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February 2009 Club News

Summer | Bremer | Frenchman | Himalayas  | Calendar

Riding Royal Enfields to the Himalayas

With Bob and Chris

Familiar problem in unfamiliar surroundings...Continued from the December issue...
We had morning tea at a Dhaba sitting in a river bed watching a herd of goats crossing the narrow bridge next to us. We rode over another pass Baralachala (16,050ft) 4892m, the road was pretty rough and where they were bitumising the road it was worse. This was done by hand, heating the bitumen in metal drums over a fire by the side of the road and then shovelling it on - the blokes doing this have a very hard life - black with bitumen and dirt and it was quite disturbing to watch.

Lunch was at a small group of Dhabas in the middle of nowhere, these were tents which were dismantled for the winter, as when the snow comes the road is shut - a lot of them have mattresses where you can have a sleep if you need it!

Chris and local kidsChris was starting to be affected a little by altitude sickness, I was OK so far, but we both took altitude pills. These can have some funny side-effects like pins and needles coming and going in your fingers and Chris reckoned she couldn’t feel the top of her head at one stage. We eventually came to the tents at Sarchu where we were staying the night. These are also semi-permanent. Within a short time of our leaving the tents would be dismantled for the winter. The tents were quite comfortable with a free standing bed, chairs and table.

Attached is a toilet and sink, it was a bit wobbly (as it was standing on stones) and there was water running in the afternoon, but it dried up later and the rest of the time pushing the button was a waste of time.

Chris’ altitude sickness was a bit worse and she rested for the rest of the afternoon. A small group pulled up in 4WD’s. They were doing a documentary on a lady who walked the area many years ago with her 12-year-old daughter. The guy who was shooting the film was very interesting, having done a lot of documentaries, one was on TV this year about the Australian climber Lincoln Hall who was left for dead on Everest, but next morning came to and, with the help of another climbing party, descended the mountain.

He had a laptop with a lot of his photos on it. He was hoping to shoot the next Ewan McGregor motorcycle film - riding from North to South America. There was a dining tent in the middle of the tents and the food there that night was delicious, as was the case for a lot of our meals it was an Indian buffet - mmmmmm I like my Indian food. Midnight that night I got a blinding headache (altitude) but was OK next day.

Lovely-looking bit of dirt to get stuck intoThe following day was to be one of the hardest (and longest - 262kms). Having said that the views were incredible, we were well and truly in the Himalayas. Chris by now was in the back-up vehicle allowing me the chance to stand on the pegs which made riding a bit easier especially as there were corrugations and some very rough roads.

The first major pass was Lachlung (16,600ft) 5065m, this one wasn’t too bad, not much in the way of trucks and the road reasonable gravel with some bitumen, we were starting to see more snow. We’d also been crossing a few more streams, the deepest of which, one of the guys fell off - which is the last thing you want to do.

Once we were over the pass we were on the More Plains, these go for about 20kms and are dead flat (I thought this must be what its like riding in Mongolia). We were told not to take the diversion as the bulldust was quite deep, a 4WD was bogged there the day before. Even so there was still a lot of bulldust to negotiate especially where they were doing road works.

As we were riding along one stretch of bulldust it started snowing - I thought isn’t this great, the snow got heavier, what a brilliant experience, passing a Yak shepherd as I was riding. Then the snow eased a bit, but you could see it was snowing heavily further along as well as all around us.

Then we were climbing up Taklang La Pass at 17,480ft (5328m), the third highest motorable pass in the world. And it started snowing, but this time more like a blizzard, my sunnies were off and goggles on, but the snow was so thick that I couldn’t see anything as it built up so quickly on the lenses. My jacket was white. Great stuff though, what a buzz.

The road had deteriorated and there was a lot of mud, hasn’t been any bitumen for most of the day. But traffic was very light so we had plenty of time to negotiate the road and snow. Stopped for a photo at the top of the pass before descending and the snow had stopped as well, although it was still snowing on the surrounding mountains.

Halfway down the pass bitumen appeared, and the rest of the ride down was easy. Further along we stopped for lunch and Chris jumped back on the bike, telling me that the Indian’s driving was very scary on the narrow mountain roads, and she felt much safer on the bike. The mountains were fascinating, you could see the contours of the different layers of soil and how the continental plates had pushed together and formed the Himalayas - the colours were amazing.

