Himalayan Motorcycle Tours
The Himalayas, with their alpine glaciers, deep river gorges, high-altitude passes, spectacular valleys and steep-sided jagged peaks have left a lasting impression on those fortunate ones who have had the opportunity to undertake our Himalayan motorcycle tour.
Nowhere else in the world can you experience a more vivid and authentic display of Lama Buddhism as you can on a journey across the Himalayas. Widespread evergreen landscapes, snow-capped peaks, enchanting monasteries and the tranquility in the surrounding makes for a genuinely spectacular setup to embark on a motorcycle trip, and perhaps the best experience one can encounter as an adventure enthusiast!
The sacred sites here – some of the most famous like Alchi and Lamayuru – are home to unique artwork, murals and sculptures that have long been listed as cultural heritage of India.
Besides, you get a chance to spend the night in traditional nomadic camps as well as houses – far from urban civilization.
And as you continue through this journey, you will discover the most isolated regions of the world; salt water lakes, cold deserts, and picturesque landscapes that will leave you mesmerized.
Fascinating, isn’t it? So, if you are wondering how to plan this amazing motorcycle trip through the Himalayas, read on to get a complete insight.
Himalayan Motorcycle Tour Packages
Why should you embark on a Himalayan motorcycle tour?
The Himalayas are the largest mountains on our planet. Their dimensions are humongous, both in width and in height. In fact, thirty of the highest peaks in the world are situated in the Himalayas.
Riders who previously participated in this tour are usually short of words while describing this mystifying experience. Such is the power of Himalayas – the magnificent mountains, the holiest rivers, the spiritual enigma, the awe-inspiring landscapes, the ceaselessly vibrant nature, the enchanting history carved in ancient stones, and the simplest of nomads – are some of the delights you would want to experience again and again in your life.
Also, the lush green forests of lower Himalayan region are home to an amazing variety of flora and fauna, some of which fall in the category of endangered species. Even the wildlife is rich with hundreds of species, adding to the excitement of exploring the Himalayas, as many breeds are yet to be discovered.
A description of the Himalayas’ charismatic beauty as a whole would be incomplete without mentioning the local inhabitants of this blessed land. The humble, hard-working and generous inhabitants of the Himalayas are as eclectic as the surrounding.
Several indigenous groups including the Tibetan descendants, Buddhist monks, and the nomads live peacefully together and keep their different cultures alive. And in addition to being a unique tourist destination, Himalayas are a paradise for numerous researchers, including anthropologists, historians, ornithologists, geologists and astronomers. Name any discipline, the region will have something to offer.
Riding a motorcycle in this wonderfully diverse, culturally rich and stunningly beautiful region is an experience like no other. From hair-raising sharp bends and dramatic water crossings to mouth-watering cuisines and authentic accommodations, it’s truly incredible. How can someone possibly resist himself from this kind of adventure?
Best routes for Himalayan motorcycle touring
There are primarily three routes by which you can ponder to embark on this beautiful motorcycling venture. You can start your journey either from Manali (lower Himalayan region) and ride all the way to Ladakh Valley, thereby covering the entire Leh-Manali Highway and the scenic vistas that accompany it. Next is the Manali-Spiti-Ladakh route, which covers all the regions that fall within the previously described route and includes the beautiful Spiti valley as well. And lastly, for less experienced riders or anyone who wishes to limit this expedition to less than 10 days, there is Ladakh valley route which covers the entire Ladakhi Himalayas.
So, let’s take a look at them in detail.
Manali - Ladakh Circuit
On this route you will enter the Lahaul Valley as you head towards the Ladakh Valley via the renowned Leh-Manali highway. The approximate duration to undertake Manali – Ladakh circuit is around 13 days with a total riding distance of 1600 kilometers (round trip).
Among the main attractions on the route are high mountain passes such as Rohtang La (3,980 m), Baralacha La (4,890 m), Nakee La (4,739 m), Lachung La (5,065 m) and Tanglang La (5,328 m).
And apart from these high mountain passes, there is Khardung La (5,380 m) and Chang La (5,280 m) peak in the Ladakhi region, that will be traversed in all of the three routes we are discussing.
As for the difficulty level, an intermediate or an advanced rider with a riding experience of 5 years or more can undertake this adventure without any problem.
