Muscat: A young Omani recently returned from a two-week bike trip, unfurling the Omani flag at a height of 18,380 feet in India.
Jameel Shakeel, a corporate communications superintendent at Sohar Aluminium, biked through the rough Khardung La pass, along with two other friends from the region.
“I undertook this trip with a friend of mine from Oman (Shehzad Sheikh, 30) and a friend from Abu Dhabi (Venie Fernandes, 33), who was my classmate in school here and ex-Muscat resident. Both my friends are Indian nationals but born and brought up in Oman,” he said.
Located in the Ladakh region in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the pass is known to be one of the most dangerous in the world and is covered with snow for nearly half the year, with landslides being a common phenomenon.
The plan to undertake the expedition had been in the pipeline for a long time for Shakeel, and a lot of research and dedication was put in before venturing into it.
“This was a dream for us for quite a long time, something that I had been planning for the past five or six years. We wanted to bike up the world’s highest motorable pass—the Khardung La—and also some of the other mountain passes nearby, which rank amongst the highest passes on earth.
“The bikes we used were Royal Enfield 500cc, which are the best for such expeditions due to their ruggedness and reliability. Since this was going to be a first time experience in this terrain for us, we researched and decided to go with the ‘Dream Riders Group’ for this expedition,” Shakeel said.
Rough and harsh conditions had to be met with proactive preparation and safety precautions.
“We had to ensure we were at a decent level of fitness as this was going to be a gruelling trip. The biggest challenges we had to deal with were cold weather, very high altitudes and riding the bike for almost eight to nine hours per day. We also ensured that we gave priority to safety by wearing protective gear all over, including riding jackets, helmets, gloves, elbow and knee pads and riding boots,” explained Shakeel.
These preparations were however, not enough. “It was extremely challenging for us both physically and mentally and was beyond what we were prepared for. The challenges of dealing with altitude cannot be understated and we seriously felt the effects of low oxygen at those heights.”
“Along with us, even the bikes were facing performance issues due to improper combustion of fuel as oxygen supply was low. The weather was biting cold for the most part, but we also faced heat. One of the strange things about these places was that you could get sunburnt and frostbitten at the same time,”
The route, according to Shakeel, was unforgiving with varied terrain.
“The route was across the Ladakh mountain range saw the terrain varying from rocks, sand, wet mud, to some water crossings. We also faced blazing sun in some places, rains, snowfall, and windy conditions,” he said.
Shakeel went with a group of 30 people from across India and they covered a mind boggling 1,750 kilometres in 11 days on a pathway, with severe conditions, sometimes without the privilege of food.
“Along with the terrain, altitude and weather conditions, we also had to overcome the challenge of riding as a coordinated group, looking out for one another, surviving on less to no food at times, spending nights in tents in extreme cold and keeping the bikes in running condition. The night we stayed in Pang, which is at an altitude of more than 15,000 feet, we faced temperatures of -2 degrees and were put in tents,” he stated.
Regardless of this being the most difficult trip he had ever undertaken, Shakeel said the summit and the entire experience were equally rewarding.
“During the trip, we saw a lot of beautiful landscapes, met wonderful people and truly had the experience of a lifetime. Our proudest moment was reaching Khardung La and displaying the Omani flag. This was what we had come for and this was what we had achieved.”
Shakeel said he intends to make more such trips and wishes to inspire people to learn about road safety in Oman.
“We intend to make more such trips in the future and hope we can inspire more potential bikers in Oman to take to the roads safely. We also wish to create awareness among car drivers about respecting bikers on the roads. Biking is a wonderful way to explore our beautiful country,” he concluded.