Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Bhushi Dam, The Busiest Place Near Pune - July 24, 2016

Bhushi Dam has become the busiest place near Pune during monsoons. And this is only from recent decade or so. The place is always in discussion for all the wrong reasons every year when monsoon visit this part of India - heavy rush, traffic jams, drunk public, accidents. It feels as if whole of Pune & Mumbai visit here as soon as it starts raining.

Earlier it was not so. I remember having gone here without any rush about 15-20 years ago. After that I was always terrified of visiting here in fear of getting stuck in traffic.

This year I thought of doing it in a unique way. We decided to leave early & return back before rush starts.

Bhushi Dam actually is one of the oldest dams of the region. It was built on Indrayani river during 1860 for Railways. It was used as a water source for Steam Engines. Even today it is owned by Indian Railways.

As the water level rise, there is a under-cut in the dam-wall. Water starts overflowing & falls over 15-20 steps constructed on other side of the wall. The view is awesome & all these people mentioned above die-hard to get drenched here & enjoy.

We started at 6.30 in the morning from Pune. We took the old Pune-Mumbai Highway. We directly headed towards our destination as we didn't want to lose the congestion free time. With heavy heart with DID NOT STOP at Hotel Ramakrishna. Ahead of Ramkrishna, there is a left turn which goes over the Railway Flyover into Lonavala town. From here Bhushi Dam is about 5 kms. We reached the parking at 8 am.

There is heavy loot by the locals here. Car parking is charged Rs. 100. Toilet & Changing Rooms are charged for Rs. 10. Onion Pakodas were for Rs. 50. And you don't have any option. However, one thing was noteworthy - toilets were really clean & were worth 10 Rs.

There is a brief walk of about 300 meters till the Dam Wall. Once at the steps, the enjoyment is extraordinary.

When we reached, already 150-200 people were playing on the steps. It means so many of them had planned like we did & reached here early. They were just getting drenched in the white, gushing water and taking selfies. The locals were selling Vada-Pavs & Corn over the steps. Over-all the environment was jolly & picnic-mood.

The water was crystal clear. We were able to see the bottom. Cleanilness around was so-so types. Mostly the tourists need to be blamed here.

We returned back by 9.15 am. By this time rush started to rise and we started our return journey. Now we could feel the traffic on opposite direction. Traffic Police were on job & they had started to regulate the traffic. At one point there were vehicle queued upto 500 meters. But this was for the on-coming lane. We were completely free.

We had a breakfast at Lonavala & reached back home by 12 noon. So, our plan was successfull. We didn't stuck into traffic anywhere; we got good car parking location; no hurdles in taking out the car; there was no mad rush anywhere; and more importantly, there were no drunkards; there were only family groups.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Ladakh Landscapes - May-June 2016

There goes one Ladakhi Saying, “Only the best of friends and fiercest of enemies visit this barren land”.

Visiting Ladakh is always associated with some type of an aura around it. It’s said to be an Epic Journey. And covering this region on a bike makes it even more adventurous & exciting. With roads that open up for only few months of the year, these 2000 kms give you an experience of a lifetime.

Ladakh is known for its Culture. Countless numbers of Stupas, Prayer Wheels, Monasteries & vibrantly colorful Flags hanging all around the houses, shops & temples tell that you are in the Land of the Lamas.
Ladakh Flags
It was our dream to cover this Trans-Himalayan Bike Ride, considered to be one of the most adventurous rides in the world. And obviously so, because what in store is the World’s Highest Motorable Road at 18,380 feet (5,359 meters), the Second Coldest Inhabited Place on Earth after Siberia (lowest recorded temperature is -60 deg. in 1995), World’s Highest Battlefield (after Siachin).

The route we took was Jammu – Srinagar – Kargil – Leh – Nubra Valley (Diskit) – Pangong Lake – Manali – Ambala. Total riding of about 2000 kms in 11 days.
The main highlight of this whole ride is the changing landscapes. So much frequent sometimes, that they change after every 10-15 kms. From lush green pastures of Kashmir Valley to raw form of nature with barren mountains in Ladakh. Just couple of hours from Sonamarg, all civilization as if just vanished. The only view that follows in the whole trip is the Snow on top of the passes & Snow-clad Mountains at the horizon. These landscapes come in all form of colors, textures, appearances. Mountain & rock colors change from Grey to Violet to Green to White & Brown.
Kashmir Valley - first view after Jawahar Tunnel
The road coils through the hills moving through numbers of passes (called as “La” in Ladakhi language). Zoji La, Fotu La, Khargung La, Chang La, Baralacha La, etc. are to name a few. These passes basically connect two regions / areas; e.g. Ladakh with Kashmir Valley & Leh with Nubra Valley. All during the trip, the roads always keep company with the rivers of the region. Starting with Tawi near Jammu, Chenaab on the way, Jhelum at Srinagar, further followed by Sindhu (Indus) in Sonamarg, Saru at Kargil, Shyok in Nubra Valley and finally to Beas near Manali.

The road comprises of varied range - from a 4 lane highway to “no roads”. Mostly single lane, these roads are a mixture of ghat sections with multiple hair-pin bends, muddy – dusty roads, water logged at many places due to melting snow, causes heavy sludge at some places. There are few water crossings with slippery stones beneath. A slight misjudgment and there are chances of slipping the bike. And all this with a deep valley on one side and fear of a possible land-slide over other. It is very rightly said “Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations”.

Indian Army through its BRO (Border Roads Organization) has done an extremely commendable job in building & maintaining Roads in this strategically important area.

For us, it all just started during a School Friends’ Get-together & the idea of a Bike trip to Ladakh was conceptualized.

