Licence to Chill - Katooms ride out to Pangi, Ladakh and Himachal


Flashback: The spy who came in from the cold..
Oct 8, 2016
Darcha, H.P.

Tashi took a couple of cranks to wake from his deep slumber. Bagheera(Dilip's ride) is much younger and hence started much easily. That's score one for us on the how-to-be-positive-today card. With both the bikes idling together with a lot of affection, I sighed a breath of relief. It's cold, biting cold and the sky is still gloomy at 7 AM.

We had a couple of chai. No wardrobe change as we had slept with the riding gear on, except the shoes.
Brushing teeth seemed an insane proposition as the water was close to freezing point. Neither of us had got a deodorant. All this meant a real quick response time from the time we got up from the bed in the tin shed at 6.30 AM.

There was this metal bridge after the Darcha check post which made a noise of a thunderbolt whenever a vehicle moved upon it. It was our turn to say adieu to the kind father-daughter at the tin shed stay and roll the Katooms across the bridge.

With every passing kilometer the Cramster riding gloves shrieked at me - "I am the wrong guy at the wrong time and a very wrong place". By the time we had covered close to 20 kms, a little behind Patsio, my hands were badly frozen and were useless. The snow pellets had started showering since sometime back. Rest of the body was pretty cozy due to the multiple layers of thermals and clothes. This meant stopping every 500m or so, place the hands on the engine case for about a minute, let the hands regain some sense of life and flexibility and then ride on.
I was reminded of Bruce Willis's dialog from Die Hard - " This is a bad fcuking idea John". Everyone who spoke to us earlier had one common thing to say - "You guys have arrived too late in the season, can't be sure of anything".

How long did we have to endure this condition? Will we make it through? What if Baralacha La is snowed out? I almost lost my feet last year during the Parashar Lake ride owing to walking on the snow for 6 kms at night.

When one rides in the foothills of Himalayas, the riding experience doesn't count. He's a newbie every single time. The conditions force him to revise, improvise and sometimes hence, magnifies the best or worst in a person. Fortunately, for me, it was a simple resolution - we wont turn back. There's no going back.

Call it a stroke of luck, we found a truck mechanic's tent just before Patsio. Snow fall had increased its pace.
Parked the bikes and we scurried inside the tent to be welcomed by kerosene fumes and a low key fire lit up.
Removed the inner and outer gloves and it felt like a decade before the hands felt alive, holding them over the cinders. After a little chit chat with a truck driver and the mechanics inside, along with being witness to their wonderful abusive conversation amongst themselves, we decided to move on at 9.30 AM.

Was it a good idea? Not sure. Would we make it to Rumtse tonight? No clue!
But for now, all we knew was that the day's ride will go on. 'Nuf said.




Om Mani Padme Hum


Magnificent Tso Moriri


The Sarchu plains
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Months before the ride was executed, I was bitten terribly bad by the motoholic virus and all I could see or dream about everywhere was about this biggest event of the year, my Oktoberfest :grin: By then, Dilip too had totally messed up his mind with a similar bug.

There were so many crushing reasons all making me think of just canceling the ride plan and making peace with the demons. But then I knew the regret would kill me in the long run. The day before we were to start off, I called up Dilip to say that I seriously dint see the plan happening and perhaps terribly dampened his maiden Ladakh dreams. Sometimes its better to leave things to Time and go ahead with the flow and that's what I finally resorted to in this occasion. The decision wasn't an easy one, so is the aftermath. But, am glad that I made the choice.

Dilip had some good drama too with his leaves not being approved until two days before the ride. So much that I had made up my mind for a solo again. Thanks to the Mountain gods and the well wishers' prayers, his leaves were okay-ed.

Tashi(my bike) gave me rude shock a week before the start. All of a sudden, a casual service of getting fuel filter, air filter replaced and chain adjustment done turned into a nightmare of almost a 13k bill with an unforeseen tire and sprocket replacement, battery and engine oil. Dilip too had to get the sprocket replaced in the last moment.
My bike had clocked about 35,000 kms on the odometer while Dilip's had done about 19500kms.

