The Dream Ride! Being a pillion through the mighty Ladakh on Duke 390.

Vrushali Surve

Happy pillion for life!
Chapter 2: Let the Games Begin!


Till an evening before the flight, "Spiti or not Spiti?" that was the question! Fortunately, it was already decided that, regardless of the final destination, we'd fly till Amritsar and get Duchess transported till their through VRL Logistics. So, flight tickets had been booked, and Duchess was sent a couple of weeks before D Day. When the final verdict was reached at, we packed our backpack (i.e., the rucksack; the saddle bags, with 90% of the luggage, accompanied Duchess), and we consulted H.V. Kumar Sir to guide us through the tour. Luckily, he was ready to help us out (although he and his team did wonder, "What are these two up with! Riding on a Duke 390 with wife to Ladakh, that too so soon after getting married!!!!" :eek:) But humne ek baar commitment kar dii, toh hum apne aap ki bhi nahi sunte! :p

Thus, the rider spent the night accumulating good rest that he would need the next day, and the pillion remained restless—anticipating the dream that was coming true after 6 long years! Here, I must also admit a blunder on my part. Rohan had given me VRL's bike transport receipt to "safely keep it" with me, and in all this chaos of people backing out, I completely forgot where the hell I had kept it!!! (This was one of the main reasons I was restless the whole night.) The wise man had told me to click a photo as well, which I had, but VRL had insisted that they would require the original, hard copy of the receipt while handing over the bike. Little had I known that the "safest place" would be my own wallet, the panic had literally left me crying that night! :roll: This revelation came to me when we were on-board our Jet Airways flight to Amritsar, and I was looking for something in my purse. I shouted in joy, "Rohan! Kaakhet kalsaa gaavaalaa valsaa!!! (as it always happens with me)" This is a Marathi proverb that means "The vessel is right there in your arm, but you are looking for it in the entire village." I was thus finally relieved from my guilt.

Thus, the game began—Day 1 of the ride arrived!

We had to boarding the 06:00 AM flight from Mumbai. Owing to the last night's panic and packing, we woke up a little late yet rushed for the flight by 4:30 AM from home. Mumbai metro work had laid out some traffic in our way even at that time at dawn, but our taxi driver was kind and could empathize with us, so he tried driving as fast as he could. Also, he was well-informed enough to know that the Jet Airways flight will take off from the CST International Airport and not the Domestic one, which we realized when he reversed from the latter's entrance to the former one. As we entered the airport, it was fun looking at onlookers curiously looking at the two of us carrying two helmets and a riding jacket along with our backpacks. Nonetheless, at the check-in and baggage counter, the attendant was insisting that we put our helmets in the checked baggage rather than taking it in our carry-on luggage, but we could not take that risk under any circumstances. So, we explained them about our travel and requested to let us take the helmets with us. Fortunately, they agreed. \\:D/


After arriving at Amritsar airport.

We arrived at Amritsar by 08:30 AM. Amritsar airport was so tiny and silent! (I immediately sensed that our peaceful and fulfilling trip had indeed begun.) They have taxi-booking service counters, for anywhere in or around the city, available right after we collect our baggage and walk toward the entrance/exit. We got a taxi booked and began our journey toward our hotel, Ricky International (Best Hotel|Hotels in Amritsar| Hotel Near Golden Temple), that was booked for a short halt by HVK Sir and marked on the HVK app RoutO. Although our first priority was to take our Duchess back from VRL, it was essential to keep our bags and obtain some petrol for bringing the bike back! :D So, we checked in, freshened up, and got ready to visit Transport Nagar in Jahajgarh, Amritsar, where VRL's Amritsar branch is located. A kind rickshaw driver knew the right petrol pump from where we could fetch some petrol in our bottle, and he dropped us outside Transport Nagar. As the name suggests, this place was barren, filled with only transport goods and trucks and a few workers and VRL staff. They all seemed and were really decent and quite sophisticated. Rohan completed the paper work, unpacked the Duchess, assembled the mirrors, fueled, and ensured that she was safe and sound.


Happy faces after getting the Duchess!

We came back to the hotel, loaded the bike with all of our luggage, changed, and left for the Golden Temple in a rickshaw. It should be noted that safe parking was our most important concern throughout the ride. Therefore, having the HVK RoutO appwith only the hotels that have safe parkingwas the wisest decision. So, even in Ricky International we could tension-freely leave our luggage-loaded bike and visit the temple. As the location shows, Golden temple is quite close to Ricky International, so we didn't take too long to reach. Nevertheless, the experience of watching super-crowded and noisy Punjabi roads and boards/hoardings of literally hundreds of IELTS exam coaching classes at every street corner on the way was unmatched.