A mixed group of 6 was formed. And after an introduction meet, plan was drafted, bookings were done & shopping was completed (Clothing, Saddle-Bags, Protective Gears & Medicines).

We decided to send our bikes through train till Jammu. Option of road transport is available. Chances of bikes getting damaged, is equal for both the options. Train has an advantage of faster transport & cheaper (by about 1000 Rs.). However, train has its own issues of Govt. bureaucracy and no parcel tracking system.

We sent our bikes from Pune Station on May 23, 2016; just to be on a safer side so that our bikes would reach at least before 27th to be available for us on 28th. Normal Pune-Jammu journey takes 2 days by Jhelum Express.

May 27, 2016:
We boarded 11.30 am flight to Delhi from Pune. Reaching Delhi Airport, we moved towards New Delhi Station through Airport Metro Service. And laid ourselves on the Platform awaiting for our evening train (Jammu Rajdhani at 8.40 pm).

May 28, 2016:
We reached Jammu early morning at 6.00 am. Deliveries at Parcel Office open at 9.30 am. Till the time, we freshened up at the Waiting Room. It takes lot of time to get the bikes ready actually (& we don’t consider it while planning).

We got our bikes; we unpacked them, got to a nearby Fuel Station to get Petrol in Bottles and mounted our baggage on them. All our bikes were received in fairly good condition. Minor damages – one had small dent on Fuel Tank, other had its Brake Lever bent, Front Mud-guard bent while another had its Battery Water leaked out damaging the Paint.

Finally, when we were good to go, it was 12.30 pm. Actually, we had planned that we would start by 10-10:30 & were aiming for first stop at Srinagar (300 kms away). But now we decided to postpone by a day & have a night-halt somewhere in between (Patnitop, maybe).
Such bikes are available on rent from Jammu, Srinagar
& in Ladakh
This was the time; we started our dream journey. After a brief photo-op, we headed towards Fuel Station for a Tank Full. And then we headed on the NH-1 towards Srinagar.

The road till Srinagar was completely known to me, since I had been through this less than a year ago (my Vaishnodevi Trip in July 2015). However, the difference this time was the self-ride. The whole route is heavily polluted with trucks plying continuously.

Road till Udhampur (50 kms) is a complete 4 lane highway (Toll Road – free for bikes) with 4 tunnels in between. It is recently constructed. Once after Udhampur, the fun starts. Road from here onwards is a complete ghat – single lane, no dividers.

Ahead of Udhampur, we stopped for lunch at a hotel by the name Hotel Tawi View. We had planned to halt at Batote which is about 25 kms ahead of Patnitop. By the time we completed our lunch, it was 3.30 pm & we had only 60 kms to go till Batote. We were planning to reach our night-stay by 5 pm.
However, today’s day was destined to falter all our plans. We started to move & suddenly, it started raining heavily with thunderstorm. Hot climate at about 30 deg suddenly changed within span of 15 mins. By the time we could understand anything, we were wet by the core. So we decided to just be & move on without taking out our rain gear (which was off-course packed at the bottom most portion of our saddle-bags).

Instead of 5, we reached our hotel by 7 pm. Thunderous rains on the very first day of our ride actually made us into jitters. We were really worried. The nature showed its fury just in the beginning & 13 more days were still to go!!!

Ride of the day: 125 kms; Total: 125 kms

Route: Jammu-Udhampur-Patnitop-Batote

May 29, 2016:
Next morning, however, was completely cleared of any dark clouds. It was clear skies & bright sunlight.

We had planned to leave by 7 am. However, we actually started by 8.15. However, today’s journey was a relaxed one; with 175 kms to go till Srinagar. Just ahead we witnessed our first rough road patch. The construction work was in progress at the Chenani-Nashri Tunnel or Patnitop Tunnel site.

We took a break at Peerah. The place is famous for its Rajma-Chaaval in Desi Ghee. The ghee actually flows over the Chaaval. We had this during our last year’s visit at the same hotel.
Rajma Chaawal in Desi Ghee @ Peerah
After this divine breakfast, we started ahead with a plan to break at the iconic Jawahar Tunnel. Driving through this Tunnel is an experience; driving at a slow pace behind some bigger vehicle on this single lane road of about 2.5 kms. This opens up into Kashmir Valley. It is, thus, gateway to the Paradise on Earth.
Road ahead is now fairly straight finally ascending to plains till Srinagar. In between there is a place called Green Tunnel. It’s a natural tunnel like formation due to tall Poplar Trees on both sides of the road. We had our lunch somewhere nearby - Lakshmi Vaishno Dhaba. After crossing Saffron (Kesar) Fields of Pampore, Awantipura Ruins, Bat Factories of Sangam, we finally reached our destination for the day – Srinagar.

We reached our Hotel Malik Palace, just opposite Dal Lake, parked our vehicles, unpacked luggage & it started raining heavily. Again the climate changed in a span of 15 minutes (like yesterday).

By the time we freshened-up, the heavy rain normalized into a drizzle. It was again an experience to roam around on the Boulevard Road with Dal Lake by the side & watching the Sun set behind snow clad mountains.
Dal Lake, Srinagar
Dal Lake, Srinagar
Ride of the day: 175 kms; Total: 300 kms

Route: Batote-Peerah-Ramban-Jawahar Tunnel-Qazigund-Anantnag-Srinagar

May 30, 2016:
We started off by 7 am. After petrol fill-up, we moved for Kargil. From here onwards, it was a new route for me. We missed one turn; but this miss led us to a scenic circle. We encircled the complete Dal Lake – ride of about 22 kms. With the Lake on the left & scenic beauty all around, the ride was heavenly – various gardens of Srinagar, Shakaracharya Hill, Hari Parbat, Hazrat Bal and off course snow clad mountains.

