Category

Which biking accessories to buy before your first bike trip? (Part 2)

Manali to Leh bike trip

In this second of two-part article, about the type of bag you'll need, why you should have more than one pair of gloves and why balaclava is the best biking accessory you never knew you needed.


Previously, we told you about what to keep in mind while buying helmets, jacket and boots. Today, we'll take you through some of the other essentials. Read on to find out.

4. Bags


Now this one’s a bit tricky. You need to consider a number of parameters before deciding which type of bag you should buy. The same person can need different bags for different trips OR different bags for different bikes OR multiple bags for a single bike on a single trip. You get the drift.



North Rajasthan bike trip
Cramster saddle bag on the rear seat. Gives enough space to tie more luggage on top of it.

So let's look at some of major types of bike-specific bags available in the market so that you can make an informed decision:

- Regular Saddlebag: This one is similar to the traditional horseback saddlebag; you can put your stuff on either side and two bags are connected by a bridge which rests on the rear seat so that you can either place more stuff on top of it or the pillion rider can sit on it provided they can still reach the footrest (often, the saddlebags cover the rear footrest). Some latest models come with provisions where you can detach the bridge and can carry only one of the two if you have limited stuff to carry; and some have straps that convert saddlebag into backpack making it even more versatile.


There are two main types of saddlebags as far as shapes are concerned: straight and angular. Straight ones are for bikes which have straight(er) exhaust pipes like Royal Enfield, Pulsar 180, Yamaha FZ, etc. An angular saddlebag is designed to keep room for the upswept exhaust of sportier bikes like in case of KTM Duke and others.


- Tank bag: Tank bags are used to keep important stuff like bike’s papers, route maps, mobile phone, camera, etc. If you have a metallic tank, say, a Royal Enfield, safely go ahead with a magnetic tank bag which’ll hug your tank without the need for any messy harnesses. Else use a bag with harness. If you don't want to spend money on tank bank, tie your regular backpack using bungee cords. More on that in section 6.


- Tail bag: Some people use this in addition to OR in place of a saddlebag. The tail bag rests where your pillion rider would otherwise sit. It’s only recommended if you’re certain that you’re not going to have a pillion along the way. 😉


- Metal carrier: More commonly known as the Ladakh carrier, this metal cage is almost always seen on Enfields plying the Ladakh/Spiti/Himachal/J&K routes. The carrier has space for all your luggage and also have special sections to carry the fuel cans. The carrier is not just for rental bikes, you too can get one installed on your Enfield but do it only if you’re a seasoned rider and plan to do long distance trips regularly. Do not install this on city commuter and sports bikes like Yamahas, Apaches, Pulsars and Dukes. The carrier will ruin the bike’s body panels.



Srinagar to Leh bike trip
Ladakh Carrier as seen on a Royal Enfield


Tip: Try to buy a bag with a rain cover. If it doesn't have one, buy yourself rain covers made out of cement bags. An adventure shop in Manali specializes in them and you can get these for less than 100 bucks. I've used these bags on a number of rides and they're still in impeccable condition even after being lashed with rain and muck for thousands of miles over the years. 


5. Gloves


Which type of gloves you should buy depends on where you’re travelling. Similar to the jacket, a pair of gloves with ventilation holes will definitely keep your hand sweat free on a hot day but your fingers will freeze in cold climate; at the same time, sealed gloves are great for winters and rain but in summers, your hand will be in a puddle of sweat. 


It’s absolutely okay to buy more than one pair of gloves and keep changing as per the altitude and weather conditions through the route. They don’t take up a lot of space and you can easily carry 1-2 extra pairs with you in your tank bag.


RELATED: PART 1 OF WHICH BIKING ACCESSORIES TO BUY BEFORE YOUR BIKE TRIP

Just remember two things:

- Buy gloves that extend a couple of inches beyond your wrist. Ideally, no skin should be visible between the gloves and jacket, the two of them should overlap and give you a 100% protection from the external elements. 

- Make sure the gloves have knuckles. Carbon fibre or titanium knuckle gloves will cost you more than a 150cc bike but even in low-range, say, ₹1000-3000; you can get gloves with plastic/rubber knuckles to protect the skin from getting ripped off in case of a crash. Having said that, you may or may not get knuckle protection in rain or winter gloves; but make sure that the padding provides sufficient protection.


