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Biking Across the Himalayas
Nidarshana Saikia Das with Bedanta Gogoi and Aditya Gupta
...at 18,000 feet there is hardly any oxygen...The road conditions are next to impossible...The last 3 - 3.5 km before the pass is an unfair battle between the bike and the mountain… From here onwards you take the bike, I mean push it...

It is more of physical strength and mental toughness than riding skill...

The incline is just 70 m, but to cross that, you will pant like a dog. You’ll feel like ripping all your clothes just for a breath of air, your head spinning with dizziness. The ecstasy after the agony to reach the pass cannot be described in words, but on sight of the milestone, all the fatigue goes away…

While most of us will be content simply visualising it – perhaps also feel some adrenaline squirt – only a very few would really wish they were there. Ask ten of them and you’ll get ten different answers as to why the love for such head-spinning, stomach-churning adventure. Some will talk of the thrills and spills, some of how they love to live the vagabond in them – unplugged from bosses and phone calls, yet others go on to describe how such trips make them feel one with nature, humbling them evermore with its omnipotence. Also, riding through hills and dales allows you a world of time to ‘think and wonder’ or stop by whenever you fancy – to capture that innocent smile of the tribesman, to stop and listen to the soft gurgle of some stream that snakes through the deep gorge, to eat or rest at the roadside dhaba or simply to ‘stand and stare’.

The routes less travelled & most loved
Manali to Leh
This one in the Himalayas is every biker’s dream and only the few-rides-old should dare it. Typically, the tour flags off from Delhi and trails through Chandigarh - Manali – Leh (via world’s highest motorable pass called Khardungla pass at 18370 feet) - Kargil - Drass – Srinagar – Jammu – Amritsar – Ludhiana and back to Delhi – all in some 15 days or more. They say this one’s enjoyed best during summers. Only 60 Kms away from Leh, towards the northwest tip of Pangong lake is Marsimik La or Marsimek La (misspelt in the plaque), is supposedly the highest motorable pass at 18,314 feet (officially), but due to its almost non-motorable condition and security reasons, the army would rather have it less advertised.

Spiti Valley Tour
Whether Rudyard Kipling’s “Surely the gods live here (Spiti valley); this is no place for men” sounds more exciting or the route’s consisting of precarious ledges, no regular roads and almost entirely above 3000m on the Chinese border – is entirely a matter of personal discretion, but the ride through this one is much sworn upon. Once again, if it has to take off from Delhi, it will entail Shimla – Sarahan – Sangla – Tabo – Kaza – Losar – Manali – Shoja – Shimla and back to the origin.

Sikkim Bhutan tour
Multi-hued monasteries, endless green of tea estates, cheerful localites, Darjeeling toy train and the backdrop of Kanchenjungha, make this one a sheer feast to the senses. You can either land at Kolkata or head straight to Bagdogra (West Bengal) and hit the route riding through Darjeeling – Gangtok (Sikkim begins) – Kalimpong – Phuntsholing (Bhutan begins) – Paro Valley – Thimpu – Wangdue – Gangtey – Bumthang – Mongar – Trashigang – Jongkar Border – Guwahati (Assam) and back.

While most bikers swear by these highlands, India’s unique and interesting topography leaves you spoilt for choices. The Indian coastline and the Western Ghats, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh are a few of the most ‘favourited’ zones, besides many others. But do destinations really matter? The most poignantly worded response to this came from Delhi-based biker, Bedanta Gogoi: “I don’t mind how long the ride is, nor is the destination important. All that matters is the ride. When I breathe in the air in different places, be it the arid regions of Rajasthan or the plush mountains of Himachal, it makes me feel closest to nature. These rides are like an addictive drug without which I cannot live.”
Bikers usually look at ‘potential’ risks as challenges. But may you not succumb to misguided sense of macho-ism. May you travel safe. Here are a few tips.
Dos and Don’ts
  • Get your bike thoroughly serviced, revise its weakest spots – if required spend extra bucks and nip the problem in the bud.
  • Before attempting a really long trip go for shorter ones to acclimatise yourself to the strain of riding non-stop. Padding up your ‘saddle’ can work wonders.
  • You all have your customised must-carry checklist, just make sure it includes sunscreen lotions, anti rash lotion, anti bacteria foot powder, sleeping bags, dry fruits, cable lock for your wheel and luggage, duplicate bike keys (keep separately), medicines for AMS (acute mountain sickness) like Diamox, all papers and permits and so on. Even better if you can manage those reflective stickers on your helmet.
  • Stash your money in different and unlikely places. Instead of loading yourself for the entire trip, replenish your cash minimally every time you hit civilisation en route.
  • Be prepared for places so remote that you’ll find no petrol pumps or ATMs.
  • Play safe with the locals and be good to truck drivers. You never know when you need them.
  • A trick to deal with mountain sickness can be this rule of gaining 1000 feet a day, halting there for sometime and retreating 300 feet to rest for the night and repeating this till you reach your destination.
  • Avoid highways during early mornings and late nights – most truck drivers drink and drive, while call centre cab drivers almost sleep off driving, and also because in foggy weather you can barely see a thing.
  • Bright coloured T-shirts or even those fluorescent vests that workers wear are recommended

    
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