The harrowing back breaking ride to Leh – Part XI

Sonam said he had arranged for the hotel to give us some bread toast and jam at 6.30 am so we could start early but the moment we came down no one woke up. That’s how it’s usually there. Forget bread toast, the kitchen was empty and the hotel staff was sleeping.

Somehow Sonam woke up a couple of them and told them to get us Chai and some bread at least, as the butter was over. Then Archana told me that she had to shout at the guests next door last night. In the evening when she saw a big group she went upto one of them politely and told them they could enjoy, they could have fun but please do that in their rooms, not in the corridors, we were tired and we had to get going early next morning, it was a basic protocol when you are in a hotel. But as usual, late night Archana woke up with loud noises and laughter in the corridor, they kept their room door open and kept banging it and rushing out as if this was one of the city hotels.

Staying in the mountains are different, the timings are different. Here because of the cold, the harsh conditions, people retired early. It worked different here. So it was with the hotel employees, making any kind of breakfast except bread would take time. We were already forewarned about today’s hot weather and we had to cover 75-76 kms and it was not a pickle!

We ate what we could and started our painstaking journey. My stomach wasn’t still good, and that’s the way it would be for the next 15 days.

How do I describe that day? This was by far the toughest day of all! You would think with the mountain passes we crossed this would be not so much right? Nope. The weather was torturous. You are in a barren desert landscape with not a blade of grass, a terrain under harsh conditions and let me tell you don’t go by the routes in the pics that looks ‘straight’ and flat, it was sheer torture. Because the whole journey was uphills, steep under the hot sun.

That strategy of doing 20 kms at a stretch just wouldn’t work here so instead Archana and I kept landmarks. First would be Sangam, then we would stop, next Patthar Sahib- the famous Gurudwara, then much later Magnetic hills and then Leh. If from beginning it was uphill it would get worse once we crossed Magnetic hills, it would be only climbs.

We later came to know that day was the hottest so far for a season. Unbearably hot, not city hot but desert terrain hot. Oh man, just thinking about it gives me shivers.

The moment we started, it was uphill and by now I had it with Swati, her pedalling faster very close to me trying to overtake me, pushing me to the edge and on top of it shouting loudly! 3-4 times I slowed down shouting back, Go ahead! But she just couldn’t so we were neck to neck! Believe me, I wanted to stop and give her a good yelling and tell her off. Etiquette be damned!

But I took a deep breath, kept my temper in control and came to a full stop to just make her go forward to a distance and then started moving. Atleast let her get the satisfaction that one day she was ahead. No mountains, no Himalayas, not even her accident changed her a bit.

As Archana and I were cycling I vented it out to her, what the hell was this? Archana too by now was vexed, try as we might to ignore her shenanigans, she was on our face. And it was not just while cycling. Without going into details, I can say all the time. Look in most of my blogs, I have overlooked the negative aspects or people I trekked with, focusing only on the ‘positive’, but this is bullshit, it’s not reality. That’s why this particular trip made me realise that, by not talking about it meant I am ignoring the truth that’s out there. If it’s horrible, then it is. No glossing over it.

We did have some few descent moments as we crossed Himalayan towns and Monasteries. We took a short break at a town and while others had Samosa snacks which Archana said was delicious, I stuck to bland biscuits. As long as I could get to Leh in one piece and alive, I was ok with it.

The next phase of cycling from there was absolute torture, that kind of torture we didn’t experience for the past 6 days. What was this? The cycle didn’t seem to go forward! Was it the tiredness of the past days showing up? Was it mentally like we have reached our edge? Our stamina was running out? I have no answers to that. The sun was so bright and temperature super hot, I am surprised none of us fainted with the heat.

We took a few pics of the Sangam and moved on. The roads were so fantastic thanks to the BRO it was a haven for motorists and cars, but the heat of the tar road meant the temperature must have increased 2-3 degrees more. Finally what looked like forever around noon time we reached Patthar Sahib, it was filled with tourist vehicles and an army post. The army men posted there took care of the Gurudwara entirely. So right from ‘Langar’ – free lunch for everyone to maintenance was impeccable.

Again, it was sad to see the sign board to please wear decent clothes before entering the premises. And the Gurudwara volunteers were so prepared for such tourists, they had pyjamas to dupattas to head gears to even tops to give it to the people who walked in there! And 90% of them walked in with shorts, see through tops to whatnot.

We sat in the main hall feeling peaceful finally. It was such a respite from the heat. Archana was feeling thirsty so we went to the kitchen and asked for water. They got us hot water and gave us full glasses of Cold ‘ Rooh Afza’ – this is a cooling sherbet made from Roses and goes well with milk. And need I mention this comes quintessentially from Hyderabad 😊 It originated from Hyderabad during the Nizam days, to cool body temperature during summer. I smiled to myself drinking this. Wow a slice of Hyderabad from the land of Ladakh 😊

We were all set to leave when one of the army guys whom we were chatting with told us to stay back for Langar, it would start in 15 minutes. So we decided to do that. Yes there would be a delay but I take this as a blessing. Right when we needed it most, he gave it to us. A respite from the heat, we were down and out and needed a break and some wholesome food.

We sat down and chanted the Sikh prayers loud following the Army man’s chants. I felt blessed and in gratitude towards the omnipotent. Who were we in front of god? The Supreme consciousness.

And right before eating Madam Swati starts clicking pictures of the army guys getting food! It was written strictly to not take any photographs inside the langar hall. We were disgusted! Archana immediately said hey don’t take pictures it’s prohibited, Swati murmured something nasty and continued taking pics! Archana was like what the hell? Respect the sanctity at least.

Oh well, one more day with this lady and I wouldn’t see her again. She, Archana and Dhanya would go to Nubra valley directly after Khardungla tomorrow. I would enjoy my rest day in Leh and go back home. Never ever again.

The army man told us before leaving that the past 3 days have been really hot and today was the hottest. Oh well, can you imagine, now that we had lunch, we had to continue all the way to Leh and it showed freaking 30 kms more !

Certainly not for any hearted I tell you. Inspite of the assurances by the army men saying it will be better, it was not. No way! Endless tough roads with increasing number of speeding vehicles on either side of the road and a merciless sun.

We were crossing Magnetic hills and by this time I was a goner. I didn’t stop for a second, to hell with pics! I kept going, as long as I kept pedalling I was surviving. Yes that’s the key word. We were just surviving this ride.

The dust and grime got really bad by the time we were less than 10 kms to Leh. You would think that the lesser distance would make us feel better, but it only made us feel worse. Getting hotter by the minute, every 200 metres of pedalling was so slow and sheer torture. I badly had to answer nature’s calls but where the hell could I stop?? All I was seeing were army camps, dust and loads of people. I couldn’t see a solitary rock anywhere to do it!

Vikram and Archana were ahead and they gestured to turn left. Then and there I decided that whatever left it was, I would turn and sit in the support van, am done! But the moment I stopped, Archana showed me the sign, we were in Leh! The main post with the Indian Flag. We were officially in Leh! You can’t imagine my relief! Archana and Vikram too sighed with relief. 76 kms DONE!

To be continued 🚴‍♀️🚴‍♀️

Archana taking a pic of me dying inside
Don’t be deceived by the ‘flat looking’ roads

Passing by a beautiful monastery

Had to click this pic

Tired me in front of the Sangam

Sangam – The confluence of Indus and Zanskar
A temple above Patthar Sahib

Patthar Sahib

Crossing Magnetic hills
A stunning landscape to gasp at and dying one pedal at a time
I had to remember those tortured moments right?
Survived and reached Leh finally!

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