A tour here is to visit a place like no other and to call it a ‘holiday’, is to do the experience no justice whatsoever. Even to try and get close to explaining the sheer scale of this adventure, the raw, untouched beauty of its locations and the endless fascination of its peoples and cultures, carries with it a degree of futility, but we will blunder on nonetheless… Blazing Trails have been running Himalayan tours through the Spiti Valley since 2000 and it is this experience, allied to precise organisation, that allows us to guide riders to such places. As with all our trips an experienced leader and support crew are with you every mile, providing expert guidance and mechanical or medical assistance if required. But despite our enormous local knowledge, a ride through the Himalaya is never going to be without its challenges and surprises…
While we do everything within reason to make your trip as safe and enjoyable as we can, there are challenges implicit to travelling in the world’s mightiest mountains that we could not remove if we wanted to – it adds to the excitement. The environment is very much in charge here, the natural forces so great that human endeavours to tame them barely register.
The Himalaya is still growing, and at the same time collapsing – often overnight and across our route. For this reason, no itinerary is ever set in stone. So each morning your tour leader will gather information and assess conditions ahead. If our planned route is blocked, we may have to detour around, or wait until a passage can be forced. This happens and is usually overcome, but there’s the possibility routes and accommodation will have to change. This is not a normal package holiday! If you’re looking for the ultimate biking adventure, with the best back-up and most fitting overnight stays, then please read on…
As a participant in this tour you will fly to Delhi, before being directed aboard a comfortable train to Kalka and then on to the ‘toy train’ to Shimla, the historic summer capital of the British Raj and its administration. There you’ll be accommodated in a comfortable hotel, introduced to ‘your’ bike, a 500cc Enfield Bullet (with a front disc brake fitted) and given instruction on its eccentricities. There will be a full briefing before we set off into the high mountains.
Whenever riding there will be a leader and ‘outrider’ guiding and trouble-spotting. A ‘sweeper’ rider, a support vehicle with spares and an extensively-equipped medic will travel at the rear. Roads are often rough, so we recommend you have at least two year’s riding experience before taking on this challenge. You will also need a reasonable fitness level and there are certain medical conditions that preclude travelling at altitude, so check with Blazing Trails and your GP if in doubt. Weather ranges from warm in lower valleys, to conditions similar to an English autumn evening at altitude – sometimes colder and very occasionally including snow.
Travelling up in Spiti by bike brings you close to the environment and its inhabitants; close to the nature of this incredible place. ‘The trip of a lifetime’ is an overused expression, but not in this case, we promise.
The Spiti Valley is an extraordinary place. Hugging the border with Chinese-controlled Tibet, the valley lies almost entirely above 10,000ft. Located in the rain shadow of the vast Tibetan Plateau, this region is classified as desert, so there is less snow than elsewhere in the high Himalaya, allowing people to eke a living at greater altitudes.
Climbing into this area is like visiting another planet – a near-treeless world where fairytale monasteries of great antiquity cling to impossible slopes. Things may have become busier since Rudyard Kipling first clapped eyes on the place, but this is still a place less visited. Sensitive political territory, much of Spiti lies in a restricted border area requiring an ‘inner-line permit’, which we obtain on your behalf.
Culturally as well a geographically, Spiti is more Tibetan than Indian, more Buddhist than Hindu. There are references to the religion everywhere and dozens of fascinating monasteries set among the mountains, several of which we will visit.
Although tourism is now contributing to the area’s economy, the average Spiti-dweller will live an agrarian life; herding livestock and growing barley and wheat during the very short summer: June to September. For the remainder of the year the valley is cut off by snow and it is too cold (down to -35ºC) to do much but sit indoors, weave, knit and drink the local brews.
Spiti is a world apart from modern India and to visit here by motorcycle is a privilege reserved for the adventurous few.
In ten wordsChallenging, inspirational, diverse and incredibly scenic ride through 'Little Tibet'
Riding LevelThe condition of the roads varies annually, but there is always a challenging element to this tour. Nerve needed for big roadside drop-offs. Tarmac: 75%; dirt 25% (varies according to winter and monsoon damage).
Pillion RatingDepends on road condition, but usually tough on passengers. For a short stretch pillions are required to ride in the back-up vehicle, which is available throughout the trip.
Accommodation & MealsAccommodation is, on the whole, pretty decent and varies greatly over the route, from the rough and experiential, to nicer places. No shortage of surprises... Included meals: all breakfasts; 2 dinners. Food elsewhere is extremely inexpensive.
Day 1: Fly UK to Delhi
Leap aboard your flight to Delhi.
Day 2: Delhi to Shimla
Land in Delhi following an overnight flight, to be whisked across Delhi to the train station and guided aboard an air-conditioned train (approx’ five hours) to Kalka, where the plains meet the mountains. At Kalka you will board the famous narrow-gauge railway up to Shimla. Taking some five hours, the 97km train trip passes through 103 tunnels, 18 stations and over 24 bridges. Fifty years in the making, this incredible feat of engineering was completed in 1897. Arriving in Shimla in the early evening, you will be transported to your hotel for a briefing on the adventure ahead. More on Shimla.
Day 3: shimla to sarahan
Leaving Shimla, we will head toward the hill station at Narkanda, before descending into the Sutlej Valley. Turning from the main road, we will climb the valley-side to the picturesque hilltop village of Sarahan, where a characterful stay is found in an ancient Hindu temple compound. More on Sarahan.
