I loved motorcycles since childhood and as I grew up, I saw this love evolve gently. It wasn’t just another childhood dream of owning an awesome looking motorcycle. Along with owning and riding one, I had this urge out of nowhere to ride it to far off places, like the Himalayas. From high school, the images of the snow clad mountains mesmerized me and I knew, someday I would ride up there.
When I was about to graduate, I came across this motorcycle adventure magazine with images of motorcycles crossing cold glacial rivers in the vicinity of the Himalayas. After looking at the same images multiple times throughout the day, I couldn’t get them off my mind. It was as though I wanted to do just that. But, I had to earn and buy a motorcycle. Then earn more to buy motorcycle protective gear and luggage.
It took me two years to prepare, buy all the required gear before the day of riding up to the Himalayas arrived. It took me a good one week to reach from Bangalore situated in the south of India to the Himalayas in the north. After crossing a hill station called Manali, I got my first view of the snow covered mountains.
The dream view of my motorcycle handlebar before the majestic Himalayas was in front of me while I lived it by inhaling the purest of air one could breathe. The 1500 kilometres long circuit around the mountains usually takes five days as one needs to acclimatise and move forwards as the altitude is high (14,000 – 18,000 feet above sea level) enough to make one sick. Even the fittest of human beings can be hit with altitude sickness and that includes symptoms like headache, nausea, vomiting and sometimes in extreme cases, it could even result in death!
The beauty of journeys to such places, apart from being around nature is the kind of people you get to meet from around the world. Ladakh being such a popular place attracts adventure and nature lovers like a magnet. Didn’t matter if I stopped for a cup of chai or to click a picture of the beautiful landscape, there was always another traveller around who started a conversation, be it about me, my motorcycle or about the one bedroom- hall- kitchen house installed on top of it! LOL.
After two days of travelling in the region, I rode deeper into the mountains and reached an area called Sarchu. It mainly consisted of Dhabhas (local eateries with basic accommodation facilities) and tent accommodation. With the tourist season going on, it was difficult to get a tent accommodation for a good price so I asked the person at the last tent site If I could pitch my own tent on his site and pay a small amount as rent. I would also utilise the food services offered by his kitchen.
He agreed rather hesitatingly but after I had pitched my tent, he said he didn’t have anything for lunch and the only food I would get was that day’s dinner. I was hungry and since the man seemed a little rude, I re-packed my tent and went straight to a nearby Dhabha. I pitched my tent right beside the last Dhabha in line while the kind lady owner and her old husband made me hot Paratha and Tea.
The Dhabhas were lined up in a row, each belonging to a local villager from the main town of the area called LEH. While I went inside to have my Paratha, I met many other riders as they relaxed on the beds with their legs stretched out! A lot of them were from the UK and since motorcycles were an integral part of their lives too, we began to have interesting conversations. From their experiences of riding in the UK to the heat of Delhi, I didn’t realise when a few hours had passed while our discussions went on for a really long time.
Soon, it was dark outside and also time for dinner. What was really important about the time we shared with each other was the involvement of passion and the absence of distractions like a mobile phone. Yes, a lot of the Ladakh region does not have mobile towers and as a result, your phone turns into a tool for taking pictures and making notes only.
I went back to my tent before dinner, the Dhabha lady owner was nice to have served me dinner inside my tent. While I cherished the tasty Dal Chawal, my bums got really cold. I thought it must be the temperature drop but it was unusual. It was water! I had forgotten to shut of the valve on my hydration backpack and as a result, the water had been flowing out gradually.
I shut it and assessed the gravity of the situation. My socks, boots, riding jacket, towel and a bit of my sleeping bag had gotten wet! I immediately pulled the rest of the items out and shifted to the Dhabha. Fortunately, plenty of the beds were available for the night and thanks to my idea of choosing to tent close to civilisation, a backup for such a situation was ready. The lady at the Dhabha laughed at me for pitching my tent since the beds were always available for 80 INR a night (1.4 USD). I did feel stupid but that didn’t stop me from laughing at myself, we all do stupid things in life and that’s what makes it even more fun! To add onto my luck, I was to stay at Sarchu the next day so I had enough time to dry my belongings.
