Khardung-La

Journey to the world’s highest motorable road (#WorldsHighestMotorableRoad):
It was June 2015, peak summer, just about when the mountain passes were opening up for traffic. A motley crew of 10 “young” men decided to conquer the world’s highest motorable road, a journey of a lifetime, one that I had been waiting for all my life. We were on 8 bikes and the remaining 2 in a car. We were quite an ensemble, some of us seeing each other for the first time. I for sure didn’t know all of them very well, definitely not familiar with everyone’s riding skills. The first halt planned was Jammu. Enroute, we witnessed crazy sandstorms and rains, visibility was down to few meters, forcing us (and other vehicles on the road) to a grinding halt, putting us way behind schedule.
A couple of breaks later (like broken rim, crashed bikes and broken egos, frayed tempers and some road kill), we reached Jammu, almost 20 hours after we started in Gurgaon! I was barely awake as I hadn’t slept a wink for over continuous 40 hours. Finally we did reach the hotel we had booked.
IMHO, could have been done in a lot lesser.
After a night halt and a much needed rest at Jammu we were all busy loading our luggage onto the bikes to start riding to Leh. A bunch of curious kids were looking at all the RE Thunderbirds, Classics, Desert storms and my Bonnie. It was very exciting to hear them speak in a dialect that sounded like Punjabi, but wasn’t. Later on I got to know it was Dogri:
Kid 1: Bhaiyya eh 350cc hai. (Bro, this is 350cc)
Kid 2 (the Bhaiyya): Arre oose chod, eh dekh 500cc (forget about it, see this, its a 500cc)
Kid 1: Eh bhi 350 (this is 350cc too)
Kid 3: Eh dekho kya mast miltree colour hai (pointing to the Desert Storm – look at this awesome military colour!)
All kids reach the Bonnie, looking really curious, until the smart bhaiyya looked at the T100 badge on my Bonnie and said very confidently Arre yeh to 100cc hai! (This one is 100cc) So much for the much touted 865 cc, 61 bhp bike. I was really foxed – do I join the others and laugh or go for a big #FacePalm!
The natural beauty of the hills is just unparalleled! It’s a non-stop feast for one’s eyes. We chose a lesser used path to reach Srinagar from Jammu. It is called the Old Mughal Road. It is a beautiful, winding narrow road via quaint villages. As luck would have it, it was raining cats and dogs, as we took shelter in the awning of this shop, the 3 beautiful kids, (don’t you adore those blue-green eyes…) offered us bread. To us tired, wet, frozen and hungry riders, it was heaven send! Another #FacePalm moment when the sweet girls told us that this was supposed to be eaten with subzi like roti, and not gobbled down like we did. When we offered to pay, the lil lad said Paanch Rupaiye, (5 rupees) we dug into our wallets the girls quickly said, koi baat nahin uncle, koi nahin. (It’s ok uncle, forget about the money). Do we lose this hospitality, the #Masoomiyat (innocence) once we urbanise? I wonder. Incidentally a common Indian way of addressing unknown men who are older than what one can call “elder brother” is “uncle”.

Our first Achilles heel was the Zoji-La pass. What made novices lead the way while the experts waited, I don’t seem to recall. But what certainly was out of this world was riding behind a mama bear and her cubs. Boy, could they run!

