2012 RE Himalayan Odyssey - Return to the Land of Lama
'In the land of Lama, don't be a Gama', read some of the comical, yet iconic, Himank road signs on the Manali-Leh highway, urging riders to avoid the pitfalls of pride on the road. But the Himalayas are ever a humbling experience
The last time I rode a bike through the Himalayas, was a few years back, as part of the 2009 Royal Enfield Himalayan Odyssey. I remember one of the more philosophical (or so I’d like to believe) stories I had written about my experience ended with ‘I made a promise to myself, like the hundreds of riders before me that I shall return on this pilgrimage soon.’
The opportunity to return came three years later, to someone who is a little more seasoned (and potentially hardened) rider, someone who has ridden to other exotic locales around the country, who is now comfortable talking about himself in the third person. So this time, I wondered, would it be the same, would it still feel like a ‘pilgrimage’, or have I become so jaded over the years to think of this as just another ride?
While these are questions that would eventually answer themselves, my immediate concern on the flight from Pune to Delhi was whether the experience would be different considering that this time around, I’d be starting directly from Leh and would be doing only half the journey. And then, in the flight to Leh itself, a little bit of apprehension began to creep in with the thought of not being able to acclimatise to the high altitude after having made the ascent from about 700 feet to 11,500 feet above mean sea level in just over an hour.
Touchdown, hotel check-in, service park, find Santhosh (RE’s ride leader), get the bike I’m going to ride. Suddenly, there’s tension in the air, and it's coming from fellow riders, who are looking at the three journos (including me) as outsiders, interlopers out to relieve three other journos who had spent the last eight days going through hell and high water with all of them on the arduous route to Leh, forming strong bonds of friendship in the process.
My mind is already swimming in trepidation and I’m not even on a bike yet. But a motorcycle, they say, is the best doctor, able to cure all your ailments, be they physical or mental, and in that regard, the Royal Enfield Classic Desert Storm I’ve been handed is a Harvard Medical summa cum laude graduate and a shaman all rolled into one.
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