Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Prelude to the Ride

The Leh ride was the most talked about ride among us friends whenever we talked about a trip in the hills. No doubt its a dream trip for everyone but such dream trips need extensive planning and decision making.

The first hints of the ride emerged on April 14th 2008 when Deepak forwarded a mail about the Ladakh bike ride that he and his friends decided to go. He added us. Infact all decision was already done at that point and Deep just added us to comment.

My first reaction was apprehension. Bike rides are ok but Ladakh ! I read articles on the same on the net and my first reaction from all those were forget it , i cannot do it. Seriously some of the experiences of riders going there are horrendous with bad roads , landslides , huge water crossings and what not.

Sometime later I sent a mail on the thread saying I couldn't come for the trip due to unavailability of leaves et. all , Saurabh replied back saying that he had anticipated that from me. I felt bad at that point of time and didn't want to miss out on the trip and that too of this magnitude. Saurabh was right i was jittery about the thought of the bike ride but then I thought what the heck. Purvesh called me and asked me the reason of not coming. He just said 1 sentence "Sai mai tujhe wahan se safe lekar aaunga - you don't worry , mujhe tujhme confidence hain tu ye kar sakta hain".

I decided to go ahead with the ride , fears be damned. I applied for leave and surprisingly it got approved. The dates we were to start were 5th July 2008 and return back by 20th July 2008.

I talked to Vick on chat about this and he said that he was also interested. I then put a mail about this to others too but no response from them. So Vick was left out , i felt bad but Vick wasn't confident riding in hills, but still.... anyways ...

The train reservations were done by Saurabh and the members who were to come were Me,Saurabh,Purvesh,Deepak,Abhijeet,Shailesh,Vishal,Amit. The mail threads started and then various decisions were taken. Somehow I feel that the mail threads were used for nothing. A meeting was needed but then Saurabh , Deepak had met Abhijeet and Vishal and they had a talk already so I was convinced.

There was another guy Shantanu (Deepak's friend) who was to join. But this guy dropped of before the trip as he had joined a new organization and couldn't get leaves.

Then I conveyed this to my family members , they were OK with that as long as I rode safe. I also talked about this with friends and they were like "Ladakh!! on bike? " safe hain kya, "Pulsar chadegi kya?" (i own a pulsar 150) and all such questions. I was confident that my bike could do it without problems.

The preparations started, servicing of bike, shopping et. all. We were all prepared for the trip. Our planned routes were Ambala - Manali - Keylong - Sarchu - Pang - Leh and return was via Leh - Lamayaru - Kargil - Dras - Sonamarg - Ganderbal - Srinagar - Jammu.

Finally 1 1/2 week before the trip the Amarnath fiasco begin in J&K and we had apprehensions of returning via Jammu but we had booked the tickets and crossed our fingers that there shouldnt be any tension there when we were there :)

One more twist was the addition of Nikhil (Amit's friend) during the last week where he expressed willingness to come on to the ride. We had a ticket which we had to cancel where we accomodated Nikhil.

All set and done we had a small meeting a week before departure at Pataleshwar caves and discussed about various options to go ahead. We also discussed about backup riders in case the main riders got sick or had some problem and it was decided that we carry 7 bikes for 9 people so that 2 people could be always available to drive in case of any problems.

The last week was particularly very hectic with all things to be purchased , spares , warm clothes and all. Everything was managed but there were still apprehensions of sending the bikes by train (luggage).

Saurabh had enquired earlier about the same and he was optimistic about the train stuff but then others had different thoughts so we decided to check out courier pick up services from Pune to Ambala and then pick up our bikes from their godown there and continue. Later we decided we load our bikes by train only and start on our trip.

Purvesh had made cages for luggage for me and himself for our luggage and he did try to advocate the uses of those to others too but to no avail. I however decided to go ahead with the cage idea , i wasnt optimistic of tying my sack at the bag with a rope given the rough terrain the ropes usually go loose and i didnt want to spend my time tying loose ropes.