Ahead of Gandarbal on the banks of Sindhu River (Indus), we had our breakfast – Punjabi Dhaba. As we were moving towards Sonamarg through the road along the banks of Indus, snow-clad mountains started appearing nearer. And we had our first closest view of snow of the trip. We were sure to have many more such occurrences ahead.
Sonamarg - Meadow of Gold
Sonamarg (means Meadow of Gold) at above 9000 feet is one of the main attractions of Kashmir Valley. This is a drive through Sindh Valley with a backdrop of Green & White Mountains. This is the last time we saw lush greenery around. Ahead of Sonamarg is Zoji La, a vital link between Ladakh & Kashmir. Zoji La greeted us with muddy roads having twists & turns. The drive opened-up the vista of what lies ahead.

As we started climbing the Pass gradually, the temperature started to drop & the snow started to appear nearer. As the top approached, the roads started worsening. Water loggings, rough road patches, slippery mud, loose gravel were tasting durability of our bikes. Zoji La top at 11000 feet was covered with snow walls on one side while deep valley on other. At points, these snow walls were also on both sides and as tall as 30 feet. During peak winters, snow fall here is till 60 feet.
Road to Zoji La
Road to Zoji La
Road to Zoji La
Zoji La Top
Zoji La Top

After ascending Zoji La, there is an Army check-post at Gumri. Army canteen is open to civilians as well – Samosas, Momos, Maggi, Tea. A chat with a soldier there gave us an insight under which the Indian Army operates. During peak winters, the whole NH-1 is closed to vehicular traffic. The Army even dismantles all the bridges to avoid in enemy intrusion, since the Army Posts are vacated.
After about 40 kms of Zoji La terrain, there is an entry post at Kargil District. Basic info about the Bike, its rider & License Number is noted down. Ladakh region starts after Zoji La & Kargil is the gateway for it. We took about 8 hours to cross these 120 kms so far with just a heavy breakfast in the morning.
20 kms more & we reached Drass, said to be 2nd coldest inhabited place in world. Average Low Temperatures go till -22 deg C with record low of about -45 deg C. But main attraction here is the Kargil War Memorial, about 15 kms ahead.
Drass - 2nd coldest inhabited place in world
Kargil War Memorial (or Vijay Path) was the patriotic moment of our whole trip. Built at the foot of Tololing Range, it brought goose-bumps in stomach by just thinking how our soldiers got back our land from enemy under challenging climatic conditions. The Memorial was constructed in Nov 2004 to honor our Soldiers who fought & won us the Kargil War & few of them who lost their lives in doing so. The place was so selected because Drass Sector was the sector where major part of War was fought. The area is surrounded with major peaks Tiger Hill, Rhino Horn, Point 4875 (Batra Top) & Tololing. These are at such a dominant position which overlooks the strategic Srinagar-Leh Highway.
A massive Tricolor furling on high mast attracts the attention, with a flame burning at its feet 24x7. The wall behind is engraved with names of Soldiers who laid their lives for the country. Manoj Pandey Gallery houses number of photos & information on the war; and also the Pakistani items captured (Ammunition, ID Cards, Currency Notes, Helmets, etc). Walking down the Vijay Path bring tears in the eyes as you see one sentence written in front – “When you go home, tell them of us… and say that for your tomorrow, we gave our today.”
Vijay Path - Kargil War Memorial
The Memorial
The Memorial is maintained in such a way that our heart fills up with pride. Every season, one Battalion is entitled the responsibility of maintaining the area. They also tell visitors the brief history of Kargil War (about 10 mins.). Many videos are available on YouTube.

We had decided to spend not more than 15-20 minutes here as we felt we were getting late. However, we ended up spending 1 hour 15 mins here. After an hours’ drive or so, we reached Kargil. It is a small town located on the banks of Suru River (a tributary of Indus). Kargil is 2nd largest town in Ladakh after Leh. We reached our destination, Hotel D’Zojila at 6 pm.
Kargil Town - by the banks of River Suru
There was a Car Service Station opposite our hotel. We got our bikes washed in the evening for the exciting rides ahead.

Ride of the day: 220 kms; Total: 520 kms

Route: Srinagar-Sonamarg-Zoji La-Dras-Kargil

May 31, 2016:
Again we started off at 7. Crossing over the bridge on River Suru, we started to ascend the hillock. View of Kargil town with Suru flowing in front was a view to enjoy. We filled-up the petrol & marched ahead. Our breakfast stop was decided at Mulbekh, about 40 kms. However, the road in between was bad - dusty with water loggings.  By 9 am we reached Mulbekh, which houses a Chamba Statue (of Standing Buddha). Little ahead of Mulbekh town towards Leh, on your right is a large rock. On this rock, the Buddha is carved. Actually it can be very easily seen, but it is located on a turn & hence can be very well missed. One of our friends missed this, then to wait for us 30 kms ahead.
Standing Buddha - Mulbekh
The location is very scenic, with blue sky, barren mountains & greenery at their feet. 
Enter the Ladakh

After sumptuous breakfast, we started ahead. There are back-to-back two quick passes – Namika La (18 kms from Chamba) & Fotu La (30 kms from Namika). Surprisingly, both are with excellent roads. Obviously, with twists & turns. Fotu La Top is said to be the highest point on Srinagar-Leh Road at 13,500 feet. As we were moving ahead, the landscapes started changing for semi-barren to fully-barren. Here onwards, we could see only brown colored hills & plains, with absolutely no trees, even bushes & shrubs. Only the area around any village / town had the green cover.
Namika La - Panorama
Fotu La

Fotu La
As you ascend Fotu La, one can see a settlement surrounded by mountains from all sides. With the constructions at the edge of the mountain & greenery at the bottom, the place seems to be like an Oasis. It is a village by the name Lamayuru, which houses one of the oldest & largest Monastery in Ladakh (11th Century). There is a temple, a school & residential buildings in the campus. There is an entry fee of Rs. 25 per person. The construction of buildings at the edges of the mountain is breathtaking.
Lamayuru Monastery
We had our lunch at Hotel Niranjana, just outside the Monastery entrance. We had our Ladakh Flag moment, purchasing & tying those flags to the bikes. This, in a way, has become a ritual for everyone visiting Ladakh.

