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Why do this? Why here?

Why on two wheels?

Sopan Joshi finds kindred spirits in his quest for adventure on the Himalayan Odyssey.
Photos by Ketan Kundargi.

I asked several riders on the 13th edition of the Royal Enfield Himalayan Odyssey. Some looked like they’d sooner hit the road than answer. Others were a little more willing to let a stranger inside their mind. My favourite response came from Ritesh Mehra, a captain in the merchant navy. It went something like this: ‘In our line of work, everything is about safety, about checklists, about keeping things predictable. Day in, day out. We even have manuals on how to climb up and down a flight of stairs safely. There is no margin for any kind of risk, safety is paramount. That is how the world of shipping works, more so in the oil and gas sector.

On water, Captain Mehra – or Kaptaan, as I began calling him – is a model of the straight and narrow; his body built like a bulwark, he is a picture of reliability. When the returns to land, however, he transforms into Captain Haddock, looking for all variety of Tintins to accompany him on an adventure. A bottle of rum in hand (and three tucked away in bags), Kaptaan goes hunting for excitement, for an adrenaline rush, for something unpractised, unpredictable, for some risk. No care, only life. He became the ideal foil for my crazily unpredictable life (and the resulting desire for routine). Halfway through the Himalayan Odyssey, Kaptaan and I started sharing rooms. I am no Tintin, but a reporter I am.

My first Odyssey was ten years ago, in 2005. (Journalists on assignment are allowed back on a ride that is otherwise a once-in-a-lifetime affair; it is meant to initiate new people to adventure riding). Yet the 44 participants in 2005 were all accomplished riders; I had noticed because I was a rookie in that bunch. I picked up riding tips and tricks that have stood me in good stead for a decade ,then, adventure riding was too small to be called even a sub-culture. Admission was reserved for the hardcore. Now, with incomes rising for a section of India’s population and leisure becoming more accessible, the demand for adventure riding has soared. Social media makes it easy for people to connect with the like-minded. Adventure riding is already getting too big to be called a sub-culture. With a broader base, come the usual complaints of a sell-out from those who see themselves as the hardcore. Recently, I’ve heard some friends complain that the Delhi Leh stretch has become part of the rigmarole, a consumer product for not-so-serious riders looking for a cheat-code to motorcycling cool.

Day 3

On the third day of the Odyssey, as we inched towards Kalpa, HP, after a gruelling day’s ride over bad roads and through uncooperative weather, I was wishing the doubters had come along. For two days, it had rained almost incessantly; from the flagoff in Delhi to Parwanoo and then Narkanda, we were harvesting the fruits of the monsoon on our riding gear.

The third day we turned Northwest into the Sutlej river valley. This is when the smooth roads running through densely forested slopes gave way to unpaved surfaces through the sparse trans-Himalayan landscape. But the rains did not leave us. The slush on Kuchha roads was punishing, the jumping motorcycle was exaggerating the backslap from the seat. Each bump, each ragged patch, each slushy section increased the pain and the fatigue. The only inspiration lay in the Sutlej river, frothing with monsoonal bounty, laden with thick brown silt washed off the mountains. The water brought down large rocks; chunks of the Himalayas were slipping off the slopes. The region rose from under the Tethys sea after the Indian plate collided with Asia, 55 million years ago. Eventually, over millions of years, the rivers will wash back down to the seas these tall and erect mountains.??? The geological contest was right there to see: movement and liquidity conquering stasis and geological heft, drop by eroding drop, inch by gravitational inch.

“The water roared downstream in an angry melody; our motorcycles crawled upstream, the silencers throbbing with the characteristic thump, keeping rhythmic time for the river’s hurtling notes. When the valley widened, the melody section faded to the background. In narrow stretches, it heightened into a numbing fortissimo. The motorcycles just kept thumping in the manner of a competent drummer oblivious to the caprices of a moody lead guitarist.”

