Sunday, 17 August 2014

The Biker Penguin gets Leh-ed

Years of dreaming even before getting my Enfield a few months ago & countless admirations of others’ trips, I finally headed out to the dream ride of almost every motorcyclist – Ladakh & boy, did it blow my socks off & how! Lusting over riding to Ladakh on my gargantuan chrome darling who I fondly call Bijli (the bike) thankfully made me & hubby take the sensible decision to take separate bikes in order to avoid me turning into evil Loki fighting at every kilometre, the other bike being borrowed from a close friend who would also be riding with us on another of his Enfield’s. All in all, we were a bunch of 12 riders on 12 bikes, including one more woman rider besides me. The route we had in mind was Chandigarh > Shimla > Reckong Peo>Kaza>Jispa>Keylong>Leh>Pangong Tso>Leh, which would see alterations as we rode along.

Visiting umpteen sites for bike ride trips to Ladakh for beginners, endless route changes later & post countless excel sheets of list of things to carry, the day we commence the trip was finally a day away! What we were doing was, transporting the bikes to Chandigarh & starting to ride from there onwards. So the day before we landed in Chandigarh, 5 of us who were starting from Mumbai had the most sleepless night we could, even studying for the Board exams a few (ok, quite a few) years ago seemed easier than waiting for this ride to begin.

Our first day of riding from Chandigarh to Shimla turned out to be a nightmare, starting from the awful heat which left most of us dehydrated because of the excessive sweating, riding with all the safety gear on plus the bike breakdowns which slowed us down on the way. However, with things panning out better the next day & the bikes repaired, as we rode higher, our spirits lifted.

Riding to Ladakh is not just about reaching that milestone at over 18,000 ft above sea level, it’s about revving your beast & yourself beyond limits, beyond comfort zones, beyond acceptable oxygen levels & reaching a destination to which the journey is more than just memorable. Riding for over 12 hours a day, with speeds which sometimes could not go beyond 20kmph, since the roads we took were well not really roads, just cut up mountains, via Spiti. Everywhere we looked, we were in awe of the beauty of nature. Meeting the most helpful & caring locals along the way, who did their best to help us acclimatise to their climate & altitude of living, riding through watercrossings of melting snow, squeezing into the side of the mountains so that the trucks coming from the other side could cross on the narrow mountain terrains, all in all, Ladakh 2014 was epic in every way.

We hit our first offroading patch which was basically stones & mud all the way when we were we on our way to Reckong Peo & we got a taste of what the Himalayas were going to be like. I was spellbound & mesmerised by the sheer beauty of the landscape as we rode along, the massive mountains & the altitudes we rode up kept me sniggering at how my mom would have had a fainting bout had she been there as my pillion & dared to look down the valleys- and this was just the beginning of the ascent! Cars & trucks jostling for space on narrow non-roads at heights of 2670 m from the sea level, and I knew for sure that this was just the beginning of an adrenaline rush of 2 weeks!

Now the Enfield is a heavy & beautiful bike that I have been in awe of since I was a kid & saw my karate instructor ride, perpetually eyeing it. But the bashing my bike took enroute Ladakh owing to the ‘hospitable’& ‘smooth’ (read sarcasm) roads & still stood strong, apart from a few blown fuse glitches, has left me with a whole new respect for my machine. I guess the whole point of riding your bike to someplace  as challenging as Ladakh for example for both you & your machine, where both struggle for oxygen & cope with the exigent terrain together leaves you with a bond with the bike which cannot be put into words. Riding into the clouds & chasing the snow capped Himalayas, riding into waterfalls of melting snow & taming bottomless drops, pushing to reach remote destinations when you don’t see another person in sight except your fellow riders for kilometres on end and feeling like you’ve been riding on the moon’s surface for hours and still being satisfied & happy at the end of the day is more than reason enough to ride to a place as enchanting as Ladakh.

One place we did encounter hail which we thought was rain until we stopped to pull out our raincoats was on our way from Paang to Leh and were we glad that it lasted only for a few minutes, because we could not feel our fingers after that.  A part of the ride that deserves a special mention was the Morey Plains. A flat surface flanked by mountains on either side, this high altitude plain is a dream! Offering both an offroading patch of gravel for about 40kms or so as well as a metal path for a bit that gives your bike the opportunity to completely let go, the Morey Plains were a delight before we got down to settling out offroading itch on our way to Tso Kar lake. The famous Pangong Tso lake, a massive clearwater lake in the middle of the Ladakh desert, more commonly known as the shooting site for the movie the 3 Idiots is worth covering the dried up river bed like terrain. It’s clear blue waters, bounded by mountains will leave you thinking that there are blue tiles lining the bottom.    

A trip to Ladakh for a motorcyclist is incomplete unless we pay homage to the mighty Khardungla Pass, the highest motorable road in the world at 18380 ft. The ride up is, as most of the trip a cocktail of the headaches because of the lack of oxygen , revving the bike at the first & second gear only and off course that surge of excitement that also probably gets the best of you when you know you are about to conquer the highest motorable road in the world! It’s usually recommended not to stay more than 10-20 mins at any high altitude pass, be it Changla, TaglangLa or KhardhungLa, but the thrill of reaching all of these on our way to Ladakh & absorbing in the beauty plus taking loads of pictures, well left me with a memorable headache at each, all worth it.

Being a woman biker, I always get asked the obvious question on how do I handle such a heavy bike & did I not get scared riding on my own with the luggage & petrol stacked up & bungeed to the back of the bike adding to the weight and all. Yes, people do stare when they manage to make out its a woman biker underneath all the gear & helmet & face scarves, but I’ve come to realise that its more out of intrigue than anything else, when you’re out on the road on these kind of trips. It’s not the weight of your machine that matters, but the passion in your heart to ride that counts. It’s the zest to go beyond your limits & achieve something that you would remember for the rest of your life.

From someone who was scared of riding on gravel & stone a few days ago, now having covered most of the way offroading at insane altitudes, I can proudly call myself a true biker now, having learnt to ride better from some of my closest buddie bikers! And so, the biker penguin gets Leh-ed !!
P.S. Try walking around with your complete motorcycling gear on plus the rain gear & you shall know why I was called a Biker penguin!