As we entered Ladakh, children walking / playing on the roads come forward a “high-5”, a clap as we whizz past them on bikes. Sometimes, they do come dangerously close. Just need to be careful & slow down a bit near villages. We had purchased some biscuit packs for gifting them to the kids on the way.
We moved ahead at 2 pm.

The area around Lamayuru is known as Moonscape or Moonland. It is said to have resemblance to that Landscape on the Moon. We asked the hotel owner about it. And he said, “it is just behind the hillock”. Lamayuru Monastery is known for its landscape resembling that on Moon.

As we were cruising ahead, first time we saw different color-shades in rocks & mountains. It started with Violet; so much so that the shade was appearing in the road below. Maybe they use the same rocks & gravel to construct the roads. Then over the days, we could identify colors ranging from Green, Grey, Blue & even Orange.
A Tinge Of Voilet
We had heard that in Ladakh, landscapes change every 10-15 kms. We were experiencing that. Apart from colors, there were changes in patterns, textures & formations.

On the way ahead there is another nature’s beauty near the place called Nimmu (80 kms ahead of Lamayuru). There is a confluence of two Rivers – Indus & Zanskar. The place is so beautiful, that the two rivers are very clearly distinguished by the colors – Grey Zanskar merging into Green Indus. The view below, from the road by the top-side is spectacular.

Just 5 kms is the wonder moment, the famous Magnetic Hill of Ladakh. It is actually a demarcated spot on the highway. Here the vehicles when parked with engine switched-off & brakes released, they tend to move uphill (ascend). Actually, there is nothing magnetic in it. Even when water is poured on the road, it flows upwards. This is an optical illusion created because of the topography of the region & absence of clear horizon; without horizon, judging the slope is difficult as reference is missing. What seems to be an uphill is actually a downhill.

It was 5 pm when started for Leh. On the way is a renowned Gurudwara Pathar Saahib. We skipped this since we wanted to reach Leh in time. By 6 pm we were inside Leh town. After a cup of tea, Maggi & Momos, we started towards the search for our Hotel. Finally, by 6.45 pm, we reached our Home-stay, Lingtse Guest House.
Road to Leh
The night was chilly. It was our first chilly night of the journey. Temperature might had gone 4-5 degrees sub-zero.

Ride of the day: 231 kms; Total: 751 kms

Route: Kargil-Mulbekh-Fotu La-Lamayuru-Nimmu-Leh

June 1, 2016:
Today was the rest day at Leh. Day kept for acclimatization for the tough rides ahead. Site-seeing was optional plan. There are many places to see in Leh – The Leh Palace, Hall of Fame (Army Museaum). We however, just visited Shanti Stupa. Since it is located at the top of the hillock & we were seeing it since yesterday when arrived in Leh and since it was near to our Guest House. Afterwards, we went to the main market for some shopping.

Shanti Stupa is the highest place in the whole Leh town. Panoramic view of Leh from here looks amazing. It was constructed by Japanese Buddhists – construction started in 1983 & completed in 1991. Access here is by 500 steps as well as vehicular road. It is a famous tourist attraction at Leh due to its architecture, religious significance & spectacular views.
Shanti Stupa
Shanti Stupa
Post lunch, we came back to our rooms for another round of rest. Evening, we spent with some planning for rides ahead. Then we went to fill-up our bikes, had dinner & returned for good night’s sleep.
Leh Town Panorama - A View from Shanti Stupa

Leh town was the erstwhile capital of Ladakh region, today Leh district is the 2nd largest district in India after Kutch, Gujarat. It’s a bigger town after Srinagar. It houses a large market area and almost everything is available. All hotels, guest houses, home-stays & even restaurants are equipped with Wi-Fi; which free for its patrons.

Ride of the day: 7 kms; Total: 762 kms

June 2, 2016:
We started early today, by 6.30 am. This was to avoid the “Aircraft Tourists”. It’s a phrase for the tourists who land in Leh by flights or Taxis, take couple of day’s rest & then start for Nubra Valley & Khardung La in the morning. We wanted to avoid their rush.

The road to Nubra Valley goes through Khardung La, said to be word’s highest motorable road at 18,380 feet. Khardung La Top is about 40 kms from Leh. There are three check-posts in between – one Taxi Union CP while two Army CP (South Pullu & North Pullu). Self-declaration Form has to be submitted at these CPs. This is for security & safety of tourists, in case of any emergency. Forms are available at Hotels in Leh.
Enroute Khardung La Top
30 kms road of pass between South & North Pullu was difficult. We were on this road between 8 am to 10 am. Actually, water from melting snow had accumulated in potholes on road. And that water had turned into ice / snow overnight. This was causing our bikes to skid, if went over them. However, the view was awesome.
Enroute Khardung La Top
By 9 am, we were at the Top. It was a proud feeling to be at a place 18000 feet above sea-level, which I had never thought I would be reaching. Due to lack of oxygen, it is said that one must not stay here for more than 20-25 mins. After our photo-sessions & a cup of Kahwa, we started to descend into Nubra Valley. Just before North Pullu, we had our breakfast at an Army Canteen.

