Himalayan Motorbike Safari [By Enfield 500 CC Only]
Day 1 of your of trip - you will be met by our rep. at Delhi international airport and will be transferred to hotel.
From your first glance at the sprawling metropolis of Delhi you will immediately begin to appreciate that India is a land of contrasts, a land of diversity and variation unparalleled anywhere else in the world. Abject and squalid slums sit incongruously alongside amazing modern buildings of stunning beauty, like the lotus shaped Ba'hai temple. Five star hotels are served by 1950's-vintage taxi cabs with engines the same size as their batteries. Ten million people somehow manage to eke out an existence in this city whose levels of activity continue to escalate at an apparently unsustainable pace. At times confusing, at times challenging and at all times chaotic, Delhi is never still, never restful and never boring.
Day 2 has us on an air-conditioned train, the Shatabadi Express, heading north to the Kalka . Ideal for getting to know our steel mounts for the next three weeks! Even the experienced biker will find the Enfield tricky to start until shown the secret, but the purring chug of the single cylinder will have you falling in love with it immediately.
So, we practise a bit to the amusement of the inevitable crowd of local onlookers, before heading out onto the road to tackle India's daunting traffic for the first time. We make our way up out of the plains and into the hills straight away, to a little village just 50k away for lunch. We then proceed another 60k along a hilly and winding road to the Himachal state capital of Shimla, frequently alongside the railway track where the 'Toy Train' runs on narrow-gauge line through more than 100 separate tunnels in less than 100km, up to this picturesque hill station. Shimla was the summer national capital in the days of the British Raj, when the entire government would relocate up here for three months every year to avoid the sweltering heat of Delhi. The stately English houses are starting to look a little ragged around the edges these days, but the main street is still called The Mall .
Day 3 and we are on our way to Mandi, along twisting roads above stunning terraced slopes such as might be seen gracing the cover of travel magazines on Bali. Densely wooded hillsides flank the many streams of the area. We cross the turbulent Sutlej River in the morning and arrive at Mandi in the afternoon on the banks of the boiling Beas ('Bee-Ahs'), a popular river for rafting or angling for India's famous mahseer, that monstrous freshwater fish weighing in at 30 kilos (65 pounds) or more! The world record stands at over 100 pounds.
Day 4 brings us to the wonderful Kulu Valley, a spectacularly beautiful region of lush green hills alongside the Beas. The narrow, winding road clings to the side of the sometimes steep gorge, with the river at times 300 metres directly below us. A blunt but pertinent sign advises; 'Caution. On your right comes valley side; a little wobbling may mean suicide'. Further on where the valley widens out we see the orchards and fields of this very fertile area, providing a good lifestyle for the main towns of Kulu and Manali, where we shall stay for tonight.
Day 5 we shall spend having a 'rest day' in Manali, which usually means trekking up one of the nearby hills for a closer glimpse of the Himalayan massif we are about to explore. Or we can just wander through the markets, picking up bargains in the Tibetan bazaars.
Day 6 is when we really start getting serious! On with the gloves and scarves for a dawn start, immediately climbing steeply up through the clouds - literally. As we reach the snowline the sun will begin to disperse the mists, revealing the most sensational views ever imagined. Endless valleys stretch out in every direction from the 3,978 metre Rohtang Jot, where we enter the remote world of the Lahaul Valley. Your head will be swivelling from side to side in amazement all the way to the tiny village of Jispa, our home for the night.
