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!!

The Baby Dragon

John and Tina are a couple who shifted into our neighborhood a couple of months back. They own a 1994 Royal Enfield 350cc Std. It is a bit of a botched job and hearing it going up the mountain, I wondered how it is still working. But like a champion, it does not give up. My garage is right next door to their house and I see John start her up, which it does, and ride off to go about his day with a big smile on his face. One day, I did approach him and suggested a good clean up for his bike and that I thought his engine needed work. It took a good few weeks of me convincing him, but in the end my perseverance was rewarded. John agreed to let me look inside the engine to see what we can fix and how much it would cost. Royal Enfields can be expensive to repair and especially one that has seen better days. This one was sold to him for 35,000 Rs and has been to the ever present Ustads around town. I did not have much hope for it and Happy and I opened it up to check.

Baby Dragon Royal Enfield Restoration 350cc Dharamshala Garage Bullet

We found a clutch assembly someone had thrown a grenade in, and the metal fatigue was extensive on the body. The wiring had been patched so many times that there was no point in suggesting a repair. The piston was on its last legs but the crank, thankfully, was intact with no damage whatsoever.

Baby Dragon Royal Enfield Restoration 350cc Dharamshala Garage Bullet1

We upended our garage trying to find retro parts to make this bike as good as new. We borrowed a lot of the body parts from our other projects but spared no expense on the engine and electricals. The change from a barely mobile motorcycle to a thumper was the goal. Two weeks later with a fresh paint job and full makeover, Baby Dragon was on the road. I am sure John and Tina will enjoy many more rides to come and most important, be safe!

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.

University of Guelph India Field School

Since our Field School group has arrived in India at the end of April, we have done so much in such a short amount of time. Together we have gone to the Golden Temple in Amritsar, listened to many guest lectures, went hiking, toured around Dharamsala, visited the Masroor Rock Temples, and many more activities.  Individually we have all been doing our best to adjust to a new culture, reflect on our actions, evaluate and increase our intercultural competence, and learn how we can be useful and productive at our volunteer placements.  Overall, it has been a constant amount of activity, learning, and reflection.  As the end of our trip draws nearer, however, I find that I am grappling with the question of how can I continue to learn from my experiences and time that I spent in India once I have arrived back in Canada?

Kendall at DAR

Of course we will have the souvenirs that we bought, our pictures, and in my specific case the puppy that I adopted to remind us of our trip.  These are the easy things to show and display to our friends and family at home.  What will be more difficult is to demonstrate what we have learned and the lessons that we have taken away from India.  In our pre-departure course we read about examples of young adults that had participated in volunteer trips in that past, that without reflecting on their trip after they got home, had gone on to forgot much of what they had learned.  Some of these volunteers even described their past trips as a dream like experience, or break from reality.  Many even said that they didn’t bother to describe their trip to others, and didn’t reflect or think about it much after they returned home.  But I don’t want this to be the case for myself when I return home to Canada.  I feel like I have learned so much about myself and the reality of short-term volunteer placements that it would be such a shame to ignore or forget this knowledge.  That is why I think that it will be important to continue reflecting even after the trip is over.

Post-trip reflection is also important because I do not feel that all of what we have seen or done while in India will sink in until weeks, or maybe even months after it is all over.  Only after we have all returned home and adjusted back to our regular routines, is when I think that personally for myself, I will really be able to evaluate everything that I have learned in India.  As a result of this I feel that the reflection that I do when we get home will be equally, if not more important than those that I do here.  It will also be important after India to visit past reflections and see if my attitudes and feelings have changed since leaving India, and why this might be the case.  Thus, through continued reflection, and the way that I describe and discuss my experiences in India with my family and friends at home, I hope that even though the travel portion of my India adventure is over, the learning will not be.

Kendall B, Dharamshala Animal Rescue

University of Guelph 2015

Gamru School, Kendal ClarkAt this point I have been at my placement here in Dharamsala for about a week and a half. I am working with the Gamru Village School, and like Natasha I was surprised with my role at my placement. I am teaching English, which I feel extremely underqualified for. As you will soon find out by reading this post, my grasp on the English language is somewhat lacking. It has been a whirlwind experience going into this school, but it has been so lovely to see the depth of the community at this placement, and how everyone knows each other in one capacity or another. However, I want to discuss something I experienced in class today while teaching the students in first standard who are around age five.

