This motorcycle adventure was 4 years in the planning phase and then convid happened, which delayed us by a few years, but this was a blessing in disguise. During the downtime i had ample time to compare tour operators, costings, reputation and inclusions, before deciding to go with Ride Expeditions Himilayan Heights for about $6000 AUD. Flights were an additional cost as were the side trips to the Taj Mahal and Jaipur which is also known as the Golden Triangle.
I opted to arrive in delhi 4 days prior to the motorcycle tour and 4 days post tour to do any extra touristy crap and recovery from the 1450km ride, and booked a hotel in Connaught place upon arrival, this is a tourist hub where some individual will ask you where you’re from and pretend to be your mate every 5m , its totally overwhelming.
In Delhi beer and all alcohol attracts 3 additional taxes so a seeminly cheap beer at $5 ends up being closer to $10 which you only find out about when you go to pay your bill, the menu doesnt reflect these extra charges. Once you exit Delhi province and enter Himachal Pradesh to the north these taxes are dropped, which suited me lol.
Im always respectful in other countries and know how to handle the constant pests who want to sell you useless trinkets or shine my shoes even when im wearing thongs on my feet lol. First mission after hotel check in was to organise a local Indian Sim card, so after talking to 5 official government tourist offices we managed to get one from a dodgy bloke for 500INR $10AUD for 1.5GB daily for 28 days, using the Airtel Network. All that is required to activate this local simcard is someone with a local number who can paste the code sent, (said dodgy bloke) who then assumes he’s your long lost brother forevermore lol. Its worth noting this simcard will not work in Leh Ledakh where our tour ended up passing through, so another trip to the local Airtel store sorts out a new number etc.. Same price and takes 15 minutes.
After checking out various bars and restaurants i opted to try to organise a side trip to the Taj Mahal some 250km away to the south, se we got to talking to a random driver outside the hotel and he told us he could take up to the Taj Mahal and Jaipur over two days and one night and we would leave 9am the next morning. I negotiated a price of 35000inr ($700) to take us a total of about 900km in an aircon taxi over the next 2 days and one night all inclusive of all entrance fees, acommdation,tolls and fuel. The drive to Jaipur was about as exciting as watching paint dry, with people wandering aimlessly around the national highway 20km from anything in 36 degree heat, like some pilgrimage, the landscape is flat and drab with very few towns or cities to break up the monotony. Its worth mentioning the fuel stations along the way are not like western ones where a customer may purchase a drink or a snack, its virtually the wild west out there. We eventually arrived in Jaipur after the driver took us to his favourite Chicken Biryani restaurant in the middle of the dirtiest suburb it seemed where the hand basin was dirtier than the floor lol. The food was divine and cheap and the dirty paper plates were disposed of a crack in the pavement that led to probably the lost indian catacombs housing the biggest rats in the southern hemisphere.
The pink city was interesting with this astromony park The Jantar Mantar, Jaipur is a collection of 19 different astronomical instruments built by the late Rajput king Sawai Jai Singh, the founder of Jaipur, Rajasthan. It was extremely hot so walking around gawking at stone creations wore thin very quickly so we got back in the cab and went out to the Amer fort, only stopping to watch a snake charmer doing his thing.
I love photo opportunities especially with water and reflections, this one above is simply stunning. Then we wandered around some side stalls within the fort, where the usual vendors sold t shirts, floor rugs, gemstones, and even a copy of the Karma Sutra for some outrageous price. Its worth mentioning the crispy spicy snacks available around all these tourist attractions, they cost 200 IR $4. There was also a random snake charmer selling this experience to tourists, the snake was real but very small.
SCAM WARNING.. ask your driver to take you to the Amer Fort and not drop you off at the carpark from where this photo was taken, they try to put you in another taxi and charge you even more for the extra 750m drive th the fort itself
The next day our driver took us another 3 hours to Agra where the Taj MAhal is, he was on the phone to a tour guide who appeared with entry tickets and a wealth of knowledge. Make sure you purchase the express ticket, this avoids long waits and sweating in the intense heat, this ticket is about $35 per person.
After spending a few hours here sweating our ring gear off, we then went back in the car with our driver and drove 300km back to delhi, as monotonous as usual.
Over the next few days we decided to have a look around the Old City, eating street foods and getting hassled by beggars, kids and Tuk Tuk drivers, and the worst part is that its a no alcohol zone being Muslim run area.
The metro system is very easy to use and the railway ticket offices all speak and understand English, so getting around is very user friendly and cheap.
We also caught the metro Train to see the 2 harley davidson dealerships, and check out their products and motorcycles.
