Friday, 18 July 2014

The highest motorable road in the World

Arriving in Leh was a bit of a disappointment to start with. It was full of cars and tourists and dust and noise. Not what I had expected at all. I climbed to the top of town where it was a little quieter and found a place to stay. 

Wondering around I found the place to be very friendly but just a little too many tourists for me. It was full of shops selling the usual trinkets and people on hire bikes who skidded every time they stopped (lack of understanding of how the breaks work!) and revved far too often just for the thrill of the noise! I understand the buzz but found them annoying in such large numbers!

I decided to head out of town and hit the Khardung La pass. The highest motorable road in the world. It would take me two days to complete the 300km round trip and would take me up to 18,380 feet. An interesting challenge for both myself and Rhonda. 

I left Leh at around 7am, filled my tank and headed for the start of the pass. After climbing for perhaps
half an hour I was stopped at an army check point where I had to show my permit (You are not meant to get a permit to go on your own but I had managed to persuade a tour company to apply for one for me by tagging me on to a group application and so it had been granted the day before). I was  carrying no extra fuel and I knew that on a good day my 12 litre tank would give me 300km. However, I was now going to be riding at altitude and this had to be a factor so I decided to double check that there was fuel up there as it showed on my map. The guard said that this station had closed 2 years previously and I would not get fuel. It was going to be close call but I certainly wasn't going to just turn around and head back, so I went for it!

Actually I used less fuel than normal and came back off the pass with about half a tank! I guess the  extra consumption due to altitude was counteracted by the very slow speeds. We rarely got above 30mph as we were on a bumpy, windy and narrow pass.

Clearly the bike lost power. Any bike would at that height. I was changing down regularly and it was frustrating when you had to slow down as it took a while to build up again. However, I was in no rush and the power was smooth and consistent throughout. There was no surge of power or sudden loss of power as I have experienced in the past on different bikes at lower altitudes than this. The fuel injection system was certainly doing its job extremely efficiently. I had not left any luggage behind either and so she pulled not just me, but all my luggage and camping gear up to the top of that pass as well.

The sun shone most of the way although of course it was a little chilly at the top. It was a beautiful road and I enjoyed the ride although I think within a year the whole lot will be tarmac and that will be a shame for those of us who love a challenge! Perhaps a blessing for others. It will certainly help trade for the people who live in the mountains but where people go in India, so does litter and noise. A sad fact of life here and one that I know people are working hard to fix but having witnessed the mentality of the majority here, I feel it will take a very long time to reeducate and start seeing a difference. Perhaps the change will come in time before the Himalayas becomes another dumping ground.

I spent a very relaxing and silent night in Diskit with a local family who fed me a wonderful dinner and
breakfast as well as a bed for the night for the equivalent of £6. It was beautifully basic and so quiet! No horns, no pollution, just bird song and fresh air!

The next morning I woke to lots of rain and I could see fresh snow on the peaks. Peaks that were lower than what I was about to ride over again. I wondered whether I should attempt the pass or wait another day. I decided to leave it an hour and then go for it and if the road was still open then that would be my decision made.  

The tracks had turned muddy and slippery and the rock face that loomed above me looked precarious. As I headed further up I came across several fresh landslides which luckily I could slowly negotiate  my way around. I then came across a car that was stuck as it had been hit by a falling boulder and although no one was hurt, the car was going nowhere. Eventually enough people came to move it out of the way and allow the traffic through again.

There was indeed snow at the top, not to mention the fog and hail and it was very very cold up there. It was not an easy ride home (and I didn't stop for photo's but wish I had now!!) but it certainly was satisfying to get back down and enjoy the sunshine once more. It was also good to feel I had been given a challenge as on a sunny day it seemed all too easy on this bike and with these tyres! I guess it is tougher on an Enfield!  Job done! Highest road in the world? Tick! 

I was extremely pleased with the performance of this bike as it delivered far better than I could have expected whilst taking me and all my possessions to the top of the world and back (well close enough!!).

Tomorrow morning I start working my way down towards Manali. It should take me two days as long as the weather does not cause me any problems over the 3 high passes I will have to negotiate. I will leave early so the river crossings are not too deep from the melting glacier water and I will have to carry extra fuel and food. I believe I will find some tented accommodation along the way. The road sounds rough but well travelled and so I have no real concerns.

From Manali I will head for Shimla and then, over a few days, make my way over to Tanakpur, the small Western border in to Nepal. I am hoping my ever painful nose sores will clear up by then! If not, it is time to visit the docs!  


  1. Ride safe Steph, blow a kiss for my dear old friend....


  2. you'll be staying at Sarchu on your way to Manali , lovely . The Rhotang Pass will be amazing !! Love it out there !!

  3. Thanks for taking the time and effort to keep us all updated on how you and Rhonda are doing, thanks for the message - I have cut and pasted a bit of this blog for the CRF250L owners on ADVRider, best wishes, Pete

  4. Booyaka biatch, hope the proboscis gets sorted? :-) wil.

  5. Great to see that Rhonda is behaving ( as always ) and getting you along these fantastic trails. Great read, as always :)

  6. All looks fantastic fun. Ride safely. Looking forward to more updates.

  7. Steph,

    What an amazing journey! You are one brave person and my helmet is off to you. I really enjoy seeing your photos...amazing scenery. The world is truly a magical place. Safe travels!


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