I was teaching opposites today using a set of flash cards for the first time. One set of flash cards was displaying ugly and pretty. The ugly character was the classic green witch, popularized by The Wizard of Oz. However, it was the figure used to depict the word pretty that gave me pause. Pretty was represented by a white women, whom I suppose you could describe as ‘traditionally pretty’. This made me realize that all of the flash cards that are being used in Gamru School, which is attended entirely Indian children, use white people to depict various words and activities.

It had been pointed out on a separate occasion that the presence of flash cards in the classroom as resource was a rarity. As it turns out, the flash cards used at the Gamru School for the entire English curriculum were made by a woman from the UK who is heavily involved with the school. I mean no disrespect to her, as the number of flash cards and resources she has painstakingly created is incredibly impressive. However, I realized that today I felt supremely uncomfortable as I went around the class repeating pretty, and ugly while pointing at this image of a white woman.

I think that previous blog posts here have done an excellent job of discussing concepts of power and privileges and how those are intertwined with skin colour and race. This is especially true of posts where my classmates have discussed fears of perpetuating the notion of a ‘white expert’ at the front of a classroom. In that moment in class I became very worried that I as a white volunteer with this specific flash card was really engraining and perpetuating ideas that ‘white is beautiful’. I do recall a day last week where one little girl came up to me with her Disney Princess pencil case, and pointed to Snow White while telling me how beautiful she is.

This situation has also made me think about how representation is so important with the other flash cards, and the curriculum itself. I think that the kids in this school should be using resources that reflect who they are, and that they can relate to and see themselves in.

Kendal Clark

Gamru School, Dharamshala, India

Riding to Leh – Sach Pass

The Sach Pass is a little used Pass connecting Chamba Valley to Pangi Valley, and eventually to Ladakh. Pangi being a remote valley that is created by the Bhaga river connecting Keylong on the Leh road to the East and Kishtwar to the West. This route makes access to Kashmir and the road to Leh shorter for people travelling from Dharamsala. For now, it being little known and hard to access, it is one of the last few good rides.

The trip from Dharamsala to Bairagarh is 228 Kms. Being a good road most of the way, it is a good ride for Day 1, we left at 07.00 AM and reached Bairagarh by 03.00 PM. You get good roads most of the way and after you cross Chamba, it is a two lane mountain road that will take you all the way to Bairagarh 2200m.

From Dharmsala, you take the road going to pathankot all the way to Nurpur, you will see the turn off for Dalhousie/Chamba, take that road going North. It winds and splits before Chuari, take the road going to Chuari pass called Jot. Cross over and ride towards Chamba city. 3 Kms short is a place called Sultanpur, where you will cross the river and head towards Tissa and finally Bairagarh.

The trip is not long, but it is a little challenging. First, you have to ensure the Pass has been cleared of snow. In mid June the BRO starts clearing the road and depending upon the damage done and the weather they usually open the road in a couple of weeks. Last year, the clearing lasted until early July. So you need to check first.

NOTE: Sultanpur is the last station for fueling this side of the valley, so fill up as you will only get fuel from locals in small village/towns (if you are lucky) and for a higher price. Then head up North until a place called Koti where you take a right to go towards Tissa. The gorge gets narrow and the road winds up into the mountains.

Spend the night, recover and at Sunrise, it is time to make a move. The next target is Satrundi where there is a check post manned by the Himachal Police. The road between Bairagarh and Satrundi is beautiful. It is the ascent to the high mountain pass and you go through thick forests, waterfalls and finally you cross 3000m and the terrain becomes Alpine. It took us 2.5 Hours to ride the 27 Kms to Sach Pass (4305m/14,500 Ft). The road is still under construction and is impossible to ride fast without losing most of your motorcycle to the road!

On the way to Ladakh, Sach Pass 4300m

As usual, Himachal Police are friendly and helpful and after 5 chais each and entering your vehicle and license details, and you are ready to go. Don’t be in a hurry because from this point,  the road is rough. Since the stone has been laid as a base for the future road, it is a little tough on the motorcycle and the rider. But the beauty of the terrain is amazing. At the top of the pass you pass some permanent ice and more often that not, get rewarded by a flurry. As you cross over the Pass, the road is nightmarish as it carries on as a half made road all the way to Killar. The road from Killar is prone to landslides, which all of Pangi is. You can stop at Killar, Cherry or where we stopped at a place called Ajog, 20 Kms ahead of Killar. There is a natural water spring here, which was sought after by kings, the camping is awesome.

