Our Himalayan Foothills tour is designed to offer some of the best riding and natural beauty on offer, without breaking the bank or taking riders into the extreme environments that characterise our Ladakh and Spiti Valley tours. Travelling the minor back-roads of Himachal Pradesh’s hill country, we will take in stunning views, experience rural life in the mountains and visit cultural and historic sites, both Indian in orgin and leftovers of the British Raj. These include the Dali Lama’s home town of Dharmasla, the Raj’s summer capital at Shimla and Manali, gateway to the High Himalaya – and all this fascination and beauty is linked by twisty roads all the way!
ABOUT THE HIMALAYAN FOOTHILLS
All the riding on this tour takes place in the North Indian state of Himachal Pradesh (HP), which, covering 21,500 square-miles, consists almost entirely of high mountains and their foothills. HP is one of India’s wealthiest states, gleaning its income from agriculture, tourism and hydroelectric power. Local handicrafts also add to the economy, with woollen shawls and other textiles being the most commonly seen.
This state is also among the best for both state and private education facilities and challenges Kerala to have India’s highest literacy rate. Perhaps the fact that although still prevalent, corruption in HP is generally at lesser levels than other parts, helps in this regard.
The 95 per cent Hindu occupants of HP have a life expectancy higher than the Indian average, a lower birth rate and, also thanks to the steepness and altitude of the terrain, population density is lower. Around eight million Himachalis speak some 20 major languages. Among the other religions in Himachal, Tibetan Buddhism is among the most noticeable and although HP has its endemic Buddhists, many of these communities are refugees from Chinese-infested Tibet. The Tibetan Government-in-Exile and Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, reside in the state at McLoud Ganj.
During our tours we have found the people of HP to be among the most welcoming (it’s part of the reason we have chosen to make our home here). This may be due to the fact that these hills are a cultural crossroads and outsiders, both traders and those of a more martial bent, have travelled through these hills for millennia. Various parts of what is now Himachal have been under the control of dozens of invaders, the incursions recorded all the way back to the time of the Indus Valley civilisation (around 2000BC). Timur, Alexander the Great and many great Mughal warriors have all marched here. The state capital, Shimla was (in the late-seventeen-hundreds/early eighteen-hundreds) in the hands of the Gurkhas, who had spread their power all the way from central Nepal. They were, however, defeated at Kangra Fort – which we will see on tour – and their power started to wane. With the onset of the first Anglo-Sikh War in 1846, the British managed to expel the Gurkhas.
Following the end of colonial rule, much of modern southern Himachal Pradesh was part of the Punjab, with Himachal Pradesh being not a state, but a province. Over the years boundaries were re-drawn until in 1971 the State of Himachal Pradesh Act was passed by parliament and HP became India’s 18th state.
Although mainly mountainous (average elevation 2319m), HP is also geographically diverse. It ranges from as low as some 350m above sea-level, to nearly 7000m above. To the heavily-forested south and west, the state is greatly influenced by the monsoons, but to the east, where the state borders the Tibetan Plateau in the Spiti Valley region, are high-altitude deserts. The average summer temperature in HP is 32ºC; in winter 7ºC.
In ten wordsHimalayan culture, cuisine, via twisty super-scenic roads. Top value.
Riding LevelTight and twisty all-tarmac riding requires concentration and nerve, but no super skills. Some endurance needed on a couple of full riding days. Tarmac 99%; Dirt 1%
Pillion RatingCan be potholed and bumpy in places, but otherwise a nice two-up tour.
Accommodation & MealsThe accommodation is a mixed bag, due to what's available, but is always decent and in great venues. The food, if you like real Indian grub, is one of the tour's highlights. Included meals: all breakfasts. Otherwise food is extremely inexpensive.
Day 1 AND 2: Fly to Delhi and on to Shimla
Fly overnight to land at Delhi airport in the wee hours. From there you will be escorted aboard an air-conditioned train, which will carry you to Kalka, where the plains meet the mountains. At Kalka you will transfer from the mainline onto the historic ‘toy train’ (made famous by Michael Palin’s BBC Himalaya series) up to Shimla at an altitude of 2159m. This railway, completed in 1897, packs 103 tunnels, 24 bridges and 18 stations into 96km and is a spectacular feat of colonial engineering. Small steam trains have now given way to diesel engines, but the rolling stock still reeks of antiquity and the experience is of another age.
