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Royal Enfield Himalayan Odyssey 2011


If I ever made a list of things that I have to do before I leave god's green earth, then riding to Leh-Ladakh would be right at the top. Now I can't help but have a huge grin on my face as I put a tick off that item after participating in the Royal Enfield Himalayan Odyssey 2011.

Day 1, the Odyssey is flagged off from India Gate and the journey of more than 2500kms started from a place of immense historic value to the country. As we commenced the ‘Testing, Tiring and Tempting’ journey to the land of the lama, the sight of 73 Royal Enfields riding in formation in my bike’s rear view mirror brought a rush of feelings to my heart - a heady mix of excitement, eagerness and adventure.

 

 

 

The Royal Enfield Himalayan Odyssey 2011 saw participation from 73 riders this year

 

The road to Chandigarh was a long, boring stretch of tarmac extending as far as your eyes could see and in fact even beyond that. But I believe that this was what worked in my favour as frankly I am not much of a Bulleteer, having barely ridden a Royal Enfield a few times in the city. The road to Chandigarh gave me an opportunity to get acquainted with the bike and figure out what she was capable of.



For me, the actual journey started on the day we rode from Chandigarh to Manali. The road was curvy and topped with silky smooth tar, with the river Beas flowing along the left hand side of the road. As much as people hated the ride from Chandigarh to Manali, mainly for the fact that it rained, I on the other hand loved every minute spent on the bike. Though the heavy rainfall ensured that I was left with utterly soaked gloves, wrinkled and blackened hands, the entire route till Manali was fun with a capital ‘F’. To sum it up in a word, PERFECT!

 

 

 

The ride just before the Rohtang pass was made difficult due to muck
almost as high as the foot peg

 

The next stop was Keylong. It was the first day that Sachin Chavan, from Royal Enfield said ‘today is going to be your toughest day of the Odyssey’, of course at that point in time we didn’t know that these words would be become the mantra of the morning briefing in the days to come. On the road to the first re-group of the day we didn’t encounter many hurdles, but as we came closer to Rohtang pass, our difficulties multiplied in no time. With muck almost as high as the foot peg, it was becoming increasingly difficult to ride, and to add to that, traffic! The couple of kilometers of the mucky road caused greater damage to a lot of bikes than on the entire trip - snapped clutch cables, burnt clutch plates and all sorts of trouble. Before entering Keylong we refueled at a pump near Tandi, the last fuelling pump before Leh.

 

 

Water-crossings had become part of our ride as much as our daily meals

 

Keylong to Sarcu, was the most strenuous and physically testing ride of the Odyssey. By the end of the day, Sachin’s earlier words really rung true. The ride for the first 40kms, till Darcha, was comfortable as compared to the remaining 90kms of the day. After the regroup at Darcha, we came across a massive water crossing where a lot of us got stuck for a good 2-3 minutes in ice cold water. Even throttling hard and trying to move the bike back and forth didn’t help at all. Finally, we were left with no option other than have two or three guys pushing each bike until it cleared the crossing, at the end of which my legs were almost frozen and completely numb. This was where the advice my colleagues had given me before setting off on the ride of keeping a spare pair of gloves and socks really paid off. With no idea about just how many of such excruciating crossings lay ahead, a quick change to dry socks was just the thing I needed to lift my spirits and keep riding. A few more crossings led us to our second regroup at Bharatpur where hot glasses of water and bowls of hot soup were just the things needed to lift the soggy atmosphere.

 

 

 

Sarchu saw a lot of riders suffer from altitude sickness,
but the spirit of the Odyssey came through when
most got onto their bikes and were ready to ride the following morning


Sarchu introduced a lot of riders to Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), enough to give the doctor a good workout running from camp to camp attending to all the ailing. The altitude didn’t spare me either. The day after we reached Sarchu, we were to ride a distance of 250kms across the More planes to reach Leh. That was one morning when I didn’t feel like getting onto the bike, thanks to a terrible attack of nausea and dizziness. Popping a couple of pills and forcing down breakfast down didn’t help much either. I was almost tempted to load the bike in the truck and go in the safety car, but I thought better of it. Once on the bike though, all the sickness and queasiness suddenly vanished, and we were off to Leh.