Packing was not a big deal. Travel light is what I believe in and wanted to wrap everything in less than 20 kg limit. Few undergarments, five T-Shirts, rain gear, thermals, one denim and a moccasin. Few cables and connectors for the GoPro. ILP self declaration forms, bike documents, spare ignition key, camera bag. This is the core luggage.
The other side of the saddle bag contained two five liter oil cans(got them for 25 bucks each), spares like levers and cables, the usual toned down toolkit. Plus, the knuckle guards, mirrors and the windscreen tucked in. We had packed the riding gear on the bike, as usual. It works well both ways, lesser stuff to carry during the train journey and better wrapping for the 'plastic' bike!
A sleeping bag and a tent was another set to be carried along - more on this curse later ](*,)

I again borrowed the same Batman riding jacket from Gaurav - I repeat, I am taking your stuff places year after year bro :D This time saddle bag too had to be borrowed as my Rynox is yet to be fixed after last year's Arunachal ride. Shanu graciously lent his Via Terra saddle bag. Dilip too gets a hug for the big chunk of financial aid provided!
Thanks to all of you folks including Masterjee and couple of others(for inputs on Pangi) or the ride wouldn't have happened.
Lastly, one huge heartfelt gratitude for the higher Spirit, for time and again, making the plans work and get back home safe. As they say, She certainly leaves some windows open while we think the door's closed.

The ride planned in two phases - Pangi Valley and Ladakh. Since we started off with the former, and its well known reputation, there was always a what-if hanging in the mind because any fcuk up at this phase would create a butterfly effect to the next phase. But then it was useless to think about it as we did not have any control over it.

Finally, on Oct 1st, 2016, we were to get on board the YPR - JAT Katra Express train at 11.30 AM.
It was a bit of a maddening start of the day as I wanted the bikes to be booked as Luggage and this had to be done only a couple of hours before the train's departure. The reason being, we would be able to collect the bikes anytime at Jammu on reaching. This meant, we can get down the train, immediately collect the bikes, find a hotel and take rest.

The morning of the train journey, I went over to Dilip's place to leave Sofie my sweetheart dog, at his home meanwhile also earned a nice breakfast(this one was for me!). :D

By the time we oversaw the bike load, luggage moved into the train coach, both of us were drenched in sweat. Dislike this part but then it's unavoidable. Part of the game.


All packed and ready for the travel!



Sleep well boys, we got a long time before action!

Had a long call with dad and mom when the train chugged along - touchy topics and after enough reassurances, they were all good and I felt a heavy weight off my shoulders. So all those who think and tell me that I got a wonderful life(just looking at the FaceBook albums) - no sir, I too fight the same
problems as everyone. In this case, the evil voodoo of people who couldn't stand seeing me happily unmarried was working overtime. Thank god, I was able to pacify dad and mom that things will be put into motion soon and thus, ceasefire was declared! :p

Nothing special about the journey of long long 56 Hrs in the train. I used my best trick to spend time - sleep :D Rest of the time me and Dilip both were reading the e-book The Days of my Years, autobiography by the founder of Escorts company, H.P. Nanda. It's an intriguing and exhilarating tale of one man who built an empire while being a nationalist. Many of the places and events were around Jammu so it had an instant connect as well. India needs more of his kind. One big cheers for this accomplished soul!


