Saturday, December 15, 2007

A bullet to the Himalayas

Translation of Bala's write-up in Fast Track - Malayalam Car& Bike monthly Dec 2007)

Hi Bala, Translation was a bit difficult. I'm sure that this doesn't do 100% justice to the your write-up. But I have done my best not to lose the essence of the original article.

A bullet to the Himalayas

The Royal Enfield Bullet cruises at 80kph. There is a sharp turn to right. One side is a steep gorge thousands of feet deep and the other side, ice glaciers waiting to fall onto the road anytime. Keeping to the left hand side, footrest almost touching the road, taken a lean angle and what waits there after the curve is a water fall from the glaciers. It's a 50m wide water crossing. No time to get confused. In no time the gear is down from 5th to 2nd ; crossed the stream 2 feet deep , splashing water on either side...

This is one of the many adventurous moments from the bullet ride through the Himalayas. The ride was with a group of adventurous people.

Royal Enfield has been organizing this adventure bike ride called Himalayan Odyssey every year from 2004 and this year I too was a part of it. Trivandurm to Delhi by train… but not alone; my KL01 AM 245 bullet too. From Delhi to Khardungla via Chandigarh, Manali, Kaylong and Leh. From Khardungla the route taken was Manali- Mandi- Dharmashala and reached Wagah boarder in Amritsar; turned off the engine, flicked the side stand with left foot… the odometer has run 2300km in two weeks.

The Himalayan Odyssey (HO) starts every year on 24th of June. This year there were 55 participants gathered at the New Delhi International Youth Center. Kashmiri to Mallu, College students to DGP, 20 year olds to big boys in their 50s… people from different cultures, status and age group were present. Amount them were 6 mallus who speak pure mal and 3 half mallus from Chennai, Mumbai and Delhi.

Adjusting the short tight T-shirt quite often and exhibiting the balloon biceps, Hollywood star Sunil Shetty flagged off the ride from Delhi in the morning on Jun 24th.

The climate is extremely hot, we rode between the speeding trucks and buses to Chandigarh covering Karnal, Panipath, Kurukshetra and Ambala. The road is NH1 which is called as GT (Grand trunk)

Today, when I look back, I feel that the first day's ride was the most dangerous one. Chandigarh to Manali road is very beautiful. Leaving the wheat fields behind the road enters the footsteps of Himalayas- the Shivalik ranges… and nature has already transformed herself into a beautiful Himalayan Girl. Crossing Bhilaspur and Mandi, when we reach Kulu we are at the Himalayan ranges. Now we have a lady escort till Manali- the river Biyas.

Whether you like Manali or not depends on your personal taste. Further on from Manali is Rohtang pass- an average tourist ends his Himalayan journey there. They just get themselves satisfied with a walk through the narrow Manali streets, shopping from those looters there, bath at the hot streams of Vasishti, a journey till Rohteng pass to see the snow and have a ride on the yak or snow scooter. The journey ends there.

Rohtang is 1300 feet from sea level. Need to open the airscrew half a turn for the bike to breath well. Here on oxygen is less and climb is more.

It's not easy to ride through the Himalayas just because you need to be physically fit. One needs to be mentally prepared too. Also the bike too has to be in the very best condition. Need to carry spares like cables, tube, oil, bulbs etc. – parts most likely to go kaput. A good helmet that will never irritate you, a sunglass inside it, Jacket, gloves, boots etc. for protection from the cold and wind are some essential gadgets for a Himalayan rider. Also knee and shin protectors are needed. The rest of it- things what we normally take with us when go for a ride.

If you are someone like me in the 50s, better take a back support belt and some karpooradi tailam. Leave those youngsters who hesitantly ask 'Uncle, can I have a little of that oil please'.

Kaylong is 85km from Rohtang. Through the Lahaul valley and the banks or river Chandra- the barren land.

Chandra River at a distance, beautiful girl, seemingly still, unaffected by climatic changes, covered with a gray blanket, flows silent turning her face away from you.