6. Bungee Cords


If you have a BMW R1200 or a Honda Goldwing where everything will fit perfect without moving or sliding even an inch inside the metal containers, then skip this section. Else read on.



Motorcycle trip - saddlebag
Flexibility of bungee cords at play

You can buy yourself either branded bungees (300 bucks for a 3 ft one) or unbranded ones from your local hardware store (50-70 bucks for an 7-8 ft one). Three-way and spider bungees are other options, but they cost anything north of 500 bucks. Personally, I prefer using multiple unbranded bungees - cheap, versatile and durable; and doesn't hurt if you lose or break one. I always keep couple of extra ones with me and have often given to other riders who're struggling to tie their luggage using ropes.

7. Balaclava


Balaclava is to guys what tank top is for girls. Super versatile! There are so many uses for it, you will never want to part with it. Balaclava is the most bang for your bucks out of all your biking accessories. For just 200-300 bucks you’ll get a balaclava that’ll cover your face and neck during winters, soak the sweat during summer, cover your skin from pollution and dust in city traffic, double up as an ear band during cold/noisy nights and act as an eye mask in bright light. It is so versatile, you’ll be surprised how you lived your life without it so far; in fact, you may even want to use it during your daily peak hour ride to work.



I've morphed the balaclava into an ear cap to protect my ears from gale force winds at the Namila La Pass at 12000+ altitude. Take a look at the prayer flags on top right to understand the force of the wind.

If you look closely, you'll realize that the point of all the protective gear is that not a single part of your skin is exposed to the elements. 


From top to bottom: helmet (head) – balaclava (neck) – jacket (torso) – gloves (hands) – jeans (legs) – boots (ankle and feet).


Though it may look a bit expensive, remember, they’re investments and will last you years. You’ll be reusing your equipment again and again and hence, they’re an investment in your biker lifestyle and not an expense towards a single trip. 


P.S. I haven’t included knee pads because I find them restrictive and not useful enough; thick denim does the work for me. However, if you really feel the need, and if it makes you feel secure and protected, go for it.

Tag : ,

Which biking accessories to buy before your first bike trip? (Part 1)

Manali to Leh - Rohtang Pass bike trip


Heading for your first bike trip but don't know what you need? Well, we have the answers. Read on to find out about the most essential biking gears that you should have.

A bike trip is the most exciting thing you can do on a road with your clothes on. As exciting it is, it can also be a bit intimidating if you’re doing it for the first time. But it’s better to be a bit frightened than being over confident. I always say this to all adventure enthusiasts: Be 98% brave and 2% scared; a bit of fear keeps you alive.

Hence, it’s of utmost importance that you keep all the essentials with you. In this first of two-part series, here's a list of the biking accessories that you need to buy before undertaking your bike trip.

1. Helmet


Manali to Solang Valley to Rohtang Pass


Since you already ride a bike, I’m going to assume that you already own a helmet. But, is it the right one? In India, most people wear helmet just to be on the right side of the law and escape the fines; and not as a protective gear. Take a good look at your helmet and make sure it’s good enough to be taken on a multi-day trip.

Here are a few do’s and don’ts:

- DO NOT use a half face helmet. Yes, it looks cool in all those biking commercials but god forbid if you crash face down, that beautiful jawline will be history. 
- DO NOT use tinted visor. It may block the sunlight during summer but when the sun goes down and when the truck’s high beam will hit your visor on those dual-lane highways, you won’t be able to see jack… Either spend more and get one of those dual visor helmets or use a clear visor and wear sunglasses underneath. Note: aviators and wayfarers won’t fit under the helmet; only the sports glasses, which stays stuck to your face, will do.
- DO NOT use a brand new helmet. This is not a very obvious one and people often buy a new helmet on the day before the trip thinking, “What can possibly go wrong?” Well, lots. I learnt it the hard way. I lost my favourite helmet a day before my ride and had to urgently buy a new one. On the third day of the trip, due to the vibrations, the visor’s screw came off on the highway while I was riding in fifth gear.

Don't forget to read about my article on why every biker should visit Pali (Rajasthan) at least one.

2. Jacket


That's me wearing a Cramster jacket
Biking jackets come in all shapes and price points. Not all biking jackets will make you sell your kidney ***cough-Alpinestar-cough***. In India, you can get a long-lasting, padded jacket for as low as 4000. RJays are one of the cheapest ones and start at 4-4.5k but my personal choice is Cramster (6k). I’ve been using it since past 5 years and it’s tough as a tank. 

