I dream of this place often. I have been there, and I haven’t really been there. Was it the desert planet of Tatooine, or was it closer home, on our very own planet? I remember the Sun shining mercilessly and the winds chilling our bones, especially in the shade, and the magnificent clouds dotting the impossibly blue skies.

This was the day my trip ended, of Ladakh.


For The Happiness Of My Feet

Previously on Ladakh: Qasam UDaanjhalle Kii

Ok guys, it’s show off time again!

High up on the priority list for Ladakh preparations is comfort for the feet. 10-12 hours of riding every day in that terrain demands that I keep my feet warm, comfortable and dry under all circumstances. Which is why I went to my regular riding/trekking/adventure gear shop and bought Cramster’s waterproof riding boots.

DSC2452[Cramster riding boots][Cramster riding boots][Cramster riding boots]
I do have a few other pairs that I wear during my long rides. I used to have a pair of suede Woodlands, rugged and robust but not waterproof. Then I have a pair of tan leather Woodlands, which once again look good and are heavy and robust, but still not waterproof. I also have a very economical pair of DMS boots, which are the same as my leather Woodlands, but are black and cover my ankles properly.

I have never had any boots which were sold as “riding boots”, neither did I ever have boots which are waterproof.

These Cramsters come highly recommended, and thus I’m psyched about them 🙂

My other options were the Alpinestars riding boots, which are almost 4 times as expensive as these babies, or the Quenchua trekking boots, which are slightly cheaper and are waterproof, but are only ankle-high (not enough if you’re going to a terrain like Ladakh’s) and come with laces (would not want to spend time & effort in tying & untying when my lungs are gasping for oxygen on the highest motorable road in India, would I?)

I think I’ve made a good purchase. Let’s see how good it proves itself to be.

Qasam UDaanjhalle Kii

When this rider was little and rode bikes only as a pillion (or sitting on the tank), he dreamt of a place. A place high up in the mountains. A place where the landscape was white and brown, and the sky was bluest. A place where the terrain was unforgiving but the people were friendly, where monks lived, where kids were as pretty as dolls, where houses were clustered atop hills. A place where it was scorching hot out in the sun and chilling in the shade just at the distance of a few feet. A “cold desert” which was nowhere near Antarctica!

The place where, as he would later know, riders would go in big numbers every year. The place which would later become one of the hottest tourism spots in the country, where a major TV reality show’s first season would be shot, where a motorcycle company would organise an annual trip to.

But before all that, for him it was the place where Dara and Karan went on horsebacks to capture Yogi Thakur, who was out of jail and wanted revenge on his old accomplice Raja Singh, and Bacchulal of Akaalgadh fame spoke the immortal words “क़सम उड़ानझल्ले की” (qasam udaanjhalle ki).

Err what??? Are you wondering whether I have lost it completely?

Ladies and gentlemen, I am talking about the movie Joshilaay, the one which began as a Shekhar Kapur movie, but couldn’t be completed as such. It still is one of my favourite films to relax with. One of the reasons for this is Shekhar Kapur’s direction in the first half, another being R. D. Burman’s score, then there’s Anil Kapoor’s on-screen attitude, and Satish Kaushik with his inimitable dialogue delivery. But more than that, what drew me, the little would-be-rider, into this movie was the unique looking “desert”. Never before had I seen a place so beautiful and interesting being portrayed as a badland. Before Joshilaay, deserts and tough places were always amidst the sands of Rajasthan or rocks of Karnataka. Which is why this movie took me in so deeply. Joshilaay introduced me to the dream that is Ladakh.

Years later, I would see another movie. Not so commercial. Never seen at the theatres. The only popular star this movie has is Danny Denzongpa. And if you cared enough, Raj Zutshi. Set in Ladakh, shot in Ladakh, with dialogues in Hindi and Ladakhi. The cinematography and direction wowed me again, but in a manner different from that of Joshilaay. It wasn’t a hero film or an epic film. It was a sensitive film, telling an intricate story of a girl, and her father. Frozen continued the dream I have had for so long.

