Cliff Riders expedition had been on
the drawing board for a long time. Finally, one evening in Sep 2008,
the team left for the high reaches of the Ladakh mountains to make the
attempt. Team OutThere dared to dream the impossible and they were
prepared to fail in their attempt. Mother Nature ensured that the
attempt did not even start due to the unprecedented snowfall in the
region - more than what had been experienced in more than a decade.
Read the daily update ehere as fed by
the leader of the expedition -
Chandan Lahiri - and relive the trials, tribulations and frustrations
the team went through on this incredible trip..
Sep 15, 2008: New Delhi
The time is finally here. About 24 hours to go before we
leave for Leh for the attempt at a Guinness World Record. There will be
five of us travelling from Delhi - Shams and Rehan who are the camera
team, Ashok the person who customised the attempt vehicles and without
him this expedition is a non-starter, Anurag, a friend. And of course
me. Burgess and Sarosh have leave to think about and will fly in to Leh
on Friday. On the way up we hope to capture some great footage for a
couple of television documentaries. Ladakh is a pilgrimage for me and I
really look forward to visiting this awesome country at least once
We have a great team. Among the three Challengers, I
believe that I am the weakest of the lot. Sarosh was voted the best
rider during our last world record attempt and I still believe that he
is the best of the lot. Burgess comes a close second. And I am sure
between the two of them, they will be of immense support to me when I
am struggling to go up the mountain.
Shams and Rehan are old hands on the mountains and
should be ok. I am a little concerned about Ashok. A little sensitive
and not one who is always in the pink of health, he is worried about
the perils of high altitude. He is depending on me to ensure that he
does not fall sick. With that state of mind, it is more difficult to
manage a person. Let us see how things pan out. He is a very important
member. Anurag is an unknown entity, though I believe he will turn out
We are still short of the budget. One client who had
committed, backed out at the last moment leaving us no time at all to
make up the balance. In any case, more than half the funds have been
met by Burgess, and a little bit by Sarosh. All I have managed to
contribute is the favours I have called of my few friends who have
graciously agreed to pitch in. No one is charging professional fees to
be a part of the trip. Another favour I have to call is on my friend
Stany Wangchuk in Leh. We will not only tent on his grounds free of
charge, but will also try and steal one of his trusted lieutenants to
be accompany us on the final attempt. We are compromising wherever we
can - sleeping in tents, no fancy food, bare essentials in terms of
equipment and gear. We have passion in gallons and an ardent desire to
ensure that we come back successful.
We leave Delhi tomorrow midnight or thereabouts. I have
to meet with some people in Chandigarh and then again in Shimla before
hitting Kullu for the night. I expect some very good driving between
Shimla and Kullu, a repeat of my first ride into Leh in 2003. Gorgeous
country and we should have a great episode on the Himalayan
Road Trips series.
I'll see you when I see you.
Tuesday, Sep 16, 2008: New
The whole day was spent in completing last minute
chores. The bikes are finally ready to take on anything the mountain
throw at us. Manu and Ashok have truly done a remarkable job. There was
a problem with the dungarees. Anil from Zanskar had to make his guys
work overtime to ensure that the stuff was ready. The truck should be
at Sports Motto at around eight in the evening for loading. Shams is
picking up the tapes and the camera. I picked up one camera from Arjun
and another from Amit Prakash. The whole day was very busy. I must have
travelled more than 100km from place to place picking up stuff and
completing various formalities.
Wednesday, Sep 17, 2008:
New Delhi to Shimla to Kullu
Shams and Rehan met up with me at the Sports Motto
workshop at around midnight. I was driving around in the Gypsy all day
and my car was parked at the workshop. Shams picked up my car and we
landed up at my house a little after midnight. The truck had left and
was to meet us in Kullu. We would start from Delhi and travel to Kullu
via Shimla where I had to meet some Army people to set up the permits
for the expedition.
Anurag was to have joined us but was finding it
difficult to find leave. He decided to fly in to Leh along with Burgess
and Sarosh who would also fly in on Friday morning.
We started loading the Gypsy at my residence and found
to our horror that we were obscenely overloaded. Half the stuff was
lying in my house while the rest of the gear and equipment was taken to
Sports Motto to be loaded on to the truck. Some stuff that was to have
been loaded in the truck got left behind and we were horribly
overloaded. It was lucky that Anurag was to fly in since there was no
place for the four of us who would be driving in the Gypsy.
Mother undertook her ritual tilak ceremony for Shams,
Rehan and me and a little before one at night we were off on The Cliff
Riders expedition. Ashok would join us near Piragarhi Chowk. When we
finally met up with Ashok and had a cup of tea, it was past four in the
morning. We were finally on our way out of Delhi, after almost two
years of hard work and frustrations. The road out from Delhi was nice
and not too crowded, most of the truckers had parked for the night and
we had a pretty smooth drive all the way. We crossed Panipat, Karnal,
Kurukshetra, Ambala, and bypassed Chandigarh to hit the road to Shimla.
