The Royal Enfield Himalayan Odessy is an annual adventure tour through the Himalayan mountains and is limited to 50 men, and 30 women on a first come first served basis. Indian motorcyclist Rahul produced a short film of a Himalayan Odessy 2017 tour he went on riding the new Royal Enfield Himalayan Adventure Bike. He traverses beautiful mountain passes on dirt roads, rivers, landslides, got lost and avoided hitting a drunk man who caused him to crash.
I decided to go for it. Little did I know what was in store for us. Our hotel in Delhi was nice. We spent most of our time in the briefing room. The first aid class was hilarious-
… but informative at the same time. The rider’s briefing was basic but it gave us some very useful tips to survive in the mountains.
Most problems on a bike are caused by [inaudible 00:01:04] that connects the handlebar to the seat.
Then I got my motorcycle keys.
The 6502. That one.
I ride for the next seven days the Royal Enfield Himalayan. A 411 cc single cylindered carburetor engined mini ADV bike designed for the type of harsh terrain that we were about to face. Our ride started from Delhi with the enchantment of Buddhist prayer song [foreign language 00:01:30]. The Buddhist belief that this song purifies the mind, body and speech and builds love and compassion. For me, riding does the same thing.
I was pretty much the last person off India Gate due to my filming and that meant mostly solo riding. It was a good opportunity for me to understand the motorcycle.
All right guys. I’ve had enough. It’s time to see what the motorcycle can do. We’re about 130 kilometers away from Chandigarh. I finally caught up with the rest of the group at Mcdonalds, our second regroup point of the day, after completely skipping the first one and just riding through. After a little snack we rode to our hotel in Chandigarh together. The first 250 kilometers was done. It was hot, humid and a pretty straightforward ride.
The Himalayan Odyssey covers very manageable distances every day which always leaves you with a free evening. I think this is done deliberately so that you can explore the places and bond with the other riders. If you ask me to name something really unique about the city of Chandigarh it has to be the rock gardens. When you’re looking at a sculpture, you’re practically looking it from the outside in. But when you’re in the rock gardens, everything around you is a sculpture. So you’re practically placed inside a sculpture and then you’re looking around it. That is what makes this experience very unique. If you’re visiting Chandigarh don’t miss the rock gardens.
The riding next day was also meant to be pretty straightforward. A bit of highway followed by a steep climb towards the mountains. And yes, hill riding starts here. And surely I was taking it very easy and trying to adjust to the motorcycle but as the day progressed I gained pace and built a rhythm. And then this happened.
I thought I was going to crash because usually I ride motorcycles with tubeless tires and they never go flat so this was a completely new experience for me. I stood on the foot pegs and somehow managed to save it. I didn’t touch the brakes. So if you ever face such a situation, just keep a loose hold on the bike. Let it wobble but don’t touch the brakes. I let the engine braking do all the braking and I rode like that for a hundred meters. Let the bike slow down on its own.
Me and [Sean 00:04:08] are here. We are stopping by, enjoying a drink …
The next few hours passed by as me and Sean just waited around at a local shop as the Royal Enfield mechanics worked tirelessly and fixed the bike. I knew that daylight was running out and I needed to gain some time. But in my eagerness I forgot to fill up before the steep climb to Manali. And there wouldn’t be any fuel stations for the next 40 kilometers. The next few hours was me nursing the bike in [inaudible 00:04:44] gear trying to save fuel.
40 kilometers on and I found a fuel station and met a nice group of adventure riders who were also going to Ladakh. Even they had heard of the Royal Enfield Himalayan Odyssey and wanted to listen to my stories but there was no time.
Daylight was fading fast and I wanted to reach my hotel room as soon as possible. It was an hour past sundown when I reached Manali. It’s a nice little hill station but due to a lot of tourist activities, the development is a bit haphazard. It had been a long day. Most of the guys had already settled into their hotel rooms but I wanted to see Manali.
Strolling down the hill from our hotel we found ourselves in one of the famous cafes of Manali, Drifters’ Café. I ordered a brownie with ice cream but before it could reach me [Mya 00:05:33] and [Eeshan 00:05:34] got to it. By the way, they’re the official film makers from the Royal Enfield team so if you want to see their films, you have to go to the official Royal Enfield’s YouTube channel.
There wasn’t much brownie left when the plate finally reached me. But I’ll be fair, they did buy me a new one. The fun and games of the first few days were over. Beyond Manali is where the real riding starts. We only had 115 kilometers to cover on that day. But it was one of the most challenging riding that I’ve done in my entire life. But there is help from Mother Nature. The landscape is breathtakingly beautiful. I guess that breathtaking is a bit too literal here as the oxygen levels drop as you go on top of the Rohtang Pass.
