Arriving in Leh meant taking care of a few key necessities.
- Good food
- Hot showers
- Organising ‘Inner Line Permits’ which are necessary to ride out onto many key roads in the region (While these can be procured at the “Deputy Comissioners Office”, this only seems to be available to holders of Indian passports or agents. Whilst I can speak the language and was proceeding through the bureaucracy, I was shut down as soon as I produced an Australian passport and told to apply through an agent; not a big deal, their service charge comes to roughly $2AUD)
- And in my case, attempt to fix up my clutch lever in fear of snapping it completely in a much more remote location. As luck would have it, a part from a local bike was a perfect match
Getting a good nights sleep however wasn't on the agenda. With everyone around the world wanting to indulge the dream of riding a Royal Enfield in India converging in Leh, the throb of the mighty Enfield was relentless until the late hours of the night
Regardless, the next morning, with all my permits in hand, it was time to set off to Pangong Tso (Lake Pangong), crossing Chang La, third highest road in the world. This lake holds repute amongst photographers due to its natural azul colours contrasted with the stark grey/brown mountains surrounding it.
I departed Leh later than planned as I had perfectly timed my day to coincide with a public holiday. This meant getting copies made of my permits to hand over to police checkpoints along the way was a harder task than it should've been
Lunch on the road, Nepalese “Chicken Momos”
Like ribbons across mountains
My first stop with a large mass of Tibetan flags just like I had seen on Instagram. Here I also met up with 2 separate groups of riders from India also on a two wheeled vacation, all on Enfields.
Reaching the peak of the Chang La pass, a nice brisk breeze, glacier looming in the background, a few photos and back on the road.
Catching my breath at altitude whilst watching the waters I would soon have to step into
It wasn’t long that my attempt to plow through the kilometres was halted, I had been waving to bikers I saw along the way and getting the same back as the traffic mainly comprised of recreational riders rather than locals. However as soon as one of my waves was returned with a ‘thumbs down’ I had to pull over.
The situation; an Israeli and Swedish had purchased Royal Enfields of a 1984 vintage and one would simply not start. The Swede knew his troubleshooting but it was to no avail. I offered to wait with them and put them in touch with the groups I had met earlier in the hope that one of them might be an organisedbike tour with a mechanic.
After some time, a singular RE rode up. He turned out to be from a group which comprised of a people mover in which his friends were travelling whilst he chose to be atop the Indian classic. Unfortunately, even local bike knowledge couldn’t get the hunk of metal started. What next?
Before this line of thought could be finished, 2 cars in a military convoy stopped to see what was going on. In typicl Indian 'helpful' fashion, they had to carry out the same diagnostics which surprisingly didn't resolve the issue. However it was at this point that the officer informed us that we were still a good 3 hours from where we needed to be…with about 1 hour of daylight.
In a last ditch effort we attempted to stop a truck to ferry the stricken bike back to Leh. After numerous excuses from the driver, we conceded defeat, wished the riders good luck and bade them farewell.
With an unspoken agreement the Indian rider, Thani, and myself decided to stick together as neither of us wanted to be caught out in dropping temperatures, rising glacial melts and roads we simply did not know.
We didn’t know it at the time, but our delays would mean that where there had only been small trickling streams earlier in the day were now gushing torrents that were shin deep. On narrow roads in the dark, it just wasn’t an ideal place to be.
We finally arrived at the lakeside accommodation options well into the night. Whilst my riding buddy had pre-booked accommodation, I was left to the mercy of the operators to charge me twice as much.
Waking up to the splendour of the lake in the morning seemed to make me forget the trials of the previous night. What a wonderful place it was; and to think that I was actually looking out towards Tibet out over the same lake
After a few shoreside photos (along with getting bogged in the sand, but lets not dwell on that) it was time to get back on the road to avoid a repeat of the previous day
After a quick self serve re-fuelling stop, most of the water crossings from the previous night had once again slowed to a trickle.
However, mother nature still had a trick up her sleeve, snow. This sent temperatures plummeting and in my summer track gloves, I had no choice but to use the bikes handwarmers
It was soon obvious that we were en route back to civilisation, a monk doing his thing on a tablet.
I was worried, if this is what the 3rd highest road had thrown my way, how was I going to tackle the highest road in the world next?