Fellow Travellers!

Till 1998 or so, my motorcycle(Yamaha 135) and first car (Maruti 800) were just daily commutes. But that changed once my Accounting Product was launched. Most of the customers I found were in small towns like Junnar, Sangli and Kolhapur and I had to travel there to meet them. It did build up my confidence and I started enjoying the ride/drive itself. So after a point, I started making these road trips weekly as an exercise in stress-relief! And there certainly was a lot to stress about in that period in my life! Over the next few years, I covered the entire Konkan coast and even went as “far” as Hampi! Then a Royal Enfield motorcycle I called “Dougie”, and soon after the Maruti Gypsy called “Yossarian”, entered my life and my life was never the same again! Road Trips got longer and better planned. I am not proud of it but one side advantage was that colleagues, including my boss(es) held me in a certain kind of awe! I wasn’t the regular boring stereotypical “IT geek person”! I was the IT geek who went to crazy road-trips and Tiger census exercises! They would follow my (old) blog religiously! OKAY! I will admit to getting a little kick out of that! ๐Ÿ™‚

But the main advantage is that on each of these road trips, I met many interesting people and had a tonne of life experiences. And each of these people and experiences has helped me learn some important life lessons! Travel is indeed the best College out there people! And in this post, I will share some of the most interesting experiences and people I met on the road and what I learnt from them! This post is a condensed version of over 30+ posts on my old blog.

In 2009, I was on what was supposed to be another solo ride when I ran into this very attractive rider guy from Ludhiana at an Indian Army checkpost in Banihal. He was not one of the clubbie type Bullet bikers – NOT AT ALL! He was on a solo ride like me. He was arguing with the Army guys at the checkpost when I first met him! My original ride plan that year was to recreate the “Great Lakes circuit” I had done earlier in 2006. But instead we ended up riding together for the next 22 days! I normally prefer riding solo, but this guy was really, REALLY HOTTT!! I totally have a thing for Punjabi Jatt guys, especially if they tie their pagg neatly, so at that time I will admit I was thinking with my coochie not my head!๐Ÿ˜ป This sort of thing always happens when you ride solo! Get to meet interesting people on their own journey through life! My first time to Zanskar! Turns out he was a bit of a poet and writer, writing Amazing stuff in his very unique Urdu influenced Punjabi. I first heard his Amazing poetry while we were camping at Rangdum and my pseudo-Uterus just popped! So Naturally….๐Ÿ˜‰! I would find out 8 years later, that the Punjabi song playing on loop in my Gypsy was actually ghost-written by HIM under a pseudonym! ๐Ÿ˜ฏ

On the same 2009 Ladakh ride, I ended up doing a completely unplanned bypass to Zanskar! It was on this unplanned bypass that I met a Buddhist Nun in her 90s who lived in a monastery nearby. It took one minute for her to read me like an open book! She became my “Gurumaa”! One of the many, many things she told me at this time was that I should come back to live with her when I was ready! 5 years later, my Life was in a mess! I learnt the ex was getting married, plus the ugliness of “Modi’s India” was finally out in the open – I had a complete breakdown! I did the only thing I knew I could do to get out of it! I took my Gypsy and drove out to the Himalayas and straight to meet Gurumaa! I ended up staying 42 days in that monastery, serving my Gurumaa and learning from her! I came back with a fresh perspective on life, clarity like I never had before and ofcourse a new name that she had given me!

You dont meet people “by coincidence” – I no longer believe that! I believe the Lord has planned for everything to happen for a reason! I did not run into that Hottie rider “N” at that army checkpost in Banihal by coincidence! I was meant to meet him there! And If I hadn’t met “N” that day, I would never have done Zanskar that year and thus would never have met Gurumaa! Everything that happens, happens for a reason! The Lord works in mysterious ways! And he had my back!

Before my first Ladakh ride, People who had ridden to Ladakh before me had given me some “Dos and Donts” and one of the things they repeatedly reinforced was the “No pass crossings after 1pm” rule – something the kids today just dont follow! Both of us were “Ladakh Virgins” in 2004 so we listened and promised to follow the rules to the last letter! But on that first ride, one of the rules was broken and we paid a heavy price for it! On Day 6, we had camped overnight between Tandi and Jispa and were planning a short ride to Sarchu that day! We made very good speeds however and we were at the Army Checkpost in Sarchu by 1230. The Checkpost guy told us that road ahead was good and we could reach Pang easily. Riding ahead to Pang seemed like a good idea at the time – less to ride the following day. It was past noon at the time and there were 2 passes above 16000ft ASL ahead of us. Also, Pang is at a substantially higher altitude than Sarchu so staying overnight is a sure recipe for getting Altitude Sickness if you havent gotten it already! But we just werent thinking straight at the time! So we rode ahead. Rohit got struck with AMS while crossing the Gata loops – for some reason everyone seems to be struck with AMS at this same location! But as we descended Lachulung La at around 4pm, we ran into a raging river! What is a small trickle of water in the mornings, turns into a raging river as the day drags on due to Snow Melt. “RK” made it across somehow, but I hit a pothole while crossing the river and my bike tipped over with the force of the water, trapping my right leg under it! There I was lying trapped under the bike, my nose barely above the freezing water and desperately holding my camera kitbag clear of the water. “RK” waded in, rescued my camera kit first and then came back to get me. “RK” with help from a passing trucker pulled me free of the bike and dragged both me and my bike ashore! It was a providential escape! We spent the night at Pang. “RK”‘s AMS had gotten worse and we had to get oxygen at the Army’s Tent Clinic in Pang. We had learnt a valuable Lesson! ๐Ÿ™‚

