This exciting tour is something of a Himalayan odyssey, crossing some of the World’s Highest Motorable passes and linking three of the ultimate mountain range’s most breathtaking regions: Lahul, Ladakh and Zanskar. Leaving from Dharmasala, in the shadow of the magnificent Dhauladhar range, we will travel over the heights to the incomparable beauty of the Zanskar Valley, with its 24,000ft snowcaps glaciers… little comes close in terms of natural splendour. From there it’s on to Leh, ‘capital’ of Ladakh.
Appropriately, we will be using the 400cc Royal Enfield Himalayan for this route. With its ground clearance and dirt riding ability, it is well suited to the rigours of this route.
A tour here is to visit a place like no other and to call it a ‘holiday’, is to do the experience no justice whatsoever. Even to try and get close to explaining the sheer scale of this adventure, the raw, untouched beauty of its locations and the endless fascination of its peoples and cultures, carries with it a degree of futility, but we will blunder on nonetheless…
Blazing Trails have been running Himalayan tours since 2000 and it is this experience that allows us to guide riders to such places. As with all our trips an experienced leader and support crew are with you every mile, providing expert guidance and mechanical or medical assistance if required. But despite our enormous local knowledge, a ride through the Himalaya is never going to be without its challenges and surprises…
While we do everything within reason to make your trip as safe and enjoyable as we can, there are challenges implicit to travelling in the world’s mightiest mountains that we could not remove if we wanted to. The environment is very much in charge here, the natural forces so great that human endeavours to tame them barely register.
The Himalaya is still growing, and at the same time collapsing, possibly overnight and across our route. For this reason no itinerary is ever set in stone. Each morning your tour leader will gather information and assess conditions ahead. If our planned route is blocked, we may have to detour, or wait until a passage can be forced. If this happens it is usually overcome, but there is the possibility routes and accommodation will have to change. This is not a normal package holiday, but if you’re looking for the ultimate biking adventure, with the best back-up and most fitting overnight accommodation, then you’ll love it.
As a participant in this tour you’ll fly to Delhi International, before transferring to the nearby domestic terminal, where you will board for the (approximately hour-long) flight up to Dharmasala. Here you will be met by Blazing Trails staff and be handed ‘your’ Enfield Himalayan. The machine will be left in Leh at the trip’s end and from where you will be flying back to Delhi.
There will be a full briefing before we set off into the high mountains. When riding there will be a leader and outriders, guiding and trouble-spotting. A ‘sweeper’ rider/mechanic and a support vehicle with medic will travel at the rear. Roads are often rough, so we recommend you have at least two year’s riding experience before taking on this challenge. You will also need reasonable fitness and there are certain medical conditions that preclude travelling at altitude, so check with Blazing Trails and your GP if in doubt. Weather ranges from warm in the lower valleys, to conditions similar to a UK winter’s day up high, rarely including snow.
Travelling up in these beautiful mountains by bike brings you close to the environment and its inhabitants; close to the nature of this huge place. For most riders a trip like this will be the experience of a lifetime.
DAYs 1/2: FLY UK TO DELHI and on TO Dharmasala
Fly into Delhi, where you will transfer the short distance to the domestic flights terminal to meet your connecting flight to the foothills. From Delhi it is a short (1.5hrs) flight to Dharmasala. Here you will be met by the Blazing Trails staff and transported to our hotel base for dinner and a briefing on the adventure ahead of us.
DAY 3: in Dharmasala
Spend the morning taking a walk into town to shop, eat and visit the many sights. This large town is home to the Dali Lama, whose base is in the suburb of McLoed Ganj, a taxi ride up the hill and well worth a visit. At 1450m above sea-level, this is a good place to start your acclimatisation.
DAY 4: Dharmasala to Chamba
Today we leave McLeod Ganj and head over remote hills to Chamba. This is an incredible road and an incredible ride as the tarmac ribbons its way steeply upward, with big drop-offs and vast panoramic views. Although the distance to be covered is relatively small, the twistiness of the road means this is a whole day’s ride, with time to take a few cups of chai and stops to admire the scenery.
DAY 5: chamba to killar
A potential monster of a day’s riding leads us higher into the mountains until we scale the intimidating Sach Pass. At 4550m it’s not super-high, but as it gets more rain than the Ladakh or Zanskar deserts. There can be plenty of roadside snow and this dirt road can be rough and muddy, with huge roadside drops adding to the intimidation. The day ends at a simple hotel in the nowhere town of Killar!