Manali - Spiti - Ladakh Circuit
The Manali – Spiti – Ladakh circuit starts from Manali, but instead of crossing Rohtang La, this route will take you towards Spiti Valley as you traverse across the entire lush green Himalayan region. Along the way you will find magnificent monasteries such as Dhankar, Ki and Komic, where meditative incantations can be experienced and where the atmosphere exudes a contemplative tranquility. You will also have the opportunity to stay in traditionally built houses and settlements in the remote regions of Tabo and Kaza.
And after crossing the mighty Kunzum La (4,551 m), you will again join the Leh-Manali highway and ride through Baralacha La, Nakee La, Lachung La and Tanglang La to enter the Ladakh valley. And just like the previous route, the famous Khardung and Chang passes will be crossed on this route as well.
The entire route covering Spiti and Ladakh valleys takes about 16 days with a total riding distance of 2500 kilometers. Do note that this route should only be ventured by experienced riders, as it requires a high level of off-road ability to cross Spiti valley in order to get back on the highway.
The last and the most ideal route for both beginners as well as intermediate riders is the Ladakh Circuit. And owing to its relatively short distance (1400 kilometers), anyone who wants to traverse through the Himalayan region quickly (in less than 10 days) can opt for this route.
Compared to the previous two routes, that include numerous high mountain passes, there are only two major mountain peaks on this route: Khardung La and Chang La. And while Khardung La is located in the Ladakh range (north of Leh) and connects the Indus River valley with the Shyok River valley, Chang La serves as the gateway to the famous Pangong Tso Lake.
Nevertheless, the adventure and experience you gain on any of these routes remain the same.
How to plan your Himalayan motorcycle tour
The planning of a potentially multi-week motorcycle trip to the Himalayas must begin early, as it involves in-depth considerations. There is more to planning than just making a packing checklist. It needs to be practical and should include all the basic parameters. Doing so requires time for research. How will I prepare for the trip? What do I want to see along the way? What interesting routes lead to my destinations? What will it all cost me? All these questions should be well addressed while planning the tour.
While choosing your destinations, consider the routes you would likely enjoy. For example, if you like to ride on the highway, you should choose the Manali – Ladakh route. On the other hand, if you prefer challenging roads that involve a lot of off-roading, you should include Spiti valley in your favored destinations. However, if you enjoy relaxed winding mountain roads with an average riding time of not more than 5 hours per day, Ladakh circuit should be your preferred itinerary.
So, plan ahead and decide where you want to go and how far you want to go. You should also work out whether the tour should include heritage sites and monasteries or whether it should be a pure adventure.
And besides destination, you should also think about the starting point of your tour. Based on this, you can search along the route for interesting places to stop at or routes that suit your preferences.
Do keep in mind that when planning this type of motorcycle tour, where you are constantly gathering information, the desire to visit as many places as possible will grow. However, not every region or place can be visited, if you look at it practically. Therefore, it is never a bad idea to make a list of must-visit destinations and the ones that are optional.
Things to Expect while riding in the Himalayas
A motorcycle tour of the Himalayas encompasses some of the world’s most astonishing, challenging and breathtaking scenery. With everything from the great lakes of Ladakh; Tso Moriri, Tso Kar and Pangong Tso to the highest motorable passes in the world.
As a matter of fact, this tour is considered to be one of the most prestigious among adventure enthusiasts. Its demanding routes and the magnificence of the mountains have attracted riders from all over the world.
And besides the fact that you will pass through some breathtaking sceneries on this epic route, you will also have the opportunity to discover the true culture of the Himalayas. Amongst the most vibrant and impressive cultural features of this route are its monasteries, most of which are centuries old and house unique Buddhist treasures. These monasteries are one of the few places where Tibetan Buddhism is still practiced in its original form.
Plus, you will have the opportunity to visit Leh Bazaar (Tibetan market) where arts and crafts such as metalwork, painting, weaving and carving are displayed.
But aside from the beauty and majesty of this region, expect a dramatic change in weather throughout the route. The average summer temperature varies between 10 to 15° C, while the winters get extremely cold (well below freezing). And the higher you traverse through this region, the lower the temperature drops (below 0°C even in summers).
