HimalayasJourney

Overlanding in the Himalayas #3: The Journey Begins-Arriving in Leh City (Day 1-Day 3)

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Day 1 – Flight from Bangalore to Leh City

 

20th Oct 2019

On my previous ride “Long Way Round”, I finished my packing completely only two hours before the ride. I had an hour of sleep after that and rode for the first hour with eyes half-open. I ended up taking a nap in a dhaba after a mere 60 kilometres. 

This time, my packing and preparations were complete well in advance. By that, I mean 5 hours before my departure! Well, I wasn’t getting on a motorcycle straight away so I put that time to the best of use, by spending it with those I wouldn’t see for the next 120+ days, my family. The sadder part of going away from home for such a long time was leaving my babies behind, Snoofy is a 13-year-old Indie and Duke, a 6-year-old Lab.

The clock hit 3 a.m and my closest friends, my biker boys, Battalion Bikers came home to escort me to the airport. I bid farewell to Snoofy and Duke and got in the car with my brother Chandu and friends Mohit and Jeet. My parents along with my sister Sangeetha and brother-in-law Kiran followed us in his sedan. I stay in the north of Bangalore right next to the airport road and that 40-kilometre highway drive at night is one of my most favourite. With my hand outside the passenger window surfing the wind, my eyes wandered far beyond the dark horizon. This ride is one of my life’s biggest dreams. The beginning of a new phase in my life and I looked up at the sky and thanked the stars for making it come true.

I bid goodbye to my family and friends, my loved ones and walked into Kempegowda International Airport. I boarded my flight to Delhi on which I passed out for the length of the journey and was then transferred to the flight to Leh city which was a short one – hour flight. After taking off, as I looked through the windowpane, I could see the mighty Himalayas, waiting for me. This sight got my heartbeat racing. The flight touched down at Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport at 11 a.m. It was 7°C with the sun shining bright and I boarded a taxi to Shanti Guesthouse where I would be staying for the next 3 nights.

After a four hour nap, I wandered along, the almost empty Shanti Stupa road singing “Yuhi chala chal rahi”. and “Yuhi chalke” and I ended up reaching Leh market. Since this was my first time in high altitudes (the city is at an altitude of 11,562 ft), I struggled to walk those few kilometres to the market. I found a neat little Cafe named Rabsal Cafe and sipped on a Cappuccino to warm myself up as I waited to meet an old friend Rajendra in the market, whom I dearly addressed as Sir. I met Rajendra sir two years ago on Long Way Round in Delhi and we stayed in touch ever since. That is what travelling does to two people right? Binds them together for a lifetime over a single meet. This time, I was honoured to meet along with him, his wife Harminder Kaur Ji. After three hours of ‘Travel talks,’ I retired to my hotel and bed with my heart still racing due to the excitement.

Day 2 – Exploring Leh City 

The October temperature in Leh City during daytime hovers around 7°C – 10°C and at night it drops to a few degrees below zero. Having good warm gear is pivotal to getting a good night’s sleep and waking up fresh the next day. I had on, both my thermal fleece liner and jacket along with thermal pants. And jumped into my sleeping bag which ensured I woke up fresh to admire the mountains through the window in front of my bed.

bike riding trip

I began my walk back to the market gleaming with joy like a little kid. For, I was on my way to pick up my ride for the next nine days in Ladakh! The market, unlike the previous evening, was full of colour and life. I enjoyed a cup of tea in the German Cafe before meeting Arnab who had arranged the Royal Enfield for me. It was a matte black Classic 500. I took it for a short spin and satisfied, I paid my advance for the rental. I was warned though, that due to the cold climate the battery had become weak and that I’d have to kick start the bike every morning. As a person who’s owned only a KTM all my life, riding a RE was going to be an interesting experience. 

I thumped my way from the market to the Shanti Stupa that lay on top of a hill in Chanspa. It was built in 1991 by a Japanese monk Gyomyo Nakamura. It overlooks the entire city of which it provides a mesmerizing panoramic view along with that of the mountains beyond and all around. 

Day 3  – Getting my Ride and Travelling to Lamayuru

I woke up with the same freshness to look at the same beautiful mountains with more awe, only to find an interesting addition in the scenery – the Royal Enfield. I’m a sucker for anything black and her look stole my heart. I decided to name her Ebony. The plan for the day was to ride to Lamayuru which was 115 kilometres away. A journey which I began by learning how to kick start a cold motorcycle! Honestly, with the altitude, I struggled for a good 15 minutes before the owner of the hotel decided to end the struggle by lending a hand.

Among the many things about Ladakh that get people drooling, the one that I drooled over was the arrow-straight section of the Leh – Kargil road. It’s not about blasting the bike at full power but the joy of having a view that spanned for miles! And the beauty wouldn’t end there. Each turn brought with it a new wonder. I couldn’t resist stopping every few kilometres to take my camera out and I couldn’t resist going off the road and getting on bridges to click pictures. And with my never-ending photo breaks, the 2.5-hour journey went on for 4.5 hours.

riding

Just before I reached Lamayuru, I saw the strangest landscape. It seemed like the set of a Hollywood sci-fi film and was aptly named Moonland. It had several shades of brown where Khaki was the most prominent. The shape although, is a lot harder to describe which would be better left at the hands of the pictures to do. From there, Lamayuru was a stone’s throw away. There was only one hotel open in the town, the one right next to the monastery. I explored my options and chose the corner room on the first floor which gave a beautiful view of the valley below. 

bike riding to leh city

The Gompa (Monastery) at Lamayuru was built in the 11th century and is one of the oldest monasteries in Ladakh. When I saw it for the first time, I had no problem believing that. It looks the part with the paint faded in most places or even chipped off, bricks have fallen off in places and some crumbled structures. At first sight, I thought it was abandoned until I saw a monk walk in. I took a stroll around the monastery and with shivering hands (it was really cold that day) I followed the path the monk had taken. He was performing the last prayer of the day in the prayer room and with the permission of another monk, perhaps his disciple, I walked in and had a seat on the warm wooden floor of the cold dark room. I believe the prayer was in Tibetan as it is a Tibetan monastery, and although I could not understand a single word, it’s power was felt. I sat there for an entire hour with absolute silence lost in the prayer.

leh city

After a while, a devotee walked in carrying a traditional painted glass flask with hot tea and some biscuits. The monk took a break from the prayer and sipping on his tea asked me if I wanted some. My answer was an obvious yes. I had my tea quietly as the monk got back to his prayer. I waited for half an hour more till the prayer was complete and asked the monk if I could take his picture. He told me his name was Konchok Sundous and I figured he was the head priest (Abbott) of the Gompa. After the prayer, he was courteous enough to give me a small tour of the monastery. And as the sun went down he walked back to his house and I stayed back (shivering to the winds) to gaze at the beautiful orange – black clouds spawning at the end of the horizon laughing at my earlier assumption that the temple was abandoned. 

Recommended Story – PREPARATIONS FOR OVERLANDING IN THE HIMALAYAS

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