The Kardung La is the pass that separates Leh from the Nubra valley. It is also the highest motorable pass in the world and quite an attraction for motorcyclists.
I have been wanting to go up to the top of the pass since we have been planning our adventure. However, I no longer had a motorbike in Leh.
Since Benni was recuperating at the guest house with rice and bananas, I went out to see if I could rent another enfiled to have a stroll around for a few hours.
The best thing I could find had a dodgy air filter, multiple scratches and dents from previous accidents and so much oil gushing out the engine it made you wonder if there was any inside...Fine, I'll take it!
The bike was really dodgy, but at least the clutch was sound, the Tyres new, and the engine seemed to tick fine. I checked the oil level and it was full, so I thought "any problems with the engine won't happen to me today"!
Off I went towards Leh Palace. Wearing a full Dainese outfit and helmet makes you very noticeable here. Hardly anybody wears more than sandals, trousers and a shirt to ride. Although, the kind of attention you get is quite good. People know that if you are dressed that way, it is because you are off to a pass or a long distance ride. As a consequence, the looks you get are of curiosity and respect...they also know straight away that you are a westerner.
Once I got to the back of the palace, I realised that I was on the road to Kardung...Might as well take my gentle stroll in that direction!
I hardly ever hit 60kmh and most of the time I was riding smoothly at an average of 30kmh admiring the scenery.
What a road!!
The views that opened up infront of me were simply amazing! The best thing about it was that there was very little traffic, so even the challenging parts of the road that were unpaved were quite enjoyable in the sporting sense.
Between one view and a photograph taken, I eventually got to the checkpoint. This is where I had to present my permit for the pass but most of all I had to commit to it or turn around. From there laid 20km of off-roading all the way up to 5600mt...the tough part.
In the distance I spotted a couple on a Honda Transalp (the perfect bike for these roads!) going up to the pass.
If I managed to tag along with them I would have some partners for the tougher section. I presented my papers and started my ascent.
The road was tough but dry, incoming traffic was easy to spot between hairpins, and the bike seemed to cope with the altitude which was already considerable (4900mt).
Some parts required riding standing on the footpegs which on an enfield feels vey odd indeed, but it worked!
Between pictures I kept overtaking the Transalp and they kept overtaking me, in what quickly became an unspoken rider's agreement that we were in this together.
Streams crossing followed rocky sections and dusty turns, opening up views to mountaintops and some ice and snow. By now, Leh looked very far at the bottom of the valley.
After a good 45 minutes of riding I noticed the road ending between two peaks..that must be the pass!! It was now in sight, without loosing concentration I started feeling the buzz of reaching that sign that says "World's highest motorable road - 18380feet"!
Unfortunately, after a couple of turns a buldozer was moving rocks on the road. By the time it was finished, the road was left in a bad state, with very loose dirt for a good 15 steep meters. I attempted the climb, but the 350 engine at that altitude just did not have the grunt to go up.
Luckily, I did! So I got my legs down and in a second attempt with the throttle floored I started pushing with my feet on the ground, true enduro style, and basically jogged the bike up to the end of that mess! This was at 5300mt, and my heart was knocking at my throat wanting to escape out of my body!
I rested for a few minutes and got overtaken by the Transalp for the final time. We waved at each other and rode up to the pass together.
Seeing the small refreshment shop and prayer flags at the top of the pass, followed by the anticipated sign, gave me a great buzz!
We got off our bikes, shook hands and had chai together.
Excitement and altitude had now mixed and I was seriously high! I somehow managed to climb up next to the sign without loosing balance and took some pictures.
When we eventually returned to our bikes, my excitement was shortly interrupted by fatigue, caused by the enfield not kick starting! I snapped the air filter out the housing and pushed started the bike down the hill.
The ride down was purely awesome!
With the sense of achievement of having reached the top of the pass, going down hill was a constant orgasm of views and enjoyment of the road. By this time of the day, the road was practically empty.
The sun was peeking over the mountaintops and the evening breeze contributed to make this one of the most memorable rides ever.
After taking some more videos of each other on the ride down, I said goodbye to my new friends and proceeded to return the Enfield to the rental place.
I climbed the highest motorable pass in the world on an ancient toolbox with an engine...and it felt really good!!
Many thanks to Ralf and Rachel for being my partners in this adventure. They rode their 1994 Honda Transalp from Switzerland all the way to India!