Siyad, one of the youngest long-distance riders from Kerala, was gearing up for his next trip when we met him at his native place Vazhani. He has been to many destinations in North India including Khardung La and Spiti Valley. He is a product photographer by profession and a nature photographer by passion.
Looks like you are preparing for another trip. Where to, next?
I’m going to Kodaikanal, but not to the usual tourist spots. Instead, I’m headed to Sirumalai reserve forest and Berijam Lake. But more than visiting these two spots, I’m more interested in a new adventurous route I came to know recently from a friend.
What’s special about it?
It is a path usually obscured from the general public and requires special permission to hike through. We have all those legalities cleared up and we are leaving tonight! Even though Kodaikanal is really popular among common people, only some riders know about this path.
You have been through several Himalayan routes, care to share any of your interesting experiences with our readers?
Our trip to Khardung La, Spiti Valley, and several other North Indian high altitude spots was really memorable. In fact, our aim was riding through Khardung La, one of the highest motorable roads in the world. We decided to go there and visit Manali afterward. But our plan got changed altogether when we met two other riders on the way. In the end, we spend more than 40 days on the road and visited many more spots than we had planned initially. They suggested us so many interesting places to visit on the road. It was really helpful as we realized that we had could have missed many of the best spots in North India.
So meeting these two riders on the way was serendipitous.
Of course! My friend and I started our trip from Kerala without proper planning. Because all we had in our mind were Khardung La and Manali. We had the basics with us, like thermal wear and medicine for mountain sickness. But we didn’t care to research much more than that.
Did the lack of research adversely affect you on your way?
It could have been worse, but luckily we met the aforementioned riders in New Delhi. They were much older than us and they have been planning the trip for so long. They taught us about the basics every rider should know before going on long rides. Actually, it was only then I realized how dangerous some Himalayan roads can be if you are not well prepared enough.
Actually, it was only then I realized how dangerous some Himalayan roads can be if you are not well prepared enough.
How do you riders prepare for such long adventurous rides?
There are a lot of online groups on WhatsApp and Facebook. But pinpointing a particular information we seek can be tricky. I usually join these groups when I decide to go on trips and leave them afterward. Don’t get me wrong, I’m an active regular member of a lot of travel-themed groups. But I’m talking about groups that are specific to some destinations. Too much random information and less useful posts seem to get dumped in them, which are not relevant to riders.
Join as many travel-themed WhatsApp and Facebook groups as you can. So much good info can be found there.
How much help does the riders you meet on the way offer?
Riders we meet on the road are the most helpful people, in my opinion. They say, travel make people better and I have felt that it is true! Once I met with a minor accident on the way to Kashmir. I was safe without any injuries, but my motorcycle’s handlebar got twisted. It became unusable for travelling, let alone a long ride. Also, the handlebar that would fit my vehicle was a specific model. So getting one soon was out of the question. So, I sought the help of other riders through one of the online groups. Soon, they came to my aid and one of them gave me his own bike’s handlebar, which was suited for my model. I was really astonished as I was meeting him for the first time!
Riders we meet on the road are the most helpful people, in my opinion. They say, travel make people better and I have felt that it is true!
Wow, that’s really wonderful! So, how did rest of the trip go?
So back to our Khardung La trip… We had reached Chandigarh much earlier than expected. Stayed there overnight and resumed the journey the next morning. Our new rider buddies were well prepared with the gear and kit, which are suited for road safety and the extreme climate of the Himalayas. Padded jackets, specialized helmets, and thermal underwears that offer protection from severe cold. We had none of them! Well, actually we had the thermal inner wears, but we had it worn right from the get-go and we were supposed to be using it only in chilly weathers. We just had one pair each, so it was kind of awkward not knowing that. Jokes aside, it is really crucial to maintain the body temperature on such rides.
What other equipment you had with you?
We had a small tent and camping kit with us, but we barely used it on our way. We were afraid of the stray wildlife and burglars in remote areas. Well, these camping kits are designed to be used when no other accommodation is available, but we didn’t take that risk though. Our friends had all the basic precautions including pepper sprays, which is a really important thing to carry around. Most young riders don’t know that and they learn it the hard way. Also, learn to use it properly, like you are not supposed to use it while windy.
Carry a Pepper Spray with you. Thank me later!
Are you saying these roads are full of burglars that carrying a pepper spray is a must?
Not exactly. There is no denying that there are many such shady people roaming around these roads. They target lonesome riders and they will flank in groups. They sometimes lure unassuming travellers, so any suspicious activities you see on the roads are not worth checking out.
Which are the best places to pitch a tent?
There are a lot of designated camping locations on the highways, specifically arranged for long riders. You can pay a small rent to use any of them or take the permission to pitch one yourself near them. I recommend most people to use the tent they provide not only because it is convenient but also they are much cozier. The dampness in the tent can mess up your health and the ones they provide are free from such issues.
