North India

Uriya Shai and “Field-Marshal Royal Enfield” are traveling the “North of India”

It’s been a long time that I don’t feel “complete” with myself, concerning “covering” areas in the world with “Motorcycle Tours”, because one ingredient is messing after Africa, Europe, and both Americas, and that is the “Far East”. India may be a good start there, right after I graduate studies of B.A. in Hinduism and Buddhism.

So, I was reading and watching endless numbers of “YouTube videos” regarding “Motorcycle Tours” in the north of India. “I will climb with the motorcycle to the “Khardung La top” pick in the region of LaDakh. 18,380 feet height (5,603 M). Definitely a good point for my next challenge. The decision been made. This is a proper target.

I started to build the course and the destinations. It came out that the 3 highest motor able mountains picks, The 2ed highest town of the world (Leh, 3,500M, 11,500 Feet) is in LaDakh region. India is cheap to live and travel. “I will not take my camping equipment”. Mistake.

The destinations goals were:

  • New Delhi. Renting a bike.
  • Manali
  • The three highest mountain passes in the world of “LaDakh region”.
  • The “Pangong Tso” (lake) – the border of India and China.
  • The two borders of India and Pakistan.
  • The “Boats houses of Srinagar Lake”.
  • The “Golden Temple” in Amritsar.
  • The valleys Spiti and Kinnaur.
  • Dharamsala and Dharmakot (The “Dalai Lama’s Temple” complex).
  • The “Taj Mahal” in Agra.

All the rest are open to the dynamic changes on the way.

New Delhi. I have heard a lot about the first impression of people in their first visit in India. Some of them turned right away and jumped back on the first jet, due to the dirt and the poverty. It looks to me like the same “Architect of the Dirt and Poverty” had designed India, Morocco, Egypt and Jordan at the same time. Since I was ready for that, the first impact of shock had nothing to do with me.

The first Took-took ride to find a motorcycle for rent was quit surprising. They don’t leave one inch of air between the vehicles uncovered for a second, and honking at all times. Egypt is their best competition using the horn for nothing. They believe that the horn fixes everything on the road.

“Raul Motors” at the Karol-Bug Industrial Zone gave me a good deal. 6$ per a day for Royal Enfield 350. I preferred to rent a bike (including the insurance fee) here, than to buy one since I didn’t want to get stucked with selling it later on. Raul prepared the bike with high responsibility attitude. Nice guy.

When he told me, I will drive like 200KM per a day I smiled. He doesn’t know I did 1,350KM per a day (See the Sinai Egypt tour), and I didn’t know at the time that he is right. This environment was new to me.

The main roads has a lot of slow traffic, and at the mountains arias the average speed is 15 MPH. The off-roads Mountains are even slower since we are talking about Royal Enfield, which is an old British style bike, made in India, with no bond to an off-road riding what so ever. Not the tiers, not the suspensions, not the ventral margin. Nothing. But, the hero proved itself as a real tractor in this journey.

The way from New Delhi to Manali was quit boring at the first 100 KM, until I have arrived to the mountains. That was a good preparation to the coming days. I add 2 Jerrycan of gas in to the back baskets of the side carriers, a reset to the bike in a local extremely cheap garage, before the 570 KM to Leh and let’s go.

At the gas station on the out of Manali, I mate Pronnoy Machaya, a young local guy from Bangalore city in the mid-south of India, who came here for a tour on a rental Royal Enfield 500. We have decided to do the way to Leh together due to the lonely mountains roads. That was a good decision eventually. The height difference between Manali and Leh is 2,000 M for Leh.

Most of those mountains roads are dirt full of stones, rocks and mudslides. Asphalt cannot survive those heights, due to the ice that is sliding while it’s getting warmer after the winter. Half day of riding on “Field-Marshal Royal Enfield”, and my body cries aloud, “That’s enough”.

The views at those untouched mountains, valleys, Waterfalls and the lonely villages are like “Genesis landscape”. Every turn is a new postcard. God’s Testing Lab. Is this the proof for his existence, otherwise, who could built that?