Day 7 and it just keeps getting better. Every turn into a new valley produces a breathtaking change of colour, texture, formation. Enormously deep river canyons combine with wind, rain and ice to carve impossible sculptures out of rock and gravel. To paraphrase the English author Douglas Adams, one section resembles the remains of a hundred Gothic cathedrals collapsed on top of one another. Several times today we may find water gushing across the road from glacier melt, causing us to dismount if deep, pushing the bikes through with ignition turned off to prevent shorting out the spark plug. And yes, the water is cold. Our destination for today is a group of a dozen or so tents in a semi-permanent 'town' called Sarchu, which marks our entry into the state of J&K (Jammu & Kashmir)
Day 8 starts with us tackling the 21 switchbacks of the Gata Loops up the side of a rocky mountain, then zipping along a flat, straight, lunar-landscape plateau where nomadic peoples tend their goats and yaks, which appear to have developed the ability to survive on a diet of gravel and sand. Then it's up, up and more up as we climb to the Taglang La, at 5,328 metres the second highest road in the world. (Don't worry, we're doing the highest in a couple of days, beyond Leh). At this altitude the Enfield as well as ourselves may have difficulty breathing the rarefied air - there's not a lot of oxygen up here! It's also cold, so after the obligatory photographs we then proceed to legendary Leh, the Ladakhi capital and a stunning green oasis in this otherwise desolate area. Red coloured run-off from the copper-rich bulk of the Zanskar mountains (zanz means copper, kar is white) feeds the sacred Indus river, source of all life in this region.
Day 9 is a well-earned rest day, which is essential at this altitude to allow our bodies to acclimatise. We explore the delights of Leh, including the 16th century palace, the splendid Shanti Stupa (peace pagoda) and the busy marketplace. We may be able to take in a polo exhibition match by the hardy locals and their equally hardy ponies; we've even got time to indulge in a cold beer, very much a rare commodity these past 2 or 3 days.
Day 10 is another Leh-day (pun intended) to allow further acclimatising. We'll ride back along the Indus Valley a short way to Thikse Gompa, a dramatic Buddhist monastery clinging to the side of a hill and eerily similar to Lhasa's Potala Palace in Tibet. Nearby, Shey Palace houses a huge Buddha and a fine collection of thankas, Tibetan wall hangings. We can cross the river and ride back to Leh via Stok, where the Ladakhi royal family now reside.
Day 11 has us heading further north. Our objective is the head of the Nubra Valley at the Khardung La, at 5,600 metres the highest road in the world open to traffic! We have the satisfaction of knowing that no-one anywhere has ever driven or ridden higher in the world than we are right now. This is as close to heaven as we'll ever get on a bike! This whole area is actually a military zone and special permission is obtained from the authorities because it is fairly close to the sensitive border with China, aka. Tibet. We return to Leh again for the night.
Day 12 sees us following the Indus Valley, home of one of the oldest civilisations known to mankind. We head west with the river, passing some amazing scenery until we arrive at possibly the weirdest of it all; a 'moonland' of light-coloured composite rock wedged into a high little valley. Local speculation identifies it as a meteor or part of some other heavenly body crashed to Earth, but in reality it was a perched lake zillions of years ago. We then proceed a little further to Lamayuru, a spectacular 1000-year-old Buddhist gompa built in the traditionally accepted manner; ie clinging to an impossible hillside. This gompa is the oldest and one of the most important in Ladakh, but even more impressive is the medieval village beneath it. It's a little catacomb of dark passageways and stone dwellings virtually unchanged in over a thousand years and well worth more than just a casual glance.
Day 13 We head the bikes further west again, crossing the Fatu La at 4147m and the Namika La at 3760m, to arrive at a quiet little town called Mulbekh. Here, having spent the first week of our travels in Hindu-dominated India and the second week in the Buddhist-majority Ladakh, we now cross the threshold into Muslim Kashmir and proceed through to Kargil for the night, unnervingly close to the disputed border with Pakistan and the site of several recent conflicts between the two nuclear nations.
Day 14 will see us riding through Drass, whose main claim to fame apparently is being the second-coldest town on the face of the Earth (behind Hobart, presumably . . ). We then climb yet another high pass, the Zoji La at 3529m and continue to Sonamarg, a stunning green valley sometimes referred to as the Switzerland of India. We proceed through the Vale of Kashmir to arrive at Srinagar, the long-troubled but exquisite capital of Jammu & Kashmir state, where accommodation consists of a couple of luxury houseboats moored in picturesque Dal Lake, which for centuries has moved men to poetry and music. Led Zeppelin fans may be familiar with Robert Plant's lyrics in Kashmir; "I am a trav'ler of both time and space, to be where I have been. . ."