Keep a few things in mind before buying your jacket:

- Is it water proof? You’ll find yourself riding in torrential rain and snow and the nearest town will be 50km away. At that time, if you don’t have a waterproof jacket, lord help you. 

- Is it layered? You will get really cheap jackets with a single layer but it’s useless if you’re planning to use it for more than one trip. A summer jacket will have lots of ventilation holes but you’ll freeze to death if you wear it to Khardungla. Similarly, a winter jacket will provide great insulation but can you imagine yourself wearing it while riding to Goa or Rajasthan
A layered jacket will have ventilated external with a detachable second layer that you can use in case it gets cold. Also, as you ascend or descend the altitude during your ride, you can easily add/delete the extra layer.

- Is it padded? The purpose of biking jackets should not be to make you look like a “biker” but to protect your body (ego not included) in case of a crash. Hence, always go for padded jackets. They’re heavy but they take the fall for your mistakes. You can either have sealed in pads/panels or detachable ones. In case of the latter, you can remove the shoulder/elbow/back/forearm/chest pads from their respective pockets, wash them and easily put them back.  

3. Shoes


That's me wearing gum boots at the Pangong Tso Lake

Just like the jacket, in case of biking shoes as well, it’s more about safety than style. Here are a couple of things you need to keep in mind before buying your biking shoes:

- Metal toe: In case of a high-speed crash, the toe tunnel will protect your…well, toes.

- High ankle boots: If you crash, chances are the impact will twist your ankle and may do some serious damage. High-ankle boots will ensure that the structure and positioning of your feet and ankle stays intact. In fact, if you get metal inserts in the ‘U’ of the backside of the shoe, that’ll be a bonus.

Till a few years back it was fairly difficult to get good biking shoes in India but now you have quite a few options. I’ve used Orazo in the past and though they look gorgeous, their durability is questionable. I’d like to give them one more chance only because of the way these shoes look but a quick search on Amazon/Flipkart will give you a dozen other options. 

DON'T MISS: The holy grail of biking enthusiasts in India - Khardungla

Orazo is in mid-range (3-5k), but if you want to go high-end, you can always splurge on Alpinestars (20k+). But if you want a cheap option – forget about brands and buy unbranded black army shoes from your nearest army store. It doesn’t have metal toe, but it'll last your through World War. You can pick up a pair for about 1000 bucks. And no, it’s not illegal.

If you'll be riding during monsoon or to places where there will be a number of water crossings (say, Ladakh or Himachal), also pick up a pair of gum boots. I haven't seen them in metros but you'll easily get them in places like Manali, Shimla and Leh; for as low as ₹200-300. For this amount, even if you have to throw them at the end of the ride, still worth it.

Tip: If you’re wearing metal-toe boots on flights, there’s a 200% chance that you’ll be asked to remove the shoes in security check. To save time, put your boots through the scanner beforehand. 
#PersonalExperience

This is the first of two-part series. In the next part, we'll tell you about Gloves, Bags and a very important but underrated accessory. Stay tuned!
Tag : ,

Karnala Bird Sanctuary: a birdwatcher's paradise

Karnala Bird Sanctuary is the most easily accessible oasis for nature lovers of Mumbai

Karnala Bird Sanctuary - closest from Mumbai
Karnala Bird Sanctuary
We, the city dwellers, often travel great distances to find that perfect spot of peace and tranquility but we often overlook what’s right in front of us. For the people of Mumbai, the giant skyscrapers and densely-populated streets makes one want to travel to other states and countries in search of fresh air while forgetting the abundance of natural wealth that we have around us. One such forgotten gem is the Karnala Bird Sanctuary.

Karnala is situated 60-80 km from Mumbai depending on where you live in the city; if you live in Navi Mumbai, it’s even closer. Earlier this year, we had a fantastic one-day excursion to the Karnala Bird Sanctuary.

We started the trip by 6.30 am and despite a leisurely breakfast stop on the way; we reached the place by 9 am. In fact, if you’re carrying your own food or don't bother to stop on the way, you can easily reach the place by 8 am.

