth mentioning that I also crossed the headquarters of the famous 54 RCC of the BRO, which maintains Khardung La and so the road from Leh to Panamik/Chalunka. Snow Leopard guest house ( is a really beautiful place with flowers at full bloom surrounding the cottage. The Bangalore guys arrived to and we freshened up and rested for a while. I was very tired and had a slight headache. Then I had dinner with those folks, great farm fresh vegetables and absolutely amazing curd. On inquiring, the owner of the guesthouse told me that they have their own Yaks (every one has their own farms) so they have lots of milk for the curd. At the dinner table, I got acquainted with a gentleman named Kumar Pal. We had lots to talk about…and before sleeping, we also spent some time on the terrace of the guesthouse, gazing at the millions of stars in the sky. For a person from Bombay (though I have travelled a lot), it was an amazing sight, scary at times. The Milkyway was visible very clearly. I also saw atleast four shooting stars in the 20 mins that we spent there! We retired to our rooms at around 10 am, but decided that we will go for a small trek at 6 30 am tomorrow to a nearby hilltop that houses a famous monastery and some small ruins of an ancient fort that was built by Hunder’s erstwhile rulers.

The 13th of September…I wake up feeling fresh and raring to go. Kumar and I went for our hike which was small but quite steep at places. The views from the top were very good. We returned and had our breakfast and I (and they) decided to drop the planned visit to Panamik. So, we left for Leh. Around half way to Khardung La, one of the bikes from the B’lore rider got punctured. So, their car stopped with the bike, trying to fix the puncture. They had all the required spares and more. I asked Kumar to join me till North Pullu, so that he can experience the Nubra skies without a roof overhead! And boy, did he enjoy it. We waited for the others at North Pullu for a long time. We interacted with a lot of army folks at their camp in the meanwhile, including people who were heading for Siachen Glacier and some who had returned for them. I have no words to describe these young bravehearts who spend six months on Siachen Glacier. After a while, we decided to head to Leh, leaving a message for the others at the army camp. We crossed Khardung La once again, but unfortunately the souvenir shop (which was closed yesterday as well) was closed yet again. So I couldn’t buy the ‘Khardung La —World’s Highest Motorable Road —I was there!’ t-shirts, caps and other stuff. We reached Leh by about 6 pm. I was dead tired. I joined Kumar at his guest house (Oriental Guesthouse, Leh) where I decided to take a hot shower as I was not sure if it would be available at my guesthouse! The others reached in the meanwhile and I headed to my guesthouse for the night. Tomorrow, I was to head to Pangong Tso, over the mighty Chang La pass, and so were they.

Today is the 14th of September and I am to ride to what is supposed to be the most beautiful lake in the world. I had not coordinated with the B’lore group, so I left for Pangong on my own. At Upshi, where the road bifurcates with one going to Manali and the other to Pangong, I met the B’lore group, who obviously had left before me. We decided to meet for lunch at Tangtse, which is after crossing the Chang La. The road to Chang La was in great condition, thanks to 51 RCC who proudly call themselves ‘The worshippers of Chang La’. Again, looking back, the views of the mountains and the road that I had just ridden on, were exhilarating. Towards the end, Chang La threw more of a challenge than Khardung La, with my bike stalling more than once due to the extremely steep gradient and non existent roads. There were also many army convoys passing me, for whom I gladly stopped, and waved at the happy to reciprocate drivers. I finally reached the mighty Chang La pass – The world’s third highest motorable road’. My GPS read 17560 feet, which makes it just a little lower than Khardung La. I took the blessings of ‘Chang La baba’ and moved on towards Tangtse. I passed two villages on the way.

I reached Tangtse and the B’lore group arrived shortly. I had Maggi noodles, and boy were they delicious. Here, I also inquired with a local about Marsimek La, and to my surprise not only did he knew about it but also gave me valuable guidance on how to get there. I left for Pangong Tso and soon I could see the B’lore group’s Toyota Qualis in my rearview mirror. I have to mention that most of these roads were freshly laid and 51 RCC had done an exceptional job. Soon there was a board on my left which read, ‘First view of the world famous Pangong Tso’ and there it was…although one could get just a glimpse. Slowly, the lake started unveiling itself, and every corner that I crossed expanded the view. I finally reached Lukung and could see the Pangong Tso in all its glory. I rode down right till the lake and did some photography there. I also tasted the water, which wasn’t very salty. There were a couple of Indian Navy patrol boats there, as the China border passes through Pangong. For a better vantage point, I headed to a higher place near the Lukung tents, from where I could see the lake in all its glory. The B’lore group had also reached in the meanwhile and we continued along the lake to Spangmik. The road is bad, but the views makes one forget about the road. Spangmik is as far as a civilian can go, unless one has a Outer Line Permit. We stayed at a decent guesthouse there (the only brick and mortar one around) for the night and the food served was heavenly. It was very cold that night, as cold as it gets in September. I was in bed with thoughts of Marsimek La keeping me engaged. I was to attempt Marsimek La solo tomorrow morning.

