Author: Alex Pirie

The Insider’s Guide to motorcycle touring in the Himalayas

Nomadic Knights Roof or India

Have you ever dreamed of motorcycle touring in the Himalayas but don’t know where to begin? Then you’ve come to the right place because we asked Alex Pirie, founder and ride leader of tour company Nomadic Knights, to explain what it takes to travel in this wild and remote part of the world.

In association with…Nomadic Knights Roof or India

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Photography by Iain Crockart

For thousands of years, the Himalayas have held a profound significance for people around the world. They’re vast at around 220 miles wide and 1,500 miles long, and they stretch across five countries: India, Nepal, Bhutan, Pakistan, and China.

It’s reckoned that they’ve existed for around 20 million years and believe it or not, they’re still growing at 0.2 inches per year. And of course, they’re home to the mighty Mount Everest, the tallest mountain on the planet at 8,849m, along with more than 100 peaks standing at over 7,000m.

I’ve led almost 80 tours across different parts of the Himalayas and they never cease to amaze. I spend the best part of seven months a year motorcycling at high altitude in what seems like another world. It may sound like a bit of a cliché, but it’s true, the Himalayas change the way you see life. It’s a very profound motorcycling experience.

Nomadic Knights Roof or India, motorcycle touring in the Himalayas

But this is a wild and remote landscape, and the sheer scale can make motorcycle touring in the Himalayas a daunting and possibly overwhelming experience. So, just where do you begin? And what do you do when you get here, especially if your time is limited?

These are questions I faced when I created my Roof of India tour through the Himalayas. I didn’t want to simply follow the overcrowded tourist routes, and so, after many years of living and riding in this part of the world, I was able to create something that offered so much more.

First day nerves

I meet people on my tour at Chandigarh Airport in Northern India, which is hot, humid, dusty, and bustling. After a long flight (maybe more than one), they’re ready to leave everyday life behind, collect their luggage, get in the vehicle, and start their adventure. Being nervous is normal and can be a good thing. To this day, I still get butterflies before each tour.

We ride in one Indian state and two union territories (which is a type of administrative area). These are Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. They are the furthest northern areas you can access in India as we ride very close to the borders of both Pakistan and Tibet (China). I reckon we get to within five miles of China and four miles from Pakistan.

Nomadic Knights Roof or India, motorcycle touring in the Himalayas

Special permissions and permits are required to enter these areas which can be tricky to get, so we take care of all that on our tours. My team are all Indian, they live in the Himalayas, and they are true mountain men. Due to this, we get access to normally restricted places that others don’t.

This part of India is one of the most heavily militarised regions in the world and we’re constantly communicating with the Indian army during our journey. Don’t be surprised if you’re suddenly stopped by a soldier. He’s likely just to be curious about where you’re from and why you’re in India riding a motorbike. He’ll ask what you think of the country and bid you a safe journey.

Can I do this?

So, here’s the big question: can you do this? Before I attempt to answer, I’ll rewind a little. There’s a bit of an ongoing joke on our Roof of India tour every morning as we chat after breakfast and run through the day ahead.

‘Alex, what will the weather be like?’ is always followed by, ‘Alex, what will the roads be like?’ The reason these questions are banded about is because I always give the same answer: ‘I don’t know’. And that’s the truth. It’s funny, and it’s meant to be. These can be tough rides and a sense of humour is required. A good old belly laugh is a fabulous way to start your day.

Nomadic Knights Roof or India, motorcycle touring in the Himalayas

You will encounter all sorts of riding conditions, and the challenge that lies before you will depend on the weather. You’ll  cruise along beautiful 125-mile stretches of winding black top that has been sent from heaven, as well as heavily rutted, gravel water crossings. There can easily be snow on the higher peaks and passes, and temperatures as high as almost 40C in the lower regions. The weather changes from minute to minute and from valley to valley.

One of the reasons that the Roof of India ride has become such a success is due to that unpredictability. When you need to dig deep and push on, you’ll find an inner strength and determination that you never thought you had. And it’s worth it.

