Welcome to the ride-of-my-life, where two friends decided to rock the Mighty Himalayas. Only to find that, we are always at the mercy of mother nature.
A magnificent journey which abruptly ended just after the half way mark. All that stood between us and paradise was 50 meters of Black Ice.
But then a window of light opened, the Mountains gave us a second chance….
Part 1 was the beautiful motorcycle journey to Khardung La (Ktop)
Part 2 was about reaching the summit and then going down hard.
Venkat & I started on the ride of our lives, a journey on the highest motorable road in the world, from 13,000 feet to 18,000 feet and down into the Valley of desolation.
The uphill journey was wonderful, with mostly clear roads and beautiful weather. However the journey beyond KTop (Khardung La) quickly ended (after 1.5 kms) with both the bikes skidding on black ice.
End of the road
Lifting the bikes and moving them to the side of the road ate up all our energy. We were fast losing hope.
We walked for a short distance, to understand what we were up against. Turned out that we were not the only ones with a problem, a truck was stuck further down this road.
What looked really difficult, was now impossible!!
If a truck could get stuck, then our bikes were no match for this terrain and the snowfall was blocking our visibility.
With heavy hearts, we turned back to Ktop. We could not go further.
All the lifting took its toll on our body and we had been at this high altitude for the last few hours. I was becoming dizzy, the first effects of altitude sickness – which could take down a traveler for at least a day.
I was not ready for the ride back from Ktop to Leh. The jawans immediately took me to one of their bigger bunkers which had an oxygen machine, I was also given a lot of liquids to smoothen the effects of altitude sickness.
After a 15 minutes rest, I was feeling better.
We came out of the bunker refreshed and to a view I will never forget.
The weather had completely reversed. The time we went in, it was snowing with very low visibility. Now it stopped snowing and the sun was shining brightly.
This was the first time I was seeing snow blanketed by bright sunlight. The entire day, clouds were overshadowing this beautiful landscape.
This was the most spectacular sight I had ever seen. The Heavens had opened their gates.
Hope was coming back. My energy was returning. I felt like superman basking in the energy of the sun.
Go forward or Go back?
I wanted to make another pass towards Nubra valley. It was stupid, the ice will not melt anyway. We were going to fall again.
Even then, I still wanted to try again. But Venkat had enough, he preferred to go back. Understanding my desire, he told me “It’s your call”.
HeHe…He should have know that my decisions were NOT practical or safe.
We were going to try again…..:-)
Failing once is Bad. Failing twice – Disaster!
My decision was quick – try to go through the Black Ice. Now I had to think about the consequences, if this will turn out to as a bad decision.
Here were the facts
Bikers don’t handle ice.
The ice will still cause our bikes to skid horribly.
A truck was stuck on this patch.
We could not put any physical effort – Exhausted in the first attempt.
The stretch of road covered in Ice was 50 meters.
The doubts went on in my head. But there is no point. I decided we were going to try anyway.
A 10 minute ride brought us to the patch of ice. Unlike the last time, there was no snowfall blinding us. The path was clearly visible, the last time we thought this was a never-ending stretch. Now we could see all 50 meters of it.
Last time we managed to cross only 1 meters before we fell. However this time we were ready.
We couldn’t push. We couldn’t ride
Driving through this was impossible and we did not have the strength to push 2 meters, forget about 50 meters. So we kind of decided to do both, we will move the bike on it’s own engine power.
We ran the bikes in first gear, at crawling speed, keeping both our feet on the ground to prevent the bike from falling.
Easier said than done.
Fortunately, there were tire tracks through this patch. Here the ice mixed with water and mud to make the whole thing slushy. At least, it was better than just ice. We planned to stick to these tire tracks, venkat was going to take the left track and I, the right.
The longest 50 meters of our lives
I don’t remember being afraid at this point. The fear was before we made the decision.
We started the bikes, with feet firmly (not really, it was slipping) on the ground, we inched towards our goal. The bike was in first gear, we were at a crawling speed. The weight of the bike was making the tail end go out of control. It took all our strength, particularly legs to control the spinning.
Going through the slush was much better, an inch to the right or left would throw the bike out of balance.
I had more trouble with the heavier Tbird. Deciding to pick the heavier enfield did not look like a fun idea anymore.
There we were – two brave but equally stupid guys, trying to beat mother nature with man-made machines. We were moving inch by inch. Our strength was failing. We had to “stop” every 10-15 meters.
We could only pause. Stopping mid-way was now out of question. Falling was impossible to imagine.
Very slowly, we made progress. Venkat was ahead of me, tied down with his own struggles. This battle was our own, each of us had to face it alone. Venkat was doing better, he was stronger than me and his bike weighed half of mine.
Everything was out of focus
There was only me and the bike and the Ice, I was gaining ground inch by inch. Time stood still. My entire being focused on surviving – I just HAD to get THROUGH!!
and then…I was at the other end. Exhausted but exhilarated! We DID IT!
Down and Down
We didn’t have time to bask in our achievement, the day was ending and we couldn’t be caught on the Mountains after dark. The immediate stretch of 15 kms to south pullu checkpoint was horrible. But it was a cakewalk compared to the Ice.
We drove non-stop for the next hour or so to reach the first villages of Nubra Valley. We reached 30 minutes after dark. Dead Tired!
I saw a beautiful incident on this road, while both of us were roaring down the mountain to reach our destination, a small boy came into view. He ran up into our view from his hut, with a beaming smile just to wave at us.
To this day, I regret not stopping and shaking his hand. But I will never forget him and the innocence behind his eyes.
Did we conquer the Mountain? YES. But it was the Mountain of fear inside our hearts……
The tale of Nubra Valley will come later.