DAY 6: killar to jispa
Today is yet another breath-taker, as we make our way from Killar to Jispa via another beautiful, but infamously dizzying and potentially rough gorge ride. We have designed the route so we are on the left of the road (drop to the right) – something you will really appreciate at the time! At 3100m, Jispa is a charming village, with a good hotel and super views.
DAY 7: Jispa to Purne
A short ride on the highway leads us to turn on to a dramatic new route which leads over Shinku La (a 5100m pass). Whether this is a trial or a pleasure is weather-dependant, but either way it will be epic. Having topped the pass on tar, we descend toward Zanskar Valley on far rougher stuff. The night will be spent at the small and dramatically-positioned village of Purne, where will will spend the night in tents. This is not luxurious.
DAY 8: Purne to padum
Zanskar, oh Zanskar, down into Zanskar. With high mountain scenery and surrounded mainly by Buddhist culture, with stupas and monasteries all around. Beauty on a massive scale. Glorious at 3600m.
DAY 9: in padum
A rest day in which to walk around, taking in the place. In the afternoon, we will have a short ride-out to one of the cliff-side villages, Karsha. Here we will walk up to the monastery through the tumbledown village and watch the shadows grow across the colossal valley below.
DAY 10: Padum to Lamayuru
We hope, if conditions permit, to be taking a newly-opened route, which cuts through altitudinous desert to meet the Kargil-Leh Highway. We will decide on the route when post-winter road reports are available. The alternative is another amazing ride to Kargil. Whichever way we go, dirt roads and water crossings are on the agenda. The day ends in a beautiful spot, for a beer with sunset.
DAY 11: Lamayuru to Leh
There’s time in the morning to take a walk to the local monastery. Today’s ride will feel smooth and easy. The road is tarred, twisty, swoopy and again spectacular. We should arrive in Leh in time for a nice meal out to celebrate the ride.
DAY 12: In Leh
Optional Khardung La ascent. You can, as an option, ride to the top of Khardung La, once claiming to be the world’s highest ‘motorable’ road. Claims of 5600m altitude are false, the pass reaching 5360m. We cannot use our bikes for this (due to aggressive unions running tourist cartels in the area) but can help you arrange hire bikes and will offer back-up support. Otherwise, take a walk into town to shop, eat and visit the sights. This large, history-drenched town was the capital of the ancient kingdom of Ladakh. It is set at nearly 12,000ft above sea-level in the Upper Indus Valley and like all Ladakh its culture is principally Tibetan Buddhist. There are, however, also Muslim, Christian and Hindu communities in Leh and throughout Ladakh. Overlooking the town is the huge, nine-storey Leh Palace, long since abandoned, but still impressive and worth a visit. There are many more ancient temples and monasteries to visit and the old Leh market is a fascinating experience.
DAY 13: fly away home
Off you zoom, having completed an amazing adventure.
In ten wordsTo the top of the world - and beyond. Perception-changing.
Riding LevelRoads have improved in recent years, but this tour visits the Suru and Zanskar valleys, whose roads are often unpaved. There are three fairly tough rides, probably with river crossings. Other high passes are likely to be rough at the tops. However, we have taken scores of people on such routes, so it is achievable to the average rider with a bit of teamwork and effort. Tarmac: 80%; dirt 20%.
Pillion Ratings A challenging tour for pillions (and riders with pillions) in some places. Much of the route is smooth tarmac, but others are rough and sometimes rocky. However, if you're a bit of a hard-arse who must see these most remarkable places, then it' not impossible and the back-up truck is always there if you need a break.
Accommodation & MealsThe venues and views are five-star, but although the accommodation is the best we can find in the area, choice can be a little restricted on the edge of where it is possible for humans to exist. Food (mainly vegetarian) is simple, except in Leh, where the tourist industry is more developed. Included meals: all breakfasts; 1 dinner. Dining is extremely inexpensive.
WHAT THE TOUR PRICE INCLUDES
- Bike with Mechanical Back-up, Spares & Repairs
- Medical & Luggage-carrying Support
- All Internal Transfers bar Flights
- First Tank of Fuel
- One Dinner
- Most Lunches & Evening Meals
- Entry Fees
- Fuel subsequent to first tankful
You will need a passport with valid visa, appropriate travel insurance and an international driving permit. For information on visas, please look at our Indian FAQs.
