Exploring Ladakh on a Solo Bike Ride..!!
Updated: Apr 8, 2020
An unplanned solo bike ride for 1000km+ in 7 days exploring some remote places in Ladakh region, view of some amazing peaks, views of the region across LoC, exploring ghost town, discovering few amazing cave monasteries and lot more..
As Rumi says, “Respond to every call that excites your spirit.” And here I was on my second visit to Ladakh in July 2018 for Stok Kangri Expedition – the calling was worth responding.
This time I landed on this land that I fondly call my second hometown with no return tickets booked. Sounds exciting.. isn’t it? I was super excited for the Stok Kangri Expedition – the highest peak of Ladakh region standing tall at 6100 meters above sea level and was happy too as I was all set to explore this mesmerizing Himalayan region after the expedition.
I summitted Stok Kangri at the dawn of July 30th, 2018 and was back in Leh in the first week of August 2018.
I was all set to explore the region and it started with a simple wish to look at the Stok Kangri peak from a vantage point. I rented a bike in Leh and started my journey towards Khardung La. I reached a point from where I could get a mesmerizing view of Stok Kangri and I couldn’t stop myself from sitting there for hours lost in the exquisiteness of this beauty and every moment of my expedition came flashing in my mind.
Although I had hired the bike for just a few hours I decided to keep it with me for one more day. An unplanned solo bike trip was taking shape!!
Day 1: Exploring the streets of Leh
Visiting amazing places such as Shanti Stupa, Leh Palace, Tsemo Gompa was definitely a treat for my senses, but my heart wanted more. I ended up driving along the Indus River to a scenic spot and spent a couple of hours there!!
In the quaint evening after sipping some tea, one more call was made to the bike rental shop for extending one more day. I had no idea where this road was going to lead me, what was going to happen in the days to come..!!
Day 2: Unplanned ride from Leh to Lamayuru..!! (150 km)
Today morning like always I left my hotel room with my daypack and all the necessary gear for my bike ride. I decided that today I’ll venture out a bit farther from Leh city and started riding towards Nimu to see the stunning confluence of Zanskar and Indus Rivers.
After witnessing this beauty, I just couldn’t stop myself from going in the Zaskar valley to experience its beauty. It was a familiar territory for me from Chadar trek and I ended up riding several kilometers along the banks for Zanskar River towards Chilling. I was all alone on this road and yet not alone as the ferocious flow of Zanskar kept talking to me throughout.
After coming back to the Leh-Srinagar highway from Zanskar side, I was not feeling like returning back to Leh. My plan for the unplanned bike trip was unfolding interestingly. As usual, I was carrying just my day pack with just a water bottle and rain jacket in it; No extra clothes or any food items.
Later in the afternoon, I reached Alchi Monastery where it felt like I traveled back in time. Centuries-old beautiful paintings, ancient architecture, and the peace in the breeze took me on a different spiritual journey while I was there. It was almost evening now and I decide to go even further.
Before that, I made another call to the bike rental shop telling them that I have traveled out of Leh and plan to return maybe after 2/3 days. I felt relieved the moment I heard – ‘it’s okay, feel free to return whenever you feel like. Don’t worry we will settle the rental charges and other expenses later. Enjoy your ride!!'
Now the time was not a constraint anymore. So I decided to ride till Lamayuru that same evening and stayed overnight there. In Lamayuru, I made rough plans about where I would go next from there. My journey was turning to be more interesting day by day.
It was almost sunset time and I was still ~20/25 Km from Lamayuru. It looked like I was the only one on the highway that evening. Suddenly I reached a region where road was almost carved out through a rocky face of the mountain and mountains on the both sides were precariously close to each other. In that narrow valley, it was already dark and the wind was flowing ferociously, at times, dragging me along with my bike. At times I had to even stop and let the wind settle down before riding ahead. Scary time.. huh!!
After riding for some more time I reached the top of the mountain and I stopped there to see a beautiful sunset. Soon I reached Lamayuru crossing the beautiful lunar landscape called – Moonland!!
I stayed at a beautiful hotel in Lamayuru which had an amazing view of Lamayuru Monastery and Moonland from my window. I spent most of the time that evening looking at the view from my window.
Day 3: Unexpected breakdown at Fatu La!! Back in Lamayuru again..!! (70 km)
This morning I got up early to enjoy the gorgeous sunrise in the high mountains. After that, it was time to experience the much famous Moonland and some quiet time at the monastery, meditating. After that, I went for a short hike behind the Yuru monastery on a hill called Meditation Hill – View of Moonland and Yuru monastery from there was beyond words.
