One very impressive thing I noticed during one of the conversations I had with Rudratej Singh, President Royal Enfield India, during the pre-ride meet before last year’s Himalayan Odyssey was that he never used the phrase ‘women riders’. While speaking of the Himalayan Odyssey and Himalayan Odyssey Women, he referred to all participants as just ‘riders’. That is pretty much the kind of attitude that would be very welcome.
So, what is the Himalayan Odyssey? Besides the ride through exquisite but challenging locations, the Royal Enfield Himalayan Odyssey is quite a Pandora’s Box of many great things. Riders from all across the world register for the ride, brand new experiences and take home lifelong friendships.
The story of this year’s Royal Enfield Himalayan Odyssey Women began two days before the ride was flagged off at a hotel in New Delhi. The two days work wonders for medical and basic first response training, and for marinating human relations.
With over 60 riders lined up at the India Gate, the atmosphere was electric during the flag off. After receiving blessings from Buddhist Monks, we were on our way to the first stop – Parwanoo. Day one of the ride was a 279 km stretch. The altitude of our first stopover was a mere 2500 ft. For perspective, the riders were all heading to Khardungla that stands at over 18000 ft.
Royal Enfield Himalayan Odyssey is stretched out through several days of riding considering that the group consists of riders with different levels of endurance and experience. The rise in altitude affects people in different ways. More on that later.
Day two of riding was stretched for 160 km – from Parwanoo to Narkanda, which is 9055 feet above sea level. Top tip: if you think Manali is too mainstream, Narkanda is a beautiful destination for a short weekend trip. The road from Parwanoo to Narkanda via Chail is rather really good, and a motorcycle ride through it will leave you so happy.
It was on this stretch of road, I finally had a chance to be alone with the Royal Enfield Himalayan. Adventure motorcycles have a very different personality. You’re not sitting on them, rather you’re sitting in them with the flyscreen being a permanent part of your view in the front.
While the Himalayan is great fun while cornering, but swift directional changes make it wobble a bit. However, it has to be considered that the suspension has a lot of travel to handle off-road well and to say it in a nutshell, the Himalayan isn’t built for it. But even so, it does. The real proving ground for the Royal Enfield Himalayan was still to show its face.
The third day of the ride included crossing a mountain pass – Jalori. While we’d been expecting off-road sections, but as luck would have it, the climb and descend from Jalori Pass was blessed with freshly laid out tarmac. This meant I had more time to have fun on the corners!
Manali was the next destination and also a place for embracing a rest day, which meant the group could kick off their riding boots and indulge in long walks in the brilliant weather and maybe some beer to unwind before hitting the sack.
With the riders well rested and filled with enthusiasm, the fifth day’s ride was when the deal got real. It was when we were to cross the ever so popular Rohtang Pass, which is at 13052 feet above sea level. This was the 116 km ride from Manali to Keylong, which had some sections of road with rocks, grit and gravel. The worst bit about such riding is that you can get caught behind a slow-moving truck with minimal space to overtake.
Keylong to Sarchu (107 km) was when it felt like the adventure riding I’d been waiting for actually began. But to my surprise, the roads were mostly good. There were some sections of off-road, where the Himalayan had a chance to show off. The suspension setup ensures the ride is comfortable and if the going goes tougher, just stand on the footpegs to protect your back. Do that and you’re okay to keep a quick pace even off the road.
Sarchu is situated at 14074 feet and is where the altitude becomes a problem. Almost all of us felt a bit sick – it’s normal to experience a headache and nausea. It can get worse for some with a need to take oxygen. The night at Sarchu camp proved a little difficult for some, but it’s all part of the acclimatisation. The next morning, and I won’t shy from singing praise for all the riders, all of them were ready to go with not one sign of tiredness.
The final day of the first leg of the Himalayan Odyssey would take us to Leh, which is located 2500 ft lower compared to Sarchu in terms of altitude. And hence, everyone could feel better after the descend. But that meant crossing high mountain passes like Nakee La (15547 feet), Lachulung La (16616 feet) and Tanglang La (17480 feet).
As the altitude climbs, it is inevitable to feel a little breathless. As the air got thinner with the climbing altitude, even with a fuel injected engine, the Himalayan too experienced a significant loss in power. But even so, I was thankful I was astride a Royal Enfield Himalayan. On the loose gravel, slush, water crossings, inclines, the Himalayan instils confidence to keep going. And to keep going with ease.
By the time the day arrived when the Himalayan Odyssey would head to the Khardung La pass, all riders were acclimatised well and being at the top – the third highest motorable road in the world (18380 feet above sea level) – wasn’t difficult for anyone.
While it is all picturesque and a lot of fun, anyone planning to do this ride must be prepared for contingencies. For example, there is no fuel available between Keylong to Leh (359 km). For one, riding gear has to be in order. It gets cold and wet so packing warm liners and rain covers is a good idea. A good helmet is definitely a prerequisite, but so is a riding jacket and protection for the knees as well.
Speaking of which, I got to use the Royal Enfield by Revit riding trouser, which is rather brilliant. It provides appropriate insulation for cold weather and if it gets worse, it also gets a warm liner that had me feeling comfortable when the temperatures dropped. It is fairly water resistant as well, so water crossings were made easy. It gets Knox armour and the matter of knee protection is well covered.
Having shared the ride with the 11 other riders made it one to remember for a lifetime. I’d like to extend a big thank you to Renuka, Ritu, Susana, Dimple, Onen, Minakshi, Abhinaya, Vishakha, Telissi, Nisha and our ride lead Hema and co-lead Pooja. The early morning briefings, attempting to teach some Hindi to our Spanish friend, figuring out dinner selection every night, falling in deeper love with the bike by every mile and pondering upon planning a ride again with these wonderful people will be on all our minds for a long time.
We made memories and pictures we’ll cherish all our lives. My humble gratitude to Anshu, who was literally a huge support to all of us driving our support vehicle and Sharmeen who was also in the support car and would hop out whenever she could and bring us energy bars and water during regroups. And Doctor Karuna kept a constant check on us, even prompting us to eat healthily and sleep on time. The ride was especially stress-free because of Raheem – the technician, who kept all our motorcycles healthy.
This is one of those rides that leaves you yearning for more. When you’re faced with a challenge and you overcome it, wouldn’t you like to up the ante? Until then.
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