But why am I telling you about this dream of mine? Because it is going to come true soon.

Amongst the two big & impactful pieces of news in my life, this one is more urgent and delightful. I am going to Ladakh after all these years of dreaming. Along with my steed.

Towards the end of this month, three of my friends and I are riding off from Jammu towards Leh. Yaay!!!

Preparations have begun. The countdown has started. I dream of Ladakh every day now. I plan to keep the blog updated with the preparations, and with the ride as and when it unfurls itself.

For you to enjoy, here’s an all-time favourite song of mine from Joshilaay, and then a short scene from Shivajee Chandrabhushan’s Frozen. Towards the middle of July, I plan to start sharing my impressions and interpretation of the land. Hope it lives up to whatever expectations you have from me 🙂

Next on Ladakh: For The Happiness Of My Feet

The Murud & The Janjira

Firelords logoSo the weekend of 8th & 9th January, five Firelords headed west, got lost many times, and managed to reach the beautiful town of Murud at 5.30 AM, when not even the street dogs are awake.

Why did we get delayed you ask?

Because of endeavors like this one, among other things.

Starry Starry Nights, originally uploaded by recaptured.

But it was awesome fun! We’re all trying to put words to our feelings & emotions & experiences. Until then, keep enjoying the photographs I keep putting up. Here’s hoping that I do at least that with some regularity 😛

Solo Saturday Ride: Nighoj

A lazy Saturday and no friends around – what’s a rider to do? Ride of course. Solo.

So I did. 90km from Pune on the Nagar Road (SH 27), a certain SH 51 branches off to a village called Nighoj, beside which flows a river through giant potholes. I had heard about this place from Joseph, who showed me its pictures on flickr by other people. The ones that stayed with me were clicked by Suhas Desale and some other P@P members.

And ever since I had seen those photographs, I wanted to go there.

So this lazy Saturday afternoon (the 26th of December), after grabbing a bite at the FC Road Subway, I just rode off on Nagar Road. After around 70km of riding on the awesome 4-lane highway, which included a bit of ghats and loads of beautiful corners, I reached Shirur. Just when I crossed the Shirur town, there was the Ghodnadi river and its bridge which were my landmarks. I crossed the bridge and kept an eye out for a left turn. It is a sharp left turn, that comes just when the SH 27 is turning right, and can be easily missed.

So I took the turn, and realised that not all state highways are made equal. From a 4-lane Nagar Road, I was now on an almost one-lane “State Highway” to Nighoj. It took me another 20km of a mix of okay roads and almost off-road patches to reach the Nighoj village. The highway turns right when leaving the village. On the turn I thought it would be wise to stop and ask for the place I wanted to go to. The only problem was that I did not know what the locals called it. And I cannot speak Marathi! Luckily the two construction workers I asked seemed to be well-versed in Hindi, and they guided me in the general direction of the place, and advised me to ask for “Kundaa” (कुंडा).

When the road turns right, on the left you can see two big facades – the kind you see at the entrance of a locality or as entrances to “holy areas” surrounding temples. The roads beyond these gates are as good as dirt patches, so I braced myself (I forgot to wear my back-support when I left home!). I drove in to the second gate, and took the most obvious turns and corners, and conveniently got lost in the fields, all the while wondering if I was on the right track. I stopped on the way twice to ask people where the “Kundaa” was, only to realise that they were speaking such a dialect which even my Marathi flatmate would have trouble understanding. As a last resort, I brought out my phone and decided to do some googling. Now the phone I have, the Samsung Marine, is an excellent conversation starter, is very good with the waterproof, dustproof and shockproof thingie, and is good with the voice and decent with the messaging, but it’s not built for data connections. Three times out of four when I try opening a webpage on its primitive browser the message I get is that the file being loaded is too big for its teeny-tiny memory. Of course it’s a tough phone, don’t expect brains from it. But I digress. With my fingers crossed, I googled for Nighoj on it, and managed to load a post on a blog just enough to catch the necessary keywords – Kundaa Devi and Kukdi. So I asked another local, who spoke to me in Marathi, and I gathered from whatever I understand of the language, that I had to turn back, almost till the Nighoj village. So I turn back, and stop to ask a shopkeeper in the village, who literally walked me to the obscure looking exit on the left which would take me to the destination. This by-road made the road I was travelling on so far look like the Autobahn. Who would have thought that you would have to take such a road to reach such a popular spot? That too without any signage. Anyways, it took me another 3-4km before I saw another gate welcoming me to the Kundmauli (कुंडमाउली) tourist area. Another couple of kilometres, and I reached a plateau-like clearing, with a couple of temples. So I parked my bike, took off the bag from the tank and walked forward. And was amazed by what I saw.