It was a case of scare them or drop your bikes and run back, there was no way we could do a U-turn in the slush and muck. I chose the former, wonder, in hindsight, if stand-off would have been safer. For, honestly, not sure we were more scared or them! We successfully crossed this pass with not too much further ado…
Riding further ahead, we met some chicks…
 Posed with battle tanks…
 Stopped over at the Kargil war memorial. An unexplainable emotion – just the question “why” kept coming up in my head constantly, why the wars, why the sacrifices, why hatred, why, why, why, WHY! No satisfactory answers ensured that I found one silent corner and shut myself down for sometime.
Continue from there we did, had to reach Leh. Stops enroute got us to meet some more local kids. DSLRs were out and flashing, kids posed, posed rather well, I dare add. But by the end of it all demands for Baksheesh got so loud that we had to scoot.
At a quick pitstop that soon followed, the disarming smile and happiness on the face of this kid on seeing bikes was priceless.
By the time we reached Leh district, some 80+ km from Leh city, it started getting cold and dark, we decided to call it a day. The quaint place was right next to the road, we sank into our beds. We convinced ourselves that this was the best thing to do to acclimatize ourselves to the altitude rather than racing to Leh.  The following day, we had a lot of time at our disposal, under 100km to Leh and the whole day ahead of us. We really took our time…
…crossed a few passes and felt snow fall for the first time… (before this, I had never seen snow falling, it has always been before or after snowfall!
Road was fantastic, for most parts we had amazing fun riding on one of the straightest roads, well maintained, with desert on both sides. We stopped for a few photographs.
And immediately after this photo, I tried to take a U-turn, most simple and basic of manoeuvres, but didn’t realize I was in 3rd gear. Bonnie couldn’t take this abuse, definitely not at this altitude. She stalled. And I dropped her, at 5 kmph! Doesn’t get more embarrassing than this huh? Broke my foot peg in the process. Quickly changed the one from behind to front and I was ready to hit the road again…
…not this way, if you know what I mean.
Continue we did, sometimes thumping, sometimes racing, sometimes waiting. But always ready to go…
…through the twisties at Lamayuru – moonland…
 …or one of the innumerable road blocks due to landslides…
 …or the magnetic (???) hills…
..or proving that I do not have ‘chicken stripes’…
 Got a royal welcome at the hotel, the place was awesome. Food was brilliant, it seems like a luxury to have a proper room with mattress, heating, laundry facility and even a WiFi. We kinda made this our base camp and after every expedition, we’d return to this hotel.
So continuing to thump, race, n wait; being eveready to go…

The customary pose at the mighty Khardung-La…

At the Khardung-La & Chang-La, Bonnie sure did grab quite a few eyeballs.
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Was overwhelmed with respect and a feeling of patriotism yet again. The presence of the soldiers patrolling there rain or snow is something that deserves a hell of a lot more than just respect.

It was quite a sight to see Bonnie merging right into the whiteness of snow. Bonnie purred along effortlessly through anything that nature threw at her, would have prefered a bit more of low end torque, but apart from that, it was perfect.

Visit to Nubra valley was something else. Dunno about you but seeing a sandy desert with camels amidst snow capped mountains was not something I had ever imagined
The experience at Pangong Tso was surreal! The color of water changing with time, the temperature changes, the very ride to the lake and the fact that we were literally at China’s border was something else
The tranquil peace at the lake made us all take off and do their own thing. Some took of for photography, other for a dip in the lake yet others rode of to more desolate spot to meditate, some chose to hit the bottle and yet others hit the sack!
 I guess I selfishly spent time with myself, mah gurl and stacking up a few pebbles…
 Finally called it a day in these tents. They were awesome in the day, when the sun was up. Once the sun set, I was breathless, no-no, not the awestruck breathlessness, literally breathless, oxygen deprivation. Was working up a sweat just to haul myself over to the toilet, yes sweating in freezing temperature! But it was an experience I’m ever-ready for an encore (anybody listening?)
And thence began the loooooooooooong return journey…
…many a nalah crossings…
…and a very interesting gent called Topi (the gent sporting the yellow helmet), life saver, literally…
…and one random skull in Mori plains, couldn’t resist the photo-op…
…and a few moments of peace and introspection…
 …and that of forced male-bonding (never before and never since have I slept so close to another man, there were 15 or so of us in mattresses and razaais good for I’d say 10). After a sound sleep (actually quite literally, for there were Harleys, Busas, RE w/o mufflers, Yams amongst our snorers)…
…and a lots of eventful-events later (omitting them here as they were less to do with biking and my running out of tongue-in-cheek ways to narrate them without ruffling feathers), when I was feeling rather pleased with myself and my achievement, saw this gent riding a cycle rickshaw from Jalandhar enroute Mumbai (a distance of 1800km). Saluted him and his journey, came back to mother earth, and returned home.
That brings me to a new beginning, but then that would be a new note.
Do circle back and check my page for new stories
Till then, continuare a correre Hmmm, #TheItalianConnection, story idea…

