Hope you have read the previous Episode, in case you haven’t, Click Here to read Episode 02
Day 03: July 01, 2018 (Sunday)
Udhampur to Srinagar: 235 Km
We started the day early and went to the hotel rooftop for a cup of chai. The morning view was beautiful and calm, behind our hotel; flowed River Tawi and right in front of our hotel we saw mountains and huge boulders that were fallen on the roadside. We assumed this was due to the landslide that happened a couple of days ago.
While we sipped tea on the rooftop watching the road, we sighted a pick-up vehicle that had fallen into a ditch. The driver; might have lost control of the vehicle while driving in the dark, and would have jumped off the road. Both of us gave an inexplicable look to each other and said; hope the driver escaped safely.
We had bread butter jam for breakfast and we saddled up for the day’s ride towards Chenani-Nashri Tunnel. We could see tempo travelers filled with pilgrims’ praying and singing devotional songs en route to Amarnath Yatra and we maneuvered through this traffic and reached the tunnel’s start point.
The well-illuminated 9 km straight laned tunnel is a classic example of India’s advancement in road infrastructure. It had wide roads with properly marked lines and multiple emergency exits; we didn’t want to zoom here riding on high speeds and hence rode very calmly. Both of us discussed its importance on the intercoms. This tunnel cuts down the distance by 30 Km of the hilly areas of Patnitop.
Note: Please don’t ride recklessly here; there might be oil spills on the road and can prove fatal if you slide and fall.
Readers may remember my Warrior ’s main stand was broken (in transit) hence we were on the lookout for a welding shop to fix additional metal support to the main stand. Every time I parked my Warrior I had to take the support of a small stone beneath the side stand so I could avoid it from leaning and falling sideways.
Meanwhile, a solo rider named Atish asked; Are you guys hitting Leh? He was riding solo and wanted to know if he could join us. Phani and I both agreed on it. Over chai, we got ourselves introduced and continued our ride.
We reached Ramban, and luckily we found a Bajaj Service station and Phani got his Monster’s bent side-stand fixed. I got busy looking for a welding shop near-by to weld an extra metal piece to my bike’s side stand. With a long iron pipe; the welder also got my rear brake lever straightened out which was also bent in transit.
Crossing over the bridge on Chenab river; we rode the single lane that passed via forest uphills and the road full of bigger potholes, mud, and slush; and off-course the on-going traffic; we took more than 2 hours to cover a stretch of 30 km to reach Banihal where we stopped for lunch at Café NH44.
We had Maggie, Tandoori Roti, and dal in Lunch; Café NH44 was also a Highway Delite verified restaurant. Just 20 km from here, was the Jawahar Tunnel (located between Banihal and Qazigund), which we took another 90 minutes to reach.
Crossing the Jawahar Tunnel, we reached the town of Qazigund, and Phani spoke on the intercom; “Bro your bike’s top rack carrier is broken again!!” The top-rack was hanging on the support of bungee chords that were tied along with the tools and my saddle bag. We had to look out for a welding shop again. The nice cool breezy weather and tiny droplets of rain called for a chai pit-stop. The shop-keeper said; there is a welding shop few km ahead on the highway, but he wasn’t sure if the shop is open at that time of the day.
To our blessing, we found a small welding shop on the side of the 4 lane highway and was open. We quickly untied all the bungee chords and kept the saddle bag on the seat, and the welder started with the repairs.
The welder barely took 15 minutes to weld the top rack and as we were about to continue the ride; Phani misplaced his bike key. All three of us; Atish Bhai, Phani and I searched for his bike key. He was playing with the keychain and the key had fallen into the shrubs on the side of the road; We found it only after searching for an hour.
The ride continued towards Srinagar, on the nice and wide highway which had many Kashmir Willow Cricket Bat shops on either side, looking at the green mountains between the vast lush green paddy fields, we reached the capital city; Srinagar.
As we stopped inside the city of Srinagar, a local reached out to us and said, I have a boat-house if you guys are interested to spend the night floating on the lake. We agreed right away; who would miss such an awesome opportunity!
We reached his boat-house at Dal Lake and decided to stay in his boat named “New Jahangir”. Atish Bhai negotiated the price for INR 1000/- for 3 people; that was hardly INR 350 per head excluding food and the full boat-house was ours. What a bargain for a night out on Dal Lake!
We sat in the balcony of the boat-house sipping refined Kashmiri Chai and the gorgeous view of Srinagar’s Jewel; Dal Lake.
Each one of us wanted to take a boat ride on Dal Lake, and soon after a cold shower; we ditched our riding gears and wore normal casuals; we looked like humans for a change and walked towards the main market in Srinagar. As we walked on the ridges and footpaths, we saw many boats docked at the shoreline of the lake.