You should be able to get by on around £500 spending money if you don’t do a lot of shopping. Cash and travellers’ cheques are easily changed in Leh (where there are also cashpoints), but nowhere else on the route.
Even at high altitudes the Himalaya can be surprisingly warm in summer. But nothing can be taken for granted and although rain is rare there is the chance of wet weather. When overcast, things can get chilly at night and at the highest points there is a remote possibility of snow. The maximum temperature is likely to be around 30ºC; the minimum 0ºC (rarely, at night).
We advise riders to consider their kit in terms of layers. Good quality gear can also prevent a minor spill causing a trip-ruining injury, so we require that you ride with no exposed skin (except your face). Please find more information on bike kit here.
While your main luggage will be carried in a support vehicle, you may wish to bring a small rucksack in which to carry articles you need on the road. Your main bag must be ‘soft’ and not a suitcase.
While you don’t have to be an athlete to join us on this adventure, we would not recommend this tour to those who cannot, for instance, climb a flight of stairs without puffing and blowing. Please note that there are some long days in the saddle. We reach some great altitudes on this tour, so if you have any existing medical condition, please consult your doctor and Blazing Trails before booking.
While we insist those joining us have a full motorcycle licence, and recommend a minimum of two year’s riding experience, time in the saddle and miles ridden are of more relevance to an adventure like this. Riding in India is very different from Europe and although the speeds at which we travel are relatively low, demands on planning and observation are high. Other factors making demands on riders are the heat (and possibly cold) and conditions of the road – including sections of unpaved dirt.
HEALTH & HYGIENE
Although there is always the chance of getting a ‘holiday tummy’, following a few simple guidelines keeps the chances of this to a minimum. The tour will be accompanied by a medic with extensive kit to deal with any problem. If you have any pre-existing medical condition, it is essential that you consult both Blazing Trails and your physician before booking.
To check out our suggested packing list.
CAN I BOOK FROM OUTSIDE THE UK?
Yes. We enjoy hosting riders from all countries.
How do I book?
The tours can be booked online, by email, or over the phone on: +44 (0) 7494 050404. To secure a place you will be asked to put down a deposit of £500 and payment can be made by card, cheque, or bank transfer.
ARE FLIGHTS INCLUDED?
Flights are not included in the price of your tour, but we can provide details of where to book an appropriate flight.
DO I NEED INSURANCE?
Yes, you need travel insurance to cover you for the period of the tour. This insurance must cover you to ride a bike of the capacity offered on your tour.
How & Where do I get a visa?
To visit India you will need a passport (valid for six months from date of entry) and a valid tourist visa. For visits of up to a month’s duration it is possible for British citizens (and those of many other countries) to obtain an ‘E Tourist Visa’ online, HERE. You will need to provide a PDF scan of your passport’s first page with a file size between 10 and 300kb. You will also need to provide a scan of a passport picture (as a J-Peg, 10kb-1mb). This picture must be square, on a plain, light-coloured background and without borders. Applicants must submit online between 30 and four days before travelling and the visa will be issued on arrival – on production of an emailed confirmation document. The visa will be valid for 30 days from entry. The fee for an E Tourist visa is currently USD [currency amount=”80″ from=”USD” to=”GBP” iso=false between=” (which is ” append=”” round_append=””]).
Visas for entry to Nepal are available at borders, at a cost of USD [currency amount=”30″ from=”USD” to=”GBP” iso=false between=” (which is ” append=”” round_append=””]), or at the Nepali Consulate in London prior to travelling.
The visa application asks for two Indian addresses, what should I put?
1. Overland Escape, 251,252, Vardaman Crown Mall, Sector 19, Dwarka, New Delhi -110075 2. Hotel Iceland, Solang Valley Village, Solang, PO Palchan Manali, Himachal Pradesh – 175103
What other paperwork do I need?
You will need a valid certificate of travel insurance and an International Driving Permit.
Where do I get an International Driving Permit?
Obtain one through the Post Office service, at major branches. All you need is your UK Driving Licence and some six of Her Imperial Majesty’s Pounds.
Where should I change money?
