Day 14 & 15 – Nubra Valley
So we have reached Leh. The road still continues north and there I shall go. Indeed, there is the other milestone to be achieved. To go as high as one can on wheels.
So I wake up and pack my stuff and almost immediately realize that I got no money. I did all the arrangements but forgot to withdraw money from the bank. Without cash, I can’t even fill petrol let alone be able to eat or sleep anywhere. Frantically I rush to the ATM. There are three of them in Leh. And all three are not working. Just my luck. Incidentally, Leh is also celebrating Eid today (one day ahead of the rest of the country. some moon sighting business) so half the roads on the place are closed. One road is open and that’s where all the vehicles and people are going. It takes me one hour to just circumnavigate the city and come back to the hotel. On the gate I meet the hotel owner who is about to leave for his namaz. I tell him my problem and almost without hesitation, he calls out to his wife and asks her to give me 3000 bucks. Just like that. Of course he had some of my luggage as surety but I don’t think any hotel owner anywhere would ever do this on his own (or even on coaxing). It was great. I was grateful. I wished him Eid Mubarak and wondered if the ever loving Allah is watching down on me and saying, “Don’t worry kid. I got you.” I was overwhelmed.
I scurried past traffic through another lost lane and was soon on the road. Filled up to the brim and started climbing towards Khardungla. For such a momentous place, the road leading up to Khardungla is surprisingly simple. I was expecting some more activity on it. All the same, after climbing for about 45 minutes to an hour, I could see where I was headed. There was a rush of excitement. I gave it one final yank and I was there. I HAD MADE IT. I was on top of the world. Khardungla. 18380 feet. Highest friggin’ motorable road in the whole wide world. It was satisfying. Very very satisfying. And very cold. As I saw the board proudly declaring the feat of maintaing the highest road in the world, I thought back at the last year. Breaking down on NH1. Struggling to climb Rohtang. Ruminating in Manali. And every day spent in home and office thinking about this moment. The nirvana for any biker. The pinnacle. It was all worth it.
I had joined in a group of elderly bikers from Europe who had come on a package tour of sorts. They were kinda admiring my machine. Having been riding rather old Enfields, they were sort of jealous. One of the chaps was 72. Seventy friggin’ two years old! All the way from Poland (or was it Holland he said?) to Leh just to get high! It was awe inspiring. I saluted the spirit of adventure and said our parting words. They went back to Leh. I had my maggi and continued down to the other side of Khardungla.
The other side was a bloody mistake. Bad bad roads. Pathetic surface. What kept me from abusing is the realization that someone in the world has actually has had the balls to build and maintain this driveable thing at this altitude. I am having trouble breathing and someone actually comes here to shovel and level this place. I couldn’t complain. The BRO just doesn’t fail to inspire even for a moment. Had chai at Khardung village and continued on sharp twisting roads right on the edge of a 1000 feet fall. Scary riding. And exhilarating. I had the feeling the soldier riding pillion with me wasn’t really comfortable with me doing 50 degree banking on edges. But he had no choice 😉 Once we descended, though, the scene changed drastically. The place became completely arid. The Nubra was flowing with us and it was sandy all over. I didn’t think much of it then since a river valley’s got to have sand. Once we turned left towards Diskit, however, the apathy turned into amazement. There was a nice desert. Complete with sand dunes and tiny sand whirlwinds. It was a stark contrast to what I had seen till now. Difficult to believe that barely two hours away from here is snow that covers hundreds of kilometers.
Diskit came and went. Continued on to Hunder. Quaint little town at the edge of Nubra Valley. Very picturesque. Very homely. Decided to stay put there. Got taken on a trip across village by a couple of kids. Backtracked all the way to Diskit. Went up to the Diskit Gompa. Clicked a few pictures.
Went back for the night to Hunder. Shared the guest house with a Korean lady and a German couple. Left in the morning for Sumur. Sumur is a nice little model village. Leading upto it is a road maintained by the Siachen Treadmasters. The road leads all the way to Siachen glacier and is a beautiful road. No chai though.
Couldn’t wait too long. Had to cross Khardungla before dark. Then went ahead till Panamik in search of hot springs. Couldn’t find any after half an hour of search. Gave up and decided to return. Raced back across the road to Khardungla. It was late evening when I got there. Had another bowl of maggi and went down. Days well spent. Been to my high point in life. And back.
Bull’s eye view of Leh town