Monday, July 17, 2023

Riding Motorcycles Through the Himalayas in Northern India

Type 1 fun applies to activities you enjoy in the moment, such as eating a delicious meal or walking on the beach. Type 2 fun pursuits are challenging and may not be pleasant in the moment, but they become gratifying when you look back on them (like taking challenging classes or bouldering). Type 3 fun endeavors are unpleasant during and after the fact, but they can become a good story for some people (like an injury or accident).

Our 15th wedding anniversary vacation hit all three types of fun.

A little over a year ago, we learned how to ride motorcycles so we could ride motorcycles through the Himalayas in Northern India. We spent a day in New Delhi before heading north to Leh, Ladakh.

Our guide, Trevor, lived in Corvallis before moving to India, and my friend, Greg, with whom I hang out weekly, joined us.

New Delhi & Leh Ladakh

We spent the day in a part of the city called Old Delhi, which was hot and humid.

And then we flew to Leh in Ladakh, which is at 11,500 ft. I instantly felt the high elevation when the plane doors opened, but Jessi felt totally normal. You must relax for a day to let your blood oxygen levels catch up, so we did. Here's what it looked like from the plane:

Breathing is a little like when you have a semi-stuffed nose which restricts your breathing, so every 4th or 5th breath, you have to open your mouth to "catch up." It was like that almost the entire time.

I was fine when sitting still, but I felt sluggish with ANY movement, including walking up the three floors to our hotel room. My watch tracks my heart rate, which jumped up 20% at high altitude!

The view from our hotel.

Every time we had a break, we ate food and drank chai tea. We drank so much chai tea... up to 5 cups a day. It was so much tea!

Let's Ride

We got our motorcycles and headed for our first destination. Jessi decided it would be best for her to ride on the back of the bike or in the support vehicle instead of riding her own bike. It turned out to be a wise decision when we hit bad weather, and it allowed her to enjoy all the fantastic views.

Here we are, all clean and ready.

And we found a cool bridge.

The hotel was right on a river and super fancy.

A Proper Adventure

We headed over two tall passes (15K & 17K feet). Along the way, we saw some epic views.

And then the weather turned... It started raining, which turned to snow as we approached 17K feet. My helmet's mask totally froze over as we hit the top of the pass.

Eventually, I entered mild (stage 1) hypothermia and took a break from riding. I captured the moment after I got some feeling back in my hands:

That night we huddled around the stove at a family's home during the few hours they had electricity. The heat felt great, and there were only a few water leaks. We drank butter tea (it's tea with... butter) and ate warm soup. 

The next day we geared up to keep going. In our attempts to stay dry, we put bags over our hands. We looked goofy, and the host family wanted a picture of our ridiculousness.

But shortly after we left, we encountered a block in the road - rocks falling from the storm. When that happens, we need to clear it. But while doing that, we saw a small (but life-threatening) rock slide.

And so we decided it was too dangerous to continue. We headed back to the family's house to wait out the storm. But it gave me a chance during a moment of sunshine to get a drone shot of the village.

And we tried to chase down a group of yaks. Those guys can move! Here's as close as we got.

The next day, we headed back out, but this time came across a considerable road problem:

And since that's the only road into the next village - with a repair timeline of 3 to 7 days - we decided to re-tackle the two previous passes and ride in the opposite direction. It was still snowy, but at least we were dry.

Here's what riding in slushy snow looks like.

And there were sections of big mud puddles.

It was unbelievably tiring keeping the bike upright in the snow, on dirt, doing tight switchbacks, and at high altitudes. Classic type-2 fun. Also, the views were amazing.

And we saw more yaks.

Here was the whole crew.

I dropped the bike multiple times while riding and was grateful for everyone's support. I ended the trip sore, but I should be able to recover from all my injuries.

Buddhist Monasteries

We also visited multiple Buddhist monasteries. One allowed us to take pictures, so here's what they look like inside.

We had some good spiritual conversations, and I learned much more about - and experienced - the spiritual climate there.

And back in New Delhi, we experienced a hood-to-coast-like experience. But in this case, relay teams carry water ~150 miles as part of a spiritual ritual. And when they weren't running, they chilled on a big truck blasting music. There were hundreds of trucks! It was quite the sight!

The City of Leh

We ended in Leh and explored the city. Not only was the market fun, but the views were amazing.

We met up with Trevor's family on the final night in New Delhi for dinner. Watching a family reconnect after a couple of weeks of adventuring was so encouraging.

Thanks for letting me share our proper adventure.


  1. Anonymous10:46 PM

    God blessed you and kept you safe during this adventure. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Wow thanks for sharing this! What a great adventure, and especially learning to ride in order to do this. With riding, you are part of the environment, and you’re not in a ‘cage’ as we call cars/buses. I loved the descriptions and pics and videos. Awesome! Oh and about acclimatizing to 11,500’, just think: Everest Base Camp is at 17,600’! Friends who had trekked there remarked at how thin the air is there. Thanks again and welcome back!

  3. James8:02 AM

    I didn't know that was Everest Base Camp's elevation. And now I know just how thin that feels. I totally understand needing oxygen at the top.

  4. Anonymous8:48 AM

    Wow what an adventure! I could feel the excitment!

  5. Anonymous2:41 PM

    Proud of you two! Fantastic life experience.

  6. Anonymous9:06 AM

    Louise Barnard
    Hi James & Jessi, Fabulous pics!!! Mark has been offered a job in Islamabad/Pakistan & we are seriously considering moving there. Any thoughts???

  7. Jared Thayer7:37 AM

    This is so great. Good for you James and Jesse - you two are inspirations!

  8. Anonymous3:50 PM

    Outstanding! - Ryan B.