The small village of Drass between Srinagar and Kargil was supposed to be just a night halt – like always! I had ridden down the previous day from Kud near Jammu and was planning to do a long haul to Leh the next day. The next morning I woke up early at 4am and headed down to the Tea stall opposite the Lodge, to get my morning beverage fix. That is where I met this blind Balti singer. The Tea shop owner had kindly given this guy some Kashmiri bread and Tea before serving me. I was having my Tea when this blind Balti guy broke into a song! His haunting voice stays with me to this day! Ended up staying 3 days in Drass. Explored the surrounding area in the daytime, but woke up early everyday just so I could begin my day hearing this guy sing! Very “Ram Shankar” kind of Tenor but perfect pitch! Big regret is that I didnt have a voice recorder that day! If I ever make a Bollywood Film, I will want one song in his voice!

One year, as I was planning that years annual pilgrimmage to the Himalayas, an old colleague asked if he could join. And he did! We planned to ship our bikes from Bangalore to Mandi, begin the ride from there and return via Kashmir. He was newly married, and his wife would fly in to Leh and fly out a week later. Uneventful ride till that point. His wife joined us in Leh, and after she had acclimatized to the altitude, we did a 2 day circuit to Nubra and then left for a 3 day “camping trip” to Pangong Lake. We should have left Pangong back for Leh in the early morning as planned. But we decided to chill for sometime, have a long “camping breakfast” and leave later that afternoon! Looking back, that was a mistake! His AVL500 bike was not pulling for some reason so his wife rode pillion with me. He was ahead of us on the climb up Chang La pass where we ran in to a massive Traffic Jam! The weather had also taken a turn for the worse! We could see him in the distance – he had parked his bike and lit up a cigarette as Traffic had blocked up with no signs of clearing. We saw him as he waved back to us and a few seconds later, we saw him getting hit by a massive Rockslide! One of those traumatic life experiences that you wish had never seen! ๐Ÿ™

In 2007, I did my first solo ride to Ladakh! It was a liberating experience indeed! I had a good ride overall. Picking up my bike from Mandi, rode to Leh and then onwards to Nubra valley after 2 days in Leh Town. On Day 13, I had just returned from a long soak in the Hot Springs in Panamik Village. I made my evening peg of “Old Monk” Rum and called up a friend who had ridden with me the previous year. I had 2 unused “buffer days” at that point and “RD” told me that i could use those to ride up to SBC. SBC was not even remotely on my radar at that time. It was one of those places we read up in newspaper reports! But “RD” convinced me to go for it saying that it was just a “short” ride up after which I could take a *secret route* to head straight for Pangong Lake bypassing Leh. He further said that someone from his club, a leading “Biker Guru” in India, had done it already the previous year and it was “EASY”! It looked promising! It wasn’t! ๐Ÿ™‚ Next day, I rode up to SBC – it was not a short “4 hour ride”. It was a long, boring, dusty ride with terrible roads all the way! For future reference, the road on the Western side of Nubra Valley is infinitely more interesting with much better views. And SBC was totally underwhelming! What I saw was a giant Army facility with 100s(??) of Cheetah Helicopters and a giant, smelly Garbage dump! It was too late to ride back to a civilian village and I was forced to spend the night with an Army Captain in his tent who took pity on me! The next day I tried to navigate one of the 2 *secret routes* that had been given to me. Was rudely sent back packing by Army guys from a place called Burtse (sp??) and I somehow managed to get back to Panamik after a gruelling 8 hour ride through bad weather and roads! I did make it to Pangong eventually using the other *secret route*.

The funny thing was, when i began my ride that day towards SBC, I was surprised to get calls from this “Biker Guru”. I had only met him casually once before and never exchanged contact info or anything! Why was he suddenly calling me? “RD” had given him my number and told him about my ride. I also started getting calls from this other “Highway Guru”. Unknown to me at the time, there was clearly some activity going on in the Biker WWW space! These 2 folks kept in constant touch with me over the next 20 days tracking my progress. I later learnt that these folks had never actually done these routes at all! They had theoretically studied the routes for sure but hadn’t actually done it! I was flaterred at the time but I am not too sure what to make of it now!

Looking back, I dont regret doing SBC or the *secret routes*. It was completely unplanned and at the end of day, very interesting experiences over all! Saw Chinese military Camps in the distance at one point! Had to pay 800 rupees to a Tractor Trailer guy to take me and my bike across a swollen Shyok River and so on! Important life lessons! But a key learning was, don’t blindly buy all the BS peddled on internet biking forums!

Travel more and be open to new experiences that life has to offer! Used to resent it earlier, but I am totally onboard this “Compulsory Annual Leave” thingie now! Auditor folks! Come and spend a month auditing my Projects and writing long reports critiquing my Project Management style! I will be away on a Road Trip!๐Ÿ˜ Unfortunately, I had to sell the bike and Gypsy when I left India, so the Annual Travel is now more by Flight – atleast for now! Hope to get a car again someday and begin road-tripping! I am thinking either Ford Bronco or Honda Passport will be my “YOSSARIAN-II”! What do you guys think?

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