The hills were waiting there to welcome us. We stopped near Parwanoo
and picked up some Mutton Pickle and drove right on. We soon hit the
town of Dagshai and I found the crest of 1/3 Gorkha Rifles. I can never
miss the opportunity to barge in to any Gorkha Battalion, more so when
it happens to be my father's regiment. And the CO was known to me since
I had already met up with him in Bagdogra where he was serving with 3/3
GR. The drive up to the Battalion Headquarters was nice, though we
tended to get lost since no one could point us in the direction to
where the CO's office was. Finally, there it was. I and Shams went in
and said hello to Col Nautiyal. After a very brief visit, we said good
bye and hit the road again and stopped at Dharampur for lunch.
I then decided to call up the person I was supposed to
meet in Shimla to let him know that we were on our way. After some
difficulty, I got through and he mentioned that the permits were
organised and it was waiting for us in Leh. I did not need to go to
SHimla after all. So we decided to bypass Shimla and hit the road to
Kullu. And we got thoroughly lost. Every direction we went, front and
back, always pointed to Shimla. After a good couple of hours, we
finally hit the right road and got on to the road at Ghaghas which met
the highway to Kullu. By this time it was dark and we could not enjoy
the beauty that I knew was passing us by. We hit Kullu well after
midnight. The truck was waiting and we booked ourselves into a nearby
hotel and promptly snored our way into dreamland.
Thursday, Sep 18, 2008:
Kullu to Manali to Marrhi
We had a fairly relaxed morning in Kullu. The rooms were
nice and comfortable, though the loo was the dregs, there just wasn't
enough place to sit and have a decent crap! We had breakfast and
shifted all the extra stuff from the Gypsy to the truck, including all
our personal luggage. The ruck was dispatched and told to meet us in
Keylong. Suddenly there was loads of space in the vehicle. We left
Kullu, crossed the Beas and stooped for tea at Naggar. The next couple
of hours were spent exploring the Naggar Castle and the Roehrich Art
Gallery. The drive was spectacular as it always is, but it had started
to rain, so we could not get decent video footage.
We reached Manali and after a brief visit to the Hadimba
Temple, we parked in front of a hotel to tank up and grab lunch. We
still had to pick up medicines and batteries, which we did. When it was
time to leave, the Gypsy just would not start. The current would not
reach the right places. And it was still raining. Some local drivers
tried to fix the fault in vain. Ashok was dispatched in an auto
rickshaw to find a mechanic. He came back and it was found that there
was a switch next to the driver's right knee which had got flipped
resulting in the power getting cut off and the engine refusing to
start. It was really embarrassing and a lesson that one needs to know
about the vehicle before embarking on a journey of this nature. Also,
probably Burgess should have told me about the 'chor' switch, which he
Anyway, we left Manali quite late in the afternoon and
by the time we reached Marrhi the rain was really coming down. We
stopped for dinner and decided not to risk crossing Rohtang at night.
Also, people said that it was snowing up in Rohtang and we did not want
to miss out on the filming opportunity. We parked in a six feet by six
feet room at a dhaba in Marrhi. The room was quite cozy and we slept
quite well that night, the pitter patter of the falling rain on the tin
roof lulling us to sleep.
Friday, Sep 19, 2008:
Marrhi to Keylong
The day dawned and the rain had just about abated,
though it was still drizzling. After breakfast, we loaded up and headed
vertically upwards towards Rohtang, which at 13,050 feet was once
India's highest motorable road. By the time we reached Rohtang, the
rain had worsened and the wind was blowing. I took out my wind meter
and counted the wind speed at almost 20kmph. Suddenly the weather
worsened and it began to snow. This is what we had wanted the previous
night when we decided to stop at Marrhi. The snow from the previous
night covered the surrounding mountains and there was fresh snowfall
all around us. We got some good footage, though it was really cold. My
meter showed 3 degrees and dropping. And all our luggage, including
heavy woollens had been loaded on to the truck. We were very very cold.
A small fire was burning in a dhaba and we sat at warmed out cold and
soaked hands. A couple of cups of tea later, we decided to head down.
The road down from Rohtang to Koksar is not in the best
of conditions due to the constant snow and the going was tough. A
couple of water crossing and broken bridges later, we reached Koksar.
The snow kept us company and by the time we reached Koksar, it had
become very heavy indeed. I had expected it to abate once we crossed
Rohtang, but it just got worse. We stopped at a dhaba and had some
thukpa and momo, waiting for the snow and rain to stop, but it just got
worse. And it was getting dark.
We decided to push on for Keylong. A little after
Gondhla, suddenly the Gypsy decided enough was enough. Once again,
there was no power reaching the engine, which refused to sputter to
life. Ashok and Rehan got off in the rain and ducked under the bonnet
to figure out what was wrong. The 'chor' switch from yesterday was
checked and disconnected. Despite that nothing happened. It was getting
dark, it was cold and the rain was relentless. Our clothes were not
meant for a night in the snow. A passing taxi was stopped and I sent
Ashok and Rehan on to Keylong to get some help in the form of a
mechanic who could possibly diagnose what was wrong. Me and Shams
settled inside the Gypsy hoping for relief to arrive. I doubted if
anyone would come in the kind of worsening weather we were in.
Moreover, life comes to s standstill quite early in the mountains and
finding a mechanic would be difficult. Nevertheless, we waited in hope.
