Royal Enfield Himalayan Odyssey Ride, a once-in-a-lifetime ride that you should do often
Imagine this – a blazing bonfire crackling next to the enchanting Pangong lake, its waters reflecting the shimmering starlit sky on a chilly night. You find yourself in the company of newfound biker friends whom you just met a week ago, singing old classics while your bikes are parked right by your side. To me, this was the peak biking experience, something I didn't expect to experience so early in my life. Nevertheless, I'm glad I did, and I'm here to tell why you should too.
We met up in Delhi, gathering beneath the cloudy Delhi skies, anticipation twinkling in our eyes about what was about to come. The Royal Enfield Himalayan Odyssey was about to unfold, promising a journey of a lifetime through the awe-inspiring landscapes of the Himalayas. Little did we know that this motorcycle ride would be more than just a physical expedition; it would become a deeply emotional and spiritual experience, etched forever in our hearts.
But Royal Enfield wouldn't just send us out without proper training. Before setting out, we received proper medical training about what to do in case of an emergency, the right way to perform CPR, and more. This was followed by a pre-ride briefing about the route, what to do, and what not to do, similar to what you would get at any other Royal Enfield ride. One thing different about this particular ride was the route. You see, the weather hadn't been good for the usual route to get to Umling La, which was through Himachal Pradesh. So Royal Enfield decided to take a route they had never taken before, through J&K. This meant more riding days, but when the journey is so beautiful, you hardly care about that.
As our engines roared to life the next day, the roar of Royal Enfield motorcycles filled the air. We were a motley crew of strangers, bound by the shared love for two wheels and a longing to escape the ordinary, the thrill of the open road and the promise of a grand adventure had us excited to the core. I, a bit more, because this was the first time I was going to ride the Himalayan for such a long time, and through places that it was meant to be ridden on. The first two days were long and hot. The goal was to reach Jammu with a night stay in Chandigarh. Unlike what we had anticipated, the weather wasn't that pleasant. The sun was shining hard, and sweat ran profusely. But the green fields of Haryana and Punjab provided respite. Since most of the roads to Jammu are pretty much big straight highways, I found myself longing for a Meteor, and not because the Himalayan was not up to the task. But because a smooth long highway demands a proper cruiser, one that could go the distance without sweating. But no fret, the Himalayan was no less. It kept on going and the windscreen turned out to be a lifesaver. Upon reaching Jammu, however, the monsoon season had bestowed its blessings, it rained, leaving the weather absolutely perfect for a ride.
Jammu marked the end of long straight highways and the beginning of twisty roads that were sometimes unnervingly narrow. But we marched ahead. The occasional raindrops were a welcome sight. Each curve and bend revealed a new masterpiece of greens and rolling hills, like a mesmerising canvas for us to explore. One thing deserving of appreciation is the work that has been done on national highways, which has made travel much easier and more comfortable. Although there are a few broken patches in between, work is in progress. This turned out to be a good test for the Himalayan as well, as we could properly test the suspension and handling – and of course, it went through everything without a hiccup. Overall, it turned out to be a pretty tiring day, but a few minutes sitting beside the beautiful Dal Lake fixed that.
After leaving Srinagar, we started feeling the coldness in the weather. The sun wasn't as bright, and rain was more frequent. We were literally reaching for the clouds at this point. Wildlife had also changed; this was the first time I spotted a Yak on the ride. The high altitude had started affecting our bodies as oxygen became scarce. But the views were oh-so-good. The monsoon had done its job, casting a mystical spell over the land. Everything had more colour, more texture, more signs of life. And one thing I learned was that if you haven't seen that with your own eyes, you haven't seen it at all. After Zoji La pass, we encountered our first water crossing on the way, something I was really looking forward to. The Himalayan's taller ground clearance was a blessing here. As we got closer to Kargil, however, the green hues of nature began to fade. Vegetation was harder to find as we were now in a properly high-altitude area. Through quaint villages and winding mountain roads, we reached Kargil, but not before paying a visit to the Kargil War Memorial. One thing that is certainly true is that we wouldn't be able to enjoy this trip if it weren't for those heroes keeping us safe. The roads to Kargil and beyond are incredibly well-maintained, with signs alerting us about upcoming bends or sharp turns.