And the noise suddenly disappeared as soon as we entered the temple premises. That was serenity at its best! Despite thousands of people walking (and talking) around, you can't hear "noise" in the Golden temple premises! The devotees, the ongoing kirtan record, and the aura of the place itself give a sense of being in a whole different world. Also, I need not say much about the langar food, right? It was one of my most-cherished dreams of visiting the Golden temple and eating in its langar that finally came true that day. The daal makhni and roti, daal chaawal, and kheer are simple and purely sublime! The experience of watching all the volunteers work relentlessly and getting the chance of savoring the langar food is inexpressible. However, our two cents are visiting the temple post afternoon, preferably in the night, to avoid the scorching heat. They do have cold-water-sprinkled mattresses lain but the sun up there is too harsh to beat. We wanted to go there in the evening, but as HVK Sir had told us, we were there "to go to our final destination, i.e., Ladakh and not Amritsar." So, we prayed, ate, and came back to our hotel to change into our riding gears and get ready for the ride ahead. I would like to note here that while coming back to the hotel, we took an electric rickshaw that immediately came to us after coming out of the temple premises, as we were slightly tired by the heat and also in a hurry. Although the rickshaw driver was polite and sweet, we believe that he did take us on a detour through a longer route than the one we had taken while coming. Nevertheless, the experience of travelling in an electric rickshaw was equally exciting. :p


Sublimity at its best. :)



Glimpses of the Golden temple and its surrounding


Rohan (@Leo_Pandey), the rider, in scorching heat! (I wanted to capture them together in a single frame anyway :p)

So, we began our actual ride at 04:30 PM after taking blessings from Sri Harmandir Sahib; off we were for our next destination—Bari Brahmana, 15 km before Jammuand believe me, the evening ride to Jammu was quite pleasant, with the sunlight accompanying us till quite late (almost till 07:30/08:00 PM).


A random, yet mandatory, on-the-go sunset click before entering Jammu.


J&K Welcomes Us! (My excitement at seeing this was inexpressible!)

It was approximately a 5-hour long ride. We checked in at Trinetar Mango Hotels (‎‎), booked by HVK, by 09:30 PM; ate good food; and went off to sleep. We had to start our next journey at 06:30 AM anyhow. However, kahaani mein twist naa ho, toh kyaa mazaa hai? We were scolded by HVK Sir for being slightly late in schedule (by around half an hour) but for valid reasons of course. It was July 8th—the 2nd death anniversary of Burhan Muzaffar Wani, the commander of Kashmiri militant group Hizbul Mujahideen. Therefore, there could be an unrest (minor or major) in Srinagar, or even if there wouldn't be, the J&K police would certainly be cautious, especially about the "outsiders." To add to this, the Amarnath Yatra was also ongoing, and for both these reasons, the traffic and police patrolling, both were expected to be high.

Nevertheless, there was no looking back now!

(Chapter 3 coming soon!)
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Vrushali Surve

Happy pillion for life!
Chapter 1: The Day before The Ride

Spiti or Ladakh, regardless of the destination, good planning and preparation was imperative. We had our gears, routes, and The Duchess, all ready.

For the bike and luggage, we used the following:
- Luggage rack/saddle stand: NexusGears.
We couldn't source from Sahyadri, the best in the business; therefore, we had to buy this. Quality was okayish, quite substandard.
- Saddle bag: Rynox drystack.
These are absolutely waterproof and completely reliable even in super heavy rains.
- Rucksack on the rear: Spykar Jeans' rucksack.
This one is super sturdy and good for any kind of rough use, and it also served as backrest for me throughout the ride.
- Tank bag: Rynox dirt sack.
Needless to say anything about the quality, the tank bag is a must for everything that you'd need to be handy: basic electronics, documents, and of course, light snacks or dry fruits.
- Extra fuel: Two 2-litre Maaza bottles.
Maaza bottles are too good for this purpose, as they are thick and sustainable.
- Helmets and gears: 1 SOL and 1 SMK helmet, 2 sets of DSK riding jackets and pants, Tarmac Venom riding shoes (for the rider), Quechua Arpenaz 50 Mid Women's Hiking Boots (for the pillion), 4 pairs of riding and woolen hand gloves, balaclavas, bag cover(s), rain gears (and as many pairs of socks as possible!).
- Bike spares: Engine oil, clutch cable, ACC cable, bolts, temperature sensor, spark plugs, chain lube and cleanser.
- Other/Miscellaneous yet essential items: Bungee cords for tieing the rucksack, chargers, power bank, a pair of Sena SMH-5 Bluetooth headsets for both the helmets, camera lens, action cam, camera mounts, tapes.
- Documents: Flight ticket printouts, photocopies and original ID proofs, permits, route maps' printouts.
- Gel seat for me, the pillion: As you all know how the Duke 390 pillion seats are, without the gel seat, the pillion's rear wouldn't survive the ride.

