Roadtrip special: Christmas in Shimla
Riding the newly launched Royal Enfield Himalayan to its home turf just about summed up the perfect vacay
Are we in the final days of lockdown? Will the travel restrictions ease slowly? I actually planned for a trip to Uttarakhand back in February - to undertake it in April end. A few days later, the world turned upside down and now, I don't know if the way we travel will ever be the same. While #stayingindoors and #stayingsafe, I have been daydreaming about Himalayas lately. I also got reminded about a motorcycle roadtrip to Shimla that I went during Christmas of 2016. I was in Jalandhar at the time and my college friend came from Jaipur for a week long visit.
Chandigarh, the capital of both Punjab and Haryana in north India is the best-planned city in the country. It also serves as a getaway to Himachal Pradesh. My friend and me went from Jalandhar to Chandigarh and stayed the night there. Buses ply regularly from Jalandhar to Chandigarh and the 150 odd kilometres were covered in less than three hours. We planned to ride to Shimla next morning.
The route via Chail
The next morning, we headed to the bike rental Rana Cabs Pvt ltd in Chandigarh, where we booked a Royal Enfield Thunderbird earlier. After completing the formalities, we were shown the bike. I was excited. I had never traveled to Himachal on a bike, and that too, on a Thunderbird 350. But a moment later, a brand new Himalayan (BS III) stopped in front of me. Imagine my excitement when the bloke on the Himalayan stops right before the rental office saying that it was cold, and hands over the keys to the bike rental. Cold?! What do you expect in winter in a hill station, that too nestled in Himachal? Bright sun all day long? Whatever, man! What mattered was that the Himalayan, a brand new one mind you, was just there, waiting to take on the hills. And just like that, the Thunderbird 350 was not exciting anymore. In the next five minutes, we changed the bike and were on our way with grins as wide as the road, riding the Himalayan! Navigating in and out of Chandigarh is very simple, with the city neatly divided into sectors. It becomes much simpler when Google Maps shows the fastest route out.
We had the road to ourselves
The RE Himalayan stands out of the crowd, no doubt. The design is distinct with touring and adventure in mind. The tall stance gives a commanding view of the road ahead. The high rise visor also provides protection from the wind blast above speeds of 80kmph on the highways. The exhaust note is a throaty growl which has the ability to turn heads where ever it goes. The seats are comfy enough and the Himalayan is the first Royal Enfield to sport a monoshock suspension at the rear. The Himalayan felt firm-footed and the ADV was in its element when the speeds were maintained between 80 and 110kmph. The Long Stroke 410cc motor had ample torque (32Nm for the BS III version) and when you go off road, torque is your best friend.
Changing plans on the go
We had just packed our backpacks and left Jalandhar. We did not plan most of the trip - just improvised on the go. And that turned out to be in our favour in this trip. The maps showed heavy traffic in the usual route to Shimla via Shogi, so we decided to go via Chail, which is a longer route but it had the least or no traffic at all during the entire ride. It was a narrow road, with full pine and eucalyptus trees on the side of the mountainous road. This deserted route gave us the chance to stretch the Himalayan’s legs and it was an absolute joy to attack the corners in the narrow roads.
Once we reached Chail in the evening, we decided to head for Kufri for the night, which was the best decision we made. Just 7km before Kufri, we spotted ice on the roadside and as we neared Kufri it was snow all around and the temperature dropped suddenly. I could feel cold creeping through my gloves. My friend was already shivering and my fingers were getting numb, too. As it was holiday time, we were afraid that we wouldn’t get a decent stay considering we just packed our backpacks without any plans to stay at specific hotels. Luckily for us, we found a comfortable stay at the Kufri holiday resort. The location and view from the hotel was simply incredible. The night temperatures reached 1 – 2°C at Kufri.
The Himalayan was a blast in the hills. The bike pushes you to ride harder and there was an ease of leaning it while cornering hard, but due to the bigger front wheel and long travel front suspension, the bike felt uneasy to handle sudden inputs in direction changes. The able chassis of the bike meant excellent handling. The Himalayan felt at home handling some off-road situations with aplomb, tackling broken roads with ease. We were just flying over undulations and potholes like they were nothing. The Himalayan just dismissed bad roads with such disdain. Impressive.
The instrument binnacle gives a lot of info, including a compass
The next day we rode to Shimla from Kufri, which is a 17km ride downhill. The capital city was so crowded with holiday goers, that we decided to skip visiting the famous Mall road, as we had to park the brand new rented bike some 1km away in the parking. Disappointed, we headed downhill slowly navigating in the bumper to bumper traffic. As we passed Solan downhill, we saw a signboard to Kasauli, showing a 13km detour to the right. I have heard about this quaint little hill station and I wanted to visit this as we still had a good 3 – 4 hours before we could ride down before dusk. The 13km stretch has narrow roads and it’s better to ride slowly, as the roads also weren’t that great until the last 4km or so. Kasauli has its own charm, and it's a total contrast to the busy town of Shimla. I recommend spending time in Kasauli and see Kufri, Chail and give Shimla a miss unless you are serious about seeing the Mall Road in Shimla or experience the toy train which runs between Kalka and Shimla.
Kasauli - a quaint little hill station
After some sightseeing and snacking, we rode down from Kasauli to Chandigarh. There were many highlights in the trip - riding the RE Himalayan in the hills, the scenic places of Chail, Kufri on day one and the totally unexpected surprise in the form of Kasauli on day two. The year couldn’t have ended in a better way with a trip to Himachal with my college buddy as I was moving out of Punjab the next week for a new job in Pune, Maharashtra. Still, there are many more great places left to explore in the majestic Himalayan region, all in good time to come.
And I did make a trip to Himachal Pradesh again (last September), this time with six college friends for an epic adventure that is still fresh in our memories. It will be remembered for a long time due to a number of reasons - jaw dropping locales, humbling occasions, numerous river crossings, arguments and riding and driving without any food or water for some periods - it was one of a kind experience. Kinda refreshing even. You can check out the story here and click here for the image gallery of the spectacular landscape of Spiti Valley.