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Old 08-26-2013, 09:15 PM   #1
7days1shower OP
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Trippin' through the Himalayas

In a bid to find out if motorcycle traveling is for me, I have been trying to embark on short trips to get a feel for it. My last was 8000kms in Aus on my GSXR600 and now I am going to be tackling 2 weeks in the Indian Himalayas. I'll update as often as I can get some decent Internet (currently in Leh, India)

My updates will be more periodic on my Facebook or blog if anyone would like to follow there also :)

Four wheels move the body, two wheels move the soul. And so it was that I decided to cut short as month long trip to Brazil and instead spend the last 2 weeks riding a family members borrowed bike through the Himalayas in India.
The plan, if it can be called that, was simple, to fly into Jammu in Northern India (a mere 30 hour journey) and ride towards Leh; a bikers paradise neigbouring Tibet and China from where I could spend a few days exploring some of the key routes in the region. The steed of choice; a KTM Duke 200. A locally produced bike but as I would find out later on, not a very common one at all, especially so in the North when trying to source spare parts.

The first 2-3 days of the trip were going to be reportedly mundane in ‘highway’ traffic (I use the term highway in India very loosely) making our way through Kashmir and into the open plains of the Ladakh region. The first step was to pick up the bike which had been shipped from the mid-eastern state of Maharashtra. Upon arrival at the depot, all seemed well with the packing, however it was only upon unwrapping that it was found that apparently someone had thought it a bright idea to use the clutch lever as a lifting point and in the process broken the bracket for the bike clean off.

With no KTM dealers in town and in fear of the trip being over before it began, it was time to hit up all the other spare parts shops in the area in an attempt to find a suitable part. As luck would have it, a part from the local company Bajaj would do the job, albeit bypassing the safety switch of starting in gear. No problem; $5 dollars later (inclusive of parts and labour) the bike was back on the road !

Since this ride covered a route mainly dominated by military presence it had been arranged to stay in military camps along the way, although this sounded like a great convenience there would be some significant drawbacks highlighted as the trip went on. It was quiet an experience however to be treated as a guest of the Indian Army and to meet the men who protect not only my country but also serve in remote and extremely violent places such as Sudan as part of the UN Peace Keeping Force.

So it was, after a night of packing and little sleep, it was time to hit the road

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Old 08-26-2013, 10:53 PM   #2
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Be careful out there

Kargil and Drass might be closed right now. Lots of ceasefire violations going on.
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Old 09-16-2013, 12:42 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by AdithyaK View Post
Kargil and Drass might be closed right now. Lots of ceasefire violations going on.
Was lucky enough to miss any issues :)

The ride plan was the easier of 2 options favoured by bikers in the the northern most state of Jammu & Kashmir; both ending at Leh. The options were either a route from Manali to Leh, a challenging route that traverses the 2nd highest road in the world (Tanglang La) or from Jammu to Leh which posed its own challenges. In terms of adventure riding, there were many mountainous regions to traverse as well as the dreaded Zoji La pass which is essentially 20km of muddy slipperiness unless you’ve been lucky enough to not have had any rainfall in the previous days. However the trickiest for me was the first few days from Jammu towards Srinagar which were riding on Indian highways full of traffic, diesel smoke and dust…so much dust.

The map illustrates the approximate route taken from Jammu to Srinagar (red lines, whilst blue indicates trips out from Leh) over the course of 2 days. Although shy of 300km, this was a gruelling 2 days dealing with cargo trucks on Indian roads and their unfiltered exhausts.

The first nights stop was in a small hill resort town skirting the NH1 (National Highway 1) called Patnitop. Although uneventful in terms of a place to stay, it did start promising hints of green through all the pollution and also gave me a chance to evaluate the bikes performance; reasonable but riding temps were quite high, thus began a daily ritual of cleaning the radiator with a toothbrush to keep it free of unavoidable Indian road grime.

And so, after a quick wash, it was back into the chaos of Indian traffic, the only reprieve was gaining altitude to get some spectacular views. Just had to remind myself not to get too caught up admiring the scenery for fear of running off the edge or being flattened by a plethora of trucks.

As always, eating while traveling is a gamble, not only because you don’t know what it’s going to do to your stomach but also because you simply don’t know what you’re going to get. So when I stopped at a roadside café in Banyal and asked if they had food, the conversation went something like this.

“Do you have food here?”
“Yes”….*bring out plates of rice and mystery meat*

Tasted brilliant on an empty stomach though !

From there on, it was a matter of getting on with the task at hand and with only trucks and dust around me, photography was put on the backburner until I arrived at the military accommodation in Srinagar. I learnt upon arrival that up until 3 days prior the city had been under military curfew for 8 days due to militants ambushing and killing approximately 20 Indian soldiers in a convoy. As a result of this, security in the military camp was extremely high (understandably) and a small paper work mistake by a clerk in registering my number plates meant a 2 hour wait at the gates whilst everything was triple-checked. Whilst I understood the need, this combined with being strongly discouraged to go outside the military base for a bit of exploring, I could see ongoing military accommodation playing havoc with my usual travel habit of exploring freely.

After a great feed during the night and day and getting as much dust off me as I could, it was time to set off again the next day towards Sonmarg. This was where I was told the traffic would ease off and the dust would transform into a green nirvana. And while I could breathe a little easier from the lack of constant diesel fumes a new problem reared its ugly head…

(Note the lone overland cyclist in the background; I hadn’t even noticed him till I saw the photos!)

