The inspiration will be simple, the need ice cold real and once you have done whatever that you were doing, you will one day go to Leh on a bullet and everything will come into perspective. That life as you know will change.
You might ask why a bullet and I will try to whip out quotes from zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance to tell you why but alas I know I will fail. Perhaps this whole bullet ride to Leh is overrated but how would you know about something that you have not tried? Let me try to fail in explaining to you how I felt the first time I was on bullet at Rohtang pass on the way to Leh on the 450 km long manali leh highway. This was our second attempt to cross over Rohtang in the summer of 2010. We had tried doing this a day before but rohtang pass was closed. Why? See this:
Luckily they were able to remove the truck and the road was first opened for only Bikers. There were 2-3 feet of slush for 100 meters and around 200 odd people standing on the both side. The mountainside on my left was still sliding; small rocks and stones were hurtling down and joining the slush pool. The crowd gestured me to come, I told my friend to push the bike if I get stuck and then I just hit hard on the accelerator. The Bullet pulsates like it’s urging me to push it through the mud and slush with my bare hands. I have to hold the handlebar as tight as I could otherwise there is good chance I might have slipped with the bike and people would have carried me with the bike to the other side (the pass was closed for 2-3 days and people were eager to go to the other side!).
I could feel the slush trying to take me off my path but the bullet is a bike you can trust in this kind of situation, it has enough gas and inertia to keep you on your path. It did get stuck in between for a bit but my friend gave us a nice push that allowed me to cross over the slush fest and to the other side. It was over in a flash, I felt such a sense of achievement, which I have hardly felt in my life. You know what happens when we achieve something or complete some activity? A chemical called dopamine gets released in our brains, which gives us that sense of accomplishment and a sense of high. On the 450 kms of the manali leh highway there will be uncountable hurdles like the Rohtang pass slush fest, imagine the amount of dopamine that will be released in our brains during this ride? J
Addictive. That’s what the leh manali bullet ride is. And every time the trip will have its set of high’s and lows. Don’t worry about the lows; even the lowest low on this trip will be more than 10,000 feet above sea level J
Since this is not a usual destination I am gonna try to share information in a different way. So no information on how to reach and all. Cuz on this trip you are not intending to arrive but only intend to pass through and try to absorb as much as you can.
So the first thing you need to do is arrange for a bullet. Bullet is my choice of the bike like thousands of others who have rode on these mighty mountains and KTM would be a clear second choice. The idea is to find a sturdy bike, which can carry you along with your luggage over all the hurdles that you will be exposed to on this ride. Worry not if you don’t own a bullet. In Manali there are many garages that rent bullets for the leh ride. Usually renting a bullet will cost 1200-1500 INR for a day. One can rent a bullet in Delhi or Chandigarh depending on where you are coming from. In manali you can go to Anu Motors, they are on the expensive side but more reliable.
Though I heard that from this year there are some regulations that will not allow rented bikes outside from Leh to enter Leh city. This is insane I know but I am not sure if this rule has been passed or not. Do enquire about this in Manali if you are planning to rent a bike from there. And if you own the bike then I don’t think that would be a problem. You can also find more information about bikes on the biking forums like these threads.
Once the bullet conundrum resolved you would want to know what kind of clothes & gears you’d need. This list can be ever increasing and there is no limit to what you can take along with you. I’d recommend these things/habits:
- Clothes for cold weather. Thermals inners and socks. A good solid jacket.
- Rainproof clothing will be quite useful and mandatory.
- Good boots. And if you are comfortable wearing those rubber gumboots then buy one of those from Manali.
- Waterproof your backpack from the inside and outside as well.
- Gloves, Muffler, Woolen Cap, Sunglasses, Any cold cream, Sunscreen, Bungee ropes and Helmet.
- Diamox: this is the altitude sickness medicine. Please check with your physician about this before you take ‘em with you. And don’t pop the pills in advance to avoid the so-called sickness to kick in. Only take if you are actually sick.
- Best tip to avoid AMS, keep drinking water at regular intervals. Best is to mix an electoral powder with water and keep drinking throughout the ride. Also, avoid drinking alcohol or smoking. Ha Ha. I know very well what happens to this advice.
- Adapting a habit of waking up early and not riding after dark. This is essential on days you are riding not only from a safety perspective but also because it will allow you to enjoy the road more, it will allow you to enjoy the halting point more, it will also give you a basic heads up on all the nallahs you ll be crossing since you will be crossing them before the ice starts to melt faster and the nallahs turn into icy cold rivers. Something like this:
Now let us start the ride. Please ask people in Manali if Rohtang is open cuz it can be an erratic thing at the start of the ride and you have to plan according to the status of Rohtang. Just ask any hotel owner, garage owner or check in the market with the government authorities about the status of the road. Also from this year onwards there is a restriction on the number of vehicles crossing Rohtang at one time. Also, all vehicles need to get permits from the authorities to cross over Rohtang. You will need your bike documents, driving license etc. to get the permits. These are things that you should take care of as soon as you land in Manali as these days there is a limit on the number of vehicles who can cross over in a day.