Hypnotised by this concert, my mind was forbidding the body from surrendering to its crying need for comfort. I was riding ahead of the group with someone I had not met before this point: Balasubramaniam of Chennai. Over short breaks for beverage and butt-rest, we got acquainted. We mumbled to each other how we felt, how we were negotiating the contest between body and mind in this grand theatre. It was futile. The drama overwhelmed our articulation.

We made it to Kalpa by 5 PM and rode up to the Hotel Kinnar Villa, a 15-minute ride above the town. The first ones in, we got adjoining rooms overlooking the valley. The sound show had ended, the light show had now begun. Fading sunlight decorated the massif of Kinnar-Kailash – a vertical stage lit up by professional lighting designer. A rainbow straddled the valley, a polychromatic bridge made of pure pneuma.

Bala and I stood transfixed—he brought out his camera, I stood in paralysed delight. Such views can have a direct bearing on the respiratory system. I sensed my breath easing, stretching, becoming longer and longer and longer. Each inhalation carried inside the light, taking it deeper and deeper inside the body. Each exhalation expelled the day’s weariness.

No wonder they’ve been coming to these parts for transcendental meditation over centuries. And here was I, accessing in three days of riding what took months, years to experience in the past. How’s that for a bargain: a motorcycle transformed into a spiritual guru, guiding the adventurous disciple/rider to an advanced state of sensory perception.

The rainbow and the lit-up massif resisted the dark a little past sunset, as the others rode in. I had forgotten to tank up for fuel, so I had to go down to the town – we were scheduled to leave early in the morning, before the fuel station would open. I rode down with the only woman rider in the group, Bhavana (apart from Sarah from Royal Enfield).

We introduced ourselves. She is from Rajasthan’s Shekhawati region, actually from a town very close to the village of my maternal ancestry, a region known for its conservatism. Yet here she was, on the Himalayan Odyssey, having learned how to ride a motorcycle weeks before setting off, without any friend or acquaintance for company. I couldn’t resist saluting her courage. Back in the hotel, several of us settled into Bala’s room, kicking back, minds lubricated by assorted beverages, stories rolling along. Unlike me, most of the riders were accompanied by their friends, which makes for banter and entertainment. I was accepted instantly in a matter of minutes, from being among complete strangers, I had acquired connectedness across cities and generations. The next morning, faces were familiar, there were narratives to associate with faces. Sheriyar of Mumbai, or Sherubhai, always had a wisecrack at hand with impeccable timing and an understated tonal arc. Conrad always had a naughty comeback line. Venkat could reproduce a Rajnikanth gesture at will. Ritesh always had a bottle at hand. Riding styles were also recognisable now. I’ve ridden solo for years because I am picky about whom I ride with; I sometimes end up riding non-stop for hours, enjoying the random conversations that stream inside the head during a ride. I don’t like to stop every so often for a picture or a selfie. The experience means more to me than its recall value. It is not easy to find riding buddies with a similar attitude to riding, or people who I like enough that I’m ready to change my plans for them. Here, I had found both.

Minor breakdowns the next day ensured I was the last rider. By the afternoon I reached Khab, the confluence of the Sutlej and the Spiti river. If you keep trudging up the Sutlej valley, the border with China is not too far. But the road does not go that way – not for civilians anyway. A bridge across the Sutlej connects to a road on the north bank of the Spiti river. A confluence of rivers is always sacred in India. Here, too, numerous prayer flags had been tied to the bridge. Above the Sutlej, high above the road on the east of the valley, is a cave. A wise man had told me a monk had performed his penance in the cave and died there. A villager came by, minding his donkeys. I asked him about the legend, but he shrugged his ignorance. ‘Spiti’ actually means the middle land, what lies between the Tibetan plateau and the Indian plate. As we rode up the Spiti valley, everything began to change dramatically – the landscape, the people, the attire, the language – and the lips began to go dry as the effects of high altitude kicked in. Each corner along a demure slope and over a steep ascent, is a step closer to the plateau. The transformation is as much geographical as it is psychological.

