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

Vrushali Surve

Happy pillion for life!
Chapter 6: Leh jaaenge, Leh jaaenge, Duke waale aaj finally Leh jaaenge!
(Day 5, July 11th, 2018)
Part I: Kargil–Mulbek–Lamayuru

Good, healthy, heavy breakfasts are real saviors on such rides/drives. So, whenever you have the opportunity, use it to pack the tummy before beginning the ride; for drives, it's relatively better because you can even pack breakfast to have it on the go and thus start the day even earlier. For riders, if such opportunities do not come your way, dry fruits come really handy and helpful; therefore, having them in the tank bag is a must. On some mornings, we had a good breakfast; on some mornings, we had dry fruits. D'Zojila was a breakfast-included hotel. So, we had a good amount of bread–butter–jam and tea and left from the hotel with full tummies. Rohan loaded the bike, and Rahul and Ginesh loaded their Thar while I finished the checking out formalities. They were already a meter or two away in the Thar, and we were geared up to leave, but little did we know a small but unpleasant surprise awaited us—a flat tire!!! It was 7:00 AM, and the shops around were mostly closed. Fortunately, Rohan called the Thar guys, and they came back immediately while he went and found a local mechanic nearby, whose garage hadn't opened yet. Nonetheless, the mechanic was kind and understanding enough that he immediately fixed the issue without taking a penny! Rohan came back with the tire fixed, and we four left together. We ensured giving 100 Rs. to the mechanic and resume the journey. We did get delayed by half an hour, but that was any day better because Rohan noticed it, and we could get it fixed before starting to climb any of the multiple passes en route Leh that day.

So, this route is undeniably one of the most spectacular rides/drives in the Himalayas, which is indeed true. The roads are excellent, with multiple ascends and descends, of course, and the landscape and vegetation change drastically every few kilometres. Our first stop on the way was at Mulbek to see the Chamba statue of standing Maitreya Buddha—our first of the two Maitreya Buddhas of the journey (some of you may already know about the second one; if not, you'll get to know very soon!). This monastery was a simple, comparatively much smaller place of sanctity, as a monastery typically is. We must have reached Mulbek by 9:00 / 9:30 AM, and the roads as well as the monastery were empty! Probably the morning prayers and chores were done; the monastery was open and empty. It's a whole different experience that such holy places give; of course, I need not articulate it more, as we all know the sense of inner peace that any holy place gives, and monasteries are no different.

Rohan clicked pics of the rock-carved standing Maitreya Buddha from a distance while I went in to explore the monastery's interior. Allow me to digress from the topic for a moment and brief about Maitreya Buddha; some or many of you might already know. Maitreya is believed to be the future Buddha, the successor of the current one (Gautama Buddha), who will teach friendship, love, and kindness that he embodies. He is said to be the fifth of a total of one thousand Buddhas that are supposed to be appearing on earth! As per sources, this Maitreya Buddha statue at Mulbek was built in 1st Century B.C., and some inscriptions carved in the Khirosti script are believed to be buried behind the statue's rock. Needless to say, the Kargil Tourism Development Authority is striving very well toward preserving this landmark of Ladakh's religious history.



The magnificent Chamba statue up close




The cute little monastery from the inside and a view of the mountains through the prayer bell

From Mulbek, we headed toward Lamayuru—the Moonland or the lunar landscape of India. However, before reaching there, we had to climb and descend two lesser-known Las—Namik La and Fatu La. We reached Namik La in about half an hour from Mulbek (at around 9:50 AM), so the weather was not too hot by then, nor was it too cold. Moreover, since we had been gradually climbing the altitude, we were quite well acclimatizing; so, we could wait and click a few pictures. I guess it was here that we met a family that was very excited about prayer flags and asked us about the small ones that we had on our Duchess. Such varying encounters with different kinds of people is one of the most important reasons that makes traveling absolutely worth everything. We told them that they would get prayer flags of all possible sizes at any monastery or souvenir shop; they seemed determined to buy a few at their next halt at a monastery or shop, and we moved ahead.

The landscape change could be seen almost every hour; trust me, I’m not exaggerating. At first, there were the sturdy mountains of Kargil; then, there were the moon-like textured slopes of Lamayuru; and then, there were the smooth, velvety mountains of Khaltse! On these velvety mountains, at a certain point, we noticed a weird tiny, ants-like mass movement on a distant hill. We became so curious by the movement that we had to stop and see what it was, and guess what? It was a huge herd of sheep grazing on that barren land! After some reflection on what they might be grazing on there, we realized that it was the rock salt and the minerals that were their food, and the herd was not a single shepherd’s; it was of the entire village. So, as we got to know later, shepherds take turns and take the sheep of the entire village for grazing. I honestly can’t imagine how they manage to do that!


Those are the tiny sheep from a distant hill on the other side

We continued ahead, awestruck, and reached our first La of that dayNamik La. Further, the second one—Fatu/Fotu La was about an hour away.