After that, I decided to continue my journey to Kargil and maybe till Padum in Zanskar valley from Kargil.
The ride was dreamy, but as they say, life is real and has its own ups and downs. I too faced a bump on my smooth ride. Unfortunately, my bike broke down in the middle of nowhere and suddenly my journey was stopped at an unknown place away from Lamayuru in the hills.
There was no mobile network available there and all I could do was wait for somebody to come to that side and ask for help from them. After a long wait, one local cab driver passed from there. He checked the condition of my bike and informed me that till Kargil I won’t find any mechanic on the way. I had to take a U-turn and start riding somehow in first gear back towards Lamayuru.
Luckily when the gear pedal detached from the body of the bike, the bike was in first gear. By late afternoon I was back in Lamayuru and found a mechanic there but with no luck by my side even now. He had no set up for welding or alternate spare part to get me going on my journey ahead.
He suggested I drive back till the next town - Khalsi where I ‘might’ get help. My journey was adventurous enough and at this point, I thought this may be the end of my memorable trip. A marathon of mixed emotions clouded my mind as I started preparing myself to return to Leh riding the broken bike at a speed of less than 10 km per hour, abruptly ending my bike-ride.
Luckily in Khalsi there was a mechanic who could help. As they say, travel turns you into a storyteller and here I was telling stories of my adventurous solo ride to a local cab driver who I met at the auto-workshop. We shared a good laugh over my experiences while my bike was getting repaired.
After that, I had almost decided that I’ll get back to Leh as I was skeptical about whether to continue my journey to remote places with a bike in that condition or not. However, this local friend of mine was insisting me to go ahead with my plan and finally I resumed my journey.
Once again I was standing at the same window and watching Lamayuru monastery from the same hotel where I stayed the previous night. The hotel staff was surprised to see me back so soon because the same morning I had left for Kargil without any plans to return back to Lamayuru that day. They were happy to know that the bike was repaired and I was safe and comfortable.
One more evening of mesmerizing view outside my window. I thought to myself maybe this is the reason they say, whatever happens, happens for good. Lamayuru wanted a bit more of me and probably I too hadn’t had enough of this beautiful landscape!!
Day 4: To Kargil via Fotu La and Namik La (125 km)
Another morning in Lamayuru today and it was well spent looking at the beautiful sunrise and visiting Yuru monastery for another hour of meditation.
After that, I left for Kargil. Luckily, today’s day was less eventful and crossing Fotu La and Namik La, I reached Mulbekh. Mulbekh offers you wonders, one of them being a larger than life carving of Maitreya Buddha in a rock at a place called Chamba. After relishing a simple yet delicious lunch at Mulbekh, I left for Kargil.
I reached Kargil in the evening. The first view of this big town and aggressive Suru river flowing through the entire settlement of Kargil was amazing from a hilltop. Later in the evening I checked in at a hotel in Kargil and spent the rest of the evening walking through the old market of Kargil.
Day 5: Exploring Suru Valley and an amazing view of Nun and Kun peaks (140 km)
By now I had made up mind to go till Padum in Zanskar from Kargil. This morning my ride started through extremely scenic Suru valley. It was a lot more greener than the days so far in this trip. This route was a lot more lonely and there was hardly any traffic anywhere on the route. For a couple of hours, I was the only rider on the road.
Late in the afternoon, I reached a small town of Purtikche from where I got the first view of the majestic Nun and Kun peaks. I was awestruck!! I parked my bike there near a small school and sat in the meadow looking at the peaks. For some time I played with kids from the local school.
Crossing several water streams, I reached a lovely resort which had an amazing camping place. I stopped there for a quick tea and maggi. People in the mountains are happy, simple and very comforting. This proved yet again when I got an opportunity to get into an insightful discussion about the valley and the road ahead with the person managing this resort. This gentleman did warn me of the rough, bumpy roads ahead and that it was not a good idea to ride alone in such remote region.
Eventually, I decided to turn back towards Kargil later in the evening. An amazing view of the Nun and Kun peaks and the tastiest ever maggi and tea had already made my evening!!
Late evening I was back in Kargil at the same hotel I checked out from in the morning. I smiled to myself and retired for the night watching the moon lighting up the Kargil hills.
