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Royal Enfield Astral Ride Spiti 2022: Stargazing with the RE Himalayan

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Ajinkya Lad

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GalleryIntroductionAcclimatising To The TerrainSpiti ValleyStargazing in KazaOff Road AgonyReaching Civilization

Introduction

Royal Enfield Himalayan Left Side View

There’s a cool breeze gushing through the empty fields of Rangrik. It is pitch black all around and there’s not even a speck of light in sight. There’s a lot of enthusiastic murmur amongst the participants, as they line up their cameras in excitement to shoot the Milky Way. But, to our dismay, a few black clouds are hovering above to spoil our party. And as soon as Navaneeth Unnikrishnan - our expert in astrophotography masterclass - is about to give his final instructions on camera settings, it starts raining! ‘Pack up, let’s head back to the hotel’, says Varun Jose - our ride coordinator.

Not the best of starts to the first Astrophotography session then, right? Well, yes! But, that doesn’t mean the Royal Enfield Astral Ride 2022 was anything but a disappointment. Because it wasn’t. Far from it actually. In fact, the 2022 Astral Ride was a healthy mix of riding brotherhood and camaraderie, learning the basics of Astrophotography, making new friends, and more importantly being one with the Royal Enfield Himalayan.

Royal Enfield Himalayan Right Side View

Now, Royal Enfield is renowned for its marquee rides to the Himalayas, and the newest addition to its list is the Astral Ride. The idea here is to combine motorcycle road trips with Astrophotography, as the mighty Himalayas are one of the best places in the world to shoot the night sky. So, when Royal Enfield invited me to participate in the Astral Ride Spiti 2022, I was ecstatic to hit the road.

Acclimatising To The Terrain

Royal Enfield Himalayan Front View

Day 1 – The ride started from Kufri, a quaint resort hill station just ahead of Shimla, famous for its lofty valleys and misty climate. It was also where I met my fellow riders on what was going to be an epic adventure. A quick interaction later, Varun handed over the keys of the 2022 Royal Enfield Himalayan, my partner in crime for the next 8-odd days.

Day 2 – The next morning, we were flagged off from Kufri, en route to our destination for the day – Kalpa. The 20-odd Himalayans rambled through the sleepy town of Kufri, thumping their way to glory and creating a symphony of sorts. With the cool mist hitting our faces and the visibility hampered slightly, the idea was to take it slowly.

Royal Enfield Himalayan Right Front Three Quarter

But, the Himalayan had different plans. As the valleys opened up, a smooth tarmac cutting through the mighty mountains made it difficult to be sane. And to add to that, the Himalayan seemed in a playful mood. I had no other choice but to oblige. The next few kilometres went by in a jiffy, with the Himalayan dancing like a ballerina on the infinite curves, flirting with the corners like it was no one’s business.

A quick stop-over later, we maintained a good pace as the landscape started turning from lush green to barren. By this time, we had formed a group of seven riders that broke away from the rest of the group and continued ahead with the Sutlej River for company. The Himalayan’s 25 horses were let loose, with all of us synchronously belting our steeds through the canyons. And even before we could realize it, we had reached Kalpa.

Royal Enfield Himalayan Left Front Three Quarter

Being surrounded by mountains, Kalpa remains windy throughout the day, while it becomes chilly as soon as nightfall strikes. As the mercury dipped, we found ourselves around a campfire, with a healthy dose of banter and camaraderie between the participants.

Spiti Valley

Royal Enfield Himalayan Front View

Day 3 – We woke up the next day to clear skies and a mesmerising view of Kinnaur Kailash, the sacred mountain for the Kinnauri people. After taking its blessings, we trudged towards Kaza, our base in Spiti Valley. The arid landscape looked desolate, while the ferocious Spiti River reminded us of what lay ahead.

Royal Enfield Himalayan Front View

We made swift progress till our first break at Pooh for some refreshments. Post which, we continued all the way towards Nako for a quick lunch and photography session. However, post-Nako, the smooth black tarmac made way for the nonexistent off-road stretch till Sumdo. Till now, I had taken it fairly slow compared to the last two days. But, now, the Himalayan had a glint in its eyes, as if it wanted to show who the boss was. The next couple of hours, the Himalayan and I went flat out around the long winding corners, while tighter bends saw me counter-steering my way through the ruts, boulders and what have you.

Royal Enfield Himalayan Left Front Three Quarter

Right before we reached Kaza, dark clouds took over the skies, while the shooting stones kept us vigilant. In this particular section, the sight of Varun Jose and I gunning our Himalayans in pursuit of making it to our hotel without getting drenched was the highlight of this trip for me. Soon after, we reached Kaza, checked-in to The Grand Dewanchen Hotel, and crashed into our beds for the night.