I shopped for other bike spares - a friend who hadn't used his riding gear gave it to me (for which I have to pay :)) a riding jacket and gloves which were amazing (DSG make) for the trip.

Thus ended the decision making and stuff...we were ready..... Mission Ladakh :)

The railway transport nightmare - decisions changed

As decided we were to transport our bikes upto Ambala by train (Jhelum exp) from Pune. But the catch here was that we could transport only 4 bikes a day in the train due to luggage constraints.

We decided to transport 4 bikes a day ahead and the other 3 bikes the next day when everyone would be on the train. We were however warned by the railway parcel agents that someone has to be at the receiving station while unloading the bikes as usually the guys there don't do it plus the train reaches at 12.45am in the night , damn! Now there was a catch situation here that if we send the 4 bikes ahead who would unload them at Ambala in case the railways botched it up. We couldn't risk losing a day of the trip getting our bikes back from nowhere in case the bikes didnt get unloaded at Ambala and went all the way ahead.

Two things were possible.
1. Put someone on the train that day so that he could get down and atleast unload the bikes or ask for help there for unloading the bikes, but again here reservation was needed for the person to get aboard the train the day before which wasn't possible so late. We had one contact of DCP in Pune who said that they had their counterparts in RPF Ambala who would unload the bikes there but again they said it wasn't 100% sure that they would do it. We wanted a 100% commitment that the bikes would be unloaded there, we didnt want false promises. This was a bleak option

2. Two persons among us would go ahead on flight to Delhi - get to Ambala before the train reaches and unload the bikes. This seemed a viable option but then the costs would increase for the flight and would be distributed among all of us.

We decided for option 2 , me and Purvesh were to goto Delhi by flight from Mumbai Saturday morning 6am and reach Ambala and stay put in a hotel. The train arrives at Ambala in the night at 12.45am so we goto the station and unload the first lot of the bikes. So I had to start Friday night to Mumbai to be with Purvesh. My journey starts a day earlier i.e 4th of July 2008.

Decision taken , me , Saurabh and Shailesh had to book our bikes on 3rd July 2008 to send them on 4th July 2008. So I took my bike along with all the documents of the bike (RC,TC, PUC, Insurance) which were needed there (xerox). We agreed to meet at Pune station at 6.00pm and book our bikes for the next day to be sent.

At mid-day today i get a phone call from purvesh saying that I needed to get his bike from Shivaner Auto in Kothrud where Deepak had given it for repairs. Now it was Deepak's responsibility but I had to do it...callous nature of Deepak....he could have given it earlier but he didnt! and to top it he had work at office...and he thought no one else has work?? I was going to blow my lid on Deepak but what the heck someone had to do it and if nobody did it , it would be a disaster isnt it? Now if people dont take responsibility then god knows the future....well Deepak if u read this please dont feel bad...I just wrote what i felt nothing against you buddy! :)

I reached Pune station at 6pm on my bike after completing all my work at office but Saurabh and Shailesh were nowhere to be seen. Finally they arrived at 6.45pm and we went to the parcel office. To our dismay we found out that the parcel booking closes at 5pm and we need to come the next day morning to book our bikes there , hell!

We decided to keep our bikes in the Pune station parking lot to save the hassles of bringing it again from home the next day over long distance and also because rains had started in Pune so it was a nightmare riding the bikes in the rain here in the traffic. So we kept our bikes in the parking at Pune station took the receipts and caught the next local train home.


Rush to Mumbai

4th July 2008

Next day morning I went to office with a huge haversack with all my stuff and a pittu sack also loaded for my trip as I was to start today to Mumbai. Then I kept the stuff at office , took xerox of the bike papers and went to Pune station for booking my bike. Took the bike from the parking and went to book the bikes.

Now when you want to send a parcel there are a lot of hassles involved. Agents do the packing of your bike and also *recommend* that your bikes be sent the day you want so along with the actual railway fees of the parcel 1340/- we needed to shell out extra for chai pani for all in the chain - the policeman , the agent and the parcel staff. Bloody !#!#!#. The total cost involved here was 2100/- per bike. Anything less than this and you wont know when your bike will be loaded. Nice blackmailing idea.

