Have you ever said, “Hell, yeah, I’m gonna do that one day?” For me, the seed was planted in late 2007 when I was diagnosed with cancer. Recovering from surgery, I realised that ‘one day’ I would not be here anymore, and questioned myself on what had I actually achieved with my life? I vowed that things in my life needed to change, and with time flying by, before I knew it I was back in hospital two and half years later to get more internal organs removed. I’d done nothing to change my life in the meantime. The day I got discharged, I drove myself straight to the D.O.T. and sat for my motorcycle license.
I soon after joined a local motorcycle community and was great to meet and be welcomed by new people, and enjoy both the camaraderie and solitude of riding. About a year later, a fellow rider mentioned that his friend had been diagnosed with bone cancer and passed away the following week. He decided there and then to start crossing items off his bucket list and booked a two week motorcycle adventure through the Himalayas; if anyone wanted to join him, they were more than welcome. I procrastinated for six months before finally paying my deposit. And so, in August 2013 I set off on my first crazy adventure. For months on end, I refused to read the itinerary until the week before departure; when I finally did read it, it scared the living shit out of me and I almost cancelled.
Instead, I found myself on a plane to Delhi and it ended up being the best two weeks of my life, even though I fractured four ribs and an ankle! It was bound to happen being such an inexperienced rider, I guess. I headed back to hospital for a couple of weeks to get things fixed and more internal organs removed (due to other health issues at the time), which gave me time to plan my next three motorcycle adventures, and I haven’t looked back since. I’ve ridden through the lush Himalayan Kullu Valley and arid Spiti Valley amongst others, and have lost count of how many times I’ve been to India, including exploring exotic Rajasthan in the north.
The trip I was most excited and apprehensive about was Nepal, which I completed in November, 2015. The media coverage of the recent earthquakes and chronic fuel shortages (due to political machinations between China and India) made me nervous. My family wasn’t too keen either, but they were supportive as they knew I was going anyway. Greeting the 15 other riders at Kathmandu Airport, we were about to spend the next couple of weeks riding up into the northern Himalayas.
Some of the temples had been damaged from the ‘quakes, but considering the continual seismic activity that Nepal endures, it’s remarkable how many temples and old buildings – some dating back nearly 2000 years – have survived in such good condition. The streets however were empty. Nepal relies heavily upon tourism, and vendors and other locals were suffering from the fallout from all the negative media. Once everyone had arrived, we took our Royal Enfields for a leisurely ride through the hills of Kathmandu to get acclimatised to these unique motorcycles. After watching the sun set, we headed back to the hotel for a welcome dinner of traditional cuisine and cultural dances.
With formalities out of the way, it was time to tackle the real roads out of Kathmandu and into the unknown. The first day was mostly tarmac and reasonably easy, if a little hectic as everyone tried to get out of the city in one piece. It was a great way to start our journey. Dodging cars, trucks and errant animals, and adjusting to the local road rules (or lack thereof!), added to the adrenalin and excitement. We weren’t in a rush so we stopped numerous times to take photos of the amazing scenery, and to enjoy local Nepalese dishes and delicacies along with meeting some of the beautiful locals.
Due to the upheaval on the Indian border, petrol tanker drivers didn’t want to cross the border, fearing they’d be targeted. Everywhere we went queues of trucks, cars and motorcycles waiting patiently for fuel. Queues of bikes that were four deep and over a kilometre long, while the car and truck queues were even longer. Some of the vehicles had been locked up and others had drivers sleeping inside. Thankfully our crew was on the ball and had sourced petrol from over the border before we even got there. Unfortunately the fuel crisis also extended to gas, which affected restaurants right across the country. Wood fires being their only alternative solution to cook food, which in turn took a lot longer to be prepared. It certainly made me appreciate being fed a lot more, and truly how easy we have it in Australia.
Only three days into the tour, one rider became a little over confident in his riding ability, and with an unexpected bump on the road, unfortunately high sided around a bend, and almost off the edge, breaking his collarbone. He was clearly shaken up by the experience, and as there wasn't much he could do with type of injury, he chose to fly back to home to Australia. It was a timely reminder that accidents can happen, even to experienced riders.
One of the many highlights of adventures like these, is the varied styles of riding you have to adopt. Smooth tarmac roads quickly became dirt roads to hard-core off-road tracks with numerous river crossings, all with undoubtedly a spectacular back drop.
At one point of our journey, we had the choice of either continuing on the designated road, if you could call it that, or cut across to tackle a river crossing at Mustang. Boys being boys, opted for the latter.
Being the only female on the trip, I didn’t feel the need to compete, so I stood back and watched the testosterone flow, nearly as strongly as the freezing water and it was certainly a refreshing bath for some. A truly epic day of riding saw us reach our accommodation in Muktinath well after dark while snowing. Cant really explain how cold it was that night, but I certainly wont forget it, that is for sure.
Through one leg of the trip, being a short arse weighing in just under 60kg, saw me laying the bike down more times than I can remember in the space of a few kilometres. Being out in the middle of nowhere with the backup crew half an hour behind me and the rest of the gang miles in front, meant I had to pick the 180kg machine up by myself, and in some very awkward locations too. When I finally made it to the accommodation, I practically collapsed in an exhausted heap.
It wasn’t until next morning that I was totally blown away with the fresh overnight snowfall and breathtaking view of Muktinath. Forming part of the famous 160 - 230km long Annapurna trekking circuit, this was a truly magical place, where the Hindus and Tibetan Buddhist tribes mutually respect and support each other in both religion and community, sharing and inhabiting their amazing surroundings of tranquillity.
After breakfast, we ventured up the hill to visit the local temple, via what I nicknamed the ‘Stairway to Heaven’. At altitude (3800m), on this particular trip, I personally found breathing very difficult and had to stop 200m short of reaching the temple, but I will return to go further next time.
Another great highlight of venturing out on these kind of trips, is meeting the locals. With a short walk from the temple visiting and interacting with the kids and teachers of the local school was a heart warming experience.
A couple of the riders had generously donated their home town club t-shirts, along with cricket and soccer gear from Rebel Sport. The kids reactions were priceless, so happy and inquisitive of us foreigners waltzing through their villages. They definitely weren't shy to come say hello or even climb all over you.
We had packed a lot in within the two weeks; everything from riding at high altitude to riding through the valleys, and National Parks, tackling some of the twistiest roads on the planet. I simply cannot explain what a life changing experience it is to ride through either of the Indian or Nepalese Himalayas. It really is something you should do now, rather than ‘one day’, as you might not get the opportunity. Without a doubt I struggled at times, it definitely challenged my patience and abilities and looking back, with all I had achieved and making it to the end in one piece, I grew in so many ways and loved every moment.