Tuesday, October 14, 2014

#lehdiaries: the trip

so, as i mentioned earlier, we did a fair bit of planning. i'm not saying it was all in vain, but we certainly didn't follow more than the basics. this is what our itinerary was, at the start of the trip:

  1. train to jammu
  2. reach jammu, unload bikes, ride to patni top
  3. patni top to srinagar
  4. srinagar to kargil (with a stopover at the drass war memorial)
  5. kargil to leh
  6. rest, bike servicing, permits in leh
  7. shopping in leh, shanti stupa in the evening
  8. local sightseeing (hemis, shey, thiksey)
  9. leh to nubra valley
  10. nubra to pangong (spangmik)
  11. pangong to hanle to tso moriri
  12. tso moriri to pang
  13. pang to manali
  14. rest in manali
  15. manali to chandigarh
  16. train to bbay
  17. arrival in bbay
This is what we actually ended up doing for the first half:
  1. train to jammu
  2. reach jammu, unload bikes, ride to patni top (116 km)
  3. patni top to srinagar (180 km)
  4. srinagar to kargil (drass war memorial was shut by the time we got there) (205 km)
  5. kargil to leh (222 km)
  6. rest, bike servicing, permits, shopping, shanti stupa
  7. local sightseeing (hemis, shey, thiksey), shopping. this is when we realized we had shopped more than we could carry, and there's no way we could ride to khardung-la like this.
  8. leh to khardung-la and back, packing, replanning (83 km)
now, this is where we changed the course of our trip a bit. slightly miffed at missing nubra valley, we decided to do something crazier to compensate: cancel our (confirmed) train tickets and ride back to bbay. the plan was changed to:
  1. leh to pangong (spangmik)
  2. pangong to hanle to tso moriri
  3. tso moriri to pang
  4. pang to manali
  5. rest/buffer day in manali
  6. manali to chandigarh
  7. chandigarh to rajasthan (our pillions would spend the day in chandigarh)
  8. rajasthan to gujarat (our pillions would take the train to bbay)
  9. gujarat to bbay
however, fate had other plans:
  1. courier extra luggage (two bags!) to delhi, ride from leh to pangong (lukung) (153 km)
  2. flat tire at lukung: spent the entire morning fixing it ourselves. lukung to merak, the streams were in full flow so we couldn't go any further and stopped at 5pm. (forgot to turn gps on this day, but about 35 km)
  3. merak to hanle to nyoma (239 km)
  4. nyoma to tso moriri to pang (210 km)
  5. pang to keylong, 2 hour delay due to landslide, keylong to khoksar (228 km)
  6. khoksar to rohtang to manali to kullu to mandi (223 km)
  7. mandi to chandigarh, bike servicing (158 km)
  8. chandigarh to rajasthan (our pillions took the train to bbay) (517 km)
  9. rajasthan to gujarat (we wanted to do a night ride to bbay, but i had a fever) (538 km)
  10. gujarat to bbay (562 km)
interestingly, my gps logs and my estimates for the two days i didn't turn tracking on, add up to around 190 km short of what my odometer reported (3754 vs 3945 km)!




Sunday, October 12, 2014

falling

I was on my way home from Goa. i was sleeping in a deserted bus stand on a highway at 3am. the ledge had a wall on one side, and was so narrow that i had to sleep on my side, or I'd fall off. it's quite hard to sleep on your side, but i used my arms as a pillow, best as I could. it was uncomfortable, but i couldn't be picky - i was extremely sleepy, and i was 100 km from home.

I was so sleepy that i was dead to the world in seconds.

until I turned in my sleep, and i felt myself roll off the ledge. i tried to stop myself, but my arms were tucked under my head, and there was nothing else to use to stop myself from landing face-first. i braced myself for impact, but it didn't come. I continued falling for way longer than I expected the two foot drop from the ledge to take. it wasn't long enough to open my eyes though.

but then, I wasn't falling anymore. i was being dragged sideways out of the bus stand, onto the highway. i spread my arms, so that I could get a hold on the entrance of the stand. i could hear trucks pass by, and i was scared. i struggled violently to shake off whatever or whoever was dragging my out by my legs.

and that's when i woke up with a start. i was still on the ledge, sleeping on my arm.

for some reason, I hurried away from that spot. i was doing 80 on my bike before I was even reoriented. but luckily my consciousness held, and i was home an hour and a half later.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

