Five Parisians girls passionate about old motorbikes and adventure who ride the Himalaya on Royal Enfields with style. Good video – recommended watching to get a different story on a popular bikers destination.
|5 lessons we learned while riding to Rangoon|
|Written by Andy|
|Monday, 03 February 2014 15:57|
Andy and Emilie recently rode a Royal Enfield motorcycle from Delhi, India to Yangon, Myanmar, passing through Nepal and Bhutan along the way. This made them the first foreigners to cross independently and under their own steam from India into Myanmar in several decades.
The seven week, 6,500 km odyssey took them through high mountains and dense jungle and across some of the dodgiest regions and worst roads that the world has to offer. Having finally made it safe and sound back to Yangon, below they tell us five big lessons that they learned from the trip.
1. Maybe that insane trip idea is actually possible
The idea of picking up my old motorcycle in Delhi and riding it through India, Nepal and Bhutan back to our current home in Yangon, Myanmar (or Rangoon, Burma if you prefer) was something I suggested to my girlfriend as a joke one day on the train to Mandalay. But then we started fantasising about just how cool it might be and the image became a little hard to get rid of. So just how crazy an idea was this?
Pretty crazy, as it turned out – first and foremost because the border between India and Myanmar is closed to foreigners. Second, the route would have to pass through some of India’s dodgiest states in the country’s restive northeast. Plus there’s the unpredictable road conditions in the Himalayas, which looked to be some of the most challenging in the world. Then came the innumerable red tape involved in transporting a motorcycle across five international borders. And finally the small matter that it’s actually illegal to ride a bike in Yangon.
It was quite understandable, therefore, that we couldn’t find evidence of any independent travellers who’d driven this route previously. But just the names of the places that the route would take us through – Kathmandu, Sikkim, Bhutan, Nagaland – were enough to convince us that we should give it a shot. And so it was that a few weeks later we found ourselves on a flight to India, not quite believing what we were about to try and do.
2. The places with the roughest reputations might surprise you
Our route took us through India’s restive north-east, a bunch of states practically cut off from the rest of the country where a smorgasbord of tribes live in remote hills and jungles and bear little or no resemblance to the rest of the nation in terms of language, religion or look. Many wonder how they ever got attached to India and are actively fighting to reverse the situation. This struggle for their own homelands has made Nagaland and Manipur two of India’s most dangerous states. Regular skirmishes between army and rebels, frequent bombings and a general feeling of lawlessness prevail. Criminal gangs allegedly smuggle drugs and guns in from Burma and highway robbery is an all too common occurrence.
As we crossed into Nagaland, bouncing over an old iron bridge and signing in at a rickety military check-post before being allowed to proceed, it was immediately clear that we were entering a different world. There was an instant deterioration of the roads, thatched huts replaced the brick houses of Assam, and military roadblocks and patrols made us feel that we were entering occupied territory. The stunning beauty of the lush green hills swathed in mist could only temporarily divert us from an overall feeling of eeriness and unease due to those tales we’d heard of rebels, drug traffickers and rogue Indian army units that were apparently somewhere out there.
Things were not made easier by the confused, hard stares of the few people we passed, seemingly shocked to see outsiders, and the fact that a lot of the men had locally-made rifles slung casually over their shoulders. First impressions can be deceptive though and in fact the next days brought us into contact with some of the most open, hospitable, and good-humoured people we’d met on our journey. On the way to Kohima, we were treated to the most abysmal jungle “road” of the trip which ended up defeating us but almost immediately we were taken in by an old couple and their daughter in a tiny hilltop village. They dried our clothes around the open fire and insisted on cooking us a hearty meal while urging us to “write a letter to the King of England” once we got home, drawing his attention to the cause of Naga independence.
As we continued on towards Manipur’s state capital of Imphal, which had just been bombed four times in as many weeks, we were suddenly surrounded by the town’s local biker gang, the Royal Riders, who had heard about our trip and ridden out to the city limits to escort us in. They made us feel right at home though our nerves were not completely calmed as it also happened to be Diwali, the Indian Festival of Lights, which involves an all-night blitz of fireworks that left us never quite sure whether the last huge bang was just another Roman candle being let off or rather a home made bomb exploding.
3. Those best laid plans…
We would never have started the trip if we’d insisted on being sure that it was feasible before setting out. And from day one we realised we needed to throw a lot of the planning that we had done out of the window. It was a great reminder that not all of the knowledge you need is available through Google. The condition of a road, the availability of a mechanic, the temperament of a border guard, the safety of an area, these are all things you only find out by extreme proximity, which means embracing uncertainty but also allows the journey to remain mysterious and to unfurl and evolve each day, with you never quite knowing what’s going to happen next.
