The man from Voetspore Riding through the clouds
The highest motorable mountain pass in the world: Khardung La. 5 603 metres above sea level. This was our aim as we headed for the Himalayas in northern India. There was a window of about three months of the year when it is possible to drive this pass in Jammu and Kashmir.
By now our journey had taken us from Mumbai to Kanyakumari in the south. We travelled along the east coast past Chennai and Kolkata. We visited Darjeeling in the southern Himalayas and from there travelled to Bodh Gaya, Varanasi, Khajuraho, Agra and Delhi. Our biggest challenge was the heat of the Indian summer, and the driving skills of the local drivers. (No place on Earth, not even Cairo or Nairobi, challenged us as drivers as much as India)
By the time we reached Manali on the foothills of the Himalayas, we had covered 8 000 kilometres with the Royal Enfields and two Toyota Land Cruisers.
Two more riders joined us. Francois Marais has been part of the Voetspore team since 2001. Because of his duties at our shop and fitment centre in Pretoria, it is not always possible for him to join a full Voetspore expedition. But he managed to set two weeks of his busy schedule aside for this special challenge.
Edrique Botha has slowly but surely been getting more and more involved with Voetspore. I once helped him and a few friends plan a Cape to Cairo journey on their BMW 1200 GSs. Since then, we have had a few joint ventures. He was keen to do the Leh/Ladakh route with us on a Royal Enfield.
Streicher and I were issued with two new Himalayans. This is the latest addition to the Royal Enfield range of motorbikes. The Himalayan was designed with the route we were about to tackle in mind. It is a bit of an offroader. A baby GS. One without the frills.
Most riders still prefer to use the trusted Classic (either 350 or 500cc), or the Bullet. The rental agencies in Manali have few Himalayans available. They still need to be convinced about the reliability of the bike. So we rented a Bullet for Francois and a Classic for Edrique.
On a Sunday afternoon, just after lunch, we set off from Manali. Our first challenge was one of the most dangerous mountain passes in the world. With its top at 3 978 metres, the Rohtang Pass does not sound too much of a challenge, but the name literally translates to “pile of dead bodies”, referring to
Left: The Khardung La Pass – the highest motorable pass in the world – is an intimidating mountain road without any barriers. The dropoffs are scary. Top right: Camping in the icy mountains wasn’t pleasant. Temperatures were freezing. Below: The team reach the top of the Khardung La Pass at 5 603m.
Johan Badenhorst is probably South Africa’s best-known overlander, with his amazing adventures televised on SABC2. He also knows a lot about patience – probably the best attribute if you plan on travelling the African continent.