“I promised myself to return to Tabo with time on hand – on a motorcycle. There were other locations along the way that require a different mindset to relish them; I know I want half a day just at Khab, watching the thundering fusion of the Sutlej and the Spiti. This was just an introduction. ”

As the views change, so does the perception. The references used in conversations get bigger and bigger in scale, in time. This does not happen to everyone, but I did notice this among some riders – and not just on this journey either. Everyday lives in cities have little room for the grand. When faced with something as epic as the world’s highest plateau with its dramatic views – and rarefied air – relaxation is not an uncommon consequence. Even when the body is tiring from riding on rough roads, feeling the effects of dehydration that is inevitable in a cold, high-altitude desert. I had forgotten to carry water. This meant I was at the mercy of fellow riders. Vulnerability has long been the grease of sociability. One gets to know people faster when one needs their help.

As the sun set, we hurried past the village of Tabo towards Kaza, where food and a rest day awaited us (to help acclimatise to the altitude). This is when we met riders of our group coming back – a landslide had blocked the road ahead. It had been raining hard even in the desert.

My body was already tired after the day’s riding; now the mind lost heart. I turned around and headed to Tabo along with the others. The village was overwhelmed with stranded travellers; hotels and guest houses were full. Only late at night did all of us find accommodation.

The night was cool and some of us went for a walk. The stars looked impressively numerous in the thin, clean air. Tabo also stretches one’s imagination of time – its monastery, established 1,019 years ago, is the oldest continuously functioning Buddhist sanctuary of India.

After a splendid morning dawned, I visited the monastery. The walls are covered with frescoes and murals, the structure itself a beautiful example of Ladakhi architecture (even if a part of it was rebuilt after an earthquake in 1975). The landslide had brought us to a treasure we may have otherwise ridden past in a cloud of dust.

I promised myself to return to Tabo with time on hand – on a motorcycle. There were other locations along the way that require a different mindset to relish them; I know I want half a day just at Khab, watching the thundering fusion of the Sutlej and the Spiti. This was just an introduction.

“In his youth, Gogul’s father did not have the Rs 8,000 that an Enfield motorcycle cost back then. He wanted his son to experience what he had missed out on. “You can say I’m living my father’s dream here,”

Day 5

The army had cleared the landslide early in the morning. A short ride took us to Kaza. There, Gogul Dass from Chennai – he insisted it is Gogul and not Gokul – recounted his induction in the Royal Enfield tribe. When he joined college, he needed a motorcycle. The waiting period for an RE was three months, so he wanted to go to another company. His father stopped him. In his youth, Gogul’s father did not have the Rs 8,000 that an Enfield motorcycle cost back then. He wanted his son to experience what he had missed out on. So Gogul waited three months. “You can say I’m living my father’s dream here,” he told me A motorcycle can mean different things to different people.

A motorcycle can mean different things to different people. For Bhavana, it is a means of escaping the debilitating pressures of patriarchy. Mobility is power, a power not readily available to women. Having obtained her driving licence at 18, she began riding a gearless scooter in Sriganganagar. For college, she moved to Chandigarh, from where she had to travel to Delhi frequently. She found herself at the mercy of public transport, which can be a harrowing experience for women in India, or dependant on acquaintances who would give her a ride. Her father taught her how to drive, and she soon became a roving cinematographer, covering adventure sports and rallies.

Why motorcycles, though? She said a rider friend introduced her to the joys of adventure riding. She noticed that riders get signs of appreciation and encouragement – the ubiquitous thumbs-up – from all kinds of people. It doesn’t come to drivers of cars, secure behind their windscreen, strapped with a seatbelt. "On a motorcycle, it doesn’t matter whether I’m a man or a woman", she said. "Women need male heroes all their lives – from father to brother to husband to son. I want to be my own hero."

