As part of xBhp’s #theO2Ride we will be taking Moto-musicians around the country on a roadtrip like never before. This is the story of Puneet Vohra, who is travelling with the xBhp team from Delhi to Kolkata, about his journey earlier this year on his Harley Davidson Iron 883 to Spiti and back. Read Puneet’s journey of music, motorcycles and his Spiti sojourn!
Born and raised in the capital New Delhi and very passionate about the things I do. My life’s journey till now has been very astonishing and eventful. Lived a very simple life trying to learn and experience the beauty of life. I was very much into sports and music when I was a kid and one thing that stayed within me and now has become the major and the most important part of my life is music. I have been playing the guitar and singing since school days. Got motivated and an inclination during college days when I started taking part in solo singing and instrumental competitions and playing in different colleges, getting recognition and winning prizes. I am an electronics and communication engineer as well, though I did not stay in that field for long! I worked in the corporate sector for a few years. Life showed me another way when I finished college and came back to Delhi and started working in a company and playing in a band as well. Slowly and steadily music took over my soul and I could not feel connected with the I work I was doing. This battle in my mind went on for 5 years and in 2011 I quit my job to continue my journey in music without looking back. I am a full time touring musician and a music teacher now. I take individual and group guitar and vocal lessons, conduct guitar workshops and go to various schools, colleges as well. I connect with Rock and Metal music a lot and I have been riding a motorcycle for a long time now. This is actually a crazy combination and was enough for me to dream of getting a machine which is pure metal, iconic and a perfect blend of beauty and power and absolutely badass to the core. Thinking and singing legendary songs like Bad to the bone, Born to be wild, Brotherhood of man and long roads, my dream started in 2014. The excitement to make my dream turned into a reality continued for 2 years and was absolutely alive throughout. I have always believed that dreams they do come true if you are passionate. I was searching and trying to get more information on bikes and what is best for me and one day in Feb 2016 I went to the Capital Harley showroom and I saw this Heavy Metal Iron 883 shining with this amazing Olive Gold paint. I like old school stuff and for me Iron was perfect as I could customise it and visualise it like I had in mind and it had enough power and versatility to make it my everyday bike and a touring beast. That is it. My dream for owning the legendary Harley Davidson turned into a love affair and I could sing and feel the freedom with my Iron and actually live the life I was born to live!
Last year after completing the Ladakh circuit on a motorcycle I got myself introduced to a completely new world and the mesmerising beauty and terrain left me speechless and I promised myself and mother nature that I would go back again to embrace and learn. Spiti was always hovering around because its a little marooned and far away from civilisation and the valley lies almost entirely above 10,000ft. When I visualise it all, its like moving to another planet and some beautiful villages and culture right in the middle of the Himalayas. It gives me a very good high, especially when I seek inspiration, peace, connection with nature and when I want to know and understand myself better and the cause of existence which is for sure not happening in the city life. I did search a lot about this terrain and found out to be one of the toughest and treacherous route, I think it was more than enough to take the challenge, adventure and one hell of a ride.
My plan was to complete the circuit which starts from Shimla and ends in Manali, though we can go to Spiti from Manali as well and the route was already open but I wanted to explore it through Shimla side and have the pleasure of riding the Hindustan-Tibet Highway (NH-22) on the first day itself. So, my first day riding ended straight at Sangla covering Shimla, Narkanda and Rampur which came out to be 630 km from Delhi as I had to take a different route which added around 50kms extra because of a landslide and it took me around 18 hours with some breaks in between. An overnight stay in Sangla and next day explored Chitkul which is the last inhabited village near the Indo-China border and the same day started my journey towards Kalpa covering Reckong Peo and it took a few hours and the total riding was around 70kms and stayed for a night in Kalpa gazing the mighty Kinner Kailash Range. Next day was full of excitement and adventure as I had to reach my ultimate destination Kaza (Spiti Valley). The distance was around 200 km from Kalpa but it took me a little more time because of a huge landslide on the way and the traffic was stopped on both sides because of the continuous showering of stones which was happening since morning. I had to wait for 2 hours. My next destination on the way was Nako and Tabo where I spent an evening. Kaza is around 50kms from Tabo. So, I started my ride towards Kaza in the evening and one of the most memorable rides I would say as I witnessed some beautiful colours by nature riding along the Spiti river and it was getting dark as well. So, a few kilometres riding was in the night time and singing Born to be wild actually got me safely to Kaza! Next day was to know the place, explore local market and some of the villages near by. So, covered Ki-Kibber-Hikkim-Komik-Langza. 5th day ride was another adventurous and I would say bumpy which was from Kaza covering Losar and a mighty Himalayan Pass (Kunzum La) and then through Battal which was like a river bed and big stones encountered on the way along with a lot of stream crossings and then finally to another mighty pass (Rohtang La) to enter Manali. This ride was around 200 km but took 8 to 9 hours because of the road conditions (I mean no road conditions!) and 1 hour of wait after Rohtang Pass cause of another landslide. With a sense of achievement and overcoming the challenges and the pleasure of riding my Harley Davidson Iron 883 through such a terrain, I had a little party and slept with this beautiful dream. Final day ride back to Delhi and a long one for around 550 km done in around 10-11 hours.
Covered around 1900 kms in 6 days starting Delhi-Shimla-Narkanda-Rampur-Sangla-Chitkul–Kalpa-Nako-Tabo-Kaza-Ki-Kibber-Hikkim-Komik-Langza-Losar-Kunzum-Battal-Rohtang-Manali-Delhi.
