x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

A short ride in the Hindu Kush

A group of intrepid businessmen are to embark on a gruelling motorbike odyssey across the mountain passes of Ladakh in a passage across India's Himalayas.

Bikers camp at 13,500 feet at Chander Daal in Spiti Valley in Ladakh, northern India, as part of the ride last summer
Bikers camp at 13,500 feet at Chander Daal in Spiti Valley in Ladakh, northern India, as part of the ride last summer

DUBAI // A group of businessmen are to cast aside their pinstripe suits and don waterproof jackets and helmets when they cross the Himalayas on motorbikes this summer.

The 65 riders will plough through snow, water crossings and rocky mountain tracks to cover 1,600 kilometres in 10 days at among the highest altitudes in the world.

The riders - bankers, engineers and software developers who are mostly expatriates from Europe, South Africa and India, along with a few Emiratis and Kuwaiti nationals - will be joined in New Delhi by fellow riders from Britain and Germany as they head to the mountainous region of Ladakh, or "land of high passes", in northern India.

Like most riders, Mohsin Alrazi, an Emirati engineer at Dubai Petroleum, has been up at night trawling the internet to learn more about the route. One of the challenges is negotiating high-altitude mountain passes such as Khardung La at 5,602 metres above sea level.

"I have conquered the sea and the desert. Now I need to conquer the Himalayas," said Mr Alrazi, 45, who enjoys deep sea diving and off-road desert drives. "I was very excited to know that it's possible on a bike. This will stay with me for life, I can tell my grandchildren."

About a dozen riders will set off in seven batches from June through to September on the Himalayan Moto Adventure, organised by Dubai-based Classic Motorcycles.

"The combination of difficult terrain, high altitude, fast-changing weather from scorching heat to snow makes this ride different," said Nelson Suresh Kumar, the director of Classic Motorcycles who has ridden the route five times and will accompany the group. "A lot of riders want this challenge. "

The participants will leave their own bikes in the UAE and clamber onto Royal Enfields, a vintage British motorbike now made in India and renowned for its reliability.

For Gary Arnold, 41, a British expatriate, the camaraderie of riding with four friends from Dubai, and camping in tents, no-frills hotels and bamboo cottages on an organic farm, has a rustic appeal.

"It's about getting back to the basics: it's yourself, the bike, the road and friends," said Mr Arnold, the managing director of a British food company. "There will be times when our backs are aching and we are wet and cold and wonder why the hell we are doing it. But negatives become positives when you come back."

The route will take riders through remote villages, along the Tibetan border, up passes that reveal breathtaking mountain views, past monasteries and temples nestled among pine trees, and along the banks of Sutlej River.

At least two intrepid riders will have their wives riding pillion. Neville Deboo, 40, the regional head of a multinational IT company believes his true test of balance will be the off-road sections.

The test for his wife Hilda, 40, a Dubai bank staffer, lies in proving she can stay the course.

"I've taken it as a challenge," she said. "My husband keeps telling me I'll get tired and sit in the vehicle behind, but I'm not going to do that."

Organisers believe the demanding terrain will help people rediscover themselves. Rajan Singh, one of the lead riders, described the route as inspiring. "In a nine-to-five job you never get to know yourself," said Mr Singh who has covered Himalayan tracks six times.

"After they struggle with the weather, the elements, the roads, everyone on this trip will really get to know themselves."