Riding through Ladakh and Zanskar - Dream fulfilled or Shattered? (well...almost!!!)

Riding through Ladakh and Zanskar - Dream fulfilled or Shattered? (well...almost!!!)

Ladakh bike trip

The making of the plan

Ever came across someone who isn't enchanted by the beauty of Ladakh?
Me neither.
Ever came across someone who would pass on an opportunity to travel to this paradise?
Well, it wasn't going to be me at least.
Back in the summer of 2014, when #gettingleh'd wasn't a thing yet, my dad told me that he had been planning a bike trip to Ladakh and asked if I wanted to accompany him. It had always been my dream to see Kashmir and Ladakh. Who was I to say no to it then?
Ladakh tourism has grown exponentially since then, with Ladakh bike trip packages becoming super easy and convenient. But we decided on doing it the hard way, by doing our own trip planning, after our research about the Ladakh weather, routes, road conditions, and were finally ready with an itinerary. The mere proposal of the trip gave me butterflies in my stomach and I was counting days till we got on the bike and began our journey!


With our travel gear ready and itinerary meticulously planned (will soon share the post about Ladakh bike trip planning and cost involved), we were all set. We had already checked the weather forecast for the days we would be traveling there, and June definitely seemed to be a good time to visit. As always we were to start at 3 am in the morning so as to avoid the morning rush hour. I was in the pillion seat as I can't handle a bike myself. There are two routes you can take to Leh, one via Srinagar, and another via Manali. We had planned to take the Srinagar route as it has a more gradual ascent and would help with acclimatization, and return via the Manali route back home. Since phone signal is an issue beyond Srinagar, and only BSNL postpaid working in some areas, we had downloaded offline maps for better navigation. 
The drive from Ludhiana to Pathankot was pretty uneventful. Right after we crossed Pathankot, instead of going straight via Jammu, we took a shorter route, which would take us directly to Udhampur, suggested to us by one of my dad's friends. However, after going a few kilometers, we realized that we had made a mistake as the road was potholed and our cruising speed had reduced considerably.

Ladakh bike trip
Ready for the flag off!

We took a small little breakfast break, just a few km short of Udahmpur, near a petrol station, and freshened up a bit. By this time the sun was right above our head and we started to feel the sticky summer heat. Wishing to be driving through the cool mountain air soon, we decided on taking as little breaks on the way as possible. However, after the ascent of PatniTop, the temperature became pleasant, and the environs greener. I was enjoying the ride now.

Ladakh bike trip
Somewhere near PatniTop

The next longish stop was going to be for lunch at Pirah Mor, which is super famous for its Rajmah chawal served with Desi ghee and Anardane ki chatni. Upon reaching there, it was nothing but a cluster of dhabas, spread no more than half a km. My dad had hyped up this place so much but when I saw the place, I didn't have high hopes. We placed our order and sat there to relax until our food arrived. It had been a long ride and I had never been on such a long bike ride.
It was only a few minutes before our food was served to us and upon the first glance, I immediately regretted ordering a full serving for myself. That serving could easily feed me for two meals, especially with the good amount of desi ghee on top of it. But just one bite of it and I didn't want to stop eating, ever. I was like a drug, both literally and figuratively! This place was well worth the hype, or maybe even more.

Ladakh bike trip
Breathtaking views on the route

Recharged after our break, we continued and took a handful of short breaks. We came across a few traffic jams but were able to zigzag our way out of them as we were on a bike. We were pretty much on schedule and hoped to reach Srinagar by 6 pm. Once we entered the Kashmir valley, we were going at a leisurely pace, enjoying the beautiful vistas that had engulfed us.

Ladakh bike trip
First view of the Kashmir valley from Titanic point

The crash and its aftermath

We passed by many small villages that had shops selling saffron, dry fruits, local handicrafts. With about 30-40 km to Srinagar, I and dad were already discussing how we would be spending the rest of the evening at Dal lake. Suddenly, a car that was coming from the opposite direction takes a turn in our direction, without any indicators, just a few feet away from us. Not having enough time to stop the bike, we crashed right into the side of the car. I landed a few feet away from the bike. Luckily, there wasn't any traffic behind us. People from the nearby tea stall came to help us. Both of us were pretty shaken up and it took a few minutes for us to regain our senses. Neither of us sustained any major injuries. Just a few bruises and scratches. Phew!
Now it was time to deal with the car driver who had turned suddenly. He was nowhere to be seen. Locals had gathered around us and speaking in Kashmiri.
Our bike wasn't as lucky as we were. It seemed as though the main chassis of the bike had been bent slightly and also badly damaged were the front shockers from the impact. In the meantime, the area SHO arrived and started asking us about the accident. He inquired about the incident from us and then maybe confirmed it from the locals in Kashmiri. Then from what I could gather was that he pressurized the people to produce the car driver. A few moments later, the guy who had fled earlier, returned. H was an old man who had barely started learning to drive the car. The SHO suggested we all go to the nearby Avantipora police station, to sort out the matter. On reaching the police station my dad said that he didn't want to file any complaint if the guy was ready to pay for the damages. It took him a while to agree to that. Everyone was very helpful and since then I've always admired the Kashmiri hospitality. The SHO arranged for the bike to be transported to Kothi Bagh police station in Srinagar, which was very close to the Yamaha agency.

All's well that ends well

By this time the adrenaline had worn off and I could feel that I had hurt my back in the accident. After everything was sorted at the police station here, we hitched a ride to Srinagar. The SHO had already talked to the people at Kothi Bagh police station in Srinagar to keep the bike in safe custody and also arranged the hotel nearby, as it was peak season, and getting a hotel at this hour would not have been easy. The hotel wasn't that good but we were too tired and it was already too late to spend any more time looking for a better one. We had a simple dinner at the hotel restaurant and slept through the night like logs.

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