A ride near the roof of the world is on the bucket list of every true blue biker. It needs a good amount of preparation, as we are talking about the highest cold desert of the world. It makes sense be informed when you are venturing to the toughest terrain of motorbikes. Here’s a lowdown on the important aspects of the Leh circuit or the La La land as I prefer to call it ( Khardung La, Zoji La, Namika La, Fatu La, Cherok La…)
A bit about the geography first; Leh is in the state of Jammu and Kashmir; close to the Tibetan plateau which is also called the Roof of the World, as it is the highest plateau. It is also referred to as the Third Pole of the Earth; it is that high! The Tibetan Plateau itself tops 16,000 feet above sea level; Leh is in the range of 12,000 feet above sea level. But there are peaks and passes in Ladhak that are close to or above 18,000 ft. The entire district is mountainous with three parallel mountain ranges – Zanskar, Ladhak and Karakoram. These mountain ranges are sliced by the three rivers – Shayok, Indus and Zanskar. People live in the valleys of these rivers and they are of Indo Aryan or Tibetan descent. Leh is 434 kms from Srinagar and 474 kms from Manali in Himachal Pradesh. On the West of Leh is Aksai Chin and on the east is Pakistan occupied Kashmir. The region does not receive any monsoon rain as it lies in the rain shadow region cast by the Himalayan region. Rainfall occurs in the winters here.
The landscape is like a scene from Star Wars. Vegetation is sparse; mountains are eerily barren and give the place that alien planet feel.
Historically, the Ladhak region is important as it was the crossroads of the old Silk Route. Try to step back into ancient history and imagine negotiating the jagged mountain terrain in caravans for days together to sell precious silk. The route was set up by the Han dynasty of China in 200 BCE. After the Indo China war of 1962, China closed its borders with Central Asia; there is little left of international trade. The place now relies heavily on tourism for revenue.
Now that we know the topography and the background, let’s talk about the temperatures you’ll be facing. The region is open only four months in a year when the snow has melted and spring is in full bloom. The Hemis festival is celebrated during this time. Maximum temperature will range between 140C to 250C and minimum will be between 3 to 100C, so pack accordingly.
Wildlife to look out for: Ibex, Bactrian camels, Yaks, Tibetan wild ass and the endangered black necked crane. There are nearly 250 bird varieties in the region so keep your cameras trained to the skies.
Take 2-3 days to acclimatise yourself before attempting to ride. High altitudes mean low oxygen levels, so get used to less. Altitude sickness can wash out the best of plans. The place is the spiritual seeker’s paradise, which means you can set off on a journey of self discovery, soak in the aura of the numinous Buddhist Gompas or monasteries. Next day you do the touristy places and things on your bike. Touch points will be Lamayuru, Moonland, Alchi, and Likir.
Now for the high point of your trip: Get on your steel horse and get rolling on the road. Khardung La pass (18,370 ft) and Nubra valley will mesmerise you. The beauty of the valleys will be contrasted by the starkness of some sand dunes.
Set aside the next day for the Pangong Tso lake and lose yourself in the different shades of blue of the water and the sky.
Just to give you a heads up – Ladhak Transport Union is strong and tends to disallow outside vehicles, so you end up rehiring bikes or cars and that costs a good bit of money. Check with other fellow riders as you won’t want spoilers in your pilgrimage.
The riding season is currently open on this circuit, best months are from May to end September, but if can bear the cold it can be stretched to October. You can chart out your own itinerary.
Do submit your ride story to firstname.lastname@example.org after you return from La La land. We’d love to see the halo around you!