One of the most ecstatic moments that comes in the life of bikers and motorcycle riders come when they finally get Leh’d. Riding on the top of the world with views that oscillate from surreal to sublime could turn you into a poet if you are not. The only reason why you could not pen down the verses is that words are hard to find to describe the feeling. At once you are humbled, benumbed and mentally and spiritually uplifted.
Now that is only what a warm embrace of Himalayas could do! I sometimes wonder if this is what made famous traveler Ibn Batuta say “Travel first leaves you speechless, and then turns you into a storyteller.”
So why should you plan your trip to Ladakh by Motorcyle?
Once I read somewhere that four wheel moves the body; two wheel moves the soul. Riding on the top of the world and standing on Khardung La, one of the highest motorable roads in the world, crossing the spectacular Chang La and riding to the end of the world to come across the spell binding sight of the azure expanse of Pangong Tso or better yet riding on double humped Bactrian camel and taking up the silk route, riding on a motorcycle will actually make you experience the veracity of this phrase.
So without further ado, I bring to you some essential tips for planning your trip to Ladakh on motorcycle.
Renting/Hire a bike from Manali
Once you reach Manali, you’d find that almost every mechanic with a garage offer bike rental service to Leh. Then there are some very good quality services who will offer you a range of options when it comes to hiring bikes in Manali.
Some bike rentals in Manali also offer deals for one way trips to Leh and Srinagar that effectively means that if you don’t have much time up your sleeve, you could ride one way to Leh and or even to Srinagar and leave the bike there itself.
The only catch is that they would inflate your budget considerable. Add anything between 15K to 20K extra, if you are going for this option.
Now comes the daily rent part. Depending upon the model and condition of the hired bike, you can strike a deal from anything between 1000 bucks to 1800 bucks. This rent is valid only for solo riders on per day basis. Having a pillion will cost you extra.
Additionally, you would be required to deposit 12K – 18K refundable security money and leave one of your original nationality proof ID card with the bike rental provider as well. The document could be a voter ID card, passport or aadhar card.
Now comes the most important part if you are renting a bike for trip to Ladakh. Make sure – and I couldn’t emphasize more – make sure that you ride the hired motorcycle for general checkup for a day and stretch the limits of engine to discover any issues that the rented bike might have.
Performance issues – if any – should be fixed then and there in Manali itself as post Rohtang, any mechanical failure could ruin your trip.
Also keep in mind that you check the validity of pollution under control and insurance papers of the bike. Also collect the registration certificate of the bike from the rental shop. Make sure that the bike has the OEM toolkit which has all the basic equipment to handle minor issues which might arise during your trip.
Once the tests are done comes the spare parts. Carrying basic spare parts is essential to avoid any inconvenience during your road trip to Ladakh. Some knowledge of how to fix motorcycle (basic only) comes really handy in this part of the country.
You should – or your companions or someone in the group – know how to change a clutch wire, a brake wire, how to remove a tyre which might puncture (and so that you could remove it and ride pillion on companions bike to get it fixed).
Basically knowledge of stuffs like changing wires, lights, electrical (like fuse and spark plugs) and clean air filer is of great advantage while planning this challenging bike trip.
So the essential spares that you should be carrying on your trip are:
Spare tube and if possible a puncture kit: Puncture shops are also not available and even if you find one, there is no guarantee that they will have the tube hence carrying a spare tube is a must even if you don’t have puncture kit.
Clutch, break wire and accelerator wire
Chain lock, gear oil, engine oil and 1 – or 2 if you are renting twin spark engine models of Royal Enfield – spark plugs etc are a must pack in your bag.
Don’t forget to ask for extra spark plugs as lack of oxygen often leads to spark fun malfunctioning especially on Khardung La and Taglang La.
Also carry canister (5 liters x 2) to store spare petrol at Tandi as the next one on Leh Manali road is 380 kilometrs away at Karu. So 10-20 liters of extra petrol is what I’d recommend you to carry.
Packing tips for bikers doing Ladakh by road on a motorcycle
- Sunglasses, sunscreen lotion and good warm monkey cap or woolen head scarves to keep you safe and warm during the ride
- Good quality waterproof gloves
- At least 2 Jackets and 2-3 pullovers
- A pair of hand gloves preferably woolen, and warm clothes/caps to cover your ear and necks especially so if you are a rider
- Soaps, towels, general medicines, bandages etc.