Riding through the More planes was an experience that can be described with just one word – beautiful. With huge mountains all around you and a single stretch of a long straight tarmac through them it is simply a road where you set yourself in cruise mode and look at the hill-scapes all around. And with no other vehicle around you for miles, the feeling is one of vast solitude. Beyond the More planes was the ride through Gata loops and the younger sibling of Khardung La, Tanglang La – the second highest motorable road in the world, eventually leading to Leh.



Riders were more than happy to reach Leh mainly for the fact that the following day was dedicated to rest and repair, which the riders and the bikes were in desperate need of. After the rest day, the participants were all set to ride across the highest motorable road in the world - Khardung La. Khardung La ended up being an extremely ceremonious place, with riders happily clicking photos with much gusto and celebrating the successful completion of half the Odyssey.  On the other side of Khardung La, camping at Nubra was completely relaxing. With a stream flowing right next to our tent and the quite surrounding amplifying the sound of flowing water we all wished for a few more days to stay at the place. But alas it was a time bound trip. On our way back to Leh from Nubra, we encountered snowfall at South Pulu clubbed with traffic.

 

 

The splendid salt lake of Tso Kar was just a couple of kilometers off our
camping site

 



The route back started with the hop from Leh to Tso Kar which followed the same road back to the More plains. But from there, we turned off the road, rode in soft sand for a few kilometers and reached our halt for the night, the majestic salt lake of Tso Kar. Following the same route to Keylong via Bharatpur and Baralach La, we had to go through the same water crossings again. This time round people were much more comfortable and confident riding through the water flowing across the road. There were lesser number of falls and greater number of participants crossed without help from fellow riders.



Keylong to Kaza was probably the worst stretch of the Odyssey, with jagged stone path masquerading as roads. Sore backs and frustration conquered us mid-way through the ride and the only thing that motivated us was the rest day at Kaza. And a well deserved one at that.



The rest day at Kaza saw the gang split into two groups – one that choose to stay at the hotel on the rest day and the other who choose to experience a yak safari and a home stay, organised for the first time by Royal Enfield in association with Ecosphere, an NGO that focuses on development of the Spiti Valley. The guys who opted for the home stay had to endure over 30kms of riding on pretty much no roads to reach a village called Demul which was followed by the yak safari for another few hours. Meanwhile, the group that didn’t opt for the yak safari and the home stay made use of the rest day to go around town.



Kaza to Kalpa was sort of a transition from no roads to some form of roads. Owing to the construction of the Jaypee Dam over the Sutlej River, the route through the area consisted of a compacted mud road what had become slushy in certain parts due to the rains. Once we left this patch of road behind, it was smooth tarmac in the ghats, the kind of road most bikers love to ride on, all the way till Kalpa.

 

 

 

For all those who loved riding in the ghats, the road from Kalpa to Narkanda offered
a good build up for the climax of the Odyssey



Kalpa to Narkanda and from there almost mid-way to Parwanoo nearly 400kms had the same smooth tarmac, much like a boulevard with trees on both sides of the road. After hundreds of kilometers of off-roading, finding smooth tarmac was like finding water in a desert after staying thirsty for two days - simply blissful. The ride was simply mind-blowing just the kind of ride one would want to end the Himalayan Odyssey with.



With 300kms of nearly arrow-straight roads, Parwanoo to Delhi was a boring end to an epic ride. Unexciting as it was, people were riding hard and fast mainly in their eagerness to finish the Odyssey successfully. 



The Odyssey is not just about riding to the Himalayas, there is more to it than that. It’s about learning to ride on different terrain, learning from your mistakes and others’, learning how to master the art of riding in the ghats and ofcourse savoring the beauty of Himalayas while you ride. To sum it up in a few words, a quote from the CEO of Royal Enfield, Mr. Venki Padmanabhan, which would perfectly describe the Odyssey “If you go to the Odyssey as a boy, you will return a man; if you go as a man, you will return a sage, and if you go as a sage, surprisingly you will return as a boy”.

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