How I got Leh’d – Riding to the land of the Lama by Victor

Sitting next to this big dude from Myanmar on a bus ride earlier in January this year, the man was curious about Kenya and in the midst of our conversation I shared my plan to scale Mt. Everest (Base camp or advanced base camp if time permitted) sometime in August. He recommended, having done a similar trip, that instead of hiking up Everest, I reconsider and tour the Himalayas on a motorcylce. He had backpacked with his friend for about 2 weeks and seemed to believe it was my kind of thing. Later that evening, a casual search and my friend google had me sold completely to the idea. It was adios Everest! Hello, Hi-malaya on an Enfield!

I began researching in April, mostly online, on experiences, requirements, costing, best timing to visit and settled for mid-August, which was about the same time I intended to be away.

In May, I got my visa – e-visa actually, which was very simple to get and began another online search for best way to go about the trip. I settled for a company that would provide an all-inclusive package that included bike rental (chose a 500cc Royal Enfield Classic), fuel, accommodation on half-board basis, back up vehicle (also carrying riders luggage) with mechanic and, most importantly, set dates when tour began and ended.

There was always a risk of going with companies that on the scheduled day did not have ‘quorum’ and would hand you over to another firm, or wait until there was a certain minimum number of riders before departing. With dates fixed and having confirmed several times, I booked my return ticket to Delhi and another ticket to the proposed start point in Srinagar. The plan was to ride from Srinagar – Leh – Manali passing through Nubra, Pangong, Tangste and Tsomoriri over a period of 8 days and covering just about 1,600Km.

The ideas, I had in my head when going through the itinerary…is a story for another day. There is an alternative to rent a bike on your own and basically customize the trip as you want. One, however, has to deal with getting relevant permits, accommodation, repairs if any and fuel (its new territory, one does not know how far apart fuel stations are). The options of bikes are the Royal Enfield Classic in 350cc or 500cc, Himalayan Royal Enfield, and Apache. Didn’t see any Apaches though.

Plans are made to be changed, right? Three weeks before departure, I receive an email from tour director stating that there was a political situation at Srinagar and that the starting point was rescheduled to Leh along with a detailed updated itinerary. He, requested that I change my flight reservation so that I land at Leh instead of Srinagar. Google manenos, indeed there was a situation and tourists were not allowed in Srinagar, lakini air ticket could not be altered so I had to make another reservation to Leh from Delhi. Tour dates, thankfully, remained the same. The new itinerary had the trip beginning at Leh then ride towards Srinagar to Kargil, return to Leh on second day and proceed with the original schedule. It was like we were meant to do a msa to ksm trip but are forced to start at Mtito then ride to Voi, then back to Mtito and proceed as planned because tourists were not allowed in Msa.

Looking out the window as the plane descends towards the airport at Leh, I knew right then that I would be back, views of the vast Himalayan Mountains were incredible. Got to the hotel and met the tour director who briefed the group about the tour, do’s and don’ts, medication to buy (for altitude sickness) and collect the rest of his payment ($100 deposit was paid as reservation fee). There would be 12 of us in the group on 7 bikes including the ride team leader.

Day one and two was a return trip from Leh to Kargil, all on tarmac with a few twists and approximately 245 Km each way. On days three to five we rode to Nubra, Pangong and returned to Leh covering a distance of about 600 Km. For those three days, we had to get different bikes whose registration numbers were allowed in Nubra and Pangong. There were some steep ascends/descends on loose gravel, manageable as long as one does not have a phobia for heights (no guard rails either). On one of the nights we camped at the beautiful Pangong lake. That route had more twists and turns compared to the first two days, 20% of route was on unpaved roads and temperatures were lower.

Some tour operators will opt to take you through this leg by car to avoid renting the required registered bikes. By the end of the third day, everyone in the group was sniffling, due to riding continuously in low temperatures (10 to 14°C). On the following days, everyone could be seen buying anti-histamines and coldcap equivalents to battle those symptoms. The last leg of three days, we rode through Leh – Tsomoriri – Sarchu – Manali, and in my opinion was the toughest. Approximately 50% of the riding was done on unpaved/off road, through sand, across rivers and streams at even lower temperatures. Total distance covered was 640 Km. Sarchu, visited on the seventh day was biting cold but rewarded by incredible views on the last day to Manali.

