THE HIMALAYAS as most everyone knows are the highest mountains in the world, with 30 peaks over 24,000 feet. The adventure of a lifetime doesn't get much bigger or higher than riding and chasing mountains of the Himalayas.
The Royal Enfield (RE) motorcycles are manufactured and sold in INDIA since 1907. These motorcycles are best suited for INDIAN road conditions. These motorcycles are used by INDIAN ARMY from the period of second world war.
There is a saying "FOUR WHEELS MOVE THE BODY-BUT TWO WHEELS MOVE THE SOUL". I am a motorcycle enthusiast from my childhood days. I always had dreams to own a RE motorcycle after getting into a job. Right now I own two variants of RE motorcycles, “Royal Enfield Thunderbird Twinspark” (TBTS) and “Squadron Blue Classic Dispatch” which is a Limited Edition.
|Thunder Bird Twin Spark 350cc 2011 model|
|Squadron Blue Dispatch 500cc 2015 model|
The TBTS is 350CC, good for cruising on long stretched highways. The dispatch is 500CC EFI engine which gives quick response to throttle. Hence I decided to take classic 500CC motorcycle for Himalayan Odyssey (HO).
In INDIA, Royal Enfield conducts different motorcycling tours e.g. HO, Tour of Tibet, Tour of Nepal, Tour of Rajasthan..etc. But out of all these tours it is considered that HO is the toughest one. The reason is very simple, riding on Himalayan mountains are not that easy by considering road conditions, unpredictable weather, high altitudes..etc. The Himalayan mountain roads are completely shutdown for 6 months. The INDIAN army clears the snow, opens and maintains it for another 6 months. Every year, army announces the open and close dates.
From past 12 years RE is conducting HO. I took part in HO-2016, the 13th HO - “18 DAYS LIKE NO OTHER IN RIDING” . It was conducted between 6th to 23rd July 2016. Our group had 70 men and 14 women from all over the world. The men and women odyssey route were different, but they meet at LADAKH. Again take separate route and meet last day celebration party in Chandigarh. Men's group route map is as below.
It takes lot efforts to convince our family and making suitable arrangements at office. I was planning HO ride from last 5 years by accumulating leaves. I was trying to physically be fit as much as possible by doing exercises on regular basis. After doing registration it is required to go through physical fitness test and submit those documents. The physical fitness test includes 5KM run and 50 push-ups in 45 min. There is also a physical fitness certificate from local doctor and you need to submit to RE. Documents to be submitted include medical test reports for blood, urine and Treadmill test (TMT), Medical history by self, Medical check-up fitness certificate by doctor and Indemnity bond.
The HO team includes a doctor, backup van, mechanics, media people, 3-4 lead riders from RE etc. All the information will be communicated to you post registration.
The HO ride starts from Delhi and ends at Chandigarh. I am located in Bangalore and hence I also had to plan to reach Delhi on July 7th with my Motorcycle. I knew I would need 3 days to reach Delhi from Bangalore via road. Since I had very limited amount of time, I planed to ship my motorcycle via containers and fly to Delhi. The transport of my motorcycle I coasted INR Rs.5780.00 one way. Actually the cost of transportation of my motorcycle was more than my air tickets 😅. The flight tickets round trip cost INR Rs. 7000.00. Once you register for the HO trip they will include you in closed facebook, whatsapp group. It will be very easy to discuss all your questions in those groups.
|Ready to ship|
I used VRL logistics (Vijayanand Road Lines) to ship my bike from Banglore to Delhi. Many of you may ask why can't I just rent a motorcycle at Delhi ? This is just because if I ride my own motorcycle in mountains, I will understand my motorcycle in a better way and the personal attachment with motorcycle will be more. That's the reason RE suggests to take our own motorcycle for any rides.
|locked in a container|
Luggage types and split-up:
When we start our ride, our overall luggage will be split into two.
1. The luggage that we carry on the motorcycle, We call it as “satellite luggage”
A duffel bag is a good choice. You can fasten it to you motorcycle using bungee cords or luggage straps. Remember to waterproof this bag well as this is exposed to the elements of outside nature whatever terrain you ride. Packing of this bag is very crucial, Distribute the weight evenly. If there is some space left in the bag use compression straps to ensure stuff does not move around inside the bag. Tie the bag after checking its placement thoroughly and do so only on the centre stand. We will end up doing this even at camp sites and finding a flat piece of land could be tricky, use stones to ensure that your motorcycle is as upright as possible when you're fastening your luggage. It is very tempting to use saddle bags for satellite luggage, but this will leave you with more empty space. Avoid starting the trip with saddlebags on your bike and then shifting them to the luggage vehicle.
