Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Are rented Royal Enfields good for your Ladakh trip?

Are rented Royal Enfields good for your Ladakh trip?
As you have consciously landed on this page, it is apparent that either you pet love for Ladakh, or Royal Enfield motorcycles. Ladakh, the barren beauty of Kashmir Valley has become the dream destination for motorcyclists since the last decade. The challenging altitude of the plateau coupled with its rugged terrain beguiles travellers from all around the globe. As the winter sets in Ladakh gets temporarily isolated from the rest of the subcontinent for good six months, except through the aerial route. Only after the winter recedes and Border Roads Organisation reconstructs the snow-eaten roads, two prominent land routes to Ladakh are opened for tourists. Hold on buddy, this article is of little use to you if you belong to any of these groups: happy Royal Enfield (RE) owners, riders who have explored the Himalayas on a Royal Enfield motorcycle in the past, and diehard RE fans. You may still read this blog, but do not shout at me for writing what you already know. 

To be specific, today's target audience is any traveller who is aspiring to ride to Ladakh and wondering if a rented Royal Enfield model would be the perfect choice for taming the wildness of Ladakhi landscapes. It is not just the call of enigmatic Tibetan Plateau, but the breathtaking road journey from Manali (2,050 m), or Srinagar (1,585 m) to Leh (3,500 m), which traverses through few of the world's highest passes (highest point being Taglang La at 5,328 m), countless kilometres of dirt roads, deadly turns and multiple water-crossings is the reason why every traveller prioritises a road trip to Ladakh in his top ten bucket list. Once you start planning for your dream Ladakh ride you'll certainly come across a pushy school of thought- only a Royal Enfield bike can endure the roughness of the high Himalayan terrain. I've been there, done that, gathered the necessary experience to share with you on how good do rented Royal Enfields behave in a Ladakh ride. In another 4 months the "ride to Ladakh" season shall begin and countless motorcyclists will board the bandwagon. After reading this post I believe you'll be able to take an informed decision whether to opt for a RE bike in your upcoming Ladakh trip.

Are rented Royal Enfields good for your Ladakh trip?
My gorgeous green beauty sunbathing on the shore of Pangong Tso.
Road trips to Ladakh commence around late May when both the Manali-Leh and Srinagar-Leh highways get populated with thousands of tourist vehicles plying round the clock, everyday. Capitalising this expanding travel trend numerous travel operators from various parts of India organise overland package tours to Ladakh. When you take the road to Leh, in every few minutes you'll come across a herd of motorbike riders either heading to or returning from Leh. You'll notice more than half of them are riding Royal Enfield motorcycles. Over the years it has been strategically marketed that Leh is the Mecca for motorcyclists, and Royal Enfields are the only machines capable of conquering the unforgiving cold desert. Somehow it has got deeply planted in the minds of majority of motorcycle enthusiasts that one can't graduate in motorcycle touring unless he rides to Ladakh at least once in lifetime and gets photographed at Khardung La top.

There are no dearth of motorcycle renting companies, be it in Delhi, Manali, or Leh. For some strange reason 99 percent of those bike rentals can provide you only with RE models. If you ask for anything else, they'll warn: Impossible Sir, no other motorbike can pull you up to Khardung La! Some are mountain locals and rest have greyed their hair in this trade. It seems never easy for a first-timer to ignore their word of caution. Then there are countless photos over internet showing large Royal Enfield rider groups exploring various inhospitable regions of Ladakh. RE is already a cult in our country. All these images superimpose in a rookie's mind and ultimately compel him to pick up a RE motorcycle for his stupendous Ladakh venture. When too many external ideas are heavy on you, your rational self automatically takes the pillion seat. It is only after the much anticipated Ladakh trip is over you get to realise how good these rented Royal Enfields are in practical sense.

