Once again it is that time of the year when motorcycle riders from across the world embark upon the annual pilgrimage to the stunningly serene and challenging terrain of Ladakh. And this year, it’s not just my first time on this revered journey, but it’s also Mahindra Mojo Tribe’s first expedition to Leh. Christened ‘The Mountain Trail’, the journey was designed to take 30 Mojo riders from Delhi to Leh and back to Chandigarh, and I got the opportunity to join this epic ride.
With the initial 100-odd kilometers of my 1,200km journey mostly being highway riding, I got enough time to get acquainted with the nuances of the Mojo. The rev-happy, 295cc motor felt most comfortable in the 4,000-6,000rpm band and cruising at speeds over a 100kph was a natural experience on the bike. It was here that the smoothness of the Mahindra’s motor made short work of the dual carriageway.
It was on the twisties on the way from Chandigarh to Manali where the Mojo’s sticky Pirelli Diablo Rosso 2 tyres really come into their own. Their ample grip was more than enough to make up for the slightly front-end-heavy nature and somewhat inconsistent brakes of the bike. And the ample power on tap made the climb easier than I had imagined. When dealing with a couple of rough patches on our way up, it was pretty clear that the suspension setup on the bike I was riding had been tuned to keep the bumps at bay. The Mojo glided over potholes pretty easily and there were no spine-jarring jolts. After settling into a rhythm, it was smooth sailing all the way up to Manali. It was on this section that the Mojo Tribe was joined by Ranvijay Singh of ‘Roadies’ fame and renowned Indian filmmaker, Nagesh Kukunoor.
The jaw-dropping scenery en route Pang.
A cold start
Most of our journey up to Manali was loaded with adrenaline, and it was clear that the road ahead would be even more perilous. We started before dawn, and the thundershowers and plummeting temperatures dampened the Mojo Tribe’s spirits. But as we crossed Rohtang Pass and caught the first glimpse of the stunning snow-capped peaks and lush green valleys, we felt the effort was totally worth it. The Pirellis worked their magic once again – this time over damp tarmac – as they provided the traction to manoeuvre through the narrow twisties with potentially fatal drops just a slip away.
The descent from Rohtang to Koksar proved that even the Ladakh roads wear away almost as fast as they are repaired, no matter how spectacular a job the Border Roads Organisation does. And with the Mojo’s rear brake pads fading fast, and the Mahindra service van far behind, it was Koksar or bust before any assistance would’ve been possible. But while Koksar did provide the much-needed fixes for motorcycles and our stomachs, the road to Tandi proved yet again why this journey is so often adventurous, as a dust storm hammered the Mojo Tribe en route and drastically limited visibility.
First glimpse of snow-capped Himalayas atop Rohtang.
After Tandi and Keylong, the Manali-Leh highway really takes a very different form. Freezing, ankle-deep water crossings pepper the road as it traverses through the steep passes. To make things worse, the thin air wreaked havoc on bikes and riders alike. And after crossing the 16,000-foot high Bara-lacha La pass, our pit stop for the night, Sarchu at 14,000 feet above mean sea level, wasn’t much of a respite. The last leg of the journey – from the Sarchu camp to the town of Leh – started off on a sombre note with all the riders suffering from bouts of headaches and a sleepless night caused by acute mountain sickness.
On the last day of the journey, we were to cross three high passes –Nakee La at over 15,000 feet, as well as Lachalung La, and Taglang La, which are well over 16,000 and 17,000 feet above sea level respectively. And then there are the dreaded Gata loops, a steep climb encompassing 21 hairpin bends. While such an ascent would be a lot of fun on a bike in the foothills, a 15-20 percent drop in performance at such high altitudes made it a challenging experience. Our only respite came on the 40km-long, arrow-straight section of pristine fresh tarmac that runs through the More plains. Maxing out the Mojo to the incredible backdrop of snow-capped peaks was surreal.
Fluttering prayer flags and stunning views welcomed us at Taglang La.
It was nightfall by the time we reached Leh, and though we were exhausted, I experienced a deep sense of fulfilment which stemmed from looking back at the last five days I spent with the Mojo. I was surprised by the way it held its own through the tough terrain, and I believe that somewhere under the sports-tourer veil lies a potential adventure machine as well. With the right tweaks, the Mojo might just become a suitable companion to make some memories with on those mystical mountains.