Tuesday, September 23, 2014

#lehdiaries: before the start

a lot of stuff goes into planning a trip, especially to a place like leh. unlike last year, there was so much planning involved, that i actually had a checklist of checklists. the entire process took over three months, but the pace picked up towards the end, until finally i was so exhausted that the start of the trip was actually a relief from the planning!

i do realize that it could have been done very differently, but i guess my systematic approach was because i realized the number of variables involved last time, and also i wanted to avoid the pitfalls of the previous trip.

here's a rather long-winded summary of what went into it:

the itinerary

for some reason, this is the first thing everyone who i mentioned the trip to, asked me about. dates, places we will cover, travel time between places, where we will stay, etc. the itinerary was also the hardest thing to fix, and as it eventually turned out, we barely stuck to it at all. still, it had to be done, and i did a rough draft at the start. what went into planning the itinerary:
  • duration: two weeks is best. any less makes the trip pointless, and any more becomes problematic to get leaves for. we did two weeks and a extra day (17 days). we planned to leave on friday morning and be back home on sunday night.
  • the direction and start/end points of the trip: we decided to do jammu - leh - chandigarh. the other seriously considered option was chandigarh - leh - jammu. last year, we did jammu - leh - jammu, and in 2009, we did delhi (and chandigarh en route) - leh - delhi.
  • places to cover: we had to cover all the regular spots as it was everyone's (other than my) first time in leh
  • amount of possible travel that could be done in a day: i estimated 200-250 km per day. in reality, we barely managed 200 km in a day, and only exceeded that toward the end of the trip, and that too on days we pushed ourselves.
  • stay at cheap places that also allow some sort of diversions post sunset, since we always had our evenings free. rule of thumb, anywhere in ladakh is cheap, if you're not picky and are ready to scout around. this is the main reason we didn't pre-book anything other than our stay at leh (and we finally didn't even go with the place we pre-booked, much to their chagrin). finally, we never actually ended up sticking to our planned itinerary, and yet we weren't disappointed - so in retrospect, this point may have been irrelevant.
  • ask around: there are a lot of names of places people will throw around when you ask. make sure you find out how to get there, and check a road map, as well as ask people about their experiences. biker forums are useful, but trusted friends are the best.

train tickets, transportation

we booked our train tickets the day booking was opened (2 months before the date of travel), literally the hour booking opened online (8am).

transportation for the bikes was left for later, because no prebooking was required. i did speak to the guy who arranged it for my bike last year, and he reassured me that all i had to do was turn up with the bike the day before the train left.

it turned out to be a more complicated affair: last year, i could get my bike on easily as it was just one, but this year he said three bikes on one train was impossible as the railway had sublet three of the four luggage compartments to a private cargo operator. we ended up paying extra to get our bikes on the private coach, and we weren't given an official receipt for the transportation either. he also told us to "turn up at 10", when he meant 10am. this was the source of a lot of last minute panic, as i assumed it would be 10pm, like it was last year. i had to rush off from office, travel two hours and spend two hours parceling the bike in the middle of an already packed work day. lucky for me, my manager was cooperative, and i actually managed to finish my work in time to get home at 10pm. quite a crazy day, that!

lessons learned: transport the bike a day or two in advance, so that any hiccups can be ironed out without stress (that's what i did last year, btw)

money spent: 14k for 3 bikes from bandra to jammu (up from 3k for one bike, last year). we also had to pay 200 at jammu to unload this year, which wasn't the case last year. asking around for a better deal may or may not help, as these guys operate closer to touts than an organized operation, and there appears to be a cartel of sorts. we didn't have the time to ask around, so i still don't know.

we supplied our own packing materials, which they used in addition to the regular gunny sack cover/cardboard. the did the packing, but we had to stand and watch and make sure they did a good job.

the packing list

this was another big item that had to be tackled well in advance. blame it on inertia or ignorance, but we actually started shopping only after the list was drawn up. i didn't need to shop as i had my stuff from last year, but everybody else had a ton of stuff to buy. i split the list into personal stuff (which everybody had to carry for themselves), stuff required per bike (basically, emergency spares) and shared stuff, which only one person in the group would be assigned to buy and carry. the packing list was drawn up keeping in mind that everything would have to be loaded on bikes, and two out of the three bikes would have a pillion as well, leaving just the third bike free for carrying shared items.

mental and physical preparation

  • everyone was advised to get a check up done, speak to their family doctor, etc. parents had to be taken into confidence about the risks involved (although i have a feeling most of us skipped the details ;))
  • i attended a bike repair workshop, specially geared for people who are planning leh. quite a useful one, and came handy when we had to fix a puncture ourselves and later when we had to replace a blown fuse. mechanics are generally clueless about what you'd need in an emergency, so it's best to check with a friend. i learned how to:
    • take off and reattach the wheel
    • clean/replace brake pads
    • adjust chain tension
    • inspect/clean spark plugs, air filters
    • replace fuses
    • replace clutch and accelerator cables
    • assemble a toolkit for my bike (ie what sort of tools i would need on the trip)
  • one dry run with the pillions to ensure they could handle such long rides. we rode around 1100 km in a weekend, to devgad and back from mumbai.
  • a weekend before our trip began, we packed, assembled all the luggage at a common location (since the pillion and rider had to pack into the same set of saddle bags), loaded up the bikes, and then did a dry run (about 300 km) in full gear, and all luggage. after the dry run, we stowed our baggage as is, ready for the trip.
...and, off we went!

2 postscripts ;:

Scribbles! said...

Thank you, this was very helpful. where do these bike repair workshops happen?

Kristopher Noronha said...

damn, missed your comment somehow. hit me up on Facebook or whatsapp, and I'll dig up the link :)