Alex: Have you ever ridden a motorcycle before Nels?

Nelson: Never driven one, but I loved riding them with my friends in Nairobi…

Alex: Are you any good on a mountain bike?

Nelson: eh…

Guy renting us the motorcycles: Don’t worry, here’s a map (hand drawn)… no, no, no, pay when you get back…

The Royal Enfield is both an elegant and stout machine. The 2012 “Classic” model has neither changed in form nor function since the 1940’s -a true testament to the steadfast design and spirit of these machines. A bare bones motorcycle at it’s best…simplicity, elegance, power… all converging in a sturdy frame… creating the perfect companion to explore the harsh deserts, deep canyons and epic passes of Ladakh with (and even one better having Nels as a gung-ho travel partner 😉

After a day and a half getting used to the bikes and teaching Nelson how to ride in the Leh Valley, we decided to do a longer route – Tsomoriri Lake. But, before making the 500 km journey, we needed to do a bit of prepping. After going to a second-hand clothing store and bargaining down on a used pair of Indian Army surplus boots and camo-jackets, we rented camping gear and stocked up on food for the road. And faster than you could say, “Robin Hood and little John are runnin’ through the forest”, Nels and I were bouncing up the sandstone gorge that houses the shimmering Indus River, heading towards Tsomoriri Lake.

Nelson and a stupa out of the rear-view mirror…

The four-day round-trip journey was, as Jack Black would say, truly “Mind Blowing!” The route was complete with epic winding canyons that would give Zion National Park a run for its money, washed out bridges, sand traps, stream crossings and solid sections with no road at all… Amazing… About two-thirds the route was decently paved (decently being the key word…) and the other half would be more akin to enduro-racing in sub Saharan Africa…As we approached the lake, a few sections of the route were Himalayan scale, packed-sand basins in which “the road”, was a matrix of flat trails that intertwined like the tree runs on the back side of the ski hill… But at 300 meters wide, 8 km long and not an obstacle in sight… cruising speed…

Tsomoriri is a crystal clear and royal blue body of water based at 15,000’ in elevation. Back-dropped by snowcapped 20,000’ peaks and underneath a blazing sun, it was truly a swimmers conundrum… “It’s so hot but it’s so cold!” Alas, how could we not go swimming though… After spending two nights camping under at the lake and eating our meals in a kerosene hazed Ladakhi food tent/general store, we headed back towards Leh.

Cold cold water…

As we were making a loop, we headed West from Tsomoriri towards the Leh-Manali Highway and the Tang Lang La, which is the supposed second highest motorable mountain pass in the world. After spending a solid two hours riding up the six-lane donkey trail of a highway, we took a look around from the top. At 17,550’ we stopped for photos and shook our limbs out a bit as we tried to get them to stop tingling from the bumpy ascent. And on the way down, we were surprisingly blessed with buttery smooth, double wide, and freshly-laid black asphalt. Making the curvatious 4,000’ descent from the pass a winding and whirling dream, that left Nels and I giddy and lost for words at the bottom.

 

Rumtse Vally – after descending Tang Lang La

Oh, and remember the god that attempted to create something as blue as the sky above Leh? He did come close after all… It seems his wisdom was not in re-creating it, but reflecting it…

 

 

Ooh da lolly, ooh Da lolly, Golly what a day,

Alex