Sunday 3 April 2016
Every biking enthusiast in India has a dream – to reach the K-Top aka Khardung La Top
|Khardung La Top!|
A fortnight after I started from Mumbai, I was finally ready to take on my biking life's biggest ever challenge – the Khardung La – the highest motorable road in the world. After much deliberation and procrastination, I was finally ready to head to Nubra Valley. And the only way to reach there from Leh is to cross Khardungla.
Once again, I was relatively late in starting my ride. Instead of 7 am, I started the ride at 9-9.30 am.
Leh to Diskit is 120 km. Diskit to Hunder is 10 km. Hunder to Turtuk is 77 km. In short, Leh to Turtuk return trip is somewhere in north of 400 km. Nubra Valley doesn't have a single petrol pump. Hence, I had to make sure that I carry fuel for the entire distance from Leh. Failing to do would result in me breaking down in the middle of nowhere. The previous longest distance I went without refuelling was between Tandi and Karu - a distance of 365 km. Also, as I climb Khardungla and as the altitude increase and as the air becomes thin, more petrol gets pumped in the engine to compensate for the lack of power. Meaning, the mileage decreases even further. Despite all these issues, with a full tank and 10 liters of extra fuel in the jerry cans, I decided to march on.
Khardung La is not just a test of machine but also of the man. I had no clue how my body would reach at 18k+ feet altitude. If I start hallucinating and lose consciousness, I don't have a fellow rider to take care of me. Though I'm not a gym rat, I'd like to believe that I'm a fairly healthy individual with high level of immunity and above average stamina. Khardung La was the litmus test for this preposition.
|The Siachen Glacier|
The road was bad with its fair share of water crossings, U-turn inclines, vertical drops, sticky-muddy stretches and non-existent roads. Having said that, on level of difficulty, Khardung La is a lot less harsh compared to Tanglangla. However, at around 16000 ft. altitude, I started to feel light headed. I never felt any of those effects while crossing Tanglang La or Chang La, both of which are above 17,000 ft. I poped in a chewing gum (chewing gum keeps your mind active and helps the blood circulation around your brain in such scenarios) and soldiered on. At about 17,500 ft, just a kilometer before the K-top, there was a traffic jam due to landslides. It took about 15 mintues for the bulldozers to clear the way. This intervention proved to be a blessing in disguise to me. These 15 minutes helped me recuperate and by the time I got back on the saddle, the AMS was gone. I reached Khardungla Top fresh as a daisy.
|View from the Khardungla Top|
Mission accomplished! The (four-year-old) dream that I had seen of riding to Khardungla was fulfilled. The holy grail was achieved. Litmus test was passed.
Khardungla has a Doordarshan tower at the top. If you have BSNL phone, you'll get flawless connectivity. For any other mobile service provider, it's a hit and miss. There's a particular spot next to the Khardungla board from where you get connectivity for Airtel and Vodafone. I was absolutely ecstatic with this feat and wanted to share it with my family back home. I called up my parents and here's how the conversation went.
Dad: "Where have you reached?"
Me: "18,380 feet - at the world's highest motorable road!"
|Highest Cafeteria in the World|
|Maggi at the world's highest cafetaria|
To give you a better understanding:
Leh--24km--South Pullu--15km--Khardungla Top--15km--North Pullu--16km--Khardung Village
It's only that 30 km stretch between South Pullu and North Pullu that's off road, rest of it is paved.
Just before I reached Khardung village, I saw a stop sign at a check post. At several places in the Ladakh region, you need to make a note of your entry and exit for security purpose. When I say security, it's not about national security but also from a personal security point of view. If there's a landslide or flashflood, the check post record will help the rescue team in knowing how many tourists are stuck ahead and they'd come looking for you.
I parked my bike and walked up 30 steps up to the post. Since I'm not used to the tiny air, I was gasping on my breath by the end of it. It turned out, the check post was for military vehicles only. The armyman looked at my attire and started asking me about my trip, out of curiousity. When he learnt that I'm travelling solo, he told me that since it's evening time and it will be dark in an hour, if I don't want to risk going further, I was welcome to stay over in his bunker; his colleague would be back from the market soon and they can cook food for me. In fact, he even offered snacks to me in case I were hungry.
I politely declined his offer but I spent about 15 minutes chatting with him understanding the life they lead and the hardships they face. Since it was evening time, I had to leave to make it to Diskit before it was dark. I've always had highest respect for our forces and the people I met this trip made me respect them even more. This wouldn't be the last instance of I receiving kind hospitality from the armymen. You will read about those stories in my upcoming posts.
|The photograph is clicked from the top of check post where I had an interesting interaction with an army personnel|
The first hotel I encountered was the Kharyon Guest House. It has a nice garden and a parking for your vehicle too. I enquired for rooms and they told me the room rent was Rs. 350. In today's day and age, where else can you get a hotel room with double bed, hot water and a television for 350 bucks? It was an absolute steal.
There is just one standalone restaurant for dinner (and one more which stays open only during lunchtime) in the whole of Diskit. Most of the tourists rely on the in-house restaurant at their guest house. Hence, it's important that the place where you decide to stay serves decent meal.
On my first night in Diskit, I went out looking for a restaurant, and found the above mentioned sad-looking restaurant. I was not alone in this misery. I bumped into a Swiss couple who happened to be staying in the same hotel as I was. These two septuagenarians are any traveller's envy. They've been travelling the world since many years and despite their age, they're fit to the extent that they go on treks in Nepal and across the Himalayan range. Last I checked their website, they had already visited 70+ countries.
After our miserable food, we retired to our rooms. Next day, I had planned to explore Diskit 30ft-tall Maitreya Buddah statue, the gorgeous Diskit Monastery and ride the elusive double humped camels in the desert of Diskit.
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