Text: Julian Challis • Photography: Julian Challis

I have to keep reminding myself that this is a road. Ahead of me, a torrent of mountain water cascades over boulders before dropping off a sheer cliff edge. Muscling my Royal Enfield through what is clearly a river, the route goes straight into a steep chicane of vicious rock steps until it crosses the river once more. Out of the icy water, the infamous Bhena Hill is in front of me—a cruel combination of a 45-degree gradient, square-edged slabs, and marble-sized gravel.

As the support crew stands by, I employ every riding skill I have to ensure I reach the top unscathed. When the bike and I finally bounce over the last of the steps, the sense of relief and achievement is enormous. I’ve ridden bikes all over the world, but this is the most extreme terrain I’ve ever encountered.

The road, between Chele and Ghami in the Upper Mustang Valley, was the penultimate road stage before reaching our base in Lo Manthang. But I guess I’d better backtrack to the start of the journey to explain why I was fighting a road motorcycle over hard enduro terrain in northern Nepal.


The Journey Begins

Our journey had started two weeks earlier in Manali, at the foot of the Indian Himalayas. I was joining seven other riders and a support team from Ride Expeditions on a scouting tour for a film project, which would travel all the way from the north of India down to the Nepalese border, through Nepal, and up to the remote Mustang region, before finishing off almost a month later in the capital city of Kathmandu. All but one of us were riding Royal Enfield Bullet 500s. For more ground clearance over the rough stuff, we’d gone for the dubiously named Machismo version, with its 19-inch wheels.  

The one rider who had booked an RE Himalayan was Aussie Dave, who joined fellow antipodeans Ali and Greg, an ex-pat Aussie Allan, Rick from Kansas, the would-be Greek Jed from Manchester, our Irish medic John, our lead and sweep riders Nono and Ramu, and our Indian mechanic and support van drivers Manoj and Rajej. A truly international cast.

Our route down through India was relatively uneventful, save for the unexpected delays caused by traveling into the run-up to the Diwali festival. The onslaught of pedestrians and all manners of poorly lit vehicles concentrates the mind enormously.

Arriving at the Nepalese border on day five, we were glad to be leaving the chaos of India behind. But the process was not exactly easy. First off, we were told not to take photographs and glared at for about 10 minutes on the Indian side before crossing into Nepal. While having our paperwork checked at the immigration building, a large monkey got into the van and proceeded to go slightly mad before the crew persuaded it to leave. 

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the May/June 2021 back issue.