To my mind, there’s no better way to meet this challenge than by riding in a group of like-minded people. We share food together, and the odd beer and whisky or two, and we chat around the campfire after an arduous but rewarding day’s ride. It’s likely that we may even become friends.

How do I prepare?

For most people, riding in the Himalayas is the adventure of a lifetime and preparation is important. The effects of high altitude aren’t ever a major issue, but should it be, we have the necessary knowledge and medical resources to deal with it. It’s important to be prepared when you ride the Himalayas. Everyone feels the effects of the altitude but that’s normal. Being fit certainly helps and while you don’t need to be a gym addict, taking three one-hourly brisk walks a week at home before your trip will certainly be an advantage.

When you combine long days in the saddle with different food and unpredictable climate, you’ll need all the resources you can draw upon, as well as good gear. I like to keep my feet dry and over the years I’ve tried many different types of footwear. The Sidi Adventure boots are by far the best that I’ve found. They’re completely waterproof and offer excellent protection.

Nomadic Knights Roof or India, motorcycle touring in the Himalayas

And here’s a good tip, bring talcum powder with you and fill your boots, as they say. It stops chaffing and sore and sweaty feet. One rider I rode with had a foot odour problem, (I’m being polite) and his roommate didn’t like it. Who would? So, in his infinite wisdom, he put them outside for the night. Unfortunately, in the morning, a rather large monkey took a liking to one of them and it was never seen again. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

A full-face helmet is essential along with a riding jacket and trousers with body armour. I personally prefer goggles to a visor because a visor can steam up pretty easily when you’re working hard on the bike in hot, humid conditions, even with a Pinlock insert mounted inside.

What bike?

I admit to getting my fingers burned when I initially started running bike tours in India by using rented motorcycles. It was a disaster. We ended up with bikes that had been thrashed and not maintained. They were just plain dangerous and constantly breaking down. It was ruining the rider’s experiences, and to add insult to injury, repair bills for minor issues mounted.

From that moment on I decided that we would buy all our motorcycles brand new, and we did just that. This year, for 2024, we’ve replaced the whole fleet with the brand new 450 Himalayan. I’m riding one right now and it’s brilliant. It’s size, power, and rugged versatility makes the Himalayan the ideal machine for riding in the mountain range it was named after.

Nomadic Knights Roof or India, motorcycle touring in the Himalayas

My fleet is fitted with USB chargers, handguards, engine protection bars, sump guards, removable tank bags, and soft panniers. They’ll all set up as proper adventure motorcycles and fully kitted out which is important for the type of terrain and conditions you’ll encounter in the Himalayas. I’m a mechanic by trade and I have a bit of an obsession with everything being right. I know what riders want which is to be able jump on a reliable motorcycle, ride it within its limits, experience no breakdowns, hand it back at the end, and do it all safely.

The Kashmir Valley

Part of the route we ride to cross over the roof of India takes us deep into the magnificent Kashmir Valley which, for many years, was inaccessible from the southern end. It took 25 years of cutting and hacking though the mountains before a trail was established. I tried to ride it in the past but had to give up as there was no road. It basically came to a dead end.

I always promised myself that as soon as I could get access, I would ride it, which is how the Roof of India tour was born. It’s a stunningly beautiful part of the world that foreigners rarely ever visit. The day we ride from the village of Sural Bhatori to Daksum is truly breathtaking, but it’s only during the months of May to October that we can ride there due to the weather.

Nomadic Knights Roof or India, motorcycle touring in the Himalayas

It is a land of nomadic shepherds and herders that have lived the same way for centuries. We’ll cross Sinthan Pass which summits at 3,800m. All you can see is hundreds of miles of pine forest. And riding the 25 miles down through it all as the sun sets is a magical motorcycling experience that will be etched in your memory forever.

As glorious as the riding is, exploring the Himalayas can be tiring and it’s important to pace yourself. This why I keep the following day on the tour down to around 60 miles before spending the night on exquisite 100-year-old houseboats on Dal Lake. I could wax lyrically about just how awesome this experience is, but I couldn’t do it justice. It’s completely surreal.

