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Country name: India
Capital: New Delhi
Area: 3,287,263 km²
Population: 135.26 Crores
Language: Hindi, English, Multiple Regional Languages
Currency: Indian Rupee (INR)
Road Length: ~4,320,000 km
Road Details: The Road network of India is the second-largest road network in the World with a total length of around 4,320,000 kilometres. The Indian road network consists of 1000 km -Expressways, 79,243 km -National Highways, 1,31,899 km -State Highways and Other major district and rural roads. Embracing a whopping length of 6,373 km of National Highways and a road network of 150,876 km, Rajasthan, India’s largest state, has the longest road length within India.
Route: Delhi – Narkanda – Kalpa – Nako – Tabo – Kaza and Around – Losar – Manali – Chandigarh – Delhi
Here‘s the link to the map
Roadtrip name: Multistrada to the world’s highest village
Distance: 1500 kms
Ride on: Left side
Metric System: Speed is in KM/H and temperature in Degree Celsius. Fuel or gasoline is measured in litres
Best Weather: June To October
Machine: Ducati Multistrada : 1198.4cc | 150 bhp | 119 Nm | 220 kg (kerb)
The Multistrada was a unique motorcycle. It was powered by the 1198 Superbike Testastretta engine, with a revised valve overlap angle of 11 degrees (from the original 41 degrees in the superbike engine). The power was compromised in this deal but not much. The 1198.4cc Testastretta produced a massive 150 bhp, which is… a lot!
Thumb the starter and the bike came to life with the characteristic V-Twin throbs and vibes. But not before the white backlit console and its surrounding function indicator lights have put on their show. It looked like a launch sequence of something that doesn’t belong to that era.
The bike’s gadgetry included the option to change the character of the bike on the fly by simply pressing a button, even while riding. The four modes, listed below, change the Power and torque delivery, suspension settings (in case of the 1200S), and traction control. This is a big deal even today and we’re talking about 2011 here! The four-bikes-in-one concept used three technologies which interact to instantly change the chassis set-up and character of the Multistrada 1200.
Fitted as standard equipment on all versions, the electronic ride-by-wire system administers three different engine mappings to change the character of the engine, while Ducati Traction Control (DTC) uses eight levels of system interaction to enhance control. For the ’S’ version, Ducati Electronic Suspension (DES) instantly configures the suspension setup.
Manoeuvring the MTS was easier than expected. The turning radius was surprisingly small. The bike was exceptionally light; the weight does not match its heavy looks. At 189 Kg, it was a technological marvel. In fact, all the electronic gadgetry which controlled the different models and suspension setup added a mere 300 gms to it!
More often than not, it is an obvious comparison with the BMW 1200 GS. Understandably so. However, according to us, the two machines are different. In the hands of a good rider, even the BMW 1200 GS can be as agile as the MTS, but that would take a lot of effort owing to the bikes geometry and setup. The MTS is around 10 kgs lighter. Never once did it hit the ground below, including at the famous Malling Nallah.
The front end doesn’t seem overwhelmingly broad or heavy and we had a blast running it like a sports enduro on the non-existent roads. The only drawback which it may have is its stock tyres for such terrain and the rear indicators which are flimsy and prone to breaking under a lot of bumps
Roadtrip Details: Spiti Valley. It is a mountain desert proudly carrying the tag of one of the most difficult and beautiful places in India (and probably the planet Earth) to ride a road motorcycle in. Difficult because of the treacherous terrain and beautiful for its alien landscape and its remote location from the sea of people that India is.
Here’s a video from the ride
And that makes it a rather exotic location that’s nearly on top of many a rider’s bucket list. How apt would it be then if we should take an equally exotic and rare motorcycle (by Indian’s standards) and try and conquer not only the roads crossing this mind-boggling landscape, but take it right up to the world’s highest village connected by a motorable road– Komik at just over 15,000 feet above sea level.
A red Ducati Multistrada 1200 it was. We highly doubt a Multistrada, or for that matter, any Ducati had traversed to this village before. Just the thought of taking a Multistrada all the way up there was giving us goose-bumps.