Finally it was time for us to leave Connaught Place to meet up with the rest of the ride group at Maidens Hotel, for briefing and socialise with the other participants. Next morning at sparrow fart we left Delhi enroute to Shimla in Himachel Pradesh a distance of 350km in 3 SUV type vehicles, this took all day and we arrived to be welcomed by foggy rainy conditions, a pleasant change from the intense heat of Delhi. Acommodation was booked at Royal Tulip Hotel, it was absolutely beautiful, multi storey with extremely well appointed rooms. Its worth mentioning after leaving Delhi, all transport, meals and acommodation were part of the tour package, which was one of the most expensive companies at $6000 AUD. A week before we got to Shimla, a major landslide caused many deaths and road damage, so we were a bit nervous.
Next morning after breakfast we embarked on our ride to Shoja in the miserable rain, fog and sleet, i decided to ride without gloves because soggy wet leather takes hours to dry and is a pain in the arse to ride with.
After riding 160km most of the day in extremely poor weather and road conditions we finally arrived at Shoja where we needed satelite tracking to find the most obsure hotel i’ve ever been to; down and around quite a steep gravel road, dodging goats, cow shit and other riders. Banjara Retreat And Cottage Shoja was the hotels name, but it was quirky and rated 90% in the cool factor, the staff lit a bonfire for us and brought beer, they rated 100% lol. I managed to dry my boots and clothes with the room heater and hair dryer, found some random thongs to wear as our support vehicle with our clothes had been stuck due a landslide 60km back.
The view from here showcased the speed of the cloud formations and the ever changing vibe that came with the experience. I was very grateful i purchased a simcard before leaving Delhi because out in these remote locations wifi is dodgy, as is the electricity supply and hot water. So far we had hot water in Shimla and Shoja on arrival at the hotel, as would be the case the next day as we arrived in Manali 120km away.
We woke up to continuing rain which contributed directly to my shit mood at 7am lol, and after breakfast we once again braced the elements otside in the name of adventure. As we departed the hotel uphill over what looked like a mortar damaged mud bath, my foot got caught in between the brake lever and right footpeg and i fell over at about a snails pace. The support crew had me up and away within minutes, kudos to them i was extremely grateful for their help and smiling faces.
As we rode further North the weather improved and so did my mood and concentration, its funny how one can manage to daydream dodging goats, oncoming traffic and landslides. Todays pilgimage to Manali would take 5 hours travelling a distance of 120km, however i fell asleep on the side of the road for an hour waiting for a landslip to be cleared.
We finally reached Manali to another beautiful well appointed hotel called The Manuallaya Resort and Spa, this room had 2 beds but one was up in the loft accessed by a spiral staircase. The dining room was like something out of a Paris restaurant, with its decorations and themed furniture.
Its worth mentioning that Manali was to be the last major town for about 600km until we reached Leh a week later, we did side trips to Pangong lake and Nubra Valley.
So off we go to a tiny hillside town called Keylong 110km to the North, usually thats an hours ride but in Northern India its a lot more challanging, taking 5 hours with stops and meal breaks. THE ATTACHED VIDEOS SHOWCASE THE DIFFICULTY AND SHIT CONDITION OF THE ROADS WE NEEDED TO RIDE ON.
We finally arrived at our acommodation Tashi Deleg Hotel and restaurant, which was a multi storey building with rooftop access for a beer, and an undercover carport for our 14 motorcycles. After check in i went for a shave in the local salon which was an experience in itself, but the massage that followed still hurts my left index finger to this day, it felt like he was pulling bones out of my body lol.
Next morning it was onwards to Sarchu a distance of 100km, along totally destroyed roads and goat tracks, by now i realised that this trip was maybe above my limited off road ability. From here on in the topography was much the same, grey rocks and white snow capped mountains, without a shred of greenery due to the elevation.
So off we go again led by our Indian road captian into the great unknown via a random array of temporary tents for lunch. These interior of these tents looked like a scene for a mass orgy with huge communal beds/couches lol.
We finally arrived in Sarchu, which is a basically a tent scattered area over 1okm, with multiple establishments with pretty much all the same layout, 20 twin share tents with attached crappers, a dining tent, cooks tent and zero mobile phone service or wifi. Along the way i saw kids secured with bed sheets to stop them falling off a cliff face whilst their parents worked on road construction, as well as blokes carrying around goats.
The topography above 4000m is deprived of any greenery and is basically a collage of grey roads, beige mountains with snowcaps, it is like this for hundreds of kilometers, The greenery returns as we descend and disappears as we again ascend, its like a sinewave going up and down, kinda relieves the boredom. The road conditions are constantly being upgraded but with limited rescources it may take a few more years to finish, but the landslides are a constant arm wrestle. The level roads that have been repaired where there is no possibility of landslides is amazing with a probable width of 6 meters as smooth as glass, awesome to ride on.
The laminated place mat on the dining tables shocases the variuos altitudes around the Ladakh area, it accounts for the constantly changing vegetation.