Earlier that day, at the hotel, we had caught the buzz that the monastery at Key was hosting an annual festival. Several of us hired taxis – it wasn’t easy because the transporters had called a strike on that day – and travelled 12 km north of Kaza to Key. I had never seen a Buddhist festival – pop culture depicts Buddhism in images of meditation, self-examination, an inward view. The carnival at Key was a study in contrast. The costumes, the crowds, the enthusiasm, the dances (to celebrate the auspicious and to ward off misfortune), the buzz was overwhelming.

Folk had come from faraway villages; they knew the drills. But the festivities never got tasteless; nary a crude gesture or sound to give the impression of a mob, even though hundreds were gathered in a monastery and its compound. I haven’t felt this in a festival in a very long time. No wonder one of our younger riders was enchanted with a young woman from a neighbouring village; she seemed charmed by him, too. He took the key to a fellow rider’s bike and hung around till late, although all he got out of her was her phone number. (Another unfinished matter, beckoning a revisit.) He arrived back at the hotel in Kaza to much badgering that continued till late at night.

We left Kaza the next morning, all glorious sunshine, smooth roads and views that caused innumerable photographs to get clicked. In the distance, across the Spiti river, was a wide-angle view of the Key monastery; it looked even more impressive than on the previous day. There were twisty roads – I managed to break my already damaged silencer during a low right corner; I took it off and loaded it in the service truck. For the remainder of the ride, my motorcycle sounded like a two-wheeled tractor on steroids.

Soon, the going got really tough. We were riding on a surface that needed a significant broadening of the definition of ‘road’; it was, more accurately, an obstacle course. Just ruts in the midst of loose rock, beaten into something of a path by the army. The motorcycles jumped through them, sometimes in a pogo-stick motion straight out of animated cartoons. Each jolt caused an impact in the seat of the pants. The after-effects travelled up the spinal column all the way to the brain, causing the brain to release all those hormones it releases during stress, as also those of pleasure.

A couple of water crossings turned difficult, but everyone negotiated them – those who needed help got it from the riders who stood in the middle of the stream, getting their legs wet in the cold, cold water. The gushing water makes it difficult to judge the size of the rocks underneath. If you go too slow, you are bound to lose momentum and fall down, for it is not easy to paddle or keep a grip in the water. So you have to keep a steady throttle and not press the clutch lever or the brake pedal too readily.

As any rider will tell you, this is easier said than done. The human mind has an instinct for self preservation, and that produces convulsions that result in random pressing of clutch and brake, or dropping the throttle, because the sub-conscious does not allow the right hand to listen to reason. If you go too fast, however, you can suddenly hit either a big hole or a sudden bump; either eventuality portends loss of control. The rear wheel can spin out due to excess power, losing grip.

It is crucial to maintain a grip inside the head. Some of the newer riders were losing it. They had help from the more experienced ones. Our legs and riding boots were now wet, but the spirits were high. Bhavana let out a shriek of victory and pumped her fists after her first successful water crossing.

This is when I realised that the two couples accompanying us – this is the first Odyssey on which pillion riders were welcomed – were actually managing quite well. While it had something to do with both the riders exercising skill and care, a bigger chunk of the credit went to their consorts and their fitness. Later, I was to get to know Santhosh and Satya from Chennai, and Kunal and Rashmeet from Delhi.

At the picturesque town of Losar (note: needs revisiting) we took a bridge over the Spiti river and crossed over to its south bank. Now, we were to leave the Spiti valley and head Westward, climbing to the first pass on our route: Kunzum La. At 4,590 metres, this is where altitude begins to get real. A 9-km trek from this road leads to the camping haven called Chandratal (note: future trip).

