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Wari La, Ladakh!!

This was my second time around to the World’s Best … Ladakh!!

We reached Leh from Kargil. En route, we were amazed by some breathtaking views. This stretch was chill to the bone, which is the case around these parts! We passed through some delightful views, passes and good roads. We had an overnighter at Lamayuru. This is where I had a chance view of Mark Tully, the author. He was in a Buddhist monk’s disguise and my re-collection was not fast enough for me to ask him for an autograph. Nonetheless, we were tired and took solace in a Strong Beer.

We left this picturesque Gompa and rode all the way to Leh. This place has changed in a year. It is more crowded and I can get a feeling of being in Goa (except that they are wrapped up more!). More people have ventured into this land, as roads have improved and the popularity has caught people’s fascination. In fact this little piece here is adding to the reputation.

Had been to ‘Kardung La’ last year and wanted to do something different. Spoke to my dear friend, Rahul “MAT” Chauhan. MAT has been fastened as his middle name, picked from his first Royal Enfield that he owned. Discussed with him on the ‘different angle’, he knows these parts pretty well as he has been here more than 20 times. He mentioned Wari La. He had heard a lot about this place and was intrigued. And through it we could go to Kardung La and meet rest of the riders there. And we all ride back together to Leh. Nice little plan was shaped and we said good-night and snuggled in.

Our room, a kind of penthouse, had a view to a nearby snow peak. It was glorious to wake up to such a view and we got ready fast, excited that we were. We left with not much luggage, as we were to come back to the room that very night.

There are two main roads to Leh - one towards Srinagar (NH1D) and the other to Manali (NH21). We took the Manali road and took a deviation at Karu. This road would take us to Pyonyong too. We took another deviation towards left and we were Wari La bound.

It was a winding road and provided us with the some abundant views. We passed through small villages and few Gompa’s. These became more and more scarce and after sometime, we were alone. So alone that we were devoid of trees, grass, humans and finally animals. We kept riding on and on. Just the thump of our bikes and echo’s from the mountains around.

We ride in a 1-by-1 form and were doing good time. Finally, there was a steep ascendency, sure shot signs of reaching a Pass. From barren lands, we started to appreciate bits of snow here and there. As we went higher, the scattered snow changed into large chunks of snow. There was a place which was hit by a landslide, converting a proper road to a singular track. All exciting the bikers.

We stopped and clicked few pictures and were soaking in ‘Ladakhness’. We were happy with the goings-on and kept ripping ahead.

Crash Bang and Boom!!

That is how I went down.

Crash II, Bang II and Boom II !!

MAT joins me in tasting the sweet mother earth.

Let’s rewind this and take you in a slow motion format.

So this is how it happened.

Let’s go back to the moment, where we were riding and feeling about being alive and all that. The road was twisting and turning. The gradient was tough enough for us to look beyond the curve. We took the turn and we came upon sleet. Honestly, this was the first time I had come across something like this. It is basically frozen water converted into a sheet of ice.

To put it in few words, our bikes (for that matter, any bike/car) would not be able to navigate through it. There was no grip between the floor and the rotating wheel. And as it was a gradient climb, I was pushing the throttle. Kaiser slipped and we fell.

As mentioned earlier, we ride in a 1-by-1 format and MAT did not have enough time to apply his brakes and he gave me company on the newfound phenomena called SLEET. It took us few seconds to understand the difference between bliss and breakdown. We both were wearing riding boots, as we were riding you know! We tried to stand and slipped and fell again – our riding boots giving no grip to stand upon. It was a smoothened ice. We could not grip onto something , as one side was the gorge and the other the mountain face and we fell right in the middle.

We chanced upon a small stone, fitting quite well within our palm and having a sharp edge. We started breaking the sleet to get a toehold. The altitude was high enough to suck out the Oxygen. We were able to hit the sleet 5 odd times, before we were out of breath. We would slide the stone to each other for other to do his bit to stand up.

After few such strikes, I laid flat on the sleet and had a psychedelic experience. When I looked into the sleet to figure out what the hell it was, I could see water flowing beneath it. I thought less Oxygen and despondency was making me see things. If you remember there used to be a psychedelic lamps in the 70’s. And there would be multi-color bubble’s floating in the liquid. It was just like that and I kept watching the gracefulness of this performance. I remember now, it was called as “Lava Lamps”!!