As we started descending down, the view of bluish-green waters of Shyok River flowing in multiple streams below was divine.
Descending Khardung La - Magnificient Shyok River in the background
As we started negotiating turns & got down to plains, we reached the village by the name Khalsar. From here there is a road towards left to Diskit, 20 kms ahead. Here onwards, the landscapes changed. Rugged barren mountains & rocks changed into desert & sand dunes. It felt as if the mountains around are formed just of the loose sand pored over.
Desert Landscapes - Nubra Valley
There is a Buddha Statue on a small hillock just at the entrance of Diskit. It also has panoramic views. We, however, skipped it as we had to move ahead to Hunder.
Hunder Sand Dunes
After reaching Diskit, we kept our luggage into our hotel rooms & immediately moved for Hunder – 7 kms ahead. Hunder is known for its Sand Dunes. The Hunder Sand Dunes in Nubra Valley are like a marvel. Having a full-fledged desert in Ladakh was never expected. And to add it, there are Camels too, called Bactrian Camels; and those are Double-humped with heavy fur all over. A camel ride cost was about 200 Rs. for 15 mins. The place is very near to Diskit & hence can be covered. In case of shortage of time, it can be very well skipped.
Double Humped Camels (Bactrian Camels)

There is another fascinating place ahead – Turtuk. It is the northern most village of India; that last out-post. Ahead of Turtuk starts the Pakistan controlled Gilgit-Baltistan areas. Another distinction is that, Turtuk was under Pakistan control since 1947. India recaptured it in 1971 war. It is said to be a scenic locations. We, however, skipped this as it was 90 kms ahead of Diskit.
We returned back to our hotel in Diskit. On our way, we filled-up our tanks at the only Fuel Pump in whole of Nubra Valley. It was a manual pump, manned by just one person. It had only 5 litres & 10 litres can. Hence fuel can be dispensed only in denominations of 5 litres. Sometimes, the pump is closed due to non-availability of fuel.
The only pump in whole Nubra Valley
Diskit is a small town, but important one since tourist foot-falls in Nubra Valley. I was surprised to know that people here get electricity for only 3 hours a day (7 pm to 11 pm). We just cannot imagine life without electricity.

Ride of the day: 143 kms; Total: 905 kms

Route: Leh-Khardung La-North Pullu-Khalsar-Diskit-Hunder-Diskit

June 3, 2016:
Our next destination plan was Pangong Tso (Lake). There are 3 main routes to reach Pangong. The most common is via Leh, the same route we came on. However, it meant to cross Khardung La all over again & more importantly, have one night stay in Leh. This route was adding another day into the itinerary.
Second route is Wari La route. Diskit-Khalsar-Agham-Tangyar-Wari La-Sakti-Chang La-Darbuk-Tangtse-Pangong. This route though shorter as compared to first, have two passes to overcome – dirt road, water crossings, high altitude, etc. This route would take whole day to reach Pangong.

And then there is third route, the shortest but the most difficult. Diskit-Khalsar-Agham-Shyok-Darbuk-Tangtse-Pangong. This is the river-bed road through Shyok River. It is submerged sometimes in the river water. The route is very rocky, has landslides, absolutely remote & faces disruptions. Worst section is between Agham & Shyok, its complete off-roader. Rest of the route is excellent. Pangong can be reached by late afternoon. It is advisable to enquire availability of this route to the locals (maybe hotel owners).
Agham-Shyok Road - most difficult terrain of the trip

We decided to take the 3rd route. We started off by 7 am after breakfast in the hotel itself. We reached till Khalsar on the same yesterday’s route. After Khalsar, one road goes to left for Agham. The route from Khalsar till Shyok was extremely scenic. The road was laid down inside the river-bed, with Shyok flowing by the side. The road patches in between were the worst in the trip so far; experience however, was awesome. There was one 100 meter patch of just stones laid down, as there was no road (it was complete sand). There were water loggings, dusty roads, loose gravel & sand patches. Also, there were patches of kilometers of plain & straight road. After long time, we were able to touch beyond 80 here. It took 5.5 hours to cover 70 kms till Shyok.

Just prior to Shyok, it was already 12.30 & hence we had some Maggi. 25 kms ahead is Tangtse, main town prior to Pangong. Stay & food options are available here. But we decided to directly move to Pangong. One needs to register at the Tangtse Police Station.

40 kms ahead of Tangtse is the place Lukung, which is actually the Pangong Lake. It is the point till vehicles go. Stay & food options are available. There is an entry fee of Rs. 10 per person collected just after Tangtse for visiting Pangong.

As you reach nearer to the Lake and as the mountains in front move aside, large expanse of Blue is visible. The site is mesmerizing. The lake is surrounded from all sides with barren brown mountains. It seems as if large Sapphire stones are filled-up in a bowl of mountains. These barren mountains against exquisite blue waters create a contrasting effect elevates the beauty.
Pangong Tso (Lake) - First View
This is the Lake that changes colors. You can see different shades of Blue, Violet & Green on the water surface. As the sun changes its position over the day, the shades keep changing.
Pangong Tso - Lake that changes colors!!!

Pangong Lake is the salt water lake. Even so, it completely freezes in peak winter. There are no fish or any other aquatic life considering high salt content. It is however breeding ground for some birds. It is an endorheic lake, i.e. closed water body. There is no water outflow to external water bodies like rivers or ocean. There are two streams that feed the lake.
Crystal Clear...