Today is the 15th of September…the big day. I woke up at about 6:30 am, and went

for a stroll along the lake for some photography. The B’lore group left for Leh without eating, but I needed to eat before leaving, as I knew Marsimek La (M La) would be a tough ask. Till this point, I wasn’t even sure if ITBP would allow me to go to M La solo. I started my journey towards Phobrang, the last ITBP post before M La. On my way to Phobrang, there was an ITBP policeman on the road, who gladly accepted my invitation to hitchhike. I had a nice conversation with him, and this helped me greatly in the ITBP Subehdar Uttam Singh agreeing to let me go to M La. After finishing the permit related formalities, I had tea with the Subehdar and left for M La. Just before leaving, he asked me that cameras aren’t allowed, so if I had one, I should deposit it. I had anticipated this and had thus concealed my camera from Lukung itself. There was no way I would have gone to M La without a camera! The track (there’s no road) in the beginning was quite good, although it was sandy at a lot of places and I nearly toppled more than once. In a few minutes. After about 6 kms, there was a steep sandy section with more than one track. The shorter tracks are steeper, and unfortunately I took the shorter one. In no time my bike stalled and in fact, it started rolling backwards. I somehow managed to turn it around and went backwards to try the other route. The other route (towards the right) was quite steep itself, but allowed one to keep the momentum going and thus negotiate the gradient. I still had to alight and push the bike a little at a couple of places, in first gear. Pushing the bike is quite a pain due to low oxygen levels. I had to take a small break after doing so, which I utilized for photography. It was then that I realized where on earth I was standing. For a second, I was a little scared! I soon continued on the tracks and again there were many sandy slopes which one needs to be careful on. I fell down, which was more of a topple, at one of them. There was no damage to the machine or the man. I continued and soon I could see M La at a distance (you can make out where a pass is by looking at the mountains). This gave me the much required energy as it was getting very cold and windy at this moment. I was at 16000ft now. Then I crossed some relatively flat and easier sections to come up to a point from where the last ascent began. Looking at the gradient, I seriously doubted the ability of my Bullet to overcome it. After a few metres, the bike stalled repeatedly and there was no way it would get to the top with me on it. So I had to now permanently alight, and push it up along with the engines own torque. Its pretty unbelievable that an Enfield Bullet with 27NM torque, full accelerator in first gear doesn’t even move an inch. So it was like, five meters at a time. After five meters or so, I had to stop for at least two to three minutes to recuperate, breathing heavily.

Each time I stopped, I had to look at the track and decide on the next short term objective, that is the next point that I had to push up till, before I could treat myself with a breather. My GPS showed 17000ft now. I looked around and I realized that I was high and alone. I could see the pass clearly now. Just before the pass I could see some camp like structures, which looked abandoned. I continued on my painful ordeal and even dropped the bike one, as the wheel got caught in sand and the bike tilted towards the wrong side. It took me a good two minutes to pick it up! Slowly and steadily I was getting there. I checked my GPS and I had finally crossed 18000 feet, the first time I saw this reading in my GPS. I was dead by this time, and I was having serious thoughts of leaving my bike here and hiking up the remaining few hundred feet. But the adrenalin of reaching the top made up for the low oxygen levels and the cold. I dumped a lot of stuff from the bike including my helmet, spare petrol, tool kit, spares etc. near that camp that I mentioned. It took me another 15 minutes to reach the top from there. At 11:35 am, I reached Marsimek La, and became one of the only people to reach the top solo, on a solo permit (pic below left). I spent around 15 minutes at the top, photographing and recording videos. It was extremely cold and windy, and I was probably closer to China than to my own people, so I needed to leave soon. Also, today I had to go all the way to Leh by evening, which seemed like impossible at this moment. For all who don’t know much about it, Marsimek La is the Highest Motorable Pass in the World and is also the highest point man can reach with a vehicle. Its altitude is 18634 feet, although my GPS showed around 18300 ft.