We would advise that you have some idea of the Rupee exchange rate before you leave, to avoid getting ripped-off at airports. Sites like this should help. In many major towns, there are cash-points that will accept major credit and debit cards. Arrivals in Cochin for the Kerala Tour will be able to change money in town if the airport rate is not competitive. Goa Airport is rapidly getting a reputation as a den of rip-off merchants and we would advise you not to change money there at present. Money can easily be changed at banks, agencies and be withdrawn from cash-points close to your hotel before we set off. Further advice to this will be given in the tour briefing. Generally if arriving at Delhi, for Himalayan and Rajasthani tours, airport rates should be reasonable and we would advise you to change at least £50. Money can be easily changed in Manali and Leh on the Himalayan tours.
Can a lady with a wooden leg change a pound note?
No, she’s only got half a knicker.
How much spending money will I need?
About £500 should cover food, drink, petrol and sundries.
Will I have to share a room?
Yes, unless you pay a supplement. Even then, single rooms may not be available at some stops as the hotels we use are popular, or in some cases small, and we have to book our accommodation some time in advance.
What standard is the accommodation?
It varies widely, but is always clean and the best we can find in the area for a reasonable price. In some places you may be staying in comfortable tented camps, in others luxury huts or hotel rooms. In Kerala and Rajasthan the accommodation is of a higher standard. There may be nights on the beach or under the desert stars in more remote areas – it’s all part of the adventure experience.
Will we have electricity?
It can’t be guaranteed. In some places there’s no power; in all power cuts are possible. Thus, if it’s vital you need electrical power every night, please speak to us before booking. Don’t forget a travel adaptor if you need to recharge your electricals.
what is the difference between tarka dhal and regular dhal?
They are very similar, but Tarka dhal is a bit ‘otter.
How much riding experience do I need?
We would recommend only booking a tour with us if you have a licence that covers the tour bike (compulsory) and have at least two years’ recent riding experience. The main criterion, however, is confidence. If you’re happy to zip through a London rush hour, then you’ll be capable of dealing with road life in India.
Is riding in India dangerous?
Riding anywhere carries with it a degree of risk, as does Indian riding. For more information on the riding side of things see ‘Riding’ in the ‘About India ‘ section of this site. If any rider joining us rides in a manner we suspect will endanger themselves, or others, or indeed displays antisocial behaviour, they will receive one warning. If they continue to display a threat to the safety or enjoyment of others on the tour, they will be excluded from the remainder (with no refund given, see terms and conditions).
How fast will we be riding?
Due to road conditions and other traffic, vehicles tend to move a lot slower in India than they do in the West. We will do likewise. There are also constraints on speed enforced by the bikes. These are not high-revving sports bikes and so we will lead the tour at a maximum speed of around 80kph.
Can I use the bike in the evenings?
No, you can’t ride independently of the tour group, sorry.
How fit do I need to be?
Reasonably so, especially for the Himalayas, where roads can be very rough and there is also the matter of altitude to deal with. What’s ‘reasonably fit’? If you can’t jog up stairs without panting, then Indian bike tours probably aren’t for you.
Can I take a pillion?
Yes , but please be sure they know what they’re letting themselves in for: some long days in the saddle, bumpy roads and, in the mountains, some pretty shocking drop-offs. We have limited space in our support vehicles, so pillions may not always be able to hop off on a whim. Likewise, if riders have any doubt over handling the extra weight, then we’d advise they ride solo. It is possible to book a place in a support vehicle for those who want to join the tour, but not to ride or travel as a pillion passenger.
How much luggage can I bring?
You are limited to 20-ish kg by most airlines. However, we suggest you pack as lightly and in as compact a form as possible. As support vehicle space is tight, we insist you bring soft luggage. If you turn up with a suitcase we will ask you to buy a soft bag and repack.
How much luggage should I bring?
Keep it as minimal as you can, please.
Isn’t India full of snakes?
Yes, it’s full of snakes. Don’t bring any snakes. It’s full.
Do I need a towel?
If you’re wet, yes. One small travel towel for Goa, Nepal and the Himalayas only. Although our hotels provide towels, there may be the occasional night you need your own.
Is food included in the price?
Only breakfast. You will pay for lunch and dinner, because we prefer that you make your own choices on where you eat and you will find Indian food substantially cheaper than meals at home.
I don’t like curry, what can I eat?
We would firstly suggest that you avoid too much curry, purely on the grounds that you don’t like it. Indian cuisine has much more to offer than that which we in the West are offered in most ‘Indian’ restaurants. In many destinations, Western-style food is available and where it is not, less spicy food can be arranged. As an alternative, it is possible to bring your own pre-packed camping meals and add hot water.
