Ladakh is always a dream destination for everyone who hasn’t been there even once. For bikers, it is a must-go destination and people have it on their “things to do before I die” bucket list. Yes, that serious it becomes for some who love riding a bike and are tired of doing that in their busy cities.
This was my first ever bike trip, and what better than Ladakh as the place to go? I read loads of tips and steps of preparation before the trip started but there are things that were never told, and each of them is important enough because if not followed, they can make the trip experience from good to bad.
1. It isn’t easy during the rainy season
If it is a rainy season, expect the sun to go up soon and hit the ice, which melts and sends down gushes of water as waterfalls that you see on several mountaintops. They look mesmerizing but in the end, they show up somewhere on your way and it makes the road muddy and smooth, making your biking experience bad and hard.
2. There’s almost no view experience for bikers
When you are biking, forget about viewing the beautiful mountains, skies, and whatever the nature on the sides because you have to focus on driving. A single rider has that issue but their cameras do the job of capturing everything and that is what you see and enjoy on YouTube. But mind you, if you are riding a bike on these terrain ways, looking on the sides can land you in trouble. In no time, you see a gravel base or a sharp curve and missing such things, you know where you would end up. Forget about the view, focus on driving and let your camera do the job of capturing the breathtaking views, which you can enjoy later.
3. You will need lunch, even if said otherwise
I’ve read it on many websites and heard from people that energy bars would be good enough to keep you active while riding and you won’t ever need a good lunch in the afternoon. That’s untrue. You will need proper lunch and you would get hungry as hell after hours of riding the bike and this isn’t the same as you would do in a city, so riding here is a workout where your entire body plays a role, not just your hands and legs. Keep a track of the time and see if you are hungry enough to grab something at a local Dhaba.
4. Don’t have airtight packed food
If it is in any boxes, it should be fine. But if it is the biscuit packs and chips, the pressure here makes them swell from inside and eventually they blast away when it gets extreme. I had a Lays pack in my bag while riding from Jispa to Sarchu, and after I reached Sarchu, the chips were scattered inside the bag as the pack couldn’t keep up with the pressure.
5. No eggs at high altitudes
This is not a compulsion and it depends on what your body can take, but a good host at the Sarchu camp shared her thoughts about why not to have eggs here. Eggs don’t get digested easily and here at these places where you are asked to eat less because the heights make you feel the motion sickness and some who can’t bear it and vomit, the eggs are going to make it worse.
6. Single rider is a better choice
I can tell that after driving the Royal Enfield 350 for about a week here, sometimes with my partner as a pillion and sometimes alone. The latter was because it was too hard for both of us to go together on the same bike in these ways. When someone tells you that these are some of the toughest roads, believe them. Going up or down the mountains on these loops has one major requirement – hold the handles very tightly or the bike will toss you off when you are on a soft sand or on the base having little beads of gravel. In the end, the back of the shoulder for the driving partner is gone, and it is the back that is gone for the pillion. If it was a single rider, he/she puts lesser weight on the bike and thus, managing it isn’t as hard and painful as the dual rider travel.
7. The earlier you start your day, the better
It isn’t about the traffic, it isn’t about the view, and it isn’t about the climate. When you go during the summer or around the rainy season, the sunrise is what you have to play a game with. Not directly, but to tackle the melting ice from the top of the mountains. In almost every path, there are several places where the ice water flowing down from the top meets you in the middle of the street. With its flow, it can even take you along if you don’t know how to swiftly take your bike and cross the gushing waters. Now, one way you can make it easier is by starting off early to your destination because the ice melting and water coming down become higher as the day progresses.
8. Dehydration is your enemy, so is alcohol
You will need to seriously go easy on alcohol and not drink it as you wish. Alcohol is known to dehydrate your body and the thing that will keep you well is exactly the opposite – a hydrated body. Alcohol consumption is nowhere going to help in altitude sickness and thus, you better cancel the plans of “we’ll booze the whole night and enjoy”. Having a little booze under limits and knowing you are doing well is the trick here.
9. Helmets, headgear, body gear – everything is necessary
If you have heard that you can go racing your bike on one of the highways in the mountains without wearing your body armor and helmet, you have seriously heard that from a wrong person who happened to be there and be lucky to not see anything happen. While on my bike trip, I heard from our guide that there have been tumbles down three levels of curves and yet the person riding the bike was safe, thanks to the gear he was wearing. Of course, the luck factor comes into the play but you cannot invite more damage by knowing you are doing it wrong.
10. Carry some fuel, just in case
One of the people who I knew had told me “You don’t have to keep any extra petrol handy, there are petrol pumps, quite a good number of them around Ladakh”. Turns out, he never had the itinerary that I had and some of the routes in the Ladakh trip don’t see even a single human, forget about seeing a fuel station to fill the hungry tank of your bike.
11. Don’t have the “Nothing will happen to me” attitude
Trust me, I have seen a 70-year old enjoying a cup of Maggi at the highest motorable point, Khardung La, and I have also seen a healthy-looking 30-odd guy fainting to land up at the army camp for some oxygen and help. You are no one to know things before taking the trip and reaching those altitudes, so better be prepared for it and be aware of what can happen, and how to be precautionary to get the right treatment in case something happens. AMS is not a joke, especially in places where you don’t have populations living and you literally have nowhere to go for help.
12. Wear Gumboots if you start your day late
Gumboots are a real advantage, though they take a bulk of space if you are not wearing, still, there is no harm in hanging them on the back of your seat if you are not wearing them. But, the timing of wearing these big boots is very important as they help with your ride experience. I’ve worn them each day, and they helped when I started late because the melting ice makes the level of gushing water higher at many points during the trip and you don’t really want to ride with wet shoes and socks and get sick with cold extremities. These gumboots are not aesthetically pleasing but who are you going to please, anyway?
13. Practice some aloo-ka-paratha at home, or survive on Maggi
Except for some monasteries, and places like Leh, you won’t find anything else than Aloo paratha and Maggi. If you are a Maggi fan, you don’t have to even read this point, otherwise, practice eating some aloo paratha with pickles and curd at home for a few days before you start, or you will face homesickness halfway through the trip. Not finding a big menu for food is not uncommon in such places where living itself is close to impossible, and in those situations, learning and adapting is the key – if that is hard for you, practice that prior to the trip.
Many other things are to be said, but these are not as serious and you can learn from experience. Here, what’s mentioned is mostly about preparing yourself before starting the trip itself.