#lehdiaries: before the start

a lot of stuff goes into planning a trip, especially to a place like leh. unlike last year, there was so much planning involved, that i actually had a checklist of checklists. the entire process took over three months, but the pace picked up towards the end, until finally i was so exhausted that the start of the trip was actually a relief from the planning!

i do realize that it could have been done very differently, but i guess my systematic approach was because i realized the number of variables involved last time, and also i wanted to avoid the pitfalls of the previous trip.

here's a rather long-winded summary of what went into it:

the itinerary

for some reason, this is the first thing everyone who i mentioned the trip to, asked me about. dates, places we will cover, travel time between places, where we will stay, etc. the itinerary was also the hardest thing to fix, and as it eventually turned out, we barely stuck to it at all. still, it had to be done, and i did a rough draft at the start. what went into planning the itinerary:
  • duration: two weeks is best. any less makes the trip pointless, and any more becomes problematic to get leaves for. we did two weeks and a extra day (17 days). we planned to leave on friday morning and be back home on sunday night.
  • the direction and start/end points of the trip: we decided to do jammu - leh - chandigarh. the other seriously considered option was chandigarh - leh - jammu. last year, we did jammu - leh - jammu, and in 2009, we did delhi (and chandigarh en route) - leh - delhi.
  • places to cover: we had to cover all the regular spots as it was everyone's (other than my) first time in leh
  • amount of possible travel that could be done in a day: i estimated 200-250 km per day. in reality, we barely managed 200 km in a day, and only exceeded that toward the end of the trip, and that too on days we pushed ourselves.
  • stay at cheap places that also allow some sort of diversions post sunset, since we always had our evenings free. rule of thumb, anywhere in ladakh is cheap, if you're not picky and are ready to scout around. this is the main reason we didn't pre-book anything other than our stay at leh (and we finally didn't even go with the place we pre-booked, much to their chagrin). finally, we never actually ended up sticking to our planned itinerary, and yet we weren't disappointed - so in retrospect, this point may have been irrelevant.
  • ask around: there are a lot of names of places people will throw around when you ask. make sure you find out how to get there, and check a road map, as well as ask people about their experiences. biker forums are useful, but trusted friends are the best.

train tickets, transportation

we booked our train tickets the day booking was opened (2 months before the date of travel), literally the hour booking opened online (8am).

transportation for the bikes was left for later, because no prebooking was required. i did speak to the guy who arranged it for my bike last year, and he reassured me that all i had to do was turn up with the bike the day before the train left.

it turned out to be a more complicated affair: last year, i could get my bike on easily as it was just one, but this year he said three bikes on one train was impossible as the railway had sublet three of the four luggage compartments to a private cargo operator. we ended up paying extra to get our bikes on the private coach, and we weren't given an official receipt for the transportation either. he also told us to "turn up at 10", when he meant 10am. this was the source of a lot of last minute panic, as i assumed it would be 10pm, like it was last year. i had to rush off from office, travel two hours and spend two hours parceling the bike in the middle of an already packed work day. lucky for me, my manager was cooperative, and i actually managed to finish my work in time to get home at 10pm. quite a crazy day, that!

lessons learned: transport the bike a day or two in advance, so that any hiccups can be ironed out without stress (that's what i did last year, btw)

money spent: 14k for 3 bikes from bandra to jammu (up from 3k for one bike, last year). we also had to pay 200 at jammu to unload this year, which wasn't the case last year. asking around for a better deal may or may not help, as these guys operate closer to touts than an organized operation, and there appears to be a cartel of sorts. we didn't have the time to ask around, so i still don't know.

we supplied our own packing materials, which they used in addition to the regular gunny sack cover/cardboard. the did the packing, but we had to stand and watch and make sure they did a good job.

the packing list

this was another big item that had to be tackled well in advance. blame it on inertia or ignorance, but we actually started shopping only after the list was drawn up. i didn't need to shop as i had my stuff from last year, but everybody else had a ton of stuff to buy. i split the list into personal stuff (which everybody had to carry for themselves), stuff required per bike (basically, emergency spares) and shared stuff, which only one person in the group would be assigned to buy and carry. the packing list was drawn up keeping in mind that everything would have to be loaded on bikes, and two out of the three bikes would have a pillion as well, leaving just the third bike free for carrying shared items.

