1994, Ladakh…Day(1) Khemkaran-Mandi

19th August, 1994, Friday…Day(1) Amritsar-Mandi 365 km

I have been writing diary since childhood. There were times when I left this habit. One of these days when we were cleaning our house I came across a diary written by me way back in 1994. It is about our ride to Leh on bike. I thought why not share the story with our friends.

There was no internet in those days, no cell phones, very few people had landline phones (we didn’t have that even), no information about road conditions, availability of hotels, restaurants and other facilities. There was lot of mystery around Ladakh, the road to Ladakh, mountainscape, lakes, people, forests and wild animals. Everything was just a guess or hearsay. Our only source of information was newspapers and magazines.

Ever Since I bought Yamaha RX100 in 1988, I dreamt about riding to Ladakh day and night. I hardly had any friends who could accompany me to this fairyland nor could I dare to ride solo harbouring fear of the unknown. It is said when you have a dream the whole world conspires to make it come true. Some sort of this happened to me when one of my colleagues told me that there was a news item about Ladakh ride.

All this happened so suddenly.

Like everyday, I got up at 7 am at my home in Khem Karan. I was serving as officer in the bank and was posted locally. Due to militancy and remoteness not many people were interested in getting posted at that place. While sipping tea I began reading newspaper ‘The Tribune’ dated 17th August 1994.

I had specially borrowed that newspaper from Surjit Singh, my colleague, who had told me about a news item regarding bike ride to Ladakh. Incidentally he was one of the very few people in the village, who had subscribed to English daily back in those days.

The news item was about a group named ‘Art and Adventure Club, Amritsar’. It said the group was riding to Siachen glacier on an expedition and that Universal Motors, distributors of Suzuki motor bikes in Amritsar, were their sponsors.

After reading the news item I felt an urge to meet the group in Amritsar. Who knows, I might get the chance to ride with them. I disclosed my wish to my wife. She advised me to meet the group in the evening. I don’t know why but I told my wife that I am going to meet them right away.

Without heeding to the pleas of my wife and without taking breakfast, I left on my YAMAHA RX-100, for a 65 kilometer ride to Amritsar.

The sales officer at Universal Motors Amritsar told me that the expedition was organised by Prof Mahal, a professor at Laxmi Narayan Ayurvedic College, Amritsar and that the riders were leaving that day itself. On reaching the College I was told that Prof Mahal was on leave and might not come to college that day. I asked for his address and reached his home, rang the bell, Mrs Mahal came out and after listening to my story, asked me to come in. Reading my face and listening carefully, she told me that there are few terms for going with the expedition.

That I need to clear the dues of the club for the last two years and that I must have had some experience of riding in the mountains. When I told her that I am willing to pay all the previous dues and that I have enough experience of riding in the mountains, she rang up someone and asked me to reach Hindustan Times office and meet Mr Harpreet singh. I waited quite a while and when Mr Singh did not arrive, I again went back to Mrs Mahal’s residence.

She rang up again and this time told me to reach canal house.  All roads to canal office were blocked as the expedition was to be flagged off by Sh KPS Gill, the then DGP of Police, Punjab. After listening to my pleas, the policeman allowed me to go and meet Mr Singh at the gate. Mr Singh told me that it was already 11am and they would be leaving at around 1pm afternoon. So there was not much of a time and that I could not be part of the expedition team and that if I wanted, I could meet them on the way.

Mr Mahal asked for a reference but heeding to my pleas, allowed me to be part of the expedition.

I had a spring in my feet when I rode back to my village. I broke the news to my wife first. Initially she hesitated and later allowed me go with the condition that I should not go solo and take my younger brother along. It was a wonderful gesture. I thought she might not agree. We were expecting our 2nd baby and I was likely to miss my daughter’s 2nd birthday on 27th August 1994 as well.

Momentarily I was double minded too but the will to ride prevailed.

The whole family was in shock. Initial reaction of everyone in the family was a big no. But they did not want to stop me either. I started pleading. Slowly shock started subsiding and my parents allowed me to go on one condition that I must take care of myself and brother.

I had only Rs.100- in my pocket that day, borrowed Rs.10000- from my friend Shiv Kumar. I went to the bank and asked my boss for 15 days leave. I was a good and responsible officer, so my boss did not hesitate much in granting me leave.

We hurriedly packed our bags and left at 2.20pm afternoon from our home. Riding hurriedly through Patti, Tarn Taran, Goindwal reached Kapurthala at 4.30pm. On calling up at Prof Mahal’s residence we got to know that the expedition had started riding at 3pm from Amritsar.

While paying toll of Rs.5-at a bridge near Mubarakpur (HP), we came to know that the biker group wearing black attire had crossed the bridge around 2 hours earlier. We knew then and there that we could catch them. I was young and agile, rode fast and furious and caught the group at 9pm at a dhaba in Nadaun.

On seeing us the whole group was kind of shocked and surprised. Although Harpreet Singh had told them about me and my plans but never really believed that I would follow my word!!!

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