We filled up the forms for the parcel and then booked our bikes after the packing. I rushed back to office and agreed to meet Saurabh in the evening to take the parcel receipts before leaving for Mumbai - Saurabh did a great sacrifice of taking the day off from office and agreed to supervise the bike booking and bike loading for that day.

Evening I left office at 5.30pm and went to Pune station , found Saurabh and he announced that he loaded 4 bikes onto the train that day and he handed me over the receipts. I went to the Asiad bus stand to get tickets to Mumbai but to my horror found out that the tickets now available were for the bus at 10pm because it was Friday.

I met another friend here who had come to see me off and give me best wishes.

I decided to dump the asiad and take a taxi instead upto Mumbai. Took a right decision. Got a share taxi immediately and started off to Mumbai.

The journey was eventless and i reached Mumbai at Ghatkopar at Purvesh's aunt's place from where we were to start next day morning. Purvesh hadnt come yet and was in the local coming from Dombivali to Ghatkopar and I didnt have a morsel of food after starting from office so I had a nice dinner at a hotel outside Ghatkopar station and then waited for Purvesh to come there.

Purvesh finally reached at 11.45pm and he got the cages for our bikes. We then went to his aunt's home and made ourselves comfortable. As my day was hectic I was half sleeping , finally we both went to bed at 1am. We had to start at 4am for our 6am flight. Hell only 3 hours.....i set my alarm and went to sleep.

The day ended with much gusto.....the next day promises to bring more stuff ahead... :)

Ambala via Delhi - flight and train

5th July 2008

The phone alarm for 3.55 am didn’t ring. My phone wasn’t in the best of moods :) and we overslept but not much. At 4.15am I woke up saw the time and jerked Purvesh awake. He too woke up fast and we completed brushing and other stuff and were ready.

Took our luggage out and Purvesh went out looking for an auto. Within seconds the auto came and we were on our way to the airport by 4.30. Luckily it wasn’t raining in Mumbai that time and we made good time up to the airport as it was morning hours no traffic, we reached the airport at 5.10am and checked-in our luggage and the cages. I was apprehensive at first whether they would allow those iron cages but they did!

While we passed the luggage through the x-ray the bike tools (spanner / screwdriver) caused a bit of interest among the officers there, they enquired what it was suspiciously and we told them then they asked bike ride...? n all and then let us off :) nothing much of trouble.

We checked in our luggage and went for security check and then went into the main gate area. We were feeling hungry but then the flight was announced. We were to go by Go-Air flight to Delhi. We got out after the ticket check but to our dismay found that the Go-Air bus wasn’t there. Pathetic service by those guys, extremely unprofessional. Finally after a long wait the bus came and we climbed in. Climbed up the flight and got into our seats. I’m bored of flights nowadays the only reason I travel in them is that they reach fast :P

The flight took off at correct time from Mumbai and we were in Delhi by 8.30am. Came out waited for the baggage got it and went to book a pre-paid taxi to Old Delhi station from where we had a train booking to Ambala. Purvesh had booked 2 tickets on the Saryu Yamuna express from Old Delhi - Ambala Cantt. The taxi was a maruti Omni and we got in , the climate in Delhi was horrible , cloudy and humid - no sign of rain. God it was unbearable.

The taxi started finally and wow...the roads of Delhi are something. They maintain the capital very nicely and what amazing green cover it has, all around trees and all. We reached Old Delhi station in around an hour at 9.30 am and went to enquire about the train. Heck , the trains are always late and this was no exception - our train was late by 4 hours , the actual time was 10.55am but now it was to arrive at 14.55.

We decided to dump our luggage have some breakfast and then visit the Red Fort which we had seen on our way and its near the Old Delhi railway station. So off we went to the cloak room where the babu was sitting. We put our bags there took the receipt and went out in Come sum cafe to have a nice breakfast of masala dosa, coke et. all.

