, r ektu just... (Come on Dhanno
R eituku paar korte parlei sofol, (A little more and you achieve the goal)…
Well, some of you might relate to it quite easily but most of them cannot. This was just a part of the little chat I had with my Classic 350cc on the last few metres before reaching our dream, our goal –Gurudongmar Lake.“Faced with the pain of fail,
On being unable to quench their adventurous quell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell,
Rode not the six hundred, but only two.”
The lines might seem much known; it has been taken and modified from Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade”. Prologue to the Ride
I have rode from the Foothills of Darjeeling to the Bay of Bengal in the sweltering heat of April 2011, I have done a midnight trip to Tiger Hill and watched the sun turn the Kanchendzonga from gold to yellow, I had ridden to the Old Silk Route in the winter seasons and felt the chill, but this trip was nothing like before.
It had been nearly six months since our last bike trip to the Old Silk Route. The open roads, fun, adventure and most importantly freedom had been calling out since March. The time was due and we were supposed to ride to one of the highest mountain lake in the world, Gurudongmar Lake, situated at 17100 feet above sea level and a mere 9kms from the China border. But then Amit Nandi, one of the biker from our Bengal trip backed out as his mother asked him to not travel mountains citing some astrological mishaps were on the cards. We were supposed to leave on the 1st of May.
The cancellation was a big heart-breaker as we had planned it for nearly a year (originally we were supposed to visit the lake in October but the earthquake had led us to cancel it that time). The 1st of May came and went; the heart-break and sadness grew bigger and more painful. Then slowly the thirst for adventure and riding started overtaking our emotions and within a couple of days I and Kinjal were ready to complete the trip to Ladakh version 2.0 sans our bike gang members.
It was now the two of us, me and Kinjal. The continued obstacles had made us determined more than ever to complete the trip. It had become a sort of challenge to both of us. Ramneek Singh, of Xkmph.com who had made the trip a few weeks back helped us a lot sharing his experience with us.Preparing for the ride
As regards preparation, we borrowed one set of biking gears from a member of SWAN who happened to be our friend. I had been planning to learn how to repair punctures but had not been able to learn till then. So we scraped the idea of taking any spare tubes or foot pump and risked a gamble with fate. I had learned how to make the mixtures lean or rich and how to adjust the clutch cable (though I seriously doubted being able to do that if the need came).
There was also the possibility of the road being closed due to landslides but we were ready for anything. We were ready to go anywhere but not home in the next few days. We had also a Plan B in case we failed to make Gurudongmar Lake – we would visit Pelling.The Riders
Dr. Kinjal Banerjee, an eye surgeon and my pillion of all seasons. This is one doctor who finds time to live his dreams unlike so many more I have seen.
Me, Saura Bhattacharjee, working in State Bank of India for whom office means 10a.m -5p.m. every weekdays and the merely a means to get funds for fulfilling his dreams.The Ride
My Royal Enfield Classic 350cc, nicknamed “Dhanno
The day finally arrived. After spending a near sleepless night, woke up pretty late as Kinjal had some important work and we would not be leaving early as planned. We left home, with both of our mothers praying for our safety while hiding their anger on our crazy unplanned sudden trip, and started on our ride to live our dream. After fuelling-up “Dhanno
” we thumped our way through the metalled roads enjoying the freedom and he sound of the breeze whizzing past our helmets that we had long been craving for. While riding through the bending and curving roads I was just remembering a scene from the classic movie “Motorcycle Diaries” – a personal favourite of mine. A dialogue too came to my mind which I couldn’t resist from putting down here.
“What we had in common - our restlessness, our impassioned spirits, and a love for the open road.
” – Ernesto “Che” Guevara.
We reached Rangpo and rain greeted us into the “Hidden Land of Sacred Treasures”. In our hurry to get out on the road we had forgotten to buy plastic sheets to cover the bag. We had to quickly buy a plastic-sheet to protect our bags from getting soaked up with rain. In the process we ended getting ourselves thoroughly drenched. After having chole-batore
at a Marwari hotel in Rangpo we continued on our trip having dressed to ward off the rain, but we were sweating as well. We reached Singtam, which is a located 10kms from Rangpo, and from there took the road left after taking directions from the policeman on duty in the traffic post. A signboard informed us that our destination Mangan was 50 kms away. The roads were pretty good but then it wasn’t quite the same all the way through. We reached Mangan at around 4.30 p.m. and after checking out both high end and low-end hotels we chose to spend our night at Hotel Malling Residency, which was pretty cheap and well-maintained.
We celebrated the first day on the road with Dansberg Blue, Zinzi (a locally made wine) and lots of chicken and fags.Day 2
We woke up pretty late, as the District Collectorate’s office would not open before 10 a.m. and we were required to get our Restricted Line Permit from there. We freshened up, packed our things and left for the Collectorate’s office which was a mere 4kms from our hotel. One needs to provide photocopies of the driving license, bike registration, blue book, insurance, tax and a photo identity proof as in Voter card or PAN card.
