Ride de Shinku La

𝙳𝚎𝚊𝚛 𝚁𝚎𝚊𝚍𝚎𝚛𝚜, 𝙸 𝚊𝚖 𝚍𝚎𝚕𝚒𝚐𝚑𝚝𝚎𝚍 𝚝𝚘 𝚑𝚘𝚜𝚝 𝙲𝚊𝚙𝚝 𝙹𝚊𝚒𝚙𝚛𝚎𝚎𝚝 𝙹𝚘𝚜𝚑𝚒 𝚘𝚗 𝚖𝚢 𝚋𝚕𝚘𝚐 𝚝𝚘𝚍𝚊𝚢. 𝙹𝚊𝚒𝚙𝚛𝚎𝚎𝚝 𝚒𝚜 𝚊 𝚏𝚊𝚗𝚝𝚊𝚜𝚝𝚒𝚌 𝚑𝚞𝚖𝚊𝚗 𝚋𝚎𝚒𝚗𝚐 𝚊𝚗𝚍 𝚊 𝚠𝚘𝚗𝚍𝚎𝚛𝚏𝚞𝚕 𝚏𝚛𝚒𝚎𝚗𝚍 𝚝𝚘 𝚝𝚑𝚘𝚜𝚎 𝚠𝚑𝚘 𝚔𝚗𝚘𝚠 𝚑𝚒𝚖. Catch him at Insta @capt.jaipreetjoshi / http://www.fitcomb.com / twitter : @fitcomb

Introduction

The evil tentacles of Covid19 held our heads down for long but now in Oct 2020 after things had started easing out we also planned  a much awaited ride . Also, the Atal Tunnel at an altitude of 10,000 ft was recently inaugurated and made open for the public and I thought of being one of the first few to ride through it.

The Plan 

I zeroed down on Shinkhu La or Shongo La which lies at an altitude of 16,703 ft linking Zanskar and Lahaul as it is one of the most unheard of passes and wanted to nail it before it becomes commercialised like another ‘Pangong Tso’ courtesy (sic) ‘Three Idiots’ (a bollywood blockbuster). The plan was quickly scribbled :

Day 1 – Gurgaon – Kullu 

Day 2 – Kullu – Manali

Day 3 – Manali – Shinkhu La – Manali

Day 4 – Manali – Swarghat

Day 5 – Swarghat – Gurgaon 

Total Distance – 1500 kms 

My dear friend and martial arts student Shridhar Sinha was itching to ride to the hills and hence this plan of a hill ride crystalized so quick.

Prep

Post plan acceptance , it was time to prep our machines for this challenging ride from 600 ft of pure non sense to 17000 feet of heavenly glory. Since mine is a carbureted machine , I did not forget to carry a few small size main jets to cope with the high altitude sickness called fluttering and loss of power. A set of spare tubes and Motul tube inflator was catered to also. Complete overhaul and check was carried out post which we shopped for some snacks , energy bars, meds and other essentials.Winter wear was also dug out and shown some sun , riding boots cleaned and polished . We were now fully prepped or at least that is what we consented on and now it was time to kick off.

D Day (Gurgaon – Swarghat / 370 kms / 10 hrs)

Captains log started on 9th Oct 2020, RV for start was opposite Suncity at 0530 hrs but Shridher got delayed by 30 min hence we kick started at 0605 hrs .The nip was in the air and the feeling of riding in the nice cool breeze was elevating. Karnal byepass was crossed in less than an hour and we were now zipping on NH1 which had by now swelled up with traffic. We meandered our way through and stopped for breakfast at Aman Dhaba near Sonipat. Post a light meal comprising of butter toasts and tea we resumed our journey. It was now around 4 pm and we were nearing Swarghat after intercepting a farmers agitation  near Ropar which delayed us by good 45 minutes. It also coincided with my RE riding boots tearing open (probably due to non usage for long). Paid Rs 120/ to get the wide open lips of my boots stitched together as I had no other option available. Since we were in no hurry to reach Manali, we decided to anchor at the Hilltop Hotel at around 1600 hrs.. What followed was a small stroll through the local market where we picked 2 cans of Budweiser to celebrate day 1 of the ride . Dinner comprised of Chicken Rarha and we hit the bed early.