The “Road’s chain of food” here is working improperly. The trucks and busses are the kings of roads, the cars are just a nuisance traffic for them, and the bikes do not exist. Bikers have to take it in their considerations, and activate all of their 100 eyes. Looks like 335 years of the “British Rule” did not leave any manners for them on the roads. However, on the other hand, if you are facing any kind of a road problem, they will run and jump on you to help. Myself, I have helped a few times bikers that were stucked on the way, due to mechanical problems.

If you intend to do India’s off-roads, you better have some experience with this kind of riding, and mechanical knowledge may help too. The Enfields are simple to repair. The small “Field marshal” been discovered as a “Phenom”, concerning difficult and impossible roads. He does not give up to any kind of obstacles. Big holes? No problem. Water channels? Let’s get wet. Any other bike would probably falling apart half way. Personally, I would prefer XT 600 for that kind of journey, but they do not exist here.

On the way, I meet an organized motorcycle tours with 4X4 escort, and the bikes are loaded free. “The good life”. Too sterilized for me.

We are climbing slowly higher and higher. It’s better that way, since we need to climb 2 km height. It took us 5 days of riding through those amazing roads between Manali and Leh, so the body have a chance to get use to the heights.

I did bring with me pills against altitude sickness, but didn’t have to use them due to the slow climbing. I asked Pronnoy if he needs some, he said, “No, you need to flow with yourself and feel your body, while knowing you can always take it. Don’t just take it because we are at 3,000 M”. Right. What a partner.

Here and there, a mudslide is blocking the way, so all the drivers are sitting for hours, drinking tea together, and waiting for the tractor shovel to come from somewhere to clear the way. That is normal. India teaches you the “Serenity”. A real bike wonderer should not give up those roads.

The roads are rocky and muddy. 100 KM per a day is a nice distance. No use to run. There are camps with “Mongolians Yurt Tents” or other kinds on the way for rent, mostly in the price of “Hilton Time Square” (Well, not really but still…). They know you do not have a choice. Anyway, that is a wonderful experience. I would not give up on that. Thanks to “God of the bikers” for them being there.

The road is going through “Pass Lachulungla”, the second highest pass in the world. Pronnoy is further ahead, since I stop many times to take pictures and to “feel the place”. Therefore, I meet him at the stops points on the way. I am alone but not alone.

5 days of very tough but extremely amazing road, the 2 stubborn riders arrive to Leh. The second highest city in the world is at 3,500 M height, after Potosi in Bolivia at 4,100 M. I decide to spend 3 days here in order to get use to the “Atmosphere”, before climbing to the top of the “Khardung La” pick at 5,603 M (18,380 Feet). I spend this time walking the small city, mixed up with the locals, which are “Exiled Tibetans”. Wonderful simple restaurants and tracking tourists from all over the world. The smoke from the trucks is insufferable, but it is unavoidable due to the height and the Thin Oxygen air.

We are looking for a motorcycle garage since the oil seals of the front shock absorbers exploded, and all the oil was out due to those roads. We located the “Motorcycle Garage of Leh”, the owner is very nice, and he resets the bikes.

How does he clean the Air filter without a compressor? He starts the bike and use the air from the exhaust to clean it. Improvisators of no choice. You can see his bike at the next picture.

After the way from Manali to Leh, I agree with myself “Bikers should do India only with a Royal Enfield, and do the rest of the world with any bike but Royal Enfield”. WOW. Right now, I don’t feel like I want to see more of those off-roads with this bike, but no other choice. I know now a lot about every bone in my body. On the other hand, this is defiantly the top of my world tours until now. The Khardung-La top is still ahead of us.

Morning. “Marshal Royal Enfield” is ready for the top. The purpose of this journey focuses on today. From Leh to the top there are 40 KM away, and it is jumpy as usual. Tibetans workers are doing maintenance and contractions due to the broken roads from the sliding icebergs. It has to be done after every winter. Otherwise, they might lose it all.