The employees were very helpful and guided us through the process. We wrote an application to the District Magistrate stating our desire to visit Gurudongmar Lake and that we were taking the risks personally. The DM was a very kind person and he gave us his best wishes for the journey stating that the rain-gods too had been pleased with us, as there had been no rain in the past few days. The sense of relief was evident on our faces as we had been worried the most regarding the weather other than anything else. The total time needed to obtain the permit was approximately 20 minutes and we did not need to spend a single penny.
It was almost noon when we returned to our hotel. After paying our bill we spent another 20 minutes tying knots around the bag to keep it falling from the bike’s carrier we started on our way to Lachen, a small village located 60 kilometres from Mangan, where we were to stay up for the night. The roads were okay till Toong, the first checkpost, where the very helpful and polite policemen stamped our original permit, kept a Xerox of the same and saw us off with best regards.
The 10 km road from Toong to Chungthang was the worst-hit in the earthquake of September 2011 and everyone had warned us of shooting boulders (loose rocks kept falling from the top) and lots of muck. But we were very lucky as it had not rained in the past 3-4 days and hence everything was dry as powder. We reached Chungthang, which was 30kms from Mangan, by 2’o clock and after having 3-4 chocolates (according to Dr. Kinjal it was the best way to keep fit) we started out for Lachen. One important thing to note is that mobile signals are not available after Chungthang except BSNL. But still it is advisable to call everyone and inform them to avert family members from panicking as BSNL is not dependable.
The small lines are the roads.
The road to Lachen was very picturesque and we had a nice photo session in one place along with “Ðhanno
We rode through serpentine roads playing hide and seek with the fading sunlights, stopping occasionally for some fags or to rest our aching butts.
We crossed a place called Chaten (whose meaning as deciphered by Kinjal cannot be stated here) and reached the picturesque village of Lachen at 4.30 p.m. We stopped at the checkpost just before entering Lachen where another round of stamping permits and registering was completed. Thereafter, we arrived at Hotel Dhongkha La
as recommended by Ramneek who had guaranteed that it was the best in Lachen. The owner provided us with a 2-bedded room at a cheap Rs.700.
The room were we stayed up at Lachen.
Lachen is surrounded by such snow clad peaks.
After a brisk walk combined with some photography sessions and lessons (courtesy Kinjal), we returned to the comfort of our beds and rested our tired limbs. We completed a nice dinner comprising vaat-dal-sabji-chicken
and went off to sleep early. The next day we had to start early and this was one time that I would never like to be late.Day 3
The vibration of my cellphone along with the heavy metal tune of the alarm needs to ring atleast five times before I wake up on normal weekdays. But on this particular day I was awake 15 minutes before the alarm was to ring. The first thing I looked after opening my eyes was the sky to see how the weather was and I was not heart-broken. The rays of the morning sun was lighting up the dark but clear sky as well as the snow-clad peaks visible from the room’s window. We quickly freshened up and after enjoying a fag and my dose of Diamox (taken as a precaution for AMS) we started thumping towards our next destination Thangu which was approximately 32 kms from Lachen. Kinjal’s watch displayed 5.30 a.m. which meant we were 30 minutes behind our planned departure.
The ride till Thangu, watching the snow-clad mountains changing colours or the sun rays peeking through two mountains, was just mesmerizing. I too was endowed with some speed demons and rode like hell through good, not so good and terrible roads leaving a trail of awe-inspired tourists in their 4*4 SUV’s behind us. As we climbed from 9000 feet to 10000, 11000 feet – the tall trees got replaced by shrubs and barren lands.
We reached Thangu, located at 14000 feet, at 7.00 a.m. and were happy to have been able to overcome our 30 minutes lag. After having our staple diet (what else other than Perk and popcorns) and chatting up with some tourists who were startled seeing two guys riding upto Gurudongmar Lake we continued on our journey to the holy Lake, amazingly sweating from the warm conditions. It was another 30 kms ride to our final goal.
The landscape changed completely a few kilometres after Thangu, as a desert-like terrain greeted us. We had seen pictures of such places but to see that beauty with one’s own eyes were just incredible. We rode through the cold desert, the snow clad mountains that we see from our roofs in Siliguri now just beside us and reachable. I could not stop myself again from quoting a favourite line from the 2004 movie Motorcycle Diaries:
“We look like outlaws inspiring admiration everywhere we go. We’ve left civilization behind and we are much closer to the land.
There was just endless desert like terrain as far as our eyes could see and the trail left by army trucks and tourist vehicles were the only means to know that we were on the right track and not going towards China.
Kinjal in an ecstatic mood.
The Rider and his Ride.
Journey to the end of the world.
Our next and final stop was at Giaogong, the last army check post, located 12 kilometres before Gurudongmar Lake. The army man checking the permits was amazed by our craziness and appreciated our adventurous zeal. He gave us a token number 10, and kept the original permits with him. We were supposed to retrieve them on our way back (a nice way to ensure no one gets left out).