Hell of a name for a village :mrgreen:


Serene sunset witnessed from within our cabin inside the train

We reached Jammu Tawi railway station at 6.30PM, an hour's delay was expected. It was damn humid and we had decided that Dilip would take the luggage to the platform and be with it while I had to dash off towards the brake van and oversee the bike unload. The train would halt there for ten minutes. I practically ran towards the brake van to find one guy inside it and was struggling to move the bike - he couldn't understand that it was put in gear to minimize the rocking movement during the transit. I got inside, switched back to neutral and had to land each of our bikes myself as the porter hardly had any interest in being careful. Then there was this curious onlooker who was staring at me as if who's the new laborer!
He told that the Duke 200 along with our bike was his but was almost expecting me to get his bike down. I was drenched in sweat by then and shouted at him "Are you gonna stand there whole night? It's your bike right, then get your hands on it!" Jeez, the characters we meet!

One of Dilip's FaceBook friend, Arjun, was kind enough to get us a spare air filer and a spark plug as we couldn't buy it in Bangalore. We then carried the luggage to the gate pass counter amidst a throng of crowd for Vaishnodevi pilgrimage. Then me and Dilip went back to the other end of the platform to push the bikes to the gate pass counter.
Thankfully, getting the gate pass was a quick and no fuss event. We were about to move out when a porter comes in and asks for money for unloading.I totally lost it. As per the tradition, he too got a mouthful and vanished silently. Similar stuff had happened when I took my bike from NJP in 2014.
Why would people expect money without doing anything at all? Lousy bastards!


Yaay, Bagheera and Tashi find new territories to explore!

Arjun and me went out to get some 3 odd liter of petrol for the bikes. Finally, we headed out of the railway station and it was such a relief to be back on the bike! Now the next task was to find a hotel to crash for the night. Arjun knew a place very close to the station and it also happened to connect us to the highway towards Kishtwar. God bless him. It was Navratri and hence whole city was lit up. We spoke for sometime and finally Arjun had to leave after getting a good number of calls from his parents.

We quickly rushed to a bhojanalay right next to the hotel as we hadn't had any food since breakfast in the train. The motel fella was about to close but graciously served us delicious rajma chawal with daal. I have made it a point to pray well for such kind souls. He had no real reason to give us food and could have easily shut down the shop. By then another old FaceBook friend Sumeet Dhar called up to say that he had reached the hotel. We had been in touch since 2011 and it was really nice to catch up with people. We shared a few smokes, happy chats about riding and other stuff. Good to meet you up pal.

The last activity of the night was to reinstall the mirrors, wind screen and knuckle guards.
Slept a little late but slipped into a deep coma the moment I lay on the bed.
Tomorrow's the first day of the ride and the starting route was a kick ass one!

P.S.: All photos without watermark are clicked by Dilip :p
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Humble beginnings
Oct 4th, 2016

Jammu - Kishtwar: 230 kms

Woke up early and got freshened up. Usually, the first day of any long ride consumes a lot time with setting up the luggage on the bike, finding the sweet little secret spaces to fit in the stuff :D So we could only start by 7.30 AM but nevertheless it was such a happy moment.
After ages of chattering about the routes and places, uncertainties, here we are, actually kicking off the ride!!
With a chant of Jai Mata Di, the Katooms rolled ahead towards the road. Woohooo..

Within few kilometers we connected to the four lane highway. It was a delight for cornering but it was sour grape to us - the saddle bags and other stuff on the bike offered only a sane degree of banking, which we accepted grudgingly. Stopped for a chai en route and realized how damned humid it was. The cordura jackets we wore was ridiculously hot but it would come useful later!


Chai stop soon after touching the highway to Udhampur from Jammu

Udhampur arrived in a breeze, just around 60 odd kilometers. We then had to ride to Patnitop. On climbing the roads towards Patnitop, the weather got much cooler and gave us some respite. We hadn't had any breakfast yet and stomach was growling hard. Once we started the descent, stopped at a small shack for chai as per the recommendation of a guy on a bike whom I had inquired for a chai. We also grabbed couple of kachori with sabzi, both delicious. That was our breakfast!


Kachori stop!!