I feel the excitement. No rush. We need to climb 2,100 M height on a 6 KM road to the top. 3 days in Leh has arraigned my inner climate with the environment. At about 4,000 M height, snow is falling and extremes the experience. The bike is coughing due to the thick air, but does not give up. A real 350 CC hero with 50 years old British technology. This kind of bikes were in use at the times when the “Bikes and the bikers were made of iron”.

That is it. We are here at the top. A personal dream of mine, that created and been built long ago. Many flags tied there, as the Tibetan way to give respect to the nature, by decorating it with colors. Soldiers are guarding the military radars. Only the real “Hells Angels” can survive in a place like this. How can they possibly get use to that? I feel dizzy, as if I need to vomit. Kind of vertigo. 3 Days and slow climbing were not enough to get ready for that? I ask Pronnoy to take pictures.

We start to surf back down, since the pass to Nubra valley was close by the soldiers, due to the snow. I was exhausted, and stopped on the way back to the city a few times, while I enjoyed the magnificent view. It took me 24 hours to get back to myself. Thanks to the good “God of the bikers”.

Next destination: “Pangung Lake”. 170 KM East to Leh, there is a 150 KM narrow and long lake, which western half of it belongs to India, and the other half to China. A “Geopolitical border”.

The way there was good, nice and rich with water. We parked at the camping near the lake. What a place. Very modest, warm hosts and a good simple food. Basic nature. Untouched but by a few tents and a small house. They are working for 3 month in the summer time. I felt that there is a lot to learn from them about life, and about “How to make lemonade out of lemons”.

After a good relaxing night, we drove back to Leh. Another nice day and we are heading to Kashmir and Jammu states. Next destination: The water houses of Lake Srinagar. We have decided to visit the Pakistani border, so we drove west to Kargil. On the way, we mate 2 Bikers. The German guy is driving a Honda Africa Twin, fully equipped. He is on the roads for 2.5 years on the way to Australia. He intends to wander for another 3 years. His wife is waiting for him back home. The other guy is an English biker, riding BMW 650 GS. They mate in Afghanistan and are traveling together. Nice and good.

Kargil is the closest city to the Afghani border. Kashmir and Jammu are Muslims. The Guest House is no good even for street dogs.

Morning, we climb to the Afghani border. 5 KM of mountain pass and we are there. 3 soldiers, 2 dogs. 14 chickens, 21 barrels of oil and -40 degrees while wintertime as they told us. I asked the soldiers if there is any different between -20c and -40c ? They said “No. It’s the same hell”. The only sigh of the border is the word “STOP” on the road.

Then, on the way to Srinagar, we drove through the “Most exiting mountain pass” I have ever drove. “Zozila Pass”. Rivers, mud, dust, blocked road due to a mudslide. The road been blocked for 2 hours. All the ingredients for a good adventure road in 20 miles. That was the “Mountain pass” of all journeys.

We are in Srinagar. We called Bashir whom we got his number from the 2 bikers. BOBOBoooommmm. What a place, a boat motel with a veranda on the water. Shamis, his wife is preparing Chai Masala at the other boat next to ours. I get the same feeling as I felt at the edge of the Sahara in Morocco, and at the Rio Dulce in Guatemala. That rare relaxation that can come only in such special places. The God of the bikers gave us beautiful places all right.

The Sun is rising. Good morning world. Bashir is sleeping on the deck in our boat. Does he guard his wife from coming to the tourists, or the tourists from going to his wife at the other boat? Shamis is at the window, offers me Chai. “Sure”. I said. A man in a Shakra Boat is sailing nearby. I think I saw Shamis smiling at him. “That was not just a regular smile,” I think to myself. Today I am going to do a lazy day and to write the story.

I look at the ducks swimming. The water line is up to their waistline. I thought that the lake is deeper.