Our route was soon out of the window as roads which had been said to exist turned out to be washed away. The timetable also got binned pretty fast as we had failed to anticipate that, for example:
We had lots of good delays too though, such as the irresistible smaller, rougher road that led up to an old monastery and just begged to be explored, that inviting river we were riding alongside in southern Nepal which lured us in for an afternoon dip, and the wonderful people all the way along from Delhi to Rangoon who insisted we sit down and have tea with them while explaining what on earth we thought we were doing. Our conclusion: always allow at least twice the time you think you’ll need!
4. You’re probably worrying about the wrong things before the trip
We had sat fretting about getting hijacked and robbed, feeling we’d be sitting ducks as two lone westerners riding through some of the remotest parts of South Asia. As it happened though, never once did we even actually feel genuinely threatened. We worried that the border crossings would involve interminable questions and delays and that we probably had only a 50-50 chance of actually getting through to Myanmar. In reality we were greeted with friendly smiles, a little curiosity, and all-in-all a pretty efficient and fast service and not once were we fingered for a bribe.
What we should have worried about instead was road conditions. Sure we expected lots of potholes, but we were not quite prepared for the extent of knee-deep water-logged mud and roads made entirely out of fist-size loose rocks, the lack of bridges across rivers and the rockfalls that occur in the mountains with surprising frequency. When the road got better we were instead faced with a heady mix of brightly painted trucks, rickety buses, speeding cars and weaving motorcycles to contend with, united in a desire to get wherever they were going as quickly as possible with scant regard for the laws of physics or the basic tenets of road safety. And finally there were the dogs, goats, yaks, pigs, and odd camel who were ever keen to assert their right of way.
5. Visit Bhutan once in your life
India, Nepal and Myanmar are all wonderful, fascinating, beautiful countries that we can’t recommend highly enough. But our passage through Bhutan was simply magical. The country strictly controls tourism and we had spent several months organising to drive our motorcycle through the country – doing it alone is an absolute no-no as all travellers must be supervised and have their itinerary pre-approved. We were greeted by a tiny Himalayan kingdom of less than a million people sandwiched between China and India.
It’s the home of the concept of Gross National Happiness, a place where no tree can be cut down nor any animal killed, where tobacco is banned, where all buildings are built in the traditional style and decorated with ejaculating phalluses in reverence to a certain “Divine Madman” and where there’s a national park dedicated to the protection of the yeti. We spent ten days or so winding our way through this spectacularly beautiful and pristine wonderland of soaring snow-capped peaks, hidden green valleys and magnificent fortresses and monasteries, topped by colourful prayer flags flapping in the wind. We ended up totally enthralled by the natural splendour, openness of spirit and deep cultural reverence that permeate this land and its people. Go there.
To read more about Andy and Emilie’s trip, take a look at their website: http://www.ridingtorangoon.com
|Last Updated on Monday, 03 February 2014 16:23|
One of the most insightful articles published recently on the perfect all round adventure bike. Paul Pitchfork is currently in S. America and writes at www.horcamoto.com. He’s spent some time musing on the series of comprises that go into the perfect expedition machine.
“In this post, I look at the much-debated question of which machine is best for a long road trip. It’s probably one for the motoqueros amongst Horca Moto’s readership, but perhaps there is a lesson here for others about life in general….
It is one of motorcycling’s perennial questions: “What is the perfect adventure bike?” Asked and answered from many differing angles, it is a favourite on biker forums, in magazines and no doubt in many a pub and bar around the world. So to celebrate hitting the 40,000km mark on the roads and dirt tracks of South America, I’ve decided to don my flack jacket, raise my head above the parapet and throw my hat into this well-trodden ring.
Firstly, let’s get clear on semantics. ‘Adventure biking’ can mean many things to many people, which can muddy the waters of the discussion. Here, I am talking about ‘overlanding’ – a long road trip through foreign lands, and furthermore one which seeks out remote places along the back roads and dirt tracks wherever possible.
Let me start by asking you a question of those of you planning a long ride through South America, Siberia or elsewhere. Are you going on a bike trip, or are you going to travel on a bike? The difference in phraseology is subtle, but the difference in philosophy is big. If the soul of the trip is built around the bike, then which bike you ride will have much more impact on the experience. If, however, the moto is simply your mode of transport, choosing your machine is less of an issue. So when you decide to ride, get clear on what you are aspiring to do – you might save yourself a lot of unnecessary agonising over which machine you need to buy. I’ve met people who sit at both extremes of this spectrum; some who only want to ride, ride, ride and others who are happy on a local Chinese 200. However most of us, I suspect, sit somewhere between the two.
