Ladakh has over the years emerged as the epitome of adventure, style and machoness especially if you are a new biker yearning to ride across the valiant passes of this cold desert. It is the land of snow clad high passes, freezing temperatures, rugged terrain and breathtaking landscapes in the Kunlun mountain range that later extends to The Great Himalayas in the South-East. One of the reasons, you opted for a thumping engine on two wheels was to ride straight upto to the highest motorable road in the world and earn yourself the coveted display picture next to Khardung La signage (‘La’ is pass in Ladakhi language). There is no dearth of reasons for you to ride across the terrain of Ladakh for it evokes such heavenly feelings in the explorer in you.
One feeling that stands out is that of power and achievement, but with great power comes greater responsibility. Rightly so, Ladakh offers a difficult terrain to ride on and over the years, we have come across many bikers/motorcycle enthusiasts waiting for help in the middle of nowhere. Here are few points one must keep in mind to make sure that this road-trip of a lifetime is completed without any glitches:
2. PRACTICE MAKES ONE PERFECT: Just owning a bike and rider suit will not make you a biker, It is imperative for you to have a bare minimum of 10000 – 20000 km of driving experience, including driving in the hills and off-roading. Get comfortable with your bike before you test the rough terrain of Ladakh.
3. KNOW YOUR MOTORCYCLE: Spend some time with your neighbourhood mechanic and ask him questions about your machine, the suspension, the cooling, the brake mechanism, spark plugs, oiling etc. No question is stupid, you never know which answer would help you when u are stuck on a pass in freezing cold with an over 150 kgs of metal and rubber.
4. CARRY SPARES: with improved accessibility and so many people travelling to Ladakh, you will not be stuck for long, However, it is a decent idea to carry basic spares like spark plugs, an extra tyre tube, accelerator/clutch wire, the toolkit etc. That might make you the knight in shining armour for someone else in need. You would also need to carry extra fuel for there are long stretches without a fuel pump. If you do not have a proper riding gear yet, wear multiple layers of clothing for it gets pretty cold post-Sarchu.
5. SAFETY IS COOLER: you might look cooler riding your favourite motorcycle without a helmet, but remember it is not just hitting your head on the road during a mishap, Ladakh is famous for landslides and stones falling from above.
6. DO NOT BE TOO ADVENTUROUS read CRAZY: Yes it is your first time in Ladakh, you have crossed the Rohtang Pass traffic jam and the dust has just settled after Keylong, do not let your guard down, not on the curves, not on the straight roads. Keep your head straight and enjoy the ride at a decent speed.
7. RESPECT YOUR MOTORCYCLE: A lot of amateur riders will complain that it was the machine’s fault, but then again, machines do not have a mind, it is you who is responsible. Treat her well and you will have a fantastic trip, be rude to her and keep kicking the rear tyre for all she cares. Tip: be patient at tougher terrains and have a heart, you will pull through eventually.
8. LISTEN TO LOCALS: If you have been paying attention to all the points above, you have earned yourself a treat. Forget what he or she told you, spend some time with the local, be nice and if they find you genuine, they might tell you about that mysterious place that is still missing from 5612 itineraries that you read before the Ladakh road trip.
9. EXPLORE, AT YOUR OWN PACE: You do not have enough offs and there is so much to cover, you cannot explore the entire LADAKH in 8 or 10 or 16 days and that is not experiencing, it is called covering. So ask yourself what you want and let it soak in before you head to tick-off the next thing in your limited time itinerary. Come back next time and do more.
10. CHERISH IT and PRESERVE IT: Observe more than you show, listen more than you speak, this way the land of high-passes and zen might give you a lesson in life. Remember it is you who is yearning to go this is beautiful place ever since you first heard of it and try and preserve the sanctity of this place for the next time you visit it is still the same as you left it.
Sumit Singh Jamwal is the CEO at Escape Route, an experiential Travel company. He has conducted various road-trips to Ladakh in the past few years. This year again, Escape Route has planned three trips to Ladakh in June/July.