A gentleman named Anurag Ashok had just swapped his BMW R1200GS for a lovely new red Ducati Multistrada 1200 (henceforth referred to as MTS). He was the one who had ridden with us around Italy for 8000 kms in 2010 and he was well aware of how badly we wanted to take the MTS through Spiti. Owing to our riding friendship, he obliged us with his expensive, though materialistic, acquisition for ten days. A big kudos and Desmosaluti to him for this!
The next piece in the puzzle was a backup. We didn’t want to take a four-wheeler this time, the MTS had enough space with soft panniers and a tank bag loaded up on it. But we wanted someone to shoot on the bike when we wanted to. This was a ride that we wanted to do as a rider, more than a photographer.
This time Sunil Kumar Gupta came into play. Astride on another European, though a ‘relatively’ smaller motorcycle – the ultra-light and nimble Made in India KTM 200 Duke, SunilG was as they say ‘armed and dangerous’!
So we set out on a slightly chilly weekday morning from Delhi towards Shimla. The route that we had decided upon was to go through Shimla and return to Delhi via Manali, completing the ‘inverted noose’ (if you see the loop on the map later in this article, you will understand).
Our first night-halt was in Narkanda, some 70 odd kms beyond the ‘Queen of the Hills’ – Shimla. The road from Delhi to Shimla is better than ever with a number of flyovers bypassing the crowded intersections and towns on the NH1. This with the recently opened ‘Himalayan Expressway’ bypasses the great bottleneck of the town of Kalka and dumps you straight near the town of Parwanoo. Saves a lot of time and hassle indeed! The stretch from Delhi to Parwanoo is 270 kms and can be completed in less than four hours if you will, without throwing safety into the wind. However, the standard rule of being aware of UDOs (Unidentified Driving Objects) on Indian roads still applies.
The first night saw us reach Narkanda after wading through a nightmarish traffic jam through Shimla. This hill station is no better than just another crowded town; commercialization is rampant and has ruined it. Skip it by all means if you intend to taste the real Himachal. We retired in the Hotel Hatu HPTDC (Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development). This hotel is named after a peak which is nearby Narkanda. Do visit that if you want some spectacular views of the Himalayan Range. But we didn’t make that effort since we had (i) been there a number of times before and (ii) the valley of Spiti ahead of us and lots of riding to do.
The next morning gave us an appetizer of things to come. The rear tyre of the Multistrada had ‘contracted’ a puncture. This one was fixed super-quick by our would-be resident puncture expert – Sunil. Thanks to the Touratech compressor that we had along with the Multistrada’s cigarette lighter socket, getting the tyre up to speed was easy.
This day looked to be easy at 143 kms. But the puncture and general lethargy coupled with the twisties and photography stops actually made us reach the destination of the day, Kalpa, at 7 in the evening. However not without a glimpse of the mighty ‘Kinner Kailash’ peak and its perennial snows reaching to a mind-boggling 21,300 feet! We again checked into an HPTDC resort, named after the mighty peak itself. More often than not the government-owned properties are at the best locations in the towns and they are well kept. You can check at www.hptdc.nic.in, for details.
The next day the distance was even lesser, but the roads got super sinuous and narrower. However, we did not regain sight of tarmac entirely until little before the town of Puh, which is the largest town before Kaza which still is a good 200 kms away! No one will know better than us for what transpired between the rear tyre of the Multistrada and the road (or lack of it) during this time.
Around 60 kms before Pooh, we got a bad cut in the rear Scorpion Trail tyre of the Multistrada. This tyre profile had been specially developed by Pirelli to give the MTS all-round capabilities. However, we should have known better. The 150 horses coupled with the high level of DTC (Ducati Traction Control) intervention probably didn’t allow the tyre to roll and throw off the stones on gravel roads as freely as it would have been appropriate and at some point, the bike weighed down on one pointy big one! That’s my theory. The tyre was full of small cuts indeed and it was worrying us. It took two plugs to seal this one in the middle of a mountain road before it started leaking again before Puh. We enquired about the availability of puncture repair ‘specialist’ and luckily found the ‘biggest’ in the region. This was on the roadside. He used three plugs to seal the tyre and it did look like it would work…
It was five in the evening and the sun would set soon. We knew that it gets cold in these parts really fast. So we had to make a call, whether to ride till the village of Nako, 40 kms ahead, or to stay on at Puh in a decent guesthouse. We chose the former, very well knowing the danger of losing air and being stranded. However since we had a portable pump and power source, we guessed we would not be freezing to death under the stars over a shredded rear.
