The World’s Highest Road. Leh City, Ladakh India
“The Long Way Around.” To any adventure rider with occasional access to WIFI, this is the series that called us so loudly and inspired us to ask ourselves “how do I do THAT?!” When you finish the series, not only do you have a wanderlust hangover, you realize the being able to memorialize the amazing people, majestic landscapes and unique cultures is TOTALLY possible these days. Having done a fair amount of broadcast Television for Discovery, History and other networks, I learned a bit about how to tell a story from a technical and logistical perspective. I considered what this must have cost Ewan McGregor and Charlie Borman. These guys got cash!! I don’t. But it’s still doable when you factor that they did this WAY before even the GoPro camera was around. These days, with just an action camera, iPad, and a laptop, you can be the next Scorsese, if you want! Jump on a bike, and there you have it. YOU are DOING IT!!! So, the next question…why would anyone even WATCH this? Ewan and Charlie rode around the WORLD!! I gotta do something other than falling down on my driveway. Something big…for me. Well, Everest is pretty big. But you can’t get a bike up there. Where CAN I go?
A close friend, Sonalee, is quite the global adventurer and was bitten by the moto-bug, ages ago. She let me know of a group going to Leh and if I was up for it, I could tag along.
This was my first attempt at filming an adventure ride. It later became “The Ride of My Life.”
When I got to Leh City, located in the Ladakh Region of Kashmir India, I felt like I was in a whole new world. Being in the region of Kashmir, I thought I would see many sweaters and rolls of the famous Indian fabric but what I did see was far from what I expected. Being at an altitude of 11,500 feet, I found myself gasping for air as soon as I stepped off the plane. As I started my journey to the town of Leh, palace and castle ruins where everywhere and the main street of Leh was unlike any other main street I had ever seen. There were spice markets, trading and bartering and even livestock being killed and prepared right in front of me; talk about fresh!!! Not so appetizing when the butcher is rendering right in front of you and his child is swatting away the flies with a tree branch so they don’t lay their eggs in the soft, warm meat….Yeah, not hungry anymore.
Leh is wedged between Pakistan, Tibet and China. You could even go as far as calling it the Grand Central Station of its era due to its proximity between these countries and the trade route Khardung La. Leh popped up as a small trading post centuries ago and was now the starting point for my motorcycle journey along the world’s highest road.
Designed in 1901, it’s the longest living motorcycle design in History! The terrain would not have been challenging for the BMW but The Royal Enfield, well, lets just say this bike MAKES the adventure. It is the most common bike for this region can be fixed with chewing gum and a zip-tie and still go on forever.
The first thing that I noticed about this road and trip is that it wasn’t as tough of a terrain as I had imagined. The road mimicked American national park roads or fire roads, gravel and decomposed granite and not too steep, but cold and windy.
This road was maintained by the Indian Military because it is a strategic area of India’s national defense. The second thing I noticed were the element conditions, this is what made the trip hard for me. We were going up to an altitude of almost 19,000 feet and the oxygen levels were definitely reflecting that. Also as we traveled to higher altitudes, sunburn became something I couldn’t avoid.
My first stop was Chang La at an altitude of 17,586. It was here where I found out that normal biking fatigue has become exacerbated due to the elements and conditions.
My next stop was Khardung La at an altitude of 18,380 feet. For a little perspective, this is higher than BOTH of Everest’s Basecamps. About a third of India’s infantry assigned to defend this border, get cycled out and replaced do to altitude sickness. It has nothing to do with their fitness, but genetic physiology. Mountain climbers call 17,000 feet, the “kill zone.” At that altitude, your body begins dying because there simply is no air! So what does this genius do? Makes friends, drinks Chai, trades my motorbike for a mountain bike, just for kicks, and generally having a blast!
Until….The Indian soldier who was watching my behavior, thought I should descend. I guess they don’t have ADD in India…. The truth of the matter, they suggest that you only spend about 20 minutes or less at the summit. Again with that whole oxygen thing.
I loved everything about this trip, I made friends, pushed my limits and changed my life. Did I get bitten by the adventure bug? Follow along and draw your OWN conclusion.