Page 1

W Hell o Wor ld! 1st

Where straight ahead is not an option


man and machine in the wilderness






MOTORCYCLE DETOURING get ready to detour!

get you bike in shape for the roughest ride of its life

January 2013 • 100 • Vol 1 Issue 1


day by day account of what it is like to ride in the himalayas

Ladakh Biker’s paradise on Earth

spirituality and relaxation in amritsar

amateurs share their experience of trekking kumara parvatha


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Ms. Sherin Elizabeth



External Examiner


SUPERVISOR: ……………………………………………………. Dr. Nandini Lakshmikantha, Ph.D Associate Prof & Head Department of Media Journalism and Communication Manipal University Bangalore Campus


Where is what 6 8 12 16 30 54 65 66 70 72

Motorcycle Touring? Motorcycle Detouring Preparing your motorcycle for Ladakh Ladakh Ladakh on a Motorcycle Amritsar The Wagah Border My Amritsar trip Langar at the Gurdwara Amateurs on Kumara Parvatha


The Student’s Post: Detour A concept magazine created as a college project.\ For Manipal University Bangalore Campus Where straight ahead is not an option

Created by Tajinder Pal Singh Walia, -

All pictures and text has been given courtesy where ever possible. Unaccredited images and pictures and text are taken from public domain. Thanks to Wikipedia, Wikimapia, Wikitravel, Flickr, Picasa, Panoramio, halfbakedtales., and others.

Editor’s Note hanks for having a look at TSP:Detour, The magazine seeks out unique travel experiences for travelers who want to explore and take holidays that are not found in brochures or travel packages. It covers places to stay, bars, food, festivals, eco-travel ideas, and a range of activities, so people can experience local cultures away from hoards of other travelers. In this First Issue I have tried to cover Motorcycle Touring, (Which we call detouring for those who are keen to explore more than the average traveler). This magazine hopes to give all the details needed by an adventure traveler to be able explore the place without worry. Other peoples most recent trips are given as stories so you can understand how it feels to be at the destination. We have provided detouring guides is this magazine to make it simple for people to get ready for trips which are a bit off the beaten path. I hope you like the magazine, Although we try our best to give accurate information there is a chance we might make a mistake, please check with the authorities before going on a trip. I hope this magazine is helpful to you, please fill out the feedback form at the back so we can create better Detour Magazines in the future Happy journey,

Tajinder Pal

Tajinder Pal Singh Walia

Editor |



Photo: Ajay Amanth 6

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an Guid

r MotorCycle Touring? A re paagal ho gaye ho kya?

Jana hai toh car main yaan bus se jao! Motorcycle pe risk bahut hai. These are just few of the replies that you get when you mention that want to tour on a motorcycle. After all a car/bus/train is much more comfortable, you are protected from the elements and at the end of journey you are less tired than you would have been if you had done the same on a motorcycle. These are much safer and at the same time you need not be on a constant state of alert if you are taking a taxi/bus/train. Then why would any one want to go on a motorcycle, only to reach the destination dirty and tired? In motorcycle touring, not only the destination matters but also the time spent traveling. Your vacation starts the moment you sit on your bike and start the engine. It might not be as comfortable or fast as other tools of travel, but then again it’s not a tool! It’s not just a mean to reach your destination; your bike is your constant companion. A cup of tea/coffee will never taste better than the one you will have on small road side tea stall on a cold foggy morning. Even a simple parantha at a road side Dhaba will seem more delicious than an extravagant buffet at a five star hotel, after hours of riding in hills. You will only need one tour on a motorcycle to get addicted to it for the rest of your life. A day’s journey on a motorcycle will teach more about the world than a month long journey in train. You won’t be locked up in a cage with a small window to look at the wonders of nature. In the morning sun will come out to greet you,

while the constant wind will give you a hug reminding you that you are one with the nature. The whole world is your play ground, with new things to discover, new challenges to meet, places to go where very few have gone before. When you come back from a trip like this and talk to your friends about the things you have seen, places you have visited, there will be a sense of amazement in their eyes. Even though they would have been to the same destination as you, they would have never felt that you were able to feel. They can only dream of doing the same in a metal cage with a view from the window as their outlook to the world. This, my friend, is the wonderful world of motorcycle touring. A world where destination is just an excuse for the trip. A world where less used village roads are preferred to super smooth national highways. A world where strangers greet you as a long lost friend because both of you choose to tour on motorcycle. A world where when you get off from your motorcycle suffering from acute mountain sickness and then one look back at the highest road in the world and you instantly make a promise to yourself to do the same road again. A world where you choose the direction to travel rather than a destination!

Thanks to for the article |



an Guid

Q Motorcycle Detouring Motorcycle Touring has its share of thrills and spills. While for most nothing comes close to touring on their beloved motorcycle, for some touring may leave a bitter memories. The purpose of this guide is to help you prepare for any eventualities and come back with a big grin on your face and fond memories. The first phase of preparation for any motorcycle trip is the psychological part; you have to make sure that you are prepared to take the leap into the world of motorcycle touring. The biggest thing to understand is your and your motorcycles limitation, the sooner you learn this, the sooner you will understand what motorcycle touring is all about.

T Route Choose a route that suits your riding style and skills. Choosing a route which is beyond your ability can leave you with a dented ego or worse! Learn to recognize your limitations and only then will you be able to improve them. Start off small; start going for rides that are few hours long. This will not only teach you the basics of riding on the highway, it will also build up your stamina. Remember; in motorcycle touring saddle time counts more than riding fast. Once you get accustomed to highway riding, choose a popular tourist destination for your first long ride. This way you can be assured that roads will be in a slightly better condition (not always true) and there will be plenty of information available regarding the destination. A popular tourist destination is also likely to have a good network of roads, petrol pumps, service centers, communication, hotels etc. This will prove beneficial in case there is a breakdown. A couple of trips like these will make you understand your riding style and skills. This will also boost your confidence and give you practical knowledge that no amount of reading will. Once you hit this phase, the only limiting factor for your trips would be budget and work/studies. 8

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Motorbik e Touring Guide bcmtourin

` Preparing your Motorcycle

Preparing your motorcycle for an upcoming trip is as essential as breathing. Get your motorcycle serviced from an authorized service center; ask the mechanics to check your bike for any parts that are showing signs of age/wear. Replace these parts at least couple of days before leaving for the trip, ride your motorcycle at least a 100kms after changing the part to ensure its working optimally. Get your bike washed before leaving for any trip, a clean bike not only runs cooler it is also easier to spot oil leakage on a clean bike. Never go on any long trip with an engine oil that is more then 1000kms old! A day before leaving for trip, check the air pressure in your tires, get the petrol filled, check engine oil levels, check if all the lights and meters are working. Tools: Below is a list of tools one should carry: 1. Tool kit: the standard tool kit that you get with your motorcycle, never leave this behind! 2. Ring spanners size 8 to 17 3. Screw Driver, if possible multi attachment one. 4. Steel wire: can be used to hold together any broken parts i.e. Exhaust.

5. Electricians tape: can be used for multitude of breakage and problems. 6. Torch light: you will it need when working on your motorcycle at night. 7. Match box/lighter + candle 8. Foot or Electric air pump: for motorcycles equipped with electric starters take along an electric air pump, it takes less space then a foot pump and is easier to operate. You will need to install a car cigarette lighter socket with your motorcycles battery. Warning: attaching the cigarette lighter socket might void your motorcycles warranty, so remove it before taking your bike to the service center Wink.

n Spares Here is a general set of spares that I would recommend you to carry, however these will change based on your motorcycle and need.

2. 90w oil/Gear oil: Can be used to lubricate the chain 3. Headlight and brake light bulb 4. Chain links 5. Clutch and brake leavers and wires 6. Spare tube for front and rear tire 7. Spark plug 8. Rope: can be used for tying together various parts of your motorcycle or to help you tow your friend’s motorcycle. 9. Bungee cords: helps in tying the luggage. 10. Spare key of your motorcycle. 11. WD40 12 Spare Fuse 13 Electrical wire 14 spark plug gap checker

1. Engine oil: carry at least half a liter of engine oil recommended by your motorcycle manufacturer

Photo: TCPMU |


Here are few spares that I wouldn’t term as essential, but can prove life savers.

help of electricians tape and steel wire and top up the fluid.

1. CDI Unit: if your bike uses CDI ignition then carrying a spare CDI unit can prove beneficial in case your CDI unit stops functioning. CDI units are tough to find in small villages, unless there is a large authorized service center. With out CDI your bike won’t start!

4. HT Coil: in case the HT Coil fails, you will need it.

2. Two Clutch plates: clutch plates take the brunt of the abuse in steep hill climbs, haven’t applied this but I believe in case your clutch plates fail, replacing two of them with two new plates should give you enough power to limp back to the nearest service center. 3. Disk Brake oil: in case there is any leakage in your disk brake assembly you can seal it off with the


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Another useful addition would be a Swiss Army Knife and a good strong chain and lock to tie your helmet safely.

\ Medicines 1. Your motorcycle’s first aid kit. 2. Medicines for fever, cold, stomach ailment, headache, painkillers. 3. In case going to high altitude areas carry Diamox to combat AMS. 4. Sun screen lotion: essential for touring in high altitude places.

@ Don’ts

_ Do’s

Don’t ride rash.

Click a lot of photos.

Don’t cut through traffic; when overtaking, honk and more often than not, the vehicle ahead will make way for you.

Treat every one on the road respectfully, especially the sweet village folks you come across.

Don’t insult any one.

Maintain a trip log.

Don’t believe a villager if he says road ahead is good, you might find out other wise.

Use commonsense and have a sense of humor. Lastly post those photos and trip logs to at our website.

Don’t overstrain yourself or your motorcycle. Don’t leave garbage behind, especially plastic. Don’t drink and ride.

Disclaimer: this guide is only intended as a reference, on road any thing can happen. So please ride safe. |



an Guid

Preparing your motorcycle for Ladakh


n arduous journey like Ladakh can take its toll, on not only the rider, but also on the motorcycle. In places like Manali - Leh highway or Zanskar Valley, a mechanical failure can spell disaster. With nearest town miles away and a mechanic even further down the road, it is a good idea to get the bike serviced properly and get the worn out parts replaced, before embarking upon a journey of this magnitude.

Things to watch out for when getting the bike serviced for Ladakh: Clutch Plates: For the steep and hilly terrain of Ladakh, it is best to ensure that your bike’s clutch plates have enough life left in them, to see you through the trip. So when you are getting the bike serviced, ask the mechanic to check the clutch plates and replace if necessary.


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Piston Rings: Another thing to watch out for is the health of Piston rings, if your bike has been drinking engine oil lately; it is best to get the piston-cylinder kit checked for wear and tear and while you are at it, get the valves checked as well. Timing Chain: Another thing you need to pay close attention to is a loose/worn out timing chain which can end up spoiling your trip by reducing your bikes power output. So do make sure that you get the timing chain inspected at the time of service. Drive Chain & Sprockets: Check drive chain and sprockets for wear, if the chain and/or sprockets are on the last lease of life, change the entire chain-sprocket set. Else get them cleaned and lubricated. Suspensions: Riding on the harsh terrain of Ladakh with a bike loaded with rider and luggage can take a toll on the suspension of your motorcy-



Can your Motorcycle gh handle rou Ladakh?


cle. Get the front and rear suspension checked, and if the need be, get them repaired/changed.

Final checks on the D-Day and beyond:

Swing arm bush: Get the swing arm bush checked for slackness, change if there is a need.

Now that you have prepared your motorcycle, and are ready to embark upon your trip, there are few checks that you need to perform.

Air filter/spark plug: If your air filter and/or spark plug is over 10000kms old or approaching that figure, get them changed. Don’t throw the old ones out, keep them as spares. Clutch & Accelerator wires: If your Clutch and Accelerator wires are over 10000kms old, get them changed and keep the old ones as spare. If they are not in need of a change then get them lubricated. Brake shoes/pads: Get the brake pads and shoes checked for wear, if they can’t last for 5000kms, get them changed. Also get the brake fluid changed or top it up, if you had changed it recently. Con Set: Con set is an essential part of the bike and if it’s loose or worn out, it can affect the handling of the motorcycle. At the time of service get it checked and change it if the need be. Engine oil/filter: If the engine oil is over 500kms old, get it changed. Also change the oil filter. In case your bike uses an oil strainer, get it cleaned. Electrical: Get all the electrical wiring checked, check all bulbs to see if they are functioning properly. Also clean the headlight seal beam and brake light to ensure better visibility. Fasten all nuts and bolts: Get all the nuts and bolts fastened properly, in case any is missing, get it installed. Carburetor Tuning: Keep the Carburetor tuning as close to stock as possible. Running it rich will cause problem in high altitude areas and running it lean would lead to overheating in plains. General check: Give every thing a once over, ensure every thing is working properly. And all the fluids are topped up, i.e. battery water, engine oil etc. Ensure all fuel lines are intact and there is no leakage any where. Tyres: Check both the tyres for wear and signs of cuts and cracks. If either of them is nearing the end of their life, get them changed. Wheel alignment: In case your motorcycle has spoke wheels, get them checked, and if the need be, get them aligned before you begin your trip

Learn minor repair/servicing: If you have gone through the above routine, your bike should hold through for the entire trip, but its a good idea to ask your motorcycle mechanic to teach you minor chores like tightening rear brakes, adjusting clutch and accelerator play, adjusting chain, fixing puncture, replacing bulbs and changing accelerator/clutch cable/levers.

Check if all lights, horn and indicators are working. Double check fluid levels such as engine oil, brake oil, battery water etc. Check tyres for air pressure as well as look for any signs of any nails, rocks etc lodged in tyre tread. Check if chain is lubricated properly and isn’t too tight or too loose. Check for any leakages. These checks should be performed each day before you start your journey, this should ensure there is no surprise in the middle of the trip.

List of essential tools, spares and motorcycle documents: Although it is recommended to learn basic repair of your motorcycle, even if you don’t know much, it is generally a good idea to carry necessary tools and spares. Since sometime even in the smallest of town you can find a mechanic or some one who knows how to do basic repair, but might not have the required tool and spares to go through it.

Essential tools: 1. Tool kit: OEM tool kit that comes with motorcycle is an essential part of the tool kit that every tourer should carry. 2. Ring spanners size 8 to 17: Should come in handy for tightening nuts and bolts of various sizes. 3. Screw Driver set: Try to carry a screwdriver set which has multiple attachments; a set which also includes a set of Allen keys is a good choice. While purchasing screwdriver set, ensure you get one which is the sturdiest of the lot and wont break while you are tightening or opening something. 4. Steel wire: Can be used to tie together bike parts in case of any breakage. 5. Electricians & Scotch tape: Can be used for tying together various parts and insolating damage wires. 6. Torch light: In case of break down in the evening or early in the morning you will need it to see your bike, even once you are off your bike it can prove quite useful. |


Photo: Andybkk 14

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7. Foot or Electric air pump: Since motorcyclists don’t have the luxury of carrying a spare tyre, an electric or foot pump combined with a puncture repair kit and spare tube can turn out to be a life saver. 8. Puncture repair kit: Puncture repair kit for tyres with tubes should consist of; rubber patches, solution for pasting the patches on tube and tyre iron for taking off the tyre from the rim. In case of tubeless tyres, purchase a tubeless puncture repair kit.

