How to drive a Royal Enfield across the Himalayas

I've been riding a motorcycle - the same motorcycle - for a little over 22 years. (And, boy, are my arms tired ...) And while my 1980 Suzuki GS400 has always been a faithful and reliable servant, I would think twice, at least, about depending on it as my sole transport through the Indian Himalayas. There are others, though, who made the trip on a bike with half the horsepower, and their expedition is documented at Ride Now: Royal Enfield in Paradise.

The "Royal Enfield" referred to in the title is a 1993 model of the Royal Enfield 'Bullet' - a motorcycle first introduced in Britain in 1949, and manufactured in India to this day in its 1955 configuration. (Which is to say, 350 cc, 18 horsepower, and a top speed of about 70 mph.)

Twenty thousand units of this two-wheeled time capsule are still made in India each year, many of which are exported to fans around the world. (You can even order a brand-new 1955 Enfield with a sidecar.) "Paradise" is Ladakh (in Jammu and Kashmir) with highways that, if not quite fitting our concept of the term, are at least literal embodiments of the title, and include the motorable road at the highest elevation on the planet.

The Flash 5 layout features content changing within a single static page, rather than from one page to the next. With the four main categories of the site available through a mid-browser navigation bar, photographs dominate the center of the screen, with text to the right, and interactive maps to the left and bottom.

Base Camp is simply an introduction to the enterprise - that of riding an underpowered motorcycle through 600 kilometers of land designed to remind man "what an insignificant twit he really is." The meat of the site, Trip Mode, chronicles the tour with entries for nine waypoints, which are navigated by an interactive map on the left of the screen. (A more detailed, click-and-dragable map rests at the bottom of the window - starting in New Delhi and offering brief facts about two dozen points along the trail.) Each waypoint is accompanied by a few paragraphs of text, which scroll automatically to the next relevant line with a click of a mouse. It's a nice touch - there's no chance of over- or undershooting your target, and if the target line is part of the same paragraph as the last line read, the webmasters break the paragraph to visually reassure visitors that they're not missing anything as the words scroll by.

Unfortunately, the photographs are not the best quality and show a good deal of pixellation. Whether this was due to a mediocre digital camera, poor scanning from film, or sacrifices made to keep the online file sizes small I can't say, but considering the pivotal role they play on the site, it's a shame they didn't have more snap.

Still, I would have liked to have seen more images - and text - but that's probably just a motorcycle rider's insatiable appetite for learning about roads he can't travel himself. For normal people, there should be plenty here for a brief trip into the land of escapism.

Ride Now: Royal Enfield in Paradise can be found at http://www.otrinteractive.com/ridenow/.

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