I kissed the Marsimek La milestone, paid obedience to the ‘Chak De Mandir’ and started descending. The descent was obviously very steep and I was struggling to keep the bike under control. I had my second fall soon, during which my spare petrol can and my camera tripod were completely damaged. Luckily I was fine and so was the bike. The remaining journey back to Phobrang was full of desperation, as I somehow wanted to be teleported there! Just before reaching Phobrang, I took this photograph and then concealed my camera just the way I got it. I was greeted by an excited Subehdar Uttam Singh who congratulated me for the feat and so did some other soldiers. Then I spent some time browsing their records to see if any other solo biker on a solo permit had gone here, and I couldn’t find any. He too said that I was probably the first one, or one of the only ones. I was low on petrol now, and technically there wasn’t any petrol pump till Leh, which was 145 km away. I left Phobrang and asked around at Lukung for some petrol, and I managed to find a couple of liters in black (for Rs.70 a liter).

I moved swiftly to Tangtse, on the way to which I met this Swiss lady (on the left) who was cycling to Pangong lake from Leh, alone! I stopped at Tangtse and had Maggi at the same place, and also thanked the people who had guided me to M La, for their help. I quickly reached Chang La pass, and it was snowing there! But after completing Marsimek La, this seemed like a prank that ‘Chang La baba’ was playing on me. I crossed Chang La and in no time crossed Upshi, Thiksey, Shey and reached Leh. I did stop along the Indus for a small break near Thiksey. I rode straight to Planet Himalaya to tell them about my successful excursion and also informed the B’lore group who were waiting to hear from me. Tonight was a night of satisfaction, and I had the best sleep of this trip. Tomorrow, I was to head to Dah Hanu valley to meet and stay with the famed Dardi people, who are considered to be the purest Aryans in the world.

Today is the 16th of September and I woke up at 7 am. I could see that it was snowing in the mountains (in the pic), so I decided to leave a little later for Dah-Hanu. One needs to travel on the Kargil highway till Khaltse, from where a road bifurcates to Biama-Dah-Hanu-Batalik. All these are Dardi villages. It took me about 5 hours to reach Dah village. I rode for nearly 80 kms along with the Indus (above right), with each corner greeting me with new views. Dah village is on a small hillside and one needs to park your vehicle below and climb for 15 mins. I went to the village and found a homestay sort of a guesthouse there (Skyabapa Guest House). The Dardi people are believed to be pure Aryans. Their features are completely different from other Ladakhis, with green and often blue eyes, sharp noses, fair complexions and an all together different language called Minaro. I quickly made friends with some village children with whom I wandered across the village. The village has a primary school and a newly built medical sub-center. I met a lot of people, who were warm and welcoming. It was pretty ok to ask women to pose for a few pictures, and no one took any offence if you did so. I met a couple of absolutely gorgeous women including these ones. Later in the evening, I met Radhika Bordia, who is a journalist with NDTV. They were filming a documentary on the Dardi people. I then spent some time with my house owner named Lundpa Dorje, and listened to him about how these supposed Aryan people ended up here. He also narrated me some rather funny incidents of foreigners (notably 2 German women) who wanted an offspring from a Dardi man. He also said that off late, many Dardi people from Dah-Hanu valley have started going to Leh for work and study. The girl in pink, whose photograph I showed above, studies in Leh. Lundpa Dorje’s cousing Dolma cooked some delicious food for me with help from their Nepali cook. Dolma also promised to don the traditional Dardi dress called ‘Chaiz’ in the morning, so that I can photograph her. I slept early as I was very tired due to the ride and the considerable time I spent climbing up and down the village slopes.

Today is the 17th of September. I woke up at 6 am and wandered around the village for a bit. There was good breakfast served at around 7:30, post which Dolma was ready in the houses’ garden/farm donning the traditional ‘Chaiz’ (below). I took several pictures of her, out of which these few are almost picture perfect. I bought some home made apricot jam from Lundpa and then left for Kargil via Batalik. This road is generally closed for tourists, but since I held all sorts of permits and also a few army officers’ cards, they allowed me to pass through. Batalik is also a Dardi village, which was in the news during the Kargil war. It took me nearly 4 hours to reach Kargil and the road towards the end was quite bad. This is my first view of Kargil (below), nestled in the lap of these mighty Himalayas. Just behind these mountains is Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. Kargil, Drass and neighboring POK areas extending up to Gilgit are all ‘Balti’ areas. This region is in fact known as Baltistan. The people speak Balti as the first language and the majority of people are Shia Muslims. I was just riding through Kargil, scouting for a good place to stay when I saw ‘Imam Khomieni Chowk’(left below)! I later learnt that Kargil is known as mini-Iran due to the huge number of Shia Muslims who stay here. The people were incredibly gorgeous and I actually spent a lot of time in the main market just looking the those pretty faces. Some of the women were extra ordinary, but unlike Dah-Hanu, I couldn’t request any one for a photograph here. I checked in at a guest house called Carvan-e-Sarai. The place was owned by Mr. Wani and his two sons Ilyas and Mustafa. They were originally Kashmiris who has migrated to Kargil a few generations back. They were one of the few Sunni Muslims there. I had wonderful lunch, made by Uttrakhandi cook. During lunch I had a nice conversation with Ilyas about Kashmir, Kargil war, Pakistan and India. He was a well educated and intelligent chap, and was quite patriotic. In fact, to my surprise, this whole region is very pro-India and anti-Pakistan. Later, I learnt that the occupied Balti areas in POK are also very anti-Pakistan. Ilyas also spoke about the hardships that they had to face during the war, but also praised the Indian Government for speedy post war rehabilitation.

