Travelogue: The Disaster That Was – Spiti

Posted: August 17, 2013 in Travelogue

Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.

— Anthony Bourdain

The prep

If it had been a successful trip I’d have given point by point detailing of how to prepare for a bike trip to ladakh. Now not being in a mood let me tell you more about the disaster than the preparation for it. But before anything one main thing in preparation is to have lot of heart to accept both success and failure.

Instead of putting down a list let me tell you what all I did. It was quite a heavy preparation because I was in project and there were too many last minute changes which I’m not quite used to. Ladakh wasn’t there in my agenda for the year at all not because I don’t want to do it but I didn’t know how to do it. I had Goa plans in December further so getting leaves would be herculean task and then one of the trek mates sent me an invite for the bike trip to Ladakh. I was naturally interested because if I do this and Goa sailing I’d have been a satisfied man by next birthday. Quite easily I got leaves for this trip as well.

What started as an 11 member team turned down to be a 9 member team and finally only two of us with one more guy Neville joining in at Leh. I was pissed because I wanted it to happen. I had booked tickets at a point where I had decided I’ll go by car and ride bikes once in a while. Not a fruitful idea but I didn’t have choice. Transferring bikes from Chennai to there and back here seemed to be impossible. But at the last minute I was compelled to do it. Though on one side I was happy that I’d be able to ride my bike and could come back from the trip and say that, ‘I’ve lived your dreams’ on the other side I was worried about transferring bike. But at last I did.

The preparations included buying so many stuffs for the bike, learning some bike mechanism, reading blogs about Ladakh day and night and struggling to find out methods by which I could transfer my bike safely. I was more worried about my bike than myself.

Day -1

It was first of August. I went to central railway station at 6.30. The plan to take Lokesh from home and Arun with car got screwed. The former because his mom got ill and the latter because of his anger. I wasn’t expecting to see Arun till the end because of the revenge factor which he told he’ll execute at any moment. I was too preoccupied to even fight. That’s a problem with your best friends. But somehow I and Lokesh packed the bike. I had to take my dad to the station in spite of planning so much to do this task without his help. At last it simply became impossible. He came along with me to the station and helped out in filling the forms. After all the packing and removing petrol from the tank we went in only to be checked by the station master there and failing the test. My bike had miraculous 2.5 liter petrol in the tubes which couldn’t be removed without directly taking out the petrol through the lower tube. Thus we had to shell 1200 rupees to pack the bike which the packer said hadn’t been well packed. But we know about our packing. It was close to perfect. Who would pack the tyre rims and all?

After everything was being done the total package charge costed me 2600 + 1200 = 3800 rupees. Of course I was pissed but was happy that I had loaded my bike properly. As usual my train dilemmas continued. No Northies, no chicks and add to it children in my coupe. It was so damn irritating. Instead of my half finished Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s court which I could have easily finished I took a 1000 odd pages David Copperfield hoping to finish it in my four day overall train journey. Even though I could finish only one fourth of it the read was pleasing, more so because I was reading for the second time.

Good that the train was relatively empty, at least our coach otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to rest with the little devil around. I gladly slept for a lot of time. Took a few photos too. It was such a herculean task to guard the camera and stuff. The puliyotharae and thayir sadam (curd rice) helped me survive the first day in train.

A Blissful Stream On A Monsoon Day

Day 0

I did almost nothing that day. The puliotharae seemed to have been spoilt. I’m a very bad judge when it comes to food. But I thought it was spoilt so had to throw it away. Settled for Idli vada in the morning which was of course bad and nothing else except biscuits for the rest of the day. I was compelled to buy lassi for the old guy and drink coffee that the old guy bought for me. The latter was as yucky as it could be. I’d have starved to death instead of it. Anyways the kara sev which he gave me was somewhat better. Somehow the boring day passed off.

Day 1

It all started here, officially. I wanted the 4.30 train to reach the destination at 6.00 AM. It did exactly that. Then I hurried to the luggage compartment to get my bike. It was a heart breaking site to see people get on top of it to remove the fish bags. Live fishes they were. With the help of another guy who was unloading the parcels I removed my bike. The railway inspector there asked me to come inside to verify the documents. After some calculation he said it was 150 rupees short. A typical Sivaji scene. I thought once again that I’ve to pay bribe but luckily I escaped. Immediately I got the impression that the people there are good.

Next started the herculean task of unpacking my bike and filling petrol. With the backpack on my back and two plastic covers on alternate handle I pushed my bike to petrol bunk. They call it petrol pump there. It was about 1 ½ Kilometers from the station. Damn tiring it was but it was too early to get pissed off. I took it as a warm up for the trip.

