Making tracks through the dust

Filed in India, Riding, Travel by on September 16, 2013 1 Comment

The ride plan was the easier of 2 options favoured by bikers in the the northern most state of Jammu & Kashmir; both ending at Leh. The options were either a route from Manali to Leh, a challenging route that traverses the 2nd highest road in the world (Tanglang La) or from Jammu to Leh which posed its own challenges. In terms of adventure riding, there were many mountainous regions to traverse as well as the dreaded Zoji La pass which is essentially 20km of muddy slipperiness unless you’ve been lucky enough to not have had any rainfall in the previous days. However the trickiest for me was the first few days from Jammu towards Srinagar which were riding on Indian highways full of traffic, diesel smoke and dust…so much dust.

The map illustrates the approximate route taken from Jammu to Srinagar (red lines, whilst blue indicates trips out from Leh) over the course of 2 days. Although shy of 300km, this was a gruelling 2 days dealing with cargo trucks on Indian roads and their unfiltered exhausts.

The first nights stop was in a small hill resort town skirting the NH1 (National Highway 1) called Patnitop. Although uneventful in terms of a place to stay, it did start promising hints of green through all the pollution and also gave me a chance to evaluate the bikes performance; reasonable but riding temps were quite high, thus began a daily ritual of cleaning the radiator with a toothbrush to keep it free of unavoidable Indian road grime.

And so, after a quick wash, it was back into the chaos of Indian traffic, the only reprieve was gaining altitude to get some spectacular views. Just had to remind myself not to get too caught up admiring the scenery for fear of running off the edge or being flattened by a plethora of trucks.

As always, eating while traveling is a gamble, not only because you don’t know what it’s going to do to your stomach but also because you simply don’t know what you’re going to get. So when I stopped at a roadside café in Banyal and asked if they had food, the conversation went something like this.

“Do you have food here?”
“Yes”….*bring out plates of rice and mystery meat*

Tasted brilliant on an empty stomach though !

From there on, it was a matter of getting on with the task at hand and with only trucks and dust around me, photography was put on the backburner until I arrived at the military accommodation in Srinagar. I learnt upon arrival that up until 3 days prior the city had been under military curfew for 8 days due to militants ambushing and killing approximately 20 Indian soldiers in a convoy. As a result of this, security in the military camp was extremely high (understandably) and a small paper work mistake by a clerk in registering my number plates meant a 2 hour wait at the gates whilst everything was triple-checked. Whilst I understood the need, this combined with being strongly discouraged to go outside the military base for a bit of exploring, I could see ongoing military accommodation playing havoc with my usual travel habit of exploring freely.

After a great feed during the night and day and getting as much dust off me as I could, it was time to set off again the next day towards Sonmarg. This was where I was told the traffic would ease off and the dust would transform into a green nirvana. And while I could breathe a little easier from the lack of constant diesel fumes a new problem reared its ugly head…

(Note the lone overland cyclist in the background; I hadn’t even noticed him till I saw the photos!)

Click here to continue onto the lush green of the Himalayas…

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I take GSXRs to inappropriate places