About the author:

Muralidhar (www.musingsinlife.com):

A biker | A blogger | An adventure junky | Animal lover

Tries to fit all of the above whilst working as a brand marketing professional. His blog is a product of contemplations, reflections and an unquenchable thirst for self-deprecating humour. It is the world as seen through the eyeballs of a salt-and-pepper *sixteen year-old* fighting off #MidLifeCrisis. No doubt perspectives will be different when seen by others and those are equally welcome in the comments section.

Disclaimer:

  1. This is written with a sole intention of laughing at and with the author, no offence meant to anyone else.
  2. No bikes or animals or bystanders were harmed while writing this.

Musings of a cyclist…

Experiences of cycling in India…
I guess this post holds for the rest of us on the right side of 40. This is about our childhood and musings with a cycle. Like most of us, I didn’t have a cycle of my own for a very long time. The high point in life was when dad would give 25 paise (currently about 0.0004USD) per day during summer vacations. This princely amount was spent on hiring a cycle of your choice for an hour. The choices included which cycle doesn’t have a loose chain, or which one had the breaks that worked, or the one that didn’t wobble too much. Well, life did give us more than our due share of joy back then.
Eventually, after working for a couple of decades, I finally got my first cycle:
Fell in love with the Wahoo from Gary Fisher collection. I rode her for a good 20,000 kms, was a good partner, but I wanted to enhance my range, therefore wanted something lighter.
Enter my 2nd cycle:
Found a steal deal in Trek 6700, she weighed in just under 12kg. Rather heavy heartedly sold the Wahoo to a friend. Still have the 6700. Both the gurls put together would account for over 75000km.
The cycles eventualy became my primary mode of transportation for a good time period, multiple reasons:
  1. The traffic and the jams ensured that travelling time in a car was four times as much as that in a cycle
  2. Parking slot were limited and were allotted by lottery system, and as usual, I wasn’t ever lucky enough to be in the list
  3. By nature, am too lazy to wake up early to go exercising/cycling, and long working hours were not helping the cause either. If at all, cycling had to blend into daily routine
But the stated reason, to justify the cost of the bike to my wife and her friends, was that the savings on account of cycling (parking, fuel & maintenance costs) offset the cost of the cycle, and over a period of 2 years, saved 2.5x its cost. For those who know don’t know the cost, I’m not gonna be putting it up here, am sure Google will come to your rescue. It would suffice to say that they do cost a bombshell a piece and to my defence I submit that I earned that expense multiple times over, and I’m not counting the health benefits (not sure if there’s any in today’s traffic and my luv affair with Orthopaedicians).
The gurls have been quite a crowd magnet. Everyone wants to know the cost, without fail, and the curiosity levels, lemme assure you, far exceeds that of the Maruti’s “kitna deti hai” (A quip from a famous ad of an Indian car – Maruti 800, enquiring about the miles per gallon equivalent) fame. Guess it helps them gauge the degree or level of madness of the rider. Couple of exchanges really crack me up, even today:
Him: Kitne ki hai (roughly translates to – What’s the cost?) #Cost
Me: xxx ki hai bhai (roughly translates to – Costs xxx bro? <cost intentionally edited out, read on to see why>)
Him: Arre mazaak mat karo (roughly translates to – Come on, done mess with me)
Me: Kasam se bhai (roughly translates to – Hey I promise)
These 1st four lines are common. The 5th line has a bit of variations, but the incredulous looks have been constant:
Him 1: Arre theek theek bolo, mazaak nahin. (roughly translates to – Cut the crap and tell me how much.)
Him 2: Aisa kya hai ismein? (roughly translates to – What’s it got to cost as much?)
Him 3: Kehlati to fir bhi saikil hi hai na! (roughly translates to – Its but a cycle right?)
Him 4: Chalti to fir bhi pair se hi hai na (roughly translates to – You still gotta pedal right?)
Him 5: Ek hi banda baith sakta hai, aur seat bhi itni patli. Double ride chodo, kuch samaan bhi nahin le ja sakte. Mere harkulees par 2 log aur 4 can le jaata hoon, woh bhi 800 rupaiyye mein (roughly translates to – Seats only one, that too on this thin seat. Forget two astride, can’t even carry any stuff on this. My Hercules <a popular work horse of a cycle in India> can carry 2 astride and 4 cans <of milk>, and all it costs is INR 800!) #Cost
Him 6: Battery kahan hai? NAHIN HAI? Fir itne paise kyon? (roughly translates to – Where’s the battery? No battery? Then why this cost?)
Him 7: Sone ki bani hai kya? (roughly translates to – Made of gold eh?)
Him 8: Hire moti jade hain kya? (roughly translates to – Are diamonds and pearls studded onto this?)
Him 9: Arre, itne main to do Hero Honda aa jayenge! (roughly translates to – At this cost, I can get to Hero Hondas <popular commuter motorcycles in India>)
Him 10: Arre, itne main to 2nd hand Marrutee aa jayegi! (roughly translates to – I can get a used Maruti 800 in this cost?)
After a few (actually quite a few) such exchanges, I wisened up. I decided to stop behaving like Harishchandra’s grandson (a figure of speech – refers to a person who always tells the truth, no matter what). I swore not to tell the price to anyone (and therefore the reason for its omission here as well). The 1st four common lines:
Him: Kitne ki hai (roughly translates to – What’s the cost?) #Cost
Me: Arre chodo na bhai, daam mein kya rakha hai? (roughly translates to – Let it be bro, what’s in the cost anyway?)
Him: Fir bhi… (roughly translates to – Still??)
Me: Arre bahut dard hota hai bhai, chodo na. (roughly translates to – It hurts a lot to say, let it be.)
And the variations in 5th line include:
Him 11: 20-25 ki to hogi (roughly translates to – Must cost INR 25,000 – 30,000, no?)
Him 12: Fir bhi… (roughly translates to – Still??? The I’ll-not-give-up guy)
Him 13: Mast hai bhai, Mere ghar ke paas bhi ek aisa waala hi hai, laal phair-phax hai (roughly translates to – Looks great bro. My neighbour too has a red Firefox, just like this one.)
Him 14+: Seemingly unrelated comments as below:
People (in a crazy sort of a way, including me) haven’t managed to figure out why we do this to ourselves, especially on “pointless” weekend rides:
Koi race-wase hai kya? (roughly translates to – Is there a race/rally of some sort?)
Kuch milta hai isse? (roughly translates to – What do you get out of this?)
And people are so sure that we are crazy that they always around for a total rip-off:
Saab, sirf 100 rupaiyye saab (roughly translates to – Sir, just INR 100. #Cost <A benchmark – to fix a flat on the Hercules described above, they take INR 5 – and he was asking twenty times this amount from me>) This was for fixing a puncture when I had a flat and had run out of my patches. I had to use my portable pump as 6700 comes with a presta valve, something that pumps are not compatible with. All that the guy did was lent me his patch while I did all the muscle flexing (mostly because I didn’t trust his capabilities) and he had the gall to charge 100bucks.
And then there are general questions:
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Bacche ko cyclist banana hai kya – asked a policeman at a signal waiting for the traffic to yield when I was riding with my son. (roughly translates to – Wanna make your lil one a cyclist?)

