You gaze up at the mighty mountains. Clouds bow down to them and you no longer feel like you are on firm ground. The air is thin, and it takes a minute for your senses to realise that all this is really happening and not merely an illusion concocted from the remnants of last night’s revelry and today’s altitude-induced delirium. If such are the things you are after, you might already have a bucket list of destinations far away from the regular crop of gift-wrapped tourist favourites like the mountain peaks of Switzerland that Shah Rukh Khan and DDLJ have internalised in every Indian. Those are easy though, you just get on a flight to Zurich and with your terrible skiing skills, tumble and fall down the slopes as you attempt that Facebook cover picture. But seriously, who are you? Kids could do that. And besides it is much more fun when you are on a mountain pass with limited access to everything but the freezing cold that snowfall brings. And photographs? Your fingers might just be too stiff for the camera. But it won’t matter because the images, as Daft Punk says, would be burnt on Random Access Memories anyway.
To get your 2018 holiday plans kick started we spoke to a bunch of pioneers in the adventure travel arena; guys who will make sense of the randomness of adventure travel while planning your itinerary down to the last T. When Harsh Man Rai and Vir Nakai founded Helmet Stories, the only intention was to get like-minded people together and ride off to explore the unexplored – usually passes and valleys that you’re unlikely to have heard of. Now one of the leading biking travel companies Helmet Stories, thanks to Instagram, have gained a cult following among bikes across the world. The bikes, all of them Royal Enfields, are backed up by a team of mechanics and spares that will ensure that any and all breakdowns are swiftly addressed. When asked about why Classics and Himalayans are used, Harsh jokingly adds, “Because you can’t go too fast on them”. Adventure travel is as about riding as it is about stopping to take in the views and smell the flowers; getting to know the places that you go to. The local cuisine has to be sampled and the people, their history and tradition have to understood and appreciated. Would you ever know what it feels like going up the mountains on your Bullet with the icy wind in your hair if all you did was the comfortable Mumbai-Goa ride? Would you know what a luxury piping hot chai is unless you’re camped in a tent on a freezing morning? It doesn’t matter what day of the week it is or how far you are from home, the only thoughts that will cross your mind will be of the place you are in.
When Bertrand D’Souza and his partners at XTLO dreamt up their adventure travel company, they drew from their experiences of travelling the length and breadth of the country putting together stories for Overdrive. And they’re doing things differently which is why their first expedition is to the Himalayas in the winters, when the snow is still blanketing the peaks and passes and the going is as tough as it gets. Driving an Isuzu V-Cross, you will learn how to use snow chains, what a difference 4-Low makes in slippery conditions and where to point your cameras as a Snow Leopard ambles past. If you’re lucky. The magnificence of the snow blanket that stretches everywhere is something that has to be seen to be believed. And once you have done that, you may realise that the raw beauty of the unheard parts in India offer as much as any European destination could. In fact, they are probably much better. Not having to contend with pesky tourists looking for the perfect selfie can be a blessing in itself.
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