Head­ing for the Hi­malayas

If you want the ad­ven­ture of a lifetime it doesn’t get much big­ger, or higher, than the Hi­malayas – we go chas­ing moun­tains

Motorcycle News (UK) - - This Week - By Andy David­son STAFF WRITER

Moun­tains are earth’s giants. They’re be­he­moths, slowly push­ing their way through the clouds over mil­lions of years to scratch at heaven’s belly. The an­cient rocks of­fer us the high­est ground we can stand on. But they don’t give up their prize eas­ily.

The roads are treach­er­ous, hair­pinned and pro­tected by shields of harsh weather. But that just makes them even more ad­dic­tive. Strad­dling a com­bus­tion en­gine through their wind­ing passes, brav­ing the ter­rain and bat­tling our way to the peak turns us into con­querors. Europe's moun­tains have been beaten many times; strapped down and tamed with well-laid and rid­den tar­mac.

But there is one road which tow­ers above oth­ers, still un­tamed and wild – the Khardung La pass. The high­est ride­able road in the world. And it be­longs to the Hi­malayas, home to the high­est peaks on our planet. So it’s des­ti­na­tion In­dia to have a crack at the le­gendary moun­tains.

DAY 1 Chas­ing Gold

Her golden hair fell out the bot­tom of her hel­met and flut­tered wildly in the wind. It was mes­meris­ing. I fol­lowed in a daze - ea­ger not to let her es­cape as we started our as­cent of the Khardung La. But it was no use, she was rapidly snaking away. My eyes ached and my breath­ing quick­ened as a dull thud­ding at the back of my head re­minded me of all the warn­ings I ig­nored that morn­ing. I ar­rived late and spent one night get­ting used to my new height be­fore fool­ishly set­ting off, de­spite be­ing told I’d need longer to ad­just to the alti­tude.

The Royal En­field Hi­malayan Odyssey group that I had flown in to join were half­way through their 1300mile ride and had al­ready com­pleted the pass af­ter spend­ing a week build­ing up to the alti­tude and were rest­ing be­fore

leav­ing to­mor­row. My only op­tion was to go up in a three-man crack team for a blitz as­sault. The lead rider was an In­dian mo­tocross cham­pion and the golden hair be­longed to a Colom­bian en­duro cham­pion, but that didn’t seem to mat­ter. I wasn’t about to let them es­cape only 20 min­utes into our ride. I ig­nored the sweat sting­ing my eyes and got on the gas. The Royal En­field Hi­malayan hated it, buck­ing like a wild horse. I let her set­tle be­fore try­ing again. She bucked and threat­ened to throw me off, ev­ery twist veered closer to the cliff edge. But my in­sis­tent hand was hell-bent on mak­ing us catch them, and I yanked the throt­tle for the last time be­fore the back skid­ded out, we kissed the edge of a big drop and nearly cut my trip ex­tremely short. I pulled over, forc­ing my­self to calm down and stood star­ing at the bike and it’s com­pletely flat rear tyre. Oh.

Luck­ily, as we weren’t that far from base camp, the punc­ture was fixed in good time and we con­tin­ued our cold, wet and foggy ride to the top. The pass was cov­ered in a thick, eerie mist, mask­ing our true height and lur­ing us to stay for over an hour, de­spite be­ing told no longer than 15 min­utes. The dull thud in my skull was now an ex­cru­ci­at­ing headache, ev­ery bump on the way down shak­ing my brain. A con­coc­tion of Ibupro­fen and Parac­eta­mol would soon be­come my best friend.

DAY 2 Lost on the flats

One hun­dred miles in a day and we’re in a dif­fer­ent world. From the rocky heights of Leh we made it to the pas­ture­lands of De­bring for a cold night in a serene camp­site by a lake.

'We kissed the edge of a big drop and nearly cut my trip ex­tremely short'

A cou­ple of the guys de­cided to ride down to the lake and I de­cided to ride into it – im­me­di­ately bog­ging in deep, sticky quick­sand. Five guys and 20 min­utes of swear­ing, crack­ing backs, and heav­ing later – and we had it out. I nearly passed out from lack of oxy­gen be­fore rid­ing back to camp with a bent han­dle­bar. Later that night I found ev­ery­one hud­dled around the glow of a cam­era phone laugh­ing at a film of the or­deal. As soon as I was spot­ted try­ing to dis­ap­pear into my tent I was wel­comed to a roar­ing hero's re­turn… all for get­ting stuck and nearly pass­ing out like an id­iot. I like these guys.

