Motorcycle Touring in the Himalayas
The Himalayas is an ancient, awe-inspiring mountain region that can easily claim the title of adventure motorcycling capital of the world. Boasting some of the highest peaks on the planet, the Himalayas is a breath-taking mountain range crisscrossed by hundreds of paved and unpaved roads meandering across valleys, mountain passes, gorges, and high plateaus. Spectacular vistas, rich ancient history and culture, intriguing local cuisine, and capable local motorcycles make the Himalayas an ideal adventure destination. Here, a different world reveals itself as you ride your bike through mind-boggling scenery of snow-capped mountain peaks, ancient Buddhist temples, and otherworldly valleys.
Whether you’re riding with us or renting a motorcycle locally, we put together a comprehensive guide for motorcycle touring in the Himalayas. Here’s what you need to know before going:
Nepal, Bhutan, or India?
The three main countries offering motorcycle access to the Himalayas are Nepal, Bhutan, and India. While both Nepal and Bhutan are extraordinary countries worthy of a visit, India remains our favorite. This is because unlike Bhutan, India doesn’t have a daily visa charge for foreigners, and unlike Nepal, India offers several motorcycle rental options right in the heart of the Himalayas.
If this is your first time riding the Himalaya region, we strongly recommend choosing India as your destination. Easily accessible, affordable, and safe to travel, India is the perfect gateway into the Himalayas.
Motorcycle Touring in the Himalayas: Weather
Another good reason to choose India is weather: Western Himalayas, as opposed to the Eastern mountain range in Nepal and Bhutan, typically experience shorter rainy seasons and milder weather. The best time to ride the Indian Himalayas is from June through to September. At all other times, some of the mountain passes may be covered in snow.
The entire Ladakh region is dry almost all year round, however the winters here are harsh and temperatures fall well below zero. Our favorite month to ride the Himalayas in India is August when the weather is still warm, but the tourist crowds have already subsided.
We recommend wearing full riding gear and packing some base layers and thermals – those high mountain passes might get chilly even during the winter months.
Generally, Northern India is a safe region to travel by motorcycle. Some riders experience a slight shock getting used to the local driving conditions and customs, which is why we recommend planning short routes for the first few days of your trip. Getting accustomed to the local driving culture is always a good idea in India where the traffic may seem chaotic. However, keep in mind that while Indian drivers may not always stick to the traffic rules, they are very aware of their own vehicles and other drivers on the road, which means that you simply need to stay alert and aware and ride defensively.
When riding in India, make sure your carnet de passage (if you’re traveling on your own motorcycle) and your insurance are up to date.
When walking around in bigger cities and towns, use common sense and do not flash your cash or expensive electronic gadgets in public. As with any place in the world, there may be pickpockets or petty thieves.
If your trip in the Indian Himalayas is two to three weeks long, only pack the very basics. Your riding gear, boots, and helmet, a change of clothes, walking shoes, some base layers and thermals, your toiletries, electronics, and travel documents are all you need for a motorcycle adventure here. Make sure to pack some sunscreen, your medications if you’re taking any, some stomach pills in case of food poisoning, and some extra SD cards if you’re an avid photographer – with the Himalayan scenery, you’ll be stopping to take pictures every few miles!
The most popular motorcycle to explore the Himalayas in India is, undeniably, the Royal Enfield. Suitable for both on and off-road travel, sturdy, and reliable, this bike has become an iconic motorcycle in the Himalayas. There are plenty of Royal Enfield rentals available in Leh and Manali.
Large capacity adventure motorcycles such as the BMW GS1200 or the Honda Africa Twin 1000 are much less popular in India, and it may be significantly more expensive. We highly recommend trying the iconic Royal Enfield for your Himalaya adventure – after all, when in Rome, right?
Motorcycle Touring Routes in The Himalayas
While there are several intriguing routes you can take in Northern India, if this is your first time traveling here, we highly recommend the Manali – Leh route. Manali is a great starting point and base camp for your Himalayan adventure because it’s easily accessible and has plenty of accommodation and motorcycle rental options. From here, you can head North towards Leh exploring the scenic roads, national parks, and high mountain passes. Just a little north of Leh lies the infamous Khardung-La Pass, the highest motorable mountain pass in the world.
On your way, you will experience some of the most spectacular riding on the planet, visit ancient Buddhist temples, and meet curious locals eager to chat. India has a vast and vibrant motorcycle culture, and two-wheeled travelers are always welcomed here.
If you’re planning to explore this incredible region on two wheels and have any questions or concerns, shoot us a message – we’re always happy to help fellow travelers!