I learnt to stop strangling the handle bars (death grip) and grip bike with knees, arms at ease and guide the bike with subtle waist movement. Target fixation is a reality when dealing with hairpin bends – one needs to always look and focus on the end of curve (which keeps shifting). Initially I would take very wide turns because my focus was on the nearby part of turn and correct later. With time, I was forced to realise that the bike will move in the direction you look.
After 8 days of riding, sniffles and a stiff butt one just wants to sleep for hours.

Great tour overall, it was an awesome experience, the twists, riding through sand and loose soil, gravel, river and stream crossings all in one package. Delhi to Manali is another 500 Km which was covered by bus as the tour operator took another group through the same tour in reverse – Manali to Leh. If the 8 days are not enough, it is possible to rent a bike and ride another two days to Delhi. I loved the tour so much will consider going back next year for the Spiti Valley adventure. Until then, you never know what google search results for guided adventure bike riding may reveal. I’ll keep searching when idle.

A few tips for those that intend to take the trip:

Most important ATGATT. They will offer helmets and knee/elbow guards but no jacket. The helmets most likely may not be the right fit. Carry your own helmet if possible. Gloves is a must

I chose Leh to Manali rather than the reverse because this option gives one the option to acclimatize more easily. Coming from Manali (1800m) to Sarchu (4250m) will literally shock the body and that’s on the first day.

Have at least 2 pairs of shoes with you or and have gum boots for the stream/river crossings.
Dress in layers to beat the cold or have thermal wear for use in the evenings and during rides
Shades – very important. Though cold, it is really bright. And some sunscreen
Driving license.
Headlamp with one collection of spare batteries.

If you are taking any type of medicine, carry them from home.
Nasal drops can be extremely helpful if you end up with a blocked nose after catching a cold.

Camera with at least 16Gb memory, shooting in RAW twice the size
Trip has a lot of Indians, Hindi is the predominant language, at times the captain in explaining things forgets to use English. Take it easy, someone will summarise what has been said
Ka-nyama dry fry or boil na thupu mbiri, kafirifiri kwa umbali will be very hard to get! Mostly vegetarian food. Chicken, occasionaly, is available.

An open mind, ATT acha JKIA
Most importantly, HAVE FUN, ENJOY THE RIDE

Estimated Costs (US$)
Visa 80
Tickets 700 cheaper if early
Ticket Srinagar or Leh 50
Tour 750
Lunches/drinks 70-100
Misc 200

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Verdant Gardens – Ghana to Burkina Faso Return – by Abdi Zeila (Part 1)

Trip report (Accra-Kumasi-Tamale, 660 kms so far)

I have a 200cc Chinese-made ‘Royal’ brand motorbike. This brand is the most popular in Ghana, with the majority of okada men in Accra riding the 125 and 150cc variants. It is very cheap to maintain and rides well. The only downside is the high fuel consumption whilst on the highway.

That is me, leaving Accra. A friend of mine, Jo, escorted me for the first 10 km.

I left Accra on Saturday at 6.00 am, thinking that this is the right time to exit and avoid traffic. Accra traffic never sleeps – there were just too many cars even as early as 6.00 am. The highway out towards Kumasi is dual carriageway for the first 40 or so kilometres, but it quickly gets rutted and full of potholes for the remainder of the journey (200 km). I made good progress, however, except for two occasions when I had to stop and tie my load again. Ilikuwa inaegemea upande mmoja. Still using bladda to tie my stuff.

Obligatory visit to the palace of the Asantehene, king of the Ashanti people

There is absolutely no respect for motorcyclists by motorists – they try to force you off the road and many of them came to within inches of my handlebars as they overtook me. I only noted them at the last time by the whoosh of their slipstream as they zoomed past, extremely close. There was not a single motorbike on the highway to Kumasi – I was the only one, it seemed to me. I battled rain on most of the way.

I got stopped by policemen twice in Ashanti region. The first time I had no trouble, and they checked my papers and DL and released me with a smile once they realised I am a Kenyan. The policemen crowded around me and asked me if I run marathons. I did not mention my north-eastern roots in Kenya, and indeed confirmed to them that I can out-run any Ghanaian.

The second stop was a lot more difficult. This happened because I went past a police barrier without stopping (I saw the sign announcing the barrier, and I did not stop, my mistake), and their shouts made me to turn back. The cop who stopped me was shaking with rage. I took my time to dismount, removed my helmet, and when he saw my facial features, he knew immediately I was a foreigner, and he cooled down. I spoke easily with him, and he asked for my papers. On seeing my Kenyan DL, he immediately went to converse with his boss, and he said I have just committed an offence.

