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Travel+Outdoors

on April 21st, 2017

Riding a motorcycle through the elemental beauty of the highest plateau on Earth is an invitation one can hardly refuse. And so I found myself on the premiere edition of Royal Enfield’s Tour of Tibet in 2013 riding through snowstorms, past glittering turquoise lakes, over prayer-flag-festooned 5000-metre-high passes and gaping open-mouthed at the north face of Everest. The huge geography humbles you and every view is lit spectacularly with Himalayan light. Here, the scope of adventure is only limited by your ability to get permits. And above all, despite decades of political turmoil and hardship, it was the large-hearted, generous and gentle Tibetan people that made riding in Tibet such a profound experience. HMR

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From Zhangmu, the Tibetan border shantytown, the road fights its tortuous way high above the Bhote Khosi zig-zagging through waterfalls, cascades and landslides during the often-treacherous 30km road to Nyalam, a one-street town, 4200 metres high, on the edge of the Tibetan plateau. It is the beginning of a dramatic transformation from the lush sub-tropical Himalayan valleys of Nepal to the arid and cold high altitude flatlands of Tibet. Zhangmu bookends China National Highway 318 that takes you all the way to Shanghai, 5476 km away.

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A freak snowstorm carpeted the landscape, the black tarmac a ribbon of black in the vast whiteness, on the approach to Tong La pass 5200 metres high. This is where the dreaded Acute Mountain Sicknes (AMS) is most likely to rear its dreaded head.

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The highest mountain in the world, Everest, known as Qomolangma in Tibet thrusts its head skyward.

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The road to Lhasa has impeccable tarmac and spectacular scenery to ride through. With an elevation of nearly 5 kilometres above sea level this desolate landscape, where a cold, blustery wind is always blowing, is the world’s highest plateau.

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Hundreds of thousands of prayer flags festoon 5200-metre high Gyatso La pass mark the entry into the Qomolangma National Nature Preserve. This is the highest point on the Kathmandu-Lhasa road.

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On the approach to Lhasa, riding along the magnificent autumn foliage of the Gingko trees is a magical experience.

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Lhasa Biju! Downing a few cans of this crisp and clean lager is a perfect way to end a long riding day.

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From mutton to fedoras, everything is available at the Shigatse traditional local market stalls.

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Cheap Chinese motorcycles are the commuter’s choice of transport all over Tibet. Here, the exterior of the Tashi Lunhpo monastery in Shigatse is reflected on the glass front of a motorcycle showroom.

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A radiant Tibetan lady at her tea stall checks messages on her cellphone at Lhatse village.

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A dignified Tibetan couple walks in amiable silence on their perambulations around the Jokhang monastery in Lhasa.

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A woman prostrates herself before Potala, the palace-fort complex, which was the winter palace of the Dalai Lama since the 7th century. The Potala Palace symbolises Tibetan Buddhism and its central role in the traditional administration of Tibet and is built on the Red Mountain in the centre of Lhasa Valley at an altitude of 3,700 metres.

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Strangely, Western-style Fedoras are popular headgear with both men and women in Tibet.

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An elegant Tibetan lady in her traditional finery checks her iPhone in Lhasa.

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Moped power in Shigatse.

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Although Shigatse is Tibet’s second largest city it remains relatively unexplored by outsiders. Shigatse is full of traditional Tibetan charm and culture. The government has overseen the transformation of much of Shigatse into generic high-rise blocks, but the city’s Tibetan inhabitants still tenaciously hang on to traditional ways.

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In Tibet you cannot pull up into a petrol pump on a motorcycle. You have to buy fuel in jerry cans and tank up your bike in a designated area outside the pump.

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A perfect autumn day for riding near Lhasa.

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Turn right for Mt Everest!

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The Friendship Bridge spans the Bhote Khosi river. On the left lies the Nepalese village of Kodari and on the Tibet side is the Khasa Port check post manned by grim-faced Chinese Border Guards…

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The Gyatso La pass was under a thick blanket of snow on our way to Lhasa.

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A brief pit stop along the Khosi river in Nepal.

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A stunning view of Yamdrok Lake from Khambala pass. This freshwater lake lies on the road to Gyantse and is one of the holiest lakes of Tibet. The lake is revered as a talisman and is said to be part of the life-spirit of the Tibetan nation. The road snakes almost all along its 72-km length before turning off to Gyantse.

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Many a stunning photo-op with the many-hued waters of Yamdrok lake as a backdrop.

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Harsh Man Rai is the co-founder of Helmet Stories, a premier adventure motorcycle travel company. He has previously worked at Royal Enfield as Head of Special Projects, and was the founding editor of Man’s World and Rolling Stone India magazines. Helmet Stories will be running motorcycle tours to Tibet in 2018, from Kathmandu to Lhasa and return. Interested? Get in touch here

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