Day 3: In Shimla
A day to explore the British Raj’s biggest, oldest and most prominent hill-station, to which the majority of the Delhi administration was moved every summer to escape the stifling heat of the Gangetic plain. Walk The Mall, picking out the historic sights still remaining in this busy Indian tourist town, visit Hindu temples, shop, or simply enjoy eating at the many (and very good) restaurants. Views from the higher vantage points of the town should stretch all the way to the mighty snow-capped peaks of the Great Himalaya. In the evening, before dinner, you will be given a full briefing on the adventure ahead.
Day 4: Shimla to Mandi
A full day’s ride will carry us into the hills of rural Himachal Pradesh and, as with every day of this tour, the views will be simply amazing as we wind our way into the mountains. We will pass through the sacred hot-spring town of Tattapani and travel on into the back of beyond. As with nearly all of this tour there is barely a straight piece of road and the riding is sublime. Our destination, Mandi (870m), is a thriving market town on the banks of the holy Beas River. Our accommodation, a characterful heritage hotel, will be found in what was once the local ruler’s palace.
Day 5: Mandi to McLEod Ganj
From Mandi we head east – and up – along a sweeping highway. Following this blissful road, the huge hills of the Dhauladhar Range soon come into view, looming ahead of us. Turning off the highway we climb steeply, passing through Dharamsala and up to our hotel, set by a small village on a spectacular valley-side a few kilometres above McLeod Ganj.
Day 6: In McLeod Ganj
Options for the day include a visit to McLeod Ganj, a town now famous as home to the exiled Dalai Lama and a huge Tibetan community, including the Tibetan government-in-exile. The town is very cosmopolitan, colourful, packed with shops and eateries and is a wonderful opportunity for photographers. There are also a few colonial relics to explore, including the St John in the Wilderness Church. If you prefer something more strenuous, local treks of various durations and severity can be arranged with known local guides.
Day 7: McLEod Ganj to Chamba
Today we leave McLeod Ganj and head over remote hills to Chamba. This is an incredible road and an incredible ride as the tarmac ribbons its way steeply upward, with huge drop-offs and vast panoramic views. Although the distance to be covered is relatively small, the twistiness of the road means this is a whole day’s ride, with time to take a few cups of chai and stops to admire the scenery.
Day 8: Chamba to Khajjiar
We will have the morning to to explore the back-streets and inportant temples of this thriving market town. From Chamba it is only a short, but very pretty ride to the mountain village of Khajjiar. Set beside a tree-fringed meadow, Khajjiar is famous for its holy lake, temples and beauty. We will be staying a little way outside the village itself, as there is no adequate accommodation, but will have time to explore.
Day 9: Khajjiar to DharAMsala
Again we are in the hills, following small, quiet roads that carve unfeasibly – and sometimes unnervingly – across the steep hillsides. We will pass through deodar forests and many charming villages with their traditional (and fast-vanishing) wooden houses. On reaching Dharamsala we’ll relax at a terrace restaurant and look miles down to the plains as the sun sets.
Day 10: DharAMsala to Rewalsar
From Dharamsala it’s back down to the Kangra valley floor at just 615m above sea level. We will pass through Kangra Gorge, where we have views across to Kangra Fort and continue until we hit our steep hill road up to Rewalsar. This small mountain town is sacred to Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs and colourful tribespeople can be seen circling the lake, chanting prayers. Overlooking the lake are huge statues of Buddha, monasteries and temples. It is quite a spot.
Day 11: Rewalsar to Manali
Another day riding in the hills on lesser routes, we head down from Rewalsar and re-cross Mandi, before again climbing on a beautiful minor road and riding through lush mixed forest. We descend to the main Manali highway (not main in western terms – more like an A/B road) and ride up the twisting left bank of the River Beas to Manali and a little beyond, where we will stay in a village.
Day 12: In Manali
Manali is the gateway to the high Himalaya, pinned in on three sides by massive mountains and the point from which adventures to Ladakh and beyond begin. It is also a thriving tourist hub catering to Indian honeymooners, trekkers, skiers and mountaineers. In the busy markets you will find goods from China, Tibet and Kashmir, flaunted alongside more local specialities such as shawls and pashminas. Good restaurants abound, whether you’re looking for Indian, Tibetan, or western fare. There are several interesting temples in the area, hot springs and the option of trekking, or taking part in other adventure activities.
Day 13: Manali to Chindi
An early start for a long and very, very curvaceous ride. Leaving Manali, we will follow the open road on the right bank of the Beas, through busy villages, skirting the district capital, Kullu. Soon the route breaks into a huge canyon with the road carved into the cliff-face, with small shrines and waterfalls littering the splendid scenery. Around 80km into the ride we quit the highway and hit the rural roads again, climbing several forested passes of around 2400m metres elevation. Again, as with every riding day, the scenery is immensely beautiful. We end the day at a hill-top hotel, set in pine forest, with wonderful vistas all around.