Sowing in the red roomBefore long we were following the Indus River in the Ladakh Valley. We were passing monasteries and palaces I’d seen pictures of in magazines and on the telly. Eventually after getting lost in Leh we found our hotel, and found the rest of the group sitting down having a beer waiting for the luggage to arrive, what a great idea.

There had been quite a few mechanical problems with some of the other bikes, but ours was working well, apart from the trouble finding neutral when the bike was stopped. The speedo had also stopped working but I could live with that.

We had a couple of days in Leh before ascending the Highest Motorable Road in the World. The first day we wandered around the shops, had a meal on the roof-top cafe, and watched the snowline descend a little.

Different sceneryThe place is very Tibetan, its also cut off from the rest of the world by road throughout the winter, because of this Leh shuts down to tourists and so all the touristy shops shut as do the hotels. Some of the shop owners have other shops in Goa on the West Coast of India.

This was to happen shortly so tourists were few and the shops that were still open were trying to sell us “bargains” - of course you get sucked in don’t you? Each morning we were woken with the sound of Indian fighter planes taking off on exercises - Leh has a huge military presence.

Bob and Chris on top of the world....The next day we visited Shey Palace and Thiksey Monastery with its huge Buddhas and Tibetan wall hangings, which was very interesting. We also visited one of the famous “Stupas” - which are burial monuments, this was all with a Tibetan tour guide who was very informative. We passed the Dali Lama’s summer residence on the road as well.

After yet another great night with the group, at a different Indian restaurant, we were looking forward to climbing the Pass. The two days acclimatising in Leh also gave the mechanics a chance to fix the bikes that needed attention.

Laundry was handed in at the hotel and picked later in the day. One of our fellow riders went for a walk up the street before breakfast and noticed locals washing clothes in the gutter, thought he’d have a look and recognised his underpants! Everything came back looking good though ha ha.

On the morning of our ride up to Khardung La Pass (which is 18,380ft, 5600m) we were looking out of our hotel window watching snow falling on the mountains - the snowline had come lower.

Anyway we fired up the bikes and we were off. There was a checkpoint where we had to stop, but the first five bikes through didn’t stop, I was next and a soldier came running out and stopped me and the rest behind for a check. You need special permits to go up this road - remembering we are quite close to China, and the whole area is a military zone.

Indian Enfield and the snowy roadWe were off again riding higher and higher looking back down towards Leh as we went. The road was narrow and loose with once more, sheer drop offs. We also had a line of army trucks to negotiate. Before long it was starting to snow, not heavy, but pleasant, adding to the ride - I thought.

One of the girls was having a bit of trouble riding the rough road and weather and decided to leave her bike and get a lift. It was then starting to snow heavier, approaching the top with only 50m to go and just before the last bend, a couple of our riders ran down telling me not to go any further.

By now we were in a blizzard, but that wasn’t the problem, it was the ice on the road. The five who rode through the check-point had all came off at the top.One of them helped me turn my bike around, he also helped another. But by this stage he was starting to go blue. The back-up vehicle arrived and we put him in there.

Apparently you’re only supposed to be up there for half an hour as the brain cells start dying off - Chris reckoned you’d never tell the difference with me! I walked around the corner to the top for pictures (most of the cameras wouldn’t work as the batteries were too cold). Ed, one of the guides was starting to go a funny colour too.

Snow starting it at 18,380ft (5600m)...The blizzard was dumping a huge amount of snow and the ice was getting thicker. It was time to go down.
I walked back to my bike and the ignition key had gone. One of the Indian mechanics had taken it, so I had to walk back to the top again - there goes a couple more brain cells.

Eventually I got the key, started the bike and headed back down. There was a 4WD stopped on the narrow road, and trying to get around it my bike hit the ice and was sliding sideways towards it. It managed to right itself and I just got around it.

You could see that the ice was further down the road. I turned another corner and there was another of our riders stopped by the side of the road, I pulled up next to him to see if he was OK and he seemed a bit out of it. I stayed with him for five minutes before getting him to move as I could see a 4WD coming down behind us. I rode through the snow, avoiding the ice as best I could.
... to be continued in April issue

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