I had it in my mind and heart since long that I’d be leaving to LEH- Ladakh from Bangalore in June 2016 but didn’t have specific dates planned. All I knew is that I just HAD to go there this year, no matter what happened! But then, what about my new job that would be just 7 months old in June? Well, I didn’t break my head over that and put it under the ‘let’s see’ section of my mind. To break the ice, LEH IS ACTUALLY A TOWN in the LADAKH region and Ladakh is a large, beautiful mountain area that stretches across the Indian borders. A lot of curious and annoying people ask me whether I stayed in LEH or rode on further towards Ladakh. Well, now you know!
I had many things set already for the long ride in terms of luggage and clothing, thanks to the 2015 west India tour. The only factor that was concerning me was my KTM Duke 390. I had ridden it for 40,000 kilometers, which is quite a lot for a high compression single cylinder race engine! Consequently, I ended up spending 22,000 bucks on the motorcycle as I got a new front tyre for it, new clutch plates, new stator, got the forks serviced, new engine oil pump, lots of other small things and a general service. I basically ensured that there wasn’t any majorly aged, worn out mechanical part that could do more harm to the engine. Thanks to my motorcycle engineer and race tuner Jagadish Jaga, the Duke was in top notch condition after service. He even has a compression gauge that Ktm’s service center doesn’t, which indicated the well being of my KTM! But, the Duke did break down in the test ride after service. An aged battery along with a worn out pulse coil were found to be the culprits so we had them replaced immediately. Another proof that no matter how many precautions you take, shit happens when its meant to happen. Thanks to my KTM Duke 390 for breaking down close to Bangalore and not somewhere in the Himalayas, the problem could be fixed in a jiffy! At the end of it all though, the engine sounded crispier and new with the power surging in a better fashion, than earlier.
When the month of May arrived, I asked for a leave period of 21 working days from my employer. I reported to the Vice President of the company so I had a short discussion with him about my long leave period to which he agreed surprisingly and asked me to log the leaves in the system. I was taking ten extra days than the leaves I had in my leave balance, so I agreed to a pay cut in my salary for the rest of the 11 days. A month later though, when ‘D’ day was a week away, the VP had a meeting with me where he changed his stance and said he had never approved my leaves. When I insisted that he had, he switched lanes again and said he might have approved vacation leaves earlier but he was disapproving them at that moment. I saw where this was heading so I asked him for the reasons to which he gave some extremely ridiculous and lame points. Ultimately, the discussion came down to him asking me to decide whether my ride was more important or my career. I immediately told him that the ride was more important and put my papers down, how could a 30 day ride affect my ‘career’ that would stretch for another 25 years!? (it won’t be that long actually). In addition, how could I trust that guy with anything when he changed colors every now and then? Fortunately, my parents understood this and supported me. Since I had a long trip ahead of me, I didn’t even have to serve a long notice period, my employer had to let me go! 🙂
There was renovation work going on at home so I stayed back for a few more days and departed on 20th June, a time when the monsoon clouds were ahead of me by a thousand kilometers and had reached Mumbai. I took the National Highway 8 route like I did during the 2015 West India tour as that was the most feasible option for me, especially since I was on a budget. Of course, I was excited as hell but most of my excitement was for the Ladakh part of the journey after Manali as it is after Manali that one begins to ride into the wild. I departed at 7.45 AM on 20th June and my destination for the day was Pune. I covered the scenic 850 kilometers in about thirteen hours as I took longer breaks on the way. The weather too, remained cool throughout and I wasn’t affected by rains anywhere! The rain gods showed some mercy there. I booked the hotel on the way through a phone call for 2500 bucks, which is a lot. I later realized after reaching that the amount was excluding taxes. Talk about feasibility now.