We hired Sultan Bhai’s boat for a boat ride across the Lake. It was already dusk while we got into the boat and as Sultan Bhai rowed the boat; we were speechless looking at the fascinating view of the boats well lit with lights. All of us, sat speechless looking at the vast water surface, dipping our hands in the water while we gazed those mighty mountains.
Few pictures below
None of us uttered a word, we were lost in its majestic beauty. Sultan Bhai broke the silence and started guiding with the information of this touristy place. We told Sultan Bhai, we wanted some snacks as we had forgotten to parcel it. He said, kuch chinta math karo aap log, yahaan shikhar pe snacks waale aayenge; (Don’t worry bhailog, you will see boats carrying snacks and food).
We also asked if we could get a couple of beers; Sultan Bhai soon found a boat carrying chilled beers. We grabbed a few cans and relaxed in the boat. What more can we ask for? How big is this lake; we asked? Sultan Bhai said; this lake is around 24 km in radius, you might need a day or two to fully explore the lake on a boat. Also, there were a few floating gardens on the lake.
He said Jaise aap log chal ke, ya bike pe market jaate hai, waise yahaan pe log boat le ke market jaate hai; (Just like, how you guys ride or walk to the market, people here row their boats to visit the markets here). Soon, there was another boat with barbeque food items; we ordered some hot barbeque stuff for ourselves and watched how a tiny rowboat; was loaded with a refrigerator, a barbeque briquette and what not. All the boatman provided heartily services to all the tourists that visited this place.
The sun had already set for the day and darkness had taken over, our boats passed through other boats; few boats were canteens, few were clothing stores, few were luxury boat-houses; it all felt like we were in Venice. Truly; Dal Lake is known as the “Venice of the East”
After a boat ride for two hours or more; we were back at the shore. As we got off the boat, we could see the glimpse of flashback; we could still hear the sound of oars creaking and water splashing the boat, it all seemed like a fairy tale and a feeling of waking up from a dream. Thank You Sultan Bhai for a dream come true boat ride on Dal Lake.
As Phani and Atish Bhai parceled food for us from Hotel Punjabi Haveli in Srinagar market, I saw a roadside shop selling toy boats. So, I bought a toy boat as a souvenir to take back home.
It was an evening well spent in Dal Lake, we discussed our next day’s ride plan; we had the charming Sonamarg and the deadly Zoji La pass ahead of us.
Having dinner in the boathouse’s balcony
Day 04: July 02, 2018 (Monday)
Srinagar to Kargil: 215 Km
We were up by 6.30 am and saddled up quickly. The boat-house owner; Khaliq Bhai got us some hot tea and post which, we continued our journey towards Sonamarg. We tanked up at an HP Petrol Pump at the city’s outskirt. This probably was the last petrol pump which accepted card payments during our journey to Leh.
We crossed Ganderbal and reached a small village; Gund, where we stopped at a roadside hotel for breakfast. While the hotel owner prepared Maggie and Paratha, we had few pictures taken at the banks of River Sind that was flowing just behind the hotel.
Post another 25 odd km ride; we reached Sonamarg, meaning; Meadow of Gold!! Nestled in the lap of Himalayas; a paradise for trekkers and adventurists, the roads passed through the dense forests with the towering pine trees. We stopped for a while near a resort watching this astounding view of nature.
Our curious and excited minds were eagerly waiting to hit Zoji La. The nerve wrecking pass that tests the level of endurance for each and every rider at every turn.
A belief amongst bikers; You conquer Zoji La successfully, you will definitely reach Leh…!!! We reached the base, knowing this pass can be a nightmare to anyone who is driving/riding this stretch, as this strip of rocks is definitely not a place for a relaxed Sunday ride. One should have supreme confidence in his vehicle and excellent riding skills to tame this very narrow road; It’s amongst one of the World’s Deadliest Roads.
As we crossed a place called Baltal which is another alternate road to Amarnath Shrine. On the muddy uphills; my bike; Warrior faced power lag. How much ever I throttled, my bike struggled to cross 30 kph. I was in the center lane trying my best to accelerate my bike; I saw a speeding truck driving downhill at a hairpin curve and I somehow managed to maneuver my bike to the left; narrowly escaping an accident.
Phani on the intercom yelled; Lo, ride safe, you just missed an accident. After 1 or 2 km; I overtook a truck and turned right on another hairpin curve; Phani shouted on the intercom again; Dude there is a small Shiva Temple here, take a U-turn and come back. The truck which I overtook was blocking this small temple hence missing it as I rode on!