About an hour later, Shams suggested that I give the
Gypsy another try. It was dark by now. I looked at him and decided to
give it a shot. I turned the ignition and as expected, nothing
happened. But I noticed a small light come on next to Shams' knee,
under the glove compartment. I thought that the inverter was on and
asked Shams to switch it off lest it drain the battery and bring on
addition trouble. Shams confirmed that the inverter was off and on
investigating found that the light was coming from some other source.
This source turned out to be another 'chor' switch. Shams flicked the
switch and I turned the ignition and the Gypsy came back to life. What
a relief. And we ended up feeling like a couple of dodos.
We drove the next ten odd kilometers to Keylong and
found our team had met up with the truck and were having dinner. The
plan was to pack some food for us and park where the vehicle had gone
kaput. Thank heavens we caught up with them before they left Keylong,
or else they would have been looking for us in the rain and snow while
we would have been back in Keylong.
We booked a couple of rooms at the Nalwa Guest House, a
place I always stay in at Keylong and went off to sleep hoping to reach
Sarchu tomorrow. We slept very comfortably in between some very warm
quilts after having imbibed a fair bit in the company of the Old Monk.
Tomorrow will see us hit high altitude.
Saturday, Sep 20, 2008:
We woke up to an absolutely spectacular sight. It had
snowed relentlessly through the night and there was more than eighteen
inches of snow on the road in front of the hotel. The truck as well as
the Gypsy were covered in snow, as were all the other vehicles parked
on the road. The surrounding hills were pristine white with freshly
fallen snow. Rohtang to the south was covered in thick white cloud. The
snow had stopped at Keylong but from everyone told us, it was still
snowing in Rohtang which, according to some people was already under
about three feet of snow. The road to Rohtang had been closed to
traffic and from some reports, there were some people stuck at the top.
We had found a few vehicles carrying tourists at Rohtang when we
crossed last night. The dhaba owners would certainly still be there.
This would be the second time in a couple of weeks that Rohtang would
be snowed in. We sure were lucky that we had crossed over.
We had breakfast and were preparing to leave on our
journey to Leh when we were told that there were reports that Baralacha
La too was snowed in and there were reports of avalanches. We were
advised to wait for at least a day for confirmed reports to come in.
Reluctantly we agreed and unpacked our stuff once again and settled in
for the day.
The weather in the forenoon had become crisp and bright.
The snow on the road, on the roof tops, clinging to the branches of the
trees, carpeting the fields, provided some breathtaking scenery and
Shams and Rehan were busy all day capturing some glorious footage.
In the evening, a storm broke out and it started snowing
again. The wind brought down the electric wires and the transformer that supplies electricity to Keylong blew up. There was no
electricity in town and we did not know the condition of the road
ahead. We were being strongly advised to stay put in Keylong due to
some adverse reports that were coming in from both ahead of us as well
as from behind us.
When the sun went behind the clouds and then settled for
the night, it became frightfully cold. We snuggled back into our rooms,
in the comfort of our quilts with the hope that tomorrow will bring
some good news about good clear roads up ahead.
Today is also a very special day for me. The Cliff
Riders expedition is dedicated to the memory of my father. And I was
trying to manage the effort to coincide with my father's birthday,
which is today. Happy birthday, dad.
Sunday, Sep 21, 2008:
News that is coming trickling in is not at all
encouraging. Rohtang is snowed in and Baralacha La is snowed in. News
is that there are hundreds of vehicles stranded at Baralacha La and
Sarchu. Baralacha La has had more than six feet of snow and multiple
avalanches and landslides. And I am sure there are men, women and
children stranded without food, water or warm clothes. People would
have been prepared for a journey to the comfort of the next town, not
to be stranded at sub zero temperatures, at very high altitude. I know
the road where these vehicles and people are stranded. It is a tough
drive in the best of times. Narrow stretches covered with loose rock
and boulders. There is a particular stretch where the melting snow
forms into a gushing river and runs along the road, making navigation
extremely tricky and dangerous. And it is here that there have been
landslides and avalanches with people stuck without any information
about the future.
The other big news of people stuck is the fact that His
Holiness The Karmapa is also stranded at Sarchu ... or is it at
Baralacha La? News that is reaching us is sketchy. But he was on his
way to Jispa and Keylong to preach and got stuck with the rest of the
people. The administration tried desperately to evacuate him and
finally managed to fly him out to Leh today. The inclement weather is
not helping the men on the road or the Air Force pilots to take off for
But I am a little disappointed. Had I been The Karmapa,
I would have insisted that I remain with the rest of those who are
stranded. But then, I am not The Karmapa.
In the afternoon news started coming in of casualties.
There are reports of about six people having died at Sarchu. At Koksar,
a shepherd has been swept away in an avalanche along with about a
thousand sheep and eight horses. As far as we are concerned, we are
stuck and stranded right and proper in Keylong. No electricity for the
past few days, the water pipe has burst due to a landslide and the
hotel has run out of bread, eggs and vegetables. We will survive on
various dishes of potato and the ready to eat Veetee food packets we
are carrying for the expedition.
But the very thought of the people stuck at high
altitude without proper clothing and no food or water is devastating.