The ride up to Kumzum La goes through high-altitude pastures. Gaddi pastoralists can be seen harvesting the summer bounty by grazing their animals. Bright yellow flowers set against snow and ice in the backdrop. The transition from the road along the Spiti valley to Kunzum La shows why this region holds such attraction, not just for the hardcore adventurers but to every human heart. The dreamy heights in the distance slowly become the spot where one stands to survey mountains in the distance. Not all dreams are so attainable.

I was the second to get there. Atop the pass is a stupa. Truck drivers ritually do a parikrama round the stupa. I took my time here, sitting among the yellow flowers, close to the snow, witnessing life’s seasonal victory against the winter. This stretch of road does not open till late in the summer. The snow melt corrodes the efforts of road engineers each year, which is why this road does not open till much later than other roads in the region. This year’s Odyssey had been delayed a month to August, instead of July, so that we could go through here.

I hung around till many a rider had done his parikrama and gone ahead. After the descent, on the road running along the Chandra river – it becomes the Chenab after meeting other rivers downstream – we hit a rough water crossing. Rain and melt from snow had combined to swell the mountain streams. The water was above knee level; the underlying rocks were invisible and difficult to assess. One or two riders took a tumble in the water here. Riders got off their motorcycles and formed chains on either side to pull motorcyles, as some were losing all traction in the water.

Then there was the fear of water travelling to the engine, especially for those of us who had managed to destroy our silencers. I went through the first stretch steadily, but the bike jumped upon hitting a rock. I wasn’t worried about anything as much as keeping the engine running, having exhaust fumes keep out the water from the engine. I also lent a hand to pull some bikes, just as mine had been pulled by others.

Now, our feet were properly soaked and cold. Some people pulled off their shoes and socks to dry them. It was useless, because some way ahead, we hit an overflowing stream that had turned a section of the road – sloping down towards us – into a ferocious rivulet. Villagers from the area said they had never seen so much water in that stream. From the low end, looking up, I saw a truck and a Tata Sumo stuck in the water – their high clearance not carrying them over the stream.

The water was as cold as it was fast. Some people were attempting to ride up their motorcycles, but they needed others to pull them up. It was taking more than 20 minutes to get one bike across, with about five people required to pull each bike across the tricky section. After getting over initial hesitation, all of us got into the water. The effort to stay afoot was exhausting at that altitude. In that state, we had to pull heavy motorcycles up the slope, against a torrent of water. We were tired, gasping for air, cold, wet, and driven by nothing more than desperation and camaraderie.

This is when I became friendly with a group of riders from Chennai. While several people put in extraordinary efforts to help riders’ get their motorcycles across, two tall men from Chennai stood out. Prashant and Gogul, engineers both, worked out a way to get the bikes across from a side-track; it was more technical, but the water flow was not so bad there. Their heroics, combined with Venkat’s Rajnikanth antics, led me to christen them the ‘Thalaiva Gang’; social media tells me the title is still in use in Chennai.

By the time we got all the bikes across, it was dark and getting cold. We were all exhausted from the exertions and Jispa was more than 100 km away. A dozen or so managed to get tented accommodation at a resort 20 minutes away. The rest of us had no option but to spend the night in three dhabas further ahead, near a village called Chhatru.

On the way, it rained. Upon reaching, we removed our soaked gear and tucked into whatever clothing we had remembered to keep in the satellite bags on the bikes – the trucks with the luggage could not make it across the dreaded stream. Many a heart sank at the state of the accommodation. But we found food, drink and blankets at the dhaba, and squeezed into tight spaces in the manner of refugees. A memorable day had turned into a memorable night. I was grateful for Kaptaan’s alacrity with bottles of rum. That day and that night, I made friends with whom I will ride for many years to come.

The morning was even more memorable. The dhabas offered no toilets of any sort. We walked across the bridge on the Chandra and found suitable spots behind large boulders and other natural screening material, like ditches. This was a new kind of freedom for some; at this altitude, Bharat is always Swachh. We wanted adventure, and this was more than our money’s worth. After breakfast, we got into our wet riding gear – it was by now the most painful daily ritual, for wet gear in the cold is the stuff torture manuals are made of – and set off for Jispa.

