The Air Up There…
36 days in the Himalayas; 1 Man – 1 Machine
(Talking to myself inside the helmet); it’s been 12 hours since I left Kargil and entered Suru – Zanskar Valley. Couldn’t find an ounce of food to eat. Have been just on water… Yeah! This ride is definitely the most testing and challenging one done till date. Common Om focus; one mistake and you gone forever. It will take weeks just to know you are missing.
I never imagined my life would revolve around Biking. May be it’s a passion or just an addiction but Motorcycles and Biking is now a culture, a family, a place where you make good friends; I’m grateful for this and the fact that it has given me the ability to reach any corner of the country in any environment. Freedom to explore the world on two wheels. Is it possible to push your limits in this world and to know where you stand by? Can two wheels teach you lessons of life? And what happens when you fall! So why not take it to the extremes and test the limits of man and machine, a place like no other, The Himalayas.
Hi, my name is Om Vaikul and I set on a journey to the mountains for 36 days, covering 8000+ kms through 7 states, 9 valleys, 9 mountain passes and came back in a state of bliss. What makes any of this even more special is that I made this solo on my bike – on a Royal Enfield Thunderbird 500.
The joy of being in Himalayas for me is unexplainable. We all have one place in our lives where we come to in peace with ourselves. For me Himalayas has always been the answer to the chaos in today’s living. Material, Spiritual and in Superficial terms, being just in Himalayas has become an annual thing. They are not just the youngest mountain range in the world but also the liveliest ones.
Till date I have made 6 trips to Himalayas and each time I was fascinated to hear some stories off this and that valley or come to know about some amazing place across a river that is very less explored. Also in each trip some of the places from the plan use to get skipped because of short of time or road block; some reason or the other. So once I had decided that a trip to Himalayas solo is a must. And it’s the only way I could quench my thirst of photography in the mountains fully.
Why Thunderbird 500?
For the simple reason, I had carried ample luggage on this trip. Something that may or may not come handy was also in the bag. Couple of places was quite off the map, remote and isolated so carrying atleast 10 litres extra fuel was mandatory. And I wanted to enjoy this ride in a cruiser position; also not compromise anywhere in power. I saw Thunderbird 500 has the only option that fit aptly. The 20 litres large fuel tank, tried and tested 500cc engine from the best selling Classic 500 and the many other modern technology incorporated in this bike, made this a feasible choice.
From the whole 36 days. I would like to narrate 9 incidents that made me think in a renewed way towards life granted by the almighty one.
1st Incident | Location: Somewhere on the highway
Just when I had taken a small tea break by the highway, a guy riding a motorcycle came and stopped besides me. He seemed a local fellow and I guess was also stopping for tea. When I turned and looked at him properly, my glass almost fell off after the sight I witnessed. The guy had no left arm; yet he rides a motorcycle properly.
I exchanged few words with him, took a photograph with his permission and carried on. He was such a casual personality as how we express ‘no big deal’ phrase. The only thing that kept rotating in my mind was ‘Impossible is truly nothing.’
2nd Incident | Location: Chail, Himachal Pradesh
It was past 5 PM and I was coming down on the Chail Kufri road to get back on the main highway and as per my itinerary, today’s halt was in Narkhanda. As I was cruising, calculations were in full flow in my head that in an hour I’ll lose the day light and Narkhanda is still another 2 and a half hours away, max, that too if I rush a little. One thought was, maybe I’ll check in to a hotel nearby. Probably before the sun sets! And just after passing of this thought a hotel kind of thing passed by. I was little fast so couldn’t get the whole glance. I stopped ahead and thought for a second whether it was what I saw or may be try my chance little ahead!
I don’t know why and how, but the next action came naturally. Without wasting a moment I turned back and went there. Parked my bike, removed my helmet and took in the whole view of the place. It was quite something. A hotel which looked like a home, totally built on a slope with stones and concrete pillars. When I was bargaining for a fair deal, the lady who came at the door told me to go up at the top and her husband is sitting there, please speak with him.
I met him on the terrace of the hotel and spoke with him for about 10 minutes. You’ll be surprised to know that it was not at all about the rate or tariff to stay here, he was curious to know why I’m traveling alone, who I am and the curious questions usually asked to a solo traveler. After a moment of silence he started praising of what I am on to and wished me the very best for the journey ahead.
The lady got me some tea and then finally topic came on the price for the accommodation. Rs. 500/- was finalized. I was little tired that day and the owner also insisted to sit and relax for a while before going down again for luggage and stuff. Here is when a new topic got initiated. In that moment I got to know from him, this place is their home and now made into a hotel, their village is close by and this was their parents’ dream. Many other little and big intimate details of the place I was told. I also got to know he had given a job to someone to make a website for his place and the guy never corresponded back. This is when I interrupted and told him it’s not that difficult to make it. It is hardly expensive to make just a simple static website for a place like this on a platform called WordPress. I quoted him a small figure of Rs. 2000/- that is sufficient to create one.
