We Are finally in Leh! The capital of Ladakh and end of the dreaded Manali-Leh highway, which we originally set out to do on a royal enfienld.
Things did not go entirely according to plan, which is not too surprising given the nature of the road. In a way, we kind of expected it.
We set off from Manali on Sunday morning at 6, which was already an hour later than planned. Our Enfield was nicely packed with our ortileb bags on the sides and backpacks on the back rack. The enfield's clutch was not in pristine conditions, which meant that finding neutral and changing gears did not always lead to the expected results!
After our test on the Rotangh pass the day before, we were feeling confident of the fact that we had seen the worst of it and that we were going to get through it with a bit of effort.
Unfortunately this was not the case. After the sections I faced the day before there was a queue of cars, 4x4s and trucks which stretched for about 5 km!
These 5 kms were of the worst kind seen so far, with mud 3 feet deep, rocks and the road being VERY narrow and steep.
Trying to get through that queue with the clutch playing up and tankers sliding backwards in the mud was frightening and stressful to say the least. After seeing a lot of motorbikes and 4x4s, driven by locals, turning around because of the state of the road lying ahead, we decided that it was not safe to continue and for a second time in 2 days we returned to Manali.
We later on discovered that the pass was then closed that day and it remained closed for the whole of the following day.
At this point we decided to hire a 4x4 to face the Manali-Leh highway. Even though it seemed like the safest option, I initially regretted the idea of not completing the journey on the enfienld, especially because we were told that after the Rotangh pass the road was "good".
It took a handful of kilometres in the 4x4 to realise that the definition of "good" meant: hardly ever paved, with many broken sections and crazy traffic!
The journey was spectacular, taking us through some of the highest motorable passes in the world and breathtaking views. Although even in the 4x4 the journey was tough. We covered the 450km to Leh in 2 days, with an overnight stay in Sarchu, a tent settlement at 4000mts. Our bodies held up very well at that altitude and we did not suffer any symptoms of altitude sickness. The next day we crossed 4 more passes, including Baralacha La (5100) and Tanglan La (5300) and drove through a desert plateau at 4000 mt. Only pictures can describe the amazing views we witnessed on this exhausting yet very rewarding journey!
In hignsight it was the right decision to ditch the Enfield and not face this whole trip alone on a single bike, two-up, with luggage. We may have been lucky and got to Leh without problems, but considering how many close calls we had even in the 4x4, the outcome of the journey would have depended too much on fate!
Having said that, this is the most amazing and demanding "off-road" route I have ever been on. This is because of a lot of different aspects ranging from the road itself, traffic, altitude, weather. I know that one day I will come back to do it again on a bike with a decent group of riders.
Who is up for it?!