High altitude is not place to be stranded in and I can only imagine the
plight of these people. The Border Roads is working over time to get
the roads opened, the Air Force is flying sorties to try and reach food
and clothing to those stranded, the local district administration is
spending sleepless nights. I pray that the people, particularly women
and children remain healthy and safe.
Monday, Sep 22, 2008:
Keylong to Udaipur
The first question we ask everyone just after we wake up
is if there is any news from Baralacha La. The news that is coming in
is getting more and more desperate. About 600-700 people are stuck in
Sarchu and another indeterminate number at Baralacha La. Sarchu at
least has some Army presence and some makeshift tented accommodation.
People are crowded 50-60 in each tent. Life for those stuck at
Baralacha La is even more desperate. There has been absolutely no
movement of traffic or people out of Baralacha La. The weather is
turning bad every once in a while making rescue efforts difficult. We
have managed to meet up with some influential locals including press
reporters and are getting what little information that is trickling in
from the area. A rescue team has also started off on foot to assist the
air efforts. I only hope that the stranded people can hang on for long
enough to be rescued. There hasn't been this kind of snow in the last
decade and more. I was speaking to Burgess and Sarosh who are stuck in
Leh and they mentioned that everything around Leh is blanketed in snow
and the locals there do not remember when such a thing happened in the
In our hotel are a few Tibetans who had come from all
over to pay their respects to The Karmapa. We started chatting with
them and they told us the story of the Ghanta Pahar (name coined by us)
that is just across the valley from where we are located. There is the
Kardang monastery where people stay for the night before starting the
kora of the mountain. This is one of the most revered koras one can
perform. His Holiness The Dalai Lama has also completed a kora of the
mountain about ten years ago.
The other story the Tibetans told us is about the gompa
cum temple at Triloknath Village with its twin at Udaipur. The idol is
supposed to have flown in to its current location thousands of years
ago. A Tibetan Lama and a Hindu priest take turns at worshiping the
idol that is revered by both communities. We had nothing better to do
and decided to visit the Triloknath Temple as well as its twin temple
Udaipur. A little before noon, we loaded up and were off.
I enjoy any drive virtually anywhere in the mountains,
and the drive to Triloknath Village was no exception. Except that the
weather had turned for the worse and it had started to rain again. We
had taken off the canvas top of the Gypsy and were exposed to the
elements. Moreover, our camera equipment was starting to get wet. A
strong wind started blowing and I measured the wind speed at 37.2 kmph,
which is really strong. My hat got blown away down the hillside and
Ashok volunteered to go down and get it, which he did. He froke when
the wind started to blow though, as he was scared that it might blow
him right off the hillside.
The temple/gompa is a small little structure built on
top of a hill and very peaceful. Having paid our respects, we stopped
for a cup of tea to get some warmth back. The rain had stopped for just
a bit when we started off for Udaipur, 16 km away.
It was getting dark due to the rain and the thick clouds
by the time we got Udaipur and the Mrikula Mata Temple. The priest was
away for a cup of tea and the temple was locked. We met up with the
priest just as we were about to leave and got a chance to enter the
temple. This temple is believed to be more than 6,000 years old, older
than civilisation itself and predates the Mahabharata. Beautiful wood
carvings adorn the walls of this dimly lit temple. Worth a visit
We had missed lunch and decided to stop at a dhaba near
the temple for a bite. The heavens opened up and it started to pour. We
waited and we waited for the rain to stop, but in typical laid back
mountain style, it just kept coming down in buckets. Finally, it
stopped just enough for us to venture into our Gypsy to head back to
Keylong, We had driven about ten odd kilometers down the road and were
following a local taxi which suddenly stopped and reversed. We waited,
giving him room, when he stopped by my side and yelled out that a flood
was happening just in front and that we should get the hell out of
there. Not wanting any confirmation from a second source, we high
tailed out of there back to Udaipur. The Kala Nallah is notorious for
its flash floods and brings down with it major landslides. If the taxi
was not in front of us to warn us, we would probably have headed
straight into disaster. Lucky break.
We were back in Udaipur and booked ourselves a couple of
rooms and parked for the night. None of us were really hungry and we
ordered a plate full of chicken dumplings, watched some TV (voila there
was not only electricity but TV as well here) and drifted off to sleep.
Incidentally, all our clothes were soaking wet from the rain they had
been exposed to through the day and we slept in the nude, all four of
Tuesday, Sep 23, 2008:
Udaipur to Keylong
Our friend, the owner of Nalwa Guest House at Keylong
was obviously getting worried. He had no idea where we were and early
morning I received a call from him inquiring about our well being.
Anyway, we left Udaipur and headed towards Keylong fairly early at
around eight. Half an hour later and we were back at Kala Nallah and we
had to again park on the side of the road. The devastation wrecked by
the flood and landslide of yesterday was visible to all. A JCB was busy
clearing the road while lots of buses, cars and taxis waited patiently.
More than two hours later the road finally cleared and we headed back
to Keylong. The rest of the day was spent lazing around town.