We arrived in Nako, sure. But the 40 kms took us more than two hours courtesy the rear losing air more frequently than an aver-age cab driver’s honking rate in New Delhi. We topped up the air using the pump under the stars and in single-digit temperatures until we finally reached the village of Nako where we retired in a basic room for the night with dal and Maggi.
The next morning we did our routine again. Using two plugs and the compressor we managed to get the tyre up again, knowing very well that a few kilometres down we would be doing it all over again. Kaza was 110 kms from here. The roads were almost non-existent and there was no help to be expected in between. A hundred kays is a lot in these parts unless you and your bike are prepped for the Raid De Himalaya. So, we took god’s blessings and rolled on.
In the next 40 kays, we did the tyre route at least four times before we finally decided to give up in a small village. And when we say small, we mean small like no mineral water, puncture guy or even mobile network. A word of advice here – try and take the BSNL postpaid number, otherwise, you will not catch any signal for hundreds of kilometres in these parts.
We retired in front of a small grocery store and restaurant where we took some Maggi, chocolates and a coke as lunch amidst a lot of tyres in a closed-down puncture shop. We wished we could just shove a truck tyre onto the MTS and chug along. The bike was mechanically perfect and when it was on the go, it was like a song. A ‘small’ thing as a tyre cut made it a little more than a showpiece for the gullible villagers. Actually, it must have been the other way around, since we were looking gullible enough not to know what to do with the ‘big’ bike.
We almost decided to heave the bike up a pickup truck but that too was not easy to find. This is when we saw some familiar bikes from New Delhi. It was a ‘3-couples astride 3-bikes’ gang from xBhp! Imran, Amber and Rohit accompanied by their better halves were also doing this circuit and they actually managed to spot the bright red MTS and stopped! We sure were excited to see them, but we were more excited at the prospect of them having a solution to our problem – a new tyre repair kit. And they did have it! The solution was to fix in three plugs with ‘Fevibond’, a rubber bonding solution.
After graciously expending an hour of theirs, they repaired the bike and chugged along with us towards Kaza. For the next sixty odd kilometres the tyre held up and we were ecstatic!
Arriving in Kaza we managed another surprise. One of the core xBhp team members – Sandeep Goswami aka Old Fox was also on a ride, albeit in the opposite direction, from Manali to Shimla. We bumped into his cavalcade outside a hotel in Kaza as well! We stopped and decided to lodge in here for the night.
But there was one important thing to do, in fact, the most important. To ride up to the world’s highest village- Komik, which was 20 kms away on a steep narrow climb.
The MTS and KTM started relatively late from Kaza for this ascent, and as usual, due to photography, the ascent took us longer than usual. It was here that we realized once again that all this trouble was worth it. The landscape and the adventure itself was more than worth it. The ascent gave us a bird’s eye view of the semi-dry river bed of the Spiti river. A few years earlier the world’s highest motorable village was till the nearby Kibber, then it became Langza, now it is Komik.
As we were nearing Komik the sun started going down. The sky was clear and the chill in the air became biting. Doing this sort of ride on a bike like Multistrada would be on any biker’s list. We were lucky to ride and capture these in my camera.
As we prepared to turn back, we wondered how versatile the human mind and body is to be able to adjust to such remote and inhospitable conditions. Talking about the human body, due to all the heaving and moving around at 15,000 plus feet in the cold, Sunny started to get a strangely unfamiliar and unwanted pain in his head. AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) was setting in. He had forgotten to take Diamox.