After breakfast we came out, the climate was still horrible but still we decided to walk up to the Red Fort some 2-3 km away as we had ample time to kill. We walked along the crowded Old Delhi roads and finally reached the Red Fort in 30 mins.

Red fort is an awesome big structure. No wonder it’s the pride of India and there was heavy security all over due to the threats to blow it off. Being a Saturday there was a crowd there to visit the fort. We got tickets for entering the fort 10rs each and entered. The security is tight on the fort with CRPF personnel checking each and everyone there before allowing them to enter.
Purvesh or me by mistake lost one ticket which we found out later inside so Purvesh went out again and bought another ticket. We roamed inside the fort photographing all the architecture.

The inside is marred by shops allowed to be there. Spoils the beauty of the structure. The fort is a huge area with 2 museums inside - an army museum and the fort museum. We visited the throne area and came back to visit the army museum after which we visited the fort museum and came out.

For return we thought of taking a cycle rickshaw to the station back. The ride was eventful where the rickshawallah took us via crowded streets brushing against everything on his path. We felt pity on the rickshawallah as he earned a pittance to ferry people that too with sheer physical strength.Such is life.

We reached the station and went into comesum again to have something. We had kesar pista lassi which was yuck and a bad option but anyway we had it. After that we went to the cloak room and got our luggage back and went to the platform where the train was scheduled to come.

The walk from the platform 1 to platform 4 was painful lugging the huge haversack , the loaded pittu and the iron cage in one hand , we were sweating like pigs and huffing and puffing. Finally we reached the platform and put our bags and sat on a bench.The train was further delayed and finally came in at around 15.30pm , we went into our bogie and put our luggage and sat down with relief - not before cleaning our seats with paper because some idiot had dirtied them by putting his shoe on the seat , people never learn.

The train finally moved out of Delhi station but we soon realised that its being an express was moving like a passenger , we were least interested and had the whole berth to ourselves so made the most of it by sleeping there because we didnt have sleep from the previous night. Finally the train picked up speed and we were into Haryana passing via cool green fields and all , the climate all along was the same dull and humid one.

Purvesh in the middle picked up some conversation which we animatedly discussed about...that guy has a knack of speaking and I admire it. :)

We finally reached Ambala Cantt at around 6.50pm and got out of the train. Crossed over via the railway overbridge and went to the main area on platform 1. I volunteered to wait and Purvesh went to the parcel office to inform them about our bikes coming by today's train and he came back. He again went outside to find a good hotel for our 2 day stay and came back in 20 mins after booking a hotel room , it was Hotel Savoy at 400 bucks a day for two days.

We got an auto who took 40 bucks (that rascal) for a distance of 1/2 a km and arrived at Hotel Savoy and checked-in to our room. It had a cooler..wow! and it was a decent room for 2 people. We put our baggage inside and rested for sometime....

Finally we went out to fill out the petrol bottles for the bikes coming today, filled the petrol came back to our hotel and kept the bottles and saw TV for some time. Went out for dinner and found Deluxe Dhaba near the station to be a good one and went in. The A/C was on there and hence we found some relief. The waiter was a jolly good guy , we ordered and had a nice dinner. After the dinner we went to the station to check the time of the train whether it was coming on time and found that it was on time.

Walked back to the hotel and slept upto 12.00am. Woke up at 12am freshened up and went to the station. Talked to the parcel guys and the parcel babu told us that wait on the platform to get the bikes. Little did we know an ordeal waited for us ahead.

The train came in a little after 12.55am and to our dismay and surprise there wasnt anyone to unload the bikes except a lone guard. We opened the luggage door and to my horror i found that my bike was standing on its rear wheels , my heart skipped a beat...i thought something must sure be broken or something. We unloaded the bikes ourselves with the help of the guard and got all the 4 bikes onto the platform , a huge feat. The guard while coming down saw a broken footrest and we feared the worst , he gave it to us and I checked the bikes and it was Saurabh's bike whose footrest was broken cleanly at the weld at the brake side...it was to be a long day ahead getting the thing repaired. We thanked the guard and gave him Rs.50 for the help. So our worst fears did come true, there was truly no one to unload the bikes there and had we not come ahead then it would have been a different story. The railways sure suck big time...bloody @!*$!#(.