The next morning, my new found foreigner friends were moving on with their journey while I took a nice walk outside and played with some kids. I did intend to speak to my parents but there was no phone connectivity anywhere near me. Then, the lady at the Dhabha told me that the army camp nearby offers satellite phone connection to travellers for a fee. After breakfast, I walked up to the camp and made my call, my family was delighted to hear for me after 28 hours. Not a long time but for a person used to communicating frequently with people back home, it was a long time!
By noon, I dried my clothes, boots and left my phone and cameras to charge. I observed the dhabha owners who had gathered around a table outside. Each one had a cup of tea and they all giggled listening to each other’s stories. There was no sign of worry or tension on their faces, they were just living the moment. I got fond of the simplicity of their lifestyle, I noticed real freedom and happiness while the majestic mountains stood tall all around us. It didn’t seem at all that they were all competitors in business, they looked more like childhood friends who were now getting old.
As afternoon fell, two bikers heading back from LEH towards the mainland stopped at the Dhabha for lunch. I got some good company to speak to and our conversations got so long that it was difficult for them to reach their destination by sundown. The arrival of another solo cyclist for the night made things worse for the two bikers. They eventually gave up and decided to stay for the night.
While we did a lot of ‘biker talk’ and ‘traveller talk’, I ordered some snacks for us. The temperature outside dropped below 10 degrees centigrade, but the sight of a huge motor home passing by baffled us. We ran outside to have another glance when it parked right next to our Dhabha. Came out of it was a couple with two little kinds from France who were on a world tour for more than two years! We invited them to come over to the Dhabha and they did come over for dinner.
I had met another motorcycle couple from Bangalore on my way to Sarchu and after looking at my motorcycle parked outside, they decided to come in and stay for the night at the Dhabha as well! All in all, there were about twelve people in the Dhabha that night, everyone eating delicious food and narrating each other’s learnings from the different journeys each one had taken. As Darkness fell outside and the temperature dropped below 5 degrees, we had a party of some sort in Sarchu.
We were strangers a couple of hours ago but now, it was as if we knew each other for a long time! I guess that’s what travelling does to you, puts you in touch with people, places and situations that are totally random but you always get to take back something, be it good or bad but it would eventually be of benefit to you.
That night gave me a great insight into the fact that we’re such amazing social beings willing to have a great time at every instance. Imagine, if people of the world were nice to anybody they came across, regardless of their race, caste, colour, sex. I think the world would’ve been a lot like that the Dhabha in Sarchu. But in the cities, such gifts are lost in the crowd while the mind looks for something new- not in people, but in things and superficial objects like smart phones and cars and houses!
While the French family spent the night in their motorhome, we had plenty of beds to sleep on in the Dhabha. Morning arrived quickly and off we packed our bags and mounted them on our steeds. I paid the lady at the Dhabha a little more than she asked for because her services were excellent and beyond any three star of five star hotel I’ve stayed in.
We all bid each other good bye and parted ways, promising to add each other on Facebook. Though my journey around the mountains was very beautiful and memorable one, that night in Sarchu will always be a special night to remember. During that solo ride, I was glad to have these people as a part of its beautiful story! Oh yes, the wet tent incident is still laughed at by me!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ssaajan Manoj Jogia
Ssaajan Manoj Jogia is a 26 year old motorcycle traveller, wildlife photographer and nature lover from Bangalore, India . Passionate about environment conservation and eco- friendly ways of travel, he believes in exploring earth with love, hunger for knowledge and looks forward to sharing his thoughts and experiences with people through his writing skills, only to push them to travel more and add value to life. More of Ssaajan's writings can be found on his blog, www.getridingyoubum.in.