But if you feel tired, the cool mountain air is always trying to sooth you and the curiosity to see the vista around the next corner keeps you going. In the briefing we were told not to stay on top of the Rohtang Pass for too long due to concern over oxygen levels. But the beauty over there was so mesmerizing that I had to ignore it. I spent an hour there talking to other tourists and taking photos for them. It was like a picnic spot on the Himalayas. Little did I know of the horrors that awaited me on the way down.
The road down from Rohtang Pass is devoid of any tarmac. What you have instead is large stones loosely sitting on a bed of sand. Your tires have an inconsistent amount of traction and what makes it worse is the stones sometimes slip out when you put your wheel on it which disbalances your bike all of a sudden. It was hard on my wrists. I cursed all the way through and I carefully brought the bike down the hill.
It was almost unbelievable but in that desolate patch of barren land I actually heard music. Or were my ears ringing? You see, all the riders had already passed me thanks to my one hour picnicking on top of the Rohtang Pass. But there was music and I was heading straight towards it. Around a hairpin I came to this relative flat land and there I found my roommate Dr [Parekh 00:07:40] sitting beside a stream playing his mouth organ.
I don’t think in this film I have introduced him before. He’s about 45 years of age, he’s a surgeon and he has his own hospital. But all his life he has focused on just earning money so he’s doing this trip to live his own life. I have a great amount of respect for a man of that age fulfilling his dreams after fulfilling his family responsibilities. And there he was sitting and playing his music. I was tired and the soothing music was impossible to ignore. I sat down beside him and he played a couple of songs for me back to back. The lack of oxygen level didn’t seem to bother him at all.
The remaining way down was just as difficult and it involved a huge water crossing as well. But the music was playing inside me and I wasn’t getting bothered by any of the road conditions. It was an easy climb down for me for the rest of the way until the regroup point at [Khoksar 00:08:39]. After a short break and getting hot momos served by our sweet [Himachali 00:08:47] hostess we made our way to [inaudible 00:08:50]. It was a nice and fast ride between me and the other odyssey rider. And the tarmac meant I could finally open up the throttle.
And even the water crossing was okay. I reached [inaudible 00:09:06] which is the last field station for a long, long while and everyone had to fill up there. It was another 15 kilometers to the hotel. The worst part of riding was over. Or so I thought. Coming down the normal slopey downhill I saw a bunch of construction workers. Among them one of the guy was just standing and suddenly he fell backwards and landed right across the road. His stomach was exactly where my front wheel was headed. I used full breaking power but down the hill on gravel it wouldn’t be so easy. I stopped the bike then I dropped it. The nice construction workers helped me up and abused the drunk guy. [foreign language 00:09:50].
[foreign language 00:09:53].
But I had twisted my right wrist in this commotion and I had to ride with that injury for the rest of the days. Nick, Dave, Alex in short this are the UK guys. The most level headed, cool minded riding group within our 56 riders. They always were smiling. They ride pretty hard and a lot of these guys crashed. But they always got back up and played it like nothing had happened. I think riding temperament is something that I could learn from these guys. And now they were engrossed in a game of cards.
He just crashed today and see, he is pretty relaxed playing cards. I’m joining them actually. And how many kilometers did you do on that [inaudible 00:10:45] set up?
70 or 80 yeah.
So you crashed very early in the morning?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Shortly after the check point. You know the first check point?
Oh, on your way up?
Whoa. The next day wasn’t good for most people. I got lost and found my way back thanks to the helpful people of Himachal. But to be honest, it was scary knowing that I had lost my way. And when I rejoined the group I met with another horror. Right in front of us there stood the largest river crossing that I had seen in my entire life. I saw people in front of me fall inside the water. And it was the worst feeling knowing that I would be up next. With gritted teeth I decided to go in.
The water was cold and due to my cautious approach I wasn’t getting the momentum. And I was just crawling through the crossing. With a lot of help from the Royal Enfield mechanics, I finally made it. But the story for that day was far from over. Just a few kilometers down on the next water crossing there was a huge landslide. There was no way through and the army worked relentlessly for five hours. We were stuck.
[inaudible 00:11:56] I even don’t understand what you’re staying.
It’s okay, it’s okay. Just let us know when the water stops. I mean [inaudible 00:12:07]. I mean when I can go.
I’ll do that.