P. S. We strongly recommend basic and minimal (yet sufficient) clothing, and, of course, thermals are a must throughout the ride!


So, owing to the literally "last moment" change of plan (from 4 people leaving for Spiti to 2 people leaving for Ladakh), we did need some kind of support, as it was just going to be the two of us now, without our friends or a backup vehicle. This is when India's human GPS, H. V. Kumar Sir (HVK) came into picture.

Our friend, Sushil, on the note of not being able to join us due to unforeseen and inevitable circumstances, quickly helped us with getting in touch with Kumar Sir—right from getting us registered on the #RoutO app to convincing Kumar Sir for helping us out, and bang on! We packed everything that was left and were set to leave at 04:00 AM on July 7, 2018!!!

I'll be back with D Day in the next chapter, leaving you'll with a few snaps from the day before.

This was basic load testing; the saddle bags (along with the luggage inside) were parceled to Amritsar with the bike.
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Basic toiletries for a couple!
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Near-to-actual load testing is mandatory before D Day!
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Read Chapter 2, Day 1 here: The Dream Ride! Being a pillion through the mighty Ladakh on Duke 390.

Vrushali Surve

Happy pillion for life!
Chapter 3: Jana tha Srinagar, pohonch gaye Patnitop! When you are demanded to take a detour.


On the morning of July 8, 2018, i.e., Day 2 of our ride, we got to hear a known, yet unacceptable, news. Rohan was already up; I also somehow managed to wake up, freshen up, and wear my gears so as to be fully ready to leave for Srinagar. However, we were running way too behind the schedule given by HVK Sir, and he had already begun scolding Rohan (for undoubtedly my mistake). It was for obvious reasons with regard to Burhan Wani's death anniversary that I had mentioned in Chapter 2. Undeniably, the delay could cause us to get stuck in heavy traffic, restrictions on movement (or even entering) in Srinagar, with the stoppages at various check-posts on the way besides the possible mobile network cutoffs in and/or around the Kashmir (K) valley. Nevertheless, I must admit that I was too tired from Day 1's exhaustion and slightly angry on HVK Sir for not understanding my situation; I had forgotten for a moment that it is the human GPS of India who was scolding us for obvious reasons! He gave us a clear idea of the aforementioned possible obstacles that we could face on the way yet encouraged us to leave Jammu and reach or, if possible, even cross the Chenani Tunnel ASAP. So, he uploaded the JammuSrinagar map on RoutO and sent us our Srinagar accommodation details and relevant contact numbers on WhatsApp, in case there was a network cutoff in K valley.

On this note, allow me to take a diversion from the ride and briefly introduce HVK RoutO—travelers' guide through any and every HiVay and/or corner of India. HVK RoutO is an android application that allows you to request HVK-custom maps, suggest points of interest (POIs), and search for other fellow HiVayKings. The app can be downloaded for free from the Google Play Store, and to buy the required maps, you can request a map, take the Club 12 membership, and be guided on how to download and use the map(s) that best fits your trip plan! The maps are tailor-made and available offline; all we need to do is request and download the map(s) and just keep the GPS (mind it, not the internet!) turned on. (To obtain more details about HVK RoutO, do follow HiVayKing Club - When you travel, we travel with you!!.)

In the similar way, Kumar Sir sent us our map to Srinagar with the precise details of the location of our accommodation in Srinagar—New Jersey Houseboats on Nigeen lake, a few kilometers away from the touristy Dal lake (New Jersey Houseboats). Thus, yet another dream of mine was coming true—living in a beautiful houseboat in Kashmir!!! \\:D/(So, I was bound to be super excited and even more optimistic!)

Sadly, God had some other plans for us that day.

In addition to Kumar Sir's warnings and encouragement, we met a guy while checking out from Trientar in Bari Brahamana, who also had his share of the news update about the conditions in the K valley. As expected, J&K police were stopping all sorts of commuters at various check-posts from entering Kashmir for "security" reasons. The guy told us that he (or his friends) had to return from half way, some travelers had got stuck in traffic, and so on.

Nonetheless, we were not ready to look back; we were determined to keep moving, as instructed by Kumar Sir. We had munched on some dry fruits, as there was no time (and urgency) for breakfast; so, we bucked up and left Bari Brahmana.

