We are in Delhi and the rest of our tour group has arrived. Our guide, Kamal, escorts us to a Southern Indian restaurant so we can try Dosa – a flat thin-layered rice pancake made from a fermented batter, very similar to a crepe in appearance. I choose a butter paneer one and it comes on a banana leaf with four side-dishes of pickles and sauces – just delicious.
We have a very early start to head north to our destination of Shimla in the Himalayan foothills.
The road is busy and the air is extremely polluted as we leave Delhi and it continues relentlessly for hours as we pass through areas full of factories – all belching out black smoke into the already overloaded atmosphere.
Eventually we see more organised farming by the road – rice paddies and some fruits.
We stop by the road for fresh pineapple or orange juice and the guy takes forever to make it for everyone using an old hack-saw blade with no teeth left on it to cut the pineapple into slices and then put them through a hand juicer.
We start climbing and the scenery begins to change. We stop at a cute train station so we can catch the famous narrow-gauge train for a segment of the railway that climbs from the valley to Shimla.
It’s an incredible piece of engineering all completed by the British in 1903 and we thoroughly enjoy the next few hours of steady climbing.
The ride up the mountain goes on and on with incredible drop-offs and roadworks all the way. The traffic is hairy and tight and the forest changes as we climb higher and the buildings cling to the sides of the cliffs. They start off as a single storey or two at ground level and can be up to eight levels or more going down the side of the mountain.
Once the summer capital of British India, Shimla spreads for twelve kilometres along a ridge and we are staying at the Woodville Palace Hotel, where the royal family for the region are living on the premises. It is old but regal and full of wonderful old photos of Indian royals and the British with the tigers they’ve shot!
Shimla sits at 2200m so our stay here is two nights so we can acclimatise to altitude.
We have a Hindu ceremony to bless us and the motorbikes and are allocated our Royal Enfield Bullet 500’s – mine is No. 7 and we are going on a small ride for lunch to get used to them, the roads and the conditions. The weather holds off and there are no incidents.
Our group is nine bikes with two pillions, our guide Kamal also on a bike, Sanjur driving the support vehicle with Imran, the mechanic on board – let the fun begin…