The men, their machines and the mountains - a Himalayan odyssey (With Images)

July 2nd, 2009 - 11:12 am ICT by IANS  

By Shilpa Raina
Khardung La (Ladakh), July 2 (IANS) It was the ultimate Kodak moment for some, a time for tears at a dream finally come true for others. And for all the 50 bikers gathered at the world’s highest motorable pass at a dizzy 18,350 ft in Khardung La, the pinnacle of their adventure that started 2,500 km away in dusty Delhi.

With snowcapped mountains ringing a landscape coloured brown in the cold desert that is Ladakh, the group of 50, accompanied by journalists, stood at what was literally the end of the road, barely able to breathe in the rarefied air but determined to make the most of the moment.

They comprised professionals from various fields, with the youngest biker 22 years old and the oldest 55.

Vishnu Vardhan Kuna from Bangalore and Raja Swaminathan from Delhi, amongst the motorcyclists who took part in the 15-day Royal Enfield Himalayan Odyssey 2009, were moved to tears.

“Those tears were of joy because after years of only thinking of reaching there, we felt content and happy finally when we made it there. We had a sense of achievement,” explained Swaminathan, a marketing professional, who had worked towards the moment for five years.

“Due to some personal and professional commitments, we couldn’t make it earlier, but it’s better late than never,” he added.

It was a two-week round trip from Delhi to Khardung La, 45 km from the state capital Ladakh, and back.

On the way - with one man to each motorcycle and the group of 10 media personnel, doctors and maintenance crew following in Innovas - were the hot plains of Punjab that gave way to the cool green valleys of Himachal Pradesh and finally the icy cold desert of Ladakh.

And all the way in reverse on the journey back home.

The ride from Delhi till Manali in Himachal Pradesh was comfortably pleasant despite the daily drive of 230 km. After this, the roads got tougher and the drives shorter.

The ride from Keylong in Himachal Pradesh to the Ladakh border at Sarchu was the toughest as the unpredictable weather of the Himalayas took over and it snowed heavily at the 16,040-ft Baralacha La pass.

Jayant Choudhary, a farmer from Indore, recalled: “I was just wearing a normal jacket and once it started snowing at Baralacha La, I didn’t know what to do.

“So I started singing loudly just to divert my attention from cold feet and wet clothes. It was a difficult time but now when I look back, I just feel that I was fit enough to survive.”

There was more in store — crossing icy streams and negotiating bad roads and hairpin bends. This, when the 2,500 km odyssey was not even half over.

From Sarchu, the riders reached Rumse in Ladakh. With Leh just 80 km away, they impatiently waited for sunrise so they could get on their bikes and race to their hotel. They had been camping in tents for days and a bath seemed most inviting.

“The moment I saw myself in the mirror after three days I was shocked because I looked like a nomad. This was the longest I had been away from a bath and a mirror,” said techie Saovik Singh from Bangalore.

For Julian from Chennai, who lost 40 kg to get on to the trip, this was a road trip to self-discovery.

The businessman spent almost Rs.200,000 on the trip, including Rs.110,000 on a new Thunderbird Twinspark. But it was all worth it.

“All through these years I have been very busy with work and there were times when I ignored my family. But here, I had enough time to think and discover myself. I have changed a lot because now I know that maintaining relations is important to live happily.”

It tested their mental and physical strengths, added Vipul Bhatia from Delhi.

“The trip teaches you to ride in groups and encourages team spirit. It is a wonderful experience and one should definitely be a part of this trip at least once in a lifetime.”

It was a break from the routine, from the stresses of everyday life with only the machine and the mountains to grapple with. But every single minute was worth it, the road trippers now back at home insist.

(Shilpa Raina can be contacted at shilpa.r@ians.in)

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