Once all this done you have to pack all your bags at night and sleep early. Try to hit the road as early as you can in the morning. You have to keep some time for packing your bags and tying them onto the bike. This packing time will reduce as you get used to the packing routine. Bungee ropes will be quite handy now.
In manali you have to cross the Beas river and go towards Vashishtha. You can ask then ask anyone the way to Rohtang. It’s a smooth highway that will take you to the top of the mountain range that surrounds Manali. You will start getting feelers of what is about to come once you come out of Manali and start climbing higher.
Once you cross Rohtang and go down on the other side you will reach a small setting called Khoksar. There is dhabha here at the start of the town on the left side, which serves amazing mutton curry, and rajma with rice. It’s a good place to take a break, eat food, drink some tea, and check your bike and then head to Keylong.
In this bike ride, it’s important to know that you have to pace the ride according to your own pace and no one can tell you the right itinerary. Why I say this is the ride is 450 kms long and you can plan your stops after knowing how much you can ride in a day. Ideally, you should at least be on the road for 3 days not only because that’s the ideal timing but also because you will be able to enjoy the trip more if you have more time on your hand instead of just zippin through the amazing landscape.
So if you are taking a break in Keylong then get up early in the morning and head towards jispa. After Jispa you ll start to climb towards zing zing bar, here you can take a break and have something to eat before you pass the beautiful Baralacha la pass. Its white, really white so better have your glares ready. And it’s freakin beautiful so better have your cameras ready too. My 2 cents about the camera thing, even a simple digital camera and the clumsiest photographer can’t take a bad picture on this trip, so worry not and click away. Just make sure that your image quality is set to the max possible level. And don’t just click pictures, see the place and try to absorb it, though it will be difficult to absorb so much beauty! And some adventure too 🙂
After the pass you ll start seeing a change in the landscape and slowly you ll realize you are entering some really amazing place. Get your asses ready for the mind blowing, epic place called Sarchu. I am falling short of words to describe what a place Sarchu is. To tell you, in short, you ll see a long straight road, plain land on your left and right, and big ass mountains in the distance on both sides. And grass, yes grasslands that ll make you stop everything, make a camp, light a fire and forget that there exists a civilization only few hundred KMs from here. Boom Boom. And the night sky in Sarchu, it’s just orgasmic, filled with stars and constellations clear and so near you can just take out your hands and touch em.
So once you are sure you want to pack your shit and move on from Sarchu you ll head towards the famous Gata loops. It’s a cluster of 21 loops or bends on the leh-manali highway some 25 kms from Sarchu famous for the resting points, the local myth about the place and for having no food or restaurants available on this stretch. Once you cross the loops you ll be passing through the Lachalung La pass which is at an altitude of 5000 meters (yes its 5 with 3 zeros you read it right).
From here you might feel a little breathlessness, start noticing a change in the region and soon you ll start seeing the strange and beautiful soil formations with different colors. After this, you ll reach Pang a little camp settlement with some restaurants and maybe a mechanic. I don’t why but I found this place to be a little depressing and I was eager to move on. Right after pang we hit a big and long nallah to take all of our worries away and put all our energies into passing the nallah without hurting the bikes or ourselves.
After this, you will hit Moore plains. How do I define this place? This is the road where you should hear the Audioslave song “I am the highway” and then feel the place. It’s a 30 km long plain with mountains in the distance on both sides and the only thing you can see is the road meeting the horizon in the distance. Epic.
At the end of the moore plains you ll reach a place called Debring, it’s basically nothing and might have only some shelters of the BRO workers. From here you can take a detour towards Tso Kar lake and then onwards to the awe-inspiring Tso Moriri lake.
So after the temptation of going to Tso Moriri lake pass and you decide to head towards Leh then you ll reach the highest point of this ride called Tanglang La pass. At some 5300 meters, its one of the highest point of the ride and one of the coldest as the winds here can literally sweep you off your feet. The road to and from the pass are not too great it’s best if you ride slowly and pass on to the greener and beautiful side of the leh valley.
After Tanglang La pass you ll first encounter Rumste village a beautiful village on the banks of the Indus River. This is the place in today’s ride you ll start to feel lighter and your headaches and body aches will slowly fly away with the dust. After Rumste you will reach a small town called Upshi from where a detour is there to go towards Tso Moriri, few restaurants and hotels and a petrol pump nearby as well.
After Upshi leh is just 50 kms away, the road is butter all the way and the leh valley sex on toast. You will finally “come” to leh on your bikes: dirty, tired and exhausted, with a sense of relief that you have finally arrived and sense of sadness that road has ended, but nevertheless feeling euphoric to finally have done it.