Essential Spares: 1. Engine oil: Carry at least half a liter of engine oil recommended by your motorcycle manufacturer, daily check engine oil level and top up if necessary. 2. 90w Gear oil: Can be used to lubricate drive chain, in case you prefer to use WD 40 or chain spray, please carry that. 3. Headlight and brake light bulb: Always carry a headlight and brake light bulb. 4. Chain links: Carry couple of chain links, in case your drive chain breaks due to some thing, you can fix it and ride on. 5. Clutch and front brake lever: In case of a fall clutch/front brake lever can break leaving you with a small piece to try and control your motorcycle with. Its best to carry each of these as spares to ensure you can ride with ease. 6. Clutch and accelerator wires: Clutch and Accelerator wires have a habit of snapping in the middle of nowhere, carry each of them to ensure in case one of them snaps, you can still carry on with your tour. 7. Spare tube for front and rear tyre: Carrying a spare tube for both the tyres will ensure that in case of a puncture you wouldn’t have to waste your time trying to repair the punctured tube and can simply change the tube and continue riding. 8. Spark plug: Although spark plugs of modern motorcycles rarely give problem, it is a good idea to carry a spare one. 9. Spare key of your motorcycle: Always carry a spare key of your motorcycle and never put both the keys in the same place!

10. Spare Fuse: A blown fuse can leave your motorcycle without headlight and/or horn, so don’t forget to carry one with you. 11. WD40: Can be used to lubricate and clean various mechanical and electrical parts of the motorcycle. 12. Nylon Rope: Can be used for tying together various parts of your motorcycle or to help you tow your friend’s motorcycle or help some one else tow yours. 13. Bungee cords: Helps in tying the luggage, always carry couple of spare ones since they can snap under pressure. 14. Electrical wire: Can be used to replace faulty electrical wire in the wiring. 15. Few nuts and bolts of various sizes: Based on your motorcycles make, carry nuts and bolts which hold parts like exhaust, leg guard, foot pegs etc. 16. Petrol pipe 1-2 meter long: If you run out of petrol and come across some one who is willing to lend some petrol to you, you will need it to take petrol out of their petrol tank. If you own a Royal Enfield Bullet, also carry 250ml clutch oil and a decompressor cable. In case any of your motorcycles parts have a history of ditching you in the middle of nowhere, it would be a wise to carry it as spare.

Essential documents: 1. Driving license 2. Registration Papers of the bike 3. Insurance certificate 4. Pollution under control certificate Carry two - three copies of the above mentioned documents; generally you should have photocopies of Registration certificate and Insurance certificate handy, while the original should be kept in safe yet accessible place. In case of photocopies, they would have to be attested by a gazetted officer in order to hold any value. You should always have your original license and PUC certificate handy as well. = |


ney our j e Th

X Ladakh


adakh is a mountainous region in northwest Jammu and Kashmir in north India and in the area known as the Trans-Himalaya, (the lands beyond the Himalaya: Tibet, Xinjiang and northern Pakistan). It’s slightly smaller than Scotland, the settled population live between 2700 m and 4500 m, and nomadic encampments even higher, and it’s the largest and the least populated region of Jammu and Kashmir. Travellers are likely to see more of the Buddhists as the majority of the tourist attractions are in the east and directly related to Tibetan Buddhist culture. This rugged region is home to one of the last undisturbed Tantric Buddhist populations on earth, protected from colonial interference, rampaging Mughals and the ravages of the Cultural Revolution by sheer force of geography. From November to May, Ladakh is almost completely cut off from the outside world. Even in summer, getting here involves crossing the highest mountain passes in the world, or a hair-raising flight that weaves between the peaks. Isolation has preserved an almost medieval way of life, dictated by the changing seasons. However, change is coming to this mountain Shangri La. Tourism and hydro-electric power are flooding the region with money, and global warming is altering rainfall pat16

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terns, threatening farming cycles and Ladakh’s traditional mud-brick architecture. Unlike the rest of Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh has seen little violence since Independence. Most Ladakhis are Buddhist, with smaller communities of Shia and Sunni Muslims in Leh and the valleys surrounding Zanskar and Kargil.

r Typ e

Extrem e Backpa ck OnRoad 12-20 Da ys

Photo by Sandeep Rathod


The land so barren and the passes so high, that only the worst of enemies or the best friends would visit this land..� (Ladakhi quote) |


F Ladakh Route Map (Major roads)


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T Regions and Cities Regions

Cities Choglamsar - a village with a large Tibetan comunity, almost close enough to Leh to be a suburb. Kargil - key to access to Zanskar area, and a necessary stop along the way from Leh to Srinagar and the Vale of Kashmir. A mostly Muslim town. Blossoming apricot orchards in summertime. Leh - a medium sized town, very picturesque. An excellent base for exploring Ladakh. Good guest houses and restaurants. Turtuk - a remote village inhabited on the “line of control” between Pakistan-administered Baltistan and Indian-administered Kashmir.


Ladakh was an independent kingdom for nine centuries, but it was very strongly influenced by Tibet and the neighbouring Muslim region. Linguistically Ladakhi is very closely related to Tibetan. Tibet has always been where Ladakhi Buddhists would go for higher religious education, which since the incorporation of Tibet into China has meant the Ladakhis have made the much shorter trip to the Tibetan monasteries in India. The architecture of Ladakh is almost identical to that of Tibet, both of residential buildings and of the monasteries. The class structure, or more precisely the lack of a sharply defined class structure, is common to Tibet and Ladakh, and is in sharp contrast to the rest of India. Related to this is the relatively high status, freedom and outspokenness of Buddhist women in Ladakh and Tibet. Importantly, a set of cultural practices that keep the population from growing to be more than the land can support, and to prevent a farm from being divided up and thus being unable to support a family, is common to both cultures:

Nubra - Photo By

However, Tibet was far from the only influence on Ladakh. Where Tibet was largely closed off to outside influence, Ladakh was a nation where the caravan trade played an important role. Traders from the neighbouring Muslim lands (both Kashmir and East Turkistan, now the Xinjiang province of China) were a common sight in Leh’s bazaar until the 20th century. The folk music is based on the styles of the Muslim parts of the Western Himalayas; likewise polo was imported from these lands and enjoys popularity to this day with Ladakhis regardless of faith. Over the couple decades the relationship between Buddhists and Muslims in Ladakh has deteriorated. Possibly due to the complex roles of the communites as minorities relative to each other. Muslims are a minority in Leh, majority in J&K, minority in India; Buddhists a majority in Leh, minority in J&K to Muslims, in India to Hindus. Possibly due to the importation of identity politics from the rest of India. Whatever the reason, it has never erupted into the kind of violence seen elsewhere in India at times, but it still may take the sheen out of a place that seems remarkably idyllic, when a new friend says something that’s hard not to hear as racist.

Zanskar - Photo by hamon jp |


l Geography The Indus valley is the Ladakhi heartland, with the highest population density, and large amounts of agricultural land. Running parallel, roughly north-east south-west with it are a series of valleys and mountain ranges. North of the Indus valley is the Ladakh range, on the other side of which is the Shayok, and Nubra valleys. South of the Indus is the Stok range, clearly visible from Leh. On the other side is the Markha valley, a popular trekking destination. Farther south-west is a series of minor ranges and then uninhabited valleys we come to Zangskar, with the Kargyak and the Stod rivers joining at Padum, to form the Zangskar river which bucks the trend and flows north through a narrow gorge to join the Indus. To the south of Zangskar is the Grand Himal range marking the southern limit of Ladakh. To the east of this series of ranges is the Changtang, a high plateau home to nomads. It is known as Kharnak in the west,

Samad Rokchen in the north east and Korzok in the south east. Not a true plateau, it has a chaotic assortment of minor mountains ranges not much higher than the wide valleys between them. With no drainage leading out of this area, there are a number of beautiful salt water lakes that make popular destinations for tourists.

h Further Reading Leh’s many excellent bookshops offer a wide variety of books on Ladakh, Buddhism and Islamic history; general reading. They are well worth visiting, and have many titles not available outside India. Some recommended titles on Ladakh are: Ladakh, Crossroads of High Asia: Janet Rizvi, an entirely enjoyable, meticulously researched overview of Ladakhi Culture, History, economy and Geography. It never lets its

Leh as viewed from the monastery. 20

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Photo By Chris Horobin precision and accuracy get in the way of its approachability and personalness. Ancient Futures: Helena Norberg-Hodge, A passionate explanation of, and plea for, the preservation of the traditional values of Ladakh. A remarkable work despite its occasional lack of balance, it is an influential book and a must read for all visitors to Ladakh.

? Talk The language of Ladakh is Ladakhi, a Tibetan dialect with written Ladakhi being the same as Tibetan. Tibetans can learn Ladakhi easily but Tibetan is difficult to speak for Ladakhis. Spoken Ladakhi is closer to the Tibetan spoken in Western Tibet. Ladakhi language is a shared culture platform which brings the Muslims and Buddhists together as one people of this Himalayan region. Ladakhis usually know Hindi and often English, but in villages without road access neither can be expected. A high quality Ladakhi phrasebook, Getting Started in Ladakhi, by Melong Publications, is available in Leh and well worth getting. Not only will any attempts you make to speak the language be appreciated, it will be useful.

[ Get in Buses run directly to Leh from either Manali or Srinagar. Enroute to Leh one can stop in a number of places , most will get off in Keylong , the administrative center for Lahaul. Overlooking Keylong is the Kardang monastery. This is the choice that most travelers will want to take due to the tense security situaton in Kashmir, however the road is only open from June to mid October due to snow fall. There are shared taxis from Manali which start early in the morning and reach Leh early next morning.Tourist buses from HPTDC and the local HRTC buses, stop overnight in Keylong.There are also minibuses and shared cabs that makes a overnight stop in Sarchu - this comes with a high incidence of altitude sickness , since Sarchu ( also dubbed

“The Vomit Hilton�) lies more than seven hundred meters higher than Leh , at 4253 meters. Coming from Srinagar there are a few interesting places to stop en route : Kargil at 2693 meters ( where the buses stops , the best choice for altitude acclimatization) , (Lamayuru and Alchi that also offer accommodation). The opening and final closing of both roads, but no major events in between, are announced on the the official Leh website. Srinagar-Leh news updates are found here, Manali-Leh here Daily flights to Leh are run by Indian, Jet Airways and Kingfisher Red from Delhi, Srinagar, Jammu and elsewhere. These are, however, subject to inclement weather and may be cancelled at any time, keep your schedule flexible. Altitude sickness is also a worry given the altitude. You can ride in to Leh between June and Mid october (when the roads are open) on a motorcyle too. Bikers usually follow either of the 2 routes 1. Delhi -> Chandigarh -> Patni Top -> Srinagar -> Kargil -> Leh 2. Delhi -> Chandigarh -> Manali -> Sarchu -> Pang -> Leh

N Get around u By bus

Ladakhi buses run from Leh to the surrounding villages. They are often overcrowded and generally disorganised and poorly run. Daily buses or mini buses run to Alchi, Basgo, Dha-Hanu, Likir, Nimmu, and Saspul; twice daily to Chemray, Hemis, Matho, Stok, and Tak Tok; hourly or more often to Choglamsar, Phyang, Shey, Spituk, Stakna, Thiksay.

p By taxi You will find in Leh a number of local taxis, that will take you to the surrounding monasteries much faster and more comfortably than Public transport. Rates are fairly steep compared to elsewhere in India. |


t By truck Trucks often stop for hitchhikers, who are usually expected to pay half the bus fare, bargaining may be necessary. They are slower than the buses and sometimes stop for long periods to unload cargo.

r By motorcycle In Leh there are a number of shops that will rent motorbikes, mostly the Royal Enfield, still made in India today (350 and 500 cc model). Rents are fairly cheap, and if you are are used to old bikes and left hand side driving, it is certainly a great way to move around if short of time, and far cheaper than local taxis. Be sure to check your rented bike before you leave so that you don’t end up getting stranded in the middle of nowhere. As always in India, drive carefully, as other drivers often lack caution. Things to note 1. In most sections of the journey, the road are in a bad condition but in certain conditions the roads are literally non-existant. Bottom line is that BRO (Border Roads Organisation) has done a good job, with what ever little resources that are available, in making these difficult terrains accessible to vehicular traffic. NOTE: If you plan to drive/ ride in to the Ladakh region in your own car/ bike, 1. Carry enough spares and all the required tools. 2. Try and learn basic vehicle maintainence before you start on the trip. 3. Carry spare fuel. (There is a 380km strech on the Leh Manali highway which has no petrol pumps). 4. You will need to get permits to visit certain places (For example Khardung La)


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2. Though there are many mechanics in Leh who deal with many bikes, the availability of spares is limited. So before you leave please be sure to get your bike serviced (also get all cables checked/ changed, set chain, get oils topped up, brakes inspected etc.) and also carry all necessary spares (cables, chain link, bulbs etc.) 3. Make sure to carry the originals of all your bike’s documents. 4. Glaciers tend to melt as the day progresses and flow (at some places across roads). So be sure to plan to reach and cross these glacier melts commonly known as Nalas (for example Pagal nala, Khooni nala, Whiskey nala, Brandy nala etc.) during the earlier part of the day, when the flow is low and the depth depth of the water is still easily passable. 5. When you encounter a Military convoy, always pull over and let them pass. It might be a good idea to find out from the locals as to when the convoy goes uphill and downhill and try to time your trip accordingly.

q By bicycle The scenery would be magnificent at the pace of a bicycle, however one would need to be well prepared with full camping equipment. There is a bit less than 1000 km of paved roads in Ladakh. The Manali-Leh-Srinagar road makes up about half of that, the remainder being spurs off it. As such it’s not possible to string together a loop, and the only route that would avoid backtracking would be to follow the Manali-Leh-Srinagar road. You would need to check the current situation and think carefully to decide if travling in Kashmir at bicycle pace is more of a risk than you want to take. In addition to the paved roads there are some trekking routes that would be possible to ride a lightly loaded sturdy mountain bike on, perhaps hiring a horse and handler to take your baggage. Padam to Darcha, via Shingo La (pass) would be a good route for this, though you would still need to push your bike over the pass itself. Ask trekkers in Ladakh for more options.

Photo By Abe and Bethany Okie | 23

o By foot For the traveler with a number of months it is possible to trek from one end of Ladakh to the other, or even from places in Himachal Pradesh . The large number of trails and the limited number of roads allows you to string together routes that have road access often enough to restock supplies, but almost entirely avoid walking on motor roads. See below in the Do section for more info.