And [Rahul 00:12:10] wants to come first. [inaudible 00:12:12] he wants start, he wants to be the first back.
I didn’t sign up for this.
I helped the crew fold their toilet tent and we kept ourselves entertained. A lot happened over the five hours.
[inaudible 00:12:30]. Okay then. This is Mr Rahul [inaudible 00:12:37]. He’s got it.
I told you [inaudible 00:12:43].
But he did it wrong.
The JCBs decided to flood the road to divert the water flow so that they could clear the landslide faster and our resting place was now a mini river bed. A guy from some different tourist group got so sick that one of back cars went back with him to the [Keylong 00:13:03] Hospital. To keep my helmet safe I put it in a crew car and I was shooting all the way around. When five hours were over and the traffic started moving, again it was chaos.
I was up ahead but saw the crew car pass me and overtake me. And it just went over the water crossing and disappeared. I screamed at it but it was chaos. They obviously didn’t hear me. One by one all the cars disappeared and I was the last bike to cross that water crossing alone and without a helmet.
Now I’m one of those guys who has never ridden to the local neighborhood market, which is literally 50 meters away, without a helmet. And there I was in the Himalayas crossing one of the worst water crossings without one. Of course, I don’t have any footage of that part. And crossing over I found a guy from our group whose bike had a breakdown. Honestly, I was really happy to see him.
I rode on with his helmet and caught up to the [inaudible 00:13:57] wagon which was our back up van and ferried a mechanic back to him. The mechanic gave me a standard helmet and with that I rode for the next 30 kilometers. I finally caught up to the crew car 30 kilometers later and I’ve never been more happy to see a crew car in my life. The helmet I had borrowed flowed in a ton of air and it was literally freezing my head. Back with my own helmet I found a renewed pace and continued on the broken and narrow path of the Himalayas.
This was probably the longest 100 kilometers of my life. Five hours of stoppage time followed by the helmet incident and I was exhausted.
It is terrible.
The final pass was done but then again I found myself alone and facing a violent looking water crossing. Sometimes it’s best to swallow your pride. Sometimes rather than risking your life for no reason, it’s better to ask for help.
I’m completely out of breath. I just asked these guys to take my bike across the stream. Thanks man.
[foreign language 00:15:25].
[foreign language 00:15:26].
[foreign language 00:15:27].
[foreign language 00:15:29]
And this is one of the reasons why going to Ladakh is a must for every biker. You would find a sense of brotherhood there with unknown people. We had lost almost all of the daylight when I finally reached our tents in [Sarchu 00:15:46]. Yes, there were some water crossings along the way but they were smaller ones and I could easily handle them. When I reached the dining tent I was dead tired. Alex got me some soup and I was all better after it.
Our tent was not very airtight and there was natural grass growing on our bathroom. It was pretty clean though. I’ve never experienced staying in a tent and it was completely new for me. I wasn’t too much of a fan of the exposed wiring though. That’s looks pretty dangerous.
The final day of our riding was there. Leh was only a 250 kilometers away. Half of the people were sick after staying at Sarchu. The mountain sickness kept the doctors busy at night. You see Sarchu is the highest point where we were staying the night. Yes, during the day times we crossed higher mountain passes but we never stayed on top of them. Sarchu was the highest place where we spent a night and a lot of people got very, very sick. Everyone wanted to leave Sarchu. I wasn’t worried about the mountain sickness though. Luckily, I don’t have it.
My focus was on completing the ride within daylight hours and still have enough footage to make this movie for you guys. And for the first time in three days we have tarmac. The 21 hairpins of the [Gata 00:17:07] loops didn’t bother me and the first 50 kilometers went flying by.
[inaudible 00:17:13] at the stoppage and today actually we did good. I think probably for the first time we actually have landed in a [inaudible 00:17:23] with most of the riders still being there.
You’re lucky I was [inaudible 00:17:39].
God you were lucky, I was just two steps ahead.
[inaudible 00:17:43] down today as well.
Nick had crashed that day so the UK guys were all taking a nice long break. I decided to not waste too much time and keep moving. And there I made the first mistake of my ride.
All right guys [inaudible 00:17:58]. It was pretty straightforward thing but crashed pretty badly. Hope nothing’s broken in the back so I landed on my backpack. [inaudible 00:18:14] one of those things. Hate these.