Day 6: Visit to war memorial at Drass and an adventure ride to LoC point and the ghost town of Hunderman (150 km)
Today I decided to ride till Drass and visit Kargil War Memorial there. After that, I was excited to visit a spot from where LoC and part of PoK is visible. One of the travelers at the hotel mentioned to me about this place the previous night during dinner time.
In a few hours of a drive along the Leh-Srinagar highway, I reached Drass war memorial. It was an interesting visit that also included watching a short-film made by the army on Kargil war. I was amazed by the view of Tololing Range nearby and could not believe what all happened there in those hills during Kargil War and so many brave stories of our soldiers who showed extraordinary courage in extremely adverse conditions at that time. I was full of gratitude.
After lunch, I started my journey back to Kargil. In Kargil, at one of the fuel stations, I asked a person about the point from where I could see LoC and he gave me a rough idea about the direction. He told me it is around 5/6 kms from that place.
I started riding in the suggested direction and road was going uphill. There was absolutely no other vehicle on this road and after every turn, the road was getting smaller and smaller. I noticed in the speedometer that I have been riding for almost 7-8 km now but I saw no army check post or any army presence. At times I was getting scared that it should not happen that I cross the LoC not knowing where the line is..!!
After another 2-3 km, there was a small local café selling maggi and tea. I stopped there and asked the person there if this was the LoC viewpoint and he said yes. He was having several binoculars kept with him which he was renting out for some nominal charge to take a look at LoC check post and bunkers from Pakistan side.
Like many other mountain people I came across, he too was very friendly. He guided me on what to see and where to see. I could see several Indian check posts and Pakistani check posts across LoC. He told me about a deserted ghost town of Hunderman which was a few kilometers ahead. I immediately decided to visit this town.
We also spotted a few people from the other side of LoC going up on one ridge. He told me that there is one Dargah at the top of that hill and often people are seen going up towards that Dargah.
After sometime, I left for Hunderman village. As I was walking through the village I could see beautiful remnants of an ancient town.
At Hunderman, I met a gentleman there. He has turned his erstwhile home in a museum. I saw that museum and had a great time interacting with him. In the museum, he had a signpost of the Pakistan army from the 1971 war when the town was captured by Pakistani forces.
After visiting Hunderman village and spending some time there I started my journey back to Kargil and late evening reached back to Kargil.
Day 7: Exploring cave monasteries at Shargole and Rgyal and return journey to Leh (240 km)
Today morning after several days of the bike ride I decided to journey back to Leh. The previous night, I learned from another traveler in the hotel that there is a beautiful cave monastery near Shargole. He showed me a few pictures of this monastery and it was unbelievably unique. I immediately decided to not miss this interesting place on my way back to Leh. My day started rather early before sunrise and on the way, I chose to take a short detour to explore Shargole monastery.
Built in a cave in a hill near Shargole this monastery is one of the most beautiful monasteries I ever saw in the entire Ladakh region. Unfortunately, the monastery was locked at that time. One local person informed me that the key might be at somebody’s home in Shargole and I should check for it.
Somebody’s home? I thought to myself. Yes, in smaller villages of this region, keys to monasteries you may find either hanging at the side of the doors of these monasteries or at some localite’s home. This was exciting. I went to Shargole village and talked to few people there. Unfortunately, the Hon. Lama of the monastery did not leave the key at anybody’s home that day. A local family told me of another cave monastery in Rgyal. And now I got another destination to explore.
I took another detour and a dirt track took me to the Rgyal Cave Monastery. It is another cave monastery, beautifully designed and constructed in a cave on a hill. Rgyal town was almost empty except just one who became my companion in this rustic town – a little baby goat. This new companion followed me wherever I went for almost half an hour.
Near this monastery, I met a few local people who fondly offered me to visit their home town and stay at their place. However, I decided to continue my journey to Leh. Riding through this incredible landscape I reached Leh late in the evening.
Day 8: Back in Leh
The next morning after a delicious breakfast I went back to the bike rental agency and I was welcomed with an ever-smiling gentleman whom I met a week back. He was happy seeing me and told me that this happens a lot - People end up keeping rental bikes for more days than they planned for.
And that was the end of an unplanned solo bike trip covering almost 1000km in 7 days exploring some remotest of places in Ladakh region.
All memories are refreshed as I re-live the wonderful experiences in my mind while writing this story today after almost 2 years of this amazing journey!!
My backpack got packed again to Ladakh but that story some other time.
As Rumi says, if light is in your heart, you will find your way home. And I found mine!!