Riding an Enfield through Spiti Valley & Ladakh

Sertx & I are now 3300m high in the Himalayas, after having driven 2372km & reaching 5373m in height on the Enfield motorbike. We rode over the 2 highest motorable passes in the world; Taglang-La at 5347m & Khardung-La at 5373m. We also recently trekked up the 6125m Stok Kangri mountain; it took 2 short days to walk to base camp, from where we were woken at 1am to spend, what was to be, 7 hours to reach the summit. Only 15 minutes into the hike and it already started snowing heavily. We crossed a large glacier & had to jump over small crevasses in the dark, all the time walking on rocky ground; it would have been impossible without a guide! We gave up after 4 hours, at 5769m, halfway up a steep, loose-rock cliff edge, as we both started hallucinating plus it was freezing & just too foggy to see ahead - we were exhausted out of our minds! Thankfully we were not the only ones who found it hard & had to turn back.
We have met many other Enfielders en-route, as well as a few short-route cyclists whom we cheered on, & also the famous touring cyclists Pikes on Bikes, who originally inspired us to cycle the Andes, which we will still do one day. Travelling by motorbike has allowed us to enjoy more time in the places we visit and luckily our bike hasn’t given up on us - after its first appalling week where we needed to visit a workshop 5 times; at one point the battery failed, leaving us stranded on a mountain-top only 20km from our destination, for which we had to load the bike on the back of a van and were driven down to the flat plains again just to find a workshop.
Here in the Ladakh region we have been living alongside Tibetan people, who have just finished celebrating their annual festival, where people from different areas of the region dress up, sing & dance. We also recently returned from the super spectacular, sandy Nubra Valley, where we visited Baltistan, a former Pakistani area until 1971, and closed to tourists until 2 years ago. We have been as north as is possible in India. Next we will spend one month riding back to Delhi, via Amritsar, where we will visit the Golden Temple, home to the Sikhs. In Delhi we will end our trip and catch a flight back to London again!

Rock n Roll
After leaving Chandigarh we headed up into the steep pedestrian village Shimla, known for its summer retreat of the Raj. We drove through Kinnaur valley, which was lush green, and then through Spiti valley, which was dry, brown desert land. We watched the mountains being pounded by machines and also blown-up – all to make way for a wider, smoother tarmac road. These new roads were in the process of being constructed along most of the way; and we occasionally saw large rocks rolling off the edges down to the roads below! We are however extremely grateful to all the Indian workers who toil in freezing conditions to construct the new roads.  

We drove through immensely astounding rocky & arid landscapes; sometimes also along hair-raising sandy roads; also down steep, spine-tingling roads with no visible barriers; along cliff edges which dropped 50m down into a narrow river; through a number of metre-deep rivers, which cut through the roads, and even through a couple of muddy landslides. Only a 15 minute thunderstorm rain shower can create a torturous, metre-thick muddy path to cross.

We were riding over mountain passes higher than 3800m, with the occasional snowy mountain peak revealing itself from behind the clouds and also observed the thick snowy glaciers, gradually melting between the peaks. We also crossed through an ‘inline’ area bordering Tibet – our closest at only 17km from the country, where the Indian army were based. 


We met an Enfield couple from Bombay at a landslide near Kaza with whom we crossed over the 4557m high Kunzum-La pass. We rode together along the toughest muddiest stretch, so we could help each other out (unfortunately we weren’t much help, as they were the ones wearing rubber boots!) Together we rode passed the ‘Gaddi’ shepherds controlling their enormous herds of sheep & goats – the shepherds often carry the youngest lamb in their arms, or parcel up 8 of them in woven sacks which are slung around their horses!
We connected to the infamous ‘Manali – Leh’ highway, which is misleading as the road is barely wide enough for two vehicles to pass. The climate here is so extreme that this highway is only open for 4 months each year. We rode north passing higher mountains; Baralacha-La at 4910m; Nakeela-La at 4937m & Lachulang-La at 5074m. We also spent a night in a tent with an attached bathroom which had a ceramic toilet & sink! Our last stop before Leh was at Tso Kar lake where we spotted 2 black-necked cranes and a pack of wild kiang horses. We have also seen massive buzzards & eagles, some blue sheep (which are actually goats,) a few Ladakh pikas, plus several friendly, furry & fat Himalayan marmots on our walks through the mountains. Unfortunately we haven’t spotted a snow leopard yet.
Just before entering Leh we entered what seemed like a Star Wars set – a purple coloured gorge with immense upended strata rock. As a pillion passenger I got the chance to observe all the various rock formation patterns, from flat and wavy, or smooth as sand, to jagged and sharp. This landscape is worth a billion – the mountains are like a compilation of all the finest jewels of the world – and passing through them is better than a visit to Mars!

Locals & Mud-Brick Architecture
The time and effort it takes to ride through this landscape makes you wonder how on earth anyone can come and settle down to live here in the middle of what seems like nowhere amongst this desert land. The people we met are not Indian-looking at all and we often forget we’re still in India; There are more Tibetan flags & prayer flags around than Indian flags. Everyone is friendly & welcoming, yet the food is unfortunately minimal – with only a choice of chowmain fried noodles or vegetable momos dumplings along with milky masala chai tea. Thankfully I can have locally grown porridge oats for breakfast. I woke up one morning to find a scorpion crawling out from under my bag; which was a stronger wake-up call than my beloved black coffee for once! At night, when we turn off the lights to sleep, all the dogs start barking non-stop.

We have visited several monasteries, including the most important, yet what seemed like the smallest one in Ladakh, the Khardong Monastery. At Hemis we watched artists carefully paint the colourful demons on the temple walls. For Thiksey we had to climb over 300 steps to reach the monastery, but were gratefully rewarded with amazing views, as well as seeing a massive golden Buddha in one of the temples. We also stopped in Tabo to see three of its nine small temples, one of which had paintings from the 16th century. We also visited a very old temple on top of a mountain in Sarahan, which was dedicated solely to the Hindu goddess Kali.

The houses in the Ladakh region are built from mud-brick, which is supposedly best for keeping in the warmth during the long -30°C winter months. The locals also collect cow pat & either pile it on top of their roofs or place stacks of it beside their cow-coartyards for use as insulation or fuel in winter. We visited a tiny town, Nako, at 3600m elevation which had beautiful houses made from mud-brick, wood & stone. Each house also has a small private courtyard for their cow. When walking through the town we also noticed the underneath of house-walkways were decorated with colourful Buddhist scenes and Mandalas, made from fabric suck to the wood structure.

Riding on a Royal Enfield through this astounding landscape is in our opinion, the ultimate experience of a lifetime. If you ever get the chance you have to ride around here.