There are mountains, and then there are the Himalayas.
There are motorcycles, and then there is the Himalayan.
For long we’ve been reading about people on Royal Enfield motorcycles riding in the Himalayas—the highest mountain range in the world. But there is another side of the Himalayas, shrouded in mystery—the one Indians don’t have easy access to. It’s called the Tibet Autonomous Region, and the best way to experience it is by road, ideally on a motorcycle. It can be tough, for you’ve to cross the deep valleys of Nepal towards the border with China and beyond, riding on freshly laid tarmac, no tarmac, waterlogged roads, and at times snow. It can be back-breaking, except if you have a machine tailor-made for such terrains, one that takes the name from the region—Royal Enfield Himalayan. We ride it from Kathmandu in Nepal to Rongbuk monastery, near Mt Everest base camp (EBC), in Tibet.
According to UNDP, Nepal is one of the 48 least developed countries (LDCs) in the world, a fact you see in the country’s almost non-existent rural roads. Even on a capable motorcycle, the 150-odd-km journey from capital Kathmandu to China border can take a full day; we do in a comfortable two, giving us time to soak in the beauty of the pristine Himalayas. Nepal, clearly, is where you get to see some of the most beautiful valleys in the world. But once you enter Tibet, it’s a whole new world (as far as infrastructure is concerned).
Before riding to the dizzying heights of this highest plateau—average elevation of 4,500 metres (14,800 feet)—it’s suggested to sleep at Gyirong Town (also called Kyirong or Kerung), at 2,700 metres (8,900 feet), as the next habitation, called Tingri, sits at 4,350 metres (14,270 feet). The Gyirong to Tingri road is one of the most picturesque in the world, via the blue Lake Paiku, surrounded by snow-clad mountains.
In case you ‘survive’ the journey (the altitude sickness risk is real)—and you will, because the beauty of planet Earth in all its glory pushes you to continue—it’s easy thereon to Rongbuk. You cannot take private vehicles to Rongbuk—one has to take an electric bus from a parking lot 20-km before (to protect the fragile ecology of the Qomol-angma National Nature Preserve; Qomolangma is the Tibetan name for Mt Everest). The bus trip costs 120 yuan (`1,200). It can be strenuous up at Rongbuk (4,980 metres, or 16,340 feet). Low levels of oxygen might slow you down, weak you out, kill your appetite, and yet it is mystifying, for one sight of Mt Everest so near will uplift you, revive you, bring you back to life. (EBC is 8-km from Rongbuk, best experienced as a trek.)
Best season: April to June, September to November.
Permits needed: Tibet Travel Permit, via a local guide.
Time needed: Two weeks.
Places to stay and eat: Plenty.
Ride: Any adventure motorcycle; the Himalayan for its good mileage, decent control, ample luggage-mounting points and exceptional tyres (Ceat).
Reward: Admiring the famous north face of Mt Everest in all its glory.