9 AM. Bashir Just woke up. Still with eyes closed, he is lightning the first cigarette that will light the entire cigarettes one after the other all day long. Bashir is thine like a quarter of a chicken, and Shamis is fat and big in all directions. Bashir told me that first time he saw her was at their wedding. That was a traditional matchmaking. “What a shame that I missed that wedding”.

Shamis is asking me what to prepare for breakfast. “Whatever your heart says,” I answer. The smile is all over her face. Everyone has a button. You just have to find it.

Bashir explains me: “Love is a sweet & slow poison,”

“Love is all you need,” I answer

The second early morning in the boat. Bashir is still sleeping. I am on the deck while I see the guy from yesterday sailing nearby. Shamis is at the window smiling at him. There are no 2 ways to interpret the meaning of it. Shamis’s eyes are shinning, the guy hides a smile.

“Shamis, hidden love”? I put myself as if I saw nothing. She “caught” me seeing that so I smiled to her, put my finger on my lips as a sigh to silence.

After 3 days in the “Boat House”, it is time to move on. I miss the “Field Marshal” and the roads. We are heading south from Kashmir to Jammu. Pronnoy’s luggage carrier is shaking and about to break a part. Where? 20 M from a welding store. What a coincidence. What else could we ask for?

Next destination: The Golden Temple in Amritsar, the Sikhs land. You can recognize them by the black tarbush on their heads. It was crowded and full of people, and still well arranged and clean, as a holly place should be. Inside there were a few of their holly saints, dressed in white.

The orchestra is playing and singing prays songs to the mic. It is all over the loudspeakers in the huge complex. That was very exciting and beautiful for me, since I have studied about them. I could feel in the air the aura of the sanctity.

The morning after, we are going to see the “Guards changing” at the border with Pakistan. 30 KM from Amritsar. Nice.

Waterfall. Time to take a shower at the freezing snow waterfalls for refreshing. I found one. Brrrr….. freezing for the first minutes.

Dharamsala, The feeling of a clean environment is getting much better. The temperature is getting colder after the aria of the warm plateau, the heat and the sweat we came through.

We climb from Dharamsala to Dharmakot, find a Guest House and locate ourselves in. The antipathetic owner is hungry for money, so I gave him a lesson in “Good Service Methods”. The guest House called “Shiv Shakti”. Only if you have no choice.

A calm day in Bhagsu and Dharmakot, I found a wonderful Humus in an “Israeli restaurant” named “Dine & Trek”. Well recommended.

Ok. Let’s hit the roads, since Pronnoy has a plane to catch from Manali. His vacation is about to end. We are heading back to Manali, and there he delivers his rental bike back. Excitement and hugs, “You were a wonderful partner Pronnoy. Hopping that was not our last tour together”.

I registered for 2 days at the guesthouse “Yes Please” in Manali. You can hear here all of the world’s languages but Hindu.

A good maintenance to the “Field Marshal”, and I climb the “Routang Pass” on my way to “Spiti” and    valleys. I know some info about those valleys. Hundreds of miles of dusty roads, rear population, many water passes to cross, desert and mountains views. The brave “Marshal” is stubborn and pull like a hero. Snow on the top of the mountains and White Water Rivers. India at its best.


7 Hours of mountain roads and I arrive a camping named “Battal”. Dinner, tea, and 2 Indian bikers are coming in. “Where to”? They are asking. “Spiti and “Kinnaur” I answer. “We are heading to Manali” say share with me. I look at my watch, it’s 4.30 PM. “I wouldn’t do it if I were you. I left Manali this morning at 9 AM. Within 3 hours it is going to be darkness. Sleep here, and continue tomorrow morning”. They talk to each other in Hindu and agree with me. “Thank you” they say. Here is my daily good thing. Check Mark.

I crawl in to the cabin made of stoned and wood. The mattress are made of straws, placed on wood boards. 1.5 $ per a night. I remind myself about “The beauty that is in the simple things”. I fall asleep within a second.

