Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Riding Himalayas - a journey to world's highest motorable road

There are various reasons why an average man heads off to the Himalayas all packed-up. He thinks he will meet a sage or for that matter someone close to say; J. Krishnamurthy or Deepak Chopra who will tell him; that the journey he has undertaken to come to them would have already taught him more about life and so they do not have much to say; or something along the lines of trying to find your ‘inner self’, which frankly can be done by sitting in the bathroom for an hour. Whatever your reasons are, having been chosen to ride on the Himalayan Odyssey, I, Tanmay Shanishchara already had my head in the clouds (metaphorically and literally).

My family was the first to know and convincing my mother that it was the most adventurous place to go to with a breathtakingly beautiful landscape was easier than I thought. My dad, however, played spoilsport and introduced my mother to the land of altitude sickness, frost bite, avalanches and other such likely possibilities. So much for having a Doctor Dad! However, after taking some medical tips and suggestions from my Dad and some repetitive ones from my mom, I prepared myself to head out to the long-awaited and much-anticipated opportunity of a lifetime.

In its seventh edition now, the Himalayan Odyssey is one of the toughest and also the most prestigious rides to tackle out there. Braving varied terrains, facing changing climatic conditions and grappling with unknown challenges, we (the riders) headed off towards our destination…something that we had been waiting for so long. However, before taking off we needed to take care of a few things so that neither our own health, nor our bike’s health, would suffer during the journey.

Having taken care of that, other things needed to be sorted out which included transporting the bike to Delhi from Mumbai. Easier said than done! Filling out forms and having all the right bike documents did not necessarily mean that the transportation of the bike would automatically be taken care of. The bike had to be checked thoroughly and documents had to be signed by the right authorities. I soon realised the formula to getting one signature from any official here was a rather simple one: Requesting + Pleading + Begging x Money - Attitude = Official signature. This promptly ensured that my bike was en route to Delhi.

After arriving in Delhi, I was subjected to a fitness test that involved a tedious 5 km run at the end of which we had to demonstrate our fitness levels by doing 50 push ups. There were some riders who I suspected would never qualify but they beat my prediction and knocked me cold by completing the assigned task. Among the 62 riders present there were a few who were over 50 years old. Watching them run the five kilometres and complete the 50 push ups told me a great deal not only about their physical capabilities but also about their mental stamina.

Later in the evening, I got to know the other riders who would be riding with me through this incredible journey. There was a discussion on the kind of gear that we ought to wear. Though this information was available on the website, it was necessary to ensure that everybody on the trip was prepared. The riding gear included riding gloves, shoes that reached the ankle, knee guards, elbow guards, a riding jacket which was water resistant, rain shoes and the most important thing; so that you don’t lose your head - the helmet. The route also was explained to us. We would be riding from Delhi - Manali - Keylong - Sarchu - Leh - Khardung La - Nubra Valley - Khardung La - Leh - Rumptse - Keylong - Kaza - Kalpa - Narkanda - Parwanoo – Delhi. The plan was to cover about 200 kms per day on an average. Every morning the leaders would guide the riders about the kind of terrain they would encounter and what kind of riding style to adopt. Even Paul, the oracle-octopus would have never predicted the outcome of this eventful journey.

The trip to Keylong was a wonderful one. Keylong is surrounded by mountains and some scenic views so much so that the distracted riders forgot to pay attention to the ever dipping fuel guages. Finally, it was an Indian Oil sign board that made us all heave a sigh of relief. The ride there was dusty and we got to know that there had been an avalanche at the pass the previous day but fortunately for us, it had been cleared and we got a clean way to reach our destination which was Sarchu.

I saw the terrain change drastically. It had been a tar road all along but gradually not only had the trees disappeared, but so had the road. It was dusty, rocky and to add to it we came across water crossings as well. The roads kept winding, getting curvier and not only were we battling for air as the altitude rose, but our combat in terms of gripping the roads had also begun. Riding through water is one part of the story, but riding through ice cold water is something that neither you nor your bike is really ready for. However, the Standard 350 Enfield stood sturdy throughout. There were some who slipped, but there were no serious injuries. The bumpy roads, and the high altitude sickness had already caught up with the riders, sometimes enfeebling them, but they seemed to find respite in brandy. Finally, I can say with conviction that there is no problem that a stiff whisky or in my case a swig of brandy can’t solve (barring a mathematical one of course). That seemed to be a panacea. The next day we headed for Leh.

I had to ride 265 kms to Leh, where the roads were bad, and the climb was challenging, to say the least. The winding roads confused us a great deal. When I manoeuvred my way with the other riders and thought that I had completed roughly 5 kms, the odometer reading would show only 2 kms and remind me that I still had 263 kms more to go. Here, towards the end of a great riding day, I managed to lose my way by taking a wrong turn. I asked for directions and was relieved to find out that I wasn’t far behind and could easily catch up with the other riders.

But there was more in store. As I turned the bike, the engine stopped and when I tried to crank up the engine, it refused to start. I did the basic checks and soon realized that my phone battery too had died on me. I was without support till 7:30 pm. There were a couple of bikers who were heading to the main road from that road and they helped me tow my bike until I got some mechanical support. Soon I was with the other riders from the group. The next day was rest day and this gave me enough time to fix my bike in Leh. Another misadventure followed. In a place with hardy any human habitation, I ended up losing my wallet. That was not such a big deal because I drew solace from the fact that whoever found my wallet would have to travel nearly 200 odd kilometres, to use it.

Every single day, once the day’s journey came to an end, the riders used to spend their hours relaxing and talking about their rides. It was during these conversations that we talked about our individual experiences. Tea in the evening and brandy post dinner brought about more than just conversations. There were stories, short and some epic in magnitude but the relaxed atmosphere in which these conversations and story-telling sessions of the riders unravelled made this trip an incredibly memorable one. Even those who called themselves “introverted” spoke, perhaps, it was the brandy doing all the talking.

The next day was the biggest day of all. We were headed to Khardungla, the highest motorable pass in the world. This had been the biggest motivation to undertake the ride and this had what kept me going. Riding upto the highest point was indeed a huge achievement and everybody who had started the ride, had made it to this point. There was a sense of satisfaction and delight at having achieved this feat. One of my co-riders, Neeraj, had fallen sick due to a change in the altitude levels and the Doctor had advised him to return, but even he had managed to join us later. All of us had made it!

Like Sisyphus’ rolling stone, we headed back on the familiar road. We did not any face any problems apart from people who managed to get water into their bikes, on the way back to Keylong. We also encountered rain during our ride from Kalpa to Narkanda. A lot of leak breaks followed but we all carried on and reached our destination.

It seemed like a mere formality now to reach the other places and end the Odyssey on a good note. The next two days was just a ride past some scenic valleys, passing Shimla via Chahal and Kanda valley. Exhilarating as it was, I almost forgot about my shutter-bug and brought it out just in time to capture some unforgettable moments through the journey. On the last day, we headed for Delhi at 8 in the morning. For the first time, all the riders who started the Odyssey returned with their bikes and that too in good health (My vote still goes out to the miracle water – alcohol!)

We rode our hearts out and overcame several obstacles but at the end of each day we knew that the next day would bring something worse. My Standard 350 held fort and apart from a minor electrical failure, I did not face any other problem throughout the journey. On this trip, I made some great friends and even managed to make introverts talk. I returned with some beautiful memories and managed to pick up some phenomenal riding skills from fellow riders as well. However, the most important thing I learnt was that, man can reach great heights and is capable of enjoying the place with his head in the clouds. I was just glad I wasn’t alone at the top.

(From: Carwale.com)