Cross the Rubicon: The Story of Traveling to India from a Travel Expert
Travel expert Stanislav shared his fascinating story of traveling to India with YoutravelMe. We are happy to share it and offer a motorcycle trip to the Valley of the Wind.
My name is Stanislav Filippov, I am a traveler and guide in India, originally from St. Petersburg, Russia. Like many of my compatriots who ended up in Goa, where climatic conditions, compactness and economy make two-wheeled vehicles a practical and common means of transportation, I first got behind the wheel of a motorcycle there. However, the only way I truly understood what a bike was was when I got my hands on a '98 Royal Enfield Bullet that my friends left for safekeeping. To start this rarity, sometimes you had to resort to black magic and pagan spells. However, astride this rusted cannon, an echo of the East India Company, I usually had no doubts about my superiority over inanimate matter. As they say, difficulties bring together, therefore, knowing all the ups and downs in the operation and maintenance of Royal Enfield firsthand, I did not hesitate to choose him as my guide to the citadel of the Himalayas almost 7 years after the first meeting.
The idea of the Himalayan Eagles literally knocked on my head in quite realistic conditions. Making my way through the scree that blocked the path of transport communication near the Rohtang Pass in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas, I got into the thick of traffic that had accumulated near the blockage. Looking at the crowd, I had the feeling that I was on the set of “Mad Max” – & nbsp; several groups of colorful bikers, whose clothes and motorcycle designs were influenced by Buddhist and Hindu ethnic style, were talking noisily and growling impatiently with heated motors. Participation in this free Himalayan brotherhood of souls and motors made me want to create my own community and join its members to the experience that I experienced on the mountain serpentines of the Himalayas.
Thinking about a symbol capable of spiritually uniting like-minded people, I remembered how often I saw giant eagles soaring equally majestically as surrounded by their relatives, and in proud loneliness among the gloomy and bare rocks. Himalayan eagles for me are a symbol of free, but united by one purpose satellites, ready for trials, including for the sake of the flight itself.
If you delve into history, then one of the most famous predecessors who overcame this route was the famous spiritualist artist of the 19th century, Nicholas Roerich. As impressions of the journey, he left travel diaries and amazingly atmospheric canvases of the Himalayas, which received worldwide recognition. It should be noted that since those times the color of these places is unlikely to have undergone major changes. The Principality of Ladakh, through which the famous Silk Road passed in the Middle Ages, is called “Little Tibet”, due to the high degree of cultural similarity between these regions. To this day, getting into one of the dusty souvenir shops of Leh, the capital of the principality, the eye involuntarily searches for artifacts of ancient times. The influence of Tibetan culture on Ladakh is undoubtedly more pronounced in Buddhism. Visiting the famous medieval fortified monasteries of Tiksi and Shey usually become part of the cultural program of the trip.
Speaking of the journey that the eagles go on at the end of each summer, it is impossible not to mention its height. The Manali-Leh road is one of the highest roads in the world. Most of the 9 day trip takes place at an altitude within 3-4 km. At peak moments, the height reaches 4.5-5.5 km, which is comparable to the height of Kilimanjaro peak. Thanks to this high-altitude range, a person experiences a completely different sense of reality, not only visually, but also psychologically. The low population density of high-mountain territories, the absence of the usual social infrastructures, as well as the depletion of vegetation, turns vast territories into stone deserts, creating for the rider an atmosphere of conquering the Moon or Mars. Throughout the route, due to a noticeable change in the altitude and climate range, the landscape changes from the fertile apple orchards and rose gardens of the Kullu valley, through passes, plateaus, and rocky gorges to the peach orchards of the Lech valley. On the way there are crystal high mountain lakes, waterfalls, glaciers, rivers and streams, some of which must be crossed.
To better illustrate what a participant in the journey to the “Valley of the Winds” can experience, I will try to recall one of the highlights from last year's expedition. 30 km from the Sarchu camp, one of the staging posts on the Manali-Leh road, traffic was stopped by a rapid flow of water from a glacier melting 3 km up the gorge. The water level at the crossing reached 1.5 meters, while up and downstream the surface of the valley was literally dotted with deep hollows and rocky ravines, which also represented a serious obstacle. Having reached the crossing at noon, the participants of the motocross were locked at an altitude of 4.5 km, unable to continue along the route and descend to a comfortable height for rest. Most of the team experienced mountain sickness, which manifested itself in headache, dizziness, and general weakness. Together, it was decided to wait out the time of active melting of the glacier and force the flow in the afternoon, when the water level in it drops. However, passing the technically difficult stretch of road that remained to the Sarchu camp at night also posed a safety risk. As a co-organizer of the trip, I felt part of the responsibility for the safe and timely passage of the route. However, despite the prescribed medicines I used, the symptoms of altitude sickness did not subside.
We found a way out of this situation together: by examining the fords across the stream in the place of its wide overflow downstream. Having ferried most of the riders across the explored ford and sent them to the place of the night before sunset, I and a team of technicians were left to get motorcycles that had stalled and were left in difficult places. As a result of this work, the travel plan has not changed significantly and the safety of the participants has not been compromised.
To participate in the journey, I use a rented motorcycle, serviced by technical support accompanying the participants throughout the route. As a rule, this is a Royal Enfield Himalayan or Royal Enfield Classic 500. This choice is mainly dictated by the ability to easily and quickly fix problems yourself or with the help of local mechanics, as well as replace motorcycle parts that are available almost everywhere in local services. Since travel time is a critical factor, and the level of service repair is sometimes akin to folk art, high technology and electronics, paradoxically, can become a stumbling block on the way to the Himalayan peaks.
If we compare the ride characteristics of these motorcycles, then Himalayan, thanks to the geometry of the frame and suspension, certainly wins in terms of comfort when traveling off-road. Biometrics of passenger boarding at a level above the rider is also a plus for a long journey. However, the lack of a kick starter, with unstable electronics, can turn into a problem. Of course, traversing long stretches of technical terrain on a vintage chopper may seem like an unjustified inconvenience. On the other hand, the endurance and cross-country ability of the Classic has been tested many times in our own experience. The most common malfunctions and problems when operating a motorcycle on this trip are clutch wear due to inept shifting, engine overheating and loss of power when refueling with low-quality fuel. Preliminary briefing and a team of mechanics accompanying the group throughout the route helps to prevent and eliminate problems.
Without a doubt, the Valley of the Wind route – is a challenge endurance for both bike and rider. Due to the technical complexity of the route, the planned 150-200 km per day take from 6 to 12 hours on the road. The sometimes ascetic conditions of overnight stays in tent camps at low temperatures, uncharacteristic pressure and rarefied air – certainly a way out of the usual comfort zone. However, my personal formula for life states that without overcoming great difficulties, there are no truly great achievements. Therefore, standing on the “top of the world” and contemplating it from top to bottom, you can see and feel what was inaccessible from a different angle.