Link to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8
“When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bike and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.” -
1200 km, 3 days was the equation we started with. Our assumption roads will be better and will be able to cover 400 kms in 6-8 hrs drive. But after-all it was just an assumption!
It was an emotional moment to start back from the place which has given us so much in such a short span of time. The road just out of Leh superb! The landscape was similar (& familiar) to what we had seen in last few days - terrain, monasteries, military convoy and above all friendly people.
We passed magnetic hill about 50 kms from Leh without even realizing any pull/push and hence can confirm that its just an optical illusion. Further down after 3 hrs of driving we crossed Lamayaru - the place know for its famous Gompa & stunning views (and also touted as Switzerland of India).
This is where we realized that we had covered just 125 kms in over four hours and what lay ahead. We started after the quick stop for breakfast and decided to have lunch in Kargil. After two hours of further ride, we reached Kargil and while passing a narrow road came across this.
We began ride after lunch and decided that to make at-least upto to Sonmarg which was still 120 kms further. After about 30-45 mins drive, we came across what we're looking for since we entered the town Kargil.
When we reached, the preparations for the BIG day - Vijay Divas (26th July) were in full swing. Lieutenant Mr. Singh told us history of the what actually happened in 1999 & actual account of courage by our soldiers in hand-to-hand battle as they call it. It was moving moment to walk through the place, see the hills behind where the coward Pakistani troops were defeated and where almost 500 people gave away their life for the country. As we walked through the small museum there was was sense of pride, safety and silence.
The road started rising after Dras and it was already dark by the time we reached the base-point of the Zojila pass. Encouraged by the small talk we had with some people in Dras, we decided to go ahead and reach Sonmarg which was still over sixty km further. And it was a bad move...
Zoji la second highest pass on the Srinagar Leh highway (alsmost 12,000 ft). Nearing the pass we came to knew that there was a rain and landslide in the afternoon and because of the block 300 - 500 trucks were lined-up on the other side. It was dark and I was riding in the front - bad timing again to be riding in front of the group. After crossing few vehicles it became extremely difficult to drive because of the narrow slippary road full of pits and mud and on-coming trucks. I carried on and then in one of the pits the spring of the side-stand gave away and I realized this when I almost flattened in front of a truck due to the kick-back given by the stand. The ride after that was a nightmare. Somehow I tried to hold the side-stand with one leg and ignoring the abuse (mostly in Punjabi) by the truck drivers every time I was crossing while concentrating on the road ahead with flood lights from the trucks beaming in the eyes. When I now look at some of the pictures of the pass (link 1, link 2 - we did not take any pics, it was dark) and remember the journey I feel very fortunate for not to be hit for my stupid bravado and also for my poor knowledge of Punjabi.
After passing most of the trucks and finding a slightly better road, I made a stop. I tied the stand with a small handkerchief and waited for the friends to join. This was the first time in last 2 hours or so, I had thought of the them and there was no sign of them. Instead of waiting on the high-way I decided to go the the nearby town - lights which I could see. On reaching found that this was the very Sonmarg we decided in the afternoon. Srinagar, the original stopapge was still 70 kms ahead. It was almost 10 p.m. - so we drove for over 10 hrs since morning (excluding the stop at war memorial) and made only 340 kms. After 30 mins or so I began worrying for the group and hoped that nothing untoward has happened as it was last time when I rode in front on the second day of trip.
My phone was in the bag which was tied to other bike so I called from a pay-phone to home, checked for any message, there was none. Then I tried calling Puru hoping agaist the hope for the network - where-ever-he-was-on-the-road and the phone rang. The ringtone - the bare ringtone - was the most sweetest sound of the day ! He told that all were safe and had stopped in a small temple-cum-shelter till all the trucks pass by. I then roamed around, had a snack, requested restaurant fellow for not closing kitchen and finalized a room for the night. The group arrived almost by the midnight. We had a quick but filling dal-rice dinner and slept....
PS - Posting after a long gap as a part of new year resolution to complete this travelogue ;)