Royal Enfield, as a brand, isn’t just about its motorcycles. It’s also about the image that it brings along with it. What has established it as a major lifestyle brand is the curation it brings to the table. From offering RE-branded riding gear to a host of marquee rides and events that brings its loyalists together, Royal Enfield offers everything one can ask from a true-blue motorcycle manufacturer.
Now Zanskar as a place has been elusive for a long time. Surrounded by great Himalayan peaks, averaging an altitude of 3,600m and with peaks as high as 7,000m, Zanskar has remained relatively untouched compared to Leh and offers an unadulterated experience of the local culture and lifestyle, something which I was keen on exploring. So, when I learned about this seven-day ride through some of the most challenging terrains and a route which even RE was going to go through for the first time, I was sure this was going to be one hell of a ride.
Day 1 - Leh to Drass
After a day and a half of much-needed acclimatisation, our line-up of 30 riders was flagged off from Leh. Talking about my steed, the Himalayan had almost 4000km on the odo but ran excellent.The brakes felt wooden and lacked bite, but it’s common with the Himalayan.
The roads were fantastic, with picture-perfect scenery and an amazing black top. We encounteredmultiple hairpins and sweeping corners, and the Himalayan felt nice and tight despite its off-road specs and off-road tyres.
About eight hours and 278 km later, we finally reached the gateway to the desert valley of Ladakh and the coldest place in India, Drass.
Day 2 - Drass to Rangdum via Sanku
Day two got off to a bright early start with a nice overcast weather. Unlike on day one, we immediately hit the rough. The route via Umba La started with plenty of twisties. But pretty soon, the roads got narrow and deteriorated even further. Extremely narrow sections passing through valleys was a hair-raising experience, and one had to be really careful manoeuvring through potholes and puddles.
On the way, we witnessed the peaks of Nun and Kun. We finally halted for lunch at Purtikchy as we passed the beautiful village of Sankoo. The roads post-Sankoo were pretty good as we made time but post our halt at Parkachik, where we witnessed the Parkachik glacier, the roads were at their worst. Boulders, dust and narrow sections with non-existing roads meant the Himalayan was taking an absolute beating, with most of us standing up and flying through.
The day ended at just 129 km, which took an insanely long 7.5 hours. We finally called it a day at the Rangdum campsite.
Day 3 - Rangdum to Padum
Leaving the Rangdum campsite, I was completely sleep-deprived. What was going to make it worse was that the entire route was going to be off-road. En route, we passed the mighty Drang Drung glacier, which is among the two largest glaciers in Ladakh.
We also passed Pensi La, which is located at a high-ish 14,400 feet and is also known as the gateway to Padum. We finally hit Padum, where we refuelled and got to base after an exhausting 140km.
Day 4 - Padum - Shinku La - Jispa
After a good night's rest, we finally left for what we thought would be the toughest day yet. And boy, was it tough. This was a route that could test the best of the best. Narrow mountain trails with steep drops, boulder-laden roads with very little give, and not to mention the steepest climbs with soft sand and some pretty insane water crossings, which had our feet soaked.
We had quite a few falls on this day, and we were already worn out when we hit Shinku La top, which at 16580 feet was the highest altitude we hit. Thankfully, post-Shinku La, the entire downhill path was freshly laid tarmac. But nature had more in store for us. We started the day in extreme heat, and it started freezing as we hit Shinku La and then it ended up raining as we descended towards Jispa.
We basically experienced all the weather conditions possible, with only snowfall remaining. Almost 100km later, we had to head a further 25km to refuel, and we finally reached base in the dark at 7:30pm. The trip meter showed 196km at the end of the day, and this was the end of a long, tiring day indeed.
Day 5 - Jispa - Shinku La - Zangla
If the previous ride was challenging, we did not anticipate how tough the next day would be. Since we were barely in Jispa for 12 hours, the shoes were still wet, our bodies were still worn down, and we had to head back the same torturous route we had come through. The first 70-80 km were bliss thanks to the tarmac, post which the horror began after crossing Shinku La. The sand-filled trails which were downhill the day before were now uphill.