In short, it is anything but an easy ride, as most of the curves on this route are at an altitude of 10,000 feet or more! Furthermore, the unpredictability of this region makes it even more difficult. But it is this unpredictability that makes this experience even more surreal and helps pump up the adrenaline!
What is the best time to plan a Himalayan motorcycle tour?
The Himalayas are themselves responsible for creating their own climatic divide due to their enormous altitude of over 10,000 feet and therefore exhibiting different climatic zones depending on the elevation and region. For instance, the southern region of the Himalayas enjoys a subtropical climate, while the northern areas experience dry weather.
Moreover, the climate in the Himalayas is strongly influenced by the Indian southwest monsoon, which brings considerable rainfall in summers. This precipitation begins in early June in the regions around the lower Himalayas (such as Manali), where significant rainfall can be expected during this period.
On the other hand, monsoon hardly reaches the upper regions of the Himalayas, so very little precipitation falls here (Kaza and Tabo regions in the Spiti Valley). The same applies to Nubra valley near Ladakh, which lies in the rain shadow and is partly very dry thus exhibiting a desert-like climate.
In terms of temperature, the climate is quite pleasant starting from the month of May. However, this can change depending on the altitude and latitude of the area. The approximate temperature varies between 10-15°C during the day and reaches about 4-5°C at night during summers. And apart from some hail and snow storms on the peaks, the climate remains unchanged until September. After that, you can expect a lot of snow until April.
So, considering the temperature and the weather, best time for venturing on a motorcycle tour to Himalayas would be from May until the last week of September. Furthermore, the month of June is considered particularly ideal, as the temperature is pleasant and tourists are few.
Best places to visit on a motorcycle tour of Himalayas
In the breathtaking valleys of the Himalayas are the enchanting provinces of Ladakh and Zanskar. And there’s no better way to explore this region other than undertaking our Himalayan motorcycle tour. While we agree that the terrain can be quite treacherous, the overall experience will make it all worthwhile. Let’s take a look at some of the most revered regions and places that are a must visit on this tour.
Located towards the northern part of Leh (capital of Ladakh), Nubra valley can only be reached by traversing through high mountain passes, all of which are above 5,000 meters. Moreover, the valley is surrounded by Karakoram Mountains, Shyok as well as Nubra River.
It is in fact one of the most fascinating valleys that surprisingly is covered with desert all throughout the year. And the villages, where you can often find two humped camels, are heartwarming. You will find both tented accommodations as well as boutique hotels here, and it is highly recommended to spend at least one night in this magical land of the Himalayas.
Zanskar is an ancient kingdom and a part of Ladakh separated by the Zanskar mountain range. The difficult accessibility of Zanskar fascinates and baffles most riders in equal measures. As such, it takes at least two days to reach Padum, the capital of Zanskar. And if you like hiking, Zanskar valley has a lot to offer.
To reach Zanskar, you will have to ride towards Kargil via the Suru Valley. Furthermore, you will ride beneath the majestic Nun and Kun mountains, which are located at an altitude of 7,077 meters, to finally reach Pensi La at 4,400 meters, which is also known as the gateway to Zanskar.
As an added bonus, this route offers the opportunity to visit Alchi Monastery, Lamayuru Monastery and the gigantic statue of Maitreya Buddha (Jampa Buddha).
Lakes of Himalayas
The three picturesque lakes of the upper Himalayas; Pangong Tso, Tsomoriri and Tsokar are all located on the Changthang Plateau, part of the Tibetan Plateau in eastern Ladakh and home to numerous nomads. These three salt lakes are very popular among travelers and are considered to be the mystical lakes of the Himalayas.
And like all the other lakes of the Himalayas, these three lakes are absolutely clean, fresh and are known to change their color from blue to green depending on the sunlight.
Speaking of Pangong; it is an endorheic lake that stretches between eastern Ladakh and western Tibet at an altitude of 4,225 meters. It is a real treat for travelers and worth every effort. Do note that in order to reach this lake, you have to cross the mighty Chang La Pass, which is located at an altitude of 5,300 meters.
Next up is Tso Moriri, which, by the way, is the farthest from Leh. So, in order to reach there, you have to endure a seven-hour long ride. Now, one of the few permanent settlements in Changthang and the only one in Tso Moriri is Korzok. This is where you will meet many international riders from different parts of the world. And because of its popularity, this lake can be a bit crowded depending on the time of year. Nevertheless, the lake itself is so beautiful and captivating that you will overlook any minor imperfections.