The locals call this area Kundmauli (कुंडमाउली) or Kundaa Devi (कुंडा देवी), and there is a temple called Malganga (मळगंगा) over here. There is a temple on either side, and there is a narrow bridge that takes you across.

After I spent around an hour exploring one bank of the river and clicking pictures, I realised that I was losing light – it was sunset time. Since I wanted to catch up to SH 27 as soon as possible, I packed up, and rushed back to the bike. Then it was half an hour of almost off-roading, followed by an hour or so of smooth highway riding, and then another half an hour of moving through city traffic, before I had dinner and landed up in Aundh, drinking with a couple of Firelords. A perfect end to a day well-spent.


When Distance Shrank To Fit A Day

It was 8 in the morning, once again, and I was ready with all my gear. The saddlebags on the rear seat, the turtlebag on the tank, knee-guards on the knees, elbow-guards on the elbows over the jacket sleeve, gloves and a helmet. The only difference was that this time it was an elephantine distance that was awaiting me. The last time I had done this stretch, it was in one and a half days’ time in the opposite direction. I was leaving my friend’s place in Bangalore, and needed to reach Pune the same day. Armed with confidence, but still doubtful of my and the bike’s abilities to conquer the task at hand, I hit the road. The odometer read 16708. This was my first time in Bangalore in some 15 years’ time, and the first time ever that I was driving there. The roads all seemed to look the same (though they do look beautiful and spacious), and every turn seemed to take me both towards and away from the destination at the same time.

While negotiating the early-morning rush-to-office/school traffic while still very much on the city roads, I started remembering the previous day’s journey – the 36 hairpin bends, the elephant cub and the deer on the roadside in Bandipur, the beautiful vista that the trees presented me with in the forest reserves, and then the mostly uneventful journey after leaving Bandipur. Anyways, I got to touch NH4 by around 9.30am, and hit reserve at 10.15. I had travelled 90km since morning. After refuelling, I set off again.

While I was having a discussion with Anjani the previous night, he had told me that the awesome rocks that I had seen near Ramnagar while coming to Bangalore marked the spots where Sholay had been shot. The road after Bangalore also had such stones & small hillocks. You could just imagine Gabbar Singh convening a board meeting of his executive team amongst those big imposing rocks, and asking his Company Secretary Mr. Sambha for his market evaluation as pegged by the government.

After a 50minute long brunch break (heavy eating to avoid stopping again during the afternoon) at one of the Vithal Kamats on the highway, it was time to go again. But before that I had to answer a few questions the attendant there had for me — the usual, where are you coming from, where to, why, how many, what is it, aren’t you brave, aren’t you mad. So while the odometer was showing 16868, I took off again.

Long stretches started disappearing behind me, and the sun kept shining. In January, the heat was scorching — such is the Deccan terrain in Karnataka.

The prime concern for me was the time I was doing. I wanted to maintain an average speed of 80kmph, else reaching Pune the same day would be impossible. To maintain that average speed one has to ride for stretches at speeds of 110 and above for a good amount of time. Not that it caused any stress to my 350cc engine, but it does show on mileage. And however much we Bulleteers like to say that mileage does not matter for us, fact is that when you are doing such a stretch, keeping a tab on mileage and the amount of fuel left in the tank is critical, especially when the petrol pumps are so few and far between. And to top it, there are even fewer petrol pumps who accept credit cards as a mode of payment. My mental powers were thus spent calculating the distance covered, the time spent, the amount of fuel remaining and my immediate cash and otherwise purchasing power.