There’s a ₹35 entry fee and professional cameras are charged ₹100 while mobile cameras are free. And while it may sound like a joke, while I was there, I had seen Nat Geo photographers setting up their cameras on a tripod and waiting for that perfect shot of the birds. Yes, this place is that good! There’s also a designated parking area where you can park your two or four wheeler by paying ₹25 and ₹50.  The parking area is right next to the entry gate and it’s advisable to park here instead parking on the tiny two-lane highway and blocking the way just to save some money. Yes, I’ve seen people doing it. Also, once you reach there, you’ll realize that the entry of the bird sanctuary is on blind left turn and if you park your vehicle anywhere outside, it’s not just an inconvenience but also a hazard for the oncoming traffic.

Karnala is the perfect picnic destination for people of all ages. As you start walking from the main gate, on your see you’ll find slides, swings and other stuff you’re likely find in any garden to keep your kids excited. About three hundred meters up the hill is the base which is the starting point for a number of trails including the famous Karnala Fort trail. All the trails are nicely marked even amateurs can hike up on their own. At the base, there’s also a tiny canteen and you can fuel up before or after the trek. On negative part over here are a number of cages which houses birds. Why you cage up birds at a bird sanctuary? Really defeats the entire purpose of having a sanctuary. If someone’s lazy enough to not explore the sanctuary, it’s their loss. Caging up various species of birds so that people can identify them is cruel, in my opinion.

Karnala Fort hiking trails
Take a hike
Take on any of the marked trails and go crazy exploring the entire place. The sign boards with birds’ names and photos that are found in that part of the sanctuary is a real boon for the regular folks who’re not pros are recognizing these exotic birds. Just be careful of the monkey. While walking through the territories dominated by monkeys, make minimal movement and noise; we (two of us) were largely outnumbered by these angry monkeys and their body language suggested that we weren’t invited in their territory. Though it was only a 100mt stretch where we were surrounded by ferocious monkeys, it took all of our courage to walk out of it without flinching or running back. But apart from it, we had a memorable time spotting all the beautiful birds and sitting by the stream just breathing in the fresh air and chilling in the lap of the nature.

Kingfisher Bird
Kingfisher! No, it's not the one you're used to seeing at your local joint.
 For less than ₹500 including fuel, you can have an exciting day for the whole family.

Do’s: Carry a powerful binocular. If you have a telescopic lens with your DSLR, definitely bring it, worth it. And carry at least 1.5-2 ltr of water per person if you’re going to climb all the way to the top.

Don’ts: Park on the highway or feed the monkeys. And no matter what happens, DO NOT LITTER! If you can carry a pack of chips up to the fort, you can bring an empty pack down as well.

Secret tip: Try to start as early in the morning as possible. By 11am, you will see a lot of noisy, family crowd; or worse, school picnic and it’ll ruin your entire trip.

Also read about this place every a motorcycle is worshiped.

Why every biker should go to Pali...

Om Banna's Royal Enfield being worshipped
Om Banna's Royal Enfield

Pali is home to the Om Banna shrine where a Royal Enfield is worshipped by its followers daily

Bikers love their bikes and I'm no different. We love our motorcycles as much as anything else in the world and if you're also one such creature, you definitely must visit the village of Pali in Rajasthan.

Pali is a place where a motorcycle is worshipped literally. But there's a good reason behind it.
This image you see here is that of Om Banna's motorcycle. 

Who is Om Banna? And why are they worshipping his motorcycle?

During the December of 1991, on a cold winter night, Om Banna, a drunk villager of Pali village (Rajasthan) crashed his motorcycle on the highway and died. Police impounded the motorcycle while the case was being investigated; however, next day, the bike reached at the accident location once again. Police thought the some village kids are playing a prank and so this time they chained the motorcycle, the bike still reached the same place next morning. This kept on happening and there were stories of Om Banna's spirit roaming the highway helping distressed travellers. Eventually the villagers realized the powers of Om Banna's spirit and as a tribute to him, the motorcycle was given a permanent place next to the accident site by the highway and the place is now known as the Shri Om Banna shrine - perhaps, the only one of its kind in the world. 


Om Banna temple at Pali, Rajasthan
One-of-its-kind shrine

So, what offering (prashad) do you make at such a place?

The same stuff that consumed - Om Banna - alcohol. Yes, you will see bottles of whiskey, beer and vodka been offered as "prashad" (religious offering) at the shrine.

Thankfully, common sense has prevailed and unlike any other temple here there are strict guidelines prohibiting the consumption of the same "prashad", in this case alcohol, in and around shrine's premises.