Day 14: Chindi to Chail
A lesser day in terms of distance, but we will nonetheless set off early-ish to give time at the other end. More mountains, forest and sublime roads await as we climb the hills from Chindi over to the magnificent Sutlej Valley, where we follow the road (one of the best riding roads in existence) up to Narkanda. On a good day the views from here stretch all the way to the Great Himalayan National Park. A short way off the Shimla-Narkanda highway is Chail, another old Himalayan kingdom. Here we will stay in the old palace, set in wonderful wooded grounds, now converted into an hotel.
Day 15: Chail to Delhi to home
From the palace hotel at Chail you will be transported to Shimla for a look around and last minute present shopping. Then down the hill to Kalka by train or road, where you will be ushered aboard the A/C night train to Delhi. Here you will be met by a Blazing Trails representative and escorted to the airport for an 1100 flight home.
WHAT THE TOUR PRICE INCLUDES
- International Flights Bike with Mechanical Back-up, Spares & Repairs
- Luggage-carrying Support
- All Internal Transfers
- First Tank of Fuel
- Accommodation on a Bed & Breakfast Basis
- Most Lunches & Evening Meals
- Entry Fees
- Fuel Subsequent to First Tankful
You will need a passport with valid visa, appropriate travel insurance and an international driving permit.
You should be able to get by on around £500 spending money if you don’t do a lot of shopping. Cash and travellers’ cheques are easily changed in Leh (where there are also cashpoints), but nowhere else on the route.
Even at high altitudes the Himalaya can be surprisingly warm in summer. But nothing can be taken for granted and although rain is rare there is the chance of wet weather. When overcast, things can get chilly at night and at the highest points there is a remote possibility of snow. The maximum temperature is likely to be around 30ºC; the minimum 0ºC (rarely, at night).
We advise riders to consider their kit in terms of layers. Good quality gear can also prevent a minor spill causing a trip-ruining injury, so we require that you ride with no exposed skin (except your face). Please find more information on bike kit here.
While your main luggage will be carried in a support vehicle, you may wish to bring a small rucksack in which to carry articles you need on the road. Your main bag must be ‘soft’ and not a suitcase.
While you don’t have to be an athlete to join us on this adventure, we would not recommend this tour to those who cannot, for instance, climb a flight of stairs without puffing and blowing. Please note that there are some long days in the saddle. We reach some great altitudes on this tour, so if you have any existing medical condition, please consult your doctor and Blazing Trails before booking.
While we insist those joining us have a full motorcycle licence, and recommend a minimum of two year’s riding experience, time in the saddle and miles ridden are of more relevance to an adventure like this. Riding in India is very different from Europe and although the speeds at which we travel are relatively low, demands on planning and observation are high. Other factors making demands on riders are the heat (and possibly cold) and conditions of the road – including sections of unpaved dirt.
HEALTH & HYGIENE
Although there is always the chance of getting a ‘holiday tummy’, following a few simple guidelines keeps the chances of this to a minimum. The tour will be accompanied by a medic with extensive kit to deal with any problem. If you have any pre-existing medical condition, it is essential that you consult both Blazing Trails and your physician before booking.
To check out our suggested packing list.
How To Make A Booking
Holiday bookings can be made by phone, via email, or over the internet.
Contact us by any of the means above.
Upon deciding to book, please pay a deposit of £700 into our bonded account (or the full balance if within two months of the departure date). This can be done by credit/debit card through our website or over the phone, by bank transfer, by over-the-counter payment, or by sending a cheque to our UK representative.
Having booked with Blazing Trails, you will be sent all the necessary information on timings and meeting points. You may also like to use our website, or Facebook group, to liaise with others.
PLEASE NOTE: A maximum of one week (seven days) will be allowed for your deposit payment to reach and clear in our bonded account. Should this not happen, we can suspend your booking and may have to give your place on tour to somebody else.
ARE FLIGHTS INCLUDED?
Yes, (if you are booking from the UK) all flights, international and domestic are included in the price of your tour.
CAN I BOOK FROM OUTSIDE THE UK?
CAN I TAKE A DIFFERENT FLIGHT?
You can. Please contact us for details.
How do I book?
The tours can be booked online, by email, or over the phone on: +44 (0) 7494 050404. To secure a place you will be asked to put down a deposit of £700 and payment can be made by card, cheque, or bank transfer.
DO I NEED INSURANCE?
Yes, you need travel insurance to cover you for the period of the tour. This insurance must cover you to ride a bike of the capacity offered on your tour. Recommended by past guests are The Post Office and Tesco, both of whom do reasonably priced policies with the requisite cover. The bikes are insured, so bike insurance need not concern you.
