Your destination lies 90 kilometers away and the current elevation reads 12,300 feet. The blazing sun is turning crimson and inching towards the horizon. Riding over craggy paths, your gloved fingers have gone numb, battling the wind chill. The next fuel stop is nowhere to be seen, and a few more passes and some fierce water crossings remain to be negotiated. Your throat is parched, and you now know the real meaning of the word ‘saddle sore’. You want to ride faster, but the loose gravel beneath and the gorge to your right reminds you of the perils of doing so.
If that’s your definition of adventure, then a sojourn on two wheels in the mighty Himalayas is just what you need — and if putting together an itinerary is not your cup of tea, Royal Enfield has it all planned for you. Of the various tours that RE conducts in the country throughout the year, the one that remains the most sought after is the Himalayan Odyssey.
The 12th edition saw about 60 bikers from the country participate in what is considered among the toughest motorcycle rides in the country; I had the opportunity to ride Leg 1 from Delhi to Leh. I’ve done a few solo rides and road trips to the land of high passes before, but I still find the prospect of another one very alluring. I was not alone, either; there were a few who had even done this tour before, but for them once was just not enough.
When the big day arrived, we gathered at our Delhi hotel’s parking lot to set up our bikes, which carried just the bare essentials. Once set, and after a proper briefing session, all 60 bikers lined up with their engines emitting the traditional ‘thump-thump’ to proceed to the starting point at India Gate.
It was absolutely pouring with rain, but that did not deter our spirits and the event was flagged off by the president of RE himself, Rudratej Singh. Unlike some of the previous odysseys, all riders were to ride together on the same route to Leh and back, with the most interesting bits being Spiti, Nubra and Khardung La Top. This year, RE allowed pillion riders too. Besides the usual Classics, Thunderbirds, Machismos and Standards, the motorcycle spread also saw three Continental GTs.
The journey upwards had the riders pass through Parwanoo, Narkanda, Kalpa, Kaza and Jispa. Most of the accommodations were in hotels booked by RE, and our food intake primarily comprised parathas, rice and veggies during our stopovers. Maggi noodles, despite all the controversies and bans, continued to be the hot favourite, with ginger lemon honey tea emerging as the beverage of choice.
The convoy, including service trucks and MUVs, had an unexpected and uncomfortable night’s halt in the dhabas at Chatru, due to a violent water crossing over Kunzum La at 14,950 feet. Additionally, heavy rain at Pang and Morey Plains, along with a blizzard at Tanglang La made the camping experience at Rhumtse a very cold affair. The altitude and temperature changes caused AMS to a few, and the tough terrain did see minor accidents. Fortunately, with the medical team on board and the service backup, both rider and machine were well taken care of.
The original plan was to reach Leh after crossing Hunder and Khardungla Top via Wari La. However, weather being a downer, there were delays, forcing the group to stick to the conventional Karu route instead. We enjoyed our rest days at both Kalpa and Leh. Some preferred to stay indoors and acclimatise themselves, while others explored the monasteries nearby, looked around for souvenirs in the local markets and visited K-Top.
Leg 1 had thus come to an end, and it was time for me to bid goodbye. The temptation to continue with Leg 2 lingered all the way. The 1500 kilometers I travelled were amazing, and I would strongly recommend this tour to anybody wanting to experience the Himalayan ranges on a motorcycle with like minded petrolheads. RE tours are well organised and come with dollops of fun; you can find details on their website to register for the next ride. Keep tripping!