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2nd December 2008


An Indian Adventure, Part Two
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After the first episode, we left Mike Powell at the end of his first day riding an Enfield Bullet in India, musing upon what else you might encounter on the road to the Himalayas...

Animals, for instance; these may be cows, yaks, sheep, goats, mules, monkeys and others, singly or in herds, sometimes obscured by clouds of flies (because they are dead). Animals will rarely be supervised by humans but they are surprisingly streetwise and normally freeze if given a toot on the horn as you approach. Then there’s the breakdowns. It is not unusual to come across a heavy commercial vehicle undergoing a major, engine-out overhaul on the carriageway, always in the most dangerous position. You will have advance warning of this due to an increased amount of oil in the road and a few bits of crankcase, pistons and conrods on your approach.

Tunnels are best avoided. But you can’t, as there will be no alternative to 10km of black hole containing traffic continuing at its normal speed without the benefit of street lighting and generating its own particular blend of smoke, fumes and blinding dust. It is essential to remove your shades on these occasions as you may then be able to just make out the juggernaut in front. No need to worry about the one behind as you will know of his presence from the heat of his radiator burning through your jacket.

'Near the top of the world, Baralacha, wonderful'

The locals are delightful. Surprisingly pleased to see you, they will cheer you on your way with a welcoming wave. The mainly Buddhist population, many refugees from Tibet, is as friendly as any in the world. They have very little but somehow survive. For the women, multi-tasking up here means breaking rocks for the road whilst carrying the baby on your back. Yet they still manage to look a million dollars.

You too can eat well on 100 rupees a day (£1.20), and if you can get used to warm milk in your tea then it will sustain you if taken regularly.

'A typical mountain lodge, and only about £20 a night'

By your third day on the road all this will seem commonplace, you will have complete control of your machine and confidence in your ability to handle anything you meet on the road. But you may still wonder if you are going to survive another ten days of this.

Then the going gets tough!

The previous days are an attempt to acclimatise the body to the rising altitude. You then start to climb to the objective – Baralacha La, the highest navigable pass in the Western Himalya (not a misprint, that’s how it is actually spelled). The roads deteriorate even more, get narrower more precipitous and remote. The back-up from the team of travelling paramedic, tour leaders and mechanical staff on this tour is second-to-none and a welcome presence should things go wrong.

'RealClassic mechanics, Indian style. Naushad and Ishwar looked after my Enfield so well that I had to give them my T shirt'

We riders have realised that this is a serious, dangerous undertaking and, not withstanding the efforts of Enduro Himalaya to ensure your safety, when on the bike you are very much aware that your fate is in your own hands. Despite extreme difficulties, everyone agrees that the risks are worth the sheer sense of achievement in experiencing the stupendous scenery and splendour of these remote peaks. Although not quite on the scale of Everest, K2 and the giants of the Eastern Himalyas, these mountains dwarf any others, are just as challenging, many being still unclimbed to this day, and the spectacular vistas in every direction are unbelievable.

India never fails to provide a surprise. The very top of the highest pass is paved with perfect tarmac, the usual tented village of Chai vendors and noodle merchants is completely absent, there’s no litter and nobody is surprised to see a local on a scooter with his dog and child on the front plus the wife, side-saddle on the pillion. Right up here. Up here, where you have risked life and limb to get to: Scooterists!

But you have done it.

'Isn’t the end though. Still three days riding back down'

Isn’t the end though. Still three days riding back down. Back down the Baralacha. Back down the fearsome Rohtang Pass. Back along the banks of the Satluj, a river bursting with meltwater from glaciers which you were looking down upon only a day before. After a rest day in Manali, sort of an oriental Skegness, but no less interesting for that, there is still two days of hard riding back to Shimla through the river gorges and lower foothills which have their own particular hazards.

Much of this area is a massive construction site of dam and power station projects but the road goes straight through them, blasting and earth-moving regardless. Health and safety considerations have not yet become a priority here. ‘If you are stupid enough to fall down a hole or run into a pile of bricks we have left in the road then don’t blame us’ is the attitude, and it becomes an increasingly sensible one when compared to our nannying state.

The average Indian concrete mixer churns out more pollution than a small English industrial town, making a mockery of all our efforts to control it and if you think all the recycling we do will make a jot of difference have a look at downtown Delhi’s contribution to the pile…

You are now nearing the end. You will never scoff at the humble Bullet again. It has gained your respect, taken you to places your GSX-R or motocrosser could ever get to. You have bent it, drowned and abused it beyond belief and still it plonks away under you, dependable as ever. It’s slow, unfashionable but willing , tough, simple and hard as nails.

Suitable bikes on eBay.co.uk

India is more than you could possibly have imagined. The exceptional Global Enduro team have become your friends. Words cannot express how you feel and only your fellow riders who have shared all your highs and lows can know what it was all about. The pre-event blurb was right. You are a different person. It is life changing. Life will not be the same again. You have coped with altitude, danger and everything India can throw at you. The names of Kunzum La, Chitkul, Jalori, Lahaul and many more will stay with you forever, although you may never have heard of most them before you arrived.

'A typical chai stop; hygiene free zone but cheap and plentiful'

But India is changing fast. The next few generations will not tolerate its shortcomings. Even in the remotest, poorest areas the kids are to be seen going to school, clean and smart, uniforms on, satchels at the ready, education-hungry.

If you can afford it and the account above has not deterred you, then go to India now.

If you can’t afford it then borrow the money and go anyway.

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Me Too?

If you think you’d be up to a challenge like this one, then Global Enduro (www.enduroindia.com) offer dates in 2009 and 2010 in north and south India and Africa. Costs are from £3000 which includes scheduled flights from UK, accommodation, food, bike hire, support team, paramedic, doctor and service back-up, luggage transport and organising costs. You can pay the whole costs yourself, or obtain part or whole sponsorship, and the balance is paid to the official charities, usually more than £1500 per person taking part. More than a quarter of a million pounds has been raised so far this year alone. 

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'He was loving it to the end...'

This report is dedicated to the family of my room-mate Alan Zelly who unfortunately didn't make it. Little comfort I know, but he knew exactly what he was doing and he was loving it to the end.
MJP, 2008


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