What we can do is take a moment, step off the hamster wheel and look to the stars. No one said you couldn’t do that from your balcony. But we’re intelligent primates, we can do it better. We could include a motorcycle, a travel plan, and a camera. This, however, entails a lot of preparation and paperwork. Leave it to Royal Enfield Astral Ride to save the day. Details on how to register, how much to pay, what is included, and the itinerary are at end of the article.
Royal Enfield Astral Ride 2022: Leh – Tso Moriri – Hanle – Pangong – Leh
There are beaches, there are mountains and then there is Ladakh. The region has some very unique views owing to the fact that it is a cold desert and houses the world’s highest motorable passes and hence offers terrain that can be tricky but immensely rewarding to ride through. Registering for a ride like Royal Enfield’s Astral means there’s continuous support in terms of motorcycle breakdowns or falls, luggage, accommodation, permits, and also medical support.
The 2022 Astral Ride begins in Leh. The day you arrive and the next day are all about acclimatisation. This should be taken very seriously because altitude changes affect people differently and can be dangerous. All you need to do is take it easy the first couple of days. These days are also when a short ride around town can be done to familiarise yourself with the bike, a Royal Enfield Himalayan.
This was, in fact, my second ride in Ladakh with the Himalayan. We’ve tested this motorcycle through its generations over the years starting from when it kickstarted the ADV motorcycle fan base in the mass market back in 2015. There is a specific reason why the roads of Ladakh are dotted with the Himalayan. It offers an ease of operation and has a go anywhere attitude for even those who’re very new to off-roading.
The third day is when the saga begins. Ride out at 8-8.30 am and after exiting Leh you’re greeted with some of the nicest tarmacs I’ve had a chance to ride on. Long straights through open fields and sections of sweeping curves. Embrace this because with one right turn after Upshi through a metal bridge there is no dark tarmac in sight – just dirt and water crossings.
A night stay next to the Tso Moriri lake turns out to be a very integral stop in the trip as it allows the body to get used to higher altitudes. Some of the riders in the group felt uneasy here (including myself with my O2 saturation at 72) but the crew carries oxygen cylinders and there’s a resident doctor to deal with such situations. All was well by the next morning for the ride to Hanle.
Hanle has got to be a special place on your ‘must-visit list of places’ if the cosmos intrigues you. The Hanle Observatory is one of the world’s highest-located sites for optical, infrared, and gamma-ray telescopes. Not to mention, the night sky is beyond words beautiful from here as the Milky Way galaxy is clearly visible to the naked eye. This is where a night is not enough if you’re a photo bug.
The Astral Ride not only lets you ride through some of the most spectacular landscapes but also trains budding photographers for astral photography. And yes, leave the camera on extended exposure and it sees a lot more than you do. Participants are encouraged to bring their camera equipment and a professional photographer trains them on how to capture such visuals and also edit them through means of classroom and practical training. Least to say, to see an arm of the galaxy right above you in the cold cold weather makes your heart happy – gives you a core memory.
We spent two nights in Hanle which means there was a full day of nothing in between. This is where Royal Enfield rides reveal a brilliant feature – flexibility. The Umling La pass, the highest motorable mountain pass in the world, is only about 30 km from Hanle Village. All participants agreed to visit it and we did.
The ride to the pass can be tricky with only dirt and rocks to navigate through and a section of a serious incline via a number of hairpin bends, along with the rider and bike both feeling substantially breathless. The route only demands the first and second gear but once at the top at 19,024 feet, staring down the road that heads to the last Indian village, instills a sense of achievement.
The astral photography opportunities continue after Hanle as well. Pangong Tso offers a clear night sky as well and there are two nights here. Pangong is also where the tarmac makes a joyous return after off-roading days on end from Tso Moriri to Hanle to Pangong.
By this time, apart from the ride and photography, progress happens on another avenue – the motorcycling camaraderie brings people together and quite simply hands them, new friends. Where the first three-four days can feel tiring, by the sixth day you’re feeling ecstatic but also nostalgic and you haven’t even left Leh behind yet.
The ride back from Pangong to Leh is a relaxed one, giving you plenty of time to run the wonderful moments you’ve had over the past week through your mind and try to lock in as many as possible. What is now reduced to connections on social media and chat groups, comes from the time spent on the road (or off the road), helping a fellow rider pick up their motorcycle after a fall, elongated chats in the very cozy evenings, staring at the sky together, making friends with the bike, having a hearty laugh at the end of the day.
Riding around Ladakh, crossing high-altitude mountain passes, and soaking in these very unique sights, are things people come from around the world to do. We are lucky we don’t have to fly across the globe to go see Umling La or the Hanle observatory. Just some leaves from the office are all that’s needed, the rest is all handled by Royal Enfield. Not to mention, a ride like this teaches a lot in terms of handling an ADV on surfaces with less traction or say, a river bed.
All of the 15 participants, someone a surgeon, the other an automobile engineer, a marketing executive, and various other walks of life – You took the decision to do this and you took time off from work. I congratulate you all. To the one reading this, if you find this even remotely interesting, in the words of Captain Maverick: “Don’t think, just do.”
A big shout out to the ride lead Pankaj Bishnoi for keeping the convoy together and making sure everyone was comfortable during the ride, plus Doctor Stanzin Sonam for keeping us all breathing well in the thin air, Pushkar Patil for caturing these wonderful photos you see here, Navaneeth Unnikrishnan for imparting hands-on knowledge to the photo buffs, Yuvraj for keeping our motorcycles fit, Pandhan for managing things across the spectrum (and also assisting me in a couple of sticky situations on the road), and the drivers of the support vehicles for making the 2022 Astral Ride one of the greatest experiences of our lives.
Royal Enfield Astral Ride 2022: Registration, fee, itinerary, inclusions
Day 0 – Leh check-in
Day 1 – Leh
Day 2 – Tso Moriri – 220 km
Day 3 – Hanle – 139 km
Day 4 – Hanle
Day 5 – Pangong Tso – 235 km
Day 6 – Pangong Tso
Day 7 – Leh – 170 km
Day 8 – Leh check-out
The Astral Ride is one of the many rides that Royal Enfield conducts every year. It takes place around September and can be registered on the company’s official website. The registration fee is Rs 35,000 which includes the bike rental in Leh, accommodations, food at the venues, and astral photography training. As fuel is scarce after Leh, the crew carries it in the support van which participants pay for as per consumption at the end of the ride.
Carrying the right riding gear is extremely important. Do not substitute anything from a riding jacket, riding pants, protective gloves, or the waterproof boots with only knee guards worn over the jeans or casual leather boots. Bring a buff or balaclava to cover the nose because the cold thin air can get bothersome, not to mention make you sick. It gets cold, the shoes can get wet, or you can have a fall, so being well prepared is advised.