On a ridge between the road I tried to move the motorcycle from left to right and the handlebars completely twisted and it was an instant fall. Two good Samaritans appeared out of nowhere and put my bike up and I decided to keep riding. [inaudible 00:18:34] from behind and offered me first aid and I decided to keep riding after getting my wounds attended to. But the road condition kept going bad from worse and each and every bump on the road was now unbearable as the jacket constantly pressed against the wound. [inaudible 00:18:51] was only 15 kilometers away but it seemed a lot longer than that.
Oh, these bridges. They make worst sort of sounds.
I don’t know why but despite having 50 plus riders I’ve been riding solo on most of the days. And there were riders both in front of me and behind me, just not with me. I guess it has to do with me stopping over everywhere and for photographs and footages. But hey, that’s just my luck. The final day wasn’t an exception to that. And I cursed and keep talking into my mike inside my helmet all the way to keep myself company. My only hope in those moments was that one day I would reach home and share my story to all of you guys. And that hope kept me going.
It’s hurting and burning on my wound right now.
And I reached [inaudible 00:19:55]. It supposed to be those mountains right over there. Right. That looks really, really far. So 170 kilometers and again we have some [inaudible 00:20:06].
But I decided to take a shot and go for it. Next came the [More 00:20:11] Plains. These are the roads that they show you in the rides and make you believe that Ladakh is easy. Keeping a constant 100 kilometers per hour was easy.
We’ve had a crash right at number 30. Here he is down. Ah, he’s fine though.
But I found a rider had crashed so be alert. This road has a few deceptive bumps and corners.
Temperature has started to drop. It has started to drop very rapidly and very aggressively. I’m feeling numb in the fingers. The idea is to keep them moving, to keep the blood flow going. We are obviously going at a very fast pace.
I kept on the gas and realized that I didn’t have much left. Now I’m good with numbers. I knew the next field station was 80 kilometers away. The Himalayan was not going to make it. I decided to take a break and think about the situation. Some riders arrived from the Himalayan Odyssey and we took a decision to keep moving forward. Half a kilometer from the top of the [Tanglang La 00:21:16] pass, which is the second highest pass in the world, we ran out of fuel.
Again, a nice biker duo appeared out of nowhere and decided to donate us a liter of fuel. They were not part of the Himalayan Odyssey group of riders because we had fuel in the back up truck and none of us were carrying fuel. So these were absolute strangers who decided to help me and I can not ever repay them. As we were fueling up it started to rain. We decided to move on and managed to the top of the pass. And there it was, a beautiful white tent.
The top of the pass was excruciatingly cold. There was snow there so I’m guessing it was sub zero temperatures. And for the first time I felt what the Himalayan cold could be like. I had a liter of fuel left and the only way was to wait for the last back up vehicle to arrive and give me at least another liter so that I could climb down to the next fuel station. Hours passed and finally a crew car arrived. I learned that it would take another few hours for the fuel truck. And the dropping oxygen level meant that it would be too dangerous for me to stay on. I decided to leave on the crew car.
[inaudible 00:22:32] was sitting on the car since morning as he wasn’t feeling well and he decided to take over my motorcycle. Reaching Leh in the car wasn’t my plan. I had ridden over the toughest terrain and the last 110 kilometers was the best of tarmac, but I had to sit it out. Looking back I could have maybe tried to make it on the last liter of fuel. But that time, with my open bleeding would and my head spinning due to the lack of oxygen due to staying on top of that pass for three hours, it felt really unsafe to ride on a bike which could potentially run out of fuel anywhere.
The next day was a free day in Leh. And some guys wanted to go to Pangong and [Khardung La 00:23:16]. But in the lap of the Himalayas I had finally found my spiritual home. Leh is a multicultural city. There are tourists from all over the world. Our ride started with the blessings of the Buddhist monks and coming back to the Buddhist culture on the final day was full circle for me. There is an amount of peace that fills the air in Leh. Something I’ve never felt before. And the food is awesome as well.
I wanted to spend every last moment that we had left on the trip in that city and that is exactly what I did. I went to the Himalayan Odyssey expecting a ride story, an adventure on the saddle. But I came back with a different outlook in life. For me, conversations I had had off saddle back in the hotels lobbies, the Tibetan culture, the smiling faces of the Ladakhi people. That is where my Himalayan Odyssey happened. That is what mattered the most.
The wound has healed by now and honestly I would have forgotten the hardships of riding that I faced if I didn’t have so much footage on my desktop. But I can’t forget the innocent smile of the Ladakhi school girl who waved at me when I pointed my camera at her. For me, that was the moment when I understood the purpose of the Himalayan Odyssey. Leh is my spiritual home now and I can’t wait to return to it.