Keylong, The Leh curse. Crash!

Trip Start Feb 19, 2006
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Trip End Oct 01, 2006


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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

So much to tell, and so little time. I seemed to have a curse as far as the going to Ladakh, soemtimes circumstances intervene, and one hopefully gets the hint that the powers that be are trying to drop like a lead weight in a stuffed velvet pillow.
On my first morning in Keylong, I had fully intended to got the distance to Leh, in the Ladakh region, apparently a moonscape-like area, and all who came to Keylong were on the way there/
Of course, I had some reservations in the back of my mind about going to such a place, knowing full well that it would be swamped with tourists, ameteurs, and overpriced. Still, it seemed to be the thing to do.
The last fuel is in Tandi, just outside of Keylong, and it is suggested to bring an extra can of fuel with you just in case you run out on the way to Leh, some 380 hard kilometers away. Though rocinante has a 22 litre tank, I decided it best to not take chances, and fueled up, off I went down the tiny rotten road carved into the mountain.
Falling rocks are a reality here, they do not remove the stone from above the road, so it hovers over you, cracked and hanging by a thread, ready to fall on you from above. Some of the rocks were literally hanging in thin air, you can see sky around them on all sides, and one little shake or push. . .Needless to say, the thudding roar of a one-cylinder Royal Enfield bullet is just the percussive trigger to loosen such hanging rock, so I stayed as close to the trainling edge of the road as possible, and did not, fortunately, have to deal with a couple of metric tons of semi-metamorphic rock crumbling overhead.
Evidence of such, however, was everywhere. Every couple of kilometers there would be a Frigidaire-sized chunk in the road, creating a slow slalom as bikes and buses and trucks and cars all vied for position. Fortunately there was not much traffic at all, so it was smooth sailing over extremely rough road. Shaking and bouncing as if the world was a basketball, and I just an ant clinging to the side, hoping against hope that I would not meet the floor as some cosmic michael jordan went in for the next jumpshot. .
So when old motorcycles shake and bounce around, things start to break. Especially welds. I noticed the first weld starting to crack a little bit around Jispa, about 25 km out of Keylong. I thought I would let it go for a while, and see if it held up. It didn't. By the time I reached Darcha, about 50 km from Keylong (and 2 hours on that road), the luggage rack was hanging off, I knew I had to have a repair, or I was not going anywhere, let alone the roughest road known to man.
Of course, there are no welding shops in Darcha, a sort of semi-temporary town where the police take your name and passport number in the usual way from the dubious protection of canvas tents built on a foundation of rocks. I made a quick but sturdy repair using chains, locks and a spiderweb of bungee cords. Turning back to keylong was my only option. Shit-fire, as my father is so fond of expressing.
So back to Keylong, it becoming afternoon quickly, and the welder did a fine job, even bolstering up the sissy bar with a series of thick welds, but by then it was much too late to start such a journey. So then it was back to the Tashi Deleg, where my same room was waiting for me. . .
I had then planned to make some motor-treks around the Keylong area, and this is where the pictures in the previous entry come from. I got to see some roads that no tourists ever go down, and on the second day, planned to make the attempt to Leh one more time.
Of course that morning was a raging rainstorm. Alright, I can take a hint. Why push it, there is always next time.
Around noon, the clouds started to break a little, so I thought I would pack up and start back toward Manali, taking the Y in the road toward the Spitti valley, perhaps to visit the holy lake of Chandra Tal. Another meal in Koksar, the inevitable Dal/rice combo, and a couple of kilometers up, I took the "y" off to the left, switchbacking through rough country, the road turning more and more to dirt as I went, wild horses junping out of the way of Rocinante's thundering engine.
A couple of rivers crossed the road, some fairly deep, but I used the old "damn the torpedoes" technique, and got by them. Until the Big One.
A waterfall about the size of a 5 story building with half the volume of Niagra Falls blocked the way, making a river across the road about thigh deep. (see pictures) I figured that, damn it all, I had been through enough to get there in the first place, so I would give it a try.
The first hundred yards or so were not so bad, the water coming up to the pegs, and so I thought that just maybe I would be able to go across. When I came to the main body of water, though, the truth became all too evident. There was no way in hell that a two-wheeler could get across that raging torrent without being swept down and over the side, to meet the rocks below in an intimate yet uncomfortable embrace. \
Further, there is a funny thing about such currents. They wash away all the rocks under the size of a basketball, and I don't know if you have ever tried to ride a heavy road bike over stones of this size, let alone under water, but I can tell you--do not try this at home.
So there I was, almost stalled out, water up to the cylinder head, my high rubber boots full of squishy water, and trying to turn around a 600 pound motorbike, hoping it would not stall, or the points get wet, as the prospect of getting out of there by hand did not seem to be something all too pleasant. .
Eventually, I had to admit defeat and bash my way out of the rocks which had lodged rocinante in the front and back, cold water threatening to take the last dry bits away from my waterlogged clothing. I think most of us have found ourselves "parked in" by inconsiderate drivers on a city street, and this was much the same, except one slip, and it is down the mountain. .
Of course, I made it eventually, taking off my boots and trying to let my socks dry just a slight bit before admitting defeat and heading back over the rhotang toward the safety of Manali and the Jungle Bungalow. .

Up and over I went (see pictures. . ) and though I had, until that point, at least a bit, prided myself on driving on all the dangerous roads of India without one single fall, that was about to change.
I got in behind a Mahindra jeep, and, though overtaking on the rhotang road, especially in a fog is a risky business, there are many places where it is straight, and wide enough to do so.
Old Mahindra, however, had a different idea. He seemed to want to play a little game. Blasting my horn for him to get over, as he had plenty of room, he would go over enough so that I could begin to pass, and then crowd me toward the rocks, forcing me to brake and fall back. This continued for some little time, and when finally he got over it was near a curve, and he stuck his hand out, motioning for me to pass. I gunned the engine, hoping to make a hasty pass before he changed his mind again.

TRUCK!!!!!!!!
I could not see in front of the jeep, and so when someone motions you on, this usually means that they can see, and that it is safe for you to pass. This sonafabitch motioned me out into the oncoming face of a Tata goods hauler, forcing me to brake hard, and drop the bike. Fortunately, all those years of illegal riding of dirtbikes has taught me how to fall, and that the best thing is to get the bike away from you, so I managed just that. Poor Rocinante slid toward the massive truck, but the driver had seen this one coming, and so had stopped in time. Also my leather pants did their job quite well, and stopped any roadburn.
Picking up Rocinante in the gathering crowd of cars, I took my time, surveyed the damage, not too bad, the highway bar bent a little,the peg scraped, but not a bruise on myself, and drove off, smiling and waving to the truck driver to let him know I was alright.\
A little later down the road I had another first in India. When I finally caught up to the Mahindra jeep again, I passed, flipping him the bird, and yelling at him with no small amount of hostility. His expression showed that he knew the trouble he had caused, and hopefully he won't be playing these sort of games with people on this road again. Should have thrown a rock through his windshield, but we don't hold grudges too long in India, just vent the anger, and live on.
Nice fucking joke, asshole.
Arriving in Manali again, not really shaken up at all, and really none the worse for wear, considering that I had very nearly had the "Tata" logo permanently impressed into my forehead, Dayalu and Dipu were happy to see me, and, a nice hot chai later, I was feeling much better.
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