Chandan LahiriThe 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..

Monday, 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 every year.

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 fine.

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 Delhi
The whole day was spent in completing last minute chores. The bikes are finally ready to take on anything the mountain can 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 already 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 had not.

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: Keylong
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 theLt Gen MK 'Mike' Lahiri 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: Keylong
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 rescue missions.

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 past.

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 at 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 though.

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 us.

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: Keylong
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: Keylong
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 for 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 feet 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 sleep.

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 kilometers.

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 time would do.

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 here.)