Home 2024 Conquering the uncharted: Off-road motorcycling through Himalayas

Conquering the uncharted: Off-road motorcycling through Himalayas

by Anuj Niranjan
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Hello readers,

This is Anuj and I’ll be taking you through my journey of riding motorcycles through roads and no-roads

How it started?

The love for motorcycles kicked me early in school, around class 9th. The time, when Bajaj Boxers and Hero Honda Splendors were retiring and new generation 150cc Pulsars and Apaches were taking up the space.

I started riding on my friend’s bike, and continued to do so on my father’s Bajaj Boxer.

The bike had a longer seat as compared to bikes now with split seats. All of us being kids and thin. Generally, 3-4 of us would use it for our tuitions, Holi celebrations and all. Petrol cost was  40-50 INR/litre and mileage ~80 kmpl, money was not an issue.

Enjoyed riding the bike for 2 years and then moved to Kota for JEE preparations.

The love for bikes couldn’t resist me having one there. A school junior from my hometown got himself a Pulsar in Kota and rammed it in my Kota time.

I remember tripling our way to buy JEE forms in Kota, and dodging the police on the way 😀

Working my way around PCM, I realised I would make it to IIT and hence I called up parents and asked them-

“If I crack JEE would you give me a new bike?”

They had to say yes, what other option did they have? 😛

In my final year, the results came ~5-6 AM and all I waited for was for the showrooms to open.

At 10:30AM, I was the first customer at Honda showroom, 12:30PM I was home with a brand new Hunk.

It is still with me for 12 years now and continuing !

All of that time in the Insti, every now and then I found ways to get a bike from security or rentals to head out.

Cut to COVID times, when I had to leave Mumbai to come home.

I started watching videos of some moto-vloggers riding around the Himalayas. Riding in snow, through narrow patches, water crossings, winds, dust and mind boggling sceneries.

Repairing their own bikes and showing a riding brotherhood on the roads.

And that planted a subconscious thought in me to explore off-road biking and level up my riding game along with understanding of motorcycles.

I went to Manali  WFH in Dec-2020. Roaming around the mountains in 4×4 Jeeps, made me excited about riding those roads when snow melts.

As the snow started melting around late Feb, I started riding a Royal Enfield Himalayan in the mountains.

Within a span of 3 Months I did around 6000 Kms. covering:

  • Manali to Tirthan
  • Manali to Kasol
  • Manali to Bir
  • Manali to Solang
  • Manali to Chandigarh

These routes were a great preparation for understanding rules of the mountains and getting to be a pro on the curves.

Around July 21 when the routes to Spiti and Ladakh opened up, I planned my first off-road trip to Chandrataal Lake.

The distance between Manali to Chandrataal is around 115 Kms and it took us around 8 hours.

The route we took was: Manali- Solang- Atal Tunnel- Koksar-Gramphoo- Batal – Chandrataal

Between Gramphoo and Batal, the 60 kilometres long stretch is possibly the worst I have ever driven on. It is simply a nightmare of a road and the speed remains restricted between 10 to 15 kilometers per hour.

Located at 1400 ft altitude and freezing temperatures makes the terrain even harder.

A little context of the riders on the trip:

In these 6 months of Manali stay (From December to July), I lived in a hostel where I met and bonded with: Praveen- A fun guy with curiosity for life, music and bikes

Mrinal: An army brat, poet, vocal, and love for bikes

Vickey: a singer, musician and a big foodie

All of us had zero off-road experience in practice, but in theory each of us knew one thing or other about off-roading. Also, talking to the riders for all these months also gave a perspective.

We knew the major risk is to fall and get either  the rider or the bike injured.

The location being completely remote, there isn’t any repair shop available. Other than the fellow riders who could help if they have the spares. All of us were acclimatized to the cold, so the temperature was not a big issue. Water crossings and getting ourselves drenched in cold water and then continuing the ride was an issue though.

Some theoretical riding jargon ahead, just read it for the sake of enjoying anecdotes ahead :

Saddling: controlling the bike while standing on the foot pegs to lessen the load on rear shocker and also reducing jerks on the back and shoulders.

Riding uphill on low gears: While riding up slope the gears have to be lower 1-2 to keep the chain tight and deliver maximum power in the bike.

A loosened chain on 3-4 gear might break easily and would give lesser power to the bike

Engine Braking: While riding down, the gears should be kept to 1-2 to not let engine go beyond a fixed speed .Normal braking might lead to brake plates getting hot and eventually failing brakes.


Water crossings came as a complete surprise to all of us. Saddling is tough on the rocks and dust but in water, it was a new challenge unlocked.

It was tough to anticipate the bike movement in glacier water discharge, known as Naalas. Once the bike was in the water, rocks were not stable, flow made the bike push towards the other end and the foot movement on gears and brake became numb due to cold water.

