Travel Editor Stephen Scourfield is sitting on top of the world during Travel Directors’ Himalayan motorcycle tour. Read about the Roof of the World tour.
Royal Enfields were originally designed and built in Redditch in Worcestershire, England, near where I grew up, but have been made in Chennai, India, since 1956.
And we are riding classic Enfields, with kickstart (no electric start) and the gearshift on the right - one up, three down. Today, Indian Enfield makes a 500cc Bullet with electric start and gears by the left foot, as we are accustomed to in Australia, but both road captain Pramod Shrestha (known to all as Goofy), from Kathmandu, and tour leader Tony Evans agree: "They're not real Royal Enfields." These are.
There are moments when I think the Bullet is inappropriately named, but in truth I am astounded by the way it handles everything that's thrown at it - sealed roads with unexpected bumps and jumps, unsealed roads with dust and rock, fast roads with errant yaks, horses, sheep and dogs, high altitude and hairpins that climb up big mountains.
I am also astounded by the steady hand of road captain Goofy and the skills of mechanic Farook. A support Toyota Land Cruiser follows the riding group of Tony Evans, WA riders Peter Galvin, Robin Woods and Brad Booth, Hans Peterer and Rick McCann from Adelaide, and Susan Cheney-Smith from Sydney. And me.
Among the group is a 60th birthday present from a wife, a rider who has worked six days a week to save for it and one who simply says: "I just thought, well, it's now or never ..."
Farook is usually in the Land Cruiser and if anyone stops on the roadside with a problem, he fixes it. Anyone who doesn't feel like riding can jump in the Land Cruiser and Farook rides their bike.
My bike packs up in the middle of Kathmandu's chocka traffic (you might have heard me scream "Not now!") and as I go to kickstart the bike, there is Farook at my shoulder. He has spotted the problem, got off his own bike and is at my side to twiddle with some wiring and kickstart the bike in two seconds flat. (Memo to self: "On bike rides, always pack Farook.")
Goofy also takes one of the group as a pillion passenger, offering them the full riding experience without having to face the road conditions. Behind that is a truck with our luggage, spare parts and a spare bike, which isn't needed.
The riding group comes in all shapes and sizes and Travel Directors rightly advises that the trip is for experienced motorcyclists. But what an experience it has been.