Then after an hour drive in Chandigarh I came back to station again. It was a beautiful city from what I saw. The roads were clean, there were maps everywhere and it was very tough to get lost. I went to around a colony which had huge houses and was capturing some pictures of my bike. I met an old man there who said the whole colony was his sometime back. In spite of going around the city for an hour I couldn’t find a single Dhaba to eat so I had to settle for a sandwich for breakfast.

I waited there for about an hour or so for Mahesh to come. Priyanka called me meanwhile to wish me best of luck as well as asking me to wish her for her birthday. I did the same. Finally Mahesh came and got his bike. Thanks to me he didn’t have to push the bike to petrol pump. I had Rs. 100 worth petrol for him.

Once Mahesh unpacked the bike we went to the petrol bunk where he filled petrol to brim and we both refreshed. And also my mirror which wasn’t getting fixed properly so got it fixed by a local mechanic for free of cost there. All was set and Mahesh asked me to go buy a helmet for him since I had helmet. I was dead tired so I gave him my helmet to go. He then decided that we’ll buy helmet on the go.

The drive started well. I failed to take a picture of Dam there but we took it before the start of Himalayan expressway. It was a beautiful feeling to start the journey. We drove for some time and had a street snack (forgot the name) which had a bread and chole. It was good. We then had to take shelter because of rains which didn’t stop. I thought of waiting till the rains stopped but Mahesh told it’s better to go. We did the same and the rains never stopped. We got a rain sheet for my bag without much bargain with which we closed the bags but it wasn’t of much use. We finally got a decent room for 870 but then it was as disastrous a start could we. We were wholly drenched including our dress and shoes. We loved the dinner but, the apple beer (non alcoholic) and chicken were amazing.

On Road

On Road

Day 2

We thought of starting early but didn’t. We started at about 9 without breakfast of course and drove around. Mahesh was going in front. At a juncture I missed the route and went in 17 km and came back again. Other than that it was a beautiful day with pictures, weather and nice drive along Sutlej which was ferocious and scary. When we were all prepared for rains it didn’t even rain a bit. I’m not complaining though. It would have spoilt the drive. We bought gum boots and at that point we met an Italian who had transported the bike all the way from Italy. We were cheated there for our breakfast there.

Evening stay we got for 576 rupees in Sarahan which was quite beautiful. We went to HPTDC guest house and had a beer and cider. Boozing on top of the hill with breathtaking view was awesome. I was so badly tempted to have one more cider but due to shortage of cash we didn’t have. Food was good too. We thought of planning and packing stuffs well in advance but the beer got on me and we slept. Add to it I took a very good picture of white colored Buddha. The best I had taken thus far which I was confident to post it even in my office.

The Military Pose

Day 3

Till the second day I thought what’s so special with the drive in spite of enjoying it. Only on the third day did I actually love the drive. The first of the third day’s drive was the best with sandy nonexistent roads. I was smiling throughout while driving. I was thinking about the experiences which I’m going to share with my friends and fellow mates and make them envy. We had roti and butter chicken for lunch which was fabulous but had to wait a long time to have it. But we got the much needed rejuvenation at that point. The road (I hope I can call it so) which was not there was the worst anyone could travel in their life. Though the first half of the day had bad roads at least they were fun. This was scary, first time I was afraid while riding, I was constantly talking to myself. That too as I fell once I got even more scared. I found it very tough to cross. That’s called the Old Tibet Road. I bet if you could cross the road you can even drive in Mars.

Once that was done we hit the World’s Most Treacherous Road which is NH22. We failed to take picture of it which would have been the most worthy picture because Mahesh was racing to the next stop. It had started to drizzle and I had lost my rain coat. I can’t imagine what would have happened if it had rained. We went to a place called Pooh where we met Tenzing. A guy who had studied here in Loyola. It was nice conversing with him. He seemed to be a fun loving person, a happy go lucky guy. We got a room there for 700 and also had good food. It was the first day for us with network. On inquiring Tenzing said that it’s just China border is just one Km aerial distance from there and 17kms by road so no prepaid works. Only the BSNL postpaid.

I cited an ATM there luckily but as soon as I inserted my card the power went off. Till that time I never knew that there would be power down in ATM. I somehow drew cash the next day morning. And as there was no power in the room I took a low light photo of key chain which I deleted accidentally. Lesson learnt; never delete any photos on the go! It was the photo of the day. I thought it was brilliant.

A Greensome Start

Day 4

We started from there and rode along for some time. It was the first time I started feeling cold. After some distance we spotted a stream which Mahesh had crossed already. There were 3 artists from Mumbai who were there whom we helped crossing the bike and they mine. The director among them who was coming for the second time told that I would never be able to cross the road driving. He told that with his experience. But I so badly wanted to drive. What harm in trying. Couldn’t convince them though. I wore my gum boots and we pushed the bike. It was freezing. I sat there at the other side of the stream, disappointed. The artists repeatedly were mentioning about the extra luggage that Mahesh was carrying which was making his ride tough. They somehow knew Mahesh’s trouble more than him.

