‘A Road Trip!’ Exciting isn’t it? Every year in the months of May and June, thousands of bikers from all over the world travel to India to taste the explicit joy on the world’s highest motorable road. It is a fun ride, but it is risky too! There are many unaccounted risk factors one got to be careful about—we say ‘unaccounted’ because troubles don’t come in blueprint copies. Also, one got to take several precautions; type of bikes, road conditions, diet, and health… the list goes on. But first thing first; you have to reach Manali because that’s where your journey starts, well unless you plan to take the Srinagar route. The Delhi City met some biker who came forward to share their personal experience.
Kunal, a hardcore biker says, “Always talk with other bikers in Manali, for at sometimes internet gives you the wrong weather report. The Golden rule, know the weather! You might only have a limited number of days, but don’t travel if the weather is not favourable.” Each season, hundreds of bikers to Ladakh are caught in snow storms, avalanches, floods, and landslides. Kunal continues, “I remember in 2009, we were caught for almost 20 days with no food and water… there was no escape route as both the ends of the road were blocked because of avalanches… we had to wait for choppers to give us a lift.” Avalanche is a very common occurrence, and if you come faced with some disaster in the middle of nowhere, be prepared to face the challenge.
There are many stories where bikers, even including cars were washed away in the river. The main reason is the lack of experience, underestimating nature and over confident. Adi, another hardcore biker who make trips to Ladakh every year says, “Respect the force of nature if you want to have a pleasant trip. There are numerous streams on the way, do not just rush into the water. The rivers are always deeper than they appear and you can’t measure the force unless you get into it. Cross them before noon, and I would personally never suggest bikers to even attempt crossing the streams and rivers in the evening, especially at night. Remember, snow melts during the day time… if the river is six inches deep in the morning, at night it will be around two to three foot deep. We ride for days and night with very little oxygen and water, so sometimes what we see deceives us!”
Pankaj, a Himalayan bike racer says, “Never rush—never race. Save your energy, you’ll need it throughout.” Experts highly recommend bikers not to spend more than 10 to 15 minutes in a pass, in case you do, make sure descend steadily. “Of course, you feel like you are on top of the world, it’s exciting, but don’t jump or run around. Relax, take pictures, enjoy the beauty, but never try to run up the hilltop or shout and scream. There is hardly any oxygen, and Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) can hit anyone, anytime, anywhere, at any altitude above 10,000 ft. from the sea level, thus one must be careful.” Every day hundreds of tourists make a quick escape from Ladakh, or return from midway because of AMS, and at worst people die of AMS every year. People who have a history of asthmatic and heart attacks, and low and high blood pressure problems are advised not to travel to Ladakh. Dr. Ankit, who has travelled to Ladakh at least a dozen times suggests, “One must be very careful of AMS. Common symptoms are headache, loss of appetite, nausea, coughing, irregular breathing, breathlessness, weariness and lack of concentration… if you face any of these problems you must leave the town or seek medical help immediately. Remain calm, for if you run around, or shout and scream, you will run out of breath.”
“It’s not like everything will be fine if you start drinking a lot of water on your way to Ladakh. You have to be mentally prepared and start taking care of your health way before your travel dates. Stop consuming alcohol or smoking-up at least a couple of night before you travel… if you don’t, you’re inviting trouble,” says Nathan, who biked to Ladakh last year. His travel companion Julian says, “Eat well, drink lots of water and get enough rest—don’t spend your last night in Manali parting. It might sound funny, but carry a nice sun-lotion, sunglasses, a nice hat, glove and a muffler. Last year when I biked to Ladakh, I didn’t really know these things; it was a torture for me. Also, I could not resume work right after the trip; my face had four different shades.” In another word, watch your diet.
Mike, an expat biker in the capital says, “I try to make at least one trip to Leh every year. It is fun. If you’re travelling for the first time, it’s a must to ride in a group because if you get lost, or in case of any emergency, help isn’t going to reach to you soon. I have my own bike, but there are many agencies in Delhi where you can hire or rent a bike; Pahar Ganj is obviously the best area to start looking for a bike. Price range will mostly depend on the model and the type of the bike, but they are not very expensive. Otherwise, travel Manali and you’ll also find many good options. Most of the bikes are Royal Enfields, and they are one of the best ones—they come for around Rs. 600 a day. But before you take the bike up to Ladakh, try riding to Rohtang Pass or other places just to ensure they are in great shape. On the way, something will go wrong with the bike, which is okay, but it is nice familiarised with the bike. Check the clutch and the brakes, and never overuse them when you are riding.”
Nick another expat says, “It was fun, but I will not do it again, I need to heal the ailing memories first. We made some serious mistakes—to start with, we were low on cash. We ran out of money, and the ATM wasn’t working. We were going crazy and finally we ended up selling out tents, sleeping bags, stoves, and jackets at throwaway prices.” Mike (Nick’s travel companion) adds, “Make sure you choose a bike with a large fuel tank and also that gives a good mileage. As far as I know there is only one petrol station, 35 km outside Leh, and two in Leh. Thus you have to make sure you have enough petrol to last 550 km (342 Miles)… carry a plastic can that can hold at least 5 litres of extra petrol. Don’t carry too many engine oil, half a litre is good enough in case of emergencies, and to keep the chain lubricated. Change the oil before your tip, hopefully, depending on the road condition that’ll last the entire trip.”
Linda an expat who biked to Ladakh couple of time says, “Be sure of your health, otherwise, visit a doctor before your journey. I swear, biking to Ladakh isn’t an easy ride! Get a prescription from your doctor and buy the essential medicines. If you plan to use pills such as Diamox for AMS, start taking at least 4 to 5 days before your journey. Besides, even if you don’t use the medicines, you can distribute them in Ladakh, which is always welcomed in the area.” Do we have to be cautious about certain things? Nishant, a biker and a photographer says, “Speaking from a different angle, don’t litter under any circumstances, and do attempt unnecessary heroic acts, well unless you are trained. Also, don’t carry big knives, guns, or any other kinds of weapons. If you carry walkie-talkies, they could land you in trouble with the army.” Linda cuts in and adds, “Please… please take permission before you take pictures, they are not animals; they are human beings, pay some respect. But if they want money in return, don’t pay, don’t click!”
Pankaj further adds, “Anything can happen—anticipate the best and the worst. It can snow anytime, and what can get worse—avalanches? One has to be very careful and always be on alert… oh, just don’t get killed! And if it’s sunny, it’s fun, but it’ll melt the snow, which means river crossing could get risky! This is an accident-prone road… it sounds scary, but I anticipate a mishap after every 10 miles, especially in certain stretches. The heavy traffic during bad weather or after an accident can get crazy too—sometimes you have to wait for hours and days before the road gets cleared. Also, one has to be careful about sinking areas, otherwise the tyre will get caught in the mud or the bike could skid off the track. Sometimes animals can appear from nowhere, so one has to be very watchful. There are many things… but that’s what make the ride on the world’s highest motorable road memorable.”
“I would say, do your homework before your start,” says Ahmad. “It’s almost impossible to ride continuously, count your days—three days from Manali to Leh. Even if you push yourself at night, you’ll be forced to stop during the day… nature limits our strength. The question is where do you want to hold for the night? Do you plan to carry your own tent and sleeping bags, which I think is too much of a luggage to carry, or do you plan to hold at places like Pang and Jispa, where they already have tents for rental? Ask around, join some forum and ask questions. Kindly don’t ride to Ladakh just because it sounds good and adventurous. I have seen corpse with my naked eyes, and nobody wants to end up the ugly way. Let me not scare you, just do your homework,” concludes Ahmad with a huge grin.