Be ready for anything

Riding in the Himalayas is not for everyone. If you like everything to be as it is at home and you don’t like being out of your comfort zone, it’s not for you. The mountains present hazards and challenges that you will need to overcome.

Nomadic Knights Roof or India, motorcycle touring in the Himalayas

My team and I have worked tirelessly over the years to fine tune our tour as a motorcycle adventure that will push you to your limits but in the safest way possible. You’ll find yourself doing things you never thought possible and if you adopt a positive attitude, you’ll love every minute of it. After all, this is why you take on this type of adventure. You’re reading this because you don’t want a beach holiday in a Spanish resort along with 1,000 others. No way.

What’s the best time for motorcycle touring in the Himalayas?

We ride the Roof of India tour every year in June, July, and August. Any other time either side of these months isn’t possible as the army closes the high passes due to snow and cold weather. Even during these months you can expect to encounter changeable conditions.

Nomadic Knights Roof or India, motorcycle touring in the Himalayas

The mountains aren’t to be taken lightly, and you do need to be prepared for any eventuality, which is why so many ride with a tour company. You get to have the adventure of a lifetime, with like-minded people, and the support of a team who know the country intimately. I’d of course love you to explore the Himalayas with Nomadic Knights, and what sets us apart from most other companies is that we’re an in-country tour operator. We’re not a travel agent.

From the minute you send that email or make a payment, you’re dealing with us directly, which is important. I know all my customers and suppliers personally and all our team are full time. That means we can personally guarantee the quality of your experience. So, if you’ve thought about riding in the Himalayas or are planning to do so, come join the team for something very special that you won’t find anywhere else.

The bikes

Nomadic Knights Roof or India, motorcycle touring in the Himalayas

I first rode over the Himalayas on a Royal Enfield 350 Bullet. It had 18bhp but felt more like 12bhp. It was slow, unreliable, and tough going but they were the only motorcycle available in India at that time.

The introduction of the Royal Enfield Himalayan changed everything, and for 2024, we’ve replaced our entire fleet with the latest water cooled Himalayan 450 model.

Royal Enfield has really upped its game with the new bike. Everything is new and they share nothing with the old model. They’ve got 40bhp, a six-speed gearbox, upside down forks, and are fast, rugged, reliable, and perfectly suited for the Himalayan mountains, as  the name suggests.

We’ve fully loaded them with accessories. Tank bag, crash guards, USB chargers, LED lights, hand guards and soft panniers for all your bits.

Ride the Roof of India tour with Nomadic Knights

Nomadic Knights Roof or India, motorcycle touring in the Himalayas

After riding the well-known routes in the Himalayas, Alex decided they were no longer adventurous or challenging enough. He was looking for something that would take the riding experience to the next level.

So, from the knowledge he gained during long days exploring solo in wild and remote terrain, he created the Roof of India tour. It’s made up of 14 days of pure adventure motorcycling which includes your bike, all accommodation, fuel, support trucks, mechanics, drivers, and helpers.

Airport transfers are also included, and you’ll stay in 100-year-old houseboats, camp in high altitude valleys where bears and wolves roam, relax at mountain lodges, and chill in Tibetan style guest houses.

To ride this motorcycle adventure across the Roof of India, you can book directly via or, if you want to chat, call or WhatsApp Alex on 0091 9623 048879.

Who’s Writing?

Nomadic Knights Roof or India, motorcycle touring in the Himalayas

Alex is the founder and lead rider at Nomadic Knights. He comes from Scotland but moved to India full time back in 2010 after becoming captivated by the country.

Beforehand, he served as a motor mechanic and then rose through the ranks of sales and management, latterly as managing director of a telecoms company. He soon discovered that the corporate world had over promised and under delivered and wasn’t for him.

It was time to follow the dream doing a job that didn’t feel like work. And from this, Nomadic Knights was born.

Alex Pirie has been riding in the Himalayas continuously for 17 years and possesses an intimate knowledge of the mountains, spending around six months every year at high altitude living the mountain motorcycling life.

He leads every Nomadic Knights motorcycle tour from the front, across South India to the heights of Mount Everest in Tibet, and deep into the Indian Himalayan mountains.