Part 1 was all about the amazing journey to Ktop (Khardung La). This is all about being there and beyond – An adventure of a lifetime.
– Reached KTop
– Pictures with Jawans and playing in snow
– Coffee at 18,000 feet
– Weather turning bad
– Black Ice!
Read on my friends…….
After a very bumpy and almost broken down stretch of 2-3 kms, Venkat and I finally reached Khardung la (la means pass) also called as KTop by bikers/locals.
After all the hard work, wonderful ride and scary moments at the edge, KTop was like an anti-climax. It was just like a pit stop and no where near this mighty summit that we thought would rise from the shadows.
It was a small patch of land with a few bunkers of army jawans and a sign board on the right saying “Highest Motorable road in the World”. The tourists got out of their cars to take pictures.
There was a lot of soft snow around and I started rolling around a bit, after all this was my first time. Venkat had enough of snow while he was in USA, he gave the “rolling around” a pass.
Rolling around in snow for the first time
We took a few pics. The jawanas were watching with amusement, the over-excitement of the tourists. I guess it wasn’t so much fun living here in bare minimum oxygen (50% of sea level), freezing your butt.
The jawanas were here to take care of maintaining all the roads including clearing of landslides and snow. When everyone else was busy taking pics and having fun, we decided to “Thank” the jawans for their hard work. We were the only bikers there.
A bunker in the background
The jawans were pleased that we thanked them personally for all their hard work. I guess not many tourists do that. So the next time you are here, please make sure you drop in a “Thank You”.
They invited us into their bunkers for a cup of coffee. Venkat and I crowded in this bunker with the other jawans. The bunkers had furnaces, and it was warm inside.
Because there were no cups for coffee, these guys used steel glasses. There were only 2-3 glasses which were given to us, the guests. The rest used empty tin cans as glasses.
Best Coffee ever at 18,000 feet
We were actually feeling weird inside the bunker. Venkat came up with a theory – there was little oxygen here, and a the furnace fire would gobble up the oxygen, leaving out only co2 (carbon dioxide) and with 6-7 guys cramped up, it was hard breathing..literally. After coffee and a good chat, we stepped out into the fresh freezing air.
Venkat with the Jawans
One of the jawans wanted to ride our bikes. A few tried the smaller bajaj pulsar. But none dared to touch the big blue TBird.
All the tourists had turned back to Leh. We were the only civilians left out and thanks to the officer at South pullu, we had permission to go beyond KTop into Nubra valley.
We finally said our good byes and started down. It started snowing.
Pumped up for the downhill ride
I was seeing snowfall for the first time, and now I was biking through it. After just a few hundred meters, we were already having a bad time. the road was no better, the snow was fogging up our helmet glass, cutting out our visibility.
We had no choice but to lift the visor on the helmets. With no protection, my face was at the mercy of the elements – the snow falling into my eyes and the freezing wind numbing everything.
I was born in a city where summer temperatures touch 50 degree centigrade (120 F). The winter temperatures go to a minimum of 20+ degrees. You can say that I am really bad at dealing with cold.
snow flakes fogging the helmet
Now imagine me being in sub-zero temperatures, with a wind chill and biking through it. Although I was wearing twice as much protection as venkat (who was used to it after a few years stay in USA), I was still freezing and now my visor was off.
This was the toughest physical test ever for me. We got through only a kilometer and there were 40 more kilometers downhill to go.
and then it happened…
I read about it. Never understood it. Other bikers would encounter it in the winter, stop dead in their tracks and turn back.
The word itself sounded ominous. As I was saying, we were biking downhill through the snow and freezing cold, visibility was still only for few feet. Suddenly there was black ice below me, the next second my brain registered this and before I could say “oh shit!”, the bike went down. All 350 kg of it. Venkat was behind me, and his bike skidded and fell down just as it crossed me.
Can't see the road beneath the ice and slush
There was no warning, we never saw it in this weather. As soon as we touched it, we slipped and fell down. There was zero traction to the tires on this surface.
I finally knew what black ice was..
My Tbird fell on the right side of the narrow mountain road, Venkat was overtaking me and ended up falling on the middle of the road (the bike fell, he was ok).
Do you know what happens when there is less oxygen?
A small physical effort becomes very difficult. In LEH itself, we had trouble climbing a simple staircase. We wound up out-of-breath after climbing the flight to our hotel room and KTop was 5000 feet higher. There is even less oxygen here.
Now imagine trying to upright a 350kg or 180kg motorcycle in freezing temperature. We couldn’t lift them the first time. But we had to try. We were exhausted.
While we were busy trying to lift the bikes, we did not notice a truck slowly rolling towards us. Visibility was really bad.
Venkat and his bike was in its direct path. We eventually noticed it and signaled the driver to stop. Not that it was needed, he could see us in his path or so we thought….
Within a few seconds we realized that the truck was not stopping, it was still crawling at a slow pace. But it was not stopping.
We didn’t understand, we tried harder to make him understand, we shouted, jumped up and down. Still the truck kept coming, slow and steady.
This was like watching a horror movie in slow motion. Why the hell wasn’t the guy stopping, Venkat was in its direct path.
We gestured even harder, astonished. Couldn’t the guy see us?…..and finally the truck stopped. 10 meters short of Venkat.
After a few pitiful attempts, we managed to lift the bikes and moved them back to the side. We were panting, exhausted, I was seeing stars. This was it. I could not take it any longer.
My strength left me, with that my hope…
End of the Road
Was it really the end? Read the third and final part to find out…….
When I started writing this post, I saw the day’s headlines – A disaster struck the small town of Leh. Heavy rains caused mudslides and more than 200 people were killed. The biggest calamity Leh had ever seen. May peace come soon to this peaceful town.
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