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Leh’ing It Out

Meghan Naik

About Trail

Vehicle: Yamaha

Start Point: Manali, Himachal Pradesh 175131, India

Start Date: 05-September-2014

End Point: Leh 194101

End Date: 10-September-2014

The Journey: Manali – Rohtang – Batal – Kunzum La - Chandertal Lake – Batal - Koksar – Tandi – Keylong – Jispa – (Darcha – Chicka Be – Zanskar Sumdo Camp  - Shingo La) – Jispa -  Baralacha La – Sarchu – Gata Loops – Nakee La – Lachung La – Pang – Morey Plains – Tanglang La – Upshi – Karu – Leh

Manali to Leh is a challenging route. Travelling down this route and completing the entire trip leaves one with a sense of gratification.  What made the journey to Leh in the first week of October 2014 last year all the more special for me was that I was the first motorcyclist to attempt the route from Darcha, Chicka Be, Zanskar, Sumdo Camp to Shingo La on the new route being built to reach Leh.

I generally ride solo and Leh was a destination that was a part of my pan-India solo ride plan last year.

Ideal Time to Visit: If you ask me, Mid-June to Mid-September would be a good time to visit Leh. The month of August would be ideal. Much of the snow melts away by this time and the area and the roads start stabilizing. Early June could throw up a bad experience for new and unsuspecting travellers as many facilities on the route are out of service till the Srinagar, Manali to Leh highway opens up.

Entourage Strength: If the group is led by experts then any number from under 10-30 or more can be managed effectively by a small group of individuals who know their way about in this region.

Ideal tour size on this sector is 10-12 bikers with 1-2 tour leaders.

Preps: Make it a point to have the motorcycle up-to-date on its services. If you’re travelling during the off-season like I did, carrying camping gear, winter gear, a small camping stove and portable gas canister along with some food and coffee supplies is a good idea.

I made sure that my riding gear was complete with knee guards, proper motorcycle riding boots, motorcycle riding jacket, two pairs of gloves for riding in normal and wintry weather and a good helmet. I made sure I drank lots of water and carried packets of ORS to help stay hydrated at all times.

Apart from these essentials I travelled with well-equipped tool kits, electronic devices, cameras and a well-stocked first aid kit.

Assistive Gizmos: I had a Garmin GPS 60CSx to help me log my route, take accurate altitude readings, and maintain a data-log of time, speed and distance covered. I also carried a DSLR, GoPro, spare POS Camera, my phone with a post-paid BSNL connection, a laptop and spare memory cards.

Road & Traffic Conditions: Around October, the traffic remains moderate to heavy, depending on the road condition at the passes.  You have trucks, buses, army convoys, private vehicles, taxis, motorcycles and the like, plying on this route. In the off-season you will barely see anyone on this route except for locals, a few tourists and supply vehicles.

Best & Worst Stretches: Exploring the new route to Leh via Shingo Leh was extremely adventurous as it seemed like I was the only person there and I rode till the end of the road where even the construction machines stopped cutting the mountains.

Morey plains is a Himalayan Expressway and riding through it is quick. Clocking 120 kmph on my speedometer while riding through this stretch was a brilliant experience.

Speaking about the not-so-good parts – the route to Battal has some bad sections that slowed me down and Baralacha La has a tough terrain. Going up Shingo La I had to put my feet down more than once to help me push the bike forward and 6-8 kmph is the fastest I could go.

Also Chandertaal Lake, the road en route Battal from Rohtang is quite harsh but then more than makes up for it with its scenic appeal. Keylong and Jispa are beautiful. Chicka Be village en route Shingo La is a pretty sight and when you’re riding through the Gata Loops, the entire stretch of Morey plains to Tanglang La is simply fantastic.

Weather Encountered: During my trip it was cold at night with the winter setting in. There was some snowfall I encountered but that did not pose a problem or hinder my ride in any way. For new riders though, it is inadvisable to travel even on the major roads and advisable to absolutely steer clear of interior sections on this route in October or in the off-season months owing to the lack of support and low civilian movement.

To my advantage I had an earlier experience of having travelled to Leh in the off-season, knowing the ins and outs of the region and having a local contact on standby in case of any emergency.

Food Joints & Stopovers:There’s a wide choice of local food joints along the route – the dhaba at Battal, next to the bridge run by an old couple who won an award for saving stranded tourists in the snow few years ago. At Koksar, just after the bridge on the right hand side you’ll see small non-descript dhabas that serve good chai (tea), black coffee and paranthas. Jispa and Darcha have dhabas, but don’t bet on them when the season sets in and it gets colder.

Sarchu has a bunch of dhabas to choose from. The one next to the police-check post is very good. Generally these dhabas don’t have names that you can identify them by, unlike in most towns and cities.

When it is not off season, there are temporary dhabas that serve good food when you’re coming down from Baralacha La towards Leh. Pang has some tea shops and Dhabas as well.

Bike Care: Apart from refuelling on grub, one’s got to stop to for actual fuel. During this journey I carried extra but did not need to use it. Refuelling at the only available fuel pump at Tandi after Manali was hassle-free because of low traffic at that time of the year and ample stock of fuel at the pump.

Locals: The locals in and along the area are friendly and amiable. Though you can find guides to assist you with your travels, I made it through my trip without one.

Though I believe in capturing every moment on a journey because it may never come by again and going back in time is impossible, yet reliving some journeys are as exciting and as rewarding as they first were .

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