Day 2 (Swarghat – Manali / 240 kms / 6.5 hrs) 

Manali was now about 240 kms but we decided to start at leisure and then reach there by eve. But our plan changed as soon as I read a message from my unit officer Col Amitabh , Shaurya Chakra (my first company commander) to join him for lunch at his place at 1330 hrs . I treated this like a dictat and how could I even say ‘no’ to my senior officer who was extending himself so wholeheartedly , so we hurried up and finally started off at 0700 hrs. From Mandi we took the more cleaner and definitely much picturesque route through Katoula to Bhuntar and then Manali. The road was meandering and left almost no scope to overtake but it was very much worth all the efforts out in.At 1345 hrs we were at Manali Green Cess Collection Point, another 20 min and we were knocking at ‘Ambrosia’ , Amy sir’s (Col Amitabh) cottage built out of pure love and passion standing tall in the village of Kaniyal about 600 ft above Manali town.We had some beer to wash down the sumptuous meal prepared by Sudha mam’ , who is one amazing cook and a very warm and jovial hostess. By the time we finished the meal and were about to take some rest we were told by them to join them for a dinner hosted by Border Roads to celebrate the inauguration of the Atal Tunnel. It was a wow feeling to be amidst the entire team of engineers and military officers who made this dream come together as a formidable team in a resort on the left bank of Beas. It was a sheer pleasure to hear about the insights into the making of history at 10,000 ft by none other than the Chief Engineer (Project) – Atal Tunnel , Mr K P Purushothaman. It was an evening well spent but we decided to call it off a little early to prepare ourselves for the ride next day to Shinku La , also known as Shingo La .

Day 3 (Kaniyal , Manali – Atal Tunnel – Darcha – Shingo La / 140 kms / 5 hrs)

Though we started early to cross the tunnel before its maintenance shut down from 0900 hrs to 1000 hrs but we got a little delayed at the Manali Gas Station due to some Paytm payment not showing credited into the account of the Fuel Station but getting debited from mine. The lesson learnt was to either pay in cash or card to ensure immediate remittance. We somehow managed to reach the entry point just before time. 

We were feeling absolutely heavenly riding through this work of art at 10,000 ft stretching at 9.02 kms. We soon passed through the tunnel and steered our way towards Sissu. The ride on the newly constructed road through Tandi , Keylong , Jispa and Darcha was a sheer pleasure where we zipped past 80 Kmph on the odo. We took a well deserved halt at Darcha over momos and thukpa after getting ourselves registered at the Darcha Police Post. The next 2 hrs of ride from Darcha to Shingo La was not only arduous but challenging. The stretch is about 40 kms which winds through gravel, rocks and dry patches. The turns are sharp and some of them hair pin tight . Maintaining momentum acquires significance or it becomes very tough waddling the bike up hill with depleted oxygen levels.

Shingo La Pass is at a height of about 17000 ft with piercing wind chill making it tough to stand tall for long. Since the rider with me – Shridher reached after about half hour, I had a terrible time weathering the strong cold winds. As soon as he joined me we clicked a few pictures and shot some video to fall back quickly as the cold winds were torturous. We started back at 2 pm and took our first halt at Darcha over a cup of tea. Another cup of tea and sandwiches happened at Tandi Transit Camp as the Officer Commanding was my Army course-mate and there was no way I could miss out on him. Having done with the adieus and good byes we resumed our ride , overtook a beeline of cars waiting to get back to Manali and beyond through the tunnel. By about 1920 hrs we made it back to Amy sirs’ Ambrosia, took a nice hot water shower in his state of art bathroom which can give any upscale condominium in Gurgaon a run for its money. Having washed away the fatigue, we clinked our glasses to cheers and had some amazing food over loads of chit chat. Finally we retired at around 2350 hrs.