Are rented Royal Enfields good for your Ladakh trip?
My rented RE Classic 350 resting by the army check post at Taglang La.
Last August, I had explored a bit of Ladakh on a Royal Enfield Classic 350. She was a gorgeous Redditch green BS4 compliant variant, who had barely clocked 800 kilometres by the time I got my hands on her at Leh. Look at these photos and appreciate her beauty. Definitely she had a presence which is explicitly reflected in all of these amateurish clicks. I had rode for about 750 odd kilometres which included visit to Nubra Valley, Pangong Tso, Tso Moriri and Tso Kar. Apart from the expected off-road driving my eight days of brief Ladakh ride also included small snowy patches, short showers and climbing high mountain passes like Khardung La (5,359 m), Taglang La etc. Thankfully my mobile phone network had abandoned me the moment I landed at Leh. In that way I could better absorb the Ladakhi mysticism and document every second of my ride undisturbed. 

For the sake of credibility let me tell you a little about my motorcycling background. Get it very clear that I'm no professional motorcyclist, stuntman or mechanic. Take me as a lazy wanderer (Chill, it is nothing so contradictory!) who gets oxygenated by motorcycle touring, and keeps hunting for smallest of opportunities to escape from his thankless day job on his two wheels and a backpack (sometimes the saddle bag in a longer trip). I had started off with a Bajaj Caliber back in 2003 and slowly fell in love with the concept of motorcycle touring. As of now, I ride a Bajaj Discover 125, Bajaj Pulsar 220F and a Benelli TNT 600 GT. These were essential to narrate because our opinions are always amalgamated reflections of past experiences and daily habits. So, how did my rented Royal Enfield Classic 350 fare on untamed highways of Ladakh? Yes, I'll share my two cents with you.

Are rented Royal Enfields good for your Ladakh trip?
She was probably admiring the sapphire hues of Tso Moriri.
I'll begin with my heartfelt appreciation of the green beauty. There was not a single episode of breakdown, failure in cold start or even a flat tyre. For entire eight days she served me effortlessly, without a single pause or complaint. The moment I had received the motorcycle at Leh there were few hiccups like- missing rear view mirror, non-functional side indicators, twisted left foot peg, multiple scratches, bent right limb-guard, dry drive chain and a bottomed out engine oil, which the vendor wasn't ready to fix. It was like- take it or leave it. With the paucity of time and a support vehicle to watch my back I had flagged off my journey with a battered motorcycle. It was a shame that she suffered such gross treatment at that tender age! Surprisingly most of the available RE motorcycles were no older than 2 years. I realised that vendors at Leh do not believe in maintaining their motorbikes for longer run. Shall I take it as a lack of vision, or, simple cost-benefit analysis from a businessman's point of view?

My first pearl of wisdom would be- explore Ladakh on your own motorcycle (provided you keep it in good health). It doesn't matter if you have a 110 cc commuter bike or a 1100 cc super-bike. The lighter the merrier. Some power in your bike's engine would be the added bonus though. Riding the Himalayas on your personal motorcycle is much safer, satisfying and priceless treasure for future recollections. Trust me, there were at least hundred instances when I missed my Benu during those eight days. Go for a hired bike, only when you can't bring your own unicorn all the way up to Ladakh despite your sincere solo brainstorming. In that case extend your Ladakh itinerary by a day. You'll be utilising that day in getting acquainted with the unfamiliar machine. Note down your points of concern and get those immediately addressed by the vendor. Anything small that strikes your senses shouldn't be ignored as red flag signs are seldom loud.

Are rented Royal Enfields good for your Ladakh trip?
Another Royal Enfield Classic 350, resting somewhere on Manali-Leh Highway.
Before you accept a motorcycle from the vendor, make a preliminary survey of its physical defects, inform those to the vendor and document through your phone camera for any future reference (in case). Do not forget to assess the chain tension and lubrication. Check the engine oil level and air pressure in tyres. Then take the motorbike for a spin, with his kind permission of course. Check for any abnormal noise (be it from the body or the engine) and the braking response. When you find your vendor not giving sufficient importance to your concern, either try out somewhere else, or get it fixed by paying him extra. Being too stringent at times invites greater losses. So, it is okay to let people win at times even when they do not deserve it. After fixing a clear deal, take responsibility of your borrowed beauty and explore the town thoroughly. Listen to her rumbles and room in with her with an open mind. If you suffer from lack of confidence with the new motorcycle in any of the above phases just be bold enough to opt out from the idea. If you don't find the bike comfortable in a city how would you live with it in places with no roads, no settlement and 50% (ignore the mild exaggeration) less oxygen? 

