There are several things that one can experience while leading a group on a trek or a road trip. Sometimes, trip leading can be frustrating and exciting at the same time. Here I am sharing my experience of Manali to Leh Ladakh Bike Ride that I did in June 2019.
When I visited Ladakh for the first time which was a few years back, it was a very leisure and soothing trip. Everything was well planned and executed. I had a good time but it was also kind of boring for me. I am an adventure freak person and if everything goes as per the plan, I don’t like it.
This time (2019), I was leading a bigger group travelling to Ladakh and it included people who were travelling by tempo travellers and few were riding bikes. Total count was 46 and there were 3 trip leaders in which I was supposed to lead one traveller, Shadab has to lead another tempo traveller and Suhas had to lead the bikers group. As I was the senior in all 3, I had to look out for everyone.
As per the plan, we left from Delhi by an overnight Volvo bus.
Tip: If you are travelling to Himachal by private Volvo bus then have your dinner before boarding or get it packed. The places where buses usually stop are shit. The food is really bad or there is no food available.
Day 1: Manali Arrival and acclimatization
So, after a journey of around 15 hours, we reached Manali. We drove to our hotel which was situated in Naggar, a small town near Manali. We allotted the rooms to everyone, had lunch and then all got settled by 4 pm. The group went for the Manali sightseeing in the evening and we (trip leaders) were arranging bikes and dealing with the vendors, backup vehicle and mechanic. Later in the evening, I gave a long briefing session about the terrain, cold of Ladakh and AMS, did “howz the josh” and slept. Everything was going well till that time.
Tip: Do listen to your trip leader, especially at the time of briefing. It will help you a lot and make your trip more enjoyable.
Read Also: 7 Destinations for River Rafting in Kerala
Day 2: Manali to Jispa via Rohtang Pass and Keylong.
The group got ready in the morning by 9 am and we left for Jispa by 10 am after having breakfast. It was kind of a fleet having 2 tempo travellers, 16 bikes and a backup vehicle. We bought all the required stuff and proceeded towards Gulaba.
Gulaba is around 25 km from Manali and it takes around one hour to reach there. Since June is the peak season of summers, Manali remains overcrowded. We all got stuck in a traffic jam and due to which we reached Gulaba check post by 1 pm.
Gulaba check post is a place where Rohtang Pass permits are checked. Both the tempo travellers got passed but bikes got stuck. Actually, the bike permits got lost on the way by the vendor while he was riding his bike to Gulaba. It was 16 June and India-Pakistan match was going on. The complete staff was busy watching the match and due to that, they were not at all listening to us. So we were on our own. After trying for half an hour, the vendor decided to ride back to Manali to issue new permits. This was the first tragedy happened and just after it, I got a call from Suhas (Bike Trip Leader) and he told me about his accident. Yes, he had met with an accident while riding from Manali to Gulaba. He got injured so he decided to stay back at Manali.
Now, there was no option left, I decided to continue without Suhas. It took 2 hours and finally, we got the permits. Both tempo travellers were already passed earlier and they were on their way to Jispa. The bikes also passed, I got into the backup vehicle and we started moving towards Jispa.
On these roads, bikes have the advantage of not being stuck in a traffic jam. They get easily passed but cars don’t. While we were heading towards Jispa, our backup vehicle got stuck in a traffic jam at Rohtang Pass and due to which the bikes and tempo travellers were quite ahead of us. Now the situation was that I (the main leader) along with the mechanic were driving to Jispa and I had no idea and no update that where my group was. There was no signal at the pass and I had no point of contact. We continued the drive to reach Jispa.
After crossing the Rohtang Pass, we reached Khoksar and there I saw some of the bikers wearing the fluorescent jackets. I asked the driver to stop the car and yes there was my group. Only then I took a breath. It was already dark so without wasting time I instructed the group and we left for Jispa from there. I was in one tempo traveller which was in the front, bikes & backup vehicle were in middle, and second tempo traveller was at the back having Shadab.
I and Shadab were coordinating with the help of Walkie-talkie. All things were sorted until we reached Tandi and stopped for refuelling. The 4 bikers refused to ride as they were not able to ride due to cold weather and they didn’t have gloves and proper jackets. In short, they were not prepared to ride the bike in that weather and that too during night. There was no option so we (I and Shadab) had to switch on the bikes and the bikers were transferred into the tempo traveller.
It took around an hour and we reached Jispa by 11 pm. The bonfire was already ready. I and Shadab allotted the camps and then the group got freshened up. Later, I gave a briefing for the next day and motivated all the bikers as some were excited and some were scared due to roads and weather. I also informed the group, that from now onwards I will lead the bikers group and Shadab will lead both the tempo travellers.
Day 3: Jispa to
Leh Sarchu via Baralacha La Pass
All woke up, had breakfast and all set to leave for Leh which was around 330 km from Jispa. This was the most important day because the distance was more and we had to cross 4 major mountain passes, which are Baralacha La (16043 feet), Nakee La (15547 feet), Lachung La (16616 ft) and Tanglang La (17480 ft). We left from Jispa by 8 am after having breakfast. Already instructed the drivers of tempo travellers to not wait for the bikers which meant, the group got divided into 2 subgroups, i.e., Tempo travellers and bikers.
All were thinking that the adventure was only for the Day 2 but God has planned something different for us. As we started from Jispa, the first place where we got stuck was at a water stream of Dercha. A car got stuck there but fortunately, in no time it crossed the stream. We (the bikers) also successfully crossed it but our feet got wet and the water was freezing cold. There was no option that we could change our boots so we had to continue the ride with our same wet feet.
