In 2018 one of my motorcycle trips was on the Indian side of the Himalayans. One of the main attractions of the trip was the “highest motoring pass in the world” Khardung La at 5,359m (18,380ft for those of you measuring in body parts).
I did the trip with a Royal Enfield Himalayan of 411cc and carburetor which at this altitude it was struggling for power and burning a lot of petrol. The moment I reached the highest point of the road the 24.5bhp beast ran out of petrol!
It was cold and wet and raining and I had one of the worst toothaches of my life, I was on heavy pain killers for the past couple of days and nothing seemed to work. With no real hospital in sight I had no option but to keep on going.
Before the final stretch and the most difficult part of the day at 4800m there are a few small bars and restaurants. I made a stop to warm-up and chat with some of the other riders taking shelter from the bad weather. By this point, the weather changed from bad to worse, the light shower turned into heavy rain with freezing temperatures. From here the road was only going up and it won't get any warmer.
Luck has it that 2 days before I lost my backpack with warm clothes and rain gear. As you can imagine I had to improvise something to keep myself dry and warm, I was going at 5300m! I borrowed from the fellow bikers some rubber gloves and a rain jacket; to this day I am forever grateful for them!
A set of rubber kitchen gloves you would normally use to clean your dishes were on top of my leather gloves and a borrowed waterproof jacket on top of my leather jacket; this was keeping the wind out but it wasn't keeping me dry! Water was going in from everywhere and I was miserable!
My excitement when reaching the top with the improvised and borrowed equipment!
On the last 300m of the run the motorbike started loosing power and struggling even more than before, I was running out of petrol. I was lucky though, I made it to the top of the pass and from here on everything was downhill. Challenge accepted!
It wasn't that bad actually, after 10km of going downhill with no engine I reached one of the many army check-points where I managed to get some petrol from a group of bikers. They gave me enough juice to reach the next town where I would also spend the night in a warm bed.
If you think this is the worst that could happen on such a trip you should keep on reading! The adventure that I had put up with in order to reach this point was absolutely amazing!
Everything was hard but everything was beautiful; and this was the beauty of it!
I lost my backpack with warm clothes and rain gear
2 days before reaching the top of the pass I was driving on the Gata Loops which is a a roller coaster ride with a series of 22 hairpin bends and it is said they are haunted by the ghost of a dead trucker.
This is also where I lost my back-pack with warm clothes and waterproof equipment; I actually forgot it there after stopping for photos at the top of the road, when I came back for it, it disappeared(long story short). Probably the ghost of the dead trucker took his tribute for my safe passage. I will write more on this and the experience of sleeping in a tent at 4300m in another post.
The Gata Loops, 22 hairpin bends
Caught in between landslides
The day before we were forced to stop because two landslide destroyed the road in front of us. Going around them was impossible, we were surrounded by tall mountains and a strong river. Later we learned that due to the global warming, high altitude glaciers were melting much faster than normal and this caused many landslides in the area.
Not far from the landslide there was a BRO (Border Roads Organisation) post which was run by the army. They are the ones maintaining the roads and keeping them open. I went to check-up what was the process and how long will it take to clear the road. My Indian and their English didn't take us very far, all I understood was that we had to wait for the army to clear the roads.
We didn't know if they will start work the same day or the day after; we had to wait and hope for the best.
5km back there was a small village with no more than 10 houses, one of them being the local bar. You can probably imagine where we spent the rest of the day, patiently waiting for news from the BRO organisation.
It was already getting late and nothing was happening, we had to find shelter for the night. With no internet or phone signal we had to rely on the international language of sign. This worked well, the person from the bar pointed us in the right direction and in no time one of the locals offered us a room in his house; we slept on the floor.
This was probably one of the most beautiful nights of our trip! We were humbled by the generosity of the locals and everything was unexpected. Although the sleeping conditions and the bathroom were not ideal everything was perfect. The host prepared us a fantastic dinner from his garden and made us a campfire; we had an amazing time
Clearing the landslides
The next morning our host prepared for us a delicious breakfast while we packed our bags. In no time I was in front of the BRO office trying to get updates.
The army was already working on it and they have cleared one of the landslides and they were now working on the one closer to us. Happy days!
I broke a wheel bearing
60km before reaching the top of the Khardung La pass, the back wheel bearing of my trusty new Royal Enfield has seized in the middle of nowhere and it had to be replaced. I was actually thrilled and excited about it, something more to add to my story.
My friend which you can see in the right picture carried on while I was trying to fix the broken motorbike with the mechanic that had just arrived.
After taking the wheel down I realized the broken bearing messed-up the wheel alignment. Before I realized there was a problem the unaligned hub already rubbed against the swing-arm and started to damage the aluminium structure. This wasn't good, finding a spare swing-arm or fixing this one was impossible.
On the bright side, the mechanic had the right spare parts with him and managed to replace the bearing. He got my wheels spinning again but I had to compromise on the swing-arm; I drove the rest of the trip hoping it won't break.
From here onward everything went smooth and I made it safely to the top of the “highest motoring pass in the world” Khardung La where I ran out of petrol.
What an adventure this was!
If the story above inspired you and you want to have a bit of fun of your own, choose one of our tours that include the famous roads such as the Transfagarasan or Transalpina and plan for a memorable vacation with Moto4Fun.