Manali to Leh – The Ride of a Reluctant Biker
The road was barely 4m wide with a wall of snow outlining both sides. The traffic had come to a standstill and a few people had stepped out of their cars to help ease the jam. Nothing seemed to be moving, definitely not my toes which were completely numb with the cold. I was riding pillion and decided to get off the bike to walk a little ahead and put on another layer of socks while my partner maneuvered slowly through the jam. As I struggled to walk a few steps, my head felt dizzy and I thought I was going to faint. Scenes of a medical emergency started running in my head and I could see myself being taken away in an ambulance. I quickly sat down on a rock near by and took a few sips of water. The world in front of my eyes was still going round in circles but I felt a little better. Ok.. socks… look for the socks. I tried opening the zip of my bag but my fingers were barely functional. I could see the people in the car waiting near by staring at me. Before I realized I was staring back at them trying to see if there was an empty seat inside where I could be warmer. Am sure they won’t mind letting me in their car. They look like a sweet family. Someone honked and I jumped. I got back to wearing my socks and wondered if this was just day one, there’s no way I’m going to make it through the next 3 days of biking through passes as high as 18,000 ft.
Half an hour later I turned back to take one last look at Rohtang Pass, thankful that I was finally on the other side of the pass and not in an ambulance. I was back on the bike and we were going downhill now. I could feel my toes again. My feet were somewhat warm and I could move my fingers. Look at all that snow.. Heck I think I can take a picture now.
Two years ago when I was told that we will go to Ladakh on a bike I had laughed out loud, said ‘yeah sure!‘ and rolled my eyes. There was no way I was going up there on a bike. I didn’t like mountains… too cold for my comfort. And tugging a backpack on a bike was definitely not my kinda holiday. Later, when I finally did agree to do the trip it was only because it seemed so far fetched and implausible that I thought it will not work out anyway. But everything worked out fine and I had no choice but to prepare myself for one of the toughest bike rides in the world.
I wonder what got me through those three days, 490kms, mucky roads, ice cold streams and lonely passes as high as Taglang La and Khardung La. It was probably the feeling of victory I felt after crossing each pass, or may be it was the encouraging thumbs-up from other bikers who passed by. May be it was the locals and their kids with pink cheeks that welcomed us in their homes, gave us food and wished us well for the remaining ride. The Indian army trucks that slowed down to let us cross and the soldiers offering biscuits was a definite feel good. It could also be the reassuring sight of colourful prayer flags on snow capped peaks or the stacked stones that some say bring good luck to travelers. May be it was just the raw and majestic form of nature that rewarded us at every turn.
Ladakh was a revelation. It was the realization that I will never call myself a beach person again. My only worry now is that after Ladakh other mountains may never impress me enough.
Here’s a short video that summarizes our ride from Manali to Leh. Honestly, the best moments haven’t been recorded because either our hands were freezing or the ride was too bumpy.