Riding in India

Chandratal, what a ride! 14 Kms from Batal and 4300m ASL this was the highlight of our trip. We woke up early that morning in our hotel in Kaza as we were aiming to be on Kunzum Pass around noon. There were heavy clouds in that direction and none of us wanted to get caught in bad weather.

We headed off towards Losar and were slowed down by the condition of the road. Over the 6 years of traveling on these roads, I did not realize I would complain. The road is really bad, and I am complaining! We were ready for this situation though and we had time on our side, making the ride very enjoyable for us. At Losar, We had the biggest breakfast ever and saddled up for Kunzum. We wanted to get as many photos as possible and judging by the road, we would have to work for every kilometer.

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The 14 Km ride to Chandratal

The check post at Losar has shifted outside the village, towards Kunzum and we made our customary entry in the Police logs. Of Course, Morgan had to find his passport which was at the bottom of his bag. All said and done, we started the ascent to Kunzum and the weather cleared. Although it was windy, we had no problems with the weather from that point onwards. Kunzum is a beautiful Pass. It is 4590m ASL and is the connecting pass between Manali and Kaza. Apart from the altitude, it is easy to go up and down it. We rode through it around noon, took a nice long break at the temple and then made our way for the 14 Km ride to Chandra Tal.

A few Kms below the pass and just before Batal, you will see a small board that points to the turn off for Chandra Tal. And the as you keep riding it surpasses anything you have ever seen. The beauty of this place is beyond my telling. Only way to experience it is to go there. There are tent accommodations available here. From 500 Rs a night to 2500 Rs, you have a wide choice. Don’t be in a rush to select one, see them all and then make your decision. We took the one furthest from the bigger camping areas and enjoyed the hospitality of the Nepali boy running the show as a one man army. The temperatures can drop below zero at night, so be prepared and the altitude will play a major role in the way you sleep. Make sure you have stocked up on batteries for your headlamp, a good book and some snacks to deal with insomnia.

This lake itself is a few KMs North of the camp sites. You have to walk the last Kilometer or so as it is a protected wetland. The river is roaring away in a steep gorge East of you and the giant Kunzum range is on your West and the beautiful Chandratal is right in front of you. It is breathtaking. Standing on the hill with all the small lakelets visible in a panoramic extravaganza around you. There is no camera that is good enough to replicate and no writer with enough words to describe it. You just have had to be there.

Riding to Spiti

Nako lake is high altitude lake in the Eastern most part of Himachal Pradesh. It is a beautiful little spot off the highway and a must see for riders going that way. We took a two day stop here just to photograph the place and to chill for a day.

Being at 3700m, the lake is a good spot to stop to acclimatise before you head off into Spiti and further. There are a few good places to stay here and it is tough getting a booking on the phone or email as only BSNL phones work here, if that. We headed straight for Lake view hotel situated right on the banks of the lake itself. The owner is a good host and the staff is helpful. Added to all that, they are probably one of two places that serve meals in the hotel. Choice of food is limited as it is so remote, but you can get any kind of booze here, no problems. This is what i don’t understand, if we can get all sorts of booze, 5 different flavors of chips and coke in such a remote place, why not good food and veggies?

Nako Helipad, Nako Lake, Motorcycle Tours, Spiti

Anyway, the village of Nako is a small one and it is good walking around the windy streets of this little hamlet in the mountains. Legend has it that Guru Padmasambhav passed through here and held audiences here in the time of his travels towards Tibet. There is a group of caves a few Kms towards the border area, which we did not go to. There is apparently a beautiful waterfall somewhere close by, which again we did not see. The problem with high altitudes is that by the time you start getting motivated, it is evening time and the rum bottle looks very inviting.

We were just 2 days into our ride and were getting acclimatized to the high altitude, is the sorry excuse. But having said all that, Nako is the place to go and explore a little. For the adventurous types, stay a couple of days as it is not expensive, yet and it is something different than the usual tourist spots.

Riding in Ladakh

Name: Braiden Albrecht

Gender: Male

Age: 28

Nationality: USA

Bike details: Royal Enfield Thunderbird 350

Braiden Albrecht, pangi Valley
This kid hated B!!!

My first ride was in May of 2013. I signed on to a route finding expedition with my great friends at Himalayan Explorers. Our plan was to explore Sach pass and the Great Himalayan National Park over two weeks. The only problem was I needed to learned how to ride a motorcycle and needed to do so in India. Raja employed a no bull-shit stress method to training. As soon as I could ride shift and ride down the road in Gamru, it was time to head to town. 3 days later I was a full fledged, horn blowing, quasi-licensed motorcycle rider and was ready for the Himalaya.

