After finishing up the Pakistan tour in Lahore it was a nice appetizer for what I was about to experience in India. I wasn’t sure what to expect going into a country of 1+ BILLION people. Riding into Amritsar I immediately felt the traffic and congestion of a place with that kind of population density. There were people everywhere! It’s tough writing this post over three months since I crossed the border, (I KNOW I’VE BEEN SLACKING!!) especially because India was a place that wore on me. Riding though India on a new BMW causes so much of a scene it’s virtually impossible to stop anywhere without having at least 10 people come over to see the “new attraction”(I also know no one feels bad for me). My only relief was heading up towards the mountain around Leh, Ladok and Spiti Valley. There are less people and semi-open roads as well as some incredible scenery.
Let me back up a little bit and tell you after Amritsar I headed straight to Delhi because I’ve been driving on a blown shock since Kyrgyzstan. Arriving at the BMW I got the warranty process rolling for my new shock. I also checked on a rim, tires, oil and air filer, and a few other random things that needed to be replaced. I was in utter shock at the prices I was going to have to pay for those items since India and a minimum 300% import tax on motorcycle goods. After discussing it with the dealership, they told me just to fly to Dubai because its cheap and tax free and hand carry all the goods back with me on the plane. Along with saving me a bunch of money I’d get to go to Dubai! I put that in my future plans but while I was waiting on the warranty to process with my shock I decided to put another few hundred miles on it and head north to the mountains!
I headed straight to Manali from Delhi. It took me a couple days to get there but it was well worth the drive. After getting through the flatlands the roads twists and turns through steep river valleys, the smog and the haze start to disappear and the road becomes less and less congested. Arriving in Manali I reunited with Petra, Frank, and Chris (part of the group I rode through China and Pakistan with) who had been hanging out there for a couple days already. We went out for dinner, had some drinks, and did some catching up. After hanging out with them for a couple days and working on getting my permit for the road to Leh it was time to get back on the bike.
The road from Manali to Leh is one that I had envisioned my entire trip. Over the two days it took me to get to Leh I went over two 5,000+ meter (17,000ft) passes and the second highest motorable pass in the world. There were beautiful red rock canyons, huge sandstone pillars along the road, and more amazing views than one can imagine. Unfortunately, when I woke up in Leh after my first night I had come down with a wicked cough and sore throat so that put a damper on exploring the town. Still managed to see a couple temples and the palace but then headed back to the room to watch a few movies, relax and try to recover. Feeling slightly better the next morning I secured my permit for Khardungla Top and took off for a quick day trip. For those of you that don’t know, Khardungla Top is the somewhat disputed highest motorable pass in the world. The sign says 18,380ft but my altimeter did not register that. Either way it’s really damn high! The road up was actually quite nice, there were low level clouds rolling through dropping snow every so often but the gravel road hadn’t froze up and I still had plenty of traction to make it to the top. Things had changed drastically during the 45 mins I spent enjoying the top of the pass! Enough snow had fallen to cover up the road with more and more traffic was coming up the mountain which had packed it all down and turned it into a virtual ice rink. I’d try to pass vehicles coming up the road and end up dumping my bike on its side trying to keep from sliding into them. Most people were very helpful in picking with picking up my bike but there was definitely a few who were a little pissed I hit their vehicles, which is understandable. The thing that stands out in my mind was how out of breath I would get trying to pick up my motorcycle! The serious lack of oxygen made it about 10 times harder to do anything. Needless to say I was happy to make it back down with no injuries and only a few more character building scratches on Gina.
After the K-Top adventure it was time to head to Spiti Valley. On my way south at another one of the 17,000ft passes I ran into a film crew for Royal Enfield. Unfortunately I can’t really write about what they were filming because of the secrecy of the project. I was instantly envious at the amount of camera equipment, drones, and gadgets they had to film with. They invited me to join up with them for the next stop and I happily agreed. We road to Lake Tso Kar, stopping to film along the way. I was recruited to put one of the camera guys on the back of my motorcycle so we could get some high speed action shots. It was an awesome time! Can wait to see the videos when they finally get released, I’ll be sure to share them as soon as I see them.
The next morning the Spiti Valley adventure began. I was welcomed into the valley with a torrential downpour mixed with sleet and snow. Although it was miserably cold all the heavy rain made for some amazing waterfalls on the steep cliffs on the opposite side of the valley I was riding on. The road was terrible so I ended up driving into the night to find a place to sleep. Finally found a place in Kaza around 8 or 9 that night. The next day spent drying out my gear and cleaning up my bike. The road was so rough the day before it had broken a bottle of vodka and split open a can of soup I had stored in my tools bag! Scrubbing and cleaning tools coated with an oily gumbo soup and vodka mixture isn’t a real pleasant experience. Pretty sure my bag STILL smells like that.
I met up with Frank, Petra, and Chris once again in Kaza and we spent the next week exploring the valleys and monasteries of Spiti Valley. Some of the highlights included the town of Mud and our day hike we did with a couple Indian guys we met at our hotel. Since there is not a lot to do in the evenings and electricity was pretty hit and miss we’d usually sit around drink some beers and have some epic battles in the card game Shithead. During our days of riding that week the scenery was incredible every day. The way some of the roads are cut into the sides of cliffs and the towns that are pasted on the sides of these mountains with very little connection to electricity and the outside world make it all worth the tough rugged trip of Spiti Valley.
After the valley was complete, I was off to Delhi for some R&R, a good shower, and a little taste of civilization again. I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again, one of the greatest things about traveling is all of the people you meet. During this section of the trip was packed with all sorts of great people. Sachin, Sid and the Hosteller crew from the hostel I stayed at in Delhi, Nitin and the Royal Enfield guys, and Zenosh and “Wet Indian” in Mud. All people that I had great discussions and a great time with all of them and will never forget that.