Incidentally, Patnitop was where I had a freak fall during the 2011 Ladakh ride. I engage the gear, let the throttle go and turned around as I thought someone called my name. BOOM, that's all I remember, next thing was that I was on the ground with a thud and the Bullet's headlamp glass broken! Memories I say! :grin:
This ride was all about the flashbacks of the old ride, recalling the fabulous times we shared, some of the sights we then saw were for the first time in our lives and it has left an indelible mark, to this date.

When the route is totally new, we tend to hurry off all the way due to the basic instinct of the human mind - what if we lose the comfort zone of not finding a stay, or get too late? It takes a lot of effort to get over this instinct and perhaps the more the road experience, the better we get in finding a neutral ground of maintaining a calm pace for the ride or drive. People who complain as to what is the point of riding to so
far off and dangerous places, don't understand that it is such exposures which shape our character and build the strength of the mind. It could be the reason that I have found that most people who venture out a lot have this composure of come-what-may even in our usual life.


We need to hit a century!



Shortly, we took a right turn to connect to the Batote bypass, thereby getting off the highway which continues to Ramban, Banihal and eventually, Srinagar. As we moved on, I suddenly had a Maruti Gypsy swiftly overtake me and then the commandos behind signalling me to make way for the vehicle behind.
I was curious as to who this might be! Didn't have to wait much as a Grand Vitara pulled right next to me. It was filled with folks in white clothes which only politicians would wear. One gentleman behind the steering asked me about the ride, where are we headed and where from. We chatted for a few minutes
and then they left with a good luck wish to us. A little later, while we had stopped for a chai, we were made aware that it was the local MLA.





With every hour, it only got unbearably hot. We had drank about 3 liters of water the whole day and dint take a single leak, so you can understand the seriousness of the humidity level. The road condition was good with occasional bad patches but mostly it's all tarred. I absolutely had no inclination to use the DSLR. This is another usual topic of discussion as to how a simple point and shoot camera is so much versatile while riding
and the storage space is negligible too. With the DSLR, you need more lenses, filters and during a ride, we hardly have the patience to take it out, adjust, click and then pack it carefully. Again, one of the reason to carry my LS2 modular helmet this time in place of the SOL helmet was that it's much more easier to use the camera without having to remove the helmet.


Crazy roads!!


A dam, would love to know the name?



Close up of the backwaters of the dam


Country roads! Reminds the John Denver song

No drama today anywhere and I was happy to ride in the hills again after a long time. The incoming winter was showing its signs in the form of decreased greenery and a slight orange hue in the flora. We dint stop for lunch anywhere and reached Kishtwar(pronounced Kistwaad) at 5.30PM. By then, the air had cooled down a lot which was very welcome and we eventually entered the town. There's a good number of towns before Kishtwar offering ATM and fuel stations.



Couple of security guards clicked this for us. They had come over to chat during a break.



Oh yes, one of the names that we looked up in the internet and itinerary is now here!

The initial idea was to camp at Chowgan, the open green plains. But when we reached there, only then did we realize how crowded it was! So the hunt for a motel was on. Got the fuel tanks filled to the brim and then we rode on away from the maddening crowd, hopeful of finding a calm stay.
We weren't disappointed - there was this motel called Sen Residency at the outskirts which was just perfect. I checked the room and it was good enough.
My usual bargaining skills got the rent down to Rs500. A very safe parking space too was available.

After dumping the dust laden bags inside the room, enjoyed a much needed shower before heading out to the town. We placed a simple dinner order for the night and then went on to find a tekha. Mr Old Monk was out of station and both of us suppressed a laughter when the shop wala poked a rum bottle at us.
The label said "Beach House" :lol: Well, too far off from a beach now, I thought. Nevertheless, we decided to try it out.
Stopped by at a medical shop to get a lip balm and Cetrizin tablets. Then we were back to our abode for the night to chat about the events of day one. Both of us were tired and after wrapping up the dinner along with uninteresting TV shows, we hit the bed with the excitement of the most awaited stretch.