Om Banna Temple on Pali-Jodhpur highway in Rajasthan
You can offer liquor to Om Banna's photo but can't consume it
And it doesn't end there. In fact, the tree which Om Banna hit and lost his life to is also worshipped by the followers. It's few meters from the above shrine at the side of the highway. You can see Indian as well as foreign tourists stop by to check out this one-of-its-kind place. Whenever you're travelling to Jodhpur, make sure you take out time to visit this place.


Om Banna Temple on Pali-Jodhpur Highway
The tree which cost Om Banna his life

The place is located about 20 km from the village of Pali on the Pali-Jodhpur highway. It's definitely one of the most amusing places in India.

Jai Om Banna!

Why riding solo to Ladakh makes sense

Leh-Ladakh road trip on bike
(Image Credit: Binoy Parikh)

So, you’re bitten by the travel bug and you want to go on the mother of all bike trips – The Ladakh Expedition? Super! But, should you be going there alone or with your mates? Logic says that when you’re planning a ride to long distances, especially to a place like Ladakh, you should do it in a group. But then again, logic and adventure have never really been best of friends. So, which one should you choose? I’d say, go solo!

Here’s why:

1. Custom made trip

Choose your own itinerary. Make your own travel plan. You don’t have to worry about whether others are unwilling to go to a particular place or not. If the destination exists on the map and if you wish to go, just march on ahead. You’ll be free to head off onto the unbeaten path and take the road less traveled.

2. Freedom

Ride your own trip, not somebody else’s calendar. Motorcycling trip is supposed to be fun and not something you’re forced to do because you’re with the group and they’re running out of time. It’s not a rally where you pass checkpoints and stamp your visit; it’s about taking your sweet time to enjoy the ride, the sight and the destination.

While riding solo, you’re not obliged to ride down to the next destination because others have decided to do so, when all you want to do is relax for a couple of more days and breathe in the beauty of the town you’re present in. Just because someone else has put up a tourist destination in the travel plan, doesn’t mean you have to go there. If you wish to stay longer at a particular village OR if you don’t want to go the next town but take a scenic week long detour, you’ll have all the liberty to do it. Spend more time at a location or skip on altogether, it’s totally your choice. Beauty of riding solo lies in this independence.




3. Manage your pace

You’re the best judge of your own pace. When alone, you don’t need to slow down for somebody else nor are you required to ride like a maniac to make sure you keep up with the others. Instances where the entire group slowed down because a photogeek wanted to spend 2 hours clicking pictures are pretty common. There have also been scenarios where the faster rider paid no heed to the slower ones and the entire group split in a 50 km range.

4. Make new friends

Though traveling in a group makes sure you have company at all times, it also keeps you closed, and you never really feel the need to interact with other people. At the same time, while riding alone, you invariably start mingling with others. Irrespective of how introverted you are, you will always make an effort to talk to the strangers. New friendships will prosper and you will get to meet a lot many new and interesting people. You’ll know their stories and you’ll share some of your own too.

5. Make your adventure even more…erm…adventurous!!

It’s said that safety is in numbers. But, do you really want to be safe? In that case, you’re probably better off warming your couch, drinking hot chocolate and clicking through pictures of your friends on Facebook. If you want to take the adventure quotient of your ride a notch above everybody else’s, go solo. Yes, “Brotherhood” and all that is fun; but solo riding is where the serious stuff comes to the surface.

With no support vehicle or fellow riders to fall back onto, failing is strictly not an option. When you don’t have the expertise of a mechanic at hand, or the luxury to have someone else ride your machine when you get fatigued; you’re left with just one choice – to soldier on no matter what! And at the end of the day, when you finally get the sight of the civilization; the ground reality of your adventure sinks in and you realize what you did was not standard layman stuff.




6. Life-altering experience

Riding on high mountain passes with your buddies is like a rock concert. The sound of the engines reverberating off the cliffs as you gallop mile after mile is a memorable experience.

But, when you do the same feat all alone, it’s like a poetry in motion. Riding in the vast spread of nothingness - just you and your machine - listening to the music of the wind and the whisper of the stream; it’s truly breathtaking! Stop your bike, turn off the engine and listen to the nature – it’ll be so quiet that you’d hear your own thoughts, out loud. Enchanting!


