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Top of the World – Literally and Figuratively!

Remember singing the song ‘I’m on the top of the world’ in school? We were literally going to be on top of the world after about 48 hours of reaching Ladakh. How? Our troop of soldiers (read riders) was making plans of conquering Khardungla, the highest motorable road of the world, which lies at a height of 18,380 feet above the sea level. With the four of days continuous riding that we had been doing, our confidence levels had definitely risen, but the sight of the mountains, clad with heavy snow, which we got from our hotel, still gave each one of us the shivers.

View of the snow-capped mountains
View of the snow-capped mountains

Prepping ourselves for the most adventurous ride of our lives and enjoying the couple of days that we had for acclimatization in Leh, we strolled through the prettily lit up, buzzing Changspa market and I bought myself some more warm gear to survive the mighty La of the Khardung! The market has a good collection of leather jackets and bags so do make it a point to check it out when you are there. The morning of our ride, we were all ready with our riding gears, a layer or two extra on our bodies than the usual, and we set out to embrace the cold.

Five layers of protection

Taking deep breaths to give myself enough oxygen with the rising levels of altitude, I was doing fine until we were a few kilometres away from the top and it started snowing. A snowflake is exactly like a cute, notorious kid. It looks so pretty but can cause high levels of severe damage. How did it affect us? With the snow accumulating on the roads, the bike became extremely prone to skidding since we got absolutely no grip while riding. Yeah, not good at all! And just when I had started getting my doubts about making it to the top, we saw two riders riding back down amidst the cars and trucks. They told us they were going to come back again the next day since the snowfall was too heavy that day and it was impossible to get through. ‘God damn! Are we still going to do this?’ said my inner voice. Hell yeah, we were, I figured, as I saw my rider ignore the comment and make his way to the top. God bless us!

Chained wheels
Chained wheels

Following trails of the tyre marks of cars, the only way in which we could prevent the bike from skidding, our Tyremark battalion made way through the white jungle. Scary as it was, car tyres skidding from left to right in the snow and almost hitting the edge of the valley, only made it tougher. To add to that, our usual order of the bikes one after the other, followed by the backup vehicle got juggled up, and two bikes happened to reach ahead with the backup vehicle, while four of them were still left behind. Luckily I was one of the two so we waited for the rest. Now there were locals that were helpful, but there were also these annoying ones who kept telling us about how we should go back, how crossing it on the bikes would be impossible and also how one of our fellow riders in the bikes left behind has fainted and is not doing well! Worried as we were, turned out that one of them suffered from little bit of a breathing problem but apart from that she was fine. Phew!

Chang La - Second highest motorable road of the world (17,590 ft)
Chang La – Second highest motorable road of the world (17,590 ft)

Once all our bikes were together, we covered the last 1.5 km patch and were finally on the top! Top of the world, possibly living every biker’s dream! At a height of 18,380 feet above the sea level! That feeling of being there! Honestly, I had never felt so accomplished in my entire life. Rewarding ourselves with hot chai and maggi (luckily, it was still available there), we made our way downhill. After being right on the top, the ride just got simpler since we had already seen the worse. Oxygen levels increased and breathing became easier.

The best part about riding is that it is always a thrill and never fails from keeping you alert and vigilant at all times. Be it big or small, the road is always full of different kinds of challenges and that inspires you to keep going. That’s how our downhill ride was. But getting to the top of Khardungla, hands down, was one of the biggest challenges of the trip, and conquering it gave us a crazy high, both figuratively and literally!

Bulleting through one of the better roads
Bulleting through one of the better roads

For riding and other adventure tours: Get in touch with Tyremark, the group that I went with; it’s a bunch of fun guys. Here’s the contact – Dhaval Apte – 9923063562, Nitin Joshi – 9823179191

Karishma Rajan

The founder of The First Fork, Karishma likes to live in the moment and take life as it comes. Originally from aamchi Pune, she is swalp Bangalorean at heart and loves the Mumbaiya energy! Biking adventures, good food and inappropriate humour are things that get her going and she fantasises about going hitchhiking around the galaxy one day.