Recently, Honda invited 25 expert riders to test the limits and take the H’ness to new heights, ‘A Higher Chase’ they say. After conquering the ‘land of the rising sun’, Arunachal Pradesh in its first edition of Honda Sunchasers 2021, it was only fair to put the CB350 through the test of ‘land of high passes’, Ladakh.
Every rider’s “must do” destination and rightly so. Ladakh is famous for breathtaking landscapes, the crystal clear skies, the highest mountain passes, thrilling adventure activities, Buddhist Monasteries and festivals.
I’d be lying if I say that life changed after riding in and around Ladakh for five days. I have ridden in Ladakh before but on a motorcycle with limited capabilities, no confidence in the braking system and of course the heavy metal weight to be manoeuvred around the tough terrains did not give me the joy I was expecting. However, one of the reasons to go ahead with this Ladakh trip was to ride a bike that I can trust. Hence, I got my hands on the Japanese engineered Honda CB350.
Day 1 – Leh is situated at an altitude of 11,499 feet above sea level. Which makes it mandatory for all to acclimatise, even more if you are flying in. We did just that, met other riders over cultural program and dinner, shared our common enthusiasm for bikes, adventure and took quite a few pictures.
Day 2- All 25 bikes lined up, shining under the bright morning light, warming up the engines, gearing up, shooting media bytes. The energy was captivating. After the medical check up ( oxygen level, BP, heart rate) we flagged off to test the man and the machines on the most spectacular off-beat terrains.
Technically it was the first riding day so we took it easy, rode about 90kms in and around Leh. Visited Thiksey Monastery, rode along the famous Indus River and reached Hemis Monastery which is considered to be the richest in the region. Our next and final stop was the famous Ladakh Sarai where we had the opportunity to get a taste of authentic Ladakhi cuisine.
On the way back, we topped up our tanks as there isn’t any fuel station on the way to out next day’s destination. The H’ness and I had become familiar with each other by now, I had broken in very comfortably in my new riding gear and I couldn’t wait to play around with my machine for the week on the twists of the mighty Himalayas.
Day 3- The plan is to ride up to Nubra Valley, a high altitude cold desert via Khardung La, one of the world’s highest motorable roads. Exploring this region sounded like a great idea because the terrains were tough, weather was not very favourable and the increasing altitude made it look even more challenging.
About 20kms into the ride, heavy snowfall nearly halted the journey but we kept going on till we reached South Pullu which is 25kms from Leh and 11kms short of khardung La. We parked ourselves at the check post and patiently waited for the snowfall to stop. Meanwhile there was a chatter about bikes not being well prepared.
But I dint agree with that view. Since, it had just started snowing , the 18 inch 130/70 section MRF Zapper tyre at the rear had decent grip and switchable ABS was enough to manoeuvre through fresh snow. Guards at the check post were not on my side, they didn’t let us through.
We waited for 4 hours, had tea, coffee and snacks, enjoyed the snowfall, shared stories from the road with fellow riders and rode back to base (Leh). I was disappointed but the view was so mesmerising that the moment passed by quickly.
Day 4- We left early in the morning for Pangong Lake which was at an altitude of 13,862 ft spanning eastern Ladakh and west Tibet. The ride distance was 225kms and we had to reach on time because that is the rule of the mountains.
The weather was bright and shiny but the roads were almost non existent at least till Chang-La Pass. Now this is where the suspension of the h’ness comes to the rescue, it could soak up anything. From big potholes to rocks and pebbles or even river crossings.
We rode across a couple of stretches with more than 20km of just loose sand and rocks but it did not feel like a real problem. I could stand and speed up to 100km without straining my back and shoulder. It made me feel quite energised and ecstatic in the moment.
We were at an altitude of 17,688 ft and at the mercy of capable and reliable 350cc, 4-stroke OHC single-cylinder engine which works well on straight open roads in plains but at this altitude the game was different.
The bikes lose their breath as easily as we do so I was not expecting a lot of power but the 30nm uninterrupted torque came in handy specially when there was a need to keep the momentum of the bike on black ice, even around the steep inclines and around tight hairpins. The tall gearing of the CB350 definitely made things easier and more under control.
Thanking my stars and the great balance and stability of the H’ness, I came out of Chang-La Pass without a skid. Riding further with more speed and confidence and like a great icing on the cake, I was welcomed with snow covered mountain peaks and finally some tarmac.
A few more kms and there it was, my moment of the ride, riding along the magnificent Pangong Lake. The smooth and refined Japanese engine made sure I did not lose my ear to ear smile till we reached our hotel. The emotions thereafter could be explained in just one word, surreal!
Day 5- Early morning, we are all up and about, shooting our content around the Pangong Lake, It is our last day and we head back to Leh via Wari-La Pass which is approximately 285kms.
The only pass in Ladakh I had not crossed earlier was the Wari La Pass, which was at an elevation of 17427 ft. One can only imagine my thrill. After reaching that spot I did not halt for more than 5mins because it gets dangerous. It gets difficult to maintain adequate oxygens level when you’re riding a bike at this altitude.
Just a few kms down Wari La starts a stretch of super 25 kms (as I like to call it) all the way till Sakti you could see the fresh tarmac twisties and naked mountains on either side (what a bliss!).
Perhaps, this was the time I wished I had a more powerful bike to take on the curves a little faster. Well, getting in on a curve is great on the CB350 but getting out demanded a little more effort from the rider. But the chassis made up for it and 181kg kerb weight felt very light and easy.
We were back at our hotel in Leh just before the sun set. The ride was over but the experience and adventure will be etched in history as one of the best I’ve had in the recent past.