Day 4 (Manali – Swarghat / 225 kms /6.5 hrs)

We took the standard route via Pandoh – Mandi – Bilsapur – Swarghat which for sure was a pathetic decision. With loads of road construction work enroute, the ride back to Swarghat was actually bone crushing and equally so for our bikes, Tired and battered, we called it a day at Swarghat where we chilled ourselves over Budweiser and some nice mixed veggies and egg bhurji. It was goodnight at 2130 hrs to prepare for the final home run.

Day 5 (Swarghat – Kharar – Mohali – Dera Bassi – Ambala – Panipat – Delhi – Gurgoan / 350 kms / 7 hrs)

The early birds hit the roads at 0600 hrs to avoid crazy traffic being a working day. I was zipping past on open stretches and crossed Mohali at 0800 hrs. Thereafter there was no stopping and I took my first stop 10 kms short of Ambala. Next was a refuelling break near Karnal. I entered Delhi at around 1130 hrs but the traffic at Karnal Bye Pass was maddening. I meandered through the loads of vehicles on the dusty, grimy roads and hit home at 1300 hrs sharp.

Thanked God for a safe, no trouble, one amazing ride to Shinku La !

Road to Leh, Lifetime experience

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The best part of visiting Ladakh could well be the mesmerising, serene journey on road. Two roads connect Ladakh to the rest of the India. Of these, the Srinagar – Leh highway, or National Highway 1 (Srinagar – Leh route), is easier to handle, and more convenient than the Manali – Leh highway.
The terrain is not so challenging, the Srinagar – Leh route is also dotted with scenic, ethereal spectacles, that transport you to another world altogether.

Coming More, keep visiting my site.

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Road to Leh – Lamayuru

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Lamayuru, the first view as you approach from Kargil on NH1 towards Leh.

While Manali Leh highway is adventurous. The Srinagar to Leh road is scenic, has a better support system, great stay options and is easier in terms of acclimatize.

With : Harish Bhargava & LetsLeh

Leh, Ladakh–Little piece of Heaven

The roof of the world, the land of the lamas, LEH, LADAKH– India’s cold desert amidst the majestic Himalayas, has some of the most beautiful landscapes on earth. Situated at the  northern tip of the country and nestled at an altitude of 3500 meters above sea level,  the small and bustling town of Leh is one of the highest habitable places is the world. Ladakh is nature in all its glory and the beauty is awe inspiring.

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The Road to Leh is legendary and traverses through some of the highest passes in the world within the Himalayan range. The rugged beauty all around, it’s winding roads, blue rivers and green valleys, skies that create drama with ever changing weather, sunrise and sunsets creating an array of colors, monasteries hanging off cliffs, will draw you into a trance. Words can barely do justice to describe this magical place and the records stand testament. Lonely Planet has rated Ladakh one of the Top 5 destinations in the world for photography.

Two of the must see places in Ladakh are Pangong Tso and Nubra Valley. These locales are close to heaven on earth. En route Pangong you will see breath-taking panoramic views and the first sight of Pangong Tso is unforgettable. It’s a pristine blue saline lake, 125 KM long and by the hour the water takes on the color of the sky. The cloud formations on the mountains create stunning shadows and water holds the reflections of the surroundings. The lake is completely frozen in the winters and is a sight out of a fairy tale.  Nature’s miracles are bewildering and Pangong Tso is one of them.

On the way to Nubra Valley you drive through the Khardungala Pass, the highest motorable road in the world at 18380 feet above sea level. It’s an exhilarating experience to be at such high altitudes; the air is thin and crisp and makes you literally feel “On top of the world”.  Nubra valley is a desert with sand dunes, two humped camels and the flowing river cuts through the mountains. Taking a fun camel ride across a high altitude cold desert, where else in the world can you do that? An oasis called Hunder in the midst of the desert houses nature camps where you can experience wilderness, peace and quiet.

Also known as Little Tibet, Ladakh boasts of a rich and ancient culture where Buddhism is prevalent as a religion. Some of the Buddhist monasteries are centuries old and are situated at the most stunning locations, usually at the edge of cliffs creating a surreal feeling. The architecture of the monasteries is unique and the murals on the walls are beautiful works of art.  A feeling of divinity sets in when you see the monks during their prayer session.  Leh is an abode of Dalai Lama and he spends few months of the year in Ladakh preaching Buddhism.  The monasteries host festivals each year to showcase their culture, tradition and the local artifacts. These festivals are marked by colourful dancers with masks, local folk music and food.

