I had never flown into Leh before. While I have covered the length and breadth of Ladakh on four wheels, the excitement of being able to do that two now, was palpable and then it rose a notch up as the aeroplane banked hard left land at Leh airport. It was a sight to behold, desert surrounds the landscape as the airstrip slowly comes to view, flanked by mountains on nearly all sides. Oh boy, I thought to myself, the next ten days were going to be spectacular. And that was merely the tip of the iceberg.
Leh’d back musings
After a two-day acclimatization stopover at Leh, at the Chantsa Hotel, we were ready to embark onwards as a part of the Himalayan Odyssey 2019. Apart from the immense riding opportunity to the depths of wild North, it was also a chance to capture it all. However, I wanted the shooting bit to be as less intrusive as possible. Which is why the night before we had to leave, I had mounted my GoPro Hero 7 Black and the GoPro Fusion 360 cameras at strategic locations on the bike. These would be wirelessly controlled from the GoPro Remo remote that I would be wearing on my wrist. How? Do you ask? Via voice commands, for the most part, it works rather effortlessly. Go Pro take a picture, GoPro shoot a video, GoPro shut down, gettit?
The bike I was given was special, it was the Himalayan with the Explorer kit. Which meant I get to thoroughly indulge the Braced handlebar and machined bar-end weights, park my glutes comfortably on the touring seat, not bother much as ride stand up and ride over rock and gravel, thanks to the engine guard and finally pack as much food and water and other essentials without breaking my back – courtesy – the Aluminium Panniers with the mounting kit. My grin was ear to ear because only three bikes of the 50 odd had this kit fitted on.
It was time and on a beautiful Thursday morning, we assembled next to our bikes for the briefing, delivered by Hema Choudhary and Aakash, both from RE, both seasoned riders and really great mentors, which I would realize as the trip progressed. The early morning pre-ride briefing was like a prayer, we all paid attention to because priceless tips and do’s and don’ts were shared and it mattered. Especially when you ride on an unpredictable terrain through weather that changes even more unpredictably.
Day 1 would have us ride out from Leh, cross the revered Khandungla Pass (18,380 Ft) and make it to Hunder, 124Km away. We were all geared up, hence no point waiting. As we winded through Leh, crossing shops and market, we quickly left it all behind and entered barren territory lined with military trucks, tourist vehicles, bikers, and endless mountains.
You will begin to feel nature’s bite sooner than you realize as you climb towards Khardungla top. Which is about 40km from Leh but, it would be one of the toughest climbs you will make on two wheels if the weather is kind, if it’s not, god help you. Global warming has ensured that the glacial ice melts faster, which means we had more than a few bone-chilling water crossings. The zone post 16000 Ft to 18,380 at the top and then back to post 16000 Ft is the toughest to battle. You will lose your breath as you ride, if you stop to take pictures, you will realize that the energy level will deplete faster than the fuel in a hypercar around a circuit.
You really need to get in and get out of this zone as quickly as possible, while you keep breathing hard and really concentrate on the ride and the surroundings. I chose not to stop at the top, it was, as usual, crowded with tourists. I rode past the top and stopped at about 17000 Ft for a quick look, few seconds at max, without getting off my bike and rode on. The bike was simply delightful and already growing on me. It was the first time I had ever ridden on the Himalayan terrain on two wheels and it was the first time I had ever ridden the RE Himalayan. The universe conspired and how. Loose gravel, ice, rocks, quick manoeuvres were easy to execute, thanks to brilliant suspension setup and overall handling was on point. If things grew too tricky to sit and ride, standing upright would absolutely solve the problem as the bike corrected course effortlessly.
We made a quick tea break at North Pullu and followed the raging Shyok river towards Diskit. As you ride on, the terrain opens up from your smartphone screen size to IMAX levels. It is expanse on all sides and you feel punier by the minute as you try to soak it all up. This place is dry, really dry and there are sand dunes too if you want to indulge.
The road that leads to the camps at Hunder has countless blind turns and rapid drops if you happen to miss your turn. You have to ride with maximum caution, keep honking at every bend if you get bored of doing it. Most of all, do not try any tricks here. One mistake and there is only one place you will end up in. Also bear in mind, at the 90 km mark, do not take the right turn, if you do, you will reach Pangong. If you ride within your limits, the Nubra Valley will come as extremely rewarding, an unforgettable riding experience.
After about 6 hours of riding, and a few snack stops later, we arrived at our campsite – Royal Desert Camps, where hot food was waiting for us along with steaming hot tea. We had to get out of our gear, fuel up the bikes, eat food, rest up and be ready for the early morning 7 am ride out the next morning, to the legendary Pangong Tso Lake. But first, I must recharge.