‐ See The main tourist sites relate to Tibetan Buddhism, and to the stunning landscape. Ladakh is not only home to some of the most beautiful and serene monasteries you’ll ever see, but it also a land of rich natural beauty - and it’s this natural beauty that hits you so hard, because it’s a barren beauty. Many travelers find themselves at loss to understand

how something so barren can yet be so beautiful. Be respectful, these are holy places and active monks in most of them. Must-see sites include “Moon-land-view” (the area around Lamayuru) on the Leh-Kargil highway; Many places in Ladakh need an inner line permit which is available for free in DC’s office in Ladakh. A travel agent can also arrange the permit for Rs 100 per person within an hour on any working day. There are some regular tourist circuits which entail driving 200-400 km roundtrip out of Ladakh. 1.) Leh-Karu-Chang La-Tangtse-Pangong Tso & Back: This is a pouplar trip to Pangong Tso Lake and can be done by taxi/bike. Most people do it as a day trip starting early in the morning and come back by the evening. However, there are arrangements for stay near the lake in Lukung & Spangmik and one can stay overnight to enjoy this place at a slower pace. Camping is also possible. 2.) Leh-Khardung La-Nubra Valley(Valley of Flowers): This is another popular trip but difficult to do in one day. Nubra Valley may not be as beautiful as is touted to be, and is second favourite to tourists as a trip out of Leh. Some people return from Khardung La (18380 ft), which is claimed to be the highest motorable pass in the world. It provides excellent views of Ladakh Range as well as Karakoram Range on the other side. Accommodation is available along the way and in Nubra Valley at various places.

Silhouette Self PortraitTaken in the sand dunes of Ladakh By leslein 24

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3.) Leh-Upshi-Tso Kar-Tso Moriri: This is another trip which covers two smaller lakes Tso Kar and Tso Moriri. There is accommodation available in Korzok(Tso Moriri) but camping near the lake is not allowed. 4.) Leh-Lamayuru-Leh: This is an easier drive along Indus river towards Kargil and one can also see the confluence of Indus and Zanskar on the way. Lamayuru is a beautiful place and is home to the oldest monastery and one of the most important in Ladakh. One can stay in the monastery or in the surrounding village. 5.) Various monasteries-around Leh: There are 4-5 big monasteries around Leh and can be covered in one day. Most important of them are Thiksey, Hemis, Spituk, Stok and Shey. One needs to acclimatize to the attitude in leh (3500 m) before heading out as AMS (acute mountain sickness or altitude sickness) can ruin the entire trip. The Hemis Monastery: This is the largest monastery of Ladakh. Tourists can found at least 150 lamas living in the monastery, at any point of time throughout the year. Hemis is famous for a huge painting of Buddha, which is brought to the public or displayed to the public only once in 11 years of time period. Padum Valley: Padum is located at an altitude of 3505 m from the sea level. It is the capital of the ancient Zanskar and presently administrative headquarter of the Zanskar region. Padum has population of around 1500-1600. Padum is a very scarcely inhabited valley in the Zanskar. Padum is one of the famous trekking destinations for trekking lovers, Zanskar.

Zanskar Valley: Zanskar is one of the remotest regions of the Ladakh. Zanskar is spread in around 300 km of area, which is only accessible through high passes. This valley is higher than any other valley in Ladakh region and located in the inner Himalaya. Here rain fall is very less and the climates is very harsh. Parang La Trek: Parang La Trek is one of the most challenging and adventures trekking trail. This trek is located on an isolated route far into the mountains with many rivers to be crossed. Kang Yatse: This trek is located to the south east part of the Leh, in the Markha valley. This valley is a dream for every trekker and everyone wish to trek the Markha Valley for at least once.

i Do Volunteer: There are numerous NGOs in Ladakh, mostly centred on Leh, many of which take foreigners as volunteers if you can commit to a stay of a few months. Meditate: There is a meditation center in Choglamsar, with an office in Leh, that offers meditation courses and retreats for various levels of experience. Festivals: In late June and early July, the whole Ladakh region comes alive with festivals. Some are held at the local cricket and polo club in Leh, while others are held at the monasteries. Reserve a place well in advance as they get very crowded. Some of the festivals are only held every 12 years, (such as one at

Photo By Abe and Bethany Okie |


Hemis) and at that time the monastery will display its greatest treasure, such as a huge thangka (a religious icon painted or embroidered on cloth). Festival Calendar till 2014. Trek: Ladakh is an excellent trekking area for experienced trekkers. The infrastructure is nowhere near as developed as in Nepal, necessitating greater preparedness on the part of the trekker. Most trekkers go with a guide and some pack horses, which is easy to organise, and if arranged in Leh quite affordable. It is possible to trek independently, but this should not be undertaken lightly and without much consultation with locals. People do go missing and die on those trails! Below are a few selected routes:

n The Baby Trek Duration: 2-3 days Season: Year round Get In: The trail starts at Likir, there are a few buses from Leh daily. Description: Ladakh’s one “tea house trek” is, despite the name, hard work because of the steep and frequent assents and descents. Its highest point is 3750 m (unusually low for Ladakh); it passes through frequent villages, allowing the traveler to sleep in guest houses or peoples’ homes every night, it is a good introduction to trekking in Ladakh, and way to acclimatize to the altitude. The main attraction of this trek is the large villages of beautiful well made houses, among good agricultural land; the mountains and views from the passes are relatively unimpressive.

high altitude mountain Kangyatse which is at the height of 6400 meters from the sea level. Tourists will pass through colourful villages and beautiful valley where they can experience the enjoy the tradition and culture of Leh Ladakh.

Q Maps General traveling maps showing the roads and tourist sites are commonly available in India and abroad. The best quality trekking maps are nowhere near the quality of maps covering trekking areas of Europe or North America. Note that high quality maps of the border regions of India/Pakistan/ China are technically illegal in India for security reasons, your map may be confiscated if you allow security personel to see it. (despite very high quality maps of Indian J&K and the LoC being available from the Survey of Pakistan in Islamabad!) Survey of India produces a very out of date (early 1980s) trekking map of J&K; it’s cheap, and could be useful for planning a route with an experanced guide. US Army Map Service. (1:250000) - produces out of date (1950s and 60s) topographic maps of whole india, easily available on the Internet. Soviet Military Topographic Maps (1:200000 & 1:100000) maps produced in the 1970’s and 1980’s which are now easily available on the internet but expensive. They provide a good information but all the labels are in Cyrillic script limiting their use.

Route: Likir village - Phobe La (3580 m)- Sumdo village Chagatse La (3630 m) - Yangthang village - Tsermangchen La (3750 m) - Hemis Shukpachen village - Mebtak La (3720 m) Ang village - Tingmosgam village.

Artou (1:300000) - based on satellite imagery. Until recently the best available, it is satifactory for pre-trek route planning, but not good for navigation. A pirated version is available in Leh.

The Markha Valley Trek: This trek is among the easily accessible and popular trek in Ladakh. This trek also leads to a large Diversity of landscapes. Markha Valley is surrounded by the

Trekking Map of Ladakh by Sonam Tsetan (approx scale 1:600000) is very accurate for what it shows: the trails, village names, and water courses. It lacks topography but has the most accurate place names of all the maps, making it a very useful


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planning tool. It’s available in Leh for about 200 Rp. Leomann (1:200000) - may have better scale than the Artou, but it actually contains less information and is less accurate; however the series does cover a lot more of Ladakh and elsewhere in the Himalayas. Ladakh Zanskar Trekking Map Series by Editions Olizane (1:150000) - recently introduced, an excellent topographic map, with lots of detail.

i Things to Carry 2 Denims & 4 T-shirts (should suffice), Jackets – 1 Armoured Riding jacket, 1 Jacket for cold weather (Winter Jacket / Leather would be ideal), Riding Trousers – Thermal wear (Water Proof), Gloves – 1 Riding Gloves + 1 Gloves for Cold weather, Monkey Cap / Balaklava (Balaklava preferred as will fit properly inside your helmets) Socks – Woolen and Cotton (3 Pairs each) Gumboots, Waist Pouch, Slippers, Sleeping Bag, Empty containers for Fuel, Bungee Cords / Octopus – 4 nos, Helmet (Full faced), Extra Visor (White Glass only), Riding Glasses, Getters (To cover your shoes in case of unavailability of Gumboots), Thermals / Inners (At least two sets),

Riding shoes / Army Combat Shoes, Barsati or Rain coat (Duck Back), Dry fruits, Chocolates , Rucksack with polythene cover, Polythene bags (Can be worn inside the shoes to prevent frost bites), Torch, Maps, First Aid Kit, Toilet Kit, Tissue Papers.

] Eat Ladakhi food has much in common with Tibetan food, the most prominent foods being: Thukpa, noodle soup; and Tsampa, known in Ladakhi as Ngamphe, roasted barley flour, eatable without cooking it makes useful, if dull trekking food. A dish that is strictly Ladakhi is skyu, a heavy pasta dish with root vegetables. As Ladakh moves toward a less sustainable, cash based economy, imported Indian foods are becoming more important. You are likely to be served rice, dal (lentils) with veggies even in villages without road access, and it’s standard in Leh. In leh town you can taste a vaste range of cuisines- which include north Indian, Tibetan, Chinese, Italian and even Korean. Bakeries are plenty in Leh town. Strangely they all claim to be German Bakeries. They serve seasonal fruit pies, tarts, brownies and a variety of breads. |


R Drink Tea it traditionally made with strong black tea, butter, and salt, it is mixed in a large churn and known as gurgur cha, due to the sound of mixing it. Similar to tea traditionally drunk elsewhere in Central Asia, it’s more like soup than tea elsewhere, it can be refreshing and invigorating if you can get use to it. Sweet tea (cha ngarmo) is common now, made Indian style with lots of milk and sugar. Beer (chang) is traditionally made from barley; it has a yeasty taste slightly similar to sake.

S Sleep You will find a variety of places to stay in Ladakh. The accommodation option ranges from hotels and guesthouses to paying guest accommodation and tourist hostels. The hotels in this region are classified into A, B, C & Economy categories while guest houses fall in the upper, medium and economy class. Quite a few hotels in Ladakh are family-run and give tourists the opportunity to interact with local families. Some monasteries allow guests and offer essentially basic accommodation that is available for the price of a small donation. Most of the


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hotels are around the main market area and most hotels and guesthouses close down in winter, mainly because occupancy is pretty low.

o Stay healthy

g Stay safe

Carry any and every medication (for specific health problems) that you may need. Ensure that you are physically fit if you intend to ride or trek in the Ladakh region.

Ladakh is one of the safest parts of India, and the most basic precautions are enough to keep you and your possessions safe. The locals are very friendly and humble. Most of the region is dotted with military cantonments every 50-80 kms, but mainly because of its strategic position on international border between India and China. The army plays major part in rescue and aid efforts and that is why you will require to produce identification documents or written permission from local authorities before entering some remote places.

Leh is above 3500 m (over 11,000 feet) and other parts of Ladakh are higher yet. There is risk of altitude sickness due to the rapid shift in altitude. =

Photo By Abe and Bethany Okie | 29


ri Expe

r Ladakh on a Motorcycle g Day 00


alf past ten and a bunch of soft songs are blaring in the background. My room mate of many years Priyanku and I just finished smoking, well, a cigarette, and are waiting for Himanshu to show up. Himanshu is supposed to come at midnight, have dinner with us and then discuss the plan a bit more. We will be on our way to what I hope to be a highlight of my otherwise ordinary life, the one dream that every Indian biker dream – a trip to Ladakh.

remember was that my jimmies were thoroughly rustled. I asked him if he was serious about the trip at all. The poor bloke got a bit offended by the question. Yeah, I can be a complete dick at times. ‘Dil pe lagegi toh baat banegi’ I reasoned myself.

“Let’s start on Sunday” he suggested.

There wasn’t anything for me to do for a whole Saturday. I decided to figure out if there’s any better way to pack my stuff. I couldn’t find one. I bought some stuff that I planned to buy in Manali – extra battery, extra rope – that sort of things. There wasn’t much space to add too many new things – carrying my 4.5 kg tent meant that there’s absolutely no room for flab in the luggage. Riding literally to the top of the world (Khardung La – the highest motorable road in the world is a part of the route) meant that we can’t load our motorcycles with anything other than what’s necessary. (In the hindsight, carrying the tent was NOT necessary at all)

It had something to do with his motorcycle or his parents – I don’t exactly remember now. What I do

Saturday night, all my stuff are packed and loaded on to the motorcycle.

I am not too keen on discussing plans. It is rather simple for me. All of my bags are packed, my motorcycle serviced & tuned up and now we ride. Himanshu called at around midnight to tell that he might not make it tonight and that he’ll need some more time to prepare. “How much time?” I asked.


r By




halfbak ed wordpr tales. Text an d ima by the w ges riter

My RE Machismo 350. She’s not fancy, but she’s mine 30

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1 Day 01


raveled through the sweltering heat for about 400 kilometers from Delhi to Mandi – stopped short of about 100 kilometers from Manali. The original plan of reaching Manali was abandoned because we started very late. The journey was pretty uneventful. Just a straight highway with a lot of traffic moving to & from Delhi. We kept crossing a couple on their motorcycle heading for Leh and waved at them every time we cross. I have tremendous respect for the girl who was riding pillion. They are the true iron butts. As we travelled further, there were visible changes in the surrounding. The roads started to have some sweet curves and we started to cross small hills. We stopped at a place named “King’s Hotel” in Mandi – nothing like what name promised, a poorly lit sad little thing by the road. But we were not out here looking for comfort. 500 bucks for clean beds, clean bathroom and parking space for our bikes was good enough for us. On the downside, the cable really sucked. Only channel on the TV with half decent signal was playing Laughter Challenge. Ms Singh’s hysterical laughter at every shitty joke was mind numbing. Not the ideal viewing material after smoking a, well, a cigarette after a full day’s ride. But since we had an early day the next morning, we didn’t had much time for TV or anything else anyway. We quickly took our baths and had our dinner and hit the sack pretty soon. Tomorrow, the mountains will actually begin. I can’t wait for morning.

Himans h

u durin g a wat

er-in/w ater-ou t

2 Day 02


e started off at around seven in the morning from Mandi. It was a pretty uneventful ride till about Kullu where we stopped for breakfast. Himanshu took out his camera and went for a walk to look around. I went out looking too, for some, well, cigarettes. After asking around for a while, I came across a guy who works in a service station. We had a chat, told him where I’m headed so he gave me his personal pack of, well, cigarettes. Score! We didn’t intend to stop in Manali for long, only long enough to pay some tax and take out some cash before continuing to Rohtang Pass. That took us more than an hour because of the tourist rush. The stretch of road from Shimla to Rohtang Pass was awesome, tests your balance with the bike. Himanshu was riding much better and faster than yesterday. There seemed no problem in taking on the sharp curves while going uphill. Met one Manu – a member of Punjab Enfield Generation (PEG). He insisted that we join them and we decided what the hell, more the merrier. That’s when I realize the problem of travelling in large groups. Including us, we were eleven. Some of the members of the group were behind so we waited for more than two hours at Rohthang Pass watching tourists playing in the dirty snow, riding their ATBs and having adventures. A guy asked if we’d like to play in the snow. Dirty snow with a lot of tourist playing adventure sports is not what excites hipster bikers like us.