I hardly had ‘bum pain’ on the way to Pune. Not that I get it very often, my bums are cooperative but what was even better was the fact that I was testing ride-on-air’s air seat that does a decent job of pampering the bums. One does feel a bit uneasy after covering 500 kilometers on it so for a change, I strapped the air seat onto my saddle bag and rode on the hard, stock seat. I wonder why but the hard seat wasn’t a bother at all! I got some nice sleep in Pune and woke up to realise that I was running out of time, thanks to my urge to sleep for those extra five minutes. Mumbai was 150 kilometers away and it wasn’t on my cards but bypassing it and reaching Vadodara was! Vadodara was about eight hours from Pune so I had to deviate from NH8, pass through Thane in order to bypass Mumbai city and then get onto NH8 again. I should’ve woken up early, at least after considering the swift economic progress in that region. Economic growth is directly proportional to the number of vehicles running on the roads, hence good growth= congested roads, traffic, high Blood pressure, accidents, etc. I’ve described that vicious circle of infrastructure and economic development in one of the posts under 2015 west India tour. As expected I had to encounter office traffic, some heat, drizzle.
Later though, a police car kept chasing me for about three kilometers and I had no clue of it. I was surprised the cops couldn’t catch up as I was on a motorcycle which was carrying me, and stuff enough to fill a house! Trust me, I didn’t even go past third or fourth gear on that hilly area. I was on the Mumbai- Pune expressway (bikers not allowed) and had missed the exit to Khopoli which was meant for motorcycles, so the cops got into a chase but failed to even let me know about it, until I stopped to piss by the side of the road. After they ranted on about how fast I was riding (pity their jeep for being slow), they went on to blame me for being on the expressway. That’s when I took my helmet off and began to talk. My speech and tone included some aggression, assertion, diplomacy, statistical figures and convincing skills. And, it worked! The cops gave me a Challan that costed 200 bucks, rather than the standard Challan there for 2000 bucks! Just to add some light to my technique, I did make sure to add words like court, lawyer, speed, cows, slow Mahindra jeep, NHAI sucks, highway deaths caused by being slow, not your fault, urgency, etc in my conversation with the cops, you could try it someday! Hey, but that was quite a bargain eh. 🙂
I went off the expressway at the next exit and continued for about ten kilometers until I found another road that linked cars drivers to the Pune- Mumbai expressway. I don’t remember why, but I was in the mood for a little mischief so I went onto the expressway and It happened again after three hundred meters. There were two cops by the side of the road who stopped me so I immediately showed them my Challan receipt to confuse them. They did get confused. This time, I was being very polite. When asked where I was heading to, I told them my destination was Himalayas since they didn’t know where Ladakh was located. Then they asked me about my job. I told them the fact that I quit my job to experience the Himalayas. That’s it! Something happened to that fat little cop and he said I didn’t have to pay a single rupee, I had a long journey ahead so I could carry on with my ride “on the expressway“. The other cop too agreed and said the same thing. He quietly assured me that I could ride on the left side of the road and if I was stopped by another cop ahead, I could openly say I was let go earlier. I was shocked, happy, touched, confused, excited and all those feelings emerged at once! I had only heard of these ‘nice cops’ and fortunately, I met two on that day! I wanted to take a picture of the sweet cops but since they were in uniform, I wasn’t allowed to. I did make sure to tell them that they’re the best cops I had met till date before thanking them and rode on the expressway with a wide smile on my face.
Thane is a congested place, way more congested than I imagined. I lost so much time there that by the time I found myself back on NH8, it was 1 PM and I was hungry. I performed some math and realized that I’d reach Vadodara by 8 or 9 PM provided I pushed a little and maintained speed. Considering the point that I didn’t want to push unnecessarily and with my heart pushing me to go meet grandparents, uncles and cousins in Mumbai, I scrapped my decision to ride to Vadodara that day, stopped for a while to make calls to people in Bangalore, Vadodara to let them know of the change in plan and then informed people in Mumbai to keep lunch ready! 🙂
I’ve said this earlier, no matter where you go on a motorcycle, keep people at home informed about your plans!
My relatives in Mumbai were startled when they heard I had ridden through Thane as that region was in the news for being flooded due to heavy rainfall. Well, in reality, I was sweating inside my riding gear while my Duke crawled through Thane with its radiator fan trying to keep the engine cool under that bright ball of fire in the sky. Mainstream media instills fear, watch the news only if you wish to witness stupid comedy. Even if you do watch it, don’t take it seriously!!
