Mountain spirits have possessed me. Those jagged, towering, sky challenging, snow-tipped peaks. Impatient, naughty, unruly, yet happy streams. Curvy clean yet so transient-ish roads. Cute dogs and fluffy pups. Simple people. Stark landscapes. Punctuating waterfalls. All these gladden the heart even while I am writing this.
This possession is becoming obsessive, for we had set off for the grand Leh bike trip and the BAC of Bengaluru having enough nut cases helped. We decided to get Leh’d on our bike seats. So no shipping, no Delhi or Chandigarh. Mad ride in June summer the entire way. Three of my previous blogs covered the stupidity-sprinkled crazy ride till Amritsar.
This blog will take us into the valley, with events and memories to last a lifetime. If there is a heaven on earth, this one it is. Geopolitical grandiose notwithstanding (eh?).
We chose to flirt with the hills before the big Kashmir; went to Patnitop – spurs were all green, hills were overlapping, meadows rolling making our spirits soar. Patnitop, That’s what it is. Of course, we had a hardcore Tamizhan who pronounced it funny, censor-worthy way. My Northie friends can guess it :).
Lassi/Chass became a best friend in these last three days. Also, we fell into a habit of ordering eight teas, two phiki (sugarless). The band of biking brothers was forming. Nothing like a shared goal and the compulsory, unavoidable hardship, to forge and weld the human ties. Ride from Amritsar to Patnitop was smooth and regular. Truth to be told, I, too was getting into the groove. There was a maturity setting in for the group, as a whole.
We hit the hills going simultaneously under its spell. Of kissing the curves, pausing for breath and stopping for photos. With each pause, the evening and then dusk raced from west to meet us. Irrespective of the late hour a dusk ride is the best ride, I think now in the respect of it. It was soon dark, a deep night and we realized our Dhaba lunch since long had entered our bloodstream. It’s time to arrange a meeting for our hunger, too.
We stopped at a shack, well one that looked like one anyway. It was just a fabulous setting to meet the mood we are in. The shack was on a sheer cliff, a deep drop and (now) an invisible river was on its side. The opposite was a noisy wall oozing water in a multitude of mini waterfalls. Tingling, teasing but icy cold. I love these mountain water features. They spring up, freshen up and surprise us. Food was simple and filling. Eat. Geared. Rode.
The night was firmly on us, and it was chilly. And there was no sign of any place to rest, not even those open dhabas. We should have asked and slept in the shack on the cliff instead we braved the night.
Eight engines with steady beats came down the hills and onto the plains again. These machines are built tough. And we are built with flaws, so stupidity seeming adventurous is justified. Fools to rush in while angles would have trodden with care. But the road was smooth and straight. The night was cool and not cold. Machine found its steady beat and the group found its rhythm. So it felt nice and mind drifted into past, the ride and future. Then I saw disco-like lights far off. I thought these are cool people. Partying at night, roadside. Spirited. Strangely two of the lights were perfectly aligned and started to zoom. The mind in its comfort zone was wondering about them then it halted the heart, and jolted itself to alertness. It was not a discotheque on road, I was looking at lights of vehicles, tail lamps and headlights, and those aligned lights were but of an approaching jeep. I was drifting in thought, to sleep actually. I stopped and so did the riders behind me. We called the lead and decided to halt and regroup. I was not the only tired soul. We decided to stop at the next shop. We found one tea stall well past midnight and geared down to rest a bit and then to ride on.
We had tea. the same 6+2. Then we saw a cot, few tables and chairs, settled down for a nap. An hour passed and the tea boy was closing shop. He asked us to latch the door on our way out and left; we didn’t have to latch that door after all. We slept rest of the night there. Early morning we heard some choice Punjabi explicit swearing. Right next to the makeshift hall we fell asleep was a room and the owner of the tea stall was sleeping there. He saw us and started to name and shame his other two employees while wholly ignoring us and our relatives. We brushed, cleansed and rushed to latch ourselves to our bikes and bolted.
Later we realized we did not even pay. For the eight cups of tea. With such a backdrop we entered the fortified yet calm Kashmir. We saw army every where. Professional and the CRPF too who looked friendly. The trip lead had booked a house hotel next to the Dal lake that was next to the CRPF camp. We parked, unpacked and there was the invitation to a cosy bed after a lifetime. So, with no further thought or deliberation we slept.
I woke up to friendly voices. Somehow by telepathy or bush protocols or could be cell phone calls, a bunch of vendors knew of our stay. In these media exaggerated times, tourists are rare. So a bunch of bikers was a vendor magnet. Saffron, dry fruits, shawls, jewellery. Few of the group bought a lot of stuff especially the newly wed ones. Been there, done that already.
We set off for a ride on the Dal lake in Shikara. Posed. More boat vendors enticed us. Instant photos, Chow Mein, fruits, finery. We saw the customary Nehru park. Spots of Shammi Kapoor’s movie shoots. Houseboats. Yes, the Gul Gulshan Gulphaan too. Floating vegetable garden. And then, we took lunch.
The beginning of our Himalayan ride feels like it was a long time back, despite racing to the mountains matching the speed of a Rajadhani train, almost. So much happened by now that the Bangalore late flag off is foggy. The group formed and had matured. By now our strengths and weaknesses were apparent.
We loaded, put on gear and set off for Sonmarg. Headlights on, a song in heart, a decent sleep and meal fed bodies felt the first glimpses of snow peaked mountains. And soon enough we were crossing the streams, the cold icy wind was actually welcome. We also realized that in all the posing, and packing we had lost our banner. This banner was to be with us in all the important Patel points of the Leh Ladakh sojourn yet we lost it. Somewhere on the Patnitop, I am guessing, but I don’t know for sure.
This leg of the ride was really short. The darkness gathering from west swallowed the dusk and we found ourselves parking. We had found this lovely hotel in Sonmarg. Here we unpacked, cleaned the chains and checked in followed by for a hot shower and nice dinner.
I am fresh now, like those flowers that float on the Dal Lake. Mountain spirits too knew someone familiar has come home. I mean, my mood was being well pampered and attended to. That night I slept. We slept. We gelled up as a team. The heat was behind us, the heat of everything. We were all intact despite all that happened. No frayed nerves, no one was sulking. The chass, teas, dhabas amalgamated us. Leh, here we come …
PS: The previous blogs of this trip
Tips: Ride in Rajesthan Punjab in summer is hard. Take lot of breaks to cool the engine and drink lot of water. Plan to travel at night but get enough sleep. Factor of all the breaks you will have to take.
Meeting the locals and talking to them is must. At the halts, do talk to the drivers, cleaners. You will get good tips on road conditions, routes even eating options