Soon we reached the Zing Zing bar and there were another stream and a long traffic jam. A car was already stuck there along with a truck, which came there to toe the car. After waiting for 1 hour, JCB came and rescued both the vehicles. Vehicles started moving and so were the bikes. We continued our ride up to the Baralacha la pass and stranded again after half an hour. There was a massive landslide on the way and due to which there was a heavy traffic jam. The road was already narrow due to thick ice walls on both sides. It took around 3 hours to cross the pass.
It was already noon, we didn’t have lunch yet and were riding with our wet feet in the cold weather. We decided to take a break near Sarchu and eat something. Then we continued the ride, reached Bharatpur and found that one bike was punctured. It was 3 pm and we covered only 60 km. I decided to exchange my bike with the punctured one. Somehow, I rode that punctured bike for next 10 km on a road full of slush, boulders and potholes. After 10 km, there was a small canteen and I decided to leave that bike at there itself. Then I took my bike back and the person got adjusted on another bike. The group was tired and hungry so decided to take a break for 10 minutes and have some refreshments.
We resumed the ride and just after 20 minutes, one bike broke down due to some glitch in the battery socket. The mechanic was in the back-up vehicle and the backup vehicle was still in the traffic jam. It was already 4 pm by the watch, 2 people were suffering from AMS, 2 bikes were down and rest of the group was in no condition to ride for next 250 km. I had to take a call and I decided to do a night stay at Sarchu.
Sarchu was the nearest place where we could take a night halt. I gathered all the bikers which were there and informed them that “we are staying at Sarchu”. Then asked one person to be with the person who’s bike got broken down and told them to wait for me. It took around half an hour and we reached Sarchu and found that there were no camps opened. After searching for a few minutes, fortunately, I found one camp and the manager allowed us to stay there. Later I called all the bikers in that campsite and I went up to the J & K border to call other travellers. Luckily, there I found the rest of the bikers and we all came back to Sarchu campsite. After dropping those bikers at the campsite, I rode back to Bharatpur to pick up the person with the stranded bike. Fortunately, the complete group (tempo travellers and backup vehicle) was there. The mechanic repaired the bike and we all reached Sarchu by 5 pm.
Had a discussion with the complete group and the drivers suggested to leave for Leh at that time. Since Sarchu campsite had no toilets ready as they were just setting up the camps and the group had girls too. I asked 2 bikers who were suffering from AMS and told them to sit in the tempo traveller. Both the tempo travellers left for Leh and the bikers were staying at Sarchu. Everyone started resting and thinking that the day got over, no more adventures now but they were not aware of the place Sarchu. As the sunset took place, the temperature started decreasing like a freezer. I asked the group to put on layers and whatever they had as it was going to be really cold. Had dinner and arranged 3-4 blankets for everyone and briefed the group that we would be leaving for Leh by 5 am. Somehow, we were trying to sleep but failing miserably as the temperature was -14 degrees Celsius.
Day 4: Sarchu to Leh via Pang, Moore Plains & Taglang La
We woke up by 5 am and one of the group members called me “Manu, come outside and see this”. I put on my shoes and went outside. It was all white. Yes, it snowed and the scenes were scary as well as fascinating. Then I gave new timing to the group and asked everyone to get ready by 6. The bike got covered by snow by then. We cleared the snow, refuelled the bikes and started the ride from Sarchu. 3 members got adjusted in the backup vehicle as their bikes weren’t starting.
We reached the J&K border and did the entry at the check post. Another problem came at that time, the backup vehicle driver told that “he is not able to drive properly as the vehicle is overloaded”. The backup vehicle was already carrying all the luggage of the bikers, around 60 litres fuel, all spare parts, mechanic, and 3 members. Now I had to adjust these 3 members somewhere else as the bikes were also full. Taking a lift was the only option. Fortunately, the mechanic found one known person who was driving a truck. The members got into that truck and continued the journey till Leh in that truck only.
We continued our ride and crossed Gata loops, Nakee La and as we started moving towards the Lachung La, the weather turned from bad to worst. The snowstorm started heavily and we couldn’t stop there so we continued the ride slowly. Our fingers got numbed and we could barely see anything on the road as the visibility was zero. We crossed the pass and stopped at a point where snow was less. Cleared the clothes and the face and then started moving again. We crossed Pang and Moore plains. Now everyone started enjoying and taking hard situations as an adventure and this was what I wanted from the very first day of our ride. After taking some photos at the Moore Plains, we continuously rode the bikes, crossed Tanglang la and reached our final destination of the day by 4 pm. Yes, we were at Leh 😀 We all were happy and contented as like we had accomplished a mission.
So this was about our ride to Leh. After facing so many challenges, we successfully completed and reached Leh. Had amazing experiences like riding a bike in a snowstorm, riding on no roads, crossing water streams, fighting the cold weather at Sarchu and many more. The best thing was nobody gave up and everyone returned safely and made it a memorable ride.
The main motive of jotting down this experience is to let everyone know that sometimes conditions are quite different than that you see on social media. Leh Ladakh biking is a dream of almost every bike lover doesn’t matter they have any experience or not. One has to understand that conditions do not remain the same on mountains especially in regions like Ladakh and Spiti. The sunny weather can transform into cloudy and then into snowfall in no time. No one can predict. People who are planning for a bike ride to Leh Ladakh or Spiti Valley or Sach Pass, should always be ready for any situation and count it as an adventure.
All the best.
Happy Trails 🙂