Riding to Leh - Sach Pass

Next day, a few hours ride is Udaipur and the Trilokinath Temple. The road from Udaipur is amazing! After the ride from hell, you get to open throttle all the way to Keylong, passing apple orchards and large farmed lands. We got delayed by landslides and reached this area late in the evening. Once this road connecting Leh and Kashmir is complete, the journey will be really easy from Dharamshala.

We meet the road to Leh at Keylong. The fuel station at Tandi will be the only fuel station you will see until Leh, so fill up and get some to spare if you can. Between Keylong and Jispa, I would definitely stay at Jispa at either of the places there. Padma Guest House being the best in my opinion. Hot and cold water, good food, tents with bathrooms at 2500 twin sharing. It is a good deal. Also it is a good idea to break journey and take 2 nights here to acclimatize, repair your bikes and get ready for the toughest part ahead. You will be heading out and crossing 4 major passes to reach Leh, so be prepared and rest up.

The road at Jispa

Spiti-Leh Motorcycle Tour

This is an epic ride that has been launched at the request of a few riders. Our Ride Captain, Shankar Nath, came up with this kick ass itinerary and it became an instant hit. Because it is so good, we are opening this itinerary for more riders to join in this epic ride.

Dhankar Monastery, Spiti
Dhankar Monastery, Spiti

This 14 day ride through the Himalayas combines Spiti and Ladakh as well as covers the beautiful heritage spots in Nalagarh and West of Shimla on the Hindustan-Tibet road. Starting from Nalagarh, we will wind our way along the Hindustan-Tibet Road and work our way into the Spiti Valley. Using Kunzum Pass, we will join the Leh Road and make our way to Leh after conquering BaralachaLa, LachungLa , Nakila and TanglangLa. Leh is a beautiful city to explore and then we head up North to the Nubra Valley and take the Wari la into Pangong Lake and back to Leh where we will fly out back to Delhi.


This is a high-end motorcycle tour that means the best bikes, Ride Captain, mechanics and hotels for us on this tour. Are top class!

We have a few seats left for this season, sign up now!! Email or phone us and we will sign you up in a jiff.

Get all the details of the package here »

What is this Jugaad?

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Happy and Bunty restoring a 1994 Royal Enfield 500cc

While traveling in India, you find tourists riding Royal Enfields, they are unmistakable with their metal luggage racks, beat up body work and loud silencers. Some of these are really good vintage that collectors look for and are the old cast iron engines with a 4 speed gear box. But they are all the victim of good old fashioned ‘Jugaad‘ a word synonymous with Indian mechanics that means your bike is living on borrowed time.

Old cast iron Royal Enfields end up in junk yards, get bought cheap by rental agencies, and bike mechanics and restored to a semi working condition. A lucky few of them make it to collectors’ garages but a large percentage just get put back to work at rental agencies. After a cheap paint job and new vinyl stickers they get handed over to tourists who ride these machines all over India, speeding (relative to a rickshaw) their way into junkyards to go through the cycle again. It is all a matter of your Karma at which point in this cycle you get the motorcycle, semi good working condition or trashed. Either way, it is a struggle to keep them on the road for extended periods of time. Low quality spare parts, poorly trained mechanics, self proclaimed ‘ustads‘, rough roads and ever changing owners ensure it is no easy task to bring these motorcycles to an optimum working condition.

I personally own a few Royal Enfields of different vintage, and have spent months trying to reverse engineer the ‘Ustad’ repairs done on any of those motorcycles. The botched attempts at fixing Power and Torque, electricals and even frame repairs leave the bike unrepairable.

So if you are renting a motorcycle be sure you check the bike defects in body, frame, electricals. Test ride it, not just around the block, go for a few Kilometers through traffic, make sure it seems right to you. And just because its India, don’t swallow all the bullshit thrown at you, if you can’t manage to remember all that, email me!!!

Retrofitting a ’77 Royal Enfield

The advent of Google really saved us small time garages in India. We have access to information that is gold. There is a lot of crap out there, but as you trawl the internet, you get trained to sift through this quagmire and find the good stuff. One such gem we discovered was the wiring diagram we tried on our ’77 350 STD. The simplified wiring and the speedy installation made it possible for us to replicate it in our garage with little problems.

Blltrdr Wiring Diagram

So all you amateur Enfield lovers, try it out, give us a feedback. So far this wiring has not failed me. Happy riding!!