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Old 10-07-2013, 06:44 PM   #4
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Having pulled over as soon as I saw the engine check light come on, a hundred things started going through my head as to what may have gone wrong with the bike. Luckily for me, started with the basics, topped up the oil to level and lo and behold, problem solved. Still, having to unpack the few spares I had to get to the oil made me feel partly industrious at least!

From there on, the short ride from Srinagar to Sonmarg was a drastic change in landscape to lush green valleys with cool, fresh streams of water flowing by the road. A welcome relief from the dust and pollution of the past days.

The stay in Sonmarg was at yet another military camp, this time, with much less security restrictions than the last. Although the accommodation and food was great, along with a free tank of fuel from the army to boot, I promised myself it would be the last military stay for this trip, I needed to meet more riders

The next day brought with it a new challenge. Having now moved out of the chaotic traffic, it was time to encounter some “roads”. The first of these was Zoji La Pass, a 15km odd stretch dreaded by many on the Jammu to Leh route as it was quite often wet…and this without fail turned the stretch into a giant sludge pit. We had been keeping up with weather reports for the previous days and had somehow come across a 3 day dry spell. Although still very damp in places, the road at least allowed my road tyres some traction.

The original plan for the day was to ride to the town of Kargil, site of the India-Pakistan war in 1999 and then to do a day ride out to the Zanskar valley the next day to take in its snow capped peaks. However as I was stopped at a police checkpoint I got talking to a Canadian who had just finished close to a month touring in the region and he insisted that I try a newly opened route off the beaten track to Lingshed; a place with no paid accommodation (home stays only) accessible by a hiking trail turned bike trail. So armed with a photo of his map in lieu aof any of my own and placing my trust in another rider I set off to pass the town of Kargil and keep pushing onto this promised nirvana, only stopping to visit the war memorial along the way.

The realisation that I’d lived on beans and rice for 2 weeks in Brazil only to come back to an Indian equivalent

As time ticked by, I slowly realised that it would be a stretch to reach Lingshed the same day so started to look for a place to stay in the next town I got into; Mulbek. However it seemed that at around 4pm, with most places having had no customers, the guesthouses shut their doors leaving me with only the option for ‘glamping’ (glamour camping); a bit pricey, but without any camping gear of my own, it would have to do.

With a breakfast wrapped up, it was time to stop by the last petrol station for 400km if I was to make it to Lingshed and then onwards to Leh. Overnight I had managed to scrounge an oil can and assorted water bottles to be able to carry a spare 10L; more than enough.

However as I got on the road I started to feel nauseated, at first attributing it to the effects of the ever increasing altitudes I was riding at and periodically pulled over to calm myself down.

As I pulled into a small café to eat, one of the workers there commented on the strong smell of petrol which I had at first put down to the fact I was just carrying a whole bunch of it. Turns out the 5L oil can had been leaking at a steady rate with the fumes sending my stomach turning. With all attempts to seal it off failing I had no choice but to donate the fuel and hope that an extra 5L would suffice.
Unfortunately at the same café, whilst loudly discussing my plans to go to Lingshed, I was informed that the road had been covered by a landslide a mere two days ago and being Sunday, work wouldn’t begin till the next day…at least. So, having taken a gamble and skipped Zanskar Valley in lieu of this, I had no choice but to push on all the way to Leh
Slowly I could see myself delving deeper into Buddhist culture, monasteries and Tibetan prayer flags becoming abundant

Whilst I had dealt with a fair bit of bad road thus far and had a couple of moments, I had managed to keep the bike upright. But of course, it decided to go for a nap when completely stationary. Whilst stopped for a quick drink of water I heard a huge crash and looked up to see my steed on its side. No photos of the quick nap but the offender was some fresh and hot tarmac which had swallowed up the side stand. Thankfully the only damage was a cracked mirror and a bent clutch lever.

From here, it was back on the road into Leh to park up and get 3 days worth of road grime off

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Old 10-22-2013, 06:48 PM   #5
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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?
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Old 10-23-2013, 09:31 AM   #6
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Very very cool
My screen name is kind of long. I am the "ME" part, my name is Cory.

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Old 10-23-2013, 06:08 PM   #7
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Great pics and story..
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Old 10-23-2013, 08:43 PM   #8
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Excellent adventure! Great images and scenery. I'm sure this solidified motorcycling adventures as a big plus in your life. Safe travels!
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Old 10-23-2013, 11:11 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by Hotmamaandme View Post
Very very cool
Originally Posted by * SHAG * View Post
Great pics and story..
Thanks guys :)

Originally Posted by rootsy View Post
Excellent adventure! Great images and scenery. I'm sure this solidified motorcycling adventures as a big plus in your life. Safe travels!
It has indeed mate. A combination of this trip in August and attending a Horizons Unlimited last month; I am now in the preparation stages to quit my job and start a RTW mid next year :)

But more on that later !
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Old 10-24-2013, 03:12 AM   #10
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Great pictures!! I'm dying to ride that part of the world. I'm in Australia now from the States touring around, but eventually would love to make my way there overland! Keep up the great posts-

Check out past and current adventures:

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Old 10-24-2013, 04:36 AM   #11
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Good stuff
Only problem with your report is that now I have to add another place to my bucket list
thanks for sharing
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Old 10-24-2013, 06:36 AM   #12
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Originally Posted by lakota View Post
Good stuff
Only problem with your report is that now I have to add another place to my bucket list
I agree with lakota, excellent ride report and photos! I've ridden at 16.5K FT elevation in the Andes and I am really enjoying you high altitude adventure.


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