We crossed (and escaped) around 34 relatively smaller check-posts, dodging every barricade. I even dropped one of my hand gloves while clicking an on-the-go pic, which a kind pedestrian picked up and handed over to me. Thus, we confidently reached India's longest road tunnelthe 9 km-long ChenaniNashri (Patnitop) Tunnel, which was stunning at the beginning but left us disappointed later. The tunnel links Jammu with the K valley and is indeed well-constructed and beautiful; however, it took away all our joy and excitement (for over 20 hours).


The culprit: India's longest tunnel; ChenaniNashri.

We were almost convinced that as we escaped through the previous check-posts, we'll now cross the neverending Chenani tunnel, and the ever beautiful K valley will be awaiting for us to see its beauty unravel. Little did we know that rather than K valley, J&K Police will be awaiting to un-welcome us with their garlands (read barricades)!!! One of them came forward and asked us, "Kahaan jaa rahe ho? Kahaan tak jaanaa hai?" to which we sincerely answered, "Jaanaa Ladakh hai, filhaal Srinagar jaanaa chaahte hain. Wahaan pe hotel book kiyaa hai. Kal subah aage nikal jaaenge." Grinning at our sincere answer, he responded, "Par aaj toh nahi jaa sakte Srinagar." We tried our best to convince him, but he was too stubborn to listen. We waited, although in vain. A local Kashmiri came to us and expressed his critical view on the police officers' behaviour. He said they were not even letting hima local Kashmiri—enter Kashmir. This made us lose hope for sometime. Watching us wait, the same police officer again came to us and said, "Wahaan haalaat kabhi bhi bighad sakte hain, aaj kuch nahi ho sakta. Patnitop pohonche ho, ye bhi sundar jagah hai. Jara aaspaas ghumo, hill station hai. Kal subah jaldi nikal lijiye Srinagar k liye." We saw some ray of hope and asked, "Toh kal subah raastaa khul jaaega?" to which he said, "Haan ji bilkul! Kyun nahi khulega? Waise khulne ko toh kabhi bhi khul sakta hai. Aaj shaam ko, raat ko, ya kal subah toh pakka." He did understand that we were as stubborn as him about going ahead, so he went ahead and shared his mobile number with us. He said, "Mujhe kabhi bhi call karke poochh lo kya update hai. Aur uss hisaab se nikal jaanaa. Theek hai?" Thus, we didn't have any choice but to roam around and wait out the stoppage in Patnitop.

He showed us a small detour toward Patnitop from right beside the tunnel. We realized that there were some more challenges laid out in front of us. We were low on fuel; we didn't know how long we would need to spend in Patnitop; and we were not sure if we'd get a good, decent place to stay at such a last moment. We called HVK Sir, told him everything that had just happened, and asked him to suggest something. Patnitop wasn't in the plan, so we hadn't had a map too; we didn't know if we'd find a petrol pump anywhere nearby. Kumar Sir told us to proceed and was checking about the petrol pump; he said there wasn't any. However, we luckily found a small petrol pump before entering Patnitop; apparently, it has been recently built. We fuelled the Duchess, took 2 liters of extra petrol, and were about to leave. As we were coming out from the fuel station, we saw a family and had a small conversation with them. They were coming from Delhi, had planned of going to Ladakh, but were stopped at the Chenani tunnel like us. We exchanged phone numbers and decided to let each other know as soon as one of us gets an update.

So, we entered Patnitop and began looking for a budget yet decent hotel around. Most of the hoteliers and hotels that we came across on the way in there looked Jab We Met-type "decent" (you know what I mean, right?) This did worry us for a small while, but we still kept riding and soon saw JKTDC's Hotel Alpine (Book Hotel Alpine Batote (JKTDC) in Batote with Class Accommodation.) in a small town named Batote near Patnitop range. Since it was JKTDC's, we felt relieved, inquired about a room, and confirmed the reliability of the location with Kumar Sir. He gave us a green signal and told us to book the suitable room, telling us to give his reference to the hotel manager so that we can get as good a room as possible.

We did that and checked into Hotel Alpine. Getting an actually decent hotel room in a government-run hotel at such a last moment was good enough for us; how the room actually was didn't matter much at first, but we could have had to spend the entire day and then the night there, so Rohan wanted it to be liveable for 20 hours. The one that we were first offered had several problems: it was stinking; there was no water; the mattresses and bedsheets seemed like they were changed ages ago. As it turned out, of course, all the good rooms were already full; we didn't have too many choices. Yet, Rohan wanted to check another option, so we were taken to the storey below the ground floor (I'm not sure if it can be called the basement because it was a proper floor with a wide passage and around 8–10 rooms). This one still looked unused, but it was much better than the previous one. So we chose to stay in this room.