The 30 kms back to the hotel were one of the toughest in his life. He was handling a big bike with the exponentially increasing head pain. He also mentioned something about throwing the bike and banging his head on a rock to get rid of the pain… Since we all had experienced this in 2006 at Khardung-La, we knew it was gonna be a long night for him.
The night ahead was a nightmare dealing with the headache and nausea that comes with it. Lesson learnt. Take your Diamox and do not heave around too much at high altitudes. We had to stay over one more day in Kaza to let the symptoms subside and to let Sunny’s body ac-climatize. A word of caution, you have to start taking Diamox before hitting the high ground, and you might experience tingling in the face and extremities post having it. Diamox was our new best friend. Along with the Fevibond that was holding the MTS’ rear tyre.
Our adventures did not end here. The rear tyre showed signs of leaking air once again, albeit slowly. We decided to hire a small pickup truck to chug along with us till we cross the most deserted and worst part of the valley – from Kaza to Manali. That was perhaps the best decision we ever made. After filling in fuel at the world’s highest petrol retail outlet we head out of Kaza. A few kays out towards the village of Losar, which was just 60 kms, the rear tyre gave way again. But this time even the prong that helps the puncture stub to go in broke. It cost us a couple of hours more to go back to Kaza and source the only prong in the town to get us back on the road again.
After some hurried riding and lots of photo stops, we did reach Losar at about 6 PM. By this time it was stupendously cold and Sunil was having trouble riding the KTM because his hands were freezing. Losar is the only village sporting accommodation between here and Manali, that is if you don’t mind sleeping in a big tent along with other people on slabs in below-freezing temperatures at Batal, which is an adventure in itself by the way!
The next morning in Losar saw the MTS’ console read ‘ICE’. It was below freezing at 8 AM and it felt like it. After warming the engine up for a good 3-4 minutes the temperature reading finally went up to 1 degree. Another 5 minutes got it up to the optimal 40 degrees.
After our now routine air top-up, we headed out towards Kunzum-La (Pass), which at 15,300 feet, competing for the highest point in our ride with Komik. There is a temple here which every vehicle must circumnavigate in order to ensure a safe journey. We were ready to go around a hundred times just to let the rear tyre hold. But we guess we didn’t and the rear gave way again.
We knew that from here till a good hundred kilometres it would be a dried-out river bed to ride on. In fact, there will be no roads. There is no way that tyre was going to hold out. So we took a final decision, having achieved the two main points in our ride and heaved the MTS onto the pickup with the help of four more people. This was not easy at this altitude. After securing the bike, we were on our way. We sat in the pickup but could not bear being in a confined cabin on an ultra-narrow road with a vertical drop on one side with my life firmly in the hands of a stranger. So Sunny swapped places with Sunil on the 200 Duke. The bike still amazes us. It had a lot of power for a 130 kg bike. The CEAT Vertigos performed well. It was a little sad that we couldn’t source a similar dual-purpose tyre for the MTS though.
So this was it, the rest of the journey back was made in a pickup truck. All this because of one single pointy stone which decided to stick its head into other people’s tyres.
At this point, we would like to review the performance of the Multistrada 1200. More often than not, it is an obvious comparison with the BMW 1200 GS. Understandably so. However, according to me, the two machines are different. In the hands of a good rider, even the BMW 1200 GS can be as agile as the MTS, but that would take a lot of effort owing to the bikes geometry and setup. The MTS is around 10 kgs lighter and much more powerful at 150 bhp. Never once did it hit the ground below, including at the famous Malling Nallah. The front end doesn’t seem overwhelmingly broad or heavy and we had a blast running it like a sports enduro on the non-existent roads. The only drawback which it may have is its stock tyres for such terrain and the rear indicators which are flimsy and prone to breaking o under a lot of bumps. Other than that it looked sweet in my photos too!
As we descended down to Manali from the famous Rohtang Pass we were in two minds. At one end we wondered why anyone would take so much pain to do this place, and on the other, we were super-awed and humbled by how insignificant we were in front of the wonders of Mother Nature.
We may have ridden across many countries around the world, but never did 1,500 kms make my senses work out like this…
Until (probably) next time!