We parked our bikes to take blessings at this temple; we were also served with Satyanarayan Pooja Prasad here. Phani and I, we’re happy and lucky to get Mahadev’s blessings, that too in this deadly border road terrain.
We continued the ride and soon after a few minutes; the sun was engulfed by dark clouds and it started raining, the terrain turned in slush added another challenge to the ride. Few stretches are made of cement paver blocks and are slippery when wet.
Even, when the sun shined bright and as there were no barriers on the sides; we could see the mind-numbing steep vertical drops of hundreds of meters and could see the valley which was a couple of thousand feet below us. If you look through the sharp mountain edges; you can see a road which looks as thin as a thread. Those thread lines were the crumbling dirt trails, it can be death waiting at every corner if you show up unprepared.
We sighted a small shop from a distant and a lot of vehicles had stopped; we had finally conquered this deadly terrain. The death enthralled trail; though a distance of 10 to 12 km, we took approximately over 3 hours.
Note: This terrain requires persistent attention to the road and if you are a beginner in biking; please don’t attempt this.
While having chai, I sighted some people riding the snow-scooter and decided to get my hands on it. Meanwhile, Phani and Atish Bhai rested there.
As we crossed, Zoji La; a green signboard read; Welcome to Ladakh!!! You are at Zoji La at an Altitude 11,649 Feet and a few kilometers from there, we were at Gumri check-post.
Reaching Gumri also Welcomed us to Kargil sector.
We stopped for lunch at Heritage Cafeteria, it was a perfect place for lunch; looking at the charming valley and the gigantic mountains and the brilliant blue skies.
This place was our most favorite place from the entire journey of Ladakh. We were completely awestruck by the changing colors of the mountain. As time passes in the day, you can see various color shades; the mountains here inherit.
Another 25 km from here was Dras, situated at 11,000 feet above sea level and is also the 2nd coldest place on earth. In freezing winters, the temperature would drop to -40 degrees. This is the first village after crossing Zoji La and this village came to limelight only post the Kargil War of 1999.
We reached the Kargil War Memorial. We wished Jai Hind to the soldier at the registration desk; and he replied the same, with full josh. From the main entrance gate, we could see Indian Flag fluttering with Pride. We walked the walkway, named as VijayPath that leads to the War Memorial; Amar Jawan.
This memorial has a war museum, a Bofors gun and other artillery weapons on display and not to forget the Veer Bhumi having the epitaph with names of all the Bravehearts who were martyred in the war. In the backgrounds, we can see Tololing Heights, Tiger Hill and Point 4875 also known as Batra Top. Any Indian citizen would get goosebumps when you read the historical achievements inscribed all over and walk within the memorial’s campus. Atish Bhai, Phani and I were in tears while we stood at the Veer Bhumi.
Few Pictures from the War Memorial
A soldier addressed the crowd and briefly explained about the Kargil war. Its importance in Indian history, the insights of the memorial. It started to rain and the crowd was more worried about wearing raincoats and taking their umbrellas out, while the soldier didn’t make a move. He stood firm as he kept on explaining about the war and the memorial.
Note: Please carry your Govt. ID while you enter this memorial and maintain the decorum and the respect here, and don’t miss the soldier’s explanation; which usually happens in the evening around 5.30pm.
We had some samosa and tea at the canteen inside the premises of the memorial and continued our ride to Kargil, which was approx. 60 km from the war memorial.
We searched for a lodge and got in. The time was 7.30pm and we took an hour’s nap. We told the hotelier to get dinner serviced to our room and post-dinner, we went for a walk in the town of Kargil.
As we got back to the hotel, disaster struck; I had a high fever and Phani was down with a severe stomach ache. I knew that the normal paracetamol wouldn’t work as the fever was one of the symptoms of AMS (Altitude Mountain Sickness) and hence took a Diamox tablet and dozed off.
An avid reader may remember a similar situation in my previous ride to Leh in 2017 and the huge disappointment I suffered. Nostalgia struck and it all came back to me! I know the pain and suffering caused by AMS which had struck me during my Leh expedition; back in 2017, I didn’t want it to repeat again. A sound 8-hour sleep was required for all of us and get some well-deserved rest and re-energize ourselves.
To be continued in Episode 04: Reaching the Dream Destination Leh, and battling AMS
A glimpse from the next Episode:
To continue reading Episode 04: Click Here
To read how I battled AMS during my Leh Expedition 2017: Dream Destination Leh: So near, yet so Far…
For more information on the Leh routes, permits, packing essentials please visit: Preparations for Leh Ladakh Ride