How & Where do I get a visa?
To visit India you will need a passport (valid for six months from date of entry) and a valid tourist visa. For visits of up to a month’s duration it is possible for British citizens (and those of many other countries) to obtain an ‘E Tourist Visa’ online, HERE. You will need to provide a PDF scan of your passport’s first page with a file size between 10 and 300kb. You will also need to provide a scan of a passport picture (as a J-Peg, 10kb-1mb). This picture must be square, on a plain, light-coloured background and without borders. Applicants must submit online between 30 and four days before travelling and the visa will be issued on arrival – on production of an emailed confirmation document. The visa will be valid for 30 days from entry. The fee for an E Tourist visa is currently USD $ 80 (which is £ 64).
If visiting India for more than 30 days, your passport must also have at least six months validity remaining at time of application. Visas are obtained from the VFS Global (the official agent of the Indian High Commission) offices in either London, Hayes, Birmingham, Manchester, Cardiff, Glasgow, or Edinburgh. All current information on longer Indian visa applications is available on the web at: http://in.vfsglobal.co.uk/. It is possible to apply over-the-counter, or by post. We would recommend the latter and suggest you apply in plenty of time. A tourist visa is usually valid for a maximum of six months from date of issue.
Visas for entry to Nepal are available at borders, at a cost of USD $ 30 (which is £ 24), or at the Nepali Consulate in London prior to travelling.
The visa application asks for two Indian addresses, what should I put?
1. Overland Escape, 251,252, Vardaman Crown Mall, Sector 19, Dwarka, New Delhi -110075 2. Hotel Iceland, Solang Valley Village, Solang, PO Palchan Manali, Himachal Pradesh – 175103
What other paperwork do I need?
You will need a valid certificate of travel insurance and an International Driving Permit.
Where do I get an International Driving Permit?
Obtain one through the Post Office service, at major branches. All you need is your UK Driving Licence and some six of Her Imperial Majesty’s Pounds.
Where should I change money?
We would advise that you have some idea of the Rupee exchange rate before you leave, to avoid getting ripped-off at airports. Sites like this should help. In many major towns, there are cash-points that will accept major credit and debit cards. Arrivals in Cochin for the Kerala Tour will be able to change money in town if the airport rate is not competitive. Goa Airport is rapidly getting a reputation as a den of rip-off merchants and we would advise you not to change money there at present. Money can easily be changed at banks, agencies and be withdrawn from cash-points close to your hotel before we set off. Further advice to this will be given in the tour briefing. Generally if arriving at Delhi, for Himalayan and Rajasthani tours, airport rates should be reasonable and we would advise you to change at least £50. Money can be easily changed in Manali and Leh on the Himalayan tours.
Can a lady with a wooden leg change a pound note?
No, she’s only got half a knicker.
How much spending money will I need?
About £250 should cover food, drink, petrol and sundries.
Will I have to share a room?
Yes, unless you pay a supplement. Even then, single rooms may not be available at some stops as the hotels we use are popular, or in some cases small, and we have to book our accommodation some time in advance.
What standard is the accommodation?
It varies widely, but is always clean and the best we can find in the area for a reasonable price. In some places you may be staying in comfortable tented camps, in others luxury huts or hotel rooms. In Kerala and Rajasthan the accommodation is of a higher standard. There may be nights on the beach or under the desert stars in more remote areas – it’s all part of the adventure experience.
Will we have electricity?
It can’t be guaranteed. In some places there’s no power; in all power cuts are possible. Thus, if it’s vital you need electrical power every night, please speak to us before booking. Don’t forget a travel adaptor if you need to recharge your electricals.
what is the difference between tarka dhal and regular dhal?
They are very similar, but Tarka dhal is a bit ‘otter.
How much riding experience do I need?
We would recommend only booking a tour with us if you have a full licence (compulsory) and have at least two years’ recent riding experience. The main criterion, however, is confidence. If you’re happy to zip through a London rush hour, then you’ll be capable of dealing with road life in India.
Is riding in India dangerous?
Riding anywhere carries with it a degree of risk, as does Indian riding. For more information on the riding side of things see ‘Riding’ in the ‘About India ‘ section of this site. If any rider joining us rides in a manner we suspect will endanger themselves, or others, or indeed displays antisocial behaviour, they will receive one warning. If they continue to display a threat to the safety or enjoyment of others on the tour, they will be excluded from the remainder (with no refund given, see terms and conditions).
How fast will we be riding?
Due to road conditions and other traffic, vehicles tend to move a lot slower in India than they do in the West. We will do likewise. There are also constraints on speed enforced by the bikes. These are not high-revving sports bikes and so we will lead the tour at a maximum speed of around 70kph.