Wednesday, Sep 24, 2008:
Life is static for us at Keylong. The road is getting
cleared slowly yet surely. The avalanches and the narrow roads are not
helping the administration any. We got to experience the evacuation of
some people from Sarchu today. Very close to where we are is the
helipad of Stingri. We parked ourselves there and were right there when
one sortie of the IAF MI17 helicopter landed with evacuees. Among them
were men, women, children and even one little infant. The chopper had
taken off from Bhuntar near Kullu and went over the whole area dropping
food and clothing to those stranded. At an area near Chandratal there
was news of some trekkers having been stranded along with the porters.
The chopper located a tent but no people. They dropped a packet of food
and a blanket and then flew to Sarchu the area where hundreds are
stranded. After having dropped off provisions, the chopper picked up
about a dozen people and brought them to safety to Keylong. It was a
really heart rendering sight to see the plight of the people and the
relief on their faces at being brought back to safety.
I understand that the road from Baralacha La to Sarchu
is open. The problem is about a 15km stretch between Vishal Tal and
Zing Zing Bar. The roads are narrow and very difficult for the JCBs to
traverse, particularly given that there are vehicles stuck on that very
same stretch. Truly, hats off to all those people who are work
relentlessly and without care for personal safety, to ensure that the
roads open as soon as possible.
Electricity is back in Keylong, as is water. And with
that four channels on the television. Ever since we came back from the
evacuation site, we have been trying to get in touch with various
channels to take the news of the situation at Baralacha La to the rest
of India. There is only one phone working and it is difficult for
people to get through. Thanks to the situation the budget for the
expedition has gone for a six, but my phone bill is sky rocketing.
Nevertheless, all for a good cause. This news has to go out to the rest
of the country. The trouble and hardship borne by the people of this
region is almost entirely unknown to most Indians and this news has to
go out. Even one life lost due to the vagaries of nature, is national
news and it is unfortunate that no channel is covering this
catastrophe, apart from a ticker running at the bottom of the screen of
a few who think this deserve just that.
Thursday, Sep 25, 2008:
A bright and sunny day greeted us in the morning. And
along with it came some good news. The road through Baralacha La to Leh
had finally been cleared and vehicles were coming down. We met some
people who had been stranded for the past week. What a relief. But
along with this news also was the fact that there were still some
overturned trucks which are lying on the road making life impossible
any vehicle larger than an SUV. This will take another three or four
days to clear. Moreover, the attempt area around Tso Moriri is heavily
snow bound and an attempt at the record would be almost impossible due
to the snow and the extreme cold.
I had to take a very difficult decision. The Cliff
Riders Expedition was on ABORT. There is no point in being foolish and
headstrong. Safety is of prime importance and there is just no point in
being bull headed. The mountain is not going anywhere and neither are
we. The passion will have to wait for a few more months when the
conditions become better. Probably July or August of 2009 will see The
Cliff Riders Expedition Version 2.0. The decision was made to abort the
expedition and send the truck with the motorcycles back to Delhi. We
would head on to Leh and make an attempt at The Dirty Dozen Expedition
on the Gypsy. Burgess and Sarosh have been stuck in Leh as we have been
in Keylong and we would take a shot at a new World Record - a Limca one
if not a Guinness.
The gear and equipment was sorted and what was not
necessary for our onward journey to Leh was shifted on to the truck.
Basic clothing, enough for the next few days, the camera equipment and
some precious Veetee ready to eat food was loaded on the Gypsy.
While we were doing this and the finality of the aborted
attempt was sinking in, we unloaded the bikes from the truck and went
out for a ride. Ashok, Rehan and me got on to the three bikes and Shams
managed to take what I understand were some great shots. At least the
bikes had been kick started and the surrounding hills heard the sound
of the monster machines. And, the footage captured would hold us in
good stead when we will scout for sponsors for our V2.0 attempt next
year. Seeing is believing and I hope that the prospective supporters
understand and share in our passion.
When the bikes were loaded back on to the truck, I could
barely hold back my tears. But such is life. There is no point in being
foolish. We will certainly be back at a shot at the Guinness World
Record of the highest altitude reached by a motorcycle.
We and the truck part ways tomorrow morning - we towards
Leh and the truck back towards Delhi. The plan is to leave very early
in the morning - about 4am - and hit Leh by nightfall.
I guess I will see you guys in Leh.
Friday, Sep 26, 2008:
Keylong to Sarchu
After a relatively early night in Keylong, we still
managed to wake up late. When Nalwa-saab knocked on our door it was
well past our scheduled time of leaving Keylong. Anyway, we all woke up
and started to load up. By the time we managed to start the vehicle and
leave the wonderful town of Leh, it was nearly seven, three hours
behind schedule. Nevertheless. It only meant that we would be arriving
in Leh a few hours behind schedule. We did not have any train to catch,
the expedition was cancelled in any case.
A couple of kilometers out of Keylong, a little beyond
Stingri, yet another stoppage. A truck had broken down as it was trying
to negotiate a particularly bad landslide. Its steering rod had broken,
Another truck was standing precariously close to the cliff side trying
to pull the stuck one out of the muck to allow other vehicles to pass
through. A few minutes went by. The few minutes turned into quite a few
minutes. We were waiting with nothing to do but wait. The petrol
station at Tandi, 15km should have opened by now and we decided to ride
all the way back and fill up the tank. So we reversed the vehicle and
drove all the way to Tandi to find that the supply trucks with fresh
petrol had not yet arrived and there was not petrol to spare. Shit
luck. We were short of petrol in any case and there was no way we would
be able to make it all the way to Leh. And there were no more petrol
stations on the way. If we were lucky we would find some dhaba owner
stocking some petrol and selling it to unfortunate people like us at
obscenely exorbitant prices.
