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April 2009 Club News

Parking | Nuts | Cheynes | Walpole | Old Bikes  | Indian | Himalayas | Calendar

Riding Royal Enfields to the Himalayas

With Bob and Chris

Continued from the February issue...
Recovering from the day's riding...Eventually the snow eased as did the ice, we were out of it and into clear weather. Wow, that was an experience, rode around another corner and there was a small herd of yaks on the road. The road’s so narrow and the yaks 3 abreast and we couldn’t get past them. There were five of us on bikes riding with the yaks which were running flat out for a couple of kilometres before they started moving to one side of the road.

We could then overtake them. My Canadian mate shouted over: “You’ve heard of Running with the Bulls? We’ve been Riding with the Yaks!” ha ha.

Back at the pub...We kept going back to our hotel where, as you can imagine, there was a lot to talk about. It was about 1.30 pm and we decided the best thing to do was to have a beer, so we had a pleasant afternoon sitting around in the sunshine in the beer garden.

Another couple whose bike had broken down, borrowed another to try and get to the top. The guides didn’t want them to go because of the weather, but they took off anyway trying to get to the top. But they only got as far as the checkpost. The road was closed - the ice had come five kilometres down the road in about 2 hours, amazing.

Looking around from the beer garden you could see how far the snow had come down the mountains around Leh. One of our tour guides, Ed, who also did hiking tours in Nepal was saying that the weather had broken, and once it starts snowing that’s it till the next year.

Impressive cloud on the mountainsSo while we were sitting around we discussed the trip back to Delhi. We were figuring that if we head back the way we came (as we were supposed to) and the ice was bad on those high passes we came though we’d have no chance of getting through, and we would be spending more nights in the tent at Sachu - which was very cold, and most probably end up in Leh again.

If it was bad they would fly us out and truck the bikes somehow said our tour guide leader - this didn’t sound too good at all. We thought it made more sense to go west towards Pakistan. A longer trip, which sounded good to me, the only worry were militant Muslims around Srinigar, where there had been trouble lately.

On the plus side the road was supposed to be better and the passes not as high - it also sounded like a bit more of an adventure. We also knew that Ferris Wheels go that way, so it couldn’t be that dangerous could it?

We were all for it except one bloke - there’s always one. The mechanics and guides thought it a good idea. We just had to convince the Guide Leader, whose responsibility it was.

Over dinner that night we did. Great, new country to see. It was going to cost a bit more, for the hotels, fuel etc, and long day’s riding, but we felt it worth it. Next day we were heading west along the Indus River in the Ladakh Valley - beautiful scenery and the road was good bitumen - what a great decision.

Scenery slightly different to OzThe road didn’t last long before it started narrowing, deteriorating into broken bitumen and then gravel, but it didn’t matter as we were having a ball. There were a lot less trucks this way.

I guess there were more the way we came as it was a more direct route to Delhi. The trucks have only about four months, when the road is open, to transport all goods for the locals before the snow arrives. The road we were on now is also closed during winter and the only access to Leh is by air.

Big enemy is watching...We were passing signs saying: “You are under enemy surveillance” from the Pakistanis: we were right next to the Pakistani border. We kept riding higher again passing a 1000-year-old Buddhist monastery, built on the side of a mountain, before long we were looking down on it.

It was also starting to get colder - but there wasn’t as much snow around here as what we’d seen in Leh. We then climbed a slippery, muddy Pass, Fatu La (4147m), and we were surrounded by snow again. Chris was great on the back as some of the mud was a bit of a handful, the bikes only had a narrow, old style ribbed front tyres and a copy of a Dunlop K81 on the back.

But the scenery was spectacular and then we were heading up another mountain pass, Namika La, at 3760m. We were also passing small villages now and again, these people certainly lead hard lives.

That night we stayed in a hotel in Kargil, a small Muslim town amongst the mountains. They are not supposed to sell beer, but they managed to find some from somewhere. It was around here that there has been conflict between Pakistan and India. It had been a great day's ride, with some of the most fantastic scenery we had seen.