I recommend most people to use the tent they provide not only because it is convenient but also they are much cozier.
Do food and water prices go up as we go to more mountainous regions?
Yes, sometimes they become double or even triple the MRP. But we have no choice in such harsh regions. In their defense, the supply of these goods is very limited and is really effortful to transport. Also, try to avoid spending too much time searching for the specific food you want. It’s really tempting to have mutton biriyani after a long tiring ride, but in such locations, you better stick to whatever food you can get. You get stuffed paratha, rajma chawal, and achar. I used to hate these, but experiencing the local flavour is part of the trip in my opinion.
What about the mobile signal strength in these areas?
Expect very poor signal in most of these places, except for BSNL. It is advised to save maps offline if you don’t want to get stranded on the route.
So what happened after you reached your destination?
As I mentioned earlier, Khardung La was our primary destination and we didn’t have any other plans. But our friends from Haryana told us about a lot of small yet beautiful spots which we could have missed easily. They also advised us to cut down Manali and spend more time in Spiti. Manali is one of the first names that comes to people’s mind when discussing Himalayan destinations. But it is kind of overrated, the place lost its charm as more and more people began to go there. Now it is overcrowded and became just another high altitude town.
What do you think about Spiti Valley?
Where do I begin? We planned to spend just 3 or 4 days in Spiti. But once we reached Spiti we changed our minds and in the end, we spent 10 whole days! It was a really wonderful experience. Spiti is a totally isolated place from the rest of the world. No mobile coverage, no symbols of modern life. But that’s what makes it so special. You have to go there if you want to understand what I mean by that. But there was this problem I had in Spiti. I used to upload photos I take on Facebook and WhatsApp daily. But after reaching Spiti there was no mobile data, not even signal to make a call. My mother was really worried about me after no signs of me for 4 straight days. She used to check out my photos daily.
Spiti is a totally isolated place from the rest of the world. No mobile coverage, no symbols of modern life. But that’s what makes it so special. You have to go there if you want to understand what I mean by that.
So how did you manage to contact home? Did you wait the entire 10 days?
No, I came to know about the satellite phone in a nearby army camp, which I used to call home and tell about this lack of mobile signal. Always learn to adapt to the new places and don’t be shy to ask around for help. Because people are so helpful here especially to travelers.
Don't be afraid to make use of the satellite phone used by the army if you find you don't have good signal.
Where did you go next after leaving Spiti?
After we left Spiti, we were like sailors in the ocean without winds. There were no signs of any place we could rest. Finally, we found a military base in Sarchu. We met a Malayali soldier there too! The question “naattil evideyaa?” (Where in Kerala?) is so magically pleasant for every Malayali who is far away from his home. Indian army is very helpful to young riders who are lost on the road. We came to know about this place called Lamayuru from them. It is a place that resembles the surface of the moon. Such places are not well known among common people, so it’s really nice to discover amazing places on the way. We came to know that we need permission and pass to enter some roads. Any uninitiated rider will get stuck on the road if they don’t know about such formalities. Our main destinations Khardung La and Pangong require permission during some months. We went to Leh and obtained the permission to enter those places.
The question “naattil evideyaa?” (Where in Kerala?) is so magically pleasant for every Malayali who is far away from his home.
Any potential life-saving tips you learned on the way?
Going to the extreme altitudes where air pressure is very low can be risky. Portable oxygen cylinder is a must-have. They are not the bulky, heavy ones we see in hospitals. It is a very small handheld canister, which has to be used once we feel uncomfortable. Also, we were told to keep Diamox tablets to resist AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness). We thought that these tablets are to be taken when we feel sick. But no, they need to be taken soon after we wake up. Lack of proper knowledge about such things can be deadly to inexperienced riders. I strongly suggest researching before going on your dream ride to the Himalayas.
Any life-changing lessons you learned from the trip?
Of course, a lot of valuable lessons - from small practical life tips to how to deal with bigger problems. But one thing I emphasize is how a trip makes people know each other very well. The partners you got in your trip is really important. Trips make friends grow closer to each other!
BSNL postpaid is the only network available in some extreme locations.
Indian Army’s satellite phone service can be used if no mobile network is available.
Do not forget your thermal inner wears - most important tip!
Don’t skimp on buying a protective jacket, even one small injury can cost your life.
Keep a Pepper Spray bottle with you. Thank me later.
Use rental tents and campfires, get enough rest before taking the high-altitude paths.
Don’t wander too much searching for the food you love, learn to enjoy the local cuisine.
Buy oxygen canister and Diamox tablets to resist Acute Mountain Sickness.
Make your own travelogues
Article Info & Credits
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- Interview byCharles Andrews