At the reception, we inquired about Patnitop and nearby places to visit; we also tried our luck to get an update about Srinagar from the hotel manager, but he told us the same thing that everyone else was saying, "Haalaat toh kal subah theek ho jaenge. Itna kuch nahi ho rahaa hogaa, but it's unpredictable. So behter hain aap kal subah jaldi hi nikal jaao." We nodded in affirmation and went to our room. After freshening up, we left for some sightseeing and brunch/lunch, whatever we could get. Batote, Patnitop, are indeed small cute towns, and there are lush green meadows in this small hill station!

Sanaasar, the beautiful green meadows, were not to be missed, as suggested by Kumar Sir, given that we were there in the town. Trust me, they are mesmerizing! The meadows did take away our stress of "What next?" and rejuvenated us. We didn't go to the peak because, it being a Sunday, there were too many tourists around, and the way up to the peak was actually traffic jammed! So, we chilled, enjoyed the beauty, roamed around the town, drank some chai, observed people around us, and it was good afternoon already.



The Mesmerizing Sanaasar Meadows!

We decided to have a quick lunch near our hotel and then either check if we can move out or go and get some good rest in our hotel room. There was a small dhaabaa nearby, which we instinctively felt good. We saw a family and a couple of tourists having lunch and placed our order to the cute Punjabi uncles who were running the dhaabaa. To our disbelief, one of them got a whole chicken and started cutting it in front of us. We both looked at each other and then at uncle and asked him, "Aap ye pooraa toh humaare liye nahi banaa rahe naa?" to which he heartily laughed and replied, "Aap hi k liye toh hai ye betaa!" We bother laughed and shouted together, saying, "Nahi uncle! Pooraa toh hum nahi khaa paaenge! Aadhaa hi banaa do. Please!" At the same time, another another tourist came and placed the order. Fortunately, he also wanted just half of a chicken, so ours was shared with him. Uncle made delicious butter chicken and tandoori rotis right in front of our eyes and served it to us hot and fresh, with some salad. Punjabis are indeed so loving; both the uncles were cooking and serving people with a lot of love. It was a fulfilling meal in its real sense, but we couldn't finish it all because of the tension. (Unfortunately, owing to the same reason, it didn't even strike us to click any picture of or near the dhaabaa.:()

We also met another traveler there, who told us some hacks for being allowed to move forward, such as telling the police the names of small nearby towns or villages rather than Kashmir or Ladakh. However, keeping aside our second thoughts of trying that out, we decided to stick our plan, i.e., spending that day and the night in Patnitop. We had already met a couple of people who were sent to Patnitop even from the check-post in Ramban. So it was really risky and unworthy. Thus, with a heavy tummy (and a slightly heavy heart for having to leave some of the food), we came back to our hotel room.

Rohan is used to such long rides, but it was my first such adventure, so I was damn tired; I was so tired that I immediately fell asleep the moment I crashed on the bed. He spent the afternoon, the evening, and the night watching TV, reading local newspaper, and trying to get every possible update about the situation in Kashmir, and I spent all the time being dead asleep, literally.

Rohan woke me up at night at around 9ish, asking if we should go out for dinner, but after the fulfilling lunch, we both were not really hungry. So he told me about what he did while I was sleeping, who all had called (HVK Air, my dad, his mom), etc.

Then, we slept through the night, and the next morning arrived too quickly! It had been drizzling throughout the night, and the dawn was super foggy. We loaded our bike, wore our gears, checked out of Hotel Alpine, and left by 5:30 AM on July 9, 2018. The spellbinding view outside filled us with loads of optimism for our journey ahead.

Thank you so much Patnitop for giving us everything that we needed before heading to Kashmir and ahead!





The view outside Hotel Alpine on July 9, 5:25 AM.

I'm leaving you'll with our Day 2's adventure and coming with Chapter 4!
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Be a Good person but Don't try to Prove.
Good going Vrushali. Forgetting one document or the other is part of any trip. Good that you found it at the right time.

Eagerly waiting for next post.

Sent from my Redmi Note 3 using Tapatalk

Vrushali Surve

Happy pillion for life!
Good going Vrushali. Forgetting one document or the other is part of any trip. Good that you found it at the right time.

Eagerly waiting for next post.

Sent from my Redmi Note 3 using Tapatalk
Hehe yeah, forgetting a document, dropping a glove while clicking pictures, all such minute experiences also make the trip memorable, isn't it @SHEKHAR 257 and others? More updates in Chapter 3, Day 2 are coming soo. Stay tuned!