Riding in the Himalayas with an Himalayan (Royal Enfield)
The Spiti Valley is the “middle land” between Tibet and India. A cold desert valley located in the Himalayas, famous for its dramatic scenery and far from modern civilization.
Mostly unpaved roads, barely any direction signs, scarce mobile signal, and no human presence for miles.
There! Can you imagine getting lost, by night, in such a place? On one of the most dangerous roads in the entire world?
I know. It sounds pretty scary. That’s indeed a very crazy adventure, which makes me look back at life with a smile, thinking ‘Hell yeah, I’ve truly lived!’
It was a very cold Indian afternoon, -10°C, when my partner and I decided to start riding towards Spiti Valley, taking the road from Keylong to Chandratal lake.
We got all prepared: me, him, our white Royal Enfield Himalayan, and around 25 kg of luggage wrapped on the metal rack.
You’re probably thinking “why would you bring so much weight?”, and I’m sorry to say that I don’t really have an answer for it.
You know when you start packing and you think everything will be absolutely useful? Like two yoga mats, a ukulele, raincoats, thermal clothes to protect us from the cold & a summer tent (totally misfitted)… yeah, we are definitely not the best packers, but we trusted our bike.
The morning before leaving smelled like adventure, we woke up with the sun’s rays peaking out of the pristine mountains. We quickly got ready, filled with the thrill to reach a new destination we had heard so much about.
We packed the bike, tightened the luggage up with some bungees, wore the helmets, the padded jackets, and then hopped on the bike, riding with the morning sun, towards the pink shaded mountain rage.
Those are really the best travel moments: the journeys, riding free, towards a yet unknown destination, surrounded by a scenery witnessed by new born eyes who see a landscape for the first time. Living every second, every instant of an everlasting moment of pure presence.
Google was showing us the way, but the reception was really poor, and at times we couldn’t understand where to go at all.
It got dark when we completely lost our way.
That’s the downside of mountain life: days are shorter, especially in such altitude, the sun hides behind the mountains at around 4 pm.
In a matter of minutes, we found ourselves entirely alone, freezing, lost, and still five hours away from our destination, riding along a ravine!
The road was rocky, narrow, precarious, at points icy and slippery too.
We had read that in the Himalayas there are some of the most dangerous roads in the entire world, but the Himalayas are huge, we really didn’t think we would eventually end up in one of those.
But there we were: in a freezing north Indian night, riding towards the dark, on the only off-road ahead.
That’s the moment when it hit.
It hits all of a sudden, and you wish it doesn’t. The mind goes into a negative mode:
“Why did I do this? Why am I here? Why did we choose to come by bike instead of taking a bus?”
Those are the moments that feel like a defeat. Like you should’ve listened to your parents, who said not to do such an irresponsible and risky thing.
The moments where you wish you were a ‘common human’ who lives the normal routine of life, waking up, going to the office, and going to bed.
You wish you were someone who doesn’t risk it all, who doesn’t leave the comfort zone for an uncertain situation, someone who doesn’t love the adrenaline gifted by bike riding in one of the highest mountains in the world.
We stopped. We panicked. We cried. We froze. We questioned our decision.
We were standing on an invisible line between fear and curiosity, regret and excitement.
“Should we go back? Or should we risk it?” – was the doubt.
Of course, we risked it!
It all happens in a matter of seconds.
It’s really not easy to travel, and traveling as bikers is even harder – more responsibility and risk!
Yes, it’s really a matter of seconds, in those instants, which at times seem to last forever, you might ruin your whole trip, the plan, the destination, the connection.
It might all fade away, allowing fear to take the main spot.
But in the same amount of seconds, you might also grab your own self, look into its doubtful eyes, and evolve.
That’s the moment that will mark your whole trip and ride, the moment of change, of growth, of transformation, of transition: from fear to courage.
All of a sudden, the scary dark, icy road, took the shape of an exciting path that was unfolding in front of us, lit up only by the bike’s headlight.
At that point, it was already past 8 pm, and we were still in the middle of nowhere, completely alone, without any phone signal, trusting that the only off-road path ahead, would eventually lead us to our destination.
The way was so narrow and deserted, it wasn’t possible to put our tent and camp, besides, we were not equipped, we were hoping to find a hotel or some place where to spend the night, just like we did the previous days spent on other sides of the Himalayas.
We were moving forward driven by hope and the positive thought of finding a place.
“Come on, after this turn we will see some lights and a sign of civilisation!”
We were repeating to each other, to keep the hope alive, but after two hours, it started to sound like a broken disk, repeating the same sentence without any outcome at all.
At around 10 pm, the road started changing, from icy and rocky to sandy and bumpy.
When in front of a steep road, my partner asked me to get off the bike and walk, so he could speed and get the bike lighter, since we also had around 20kg of weight on it.
So I followed the instructions and started hiking, while he moved forward with the bike.
My bump and legs were hurting like hell and I could barely feel the rest of my body because of the cold weather.
I was concentrating on stretching up my body, when I saw the bike slipping on the unstable sandy surface and falling down completely, together with all the luggage and my partner.
I raced to the rescue. Fortunately, the ground was very soft and he wasn’t hurt, nor anything damaged, but the 200kg bike was definitely too heavy for us to lift, we were unable to put it back up.
The weather had reached a temperature of -20°C, we had no signal and were completely alone in the dark.
It was a moment of absolute panic.
We sat on the ground, together with the bike, and waited, there was nothing else we could do, only wait, trusting in the power of patience and faith.
Around half an hour later, the brightness of a light answered our prayers. It was the headlight of a Hero XPulse 200 first, followed by two Royal Enfields.
It was a small group of bikers, who were directed to Spiti Valley as well. They stopped and immediately helped us lift up the bike.
Now it wasn’t just the two of us anymore, but a little group of riders, proceeding towards the same direction. It had a whole other feeling of safety and adrenaline.
Four Bikes in the dark, looking for a place where to spend the night.
Soon after midnight, we noticed a little fire light in the distance, which kept on getting brighter as we moved closer.
Finally, after eight hours of a ride in the middle of nothing, we found our first sign of civilization: “Chacha & Chachi Dhaba”. Dhabas are traditional Indian food stalls. Chacha and Chachi mean Uncle and Aunt.
In the middle of the night, in the wilds of the Himalayas, an old Tibetan couple was cooking Dal Chaval, a traditional Indian dish made with lentils and rice, and chai (tea).
It felt like a desert mirage. Almost seemed too unreal to be true. But they were there, in flesh and bones, ready to offer us their warm meals, which was all we could have ever dreamed of at that moment.
We sat around the fire, fed our starving stomachs, and socialized with fellow bikers who were camping right behind the dhaba.
We spent the night there too, borrowing sleeping bags and blankets to be able to survive the coldest camping night of our lives.
The new morning Sun was a blessing, it was radiant, warm, comforting, and it allowed us to see for the first time where we had arrived the night before.
It was a breathtaking scenery, surrounded by rocky mountains which took a peachy pink shade, absorbing the sunrise’s tint.
Chacha & Chachi offered us a warm tea and then we got ready to hit the road again – confident, excited, grown, sure that the experience we had just lived, would be forever imprinted within our skins.
We were incredibly eager to finally reach our target, which was still two hours away from the dhaba, but at that point, deep down, we knew that what we were living was way more important than reaching the end.
It was all about the journey.