It is that time of the year when every motorcyclist worth his or her salt packs their bags, straps luggage onto the back seat securing it with bungee cords or cargo nets and sets off on the annual bike pilgrimage to the abode of the Gods. Yes, we are talking about the mystical Himalayas and the numerous motorcycling destinations they offer to motorcycle enthusiasts. Most of the passes are open and bikers have already started riding through them.
The mere mention of the Himalayas brings forth memories of steep snowy passes and frozen deserts all under the watchful eyes of the majestic broad shouldered mountains holding up their loads of snow. The journey up the Himalayas is indeed an invigorating one with worries, problems and difficulties being left behind in the dust every kilometer one progresses forward and upward. Destinations like Leh, Ladakh, Zanskar Valley, Khardung-la, Tanglang-la, Rohtang, Keylong, Gatta loops, Lachung-la, Nakii –la etc. are wildly popular with enthusiasts in search of adventure and can offer some real thrills for the truly brave at heart . While all this is fine, one must remember that riding in the Himalayas is not really as simple as it looks and also carries a certain degree of risk with it. However if done right every bike ride in the Himalayas can be a soul cleansing exercise in itself. Here are some top tips on how to ride in the Himalayas.
Plan your trip well in advance
Advance planning is a must while riding in the Himalayas. You need to have your ride plans sorted, your bike ready, an inventory to be prepared of what you will need to carry along for the trip and an itinerary of your ride plans. Also note that distances in the mountains can be quite misleading since roads twist and turn in the mountains. 250 km in the mountains is very different compared to 250 km in the plains. Plan your itinerary accordingly.
Carry maps with you
However old-fashioned it might sound, maps are a very useful thing to have on your person at all times. In the days of GPS and online maps being available on smartphones maps seem so redundant. But remember, cell phones. They need mobile networks and data connections to download maps on your device. Most GPS devices on smartphones are AGPS or Assisted GPS units that use cell phone networks to lock on to your approximate location. The receivers are not as powerful as dedicated receivers used on GPS devices and can lose signal in case of heavy cloud cover or monsoon like conditions. Also remember, smartphones and GPS units consume battery power which means they need frequent charging. If you have the means to charge while on the move, then by all means use the devices, but as a backup, keep maps handy too.
Keep cash available with you
For today’s generation which believes in plastic money, it might sound a bit strange but at times having adequate cash on you can be a definite boon at times. Up in the mountains it’s pretty remote so don’t expect to find ATMs and card swipe terminals everywhere you go. Carry cash on your person and if possible keep it split up in 2-3 different locations like some in pockets, some in luggage etc. You never know when you might end up needing it. Anticipate your expenses in advance and plan out your budget accordingly with a margin for unforeseen expenses too.
Gear up properly
Around this time of the year, it starts to rain up in the mountains and it can get quite cold at times. Nights are generally cold so you will need to gear up accordingly. A sturdy all weather riding jacket and riding pants are recommended with armor protection. Ensure that you carry your thermal liners with you as well since you might end up needing them at times. Gloves and boots should preferably be wet weather gear suitable for riding in the rains. In case you prefer not to wear riding pants or don’t have wet riding boots, invest in a sturdy pair of jeans and team them up with knee protectors and sturdy thick soled leather boots. Bear in mind however that in case of stream crossings, the boots will get wet and wet leather shoes with wet socks are not exactly very comfortable on long rides. Helmets should preferably be full face to protect your face and eyes from wind, dust, grit, snow, water and hail. Try riding in the midst of a snow storm and you will appreciate our advice. As a rule of thumb, ride with a clear visor rather than a tinted one. Clear visors can be used regardless of lighting conditions while tints will leave you floundering in the dark. If possible, invest in a good kidney belt as well since riding on the rugged surface will eventually start hurting your sides.
Check on road and weather conditions frequently
In the mountains, road and weather conditions are liable to turn on a dime. The wind can suddenly pick up and start pounding you for no apparent reason. Hailstorms and snowstorms can suddenly sweep down the mountain affecting riding conditions adversely. Melting snow can cause avalanches and landslides blocking roads suddenly. It is advisable to generally check on road conditions ahead at every halt you make. While the BRO (Border Roads Organisation) takes a lot of efforts to keep the roads clear, its best to check with them at any BRO or GREF camps you might pass along the way.
Change your riding style
Roads in the Himalayas can be quite narrow and treacherous. Approach them with the caution and respect that they demand. Many roads do not have crash barriers on the sides which implies a steep drop down the side. Ride moderately and safely, do not ride as if you are at the racetrack. While riding on snowy and rocky terrain keep speeds in check. Move around on the bike loading up either the front or rear end as the situation demands. Going up steep inclines means you will need to keep the front end loaded to keep it firmly down.
Carry a medical kit and more importantly, sunscreen
Sunscreen in the Himalayas, you might ask? Erm, yes and there’s a very good reason for it. The air up there is thinner which means you are more susceptible to UV radiation since there is nothing to block it and insulate you from it. This can result in nasty sunburns. A lot of riders have found this out the hard way so carrying a sunscreen with a high SPF factor is a very good idea. Your average medical kit should have pills for headache, mountain sickness, diarrhea, antacids and gas relievers, antihistamines, pain relievers and also anti pyretics like Septran. Mountain sickness pills like Diamox are sulpha drugs and hence should not be consumed by people with an allergy to these. Ask your doctor for more information and get a physical checkup done before you leave on the ride.
Stage your elevation and more important- keep hydrating
It is highly important to stage your climb up to higher altitudes to allow your body time to acclimatize to the changing elevation and air pressure. Going up too fast will probably give you a nasty headache. So do bear that in mind. Keep drinking lots of water too since one tends to ignore hydration due to a lack of thirst in colder atmospheres. Also moderate your alcohol intake unless you want a nasty headache. If your do have to drink, beer is best suited for the mountains. Chronic smokers run the risk of acute respiratory distress at high altitudes so do watch the amount of suttas you consume.
We hope these tips serve you well and make your ride in the Himalayas an incident free and a memorable one. Keep riding safe and happy revving!!