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Road trip, Riding the Himalayan to the Mt Everest of roads

Long-distance motorcycle riders can relate well to the following: The first 2-3 hours on the seat are joyful. The next 2-3 hours are painful. After that, the body goes numb. Then, it enters a state of nirvana, when all you can see is landscape passing by and all you can think is ‘now’.That is motorcycling, and you can feel it over and over again if it’s a far-off destination like Umling La (about 2,000 km from Delhi, and about 350 km from Leh).

What is Umling La?
For decades, Khardung La (gateway to Nubra and Shyok, 40 km from Leh, altitude of 5,602 metres above sea level or 18,379 feet) was claimed to be the highest motorable pass in the world. But in 2017, the Border Roads Organisation connected two remote villages of Chisumle and Demchok, about 350 km southeast of Leh, via Umling La (altitude of 5,798 metres or 19,024 feet).(La, in Tibetan and Ladakhi, stands for a mountain pass.)

How can you reach there?
The easiest way is to fly into Leh, rent a motorcycle (rental cars are relatively difficult to find) and ride to Umling La (it takes about eight hours, one way). If your base is any city in north Indian plains, the riding time is a minimum 36 hours, so if you ride six hours per day, it will take six days to reach. The same is for driving. Also, an inner-line permit is needed (can be issued online if applied in advance, or from SDM office in Leh). The only place to stay near Umling La is Hanle.

The right motorcycle or car
Because almost half of the 350-odd km distance from Leh to Umling La is unpaved and you have to cross shallow streams, take a car with a high ground clearance. In motorcycles, any adventure bike will do, from Hero Xpulse to Royal Enfield Himalayan to Yezdi Adventure, or the more expensive BMWs and Ducatis.

How is the Himalayan?
On tarmac: It’s possibly one of the easiest, and the safest, motorcycles to ride on open highways. It’s powerful enough to overtake long trailer trucks in seconds, brakes are brilliant, and you can comfortably ride over 200 km without taking a break.

On gravel: While taking turns on gravelly roads, the tyres do lose traction. Any bike can skid, including the Himalayan.

On sand: All motorcycles struggle in soft sand, the Himalayan is no exception.

Shallow streams: The streams I crossed were both narrow (20-odd feet wide) and shallow (no more than foot-deep water). The 220-mm ground clearance of the Himalayan ensured I didn’t get stuck.

Twisty roads: The Himalayan is in its element on twisty mountain roads. It’s got an excellent lean angle, exceptional shockers, perfect riding position, and doesn’t feels out of power while accelerating out of a corner.

Is riding better than driving?
When a car approaches a curved road or a corner at high speeds, it leans to the outside of the road, struggling to hold its path of travel. A motorcycle, on the other hand, leans smoothly into the corner. On a motorcycle, cornering is all about meticulous movements; on a car, it can be a clumsy roll.Decide your vehicle.

Seven ‘world’s highest’ in one road trip
If you travel to Umling La from Delhi or Chandigarh via Spiti, you can see seven ‘world’s highest’ places. These are Komic (world’s highest village connected by a motorable road, at 4,587 metres above sea level), Hikkim (world’s highest post office, at 4,440 metres), Kaza (world’s highest petrol retail outlet, at 3,740 metres), and Umling La (world’s highest café, parking, oxygen café and road, all at 5,798 metres).

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