Over the years a motorcycle ride to the Himalayas has become a lot easier affair than what it used to be. In fact some have even started questioning its title as the Mecca for motorcycling enthusiasts. Roads that never existed are now made; the ones that were already in place are widened. If truth be told, the mountains, in some regions, now have much better roads than what we have even in a city like Bombay.
So why then is it still on the wish list of most biking enthusiasts? I first made the trip as part of the 2011 Royal Enfield Himalayan Odyssey and needless to say like million others before me, I too was absolutely enthralled by the entire experience. The beautiful snow-capped mountains made for good company as we tackled insane off-road sections and crossed some high-altitude low on oxygen passes. We were all mesmerised by the panoramic view of the Himalayan Region that sadly even the best of photographers will probably struggle to capture.
Such a memorable first experience made it difficult to understand why the Leh pioneers claim that a ride to Ladakh is gradually losing its charm. So this time round, when chance came to revisit the same places with the 11th Royal Enfield Himalayan Odyssey, I went just with the intention of finding out if the claim was correct.
Unfortunately though, due to work commitments I just had the return leg of the journey to find the answer. On the flight to Leh a little bit of anxiousness began to take over the mind, mainly with the thought of not being able to acclimatise the way up from 46ft above mean sea level in Mumbai directly to 11,500ft in Leh. Thankfully, I didn’t suffer from AMS at all, not just when I landed but throughout the trip.
Before I swung a leg on the Classic 500 and rode into the lap of the Himalayas, the 2014 Himalayan Reunion marked a gathering of Royal Enfield enthusiasts from across the country. The figure of ‘8’ race, the slow race, assembly wars and the famous arm wrestling challenge saw a lot of participants bond as they displayed their skill and sheer strength. Leh was indeed the ideal place for a gathering of Royal Enfield enthusiasts who successfully made it all the way up. It got even better once the music, alcohol and biking stories started flowing.
The next two days was the ride to the Nubra Valley and back via Khardung La – arguably the highest motorable road in the world. The ride started with smooth roads climbing up to KhardungLa and got worse as we approached the pass. The Classic 500 took it all in the stride and then some.
The ride from Leh to Debring was quite a relaxed one with just about 120km to cover. Although the roads were bad in some parts, it wasn’t really strenuous. From Debring to Manali with an overnight halt at Keylong, was a ride with a mix of smooth roads and complete absence of it altogether, of course with the spice of some water crossings and snow fall at Baralach La. The off-road parts of the journey was quite frustrating mainly cause of the fact that one couldn’t munch miles with ease. The freezing temperatures accompanied with snowfall didn’t help either, especially considering the fact that our boots were completely wet after the water crossings.
After riding in cool weather for most part of the trip, the journey from Manali to Delhi via Chandigarh took a toll on the body. The heat got on to most of the riders and the fact that we were all dressed in riding gear didn’t help either. Having said that, the stretch from Manali to Chandigarh was heaven for all who liked to push it to the limit on the ghats. But what really tested the patience of most riders was the last bit of the return leg from Chandigarh to Delhi with nearly 270km of straight roads. And then there was the traffic to enter the Capital.
With more than 1200km covered in a week, the Royal Enfield Himalayan Odyssey 2014 was one hell of a ride, one that will be etched in the minds of every rider for a lifetime. Rough roads and smooth, freezing temperatures and scorching heat, the Royal Enfield Classic 500 took it all without throwing any sort of tantrums.
Yes, the ride to the Land of the Lama still has quite a few challenges that test man and machine alike, but it surely is indeed gradually becoming simpler with every passing year.
But despite that, the Himalayas still have a lot more on offer than imaginable. The ruthlessness of the mountain range and of course its magnitude actually comes to fore when you ride through it. And that I thought was the beauty of it. The beauty of the landscape is even now extremely pure and unadulterated and is what holds its appeal. And it was only towards the end of the trip that I realised that experiencing the Himalayas and its charm from the inside of the helmet is possibly the best way to do it.