In the afternoon, I left for Drass and Mustafa joined me on the bike. Originally, I was to stay here for a day, and spend another day in either Drass or Mullbeck (towards Leh). But I thought a day was enough for here, and I had some shopping to do in Leh. The road to Drass was extra ordinary, with Pakistani posts looking at you through their binoculars. A board warned people of the same (right) . Mustafa added that before the Kargil war, Pakistan used to shell this road daily, and it was nearly impossible to travel so freely, without fear on this road, as we were today. We reached Drass in about 1 ½ hour (54km) and the famous Tiger Hill greeted me (below right). Standing right in front of Tiger hill was an awesome feeling. We had tea at a small joint where we met some other travelers from Bangalore, who were travelling from Srinagar in a Gypsy. I managed to take one photograph of these pretty children in Drass. Also, people of Drass are known to be very strong and brave, and the picture on the right shows is why!

We left for Kargil after spending a couple of hours in Drass. We stopped at the superb Kargil War Memorial along the way (3 km from Drass). There was a War Gallery there, which was very well stocked and maintained. Here is one of my favourite pictures from the gallery (left). We left for Kargil, as it was evening, and I didn’t want to ride at night. The ride back was good, and we met the Gypsy guys once again. Their car was stuck in 4WD and they were struggling to get it back to 2WD. We reached Kargil in the dark and immediately feasted on some more great food. I slept after some more chats with Ilyas and Mustafa.

Today is the 18th of September and I woke up at the regular 6:30 am. I was to ride all the way back to Leh today (240 km). I left after some breakfast but soon the road turned horrible. There was a major road widening project that the BRO has undertaken, and as a result, the present condition of the road (or whatever one calls it!) was terrible. I crossed the Fatu La pass, which is the highest point on the Srinagar-Leh highway. But after all the big La’s that I have crossed, this one hardly counted. My back was broken by the time I reached Lamayuru (left). I stopped at Lamayuru for lunch and explored the Lamayuru monastery , which I found quite boring. The food was quite pricey too, and the owner/waiter was the first rude person I met in Ladakh. I left Lamayuru soon, and the road was now much better. I reached Leh by 5 o clock and was very tired. I unsaddled from my bike, thanked and kissed it, and went to meet Manish and KT at Planet Himalaya. KT removed the carrier from the bike, since I wouldn’t need that tomorrow. I did some shopping in the evening and treated myself to an excellent sizzler dinner. I went back to my guest house and spent some time chatting with Rigzin. I slept early due to the fatigue that BRO’s ambition had imposed on me!

Today is the 19th of September and I woke up at a leisurely 8 am. I had breakfast with a Czech couple Andre and Linda, from Prague. I also met a German-Austrian couple from Vienna. I spent the after noon doing accounting, packing up, making phone calls, checking emails etc. In evening, I did some more shopping and spent some time with a Kashmiri shop owner. Most handicrafts, Pashmina type shops are owned by Kashmiris and not Ladakhis. When I was about to return the bike to KT, the bike didn’t start. The first time during the whole 1300 km, the bike didn’t start. Perhaps it didn’t want me to leave it and go away. I said goodbye to it and KT/Manish and I returned to the guesthouse. I settles accounts with Rigzin and had dinner with him. Rigzin said he will arrange for someone to drop me to the airport in the morning, at around 6: 50 am. I finalized my notes, reviewed some photos and slept.

Today is the 20th and I can hardly believe its all over. But if it doesn’t end, then it won’t begin some other time. Stanzen dropped me to the airport on time and I flew to Delhi. The flight was normal apart from the fact that there were 25 odd American-Indian school children who were very noisy. From Delhi airport, I went to Kashmere Gate ISBT and boarded a Volvo for Chandigarh. I had informed my folks that I will reach by 5 pm, and for your information, it was my cousin’s wedding this evening. I alighted at Zirakpur and reached my cousin’s house in Panchkula at around 5:07 pm to find my cousin from Melbourne there to greet me. You have already read god’s thoughts…the rest are all details. I reached Bombay on the 22nd night, as my flight got diverted to Ahmedabad due to bad weather. As I reached home, I felt victorious and satisfied with the last fortnight!

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