He asked me do you also make a website. I replied yes. Here are his next words, “Son, please make one for us and don’t pay us anything for the stay here. Enjoy 3-4 days here. Have the best of food that my wife will prepare. My sons will take you around and show you the place.” I don’t know how and why but to this I agreed so spontaneously that I didn’t even understand whether I myself said yes or just my soul was answering. For the first time I felt of higher powers at work.
I stayed with the family for 3 days. Each meal given to me was king size. I ate with them in the kitchen as well as the dining room. On cold night, food was served to me in my room. Every item consumed is grown there and like he promised, his 2 sons took me on a tour of the whole mountain. Before leaving he even told me, “I have good contacts further ahead in state, if any help needed then do not hesitate to ring me up.”
When I reached Mumbai after 30 days from their place, exactly on the 35th day I got a call from them to know whether I have reached safe and was my journey a success! I was touched by their approach. I’m still in touch with them and have been invited to come there again in winter months to see a whole different Chail. First time I realised the meaning and got a true experience of the phrase “Guest is God”.
3rd Incident | Location: Maling near Nako village, Himachal Pradesh
When I was closing in on Nako village I got to know via Bcmtouring.com that the Malling Nallah area has a disastrous drop. The road has totally gone down. And no way will it be ready in the next 15 days, that was the degree of damage. I still took my chances and settled in at a home stay in Nako. It’s a very remote village high in Himalayas so accommodation charges amount to hardly an expensive figure.
On Day 2, I made reckon of the situation and decided to give 7 days’ wait, for it to improve. But right after passing of the 3rd day I realised this is no way going to get ready even for lighter vehicles like a bike anytime soon. I was discouraged and disheartened. But just when I was getting ready to turn back, an army fellow met me at the village. There was a wedding in the evening so some army guys had come down for some work. He told me that he was observing me since last 3-4 days and inquired about my intentions. The next thing to come from his mouth was, “Sirji you come up tomorrow morning with your bike, with luggage and everything. We have just put a railing on the patch and with some efforts we might be able to get you across.” I was delighted to hear this. Very eagerly I waited for the next morning.
At the first light I was full ready to roll. Even before breakfast I was ready up there. The same army fellow met me and gave me 2 helpers to assist me out. And with some daring efforts, me and my bike were taken across. I could not express the joy of the current happening. Some other labour or person would have asked for money or some compensation. But the moment I went across and looked back, the 2 people immediately went back to their camps without showing any expectation. I whistled and waved to show my gratitude. I experienced the phrase, “Yes, even today there are people who will help you whole heartedly.”
4th Incident | Location: Chandra Tal
During my 7 days stay in Nako, via a working cyber café I was communicating and updating on BCMT forum about the road status here. I didn’t realise who all were reading or following it. After my departure from Kaza in Spiti valley I arrived at Chandra Tal. Kept my stuff in a camp and headed towards the lake. I met a guy over there ‘Jamaica’ and with just some talks exchanged he recognized me the one who was in Nako for 7 days. He was overwhelmed to meet me and I was taken away by his hospitably.
So many mutual friends and topics opened up that an amazing bond got created with the man. He made an amazing food for me that night. It’s not easy to cook non-veg items at that altitude in severe cold weather. Also insisted to come and have breakfast with him next day morning. He prepared everything by himself. At the end of our meeting it happened so that he didn’t take a single rupee from me for his services offered. People ask me; tell me a person who will work not for money? Today I can proudly say, come with me and I’ll not just tell but show HIM to you.
5th Incident | Location: Keylong
I had plans to explore the hike route to Keylong monastery before I set riding for the day. I started at 6 in the morning and since there was nothing open at that hour, I just grabbed couple of bananas for the trek. Within 40 minutes of climb I was lost and the 2 bananas disappeared in my stomach. I didn’t want to go back, was totally determined to make it to the top of the monastery. So finally after zig zag climb I was inside the main building. Totally drained, hungry, thirsty and exhausted enough to fall down. Over the top I got to know that all monks have left for the Hemis festival.
Just when hope was dying out, I was greeted by 2 little monks (kids) who took me in the kitchen. I think they noticed me tired and exhausted because the next thing I see is hot herbal tea and a jar full of biscuits kept in front of me. I was trying my level best to control the tears that were trying to burst out. Both of them gave me a tour of the place before I started downhill back to the hotel. Quote, “God walks with you. He takes care of you. His love can take you across the universe.”
