19th July 2015, the second Himachal Downhill Mountain Bike Trophy had just concluded. I went there with the hopes of getting my title back from last year. It was looking good until it started pouring for the last four riders and that’s when things got worse. I crashed three times in my run trying to hold it together and ended up in the fifth position. I was gutted as I had put a lot of time and effort into it.
Later in the day during the after-party, the Nepal boys came up to me and said, “We have a space left in our pick up, why don’t you join us to Leh?” I paused to think as to how I’ve always dreamt of surfing down those sandy mountains on my bike. I said, “Let’s do it!” I only had six days left for my flight back to Pune from Delhi and in the mean time I was supposed to squeeze in a trip to Leh. Oh Boy! I was ready for the adventure.
It took us two days just to get there and the bridge at Sarchu, which happens to be at 4290m, was broken. We had to spend the night there and when we woke up the next morning, we realised that we were surrounded by vast mountains around us. Rajesh Magar (from Nepal) and I decided to try and ride some lines till the road gets fixed. We managed to hike for about 100m and we started to feel the impact of high altitude. The line that looked gold from afar was just rocky and thorny. My expectations were cutting short but I convinced myself that I would definitely find what I was looking for in Leh. After crossing over the rivers and serpentine traffic, we reached our destination just in time to find some hotel rooms to rest after the long journey.
By the next morning, I was completely acclimatised to the 3524m altitude and was excited enough to be in this remote area to ride my bike. The people out there were friendly and not surprised when they saw us on the lanes riding big bikes loaded with all our gear. As we got out of the town, there was a moment when Rajesh and I stopped and looked around, and we both knew exactly where we wanted to ride. Without saying a word we just picked a line each and got on to our hikes. An hour of hiking, with the bike on your back can be tiring; but as soon as you get that fist-bump from your fellow biker friend, you get the adrenaline rush to kickstart the ride.
I was thrilled with the experience I had, riding down sandy slopes and blowing dust in between rocks and ridges. It was a state of mind I hadn’t experienced before. I had the best night sleep I’ve had in a long time. I was completely exhausted and satisfied with the ride and the potential I could see in that location.
For the next day, we had planned to set out a little early to find some more gold! Mandil Pradhan, the owner of Himalayan Rides Nepal, decided to take a spin with us as he couldn’t get time to ride on the first day. We found some more lines and I had a close call where I almost went off a cliff riding a steep rock, face on the road. The three of us had an amazing time riding trails around the monasteries and lines in the town. Mandil decided to skip the afternoon ride, while Rajesh and I went back to the road looking for some more interesting stuff. Last year, Kelly Mcgarry and his friend Jeremy were here in Leh to shoot for a Mercedes-Benz advertisement called ‘Into Thin Air’. We both were sitting on top of the ridge, watching that video thinking that most of the lines they rode were right in front of us and we’ve got to ride them. Rajesh found the jump around the Stupa which they had built for the video and he went for it. I stayed put from the crash in the morning and did not feel like pushing it anymore. We had a tough ride back but we were content after riding those surreal trails!
This trip brought the thrill back in my riding. I thought to myself, “What’s the point of all that training if you’re not having fun?” And that’s the most important thing. Like most riders say, “You’re not going fast enough, if you’re not having any fun.”