- 2-3 pairs of thermocot inners
- 4-5 pairs of socks (must for bikers)
- One warm sleeping bag if you are planning to camp along the route
- Carry some vital medicines for Acute Mountain Sickness such as Avomine,Dexamethasone, Diamox and Acetazolamid (consult your doctor)
- Good stock of chocolates, biscuits and dry fruits
- Camera, chargers for cell phone and other basic things
A pair of good raincoats as more often than not riders to face rain After crossing Chandigarh and before crossing Rohtang La Pass on Leh-Manali Highway. On Srinagar-Leh Highway you are more likely to get caught in the rain until you reach Zoji La.
Alternatively, you could use raincoat as wind-cheater and they also help keep your clothes clean all along the dirt track on passes and Moore Plains. The cloud of sand and dirt is too much especially when an army convoy is passing and when you are crossing passes on which overtaking takes trucks and other vehicle takes longer due to narrow roads.
A pair of trekking boots or army boots to keep your feet, shoes and socks from getting wet at several nullahs (water stream flowing on passes) especially the one after Zingzing Bar near Baralacha La which is one of the most vicious another tough water stream to cross is at Chang La.
It is always recommended that you cross this nullah as early in the morning as possible. The spin gets vicious as the day progresses. Check before crossing and return to Zingzing Bar or Darcha if the water current is too strong.
Other things which you should also consider packing for your bike trip to Ladakh are:
I bet you are carrying a camera. Ladakh is a novive photographer’s dream come true. If you don’t have one go get one. Do whatever you can beg, borrow or steal to lay your hands on a good camera to capture the stunning landscape and panoramas in Ladakh. Be it the gompas, prayer flags, cobalt lakes of the stark Himalayan terrain, there are some mind blowing frames for you to capture.
So with camera you should be carrying charger, memory card with good storage (there’s load to capture) and spare battery for the cold climate will bleed the battery dead quickly (Comes handy in Pangong).
- Charger for any other electronic gadgets you are taking along
- ATMs – Nowadays there are enough of them in Leh so you need not worry about carrying all those cash
- Mobile phone – Only post paid works in Ladakh. BSNL has the best coverage but Airtel will do too. None other will work
- Multi-point chargers
- A pair of slippers comes handy in hotel you are staying in or for stroll in lanes of Leh
Inner line Permits for Ladakh
One of the best things to have happened to Ladakh tourism this year is the relaxation in inner line permit (ILP) rules. Earlier inner line permits were required to travel to places like Nubra Valley, Pangong Tso and Tso Moriri.
From this year onwards, no such permits would be required which is effectively some precious time and day saved. Now Sarchu to Tso Moriri could be done directly. However, some stretches like direct Tso Moriri to Pangong Tso via Chushul route with a visit to Hanle, you need to mention Pangong Tso, Man, Merak, Chushul, Tsaga, Loma, Nyoma, Mahe, Hanle and Tso Moriri in the permit application.
Similarly doing Pangong directly from Nubra via Shyok, Darbuk, Tangtse, you would still need to apply for the ILP
So how do you get it?
The application form for obtaining the ILP is easily available at the stationary shop just behind the Leh DC office.
Leh DC office opens at 9.00 AM and application for permits are usually not accepted after 03:00 PM (The office remains closed on Sundays and National Holidays)
It’s always advisable to reach the office as early as possible to avoid the rush and to get the permit in a hassle free way.
The fee required for the permit is Rs. 200 per person as environment tax + Rs. 20 per person per day as wild life protection fee and Rs. 10 Red Cross Donation.
Carry a valid photo ID and photocopies of your proof of Nationality(Passport, DL, Voters ID etc.)
One person may apply for entire group provided he/she is carrying attested photocopy of proof of nationality of all members in the group
Anyone (Like the hotel you are staying in or a travel agent) could arrange for your ILP and even fax or email them to you before your arrival in Leh provided you don’t mind sharing the photocopies of your citizenship proof with them either via email or fax. Keep in mind that you also need to mention the name of hotel in Leh where you are staying.
After acquiring the permit make sure that you carry 4-5 copies of the permits and photo id proof. You may require to submit them at certain check posts by the military personnel who track entry and exit at certain points to check if a tourist has returned or not. It’s more for your own safety as one may get stranded during trek or may get stuck due to bad weather condition.
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