6th Incident | Location: Leh
When I reached Leh I was looking for the cheapest possible accommodation and close to the main market as much as it can get. After some snooping around I finally found a homey stay that fit my budget. My very thought before closing my eyes was that after 5 days I’m gonna have a royal English breakfast at German Bakery. A must do for bikers coming to Leh. Next morning, excited, ready and just when I was about to exit the room, the house lady grabs me, “Hello ji good morning, where are you going in such a hurry, come have breakfast first.” I couldn’t say no and sound rude. So I agreed. When I went in the kitchen I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, a royal Ladakhi breakfast, homemade, just for me.
Here is my point, for the 4 days I stayed in Leh home stay; the house lady didn’t let me leave the house without having breakfast with them. I was given variety each time the morsel was presented to me. What makes this special? On the 4th day when I was clearing the payments for accommodation and food, the house lady refused to take money for the food. I couldn’t do anything but bow in front of them. The only line that kept going in my head that day, “Who are these wonderful people, I know nothing about the real Indian.”
7th Incident | Location: Rangdum village
Deep inside the Suru – Zanskar Valley is the village called Rangdum. It consists of just 4-5 houses and 1-2 hotels (namesake). Before reaching Padum, one night has to be spent here. It’s the only feasible halt in between the journey of 300 kms off-road stretch.
I stayed in one such home stay and didn’t dismount much luggage from the bike; just got the camera bag with me up in my room. There was a hotel at walking distance on the other side of the village and I had inquired that dinner will be available but served after 7-8 PM. So till then I rested for some time in my room. By night it was so cold that even stepping out of the room was discouraging. And yes I was hungry enough; since morning I had nothing but a cup of Maggi noodles.
Just when I couldn’t make up my mind, the man of the house arrived. He looked very aged but strong in stance. The first thing he said was let’s get your luggage inside. Since you are traveling alone, you don’t want to risk your luggage here at this place. Surely nothing will happen but theft doesn’t come in definite conditions. I was speechless. I agreed to him quickly. The next thing he asked me was whether I have eaten? My expression was enough to speak out the answer. He immediately tells his wife, please serve him too, with the food prepared today. I did mention to him that don’t take any trouble as I was about to go to that hotel, he replied, they serve only junk food. No taste, no nutrition. Eat here at home.
I was presented with rotis, vegetable, curd and Tibetan bread. Prepared exactly how they eat and quantity that will suffice 2 people. I ate and never in my life slept so peacefully. I realised, “Food is truly Brahman; and Vishnu can get him to you in any form, any way and any manner. And Allah blesses the Family who treats the guest as their own.”
8th Incident | Location: Pensi La
A very small incident took place at Pensi La that left a big impact on my thinking and approach towards life. I closed in on Pensi La pass and took a break near a view point. I noticed a man standing there and staring at me. It didn’t bother me at all. I even exchanged pleasantries with him.
Just when I was about to pack and move ahead, he stops me and gives me black tea. For a moment I assumed it’s a stall kind of thing he is running under the shed at the corner of the view point structure. When we were talking, the next thing he serves was hot fresh puris. I was totally taken back at the availability of this delicacy at this altitude and weather. I enjoyed every bite of it.
So what was the big impact? The moment I asked him how much do I owe him for the tea and snacks, he was shocked. In a very heart touching tone he said humbly, “What Sir, you are guest in the Himalayas. To serve you is to serve our father.” (Pointing to the Himalayas). I later got to know that the man was just up there to collect some dry grass for his village. It will take him the entire day to do so; hence he carried materials to make his own meals till sundown. On seeing me, he shared what he had made and forever changed my perspective towards life.
Values of Being Human are deep rooted in us. We have forgotten them, but somehow our soul still knows it. Only incidents like this, it takes, to re-activate them. No education, no money, nothing but just a humble gesture.
9th Incident | Location: Karsha Monastery
When exploring the monastery on foot, I reached to the top and was busy in photography. A very old monk came by and asked me something. I could not figure a single word that he was uttering. But I figured this much that he is asking to stay for some time. I gladly obliged. I had all the time to give. In about 20 minutes, many little monks came running and this old monk grabbed my hand and made me sit next to him. The next thing I know I’m having my lunch with them – white rice and a boiled egg.
Food has never been so tasty. Not my stomach but my soul was fed by the Lord himself.
The 36 days on the highway has taught me lessons of life. Lessons you can’t read about or see on TV. I rode and lived my life in a perspective not seen by many, to a place where you can’t afford any mishaps of judgment.
I conquered my fear, received the love of my people and country, driven by willpower at times, composed myself in situations of threat and got in touch with my true self.
This journey made me a better man and I feel privileged to come back alive.
Checkout all the 600 pictures from the ride HERE.
– Om Vaikul