Himans h break

u’s firs t tryst

with sn ow @ Ro htang P ass |


Boys will b

e boys

Daljit Fixin g stranger

’s bike

Finally all the members finally arrived and we started to ride through a stretch of mud they call road. Just as we passed that, one of the PEG guy struck up a conversation with some girl in a car who said she wanted to ride the bike for some time. Being the red blooded Punjabi guy, more than one offered their motorcycle as they cramped for her attention. Thanks to li’l miss Jaipur, we lost another hour. Once we crossed the muddy stretch, the road suddenly changed into stuff dream is made up of. Well, my dream anyways. Freshly topped mountain roads – as smooth as it gets here in India, lot of sweet curves, friendly people – this was one of the memorable rides of the entire tour. We reached Tandi at around seven in the evening – the last fuel station till we reach Leh. The original plan was to refuel at Tandi and then continue till Keylong where we were supposed to spend the night. But it was already late so by the time we reached there, the promised accommodation wasn’t there. 32

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Theo (the Fr ench guy), Pri

tpal & Sunn y

(P.E.G.) at D a


OP with P.E .G

. members

Instead of taking out our tents and try to pitch it in total darkness, we collectively decided to ride till the next place where we could get a warm tent & hot food – Darchu. We rode for another three hours in the dark through tricky mountainous roads and reached Darchu at around ten at night and got our warm beds & hot dinner. There was a small incident during the day’s ride. We had a French guy – Theo – who was riding with us. The cops at Lepcha wouldn’t let him through without a passport. Theo wasn’t sure if he had his passport so while some of us searched his bags, others tried to convince the cops to let his pass. This whole incident took us more than an hour to sort out. The guys could have left Theo to sort it out himself but none made this suggestion even once during the entire period. A group of ten loud Punjabi riders will slow you down but will never bail on you.

3 Day 03


have always had my reservations about travelling in large groups. Given a choice, I’d rather be a lone wolf than be in a wolf pack. Case in point, Himanshu and I were all saddled up and ready to ride by eight in the morning. The rest of the party took a couple of hours more to start. Even the cops at the checking gate were annoyed about us blocking the way and taking up so much time to cross the check post. Just as we crossed the Darchu bridge, Manu’s bike’s battery died. The Frenchman Theo got seriously sick (because of the altitude) and decided to stay back for a day or two at the camp to acclimatize himself first. This happens after putting in so much of effort at the Lahoul – Spiti police gates the day before! One Daljit decided to stay back with Manu and help him fix up his motorcycle while the rest of the team decided to ride ahead. We rode in awe, looking out at the amazing scenery with the Himalaya in the backdrop, majestic as ever. There were many photo sessions during the day; the longest were when we were at Suruchu. We were lucky to not have any problem for the rest of the

way, though we stopped more than once on our way to help out other bikers with repairs. Actually it was Daljit who stops everytime he sees someone having bike problem. Himanshu and I just gave him company while he fixed up stranger’s bike. Tremendous respect for that dude. We reached Pang early in the afternoon. This was where we had planned to spend the night but Punjab Enfield Generation members were to ride on till Tsokar Lake the same day and were supposed to spend the night there. They had permission for two more guys (couple of members who couldn’t join them) and we were welcome to pile on with them! We did our routine check our motorcycle while Daljit started to work on his motorcycle for a change. That’s when Himanshu discovered his motorcycle’s front tyre was cut by some sharp rock. We decided not to take the risk of riding off road with a damaged tyre with the night approching, no matter how tantalizing the prospect of spending the night out camping by a lake is. So we stayed back at Pang for the night and would start for Leh the next morning – just as we originally planned. We gave half of our fuel to the group since we won’t be needing them now and slowly settled down at an overnight camp in Pang – some 15,000 feet above sea level. |


Lack of Oxygen is a major concern and I remember being advised repeatedly about it back home. Lots of liquid, lots of chocolate – pretty easy actually. Even small tasks like putting your motorcycle on full stand felt physically demanding. I never remember putting in so much effort in taking off my bags from the motorcycle. The whole process of parking my bike and unpacking took me an hour or so. However, I wasn’t half as bad as the other tourists around. Most of the people in cars were nauseated, some were vomiting. Himanshu and I had our fill of Maggie, I smoked, well, a cigarette, with a cup of Tibetan tea and rolled into my sleeping bag for the rest of the night. Tomorrow, it’ll be just me and Himanshu riding to Leh.

4 Day 04


hat a night! It was cold and somehow I felt really uncomfortable in my sleeping bag. First I had a debate with myself for about an hour on whether or not to get out of my sleeping night to take a piss. Once I was back, sleep was gone and my scumbag brain got busy doing what it does best. I hardly had about a couple of hours to sleep when it was already time to get ready. There were a few other riders who had stayed back last night with us at Pang. We chatted while we had our breakfast and packed up our motorcycles. Most of them were riding till Leh and then plan to get their motorcycles shipped back. We also met the couple we kept crossing on Day 01. They remembered us from Himanshu’s bike’s plate (RJ number with “Arjun” written on it; one of them was from Rajasthan, rest was pretty easy). They have plans to ride on till Sri Nagar and then get their bikes shipped back to Delhi. Riding that far as pillion should be tough. Hats off to that lady whose name I can’t remember now. The


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force is strong with that one! To be honest, I also felt a bit bad for their motorcycle, laden with so many bags with two riders. Pro-tip: if you want to take a pillion on a RE on this route, make sure it is a 500cc. It’s just not fair on the 350 engine. The weather was gloomy when we started. I was only beginning to wonder if I should ask Himanshu to stop to put on our raincoats when suddenly it was all bright and sunny. The day looked promising and boy did it deliver! We did about 5-6 kms of uptrack in the morning sun and then we reach More plains – a ride through a vast expanse of nothingness. Straight road with not another soul in sight, not a single tree, not even a bush. I imagined myself to be in a video of some sad song that was playing on my headphones as I looked into the horizon, thinking about life and other related shit. But the views of the Himalaya derailed my train of thoughts frequently as I stopped to take pictures every few minutes. We passed a few bikers on our way. Wave, thumbs up, victory sign – whatever works for you, but the show of solidarity to fellow bikers on this route is a must! For me it was more like, “Hey! You managed to get away too! Fuck Yeah!” It was nice to be a rider once again instead of just another commuter in a big city. Instead of trying to reach anywhere sooner than the next guy on the road, here people stop to talk and share a cigarette or a bottle water or just about anything. We met this shy guy

from Karnataka riding along with an enthusiastic Punjabi dude. They started separately, met on the road and now have been riding together ever since. A fine example of motorcycles bringing the nation together – right there! We had to give our details once again in Upshi – so that they know which area to look for you in case you’re lost. While I waited for Himanshu at a restaurant near the Upshi check post, I chit-chatted with two American tourists who had been cycling in this area for more than a month. The third member of their group was in their back up car, nursing a broken wrist. As usual, the conversation revolved around the weather, the road and things like that. They had a thick Californian accent. When I pointed that out, they were very surprised. Turned out, they were in fact from California and have never before thought that they had any accent. At last, something to show for two years of working in a BPO. After crossing the army cantonment and a few kilometers of easy riding, we reached Leh. Just as we were about to center the city, we met another group of riders – Chandan, Nidhi and Mayur. One of their motorcycles had a flat tyre. Two of them went ahead on another motorcycle to get it fixed, while we waited back. Mayur was from Assam and the other two were from Jaipur. The girl, Nidhi, was writing a book on something. Chandan was trying to escape the city life. Mayur was just there for the ride. Once the bike was repaired, we rode till Leh together. Once there we parted ways to search for accommodation. We had decided earlier to stay as far away from the center of the city as possible. We found a decent guest house further up the city without much effort. It provided hot meals, had decent rooms and clean bathrooms and was within our budget. What else can one ask for?

5 Day 05


est day today. I washed up my motorcycle first thing in the morning much to the amusement of the Guest House owner. I don’t expect him to understand. There are only a very few Bullet owners who are NOT obsessed with their motorcycles. Yours truly is a part of the vast majority. Himanshu went off to fix his bike’s carrier and change the front tyre. I went along to top up my engine oil and grease up the chain a little. We went to the DC office to get our permits made which was pretty uneventful. You basically wait to pay up while your application goes through three desks. Himanshu and I managed to forget the name of the place we’re staying in, so we filled in the name of a guest house near ours, the one with a bigger signboard. While Himanshu went off to the garage again, I came back to the city, looking for Tibetan food. I ordered way too much food than I could finish in a whole day. It was sort of a disaster. On my way back to the guest house, I met Theo – the French guy who rode |


Leh Palace

– former m

ansion of t

he royal fa

mily of Lad akh

with us till Darchu. He had just arrived and was looking for a place to stay. “It has to be nice”, he stressed. I offered him to take him to the place we were staying in where he’s get clean bed, hot water but no TV. It suited him just fine. In the evening, Himanshu – the photography enthusiast headed for Ladakh Palace, I decided to explore the city. It was just like any other tourist city. Lot of shop, lot of cars, lot of people. Matter of fact, I saw a “GOA” embroidered handbag in one of the Tibetan Handicraft store at the market. I bought a bunch of T shirts and prayer flags. I’ve taken a fancy to these flags. I bought one each for Himanshu and Theo’s motorcycle. Protip: Try out kebabs by the roadside stalls if you happen to be there. They are delicious. As we were preparing to sleep, Theo shows up. He wanted to ride with us but he still have to get his permit made. That meant we’ll have to start late, very late. We discussed stoppages, mobile network, army, peace, anthropology and then went off to sleep without deciding what exactly to do in the morning.

6 Day 06


esterday was supposed to be a rest day which it hardly was. We spent most of our time running around the DC office and garages. Turned out, today was actually the day we all got some time to actually rest. On papers, it is a waste day. Our plan was to go to Khardung La and be back to Leh and then to Pangong Tso with Theo. But as luck would have it, Himanshu’s bike had a flat tyre yet again and mine just refuses to start. While Himanshu went out again to get his tyre fixed, I tried cleaning and then changing my bike’s plug, fuse – everything seemed to be in order. But the bike just won’t start. A couple of local guys on a bike helped me find my way to a garage through the city’s lanes, avoiding the main routes. Now that I think of it, it was very fortunate – I didn’t have to drag the 36

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Highlight of

the day – Y ummy kebab

at dirt chea

p price

170 kg bike laden with luggage, tent, fuel cans for even an inch. It was all downhill from my guest house to the garage. At the garage they found out the battery is dead so even if they charge it, there is no way of telling if it will work the next morning. Getting a new battery meant spending the rest of the day in Leh while the battery is put to charge. It was an old battery anyways so I opted for the latter and left my motorcycle at Mr. Mohan Sharma’s garage who promised to give it back by six in the evening. I met Chandan at the garage. He was there to get his clutch plates fixed. Apparently, he was lost from the rest of his entourage (Nidhi and Mayur) and has been roaming around the city ever since. This guy reminded me of Angshuman – a guy who used to jam with us during my initial years in Delhi. Chandan offered me a ride till the DC office where I was supposed to meet Himanshu and Theo. Once there, I helped Chandan fill up his form and pointed him the right counters. I was a pro at it by then. Theo appeared an hour later, thoroughly pissed off, for he had to get his permit done through some travel agent and not individually like the rest of us. And since at least two tourists are required for the process, he had to pay up for two. “I don’t like getting fucked” he kept on saying. Daljeet from P.E.G. called up to tell me that Himanshu was with them in some garage. I took the directions and started walking. It wasn’t easy walking uphill with all your riding gear and a pair of slightly oversized army boots. Thankfully, Theo showed up to save the day. We were for good two hours at Juma Ji’s garage. While the mechanics fixed our bikes, we discussed travel plans. Pritpal Singh or Vikky paaji, as he is popularly known within the group, told us about a route they’ll be taking the next day. Apparently, we can go to Nubra valley from Pangong Tso without having to come back to Leh. Himanshu and I pounced at that idea and agreed to join them the next morning. Sometime later, Theo suggested a place to eat – a small joint somewhere in the market. While we were waiting for our orders,

having another one of our discussion on routes, a girl nearby overheard us and came up to talk. She knew French and before long, she and Theo were talking while Himanshu and I smiled, hoping not to look any more stupid than required. She told us she’s new here and never actually have tripped in and around Leh. It’s the signal Theo, take it – I thought to myself looking at him, hoping he’d get the hint. But our dear Frenchman was too busy with his burger and soggy fries. Back to the garage, mechanic Mohan Sharma tells me since there was no electricity since morning, he wasn’t able to charge the battery and will be able to give it to me only in the morning next – after keeping it on charge overnight. Now this was cutting a bit to close. I should be able to fix the bike, repack, refuel and be on our way to Pangong Tso hopefully by nine in the morning. “Please do it by tomorrow Sharma ji, or else I’ll have to walk till Pangong” I tried my brand of humour on Mr Sharma. He got it though, after I repeated it to him, thrice. Couple of the P.E.G. guys were at the garage too fixing a leak in their motorcycle’s fuel tank. They offered me a ride till their hotel which was not very far from the guest house we were staying in. Once I was in their hotel and listened to their conversation, I realized not all of them were keen on doing rest of the trip on motorcycles. Some wanted to hire a cab for the rest of the journey. “Nothing is final yet” was the catchphrase thrown around in the discussion making me even wearier about our next morning plans. I didn’t quite understand why they would back off now after all that preparation & trouble they went

through to reach Leh. Himanshu & I were fairly green riders but we were so psyched up about riding to Khardung La that even the discussion of hiring a cab seemed ridiculous. I went back to my guest house and had my dinner at around half past ten. We still had not decided where we’ll go the next morning but wherever it is, we’ll have to start early. There’s still no sign of either Himanshu or Theo. “He should be sleeping by now, he’ll be late tomorrow again”, I thought to myself. Earlier today, Theo goofed up with his permit. He wrote only Nubra Valley in the application instead of putting in all the places you he wants to visit. Now if he wants to go to Pangong Tso with us, it’ll cost him another thousand rupees. Mr “I don’t like getting fucked” just got analed. They both show up an hour later with Daljeet and Aman from P.E.G and Chandan. Out came the map and we had another elaborate discussion on which route to take tomorrow. None of us were too keen to come back to Leh twice – once after Pangong Tso and then after Nubra Valley. The track that connects Pangong Lake to Nubra Valley is closed. Theo’s goof up meant he can only ride to Nubra Valley while Daljeet and Aman had to ride to Pangong Tso with their group. Chandan didn’t care where to go as long as we were going. “Kahi bhi chalo, bus chalo” Like many of our other discussions we had in the last two days, this one too ended without any plan. We just said “I’ll call you in the morning” to each other and went off to our rooms and slept.