The lake lies on a disputed territory between India & China, with the Line Of Actual Control passing over it. About 60% of lake lies in China. It is about 134 kms long from India to China & 5 kms wide at its broadest point.
After lunch & a photo-shoot, we decided to explore a little ahead; may-be till China border ;-). However, China border is 40 kms ahead, & civilians are not allowed. We drove till 5 kms & there was a board prohibiting going further. We therefore ventured near the lake & got some unique photographs.
Climax of Hindi film, 3-Idiots, was shot here. Its impression is seen here in the names of hotels – e.g. Rancho’s CafĂ©.

As the evening progressed into night, temperature started to drop & atmosphere became windy. After dinner, we retired ourselves in the tents. We didn’t had guts to change our clothes, it was so chilly. I was into 5 layered clothing. We just removed our shoes & slept with all layers on. This was with two thick blankets / rugs.

We were not able to sleep the whole night; heavy wind was blowing. The flags over the tents were furling hard causing the heavy Fad-Fad noise whole night.
At 2.30 am, me and a friend ventured outside as we got bored by staying awake. The view outside was awesome. There were stars, stars & stars all around - whole sky was filled with stars. We could see the Milky Way. The experience was heavenly. I wished I could just stay there watching the view. However, the chilly wind was taking its toll. Hence we returned inside.

Ride of the day: 163 kms; Total: 1068 kms

Route: Diskit-Khalsar-Agham-Shyok-Darbuk-Tangtse-Pangong

June 4, 2016:
We got up, freshened ourselves… though didn’t wish to. It was so freezing. Had coffee & just packed our bags on the bikes. There was no question of bathing or even changing our clothes.

We started by 6.30 am. This was our last destination of Ladakh trip. We had 3-4 days to go; however, it was now a return journey.

Till Darbuk, we took the same road. In the morning I realized, there was considerable difference in landscape here. They were a lot greener. The mountains were still barren, but the plains had green bushes all over. Yesterday afternoon, maybe I didn’t notice, as I was excited to see the Pangong Lake & capture my Time-lapse experiment here. I saw a board there mentioning about Marmots (large squirrels, mostly found in mountainous regions). I wished I could see one.
Changing landscapes - Pangong-Tangtse Road
We had breakfast at Tangtse & then got our names registered at the Police Station. Then moved towards Darbuk. From here we took the road for Chang La. Just before Chang La, we encountered an awesome experience – we walked over frozen lake. There was this beautiful place enroute. A small water body, a lake, beneath a mountain was frozen (part of it). We walked over it (though by the side, so that even-if the ice breaks, we would fall into ankle deep water).
Frozen Lake - enroute Chang La
A Walk On The Ice
Chang La was better than Khardung La & Zoji La, but still a 20 kms stretch was muddy. We descended Chang La into a town named Sakti (or also Serthi), about 100 kms from Pangong. About 15 kms ahead was Karu. It’s an important junction that connects Pangong Road to the Leh-Manali Highway. And secondly, it is an important Fuel Fill-up Point on this highway. As the next Fuel Station towards Manali is at Tandi, 330 kms away. Leh from here is 30 kms.

We had our tanks full. Normally, people carry Fuel Cans of 5-10 litres here. However, our bikes were giving mileage of about 40 kmpl, except one. Hence we just carried one Can of 5 litres & couple of water bottles of 1 litres. We had our lunch & proceeded towards Manali.

We decided to take a halt at Pang, about 140 kms ahead. Crossing few small villages like Upshi, Gya & Rumtse, we reached the Tanglang La. This was again much simpler compared to other 3 earlier. The roads were mostly paved & the view was scenic.

Enroute Tanglang La Top
Tanglang La Top
After crossing Tanglang La, the stretch of 50 kms ahead is a straight road on Plains. The area is called a More (Morey) Plains. It is a colossal expanse of plain land mass on one side & a mountain range on other. Riding here was fun. The road was straight; it was plain & well paved. Still were not able to achieve speed beyond 60-70. Reason, strong wind current was opposing us. And views were astonishing. We were just wondering that night, how many cricket stadiums or airports this Plain can accommodate!

The Plains end abruptly with rock & sand formations along Sumkhel Lungpa River. The view is stunning, mostly so, because one never expected such a scene in between this vast land mass. Scanty river water flowing at the bottom in black while the gold & brown valley rising up on both sides with natural formations, make you feel how short you are in front of the mighty nature. The scene is so dramatic that you need to stop for a few minutes for your mind to absorb it.
Sumkhel-Lungpa River
After descending for 5 kms over the sandy route with twists & turns, we reached our destination for the day, Pang. It is said to be World’s Highest Army Transit Camp at 15,640 feet. It is also a sort of a camp-site for tourists. It is not a village as such. People don’t stay here permanently. The locals come here during tourist season for earnings.
Pang camp-site below
There are tents for stay. Rate is same like in Pangong. Rs. 200 per person. We bargained for Rs. 150. There is one puncture shop as well.
Pang camp-site
Our condition was same like in Pangong. It was chilly & we didn’t dare to change. Even today, we slept with same all clothes on. The tents were cozy with proper & heavy bedding. Today, we had a good night’s sleep unlike yesterday.
Ride of the day: 270 kms; Total: 1338 kms

Route: Pangong-Tangtse-Darbuk-Chang La-Sakti-Karoo-Upshi-Gya-Rumtse-Tanglang La-Pang

