How to ride safe in Ladakh
Tips and tricks to help you prepare for your Ladakh motorcycle trip
The Himalaya are the best place to ride in the whole world (really!) but there are several factors one must keep in mind while riding here:
Driving in India
Most Indians drive like maniacs and you never know when an animal or a child may stray out into the road. You will encounter a fair number of these elements on the ride from Manali to Rohtang. Once we cross the Rohtang traffic is sparse and the road is usually run by professional truck and bus drivers who are much better behaved. Never get into a jousting match on the road with an Indian – if someone is raising a racket behind you just let them overtake and keep a safe distance. And remember, we drive on the left!
Accidents and medical support
This ride through the Himalaya goes through some of the most desolate regions on Planet Earth. The 473 km stretch between Manali and Leh is completely devoid of life. There is no helicopter support available (unless we charter one specifically for the ride). In the middle of the trip we are a 10-hour hard drive from the nearest medical centre. Anyone involved in an accident or with a case of high-altitude sickness will have to be driven in our back-up vehicle to either Manali or Leh, where good medical support is available. In the worst case scenario, landslides or mechanical failures may block the back-up vehicle as well. You must keep this factor in mind before signing up. The Himalaya are beautiful, but offer plenty of danger too.
The Royal Enfield takes a long time to build up speed and an even longer time to stop. Building up momentum and conserving it is key to riding one in the mountains. The clunky gearshift also takes some getting used to. There may be loose dirt on the road – particulary around bends so watch out and avoid getting into a skid. Spilled diesel and water running across the road - even a small slick – can throw you off the bike. Do not try any crazy dirt antics – the Enfield does not have the suspension, frame rigidity or braking to handle it. Much of the ride involves getting not only yourself, but also your bike out in one piece. Our bikes are in pretty good condition and can take a fair amount of punishment but you will only spoil your own ride if you try to push the machine beyond its limits. Remember, you are riding a WWII design across the most treacherous terrain on the planet and that too for 10 days, so much will depend on your riding skill. We carry spares for handling superficial repairs like broken cables, levers and chains, blocked carburettors, punctures and dodgy electricals (lots of that on the Bullet) but an engine, gearbox or suspension breakdown will involve a trip to the garage in either Manali or Leh.
In case you come to a river-crossing or a part of the road that is flooded, always stop and recce the spot for the best route across. The current may be strong and you cannot rev your way out of trouble on the Enfield. Always cross in 1st gear and stop a safe distance on the other side so the next chap does not crash into you while speeding out of the puddle. While on the other side, keep a lookout for fellow riders in case they get stuck in the water and need help.
You are welcome to get drunk and beat the crap out of your fellow riders at the hotel but we will not tolerate drunk or zoned out riders on the road. A rider operating at half-wits is a danger not only to himself but also to fellow riders and other people on the road. Moreover, he or she is no fun to hang out with. Keep off the intoxicants, enjoy the ride and stave off altitude sickness. Anyone found breaking the rules will end up in the back of the truck with all the tools and spares. Rioteers will be left by the side of the road with their thumb and a water bottle for company.
We ride in pairs. The tour guide and one rider buddy up and do point. Another rider and the tour leader are tail gunners and the truck rattles on behind. All other riders are in the middle. The trick is to always keep sight of your buddy and stop in case of trouble. You can overtake another pair or switch buddies but the tail gunners and truck always stick to the rear and stop if any of the riders runs into trouble.
Try and buy riding gear in your own country - good quality riding gear is not easily available in India. Invest in a good helmet that is not loose and check the visor to see if it flicks open easily – you will be doing this several times during the ride to let in air and to get a good view. Carry shades in case your visor breaks or gets badly scratched. Make sure your jacket is warm and does not let in too much cold air at the wrists, neck and waist. Get a pair of water-proof trousers and boots – these will come in handy during the river crossings. Carry enough spare socks – the best way to dry out your boots after a crossing is to change pairs. We recommend hand-knitted Kullu socks – they are incredibly warm and will last a long time and are cheap too. Get long gloves that cover up your fore-arms. All your gear needs to keep you warm – our rides are mostly done in the summer but it can get mighty cold on the passes if the weather turns bad. Get a day pack that you can strap on to either the tank or the rear seat (the experience is not complete if you do not have at least one bag strapped to the bike…). All other luggage goes in the truck. Try and keep it down - the truck needs to carry tools and spare fuel so leave the cello back home. Try out all your riding gear and run it all in before you arrive – nothing more uncomfortable than a stiff pair of gloves or a jacket that leaks in unexpected places.