Some call it wave, I call them Air High-Fives |


Photo By Abe and Bethany Okie

View of the city from Leh Palace 38

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Photo by Sandeep Rathod

Photo by Sandeep Rathod |



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7 Day 07


imanshu, Theo and I had breakfast together in our room. We exchanged emails and awkward hugs and then Theo left for Nubra valley. My motorcycle was still at the garage so I asked Himanshu to drop me at the mechanic’s and come back and pack his stuff. I got my motorcycle, refuelled it after waiting in a really long line at the fuel station. On my way back, I stopped to check out with Daljeet and Aman in their hotel since my phone was dead from the day we reached Leh. The manager told me that they had already left, some on motorcycles, some in a cab. I saw Chandan’s motorcycle parked in front of a restaurant. It was hard it miss his ride. Painted in white, it had stickers of a Marijuana leaf, Che Guevara and a Swastika. I went inside and found him having breakfast there with Nidhi and Mayur. Chandan’s permit still needed to be stamped and the other two had no clue of what’s going on. I figured out it was better for me to leave them to make their decision and get their passes and I should start for Pangong Tso with Himanshu. I told Chandan and Co that I’ll go get my friend and check out from the guest house. We’ll meet them on our way back. Back at the guest house I find Himanshu sleeping on his bed, still unpacked. Imagine the

ian Army g La by Ind n a h C t a Free tea


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angriest of the rage faces. Multiply it by ten. Put a poker face over it. That was me then. I went to pay off the owner and told him that we’re keeping part of our luggage in their store room as decided last night. By the time we started, it was ten. Two hours late. But that didn’t matter. After two days of sitting around and doing nothing, we finally ride to Pangong Tso. The first part of the ride was relatively easy but gradually it started to get colder and wetter. Water from the melting snow on the either side of the road made it a bit tricky to ride over the gravelled road. As we climbed up towards Chang La, the condition of the road worsened. There were long lines of supply trucks and army convoys. Once we reached Chang La, we struggled a little bit to catch our breath. Free tea is offered to anyone who passes through Chang La by Indian Army. We had our fill of red tea, clicked a few photographs and started towards our destination for the day. Going downhill is trickier than climbing up. At least I think so. Maybe that’s because I had more than my share of falling off while going downhill back home in Assam. Himanshu nearly had a mishap today when he skidded off the road after two cars suddenly crossed him in one sharp curve while we were going down. Other than that, there were no problems during the rest of the ride. Given that this is Himanshu’s first ever ride in the mountains, he’s doing a fairly good job so far.

tic Pretty idio

Soon enough we reached the “plains” as we approached Pangong Lake. The road was freshly topped with some real sweet curves. The bright sun, the cool breeze, a majestic backdrop – it’s all there. The stuff that makes bikers jizz their pants. We reached Pangong Lake at around 5:30. 3 Idiots has had a tremendous effect on that area. For the uninitiated, it is a popular movie starring Aamir Khan and Pangong lake was one of the prominent locations. There was a 3 Idiots Hotel, 3 Idiots Restaurant, 3 Idiots Cafe and a few more such variations I don’t remember now. We stopped for a while by the lake to click pictures. It was great sitting in front of the lake, striking up conversation with random tourists, smoking cigarettes, watching the mountain in the backdrop change their shade along with the lake – as if a colour show of shades of blue and brown. But we had to move fast and find ourselves a place to pitch our tent by the lake. It was getting dark fast and after looking around for a while, we settled for a dry lake bed protected on the two sides from wind. I took it upon myself to set up the tent despite Himanshu offering me to help. It took me about half an hour more to pitch up the tent than it generally takes. Part of it was because the sandy surface would not support nails so I had to use rocks to set up the outer layer of the tent and partly because of the high altitude. Finally the tent was set, Himanshu waterproofed the luggage that won’t fit inside the tent and settled in to our sleeping bags. After some snacks and trees we scored back in Manali, I started my barrage of philosophy and other nonsense. Himanshu took it like a man, nodding and smiling at the right moments. But the night was long and there was nothing else to do but talk. A dinner of groundnuts, Mithee Roti and chocolates and a few more profound epiphanies later, I decided the poor guy have had enough. We should probably get some sleep now.

the tent t

ook it’s tim

e to set up

8 Day 08


s usual, I woke up earlier than Himanshu and went out to take some pictures of the Lake in the early morning sun. It was about a kilometer and half from our tent to the lake and low oxygen took its toll when I walked up to the lake and came back. This took me more than an hour. I rested near our tent for a while, woke Himanshu up and then started packing up the tent. Once everything was packed and loaded on our bikes and we had our fill of coffee from one of the 3 idiots cafes, we started our journey back to Leh. Unlike we endlessly planned, we had to take the same route to come back to Leh from Pangong and there was no way to travel on the dirt track that connected Pangong Lake with Nubra valley. So there’s nothing new to write about our way back. This time however we bought a bunch of souvenirs from the army shop in Chang La when we stopped there for our free tea. Himanshu wanted to visit a few monasteries since we had the time. Though I was not very excited about the idea, I agreed to visit a few on our way back. One thing I’ve come to realize long ago about myself is that I don’t care much about “places of interests”. I’d rather be talking about the weather or on any other bullshit topic with locals in front of a small tea stall than visit a museum. Not something to be very proud of but that’s me. The first thing I love about travelling is the actual travelling. I like to experience the changes in the surroundings, people, typography and things like that. Some changes are gradual while some are sudden – but every time they fill me with this feeling of how insignifact I am in the grand scheme of things and how less I’ve seen the world.

Time to Pa c

k Up! |


9 Day 09

recently repaired and was comparatively straight. So we had an easy ride till North Pullu without having to maneuver much.


oday we are finally riding to Khardung La – the highest motor able road in the world. One may argue that Semo La is the highest motorable road and that the official height listed for Khardung La is incorrect. I don’t want to argue with either of these facts. However these do not change the fact that that it takes some effort to actually reach there. I’ve been dreaming of this moment for so long that I almost have had a case of over excitement and no amount of nicotine could soothe my nerves. As usual, we were late than when we had intended to start. We filled our tanks at a fuel pump in Leh and started for Khardung La. We had hardly travelled 10 kms when the smooth black topped road gave way to a gravelled dirt track – something we’ve gotten quite used to in the last few days. The roads are perpetually covered with running water, courtesy melting snow on both sides of the road. However, this stretch was particularly bad; potholes and broken patches of road ran for miles. The road was more like a series of mini speed-breakers made by the continuously flowing water over it. And did I mention the endless convoys and supply truck lines that hog the road? All in all, it was like playing Motocross Madness in hard mode. But then you are trying to go as high as you can on two wheels. Once at Khardung La, we stopped there for some time to enjoy the view and free red tea served at the ‘Highest cafeteria in the world”. In fact, everything had “highest in the world” tag before their names – the temple, the souveniour shop, the cafeteria – everything! Within the next 30 minutes or so, we shot more pictures than Salvador Dali did in his entire life. We left soon afterwards because there was still some distance to cover before we stop for the day and the thin oxygen cover at 18000+ feet wasn’t helping. Going down from Krahdung La towards Pullu was much easier even though generally it is the opposite as I must have mentioned in one of my earlier posts. The road was

Something to br ag ab


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out back home

We stopped at North Pullu again to submit our permits. While waiting for Himanshu to catch up, I had a conversation with a group of Dutch riders while having momos in a restaurant nearby. They were a group of 8-9 bikers with support crew and back up van. They were on their way to Handur and asked us to join them for the ride. But our plan was to camp out near Penamic hot water stream tonight and visit Hondur the next day. One of the riders thought we were pretty hardcore Indians to have travelled alone this far without any back up crew. I suggest them to watch “Riding solo to the top of the world” so as to prove the existence of the adventurous Indian. It’s just that our small group of riders/adventurers is completely shadowed by a very large group obsessed with a medical/engineering degree and a green card . The ride to Penamic hot water spring was one of the best rides I had in the entire trip. There were trees of all hues on the both sides of the road. The road was smooth and full of jizz inducing curves. But the most awesome thing about riding in this part of the world was the high-fives. You see, up until Leh we had crossed numerous kids who would wave enthusiastically at us and we’d wave back at them. Pretty normal stuff. But as you travel towards Nubra Valley, the kids would stretch out their hands for epic on-the-move high fives. I gave as many high fives as I could – even after almost falling off my motorcycle once during one such moment of awesomeness. Himanshu gave out handful of candies to anyone who’d come up to us. Our actual destination – Penamic spring turned out to be a complete dud. It was a sad little stream of natural hot water, blocked on all sides by ugly concrete. They have constructed the drains such that the hot water of the stream would come to the bathrooms that are constructed below where tourists can take a bath. In reality, it is the locals who wash their cloths & dirty dishes in the hot water. Such was our disappointment that even the paltry 20 rupees they charged from us to look around seemed like a rip off. There was no question of camping in.

The great gig in th

e sky

Road to the top |


After a cup of tea, we decided that we’d travel back 65-70 kms to Diskit and spend the night there. Himanshu was a bit worried about the fading sunlight. But to be honest, I was thrilled with the idea of riding on that road stretch again in the evening sun with all its hues and colours. The ride to Diskit through a vast river bed that looked more like a desert had a profound impression on both of us. I tried to take pictures of the light and shade show the sun was playing that afternoon. It was fascinating to watch the mountains change their colours every minute. But no matter what settings I put my damn camera in, the pictures will never match up to the actual thing we witnessed. We reached Diskit at around half past six and managed to find a decent guest house almost immediately. Tomorrow we plan to ride to Hundar and complete the Nubra valley route before riding back to Leh via Khardung La. We agreed that we’ll have to start early tomorrow. Himanshu promised to wake up early. That I’ll have to wait and see.

A Day 10


espite waking up early, it was not until 9’o clock that we managed to leave from the guest house at Diskit. Today we’ll ride to Hundar to see the double hump camels. Unlike monasteries and gompas, I was actually excited to see them in real life for the first time. An hour and half later we were there among a bunch of other tourists who were enjoying their camel ride. We should have reached here sooner then we could have avoided the rush – I thought to myself. I rode my motorcycle across the stream to the area where camels were kept. While I parked my bike and took pictures of camels, the tourists nearby were more interested in getting their pictures taken next to my motorcycle After a while, when they finally had their fill of taking pictures of/on my bike, I took it for a spin in the Nubra Valley desert. As expected, the motorcycle got stuck in the loose sand after about 500 meters. Himanshu and I had to put in all our strength to pull the motorcycle out. After fooling around in the desert sand for an hour or so, we headed back to Leh via Khardung La. On our way back, I missed one turn and ended up riding up a wrong hill. I realized my mistake after reaching a dead end. This made me lose another hour but I didn’t care much about it. Just like JRR Tolkien’s famous line “All who wander are not lost”. When I reached Khardung La, I found Himanshu waiting for me there. He has been taking pictures all these while because he thought he didn’t click enough when we passed Kardung La the first time. We ordered noodles from the highest cafeteria in the world and then headed for Leh to spend our last night there before we head for Kashmir. From tomorrow, we’ll start our journey back home from Leh via Kargil, Srinagar and Jammu to Delhi. It was a strange feeling. I was happy that I’ll 46

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be back home and excited about getting some answers once there but I was also sad about leaving Leh. It’s was not like I’ve fallen in love with this place – the city is commercialized where traders dupe tourists because they can do business for only nine months in a year, where young monks ride fast bikes and eat tandoori chicken in restaurants. I’d go as far as to say that all that spirituality and religious crap marketed about the city is an elaborate ruse. The place is no different than Paharganj in Delhi or any tourist destination where you have to watch out constantly so as you don’t get duped. However, the locals are very polite and a lot friendlier. I went out to pick up my T-shirts that I ordered before heading out to Kardung La from a shop near our guest house. I met Chandan on my way and invited him to join us for dinner on our last day in the city. Poor guy just wanted to have Roti Sabji but we managed to persuade him to try out Tibetan food. We went out to a place called Amod Restaurant in the city. There was no one waiting table and it seemed as if the locals were given preferential treatment while they purposely ignored the tourists. Finally one guy with communication skills of a rock showed up with three menus and headed over a pen and a piece of paper to me to write down our orders. “There goes your tip” I thought to myself. The coffee we ordered was more like sweetened light brown milk. That stuff is good for a toddler not us. I like my coffee strong – so strong that if government finds out, it will make it illegal. But the food was good and comparatively cheaper. While we dug into our Tingmos and chicken, Chandan fiddled with his vegetable salad. We had a freewheeling conversation during our dinner with topics ranging from Pushkar Mela to Human Psychology. Chandan told us that he’s looking for work here in the city

Stealing the sh

Dust Eater

so that he can spend some more time in Leh. He was already low on money and might not have enough on him to get back to Rajasthan. I offered him to pay for his fuel & food if he joined us on our way back to Delhi. Once there, he will be able to go home with a full tank. He considered it for a moment but instead of giving an answer he said he’ll call us tomorrow (which by the way, he never did). I was a bit worried about him but I did what I could. He was carrying all his certificates with him so I guess all this was a part of his plan.

B Day 11


oday we travel from Leh to Kargil. According to our original plan, we were to go to Alchi, visit some monasteries and other such places of interest. Since neither of us was too keen on doing any of that, we decided to ride straight to Kargil to make up for the day we wasted in Leh. After all, there were offices to be rejoined, bills to be paid.

We had our last fill of the city’s views and started our return journey with a heavy heart. When we started riding on National Highway 1, everything was perfect. The roads were freshly tarred and was smooth l i ke … u m m m … a baby’s face? So


much so that Himanshu, who earlier wasn’t even sure if we’d be able to reach Kargil in a single day started talking about travelling further than Kargil if we made there in good time. With road conditions like this, it would be a walk in the park. Spoken too soon Soon enough we encountered army convoys of forty trucks each, miles and miles of dusty mountainous roads, road blocks and what not. There were many stretches where the roads were so narrow that if two cars had to cross each other, it would invariably create a kilometer long traffic jam. To think we came this far looking for peace. However, the view remained majestic as ever. Wild roses bloomed in every corner, filling the air with a sweet fragrance – a smell that still haunts me today. The worst part was taking pictures. Let me explain. The army convoys were blowing off enough dust from the road to cover their movements from their enemies on the other side of the fence. Being on motorcycles, we were eating/inhaling half of it. To avoid it, you’d have to overtake the convoy, all forty of them, one by one, on an uphill dusty road. If I want to click a picture, I’ll have to stop the bike on the side, take off my helmet & riding gloves, take out the camera that I’ve put inside a bag to protect it from dust, click the picture and then put it back again, wear the gloves & helmet and start again. But guess what. During all these, the convoys that you painstakingly overtook will cross you and you’ll have to overtake those forty trucks again, one by one, on a shitty excuse for a road. Needless to say that not many pictures were clicked that day. Except for Magnetic Hills. We stopped for quite some time in Magnetic Hills to test if the hill actually pulls in any car and bike towards it. Apparently it does but there was a little doubt in our mind whether it is due to the magnetic nature of the hill or plain old inclination. Anyways, we had fun dragging our motorcycle up and down the road. We met a group of tourists from Bombay who took turn in getting their photographs clicked on our motorcycle. Himanshu |



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I’ve got my eyes on you

The valley of flowers |


had a good time instructing the girls on how to not fall down while I watched them from a distance. We reached Kargil at around six in the evening. There are many words that one can use to describe the place, but “Welcoming” is not one of them. Friendly smiles and waves were very few and far between. Hotels in the main market area were unusually expensive. We looked around for some time and managed to find a place that was clean and suited our budget. That place was apparently shelled during the Kargil war in 1999, reducing it to a six room hotel from twenty four. They have reopened for business only last year. By that time we unloaded our bikes and put our luggage in the hotel room, we were so tiered that we didn’t even bother to go out to have dinner. We had our fill of dried fruits, biscuits and juice before settling down for the night. Tomorrow we’ll ride to Srinagar and I hoped to make up for skipping dinner at Kargil with all the rich non-vegetarian food they say you get in Srinagar. Tomorrow shall be better than today we were sure of that bit. But again, we’ll have to start early – something that we still were not able to do despite being down to the last leg of our journey.