Hoping for the best, we drove back to Keylong and had
some much needed tea. More than a couple of hours had passed by since
we turned back from the landslide location and arrived back again. The
truck was still stuck. And so were lots of other vehicles. One thing
that is illuminating while on a ride in the Himalayas is the patience
of the people. Everyone waited patiently as if there was no other hurry
at all in the world. Patience is a virtue without which life in the
hills would be extremely tough indeed.
A few minutes later finally the truck was repaired and
the road opened again. The verge in the center of the landslide was
almost two feet high with mud and by the time our time came to
negotiate it, it still looked ominous despite the couple of other
trucks before us having flattened it to some extent. The 4x4 was
engaged and with a prayer on my lips and the sheer drop to my right,
we managed to get through. This was after ten in the morning and we
were already six hours behind schedule. And who knew what the situation
on the road would be like. Reaching Leh by nightfall looked extremely
doubtful. Nevertheless, the journey was important and we would be
passing through some breathtaking country.
First was Jispa, a quiet little town. I have always
liked the look of Jispa and I remembered me falling into a ditch during
my first visit to Leh in 2003 with my motorcycle dangling right over me
just waiting for the opportunity to crush me to death. That was a scary
experience. Next came Darcha and we stopped for some breakfast. Or was
it lunch? Both combined into one is what it turned out to be. We
stopped at the dhaba I always stopped at, but the family I knew were
not to be found. A lazy breakfast and some footage capturing later, we
were on. Patseo came and went and then we were a little short of
Zingzing Bar. We had stopped for some footage and as we waited there to
rest, the recreation started. The four of us were frolicking in the
snow without a care in the world. It was a wonderful few minutes we
spent at this spot.
The stretch between Zingzing Bar and Sarchu is what had
caused so much trouble over the past few days. We were here right now
and could only imagine the troubles that people went through. Baralacha
La was next and the drive was absolutely spectacular. Snow all around,
the road covered with ice, the mountains covered with a thick blanket
of snow. We stopped at Baralacha La top and took some pictures. Though
it was not windy, it was cold, the temperature was below four degrees
and the sun was burning our faces. It is a weird feeling to be hot and
cold at the same time. That is what happens in the high hills. With
in the shade and the upper body in the sun, it possible to get
heatstroke and frostbite at the same time. One has to be very careful.
We left Baralacha La a few minutes later and soon hit the very spot
where the avalanches had hit. We found a few trucks (and truckers)
still stranded there. We spoke to a few of them and could only imagine
there plight. No food, no water, no warm clothes to survive freezing
temperatures ... and yet they did. The tanker which had been swept down
the cliff in the avalanche was visible below. There were supposed to be
evacuation of some bodies taking place ahead, but we failed to find the
spot. It was an extremely humbling experience and reminded us not to
take Mother Nature for granted. It was good decision by us to remain in
Keylong and to have cancelled The Cliff Riders expedition. The mountain
was not going anywhere and will still be here next season. And The
CLiff Riders will be back.
As we descended to Bharatpur from Baralacha La, the sun
had hidden itself behind the pass and the temperature had dropped to an
incredible MINUS SIX DEGREES ... in the middle of the afternoon. It was
very very cold and we felt it all the more since we were driving in an
open Gypsy and the wind hit us with full force. The hot cups of tea at
Bharatpur were very welcome indeed.
Leaving Baralacha La we drove towards Sarchu. The roads
were bad as usual and by the time we negotiated yet another avalanche
site and the Sarchu Plains it was getting late and we deiced to stay on
in Sarchu. Sarchu is a very cold town and many people suffer from
altitude sickness here. I stopped at the Army TCP (Transport Check
Post) to see if they were expecting me. I had sent a message to the
Corps Headquarters in Leh to send messages to the TCPs at Sarchu and
Pang so that they knew my whereabouts - I was not taking chances on a
road which had seen so many casualties due to the vagaries of weather
for the past week and more. Maybe the communication lines were down,
but they were not expecting me. However, they graciously agreed to
accommodate the four of us and a very friendly Commanding Officer of
the Detachment at Sarchu provided us a room with a kerosene heater and
warm food. The Army is truly a great organisation and I sincerely
believe that every citizen of India, particularly politicians and
bureaucrats should do a tour of duty to understand the hardships the
men in uniform go through to keep us sleeping peacefully in the
comforts of our homes.
Snuggling into the sleeping bags provided by the Army,
we dozed off to sleep, yet another day late on our journey to Leh.