June 5, 2016:
We got up at 5. Normally, day rises very early here. By 5.30 am, sun-rays are seen on the ground. As I ventured outside of our tent, I saw ice formed on my bike-seat. The dew that settled over-night, got freezed due to sub-zero temperatures.
Ice formed on the seat - 5.45 am
We started off by 6.30 am. Within couple of hours we crossed 2 back-to-back passes – Lachung La & Nakee La. Next hour, we were at the Gata Loops. It is a series of 21 hair-pin bends which appear after Nakee La & descend onto Tsarap River banks, going towards Sarchu. The name is unknown to many, unless they traversed through this journey. The extreme stomach-churning hair-pin bends coupled with a steep descend and the loose gravel, make this ride a thrill. By 11 we reached Sarchu, a border point between J&K and Himachal Pradesh. There is a check-post, where registration has to be done. Sarchu is also a camp-site for accommodation, similar to Pang.
Gata Loops
Next was the most scenic pass of the trip – Baralacha La. The view was like a white & brown blanket laid down till eye meets the sky. Another scenic location came just while descending the pass,  Suraj Taal, India’s 3rd highest lake. The lake is the origin of Bhaga River which joins further to Chandra River forming Chandrabhaga which is later renamed to Chenab as it enters J&K.
Enroute Baralacha La Top
Baralacha La Top
Suraj Taal
Suraj Taal
Here onwards, we came across the famous Water Crossings of the region. These make this route of Leh-Manali hard, yet exciting, thrilling & adventurous. So far we had witnessed many Water Loggings (water is accumulated in a ditch). These were the Crossings - water stream flows over the road, sometimes with high pressure. There is no road below, but the smooth pebbles & stones. The bike tends to slip & skid. One has to be extremely cautious.

These water crossings are basically due to melting snow. Hence it is advisable to cross these before 12 noon, as the water flow tends to increase afterwards. These are mostly located around Zing Zing Bar. This unique name is for the camp-site on the way, about 20 kms from Baralacha La. There many such funny names on the way – Whisky Nala (Biskynala), Twing Twing Bar, Brandy Bridge.

After these Water Crossings, the road is fairly good. The landscapes & scenes change now, from brown barren & white snow to green vegetation. The road constantly goes along side the Bhaga River below. Situated in this lush valley is beautiful town of Jispa. Many staying options are available. Just 20 kms ahead is another town, Keylong. Stay options are available here also.

We had planned to make it to Manali, & it was just 4 pm. Hence we decided to proceed. An important location, Tandi, is just 10 kms ahead. Important because, it was the first Fuel Pump after 330 kms; and my Avenger made it without need to top-up.
Enroute Manali
After petrol fill-up & a tea-break, we started for Manali – our planned destination. This was our mis-calculation. We thought we would make it by the day-break – about 100 kms in 3 hours. However, as we started ascending Rohtang Pass, time just started flying away. At the base on Rohtang, there is a check-post. Registration is required. The road climbing to Rohtang is slippery & muddy. By the time we reached Rohtang Top, it was pitch dark. We started descending in complete darkness. The road, however, was good; completely tarred & wide enough. But driving in dark was worrisome. Gradually, the traffic started diminishing – there were absolutely no bikers; occasional cars & trucks were crossing by. And at a point, we were really worried in case any mishap happens, or any breakdown strikes. We really feel now, it was mistake to cover Rohtang at this hour; we should have stayed at Jispa or Keylong. Next morning, we could have even enjoyed our ride over Rohtang La, which we missed due to darkness.

By 10-10:30 pm, we reached at outskirts of Manali. We came across a hotel, we just stopped over. There was no point in reaching Manali & searching for a hotel in a crowded hill-station at that hour.

This was our longest kms run of the journey; our most stretched bike ride of about 16 hours drive; we crossed four major passes & about the same Water Crossings.

Ride of the day: 315 kms; Total: 1653 kms

Route: Pang-Lachung La- Nakee La -Gata Loops-Sarchu-Baralacha La-Jispa-Keylong-Tandi-Rohtang La-Manali

June 6, 2016:
Our return flight from Delhi was on 9th night. Our destination for bike ride was Ambala, from where we had to parcel our bikes through train & then move to Delhi. We were early by about couple of days – this was because, we took the short-cut route from Nubra Valley to Pangong & second, we cancelled our plan for Tsomoriri Lake. We therefore decided to pre-pone our flight to 8th morning.
Now we had a relaxed time. We decided to leave late since we had comfortable time to reach Ambala. We slept till late today. Had a lazy breakfast at 9 & then a fresh bath after 3 days. Post lunch, we started off. We decided to visit the Hadimba Temple, the main attraction of Manali.

Hadimba Temple is dedicated to the Demon Goddess Hadimba (Hidimbi). She was the wife of Bheema (from Mahabharata). The temple is located at a higher elevation in heart of town & main market place of Manali. Main temple is situated amidst dense Deodar (Cedar) Trees. Vehicular road goes the parking area near the entrance.

The temple is well-known for its unique, rather unusual, architectural style. Built like a Pagoda, it consists of 3 square-shaped roofs with a conical top over it. Majorly it is made in wood, with some carvings over it. The 4 walls of Sanctum Sanctorum are lined-up with real faces of dead animals – Deer, Antelopes.

After about ½ an hour, we moved on. The road here onwards was excellent. Plain tarred road, single lane though (undivided), with mountainous cliffs on right & the mighty Beas River on left. Riding here was fun.

We had a coffee break at Kullu. There are options to do Water Rafting here. We skipped it; in case any of us got injured, who would drive our bikes? (was the question).

We took a stop-over at Mandi for some Pani Puri & Kulfi & then moved ahead. We were targeting Rupnagar, which was more than 250 kms away. However just before Sundernagar, one of our bikes got punctured. Secondly, there were thunders in the clouds & it felt as if it would rain. It started getting dark & the road ahead of Sundernagar was pathetic. We decided to take halt. We came across a hotel on the highway in the hills & we broke the journey. We were somewhere near the town by the name Hamirpur.