In the bloom

Adventure time


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D Day 12


s it has been so far during the entire trip, we were late again today to start from Kargil. But by now my displeasure over it have been replaced with a sense of acceptance. Talk of personality development. Anyway, by the time we had our breakfasts, loaded our bike, checked out from the hotel and hit the road, it was half past nine. Today we ride to what’s touted as heaven on earth. If one thing we are certain of is that it cannot be worse than our ride yesterday. As we travelled, I can’t help but notice the signs that all is not well in this part of the country. Pardon me from straying away from the topic of the actual trip but I have to share a few of my observations. You must know that Kashmir is popular for its cricket bats. Obviously, many part of the road to Srinagar were dotted with roadside shops selling cricket bats. Either that or Kesar. The shops that were selling the bats also had other gears. Curiously, the jerseys on display were all green, blue ones are hardly seen. There were differences in attitudes

Wide open road

too. While driving through Leh, we encountered kids waving at us and some awesome –on the move- high fives. But out here, they ask for money. A boy of around 10 came up to me and demanded that I pay up since I clicked a picture of the herd of sheep that he was tending. There were too many kids running after tourist busses, signaling them to give them money. I don’t want to talk about what made them do this but I didn’t like it much. Despite the awesome settings and great view all around, I just wanted to reach Srinagar as soon as we could.

We finally stopped at Kaskoot and took up a room at some rundown place next to the Highway. The room next to us was occupied by some 6-7 local guys and were smoking up. Himanshu was a bit unnerved by it initially but I assured him that one don’t have to worry about them. If something actually happens (which is unlikely with a group of stoners), we can always offer them the stuff we scored in Manali. For dinner they suggested Yakhni – a preparation of beef and curd. It was awesome. Himanshu stuck to his chicken curry.

We reached Srinagar earlier than expected and decided to try out the street food that I’ve heard so much about. It took us some time to locate one and when finally we were there, there was a new problem. Being a devout Hindu, eating beef was out of question for Himashu. On the other hand I had forsaken my religion way back – at least when it comes to what to eat and what not. So while I sank my teeth into some cheap & tasty “goast”, Himashu went out looking for something to eat that his religion approves. Poor guy finally settled for some watermelon.

It was a tiring day with mixed feelings so we thought it is better if we call in early. Too bad the room shook every time a bus or a truck drives by. After struggling for an hour or so, we slept.

Since there was still good two hours or so of daylight left, we decided to ride out of Srinagar. Our logic was that since it is a tourist hotspot, the prices of accommodation will be higher. Also, if we cover more distance today, tomorrow we can ride at an easy pace.

O Day 13


hough not planned as such originally, today turned out to be the last day of my trip to Ladakh. I have been keeping a journal of my trip, making it a point to write down whatever noteworthy happened during the day. Today’s entry was just two words – Impatience and Optimism. It is the day when I rode almost 900 kilometers right from near Srinagar to Delhi in a single day. When I reached home I knew this is one feat that I will brag about the most about this whole trip. |


I didn’t even bother to write down anything other than those two words – Impatience and Optimism. After two weeks of planning and promises that we made ourselves, we finally managed to start at a time that we had decided upon the previous night. By the time we are finished packing and had our morning cup of tea, it was around seven. We were in very high spirits thanks to the cool morning breeze and an empty highway. Today we will ride through the last leg of hilly roads before hitting the plains and both of us intended to make most out of it. We rode along the sweet curves of the Jammu Srinagar highway, stopping often to see the great views of the valleys below, taking pictures – probably the best two hours of today’s journey. But soon thereafter, the traffic started to increase as the day progressed and soon there were lines of trucks and cars on both side of the road. Riding single file behind big buses and trucks with little hope of overtaking them was a bit frustrating. Himanshu had a near collision with a truck that was overtaking a bus and had completely blocked the way for traffic coming from the other direction. We rode till Ram-baan and stopped there to have our breakfast. There we decided our next stop will be Jammu and since we have already made up till there in good time, maybe we should try to reach Delhi in one go. That’s when things started to go wrong. After breakfast, we rode for about a couple of hours together. But just before reaching Jammu, I felt a bit sleepy so I decided to stop for a while at a Dhaba, wash my face and take a cigarette break. Since I was riding behind Himanshu, he had no clue that I had stopped and continued to ride for another half an hour before he realized I wasn’t riding with him. When he turned around in search of me, he managed to miss my motorcycle on the side of the road and went further back. During that time, I was done with my tea & cigarette break and rode ahead faster to catch up with Himanshu. My next stoppage was Jammu and I thought Himanshu will be waiting for me there. He was nowhere to be seen. After waiting for about twenty odd minutes, I assumed that he must have rode further up and was waiting at some dhaba along the highway. So I drove from there till I reached Punjab boarder. Again Himanshu was nowhere to be seen. That’s when I started to realize that maybe he is behind me and not ahead of me like I initially thought. So I waited at


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another dhaba, ordered for lunch and waited for him to cross me. My phone was dead at that time and I didn’t remember his number to call him from some public phone. I waited there for more than an hour for him to show up, slowly getting impatient about losing daylight. I think that was the moment when I decided to ride till Delhi alone, without him slowing us down. In the hindsight, it was not a very good decision. Himanshu panicked after not finding me on the road. Poor bloke called his parents and my room-mate to see if I was there yet. My roomie of two years had a fairly good idea about my nature and so asked Himanshu to keep riding since we had already made the decision to ride till Delhi. However, Himanshu decided to stop at Jammu for the rest of the day. I, on the other hand was travelling along Punjab, stopping only for water in and out breaks or when I felt that the motorcycle engine was getting too hot. It was a bright and sunny day and was pretty uncomfortable with all the riding gears. The sweat would dry up instantly without giving much relief from the heat like they usually do. Now when I look back, all I can remember is an endless road and the constant thump of my motorcycle. My head filled with thoughts about some stuff back home in Delhi. This is the optimism part that I had mentioned earlier. It was not the bragging rights of riding from Srinagar to Delhi that was my motivation. It was an answer to a question that I was supposed to get after the trip that drove me. Maybe I’ll write about that story later. Coming back to the ride, I remember waiting in some dhaba in Haryana to have my dinner and then some lonely stretch of the highway to smoke up. I remember talking to some guys on a car who wanted to know how the trip was like. By the time it was midnight, I was more like a zombie with most of my senses numb. I don’t remember much after that. The highway and the endless thump of my motorcycle I reached my home at round three in the morning. Yes, that was after more than 19 hours on the road. But it was over now. It was a bittersweet feeling. I called up Himashu and his father, told them I was sorry for all the misunderstandings and went off to sleep. No price for guessing that it was one of the best sleeps I’ve had in a long time.=

Photo by Sandeep Rathod

Photo by Sandeep Rathod |



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" Amritsar


he city of Amritsar is a glittering showcase of compound traditions and secular culture. A thriving city with important devout centers and historical sites Amritsar exhibits a glorious past, magnificient present and a hopeful future. A significant city of Majha region, it has been entitled the prestigious title of the jewel of Punjab. A prosperous depository of national heritage and religion, it has been renowned as the abode of all merits. A synonym of Sikh religion, every pious Sikh desires to be hallowed with a pilgrimage to Amritsar and to have a divine bath at the Golden Temple. A visit to Amritsar is supposed to cleanse the soul of the pilgrim. An embodiment of Sikh belief, the core of Punjab’s political affairs, an opening to the Gulf Countries, a watchful sentry at the Indo-Pak border, Amritsar adorns a remarkable position in the Indian subcontinent.


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An icon of confrontation against the British despotism and the nucleus of Akali movements, Amritsar recalls the fierce onslaught of the Muslim invaders of the medieval India. Amritsar is like a lozenge with many features. The indispensable strength of the city lies in its effervescent monuments, sacred temples, pretty shrines and most of all in its folk arts and the tasty cuisine. Blessed with a sociable and hospitable people, who are, reliable, casual, and jovial with a wonderful enthusiasm. They are fond of good cuisine, good dress and all the good amenities in life. Amritsar is not just an ordinary Indian city bestowed with tremendous attractions, on the other hand it displays a stunning elegance and a lifestyle. In spite of its modern outlook, the city still preserves and emanates a vital and enriching uniqueness.



Leisure Religious Cultural

1 Understand The name of the city derives from the name of the pool around the Golden Temple (aka Harmandir Sahib) and means "holy pool of nectar" (Amrit: elixir; Sar: (short for sarovar) lake). It is the spiritual and cultural center of the Sikh religion, and they are rightfully very proud of the city and their very beautiful and unique Gurdwara (place of worship). The Golden Temple was initiated by Guru Ramdaas Ji, the fourth Sikh Guru, and completed in 1601 by his successor Guru Arjan Dev Ji. It is now a major pilgrimage and tourism center

[ Get in Time of the year Best time to visit Amritsar is in the winter, between October and March Airport Sri Guru Ram Das Jee International Airport (IATA: ATQ) is about 11 km and a 15-20 minutes drive from the city center. It’s one of the modern airports in India and quite adequate if not exactly exciting. Most flights are to Delhi, an hour away, but there are an increasing number of international connections: British Midland International (bmi) flies to London via Almaty, Jet flies to London, Air India flies to Toronto via London and Air Slovakia flies to Bergamo, Barcelona and Birmingham via Bratislava. There are also surprising numbers of flights to Central Asia (eg. Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan). Qatar Airways now flies to Doha.

According to the airport website, the transportation service availability is the following: Service Availability City Bus Service

Not Available

Car Rental Service


General Taxi Service


Pre-paid Taxi Service


By train Amritsar (IR station code : ASR) is an important railway station and is well connected to major cities in India through daily trains. Trains can be booked online, at the train station or, most conveniently, at the small booking office in the Golden Temple Complex. It’s advisable to book your return train ticket as soon as you arrive in Amritsar, or before if you know the exact date, as trains are often heavily booked. By car Long-distance taxis are available from most places. It takes around 6-7 hours from New Delhi via NH-1. Amritsar is well-connected by bus to most major cities and the northern areas within a days drive. PATHANKOT is about 2.5 hours away and about 100 kms away, JALANDHAR is about 80 kms from here, KAPURTHALA (royal city) is about 65 kms from here and there are daily direct buses to New Delhi, Jammu, Katra, Chandigarh, Dharamsala (once daily, ~6 hours), etc. You can find Volvo buses from Chandigarh , Delhi and Katra to Amritsar.

Here are some useful trains to get to Amritsar: Train Number Train Name

You may board at

You may alight at

12013 Shatabdi Express New Delhi Amritsar 12029 Shatabdi Express New Delhi Amritsar 12497 Shan-e-Punjab Express New Delhi Amritsar 12903 Golden Temple Mail

Mumbai Central, New Delhi


12925 Paschim Express

Bandara Mumbai, New Delhi


12317 Akal Takht Express

Kolkata, Varanasi, Patna


13005 Howrah-Amritsar Mail Kolkata, Varanasi, Lucknow, Patna


12053 Jan Shatabdi Express Haridwar Amritsar 18102 Muri Express Jammu Amritsar |



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Pyara Singh (A Nihang) at the Golden Temple, Photo By Rehmat Rayatt |


N Get around An auto-rickshaw from the train station to the temple should cost around Rs 20, while a cycle-rickshaw will run about Rs 30. There is a free bus service from the train station to the golden temple run by Golden Temple trust. It drops you right at the accommodation booking office of the Golden Temple where you can get double bed room for Rs. 1000 per day. By car You can easily visit Amritsar by car. There are many car rental companies available. Although if you are an international tourist then just keep in mind that indian roads are one of the worlds most dangerous roads in the world

‐ See Golden Temple The Golden Temple is the main attraction in the city, and the most important religious place to the Sikhs. It’s a stunning complex, and always full of thousands of pilgrims from all over India, excited to be at a place that they usually only see on television. The excitement to be here is infectious, and many people will be more than happy to tell you all about their religion and customs, and show you around the temple itself. Cover your head, remove your shoes and wander around one of the most amazing places in India. The complex is open almost 24 hours (from 6AM until 2AM) and is worth visiting twice: once during the day, once at night, when it’s beautifully lit up. As you arrive near the complex, you will more likely than not be accosted by hawkers trying to sell you bandannas to cover your head. It’s not a bad souvenir for Rs.10, but there’s also a big barrel of free ones to choose from at the entrance itself. Deposit your shoes at the subterranean building to the left of the entrance, wash your feet at the entrance and head in. 60

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“Ghanta Ghar”. This is the main entrance, sporting a distinctly Victorian clock-tower. Wash your feet in the water at the entrance in order to keep the temple clean. Amrit Sarovar. The giant pool of water that surrounds and reflects the Golden Temple. Sections (marked off by ropes) are set aside for (male) pilgrims wishing to bathe. Harmandir Sahib. This is the Golden Temple itself, floating above the Amrit Sarovar, housing the sacred Adi Granth scripture which is recited out loud during the day. This is the most crowded point, accessible by a bridge from the edge of the pool, and entry here is regulated by traditionally dressed Sikh guards. It’s a 2 story structure where Sikh saints are seated on each floor. If you want to visit Harmandir Sahib make sure you don’t go there on any Sikh festival as lakhs of people may visit on a major festival, in such cases it may take upto 6 hours of queuing to get inside.

Akal Takht, directly opposite the Harmandir Sahib. Meaning “The Timeless”, this is where the highest council of Sikhs sits and deliberates. At night, the Guru Granth Sahib is taken to the Akal Takht. It is the place where the Skih religious leaders meet for decision making. Central Sikh Museum, 2nd floor (entrance on the right side of the main side of the main entrance). Devoted to large gallery of paintings, mostly showing the gruesome ways countless Sikhs have been martyred, and various knick-knacks from the gurus. The entry is free. All Sikhs are expected at some point in their lives to volunteer for a week at the temple, and everyone you see working here is fulfilling that duty. It’s likely possible that you can join in if you feel so inclined - you could enquire by asking the people outside peeling vegetables, or those washing dishes. |


Other Jallianwala Bagh (Garden) is a short 5-minute walk from the Golden Temple, and is the site of the 1919 Amritsar massacre. On April 13 of that year, British Indian Army soldiers opened fire on an unarmed gathering of men, women and children. The firing lasted about 10 minutes and 1650 rounds were fired, killing 1579 people. A memorial was built on the site and inaugurated by the then-President of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, on 13 April 1961. to this day the bullet holes can be seen on the walls and adjoining buildings. The well into which many people jumped and drowned attempting to save themselves from the hail of bullets is also a protected monument inside the park.