About myself: I’m currently a cellar master in Napa, California. When I’m not making wine I’m out adventuring in Northern California.

Where do you ride? These days I usually ride my mountain bike in the hills and mountains of California.

Where have you ridden? Most of my riding has been in the Himachal Pradesh hill country. I’ve done a few great rides into the Great Himalayan Range and have ventured down to Amritsar as well.

How many bikes do you own? I don’t own a motorcycle at this point. My mountain bike and road bike keep me busy enough for now. One day I’ll get a motorcycle, but don’t tell me girlfriend.

Braiden Albrecht, Ride to pangi
At Rohtang Pass, really early and cold

Whats your favorite ride so far? My favorite ride to date is a beautiful section of the Leh Manali Highway. To set the scene… The sound of the roaring Chenab River provided the perfect soundtrack for our breakfast. Hot chai and buttery aloo paratha warmed our frozen hands – still white knuckled from the 3 AM ride over Rohtang La. With our bellies now full, our crew of four riders returned to our bikes, started our engines and prepared for the unknown. After a few muddy switchbacks, and river crossings the road became smooth. With the Chenab a few hundred feet below us on the left, we headed west as the highway opened opened up. 6,000 meter peaks lined the valley on the both sides and our engines roared with excitement. What do they think about riding in India? Riding in India is the only riding I know. At first it was an intense experience that required full attention and energy. Traffic law is fairly free form and at any given time you may share the lane with cows, dogs, goats, pedestrians, motorcycles, bicycles, auto rickshaws, donkey caravans, cars, Punjabi SUVs, goods carriers and military transports. What at first seemed pure chaos eventually took form and the transformation was beautiful. Mountain riding is my favorite. For me, there is nothing quite like the Himalaya. Traveling them by motorcycle offers an sensory experience for the ages. The incredible natural beauty and cultural richness combine with rugged unpredictability and adrenaline to create moments of such intensity that they are forever etched into your memory.

Riding to Spiti

The Spiti Valley is a desert mountain valley located high in the Himalayas in the north-eastern part of Himachal Pradesh. The name “Spiti” means “The Middle Land”, i.e. the land between Tibet and India. The valley and surrounding region is one of the least populated regions in India and is the gateway to the northernmost reaches of the nation.


Lahaul and Spiti is surrounded by high mountain ranges. The Rohtang Pass, at 13,054 feet (3,979 m), separates Lahaul and Spiti from the Kullu Valley. Lahaul and Spiti are cut off from each other by the higher Kunzum Pass, at 15,059 feet (4,590 m). A road connects the two divisions, but is cut off frequently in winter and spring due to heavy snow. The valley is likewise cut off from the north up to eight months of the year by heavy snowfall. A southern route to India proper is periodically closed for brief periods in the winter storms of November through June, but road access is usually restored a few days after storms end via Shimla and the Sutlej in the Kinnaur District.

Riding to Leh, Sarchu, Royal Enfields

That is what Wiki says about Spiti, we are headed out in a few days on some custom painted, fully restored Royal Enfields we have restored in our garage in Dharamshala. Our friends Rahul Lal and Rohit Lal are coming along for their yearly epic ride with us and its going to be fun!!!

Riding a Royal Enfield in Ladakh

Name: Carl Nickel, Male, 24, USA

2008 Royal Enfield Electra – Vintage California Edition

How long I’ve been riding?

My dad bought my first bike for me and my younger brother when we were 9 and 7. The three of us grew up riding and racing motocross together until we were about sixteen – when we got into other sports. So in short, I’ve been on a bike on and off for fifteen years. A little about me I grew up in Colorado, USA and our family had a good bit of land. My brother and I – along with neighborhood friends were out in the yard building a bmx – turned motocross track from the time we got our first bikes until we moved out of the house. At one point our garage had something like six or seven bikes, a four-wheeler, and two mini bikes. It was a great way to grow up.

Where do I ride?

I like getting out in the middle of nowhere. The more remote. The better. Highlights of this trip have been Spiti Valley and the surrounding villages of Kaza. Komic, Demur, Mudh, and Dhankar were incredible.

Where have I ridden?