Saturday, Sep 27, 2008:
Sarchu to Leh
The balance fuel that we were carrying was put in the
tank. We had to find fuel pretty soon. There was just enough to reach
the middle of the Morey Plains and we would be stranded. Fortunately
we found petrol at Sarchu town ... 50% more expensive than even in
Tandi. But beggars cannot be choosers and we took the 20 liters and
were on our way and soon entered the famous Gata loops or the 21 More
as some locals call it. An ascent of about 4000 feet in a matter of a
few kilometers with some absolutely gorgeous views all around. We
climbed up a few turns and then decided to go right back to allow
shooting of the vehicle as it came up negotiating the turns. We did
that, loaded back up and moved on. We had just about climbed the final
loop, when as I engaged the 4x4 to negotiate a steep hairpin, the gear
locked. It just would not move. And the vehicle, without the 4x4 was
not going anywhere. Ashok got under the vehicle to try and figure out
how to get it moving again, but in vain. We were well and truly
stranded at more than 15,000 feet. I decided that we would requisition
a passing vehicle and go to Leh leaving the vehicle here and come back
the next morning with a mechanic. Fortuitously, as we had decided this
a couple of empty vehicles passed by. We requisitioned both of them.
One of them would carry the three of us while the other would tow the
Gypsy to Leh with me at the wheel. They charged us exorbitantly, but
it was worth it. 16,000 feet is no place to be stranded. We strapped
the Gypsy to the first vehicle; the second would follow.
It was a very tough ride. I had never imagined that
being at the wheel while being towed would be so difficult. The vehicle
towing was just a few feet ahead of me, there were hairpin bends to
negotiate, and the dust that was being thrown up meant that I could
barely see my own bonnet at times. Very often I had to guess which
direction I would have to turn. There were large rocks on the road and
I was bumping up and down like a jack in the box. And this was no walk
in the park. After being towed we crossed Nakeela, Lachalung La and
Kangla Jal, all of them way above 15,000 feet. And then there was the
Morey Plains. The road which had existed was being repaired and we had
to negotiate the 50 odd kilometers in complete dirt. It was very tough
indeed. And then came the ascent to Tanglang La, the world's second
highest motorable road, The sun was about to set when we crossed
Tanglang La. The road beyond was broken last year, but had been
repaired wonderfully repaired this time around. But Lady Luck was still
with us. We cam to a standstill due to a truck ahead which had flats on
both its rear tyres. Loaded with steel rods, it was so overloaded that
the jacks being used to raise the truck resulted in the jacks spearing
into the road itself. People had been sent to a town up ahead to bring
back some more jacks and al we could do was wait.
By this time we realised that the leaf springs of our
Gypsy had disintegrated and disappeared. The vehicle was riding on just
the shock absorbers. Fortunately, the shockers were very good and had
managed to hold up the vehicle for so long, and hopefully would
continue to do so till Leh.
Two more hours passed by and it had gone completely
dark. We started on our way again and reached Upshi, just 50km short of
Leh. Finally civilisation. It was decided to park the Gypsy at Upshi
and come back for it the next day. By the time we reached Mantra
Cottage at Leh to meet up with Burgess and Sarosh it was almost
midnight. It was great meeting up with them finally after having been
stranded for almost ten days. Stories were exchanged and they seemed to
be a little upset at having missed out on the adventures that we had
had while they were waiting whiling their time in Leh.
But the real disappointment still awaited them. They did
not know that The Cliff Riders was on abort and that the trucks with
the motorcycles was back in Delhi. The news came as a shock, as
frustration, as disappointment. Sarosh was diplomatic enough to accept
that the decision taken was right, but the sadness was in everyone's
eyes. It took some time for the reality to sink in, and we were all
helped along in the company of the Old Monk. I understand that Sarosh
had not drunk for all these days and was waiting for me to arrive. It
is great to have friends like these.
Many drinks and many stories later we dozed off to sleep.
Sunday, Sep 28, 2008: Leh
Sarosh, Burgess, Ashok and me got on to the truck that
Stany had requisitioned and were off to Upshi to get the Gypsy back. We
reached it and I think I saw tears in Burgess' eyes when he saw the
condition his favourite vehicle was in. Last night he had heard enough
of how everything was falling apart in his vehicle and how it had
completely given up on us yesterday. And the dirt and grime coating it
was not a sight for a faint heart.
Now that we were at a fairly manageable altitude, the
regular gears did engage and we decided to try and drive it back to Leh
with the truck following in case of any difficulty. Due to the broken
leaf springs, the vehicle would not take a right turn very easily and
we gingerly drove back, me and Burgess in the Gypsy with Sarosh and
Ashok following in the truck. It was Sunday and the workshop was shut.
We drove back to Mantra Cottage and whiled away the rest of the day. It
was decided that Shams would fly back to Delhi tomorrow morning while
Burgess and Sarosh would fly back the next day after getting the Gypsy
repaired. Rehan, Ashok and me would drive back to Delhi the day after
tomorrow morning via Srinagar.
We spent a very relaxed day in the Cottage watching the
footage that had been shot over the past many days, we to relive the
experiences and for Burgess and Sarosh to see what they had missed.
