Motorcycle Adventures in the Himalayas

When Bear hit me up with the idea for this trip a few months ago, I figured “Why not”? I’ve done a fair amount of travel over the years, but never been to India and the thought of doing it on motorcycles made it especially easy to just go for it. Our original plan was to get into Myanmar (formerly Burma) for a few days. We jumped through significant paperwork hoops to get multi-entry visas for India just to find out the border closed due to some civil unrest and we wouldn’t be able to do the routes we’d planned on. himalaya-motorcycle-trip_110 Bear and the crew at Himalayan Heroes came up with an alternate plan that was probably better than the original anyway. Tyler from Lowbrow and I talked about it and shared the same attitude: flights were already booked, time off was on the schedule and we were hellbent to make the trip even if it was a new itinerary. himalaya-motorcycle-trip_120 I’ve been the guide/fixer/planner on several Baja motorcycle trips, but have never been part of a group that was being guided by someone else. My friend Canada Shawn called me a pussy and said I should just take two months off and buy a bike there for $300 and do it all myself. (He’s done this exact thing of course.) I don’t have that much time and not sure if I did I’d want to spend it all in India. Bear swore these HH guys were cool and would take care of everything. That was the part that worried me. I wasn’t sure I wanted a tight schedule and definitely didn’t want to sacrifice spontaneity for the security of a well-planned trip. After the first day of riding, it was clear that the guides with us were not just valuable assets, they were quickly becoming friends. They had a relaxed style, let us set the pace as ridiculously fast as we cared to and genuinely had as much fun as we did. When it came time to navigate through insanely dense towns or negotiate with police or army at each state border crossing, our new friends did the dirty work while we sat around smoking bidi cigarettes and drinking chai. They also proved capable of finding beer in dry cities, hot tea in the middle of absolute nowhere and tirelessly answered our “Firangi” questions about Indian food, culture, and history. himalaya-motorcycle-trip_150 himalaya-motorcycle-trip_130 I won’t bother you with a day-by-day journal of the trip, but the video does a pretty good job of showing the highlights: meeting a legit headhunter, riding elephants, visiting with a local gunsmith, crossing over Sela Pass, a Buddhist holiday at a Monestary in the Himalayas.  I shot the video and a handful of still photos with my crusty Canon G11 that was so packed with dust from day one that much of the footage is rough, but hopefully gives a good idea of what the trip was like. Mike Vandegriff was shooting along the way with several cameras. His inquisitive nature and talent behind the lens is going to result in a huge batch of awesome photos and I’m hoping he publishes the photo book we chatted about. himalaya-motorcycle-trip_140 We did about 1300 kilometers of riding total with an average speed of 34k (21mph). That’s obviously pretty slow, but includes a lot of idling in traffic, waiting on bulldozers to get out of the way and first gear switchbacks. The terrain varied from typical dirt roads to potholed pavement and the occasional stretch of beautiful new asphalt. Our Royal Enfield Classics (350 and 500cc singles) soldiered through all of it without a hiccup, even at nearly 14,000 feet. Rex had a brand spanking new 410cc Royal Enfield Himalaya. I poached the bike for about an hour of riding and it was way more suited to the conditions. It was easy and comfortable to stand on (my biggest complaint with my Classic) and for an ADV-style bike, it was light and small with a low standover height and was a practical and sturdy contrast to typical ADV bikes that I think are bigger than they really need to be. It also had brakes, something severely lacking on my blue bomber. himalaya-motorcycle-trip_160 The accommodations were never plush, electricity was often sporadic, showers came from a bucket but the riding buddies were solid, the roads unfamiliar and the routes well-planned. Basically a perfect trip, and something we couldn’t have done without our new friends at Himalayan Heroes. -Bill