I first heard about Marsimik La the day my good friend and work colleague Guru Munishwar started bitching about Khardung La on Facebook. He was pissed that people were incorrectly calling Khardung La as the highest motorable pass in the world. After reading and watching videos on both the Himalayan mountain passes I picked Marsimik La as the destination for my first Himalayan motorcycle ride.
For me the decision to ride to Marsimik La instead of Khardung La was an easy one to make. Khardung La has a proper road and is on the way to Nubra Valley, a proper tourist destination. As a result it has pretty much become an en route picnic spot for people visiting Leh. On the other hand, Marsimik La has no proper road. It is dangerously perched close to the volatile Indo-Chinese border. You need a special permit to visit it. And last but not the least, it is truly the highest motorable pass in the world standing at 18,953 feet, which is more than 500 feet taller than Khardung La. So when I decided to ride to the top of the world it made sense to ride to the right place.
Guru and I started planning our Marsimik La adventure five months ago. He picked his KTM Duke 390 and I picked my Royal Enfield Thunderbird 350 for the ride. We got down to modifying our bikes to ready them for the mountains. The plan was to ship our bikes from Goa to Chandigarh, ride to Marsimik La and then head to Leh from where we would ship our bikes back to Goa. That would make a total riding distance of more than 1,500 kms in seven days.
To make things even more interesting I decided to add some additional challenges to our ride. The first one was to ride off-road as far as possible. We planned to get off the Manali-Leh highway at Tso Kar and take the lesser used dirt road passing through Mahe and Chushul to reach Pangong Tso from the south. This was against conventional wisdom of riding up the Manali-Leh highway and turning right at Karu to reach Pangong Tso from the north. Here is the route we planned.
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One big issue with this plan was that of fuel. There is no fuel pump between Tandi and Karu which are 365 kms apart. This would not be much of a problem if we were taking the normal Manali-Leh route. But since we were going to take a right at Tso Kar, we would see Karu only on our way back from Marsimik La. That meant we would need to travel 620 kms without a petrol pump. There was no way we could carry so much fuel on our motorcycles with us along with our other luggage.
We decided to solve the fuel problem by renting a backup vehicle from Hardev Motors in Manali. The backup vehicle came with the added advantage that we could ride a little more comfortably because we could keep all our fuel and luggage in the vehicle and ride with just a tank bag containing the bare essentials, tools and medication.
Our plan was to join an elite group of riders who have ridden their motorcycles to Marsimik La. But for some reason I wanted to do something more than just ride my motorcycle to the top of the world. So I added another twist to the ride. I told Guru that we should not just right our motorcycles to Marsimik La. But rather we should also cook a proper meal and enjoy it at 18,953 feet. That meant taking a stove, water and food to cook. It sounded like a crazy thing to do, which is precisely why we decided to do it.
Guru and I work for 3D Systems, a manufacturer of 3D printers. Although this wasn’t a company sponsored ride, we decided to leave a 3D printed something at Marsimik La. We had read about a small temple at Marsimik La and Guru came up with the idea of hanging a 3D printed bell at the temple.