Start of the day (19 August 2018)
The location of the Lharje resort at Sumur is superb, the surroundings were lush green, with a garden, and beautiful view of mountains and a number of streams gushing through small channels. There were several apricot and apple trees in the garden. Rooms were clustered at different places in groups of two each. The dining area was separate.
I got up at 6 AM. It was cold but sunny, the chance of rain was less. I stepped out of the room for a short walk. A beautiful morning in natural rustic setting is an experience in itself.
After capturing a few photographs, I returned to the room and again tried to sleep for some time. Then got ready and went for the breakfast. Fresh home-grown apples were a part of the breakfast. Fuel was topped up in the bikes. We had our ride briefing at 8:30 AM and left around 9 AM.
Sumur to Khalsar
This first leg of journey was relatively easy; however, the road had broken patches, dust and small water streams at many places, the uphill gradient was mild. There was very less traffic up to Khalsar. After starting from Sumur, Manish captured a few photographs of the group. Around 9:45 AM we crossed, Khalsar after covering ~ 25 KM.
Khalsar to North Pullu
From Khalsar, the ascent to Khardung La starts. The road had sharp hairpin bends, dust, and broken patches and water streams. At a couple of places, the water streams were in very narrow portion of the road. From Khalsar the traffic also increased in both the directions. The tourist taxis are driven at high speed ☹, so we had to be more careful. We took a couple of stops to allow the engine to cool down. After covering 40 Km, we reached North Pullu at 11:20 AM.
North Pullu to Khardung La
Khardung La is just about 16 Km from North Pullu and we left North Pullu at 11:45 AM. These 16 km have the steepest gradient. There is no road, and whatever is there is full of dust, stones, mud, and water crossings etc. Almost every turn here is a blind V turn and to complicate the matters there is traffic of speeding tourist taxis. On the side of the road, you can see deep gorges about 3000 to 4000 feet depth. On one turn you are on the side of the gorge (vulnerable) and on the other you are by the side of mountain (feeling little secure). If a vehicle falls down, there is no chance of survival.
About 2 Km before the Khardung La top; on a steep vertical narrow incline, big dumper truck was reversing. I stopped the bike at a safe distance and thought of letting the driver reverse. Till now the driver had not seen us. The first time the driver saw us was, when he was at right angle to us, and tried to tell us to move away from the truck’s path, but I could not understand his signals nor hear him. I started the bike and released the clutch and brakes, but it hardly moved on the steep gradient. Now the driver was losing his patience as he had obstructed complete traffic in both directions; the bike was not moving on the gradient and controlling it was proving difficult. Realizing the situation, I moved the bike to other side of the road, and allowed the truck and the traffic coming in opposite direction to pass through. Some anxious moments!
Above 5000 m, due to scarcity of Oxygen in air, you are not able to think clearly. Once again, I started the bike, but it was not delivering enough torque to navigate the gradient. I then realized that there was something wrong with the bike, and waited for the backup vehicle. By now Pankaj and Lalit also reached the place, where I and Chandrakant were waiting. In about 10 minutes, the backup vehicle arrived, Imran bhai inspected the bike and diagnosed that the air filter was completely clogged with dust, limiting the flow of air into the engine. This was causing the bike to deliver less power / torque. Imran Bhai then replaced the filter, and the problem was solved.
We reached Khardung La at 1:15 PM. It took us 1.5 hour to cover the last 15 Kms of ascent from North Pullu. We had started from Sumur at an elevation of 3000 m and at Khardung La we were close to 5400 m. With the feeling of being on top of the world; this was coming true of a dream.
At the top of the world – Khardung La (~ 5400 m)
The scene at the Khardung La was that of a tourist spot, and it actually is – due to its altitude and the risk associated. Several tourists and riders all over the place. Cars, SUVs, and bikes. People with cameras to capture those moments. Since the possibility of acute mountain sickness is high here tourists are advised not to stay at the pass for more than 15 – 20 minutes. One can see Siachen Glacier range from the pass on a clear day. Khardung La gonpa is just besides the road. There is an army check post at the pass with basic medical facilities.
The road to Khardung La is one of the dangerous and very high-altitude roads in the world. We took some photographs at the pass and moved towards Leh.
Khardung La to South Pullu
South Pullu is another 15 Km from Khardung La. After staying for about 15 minutes at the pass we left for South Pullu at 1:30 PM. There was a minor land slide, but the BRO team cleared the road in 15 min. From Khardung La (5400 m) we had to descend ~ 2000 m into Leh at (3500 m).
The road from Khardung La to South Pullu has steep downward gradient with sharp turns, several patches of mud, dust, and stones. Heavy traffic was coming in from Leh and a cavalcade of army trucks was following us from behind. This made the driving experience more chilling. In the muddy section it is very difficult to control the motion of the bike. Baskar applied brake in a muddy patch and by sheer luck managed to control his bike. We saw several people coming to Khardung La on bicycles, hats off to their passion and energy levels. We reached South Pullu at 2:15 PM. Wayne’s motorcycle had a flat tire and it was attended to after the arrival of the backup vehicle.
South Pullu to Leh
After a refreshing cup of tea and hot Maggi noodles we left for Leh around 2:40 PM. The descent continued but the road condition improved. After riding for a few kilometres, I realized that even after applying brake in full force bike speed is not reducing. But we decided to continue. For next 20 kms I rode in first and second gear, with speeds below 20 Kmph, carefully negotiating the descent and sharp turns. We reached Hotel Khasdan around 4 PM.
We shifted to our rooms and ordered tea for us. Chandrakant , Pankaj and I remembered our elder brother Shri. Akhileshkumar Jain and his life in the Army and especially at the Siachen Glacier. We barely manage to walk 100 m at altitude of Khardung La.
Incredible ride of my life today, we started from Sumur at 3000 m level, ascended to ~ 5350 m at Khardung La and then descended to 3500 m at Leh all, in a span of 7 hours.
Hall of Fame Museum Leh
After relaxing in the rooms for some time, we decided to go to Hall of Fame museum of Indian Army. We asked the hotel staff to help us book a taxi. Around 5:30 PM we reached the museum. This museum is big, and well known. There are various sections dedicated to different units of the army. Every section has pictures from battles fought by the army, citations given to the gallantry award winners including the PVC, and MVC, and the weapons used by the soldiers. Amar Jawan Jyoti (Flame of the Immortal Soldier), a continuously burning flame is kept here. There is a section about the region of Ladakh as well. We wrote down our thoughts for the army unit of that day – the Kargil Battle School. We then saw the Beating the Retreat parade, that is organized here every day. A lot of people had come to see the parade.
How can a man die better? Than facing fearful odds,For the ashes of his fathers, And the temples of his gods.
End of the day
For some time in the evening all of us used the wi-fi in the hotel and spoke / sent messages to family members. Then we went for the dinner.
This was our last night in Leh. From the next day, our three-day ride to Manali was going to start. Since there are no fuel pumps up to Tandi (350 Km), after the dinner we topped up fuel in the bikes and the fuel cans were also filled and kept in the backup van. After returning from the fuel pump, I took backup of phone and camera and put everything up for charging. Packed the bags, and then chatted with Pankaj, Chandrakant and Lalit for some time. It was almost midnight, when we went to bed. Alarm was set for next day morning at 5:30 AM, as we had to leave by 7:30 AM. The sequence of today’s events kept on playing in the head, before the body gave in to sleep.