There was also some kind of shrine inundated with thousands of empty plastic bottles, not the most environmental experience i must say lol.
As we slept in Sarchu at 4200 metres in the ensuited tents we could hear the wind blowing a gale shaking the shit out of the tent walls, as well as wheezing with limited oxygen i still managed to sleep. This was the only stop between Keylong and Leh, because many people could not ride the 360km in one day, Sarch is around the middle however i personally would have preferred to keep riding to avoid Sarchu alltogether. This 360km stretch was desolate and uneventful so it gives the riders time to reflect and appreciate the power and beauty of mother nature.
Arriving in leh lifted my spirits 4 million percent with its bustling traffic and infrastructure, we hadnt seen a city for quite a few days. As we rode into Leh there were these 10 awesome welded metal structures, I’d say some kind of abstract art, i stopped to take some pictures.
In my opinion Leh had a homely friendly sunny vibe about it, bursting with culture and architecture, which is an achievement considering where is is geograpically, in the middle of the Himilayas, 950km north of Delhi. The main town market is comprised of two intersecting paved roads, with shops, and vendors on the footpath, restaurants and souvenir shops. Leh is home to about 35000 people who live 3500m above sea level, and quite a thriving community with beautiful hotels.
We went to the Thiksey Monastrey, 22km from the city, this place was a masterpiece with many hidden treasures for the avid tourist to embrace, built in 1430AD.
From Leh we did a side trip to Pangong Lake 175km the highest Saltwater lake in the world at 4225m and its massive 134km length. This lake it stunning in colour and pictures do not do it justice. The place is only about 150km from the Chinese border, and cellphone signal is non existant. The roads leading to there were basically all dirt and gravel, but as i mentioned before the government are slowly fixing this to ensure more tourism can be sustained.
Here we stayed overnight in Yurt style acommodation, heated intermittantly with hot water pipes via a wall mounted radiator system, so you fall asleep in roasting conditions and when the water runs out it drops 40 degrees lol. There was a seperate dining tent, and i paid some local guy to buy me some local beers,
The next day we embarked to the Nubra valley which was 190km to the North West. This was much the same in the way of damaged roads, landslides an queued traffic, but many beautiful bridges and more high passes along the way.
The saichen Warrior memorial is a tribute to fallen during the Siachen Glacier conflict or the Siachen War.
The final destination was Khardung La Pass at an elevation of 5359m which is only 5m shy of Everest base Camp at 5364m. The ride to here was basically the same as the previous days rides with identical road conditions, traffic and drab scenery. We climbed up some steps here to get that little bit higher and it felt like diving to the bottom of the pacific ocen without an air tank, huffing and puffing like a chain smoker, due to the lack of oxygen at this altitude.
The ride back to Leh took an hour and was an easy ride with bitumen all the way, it felt like a subliminal reward for completing this tour. The next day we had the farewell breakfast and made our way to the airport, which at 730am was crammed to the brim with what seemed like the entire population of india lol.. Most of the flights from various airlines leave within a 3 hour departure window, so the crowd is off the chain, people arguing with airport staff, or complaining obout the primitive infrastructure . My luggage was overweight and no additional luggage could be added at time of booking, its just another way to stress you out, so i had to pay 3600IR which was about $60AUD.. for 7 extra kilos. The return flight was about 90 minutes with spectacular views of the Himilayas out the aircraft window.
Apparently the Night Market in Old Delhi rates highly on Tripadviser, i however had a very different perspective on it, check out my description in the video.
There are two versions for the light and sound show in the evening, one in Hindi and the other one in English.
Red Fort Sound and Light Show timings:
All days except Mondays
6:30 – 7:30 pm in Hindi
8:15 – 9:15 pm in English
Red Fort Sound and Light Show Ticket Prices
The cost of the tickets is Rs 1,500 and Rs 500.
On our return visit to New Delhi after the motorcycle tour we stayed in a few other locations, South Extension and the Lotus temple area. The most amusing event happened in a bar in the South Extension, where the bar had run out of Kingfisher Beer but had a half drunken stubby from a previous customer offered to us lol. Our hotel there would not rate one star however it was close to all modern restaurants, we particularly appreciated the sound of jackhammers and beggars loitering around our room, and they refused to give us a discount. So after 2 nights we went and booked a five star hotel Suryaa Hotel close to the Lotus temple Area.
From Suyraa Hotel its very close to the Lotus temple, about $3 in a taxi. Its quite a walk from the gates to the temple and you have to hand in your shoes to a manned locker room and have your shoes bagged and put in amongs 5 million others and get given a ticket, until you return, The ground is concrete but has a hessian runner all along the walkways, which is handy seeing the concrete is the temperature of the surface of the sun.