Day 15 Srinagar has been the centre of the dispute over Kashmir since the troubles began at the time of Partition, 50 years ago. Violence has peaked and ebbed several times, all but destroying the tourism industry upon which much of the city's economy depends. In the mid-1980's, 650,000 tourist each year flocked to the beautiful lakes of Srinagar to enjoy the decadence of lazing on a houseboat for a week. A decade later only 5,000 per annum were venturing into Kashmir, although the position has improved considerably in the last two or three years. We'll spend a day here to judge the situation for ourselves, lounging around on our houseboats or wandering through the city's quiet backwaters in a shikhara, the unique Kashmiri paddle boat.
Day 16 sees us heading south from Srinagar to one of J&K's hill stations, Kud. En route we have to endure the rather intimidating Jawahar Tunnel, literally right through a mountain. It's 2½ km long, very badly illuminatedunlit, full of diesel fumes with an exceedingly rough floor and exceedingly leaky ceiling! It can be a little nerve-racking if you're at all claustrophobic, so the plan is to bunch up and all ride together. Ten headlights are better than one. But the scenery through the hills is spectacular, and Kud offers commanding views all round.
Day 17 will take us to McLeodganj, back in the state of Himachal. Since Tibet's spiritual leader, His Holiness the Dalai Lama was forced to flee in 1959 following the Chinese invasion of his homeland, this has been his home and the seat of the Tibetan Government in Exile. While the rest of the world seems to have forgotten that Tibet should be a sovereign state in its own right, the Tibetans have never given up hope that they will one day be permitted to reclaim what is rightfully theirs.
Day 18 gives us our last rest day. We may be lucky enough to be granted an audience with the Dalai Lama, or we may have to make do with visiting the Tibetan museum and library. The town is actually in two completely separate sections; McLeodganj is where the Tibetan community has settled en masse whilst Dharamsala is the lower part, a 3k walk (or 10k ride) away. The cemetery and church of St. John in the Wilderness is worth a visit.
Day 19 and we're winding down the clock. We head back through the foothills, gradually losing altitude until we reach the plains again near Chandigarh, then we climb to the cool of the foothills at the lovely Timber Trails resort hotel at Parwanoo, where we can relax in the pool for an hour before taking a two-kilometre cable car to the other side of a valley to our hotel for the night.
Day 20 The Grand Trunk Road, one of the great highways of the world and the busiest in India, traverses the whole country from Calcutta in the east right through to Lahore in Pakistan and on to the Khyber Pass in Afghanistan. The traffic consists of as many bullocks, camels, cows and pedestrians as it does cars, buses and Tata trucks, which is why we decline to travel on it. We ride only as far as Chandigarh where we board the train for Delhi, leaving our mechanics to take care of transporting the Enfields back to their rightful owner.
Day 21 and our early-morning starts are not over yet! 6:00am sees us at New Delhi railway station for the Shatabdi Express again, this time heading 200k south to the one-time Moghul capital city of Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. The magnificence of the Taj cannot be overstated; it is simply the most superb building and is a mandatory side trip for anybody visiting the north of India. In the afternoon we shall visit the incredible deserted city of Fatehpur Sikri, also once the capital of the Moghul Empire for a brief period before being completely abandoned, due to a total lack of foresight in obtaining a reliable water source! We return to Agra for the evening train back to our hotel in Delhi.
Day 22 Congratulations, you have completed an epic 2,000+ kilometre trans-Himalayan expedition! A tailor in the bazaar will happily embroider 'Himalayan Heights Safari 2001' (or anything else) on the back of a T-shirt for you (or anywhere else!). Today we can visit the Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India, or do some last-minute souvenir shopping in the bazaars, or visit all the motorbike shops in crowded, chaotic Karol Bagh, from whence came our own steeds. We farewell you this evening with an early meal in one of the popular restaurants in Connaught Place before transfer to the airport for the night departure to Singapore. It's been a lot of fun!
Day 23 Home sweet home. Go tell all your friends
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