Ladakh has something unique to offer to all kind of tourists and does not fall behind on the adventure quotient.  The land of bikers – its every ardent biker’s dream to ride their mean machines on the highest, most rugged and picturesque roads in the world. The adventurous riders travel more than 300Miles to get to Leh and ride within Ladakh to Pangong, Nubra and many other unexplored destinations equipped with their camping gear. Bikers from across the world come to Ladakh just to experience this high.

Rafting the Zanskar and Indus rivers with views of the hills in the backdrop is an adrenaline rush. This is one of the most famous and sought after rafting destinations in Asia and the rafting tours can range from 3 hours to 16 days where rafters travel downstream, camp and stop to explore the terrain and the varied landscape.  It is a trekker’s paradise as well and the trek to the Stok Kangri summit at 20,182 feet is a dream climb and is known to be achievable by amateur mountaineers as well.

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Ladakhi people are extremely warm and hospitable and they live a life of simplicity and honesty driven by the Buddhist way of life.  The food has a Tibetan influence as well and you can try the local cuisine at some of the lovely restaurants in Leh town.  The locals play a lot of competitive Ice Hockey in winters and Polo in summers. These sports are very unique to this region due to the climate and terrain.

Inputs : Harish Bhargava

Photographs : Harish Bhargava , Amit Vakil

About Harish Bhargava

The tranquility of the place grows on you and one such person who was awestruck and drawn to the beauty of Ladakh is Harish Bhargava.

He is from Delhi, India and his family hails from an Indian Army lineage. His first visit to Ladakh was in 1977 and he has been in love with the place ever since. Studied at the Air force school and being from an army background, he was exposed to many remote and rugged locations in India. On the professional front he has spent considerable part of his career working with the best multinational brands and before founding his passion ‘LetsLeh.com‘ was the IT Director of Adidas in India.

Over the years, he has travelled the world and still feels Ladakh is one of the most magnificent and beautiful places incomparable to any other.  His passion for the place compounded with every visit and 35 years hence decided that he wanted to do his bit for Ladakh and founded LetsLeh.

Letsleh.com ‘s vision is to provide the most accurate and upto date information and to guide people on how to plan and make the best of their trips to Leh, Ladakh.  The motto is to grow awareness about the place and its incomparable natural beauty. He wants others to experience the passion and excitement of the place that he feels even today after he has been to Leh crazy number of times :-)

One could be lost in its serenity, awestruck by its natural beauty and Leh, Ladakh could leave you longing for more.  History speaks for itself; most people that visit Ladakh want go back. The passion is in the air and spreading far and wide so LetsLeh.

Do visit www.letsleh.com for more details .

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Do visit www.letsleh.com for more details .

Memoirs of a Wandering Nomad – Part 3 – By Shreekant Vijaykar

Here’s to the third absolutely crazy madcap bike ride of the three Nomads. This time, the distance is the greatest ever. The terrain we scaled is equally great in beauty and the fun, unimaginable…

There’s nothing like unplanned trips. Correction, there’s nothing like trips planned for one thing and which materialize into something totally different.

This is about a trip planned to Mussoorie, which went right out of the window the night before, because of one bright idea. The idea is that we’ll go to Chail (near Shimla) rather than Mussoorie. Reason? Just like that. So we leave Noida Saturday morning 17 August 2002, 7:15am. The weather is pleasant, rather sunny. We travel 30-odd km through Delhi, passing Rajghat, Red Fort and ISBT. We come out of Delhi. The road turns to the right and slowly the signs of the metropolis fade into the background. We cross Sonipat (50 km) and then Panipat (another 50 km). Only a Maratha knows what happens to him with the mention of the word “Panipat”. The Panipat of the actual world is however too crowded and urbanized to be even compared with the Panipat of Imagination. I keep the Panipat of Imagination untouched and move on.

