On a cold chilly evening, somewhere between Baralacha La pass and Sarchu, we look for a place where we can end today’s ride and call it a night. Our almost bare feet are numb by now. Far off from where we stand, the sight of a bunch of resting tents with a few motorcycles parked instantly lights up our hopes. We are riding a Royal Enfield 350 bullet, with just slip-ons on our feet. We do not have anything to warm our hands. I cannot feel my digits anymore. They do not seem to be a part of my body. The flowing water on the almost non existent road descending from the majestic Baralacha La pass has frozen and we can’t stop our bike from skidding. This is the third day of our impromptu road trip from Delhi to Leh. And we have started to realise that we are completely unprepared for our first bike trip in the Himalayas.
The plan was to Visit Leh from Delhi via Manali and come back via Srinagar. Both of us had not done any road trip in the Himalayas before, although I had done several treks and Himalayas is like a second home to me. The Manali – Leh route had just opened and I convinced my friend by sending him beautiful pictures of the barren landscape of Ladakh. I kept my friend unaware that it was one of the deadliest road trips in the whole world as I didn’t want him to turn my proposal down. For him, it was going to be a hunky dory ride.
We took a Royal Enfield 350 Bullet on rent from Delhi and started in the midnight for Manali. The stretch from Delhi to Mandi is boring, and roads are full of trucks and buses. After crossing the town of Mandi, traffic reduces a little bit and the terrain also starts soothing you, making the ride pleasant. It’s a well maintained highway and the scenery around the road lets you forget your tiredness. By the evening, we reached our destination of day one, the beautiful town of Manali, nestled in the Himalayan hills. Manali rejuvenates you with her comfortable weather, fresh air, the melodious Beas river, apple orchards and mountains wrapped in green blanket of trees.
We started late the next day and aimed to cross the first high altitude mountain pass of our journey, Rohtang La, and reach Keylong, the district headquarters of Lahaul valley. Crossing Rohtang La, which connects Kullu valley with Lahaul, is an extremely tiring task as it has endless hairpin bends and steep curves.
As we ride up, the barren high altitude hills replace the lush green mountains, making us run out of oxygen. We see the first patches of snow on the way and soon, road is the only part of surface that does not have ice on it. It’s chilly, windy, foggy and scary. We get our Old Monk bottle out, have a few pegs with Maggie and start our way down to Lahaul valley.
The road down from Rohtang made my friend realise how tough the road conditions are going to be and he starts asking me endless questions about the road ahead. I ignore him and keep him busy by giving him an account of the legends related to Himalayas. Soon after descending the soaring Rohtang pass, we ride along the river Chenab. At Tandi, we enter into valley of river Bhaga which is one of the major tributaries of Chenab. As the night wore on, the sky filled itself with countless stars. Soon, we reached Keylong where we checked in at the hotel for overnight stay.
We are not carrying any extra fuel with us. The next fuel station is in Leh, so we have to go back to Tandi, the last petrol pump on the road till Leh. Today we will be crossing the second of the five mountain passes on our way, the Baralacha La pass, at an altitude of 16000 feet. The real thrill starts today. The sun is high above our head and the glaciers are melting in full flow. We stumbled while crossing the first water stream, but soon got used to it. After crossing zing zing bar and the Suraj taal glacial lake, which is the origin of Bhaga river, we reached Baralacha La top. Baralacha La had just opened for traffic and it was completely covered in snow. Untouched raw beauty of the gigantic mountains and crystal white glaciers left us spellbound.
The sun is going down and the cold starts to bite, this time even harder. The water on the road has frozen, making it difficult to ride on further with our preparation. We badly need waterproof shoes to keep our feet safe, but there we are exposing our feet to the deadly cold in slippers. Black ice and steep descent is making it almost impossible to stop the bike from skidding. Slowly our hands and feet are freezing, and we cannot feel them. We shudder as we realize we do not know when our ordeal is going to end. The sight of a few tents far below with some motorcycles parked in front of them gives us some hope. On reaching the tent colony, we head first to the fire and put our feet directly into it. Slowly our dead feet start coming alive. As we sit there warming ourselves, we understand it was a huge mistake to cross a mountain pass after sunset. We got an earful from the tent owners and the other seasoned bikers there. The tents are just below Baralacha La pass, which means the altitude is too high and we can’t breathe. My friend has given up by now and wants to return. The truth is, we are completely unprepared. We do not have the essentials – Waterproof shoes to protect our feet, hand gloves, extra fuel, warm socks, windcheater, waterproof pants…Nothing. My friend has made up his mind. We will return from here.
We started back early the next day and reached Manali by the evening. The day after, we paid homage to the magical Parvati valley which has a well deserved reputation for its wild and cultivated crops of charas. After a healthy high night, we began our journey for Shimla riding via the beautiful Jalori Pass.
We learnt a lot from our first road trip in Himalayas. The most important learning is, respect the mighty mountains. And with the same respect, now I visit Himalayas every now and then. Now I don’t call Himalayas my second home. This is my only home.