This last September, my wife and I rented two Royal Enfields in Delhi and made our way into the Indian Himalayas. We spent two weeks in some pretty wet conditions as Northern India experienced record rainfalls in over 30 years. We kept an extensive blog which can be found here: http://www.ridedot.com
This is an excerpt of one of our better riding days:
Sep 15, 2010: Rohtang Pass
Anxious not to have a repeat of our last riding day, where we rolled into town 3 hours after sunset, I set the alarm for 5AM. I peered out the window right at 5AM, expecting rain. Clear. Dark, but clear! Hallelujah!
At the base of the Rohtang Pass, a shepherd herds his sheep through the picturesque valley roads
Today we're going to attempt to traverse the Rohtang Pass, which runs north of Manali over some of the lower Himalayas. About an hour out of Manali, we follow the rushing waters of the Beas River past the town of Marhi and begin the steep ascent towards snow capped mountains ahead of us. The views are very picturesque, a pretty ride through a forested area and the lush green mountainside all around us. The weather is comfortably cool, perfect for riding, and I take it all in with a huge grin on my face. It's so beautiful here!
All smiles here. No idea what was to come up ahead...
There's not a lot of traffic this morning as we've left quite early, beating the tourist rush up Rohtang Pass. However every turn presents a picture opportunity and we make quite a lot of stops, so much so that tour vans and buses from Manali start appearing and overtaking us. I've realized that I don't use my mirrors anymore, counting on the fact that traffic behind us will make themselves known with a beep. This is a habit I'll have to shake when I get home. It's quite a shame to pollute the serenity of the forest air with ugly car horns. Among the traffic we see busloads of workers who wave to us when they realize we're not from around here.
Staircase of roads behind me remind me of the Swiss Alps
As we climb higher above the canopy of the treeline, my hands start to tingle. Not surprising, as if there is not enough oxygen for trees to flourish, so too does the human body starts to conserve oxygen in the blood by starving the extremities and conserving it for the vital organs. We stop at one of the many roadside vendors along the road to buy a water and some carby snacks. I feel a lot better after this.
Two things happen at this point of the climb: the view gets better and the roads get worse - proportionately! The roads switches back on itself over and over again, reminding me of the alpine passes that we rode in Europe a few years ago. The only difference here is the road conditions are terrible! Worse roads I have ever ridden on! The worse are the long stretches of mud bogs that causes the front wheel to deflect to the side. Then the stony sections which rock the Enfield's suspension which raises you off the seat, and the next bump is so well timed it causes the seat to hit your butt on your way down.
As the view got better, the roads got worse
Enjoying the views about 10,000 feet above sea level!
There are two kinds of riding we like doing. Switchbacks and dirt biking. Combining the two are not necessarily the best idea. Like putting two foods you like and mashing them together on one plate. Steak topped with ice cream is not a good idea. Actually, bad analogy, that sounds like it could taste quite good...
Our bikes are getting soooo dirty! We've loaded up on extra fuel because there the petrol stations are few and far between up in the mountains.
Half-way up Rohtang, there is a tourist station built around a small Tibetan temple
Prayer flags decorate the outside of the temple. This is one of the things I really wanted to see on this trip!
These bikes are not cut out for this kind of riding. A trucker who is parked at the side of the road yells to Neda that her airbox hose has become unclamped, so we pull out the tools from my bike to repair it. That's when I notice that my own airbox hose has also come unclamped. Geez. We notice lot of trucks and vehicles stopped in the mud, as we filter our way between them to see what the problem is. From talking to people milling around their parked vehicles, we make out that there is a roadblock up ahead. Word is there is a rockslide just around the bend. Trucks carrying Indian soldiers come to the rescue as they bulldoze their way past all the parked vehicles to work on getting the rocks cleared. We are going so slow through this terrain, it's taken us 5 hours to travel about 40kms, and I don't know if we can make it past the Rohtang Pass before nightfall if the delay continues. We decide that if the roadblock is not cleared in a couple of hours we turn back.
Closeup of a prayer flag
We've got mud..
We've got stones...
We've got mud *AND* stones!
Neda walks up ahead to survey the damage. It seems the heavy rain of the past few days have really messed up our plans. The waters have created thick mud-like conditions in the already bad roads of the alpine passes, but has also loosened the dirt holding the rocks to the mountainside. Neda told me as she was taking a picture of the landslide, more rocks continued to fall. It is not safe to be here, so then and there we decide to head back and change our plans. Oh also, my heels are starting to tingle... No wonder, we're about 7kms from the top of Rohtang pass, which is over 13,000 feet above sea level.
Very tricky riding conditions with our weighted-down Enfields
Lineup nearing the top of Rohtang Pass. Check out how deep the truck's wheels are in the mud.
The landslide that turned us around. Note the lineup of vehicles on the other side waiting to pass as well
The going is slow on the way down. Cars, buses and trucks have lined themselves up haphazardly all over the mud-stricken roads. Neda gets stuck many times and I am not able to help her because I can't put my kickstand down in the mud. People standing by are very helpful in giving her a push out of the mud. I just take pictures. I have to give her a lot of credit. She is handling the off-road terrain amazingly well on what is essentially an antiquated, overladen street bike with street suspension and street tires. I miss my KTM...
While stuck in the mud, Neda gets a push from some helpful people.
As she passed another trucker yelled out that she was leaking oil! The locals are very observant! We pull over to a non-muddy patch and check it out. I think the carbs have overfilled and is actually leaking petrol through the overflow tube. Some helpful passerbys tell us to run the bike with the fuel petcock off until the bike dies to drain the carb bowls and then to start the bike again. That seems to do the trick. These bikes are not inspiring me with a lot of confidence!
The best scenery! The worse roads!
On our way up, we overshot a very colourful temple as it seemed out of our way. So we pull off to the side of the road to investigate. There are tons of people here, so it must be quite a well-known tourist attraction. As we climb the steps towards the gates of the temple, I start taking a couple of pictures. Almost immediately, a couple of people start shouting at me and pointing to a sign saying, "No photo-taking, please!". Oh crap, I hope I haven't desecrated some kind of religious sanctum or something!
One of the people that told me not to take pictures explained that we were on a movie set and this was all fake! HAHAHA! He took us to the gate and knocked on it. Painted balsa wood. Hilarious! All the people milling around here were fans of a Bollywood action star hoping to get a glimpse of their hero making a film. The guy we were talking with gave us a run-down on who the other actors were and one of the crew members approached us to talk motorcycles as he also rode a Bullet 350. Too bad we couldn't take any pictures! Lots of young Indian girls jumping up and down with excitement when the movie star waved at the crowd. The guy must be quite famous.
Beautiful temple! Too bad it's fake. Only shot I got of it before I got shut down by Set Security. hehe...
We continued down the same way we came up, the afternoon sun streaming in rays through the clouds onto the valley. At the hotel restaurant that evening, we order pasta. It seems that both the Indian food and weather have beaten us up a little bit.
But we're still smiling though. This has been quite the experience thus far!
More blogs and pictures can be found at http://www.ridedot.com