mental and physical preparation

  • everyone was advised to get a check up done, speak to their family doctor, etc. parents had to be taken into confidence about the risks involved (although i have a feeling most of us skipped the details ;))
  • i attended a bike repair workshop, specially geared for people who are planning leh. quite a useful one, and came handy when we had to fix a puncture ourselves and later when we had to replace a blown fuse. mechanics are generally clueless about what you'd need in an emergency, so it's best to check with a friend. i learned how to:
    • take off and reattach the wheel
    • clean/replace brake pads
    • adjust chain tension
    • inspect/clean spark plugs, air filters
    • replace fuses
    • replace clutch and accelerator cables
    • assemble a toolkit for my bike (ie what sort of tools i would need on the trip)
  • one dry run with the pillions to ensure they could handle such long rides. we rode around 1100 km in a weekend, to devgad and back from mumbai.
  • a weekend before our trip began, we packed, assembled all the luggage at a common location (since the pillion and rider had to pack into the same set of saddle bags), loaded up the bikes, and then did a dry run (about 300 km) in full gear, and all luggage. after the dry run, we stowed our baggage as is, ready for the trip.
...and, off we went!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

needs

I visited grandma after ages. i think I've waited far longer than I should have. so much has changed. i'm not used to seeing her in bed, not used to her forgetting who i am, even after I told her my name, and my dad's name. her short term memory seems to be a slate that's being wiped clean as she struggles to complete each sentence she's begun. she doesn't even seem to be aware of what she's saying.

grandma is fascinated by her hands, because that's almost all that she can see. she makes me hold them, asks me how they feel. I tell her they're the most loving hands I've ever held, but she insists they're just oily. she holds them up to the light, against the wall next to her bed, the armrest of my chair, and then asks me to hold them again. aren't they oily? she insists. this time, i'm forced to agree.

grandma insists she's lived in this house only three years. when i tell her it's actually been almost fifty years, she can't believe me. she's quite sure she can't be that old. but when I asked her how old she thinks she is, she says she's hundred. my aunt and I laugh, and she takes her statement back. she admits she has absolutely no idea.

grandma now remembers me. she asks me about my brother. has he finished school? yes, he's been working for years now. she says that's good. we all need to work. except her. she can't work. her hands are too oily to work. she wonders why she's here. i'm of no use any more, she insists. i want to explain to her why she's here. that she still touches our lives with her childlike innocence. but i don't know how to make her understand that. instead, I simply hold her hands again. she says, almost ominously, that "it's time". my aunt immediately interrupts and asks, time for what? grandma is silent for a moment, and then says "changes". it's time for changes. the weather is going to change. everything is going to change. it's that time of the year. it's a difficult time. but we can't complain. we have to be thankful. we have to pray. my aunt agrees, we have to pray and be thankful.

grandma says she prays for everyone. that's all she can do. I nod. she knows why she's here. she prays for people she can't recognize, people she can't remember, maybe even for people that only exist in her mind. but she prays.

it's time for dinner. grandma eats a Nutella sandwich, soaked in milk. she asks me if I want some too. she's sorry that she can't give me anything else to eat. i reassure her that i'm not hungry, and that if I was, I'd definitely help myself to her fridge.

the clock chimes nine. grandma asks me the time. she says it's time to sleep. my aunt agrees. but i don't want to let go of her hands. i promise myself that I'll be back soon. she doesn't protest when i kiss her cheeks, like she used to years ago. i make the sign of the cross on her forehead and say a silent prayer for her. but i can't think of what to ask God. all I can do is thank him. and then i remind myself that this is why we all need god. how else do you explain the purpose of someone who only lives to pray for us?

I thank God for my grandma. she gave me exactly what i needed, today.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

public transport karma

today, I missed my office bus by a minute, and had to take a drop to jvlr instead. chased a bus that said bandra. missed it by literally 10 seconds, and gave up chasing it because I was flat out of breath. thought I'd just take the next bus headed that way, as I didn't fancy my chances of another bandra bus anytime soon.

and then three buses to borivali passed by. on the day I wasn't headed home.

the very next bus was headed to bandra. got in and got a seat immediately (at 6pm, rush hour!). was relieved to find that it was headed to bandra West and not East. after about half an hour, i looked up from my book to see the bus was on sv road. and just when I was gonna get off and walk from santacruz sv road to linking road, the bus took a turn and headed right where I was going to walk to.

today's the day my public transport karma finally evened itself out.