Riders from Coimbatore recount their first ever expedition to Umling La

A team of riders from the city led by 63-year-old Raj Kishore is just back after his first ride to Umling La, the highest motorable pass in the world

A team of riders from the city led by 63-year-old Raj Kishore is just back after his first ride to Umling La, the highest motorable pass in the world

“Isolated, miserably cold, windy… but amazing views. That is Umling La,” describes 63-year-old Raj Kishore about the highest motorable pass in the world, adding that he and his team could not stay there beyond 10 minutes because oxygen levels began to drop. Raj Kishore is part of the HOG (Harley Owners’ group), and has been a Harley Davidson rider since 2012. Having undergone three bypass surgeries, he took on the ride of a lifetime to Umling La, located at an altitude of 19,024 feet above mean sea level, to enjoy the beautiful views of the Leh landscape.

“We have been riding to Goa, Delhi, Hyderabad, and across Kerala. We often hear from fellow riders about the beautiful Leh rides. My health condition never stopped me from doing bungee jumping or river rafting in Goa, so I thought why not a Leh ride? I just ensured that I took my medications and maintained a healthy lifestyle. We took all the necessary precautions and first conquered the mighty Khardung La located at 17,982 feet above mean sea level. The ride was all about conquering fear; being young or old didn’t matter as my team members were aged between 36 and 50.”

While traversing some of the roughest terrains, highest mountain passes, and empty stretches of landscape, Raj Kishore along with his team of riders — Senthil Sankaran, William Fan, Jaspal Singh Sokhi, and Karthik Vijay — from the Food and Biking Clan (FAB Clan ) also propagated the concept of a sustainable motorcycle journey. “As Harley bikes are not suited for high altitude terrain, we used Royal Enfield Himalayan bikes,” says William Fan, who is 50. “This is our first ride to Leh. Although we have done rides along hair pin bends to Udhagamandalam, Leh was challenging. There was no green cover at all, but the mountains sported as many as 10 to 15 dazzling colors.”

“Ladakh and Leh are all about colorful mountains and pristine streams,” says Raj Kishore adding that some mountains were covered in fluffy white clouds. “For those of us used to the blue hills of the Nilgiris, it was a visual treat to see purple mountains. Sometimes, deserts come into view out of nowhere. We blindly followed the lead rider, as mostly there were no roads.”

The team Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

After a two-day acclimatisation, the expedition took off covering the Nubra Valley that separates the mountain ranges of Karakoram and Ladakh. “The Shyok River that flows through Nubra is turquoise,” adds Raj. They rode till Khardung La, which was until recently, considered the highest motorable pass at 17,500 feet above mean sea level with oxygen levels at almost 50% than in the plains, Turtuk, and Thang, the last village on the PoK border, before touching Pangong Lake, Hanle, and the Umling La.

“The roads (or the lack of them) were treacherous with sudden snowfalls. There were snow and ice laden stretches, rock strewn trails, roads with foot-deep soft mud, and no roads!,” says William about their ride that covered stretches through wilderness, and low oxygen levels that left them gasping for breath. He adds, “As we touched Umling La, we realized that it was an epic motorcycle ride. It took our breath away.”

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