The road to Chandigarh (NH-1) is huge, sometimes three lanes wide. There are lush green fields on both sides almost all throughout. The road is marked with signs of Chow Devi Lal and slogans of Chautala. I hardly had any sleep and the roads with their wide and straight stretches are highly soporific. I find it hard to keep my eyes open. Ambala is 200 km from Delhi. We notice the huge railway yard to the left of the road and the Ambala Cantt to the right. The road gets narrower, has tall trees on both sides and has some character (i.e. some curves!). It is customary that a bee stings Imran every time we go biking. This time it’s even better as two bees bite him at the same time. He screams with agony. We halt at Verka milk outlet, have flavoured milk and ice creams. Imran keeps modulating the screams. We are now 15 km away from Chandigarh. We turn right for Shimla, planning to visit Chandigarh while coming back. We halt at a dhaba on the outskirts of Chandigarh. Bad food, but anything’s good for a hungry stomach. The road takes a slight inclination and we reach Kalka, the base of Shimla hills. The main road through Kalka market is steep uphill and by the time we come out on the other side of Kalka; we see a deep green wall of mountains facing us. The fog on the hilltops makes them look more towering.

The journey here on is beyond description, with the smooth blue road zigzagging upwards and deep valleys on both sides. We pass through Parvanu, a small industrial town. Further up, we see the base of the mountain trolley called Timber Trail. 1.5 hrs on this road and we reach Khandaghat. We leave the main road that goes to Shimla, and take the right turn to Chail. The road gets narrower and more winding. Chail is 37 km from here and the road is simply superb. It winds its way through cedar forests and the chill in the weather suddenly jumps on us, like a white kitten hiding behind a door. Some 2.5 km before Chail, I notice that Imran’s rear tyre is flattened. Thankfully, there is a hotel on the other side of the road, on one side of the valley. The owner of the hotel is a kind old man. He calls up a mechanic in Chail market to find out if the shops are open. We remove the tyre with one collective effort and Imran and Lalit go to the market to get the puncture undone.

I sit in the veranda facing the valley with the hotel owner, with a cup of hot tea in one hand and my sketchbook in the other. The hotel owner, G B Verma, is a retired army chap and has a lot of stories up his sleeves. We talk about life, universe and everything else. He offers me some apples plucked from his own apple orchids. I invite him to Delhi. He smiles and declines. Says he is better off away from the clamour of the metro. Once the two are back, we resume our journey to Chail. It is 5pm by now and positively chilly. There needs alteration to our initial plans of reaching Kufri by evening. Anyway, Chail is so beautiful that it is difficult to let it go behind so easily. Also, Verma has told me that the road to Kufri is very beautiful and if we scale it at night, we’ll lose the fun. We decide to spend the time in Chail. Wise decision in retrospect.

There is a steep uphill road starting from the main mall of Chail and going up in deep green forest, which has a good “road closed” board placed at its beginning. But the sight of the road is so stunning that we cannot resist ourselves and push our machines through the opening. This is perhaps the steepest our bikes have ever scaled. Once on top, we find ourselves near the 75-year old Military school of Chail. Some further steepness takes us to the world’s highest cricket ground (7500 ft). The ground is Military area and properly fenced. But you can see the ground through the barbed door. There is a football ground and a basketball court too. There are a few people playing football and few dogs playing their usual games. We travel back down to the market and then to the famous palace of Chail. It is getting dark by now. There are quite a few visitors strolling the lawns of the palace. The palace is well lit, since it is quite dark by now and fog is setting in the area. The managers mistake us for NRIs, with our bikes and trekking sacks. They are very sorry that it is a busy weekend and they do not have any rooms available. We make sorry faces, make them feel miserable and then walk out, trying hard not to burst out laughing. The tariffs are in the range of Rs. 4000/- per room.

We climb down once again to the market, hunt for a hotel, get a room for Rs. 250/- (this is called really climbing down from the palace!) and then have grub at a decent place and hit the sack. The next I know is Imran calling out my name, for it is 7:30am in the morning. I am positively annoyed at Imran for waking me up so early, but keeping in mind the long day ahead, I know he’s right. So we pack our stuff and get out of the room. The hotel owner is busy in his daily pooja and does not notice us taking our bikes out. I wait for him to finish his pooja and then ask him what he would have done if I had gone off without paying. He smiles and asks me, “How much can you take from me?”. I feel better about life already. I pay him happily and wish him well.