I was extremely tired as the evening rolled on. Burgess
and Sarosh joined the rest of the gang staying at Mantra to play some
poker while Shams, Rehan, Ashok and me had our dinner and went off to
Monday, Sep 29, 2008: Leh
and on to Delhi
Shams left first thing in the morning. I was way over
budget and had run out of cash. I requested Shams to buy his own ticket
which I would reimburse after coming back to Delhi. Something snapped
inside me as the day went along. The disappointment at the expedition
being cancelled was sinking in, the budget had gone out of the window,
cash was non existent and my mind started playing games. While getting
the Gypsy repaired, I was venting my frustration on poor Sarosh who
heard me out like the kind soul that he is. I also decided not to wait
for tomorrow, but to drive back to Delhi tonight itself.
Stany took us around town, and to his new house in
Choglamsar that was under construction. What a house! and what a view.
Overlooking the Stok Valley, one has a 180 degree view of the mountains
from the bedroom window. Incredibly beautiful location, right alongside
the Indus. We visited the trout farm near Shey and then spent a
leisurely hour or so sitting on the banks of the Indus at the site of
the Sindhu Darshan. And then we were back at the resort for lunch. The
vehicle was to be ready by about five in the evening and I decided to
catch up on some sleep to prepare for the ride ahead through the night.
The plan was to ride straight on to Delhi, a drive of nearly 1,500
The Gypsy took longer than expected. By the time we were
loaded up and ready to leave it was 10:30 at night. No issues, the
roads were good and not much traffic would be there at this time of the
night. Since it was expected to be cold, we wore our dungarees and left
for our return journey to Delhi. The drive was really good, the roads
were lovely and soon we found ourselves near the Lamayuru monastery. I
thought there was bypass to the monastery on the way to Kargil,
obviously I had taken a wrong turn somewhere. Anyway, I took a road
which was under repaired and I hoped would lead us to Kargil. There was
no one to ask for directions at this time of the night and since the
road was under repair, no milestones either. About an hour later, we
reached Mulbek and I realised we were on the right track. Mulbek was
our first stop since leaving Leh and I pointed out the 2nd century rock
carving of the Buddha to my disinterested co-passengers.
Tuesday, Sep 30, 2008: En
route to Delhi
We reached Kargil a little before five in the morning
and after looking for a tea stall in vain for a few minutes, waited at
the petrol station for it to open and fill up our tank. It opened at
around six and we tanked up and headed towards Dras. I would have liked
to revisit the War Memorial at Dras, but Ashok and more than him, Rehan
wanted to drive straight through. We drove for the next few minutes in
the shadow of Tololing, Tiger Hill, Batra Peak and all the other
theatres made famous during the Kargil War of 1999. We reached Dras and
had some light breakfast and decided to have a more filling one at
Sonamarg. But due to the month of Ramazan being on, the eateries were
shut and we found nothing all the way till we reached Srinagar. Me and
Rehan gorged on Rishta while Ashok had Matar Mushroom and we were off
again towards Jammu.
We were now in the plains and the shift in weather was
hitting us. We were playing in very cold weather for the last few days
and now we were in hot and humid conditions. Jammu was more than 400
kilometers away and would take us the better part of the day reaching
it, I was already at the wheel for more than twelve hours and was
starting to get tired. But Rehan could not drive and Ashok did not want
to. Traffic on the road from Srinagar to Jammu was full of traffic on
both sides of the road. From the time we crossed the Jawahar tunnel at
Banihal to the time we reached the Jammu/Katra junction, and all of it
hilly, it was past midnight. I was feeling very tired and decided to
rest for a couple of hours before moving on. We parked next to a police
check post and slept for the next three hours.
Wednesday, Oct 01, 2008:
Back in Delhi
We started off again at four in the morning and by the
time we hit the plains again, it was around seven. I was still feeling
sleepy and now Ashok dared to drive for some time. He drove for the
next 200 kilometers while I caught up on my sleep. We stopped for
breakfast at a roadside dhaba a hundred kilometers short of Jallandhar.
Rehan used the opportunity to have a bath. And I started driving again.
To Jallandhar, to Ludhiana, to Ambala, Kurukshetra, Karnal when we ran
out of petrol. Fortunately we had a few liters in the spare can and
managed to reach a petrol station to tank up. We also stopped at a
dhaba for our last meal on the road on this trip.
A little before eight in the evening Ashok was dropped
off near his house, Rehan near his house and I managed to reach mine
around nine at night. The luggage was unloaded and dumped on the living
room floor and the next many minutes were spent trying to get the dirt
and grime off my face and body. My wife refused to recognise me - I was
many shades darker than when I had left home and was looking very
similar to someone who had just escaped from the jungles of Africa. No
amount of soap would wash off the burnt skin off my face, that only
Needless to say, after 46 hours of driving I was very
very tired. I was asleep and snoring even before my head hit the
pillow. The dreams I had were off the net time The Cliff Riders would
be off again next year, to take forward the aborted attempt of this
year. The expedition was postponed this time around, but we did manage
to gain enough footage to cut a documentary feature on the journey. I
hope you will get to see it soon. I will keep you posted through this
page on when you could pick up a DVD of one incredible journey.
Meanwhile you can see some pictures taken during the journey by clicking here. To be honest though, they do not even begin to describe the adventures we had.
See you soon on yet another adventure.
(If you like to comment on this
OutThere Adventurers adventure, you can send an email to Chandan by clicking