The next day, we headed to Leh, and it was almost rare to see any vegetation. The hills were brown as far as the eye could see, except for the shining white of the snow. The sun was bright again, a relief as the cold winds made their presence felt. The roads were well-maintained and wide. Reaching Leh felt like a homecoming, as if we had discovered a hidden piece of ourselves nestled amidst the mountains. The warmth of Leh's people and the rich tapestry of its culture were touching. We were not outsiders; we were part of something larger than ourselves.
Our next day's destination was Hanle. The day started with a bit of rain. We were told that the roads now would be tougher. And that's exactly what happened – we encountered our first water crossing filled with muck. A bit of extra power was needed here, but I crossed it safely. The roads after Leh are still under construction, which means you'll encounter a lot of gravel patches and water crossings. In some parts, there are no roads at all, and you'll find yourself riding on rocks. I felt for the guys riding their Meteors and Continental GTs, yet their expressions told a different story. They were happy and enjoying the ride just as much as anyone else. Another thing is that you’d constantly find yourself stopping and clicking photos. And understandably so, the water is just as clear as you'd imagine from your childhood – clearly untouched by humans. The wildlife is different from what we city dwellers are accustomed to, and the grass truly is greener there.
We reached Hanle before evening, but we knew it was going to be a cold night. Temperatures could easily fall below zero, and the winds would chill us to our bones. But this wasn't enough to stop us from sitting outside, gazing at the stars like 10-year-old kids. After all, this is the darkest place in India, home to the world’s highest observatory. The stars you see from here look straight out of a sci-fi movie, and one could clearly distinguish the constellations. The only issue was that we couldn't stay awake, as we had our most significant challenge ahead of us – reaching Umling La.
The ascent to Umling La was both exhilarating and nerve-wracking. The first few kilometres had no road at all. We were riding entirely on dirt patches, and the only people around were other tourists. The next few meant a steep climb. In a span of 20-odd kilometres, you would gain an altitude of around 2000ft. As we neared the highest motorable pass in the world, the air thinned, but our spirits soared. The stormy clouds seemed to part, revealing a vista that defied imagination. At that moment, we understood the essence of human resilience and the beauty of riding. We were no longer running on food and water, but rather on the need to achieve this incredible feat – the feat of riding on the highest motorable pass in the world.
The summit was just as magnificent as you would imagine. And to top it all off, there was a bit of snowfall as well. Mixed emotions prevailed, with many shedding tears of glory and happiness. A lengthy photography session ensued; everyone wanted to capture this particular moment. Maybe also to go back home and encourage their friends and family, possibly convincing them to undertake such a trip. For me, it showcased the strength of humans and how strangers can join hands to help each other realise their dreams. This wasn't just about taking photos to boast to others, but also to prove to oneself that it's achievable, much like many senior members of our group had done.
Although the primary goal had been achieved, we weren't going to stop. The next stop was Pangong Lake. The route was almost exclusively sandy, with occasional water crossings and rocky passages. The water crossings on this route were the most challenging and deepest. On the way, we paused at the Rezang La war memorial to pay our respects. Reaching Pangong Lake was incredible. It possibly featured the bluest shade of water you'd ever encounter. And to our luck, our night stay was very close to the water, providing me with one of the best nights I've ever had.
The following day, we headed back to Leh, which also meant it was my last day of riding. But not before enjoying as much as my heart desired. We headed to Leh through Chang La Pass, which presented a different kind of challenge in itself. We were ascending again, and the road was now wet and muddy. On the top, there was enough snow to make you feel like winter had arrived. We quickly took photos and descended, trying to avoid more rain on the way. Reaching Leh was, once again, a pleasant experience. The roads were wide and smooth, the people welcoming, and the kids as excited as if they had completed the ride themselves.
As the ride came to an end, I couldn't help but want to do it all over again. The Himalayan Odyssey is more than just a motorcycle ride; it's a dance of emotions, an exploration of the self, and a love affair with nature. The raindrops that caressed our faces during the journey weren't just droplets of water; they were tears of joy, laughter, and realisation. If there's one trip you must embark on in this lifetime, let it be this rain-soaked, emotion-dense adventure into the heart of the Himalayas. Ultimately, it's not just a ride; it's a transformational odyssey that will leave you with memories to cherish, friendships to treasure, and a soul forever bound to the majestic mountains.