Himalaya roadtrip world's highest passes.
During my motorcycle trip overland from Holland to Nepal, in 2008, I drove already through the Himalayas on my BMW R1200GS. Unfortunately in 2008 I could not visit the highest mountain passes in the world, because all the passes were closed due to snow. In 2014 I did get an invitation to become a travel guide for motor trips, exactly in this part of the Himalaya. Off course I first had to learn the route and the local traditions, so I went to India with an experienced guide, learning all the do´s and dont´s.
After the flight to New Delhi, we travelled directly to Manali, a small mountain village at the foot of the Himalayas. The snowy peaks behind the prayer flags are waiting to being visited. We pick up our 2012 Royal Enfield motorcycles and Hans, the experienced tour guide, introduces me to our two mechanics. These men will be travelling in a support vehicle behind us, throughout the entire trip. The bus also carries all kind of spare parts, enough to replace a complete Enfield. An additional benefit is that the bus also carries our luggage and can provide all kind of backup when needed.
The next morning we'll start with a notorious mountain pass, the Rohtang pass, translated into English: "pass of stacked corpses"... The pass has become worldwide known through the BBC series "Most dangerous roads" and later it was also the setting for the "Deatliest Roads" series. Climbing on the south side is not really difficult, but the steep ravines along the broken roads on the north side, makes everything clear. For us motorbikers not extreme difficult, but trucks and buses are manoeuvring on this pass literally on the edge.
The Baralahcha pass is a greater challenge for the motorcyclist. The pass is "only" 4892 meter high (already 82 meters higher than the highest peak in Europe, the Mont Blanc), but it is extra challenging due to the large water streams of melting snow. Wet boots are on this pass unavoidable. A fully packed Indian takes the wrong track in one of the streams and loses his balance. He is completely submerged in the cold meltwater and is spluttering back up. Together we help him out of the water and are extra thankful that our luggage is in the support vehicle. Without luggage the Royal Enfield feels very light and is manoeuvring much easier. Crossing these challenging obstacles makes also clear the advantage of riding in a group. Everybody is riding smoothly at there own pace, but at the more difficult points, the group is waiting to help if necessary. At the many checkpoints along the way, we are also waiting for each other, but that is for drinking a nice cup of tea together. Our travel guide uses these tea breaks at the same time for the completion of all necessary formalities and the local permits.
After the Baralacha pass we drive our first 5000+ pass, the Lachalung pass with 5065 meters. My Royal Enfield gets for the first time problems due to the lack of oxygen and I park my bike at 4700 meters, close to a deep ravine. Five minutes later the support vehicle with the technician arrives. He removes the air filter and makes some changes to the carburettor, which allows me to continue without any more problems. On the summit no hotdog or cappuccino, like in Europe, but thousands of brightly colored prayer flags and countless small stupas. The wind takes the prayers of the flags and the stupas makes the mountain top even closer to heaven. Mountain passes here in the Himalayas really feels completely different than in Europe, almost religious. The north side of the Lachalung pas descends to the beautiful narrow Kangla valley. The road is twisting between steep cliffs, tight against the rocks. It looks a bit like the Grand Canyon in America, but here you drive inside the canyon instead of above. Magnificent!
The night we spend on a mountain at an altitude of 4800 meters. In this place people can only survive a few months a year, so this time no hotel or guesthouse, but a large temporary Yurt tent. We sleep with nomads, who build their tents here in the summer and earn money with tourists and truck drivers. On this height you can feel clearly the lack of oxygen and each walk or little exercise is resulting in gasping for breath. Because the air pressure at 4,800 meters is almost halved (500 hPa), you also get half of the oxygen in your longs, and it shows! Luckily we do not need to do any exercise and we know that it is only for one night. Beneath a clear sky -0% light pollution-, we eat some fried rice and are trying to get some sleep with -5°C under thick warm blankets.