Kitne gear hai? (How many gears?)
Kitna tez bhagti hai? (How fast does it go?)
Ye diks break hai obviously refering to the disc brakes and not any part of the anatomy being broken
Poora taam-jhaam lekar chalte ho… (Oh, you carry all quick-fixes with you – when we were fixing a flat tyre)
The two gurls have seen me through a number of crashes, resulting in me being a Orthopaedician’s delight! Right from an amputated toe, to banged up knees, to a cracked hip, to broken ribs, to a dislocated shoulder and a cemented spine, just about every bone in my body has taken a beating. Seeing me hobble across the office soon became an extremely common sight. One fine day, my boss couldn’t help but comment –
Yaar, itne baar to gir chuke ho, kuch paise dekar chalana to seekh lete… (roughly translates to – Friend, you fall so often, why don’t you spend a few pennies and learn to ride?)
There are variants to this coming from other collegues –
Kitna gira hua insaan hai (A pun with the word fall, can’t find an English equivalent, anyone?)
Bechaara cycle (Pity the cycle!)
Chutti aise hi maang lete (roughly translates to – You didn’t have to do this just to apply for a leave)
Only spared site is the skull. So before I could become a Neurologist’s delight, a #SmallDecision has been taken to stop using the cycle for commuting! But that didn’t change the reasons why 2 wheels were prefered over 4, hence I got into my new musing(s) – biking (#ABikersMusings). Cycling is risky, so a heavier and faster mode – a motorcycle – is safer right?
And what must be said must be said – the 6700 sure’s been built like a rock, despite all the falls, she hasn’t got a scratch on her, not even a twisted handlebar!
To summarise, I have stuck to the traditional cyclist image to the T, one who gets agitated, has a short fuse, takes crazy risks… But only when one gets on a cycle and gets serious numbers on the odometer will they understand the reason behind this. The cyclist huffing and panting, giving all that (s)he’s got, gets the bike up to a decent speed, and that’s when things happen:
  • A car overtakes you and brakes right in front of you, cutting you off from the gap that was big enough for you but not for the car, but he cuts in anyway
  • At an intersection, motorist takes off despite see you coming, making you lose the speed that was built by spending sweat and blood, not by pressing that right foot
  • Some roads (quite rare though) do have earmarked cycling lanes. But these are promptly used for parking, what’s worse is these parked cars open the doors without looking for the oncoming traffic, let alone a cyclist. Small habits can change this and save lives <Video credit – https://www.outsideonline.com/>
  • Changing lanes to avoid a pothole is imperative, nevermind you killed a cyclist in process
  • And turning without indicators of course is a right by birth we Indians have
  • Then there is this grouse I have against the car manufacturers, in the process of homologation, they’ve shifted the position of the horn button to under the seats in their Indian specs.

 

About the author:

Muralidhar (www.musingsinlife.com):

A biker | A blogger | An adventure junky | Animal lover

Tries to fit all of the above whilst working as a brand marketing professional. His blog is a product of contemplations, reflections and an unquenchable thirst for self-deprecating humour. It is the world as seen through the eyeballs of a salt-and-pepper *sixteen year-old* fighting off #MidLifeCrisis. No doubt perspectives will be different when seen by others and those are equally welcome in the comments section.

Disclaimer:

  1. This is written with a sole intention of laughing at and with the author, no offence meant to anyone else.
  2. No bikes or animals or bystanders were harmed while writing this.

Big v/s small…

The eternal debate…

While choosing a soulmate, one that partners you for a lifetime of munching miles, it is a big tussle, heart v/s brain, left brain v/s right, various hats will be donned – logical /rational, practical…. Having gone through the complete cycle, and having taken all these decisions, I have homed in on to my decision.

Logically one would go in for a bike all the obvious choices – big engine with loads of power, large luggage capacity, big tank, shaft drive, good amount of creature comforts…

I did the same, went in for the Bonnie, and when I wanted even more of it, picked up the Multistrada 1200s. Close to 50,000km between the two gurls, (and many more miles with  the many other borrowed choices) I’ve reached my verdict, much to my surprise, don’t shoot me, please go ahead and repeat my mistakes.

My ideal jaunt:

My ideal gurl – 300cc (ok willing to stretch it to a maximum of 600cc) bike with about 40 horses and 30 Nm of torque, ideally most of it on the tap as low down the rev range as possible. Ideally weighing well under 200 kg, with a good suspension travel and ground clearance. ABS would be the only electronic aid if at all that I’d crave for, rest of the electronic nannies I’d gladly let go, for good.