Finally, we were approaching our destination and the excitement was getting over my driving senses. We had to ride over loose soil and boulders and more than once the bike skidded dangerously but nothing serious. We were just awestruck by the beauty of the place – the crystal clear sky, the snow clad peaks looking so close, the white clouds seemingly within our reach and the vast endless land till the horizon. The beauty can be captured in high powered camera lens but the feeling – well you need to be there.
We raced through but increasing height meant power loss for the bike and slower pace but we kept on riding stopping occasionally for taking snaps and around 8.40 a.m. we arrived at Gurudongmar Lake. The last 100 meters was a high elevation and my bike gave up. Kinjal quickly disembarked to reduce the weight on the bike and I half-clutched and talked dhanno
all the way up in any means possible as there was no way I was going to let her miss the view of the lake.
Prayers in Heaven..
The first view of the lake filled my heart with joy, pride and a sense of achievement. I parked Dhanno
and went back to help my pillion up the elevation. Kinjal was struggling with the bag and the 5 litres petrol jerry can that we had brought for emergency. The thin air and low oxygen density at 17100 feet made climbing any sort of elevation a tough job and I eased the bag off him to help him get back his breath.
We both just stood there watching the beauty of lake and savouring every sense of joy in achieving our dream for quite some time. Kinjal went down the stairs (I seriously doubted myself due to my smoking habits) to the banks of the lake to collect some holy water. I was amazed to see army jawans bathing in the cold freezing waters of the lake while we were shivering with cold. Kinjal came up after collecting the water and taking some snaps. We then visited the sarv-dharmasthal
and offered our prayers thanking every God for their blessings to help us live our dream.
After spending some more time taking pictures and chatting up with awed tourists we bade goodbye to Gurudongmar and started on our way back at around 9.30 a.m. The excitement had subsided a bit as our mission was almost complete and now we started feeling trouble breathing. I was not able to view properly with my right eye and Kinjal stated that exposure to so much dust had dried up my eyes. It brought a relief as I was thinking that it was the first step to going blind. We sped down the loose soils and boulders in order to reach lower altitudes which meant more oxygen.
On the way back we got a bit scared too as we thought that we must have come on the wrong route as we could not see any vehicles although the tracks left by their wheels were visible. Finally, an army truck provided relief informing that every way leads to the same place. We reached Giaogong, got back our original permits, thanked the jawans and continued on our way back.
On the way back...
We arrived at our hotel at 1 p.m. riding through hot temperatures and dust much to the amazement of the owner who had expected us a little late. We were dying of hunger and after a heavy lunch we let our body get some much needed sleep. The sleep helped us shake-off the tiredness and we then celebrated our achievement with some rum and chips. The hotel owner too joined us and was a very nice person. We had a nice adda session before a great dinner comprising roti, sabji and pork (which was awesome). The next day we were to return home and hence got to bed early (as in 11’o clock) and slept off dreaming about the heaven to where we had been. Day 4
Woke up at 5.30 a.m. and slowly freshened up. The thought that today was the last day of our trip made us go into a slow mode. Finally we got ready, paid our bills, thanked the hotel owner for their hospitality promising to return very soon, bade farewell to Jyoti (who served us as if we were her own brothers) and started on our 200kms ride back to Siliguri and more pathetically to our everyday lives.
Was cheaper than we had expected.
With the lovely Jyoti.
The roads did not seem as tough as it had while coming up and we sped down to Toong, where the policemen kept our original permit. We reached Mangan at around 11’o clock and after a quick breakfast started back towards Singtam. The cool weather of Lachen slowly made way for sweltering heat and by the time we reached Rangpo I was ready to ride naked, if that guaranteed some respite from the heat. We stopped at a shop just after entering West Bengal, drank full bottles of cold drinks and continued upon our return reaching Siliguri at around 4 p.m. Our mothers were the most happy to see their sons back home safely without a scratch.
The things learnt from this trip:
1) Where there is a will, there shall always be a way or a way will be created.
2) If you are an adventure lover, listen to your heart and not your head.
3) Luck favours not only the brave but also the crazy ones.
4) Take some Diamox with you; it makes the trip to Gurudongmar all the more enjoyable.
5) What is hypoxia and dyplopia.
Firstly, lots of love to our parents who understand our love of adventure and supports us in our every crazy idea. Special thanks to Ramneek Singh (will surely meet up with you whenever I visit Kolkata), Suman Gurung of Xkmph and the members of the community who helped us with their advice and for their best wishes. We are also thankful to the members of Darjeeling Enfielders for their best wishes. The members of SWAN whose warning had kept us extra cautious. Jhos for lending his biking gears. My friends for their support and best wishes. Sorry Amit, Deepam for completing the trip without you guys, we missed you a lot. Kaustav for helping me in writing the triplog. Lastly, thanks to R for being understanding and not quarrelling over my bike trips.
Well, the next ride is already planned. A bike trip from Pondicherry to Goa via Ooty, Mysore and Udipi in early November.
Special mention : It was Tanmoy Ganguly and Avik Mahato’s trip to Gurudongmar that had provided the first spark of our dream.Ride Hard, Party Harder and always remember Once a Biker, Always a Biker