A daring dream ride to Khardung-La Pass in Ladakh

khardung-la-pass
He dreamt of riding up to a place high up in the remote Himalayas, to Kardung-La Pass, one of the highest mountain passes in the world.
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Hakkim Choorakkode is a faithful follower of the late President Dr A P J Abdul Kalam. He believes in dreams and like Dr Kalam, he knows that dreams can translate into reality, provided one is willing to work to give dreams form and substance.

That's exactly what Choorakkode did. He dreamt of riding up to his dream destination, to a place high up in the remote Himalayas, to Kardung-La Pass, one of the highest mountain passes in the world. That it would be a ride fraught with obstacles, harsh realities and mind-challenging blocks were realities that never once deterred his determination. His dreams refused to let go.

Dr Kalam's words reverberated again: "Dream is not that which you see while sleeping. It is something that does not let you sleep." He was haunted day and night by his dream of vrooming up on his Bullet motorbike all the way up the snowy landmark which stands 17,582 ft above sea level.

So Choorakkode took Kalam's words to heart: "Dream, dream, dream. Dreams transform into thoughts and thoughts into action." Though the dream took shape three years ago, it did not materialize then. Once again plans were set last year for the long haul. But it had to be put off for various reasons. But this time around, luck was on his side.

The air was filled with excitement and expectancy and sharing Choorakkode's joy was his close pal Saifudeen Kunnakkavu. When travel plans hotted up, came an unexpected rider in the form of Jasim, from Indianoor, a Facebook friend, a kindred soul who shared their lust for adventure and travel. The trio soon got into travel mode equipping themselves mentally and physically to take on the arduous ride.

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Train tickets were accordingly booked from Shoranur to Chandigarh on the night on August 26, 2017. But on the 25th came an unexpected bolt from Choorakkode's amma who told him in no uncertain terms that he'd better say bye to his wild plans. News was coming in that Punjab was being torn by riots and there was unrest everywhere. Trains were cancelled and it looked like his dreams would be shattered again. Besides, calls started coming in from all quarters urging the trio to cancel the trip.

But the adventurer would have none of it. He was not willing to put his dreams and travel plans on hold. But the rioting in connection with Gurmeet Ram Rahim's issue spread out and the train scheduled to leave on the 26th got cancelled. But Choorakkode knew for sure that if he were to change the date, his dreams would shatter. Hence, he stood by his decision. He would go by hook or by crook. Backing him up to the hilt were his friends who stood solidly by him.

The trio decided to take out their bikes that night itself and ride straight up to Ladakh. They then plotted to tell their families that since the train was cancelled, they would instead go on a holiday to Goa or to some equally exotic holiday destination. That was the beginning of a long ride into the Himalayas. Barely two hours into the drive, it started pouring buckets. As the original plan was to buy raincoats from Chandigarh, the riders were caught unawares by the sudden showers. Drenched to the bone, the three rode on, bought raincoats from Kulapully and headed straight for Bengaluru. But as the rain and winds were too strong, they had to halt the night at Salem.

They reached Bengaluru on the night of August 27 and decided to stay there till the verdict in the Dera chief's case was delivered. A whole day in the garden city was an enriching experience and the friends went up Nandi Hills, which they felt was a curtain raiser for serious climbs to come.

By then some sort of peace was restored in Punjab and the youngsters thought that in all fairness it would be better to inform their families about their true plans. Once the families were reassured, they boarded the Delhi bound train and reached the capital on the 1st of September. On morning of the 3rd, they set out from Delhi to Pathankot in Punjab. The destination was reached after travelling via Panipat and Ludhiana, where they halted for the day. From there on it was onward to Srinagar.

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Srinagar bowled them over. It was no war-torn paradise, but an incredibly beautiful piece of scenery. And there was nothing to be afraid of. As they board their houseboat, three compatriots… Jasim, Shamil and Janshir… all from Kozhikode, came forward to say hi. That was the beginning of a deep friendship, said Choorakkode.

Srinagar was unlike anything they had seen or felt. It was a totally different experience. There were no traces of physical unrest. All was calm, as calm as the gentle waters of the picturesque Dal Lake. The weather was fine, balmy and comforting and the trio got their much needed rest. The warmth of the local folks was heartening and the place was worth a study. The houseboats or the shikaras that criss-cross the lake are unlike our massive houseboats that glide through the Vembanad lake. They are much smaller, but colourful, as colourful as the people of Kashmir. The shikaras are their lifeline. They ferry tourists and traders across the lake and make their living from their shikaras.

The next morning, they set off for Gulmarg, a place that blew their breath away. So picturesque a place was different from what they had seen so far.

Before heading for Kargil, the trio had the good luck to see the revered Hazratbal mosque situated on the western banks of the Dal Lake. The holy shrine houses the Moi-e-Muqqadus, the preserved sacred hair of the Prophet Mohammad. But they did not get a chance to see the holy relic as its taken out only on very special occasions.

Enroute to Kargil, they halted for a few hours in Sonamarg and then proceeded to Zoji La Pass, to negotiate the extremely dangerous curve. At an elevation of 3,500 metres above sea level, this strip of rock is not obviously the place for a joy ride. The roads and curves need to be taken with extreme caution. It started raining by the time they set out, making the drive doubly dangerous. But the trio forged on egged on by the dictum that it’s the end that matters. The means is secondary.

The road was covered with small stones which came flying towards them as the wheels churned over them. To add to the misery, the roads turned muddy and slushy. On the one hand there stretched ahead a slippery road and on the other, there lay deep gorges. One false move and the rest would be history. But there were trucks aplenty along the slushy path, least bothered by the hazards. They drove by with the ease with which one would have only on a six-lane road!

They touched base at Kargil by nightfall. After spending the night there, they were once again on the road, Leh-bound, where they reached by night. A homestay facility provided by a Malayali was a big help and the boys spend an extra day in Leh. Besides, it was alike a rehearsal, preparing them to take on the biting cold in Ladakh and at Khardung-La, where oxygen levels would also be very low.

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The team took off once again to touch base at Khardung-La before acute mountain sickness (AMS) would set in. Entry passes to Khardung were got from Leh.

One has to take the Chang - La pass to touch Pangong, which happens to be an extremely treacherous strip. The team was hit by weariness for want of oxygen and even the bullets turned sluggish and started crawling like tortoises instead of roaring ahead. They stayed the night at the Pangong camp. Incidentally, it was exactly at this location that the climax of Three Idiots was shot.

The next day, two youngsters joined them from Pangong as they were proceeding to Nubra Valley. The path once again was narrow and very curvy. The young boys had met with an accident and needed medical help. After seeing them off safely, the trio once again took the road to their final destination.

It was a moment of total disbelief as the three touched down at Khardung-La. It was like being on top of the world. A long-standing dream was fulfilled. But prolonged stay at the place is impossible as AMS often sets in. A lot of photographs later, the trio decided to begin the trip back to reality.

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