Now that we had decided and determined to ride an Activa to Ladakh and through to Kanyakumari, the next step was to plan the route. Most of the route planning was about Leh. There are two primary routes to Leh, one from Srinagar and the other from Manali. Both the routes have their advantages and disadvantages. There areother 4 other routes, 3 covering Simla, however they are more desolated and surely not for a vehicle like Activa. I was clear about that.
Manali to Leh is the most commonly chosen one by the bikers, primarily due to the adrenaline rush. It is an adventurous one, with fast elevation through dangerous mountain passes like Rohtang and Baralacha. With bigger bikes, one can reach Leh in 2 days staying overnight at Jispa or Sarchu. Many bikers prefer to stay at Sarchu as it is almost half way through. However the biggest disadvantage which not many people realize is the altitude. Sarchu is at an altitude of 15,000 feet and most people will not be able to acclimatize, and feel symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness.On the other hand, the scenic beauty is much more than the Srinagar route, especially till Keylong which is definitely worth the adventure.
Srinagar to Leh is a longer route compared to Manali. Also, it has dangerous and high passes like the Zoji La and Fotu La. However, it has more advantages. It is a gradual elevation from Srinagar which enables a rider to acclimatize easily. The entire route is at a lower altitude than Leh, so it becomes easy unlike Manali – Leh where Sarchu is higher than Leh. The biggest advantage according to me is to experience the life of an average Kashmiri. Most of the terrain in the Manali route comes under mountain passes, so one will not see any village life. We have seen villages and locals up close and personal and this had been amazing. On the other hand, crossing a region torn in conflict was surely a risk thing. With the recent tensions in the Srinagar area, it was a difficult decision to make. Many incidents happened during the days near our travel including the Amarnath incident which made us worried. However, I was adamant that I will take the Srinagar route irrespective of the risk. I had been advised strongly against it terming it as stupidity, but I did not budge. It indeed proved to be a close call as there was an encounter right the next day we crossed Srinagar on the same road we rode.
With the decision made on the route to Leh, the other route was kind of easy. There were a couple of places where I had to choose the best, for exampleUdaipur to Mumbai. We could have gone through Indore, however I realized that the roads are much better through Vadodara. While preparing the route, I considered on my riding capacity as well. During our earlier ride from Pune to Goa, we were getting tired and were taking a lot of breaks. It took us 16 hours to reach Goa. Keeping that in mind, I did not plan for more than 300 kilometers of ride any day, except for one stretch in the entire ride.
Preparing for the ride was more mentally oriented than physical. There are many videos on YouTube that I had seen during the past one year of Ladakh rides. I had seen Nikhil’s and Debashish’s videos innumerable times to help me get acquainted to the terrain. By the time we rode, I was completely aware of the entire route, especially the Srinagar Leh Manali
circuit. Nikhil’s Kashmir to Kanyakumari videos also helped me to a great extent. Viewing the videos of not only successful rides, but also accidents in the Ladakh terrain made us prepared for the worst as well.
One website which provided us immense information on the Ladakh terrain was www.devilonwheels.com. Once can get every and any information on what to do, what not to do, AMS, routes, permits, terrain,tourism, latest updates etc. During the time the roads are opened for commuters, two threads related to the Srinagar and Manali stretches kept me informed on everyday happenings, right from landslides to terrorist attacks. I will be grateful to Dheeraj Sharma who manages the website the many contributors who provided frequent updates. Many discussions I had with Yash also was part of the preparation which kept me going.
Next was the essentials we had to carry with us. As we had a prior experience of riding on the Activa along with the luggage, I was sure that I could have the bag in front. We also decided to carry minimal clo
thing for the ride. In fact, I rode only with one trouser for the entire ride till Kanyakumari getting it washed from time to time. Same goes with Srivadana as well. We had taken just 4 upper clothing for the ride with the one trouser. We also carried bottled oxygen with us, just in case. This proved to be indeed helpful as I had had to intake some and also give one of them to another rider who had come all the way from Hyderabad.
Next was protecting ourselves for any mishaps that may occur. The riding boots and knee guards I had purchased from www.outlooktravelgear.com was the best and if of the best quality around. This had proved to be useful, which I will talk about in further posts. Both I and Srivadana were fully protected with full face helmets, knee and elbow guards, and jackets.
Getting the vehicle prepared for the ride was the most important aspect. I always suspected that there could be some days where we either had to start very early or ride late. I had 12 LEDs fitted to the front of the vehicle along with getting additional switch for turning the indicators to hazard lights (both indicators turn on at the same time). Fitting a USB port to the vehicle was also essential which enabled us to charge our phones and camera batteries on the go. Shipping the vehicle to Srinagar through Agarwal Packers was one of the best decisions. I had shipped the vehicle 20 days before we started and the packing was excellent. The vehicle reached in Srinagar on time and without any damage.
Pune to Srinagar
The final week before the ride was extremely exciting and boring as well.We had already handed over our work to others in office and there was nothing to do. Finally, we started off to Srinagar on the 21st of July, 2017. Subramanian and Harsh dropped us to Pune airport. Alekh received us in New Delhi at around 11 PM. Our flight to Srinagar was at 9.30 AM the next day, so we went to Alekh’s place. It was so sweet of Alekh’s mom to cook for us and wait in the late night. We just had light dinner and slept for the day.
The next day, Alekh and Neha dropped us at the Delhi Airport. While leaving Alekh’s mom applied vermilion on our forehead as a blessing for our journey ahead. Though my previous experience with Air India was great, that day was different. Technical issues were noticed after we boarded the flight and we were kept waiting in the flight itself for more than 2 hours. Finally, we were asked to alight the flight to be accommodated in another one after 5 hours. During this time, we had interesting conversations with a CRPF person (name not disclosed intentionally) who was moving from his regiment in Assam to Srinagar for guarding the Amarnath route. That was the first glimpse of the life of a defense personnel.
Finally, we reached Srinagar at 4.30 PM as against the scheduled 11 AM. The accommodation was already arranged in the army cantonment with the help of Peeyush. Our contact in the cantonment sent a pickup vehicle as well. Driving through the city gave a first glimpse of the extremely tight security. At the same time, we had seen the warmth of the locals expressing happiness of seeing an outsider. It was very shocking to see graffiti on some houses against India, while we were in India.
After finishing the formalities at the check post, we checked into the Guest House. Our Activa was already in the cantonment as we reached. It was so nice of the defense personnel to receive the vehicle, unpack everything and keep it ready for us. We were very tired by then and badly needed bath. We finished our dinner by 8 PM and slept off looking forward to start the ride next day.