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!
We all had
orange safety vests to wear
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.
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.
As 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
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!
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.
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
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.
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