It is 5 AM. The rain hits the metal roof and make a lot of noise. The sun starts to rise, and I get out of the shed to drink coffee made on the bonfire with the workers, that shared the room with me. 7.30 AM still raining. I arrange myself, a small breakfast and I am on the “Marshal”, heading to the challenging road of “Kunzum Pass”, at the top of 4,550 M (14,800 Feet).

So, I surf the mountain roads in an average of 3500 M, Trough Loser and Kaza, which respects itself with a very fancy temple. This is where you have to issue a permit to cross the valleys of Spiti and Kinnaur. On the way, I meet a family of farmers that are running towards me, and feeling up my backpack with nuts and apples. “Namaste” (Means in Hindu, “I respect your inner God).

It’s 6 PM, I surf the “Nako Pass” to the village “Pooh”, finding a hotel, got a nice discount since they discovered from my passport that I am from Israel ???! Such a nice family that were asking many questions about Israel. Pleasure.

The valleys are behind me with all the amazing views, and the feeling of “Driving on the moon”. I am on my way back to “New Delhi”, monkeys are everywhere and I stop, sitting and watching them for an hour or so. I was thinking about “Charles Darwin”, best known for his contributions to the “Science of evolution”, by claiming that we were developed from the Monkeys. Well Charles, as long as you did not find the “Missing link”, between the Neanderthal to the humans, let me cast doubt your theory.

I surf down to the sea level. Hoooo…. It’s nice to remember this level and meet you again. That was an amazing month of off-roads. Mud, rocks, abyss, lonely mountain passes, “Nowhere” villages, fears from getting stuck with the bike in a “Somewhere” just before darkness, since at those heights, the temperature at night is dropping below Zero. Fears from flat tyre (I had one), days of driving in the dust and smoke. However, this is exactly what it’s all about. “No risk, no fun”. This month taught me an advanced lesson about “Positive Thinking”.

New Delhi. I drive the hero 350cc “Enfield Marshal” back to “Raul motorcycles rent”, kissing the hero goodbye and THANKS A LOT my good friend.

Time to meet the local people. I will use a Took-took or a bus.

I am at the “Main Bazar”. A well-dressed local person with a smiling face is approaching me. The red light in my head turns ON. He offers me help to get to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. “Why do you want to help me”? I asked him. “This is my job” he answers and quickly shows me a card, as if he is an official worker of the city hall (1st step of the “Tourist’s trap).

Amused and entertained, I have decided to cooperate with him, just to see where this tourist’s trap is going to take me. It was a free day so I didn’t really care about the time? He showed me a map with a mark of “Tourists information” mark on it. “I will arrange you a cab for 10 rupees”. I smile. “10 rupees is too cheap,” I say to myself (2ed step of the trap). He leads me to a took-took’s driver, which was not the first in line, but was parking a side, and tells him in English where to take me. “Why do you speak English instead of Hindu?” I think to myself (Step 3 of the trap). The red light in my head starts to flash. I want to see where it goes. I get in the Took-took, who drives in to another direction from what I saw on the map. I smile due to my inner compass directions. Who is in the trap of whom now?

The Took-took stops near a fancy office. A person dressed with a fancy suit approaching me with too big smile. “Here is my monthly salary,” he probably said to himself while looking at me. I smiled back and put the “I am stupid” face on. He leads me to his desk, equipped with a PC and many posters. Really???

I look around me on the decorations, and see the sigh The extension of the sigh that needs to show the country code is missing at the URL. Fake address, that meant to give the wrong impression.

“Where do you want to arrive”? He asked after the “Small talk stage”. “Taj Mahal” I said. He is looking at the PC and tells me “No available sits for the next 4 days”. (Step 4 of the trap). “I can offer you a Taxi for 9,800 Rupees one way,” he said, and looked happy like he “Won the lottery” (step 5 of the trap). I smile at him, and remind myself that the price for one way is 750 Rupees, as they actually told me at the hotel.