We came across such a water crossing, me and Mrinal crossed it saddling and then waited for others to cross. The water would be around 2 ft, with a turbulent flow and cold.

Vicky came saddling and fell into the water, he kind of sat in the water with his bike. It was an easy fall, so no injuries. He called us to help him pick his bike but me and Mrinal could only laugh seeing him lying there.

Taking the bike out is a task, when water enters the components, the bike doesn’t start. We had to go into the water and push the bike out of rocks and the flow to get it out. Post that, we had to push the bike on a sloping path to start it, at that altitude it was quite a draining task.

All of us did the rest of the route with our shoes drenched.

Finally we reached the lake, safe and unhurt. Enjoyed our time there and came back the same route. Following similar adventurous 😀

Next in line for me was the Zanskar Valley Expedition:

Distance: 1800 kms

Time: 8 Days

Route: Manali-Purne- Padum-Rangdum- Lamayuru-Suru Valley- Kargil- Leh – Manali

Major Passes Crossed:

Tanglang-La: 17,480ft (One of the highest motorable passes in the world)

Shinku-La: 16,561ft

Baralacha-La: 15,910ft

Major Challenges:

  • Coordination and route, because of no networks
  • Bike Maintenance
  • Fuel Management
  • Personal Fitness
  • Height and Terrain
  • Freezing temperatures, sun and dehydration

Clearly, this expedition required learning of different skills, along with mental and physical preparation.

The first thing we did was to start learning how to repair the Himalayan in case of any breakdown and how to maintain the bike on a daily basis.

Second was to have good riding gears and spare parts.

Third was to train the body for endurance, as the altitude and sun sucks out the energy from the body. It’s also difficult to get proper sleep at that altitude and temperature.

The routine to follow was:

Start early in the morning

Reach a point before sun sets, explore around



Wake up, maintain the bike, stretch the body and restart

As planned we started at 4:00AM from Manali, towards Purne.

This was a familiar ride for all of us, but we were greeted with some drizzle while riding towards the Atal Tunnel. Riding through Atal Tunnel towards Purne, gives one a panoramic view of the Himalayas, covered in snow. The roads allow cruising at 80 kmph and cornering through the turns.

As we were enjoying our rides, we saw snowfall at Shinku-La. That made the roads slippery, formed frost on the helmet visors making it difficult to cross. Some of us developed a headache, due to the altitude.

We managed to ride through the snowfall, towards Purne.

Right after Shinku-La, the road disappears. It’s only the rocks and very steep hair-pin turns that have to be ridden.

Riding through them, we reached Gumbok-Rangan, a holy mountain, worshiped by the locals.

Gumbok awestruck us all, we have seen mountains, but this was a single rock standing high, meeting the skies.

As we moved ahead towards Purne, tired, looking for accommodation, we saw a blue water river, so blue that I stopped to take a picture and wait for Mrinal to come and then discuss with him.

As we took a few more hair-pin turns, the river zoomed out, more blue this time. We kept taking turns and the river kept coming closer, surprising us on each turn. Finally, we stayed on the bank of that river.

Next day, we hiked to Phugtal Monastery and started to ride towards Padum.

Padum is where we get fuel after Manali, so we had to carry our Jerry Cans.

As we were exploring monasteries in Padum, I fell in a water crossing. I tried to make the fall less impactful by balancing it on my foot, to realise that the other leg was on the engine and it has given me a good burn.

Post Day-2, it became a routine to dress my burn everyday and continue riding.

Day 3- Rangdum

Day-4: Lamayuru

Day-5: Alchi

Were all off-road routes.

Dust became a part of us, and riding became a routine. From morning to evening, all through the sunrises and sunsets we were just riding and riding.

The brotherhood we shared on the roads, the scenes that mountains offered us and the experiences I had are very close to my heart.

Sometimes, I sang a song while riding, echoing in the helmet, sometimes I would just shout, sometimes I did cry as well !

In no man’s land, engines revving gave goosebumps, every road we took, every pass we crossed was an adventure and a memory !!

Given a chance, I would ride back to Zanskar again 🙂


Day-7: Leh


On day 8 we rode back to Manali from Leh, in just 10 hours. We were drenched by the rains in between but the enthusiasm to get back home was so high that shivering did not matter.

Crossed Baralacha-la completely soaked in water. Rode through Darcha-la at night, in spite of some headache and a lot of other hurdles.

Finally, we reached Manali around 10 PM, crashed our bikes. All of us gave all of us a hug and praises for doing this feat !

Cheers to the fellow riders, and Zanskar !

Post Zanskar, I bought my own Himalayan. Rode through, Leh-Nubra valley-Pangong,


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