Our plan that day was to reach Kaza by 5 but due to their repeated long time stoppings for grass, lunch and tea we reached there only by 7. I didn’t like that day’s ride at all. I badly wanted to reach Kaza. Wasn’t tired though. It was just boring. Again it started to drizzle while we were driving the last 10 Km but I wasn’t worried much. I was okay for anything to come.

We reached Tabo monastery for lunch. Mahesh bought some locket or drops and I selected a ring which she said was made of Yak bone. Mine was originally priced at Rs. 100 and his was for Rs. 850 or something. I was bargaining it for around 60 and we thought we’d bug both so that it would become even less. She agreed to give them both for Rs. 650. Mahesh said to the lady, “so it’d be 550 for this and 100 for the ring.” I was pissed so I kept the ring and came back. Aloo paratha there was amazing. I being a fan of it already loved it even more when I had it there. Thupka was one worse dish.

Once we reached the place Tenzing had recommended we got our rooms for 600. It was the first time I bargained and it felt awesome. It was an awesome room with an awesome quote. The best of all the quotes. I hurried to the Monastery but unluckily it was closed. So I came back to the restaurant and called my dad from the record holders’ mobile. Yes that guy along with his friends had driven from Kanyakumari to Ladakh in 5 hours 4 days (that too because they wasted a few hours in the middle because of their accidents) and now they are targeting 4 days and 4 hours. He seemed to also have a sound knowledge and his partner at work, a lady from Sweden was also there. They too had opened the hotel together it seems. She could understand our English so easy and vice versa was also true. While Mahesh and that guy was talking about various trekking places which made us feel bored. I and the lady had things to talk, about Let the Right One In and Shantaram, thanks to my reading and movie watching habit. I was able to somehow divert their attention towards me. The dinner was horrible for which we had to shell a lot. The dinner and breakfast’s cost was equal to our room rent. Nevertheless, I’m happy to give that money for one of the best conversations I’ve had in my life.

This Is How We Do

Day 5

We woke up very early the next day about 5.30. I woke up even before that for toilet a couple of times. I was afraid of being hit by dysentery but luckily so it didn’t happen. We woke up at 7 for breakfast and team. I liked the Muesli with Yoghurt. I did it well to a point where I had the honey and Yoghurt mixed perfectly but as there was too much Yoghurt and Honey was missing I mixed everything which became a mess.

We then went off to do some shopping so that we could shift my bag to my bike. I brought a rain coat and couple of Bungee cords. Three Bungee cords I bought for Rs. 110 and Mahesh took one and gave me Rs. 30. Then we filled our petrol tanks and made some confusing calculation about money. It was supposed to be a pleasure ride that day. We started very late around 10 and while going to Chandra Taal was stopped numerous times because my bag fell down and was also missing the route as Mahesh was nowhere in the vicinity. It was the most irritating ride and I was dead tired. I didn’t have even water to replenish myself. As I knew I won’t be getting near to Mahesh anyway I was shooting pictures while riding. It was one herculean task to even keep the camera intact.

By the time we reached Chandra Taal I was totally exhausted. The worst was when I had to carry my bag to tents in this condition. Mahesh had the care taker to carry his bag to the tent. Even worse was losing my Gum Boots. Without which it’d be impossible to cross the streams in the middle.

After the entire struggle it was amazing to see the lake. But walking from the tent I got totally exhausted. I was in no mood to shoot the pictures but in spite of it shot a few. Met few people there so was relaxed a bit and talked with them. I came back to the tent with one of them while the others went around seeing the lake. I found it very difficult to breathe while returning to the tent and also it was so damn cold with freezing winds. I directly came to the tent, wore my thermals and slept off. I hardly ate that night. I was feeling very sick.

The Quote

The Quote

Day 6

The next day morning we got up again around 5.30. Mahesh said that we should be crossing the streams by 12 as the water level would go high afterwards. So we started before 7 after having breakfast. Again on the morning when the care taker there took his bag to the top. I asked whether mine could be taken too. Mahesh asked the caretaker that I’m asking him whether he’d take my bag too. I think he didn’t reply. I took my bag upstairs and was panting. I’d have fallen a couple of times. I was more afraid because the previous day I slipped there once. Thanks to that incident I decided that I’m not going to go on with the trip hereafter. While asking the caretaker, he informed us that in Batal we might get a few help in transferring the bike.