Stopped in a literally high streetThe next day we headed through Drass, this is the second coldest habited place on earth. The temperature regularly falls to -45C in winter and its record is -69C about 35 years ago - that’s bloody cold. It was definitely colder around these parts, we’d also struck a bit of rain, so a welcome Chai tea at a local Dhaba was most welcome.

There’s not many Westerners come through this area so we caused a bit of a stir, especially on 16 bikes. We then headed further west towards the infamous Zoji La Pass. We’d heard about it, but had no idea what it was like.

All morning riding east the scenery was again brilliant - we reckoned this was more spectacular than anything we’d seen so far. We rode higher, snow around, but nothing falling, till we came to the top of the pass.

There were a couple of soldiers up there, so we stopped. Chris took one look at the road and said I’ll hop in the back-up vehicle.

Ripper downhill sectionFrom the top you looked down through the clouds, to the valley below, a long way below. The road was narrow, muddy gravel with a stream running down it. The first bend was 90 degrees with a sheer drop and there were a lot more bends like this. Normally I don’t mind heights, but I couldn’t look down - there were also landslips everywhere.

I rode down, nice and slow. We were relieved there were only a few small vehicles coming up. The reason was because this pass is so dangerous trucks are allowed down in the morning and up in the afternoon. We knew that the trucks were coming up at 2 pm, and it was only 1 pm - great.

It was a real buzz riding down there, the last part was good bitumen with sharp U-turn bends and no trucks coming up - great fun. We passed about 200 trucks down the bottom waiting for the 2 pm start as we arrived at a small town where we had lunch with the locals.

It gave us plenty of time to talk about what we had just descended. We were now in the beautiful Kashmir Valley. We’d ridden about 250kms west from Leh through the Himalayas and now we had a 200km ride through this fantastic valley, what a ride this is!

Chris was riding pillion again now. This valley is described as the Switzerland of India. It's green (first time we’d seen anything green for a long time), steep hills and Swiss type chalets. When tourists used to come here it was a very popular ski resort, but the troubles in Kashmir has driven them away.

There were now a lot of military and police around with patrols everywhere. The locals were curious, but friendly and all Muslim, it was another experience again. The river we followed was also spectacular.

Srinigar in its lake settingTowards the end of the day we arrived in Srinigar. There is a beautiful lake there and we were staying on houseboats moored to an island in the middle of the lake - sounded great.

It was the beginning of Ramadam, so the streets were calm, although there were soldiers everywhere including standing on rooftops. Apparently there had been a 24 hour curfew after rioting only two days before and three weeks earlier the road we were on had been closed for a fortnight because of rioting.

There had been 38 people killed in shootings in the past 3 months - I remember reading about some 15 journalists kidnapped here in the West Australian just before we left. In the mid-1980’s 650,000 tourists would come to Srinigar to holiday but recently they are lucky to get 5,000 per year.

But, hopefully, with Ramadam we’d be safe. Most people stared at us as we rode through the town to the gondola-styled punts that would take us to our houseboats. And what luxury they were. A deck out the back, lounge, dining room, and luxury bedrooms, everything looked very old, but luxurious.

Bob and Chris enjoy some boating...We had our meal on the boat waited on by our personal valet/waiter guy who slept on deck. We were told not to drink alcohol as the Muslims on board would be offended and the local police wouldn’t be too happy either, especially with Ramadan, so we sat drinking tea at the back of the boat. Shortly a Muslim bloke on a gondola boat pulled up with heaps of goods. We asked if he had any alcohol. He said, “Do you want whisky, gin, vodka, beer . . . ”

Our waiter bloke overheard this and said he had beer for sale in the fridge! We drank it all, another Muslim bloke came on board, saw us drinking and said, “Ah beer sold under the table, not over the table.” We had a good night.

... Last instalment June edition

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