Redefining Adventure With The Spectacle Of Ashwin Goswami
Post Valentine’s Day 2014, I hustled into a journey that will last forever. I signed a very special bond with a two wheeled machine that wrote a lot of pages on the book of my life.
I strongly feel that, riding a motorcycle across the Himalayas will always be my greatest adventure and is the most evident form of meditation.
The thump sounds like music, motion turns into rhythm and some fresh air triggers the most random thoughts and I lost myself into my own world.
We can always take a bus, drive a car or hike to our destination but if someone really wants to experience the whole travelling thing, hop on a motorcycle and let it roar.
The thrill of riding a bike is full of live action and adrenaline, this active process doesn’t let us miss even a single moment of our journey and takes us on an adventure in which the beauty of the surroundings is experienced by each mile we ride into.
I was so sure about my purpose of motorcycling and it was all about adventure since ever. Back at home, watching TV and surfing internet, I came up with an idea of going to the deadliest Indian road and, soon I found myself in Leh drifting towards Himalayas.
In the starting it was solo, and then I got some company in Manali, when I met Nishant.
He is a chilled out guy and just like me he is always up for new experiences, when it’s a time for adventure, he is always up on his toes. One thing I like about him is, his adventure streak which is very responsive when the dilemma of doing or thinking strikes.
As long as I know him, he is a Psychic just like me and travelled Leh on such a short notice and that makes us two of a kind.
After spending a day in Manali we realised that the highway which connects Leh and Manali is closed at Barchala pass and so we decided to screw the schedule and travel through an entirely different route.
At 6pm on that fine evening we kick started the bike for one overnight journey and rolled it for next 24 hours non-stop to reach Srinagar with the dirtiest sight we ever had and from there we started towards ”Our Road trip of a lifetime”
After we spent three days in Leh, I felt very confident about our next quest for the World’s highest motorable road “Kharngungla” and waited for the next morning to conquer it.
In the morning, we went to Shanti Stupa to seek blessings, finished our breakfast, and while Nishant was reading some book I was busy examining the weather and wind to figure the best possible time to ride.
As he was reading a book over a cup of coffee and I looked outside for a weather check, to me it seemed a perfect weather to take on the big challenge and I planned out a strategy, underestimating the big mountain and then we left Leh city for an adventure that could be the last one.
I was continuously watching clouds, estimating the wind and struggling through some certain thoughts while playing with a kid and realised that I just hate the fact that I grew up and questioned myself if I was ready?
The answer was, I was there already and there’s no looking back now. I was so sure that I am going to make it to the other side very soon. I was fearless, confident, and firm to ride that I couldn’t wait to be there.
I have heard there’s a lots a difference in circumstances and other stuff like, atmospheric pressure lowers down and performance on the motors degrades and you might get stuck but now we have already decided and we stuck to our decision. All those thoughts were just a reminder which kept our mind wide open.
As we stopped at the last turn away from Leh city, i examined my inventory and checked for any technical fault and i found that we lost our rear brakes, the luggage carrier was broken and the disc brakes have lost pressure because of it leaving us with a single brake system.
I told Nishant about it, and asked for his opinion to move ahead or get back to the garage and get it fixed. And what he said is the most honoured complement for me as a motorcycle enthusiast, he said “Do what you like, if you wish to continue I believe in you and if you want to go back i understand”
As he knew I have always hated the u turns, his immense faith and trust in friendship ignited a spark in me and we left towards NORTH PULLU
On our way to North Pullu, we found a guy who travelled to Leh by air and rented a Royal Enfield.
His dad was riding the bike and crashed their motorcycle into a taxi and so we accompanied them till the backup arrives.
A few moments later we saw a police towing van, they approached us and asked us not to attempt Khardhungla on that day as their prediction of bad weather and informed us about the accident that took place on the 14 km stretch from North PULLU, in which a bike crashed 2 days ago, and the rider got a major fracture on his left foot while the pillion rider is still missing, or probably dead by the time.
At that moment Nishant looked into my eyes and said “Lets do it ”
And we told the officer that we will first go to North PULLU and then decide what to do.
As soon as we arrived North PULLU, I faced the failures of my plotting and learned that all our plans and strategies are worthless when the life have different plans for us. At 2 pm in North PULLU we saw a drastic change in weather and I realised the dangers of keep moving forward and stopped for lunch at the military canteen and unhappily decided to get back to Leh the same day.
Just after we entered the cafeteria and had lunch, we noticed that there was snow falling outside.
And the military officials announced, that no vehicle will move until the snow storm passes and hence we got stuck at the canteen
But the guy in the mic asked not to panic as soon as the storm clears, the road will reopen for a window of two hours so people can get back to the city but till then we all had to wait.