He pulled out a yellowing, weather-beaten book, titled “Offences” and pointed out to the right clause – this is an innovation our Kenyan police need to adopt, seriously. Of course, I read through and thoroughly agreed with him. He was surprised to see me concurring. Anyway, after a few minutes, and noting that I remained calm all through, they told me to go on since I am just a tourist. I scrammed and disappeared.

Kumasi is always jam-packed. I could not believe the extent of the congestion caused by cars (especially the tro-tros, aka matatus) in this city, Ghana’s second largest. Like Accra, this city’s traffic is mostly controlled by signalised intersections – there only a few roundabouts. The traffic control is efficient but the cars are just too many for the city – helped also by the low fuel prices (lower than Kenya).

I spent the whole of Sunday relaxing and visiting places of interest – especially the palace of the Ashanti kingdom. Here, there are artefacts highlighting the kingdom’s 324-year reign. I saw muskets (old guns) that the kingdom’s fighting men used in 1690s, throne seats, clothes worn by their fighters and kings, and so much stuff that left me impressed. The city has incredible history.

Ghanaian food

Of course, I have been gorging on Ghanaian food – great diversity, unlike home, liberally prepared with pepper. Even the water here I believe has pepper. Fufu. Yam. Different types of soup (some called “light” soup). Fish, lots of it. Jollof rice.

Yesterday, I set out for a 380-kilometre run from Kumasi to Tamale, the northern-most city in Ghana. It took me six hours to get to Tamale. The entire stretch is like a verdant garden – green and rich agricultural zone. I am in Tamale now, and the city is a bikers’ paradise – there are more motos here than anywhere else in Ghana, and there is therefore more respect for bikers.

I

I am off to evaluate projects supported by my organisation. I will be visiting smallholder farmers in this region today and tomorrow. Then on Thursday, I will do a 370-kilometre trip across the border and into Burkina Faso’s capital city, Ouagadougou.

Death! Issa just a scratch..

I am perplexed at the mad rush motorcycle riders especially Bodas and couriers have on our mad roads.

‘Teke Teke Buda, nimechelewa’

‘Hiyo order inafaa kufika in 15 minutes ‘

The rate of accidents resulting in death or disability from Motorcycles is rising.

But no, these riders think that death is something you can come back from!

Ride Safe

Our First Long Distance Ride – Vienna & Justine

Vienna

I live in Kiambu county…along Limuru Road, as soon as I heard that the area had a nyumba kumi…I started looking for admins to add me to the group…and before you know it, there was a ride being organized to Oloiden Campsite in Naivasha. I have to say, at this point the thought of hitting the highway scared me and I kept saying to myself I am not ready!

Fast-forward to D-day, I literally woke up at 2am not knowing how I would handle the ride on the HIGHWAY and anxiety is real.

JustineI really second and third guessed myself about this camping trip. Riding to Naivasha was going to be such an accomplishment in my life, but the thought riding on that highway was terrifying and nerve wrecking especially when my Nyumba Kumi (NK) said we will use the Mai Mahiu route. Driving on that road just gives me the chills, so I imagined myself riding and going downhill then sticking both legs out to avoid ramming into a trailer should I chicken out and fail to hit the brakes but instead throttle on. So just like Vienna , I couldn’t sleep, anxiety was at another level, despite psyching ourselves up for the ride. Riding to the meeting point, I was still not sure, I was going to do it, but I went anyway and met my fellow riders who had more riding experience , yes now I consider myself experienced after this trip. Doreen and Robert Kyalo in my NK that gave me their bunjee cords to tie my backpack, thank you so much, you literally took the weight off my shoulder, literally. It was great riding without a bag on my shoulders and all that weight it had (I still don’t know what was making the bag heavy, perhaps I had packed too much fear in there that was going to be dumped in the lake)…Vienna
The group met in Ruaka at Total Roselyn petrol station…and the journey began! I have to mention at this point that we were about 3 riders who had not done the highway…We opted for the Banana, Tigoni to Limuru route as it is a smooth and scenic route, however we encountered a little bit of rain but we pushed on! We had a brief stop at the view point and got a few tips from the more experienced riders. Somewhere in Kinungi area we encountered some serious fog and of course with this low visibility (I had never experienced this) at this point, I kept thinking I did not sign up for this and contemplating my life choices Jesus! But riding on low speeds, we waded through this cloud like champs (Thanks to the experienced riders)! The next thing I saw was a barrier “Welcome to Nakuru County”..If I could have had an opportunity for a happy dance, I would have parked my Bike on the side of the road and danced! I did scream inside my helmet that I could not believe I made it and that we were all safe with no incidents!

