Eleven Days, 3000kms at the Roof of the World

Eleven Days, 3000kms at the Roof of the World

Cold freezing winds blew over my face, travelling through impeccable natural wonder; pierced by black Asphalt roads and off-beaten tracks for eleven days over three thousand kilometers through the winding roads, long and dark tunnels, road guarded by white snow on both sides, and through the highest of passes on the Himalayas, through a sand storm hundred kilometers before the world’s second highest pass on my mere 150 cc, air cooled, single cylinder, 14bhp powered motorcycle.

No, I am not narrating the dream I had while sleeping but the adventure I was through without sleeping while riding through the a magical place in the world located at the extreme and hostile borders of India. You would have guessed it by now the “Roof of the world”- Ladakh and “Heaven Valley”-Kashmir Valley.

Everyone would agree that dreams are the ignition key for any achievement or adventure, so was mine. I had always dreamt of driving to the Roof of world crossing the world’s highest motorable road at Khardung La one of the oldest pass through the ancient silk route through which Marco Polo had travelled and then through a string of world’s second, third highest passes the Tanglang La, Chang La, Lachulung La, Baralacha La.

It all started from Sep 18, 2009 our journey from Chennai and lasted sixteen days, till we reached back home. Two of us, me and my cousin Sriram (thank God that he had some adventure spirit) had decided to take our individual 150 CC motorcycles from Chennai to Delhi by train and then drive on from there rather than hiring the unreliable, fuel guzzling monster, pre-independence piece of engineering the so called Royal Enfield Bullet. I guess the Bullet riders never understand the fact why the steam powered engines are not under usage in trains nowadays. Thankfully I and my cousin did.

The road trip lasted eleven days out of the sixteen days and we spent three days in Delhi and the rest idle encapsulated in a blue capsule (AC coach in the train).

The Start from Home Sweet Home
Drama and frenzy even before the adventure started. We had to be at Chennai railway station two hours before departure to load our bikes in the brake van as per the nice government officials, both I and Sriram remembered the train reserved as Tamil Nadu Express departing from Chennai to New Delhi at 10 in the night.
It was 5 PM and I was about to finish packing. High voltage hit us, my uncle saw the ticket and asked us “Why are you packing so late, your train is at 6.30 PM and your train is the Grand Trunk Express not the Tamil Nadu Express”. Never felt such high voltage in my life even when I got hit by 440 Volts DC in my electrical lab during my college days. We had already passed the two hour deadline to reach the railway station. Immediately stuffed the remaining things lying around into the 50 litre rucksack and then threw the rucksacks, jerkins, shoes, foot pump, and spare tubes into the car and started from home. Didn’t even say a proper goodbye to anyone. Me and my cousin rode like maniacs, pretty much like Carrie Ann Moss (Trinity) from The Matrix Reloaded bike chase sequence to the Chennai Railway station which is 11 kms from home and reached in 15 minutes. Guess that had to be a speed record in the city. Sriram came in two minutes later. Rushed to the luggage office, bribed the entry gate police. Booked the bikes with the help of a porter. He promised that he could load one bike Grand trunk Express and another in Tamil Nadu Express later.
Then a lorry full of smelling fish came in and they stared loading it in the brake van, there was no way we could load even one bike in the Grand Trunk Express. We then had to bribe the Govt. officials with 500 bucks per bike and the official promised to load them in Tamil Nadu express. With some hope we came back to the car park, repacked the things properly and found that I had missed the knife and Sriram had missed his sandals. Missing out those things wouldn't be a problem, considering the fact that the trip was about to be a fiasco, without even boarding the trains.
We then boarded the train with lot of uncertainty.

It was 9.45 PM and Sriram started calling his father (my uncle). He was desperately trying to load the bike, and bribed the officials again with 200 bucks per bike but in vain. Our faces were dimmer than zero watts bulb. The fishes spoiling it again. I hated fishes now more than ever before being a vegetarian.

