Day 20 – Leh to Kargil

First attempt to leave Leh came to a naught thanks to the Raid. So when I woke up today and thought what to do, one thing was clear – I had absolutely no basis for making any decision. So I went back to my best friend is such situations. The coin. It was ceremoniously tossed and as it fell on the rug, it pointed fair and square towards Kargil. Now one cannot disrespect the coin. It is always right. So it was off to Kargil in the next 20 minutes.

It was unusually cold. I kept proceeding through the miles. As it started, the ride felt like it was going to be run of the mill, uninteresting highway riding through decently nice surroundings. The magnetic hill was the first to show its face.

From Earning My Quarter Mile

Had momos at Nimmu and proceeded to Alchi. Gave a lift to an elderly gentleman from Alchi and discovered the law which gets you deep into the hearts of locals. I like to call it – Torque Wins Friends. If there is a high incline and your bike has enough torque in it, give (or even offer) a lift to locals along with their friends and bags and chicken. Over the next 3 minutes while they warm your saddle and ask you where you are coming from, you will become their best friends. Get invited into their home.Have chai. Get to know them like nothing else.

By the time I left Alchi, the cold had become too much. So much that it had me worried. The wind had picked up and there were dark clouds at the horizon.

From Earning My Quarter Mile

This was not good news. The weather was not something I want to confront. As I proceeded barely 500 metres ahead, there was a road block. While an army rubble clearing dozer goes to work, I see droplets on the rear view mirror.

From Earning My Quarter Mile

My fears were bring realized. For the first time in the last 3 weeks, I am scared. Not just worried but quite literally scared out of my wits. I was too far from anywhere to go anywhere. I climb and climb and climb over some random mountain alongside some stunningly beautiful terrain. Rightly so, the area is called Moonscape.

From Earning My Quarter Mile
From Earning My Quarter Mile
From Earning My Quarter Mile

And all of a sudden there it was. The thing I was dying to see. The saviour from the rain and cold and wind. It rose like a giant awakened. Lamayuru Gompa. Quite impressed, I go in. The gompa is beautiful and quite visibly an important one in the gompa hierarchy.

From Earning My Quarter Mile
From Earning My Quarter Mile
From Earning My Quarter Mile

As I step out, I look out to the skies and this is what I see.

From Earning My Quarter Mile

I am scared once more. I am more or less certain to face rain. Or worse, snow. There must be some on Fotula or Namkeela. There are going to be strong winds. And it will be super cold. So, the question is – Do we proceed or stay the night at Lamayuru? I glanced at my watch. It was 3 in the afternoon. Another look at the clouds and I had decided. Let’s see how it feels to ride in the rain in sub 10 degree temperatures and high winds. Or better still snow.

I didn’t have to wait much longer. Fotula was the first thing to arrive. The wind and cold on the top was killing. I stopped for about 3 seconds and decided against taking off my gloves. I couldn’t stand to take them off even for a second. I was off. As I touched the valley, the next phase began. The dark clouds were almost touching the slopes barely 6 feet above my head. First a few droplets arrived. Then snow. Then hail. Hailstones (thankfully not big enough to cause any serious damage) were raining on me while the wind howled incessantly. The road surface was one of the saddest I had seen on this stretch. All in all, it was everything you would hope doesn’t happen to you on any road, let alone at 12000 feet on dusty rugged surface.

But then, like all bad things, this ended too. Sun was out again. I could breathe again without fogging the entire helmet visor. Unfortunately, when rain ends here, the cold starts. So my butt, hands and legs started freezing. I was in desperate need of some heat. A village! I had never been happier. I stop by the last shop and get some piping hot maggi and tea. By the end of it, I am feeling alive again. I take out the camera to try and capture some pics but the batteries are out again. I don’t even think twice. It is still to cold to have the hands out of the gloves. So I am off.

Namkeela was the worst pass I have ever passed. No, not because of the height. Far from it. The pass’ surface was entirely dusty. Not a patch was otherwise. The amount of dust that was being blown over by the trucks and vans was blinding. And I mean that literally. I was riding by intution and little else. For over an hour, I was eating dust and trying to make out my way through heavy traffic and dug up roads. It was a nightmare. But it was over. Kargil had arrived.

The moment I entered Kargil, I was reminded of one fact I had forgotten. The Raid De Himalaya was in Kargil. Visiting. What I did not realize is what this would mean for my night. The had booked the whole of Kargil. And I mean every bloody room that there was. No hotel, no lodge was spared. Even the government tourist bunglow was full. No place. I begged the guy at the J&K Tourism bunglow to do something. He said he could arrange one of the rooms given two things. One, there is no bathroom (it was under construction). Two, I will have to leave strictly by 7 am tomorrow. I agreed. I had no choice. Barely 20 minutes later, as I relaxed and reflected, the guy came back, apologising. He said the manager has asked the room to be vacated but that he could arrange my stay in his own quarters. You know the ones you see next to the gate where the caretakers stay. I was slightly disappointed but couldn’t thank him enough. So there I was. Sleeping by the gate of JKTDC bunglow. I slept for about half an hour. It was the best sleep I have had for a long time. And then he came back. This time to tell me that I could have the room. The same conditions. I was tired and couldn’t care as long as I had a bed. I went to the room and crashed. This was my bed.

From Earning My Quarter Mile

One of the best days spend riding. The road, weather, terrain and views combined to create a fine combination of high speed riding and twisitng curves. Awesome. Definitely the road to be on in winter.

One Response to “Day 20 – Leh to Kargil”
  1. Chandni says:

    Got here through Arushi. I spent a month in Leh as part of work and even for a totally non-biker-can’t-even-ride-a-bicycle-person, I fell in love with the great roads up there. I was there in August, awesome weather and a terrifically blue sky. Nice reading your blog. 🙂

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