JustineThe Banana-Tigoni road, is such a beautiful road to ride on but I was not enjoying the ride as it was raining lightly. But since I decided to face my fears, I had to ride on and make sure the weather doesn’t dampen my courage . The million times I prayed underneath my helmet for God to bring sunshine, little did I know that He was preparing me for the fog ahead. The weather went from bad to worse and my prayers from a million to gazillion times. The fog was one I have never experienced, I could only see like about 5metres ahead, thanks to the hazard lights of the rider who was ahead of me. In this moment, I really really really questioned my decision of going on this trip and choices I make in life, like bacon/sausages & bread for breakfast 😁😁 , but by God’s grace we made it through the mist/fog and God answered my gazillion prayers, as after that stretch there was a bit sunshine and we made it safely to Naivasha and Oloiden camp.

Vienna

We got to Naivasha had a group lunch at the famous Njambis restaurant, passed by Buffalo mall to pick up a few amenities and we started heading out to Oloiden campsite, approximately, 30 Kms past the town…a lot of bumps and potholes as the road is not so great! Did I mention that we spotted some wild animals (read Zebras and Warthogs J) Unfortunately, just before we reached the campsite…I took a serious tumble! Imagine, after coming all the way with no issues…I fell! This is what happened and the series of events as I recall…I saw a bump and it was too late and my first instinct was to slam on my brakes…now I hit the front brakes…BIG BIG mistake! I saw myself down, skidded forward on the not so good road and when I came to a halt, I was trapped under my bike, I call her Alexa. At this point, I am just thinking this did not just happen, please God as I thought I had broken a bone and was just bracing for the sharp pain to kick in! A fellow biker and a motorist who were behind me picked up the bike and I managed to stand…good thing I did not break a limb…ATGATT! Always ATGATT! I was shook and my arm was in pain as I landed on my left shoulder, a rider took me to a local clinic and was cleared of any damage except for some tissue injuries and was given pain killers, made it to the camp and I must mention, the lake view is absolutely breath taking, beautiful and calming. We stayed up and got to know each other in the riding community!

Justine

Mai Mahiu Route: Dee had warned me of cross winds but I didn’t think much of them, in my mind, I thought it’s the kind one experiences when riding on Thika Road at 30kph then a Githurai 45 bus overtakes you at 80kph, that kind of wind. These crosswinds were crazy, at one point I had this vision of my bike being carried away and I have the angelic wings as I ride/ am carried away by these winds. We conquered them and now had to deal with the fear of hill balancing as we rode up the curves behind the trucks going at zero speed. It wasn’t as bad as I thought, we aced it really well. I honestly preferred that route to the main highway. I am glad I took this trip and conquered my fears, riding on that stretch as well camping, I always imagine things (read snakes and spiders) crawling into my tent.
This is such a great personal achievement. I sharpened my riding skills, made new friends and had fun.
Lesson learnt from group ride, cheers to the good marshals we had and the other riders on this trip to every rider who cheered me on, thank you. You made the ride smooth and enjoyable.
Parting shot, you can do anything you put your mind to and fear should never stop you, you stop the fear….so sky-diving I here come. 💃

Vienna

I woke up the next morning and seriously contemplated not riding back to Nairobi…Sema cheering squad…I realized that my fall was nothing compared to what the other riders have gone through. We had our breakfast and started our journey back to Naivasha. The group decided to use the Mai Mahiu route, another stress as I was not ready to deal with the trucks up that hill, how else would I learn, had my pep talk, we said a prayer and off we went! No one prepared us for the CROSS WINDS! I will just leave it at that…Up the hill and back to Limuru and onto the road where we began our journey.

I did learn a great deal from this experience;

1. ATGATT is important! Always have your full gear!

2. When you get to a bump and you have no time to slow down, do not slam on the breaks! Ride over the bump!

3. Lane splitting is not for the faint of heart…I know I will conquer this one day.

4. Make your decision and act on it on a busy high way e.g. when overtaking

5. Group rides are awesome, I felt like I am in a group of big brothers and sisters and coordination is important

6. Shamba! I am now a proud owner of land in Naivasha and prime property at that!😉

Would I do this again, Yes 💃! I am looking forward to more group rides.