Why rid­ing up the Hi­malayas should be on your bucket list

Rid­ing through this land­scape is a life-chang­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and it’s not as dif­fi­cult or as ex­pen­sive as you might think

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We may as well get this out of the way from the start: in 40 years of rid­ing, tak­ing in ev­ery­thing from pre-WW1 flat-tankers to Mo­toGP bikes, the most mem­o­rable thing I have done on a mo­tor­cy­cle is ride an En­field in the Hi­malayas.

I thought I’d seen and ex­pe­ri­enced most things. I was ready for the sprawl­ing, roast­ing chaos of Delhi traf­fic, where sa­cred cows and hand-pulled carts jos­tle for po­si­tion with blacked-out limos, and en­tire fam­i­lies squeeze, hel­met­less, onto 200cc Hero Hon­das.

Even when that ur­ban an­ar­chy es­ca­lated to the scarcely-be­liev­able ru­ral mad­ness of the Pun­jab my up­per lip re­mained stiff (though I con­fess my eyes went wide: buf­fa­los and hayricks on a mo­tor­way? And no-one even cares). But when I got to the high-al­ti­tude prov­ince of Ladakh, I re­alised that fur­ther re­sis­tance was fu­tile. As one of the many po­etic of­fi­cial road­side signs put it: ‘Vir­gin na­ture of Ladakh is art of God’. This is a place where na­ture is to­tal, and man is an ant. Either you ac­knowl­edge that fact, or the moun­tains will do it for you. And a mo­tor­cy­cle, even a 15-horse­power, sin­gle-cylin­der relic, is a won­der­ful place from which to ex­pe­ri­ence that mix­ture of hu­mil­ity and awe. Ask peo­ple who’ve rid­den here why it’s so great and they’ll tell you the same two things: the peo­ple and the scenery. I was bowled over by both, but I think there’s a third rea­son Ladakh is so mag­i­cal: it forces you to adapt. Think of our crazy, flat-out West­ern lives: phones, screens, su­per­mar­kets, traf­fic jams – re­spon­si­bil­ity and rules of every kind. When you’re rid­ing across a high-al­ti­tude desert they sim­ply evap­o­rate. Life is sim­ple: wake, ride, eat, sleep. Or, if fate de­crees, you might also strug­gle with the squits or al­ti­tude. Or find that a flood has washed the bridge away. Your ac­com­mo­da­tion is ba­sic. The food’s the same as or­di­nary peo­ple

‘Life is sim­ple: wake, ride, eat, sleep’

eat. Your shower, if you have one, might only be a drib­ble of cold wa­ter. The point is, you aren’t in charge. If you can ac­cept that, the whole world trans­forms. And you dis­cover you are in the most beau­ti­ful place imag­in­able. Don’t just take my word for it. Adrian Pe­tyt rode a Bul­let from Shimla to Leh with tour com­pany Blaz­ing Trails in 2017: “I loved every sin­gle minute of it. I must be weird be­cause my favourite day was when I broke down high in the moun­tains on a gravel track (go­ing too fast through pud­dles, to be hon­est). One by one all the other guys passed, asked if I was OK and then rode on. I had over an hour, sit­ting on a rock lis­ten­ing to noth­ing but the wind, sur­rounded by snow-capped moun­tains, un­til the sweeper bike came and got me go­ing again.”

The Hi­malayas re­ally be­gin in Hi­machal Pradesh: a rolling, hilly land of or­chards, wild ganja and green, mist-wreathed moun­tains. Manali, the main moun­tain town, was my tour’s start point in 2010, but new lo­cal laws mean it now runs from the cap­i­tal Shimla to Leh, cap­i­tal of Ladakh prov­ince, to the north. The wild, arid, moun­tain­ous land­scape changes

colour and form through­out the day, and the an­cient monas­ter­ies, or gom­pas, give the land­scape a Shangri-La char­ac­ter. Kar­dung La, the world’s high­est mo­torable road at 18,380 feet, is a high­light. “I’ve done 46 tours and every time I ride out of Shimla it’s just like the first time,” says Adam Lewis, tour leader of Blaz­ing Trails. “There’s some­thing mag­i­cal and hum­bling about be­ing in the moun­tains. Some­times we’re rid­ing through snow cut 30 feet deep. Six weeks later it’s all wild flow­ers.”

But change is on the way: more tar­mac, more tourists in some spots, and a fleet of JCBs lay­ing road­side fi­brop­tic ca­ble. One day, maybe, even this land­scape will be tamed and cov­ered in Mac­cie Ds. Get there be­fore it’s too late.

‘There is some­thing mag­i­cal about rid­ing here’

BY RU­PERT PAUL Rid­ing in­struc­tor, ex-racer and lover of all bikes Bud­dhist monas­ter­ies dot the land­scape

‘I made this girl a flap­ping pa­per bird. We both spoke origami’ Tog­gler’s Gate on the Tso Kar road Bar­alachla is high but not the high­est. That’s Kar­dung La at 5359m

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