Stargazing in Kaza

Royal Enfield Himalayan Front View

Day 4 to Day 6 – Kaza was our base for the next three days. While the nights were reserved for Astrophotography sessions, the days were free for local sightseeing. The photography session was conducted by Navaneeth Unnikrishnan, a renowned Astral photographer, who not only taught us the basics of Astrophotography, but also gave a lowdown on image composition, lighting, and photo editing.

Royal Enfield Himalayan Left Side View

Unfortunately, the first Astrophotography session was a complete washout as the rain gods had other plans. However, we didn’t let our spirits dampen as we made the most of our daytime by getting our touristy hats on. We explored the local attractions like Key Monastery, Kibber village and Chicham bridge on the first day in Kaza. The latter is the highest cable suspension bridge in the world.

Royal Enfield Himalayan Front View

The next couple of days were spent exploring the villages of Hikkim and Komic. While the former is known for having the world’s highest village with a post office, the latter is the highest village in the world to be connected by a motorable road. The rain gods finally had some mercy on us, and we could manage some Astral photography on the next two occasions. We tried our hands at light painting and landscape photography at night.

Royal Enfield Himalayan Left Side View

After exploring Kaza for the second time in my life, I’ve come to realise that the town has transformed from a desolate barren land into a melting pot of cultures and civilization. However, it was time to bid adieu to the Spiti Valley and return to civilization. But before we do that, we had a daunting task to reach Manali, as what lay ahead of us was nothing short of frightening, exhausting and taxing for the body.

Royal Enfield Himalayan Left Side View

Off Road Agony

Royal Enfield Himalayan Front View

Day 7 – This was the last leg of the Astral ride and by far the most tiring one. Now, Kaza to Manali is a meagre 180km ride, but it’s anything but easy because almost half of the route is non-existent and full of rocks, boulders, river bed and more. Well, the first 50km to Losar is a smooth ride, with picturesque mountains on both sides and verdant valleys in between. However, as you start ascending towards Kunzum La, the tarmac disappears into thin air. 

Royal Enfield Himalayan Rear View

Dusty, gravel-trodden tracks with large rocks and boulders are your numero uno nemesis, while the Royal Enfield Himalayan becomes your most-trusted ally. So, with some amount of courage, and a lot of faith in the Himalayan, I gave it the full whack. And the Himalayan responded with ferocity identical to the Spiti River flowing beside us. It overcame everything that the non-existent roads had to throw at her, with such poise and composure that even a seasoned rider would appreciate its capabilities. Kunzum La was done and dusted in no time, and we quickly descended to Batal for some quick refreshments and a chai stop.

If the road was non-existent till Batal, what lay ahead was a mix of rocky patches, river bed trails with large boulders and bone-chilling water crossings. Again, the Royal Enfield Himalayan made short work of the task at hand, without breaking into a sweat. And even after my clumsiest of ways to literally break the motorcycle, the Himalayan just trundled ahead without any breakdown. It may seem like an exaggeration, but one needs to experience this section of the road to believe it.

The last section between Chattru to Gramphoo is undoubtedly the most exhausting and taxing on your body. One, you not only ascend rapidly, but also need to ride standing-up, and two, you have to fight gravity as it's difficult to grab the bike while standing up and throttling your way out of the ruts and boulders.

Reaching Civilization

Royal Enfield Himalayan Right Front Three Quarter

Once we saw the tarmac again, at Gramphoo, after three hours of continuous off-road riding, our joys knew no boundaries. It was the feeling of euphoria, of having achieved something insurmountable. But, this also meant that we were nearer to civilization and that the ride was coming to an end. The Astral Ride Spiti also gave me an opportunity to ride inside the Atal Tunnel, en route to Manali.

Day 8 – This was going to be the longest and the most boring day of the ride. One, because the best riding days had gone by, and two, it was going to be a marathon ride towards the plains to reach Chandigarh. The ride ended with a customary get-together at the hotel with certificate distributions and bidding our goodbyes to our fellow riders.

Royal Enfield Himalayan Front View

If anything, the Royal Enfield Astral Ride Spiti 2022 was all about brotherhood, stargazing nights and a lot of riding. But above all, it was about the memories that I made with some of the best riders, who became friends by the end of the ride.

Royal Enfield Himalayan Right Side View

So, if you enjoy Astrophotography and love travelling to the Himalayas, you should find ways to be a part of Royal Enfield’s Astral Rides. I’m glad I got this opportunity, that too as a part of the media fraternity.

Photography by Royal Enfield

Gallery

Royal Enfield Himalayan Left Side View
Royal Enfield Himalayan Left Front Three Quarter
Royal Enfield Himalayan Right Front Three Quarter
Royal Enfield Himalayan Right Side View
Royal Enfield Himalayan Front View
Royal Enfield Himalayan Right Side View
Royal Enfield Himalayan Front View
Royal Enfield Himalayan Front View
Royal Enfield Himalayan Front View
Royal Enfield Himalayan Left Side View

Royal Enfield Himalayan Gallery

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