The two high mountain passes between Kargil and Leh

After crossing these two passes, we climbed down the Hungaroo loops—a series of multiple hairpin bends before reaching Lamayuru. They blended with the mighty Himalayas unimaginably well and were as beautiful as the Gata loops.




Aren't they vast?! :-D

The thin green patch that you'll can see in the first of these three Hungaroo loops pics, is the tiny village named Lamayuru. Somewhere en route Lamayuru, we came across a spot, by chance, on the top of the mountains from where we could look down and straight, and the view was breathtaking!




The lovely spot that I happened to spot and insisted Rohan to stop; it was absolutely worth it!

And then, we finally landed in the Moonland—Lamayurua small village in Ladakh that holds one of the oldest (said to be built in around 10th Century B.C.) monasteries in Ladakh at its heart, with about 100 houses scattered around it. A local legend even says that Lamayuru was once upon a time a lake whose water receded and eventually dried up. I was super curious to see this moonscape with my own eyes to understand why it is known as the “Moonland,” and of course I found the answerboth visually as well as geographically convincing. The steep mountains and their slopes, or the sandy rocks, that were once under the lake, underwent erosion from the water and winds, and thus the Moonland was unearthed. To me, the landscape gave a hint of how Egypt would be; the color of the sand, the structure of the monastery and the houses/buildings around it amidst the hills, and the overall barren or deserted feeling. What is even more surprising to the eyes is the lush green patch of the village amidst the hills that contrasts with the light brown scatter of the sand. It is indeed a treat to watch.

Below are a few glimpses of the lunar landscape; it's too beautiful to capture its beauty in just a few pics.







The village that is unique to India in its own sense.

Mind you, although it looks so rustic, Lamayuru has some good restaurants immediately at its entry point. We were quite hungry and needed a small refreshing break and some mandatory MOMOs, we stopped at Hotel Tharpaling—a nice restaurant, and even a guest house I reckon, run by an old-aged couple, who also do farming for meeting their ends. While we were on the trip, there were heavy rains and flooding in Mumbai, which was aired on the national television and the news of which had reached even Ladakh. We had ordered for a honey pancake, momos, and lemon tea at Tharpaling, and as we were waiting for the food to come, the owner aunty (I forgot her name) came to have a chat with us, as she was waiting for her husband to come from somewhere so that they could go together to water their farm. The reason for pointing about the rains in Mumbai was that after getting to know that we are from Mumbai, aunty got extremely concerned and was asking about the rain situation in Mumbai and if our families and houses were safe. She even told us we should not have left our families alone in the heavy rains, but little did she know that Mumbaikars are used to it every year. We assured her that everyone at our home was safe; the conditions were under control; and we had left before the heavy rains started. She did feel relieved on hearing this assurance. Soon, her husband came, and they left for their farm; almost at the same time, our delicious food was also brought. For these reasons, we couldn't click a picture with aunty even though we wanted to.



I can feel my hunger pangs even now, after almost a year when I see these delicious pancake, momos, and tea!


Do stop at Tharpaling en route Leh when coming from Kargil side.


Many Ladakhis, as aunty told us, keep taxidermied (stuffed body of an animal) Yak outside their restaurants as a sign of good fortune and warding off evil. Interesting, isn't it?

While enjoying the brunch, we tried to get in touch with HVK (Kumar Sir) and the Thar guys just to keep each other updated, and then we continued on the rest of the day's journey—first toward Khaltse, the village that runs parallel to or along with River Indus, with the confluence of rivers Indus and Zanskar in Nimmu, and then to try our vehicles at the Magnetic Hill before finally reaching Leh.

(Part II to be continued...)
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Vrushali Surve

Happy pillion for life!
Hey, I have finally posted Chapter 6 Part I. Extremely sorry for the much longer wait than I promised, but I was facing some technical issues with using the portal in terms of saving my drafts and attached photographs that caused most of the delay, and then I couldn't take out time during some weekdays. But it's finally done, and I'm back with the rest of the journey! Part II and the remaining chapters will be updated sooner! :)

Vrushali Surve

Happy pillion for life!
Tariff for all our stays uptill now (Jammu to Kargil):
1) Hotel Trinetar: Jammu outskirts: Approx. 1000/1100/- Breakfast excluded
2) Hotel Alpine (JKTDC): Patnitop: 1800/-, including taxes, excluding breakfast and meals (basic room, with absolutely basic facilities; was not great, but good rooms are damn expensive, and JKTDC comes out to be the best and safest hotels in Patnitop, with fantastic location. At approx. 2.3-2.5k, you can get a better, okayish room here.)
3) New Jersey Houseboat: Nigeen Lake, Srinagar: 2400/-, including taxes, excluding breakfast and meals but absolutely worth everything. Their hospitality, the hygiene and beauty, and the food, everything makes the stay worth, and 2.4k seem peanuts in exchange of what they offer.
4) Hotel D'Zojila: Kargil: 1800/-, excluding breakfast and meals. Good/decent experience.

[Please be noted that all of these are HiVayKings (HVK) Central Hotel Desks (CHDs), and the rates are in accordance with the same.]
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