Jispa to Leh route - Moore Plains


7. Master of all

For everything that can and will go wrong, you’ll only have yourself to fall back on to. You’ll be required to learn all the trades. As a solo rider, you’re the navigator as well as the sailor. You’re the paramedic team as well as the support crew. It’s all you. Irrespective of who you are, for this solo trip, you got to be Mr. Know-It-All. And when this reality strikes you, that’s when you’ll invariably start learning things, mastering them.

8. You owe it to yourself

You’re better than you give yourself credit for. You’re stronger than you think you are. To confide in your ability and to tell your distractors how wrong they are, just do it.

9. It’s addictive

This is one addiction you’d never want to cure yourself of. Do it once and you’ll want to do it over and over again for the rest of your life. A bad experience with a group might put you off but there’s no chance of that happening when the only company you have is your own self. You may fall, bleed, breakdown and get in trouble in middle of nowhere, but honestly speaking, you wouldn’t want it to happen any other way.

10. Respect

There’s no trophy or medal. The only thing you’re slated to gain from the outside world is Respect. Riding to the Top of the World – Khardung La is no mean feat even when you do it in a group, but when you do it all alone, the respect quotient raises 10 fold.

Solo riding to the gorgeous wilderness of Ladakh is all this and much more; stuff that words fail to describe. So just get out there and get going. You’ll come back with an experience that you’ll tell your grandkids about. I promise.

10 Things to do in & around Kaza

Everything you need to know about what you can do in & around Kaza


You've heard about this elusive place called Spiti Valley. You've Googled the photos and you're in love with its natural beauty. You've learnt that Kaza is the biggest town and you're planning to drive/ride down to this picturesque destination but you're not sure what you're supposed to do there. 


Worry not, here's a list of things for you to do in & around Kaza:

1. Key Monastery

Key Monastery
Key Monastery is the face of Spiti Tourism. Google 'Spiti Valley' and Key Monastery is the first thing that will show up. Barely half an hour away from Kaza, the monastery is an architectural masterpiece. As you enter the place, the monks will ask you to remove your shoes and follow them. You'll walk up to a traditional Ladakhi kitchen where you'll be treated to some snacks along with their traditional butter tea. You can have as many servings as you want. Once done, the monks (or lamas, as they're called) will give you a guided tour of the entire monastery. Since the monastery is situated high up in the mountains, you get sweeping views of the entire valley. 

2. Kibber Village

Kibber Village
Kibber is situated another 20 minutes further up from the Key Monastery. It's a sleepy little town where you can go and spend a relaxing afternoon. You can take a stroll along the fields and have some local delicacies at one of the tiny restaurants littered throughout the village. The village is also a starting point for many grueling treks. It's the last point till where you can take a motorized vehicle, from thereon, you have to rely on your feet. Hence, you'll see many seasoned trekkers get down from taxis, grab a quick bite, setup their Garmin watches and start their expeditions.

3. Buddha Statue at Langza

Buddha Statue at Langza
Langza is home to one of the largest Buddha statues in the entire Spiti. Unlike other statues, this one's not part of a monastery. You can see the statue from miles away as you're approaching the village. 

4. Hunting for fossils in Hikkim-Komic-Langza belt


The two-in-one fossil which now graces my desk
As per the scientists, millions of years ago, this area was under the ocean. When the Indian subcontinental plate collided into the what is now China, the debris rose to the surface. Hence, you can find million-year-old fossilized seashells. If you're too lazy to look around and go through the dirt, worry not; you'll find locals sitting by the side of road waiting to sell their discoveries to you. You can get a fossil the size of your fist for as low as 100-200 bucks. Make sure you bargain!

5. Sending yourself a postcard from the world's highest post office at Hikkim

Hikkim is home to the world's highest post office at an altitude of 15,500ft. While I couldn't go there myself, I've heard that it's pretty common for tourists to send a postcard to their home address from here. 

If you leave early and plan smartly, you can cross the above five things from your list in a single day. If you have more time and if you wish to spend more days, Langza and Kibber also have homestay options. 

6. Check out the millenia-old Lallung Monastery and the holy tree which is even older

With the head monk of the Lallung Monastery. Behind us is the holy tree
Situated one and half hour away from Kaza, along a dust detour is this thousand year old monastery of Lallung. Next to the monastery is a tree which is considered to be even older than the monastery - one year older, to be precise. There's an interesting story about the origin of the monastery. When you reach the monastery, make sure you knock the door of the adjoining hut, that's where the head monk lives. The seventy-something monk is really sweet and if you're a good listener, he will take you through the history of the monastery, how it came into existence as well as some fascinating concepts & beliefs of Buddhism. It's an experience you shouldn't miss. The lama is really knowledgeable and kind.