Growing up it was at the house during the week, or a couple of local tracks we went to on the weekends. One of my favorite memories was heading out to Moab, Utah for some riding with friends and family. Now that I’m traveling through India I’ve ridden in a loop from Dharamshala to Manali, Spiti Valley, and up to Leh. I just saw Pangong Lake, and plan to hit Nubra Valley, Zanskar Valley, Kargil, Srinigar, then back to Dharamshala.

How many bikes do I own, details?

I own one bike, and it’s the Enfield carrying me through Northern India. She’s a sweet ride. Although she can’t come with me to China, I hope to pick up another bike while there.

Favorite ride so far?

My favorite ride through India. That is tough. Pangong was incredible, but a little touristy. If we’re talking destinations, hands down Dhankar. If we’re talking ride. Has to be Sarchu to Leh. It was by far the most trying ride I’ve had thus far. Close to 10 hours, but didn’t leave until 11.30 due to a blown bridge. If you’ve ridden in the Himalayas you know it’s best to leave early in the morning to hit the river crossings before glacier melt raises the water levels. 250km and washed out roads from flooding. Rain, hail, snow, cold, night riding, and most importantly the best views I’ve seen in my life. It was an epic ride.

Carl Nickel, Pangong Tso, Ladakh, Royal Enfield, Riding in the Himalayas, Adventure, Motorcycle tours

What do I think about riding in India?

One word: Liberating. Northern India is one of the most expansive, diverse, harsh, and beautiful places I’ve seen in my life. There’s no better way to see it than on a bike. Total freedom. There’s something incredibly liberating about putting yourself in some of the world’s harshest environments on your own, and being entirely at peace with the risk you take. When I return to India – and hopefully soon – I’ll be on a bike again. There’s simply no other way to see this country.

Female Rider, Royal Enfield, Dharamshala, India, Ladakh

Name: Monique Rhodes

Gender: Female last time I looked

Age: can’t remember

I have been riding since I was a teenager and taught on a dirt bike on my best friend’s farm in New Zealand. However in my mind I had been riding since I was a small child. I was fascinated with bikes, especially Harley’s. As I was a girl this fascination was not encouraged.

I am a professional musician who travels the world the whole year. I spend most of the year in India with the rest of my time divided between Europe, the USA and Australia. As well as performing live I also currently work on a music project which supports the visits of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Australia.

Monique at Khardungla

I own one bike, a Royal Enfield Thunderbird. India is the most awesome place in the world to ride. Initially I thought it would be terrifying. But I soon learnt that riding in India is more like a dance. It is about moving together and watching out for each other. Once you get the hang of riding in India it is the most enjoyable place to ride in the world. As a woman the experience is even more fascinating. The Indians love that I ride a bike. They respect that I am strong enough to handle and it never seems an affront to their masculinity. Instead they are very encouraging and engaging.

My favourite place to ride was Ladakh. I spent 2.5 months riding throughout Ladakh. The scenery was amazing. The people were so kind and friendly and accessible. It was an endless adventure. My favourite thing to do in the whole world is to ride my bike in India. Nothing beats that feeling of freedom.

A rider and being cool

When I was a teenager I always wanted to look like the cool tough guys on TV. This look was classified as below ordinary in our household. I am an Air Force officer’s son, need to dress sharp and pretend I am a productive part of society.

  • James Dean coolness rebel motorcycle vintage

As time passed and I got to do pretty much what I liked, I suddenly realised I could be like that role model a few decades back (the one that died of an overdose!). My riding bug was serious, no doubt. But what to wear? I ride vintage Royal Enfields (for now) and these bikes are not the best in terms of comfort. I love them, but one of the reasons I hate them is the poor handling. And falling (multiple times) from one of these vintage motorcycles is not fun. There is a massive clang followed by a hush and then the groaning or screaming starts.

  • Motorcycle wear royal enfields vintage riding tours

Being of Sikh stock, I am a man. A real man, no padded jackets for me. After a particularly nasty spill 10 minutes from home on a cold February day, I had a change of heart. I bought a set of riding pants and Jacket. Though not the best quality (I can be cheap) it did the trick. I could fall anywhere and I was safe! I would seriously recommend a good kit to be a part of your motorcycle purchase. Spend a little more and save yourself the pains and aches that pop up in the winters and of course as you grow older, on a daily basis.

Since we are on this point, don’t go cheap either. I spent more money buying cheap kit than a one time cost for a good one. If you are short of cash, buy the armour and you can wear it under super cool clothes like our friend Mr. Dean is wearing in the photo.