The whole day went lull. Played hangman for some time and were lying idly most of time, uncertain whether our dream would turn into reality. It was 5.45 PM and we started calling back to Chennai, with the mobile phone signal playing hide and seek with us now. The tension was building up just the crescendo in the movie Dark Knight when the Joker comes. It starts before the joker appears and the crescendo reaches the peak when the Joker is causing mayhem and chaos. My uncle had come with his friend Prashant to the railway station. They said they were trying very hard to get the at least one bike in the Grand Trunk. It was power cut in our faces and then the mobile signal was lost. Oh my god, it was a frenzy out there. We would have needed a RPM meter to read our heart beat, and it would have cut-off our heart. The signal came back at 6.45 PM, by now the train would have started from Chennai. It was do or die, I just said to Sriram that if the bikes aren’t loaded today, then we have to cancel our trip as there wouldn’t be sufficient time to return back to Delhi from Leh. Sriram called his father and his face lighted up, I got the signal; the bike was loaded finally but it was just my bike that was loaded. For the time being we did not need the RPM meter to measure our heart beat. Any how we knew we would be needing it around 10 PM when the Tamil Nadu express starts. Took few deep breaths to reduce our heart beat. Ate the sick roti from the railway pantry which added the stomach too, to the list of hyper functioning and malfunctioning parts in our body due to the high action frenzy.

It was 9.30 PM, Joker from Dark knight returned, the crescendo started in my white and grey cells. Called back to Chennai, they asked to keep down the phone, they were talking hard to the govt. officials. Called back twice at 9.45 PM, no answer. We needed the RPM meter back to measure our heart beats. News came in at 10.10 PM; Sriram’s black pulsar was also loaded.
Oh Yeah!! The adventure is on, but delayed by a day. We started re-planning and scheduling things and decided to cut our one day white water rafting program in the Zanskar River.
Saying thanks to my Uncle and his friend Prashant certainly wouldn’t be enough. They had rejuvenated our trip of a life time.

Time for first Indian adventurer’s Top Tip:
Never try loading your bike in the Indian railways in the proper way.
The rest you would know (Go through a private luggage carrier in the same train that you travel, it’s a whole big separate coach)

The RPM meters weren’t of any use now, as we started cooling down. Phew! What a ride even before we started. We weren’t being cynics, we took it positive, and all the bad things had to happen have happened in the last two day and hoped they are done.

Not being able to anneal the enormous heat and tension, we closed our eyes and lied flat on our berths and relaxed. After some time when I saw through the window, Mr. Sun was about to come out, the whole night seemed to have passed in few minutes. Sriram was looking fresh and had a huge grin on face that went form his left ear to the right; both of us were happy and were confident of doing the 3000 kilometers through the roof of the world successfully.

Enter Delhi !! Day Zero - 20-Sep-2009 (Page 2)

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Enter Delhi !! 20-Sep-09 Day Zero

Enter Delhi !!
Day 0 – 20-Sep-09

It was 7 am when we reached Delhi and we decided to take up the retiring rooms in the New Delhi railway station, so then it would be easier for us to take delivery of our bikes which would be arriving next morning.

Sriram said he will go check out the retiring rooms and asked me to wait at the platform. The booking counter was supposed to open at 8 am and Sriram just like every other extremely patient Indian citizen waited till 9 am. The govt. officials did it again. The startling fact is that the govt. officials exhibit amazing consistency irrespective of language, culture, climate and state borders in work by not working at all. I guess he was not like every other extremely patient Indian citizen in the queue; he got back frustrated and cursed them for obvious reasons which weren’t of any use to anyone other than him to reduce his frustration.