Is it possible to milk shrews in order to make shrew’s cheese?
Yes, but it’s a very tricky procedure requiring specialist equipment and best left to the experts.
Are laundry facilities available on-tour?
They are, but not every night. Check the itineraries of Tours. You should be able to get clothes cleaned at two-night stops, so consider this when packing.
Do I require a pollution mask?
Not specifically. Pollution is not a problem except in the major cities, but some roads are dusty so a facemask, snood, or scarf can be useful.
Do I need waterproofs?
Yes. If your riding kit isn’t waterproof, then bring some light waterproofs.
Do I need to bring a sleeping bag?
For the Himalayan tours a light, compact bag will add to your comfort.
What medication should I bring & what inoculations are required?
Consult your GP/travel clinic for immunisation and malaria advice. Bring enough of any prescribed medication you take regularly. A basic first aid kit is useful (plasters, antiseptic cream, bite/sting relief, plus insect repellent). Any serious medical problems will be dealt with by the tour medic, or first-aider.
Should I bring a seat pad?
Gel or air pads add comfort on long days in the saddle, but are not necessary.
Should I bring a sports bra?
If you like. We don’t really know you that well yet and so consider your underwear requirements to be your own business.
Should I bring a water carrier?
As air-fares are so high these days, better to hire one locally, or carry your own water. Packaged drinking water is readily available throughout our routes, which you may wish to transfer into a CamelBak, or similar device.
Do I need gloves?
Proper bike gloves are essential. Check this site’s information on Clothing Advice for a comprehensive guide to what you’ll need.
I’ve read that on your southern tours there will be the opportunity to spot wild ‘bison’. Surely the only bison sub-species reside in European and North American populations. Are we being taken for fools?
Yes, unfortunately guidebooks and indeed most guides themselves can be short on taxonomical understanding. The ‘Indian bison’ is properly known as a ‘gaur’ and is the largest bovine (cow) species.
How do I tell the difference between a buffalo and a bison?
You can’t wash your hands in a buffalo.
ABOUT ZANSKAR AND LADAKH
Ladakh is a sparsely-populated area of lofty mountains and high desert plains in the Indian Himalaya, part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Once a major intersection on the Silk Route, it is now bordered by Chinese-controlled Tibet to the east and Pakistan to the north. Currently all Ladakhi border crossings to these countries are closed. The indigenous population are mainly Buddhist and are culturally close to Tibetans. Ladhakis traditionally carved out a tough existence through agriculture, shepherding and trade, but now the tourist industry also provides income. Ladakh is the coldest inhabited place on Earth, after Siberia. The entire region around Ladakh’s capital, Leh, is cut off by road from mid-October to late May by snow and landslides.
Much of Ladakh is situated above 10,000ft in altitude, being part of the Tibetan Plateau (Ladakh is known as ‘Little Tibet’ and has often been part of that Kingdom). The Great Himalaya to the east provides a rain shadow, beyond which the easterly monsoon should not pass (although very occasionally it seems to). The lack of precipitation means less snowfall than other areas of similar altitude and it is this that has allowed the building of most of the planet’s highest roads in Ladakh. Winter temperatures fall as low as -35ºC, but in summertime the climate is mild, ranging from around 30ºC to 15ºC in the daytime and rarely dropping below 5ºC at night.
Zanskar is a little-visited river valley between Ladakh and Kashmir. Until 1974 the valley was entirely off-limits to foreigners and subsequently tourism has been low-key, as access in and out of the capital, Padum (population 700), is via some 90 miles of rough road, which crosses the formidable Pensi La (14,450ft). This road was not ‘constructed’ until 1979. The mainly Buddhist population of the valley is only around 14,000-strong and most people eke a living through rearing livestock and small-scale cultivation of summer crops. In wintertime the only route in and out of the valley is along the frozen Zanskar River.
The mountain ranges and rock formations surrounding Zanskar are among the most spectaular to be seen anywhere. The huge twin Nun-Kun peaks (both over 23,000ft) and the glaciers issuing from them dominate the scenery above, while the sparkling blue river froths below the road. Zanskar feels like some kind of lost world, very remote and, with traffic being almost non-existant, extremely peaceful. There is a plan to link the southern end of the valley with the main Manali-Leh highway and when this happens, everything is likely to change. Zanskar is then likely to become part of a busy tourist circuit. But for now, this valley reamins one of the most remote places you can visit on a motorcycle.
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