We were a day behind schedule, and had not had a rest day. Despair was building up. So we partied till late at night to celebrate two birthdays. There was ample singing and drinking and merriment. Mustafa’s ability to hold a tune in his whistle was discovered. The fellow who had had the accident between Tabo and Kaza turned out to be Praveen, an army officer who had taken early retirement. His arm tied up in a sling, he still had the strength – and heart – to lend a hand to pull bikes out of the watery nightmare.

There were little groups all over – riders prefer to embark on such adventures along with friends. The two who really impressed me were BRR and Niraj, both around 50 years old, neither of whom had ever set out on a long motorcycle ride before this. They’d been riding right behind the group, exercising extreme caution on every corner. What brought them there, I asked. Turned out BRR was a competitive horse-rider in his youth. Niraj always wanted to be out on a motorcycle, he said with an understate smile and a sense of accomplishment.

Responsibilities of jobs and families meant they had not the occasion to indulge their fancy. BRR spoke of noticing foreigners exploring India and asking himself, ‘Why don’t more Indians explore the wonders of their country?’ The two of them summoned the courage of youth and signed up. They were smiling like young men. (Can we hypothesise, then, that a motorcycle is possibly a ‘time machine’, capable of turning back time?)

Why to Ladakh, I asked. The answer was somewhat similar from all riders, and often a rhetorical question: Which other place is so out of the world? The stories of learning of Ladakh vary a lot, however. Some read magazine articles, some had seen pictures of riders on social media, some saw brochures and posters at Royal Enfield dealerships. Images of this landscape have a strange suggestive power, an epic scale, the possibility of worlds beyond.

The next morning we decided to make it even more difficult for ourselves. Instead of stopping at Sarchu, as per schedule, we decided to go all the way across to Rumptse – a distance of more than 260 km, over four high-altitude passes: Baralacha La, Naki La, Lachung La, and Tanglang La. Old-timers said this was foolhardy, especially because several riders in this group of 57 were novices. Our past three days had given us both confidence and fear. We split ourselves into four groups and made a dash for it.

More water crossings, more passes, more rain, more bad roads. By the time we descended the third pass of the day – Lachung La at 5,065 metres altitude – it was 4pm. Rain had begun to beat hard. The roads were some of the worst (discounting the water crossings), with slush over rocky surface. The punishment was getting too much for me; I was fast losing heart.

If I kept going, it was down to three Nihang Sikh men I had met between Naki La and Lachung La. They were on bicycles. I asked them what brought them there. Their leader, a greying savant from Ludhiana, said this was best way to experience the magic of the One True Maker up in the skies. This was his third journey through here. He asked me to keep an eye on the right up ahead, to notice mountainsides carved into breathtaking shapes by wind erosion. “Look hard. You will see the Red Fort there,” he told me. When my back began to hurt unbearably, I reminded myself of the instructions from the old man on the bicycle. It carried me to Pang, where we took a break at roadside dhabas.

The group was conflicted. Should we continue? Or just break the journey there? We got out of our wet gear, then got back into it, and then got out of it again. The road beyond was looking invisible under ominous dark clouds. This became our second night in a dhaba, with only the clothes from our satellite bags. A few riders had actually gone ahead, stopping at dhabas before Tanglang La. Two riders actually made it to Rumptse, with stories of encountering heavenly snowfall atop the pass.

We hit Rumptse the next morning. Our plan to make up for the lost day and head to Hunder in Nubra Valley was now cancelled. It rained and rained and rained. So we stayed inside the tents and left for Leh the next morning. The next day was the ride up to Khardung La, the most important item on every motorcycling bucket list: a picture on the world’s highest motorable pass.

