Vir Nakai, El Presidente, Helmet Stories
‘The mountains are calling and I must go’ is the favourite quote on social media these days. And its not because people are loving the writings of John Muir. Its because Summer has set in and up north the snow is melting in the Himalayan ranges.
With a tremendous amount of help from the good people of the BRO (Border Roads Organisation) all roads leading to the depths of the Himalayas will soon be open for what I call The Great Himalayan Migration.
Ladakh is now the hot summer destination for every motorcyclist. Everyone and their uncles is talking about it and ever second person is planning a road trip to ride up from the scorching hot plains deep through the Himalayas ranges towards Ladakh.
Thanks to the Interwebs and the facepages there are many resources available these days to the discerning traveller but the question really is how much of it is trustworthy and how much of the information is relevant?
So I am going to put down some tips and things you should take into consideration before jumping on that motorcycle and heading out into the Himalayas.
I can hear you thinking “But boss what makes you an authority on the topic?”. Fair enough. I am not an authority on the subject but I am a decently travelled motorcyclist who spends a lot of time every summer in the Himalayas. I have travelled these paths extensively for the past 10 odd years. Some time alone and sometime with friends on motorcycles ranging from 200cc all the way up to 1200cc. So I am well versed with some of the problems and inconvionces you may face.
Once you have made up your mind and have decided you must answer this call of the mountains. You need to start planning. Planning is the the most important part of any trip. First Question is am I ready to do this trip? Whatever other people say it will be hard on you and the bike and you need to have a certain amount of skill to ride for days on end through some of the most phenomenal parts of the world. Once you have made sure you are ready the rest of the planning comes into play. How many days do you have? Where to Start from? and Who is going with you? What should I carry? these are all very pertinent questions you should answer before heading out for a ride of a lifetime.
How many days do you have?
Not everyone has the time or luxury to spend every summer exploring the Himalayas after all there is so much to see in the world. So while chalking out your route and breaking it up day wise remember in the mountains weather is unpredictable and the distance you cover is not the same as in the plains so keep that in mind while putting your plan together.
A rule of thumb for me is once I leave civilisation (Manali / Shimla behind) I plan to do only 150kms a day. I wake up in the morning eat a good breakfast and ride leisurely till about 4-5 in the evening and find my self a place to stay/or pitch my tent and enjoy the end of the evening.
Rushing to do more kms a day you are constantly in a hurry to wake up early and ride as long as you can but that defeats the whole purpose of this very trip. Why would you travel late into the evening through these parts of the world because you are missing what you originally came here for. You are in such a hurry that you see nothing and don’t have time to take in where you are. So don’t look at the map and say Manali to Leh is only 490km I can do that in two days. Instead slow down take your time and do it in 3 or 4.
If you don’t have enough time to cover all the sights you want to see you can always come back but don’t rush around from one spot to another just to tick things off your list because then its just a waste. I have never seen anyone who has come to these mountains only once so you will come back and then you can spend your time in the spots you missed.
Where to Start from?
You may have as little as a week or if you are lucky 10-12 days or if you are one of the few who can take a long time off a month to take this trip. Our country is really hot and terrible in the summer in some parts before you get anywhere close to the base of the Himalayas so why would you spend days riding from one end of the country to get to there. There are many options available for shipping your motorcycles from your home town to Delhi or Chandigarh (great places to start). Why I say this is because why would you want to spend a chunk of your time off on a busy National Highway cutting across our large country in the blistering summer heat. When you can use that precious time to stay in the mountains longer.
Who is going with you?
I hear lots of people say no one wants to come I am going alone. For a first timer in these mountains I wouldn’t suggest that as a good option. Why because there are still some stretches out there in the mountains which are desolate and not trodden very often. So if you have a mechanical problem or a flat tyre or are just not feeling good there will be no help for a long time. Also there is no phone network at all so you will be at the mercy of the people travelling on the road. So its good to be at least two people on this journey.
What should I carry?
Of course you should carry clothes according to the weather conditions and other things you need on a daily basis.
Before the trip you need to give you Motorcycle a through run through and service at the mechanics. Change parts that look old and worn out. Change your sprocket and chain, change your brakes and clutch wire put in new oil. If your tyres are looking worn or have given you trouble before with lots of punctures change the tyre and tube. This will go a long way for you. I am not saying after this you will have no issues.
Depending on what happens on your trip you may still have issue with your motorcycle (after all its a machine) but you have minimised the problems you can have. You have to run with the assumption you will find a few to no mechanics to come to your aid during this ride. You still may find someone to fix a flat tyre but they may be 100kms away from you. Setting you back a day an a half to try and fix it. So making sure your bike is in super condition before you leave is very important. Also if you are not very familiar with your bike you should sit with your mechanic and learn how to troubleshoot and fix any small problems you may have with the bike.
You should have a full took kit, an extra tube, a chain link, fuses, bulbs, spark plugs, zip ties, electrical tape and a few extra bungee cords. (I once bungee corded my carburettor to kept it from falling off)
Meet your doctor before you head out and tell them what your plans are and put together a med kit to carry with you. Again assume for the worst and carry everything you think you would need in that event. If you need special kind of medicines carry them with a few extra because it may be hard to come by on this trip.
Many camps do not have electricity as they are in the middle of no where so make sure you have sufficient battery back up for your devices. You don’t want your camera to run out of juice just when you need it the most.
Petrol pumps are few and far in-between so check before your head out that day how far the next pump is and accordingly carry reserves.
Motorcycle gear. A Minimum amount of gear you would need to wear is a Helmet, gloves, Armoured Jacket, Pants and closed ankle length footware. These roads are tretchurous and a small mistake at slow speeds can also be grevious. So its better to be safe than sorry.
Riding a motorcycle is the best way to see the mountains it truly puts you bang in the middle of the brilliance that is the Himalayas you are travelling through. With a little bit of planning and caution this trip will truly become a trip of a lifetime and trust me once you have done it once you will be back for more.
Vir Nakai is a traveler, photographer and a motorcycle enthusiast. “There is no adventure in the world to compare with what you can find on a motorbike” is his staunch belief. His adventures can be found at helmetstories.blogspot.com