As a motorcyclist, I have travelled the country’s length and breadth, exploring different cities, having great food, and soaking up local cultures on two wheels. Motorcycles, in comparison to cars, allow the rider to be at one with the elements — to feel the sun or the breeze while riding. This experience of connecting with nature is exhilarating and rejuvenating. And when it comes to enjoying such experiences on two wheels, what better location than Ladakh — the Land of High Passes.
I was very excited that I could ride across 2,300 km of Ladakh’s exhilarating terrain at the KTM India ProXP Great Ladakh Adventure Tour in August 2022. Ladakh is a ‘Bikers Mecca’, and I have always been enthralled with the beauty and experiences it offers. The terrain presents challenging routes with scenic backdrops, making it a perfect destination for creating exciting content.
Adventure of a lifetime in Ladakh
As a novice, if you are travelling to Ladakh for the first time, don’t go through Manali but via Srinagar. While going through Srinagar, the altitude increases gradually, which helps your body acclimatise to the elevation and is a slow burn into the Ladakhi adventure. This also helps improve your confidence as you climb higher altitudes into the mountains.
Ladakh is such a beautiful place that it tempts you to always look up at the majestic mountains, but you need to have your wits about you. The terrain can throw surprises at you at any moment. In Ladakh, while there are a lot of tarmac roads, you will also experience landslides, broken roads and river beds along the Indus River and sandy roads in Nubra.
During the tour, we started from Leh to head towards Nubra Valley. On the way, I suddenly realised that I had come way closer to a mountain edge and near some rocks. At that moment, I followed my gut instinct and went over rocks and maintained the right direction of travel. This kind of unexpected situation makes Ladakh truly thrilling, satisfying and a good adventure overall.
Summiting the highest motorable road
The highlight of my trip was the ride to Umling La, the highest motorable road in the world, located at over 19,000 feet. There are offroad patches with sudden hairpin bends on the route. After riding for a bit, the road has six back-to-back steep inclines where the temperature starts dropping. On a trip like this, while riding from Hanle, which is at 14,000 feet, you must muster all your strength to reach the top as the inclines are sharp, and your body must withstand the rigour.
Once at the summit, I felt like I had conquered the world. But, as is the case of riding in the mountains, once you go up, you must come down and the road to descend back is more challenging than the road while going up. The speeds while going down are much higher and you must be aware of your surroundings and have complete control of your bike.
Enjoying local delicacies
As a resident of Hyderabad, the biryani capital of India, I am a big foodie. On the Ladakh trip, I had not only delicious tandoori momos, butter chicken and roti at homestead kind of restaurants but also pahadi Maggi noodles from roadside stalls. The Ladakhi are very friendly, and supportive and will help in any trouble. During the trip, I developed a sore throat, and one of the locals made butter tea for me which was warm and very soothing.
Dos and don’ts of biking in Ladakh
A biking trip to Ladakh is more challenging than it appears in YouTube videos. One must remember some crucial points while riding or planning a ride in the Himalayas.
- You must start with shorter trips to build your stamina as fitness plays a vital role. Not just trips on tarmac but practice by going on short trails to get accustomed to your bike, be it riding while standing or riding on loose surfaces.
- You can go by any bike to Ladakh but always get it fully serviced before your ride.
- Always carry a spare brake, clutch cables, brake pads, tyre puncture kit and levers, in case of emergencies.
- In the case of fuel, some shops along the route will sell it at a slightly higher price than petrol pumps, so it is advisable to carry your own jerry cans.
- Ladakh has unforgiving terrains; thus, you must always take extra precautions. Carry a first aid kit that includes basics like bandages, antiseptic, etc. To prevent or lessen the effect of altitude sickness, you must consult your doctor and get a strip of Diamox.
Riding in the mountains helps you unplug from the concrete jungle and works like therapy, and helps you forget about all your worries. The ride to high-altitude regions is physically and emotionally challenging, but once done, you will feel a sense of euphoria at the end.
Dinesh Kumar an automotive journalist and blogger who runs a YouTube channel named Dino's Vault.