Leh To Manali Drive

By Vikram Oberoi | 2005

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Every story has a perpetrator. This is Emily, the one responsible for me  taking off on one of the most exotic bike rides on this planet. A chef, yoga teacher, kayaking instructor...she can pretty much be whatever she puts her mind to. I met her at my Guruji, Ramesh Balsekar`s where she showed up one fine morning riding her bike all the way  from Rishikesh-- Solo! She told me of the ride she was planning up to Ladakh and offered me to ride with her. Told her I`d think about it. For the next two months I did nothing else! Was ready when the time came.

From muggy mornings in Mumbai to the crisp Manali air. Ladakh seems on another planet.  Will we make it? Not sure. But it was going to be one heck of a ride. I`d directed/produced the Gypsy commercial for Maruti in Ladakh some 8 years ago - so knew what lay ahead. And yes, the leathers make a lot of sense once the bike moves!

You see Emily at Rohtang Pass, a rainy wet ride to Rohtang. She decided to say Hi to fellow travelers. Just cross Rohtang and all signs of rains gone.

Another 3-4 hours drive and we reached Keylong. Entry to Keylong Lahaul Baudh Sabha aapka abhinandan karta hai. This is just before Keylong. For bikers Keylong is the last stop for petrol. Load full tank and reserves in cans.

This is roadside dhaba after Keylong with a view to match.

On the left of the earlier picture i.e. the Dhaba is this beautiful lake with snow clad mountains in the background.

On the way to Barlacha Pass. The terrain is rough; the road is non existent at places, perfect for biking. I used an Enfield 500 (named Kali) and Emily used an Enfield 350 (named Gypsy Rani).

The top of Barlacha Pass. I then got the feeling that this trip might just be possible.

Took frequent breaks along the way. See the mountains in the right hand side ka mirror.

Emily’s lucky mascot called Tiger enjoying the view. This Tiger has traveled about 20,000 kms on a bike.

After a challenging ride we approach Sarchu - a check post on the way to Leh. I remember helping the policemen there by starting their Generator - they needed to clean the spark plug and needed a `pana`! Approx 3-5 hrs from Baralacha pass.

You see Gypsy Rani taking a break before starting the incredible Gata Loops, a total of 21 hair pin bends at a height of 15,300 feet. We climbed 2,280 feet over 21 bends. It was almost like going straight up a cock’s screw.

A view of the gata loops, you can see just 4 of the 21 bends. There is another point from where you can see 17-18 loops at one shot. Do make it a point to see that when you go.

The raw majesty of the Himalayas, this is what we came for. The straight line on the left of the picture is the road and if you look carefully the little black dot is me on the bike.

The magical play of light and shadow as the sun sets.

We are at Darcha where tented accommodation is now available. Earlier travelers had to sleep in trucks or their own tents.

You see the More Plains. They are just flat land for about 25-30 kms, a motor cyclist paradise. The reclusive horsemen that you see in the picture live in these plains.

Approaching the highest point on the journey to Leh i.e. Tanglangla Pass. Height is 17,582 feet.

You see the More Plains. They are just flat land for about 25-30 kms, a motor cyclist paradise. The reclusive horsemen that you see in the picture live in these plains.

Approaching the highest point on the journey to Leh i.e. Tanglangla Pass. Height is 17,582 feet.

Emily poses at Tanglangla Pass.

Buddhist flags add color to the stark mountains.

Emily head over heals at the Tanglala pass.

A local with his hand held mobile wool spinning factory. In the background is a mandir, gurudwara.

Kali enjoying the view from the top of the world. You can look down upon peaks i.e. how high we were.

Majestic snow covered mountains wearing a skirt of dust. You can peak at what lies inside where the snow was cut to clear the road.

A close up of the same. Behind the bike, note the different layers of snow and each layer takes you back in time.

After the rugged, desolate and majestic landscapes the first of signs of civilization, we were getting close to Leh.

A typical breathtaking view of the Ladaki mountains. Note the kaladesiscope of colors that begin to emerge. At the base of the mountain is a typical Ladakhi home.

A close of the amazing colors on view. Nature’s shade card.

Emily took this picture -Did she pinch their cheeks before?

Finally close to Leh but as we realized it is a good 25 kms away.

A local house, 19 kms from Leh with Thermis monastery in the background.

Emily spinning the prayer wheel offering thanks for a safe journey.

At a typical bakery, with friends rejoicing the ride. Every person in that picture had ridden a bike up to Ladakh-lots to talk about.

This is called the Datun tree. Legend has it that Guru Nanak was approached by the locals who complained of nothing growing here. Guru Nanak threw the datum (the stick with which he brushed his teeth) on the ground and it is believed that this huge tree grew from that. This tree can still be found in Leh, you have to make an effort to find it though.

A view of the Pathar Sahib with an impression of Guru Nanak`s back. The belief is-It was imprinted on the rock when a demon tried to kill him by crushing him under the bolder. Instead the rock melted like wax hence got Guru Nanak Dev`s back`s impression.To mail feedback to author mail to:oberoivikram@hotmail.com

And the journeys continued... after Ladakh I rode solo to Srinagar, Dharamsala, and Amritsar. Later in the winter I went on a solo ride to Kanyakumari. This short poem that came to me in Ladakh say`s it all- When the wind calls, You know, That somewhere in the mountains, It has found the answers that you were looking for. The pull of the horizon overcomes the inertia of reason...And you just have to go.