A motorbiking adventure in India
Five Tokoroa couples have recently returned home after a trip of a lifetime riding the foothills of the Himalayas.
Fran and John Stevens, Greg and Alexis Fitzpatrick, Jo and Stu Crockart, Maree Ashton and Theo Duyvestyn, and Tim and Sue Nicholson all eagerly signed on to the second and last Himalayan trip organised by the New Zealand company Indian Motorcycle Adventures, based in Auckland. Many of the roads they traversed have recently been featured in a television series called The Most Dangerous Roads in the World.
Starting from the Delhi Plains, the bikers worked their way northward to the highest motorable road in the world, the Khardang La, with its summit higher than Everest Base Camp, at 5600 metres.
Part of a group of 25 riding 15 bikes, they travelled over 1500 kilometres on Royal Enfield Motorcycles, which are locally made, English styled bikes that look and sound like they are straight out of the 1950s.
All couples rode ‘‘two-up’’ with all five women taking a leap of faith as they let the men drive the precarious roads that often ran out of seal, grew huge pot-holes, became mud or sand traps or even disappeared completely down 300-metre sheer drops.
They found that the scenery changed constantly in colour, ter- rain and altitude. Rocks of rich green blended with red, and gave way to scree slopes hundreds of metres high and running straight onto the road. Massive rivers fed by the Himalayan mountains often ran alongside or high above roads that led to rice paddies, orchards and deserts.
The trip began in stifling 45 degree heat. It was no fun putting on the armoured biking gear and helmet and they took every opportunity to stop and drench themselves in a river.
But by the time they made it to Leh – the northernmost town – the temperatures were down to the 20s and when in the high mountain passes and under canvas at night, below zero was the norm!
When trying to walk in the thin air of the high mountains they became increasingly glad that they were on motorbikes and not trekking.
Even 10 metres of walking up an incline could often take 10 minutes of air-gasping effort.
Culturally, the mainly Hindu population of Delhi and the plains gave way to an increasing Buddhist influence because this is an area where many Tibetans have escaped to after the Chinese invasion of Tibet more than 20 years ago. Greetings of ‘‘Namaste’’ quickly changed to ‘‘ Juley’’ as Hindu temples gave way to the many Buddhist Gumpas that were dotted alongside the road and high on mountain tops.
One of the most challenging aspects of the trip was the other drivers on the roads.
In India, seemingly the only road rule is that there are no rules. Cars pass each other on blind corners and ‘‘might is right’’.
Many times the bikes were dwarfed by the gaily decorated trucks, overloaded buses and many army vehicles that filled the roads.
Often though, the motorbikes were able to get through where many cars could not. On the first mountain pass – the Rhotang La – the bikes made the 52 km journey in only 11⁄ hours, whereas the support vehicle took over four!
The group of riders that finally pulled into the hotel at Leh were greatly relieved and exhausted as they said goodbye to their dusty, trusty bikes.
Everyone survived the trip with minimal bumps or bruises – glad to have had the experience but happy to have survived as well.
They flew out of Leh airport the next morning. Planes can take off only in the cool, slightly less rarefied air of the early morning, and the take-off run is more than 2 km long due to the thin air at this altitude.
Many of the riders now headed for home or other countries at the end of the trip. One couple, Tim and Sue Nicholson stayed for a couple more weeks and returned to a town in the north called Manali.
Sue, a physiotherapist who works at Tokoroa Physio, worked at the hospital there two years ago. She returned to visit old friends and to work another week as a volunteer.
This time she took with her a treatment machine, to be donated to the Physio Clinic at the Lady Willingdon Hospital by her colleague Clare Fannon. Sue spent her time at the hospital working with the physiotherapist there, Johanah Hardy, and taking inservice education on new treatment concepts.
This remote hospital is one of the most northern in India. Johanah often relies on visiting therapists to help her learn new techniques.
So now it’s back home and back to work for the “Tokoroa Tight Five” after an amazing experience.