As we don’t have any other options, we kept on enquiring about the history, records and life of the Indian army soldiers around Khardhungla. We have been talking to several military officers about their experience during their tenure of services and most of them told us about the accidents or the lives lost.
Captain Arvind Kr, Indian army officer described himself as “Khardhungla tiger”
Told us that K top has a significant importance in indian history. India is the land beyond Indus and K Top was the entrance to the country. Mangol invades the country from this path way and ancient international silk route lies here.
Khardhungla actually divides Leh from Nubra and Himalayas from Karakoram. 18 military officials lost their lives building the world’s highest motor-able road.
Meanwhile when the temperature dropped to -8 degree, we stared to prepare but the only problem was that we were not carrying any extra woollens, socks or any jackets with us and our last hope lies with rain coats to provides us with resistance from wind. We both had caps and a pair of gloves that we shared. We spent 3 hours in north PULLU and we have met Emmu (Emran wazir)
Emmu is a 34 year old, single guy who doesn’t care about life. This guy owns a bar in Diskit town of Nubra valley and he believes in the life of a womaniser and getting people drunk.
Emmu drives a Maruti Jeep which is registered with a 1620 J&K number and carries his own liquor from Leh to the other side.
And he was pleased to host us at his bar, although we liked his offer, but we were still figuring out, how to get to the other side, and he asked us to put our bags in rear trunk of his Jeep to reduce the weight while ascending K top and he will be guiding us to all the way back and asked me to keep my bike behind his Jeep as its a rough weather.
it was 5 o’clock by the watch, weather looks quite good and we started ascending K top and officers told us that they don’t want us to go but if we still continues, there would be no life support at all and somehow Emmu convinced them that we are his guest ant he will take care of us. Thus the moment came when I was taking on my biggest adventure, The Khardhungla top and that too at such a worse time, that was the time I got nervous and firm yet I was confident, above all I believe in God, for me riding is next to preaching, I felt close to God when I am on the roads I know my Lord would take good care of me.
I kick started my bike, chanted “OM MANi PADME HUM”, that was the first time I meant it and rushed into the white snow towards the K top. We were the only bike riders going towards K top that day.
Khardhungla expects a lot of tourist every year but we visited Leh in early May and at that time the places around Leh are snow bounded and summers are still to come.
As we started ascending towards K top, I realised how difficult it is to ride at such elevation 18000 feet and the power of your machine in such adverse weather decreases to half and in the killing cold weather, we could just hope that it doesn’t get any worse.
I soon realised that I underestimated height of Khardhungla, the oxygen level dropped due to sudden change in atmospheric conditions and temperature has already dropped to -12 degree and blowing winds were hitting every naked part of our body like someone is pointing thousand needles into my skin and even the Go Pro mounted on my helmet stopped working as the lense screen got hit by ice all over and formed a layer of ice that needed to be wiped but my hands were paining due to shivering cold and were already too busy steering the motorcycle to the top and then things turned out for worse.
At the speed of 20km/hr we were already having the toughest ride of our lives, I see some ice falling again, and soon started a heavy snowfall, we were still in the middle of nowhere, everything appeared white, we lost Emmu’s trail and hope. But to keep on moving was our only option left.
Just after a minute or later we saw him again, on the other side of the turn, I was happy to see him, I was happy that he didn’t left us there and didn’t lose hope on us, I asked Nishant to get on Emmu’s Jeep and then I made it to K top.
Although Emmu disappeared for couple of minutes but it felt like it’s been forever.
Everyone around was happy to see that we made it to K top and then Emmu took us to the world’s highest canteen and offered some warm coffee with noodles.
As soon as I stepped on the ground, I was happy to see Nishant and we never felt so alive.
I was so happy to be there. I could see happiness in his eyes that we made it, he knew how much it meant to me and I will always be thankful for his support and faith he showed in me.
I have already ridden a bike several times overnight and around the most treacherous roads but those were the most furious 14 kms of my life,
We could have slipped, skidded, hit by an avalanche, choked or freezed but the madness inside me keeps on igniting the fire that i can do that and from that time I admit, I am a mad man when it comes to adventure.
I learned to value life, i learned that all that goes in mind will reflect in our actions but the thoughts are never negative its just the instincts that drives the curiosity parallel to wisdom.
And this was one was one of the best of all, I could hear the roaring engine and my heart beat syncing the rhythm, aggression on the rear wheel and fury in my eyes, that was the moment where me and my bike were connected, I figured out why some people lose their heart to some lifeless things.
By that time, things got better, and cafe got closed as a bad news approached us.
An avalanche has hit the other side of the K top that leads to south PULLU and it will take a while to clear the mess.
