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December 2008 Club News

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Riding Royal Enfields to the Himalayas

With Bob and Chris (translation from the Welsh by John McWebEditor)

Welcome to the Enfield...There are two Australian companies doing organised motorbike tours to the Himalayas and the World’s Highest Motorable Road - Asian Experience and Ferris Wheels - Both going more or less the same way, but Asian Experience was quite a bit cheaper, so it had to be the way to go! We were the only ones from WA on our tour. The rest were mainly from Melbourne or Sydney. We met up at Changi Airport in Singapore, and they were a very friendly bunch.

We flew into Delhi at around 10 pm their time and it was hot and humid. The bus that took us to our hotel gave us an immediate insight into the poverty, smells, traffic congestion and local living conditions.
The hotel though - in a small back street - was fine, ours even had the air conditioner working!

Next day was a tour, with Indian & Aussie Tour Guides, of New and Old Delhi (by bus), which also gave us time get to know the others in the group as well as doing a bit of shopping in the markets etc. Lunch incidentally was in a restaurant where there was a sign outside “No guns or ammo allowed”.

The following day we were up early on the bus to pick up the bikes. They were stored on the outskirts of Delhi.
There were 16 bikes and riders and 3 pillions. The riders with pillions were given 500cc Royal Enfield Bullets and the rest a mixture of 350cc and 500cc. We were given a rundown on the right gear change of one up and three down and the kick-starting technique (there was one electric start). Most had not ridden a bike with right gear change with of course also a different shifting pattern to what they were used to.

We had an Indian mechanic and his off-sider, two Aussie and one Indian tour guide, they were in two back-up vehicles, together with spares and luggage. We were off!

Trucks waiting to rollWe all had orange safety vests to wear over our riding gear and the bikes and cars had flags on them so as we could see each other easily especially when the traffic was dense and tricky. The heat was oppressive with the high humidity, but that didn’t matter as we were on our way to the Himalayas, yeeeha.

The roads on the first day were potholed but wide and easy to ride, although the traffic was quite dense.
You quickly learn to forget about indicators, instead, putting your thumb on the horn if you are overtaking, negotiating a roundabout or any other potential hazard. Because traffic is much slower than in Oz it actually works quite well. Even roundabouts were working, where nobody stops and everyone merges.

The rule is you give way to anything bigger than you, so the only things that gave way to us were pushbikes (well some of the time) and horse and carts, and whatever you do don’t run over any sacred cows. You could be going up a dual lane road and vehicles are coming down either side of you the wrong way - interesting.

Welcoming committee in trailerHaving said all that it doesn’t take that long before you’re used to it and start to ride like an Indian. The Indian people, by the way are great, we often had people waving and even pulling up alongside the bike shouting “Welcome to India”. And everywhere they were very hospitable.

During the morning we stopped at a Dhaba for a drink and something to eat - like a roadside cafe for the locals. We were initially a bit worried about eating at these places, but as long as what you eat is cooked its OK. The main thing is not to drink the water (or even brush you teeth in it) but use bottled water. The lunch stop was a bit more upmarket and we enjoyed some fabulous Indian food.

The rest of the day was very interesting (and hot) and although some of the bikes suffered mechanical problems, they were fixed on the side of the road. We finally arrived at Chandigarh where we were staying the night, 235kms from Delhi and a full day's ride. Next day we were heading out of the Indian Plains towards the Himalayan foothills and hopefully cooler weather.

Good place for a slideAs we left the flat lands the roads became narrower, and the trucks our main obstacle. We were overtaking them on blind bends on narrow roads with steep drop-offs (but mostly they would only be doing 15-20kph). At first it was a bit of a worry, but once you worked out the system of tooting first, you were (fairly) safe to overtake - they would mostly wave you though.

There were also cows, monkeys and goats to contend with - great fun! As we went higher, landslides were more visible and it wasn’t long before we came across a big one. Trucks were banked up either side - remembering the roads aren’t much wider than one truck - and the drop off the side was steep.

