Back in September 2014, Alison Sandra Murugesu, 43 then, decided to join her old friend Fadil Ali on a 2-week riding trip to the Himalayas. The troupe consists of 18 motorcyclists (17 Malaysians and 1 local guide), Alison was the only female rider.
Below We spoke to Alison about her experience riding at the highest route in the world, she also shared excerpts from her riding journal.
The Himalaya Diaries: Part One
Alison’s trip started off with a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Delhi, Alison only knew a few of the riders, almost everyone was a friend of Fadil’s. After touching down at Delhi, she spent a night at the city before a 533km and 17.5 hours long drive to Manali the following day in a chartered coach.
They went from 215m to 2050m in altitude and spent the day at Manali sightseeing and acclimatising. They also met their guide Saurabh Khanduri, and collected their bike- the Royal Enfield Bullet 500, a motorcycle built in India since 1955.
“We spent the day getting accustomed to the bike, as they were different from what we were used to.”
“After the trip, I must say the Royal Enfield was the perfect bike for the ride, almost like a mountain goat. I got through it all thanks to a forgiving bike, a sense of determination and some help from my friends.”
Early next day, Alison and troupe kickstarted their 9 days of riding by taking the 490km “highway” between Manali and Leh, passing by Rohtong Pass, Kokshar, Sissu, Tandi, Keylong, Jispa, Darca, Baralacha La, and Sarchu.
“Along the way, the lush green orchards changed as we rode higher into the mountains. The terrain turned into sparse alpine forests, then into barren rock hills with water from melted glaciers flowing down, sometimes bringing rockfall with it.”
ROUTE: Manali – Rohtong Pass (52km)
“There was a rockfall at Rohtong Pass. Our guide went and checked the conditions of the rockfall and when he told us “go!”, we had to quickly go. It was like an arcade game, dodging falling rocks, except if your timing was bad, you would be knocked down a cliff. The route was a mix of super smooth, rough patches and non-existent roads. We had to share some of the roads with lorries and big trucks, it was not fun when that happens at the edge of a cliff.”
“Rohtong Pass sees the start of stupas dotted along the route. Rohtong means place of corpses- people dying in bad weather trying to cross the mountain pass in old times. The view of the vistas along the way was beautiful. We had to register at the Army Checkpoint here for permits to pass.”
ROUTE: Rohtong Pass – Kokshar (19km),
Kokshar – Sissu – Tandi (38km),
Tandi – Keylong (9km),
Keylong – Jispa (22km),
Jispa – Darca (6km),
Darca – Baralacha La – Sarchu (84km)
LOCATION: Baralacha La
“Baralacha La at 4890m was snowing when we arrived but most of us were hit by AMS (acute mountain sickness) at this point and were feeling extremely fatigued. There were 3 spare riders that could take over, but the guys on the trip were feeling sicker than I was and were in far worse condition than I was so I had to ride. It was not easy, the bikes were hard to power in higher altitudes because there was less oxygen to help the fuel burn.
“We were riding 60km/h at most. The segment at Baralacha La was the most challenging road I’ve ridden on. Some parts of the surface had been washed away and besides riding on gravel and mud for miles, we had to cross a fresh rockfall and several water crossings in rain and snow.”
“Sarchu sits at an altitude of 4290m on the boundary between Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh, it used to be a main stop along the Silk Route for traders and where we spent the night in rented accommodation. Only camps were available, and as we were there off-season, we practically had the whole place to ourselves.”
“It was freezing. We were given hot water bottles to keep ourselves warm, also a basin of hot water to wash with. It was freezing, I was cold and chose to sleep in my biking gear. I felt the dead weight and fatigued due to AMS. At this point most of the men were down with AMS, some worse than others. My son was feeling unwell and while travelling up the local agent gave him some oxygen. I can’t help but think about how we were still 250km from Leh.”