We heard that a van is stuck in the avalanche and a lot of vehicles are skidding and yet military ordered for another curfew until they came up with help.
We again inquired an officer from the regiment that how long would it take to clear up and he replied maybe an hour or less and we were so pleased that we are going to the other other side today but the problem was that it was about to get dark and we might lose the sun light in an hour or more,
Emmu knew that we don’t have anywhere to go on such weather so he offered us a seat in his open jeep but at K top an open jeep is worthless if one is about to wait for things to get better,
Back in his trunk I was so sure that we could freeze to death. We needed a warm place to get settled and went to the military post where military official informed us that they can’t allow us to go any further. He said they have got orders for stopping every biker to go beyond K top until next morning when dozers are done with cleaning ice. So he left us with two choices, he asked us to stay at army camps or arrange a vehicle to Nubra and get the bike the very next day or later.
Finding a seat in Emmu’s trunk was not an option and then enters the man who saved our lives.
His name was Jigmat Dorje, when the weather got better I saw a pickup truck rushing towards K top and a man moved out or the truck and start yelling out loud on a few soldiers and along with 2 soldiers, he rushed towards the slope for recovering the van hit by avalanche,
Luckily nobody was hurt but the road was still blocked we saw a soldier was ordered to ask for back up from north PULLU.
I love it when people are all prepared and get on their bullets.
He was Takshi as the uniform said, he’s among those para forces which are trained for special purposes on such places. As soon as Takshi left and the weather got better, we met Mr.Dorje.
Jigmat is a politically important person to the people of Diskit, he works for government and a lot of NGOs around Ladhak
Married to a Ladhaki women and a father of two children, he introduced himself as a ex-army men, and he asked us which one of us is crazy enough to be there in that day.
We told him that we need a vehicle to carry us towards Nubra and Jigmat said “Oh no problem I have a truck just hop in”
As he was aware of our situation he knew that we were quite hungry,
He offered the food he’s left with and khumani to keep the headache away.
I always carry a bottle of old monk whenever I am travelling to any colder place and everyone was happy to see that.
The rum helps to sleep well, keeps you warm and antiseptic for wounds.
Dorje, Emmu, Nishant and me we shared the bottle at K top and those are the most amazing shots of my life. You can always have a better company over a couple of drinks .
This is the best part of getting drunk, the flow of a lot of emotions starts beaming and people gets closer.
Emmu told about the love of his life and after she left , he decided to get drunk very frequently so now he’s running a bar.
Nishant expressed is emotion for travelling and some towards me and Dorje talked about his wife and family.
Dorje’s words reminded me about mother and yeah when I get drunk I spill a lot.
Now it was 7:30 by the clock and we had nothing much to do, we decided to put the cameras in working mode and moved out of the truck. Dorje got back to the site of the avalanche and we decided to get some fresh air and capture the unsounded beauty of Khardhungla.
Anyone can be there on a sunny day, but we were the lucky ones to see the mountain that way and it was breathtaking.
The other side of K top looks stunning, and absolute silent with wind blowing felt like ancient times and army patrolling through the highway itself states the national importance of the pass.
Dorje returned soon but with a bad news he said, this chaos might take hours and we have to wait here, so we decided to have some good time with him. We asked him to get some Ladhaki music on the stereo and tell us more about Nubra, his native place.
Nubra valley is India’s last and only territory in Karakoram, Siachen glacier lies in Nubra and Nubra is a cold desert inhibiting the double humped camel.
Nubra posses the world’s highest battle ground Siachen and Indian army is dominating it. Nubra valley extends to Turtuk the last india village and the wars had a great impression on this region but against all odd people in the region are the most peaceful race around the world and practice Buddhism and Islam and there never had been any dispute on the ground of religion.
He promised us to show us the Budhpurnima festival at skuru which he fulfilled the next day.
As we talked more about things, and culture and we realised it was getting dark and the watch showed it was 9:30 pm and the temp has dropped to -20 degree and we didn’t have a blower in the car.
Dorje was not so uncomfortable about it but he was worried about us, he kept on suggesting new ideas to keep us warm. He kept on offering candies and motivating us. We both pulled our legs beneath each others ass and rubbing hands. And in the meantime, we needed to clean the ice on Dorje’s windshield due to the vapours from our bodies. Soon we looked troubled and victimized.
It was about 11pm when the roads got cleared, Dorje wisely drove his truck in the dark following Emmu and we were heading to Dorje’s home for supper
After we crossed the post at South Pullu. Dorje and Emmu left the road and thus began a late night need for speed scenario.
This was the experience which I will cherish for the rest of my life and also I would suggest you all to go down the road which I went past.
All pictures by Ashwin Goswami. Follow him on instagram : @ASHWING0
– Kritika Bhardwaj