Khardung La, 52 kilometers north of Leh, has been crowned the highest motorable road in the world and lies in the heart of Ladakh. Situated at an altitude of 18,380 ft, Khardung La is also known as the “Land of Passes”. It’s only the odd eccentric biker and military personnel trucking supplies to the Siachen Glacier who visit it regularly.
On June 16, 2011; Ankush and Yunus, a technical engineer at Seven Islands Harley-Davidson, set out on the journey of their lifetime. With Ankush astride the iconic Harley-Davidson Fat Boy and Yunus seated in a back-up vehicle, they rode all the way from Mumbai to Khardung La and back via Kargil. They covered an incredible distance of 5,500 km in a record 14 days and officially became the first ever H.O.G member to achieve the feat.
But as wise men say, the magic lies in the journey and not merely in the destination. Ankush Bhan provides an account of his historic journey across some of the best and most challenging roads in the country.
I was introduced to biking by my brother and my romance with bikes began when I started riding my friend’s bike.
The thought of undertaking this expedition crystallized while hanging out with a couple of my riding buddies after work. With all the interesting adventure legends about Khardung La, doing the rounds, we got all charged up about creating a few legends of our own.
Although unforeseen circumstances forced my buddies to back out at the last minute, I was determined to go ahead on this journey. Weighing in at an impressive 330 kilograms, my prized possession – the Harley-Davidson Fat Boy 2011 edition was the chosen ride for this expedition.
Realizing that technical problems could dog us, I contacted Seven Islands Harley-Davidson, the company’s Mumbai dealership for support. The dealership showed interest and Yunus from Seven Islands jumped at the prospect of a Harley-Davidson making it to the world’s highest motorable pass. He would provide the technical support.
In consultation with the dealership and some riding enthusiasts who had done this before on other bikes, I carried out key modifications to the Fat Boy – adding a protective plate to the underbody and stripping the bike down to bare the minimum in terms of accessories.
Though Yunus and I understood the preparations needed to be undertaken for this trip, nothing could really prepare us for what lay ahead. Looking back, I would advise bikers to avoid unnecessary modifications.
The Journey Begins:
I set out on my dream ride on 16th June, 2011 from Mumbai with Yunus in tow. Over the next three days, I rode relentlessly through some of the best highways in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan. With two overnight halts at Ahmedabad and Gurgaon, Yunus and I reached Chandigarh, completely dehydrated by the soaring temperature.
Travelling from Chandigarh to the historic town of Mandi built along the banks of the river Beas, I cruised through the twists and turns of the expansive hills of Manali. The locals were extremely warm, friendly and willing to help and the amount of attention that the Fat Boy got was unprecedented.
The Point of No Return:
We decided to stop over for the night at Manali as fatigue finally started setting in. It was cold the next morning and knowing what lay ahead, we started off early. We were looking forward to being the first H.O.G members to take their Harley Davidsons up to the highest motorable pass. The road started ascending almost immediately after Manali, cutting through tiny villages and numerous streams.
25-30 km from Manali was a police check post. Stopped by the cops, since tourists were not permitted on Tuesdays, we had to persuade them to give us a go-ahead.
The next destination was Rohtang Pass, which in the local language means ‘pile of corpses’, due to the numerous lives lost in poor weather conditions. There were times when despite riding for 2 hours straight I managed to cover only 15 km.
Along the way, we encountered many bikers facing problems with their bikes switching off, clutch plates giving in, bikes falling and punctured tyres.
Our final push to the Rohtang Pass was delayed by six hours as we waited for the road to be cleared following a landslide. That night we stopped at Jispa. With no fuel pumps for the next 327 kms, stocking up fuel in the back-up vehicle was a great idea.
After a night recouping at Jispa, Yunus and I set our eyes on the next stop – Sarchu. Enroute to Sarchu we passed Deepak Tal, BaraLacha and Bharatpur, all incredibly beautiful places. It took us over 10 hours to cover 135 kms and during the course of the journey, I began suffering from Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). The Oxygen levels were very low and a week of relentless riding was now affecting me. For the first time during the trip, my determination took a hit and I questioned my decision to undertake the trip.
The Final Climb:
The next day brought with it a fresh burst of energy as Yunus and I set our eyes on the penultimate destination – – Leh. A small town surrounded by rugged mountains from all sides, Leh is just 37 km away from Khardung La.
Crossing Sarchu, , we rode along the beautiful bends of TangLang La Pass and the famous 21 hairpin bends called 21 Gata Loops that start 24 kms from Sarchu and takes you up to a height of 15,302 feet.
Rohtang to Leh was around 500 km of dry, rugged terrain with rivulets of snow at odd distances. We faced challenges while crossing streams, swollen rivers, broken bridges and climbing steep mountain roads. Despite being down with fever and severe body ache, I was reluctant to give-up and managed to ride into Leh (Ladakh) on my beloved Fat Boy.
Realizing the severe effect on my health, Yunus called for immediate medical assistance at Leh. Following an examination, I was advised to cancel the remainder of the trip and return home. My exhausted body was not able to cope up with the lack of oxygen at high altitude and the fear of losing my eyesight due to the blood clots that had started developing in my right eye was a distinct possibility. After several arguments and discussions, the sensible decision to return home prevailed.
I offered Yunus the opportunity to ride the Fat Boy up to Khardung La to make it the first ever Harley-Davidson bike on the world’s highest motorable pass. Excited, Yunus agreed immediately. It was only fair that my Fat Boy complete the expedition I had set out for.
The skies were crystal clear the next day and the weather was perfect for a good ride over the final stretch of 38 kms from Leh to Khardung La. Several BRO (Border Roads Organization) signposts welcomed Yunus including one stating “You are nearest to Heaven and can have a dialogue with God”.
With emotions running high, Yunus reached Khardung La earlier than expected. He rode the Fat Boy right up to K-Top, the pinnacle of the mountain pass and parked it with an immense sense of pride.
Khardung La was not just about the 38 kms stretch from Leh, but the 5,500 km stretch from Mumbai crossing some of the toughest road conditions in the world. A ride Yunus and I will cherish our entire lifetime.
I believe suspension, clearance and customization are very important tasks before you venture out on such an expedition. Build up your stamina and stock up on indicators, mirrors and puncture kits. Be prepared for scratches to the bike, deal with fatigue and emotional duress, it isn’t easy but you have to keep yourself going.
I would like to thank my family, Otis, Debu, Ronny and other HOG riders along with my partner-in-crime, Yunus, for his support and perseverance in helping me achieve my dream!
Top Tips from Ankush and Yunus:
- Plan your journey with ample time in hand
- Do not give into temptation and fly through the plains
- Wear a full faced helmet over a face mask. The dust and pollution is going to get into your lungs and may cause congestion making it harder to breathe at high altitude
Article Source: Harley-Davidson India