I will try to break it down to logical buckets:

The Cost: The big gurls cost 3 to 5 times as much as the ones I’m now leaning towards. And that’s just the cost of purchase. There’s more, the service, maintenance, insurance, tyres and the spares. At the very least, under the most optimistic of conditions, it is 2-3 times more expensive for the bigger gurls. Obviously, with most of the accessories having custom connections, adapters, switches et al implies that the OEM (read extremely expensive) accessories have to be purchased. Simply put, nothing about them comes cheap. Alternatively you should be willing to give up the warranty by using cheaper, non-OEM stuff.

Speed: Sure, bigger engine capacity does mean higher (read much higher) speeds and DSC_9794.JPGfaster (read much faster) pick-up. There’s just no denying that. And the ear to ear grin when you kick the butt of just about everyone else on the road is quite an adrenaline rush. But that doesn’t necessarily mean better adventure. On long drives, consistent average speed matters much more than top speed. In fact, higher speeds on long drives can slow you down – for one thing, the breaks become more frequent, and the chances of avoiding unforeseen problems become higher. Finally remember, it is a road-trip, not a race – don’t speed if you want to see the world.

My idea of road trips is hitting the mountains where there are no roads, the twisties, lesser frequented trails. Ok, now let’s talk speed. In these conditions, bigger the vehicle, lower the speed. PERIOD. The fastest way down the mighty Khardung-La is on a puny bicycle. On bigger bikes, you always have something soft and round in your throat, hoping nothing gives. Trust me!

Unless of course you are one of those weekend warriors and a bike to you is but a social badge.

Weight: If you use your bike on the roads (or is it no roads) that I do, one needs to be DSC_0041.jpgable to change directions literally in a dime on the ruts and gravel. You need to be able to get yourself unstuck from muck. You need to be able to single-handedly push the bike in case there is a flat tyre. And you need to be able to single-handedly get the bike up on centre-stand. Finally, in these terrains, it is not a question if, but instead when the bike falls. And when it does, you need to be able to pick it up by yourself, you may not be lucky to find helping hand readily available. Those of you who have seen me can vouch for the fact that I, well how do I put it, am not best built for hard labour. 😀

Safety: To simply put it, a big bike is a billboard advertising the fact that I have loads of money, come get your share. It will never stop drawing attention towards you and your bike #Curiosity. Unless of course you can pull off a story like you are just and ordinary human, doing test-ride of a bike on behalf of the company – more on this on #TheItalianConnection. On the other hand, a small bike is easy to move in any terrain, park, pull by yourself when it dies on you or has a flat. Further, you can park a small bike without worrying much for its safety.

Luggage capacity: Come on, learn to travel light, you don’t need a big bike just to lug your house with you. You are on Earth, not Mars, you can find most of the stuff you will ever need on road. You don’t always have to carry your tent and sleeping bag wherever you go. Yes, it is kind of insurance policy, #JustInCase, I have never deployed my tent, EVER. Trust me if you were to be in such a situation ever, you would have spent all your energy by then. If tent does catch your fancy, you can always hire one. Similar is the case with a sleeping bag, only exception being up in the mountains when you don’t want someone else’s body-odor from the blanket. IMHO, you need same amount of luggage be it 1 week or 1 month.

So there, a petite gurl it is for me…

 

About the author:

Muralidhar (www.musingsinlife.com):

A biker | A blogger | An adventure junky | Animal lover

Tries to fit all of the above whilst working as a brand marketing professional. His blog is a product of contemplations, reflections and an unquenchable thirst for self-deprecating humour. It is the world as seen through the eyeballs of a salt-and-pepper *sixteen year-old* fighting off #MidLifeCrisis. No doubt perspectives will be different when seen by others and those are equally welcome in the comments section.

Disclaimer:

  1. This is written with a sole intention of laughing at and with the author, no offence meant to anyone else.
  2. No bikes or animals or bystanders were harmed while writing this.