The road from Chail to Kufri (26 km) is heavenly. The cedars are tall and huge. The road is old and unattended. It has patches all over and looks like an old ragged mattress. There is very little conversation among us, for the scenery and the bad road keep us sufficiently pre-occupied. I am filled with unbounded joy and peace. We come across a huge resort at Shilonbagh. We plan to have tea and park our bikes in the porche. The place has a full-fledged buffet breakfast and the managers are ill at ease having three vagabonds asking just for tea. We curse them and they give their well-practiced sugar-coated smiles (meant specially for irate customers). We, in turn, have good fun at nobody’s expense. A five-star hotel that does not even have tea! Bah! (It is a different story that the breakfast, inclusive of tea, along with juices, omelettes and what not, is for 200 bucks).

We near Kufri, just before Kufri, we pass through a wildlife park. The road follows the raised & barbed fences of the park. This part is at 8500 ft, the highest motorable road in this region. I have a strange pressing feeling in my ears. Soon we start the downhill and I feel better. At Kufri, we halt near a small joint, order omelettes and tea. The omelettes take long, but are very good. The bread is especially soft. And the weather is just right for tea. We eat silently sitting on the bikes, facing a valley and the apple orchids in it. The downhill road to Shimla is wider than the road we’ve been travelling since morning. Kufri to Shimla is 16 km and the road is quite pleasant. It scales one mountain range to another and we see the entire loop we’ve covered since yesterday. The first sight of Shimla is obscene and unattractive. Shimla is a city. That too, it is the state capital. So it is as filthy and populated as any other. Only it is built on hills, and so the roads are inclined. There is hardly anything beautiful in Shimla (apart from the native girls, of course). So we speed through the city, drop the idea of visiting the mall as vehicles are not allowed and take the road back to Khandaghat. This road is wide, yet winding. It is fun riding. It is also the scariest part, since the traffic is quite thick here. We reach Khandaghat by 12:30pm and resume the road to Kalka and then Chandigarh.

We reach Chandigarh by 2:30pm. We have a tiny rendezvous with the Chandigarh traffic police. The friendly chat mainly revolves around the fact that we had broken a signal and gone the wrong way of the road. We pose as college students, bail out our sad story and somehow come out of the conversation. No monetary loss, thankfully. We celebrate the success of the trip with some coffee in the Chandigarh Barista. There is hardly any reason for me to mention about the Chandigarh girls, for their fame is well spread. We leave Chandigarh by 3:30pm, with our minds and bodies rejuvenated. Some 10 km before Ambala, we get caught in a torrential rain. The visibility is next to nil and our bikes shake with the heavy wind. We are drenched and as wet as one can be. We ride cautiously at 15-20 kmph. With Ambala behind, the furry of the rain subsides. Another 10-15 mins and the rain stops completely. We have a new problem though… the wind. I am pretty sure by now that all three of us are going to go down with pneumonia by the time we reach Delhi.

We halt at a dhaba where I change into some warm clothes. We have “garam garam” pakodas, daal makhani, rotis and chai. Life is much better now. Dusk sets in soon as we resume our journey. The road, as mentioned before, is wide and straight and therefore rather boring. It is the last lapse that is most tiring in any journey. It is so here too. Kurukshetra – Karnal – Panipat – Sonipat… Problem.

Just after Sonipat, some 30 km before Delhi, Imran’s bike does a jigg at 80 kmph in the middle of the road. Our souls come out of our bodies for a moment and then feeling the cold get back inside. The rear tube burst. We were lucky to find a mechanic just across the road. Another half an hour goes. We reach Noida by 11:30pm on Sunday 18 August 2002, safe and in one piece each. People ask me what our next plans are. They are surely joking. Right now, I just want to sleep… sleep like there is no tomorrow. But I also know that by the time the next weekend comes, the Northern wind will blow once again in our ears and we will be once again out on the roads.

– Shreekant