Our contact for renting motorbikes is named Anu. Ive never met him but its not too hard for him to find us. We are the only white people exiting the plane, and there are 5 of us. He has a jeep and an SUV to drive us and our luggage up to his place in Vashisht, a small Buddhist town across the river from Manali.
The contrasts are pretty intense; a lush river valley flowing through stony Himalayan peaks, cows and goats and dogs roaming freely. Trash piled up at seemingly random locations, but it seems that the locals have all agreed that these are the best locations for the trash. Road side Dhabas serving Indian fast food and chai tea, and locals eating and drinking chai tea. Dogs, goats and cows eating the trash.
We arrive at Anu Motor Works (singular) and find he has cleared his workshop to present 5 gleaming Royal Enfield 500 cc Machismo Bullet motorbikes. All lined up and ready to go. All 5 bikes are fit with luggage racks to carry bags, tools and spare fuel canisters. Three of us decide they don’t want big racks, so Anu’s team spends some time making modifications and preparing the tool kit, complete with spares that we may need.
3 inner tubes for the tires, 4 spark plugs, 2 sets of wheel bearings, various cables for throttle and clutch, and all the tools need to repair the bikes on the side of the road in India.
By the time this is all said and done its too late to depart so we grab a couple of Guest Stay rooms above Anu’s shop and prepare to leave early in the morning. This entire time Ive been weebling back and forth about what to do. I have a patriotic open-faced helmet, an outfit a Russian gangster would be proud of, and a pair of gloves that were probably designed for paint ball.
I'm still not sure where my bags are.
Heading North into Ladakh without cold weather gear seems like a bad idea. So I decide to head SouthWest to Dharamsala and work on becoming one with my gear. The rest of the guys are going to take a back road over the Rohtang pass, through the Lahaul valley and end up in Srinagar, where we will attempt to reconnect.
Riding to Leh from Manali is not an option as there is one really high pass in between, the Baralacha La. It is still closed on June 1st and is not expected to open for another week or so. The new plan is to ride across to Srinagar, into Kashmir, and then over the Zoji La pass, to arrive in Leh via a reverse route.
Their ride sounds like much more fun than hanging out in Dharamsala, seeing all those enlightened people every day would probably make me depressed.
So I borrow a jacket, riding pants and a sleeping bag from Anu, and go for it.
The Rohtang Pass, in fact the whole area, had been hammered with snow during the winter, much more so than usual, and the opening of the pass was about 3 weeks late because they just couldn’t get the roads clear. We crossed over about a week after it had been opened and it was spectacular. The lower elevations were nice sweeping roads with forest on either side and gentle switch back turns taking you higher and higher. And traffic. The mid elevations were sharper turns, and tighter roads, with sharp spires of rock and amazing views of the valley below. And more traffic. Near the top we were passing between snow banks, sometimes 20 feet high, and all the melting snow was causing small rivers to run down the road.
By this time the traffic had pretty much reached critical mass. The thousands upon thousands of Delhi’ites that had come on holiday to the top of Rohtang to see snow and possibly so some trekking were all reaching their destination. The same destination. It was a huge mess, but thanks to our overly loud horns and loud revving engines we were able to squeeeeze through and make it beyond the brutal log jam of psychotic suv drivers and their helpless victims.
Once beyond the trekking cluster we had open roads as far as we could see. They might be goat tracks with rocks the size of basketballs poking up out of the rivers running down the center, but they were free of traffic.
We rode the rest of the day on roads that would alternate suddenly between clean smooth blacktop and beat up dirt roads that had never seen a plow. Ok, maybe they seen a plow, but it was strapped to a yak.
We did see the back end of the Rohtang tunnel, a 5 mile long project, coordinated with an Austrian engineering firm. We were able to talk ourselves onto the grounds and go up to the tunnel, but not into it. We also were not allowed to take photos.
Chris’s front wheel was making a clicking sound so it was diagnosed on the roadside. Bearings suspected. All in all it was a great start to the ride. We made it to our goal, Udaipur, got the same room in the same Guest Stay that Laura and I stayed in, and were able to find a new type of food, called Momos (veggie stuffed won tons). We ate them all and them moved on to the chana masala at the next Dhaba.
When Laura and I crossed the Rohtang in 2013, we made it to Udaipur, and the roads were really rough. The Jeep/Taxi drivers assured us that they only got worse from there. Not good news for a old leaky motorbike with 2 riders and a bag lady’s assortment of luggage. We hightailed it back over the Rohtang and headed for Dharamsala.
The group knew that we had completed the easy part. The road ahead was not actually considered a road. It was not maintained by the government and no one really knew if it was passable or not. We guesstimated the odds at 50/50 that we would actually be able to make it to Srinagar by this route. In fact, this path does not appear on most maps or GPS, but weve been told by many truck drivers that it is there and it can be done on a Bullet. The towns that we saw on the map were Udaipur-Killar-Kishtwar, and we were hoping to make Kishtwar the next day, and maybe even part of the way to Srinagar. So we rested up, sore from a long days ride, but stoked, and excited about the ride ahead.