What my satellite luggage will definitely have
1. A change of clothes- a pair of denims/cargos, a T-shirt and a casual jacket
2. A hat
3. A pair of running shoes
4. Winter gloves - depending on where we're on the Odyssey
5. Toiletries - I'll have my lip balm/guard and sunscreen
6. GoPro, some mounts, batteries and a power bank
7. a Beanie or a woolen buff
8. a Torch
9. Spare cables and a tube
2. The luggage that is carried in the luggage vehicle.
This will be minus the riding gear that you bring, as that will be worn by you for the duration of the entire ride. This luggage will have to be restricted to one piece per rider with a max limit of 15 kilos. Why 15 kilos? After you have removed all the gear and your satellite luggage, we have found that this is comfortable cut-off. This is also a comfortable weight for you to carry to your rooms, unload/load to the luggage vehicle every day. This luggage will need to be loaded and unloaded every day and in case of rain, the bags can get soiled and wet. It is best that we use some level of waterproofing so as to safeguard what's in the bags. a waterproof cover or waterproofing from the inside could do the job.
Everybody needs to reach two days before the HO trip. They will book the accommodation you. The very first day I just did a check-in and collected my motorcycles at Delhi.
The next day schedule was as below
Flag Off day and complete Itinerary:
The 13th edition of the Royal Enfield Himalayan Odyssey will flag off from New Delhi on 9th July 2016. This is a call to all those who love to ride on tough and testing terrain and have the passion to ride with RE. In the year 2016 will see 75 riders riding on one of the most spectacular motorcycle journeys in the world.
Here is our detailed itinerary
Day-1: Delhi To Chandigarh
The first day started as below
- 5 AM luggage loading - HO
- 6:30 AM - breakfast
- 7:15 AM HO start to India gate
Let this begin!
|Group photo @INDIA Gate|
The first day ride always starts from India Gate, Delhi. We took a group photo and did some Buddhist rituals and prayed for a safe ride. The briefing includes regroup point, road conditions and some common mistakes committed by riders.
We were 12 people from Karnataka State and grouped together to take some group photos.
The flag off is done by RE sales director. The video just after flagoff there are some news channel coverage: Auto Today and NDTV
|Riders joined from Karnataka State|
Chandigarh, the capital of the northern Indian states of Punjab and Haryana, was designed by the Swiss-French modernist architect, Le Corbusier. Chandigarh is a city and a union territory in India that serves as the capital of both neighboring states of Haryana and Punjab. The city is not part of either of the two states and is governed directly by the Union Government, which administers all such territories in the country.
Afternoon we reached Chandigarh and checked-in into hotel. The Chandigarh is a very well planned and beautiful city. The city is having lot of tree's and parks. So we did a quick tour of couple of places in the city.
Day-2: Chandigarh To Manali
In HO every day is a learning day. You will become much more closer to your motorcycle each day. In another words you will understand the motorcycle handling in a better way. The day starts with luggage loading, breakfast, briefing and ride out. The time which are followed same on each day.
The briefing will be about 10-15 min. This is very important for a rider. Because the briefing contains about the kind of road you are going to ride on that day and important riding tips.
We reached Manali Highland hotel by 5PM. We visited local market to purchase required items fir the ride. This will be the last city on our onward journey to Leh. After Manali, the real ride will start. There will be less tarmac and more rough roads. After Manali you will see all shops in tents till you reach Leh. I also met couple of cyclist who were cycling up to Leh.
|Cyclists @Manali hotel|
Manali is a high-altitude Himalayan resort town in India’s northern Himachal Pradesh state. It has a reputation as a backpacking center and honeymoon destination. Set on the Beas River, it’s a gateway for skiing in the Solang Valley and trekking in Parvati Valley. It's also a jumping-off point for paragliding, rafting and mountaineering in the Pir Panjal mountains, home to 4,000m-high Rohtang Pass.
Day-3: Manali To Keylong (Jispa)
The road from Manali to Rothang pass is a single road. Although it had tarmac, it was not in a good condition. We took a break at Rothang pass base camp.
We started slowly climbing the pass. I could feel that thin air and altitude change. My motorcycle was also giving slow response to the throttle. The machine also need oxygen for the combustion. The weather on Rothang pass will change every 15 min. The last leg climb was very foggy and hardly I could see the road.
|Rothang Pass roads|
After couple of kms it was very sunny and bright. We were warned not to stay more than 10 min at high altitude region.
|Top of Rothang Pass|
We just took couple of photos and started descending the Rothang pass. It is good that after crossing the Rothang pass, the road is completely empty and traffic free. You can only see some Indian Army trucks or some goods carriages on the road. But suddenly, the road becomes too rough, dusty.After travelling few kms on these rough roads my motorcycle started behaving in a weird way. The headlight, horn and indicators stopped working. Hence I stopped by to check the problem. Fortunately, there I spotted one of the RE HO trip co-coordinators. He just did a basic check and identified that a fuse is burned. In couple of minutes he replaced the fuse which is readily available in the side panel box. I continued my ride till the lunch break.
|Dusty roads on the way to Tandi|
At some places the roads were under construction. Since they had put wet mud with stones, it was very difficult to handle the motorcycle which is of around 200 KG weight.