Last but not least we recommend Tsokar Lake, which truth be told is no less impressive when compared with Pangong Tso and Tso Moriri. In fact, this lake is actually a paradise for birdwatchers: Black-necked cranes, kyangs (Tibetan wild asses), wolves, foxes and gazelles can be found here. It takes about five hours by motorcycle to reach the lake from Leh and around two hours from Tso Moriri. So, if you plan to include Tso Moriri from Leh (or vice versa) in your itinerary, it is quite feasible to make a stop at Tsokar.
Tip: If you have to choose the best of the three lakes, we recommend that you choose Pangong Tso. It offers you the best of both worlds!
Types of cuisine offered on this tour
Himalayan cuisine is strongly influenced by Tibetan & Indian kitchen. As such, in the upper mountainous regions of the Himalayas, you can find a number of Tibetan dishes, whereas the cuisine in the lower Himalayan region is mainly influenced by northern India. These dishes have a remarkable taste that resemble a slobbering blend of Indian and Tibetan culture. Simply put, you will have the chance to enjoy absolutely diverse and unique dishes on this Himalayan motorcycle tour.
Lentils (dal), rice (bhat) and chicken curry (kadhai chicken) are something that can be found almost everywhere and are practically staples of every Ladakhi kitchen.
In addition to rice and chicken, there are many dishes made with noodles. These are occasionally fried with onions, tomatoes, cottage cheese, eggs and vegetables, while in some courses chicken is also added to the noodles.
Another common cuisine found in this region are Momos, served along with spicy and hot sauces. These momos or dumplings are stuffed with vegetables or meat and are either deep-fried or steamed.
As for the big cities like Manali or Leh, you can find almost everything on the menu of a good restaurant, from continental to American. And yes, these restaurants and cafes are absolutely clean and hygienic, and so are their serving staff.
Which bike would be the most ideal for Himalayan tour?
Not all motorcycles can be ridden everywhere; a designated two-wheeler exists for each purpose.
Broadly speaking, most riders find it easier to ride lightweight, compact machines in mountainous regions that comes equipped with wide handlebars and allows a relatively upright riding position.
This is the reason why the Royal Enfield Himalayan is just about right for these tours. Foregoing huge horsepower and electronic gimmicks, it instead focuses on reliable engine and modest fuel consumption. And it’s not the similarity in name that influenced our decision, but rather the strong built that is specifically designed to tackle the challenges encountered on this route.
And much to our delight, this bike is astonishingly comfortable on long-haul tours. It is characterized by long suspension travel, lightweight engine and simplistic design. In addition, it adapts perfectly to the body, regardless of the size or build, and allows a comfortable riding posture. Moreover, the weight of the bike is not too high, which by the way proves to be the most important factor in this region just in case the rider gets stuck and needs an extra hand to push.
Above all, this bike allows you to enjoy the surreal beauty around you without any distractions.
Suggested Reading: Best Motorcycles For Touring In The Himalayas
Things to pack for your Himalayan motorcycle tour
Based on our personal experiences from previous expeditions, we have compiled this checklist for your upcoming trip. Do note that we are only mentioning essentials for this trip and does not include any of the personal stuffs related to grooming or personal hygiene.
- Visa & Passport along with photocopies
- International driving license
- Light shirts and pants
- Warm jackets
- Sweat shirts
- Waterproof jacket liner
- Sunblock creams (SPF 60+)
- Full face helmet
- Riding jacket
- Riding gloves & boots
For a detailed guide please refer to our section: Long distance motorcycle touring
How to book your Himalayan motorcycle tours of India?
Most guided tours are organized between the months of May and September. We recommend that you book half a year in advance to be able to avail the date you desire as well as to plan your expedition accordingly.
Our Himalayan motorcycle tour is designed to give you the most out of your available time while making it as comfortable as possible. You can book this tour for any number of days with us. As such, we have some fixed itineraries, plus we are open to all kinds of customization. By doing so, we ensure that each group is offered exactly what they have been looking for.
Our customized motorcycle tours include private group tours for 7 days, 9 days, 15 days, 18 days and more, depending on the region you wish to explore. And if you are still unsure about reserving a tour with us, you are welcome to contact us for more information.
