A Royal Enfield Motorcycle Is The Perfect Himalayan Transporter
Photography by Federico Bajetti
Have you ever wondered the about the best way to travel in the northwest sector of the Indian Himalayans near the Tibetan border? Likely not lately, but if so, what’s come to mind? Does it involve sherpas? An old Land Cruiser? An ‘80s Rolls Royce perhaps?
Those are all stereotypically sound choices, but there is one that’s decidedly better, and decidedly more Indian: a Royal Enfield motorcycle. For those less versed in the two-wheeled world, this is a company that’s very much a piece of the country’s history with Britain, and it begins just after the 19th century gave way to the 20th. in 1901, the British-born Enfield Autocar Company Limited started to diversify into the production of motorcycles alongside their automobiles. This is where we first see Royal Enfield’s motorcycle brand, Enfield Cycle Company, appear. But we must jump ahead to 1955 to relate it to the images you see here.
For it was in 1955 that the Indian government purchased several Bullet 350 motorcycles for use by their border police in the mountainous regions in the north of the country. Soon afterwards, the Enfield Cycle Company partnered with the Indian manufacturer Madras Motors to form another brand: Enfield of India. They began assembling the 350cc Royal Enfield Bullet, and beginning in 1957, Madras had acquired all of the necessary machinery and tooling to build a significant amount of the parts in India. Five years later, and every piece of the production of the Bullet bikes was taking place in the country.
Now, every year brings with it a new wave of travelers coming from around the world to explore the Himalayans, and to explore the “roads” in northeast India they so often choose to rent these motorcycles. I counted myself among these people recently, and I don’t think I would have found the same enjoyment as I did in this magnificent slice of earth if I hadn’t had an Enfield underneath me. Our group’s Classic 350 and Bullet 500 were markedly comfortable, capable, and certainly the most fun way to get around the terrain, and were equally at home kicking up dust on long open patches of our trip as they were climbing through the most narrow and harrowing portions of the journey in higher elevations. They brought us to every expansive vista we could have hoped for, and they offered a vantage point unmatchable by anything automotive. For instance, exploring the Buddhist temples in the Valley of Leh would simply not have been as awe-inspiring had I not been able to twist around on my seat and make use of the unencumbered freedom of vision afforded by a bike.
Aside from the views and the maneuverability, the mumbling single-cylinder below me was a perfect soundtrack for the exploration of these sites, and that lazy choral companion soon formed a Pavlovian link in my mind to the awe-inspiring areas that it ferried me to and from.
Today, Royal Enfield India manufactures and sells a great deal of bikes in India, but it also exports many to Europe, as well as to South Africa and Australia. And a few years back, in 2015, the parent company Royal Enfield Motors announced plans to establish a headquarters in North America to offer its three popular bikes to a new part of the globe: the Bullet 500, the Classic 500, and the Continental GT Cafè Racer. The brand’s storied history is still being added to then, and I was happy to contribute my fond memories to that heap!