Chandra Taal to Batal, about 17 Km was the worst bike ride of my life. I was crying for the disaster. The tears were freezing me further. Even the easiest passes were difficult to cross with my bag around. I said I’ll stay there and go to Manali and asked Mahesh to carry on with the plan so that I could go home within that weekend. Mahesh said that we were together so he’ll accompany me to Manali. We finally reached Batal at 9 AM. There people informed that they could take my bike to Manali the next day. The Dhaba owners’ son was not there otherwise I would have transported the bike that day itself. I decide that I would stay there in Batal. Mahesh went with the TV artists we met the previous day. I was very hungry, had a couple of Paratha there in the morning and took a good nap.

The whole day I was in Dhaba reading Copperfield, smoking Beedi, lamenting about what had happened, going through previous messages and having Maggi, chai. Though that’s how I want to spend a holiday, away from the world without network, connectivity etc I didn’t feel good that day. I Was restless the whole day because I was afraid of the bike. Worse was when I wanted to pee during the night but it was pitch black so waited till the morning for nature’s call.



Day 7

As soon as I got up I made the necessary arrangements for transfer of bike. One tour arranger said he’d transfer it to Manali and asked me to go through the bus they had arranged. I paid Rs. 250 for one night stay, 2 paratha, 2 magi and 5 Chai. I was happy because the previous day I was hearing the dhaba couple say Rs. 1000 for the stay. I didn’t even thank them properly for the stay. I just went away from the place. I wanted to get close to my place as soon as possible. The bus ride was even more horrifying and boring. I felt totally out of place there with people who had already known each other. I came to Manali and got a room for Rs. 200. The room was pretty bad but as it was just for a day I thought I’d adjust it.

I went around the place with no real interest but good that I got connectivity. At around 4.30 I got the news through internet that Gati is not available in Manali but in Mandi which is 120 Km from there. And room pick up could happen only on Monday. Needless to say I was pissed. As the office would close in 2 hours I wasn’t even able to drive to that place that day.

Once I went back to the room. I was relieved to see my bike and bag. What I thought would cost me around Rs. 500 cost me Rs 3500 that too after bargaining it from Rs. 4000. I was so badly pissed that I wanted to get away from that place as soon as possible. The room service guy said he’ll transport my bike from there to Batal. He said he won’t charge like them but would take only Rs. 1500. I said thank you very much. I went around the city. There was a mention of Tamil Nadu mess but that guy was again a disappointment. He hardly knew Tamil. It was just a marketing gimmick. But I got all the necessary info about how to travel home and slept.

Worse was when at 1’o clock I heard a bike sound and hurried to see whether someone had stolen my bike. It was the worst night while travelling. I could hardly sleep. The hotel was more like a brothel. There was condom stickers stuck near the switch board and there was a lady who was sitting heads down while I entered the hotel. The hotel receptionist looked like a pimp to me.

Day 8

As soon as I got up I started to Mandi. The room boy asked me to give money for Tea. Rs. 30 for 2 tea but it was actually mentioned Rs. 10 per tea. It took me two hours to go to the parcel service and there I had to wait one hour for the office staffs to come. On the way there was a road block because stones were fallings. Every bloody thing was happening. And it took be a whopping 5 hours to return to Manali from Mandi. Just 110 Km. As soon as I came to room I escaped from that hell and hurried to the bus stand. Took the bus to Delhi and informed my parents that I’ll be coming home the next day. Only in bus I could finally relax. Just before the bus started I had a bread omelet and Chai. That was the only thing I could eat the whole day.

I had never seen someone ride the bus as nonchalantly as the Sardar did. He was awesome in riding the bus. I got a good night’s sleep.

Day 9

The next day I met a couple of Tamil guys who accompanied to airport. We got the 10.50 AM flight from there. It costed me Rs. 7500. I spent a whopping Rs. 1500 eating and having fun in airport. It was awesome there. I felt like a celebrity being alone inside the airport with camera. I boarded the flight finally and was all smiles when it took off from Delhi and landed here in Chennai. I love going by flight. Unlike last time I felt good returning home. I thought of taking a bus from airport but the other two people were taking an auto so had to go with them. We had it priced for Rs. 350 but as usual the auto guy spoilt the whole mood by asking more money towards the end. Had to shell out Rs. 400 for it of which I had to pay Rs. 150. So till the last moment it was an irritating trip. But I don’t wish I had never done it. After all it’s a lesson.

Of all if I had to ask sorry to one being it is to my bike. There was one foreigner who had bought an Avenger instead of Royal Enfield. He was saying that the bike never lets anyone down. It was true. Avenger, you beauty you never let me down but I did. Sorry!

You Never Let Me Down!

You Never Let Me Down!


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