Finally reached Tandi fuel pump. Filled up the tank full, since there will not be any filling station till next 365KM.
The rough and dusty road continues. At some places the dust settled on the road might be nearly 10-15 cms too.
We continued to ride and reached Jispa camp. The river was flowing just behind our tents. It is really a heaven on the earth. Very beautiful village.
We had snacks and had hangout. Evening onwards it was too cold because of wind and the cold river was just behind our tents. I was feeling like I could have taken room instead of tent. That was purely our mistake since we reached early we garbed a tent to stay.
Day-4: Keylong (Jispa) To Sarchu
Jispa is a village in Lahaul, in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. Jispa is located 20 km north of Keylong and 7 km south of Darcha, along the Manali-Leh Highway and the Bhaga river. There are approximately 20 villages between Jispa and Keylong.
The briefing we were given instructions on how to do water crossing. In all the water crossing there will be small pebbles and water very chilled. One should make sure that the motorcycle tires should not get stuck between these small stone beds.
|Ready to leave Jispa valley|
The distance between Jispa to Sarchu is very less. It makes difficult to ride on no road terrain. We finished the morning briefing and started riding.
We crossed couple of water streams before reaching Sarchu. The technique to cross water stream is very simple. First you should hold your motorcycle tanks tightly with knee's. Next you have to free your upper body, give focus and look ahead on water flowing road and give the throttle.
|Riding beside Bhaga river|
We had a break for the lunch. I had some noodles. You will not get any other kind of foods in these tents other than omlet, noodles, plain rice.
We reached Sarchu very early around 3-4PM. But after reaching Sarchu with-in 15-20mins the headache started. Almost all had mountain sickness. Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is the mildest form and it's very common. The symptoms can feel like a hangover – dizziness, headache, muscle aches, nausea. Camp doctors checked heartbeats for all affected people.
We were unable to eat anything, could not sleep or take rest. Even if we walk for 100mtr we were unable to breath. That day was a very horrible day which I will never forget in my life.
We were having again tented accommodation. There will be only solar charged lights. There will not be any army hospitals nearby. After sun goes there will be sudden drop in temperature. It felt like the situation was life threatening.
Sarchu is a major halt point with tented accommodation in the Himalayas on the Leh-Manali Highway, on the boundary between Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh (Jammu and Kashmir) in India. It is situated between Baralacha La to the south and Lachulung La to the north, at an altitude of 4,290 m (14,070 ft).
Day-5: Sarchu To Leh
I was very eager to start from Sarchu. The stay at high altitude and very cold weather I could not get a good sleep. The RE guys bought petrol (gas) in backup van. All of us queued up to top up petrol. The stay at Sarchu tent was the most uncomfortable stay. But it is true once you get acclimatize to Sarchu altitude, you are more prepared to travel further.
I shifted my satellite luggage to backup van. As the experience speaks, it is very uncomfortable to ride with saddle bags on the motorcycle. After Sarchu the roads are open, no traffic for several kms. I was going alone and stoped to take pictures. When I reached "Gata Loops" bottom, couple of my friends joined.
|GATA Loops begin|
Gata Loops is a name that is unknown to everyone except for a few who have traveled on the Manali Leh highway; or planning to do so. It is a series of twenty one hairpin bends that takes you to the top of the 3rd high altitude pass on this highway, Nakeela; at a height of 15,547 ft.
|More (Mo-ray) plains|
I have covered hundreds of mountain miles but never seen a plateau. When I came upon the More (pronounced ‘mo-ray’) Plains, they were much bigger than what I’d visualized of plateaus from school geography books.
They are endless. Well, 50 km of flatlands at an elevation of 15,000 feet deserves that epithet! And they are flat, for miles after miles, till they run into the surrounding mountains. Camp here for the evening and you’ll see the most stunning of sunsets. The area is surprisingly active here. You will always have workers building or repairing roads.
We continue the ride towards Leh after taking few pics at More plains. We were pass through Pang, Meroo, Debring and at Rumtse we had a lunch break. The Indus river flows parallel to road and other side steep cliff of the mountains. I remember each mountain had of different colors after Debring. By evening we reached Leh and check-into hotel "Namgyal Palace".