This article has been contributed by our guest blogger Daisy Basumatary
Travelling and mountain biking have been in a serious committed relationship for long now, and it’s not hard to understand why. The captivating Himalayan terrains form the most perfect backdrop to this plot and the result? You are blessed with an enviable experience of a lifetime.
Biking to and around Ladakh is known to be the Holy Grail of bikers trails anywhere in the world. High mountain passes, thin air and stunning landscapes; this route fuels up the adventurous souls like no other. It is a dream to make your passage through this extraordinary terrain.
Buckling up at Manali
A group of 52 riders, we buckled up at Manali up for one of the most exciting journeys of our lifetime. The organizer and support staff consisting of over 8 members briefed us on the itinerary, highlights eagerly awaited, dos and don’ts for the ride. Fuel tanks were filled up, jerry cans stocked up (to last till we reach Leh) and we set off. The best riders are aware that they must beware. Being alert and keeping ourselves well hydrated is imperative while riding in this challenging route.
Once we set off from Manali, it’s a traverse to a new and magnificent world. Mountains dressed in sublime green and strikingly carved rocks along the road is more than a delight complementing the adventurous ride.
A ride of about 5 hours led us to Jispa where we would be halting for the night. Riding into Jispa is riding through a piece of paradise literally. The mountains here exuded a golden radiance over the sublime greens as the sunset glowed to its best. And what a delight it is to check into tents lined along the riverside nestled amidst awe-inspiring mountains. The evening spent sipping the undisputable Old Monk as we relax at the canopy tent by the river bank is no less than a trance.
Off to Sarchu
Next morning we rode off to Sarchu, a highly picturesque place. Tents set amidst massive desert mountains are a sight to behold. But Sarchu also test your physical adaptability with its high altitude (known to be at higher altitude than Leh) and strong weather conditions. Interminable chilly winds hit the head straight. Covering ourselves in multitude of layers, we set off for a walk by the Tsarap Chu river in the evening caught in banter with co-riders joining in from different zones of the country. The barren splendor of this place captivates the soul to the core.
Leh: Not too far
The third day ought to be a long ride but our excitement levels only going higher as we would be reaching Leh. The ride from Sarchu to Leh is the most dramatic escape we ever experienced, often called by many as “highway to hell”. The flat terrains do not last long. Gata Loops, a series of hairpin bends take us up by more than 1500 feet in less than an hour’s time. A slight diversion of your eyes here give you a spectacular view of a line of bikers trailing below and layers of roads going back and forth at different heights. Then comes the most awaited tarmac of the route, the kaleidoscopic More Plains. The vast expanse of this plain is a major attraction to bikers heading to Leh from Manali and had all the riders going crazy with each trying their own little biking stunts. Flanked by captivating mountains on both sides, it last for about 30-35 kms after which we head towards Pang. Pang is a visual extravaganza. Unique soil formation, life infused back into the scenery and a clear river flowing alongside the road, this is a landscape that sets you free totally. As the barren mountains got further glistened by the late afternoon sunlight with sights of colorful prayer flags fluttering, streets lined with willows, we know we arrived to one of the world’s most magnificent destination of Leh.
What a marvel!
Leh gives you all options in accommodation. The Grand Dragon pampers guests mighty with its flamboyant facilities and impeccable service. If you are looking to experience traditional local flavors, go for the quaint homestays filled with the warmth of a quintessential Ladakhi hospitality.
Khardung La, the highest motorable road in the world
We spent the evening exploring the local market followed by dinner at the quirky Bob’s Café. The next morning after stocking up on fuel, we rode off to Khardung La, the highest motorable road in the world. This stretch of the road exposes us to some of the roughest terrains in the entire journey. Snow curved roads and rocky patches are complemented with cobalt blue skies and sparkling snow tops that stayed with us the whole time. Cool air, breathtaking views, snow covered mountains around; we walked around a bit at Khardungla Pass. It’s not often that you get to see the world standing at an altitude of 18380 feet though it is not advisable to expose yourself to such an altitude for long due to the low oxygen levels and harsh weather conditions.
Khardungla is also the gateway to Siachen Glacier and the mystical Nubra Valley. Watching a parched desert landscape change into beautiful valley of flowers is what makes the ride to Nubra a magical one. We stopped by at Khalsar on the way relishing some delectable local vegetable delights and meat served with rice. Simple and flavorsome, it tasted divine. We spent the evening walking around the undulating sand dunes at Hunder. Famous for its camel safari and shadow shots in the sunset, Hunder is a tourists’ enchantment where we camped for the night. Early morning we visited the Diskit Gompa known to be over 600 years old. A view from the Gompa offers unmatched views all around.
Set your soul free at Tso Kar
Returning to Leh, we visited Pangong Tso, the numero uno attraction of Ladakh. However, the highpoint for us was our last destination Tso Kar. The route to Tso Kar lets you ride on tarmacs that set your soul free with scenic landscape that connects to the heart. A bit of off-roading and dirt biking from More Plains leads us to the heavenly Tso Kar Lake. This fluctuating salt lake located in the Rupshu Plateau and valley in the Southern Ladakh is gorgeous beyond imagination. It was a straight out of a movie kind of scene we experienced when two wild horses ran crossing us as we ride around this stunning backdrop. We camped at Tso Kar for the night… but… advisable only for the adventurous with ample endurance level. Cold wind kept blowing the entire night at a mighty speed that screamed to the ears and the temperature went sub-zero at night. But dawn breaks and the splendor of the place leaves you spellbound. Riding back to Manali via Jispa, it was only about treating the eyes to the scenic multi coloured landscape and speeding off the smooth tarmac.
Not to forget
Since the ride to Leh is long and can be challenging at times, it’s prudent to travel in groups. There are many operators such as Eccentric Travels which leads bikers from across the country. Managed professionally and offering all back-ups such as trained mechanics, oxygen cylinders and support staff, they ensure that we experience the ride of a lifetime, a dream of many.
PHOTO: Daisy Basumatary
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