Day 4: SARAHAN TO SANGLA
A short hop, but challenging nonetheless, thanks to uber-twisty roads with some of the wildest drop-offs you’ll find anywhere. From Sarahan we drop back into the Sutlej Valley, then head east alongside the Baspa River into a valley of indescribable beauty. At Sangla you’ll find special tented accommodation in fields of flowers, with mountains completing the idyllic scene and a camp fire to round off the day. More on Sangla.
Day 5: SANGLA TO KALPA
Spend the morning walking in the Valley, or kick back and relax. After lunch we’ll be heading back down to the ‘main’ road by the River Sutlej and then up the other side of the valley to the hilltop town of Kalpa. Views over the nearby mountain ranges are stunning and, when the weather is clear, the perfect triangle of Mount Kinnaur Kailash, said to be the summer home of god Shiva, is visible from our hotel.
DAY 6: IN KALPA
We will spend the morning just down the hill in the regional capital of Reckong Peo, sourcing the Inner-line Permits that will allow us to enter Spiti Valley. The afternoon can be spent exploring the area on foot, visiting local temples and drinking in the scenery. More on Kalpa.
Day 7: KALPA TO TABO
A big day, an epic ride, so an early start. From Kalpa, we again head up the River Sutlej, through rapidly changing geography. At Jangi Police Post the Inner-line, and another world, is entered. Soon many-hued mountains rear all around… and on along a most challenging road, to the magical scenery of Spiti itself. We spend the night at Tabo, where an ancient monastery (circa 996AD; one of the world’s most important Buddhist sites) nestles in a valley of awe-inspiring grandeur. Rest is found at a surprisingly comfortable hotel, where you can reflect on what will almost certainly have been one of the most rewarding days of your life. More on Tabo.
Day 8: tabo to kibber
Spend the morning resting or exploring Tabo and its monastery, before a gentle ride along a boulder-strewn valley carrying a cobalt river. Again, assuming you have a heart in your chest, you will be reeling at the spellbinding beauty. We will visit the amazing, fairytale Ki Monastery, before ending the day in the blissful peace and quiet of Kibber, a tiny village set high on a mountainside. Kibber, once claiming to be the world’s highest village at 4270m, now makes the more modest (but still questionable) claim of being the highest village with both electricity and a ‘motorable’ road. Whatever, the village of traditional Spitian houses and the incredible mountain views make this a lovely spot. More on Kibber.
Day 9: KIBBER TO LOSAR
In the morning we will visit one of Spiti’s most enigmatic monasteries, the high-altitude (4500m) monastery at Komic, where we will have tea with the monks in one of the world’s highest human settlements. Following lunch in the regional capital, Kaza, we follow the Spiti River up to the village of Losar, around 60km further up the Spiti Valley. Here we will spend the highest night of the trip lodged in a Tibetan village, in place to take on the crossing of Kunzum La the following morning.
Day 10: LOSAR TO MANALI
An early start to do a ‘big one’. Today we will climb dirt roads over the highest point of the tour, Kunzum Pass, at 15,000ft. We travel on through remote territory, amid icy mountains with only a few scattered villages along the way, until the famous Rohtang Pass is met. Here we ascend again to nearly 13,000ft and as we plunge down the other side, everything changes… suddenly we are out of the altitudinous desert and into a greener, lusher world of pine forests and waterfalls. At the foot of busy Rohtang is Manali, and an extensive menu.
Day 11: IN MANALI
There is every kind of activity to be found in Manali, including good shopping. There are also several interesting Himachali villages in the area that can be visited, plus Hindu temples and hot springs. Eating, whether in our excellent hotel restaurant, or in a multitude of eateries in town, is another favoured pastime, as is relaxing at the hotel come evening with a drink in your hand – welcome back to Hindu India. More on Manali.
Day 12: MANALI TO SHOJA
Following a post-breakfast briefing, a late-ish set-off takes us down the Kullu Valley’s smooth tarmac, accompanied by views of gorges and waterfalls. Turning from the main road, we will soon be spiralling up into lush, forested mountains to our overnight stop at Shoja and a relaxing fireside drink with the sunset.
Day 13: Shoja to shimla
Leaving Shoja, we will top the Jalori Pass (3120m) before riding down to the Sutlej Valley once more and joining the road to our start point (pillions will have to step off for the steepest sections at the top). It’s a super ride back to Shimla, where we will eat a celebratory supper, having circumnaviagted one of the most beautiful areas imaginable.
Day 14: shimla to Delhi
Most of the day can be spent exploring the Raj-era sights of Shimla, before it’s back aboard the light railway, this time in the other direction to Kalka. There you will meet the sleeper to Delhi, which will deliver you to the capital to connect with your homeward flight.
Day 15: Delhi to Home
Once back home you may try and explain what you’ve just done down at the pub. But even with your wad of do-no-justice photographs you will fail to convey the experiential magnitude of riding in the World’s biggest place.
WHAT THE TOUR PRICE INCLUDES
- International Flights
- Bike with Mechanical Back-up, Spares & Repairs
- Medical & Luggage-carrying Support
- All Internal Transfers
- First Tank of Fuel
- Four Dinners & Two Lunches
- Some 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).