More than anything else, our expeditions are about experiences. We do not believe in traversing these regions in haste, but rather emphasize on taking multiple stoppages in and around the valley to ensure that each and every rider has taken in as much of the surroundings as possible.
Important things to know before planning your Himalayan motorcycle trip
Despite its magnificent landscapes and thriving tourism, the Himalayan ranges are treacherous. Traveling in these regions offers many exciting adventures and experiences, but can also be a challenge and not everything is always smooth (landslides, avalanches, snow storms, etc.).
Be empathetic and considerate of the locals and their culture. Many regions you will travel through will be remote and completely different from what you might have imagined. So, be compassionate and try not to judge everything from your perspective.
Extensive motorcycling for extended hours is a prerequisite to be able to thoroughly enjoy your time in the Himalayas. However, no special preparation is required to embark on this adventurous journey except for those outlined here.
All expeditions to the Himalayas require good physical and mental fitness. Also, a high degree of modesty is expected, as well as willingness to engage in simplistic lifestyle. So, anyone expecting luxury should not participate in these extreme tours.
And lastly, sudden changes in weather are to be expected. So, even if alternate routes / destinations are kept as a backup, not everything always goes as planned.
Embarking on a motorcycle tour of Himalayas, without any doubt is adventurous, but requires a lot of pre-planning as well as budget. You will have to invest in all the essential safety gear like full-face helmet, jacket, touring gloves, as well as riding boots. Added to this is your international travel cost and travel insurance that you might have opted for.
As such, a 15-day Himalayan motorcycle tour of India will cost you anywhere in between $4000 to $5000 depending on your spending habits. Rest assured, trips like these are worth every penny invested. And if you are traveling in a big group, this expense usually reduces to almost $3500 for a 15-day trip.
You might already have a health insurance policy in your home country that covers the cost of international medical emergencies. However, there are usually limitations to the coverage these policies offer. So, you need to know what to expect and what not to expect if a medical problem arises while touring in the Himalayas. Travel insurance or travel health insurance have proven to help travelers start their trip with peace of mind knowing they will avoid unexpected costs that may arise during the trip.
But do keep in mind that you do not have to purchase every insurance you are offered just because there could be danger lurking somewhere. This is quite expensive and at times it is cheaper to bear the costs yourself in case of an (unlikely) accident than to pay high insurance premiums. Moreover, a simple visit to the doctor in India is rarely expensive, but for more serious matters, the costs can skyrocket. So, travel insurance or international health insurance is recommended in any case. After all, it would be too upsetting if you had to interrupt your trip due to unforeseen treatment costs. However, make sure that the benefits also include return transport and rescue costs in the event of an emergency.
If you are traveling from a foreign country to India, you must comply with the import regulations, i.e., products that can be brought from your home country to India.
A traveler is allowed to bring a maximum of two liters of spirit (wine or beer) and a maximum of 100 cigarettes, 25 cigars or 125 grams of tobacco.
However, E-cigarettes are not allowed to be imported. Further, you are allowed to carry a maximum of 60 ml of perfume without declaring it to customs. Also, jewelry worth up to INR 50,000 (approx. USD 600) is allowed to be carried by men, while jewelry worth up to INR 100,000 (approx. USD 1200) is allowed to be carried by women.
In case you are on medication, make sure you have a proper prescription with you. Please note that if you are carrying medicines that fall under the Opium Act, such as sleeping pills, strong painkillers, ADHD medicines, or medical cannabis, you should contact the embassy to understand the procedure.
If you are an American, you are allowed to bring cash from your country to India as long as the total value does not exceed $5,000 USD. Same applies to all other foreign nationals, by converting this amount into your respective currency and complying with the law. If you are carrying more than the mentioned amount, you will have to declare it at customs. Also, note that the amount we have mentioned is for foreign currency. In case you are carrying Indian Rupees, the value should not exceed INR 25,000.
Rest assured, there are ATMs (money vending machines) everywhere in the country, even in small towns. So, you can reliably and quickly get Indian currency any time you need it.