My RE Classic 350 enjoyed vibrating at a vast rev range. Although I was never a 'Bullet guy' (you know what I mean) I started getting used to the vibrating handlebar and the blurring rear view. Even on straight roads with slight gradients the motorcycle simply refused to accelerate despite my optimal gear-shift and full throttle. On steeper gradients she felt severely under-powered. I kept foraging for the "insane torque" RE riders are so addicted to, but it was nowhere to be found. When you ride to Ladakh you'll come across various shortcut trails which are either steeper, bumpier or more slippery. Somehow my beauty could improvise her way out of almost all the adversaries. But there were many fellow 350 cc RE riders who needed external help to get their machines out of those nature's whims. I tell you, there was not an instance when I felt like I was riding a single (weighty too) piece of machine. It was always like sitting on a stunted camel who's on the run. Imagine the continuous wobbly movement along 'X', 'Y' as well as 'Z' axes! May be I should improve on my motorcycling skills, or might be- Royal Enfields don't score so well on high altitude off roads. 

Are rented Royal Enfields good for your Ladakh trip?
My elegant ride companion waiting for me during a much needed toilet break.
Narrating motorcycling experiences mostly gets lengthy and often deviates from the point of discussion. I'll conclude this post by summarising what you wanted to know and what you need to know before venturing out for Ladakh. There are abundant biased opinions for and against Royal Enfield motorcycles. Don't get influenced, emotional and judgemental. Use your good wits and make the right call.

So, are rented Royal Enfields good for your Ladakh trip?
- Yes they are, provided you belong to any of these groups: 1) Seasoned RE riders, 2) Hardcore RE fans, 3) You have no other option and you're desperate to discover Ladakh on a motorcycle. For anyone else it's a 'No'. 

Are Royal Enfield motorcycles good for your Ladakh trip?
- Royal Enfields are good. They take you everywhere without a failure (unless you encounter unfortunate breakdown). I have read travelogues of various riders who've thoroughly explored Ladakh on gear-less scooters and minuscule motorbikes. So, reaching places is not just the focus you see. As long distance riders we search for a degree of comfort from the motorcycle and feedback from its engine. That's where RE lags in the present day race. There are much better alternatives at the similar price bracket. If I have to give an example, well, my Pulsar 220 pulls better on slopes and much lighter to drag against the gradient. Repeating what I said earlier, avoid a Royal Enfield unless you are a seasoned RE rider or a diehard RE fan.

Which motorcycles can you rely on?
- Any healthy motorbike you're accustomed to would do. Few added advantages would be good ground clearance, better power to weight ratio, weight on the lighter side, electronic fuel injection, optimum seat height (especially crucial for a short rider), tubeless tyres, decent tank range and a soft pair of suspensions. Rest, ride with ample admiration for your machine and respect for the nature around you. You'll surely have a fabulous Ladakh trip.

In my upcoming Ladakh ride I'll try to take Benu along with me. With fantasies of EBC (Everest Base Camp) trek clouding my mind I don't see it coming this year. But you never know! If you have any particular query regarding the choice of motorcycle for Ladakh trip you may ping me anytime. Meanwhile confront your procrastination. Listen to the timid whispers of your heart. Give a chance to its nomadic dream. Set off on the voyage of memory hunting. Take care till we meet again in February. 

3 comments:

  1. Nice post, things explained in details. Thank You.

    ReplyDelete
  2. It was very useful for me. Keep sharing such ideas in the future as well. This was actually what I was looking for, and I am glad to came here! Thanks for sharing the such information with us.

    ReplyDelete

I really appreciate your efforts in exploring my poetry of roads. Thank You!