8km before Keylong, You could see something that you may not be able to see anywhere in the workd- A board that says 'next filling station 356km ahead'. This is Thindi village. Here river Pamba joins Chandra and becomes river Penab.

Kaylong is a beautiful Himalayan girl who could probably be a victim to tourism; she could probably be ruined in the next five years or so. It's a small valley at the banks of river Bhaga, few houses here and there and step farming everywhere. Though a district headquarters, Kaylong is a small village.

Water crossings start in the Rohtang- Kaylong route. It's just a beginning; Lots to come on the way ahead… but, no issues with those other than icy cold water splashed from toe to chest.

By the time you reach Sarchu for the next day's halt, everyone would be suffering from AMS (Acute mountain sickness). Headache, giddiness and sleeplessness are the symptoms. Drink more water and reduce the usage of alcohol and cigarette; nothing much can be done until the body gets used to the lack of oxygen .

We need to cross Barachala (Known as killer pass) which is at 4892 meters from sea level to reach Sarchu. Staying at the pass for long is dangerous. Sarchu is like a wide passage. The road ahead stretches without end- mountains on either side stand like a gallery. You are the only riders of this road except few local shepherds and their sheep packs.

Stay at Sarchu is in tents. Though rent is high, there is no other alternative in this desert. Leh is approximately 250km from Sarchu. It's possible to cover this in one day, but better go slow. Only then will you be able to enjoy the beauty of Ladakh.

Sarchu - Leh road promises the most thrilling ride of this journey. Gattalups, Nakila and Lachungla stretches are like roads to heaven. By the time these are covered, both the bike and the rider would become dead tired. Next obstacle is the most challenging Moray plains. At some places the roads doesn't exist at all and we need to ride through sand for kilometers. Falling is fun and reaching the other side without a fall is super success.

It's when you think that the thrilling part is over; you reach the world's second highest pass after Khardungla– Tanglangla. Weather is too cold and it's too difficult to get breath… There 350ccs struggled to catch up with their big brother 500ccs.

World's highest airport is here crowded with foreigners who start their Himalayan expedition from there. There is one more road to reach Leh; Srinagar- Sogilo – Kargil route. That is comparatively the easiest one. But due to militant issues restrictions and risk too is high.

Good old tradition is seen challenged in Leh. Military and Tourism now rule the city.

There are many traditional monuments for visitors to see and explore in Leh and surrounding areas. Shay Palace, Lamayurugompa, Stock Palace, Alpi gompa and the Buddhist monasteries at Thikse and Hemis are the important ones. The Pangongso Lake 154km away is another attraction.

Khardungla is 42km from Leh. Not just India's, but it's the worlds peak of adventure motorcycling. Though Khardungla is the world's highest motorable road on earth, some believe that Marsmikla is higher than Khardungla. But very few are able to make it to there. The road to Khardungla is a very steep climb. But compared to the roads that've already been covered, this is fine.

It was snowing continuously in Khardungla. Being there with friends is satisfaction beyond words. Reaching here riding my own bike, spending thousands and overcoming lots of difficulties and obstacles, gave life's most precious moments.

If all the wishes and dreams come true in life, how would that be? There should be some left unfulfilled which will be the fuel for the rest of our life. There was a similar situation in this ride too. Initial plan was to return to Amritsar via the Sach pass and Champa which hasn't been attempted by anyone before. But an unexpected landslide ruined that plan. For one day we stayed at Udaipur on the banks of river Chenab, and then headed to Dharmashala via Mandi and from there to Amritsar via Pathankot. In the evening I left the Wagah boarder after 'beating the retreat' of course with my heart full of satisfaction.

What we gain from journeys is knowledge- about our mother earth who gave us birth and brings up all of us- and of course about ourselves. Love for nature and us makes our lives bright.

-Balachandran V

The author who did this adventurer ride to Himalayas is an employee of Punjab National Bank.