A Himalayan tale on an Enfield

Riders on Royal Enfield Himalayan

Riders on Royal Enfield Himalayan   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement


No roads lead to the forbidden Kingdom of Lo. And that’s the charm of it, especially on this Enfield beast

Once upon a time, North of the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri ranges of the upper Himalayas in Nepal, abutting the Tibetan plateau, lay a kingdom. So remote was its location — requiring an arduous trek over some of the highest mountain passes in the world — and so fearsome the reputation of some of its inhabitants — the Tibetan Khampa warriors — that it acquired the moniker of the ‘Forbidden Kingdom of Lo.’ A place no foreigner dared to visit, and the very existence of which was shrouded in mystery.

In a valley at the kingdom’s northernmost edge, and surrounded by citadels on hillocks in all four corners, lay the capital city of Lo Manthang. In 1964, a brave Frenchman — Michel Peissel — found one porter willing to take him to this city: a journey that took a fortnight on foot from the city of Pokhara. Peissel’s journey, and subsequently, the six months he spent in Lo Manthang, were chronicled by the amateur anthropologist in a book that remains to this day the most detailed reference volume on the kingdom.

Royal Enfield Himalayan

Royal Enfield Himalayan   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

In 2019, 25 riders from India, astride Royal Enfield’s first honest attempt at an adventure motorcycle, the Himalayan, rode for five days over mountain trails plastered with loose gravel, river beds scarred by gashes of gushing streams, through shin-deep sand, and over the same treacherous passes that people have navigated on foot for centuries to reach Lo Manthang. On the way, they lolled about in the hot water springs of Tatopani, marvelled at the intimacy of the peaks in Kalopani, and wandered the ancient streets of Kagbeni — where salt traders on the Silk Route would break their journey before making their annual odyssey to the Indian plains.

Kagbeni, known as the gateway to upper Mustang, nestled in a crevice in the Kali Gandaki river corridor, seemed like a tiny quaint hamlet to the riders. Three days later, when they finally reached Lo Manthang after camping in the villages of Ghami and Samar, Kagbeni seemed in retrospect nothing short of a metropolis.

A scene at Kingdom of Lo

A scene at Kingdom of Lo   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Still largely removed from the wash of modern life and access limited to a few hundred visitors every year, Lo Manthang presented a spectacle that came as close to time travel as any of the riders imagined. In the Old City, they attended the annual Tenchi festival in which monks prayed and exhorted demons to leave the city in a ceremony that has remained virtually unchanged over the past five centuries.

A scene at Kingdom of Lo

A scene at Kingdom of Lo   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

On their final day, the riders took the high road to the Tibetan plateau and rode till the Nepal-Tibetan border, on the other side of which China is busy building a six-lane superhighway. Their steeds for the ride — the RE Himalayan, the recently-released BS IV version of which comes with ABS, has an over 400 cc heart the small size of which belies its gusto and tenacity — proved to be the riders’ best friend on this ride. Notwithstanding extreme weather, an all-pervasive lack of anything resembling a road and sustained abuse, the Himalayan reduced one of the hardest amateur rides in the world to a walk (albeit a strenuous one) in the park.

Making a long hard road trip on an Enfield can no longer be worn as a badge of honour, or, for that matter, inexorable proof of your machismo. The Himalayan is a tough motorcycle, but it’s not sadistic, and your love for it doesn’t go unrequited.

(Meraj Shah makes a living chronicling his experiences on the road, shooting video and writing on auto, travel and golf. When not roving the globe, he lives in Delhi with a motorcycle named Blue)

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Printable version | Jan 22, 2020 2:32:51 PM |

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