The ‘perfect bike’ debate usually revolves around factors such as comfort, tank size and range, reliability, off-road and on-road handling, access to spares, field-maintainability, service internals and the like. The pros and cons of air-cooled verses liquid-cooled, EFI verses carbs, mainstream Japanese verses niche European get batted back and forth. Some zealots will stake there lives on a particular bike being ‘the one’. Others will sagely point out that the choice of any bike will always involve compromise and the ‘perfect bike’ can never actually exist. And still more will rightly observe that when choosing the best bike for someone, we must consider three key factors together – the bike, the rider’s skill, and the terrain on which the bike will be used. The bike itself cannot be considered in isolation. But for me, the most important ingredient of all is nearly always missing – and that is the rider’s attitude.
It is rider attitude that makes the statement, “You can have an adventure on any bike” true. And of course, the impact of attitude isn’t unique to riding a moto – it applies to everything in life. If in your mind something is good enough, then it is. When my former girlfriend bought a 10-year old Fiat Uno to learn to drive in, I surprised myself when I started doing long motorway runs in it, choosing to leave my 3.2 litre Audi in the garage to save on fuel. Why did I surprise myself? Because after years behind the wheel of an A3, I realised that 75mph was ample, the lack of a CD player could be overcome by using my iPod and the ineffective heater could be overlooked if I wore an extra jersey. It is about changing attitude – adjusting expectations, recalibrating. And when you actually go ahead and do it, you realise it is no big deal. Remember, humans are very adaptable creatures.
This isn’t simply theory. Over the twenty months I’ve been on the road here in South America, I’ve seen it in action time and time again. My girlfriend and riding partner is a perfect case in point. We have ridden the length of Peru and Ecuador together, on asphalt and dirt, through mountain and jungle. I’m on an upgraded 660 Tenere with EFI, bags of power, a 23-litre tank, Ohlins suspension, heated grips and a whole lot more. She is on a stock Suzuki DR200 – and she’s loving it. She’s set her psychological dials to match the Suzuki’s performance, so she needs nothing more.
When we rode one of the most demanding sections of the trip thus far – through the Peruvian highlands in the rainy season on dirt – we met a local motoquero as we waited together at some roadworks. He was travelling across the country on a 250cc Chinese street bike, wearing a pair of wellington boots and an old windbreaker. When the road opened, he was soon out of sight ahead of us. We caught up with him later when he was stopped beside the road, out of fuel. I gave him a two litre top-up and then never saw him again, despite encountering three major fords further up the road. He clearly negotiated them and the rest of the dirt road without much problem; yet he was on the most ‘unadventure bike’ you could imagine.
He wasn’t concerned about tank capacity and range; he was happy to pullover and wait for someone to come along with some spare gas. And judging by his happy-go-lucky disposition, I’d guess he would deal with a breakdown (inevitable on a cheap Chinese moto at some point) with the same sanguine attitude. When his butt gets a bit numb on the unforgiving seat, I suspect he just stops for ten minutes. And when 50kph is the best his machine can do on the steep inclines at 3500m, he probably just gives himself a bit more time to get to his destination and enjoys the scenery a bit more.
So maybe we get ourselves a bit too tied up in knots in the quest for the perfect, of even the best, adventure moto. I have a sneaking suspicion that if you forced every GSA 1200 rider you met to dismount, shed a bit of luggage and then get on a 250cc Honda Tornado for the rest of his trip, at least half of them would be having a ball after a week.
But having said all that, I do have a view on what I think are the three most important characteristics for a moto, if you want to go beyond the asphalt. Firstly, you have to be able to ride your chosen mount comfortably off-road; that might be a KTM 990 or a XT225 Serow, depending on the rider. Secondly, your must be able to pick up your bike, loaded, alone; if you can’t, you’ll fear dropping it which in turn will stop you from exploring those magical, lonely routes which (for me) define these trips. And thirdly, it needs to be reliable. I’ve ridden some dirt roads through the mountains and not encountered another person for 300km; doubting my machine’s reliability would have denied me such a stunning ride.
For me, ‘Light is Might’. And the lighter, the better. Having ridden both my Tenere and my girlfriend’s Suzuki through mud slides, fast-flowing gravelly fords and rockfalls blocking our route, and having put the Suzuki in the back of a pickup with one other person (it took four to do the same thing with my Tenere and my chum’s 1150 in Patagonia), I’ve learnt this lesson from experience. I may change my mind after a long trip of a light and less powerful bike; but for now, lightweight is the direction I want to go in.
All that said, I accept this whole subject is a case of ‘each to their own’. If you like the ‘big bike’ feel, or are travelling two-up or are a seriously competent dirt rider, a GS1200 or V-Strom may be your chosen mount. Me? I love my Tenere, but she is a bit heavy. Until Yamaha give us a WR450R, I’m eyeing up the new CCM GP450. If the engine proves to be reliable, then for me we might be getting closer to the mythical perfect adventure bike.”
More good reporting from Eric. Ride safe!