DAY 3 Gold Dust

New Delhi is men­tal. The sights, sounds, sweat and smell crawl un­der your skin and turn you in­side out, ex­pos­ing your soul to the vi­brant and manic city. But here, trav­el­ling on the dusty road to Key­long, we couldn’t be fur­ther away. The road stretches fur­ther than the eye can see and our group dis­persed, free to roam the wilder­ness at their own pace. The tracks go on for­ever, taunt­ing you to wind open the throt­tle and lose your­self in the noth­ing­ness, un­til you re­alise your deliri­ous dash has be­come rather lonely.

Slightly pan­icked, I pulled over. I hadn’t seen any­one for two hours and be­gan scan­ning the hori­zon for hel­mets bear­ing the Odyssey group’s lit­tle yel­low sticker. They were like rare flecks of gold dust, blown around the Hi­malayas in the wind. Fi­nally, two specs ap­peared. They had no idea if they were head­ing in the right di­rec­tion ei­ther, but couldn’t be hap­pier. “It’s In­dia,” they said, “re­lax.”

So I set off again, glid­ing through moun­tain range af­ter moun­tain range, try­ing to think of any time I’ve been hap­pier on a mo­tor­cy­cle.

DAY 4 Bikes don’t fly

Be­fore this trip I as­sumed we’d only cross over a cou­ple of moun­tains. But the range spreads out over the planet in ever-chang­ing land­scapes – from rolling green moun­tains to red and pur­ple rock fields. The only thing that stays the same are the crum­bling roads and sheer drops.

Trucks bel­low out nau­se­at­ing plumes of black smoke, mixed with sand, dust and grit, which fill your hel­met if you get too close. I’ve never seen a bus take a blind cor­ner so fast that it kicks its tail end out over a cliff edge be­fore.

One bus came full pelt at me, I was forced to move over to the edge. There was barely enough room for the two of us, but a car still de­cided to have a go at over­tak­ing the bus, pulling out onto my side of the road, spot­ting me at the last sec­ond forc­ing ev­ery­one to a screech­ing, dusty stop, as I stared at a po­ten­tial sky­dive to the end of ev­ery­thing. The car tucked back be­hind the bus with mil­lime­tres to spare.

As I came to a stop in a cloud of dust, I gave the driver a stare of fire and he re­turned it with a pearly white smile, as though noth­ing had hap­pened.

DAY 5 Hard hats or hel­mets

Signs read­ing ‘The world’s most treach­er­ous road’ and ‘Ex­plo­sions from 122pm’ are not con­fi­dence-in­spir­ing. I glanced at the clock, 1.30pm. I looked back up and saw a road block filled with work­ers who had just blown up parts of the moun­tain.

They ush­ered us close to a huge cracked wall. We sat wait­ing for the trucks to move while the work­ers kept ner­vously glanc­ing up at the moun­tain and shout­ing at truck driv­ers, we got the im­pres­sion it wasn’t very safe – com­pounded when rocks started crash­ing onto our hel­mets.

We were trapped. The work­ers ran for cover and, aban­doned and fear­ing an avalanche, we made our es­cape, gassing it over the boul­ders to safety.

DAY 6 Home stretch

For the last ride I bud­died up with a rider who had also crashed ear­lier in the day. I nearly went un­der a bus and was nurs­ing achy wrists while he’d nearly flown of a cliff, bust­ing his el­bow.

'The tracks taunt you to open the throt­tle and lose your­self in the noth­ing­ness' 'Slightly pan­icked, I pulled over. I hadn’t seen any­one for two hours' 'The work­ers ran for cover and, fear­ing an avalanche, we made our es­cape'

The burn­ing hot yel­low rock was long gone, re­placed by trop­i­cal green moun­tains. We were nearly there.

We hob­bled through the fi­nal leg, dodg­ing the moun­tain’s lat­est at­tempts at claim­ing us for them­selves by chuck­ing cows in our path, mon­keys on our backs and nut­case driv­ers around ev­ery cor­ner. We made the fi­nal de­scent like two war-hard­ened ad­ven­tur­ers de­scend­ing from Ever­est.

We’ve been through snow, bak­ing desert heat, sand and lash­ing rain, crossed epic moun­tains and rag­ing rivers. We beat treach­er­ous passes and ma­niac driv­ers. We crashed, got up and car­ried on. We con­quered the Hi­malayas, and it was one of the best rid­ing ex­pe­ri­ences of my life. You should try it, you’d love it.

The Fen­land roads around MCN'S of­fice pro­vided poor prepa­ra­tion for this

The route

There's safety in num­bers, but there are also op­por­tu­ni­ties to ride on your own

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