Touching New Heights: Meet the 1st Bikers to Scale Karakoram Pass
The 11 riders line up during the flag-in ceremony in Leh.
The 11 riders line up during the flag-in ceremony in Leh.(Photo: The Quint)

Touching New Heights: Meet the 1st Bikers to Scale Karakoram Pass

Karakoram Pass, situated between India-China at more the 18,000ft above sea level, was never scaled by anyone on a motorcycle, until now. The Himalayan Heights expedition – a group of 11 bikers, seven from the Indian army and four civilians, was the first motorcycle expedition to have scaled the Karakoram Pass on motorcycles.

The expedition, while leaving for the Karakoram Pass.
The expedition, while leaving for the Karakoram Pass.
(Photo: Royal Enfield)

The expedition started on 7 April, and was flagged-in at Leh on 20 April by Lieutenant General Yogesh Kumar Joshi, Commander of the XIV Corps of the Indian Army, marking the end of a grueling 14 days for the 11 riders, who rode across some of the most treacherous terrain they had ever encountered.

The Team

  • Major K Renuka - Indian Army
  • Major Bhupesh Rawat - Indian Army
  • Capt. Arpit Kapila - Indian Army
  • Capt. Nikita Nair - Indian Army
  • Capt. Akshay Joshi - Indian Army
  • Capt. Jabez Philip - Indian Army
  • Sepoy Abhijeet - Indian Army
  • Vijay Parmar - Himalayan Motorsport
  • Hema Choudhary - Royal Enfield
  • Aditya Malekar - Royal Enfield
  • Nihal Raheja - Royal Enfield
The team after completing the expedition to Karakoram Pass.
The team after completing the expedition to Karakoram Pass.
(Photo: The Quint)

Also Read : Royal Enfield Trails vs Bullet 500 & Himalayan: What’s Different?

The 18,176 ft Karakoram Pass, also known as the old silk route is so challenging (on the Indian side) that for a major part of the expedition, the bikers didn't even have trails to follow in deep snow.

We talked to a few of these riders about this more than 1,100 km journey that took courage, strength, grit and impeccable biking skills.

Throughout the journey, the riders did not have any place buy a single drop of water. The only source were the water bladders they carried and refilled from natural sources at every stop.

“Fathomly Beautiful Valley of Death”

Capt Jabez Philip speaks the The Quint about his ride.
Capt Jabez Philip speaks the The Quint about his ride.
(Photo: The Quint)

Captain Jabez Philip, from the Army Service Co. told us that the reason no one has ever planned or attempted to scale the Karakoram Pass is because it’s known as the valley of death. It has the bones of animals and ancient humans and other dead matter strewn in it.

During Capt. Philip’s journey, there was a point when he had to go back to help a crashed teammate pick up his bike. He said that since the weather was so harsh and the terrain was so tricky, it was very difficult going back and lifting a close to 200 kg bike at 17,000 ft, that too, in deep snow.

“It took crazy amount of effort to lift a 190 kg bike at 17,000 ft, in deep snow. Although after a lot of effort, the bike was pulled out, but after a while I fell short of oxygen and had trouble breathing. I thought I’ll die.”
Captain Jabrez Philip, Indian Army Service Co.

For Capt. Philip, the view was what made it worth it. Ecstatic, is how he described his achievement.

“A Biker's Dream”

Major K Renuka poses with her bike.
Major K Renuka poses with her bike.
(Photo: The Quint)

Major Renuka was the most experienced rider from the army. Mother of a 2-yr-old, Renuka has been riding her Yamaha RX 135 bike for long time. This time she was on a Royal Enfield Himalayan.

Her experience, as she told us, turned her into a seasoned biker, about a year after her first expedition.

The most difficult part, according to Major Renuka was the last stretch of the expedition, that led up to the Karakoram Pass, where the terrain had all sorts of hurdles for the riders.

“We experienced slush, hard ice, snow, water and dust.”
Major K Renuka, Indian Army

Was there any point when she wanted to give up? Major Renuka says the group of 11 was always there for motivation.

“Since we come from the Army, there was no chance of giving up since the beginning. Its part of our core training. The group went as a family. They were there to take you along whenever you thought of giving up.”
Major K Renuka, Indian Army

“Unimaginable Feeling”

Hema Choudhary is a 27-year-old Royal Enfield biker, who has been riding bikes for the past 10 years and touring extensively, since the past four years. This expedition, as she says, was not even close to any of the trips she has taken throughout all the years she has been riding.

“I never imagined that I’ll ever do anything like this.”
Hema Choudhary, Royal Enfield biker
Lt. General YK Joshi flags-in Hema Choudhary after the 1,100 km expedition.
Lt. General YK Joshi flags-in Hema Choudhary after the 1,100 km expedition.
(Photo: Royal Enfield)

Riding with the army and Himalayan Motorsports, taking on the most treacherous terrains, she said that the feeling when you get to the other side is unimaginable.

“There are a lot of emotions working at the same time, times when you are fighting your own thoughts, times when there is a voice that asks you if you’ll be able to do this. There are a lot of things happening together.”  
Hema Choudhary, Royal Enfield biker

“The enthusiasm levels were insane,” she said.

The Unsung Heroes

Rahim and Vincent, flying mechanics from Royal Enfield, were constantly at work, in the most challenging weather, keeping the bikes at their best, all the time.

Rahim (right) and Vincent (left), the flying mechanics from Royal Enfield.
Rahim (right) and Vincent (left), the flying mechanics from Royal Enfield.
(Photo: The Quint)

One of the mechanics, Rahim tells us that in such extreme cold, it is really tough to use equipment – mending punctures, fixing cables, etc. in a place where even walking takes a lot of effort.

“The hands are always freezing, its very difficult to breathe and pushing the bike despite that due to the lack of time was very challenging.”
Rahim, Mechanic

The Training

The bikers went through four months of training, which started in Agra with the physical tests – what the army calls Ragda – building up physical endurance.

(Photo: The Quint)

The second stage of the training was called white-out where the riders had to get accustomed to the bikes. In this stage, the riders were taught how to handle the bikes in different kinds of terrains, different types of snow – from reducing tyre pressure when needed to tying snow chains when required.

And then came acclimitisation in four stages in a seven-day period.

The Bikes

The bikes after completing their most difficult journey.
The bikes after completing their most difficult journey.
(Photo: The Quint)

Since the expedition was done by the Indian Army in partnership with Royal Enfield, 11 Royal Enfield Himalayan's were used, specifically customised for this expedition.

The Royal Enfield Himalayan is a 400cc, single cylinder adventure tourer, the first adventure tourer from the company, good for 24 bhp of power and 32 Nm of torque. It is fitted with a 5-speed gearbox.

The Himalayan’s used were specially modified for this expedition.
The Himalayan’s used were specially modified for this expedition.
(Photo: The Quint)

Also Read : Royal Enfield Himalayan ABS Variant Launched at Rs 1.79 Lakh

The bikes used for the Himalayan Heights Expedition were fitted with heated handlebars, heated seats and a rail guard specially designed to take on the treacherous terrains, along with added accessories.

The expedition was something all of these riders will always be proud of. As for the Indian Army personnel, they have made us proud once again – more so, to a motoring enthusiast like myself.

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