The parcel babu came after and said that as it was parcel we would get it the next day morning 9am and he assured us that the bikes would be moved to the parcel office immediately so that we can come and claim the bikes immediately.

We left the station satisfied and thought we would get the bikes easily the next day, some more ordeal waited for us the next day.

The day ended and we went to sleep, the sleep which was badly needed after almost 24 hours of continuous waking , we slept like logs at the hotel.

The day ended on a sour note and a good note that we made it ahead and got our bikes down. :)

Day 1 - The ordeal at Ambala - repair the broken bikes :)

6th July 2008

This was to be the longest day of all. We got up at 8.30am freshened up , took a nice bath and went to the parcel office to get our bikes. The parcel babu seemed least interested in customers coming in and we asked where our bikes were. Imagine to our horror he shrugged saying "Pata nahi honge to idhar hi nahi to platform pe - kahin nahi jayenge". So the wicked parcel babu in the night didn't fulfill his promise of getting the bikes at the parcel office , bloody government officials that they are.

We came out on the platform and went to the parcel supervisor and asked about that .... he too was at his resting best and shrugged that they must be somewhere on the platform and they will come here sometime ... sometime?? Now sometime in their lingo can mean 1 month too..so what were we to do? Sit like idiots there ! He suggested we locate the bikes and come back. So me and Purvesh decided to look at all the platforms where our bikes were....bloody painful job of searching 7 platforms end to end looking for missing bikes.

We spent the better part of the next 1.5 hours looking for our bikes on every platform and I feared the worst whether they were burgled or what. Searching the platform in the stifling humid heat wasnt exactly a great idea of spending a Sunday but we had to. Finally after a long search we found our bikes on the same platform where we had got them down a little away from the place where we had got them down. There were 3 bikes there and the 4th one was locked away in the enclosure meant for luggage.

We went to the parcel office again and told them happily that we located our bikes only to be told that it was a Sunday so no parcel unloading and moving guys were available.. we were asked to move the bikes ourself from the platform to the parcel office before completing the formalities and taking them. Whoa...now what does the railways charge so much money for? Just like that? and then ask the people point blank to move their own bikes if they wanted it...they just dont care about anything or anyone.

So off we were to the place where we found our bikes and started moving 2 of them - one with Purvesh and one with me from platform number 7 to the platform number 1 - parcel office. The road was at the end of the platform and we had to go right across the tracks platform to platform dogding people and for that matter the trains which arrived and goto the parcel office.

When we were moving the bikes the 1st lot of them someone snubbed us.We turned to find out that it was a guard of some train saying what we were upto?. He said only the railway parcel guys were authorized to move the parcels and not others and he said that the Railway Police might catch us and interrogate us thinking that we were running away with the bikes. Bloody hell. To our relief we found a parcel officer Mr.Ashok there who too echoed the same. We told our predicament to him and he assured he would do something. We also asked him to unlock 1 of our bikes in the enclosure to which he asked a guard to do it and that bloody guard asked for a bribe of 40/- to unlock the bike...bloody shit...this corruption goes deep into the roots...no wonder we talk about such stuff...you have to be in such a situation to get something out of these guys that you forget that you took an oath that you would stop corruption! Even if that thought comes to your mind you are so tired of haggling with these people that you think its better to escape their clutches than getting entangled deep in the mire.

Mr.Ashok told us that if someone (read the Railway Police) intercepted us, we were to tell his name and get away! We moved the first lot of the bikes to the parcel office and came back to take the other 2 ones. By the time we had reached the parcel office with the 2nd lot we were sweating like hell and completely tired thanks to the callousness of the railways and the nature.