If you do a simple calculation, my bike at such running conditions was returning around 25kmpl, which means that the approximate distance that was planned for the day would burn 32litres of petrol. Now my tank holds 14litres including reserve, which meant refuelling at least thrice during the day. And everytime it had to be full-tank. I was hardly carrying any cash, and as far as I have seen there are no ATMs on the NH4 between Bangalore and Pune. So the only way I had to refuel was by card. But I was not so lucky. Only once did I get a petrol pump which accepted my credit card. And that too was after roaming around in the fringes of Hubbali. While looking for the pump, I was caught by a local traffic cop wearing the super-cool shiny white cowboy hat which is part of the Karnataka police uniform, who among other questions also asked me if I had paid Karnataka road tax! Imagine a biker with a Jharkhand licence plate, telling him he is coming from Ooty in Tamil Nadu and reaching Pune in Maharashtra at the end of the day, and he wants to know if I have paid Karnataka road tax! I guess there are similar policemen everywhere. Anyways, he was convinced in some time and in fact helped me with directions to the pump, and I got to refuel and leave the town.

The other two times I refuelled, my precious cash reserves were drained. In fact, at sundown all I had in my pocket was a measly Rs. 60.50. That, combined with the fatigue, hunger and the increasing realisation that I was not doing good time, which would mean reaching Pune very late, were tiring me out.

By 6.30 in the evening, I was nearing Kolhapur. That seemed to put some hope in my heart. Home wasn’t far. One part of me wanted to just pull the throttle all the way and be done with the journey. But then the pangs of hunger got the better of me, and I pulled over at the McDonald’s just before Kolhapur at 6.45.

There I met a fellow Bulleteer who was also returning from Ooty. It was Satya from Inddiethumpers, with a friend of his, who also belonged to that club. After the general introductions, we went our way towards our respective menus. Remember I told you about my fiscal condition earlier? It was still the same, but thankfully it was just enough to afford me a McVeggie burger and a cola float. Surprisingly a glass of cola is more expensive than a cola float at McD’s! Anyway, after having my fill and recharging my mobile phone in their kitchen, I checked the odometer. It read 17355. Total distance since morning — 647km.

For most people, and even for me on most days, that would be a distance worthy of 2 days’ riding. But there was a long way to go. I still wasn’t home. And I had to reach office the next morning 🙂

At 7.10pm I started off from the McDonald’s with darkness fast approaching me. Soon after I crossed Kolhapur, it started getting dark.

After I crossed Satara, fatigue became more demanding. But I decided not to stop. Not a very good idea, I will say. A couple of times I was so tired, I could not see the approaching road-divider that I would have hit (at a speed of around 100kmph!) had I not swerved nearly at the last moment.

When it was post 9.30 at night, the journey started becoming unbearable. It was dark, the traffic was as bad as it is usually between Satara and Pune, the weight and feel of the gear on my limbs were close to irritating now. When I finally hit the viaduct, it felt like I have almost reached, but still the journey seemed liked it would never end.

Non-stop riding for three and a half hours got me home, where the only thing I looked forward to was a hot water bath, and something to eat!

Thankfully my flatmate Girish was kind enough to quickly cook khichdi for me, even though he had had dinner outside. And I was not able to sit on the floor without a cushion (remember Saif Ali Khan from Dil Chahta Hai?). Funny eh?

When I parked the Bird at home, her odometer read 17593. 885km in 13 hours! 885km in one day! Bangalore to Pune in one day!

Girish, on hearing that I had left Bangalore only at 9 in the morning, had only one thing to ask me — “Were you chasing a Volvo from there? 14 hours is what a Volvo takes from Bangalore to Pune!”