Shailendra from Noida, UP, had talked incessantly about making it to Khardung La all along. Back home, his baby son was unwell; he anxiously called home over and over, enquiring about the fever and the timeliness of medication. His motorcycle has a tricky problem, partly due to his own lack of mechanical interest – he’d made it worse. Then there was the effort and pain required to keep going.

"Pain is temporary. Quitting is permanent", he had reiterated loudly, over and over, like an article of faith. The Khardung La ascent proved too much for his motorcycle; it was sputtering, losing power. I was riding next to him. I did not want to risk an evening of his overwhelming disappointment. I gave him my wheels and waited at Pullu point, getting his motorcycle repaired by wizardry of Sunil, the young and talented mechanic accompanying us in the support truck. To me, it was never about the destination or the Khardung La photo-op; I was there for the journey and the company.

Heavy rains, landslides, swelling rivers and a transporters’ strike kept us in Leh for three days. Some hired a taxi to go to Pangong Tso, got stuck there behind landslides, and had to be rescued by the army. I stayed in Leh, kicking back, hanging around with the Delhi gang. They came from a locality and culture that had fascinated me, although I’d never had the chance to be a part of it. Here was the chance to blend in. It is from this gang that I heard a charming motorcycle story that came out, hesitatingly, from Sourabh and Yogin.

They had grown up together in a Delhi locality known for an automobile market, where motorcycle customisation were de rigueur. At age 18, Sourabh got a fast motorcycle and had a bad crash. After that, both were forbidden from motorcycles by families concerned for their safety. Only in their early 30s, after they had acquired their own families and successful careers, did their folks relent. The childhood friends went and booked a Thunderbird 500 each, together.

Sourabh said this was the first time they had taken off together for a long ride, a dream from their teens. “When we left India Gate in Delhi (on July 11th), I was constantly looking at Yogin and nodding. It was raining heavily outside. Inside the helmet, I was crying tears of joy.” Yogin, a quiet giant who made the Thunderbird look like a toy bicycle under him, nodded in agreement.

After three days, 23 of us headed back. Another round of adventures, soakings in heavy showers, tyre punctures, parties. On the descent from Lachung La, while negotiating the groovy corners of Gata Loops, we stopped at a quaint shrine, littered with water bottles. I learned of the legend of a driver’s assistant who died there. After the truck had broken down, the driver hitched a ride to get help. But the weather turned nasty, an early winter set in, the road had to be closed. The assistant was trapped in the truck and died in the severe winter. A legend was born.

Truck drivers began to report supernatural sensations at that spot. The ultimate outliers, truckers have their supersititions. It became a custom to stop there and offer water and prayers. I stopped there, too, and bowed. The legend may or may not have emerged from a real story. But it had a greater message. A message of humility and passage in this the most challenging of terrains.

Humility was not a difficult message after what I had witnessed over the past few days. Standing there, watching people offer bottles of water and pray for good luck, I again thought of people who had said the Himalayan Odyssey is now a predictable affair. I offered an imaginary bottle of water for returning with the body intact, the mind enriched.

Since the completion of the 2015 Odyssey, I’ve stayed in touch with some of the people I met there. After months, they are still posting pictures of the ride on social media. These memories are not going to fade in a hurry. Other people leave wistful comments on their pictures. The cycle just keeps repeating, the circle just keep growing.

I’ve started going out on weekend rides with the new friends I’ve made. Successful professionals and businessmen, with full lives, families, creature comforts. And yet they crave to get out on a motorcycle, to experience the outdoors, to get a taste of the epic, an escape from time measured in balance sheets and political elections contested over the price of onions.

The term "odyssey" comes from the legendary Greek king Odysseus, as famous for his idea of the Trojan Horse as he is for his eponymous journey after the war in Troy. In our time, a Trojan Horse has come to mean a malicious bit of computer software code. But an Odyssey still means what it meant in classical Greece. A once-in-a-lifetime, epic journey.

For such an expedition, motorcycles constitute a fair trade for horses and ships. A means of epic transport.

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