The road to Ladakh: What it was like 20 years ago


‘The land of Gods and humans’, as it was known by Western travelers in the 19th and 20th centuries, Ladakh is now one of the most popular destinations for foreign and national tourists. It gained this popularity only in the last couple of decades or so, which led to large infrastructural developments to accommodate the growing number of tourists. Before this remodeling of the highest plateau in Kashmir, Ladakh was a melting pot of cultural traditions and local customs which have now been lost in time.

A Brief History

Ladakh first came into limelight as a tourist destination in the 1850s, with a number of European geologists, sportsmen and tourists visiting this Himalayan region for its unique terrain and geography. The partition of India in 1947 left Ladakh as a part of the Jammu and Kashmir state to be governed from Srinagar. In 1950, China invaded Tibet which led to an exodus of Tibetans, including the Dalai Lama, into Ladakh.

The Ladakh region has also been an area of military conflicts, with the invasion of Kargil by the Pakistan army in 1948, 1965, 1971 and the infamous Kargil War of 1999.

The Road to Ladakh:


The road to Ladakh has become a rite of passage for every biker worth his salt with thousands making the pilgrimage each year. Most sections of the route have well-made roads that cater to the growing number of road trip enthusiasts, but the situation was not always this good as anyone who travelled to Ladakh before the year 2000 will be able to tell you. Some areas still have craggy roads and prove to be a hassle, but can you imagine making the journey at a time when the entire route itself was littered with rocks and posed a number of dangers to anyone who was brave enough to take the road less travelled.

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source: thefootloosenomad
Road to Khardungla Top (1994)

This pass to the highest motorable road in the world has been transfigured to the extent that Neel Jani, driving for Red Bull Racing, managed to get their Formula 1 car to K-Top. Don’t believe it? Here’s some proof:

Khardungla Pass 2015


Red Bull F1 car at Khardungla Top – March 2015


Satya Rao Komanna, an adventurer, recently shared rare pictures of his journey to Ladakh in 1994, which he covered with a 2-stroke Yamaha RD 350. His pictures show the stark reality of how difficult it was to attempt a motorcycle trip to this barren land before mainstream tourism made the area more accessible.

All the pictures and captions are property of Satya Rao Komanna.

The then-troubled Sonamarg in J&K with the ‘Khajjiar Glacier’ in the background.


Amit, a shepherd, and the only soul Satya ever met on this 300-km run towards Padum, which did not have any fuel supply back then.


Traversing the ‘notorious’ Zoji La just outside Sonamarg and enroute to Drass&Kargil.

There was no infrastructure in place, towns which are bustling with commercial activities now were nothing more than a ghost version of their present self.

Roads practically did not exist in many places, even though on a map it would say you are on a national highway. Militancy was at its peak.

The swiftly flowing river across the road near Rangdum Monastery where Satya’s bike ‘drifted’ with the current of that ice-melt and in the melee all his gear, camera, film, sleeping bag got soaked forcing him to spend the night at Rangdum before beating the retreat -back to Kargil with whatever fuel he had with him.


The Gata-Loops.


Flowery welcome to the ‘faithful’ Yamaha into the heart of Zanskar.


A small hurdle in the form of a landslide where after five hours of waiting (for that stuck truck to go through) Satya rode down to Manali exhausted and starved.


Climbing up to the Bara-Lach La.


The trip to Ladakh has become much easier than it was a couple of decades ago with thousands of bikers making the journey each year. Royal Enfield is the go-to choice for bikers attempting the journey  and the company holds an annual Himalayan Odyssey as well. If you want to go on this journey but don’t have the ride for it, you can rent the bike of your choice at affordable rates from Wheelstreet and go make memories to last you a lifetime.


This article is brought to you by Wheelstreet – India’s first bike rental platform.

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