Royal Enfield’s Ridermania is today the most revered motorcycling event which witnesses riders flocking to Vagator, at Goa, from every part of the country. Apart from that, Royal Enfield (RE) has also been organising riding events such as The Coastal Trail, Tour De Nepal and the much revered Royal Enfield Himalayan Odyssey.
This year, I got the opportunity to join the RE team on the first leg of their odyssey. It was truly a journey of varying experiences — riding and bonding with 50 riders who came from Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and even Odisha, to be a part of the odyssey, encounters with warm-hearted locals who always did their best to make us feel at home, and tasting different cuisines from different states of northern India.
As the riders assembled at the Royal Plaza in Delhi, as is customary in all Royal Enfield riding events, they received medical training, and had to pass motorcycle and gear scrutiny. After the RE community team had ensured that the rides and riders were fit to endure the Himalayas, they were introduced to the RE team Rajat, Shawn, Jitin and Arun who briefed them on what to expect in the days to come.
The next day was the grand beginning of an epic journey. As all the riders parked their motorcycles in front of India Gate, chants of ‘Om mani padme hum’ greeted them on a stage where Buddhist monks blessed them. Then the convoy set off, engines revved and thundered throughout Central Delhi and made their way towards Sonepat and ahead to Chandigarh. Heads were turning and busy Delhiites stopped in their tracks to watch such a large group of bikers together.
Till the first regroup point at Royal Dhaba near Sonepat, the riders were honoured by the company of ‘Himalayan Odyssey Women’. From this point, the women set off on a different route under the leadership of Hema from the RE Community team. It was a team of 11 brave-hearted women who all would have a different story to tell.
The first day set the pace for all the riders as everyone got comfortable with his or her own cruising speed. Soon they started to hang around with each other and built close relations within the group.
The roads were smooth and the traffic was decent. I rode an RE Himalayan BS IV which tears across the highway like a pair of scissors at a speed of 120 km/hr. I set my average cruising speed at 100 and glided from Delhi to Chandigarh in a matter of hours.
The evening at Chandigarh was all about food. We explored the areas around, and all we were really interested in was hogging everything we saw. Right opposite Hotel Mount View, our hotel at Chandigarh, was a milkshake booth that an old friend had recommended to me. I had what I would call the foamiest, creamiest and tastiest black currant milkshake I have ever had in life.
Our stay was really comfortable as we bonded more with our roommates over dinner. Mine was Hrushikesh Mandke, a fellow rider from Pune. A talented and experienced rider, he would give me a few tips and show me a few tricks on how to use a gimble while riding at very slow speeds (do not try this at home or on the streets!) in the rest of my days with the Himalayan Odyssey.
THE MIGHTY HIMALAYAS
The next day’s ride was our introduction to the Himalayas. After breakfast and the daily briefing, we rode out from Chandigarh in a convoy at a speed of 45 km/hr until the city limits and then we were free birds, back to our cruising speed. I stopped by a gurudwara to seek blessings for the ride and witnessed the riders cruise by me on the highway. The villagers were both confused and awed by the sight of such a huge group of riders.
As we rode through the plains and onto the foothills of the Himalayas, we were greeted by a terrain not many of us were familiar to. Mountains on one side and cliffs on another — we realised that this would be the scenario throughout the ride ahead.
Our first stop on the Himalayan range was Manali, a town famous amongst travellers for its exotic cafes and food culture. From there, we started our Climb of the Himalayas.
THE VALLEY, THE MOUNTAINS
It was raining when we woke up the next day. We rode through old Manali and went ahead towards Keylong. The entire route that takes you at the height of 13,000 ft at Rohtang Pass, was picturesque. We settled in our hotels in Keylong. The view from the hotel window was beautiful, so was the Shashur Monastery, at a distance of 5 km from Keylong, which Hrushi and I visited. It gave us a clear view of the valley and the town of Keylong.
Then we travelled to Sarchu through Baralach La. Sarchu was one of the highest points the riders would be camping at. The night had been warm despite the windy weather in the mountains. The tents were cosy and the food delicious. Though it took some acclimatisation for riders to settle down, by next morning, everyone was charged up and ready for the ride.
From Sarchu, we headed to Leh. As we passed through Lungalacha La and Tanglang La, we saw the mountains transition between shades of brown and pink. We passed through small villages in the remotest of locations. Lush green in a valley of brown, with whitewater streams and rivers flowing along the roads marked the entire stretch up to Upshi where the team regrouped. They would be meeting next only at the hotel in Leh.
In Leh, we feasted on momos, thukpa and shambhale, all Tibetan cuisines popular in Ladakh. The Buddhist culture that prevails in the Ladakh region, originating from Tibet, also brings its food habits to this region and we are only happy about it.
The next day was given to the riders to explore the city. We savoured local cuisines, bought souveniers for our friends back home and visited the monasteries in and around the city. I made my way to Khardung La, one of the highest motorable roads in the world, accompanied by Jitin from the RE team along with the medical unit. At the top, which was 17,582 feet above sea level, we shared a warm cup of coffee, what a bliss!
My journey ended here. The next day I came back to base, Pune, as the rest of the riders continued their odyssey. In the following days, the convoy travelled to Hunder, Tso Kar, Kaza, Kalpa and Narkanda. For me, this is an experience I would never forget — a lap around the mountains made all too easy by the RE team, their GunWagon and the pickup truck behind me carrying my luggage wherever I went.
On my flight back home, looking down at the mighty mountains, I couldn’t help but feel jealous of the riders who were probably making their way to Hunder at that moment. They would have been so many stories to tell, of valleys far beyond where snow is thick and air is thin, where the hands are cold but the heart feels warm. They were certainly set on an experience of a lifetime. Of course, I am just glad I got to be a part of it, even if for a small period.