An interview with Ajaibir Singh about his trip to Leh.
During your Journey from Hisar to Leh in 1986, what route did you take and why?
I had taken the trip to Leh at the end of summer 1986. During those days the Punjab Police had banned ‘double’ riding on Royal Enfield motorcycles. The law was made during the peak of terrorism in Punjab and was removed only much later.
The route taken by us was not the normal riding route, as we had to bypass the ride through Punjab. We rode from Chandigarh to Ambala and boarded a train with the bike until Pathankot.
Pathankot would have been a more appropriate starting point. Our journey comprised of a visit to Srinagar via Patnitop & Banihal tunnel and from there on to Drass, Kargil, Zanskar valley, Lamayuru, Leh, Kelong, Manali and finally back to Chandigarh.
What bike did you ride and whom did you have for company?
I was in the company of M.S.Pannu; a very close family friend, and a 350cc Royal Enfield.
Did the journey have an aim or was the thrill of riding into unknown terrains, enough of an incentive? Also, was it a smooth trip or did you face any problems?
I believe one’s journey is seldom recognised for the thrill taken in getting to the destination. I would not be doing justice to our ride if I say that there were no problems. There were some minor obstacles like re-fuelling, lodging, lack of tarred roads, exposure to ultraviolet light, and sub-zero winds.
Was it enough as a thrill?- Picture the ride through the eyes of someone who was there in 1986, i.e. it was an era long before sunscreen lotions, abundance of gas stations, motels, cell phones, e-money and a lot more. It was either thrill or insanity that motivated us on our entire road trip.
What is the difference, according to you, between riding on a normal road and riding at a height of 11,500 ft.?
Riding at high altitudes creates a problem for the bike as well as the rider. We were both aware of the need for acclimatization and hence periodically broke the journey to ensure that the ‘three of us’ were in good condition.
I do clearly remember one particular instance, which is deeply etched in my memory. When we were nearing the top of Khardungla Pass, the motorbike would not start due to lack of oxygen. To ensure the ‘three’ of us were there together we literally dragged the bike right to the top!
Its 1986 and you’re ‘on the road’ in one of the world’s most beautiful landscapes. What was your most memorable experience and did you meet any interesting locals?
It’s been a good 25 years, and my memory eludes me. I would be lying if I could differentiate and pick any one moment to label it ‘the one’.
What I mean is that it would be difficult to compare serving food at Shri Pathar sahib in Leh; to the freezing winds blowing in your face; to the then friendly locals of Kargil; to the beauty of Zanskar valley; to the sprint through the cold desert; to the moment when we saw a tree after almost 10 days.
But if I were really forced to pick one, I would probably pick the moment when I decided to go on the trip.
Riding 11,500ft above sea level may induce altitude sickness. Did it affect you and your bike in any way?
The altitude did not create a problem for the two of us. However, it did test the capabilities of the bike to the fullest.
Apart from Leh, which other parts of India has your bike taken you to?
I have been to Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab, Himachal and parts of UP. But none of them was as enthralling as the trip to Leh.
About 5 hours from Leh, lies Kargil, which is a known hotspot. What was the atmosphere like, in Leh and the surrounding areas?
The atmosphere around Kargil during our trip was not even close to what it is today. The area was a very peaceful one; we had an amazing time there with ever- friendly locals, dark blue skies, the scenic landscapes and amazingly good food.
And lastly, did you buy something nice for the wife?
Well I didn’t find anything befitting which I could bring for my wife.
Interviewed by Rupin Chopra
Special Thanks to Dushyant Mohil