7. Shortcut to the Dhankar Monastery

Dhankar Monastery
To reach Lallung or Dhankar Monastery, you'll have to take a detour from highway on to roads which branches out towards the mountains. On the map, it may seem that both these monasteries are situated on unconnected, parallel branch roads and to reach Lallung from Dhankar (or viceversa), you'll again have to came back all the way to the highway, drive for few more miles and then take the parallel branch road inwards to the next monastery; but that's not the case. There's a shortcut from Lallung to Dhankar, but this road is not for the faint-hearted. It's one of the most treacherous routes and only the most-seasoned drivers/riders should take it. But once you've reached the destination, it does fill you up with a sense of achievement.

8. Enjoy the vistas of the Pin Valley

Pin Valley
Pin Valley starts just few kilometers after Dhankar, as an offshot along the river. Depending upon how much time you have, you can either go all the way to Mud village and spend a night at one of the homestays OR you can do a short visit to the Kungri Monastery (which is half-way to Mud) and return to Kaza the very same day. We didn't have much time to go to Mud, so did a shorter trip only till Kungri. Additionally, the day when we had planned to go to Pin, we learnt that it was the birthday of the head monk of Kungri Monastery. Which meant, it was a day of celebration for the monastery and the whole town had turned up to partake in the festivities. We were really lucky to witness the action. 

9. Stay where you get Wifi

BSNL is the only phone network that works in Kaza. The only hope for you to get any sort of connectivity is either you go to Manali or stay in a hotel with stable Wifi connection. Let's be honest, from Langza village to Pin valley, it's wilderness out there. If you wish to stay in touch with your loved ones and want to inform them of your well-being, make sure your hotel has good wifi and not many guests. 

10. Local experiences

The structure on the left is the accommodation for tourist willing to get a taste of a monk's life at the Key Monastery
Many hotels in Kaza have tie ups with adventure groups that can provide you with experiences that are unique to the region. From mountain biking around the valley to spending a day with female monks and experiencing their daily routine, there are a bunch of things you can do. Speaking of monk life, you can even stay at the Key monastery and get a first-hand experience of what's it like to live like a monk. But make sure you know what you're signing up for. Over here, you'll need to get up at dawn, eat at the mess at a stipulated time, wash your own vessel and switch off the lights at night when you're asked to do so. 

Kungri Monastery
BONUS: Playing with cute, little, furry fellows

Cute af
If you're a dog person, Spiti Valley is heaven for you. It being a cold region, only the dogs with thick fur survive. Hence, all the four-legged fellows over here are fluffy af. I might have to write a separate blog post if I start mentioning all the dogs that I've met during my trip to Spiti.

Pro-tip: All big monasteries have their own festivals. Try to plan your visit around one of the festivals. Even if you can't, when you reach Spiti, ask the locals, if you're lucky, you might be able to witness a celebration of some sort.

Day 21: Ladakhi hospitality

First hand experience of Ladakhi hospitality


The Stok Palace
After fixing some minor issues with my bike, I headed to the Stok Palace. The Stok Palace is situated 15 km from Leh and its the current residence of the royal family of Leh. Part of the palace is converted in to museum and it's a great insight into the history and the culture of the Ladakhi people. It's a relatively small museum and it will take less than half an hour to see it. 

There's a cafetaria next to the museum. Since it was lunch time, I decided to order some momos and other Ladakhi snacks. Even if you're not hungry, I suggest you take time out to sit in the outside courtyard, have a coffee and enjoy the 360-degree views of the entire valley. 

There were no other customers and the cafetaria manager had free time to talk to know and ask me about my trip. During our chat, he asked me if I've had "Chung". I had no clue what he was talking about. Apparently, Chung is the homegorwn beer which the local make. It's not your average country liquor, neither it's the dirty-disquisting-overhyped Feni that you get in Goa. Chung is not sold in wine shops. It's made and consumed by the members of the house. It's also one of the drinks at the weddings. 

I asked the cafetaria owner to source it for me. He shouted from the top of the cafetaria to some of the workers busy renovating part of the palace and asked them if they had some left. But it was futile exercise. He told me that on my way back, I should stop by in the village and try to get it from someone's house. I might have to shell upto Rs.50 for a bottle but it's worth trying. 