Next morning we wait outside our tent for the sun to climb over the mountain tops. The first direct sunlight is bringing back some warmth in our body. Before we are descending today, we first drive 40 km perfect new asphalt on the More Plains plateau. A plateau at 4700 meter altitude, which is best described as a barren and desolate desert. In this desert there is one of the largest salt reserves in the world, and the white gold is sometimes literally found direct on the surface. However, the area is so inhospitable that it will be difficult to make some profitable mines. Hopefully nature will be untouched for a long time. Along the More Plains there is the 9 km2 Tso-kar Lake. This enormous lake is catching all the melt water from the surrounding giant mountains. Due to the depth of 80 meters, the clean melt water and the extreme temperatures (-40° to +30°C), there are living completely unknown animal species in this lake. A paradise for biologists.
After the More Plains we climb with beautiful new asphalt to the next pass, the Tanglang Pass. With a height of 5360 meters the second highest motorable pass in the world. The new asphalt is naturally beautiful, but the way it is constructed and maintained, is almost inhuman. In the hot sun poor Indians are sitting 14 hours a day, smashing stones by hand to smooth the road. Tar and asphalt is melted on a wood fire, were at the same time diner is being cooked. Those heroes are sleeping outside on the road, under a simple tarp and are using cold snow water for washing. Only when there is severe frost during daytime, they are descending from the mountains, returning after months back to their family. All this for a salary of one euro a week.
Early in the afternoon we arrive in Leh, the capital of Ladakh. Here we spend the night in a normal hotel and admire the Buddhist way of living at 3500 meters altitude. We still have 25% less oxygen, but because our bodies did create some extra red blood cells, we are less breathless. A slow relaxed walk around the local market is no problem, but climbing mountains like the hikers and Sherpas are doing, is not given to us. In Leh we also finally have the possibility to make contact with home. Our mobile phones are still out of order, but in Leh there is some (slow) internet. When the city has no power blackouts we can call home using Skype and send some mail to friends and family.
Next day we are riding along the Indus river to the Lamayuru monastery, where the monk Naropa centuries ago designed 6 major meditation techniques. One of those techniques (Tummo) is used by the Dutchman Wim Hof, better known as "the Iceman". The basic of the Tummo technique is controlling your body temperature with a combination of visualization and meditation. The Lamayuru monastery is also known as possible residence for the last years of the Dalai Lama. Main reason for his residence is the old history of the monastery and the location in the beautiful Lamayuru valley. The valley is indeed beautiful, but the detour we drove over an old winding mountain road, is really indescribable. At every turn we see a new scenery and the colours of rocks are changing from gray-blue to green from yellow to red and eventually white limestone is melting with a green oasis around the monastery. Of all the roads I have ever seen, this road is my number one!
The most beautiful mountain road in the world!
The last day we climb the Khardong pass, widely known as the highest motorable pass in the world. Thanks to the new GPS systems, we today know that the sign 5602 meter is not accurate and that there are a few higher passes in Pakistan and Tibet. However, the Khardong pass is the only pass where you can ride to the top, without the threat of a war. The first part of the ascent is a beautiful winding road with perfect asphalt, but the second part of the road changes into a completely broken dirt road. Luckily the road is wide enough, so one hour later we reach the top after winding between thousands potholes and rocks. On the summit everybody is proudly making a photo with the pass name and height. Next to this sign stands also a warning;. "Staying more than 25 mins can be harmful". On this height the oxygen intake is even less than 50%, so after half an hour we return breathless but satisfied back to the valley.
This Himalayan journey is real lifetime experience with memories for the rest of your live. Extra bonus is that I'm going to be the travel guide next year and I am allowed to give 100 euro discount to everyone I know! With the travel organisation I have agreed that anyone who signs up through me, will receive 100 euros discount directly off the regular price. So if you are interested, first thing to do is send an email to email@example.com or visit our website http://www.lifeisjoy.nl where you also can see all the movies.
Highlights during this trip:
- The highest motorable pass in the world.
- Second highest motorable pass in the world.
- One of "World most dangerous roads".
- Most beautiful mountain road in the world.
- Unique road trip through the high Himalayas.
- 1200 km adventure, 10 high mountain passes.
- Part of the original ancient trade Silk Road
- Sleeping in a tent camp at 4800 meters.
- Visit the capital of India: Delhi.
- Visit capital of Ladakh: Leh.
- Visit Buddhist temple.
- Tour guide speaking Dutch and English.
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