Can I use the bike in the evenings?
No, you can’t ride independently of the tour group, sorry.
How fit do I need to be?
Reasonably so, especially for the Himalayas, where roads can be very rough and there is also the matter of altitude to deal with. What’s ‘reasonably fit’? If you can’t jog up stairs without panting, then Indian bike tours probably aren’t for you.
Can I take a pillion?
Yes , but please be sure they know what they’re letting themselves in for: some long days in the saddle, bumpy roads and, in the mountains, some pretty shocking drop-offs. We have limited space in our support vehicles, so pillions may not be able to hop off on a whim. Likewise, if riders have any doubt over handling the extra weight, then we’d advise they ride solo. It is possible to book a place in a support vehicle for those who want to join the tour, but not to ride or travel as a pillion passenger.
How much luggage can I bring?
You are limited to 20kg by most airlines. However, we suggest you pack as lightly and in as compact a form as possible. As support vehicle space is tight, we insist you bring soft luggage if you turn up with a suitcase we will ask you to buy a soft bag and repack.
How much luggage should I bring?
Keep it minimal. One set of riding kit for the tour and a couple of sets of clothes for the evening. You can always pick up cheap clothing locally.
Isn’t India full of snakes?
Yes it’s full of snakes. Don’t bring any snakes. It’s full.
Do I need a towel?
If you’re wet, yes. One small travel towel for Goa, Nepal and the Himalayas only. Although most of our hotels provide towels, there may be the occasional night you need your own.
Is food included in the price?
Only breakfast. You will pay for lunch and dinner, because we prefer that you make your own choices on where you eat and you will find Indian food substantially cheaper than meals at home.
I don’t like curry, what can I eat?
We would firstly suggest that you avoid too much curry, purely on the grounds that you don’t like it. Indian cuisine has much more to offer than what we in the West are offered in most ‘Indian’ restaurants. In many destinations, Western-style food is available and where it is not, less spicy food can be arranged. As an alternative, it is possible to bring your own pre-packed camping meals and add hot water.
Is it possible to milk shrews in order to make shrew’s cheese?
Yes, but it’s a very tricky procedure requiring specialist equipment and best left to the experts.
Are laundry facilities available on-tour?
They are, but not every night. Check the itineraries of Tours you will be able to get clothes cleaned at two-night stops, so consider this when packing.
Do I require a pollution mask?
Not specifically. Pollution is not a problem except in the major cities, but some roads are dusty so a facemask, snood, or scarf can be useful.
Do I need waterproofs?
Yes. If your riding kit isn’t waterproof, then bring some light waterproofs.
Do I need to bring a sleeping bag?
For the Himalayan tours a light, compact bag will add to your comfort.
What medication should I bring & what inoculations are required?
Consult your GP/travel clinic for immunisation and malaria advice. Bring enough of any prescribed medication you take regularly. A basic first aid kit is useful (plasters, antiseptic cream, bite/sting relief, plus insect repellent). Any serious medical problems will be dealt with by the tour medic.
Should I bring a seat pad?
Gel or air pads add comfort on long days in the saddle, but are not necessary.
Should I bring a sports bra?
If you like. We don’t really know you that well yet and so consider your underwear requirements to be your own business.
Should I bring a water carrier?
As air-fares are so high these days, better to hire one locally, or carry your own water. Packaged drinking water is readily available throughout our routes, which you may wish to transfer into a CamelBak, or similar device.
Do I need gloves?
Proper bike gloves are essential. Check this site’s information on Clothing Advice for a comprehensive guide to what you’ll need.
I’ve read that on your southern tours there will be the opportunity to spot wild ‘bison’. Surely the only bison sub-species reside in European and North American populations. Are we being taken for fools?
Yes, unfortunately guidebooks and indeed most guides themselves can be short on taxonomical understanding. The ‘Indian bison’ is properly known as a ‘gaur’ and is the largest bovine (cow) species.
How do I tell the difference between a buffalo and a bison?
You can’t wash your hands in a buffalo.
Should I bring anything else out from England?
Oh yes, there are cravings we struggle to meet. We overworked staff, bereft of the comforts of our native environs, have predilections for fine wines and tawny port. To accompany the above we require, nay beg the solace of, fine French cheeses and cured meats, possibly including saucisson (or Italian/Spanish near-equivalents). Actually we’re really not that fussy and any decent booze will do, for off-duty amusements only, you understand. Bring such treats and you will be treated as a minor deity (being elevated to a god-like status is not compulsory; omnipotence subject to germs and contritions).