The best advice I can give for doing this route on such a bike is to take your time and plan your ride. Journeys like these are full of surprises and sometimes beyond our vision, so plan the best you can for yourself and for your machine friend. Get your bikes serviced or may be checked before you take a long one like this. We all know our body very well and it requires time to adapt to such conditions specially when going towards the higher altitude and the risk of AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) is there which can happen to anyone, does not matter how healthy you are physically or mentally. Another factor is the weather which can drop like crazy as well as make you feel the heat, so carry layers accordingly to take care of both the conditions. The most important thing is to ride carefully and with concentration because nature says “”Be Gentle on my Curves”” and do abide by that, specially if you plan to ride this terrain. Do not ride fast or try unnecessary overtakes. Divide your journey, stop for a breather after sometime if you cannot stretch, stay overnight if required, do not rush and most importantly stay hydrated and try to eat light food. First time is always the best and the most memorable and you will enjoy and cherish each and every moment of riding. Just keep the sense of adventure and to face the challenges alive in you with passion and strong will, rest everything will follow and you will have the best time and experience.
Before planning this ride there were a few things hitting me constantly and I was contemplating whether to take my Iron for this route or not. One was the ground clearance. It’s actually really good as far as other models are concerned but not like a proper adventure tourer where you do not have to worry about hitting anything. The kind of a route it was, most of the time it was an off-road experience and I was really surprised and happy to see that the ground clearance on this machine did not give me a lot of trouble and my off-road experience was really good. It was sailing nicely apart from a few very bad patches where you have big stones and you hear something touching your bike but it was still alright for such terrain. Another challenge was the weight of the bike and the manoeuvrability especially when you have roads going uphill and downhill with curves and when you have added weight as well. I think it is just a matter of getting closer to your bike and to know it. Strong hands will do and anticipating a turn will definitely help. For me it turned out very well and I was actually able to ride it nicely especially when going up and taking a turn. The 3rd and the last worry actually was about fuel. Big engines are thirsty and on such terrain they are more so. With a 12.5L fuel tank I was not sure how well it would perform and the kind of mileage I would get especially when fuel stations are not available everywhere but the Iron performed exceptionally well actually and I didn’t have to stop every time to get fuel apart from one stretch from Kaza to Manali where I had to carry some extra fuel.
For me this whole journey was full of achievements especially taking my Iron and riding it through the rough Himalayan terrain was an achievement in itself. Right from the thrill of riding the Hindustan-Tibet Highway to the last inhabited village in India to the highest inhabited village in the world Kibber in Spiti Valley (14,110 feet) was like a crazy experience. The biggest endeavour I think was to reach Kunzum Pass (4,590 m) covered with snow mountains all around and some of the stream crossings on my way to Manali from Kunzum Pass.
There are so many things I got to know about my bike on this journey. I knew that the learning is going to be immense this time as this route was treacherous and most of the time there were no roads and it was all off road experience. I think the stability factor that really kicked me and pushed me to take it and ride it hard on that terrain. This bike is built solid with perfection and a wonderful weight distribution. Even after extra weight loaded on my bike I was able to corner it and go uphill with a nice pace and was able to roll the wheels smoothly on the roads full of stones which gave me a lot of motivation and confidence. A few places where I encountered slippery roads cause of less traction the bike was slipping a little but it was stable however gave me a nice adrenaline rush for that moment. My Iron 883 astonished me with the performance and possibilities to take it anywhere actually.
I met bikers, photographers, travellers, nature lovers from our country and across the world. I was really happy to meet and share some moments and stories with them. Some of them were experienced riders and doing this trip for like 3rd time and actually appreciated me for getting a Harley Davidson motorcycle on such terrain. Locals are friendly and guide you properly and you can actually sit with them and talk over a cup of tea and get to know the culture which was very nice. It takes so much for someone to actually leave everything back home and just travel because that is the only thing they want to do. Meeting so passionate people was such a wonderful experience. Some of them travelling solo from USA, Israel, Brazil and they are on a long world tour for a year or something. These guys left their jobs and sold their house and other valuable things to just get enough money to travel the world, which is like insane. Another great thing for me was to actually speak with them regarding music as most of them were music enthusiast and we connected so well that we did a part of journey riding and spending time together. I met a lot of animals as well, specially the dogs. Beautiful creature and so friendly, that is why I love going to the mountains and of course I met the majestic Himalayas and the stories of nature are mesmerising and mysterious and you have to visualise that and capture with your eyes and save it on an album in your mind to cherish for the life time.
I want to ride as much as I can this year. I am searching and making a list of places which are less explored and some places I really want to visit. I feel so much connected with my Iron now and it’s so tempting to just take a bag, make my Iron roar and just leave maybe for a day or two. My ambition is to cover India and neighbouring countries on two wheels which I intend to do in a few years. There is no solid planning as such for this year. It depends upon the availability as I am a touring musician but I know one thing that the moment I will get some time I will be riding and nothing else. I want to visit Bhutan, Nepal and explore North East. Some places in Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Gujarat. Actually our country is huge and the beauty is immense. Though after the Spiti ride, I feel so connected with the terrain and I would love to take my Iron to Ladakh, hopefully next year.
TEXT & PHOTOS: Puneet Vohra