As the infographic says, avoid the fool’s gear and ride safe. You do want to be able to play with your kids, eat solid food, open doors, wipe your backside, have sex and be agile for a long time.

The Joy of Riding

To defend the joy of riding a motorcycle can sound like bashing cagers and totally denying the need for any other form of transport. It is edgy, it is fun, it is cool and if you have a vintage motorcycle, then it is sexy.

Royal Enfield, Vintage, Electric Start, Wimbledon

We live in the Himalayas, and ride motorcycles everywhere. It is amazing as each time you ride you feel happy. Going for a coffee means putting on your gear, banging down the checklist, making sure everything works and then starting up your favorite bike. At the Cafe, people look at the bike and take photos and at least one person asks more about the bike. When you are riding long distance, it is just thrilling to go fast on the curvy roads and let your motorcycle loose.

In India, we have the blessing of having a few vintage British made motorcycles still running around and the Royal Enfield still in production. You can find old cast iron motorcycles and fix them up to do epic rides. I myself have 7 of the finest and every day I decide which one to ride to get that coffee.

It’s a revolution, baby!!

Riding to Leh 2015

Riding to Leh is a task undertaken by thousands every season. You will see every form of transportation involved in this once in a lifetime journey making their way to Ladakh on the Leh Highway. Some do it regularly and most do it at least once. We do it regularly on a bunch of different Royal Enfield motorcycles and as many times as we can!

Leh was a small encampment at the crossroads of history which became a kingdom and a rich one at that. Being an oasis in the middle of such a harsh terrain, it still has the attraction of that city over the mountains, in the middle of nowhere, a place you have to travel hard to reach. It comes with the risks of weather and terrain that can be fatal. However well prepared you are, there is always that freak weather, that chance you will break down far away from help that makes the journey exciting.

Add to this the edgy experience of motorcycles. Riding is always risky and thrilling. Riders the world over look for the roads that will challenge their skills and their endurance. Well, the road to Leh is all that and more. It has more variables than you can calculate and makes it a Mecca for riders.

“THE EDGE, there is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over.”  – Hunter S ThompsonRiding to Leh Royal Enfield, Ladakh, Sarchu, Leh Road. Motorcycle tour

Apart from the terror and beauty of nature are the host of dodgy travel agents, bike rentals and so called guides that lead the unsuspecting tourist looking for a bargain into the wild. Here I am talking only of riding to Ladakh on Royal Enfields only. You every so often see the group of riders on rental bikes making it up the Baralacha Pass or the gigantic Tanglang La and you wonder if there is a God for just these riders. Those motorcycles are dying! They are just about to give up the ghost but manage to live on for a few more kilometers by sheer will of the rider and some divine intervention.

May it be a Government run bus service or the best vehicle money can buy, the Leh road is a must do and for Royal Enfield riders, it is a mandatory requirement to earn respect as a rider. Good luck to all the fellow riders going up this year, ride safe and be prepared.

Your Basic Backpacking Checklist

Your Basic Backpacking Checklist

Contrary to what the local stoner/hiker-dude/hippie/“I have been in India 12 years”- person says, a pair of flip flops, 2 samosas and lots of love for the world may not be the best kit to survive in the mountains. Lord Shiva is not going to save your ass when you are freezing/starving/ravaged by wild animals in the beautiful Himalayas. The best you can do is take a few photos of your sun burnt, freezing and hungry ass during the last moments on earth so that others can learn from your experience (read as fuck up).

You will be asking yourself – ‘how do I avoid being remembered for the idiot that got killed 5 Kms from habitations?’ Well, to start with follow a checklist. Yes, there is a basic checklist of things that can and will assist you in enjoying your outdoors experience.


  1. Navigation
  1. Sun protection
  1. Insulation
  • Jacket, fleece, pants/trousers, gloves, hat
  1. Illumination
  1. First-aid supplies
  1. Fire
  1. Repair kit and tools
  1. Nutrition
  1. Hydration
  1. Emergency shelter


So now you got your basics covered, in the next installment of Rust and Dust we will discuss what to carry in your First Aid Kit. Seriously, it is always good to follow checklists. I did not make them up, they have been around since man started going further from their caves to forage and hunt to keep the tribe alive. So don’t open yourself to ridicule after your long and painful death at the hands of Mother Nature, pack a good kit and enjoy the mountains!!

Backpacking the HimalayasBackpacking the Himalayas