I spent that evening in Mumbai. With the climate being surprisingly cool, I had a shower only once that evening and had munched some amazing Pav Bhajis! I decided to sleep a little longer and leave a little late the next day since Vadodara was only 400 Kilometers away. I left Mumbai at 10 AM to Vadodara and reached it in about 6.30 hours of time! I was in the mood to maintain good, consistent speed while I overtook every other car. I did have a short race after lunch with a Toyota Camry but then I gave him a thumbs up soon, when I noticed the front wheel of my Duke lift up due to the weight, at 150 KMPH! I never though I’d experience that on a Duke 390. 🙂
I have a family friend in Vadodara who we call Foga bhai and was staying at his place of residence. He is a three star police inspector who can go to almost any extent to help someone. I have never seen such a helpful man till date. Unexpectedly, he understood the magnitude of this trip more than I did, so he had the media ready at his police station before I got there. I saw a lot of flashes in broad daylight as I took that left turn to his office. He waited there as I got off the motorcycle and then stood with me for some pictures. I usually don’t indulge in publicity, appearing in the newspaper for something is the easiest thing one can do today in the age of paid promotions and above that, I didn’t intend to create a huge hype about this trip of mine as it is a pretty personal one. Since Foga bhai seemed more excited about the trip than I was, I agreed to an interview with the press, just to keep that good man’s spirits high. I did see the clipping in a Gujarati newspaper the next day but missed out the Television report. I stayed in Vadodara for a day, got my clothes washed, made some new friends and got the Duke checked. Through a friend of mine in Bangalore, I met a rider called Sunil Nigam there who took me to his trusted mechanic in order to get the Duke checked. Bikers have their own trusted mechanics, no matter where you find them. It was nice of him to call his other riding peers that evening, we had great conversations over Chai at the workshop and I must admit, the chain maintenance and checkup done at Pinto’s Garage was commendable!
The day after my stay in Vadodara, I rode directly to Ajmer which was 650 kms away. The Gujarat section of the trip was fine until I took a wrong deviation because there was no sign board and entered into the steaming city of Ahmedabad. It was 38 degrees centigrade, so I used the Rynox phone mount for GPS navigation after inserting my sensitive iPhone into it but it took me a good forty five minutes to get back onto the highway. In Rajasthan though, The road had got totally different from last year after I crossed Udaipur. There was a tunnel and suddenly, the four lane national highway transformed into a two lane, well maintained one! It seemed like they had carved a new route to Ajmer. But, this route was magical and curvaceous, I enjoyed it to the limit as I pushed the Duke hard on long sweeping bends. The scene on either side was deciduous forest- ish that emitted a nice scent as it seemed unexplored. I reached my friend Ashutosh’s chat shop at 8.15 PM and was welcomed with a lot of lip smacking food and special Chai. I freshened up at his residence and stayed there for the night. We went out to meet other friends of his, by the lake and then all of us checked into a rooftop sheesha lounge. After about an hour, we headed back home since I was to ride to Chandigarh the next day. We did make plans of having more fun once I was back from LEH. 🙂
I didn’t waste time but rode to Chandigarh the next day at 10 AM, which was 650 kilometers away. Thanks to my phone mount, I could navigate easily through Haryana’s complicated Sonipat- Panipat section and reach Chandigarh. A big thank you to my college friend Preethi and her army hubby Kirtivardhan for having a room booked for me at the army guest house in Panchkula. I reached the guest house at 8.30 PM, the room was neat, highly affordable and spacious! The climate in Chandigarh though, was humid and warm! By the time I freshened up and had dinner, Preethi and her hubby arrived for a short time. I got some good info about the Ladakh region from Kirtivardhan since he was posted there for a while. A short meet it was but a fun and memorable one! Eventually, the room’s air condition unit kept resetting its temperature to 28 degrees centigrade so the helpful guys at the mess got me a tower fan that helped me get quality sleep. Since Chandigarh is a city, I decided to ride towards Manali the next day as my ascent to Ladakh had to be made through the Manali- LEH highway. The real ride had not even begun! 🙂