To boldly go where no one has gone before

On a high: Snapshots from the expedition

On a high: Snapshots from the expedition   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The Himalayan Heights Motorcycle Expedition saw 11 bikers clocking 1100 kilometres to successfully scale the formidable Karakoram Pass

“We were riding at an altitude of 18,000 feet and the temperature was a freezing -20 C. I was paddling my booted legs into three feet of powdery snow on a steep incline. The tyres were rolling and my bike wasn’t moving. Instinctively, I tugged at the clutch and the front brakes. What happened next was a nightmare. The rear tyre started fishtailing and I slid back, zigzag. It was as if I was dancing with the bike rather than riding it,” recalls Captain Nikita Ajit Nair, who was among the 11 bikers who took part in the daunting Himalayan Heights Motorcycle Expedition from Karu to Karakoram Pass, on the Royal Enfield Himalayan.

Charting the Silk Route

The adventure ride, a joint venture of Royal Enfield, the Indian Army and Himalayan Motorsport Association, has carved a niche for itself by charting a track never taken before. The forbidden (it is out of bounds for civilians) route to Karakoram Pass is also part of the historic Silk Route, and has never seen the tyre marks of a two-wheeler, not just because of the hostile weather and the treacherous and unforgiving terrain, but also since the entire territory is uninhabited after Shyok, the last village. And to clock 1100 kilometres on one of the most challenging landscapes in the world in winter is no small feat.

The 14-day expedition culminated at Leh recently and the event celebrated the never-say-die attitude of the riders, including seven from Army Service Corps, and the amazing calibre of the robust Royal Enfield Himalayan. In January this year, the team had a rigorous training and selection process at Spiti and Kinnaur in Himachal Pradesh, followed by a ‘White Out’ snow ride for 2000 kilometres in February as prep for the Karakoram ride. “That way, we acquired both riding and survival skills. It’s important to understand the behaviour of both the bike and your body, while undertaking an adventure ride in a high, cold desert,” says Hema Choudhary, who has been riding extensively for the past seven years.

The monster machine

“Built for the off-roads, the Himalayan has advantages such as the 220-mm ground clearance, long forks at the front suspension and a mono suspension at the rear that mitigates the impact of the harsh terrain on the rider’s body,” says Hema. “It’s a monster machine and we just had to pick it up and start again each time we had a fall. Even after parking the bikes in the open at -30 C during the night, we didn’t have any starting problem. None of the bikes broke down, except for punctures and other minor hiccups.”

  • From Kovilpatti to Karakoram
  • Major K Renuka, who led the expedition, almost did not make it for the ride. Hailing from small town Kovilpatti in Tamil Nadu, Renuka was the senior-most Army personnel, who rode along with the Royal Enfield bikers. Just a few days before the start of the ride, she had to undergo surgery for an ovarian torsion. “I lost hope that I could be part of the ride. But then, luck favoured me and the ride was postponed by 15 days. Thankfully, I had a speedy recovery.”
  • “Though I was still apprehensive, my husband and my senior officers encouraged me to go for it,” says Renuka. “I am thankful that I lived up to their trust in me.”
  • “I am happy that I have broken all stereotypes of a small-town girl,” says Renuka. “Adventure biking has helped me discover a new me. I wish I had got to do it earlier.”

The modifications to the bikes included heated handle bar grips with muffs and tyre studs for riding on slippery ice. “We also used snow chains at certain places. The wiry build, the robust chassis and rider-friendly manoeuvring make the Himalayan stand out. If you know how to plonk yourself on the bike, it will take all the beating for you.”

On a high: Snapshots from the expedition

On a high: Snapshots from the expedition   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

‘Most tricky stretch’

“The most tricky stretch of the ride was from Daulat Beg Oldi to Karakarom. It was just over 20 kilometres but took us days to complete, as the terrain was a mixture of snow and slush. We had to dig out the snow and literally carve a route to ride,” says Hema. “We also had to unlearn and relearn riding, as the rules on the plains don’t apply for mountains. For instance, at times when the bike fails to climb on a slippery steep incline, it’s better to let the machine slide in a controlled manner by using clutch braking, and once you gain enough momentum, you can give full throttle and surge ahead.”

Sachin Chavan of Royal Enfield says, “We, as a brand, want to spread the kind of biking culture we enjoy and the rides are an effort towards that. We don’t associate riding with a sense of achievement or chasing records. The Himalayan Heights, being the first-of-its-kind expedition to the Karakoram Pass, put to the test the grit of our bikes as well as the bikers.”

(The writer was in Leh on invitation from Royal Enfield)

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Printable version | May 21, 2020 7:03:10 PM |

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