Ride of the day: 151 kms; Total: 1804 kms

Route: Manali-Kullu-Mandi-Sundernagar-Hamirpur

June 7, 2016:
Morning we started at 7 am. This was our last day of riding. Now, we were at the fag-end of the journey. So far, all these days, it had been a routine of carrying our baggages till the bikes, tying them up, start riding, untie it at the destination in the evening & finally carry it to the rooms. All this would end today.

It started raining whole night; it was, even in the morning. However, now we had to make it to Ambala Cantonment Railway Station by afternoon, so that we can book our bikes for Rail Parcel, then move on to Delhi to catch tomorrow morning flight.

We hence decided to move. Rain was not lashing out… it was occasional. This time, I covered-up myself with rain gear (Jacket, Rain Pants & Shoe-Cover). Rain was lashing at some point & it was clear skies next. After more than a week, we came across 4 & 6 lane highway. By the time, we neared Chandigarh climate again changed to bright sunny & hot.

By 1 pm we reach Ambala Cantt Station.

Ride of the day: 206 kms; Total: 2010 kms

Route: Hamirpur-Rupnagar-Chandigarh (bypass)-Ambala Cantt

Hereon, we proceeded for parcel formalities. Again the same old Govt. Bureaucratic Story. We completed all the processes by 5 pm. We skipped lunch due to this, as this was important.

After all our bikes were handed over, we hired a Taxi for Delhi. On the way had some heavy South Indian snacks & reach New Delhi Airport by 11 pm. We had booked a hotel near the Airport.

June 8, 2016:
At 6 am we checked-out & moved to the Airport. This was the final leg, the last day of an EPIC JOURNEY. Within few more hours, we were back to the comforts of our homes.

Odo Readings:
Jammu                          0 kms
Udhampur                    50 kms
Batote                        125 kms
Srinagar                      300 kms
Kargil War Memorial     455 kms
Kargil Town                 520 kms
Lamayuru                    620 kms
Nimmu                        700 kms
Leh                             751 kms
Khardung La Top          791 kms
Diskit                          890 kms
Hunder                       897 kms
Shyok                         967 kms
Tangtse                      992 kms
Pangong Tso             1068 kms
Sakti                        1168 kms
Karu                        1183 kms
Pang                        1323 kms
Tandi                       1513 kms
Manali                      1653 kms
Hamirpur                 1804 kms
Ambala Cantt           2010 kms

Few Tips:
  1. Carry original documents - Personal ID as well as Vehicle Papers (Driving License, RC, TC, PUC & Insurance). Also, keep two photo-copies of each.
  2. Start early - this ensures you reach your destination in time & takes care of time losses due to traffic jams, roads closed, breakdowns.
  3. AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) is not any demon; you just need to be careful & take precautions. AMS symptoms are headache, vomiting, dizzyness
    • Carry a Diamox tablet, however do not take it unless the symptoms are unbearable.
    • Carry Camphor (Kapur) along & just smell it if you fee dizzy (Bheem-seni Camphor is preferred).
    • Carry a Homeopathic medicine - COCO.
    • Actually we didn't feel AMS while riding. It is felt if you stop. Do not spend more than 10 minutes on Passes Tops.
    • Keep one rest-day at Leh; if landing directly in Leh through Flight, keep two rest-days for acclimatization.
    • Riding / driving from Jammu to Leh is easier as ascend is gradual; from Manali to Leh is difficult due to sudden ascend (from 6000 feet to 15000 feet).
  4. Carry a basic Medical Kit & essential medicines as per requirement.
  5. Carry pouches of Electral or Glucose or alike to avoid dehydration.
  6. Connectivity can be a problem. Only BSNL & to some extent Aircel Network is available. If possible, carry a BSNL Postpaid Sim. Also, only Postpaid connections work in J&K. Pre-paid Sims of any Network are of no use.
  7. Wi-Fi is abundantly available in all major towns. All hotels provide free Wi-Fi. In Leh, even Restaurants provide it.
  8. Dressing - no need for any special costly riding jackets (however, they are definitely useful if available).
    • Layered clothing can be used; only required clothes to be put on.
    • Body Warmer (Thermals) are useful.
    • Rain Wear to be carried as weather is undependable. Shoe Covers are available which protect shoes & socks getting wet due to rain & in Water Crossings & Loggings.
    • Wear a Leather Jacket as the area is extremely dusty. Avoid woolens.
    • Helmet is obvious - have a Goggle (UV filter & polarised) and a Balaclava or Face Mask.
    • Have basic guards - Knee Guard, Elbow Guard.
    • Sun-screen lotion - Climate is cold & chilly, however Sun is strong
  9. Self-declaration Forms - required during passing Khardung La. They are available at hotels in Leh. At other check-posts, only registration is required. While coming from Manali to Leh, registration is required to cross Rohtang La
  10. Taxi Unions are strong in the Region. Only J&K registered Taxis are allowed to ply on interior roads for Pangong Lake & Nubra Valley. In case you are coming by Self-driven Vehicles (like Zoom Cars), you can drive through the main highways only (Srinagar-Leh & Leh-Manali). To visit Nubra & Pangong, you need to hire a Taxi or Bike.
  11. Credit Cards are absolutely useless in Ladakh. Cash to be carried. Rs. 5000 is sufficient at any point of time; however, Rs. 10000 is safer. ATMs are available at Srinagar, Kargil, Leh, Manali. ATMs also available in 2-3 smaller towns, however not sure about cash availability.
  12. Toilets are hardly available on the way. No problem in bigger towns; however on the way or at Pangong, Pang, Sarchu (camp-sites), it can be a problem. Only enclosures on four-sides with open to sky toilets are available. At some places, cleanliness can be an issue.
  13. Lastly, remember that you are here for RIDING & not RACING. Do not try to do any off-roading or stunts. Enjoy the view instead.
Stay details: