Words & Photos: Royal Enfield
“The pursuit of Happiness is the chase of a lifetime. The sheer pleasure of discovering oneself while surmounting the challenges of perilous terrain is a tribute to the togetherness, the attitude and the bond that a motorcycle can create amongst total strangers.” – Sachin Chavan, Lead rider, Himalayan Odyssey 2010
The seventh edition of the Himalayan Odyssey was flagged off early morning on 19th June 2010 from India Gate by Mr. RL Ravichandran, CEO, Royal Enfield Motorcycles. This year the Himalayan Odyssey charted a different course and extended the definition of arduous adventure riding. Going beyond Khardung La into Nubra valley and exploring virgin territory, this annually organized Royal Enfield ride delivered incomparable excitement to all its 60 participants. The addition of the new route this year meant additional preparation, physical as well as mental to tackle the unknown and undiscovered. It also required a little extra determination and grit from everyone to be prepared to tackle this territory earlier not known to the Himalayan Odyssey. Preparations for this also meant higher levels of physical fitness which was verified by a physical fitness test conducted by Royal Enfield on all the participants. Running 5 kms and doing 50 push ups certified all of them to be having basic fitness to tackle the harsh terrain and the difficult climate. The youngest member of this entourage was all of 22 while the oldest was touching 60, an open testimony to the fact that where there is a will, there is a way. En route, medical help for the bikers and mechanical help for their machines was always on-hand 24/7.
The flag off ceremony began with the chants of morning Ragas, a ‘Rose-and-Tilak’ ritual by children and culminated with the riders moving out in formation, the thump of their bikes keeping pace with the high notes of the classical crescendo. After the flag off from India gate and an escort till the outskirts of Delhi, the group of bikers stopped for their first break at the Rasoi Dhaba for Parathas and meeting up with a special Rider who had participated in the earlier odyssey. They immediately set off again towards Chandigarh making good speed as they rolled into Chandigarh by mid-day and settled into their hotels. The summer heat did take a toll on the riders as well as the machines but in true Himalayan odyssey spirit it was all attended to and the next day everyone was ready to hit the hills.
The 2nd day saw the riders move from the plains to the foothills of the Himalayas and after Bilaspur move towards Manali. Erratic tourist traffic and haphazardly driven trucks on the narrow mountain roads couldn’t prove to be any deterrent to this bunch of enthusiastic bikers who reached Manali in good time. It was here in Manali that most of the participants especially hailing from the southern parts of the country caught their first glimpse of snow laden peaks for the first time.
On the 3rd day the ride up from Manali to Keylong was very adventurous as it crossed one of the first mountain passes in the route; Rohtang-La. The ride up Rohtang was made more difficult by drizzling as well as a few flat tyres as the bikes encountered rough roads for the first time. Rohtang itself was suffering from chock-a-bloc traffic due to the overflow of tourists but the Royal Enfield machines made good use of their power and torque to wiggle through steep slopes and narrow places to descend into Khoksar for meals and documents check. Keylong saw half the group stay in a hotel while the half stayed atop a hill in huts having a monastery for company and exhilarating valley view. Keylong was the place by which most of the riders as well as bikes had their first set of repairs done on them and the terrain now onwards as well as the climate was going to be tough. It was here that we had the last fuel pump of this leg before Leh and most of us tanked up for the 356 km long journey ahead.
On the 4th day We moved on from Keylong towards Sarchu as we ascended into Barlach-La which had freshly been cleared and still hat snow piling up 10 to 15 feet on both sides of the road. The narrow road did have its share of traffic jams but for our motorcycles any gap was big enough to squeeze through knocking off some snow from the sides as we moved ahead and descended into Sarchu. It was here at Sarchu that we realised that we had gained a lot of height as well as had suffered a significant drop in temperature in a relatively quick time. To make matters worse we stayed in quickly put together tents and had to brave wind-chill as long as we were outdoors. Some of us did fell sick here as symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness prevailed but the Doctors on duty made sure each and everyone was fit the next day in the morning as we started off towards Leh. Some of us who needed additional fuel loaded up at Sarchu.
The 5th day ride from Sarchu to Leh was one helluva gruelling ride as we first entered the 21 Gata Loops and climbed into Lachung-la and then descended into Pang for a lunch break and regroup. As we moved into Pang most of us were very exhausted but just about had the energy to go forward. Yes some of us did feel like calling it quits but the inspirational pointers given by Sachin our leader and the fact that Leh was still waiting was something which drove us on. We moved on from Pang and crossed the vast and deserted More Plains before ascending into Tanglang-La, the second highest pass in this region as well as the world. It was Cold and windy up there and we could hardly stay there for a few minutes just to click the few customary photographs and roll down quickly into Bharatpur. This place usually has a few eateries and an easier road but as weather gods would have it, it was frozen and barren with ice and snow piled on the roads making the river crossing even more challenging. Finally we rode into Upshi at the border of J&K and from there Leh was a smooth ride with paved roads and regularised traffic.
Rolling into Leh we just crashed and called it a day. The 6th day was a day off for all of the participants but the technicians worked overtime to ensure that the bikes were kept in good shape for the next big adventure, namely Khardung-La. After a well earned and well deserved day’s rest in Leh we set off towards Khardung-La on the 7th day of the Odyssey. As we ascended the slow drizzle we had encountered turned to sleet and the temperature started dropping drastically. By the time we reached South Pullu visibility had dropped down to a bare minimum and we could hardly see anything. We managed to still go on and crossed the Highest Motorable road in the world at Khardung-la amidst freezing temperatures and heavy sleet. The snow on the road was making riding difficult but the riders rode on into South Pullu and celebrated this accomplishment. After south Pullu we rode into a very different landscape of Nubra Valley which has the amazing desert mountains and soft sand dunes donning the horizon. The temperature had also become more comfortable as we rolled into Hunder and stayed in comfortable tents at a camp.
On the 8th day we had plans to go via Vari-La but since the pass had still not opened and our camps at Tso kar and Sakthi had not been supplied adequately we decided to retrace the route which meant going back via Khardung-La. This time the legendary group photograph took place at the sand dunes of Nubra Valley and what a spectacle it was. The ride back to Khardung-la was better as the sun was merciful and was shining in its full glory. Most of the snow we had encountered had melted which led us to a new problem; deep water crossings. It was with guidance that most of us managed to make good use of our powerful motorcycles and rode through it. This time Khardung-La was still cold but sunny and we could spend considerable time taking photographs and enjoying the moment on the top of the world. We camped at Rumptse that night after crossing over Upshi.
On the 9th day it was Rumptse to Sarchu with a quick dash across More plains. At Sarchu most of us were quite relaxed now as we had got quite acclimatised to the weather and no had started to soak in the scenery.
The 10th day saw us fuelling up for contingencies we moved on to Keylong via Barlach-la; luckily for us it was not blocked or completely snow laden. At Keylong some motorcycles did need some work on them as they had taken a battering. Despite being built strong the harsh terrain and riding conditions do take a toll on the riders as well as their mounts.
N the 11th day from Keylong we took a different route again to explore the Spiti Valley by moving towards Gramphu instead of Rohtang and then after some really challenging water crossings and extreme rough roads reached Kaza. The Lahaul and Spiti Valley landscape is again a different aspect of the Himalayas resembling the North American Grand Canyon region as exclaimed by some. The ride to Kaza was definitely eventful as we also passed pretty close to Chadrataal and saw amazing sights. The ride up the Kumzum-La pass was made more exciting with rains having washed out most of the roads and replacing them with muddy fast flowing streams.
On the 12th day after tanking up from Kaza we headed towards Kalpa where in we descended further into Kinnaur valley region of Himachal Pradesh or the lower Himalayas. The roads had now become better but were still a set of winding twisties around cliffs. Rain had started now and we were all getting drenched as we were riding down into warmer and more populated areas. Kalpa was definitely a sight to see with the Kailash Mountain in the background and lush green valley in the foreground.
On the 13th day after taking ample rest at Kalpa we all realised that the ride was slowly coming to an end as we had moved from difficult roads into easier stretches and more and more traffic infested roads. We rolled into Narkanda whichw as our last of the Hill Stops.
On the 14th day as we descended further from Narkanda we were nearing Delhi it also marked the end of our epic journey. Withdrawal symptoms had started affecting all of us as we again wanted to rather head back into the mountains rather than descend further into the plains. Finally we reached Parwanoo after bypassing Simla and Kalka.
On the 15th day the last and final leg of the ride was from Parwanoo to Delhi as we hit the NH 1 and hit 4 lane highways and fast moving traffic. As we neared Delhi the climate was getting hotter and hotter and our bikes and bodies which had endured – 4 degrees were now starting to feel uneasy as we neared 40 degrees centigrade. Slowly all of us trickled into Delhi and rode towards Gurgaon where all of us had been accommodated in a lush green country resort. As the last of the riders of the Royal Enfield Himalayan Odyssey 2010 rolled into the Holiday Resort in the outskirts of Delhi, the whole atmosphere was reverberating to the loud thumps of 60 + Royal Enfield motorcycles and their riders cheering away as the ride successfully culminated.
After reaching the final point all of us were overjoyed at the accomplishment we had just achieved and the adventure we had enjoyed. Soon it was time then to wrap up the bikes and the luggage and finally bid adieu to our companions on this epic journey. This was a journey in which we reached the highest motorable point in the world and had discovered a new world within our own worlds. That evening we all let our hair down and enjoyed the music and food to the fullest at the Party that was organised to celebrate this spectacle. 60 plus bikers had embarked on this epic journey just a couple of weeks back and had all reached back safely after traversing the mighty Himalayas as part of the legendary ride the Royal Enfield Himalayan Odyssey 2010.
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