After the ordeal we went inside to get the bikes released , the usual faltu office stuff....we were offered water by a kind railway fellow...the 1st fellow we had met there who was so courteous...surprise! Finally we got the bikes released out and removed the packing which was done while loading in Pune.Filled petrol in the bikes and took 2 bikes first to the hotel parking. Came back and took the other 2 bikes to the hotel.

Now, it was time to repair Saurabh's bike... the footguard of the right hand side brake was broken from the weld - had to repair it and the front plastic shield over the headlight was broken too. We went to the main Indira market which was supposed to have many mechanic shops. After some goof-ups we finally reached the market automobile shops. One shop was named Sardar auto shop and the other was named "New Sardar Auto Shop" -- weird :)

So we got a new Apache plastic shield and went to a mechanic who had set shop just opposite these shops. The mechanic Subhash was jolly good fellow and asked us a few things about our ride and got the visor fixed in sometime. Then we asked him if he could repair the broken footrest ... he saw the thing and said he can do it ! He went with purvesh to a weld shop and got the thing repaired. He applied great logic in getting the broken thing fixed in such a way that it looked almost like that it wasnt broken. Cool! We heaved a sigh of relief but now it was nearing almost 4pm and we didnt even have lunch but anyways the bike was repaired now and we gave Subhash the amount he asked for and he also told us that if anything needs repairing again just to give him a call and he shall meet us to repair.

I would specially like to thank Subhash who repaired the bike so nicely and properly at the same time answering questions we posed to him with a smiling face and then asking us to contact him anytime we faced a problem with any of the bikes. People in the north side are very helpful in this manner - i can seldom find anyone so helpful in pune :) (just my opinion)

We came back to our hotel room and had some rest. We had to fix the luggage cage for my bike so I went out to get a hammer and pliers with which we needed to fix the clamps to the cage onto the bike to hold it tight. I again went to Subhash to ask him the shop where we could get the tools and he came with me personally to the tools shop to get me the tools + he purchased some for his shop. He also guided me to the puncture repair wallah to get a puncture repair kit for our ride ahead.

I came back to the hotel after leaving Subhash at his place and we started fixing the cage to my bike. The cage fixing took an hour but once done it was sturdy and firm and I put my haversack in the cage to test its firmness.

After having refreshed ourselves after the gruelling day we had a nap of an hour or so before leaving for Deluxe dhaba for dinner. We had our fill and went to check out the timings of today's train which would bring all the others and the last of the 3 bikes. The train was late by an hour or so.We hoped that the 3 bikes coming today dont have any major breakages or problems which would hinder our schedule as we had to start next day morning at 7am for Manali.

The other problem which lay in front of us were that the bikes which came today would only be released next day morning from 9-5 in the day which could affect our schedule too - we made some plans to get the bikes released by asking permission to the parcel guys.

Coming back to the hotel we packed our haversacks and cleared the room and had a nap upto 12am. We started for the station at 12.30am and parked our bikes in the parking and went to the parcel office - there we met Mr.Devidayal again and he assured us that he would get the bikes again today..false promises :) we knew but we couldnt do anything much.

The train came in at 1.00am and Saurabh and Deepak came to the rear end to get the bikes. Today's commotion was even more. There were 3 bikes to be removed and when we opened the luggage door there was a bike on top of our bike. After much struggle we removed the bike on top with the guard who helped us and got all our 3 bikes down and finally heaved a sigh of relief. We gave the guard his due and pushed the 3 bikes to the parcel office. Once there we requested the parcel supervisor to release the bikes immediately so that we could proceed but he demanded some amount to do it and we gave it to him - helplessly and took our bikes out , filled petrol and we were off to the hotel - all of us.

Thankfully all the bikes which came today were 100% ok and we heaved a sigh of relief.

Everybody came into the room and got fresh. Some people slept for sometime and Purvesh was fixing the cage to his bike which came today.

The morning we had to start for Manali - that is in the next post :) , phew what a day and the bloody railway wallah's...we wowed we would never send the bikes by train again !