Mata Temple is a labyrinthine like Hindu cave temple devoted to the female saint Lal Devi. Traditionally, women wishing to become pregnant come here to pray. The roundabout path to the main temple passes through low tunnels, caves full of ankle-deep water, inclined walkways, and mirrored hallways that make the experience seem more like a fun house than a place of worship. The colors, wide variety of deities, and elaborate mirrored image make this a psychedelically unique temple. Highly recommended! This is called Sheesh Mahal, and some people also seem to call it “Lal Devi.� Summer Palace of Maharaja Ranjit Singh is in the Ram Bagh park. Now the palace houses a museum, exibiting oil paintings, miniatures, coins and weapons from the Sikh period. In this park is the Maharaja Ranjit Singh Panorama, so ask, if you are at the right museum.


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Ram Tirth is a short distance of 11 kms outside the city. Consecrated by the appearance of Devi Sita, Ram Tirth had been a witness to the birth of the sons of King Rama. Making a special place in the holy scripts of ancient religions, the place was once the ashrama of saint Balmiki. The saint is believed to have scripted many of his sacred manuscripts at this place. A hut of Rishi Balmiki is still found at Ram Tirth where he once lived. After giving birth to Luv and Kush, Devi Sita used to stay at this place for a considerable period of time. The evidence of her stay still exists in the form a well which, it is believed, was dug by Hanuman. Devotees of King Rama and Devi Sita flock to this place every year to offer their prayers to the respected deities. As the locational position of the Ram Tirth is facilitated by easy accessibility, hence, the visitors conveniently reach this place of worship without any extra hassles.

h Learn The Golden Temple has a massive library where tourists/ visitors can get books on Sikhism for free or at very little cost.

Country Inn & Suites, around the corner of Bhandari Bridge serves up great Indian, Italian, Continental and Chinese food. My Kind of Place offers fast food such as pizza, burgers, and chips. It offers Chinese & Continental food also.

Almost every Sikh at the temple will be willing to talk to you about the temple and their religion and culture. Go there with an open mind and you'll leave with a smiling heart.

New Punjabi Rasoi, around the corner from the temple it's one of the most popular restaurants in town and serves up great Indian food including tasty masala dosas. Meals ~Rs 40-60.

n Buy

Pizza Hut, Yes, the American chain. about a 30 - 50 Rs Auto-Rickshaw ride from the golden temple. Most autorickshaw drivers know where it is, or can get directions. Good if your stomach needs a western meal for a change. Comes with customer service that one would expect in a four-star restaurant in the west.

Sikh symbols and religious paraphernalia like khandas, Karas (sikh relegious bangle), swords, daggers etc from the shops close to the Golden Temple. Guru Nanak knick-knacks. His face graces all kinds of goodies. CDs of temple recordings, chants, and Punjabi music in the shops along the front of the temple. Punjabi Juttis (shoes) from the tiny shops near the Hall Bazaar flyover. Warian (spicy pulses ground with spices) from Hall Bazaar Phulkaari is a form of embroidery from the state of Punjab in India and certain parts of Pakistan which literally means “flower making”. Brightly colored shawls to sarees to head scarves to salwar-kameez of phulkaari can be found in Hall Bazar and Kapra market. Hand-embroidered ones would be more expensive and are still very much in demand for festivals and other joyous occasions. Bargain your heart out, especially in Kapra market as it’s a whole-sale market for clothes.

] Eat The Golden Temple has a dining hall (langar) serving free basic meals to all... A definite must for visitors. Plates and spoons are handed out near the entrance, then follow the crowds inside and take the next vacant spot in one of the rows on the floor. Servers come by with large buckets of dal, chapatis and rice. Make sure to finish everything on your plate (wasting food isn't an option here!) then take it outside to volunteers at the washing area. It's inside the complex which means no shoes and cover your head. At the exit, there is a donation box, in case you want to voluntarily donate for the cause of free meals.

Kesar da Dhaba. Located near the Golden Temple, it offers good Punjabi food made in pure ghee. Daal Makhni is worth trying. Don't forget to try a glass of Lassi after a heavy meal. Bubby Dhaba, opposite Golden Temple (Just opposite the main entrance of Golden Temple). serves authentic Punjabi food at a very reasonable cost and ideally located, just few metres from the main entrance of the Holy Golden Temple Moolchand Fish Shop, Off of GT Road near Tourist Guesthouse. Find the Christchurch Cathedral (large red-andgreen church, pretty conspicuous!) and keep walking, away from GT road. In about 2 minutes, you'll see a little shop selling fish. Open 8 am to 11 pm. This tiny place is the definition of hole-in-the wall. If it looks like it has been there for 50 years, it's because it has! They'll weigh out your fish based on how much you want to pay, fry it, put some delicious spices on it, and serve it with spicy green chutney and raw onions. A little hard to find, but worth it. About 50 rupees for a good-sized piece of fish, 70 rupees for a serving of chicken. There are very few Decent Non Veg Joints near the temple complex. Kanha Sweets, Lawrence Road. They serve fantastic Channa - Batura. Great for breakfast. Gurdass Ram Jalebi wale, Ahluwali Katra (very close to the main gate of Golden Temple). Eat Jalebis Kulcha Chole Dhaba, No. 1, Maqbool Road. Best Kulchas ever. |


R Drink

basic, new and clean. Rates for double bed-room vary between Rs. 550-650.

Lassi is the good Yoghurt(Curd) Drink there in Amritsar.

Tourist Guesthouse, 1355 GT Road, a popular backpackers choice near the railway station. Rates for double bedroom Rs. 250-400. A very nice place with a decent restaurant and friendly owners. About 25 minutes walking distance to the Golden Temple.

All indian and imported alcoholic drinks are available at the omnipresent licenced liquor stores with prices ranging from Rs 100 for a local english whisky to Rs 1000 for good scotch whisky like teachers. Food & Beverages, near Hotel Mohan International. Imported wines, beers and other liquors. Lassi wala chownk, Hall Bazaar, Lassi wala chownk (Opposite Regent cinema)

S Sleep Budget

Hotel Sita Niwas, (Right near the eastern corner of the golden temple. There is now a new Hotel Sita Newas next door offering rooms from Rs 1000, so ask where the other one is if the price seems high.). checkout: Midday. Good and relatively cheap (Rs 80) food in their restaurant. They also organise shared jeeps to the Atari border crossing for Rs 250 return. Rs 300. Mid-range Mrs. Bhandari’s Guest House, No. 10, Cantonment phone=�+91 183 2 222390, Rs. 2000-3500, Very neat and clean rooms Hotel le golden (www, very near golden temple haveing view of golden temple from room & restaurant. Rs.1550. to 5250. Hotel CJ International, +91-183-254 3478,09876444000. A newer hotel just Opp. Golden Temple and with views of the Golden Temple. Rs 1200. Also now they have beautiful splurge higher end rooms beautifully designed & created. Rs. 2000. Wifi enabled lobby & restaurant.

The Golden Temple offers free accommodation to pilgrims and tourists in very basic dorms or 3-bed rooms in Guru Ram Das Niwas, behind the temple. While free, donations are expected (Rs 50-100 minimum per person per night is appropriate). You should also remain quiet and respectful of the surroundings, keeping in mind that this is a holy place of pilgrimage more than a tourist attraction. Alcohol and smoking are strictly forbidden, not only within the temple complex but anywhere within sight of the temple complex. If you can handle that, then this is arguably the best place to stay - watching people go about their routine, talking to the pilgrims, and absorbing the gorgeous atmosphere. Put your donations in the donation box near the entrance to Ram Das Niwas, as opposed to the guards who will ask you for it when checking out. Hotel Sita Continental, Sheran Wala Gate, Ph +91-1835002840 is 10 minutes walk from Golden Temple. Its 64

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Hotel CJ International

Green Acres Haveli, 5 Minutes from the airport. +9197819-83828/ Set amongst fruit orchards and lush greenery this diamond category farmstay lets guests experience rich Punjabi culture and heritage charm. Recently restored, offers all modern conveniences and provides easy access to Amritsar attractions. Room packages range from Rs 3000 to 6000 (inclusive of meals). Ista Amritsar, MBM Farms, G.T. Road (adjoins Alpha One City Center), +91 183-2708888, 5 star hotel with a contemporary design, two restaurants, lounge and spa.

Rooms starting at Rs 5000. Hotel P.R. Residency, 4 Kms from Railway Station, Ranjit Avenue +91-98141-76567, 2502666. Located in the most porsh area, it has undoubtedly the best rooms and view in the town. Along with the most modern equipped suites, it is a great local favourite for dining for its hospitality n memorable stay. Don’t forget to try out Golden Fried Chicken and continental cuisine. Rooms starting at 2000 to 4000 for suites. Ranjit’s Svaasa, 47-A The Mall (opposite the Ebony Mall, down a little side street). The only boutique hotel in town, and a comparative oasis of calm in an otherwise hectic city. Ranjit’s is set in an old colonial house, and has been nicely refurbished with understated style - the place looks at its best at night. There is also a spa and small restaurant attached. Rooms starting at around Rs.5,000 per night.

temple and less than a km to the train station. Very clean and hospitable staff. HK Clarks Inn: 14, District Shopping Complex, B-Block, Ranjit Avenue, Amritsar-143001. +91 0183 5011111, Four star hotel, good food, fine dine restaurant, lounge bar, open air barbeque, swimming pool, good aerated rooms.

Z Stay safe The sectarian strife of the 1980s and 1990s is just a bad memory and Amritsar is currently a safe and welcoming city, if a little polluted.

p Respect You should remain aware and respectful of the Sikh religion anywhere near the Golden Temple complex. Inside the complex both men and women are required to cover their heads (scarves are widely available throughout the town for Rs 10, or a box of them are free to use at the entrances to the temple).

Ranjit’s Svaasa

Ritz Plaza, 45 The Mall, 256 2836, A more classy hotel also located in the city with good rooms and service and a swimming pool. Price starts at approx Rs 2,500 a night. Hotel Swarn House . This 3 Star hotel is a heavenly abode for tourists coming in from all walks of life to visit the Golden Temple, which is just a walk away. It offers super deluxe and deluxe rooms to stay. Guests are served a delicious spread, comprising Mughlai, Continental, Chinese, and Italian and Punjabi specialties. Corporate travelers are also offered a spacious banquet space, which is ideal place to conduct weddings, prayer meetings and business conferences. Country Inns and Suites By Carlson . Queens Road, Amritsar. Tel no. +91 1835050555. A four star hotel with rates starting Rs3,000 for double rooms. Better rates online. Free Wireless and breakfast. 1.5 kms to Golden

Smoking and alcohol are forbidden within the complex and anywhere within sight of the temple. Lighting up a cigarette on the busy street out front will definitely attract negative attention, as will spitting near the temple. Photography is allowed on the outside ring of the holy lake, but not inside the actual temple itself.

Behave! |


} Get out Visit the Pakistan border at Wagah to see the border closing ceremony. Indian and Pakistani soldiers do a march-off every evening, a popular and fun event. Cameras are allowed, but do NOT bring ANY bags, as well as camera covers, they are not allowed in and there are no clocking facilities. Once you reach there around 4:00PM, you will join a crowd of thousands of people who have also come for a glimpse of the ceremony. Before the actual event, you need to stand in a not so organized crowd (don’t bother queuing) in the heat and dust for around 2 hours and then one hour before the ceremony, get let in to fight your way from one check-post to another. There are no sheds, so it gets pretty hot and sweaty unless you go in the winters. Security at the border is very high - you’ll be searched twice and water and cigarettes confiscated. When you’re let in, there are separate queues for men and women, and Indian women are kept separate for the women section.


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Foreigners of both sexes are kept together in the same area after going through the separated security lines. Taxis leave from the backside of the Golden Temple. It’s a 45 minute ride, and you should leave Amritsar by around 3:30PM. They are basically two options for getting there. One is to hire a taxi/autorickshaw or go in a pool in taxi, charges would be a minimum of 350 for hiring an auto, the cheaper option would be to go for a shared taxi costs about 80-100 rupees per person. Beware that 100 rupees may not include parking of the taxi on the place (around 10 rupees per person) and the taxi may be very full. Make sure you check the vehicle before paying, offer a deposit and ask if you can pay the rest on your return. There is a reserved section for foreign tourists so make sure you bring your passport with you so that you can skip the line and get the best seats available. Cameras are allowed. For different Modes out of Amritsar check out the get in section. =


ri Expe

x The Wagah Border


hile we were in Punjab, our group went to the Wagah Border between India and Pakistan. Every evening, there is a border closing ceremony there. During my past visits to India, I saw little evidence of any national pride. The closest I had come to seeing patriotism was when I asked my friend what colors were on the Indian flag, “The colors are green, white, and saffron!” I guess I just assumed that patriotism was non-existent here, but at the border, I finally saw an Indian display of national pride. Honestly, the border was a little overwhelming for me. The crowd was enormous, and the security made the TSA look like a bunch of mall cops. I think I had to show my passport three times before they decided that I wasn’t a threat to national security. Once we were seated, however, I began to appreciate the place. There I was, stuffed between two of my friends, sitting on the curb with an Indian police officer pacing, waving, and blowing his whistle right above me, and as I looked at the crowd, I saw the pride on their faces. Hundreds of people came that evening to see this, and I was right on the curb—I could see everything! There was music playing and the women were dancing. People were running the length of the road in pairs carrying large flags and beaming. It was sweltering and crowded, but the Indian people were glad to be there. Someone shouted “Hindustan!” and the whole crowd echoed it back. Again and again, “Hindustan! Hindustan! Hindustan!” They were

shouting the name of their country in Hindi, not English. Detour By

The ceremony itself is quite choreographed. In small groups, soldiers marched— stomped—to the gate and kicked their legs so high that their feet touched their hats. They would take off marching as fast as they could to the gate, then stand in formation. It was obvious that the soldiers of the two countries were competing the whole time. Although these men have been doing the same ceremony each night for years, some of the men looked tense and nervous. It was clear that they would rather spend a night in Pakistan than make a mistake.