Apart from a valid passport and a travel visa, all the foreign nationals who are participating in Himalayan motorcycle tours of India need to carry travel permits in order to ride across Pangong Tso, Tso Moriri and Nubra valley. This Protected Area Permit (PAP) or Restricted Area Permit (RAP) can only be acquired through tour operators (like Wild Triumph) that are registered with the Tourism Department of the Indian Government.
Please note that you can arrive in India without your Protected Area Permits, but you won’t be allowed to cross certain regions of the Himalayas without this official document. The legal formalities generally take around 24-48 hours, so it is advisable to keep a buffer of one or two days in between before planning your adventure.
International riders are allowed to operate all types of motorized vehicles in India, provided they have an international or Indian driver’s license. An international driver’s license for India is valid for one year from the date of issue and is generally issued by regional transport offices.
In order to apply for an international driver’s license for India, you will need to present a valid passport, a valid visa for India, proof of address and your current driver’s license (of your home country).
Do note that visitors coming to India on a tourist visa for a short period can use the international driver’s license. However, riders planning to stay for more than a year must apply for an Indian driver’s license.
No mandatory vaccinations are required in order to enter Indian territory for any foreign nationals including riders from the United States, Australia, and Europe.
However, this regulation does not apply to those traveling from yellow fever areas, including Africa, New Guinea, and Latin America. For this reason, travelers who have previously been in these areas must present their yellow fever vaccination certificate.
In addition, exercise caution while traveling in crowded areas or when deviating from the defined itinerary. As a preventive measure, it is best to be vaccinated against Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Typhoid and Tuberculosis.
In order to embark on a motorcycle trip to the Himalayas, you will either have to reach Manali (lower Himalayan region) or Ladakh (upper Himalayan region) depending on the itinerary.
However, no direct international flights are connected from any of these two regions. So, in order to reach Manali or Ladakh, you would have to first arrive at New Delhi International Airport (IATA Code: DEL). Post which, you can board connecting flights to either Manali (Kullu–Manali Airport IATA: KUU) or Ladakh (Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport IATA: IXL).
Traffic density in India is usually high and foreign nationals might require some time to accustom themselves to the rules and regulations. Traffic laws, overtaking maneuvers, etc. are very different from those in the west. However, traffic in the Himalayas is very moderate, but due to the vagaries of the weather, the condition of the road at times is sub-par. That is why an average speed of no more than 40 km/h is recommended in these regions.
The most important rule that should be adhered to under all circumstances is riding sober. Driving under the influence of alcohol is strictly prohibited and violators are strictly penalized.
Also note that blowing horn in India is not a sign of protest like in other countries. It sometimes is used to alert the driver and sometimes used as a gesture to convey information about falling rocks or landslides.
Another important point to keep in mind is that traffic flows on the left-hand side of the road. At roundabouts, you should give way to traffic coming from the right. And you should use turn indicators to inform other road users of your direction.
And lastly, while riding on steep mountain roads, the motorcycle going downhill should stop on one side of the road to allow the other vehicle to go uphill and pass the road.
To enjoy unrestricted freedom on two wheels as well as to admire the beauty of the Himalayas, a biker generally needs to be in control of his motorcycle at all times. The forces acting on the motorcycle during acceleration and braking are much higher in the Himalayas and put a significant amount of strain on the muscles around the arms, shoulders and upper body. In addition, numbness in the hands due to prolonged riding is not uncommon here.
Therefore, fitness should be your number one priority in order to participate in Himalayan motorcycle tours. And by physical fitness, we don’t mean lifting heavy dumbbells or performing deadlifts, but rather exercising with one’s own body weight, which helps to improve general endurance and stamina.
Riding in the Himalayas is probably one of the most daring adventures a motorcyclist can undertake. That said, the route followed on this tour is not for the faint hearted. On one side you will see steep valleys with rivers meandering through them, while on the other side there are gigantic mountains and rocks. In addition, you will ride through sharp hairpin bends and unpaved gravel roads.
In short, a motorcycle trip around the Himalayas is regarded as an extreme adventure and is definitely not recommended for novice riders or for someone who has just learnt to ride a bike.
While fatal motorcycle accidents are not very common, given the nature of this adventure, it is best to exercise all necessary precautions. Besides, most people ride around the Himalayas by participating in a fully guided tour that accompanies a group leader and a team of support staff, which is probably the sanest thing to do by the way.
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