We then strolled around highly congested and dirty streets around New Delhi railway station to find a reasonable room, we managed to get one for 400 rupees, and it wasn’t that close to the station. For a traveler like me in tight budget and in wake of recession the rent seemed a bit more, but there were not many options left and we weren’t ready to search for other rooms, especially after all the ordeal that we have been through. So we took the room and threw our huge shoulder sapping heavy rucksacks which had all the clothes for fifteen odd days, all the tools for ominous reasons. We had taken spanners from size 5 to 22, all types of screw drives, 4 spare tubes, one litre of 20W-50 engine oil, a huge crow bar which looks like it was taken out from a computer first person shooting game like Half Life or Doom, for removing the tyre. It seemed to us the crow bar was capable of doing more than removing the harmless tyres, it could quite easily expose the anatomy of the brain of a human if used hard on one’s head, and the punctured brain could be easily removed. I am not quite sure about on how to replace one though.

We relaxed for a few minutes, before we took nice a nice cold shower after two idle days that we spent in the train. People used to say that an idle mind is a devil’s workshop; thankfully no such demons occupied my empty top floor because it was gripped in frenzy due to all the commotion to get our bikes loaded in the train.

It was 12.30 pm and poor Sriram’s stomach gurgled so much even I was able to hear it. Dropped in small dhaba next to the railway station. With great confidence and hunger we ordered three Aloo parathas with Dahi. All of them vanished from our plates within ten minutes.

We then went to shop for the few items that we had left behind at home; and then to check out the bike loading procedures and problems that accompany while loading at the New Delhi railway station. The govt. employee’s impeccable consistency across the language, culture and border barriers was once again proved. It was the same; we would have to shell out 2500 bucks for a bike to get it back to Chennai. A porter by the name Kisan came in to help as usual and asked 2500 to load it. Stored Kisan’s mobile number. Coincidently Kisan was one of the very few words I knew in Hindi, which means farmer. From which I guess bike loading brokering has to be more profitable than farming in India.

Sharad Pawar the agriculture minister apart from running BCCI should know about this situation. Without second thoughts he will ask Sonia Gandhi for the railway ministry instead of agriculture.

Time for a Top Tip. If you have plans to become a farmer in future, forget it and start loading bikes in train and the bonus is that you are not dependent on monsoons.

Coming back, we knew we have to start out bike loading attempts by 1-Oct to get our bike loaded as our return was on 3-Oct from New Delhi to Chennai.

It was 1.30 pm and we decided to see the Akshardham Hindu Complex and Birla Mandir, but not before indulging in the inevitable. Headed to the room and slept like an alligator without any movement. The alarm woke us up at 2.30 pm. We started to Akshardham, came to nearest bus stop and Sriram got the directions and bus number. Thank god I did not do it solo; if I had, the only direction I could ask the delhities will be for Toilet. They would not understand any of the words in English, no one knew English and I knew only a few words in Hindi.

305 is the bus that we had to board to reach Akshardham. We waited for 15 minutes and no sign of 305, asked an auto they asked 50 rupees. Damn! The recession, I blamed it and continued to wait for 305. We got one immediately. Twenty rupees and twenty minutes we were there in Akshardham.


Impeccable is the only word I can say about Akshardham, never seen such a detailed architecture and sculpture in such a scale and with minute of details everywhere all through, anywhere else. I have been to most of ancient temples in South India and to be honest Akshardham really was impeccable. Sadly, the central monument was closed for renovation work after a fire accident in July 2009 and will be opened only in Nov 2009. The Akshardham also holds the Guinness world record for the World’s Largest Comprehensive Hindu Temple. It really is one of the places that any one should not miss to see in India.

After that we made it on time for the aarthi and bhajan at the Birla Mandir Lord KŘsnâ Temple. It really was a great spiritual experience of my life. Sriram also had the similar experience feeling the tremendous vibrations in the temple especially because of the bhajan. We knew we had got all the blessing from KŘsnâ and we more than ready before embarking on the journey.

Returned back to the room after a good dinner in a small dhaba and packed up the backs as we had to vacate the room by 9.00 AM tomorrow morning and decided to enact the alligators for the night.

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