Rachel York

During the final moments of the closing ceremony, both gates were opened, and amid much marching and kicking, the soldiers of India and Pakistan got into formation to lower their flags. It was in this moment that I saw the pride of India. The man in front of me saluted; the crowd cheered; every eye was glued to that green, white, and saffron flag. I knew that I could only be an observer in this moment, for it belonged to the Indians. It belonged to the people of Hindustan.= |



ri Expe

x My Amritsar trip


ast weekend, we decided that as long as we were going to be hotter than hell, we might as well travel. So I began my series of weekend trips in the holiest Sikh city. We left on Friday morning, taking the six-hour train to Amritsar. The trains in India are a little daunting at first. If you are not reserving online, which causes its own headaches, then you have to purchase your tickets from the railway station to avoid a travel agent commission. There is a foreign tourist bureau at the Delhi station, and probably at the Mumbai, Calcutta, and Chennai stations as well, but I was promptly denied a ticket when I mentioned that I had a student visa. I returned the next day and employed the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy (it was a different ticket clerk, and, I’m assuming because I don’t look Indian, he didn’t ask to see my passport) and was able to get a ticket. The station itself is a complete madhouse, with people from all walks of life scurrying in all directions. In fact, the worst and most distressing poverty, often with horrible and sometimes unnatural disfigurements, I have seen thus far in India was at the train station,


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to the point where I was on the verge of gagging or crying. When you arrive before your departure as I did on Friday, there is a digital display board that shows the train, destination, and which platform it is at, much in the same way one would find their plane at an airport. I made my way to the platform and hopped onto my coach. One of my friends learned the hard way that trains leave promptly at their exact departure times. The Indian railway system is divided into classes. The lowest class is called second class, with is kind of like general admission. It is cheap, but there is no air conditioning and no assigned seating. This is what a sizeable number, if not a majority, of Indians take. Then there are sleeper class, which are essentially the first class night trains, and the seats convert to beds at night. Sleeper class is air-conditioned, but there is a separate class called “air-condition” which is divided into three other classes, the lowest have the least comfortable seats and the highest having private rooms. A first-class air-condition ticket will cost almost as much as an


r By

Ronny Smith

Indian domestic flight (almost $50 U.S.). Anyways, I traveled second-class a/c, which is still relatively cheap and very comfortable, so comfortable, in fact, that I, being prone to motion-sickness and irritability when people touch my elbows in vehicles (I don’t know why), was able to read half of East of Eden on the train to and from Amritsar. But now to Amritsar, which is a much smaller city then Delhi, and a little bit cleaner and a little bit friendlier, but still has over a million people. There is apparently quite a sprawl to it, but the train took us right to the center of town, which is only a fifteen minute auto-rickshaw ride to the Golden Temple. With half of the day left in Amritsar, we quickly learned that there was not much to see in the city as much as things to eat. Panjabi food is absolutely delicious, and such quintessentially Indian dishes as Tandoori chicken (or Tandoori anything, for that matter) comes from Panjab. There is also excellent street food, from pani puri (fried bread with a dal/potato mixture to dip it in) to samosas. We wanted to save the Golden temple for the next day, so we sampled some food and walked around the old city, with its winding markets, tempting sweet shops, Sikh souvenier shops, and identical general stores. We also went to Jalianwallah Baugh, the site of the infamous massacre in 1919. Following the unpopular British law, the Rowlatt Act, which, among other things, banned public political gatherings, a series of demonstrations across Panjab ensued. Though almost all were peaceful, one in particular turned violent, and several British were killed. A few days later, men, women, and children, Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs, gathered in Jalian-

Taken inside the Jallianwala Bagh gallery. Some amazing stuff in there of people sharing their personal experiences on the aftermath of the massacre.

Volunteers wash dishes at Guru-ka-Langar

wallah Baugh, a large open area with a deep well, to protest the Rowlatt Act. The British General Dwyer approached the demonstration with machine guns and infantry, and without warning fired. About 1200 were injured and four hundred were killed during the fifteen minutes of gun fire and the desperate attempts by the protestors to escape. After the massacre, General Dwyer claimed he did not think a warning would have done any good, and he expressed no remorse for the incident. The massacre is thought to have been the spark that ignited Gandhi’s first non-cooperation movement. Today, the once barren cement area has been converted into a beautiful green park, complete with a monument to commemorate the dead and walls with bullet holes. It was a sobering sight, but we left feeling inspired by the positive response from Indians that followed. My friend and I returned to our hotel room and, after reuniting with our friend who had missed the earlier train, we went to bed early. The hotel, the Sita Niwas, was a five minute walk to the temple and a great value for its |


accommodating staff and secure rooms. The next morning we got up at 4 AM to see the Golden Temple. It was originally built in the sixteenth century, but after being destroyed by the Mughals it was rebuilt in the early eighteenth century and defended. The temple, as well as Sikhs, has witnessed a long history of violence against it, and there is even a museum within the temple to show the Sokh martyrs who have died for their faith, featuring gruesome color paintings of beheadings, dismemberments, and various other tortuous deaths. The temple itself is magnificent, a huge white complex complete with watchtowers and dormitories for pilgrims and tourists. In the center is a large rectangular pool of water, and in the center of the pool is the Mandir, an impeccable piece of ornate architecture that is the most important building in the Sikh faith, according to a Sikh scholar whom I spoke with at the temple. The Mandir is coated in beautiful gold, and when we arrived in the morning, it lit up the entire complex with an iridescent yellow glow. There were already hundreds of people at the temple when we arrived, including Hindus and Muslims, and we sat in awe of the sight before us. At around 5, there was a service in which the holy Sikh book was moved to the Mandir. The book is treated as the eleventh and most important guru, the only living guru of the Sikh faith. It is returned each night around 11 to sleep in the Akal Takht, which is the second most important building to Sikhs. It is another grand structue, taller than the Mandir but not quite as impressively decorated (the Mandir’s gold coating is, indeed, gold). Inside the Mandir was gorgeous, with elegant chandeliers, gold walls, and Sikh musicians whose spine-tingling


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music is continuously broadcasted over loudspeakers and television. After finishing our tour of the temple, we paid a visit to the canteen, which provides free food to all, regardless of caste or creed. The food is simple, hearty, and all-you-can-eat (for lack of a better term), generally consisting of roti and a kind of dal, and it is quite good from what I hear. We were a little early, so we did not get food, but instead were served the best chai I have ever had in large bowls. When I took pictures, many of the people were eager for me to take theirs, including a very intimidating nihang (Sikhs who follow a militaristic guru, who wear purple robes and turbans and carry long, deadly spears. Nihang roughly translates to crocodile). After our chai, we returned to our hotel to nap. After sleeping for a few hours, we walked around the old city for a time before returning to the hotel at 4 AM, where we caught a shared taxi to the Pakistan-India border. Every evening around 5 or 6, there is a unique border ceremony that would seem impossible given the tensions between the two nations. It consists of Indian and Pakistani guards, dressed in ridiculously flamboyant uniform, that stand on their respective sides of the border, separated by a large iron gate and connected by a single road. On either side of the border are huge stands, not unlike a sporting event, where citizens sit and are rallied by a kind of MC. There is music playing, the women dance in the road, and girls run the flags of their countries to the gate and back. The crowds chant the names of their countries and scream “Death!� to the other country. Finally, the ceremony starts, and the guards do an exaggerated, fast-paced march in which they kick their legs almost above their heads (all of the

guards were at least six feet tall). They do this march, which looks like something from a Monty Python sketch, all the way to the gate, which opens, and the guards do a kind of stomp not but inches away from each others’ faces. The crowds go wild. At the end, the guards quickly shake hands and retire to their respective sides. I had never seen anything like it. Upon our arrival before the ceremony, we walked a ways until we found a giant line for security checks. The line, as with all Indian lines, were not much of a line, and I the back was a giant mosh of men fighting for a spot (the women’s line was orderly and quite fast, not to mention much smaller). This continued until one Indian guard walked briskly up to the start of the mob, which we were inextricably and not by choice caught in the middle of, and began whacking men in the back of the end and screaming what I could only guess was something along the lines of, “Get in the damn line!” What ensued was an even greater struggle to get in line, with every man shoving with all of his force to somehow blend into one line. The entire crowd was like one giant member, and it began to sway back and forth as the guard continued to walk around whacking people. Finally, and I have no idea how, the mob (who, except for me, was laughing most of the entire time) converted into an orderly line. Afterward, my friend commented that the whole scenario was a metaphor for Indian governance, and so it seemed. Out of the chaos, a line did form. On our way back from the ceremony, we stopped to get some famous Amritsari fish, which is fish dipped in a

Audience at Wagah border crossing

Indian soldiers march in formation at the Wagah-Attari border

sauce, fried in a large wok, and then cut into pieces and served in another spicier sauce. We got it from a shady one-man dhaba (a dhaba is a roadside food stall), but it was some of the best fish I have ever had. Afterwards, we went to bed early again to catch another early morning train, concluding our visit to Panjab. = |



ri Expe

] Langar at the Gurdwara


riting this within the complex of the Golden Temple, I was constantly anxious that someone may be reading over my shoulder. In fact, when the occasion did arise, people were unable to decipher my scrawled handwriting and sensibilities were not provoked. And given the inclusive atmosphere in Amritsar, surely unparalleled throughout India. People of all faiths, communities and economic standing are welcomed in this sanctum sanctorum of Sikhism. Shelter is provided to pilgrims, regardless of religious grouping, and langar (‘free kitchen’) prepares food for an incredible 40,000 people every day. This kitchen is one of the most remarkable spectacles I have ever seen: run exclusively by volunteers, it is widely proclaimed to be the most organised institution in India (the renowned inefficiency of bureaucracy nationwide should not detract from such commendation). From eight in the morning until well after midnight buckets full of daal, wicker baskets piled high with roti continuously circulate and metallic dishes and bowls fly around the kitchen, sometimes overwhelming the vast cohort of volunteers. It is not just pilgrims and tourists that profit from the mass-scale hospitality at the Golden Temple: looking around the langar many homeless people and rickshaw walas can be identified by their ragged clothes and the unkempt hair that protrudes from the cloth provided to cover their head. This unquestioning embrace of ‘undesirable’ elements of society is unmatched by any religious gesture I have seen, in India or elsewhere. Although many religions theoretically offer shelter and food to all men and women, I have never seen it applied on such a scale without any religious agenda, whether of 72

| First Issue | TSP: Detour

conversion or charitable donation. The langar of the Golden Temple and those of the many gurdwaras (Sikh temple) in Amritsar also seem to have a significant impact on the city’s dynamic. Throughout my stay I was not approached for money by a single person, something which is an uncomfortably common occurrence for gora (lit. ‘white man’) in any other major Indian city. Everyone in the city has enough to eat, and people appear collectively content. Moreover, with people of all backgrounds mixing in the same communal areas, social division is not as ostensible as in other parts of India; indeed, equality has been a key tenet ever since the foundation of Sikhism. This idyllic picture is admittedly a product of my stay in an area that is unique to the Sikh religion; had I strayed several miles further afield I would surely have been confronted by the same poverty and social inequality that scars Indian society. Yet the impact of kar sevak (religious volunteers) and langar on a few thousand people in the centre of Amritsar should not be denied: the man who sat next to me one lunch time, filled up two plastic bags full with daal before stuffing bread into his pockets and leaving with what might have fed himself for a whole week.=

Detour By

Ben Thurman From |


w rvie


o Amateurs on KP


amateur trekkers and students of Manipal University Bangalore Campus tackle one of the toughest treks in Karnataka. Let’s see what they thought about the trek... and in case if you are wondering why only 3 are given.... I was the 4th. Anubhav De Chandannagar , West Bengal

Allen Augustine Kottayam, Kerala

Savio Travasso Jubail, Saudi Arabia

Why did you decide to go on this trek? Anubhav: Had a long weekend ahead.... was bored to the thought lets do something which I haven’t done before. Allen: Just for fun. Savio: Was always interested in camping and I thought it would be a a part of the experience. After being invited I accepted the challenge whole heartedly keeping in mind that I would burn a whole lot of calories as I even hadn’t made it to the gym for quite a long time Was this your first time on a trek? Anubhav: Well considering the toughness of the trek I would call it my first, but if I had to answer the question from technical point of view then this would be my second first trek was with a big trekking


| First Issue | TSP: Detour

group with trained professionals and also wasn’t that tough. But the most important thing is that in my first trek there was always a feeling of “big brother is watching” and the feeling of “you are on your own” was missing, which was overly stuffed in our trek to Kumaraparvatha. Allen: Yes, this was my first trek! Savio: Yes , it was and I carried alongwith me a whole lot of expectations How did you prepare for the trek? Anubhav: Shravan has decent experience of I kinda followed his tips and packed accordingly.... Allen: Just followed all the instructions given by Shravan, who had done the same trek before. Savio: My friend description of the trek was only a single sentence “Its going to be hard”. Packed with me a decent amount of



Interview er by Tajind Pal Singh Walia

food and liquids, an emergency kit. Physically and Allen: No. it was quite like what i expected. mentally I was just sufficiently conditioned Savio: Well it was definitely one of the greatest tests of my life , it was like exploring my own individual, `grit and determination . Did not expect it What was your biggest worry before the trek? to be as intense as it turned out to be. Anubhav: . I m physically not that fit so I was worried that my body would give up..... What was the toughest part? Allen: Actually i was not that worried about Anubhav: restricting our tent from turning into anything, because i was totally enthusiastic. a parachute and maintaining a sustainable conSavio: Exhaustion , Fatigue and the wild were my sumption of water throughout the trek. three main concerns. Allen: To tent on the top of the peak in an extreme weather. Was the trek different than what you expected? If Savio: The parts in which had to ascend through yes, in what way? the forest full of leaches as well the hills. Within the Anubhav: Well not different but I did under-estimate the camping part a bit......coz it got shit scary at night......with the strong wind....which intended to molest us every minute....and the lightning above which made me say my prayers........

first five minutes of ascending through the forest we encountered dozens of leeches penetrating through the skin of the feet. Also began sweating liters of sweat within the first fifteen minutes itself. Another experience was after reaching the top at |


around 5-30 in the evening we set up the tents but what followed later in the evening was one of the most horrifying scenarios I had ever witness in my life. Torrential rain, lightning, thunder, winds and a single source of light “our torch” .The Tents kept violently swaying and we were literally holding it with our bare hands from inside obstructing it from blowing away. Somehow managed to sleep for a few hours amidst the terror. How did it feel to be on top of Kumara Parvatha and the Pushpagiri range? Anubhav: ah! first of all the wind felt awesome in the morning and that too after a rainy night. And then like they say....... success is sweet.......sweet indeed...... after all the struggling, tramping, panting, sweating, starving and blood sucking (leech bites)........the peak felt extra-ordinarily awesome....... Allen: The nearby mountain ranges came down to our eye level and sometimes we were 'clouded by clouds'.. that was an amazing experience. Savio: It felt ecstatic, was brimming with positive energy, one of the greatest feeling ever, a true sense of accomplishment How was the journey back down? Anubhav: The journey down seemed miraculously easily.....we took almost half the time that we took on the way up.......and I personally got kind of adrenaline rush and felt like I could complete the journey down without a single break, and not only me but all of us picked up speed on the way down ....we actually ran down the mountain....the journey down was smooth like butter. Allen: It was way easier than climbing up the mountain. Savio: The view from the top made it appear to be a task to be carried out with great precision and so be it . I told myself that I would take one rock at a time and minutely focus on the balance of each step taken downwards . But from the fatigue point of view it consumed literally half of the energy as compared to the ascending part as well half of the time taken


| First Issue | TSP: Detour

How tired were you after the trek? Anubhav: Tired enough to sleep for a whole week.... Allen: Cheers :) Savio: The fact that we camped on the mountain top for the night gave us a chance to regenerate energy for the next day , but yeah mentally I was drained and was just longing to have a glimpse of civilization again Would you recommend this trek to others? Anubhav: Lifetime not miss it...... and if stay you stay in Karnataka and haven’t been to KP........I have got no words... Allen: Yes. I will Savio: The trek definitely aint for the complacent , leisure trekkers. I one is desperately in needed of some type of wholesome adventure I would definitely recommend it to them Would you go back? Anubhav: Hell yeah!!!!! Allen: I like to go there once again and trek from the other side of the mountain. Savio: Yes , definitely , this time better equipped , with more amounts of basic supplies , proper research on tackling with the leaches and with wholesome physical and mental conditioning. =


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TSP Detour - Ladakh Motorbiking & Amritsar  
TSP Detour - Ladakh Motorbiking & Amritsar  

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