“So that is what it’s all about,” I am thinking to myself. They are picking up tourists to this office, and “arranging” them a taxi within 5 times the price. “OK” he continues, “If you pay cash now, I will fix it for you for 7,000 Rupees”. Last step of the trap, calls: “The one time opportunity”. Well done as a “Tourists-trap”. I smiled at him. “Are those Tourists traps still working”? He left the office immediately, and the Took-took driver took me back to the train station. Nice entertainment for 2 hours.

By the way. I took the best train to Agra, and there were plenty of available sits. 1,500 Rupees for 2 ways, including food and drinks.

First time I saw a picture of the “Taj-Mahal” (Crown of the Palace), It was at the age of 15 years old. I was fascinated by the look of the perfect palace. It caught me by it’s romantic story too, about the Mughal Emperor “Shah Jahan”, that built this Mausoleum for his wife “Mumtaz Mahal” (The lady of the palace) at the 17th century, for 22 years with 20,000 workers, and materials from all over the world. After the builders and the architects finished their work, he chapped off their hands, so they cannot build another same one. That is how the Mausoleum will forever remain the only one. Wow, what a story.

On my way back to New Delhi, I have heard that the lake of Srinagar was flooded, and there are like 430 dead people. So sad. I was hoping that Bashir and Shamis are Ok and doing fine. Defiantly, some of the roads we drove trough do not exist anymore, due to the flood. Geomorphology designs the earth. The incredible India.

The Insights:

The “spiritual” experience that I have had in this journey, was in one hand the “Physical roads”, and on the other hand “The roads in to myself”. That made a “small change” in my “Thought’s printings”. It gave me time to look into my life too.

“Buddha” said: “Everything is temporary, and nothing is permanent or stable”. People suffer because they desire and craving for more and more of the temporary things. I like the way Buddha described his Methods in the “Four Noble Truths”:

1. The Noble Truth of the reality of Dukkha (Suffering), as “Part of conditioned existence”
2. The Noble Truth that “Dukkha has a causal arising”.
3. The Noble Truth of the “End of Dukkha, which is Nirvana”
4. The Noble Truth of the “Path that leads to Awakening”.

There are 8 ways to get rid of the “Dukkha” (suffer), and create a good quality of life

Right view or understanding. Vision of the nature of reality and the path of transformation.
Right thought or attitude. Liberating emotional intelligence in your life and acting from love and compassion.
Right speech. Clear, truthful, uplifting and non-harmful communication.
Right action. An ethical foundation for life based on the principle of non-exploitation of oneself and others.
Right livelihood. This is a livelihood based on correct action the ethical principal of non-exploitation.
Complete or Full Effort, Energy or Vitality.
Complete or Thorough Awareness.
Concentration, meditation, absorption or one-pointedness of mind.

It is quite easy to recognize the source of those Buddha’s ideas, “The ten commandments”. Nevertheless, how could Buddha possibly know those same ideas at about the same time of “Biblical Mount Sinai”, in the other side of the world? Is it because “We are all one human tissue”? Only the “God (of the bikers)” can tell that. Anyway, that question is still badgering me.

Another question that was badgering me: “How Can that be, that such a spiritual, unmaterialistic country, is living in such a dirt and unhygienic conditions”? When I asked Pronnoy that question, he answered: “We don’t see it”. An interesting answer that left me within deep thoughts, about what is “Dirt” all about?
The anthropology Mary Douglas, defined in her book “Purity and Danger” the word “Dirt” as “Everything that is not at its natural place”. For an example: An ice cream in its cone, is fine, but if there is one drop on your shirt, then it’s “Dirt”, since it is no longer at its natural place. Albert Einstein said, “All is relative”.
From time to time, I saw at the fields children are working, and thought to myself that: “What if they could be born and grow in USA or another “Western” country….. They could have been Doctors or lawyers, but their parents lade them to be farmers or Shepherds. Maybe because the world needs them all as they are.

Pls. remember that the “God of the bikers, created a wonderful world for us to see”. So when you sit at home, nothing happened.

Uriya Shai

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