I stopped at a general store down the palace and asked the store owner from where I could get Chung. The kind lady asked me to follow her and took me to the next door house. She asked me to wait out while she went in the big compound and asked the people if the had some Chung. Though they were talking in Ladakhi, I could almost make out the conversation based on the tone. The home owner seemed apprehensive to allow a stranger in to their house and let him consume their stuff. I was wearing my biking jacket and I didn't look anything like a Ladakhi. At this point, I pepped inside the gate and requested the lady of the house, "I'm a traveller and someone had suggested that I should try Chung. If you have some, perhaps, if you can give me a small portion of it to taste, I'd be grateful." Reazling that I'm a genuine person and not a troublemaker, she looked at the grandmother - the head of the family. The grandmother nodded and they let me in. 


This house belongs to the family who opened their hearts and beer taps for me
Mostly Ladakhis understand and speak Hindi very well. Except for the grand mother, everyone else in this house knew Hindi. A stranger/traveller coming to their house and asking for beer was perhaps a new thing for them - heck, it was new even for me to approach someone randomly and ask for their local brew. 

To give you a background, this was a big compound, on left was a section to keep their cattles and to the right was the farm. We were standing in the front yard, with steps leading to the house. I waited in the front yard while the daughter-in-law got a bucket from inside the house. It was one-thirds full. They poured it into a white mug as if pouring water out for cattles. 

Whitish in colour, Chung tastes a bit on the tangy side. But overall, it's pretty smooth. After finishing my first drink, I shamelessly poured myself a second one. The second son, only man present in the house at that point, of the family asked me to "take it easy." 

Bro-sis duo with the grand mother
The pre-teen brother-sister duo were most amused by me. As a token of appreciation, I asked them if I could click their pictures which I would later send it to them. At first, the younger one - the brother - seemed apprehensive but when the grand ma said "ok", she readily started posing. Their mother (daughter-in-law) of the family was busy talking to me and taking care of her toddler. Though the cafetaria owner told me people would charge Rs. 50 for a bottle, the way this family invited me in their home and gave me beer, offering them money would be disrespecting them. Instead, I clicked their picutres using my DSLR and promised to send hardcopies of their photos. 


Protective mother with her cute toddler
All this while, my mind kept flashing images of those travel shows where the travel host goes to a remote village in Africa or Vietnam and visits a local house and dines with the villagers. This was exactly like that. In that moment, I was Ian Wright

I stayed there for about half an hour discussing various things such as my travels, Chung, hobbies of their kids (the son loves WWE, John Cena is his favourite), life in Ladakh, etc. I didn't want to overstay their welcome, and anyway I didn't want to tempt myself with a third offering of Chung; hence, after the last sip of my drive was over, I clicked a few pictures of the kids, took down their address with a promise of mailing hardcopies of their pictures and headed back to Leh. I left their house with a wide grin on my face. I kept telling myself, "This is what I had come here for. To meet such people and to know their stories." 


Thank you for the memories, Leh
This was one of those moments that differentiates a tourist from a traveller. I am a traveller. I have always been. But this moment certified me as one.

I headed back to my hotel room, to pack my bags and bid adieu to the city the next morning. But the city wanted me to celebrate one last time. Post dinner, I reached the hotel and as I was heading to my room walking through those corridors, I heard music and laughter from one of the rooms. The door was wide open so I looked in and smiled at a bunch of foreigners who were partying there. They smiled back and 2-3 of them simultaneously asked me multiple questions: "How are you?", "Are you staying next door?", "Would you like to join?", "Come on in."

How can one say no to it? There were 7-8 of us when I joined, a few guys were headed for a hard trek the next morning, so they started retiring to their rooms. In the end, it was 4 of us (one New Zealander, one Australian, one Israeli and myself). We exchanged our travel stories over few drinks and couple of hours later, after exchanging our email ids with a promise of staying connected over Facebook, all of us retired to our respective rooms.

I packed my bags and tried to go to sleep but flashbacks of entire trip kept playing on loop for next few hours. I barely got 3 hours of sleep during my last night in Leh. But, I wasn't complaining. 

A lifelong dream of riding to Leh had been fulfilled!
Powered by Blogger.

- Copyright © The Khardungla - Skyblue - Powered by Blogger - Designed by Johanes Djogan -