Being part of the annual pilgrimage to the mountains with Royal Enfield’s Himalayan Odyssey

Photography: Royal Enfield Media

"Nyerang ka-ne yin?” (where are you from?)Asked a rosy-cheeked shepherd youngling tending to the flock of sheep covering the mountainside ahead of Nyoma. I ponder over the philosophical side of that question before letting him know of my southern roots. I offer him an energy bar which he gladly accepts and scampers off to share with his friends.

The people in Ladakh live a simple life, and sharing is a big part of it. It is a different world out here, far removed from the one I was in two weeks ago, buried in my laptop. And here I am in the present, behind the handlebar of a Royal Enfield Himalayan motorcycle and a part of the bikemaker’s 18th Himalayan Oddysey, an annual tradition of a ride from Delhi to Leh covering over 1,800 kilometres and climbing over 2,600 metres.

The Lamas bless us for not being a Gama on the journey, and the ride flags off from India Gate in Delhi. We ride the exceptionally boring Delhi-Chandigarh highways befriended by a physically exhausting dry heat and reach Chandigarh on day one. The next day, we miss the high road for a scenic detour filled with its share of slush and gravel-filled sections, courtesy of the overnight rainfall. By noon, our gear already looks like it has seen the wrath of a two-week ride in the mountains. The humidity-induced dehydration calls for constant rehydration. Luckily we have the LifeStraw portable water purifier that helps achieve one of the ride’s goals of avoiding plastic usage.

While riding in the mountains, the distance is not a bother, but the altitude is! The dreaded Altitude Sickness takes me into submission at Sarchu. I spend the terrible night sipping on countless cups of clove tea as it helps increase oxygen saturation.

The next day turns out to be an overdose of La. Nakee La is the first pass of the day and stands at 15,547ft. Soon, it is round two with Lachung La. Unpaved roads and a Martian-like landscape welcome us! We soon pass through Tanglang La, breathing through the dusty trail of 50 trucks struggling to reach the summit. The next few hours of riding are like a frantic download of breathtaking views as we ride through More Plains. It feels like vibing with Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven. I pass a lot of army trucks. What a feeling! Classic rock on one side, heavy metal on the other!

The scenic overload did not stop there! Roughly another 100kms to Leh, I rode alongside the rushing Indus river, and the road switched sides while carving into my photographic memory. It was an exhilarating feeling in this particular section with sudden sharp curves, unexpected crests and steep descents. 

Finally, reaching Leh, I head straight for a warm shower and bed. I am woken up too early to a Tibetan Mastiff’s howl. This day is to be the highlight of the ride. Today we conquer Umling La, the new highest motorable pass in the world! We ride through 35 kilometres of open trail with clouds like cotton candy. I am having a ball of a time doing speeds of 90-100kph with the Himalayan, a reliable constant throughout the ride.

The next day we ride back the same way to Thiksey and then to Chumathang. The plan is to stay in Loma, and these regions are close to the Tibetan border, so travellers need a permit in hand at least a day in advance. I decide to have a laid-back ride feeling the need to refresh my memory on high school geography. Cold desert mountains with a purplish hue, greenish hue and what not? It is like hitting a high with magic mushrooms! The colour transitions result from the varied composition of minerals these sections contained. Upon reaching Nyoma, we feel a dimension shift! It is surprising to find no power lines along the roads, but we spot many army bases, and this is like an action scene from my Sniper Elite gaming days. Traversing further with a drop in altitude, several horses with beautiful mane and woolly sheep are spotted chilling on the moorland. I take many detours from here and click some perfect pictures, for the scenic transition was just like watching a Tarantino flick. 

Crossing dried-out river beds are easy peasy, and loose-mud clumps are no match to the adventure motorcycle’s performance! A passing road sign read ‘You are as high as the Everest base camp’, pushing for a superhuman spark burning through my adenosine triphosphate reserves. The performance of man and machine drops at 19,024 feet, and finally, with sheer willpower, we reach the summit, an exhilarating experience with no doubt!

That night, we were quite the heroes sharing our thrilling experiences. Conquering the mountains has been an uplifting notion for man since dawn. Bearing the brute force of nature, you realise no materialistic need defines a man but just a hint of pure survival with a dash of divine intervention. That just about sums up why we ride to the mountains.

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