Anyway, time passed and where were we going, we kept at the sleet and got some foothold to stand up. Now it was the turn of our bikes to be standing on their wheels too. We got to knocking on the sleet again. Once that done, we fixed our wheels into it and that way, we got it to the side of the road. There was no tar on the side of the road and as such sleet could not work its magic on it.

With this experience, we steadied ourselves and watched out for more such marvels. To top this, the gradient became steeper. We had to keep the bike on lower gear and give more throttle for the bike to struggle its way up. We were doing all this and kept moving ahead. It was tough going and we were inching painfully ahead. The sleet where we kissed the ground was around 15-20feet in length. This was agonizingly increasing. There were stretches where we could not see the end of it.

On one such stretch my bike gave way. Bike was on first gear, clutch stretched, throttle on … but the bike was not moving ahead. We realized that the clutch plates have gone bald and there was no play left in it. Once that realization dawned upon us, there was nothing else to think.

From the spot where this breakdown happened, we could see the milestone to Wari La. It said 1 km. I convinced MAT to carry on riding and cross Wari La. Bikers!! That was the only thing in my mind. Scale that peak which we have struggled to reach.

MAT returns after a while. Takes off his helmet and tells me, there is a chunk of snow which starts high above the mountains and ends way within the gorge. Basically, the road was blocked with snow. And this was just ahead the next hair pin bend. Story of so close and yet so far.

We decided to turn back and head towards Leh. Oh! But we have worn out clutch plates! There were no vehicles around for us to load my bike on. We quickly realized that we do not even have birds to carry our messages. Well, mobile phone stopped working long - long time back.

MAT started pushing my vehicle on the carrier that was fitted for this ride. This is how we did for next 50 odd kms. Less Oxygen, declining gradient and no control over the bike was a challenge to keep up with. This tit-bit is for all the bikers who switch off their engines coming down. It is the most stupid act you can ever do. Without your bike on a gear, you are in deep shit if you have to brake.

Many of the places we took short cut’s to avoid the long winding roads. These short-cut’s were even more angular. Few places I slipped from my bike and fell down. Thanks to my riding gear, there was not a scratch on me. But this feeling of helplessness was too overwhelming.

We did this mechanics all the way back to Karu. Where we hailed a pick-up truck and hauled both the bikes on it.

We reached Leh and went straight to the mechanic shop. There are only two Bullet mechanics in Leh. One is Sharma, who is a character in himself. You cannot go to him and ask him to check your bike. He expects you to be the rider of that bike and you should be able to clearly define the problem. If not, he turns around and walks off. Previous year I had a busted rear shock absorber that I fixed with him. To my great relief, I made him smile with my silly jokes.

This year we were at the other place. He is another character. There is a race which is held from Leh to top of Kardung La. The short time achieved is the winner. And the owner of this service centre has won it twice – introducing Jumma. His son, Anu, is another character. After we came back, he had participated in the Hero off-roading advertisement (it was shot around Ladakh). He moved with ease on all the stunts he was asked to do. He requested if he can ride that bike back all the way to Leh. And just before reaching the city he had an accident on the bike. That is him – unpredictable! But he is a handsome dude and swoons most of the local girls in Leh!

Coming back to the current story. We asked him to replace the clutch plates. He looks at us and smiles. “We do not have such spare parts in Leh” he jibes. I look around and asked him, but you sure have done this job. He says “of course”. I asked him to show where those replaced parts were. We took out some 15 plates and started sorting them.

Out of the 6 clutch plates that I had, 4 of them had gone silky smooth. So we replaced with the best that we could find, with some/any grooves on them. We put them all together and fitted back – 2 existing and 4 from scrap. We took Kaiser for a test ride and it behaved well.

Only thing I had to forego was the power in my vehicle. Most of my ride back to Ambala, I had to struggle on inclines.

That is story up above in Himalaya’s. After that I have done enough and more riding around the country, including a cross country – Ambala to Bangalore.

But in one of my recent ride to Ramanagar (more famous for Sholay shoting), I really had to struggle to get some speed on my bike. Nanda who was riding with me was not happy at all and so weren’t we!

Finally, after 15 months of assorted clutch plates, we have replaced them to a proper set. Now that it is done, I am looking for my next ride to Bhutan :-)

More power to Kaiser!!

Posted On:   Wednesday, 19 Sep 2012 Author:  Sai Subramaniam