We weaved our way through the stopped trucks with very little room. When we got to the part where the actual landslide was I stalled the bike (in between two trucks) with both ends of the handlebars nearly touching - the trucks then started moving. Having stopped with the bike in 1st gear and holding the clutch lever in, the clutch would overheat in a short time and once stopped it was impossible to get neutral. (When I was riding pommy heaps in the 60's I learned to nudge it from 2nd to neutral on the overrun - McWebEditor)

So the only to get it into neutral was to stall it, put it into neutral by hand and then kick it into life. I could then idle away waiting to go. When the time was right I’d then put it into 1st gear, and take off, this as you can imagine, made life interesting sometimes.

I got Chris to hop off and I was trying to get the bike in a better position to kick over when our Indian guide came running over and told her to hop in the back-up vehicle quick. The side of the mountain was starting to slide again, luckily I didn’t know and took my time getting the bike going again - 1st kick. I then took off down the mountain road with a clear run as the trucks were left behind.

The roads might have been getting narrower, more potholed etc, but the view were getting better and better.
It took us most of the day to do 140kms, we stayed the night in Bilaspur at a great hotel overlooking a huge lake and mountains, even had a balcony!

Peaceful river valleyNext day the riding was getting better, going a little higher all the time through some beautiful scenery, eventually riding through a tunnel around 3kms long which took us into the Kulu Valley, which is very steep in places. It was very picturesque and followed the world renowned Beas River. It was a great day's riding with locals waving to us from villages that we were passing through. The dirt and the diesel from the trucks gave us very dirty faces by the end of the day, yet we would pass school children immaculately dressed (a lot of the time in white).

This brought us to Manali where we would have a rest day and to acclimatise. Had another great hotel, with snake charmers and shoeshine boys outside. It was noticable that the local faces had become more Tibetan, as was the culture. We spent part of the day walking around the side of a mountain to have a look at some spectacular waterfalls, getting a bit of washing done and looking forward to the following day's ride.

We now had an ex-Army Toyota Landcruiser carrying fuel for 350kms and extra security if any bikes broke down terminally (most were having problems of some sort - although all fixed by our Indian mechanic). The flags on the bikes were now taken off as they would never stay in their holders on the rough roads ahead.

We were climbing as soon as we left Manali, riding through our first stoney stream, higher and higher we rode, looking down into the valley as we went, the amount of trucks seemed to be easing off a little which was good.

After a while we discovered why. One truck was precariously balanced with one wheel over the edge of a huge drop, it was only the axle hitting the road that stopped it from going over completely. Nobody could get through, other truckies had stopped and they set about building up the ground under the wheel with rocks until they could reverse the truck out - no mean feat. They did this in a very relaxed way with good humour.

Enjoyable travelling, as BMW would say...After they moved the truck they let us go through first which was great as this gave us a clear run with no trucks to overtake for a while. The roads were also getting muddier. They were a mixture of potholed bitumen, gravel, and mud - and because of this you just plodded along, enjoying the ride and most of all - the scenery.

Before long we were climbing Rohtang Pass which is 13,000ft (4000m). There was a lot of dirt and mud on this and it was quite slippery in places (as well as being narrow) and was a bit of a challenge - but exhilarating all the same. They’re making the road wider in places, which will be fine when its done, but when we went over it was a mess.

Chris was a great pillion, just sitting there quietly, letting me get on with riding the bike when the going was hard. It was great being two-up though as we were endlessly chatting about what we had seen and were seeing as we rode along - something the solo riders couldn’t do.

The group that we were with were great company and we all got along well, another reason I guess for such a great holiday. After the pass the scenery was now devoid of vegetation, there was nothing as we were above the snowline, even though we were riding along the Chandra River.

Not a bad view in the backgroundSnow could be seen on top of the mountains and later on during the day we even rode past a glacier as we headed to overnight stop at Jispa, now riding along the Bhaga River. I was commenting to Chris that it was like riding in a documentary.

Along the way one of the girls who was riding was overtaking a truck on a narrow stretch, the sleeve of her Dririder jacket got caught in the mudguard of the truck and she came off. She was OK, the bike had its forks and wheel hanging over the edge of a pass - scary stuff.

Hotel Jispa was a welcome sight, we’d stopped quite a bit during the day and the rest of the group were already there having a beer outside waiting for us - they thought we might have taken a wrong turning and were relieved when we turned up, giving us a cheer and a few comments! Next day was the ride to Sarchu (only 75kms - but it took us till mid afternoon)... continued in February issue

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