This is all the heaven we got,
right here where we are
in our Shangri La
~ Mark Knopfler, Shangri La
When a BRO milestone announced that I was in Ladakh – India’s paradise and pride, I strangely found myself humming Kopfler’s Shangri La. The moment was just as surreal as the view, which in turn was as surreal as the ride I had undertaken. This was day 8 of our ride.
My journey to look for my Shangri La began when I purchased Mary Jane (a.k.a. MJ) 5 years ago. Since that day, I have been scheming and plotting a way into the Royal Enfield’s famous Himalayan Odyssey. But my attempts were feeble and futile. Finally this year, in 2012, I found myself running 5KM along with 60 others and doing 50 push-ups in a park inDelhi. My 5-year plan was finally being realised.
“What is the toughest thing about the Himalayan Odyssey?” asked Santosh, who introduced himself as the trip lead. “The fitness test,” cried a voice in my head. The toughest part, as answered by Santosh, was getting to the Himalayan Odyssey. It took a while to sink in but the statement made sense. I did have to convince my good folks at work to let me go for 3 weeks.
The second time the question, “What is the toughest thing about the Himalayan Odyssey?” resurfaced was at the briefing of day 6. Once again, the voice in my head cried out “Fitness test!” And like earlier, it was the wrong answer. On day 6, the group was to travel to Keylong from Kaza – popular now as the dreaded K2K. The 170KM were dubbed as the most gruelling as the riders were going to face roads strewn with gravel, rocks, boulders and water crossings.
This was the day the group was tested for its teamwork and everyone involved came through with flying colours. Some people braved the icy waters, to step in and push bikes, along with their riders (some without) out of the water crossings. The expert riders with good road sense would mark their way through the water, cross it with aplomb and then guide those like me. Many fell, got wet, had their clutch plates burnt but at the end, when we reached Keylong, we all wanted more.
And, more is what we got in the next few days. We crossed the freezing Bara-lacha La pass to reach the Sarchu camp. The night got so cold that the stored water froze, forcing me to complete my ‘morning duties’ with an expensive bottle of mineral water.
The journey from Sarchu to Leh (day 8) was taxing. The beautiful part was traversing through Ghata Loops and three passes – Nakeela, Lachung La and Tanglang La. The not so beautiful part was the roads; at some parts there were none. My entire body was aching and each and every fibre of my body wanted me to return. A few kilometres before Tanglang La, which is the second highest motorable pass in the world, I wanted to give up. Ankit, a rider from Madhya Pradesh, egged me on. Respite came in the form of good roads at the end thanks to a refreshing and picturesque entry into Leh.
Day 8 wasn’t the only day I was close to giving up. I cried for mommy and wanted to go home on day 4 too. I was quite happy navigating through freshly laid tarmac on our way from Kalpa to Kaza. We regrouped near Nako at a small yet accommodating dhaba, where I cooked my own Maggi. After we left the dhaba, the roads suddenly got narrow and the drop was at least 10 stories high. I might be exaggerating. It was definitely higher. A sense of fear gripped me and I rode slower than a tortoise till I descended those nightmarish roads. I felt good about myself after hearing other riders felt the same way. Shameless, I know.
Parakram, our inside man in TOI describes the perils the riders faced far more eloquently in his article. Go read.
At Leh, our bikes were given a days rest for there was a lot to cover. The next day the group set for biker Mecca, Khardung La. Reaching the world’s highest motorable pass is something indescribable. There were so many people up there that a little trance music would have started a rave, which would have fizzled out in a few minutes thanks to the altitude and the army. Yes, we were 18,380 feet above mean sea level. I sped off the minute I started feeling uneasy. Manan and Vishwajeet tried their hand at a burnout and both succeeded to various degrees.
The group camped at Hunder that night and the next day we returned to Leh, once again crossing Khardung La. When I started back from Leh, it was with a very heavy heart. I had fallen in love with the place and the journey and it saddened me that it was coming to an end. But we had a photo shoot to look forward to and yet another camp.
After we reached the camp, small pockets of riders headed to Tso Kar, a salt water lake about 6KM away from the camp. Out there, our Uruguayan friend, Mauro got his bike stuck at the banks of the lake. By stuck, I mean he had managed to drown half his bike into soft clay. The first attempt to pull the bike out was futile. The trip’s second-in-command, Aakash gathered some locals from the camp and along with Mauro pulled the bike out at around 12 in the night and in sub zero temperature. And, the best part is the bike, when coaxed to start, revved at the first touch of the ignition. That’s what you call an Enfield. No better testament or advertisement for this legendary bike manufacturing company.
The mountains are a funny thing. After all the terrains – boulders, rocks, water crossings, good roads, bad roads, no roads – I thought there was nothing else that nature can throw at me. I couldn’t be more wrong. After Rohtang Pass, I found myself riding in shin-deep slush. The first time, out of a slight fear of falling I put my foot down. The trip leads tips and my firm determination not to be a chicken helped me accelerate through. From there it was just smooth sailing. We reached Manali, and from there we moved to Chandigarh and then Delhi.
The guys back at Royal Enfield had one more surprise in store for us. At the felicitation party, they gave us Pentagram. Much dancing and merriment ensued. The next day I left for the hustle-bustle of city life. But not before making 60 odd new friends, becoming a better rider and learning a lot about myself. Did I find my Shangri La? In a way, yes. I realised that my Shangri La lies behind the throttle of my bike; revving it sends me on my way to biker heaven.