The climbs were extremely treacherous, with quite a few riders taking a fall. Post the sand, there were the water crossings and most of us, already tired from the previous day, found the crossing to be tricky, with quite a few taking to the water.
Caked in mud, with battered bodies, we couldn't believe how the Himalayan withstood the beating it got. We just stood up and rode through the worst terrain one can imagine, and the Himalayan took it all. We finally got tarmac for the last 50km, but even between the crisp tarmac sections, we had some pretty deep water crossings. We finally hit Zangla at sunset, covering 175km.
This was by far the most challenging day and my most challenging ride on a motorcycle. Reminiscing, it definitely felt like an accomplishment because I had gotten through the day without any mishap whatsoever where other veteran riders had tasted dust and some fresh water. The day ended with a beautiful homestay in Zangla, something that was a surreal experience.
Day 6 - Zangla to Photoksar
A fantastic homestay later, we had to leave Zanskar. Today was the day we were headed to Photoksar, and we were going to be riding along the Zanskar River for the better part of the ride. But even as we started, the bodies were still sore, and the body felt lazy. Luckily we started with some great tarmac which lasted for about 15km, after which we were back to the dirt.
The trails got from bad to worse with just rocky sections and narrow trails with big rocks sticking out from blind corners, which meant we had to be extra careful. The bodies had given up, and it was just the riders spurring each other on.The toughest section of the day was the Murburla climb, with sandy sections and sharp hairpins. But someone up there knew we were at the end of our ropes, and the pass had been built thanks to a recent visit by Dalai Lama. But even then, it was just too rough for our battered bodies.
We finally hit the Singe La peak at 16590 feet. A quick picture, and we decided to move quickly since our heads were getting fuzzy due to the altitude. Some more broken rocks, extremely dusty and broken sections later, we finally hit our campsite at Photoksar. Just 72km on the trip meter, we hit our destination early in the day this time at 2:30pm, which meant our weary bodies could get a little more rest.
Day 7 - Photoksar to Leh
The final day of the ride. The campsite was freezing as we all begged for the sun to bless us with some much-needed warmth. We finally managed to gather our belongings and saddle up. We were told during the briefing that the first half of the ride would be all off-road post which we hit the clean tarmac.
The roads were just as rough and got even more treacherous as we passed narrower mountain trails laden with loose rocks. This was our third day riding with wet boots, and even the feet started protesting with all the itching and allergies. But the terrain was relentless as we passed through even more water crossings drenching our feet further despite the so-called waterproof boots.
Post 50km of mental off-road, we finally hit the blacktop. It felt sublime like God himself had laid that tar as a token of appreciation for all that we had endured. And I was going to enjoy it to the fullest. My body went into sport mode with me, and the Himalayan attacking corners like this was a race track. It was pretty much like the Himalayan was reading my thoughts as it tackled corner after corner like a road-spec machine and not the off-road specialist it really is. You could see everyone pushing it because, after all those days of punishing off-road, the crisp tarmac made us feel like we were uncaged.
128km later, we finally reached our destination, Bharat Hotel, Leh. We had arrived back at the place where it had all started. Every rider greeted each other with warm hugs and ecstatic screams. This was a huge accomplishment. After seven days and over 1200km of riding in the most difficult terrains, water crossings, and extreme temperatures, along with some of us battling AMS through all of this, it felt like we had conquered the world. The camaraderie for these Royal Enfield rides is just unbelievable, where even though people barely know each other, they still have each other’s back.
The Royal Enfield HimalayanAdventure Zanskar 2022 was every bit adventurous as advertised, with some incredible people at the helm of the ride, like Varun Jose and Arvind Singh. And this, complimented by a strong service team, meant the Himalayans kept running like clockwork even through the unpardonable terrain.
Apart from the ride itself, I now also have a new-found respect for the Himalayan as a motorcycle. Yes, it still could do with more power, but the amount of abuse this motorcycle could withstand was simply unbelievable, and it came out through the entire trip without even a puncture. Indeed the Himalayan is made for the Himalayas.Talking about the trip, I come back as a much better rider, with plenty of new friends for life and a thirst for more adventure. On to the next one, then!
Photography by Pushkar Patil