It looks like the title of a film, instead it is what actually Salvo Pennisi and Vincenzo Bonaccorsi – both from Pirelli’s Moto Testing Department – did. Riding two Royal Enfield Himalayans, they climbed the Khardung La, which with its 5359 meters has long been considered one of the highest vehicle-accessible pass in the world.
The idea was born almost as a game – says on the phone Salvo Pennisi, Testing and Technical Relation Director of Pirelli‘s Motorcycle Division. We had already made the Nevado Ojos de Salado volcano in Chile this year, driving the Honda Africa Twin at 5965 meters. This time we were in India working with Royal Enfield, and we wanted to celebrate the first year of supply of OEM tyres with a great initiative. So we invented this new adventure. After all, after the Fuji, the Sani Pass in Lesotho and the Chilean volcano – which is the highest in the world – we were missing the Himalayas.
Vincenzo Bonaccorsi, whose job is being the tester responsible for the original equipment projects of the Asia-Pacific Area, was the partner in Pennisi’s adventure. Both of them were obviously riding a Royal Enfield Himalayan, obviously with Pirelli MT 60™ tyres.
The Khardung La Pass is located in the Ladakh region of India, north of Leh, and is considered the gateway to the Shyok and Nubra valleys.
Starting from the town of Manali at 12.00 noon on Thursday 28 September, the two motorcyclists passed a 500 kilometre approach path in 2 days, crossing 4 lower altitude mountain pass: the Rohtang (3956 metres above sea level).l. m., Nakeela (4711 metres above sea level), Lachungla (5035 metres above sea level) and Kangla Jal (4878 metres above sea level). At 12.16 p. m. on Saturday 30 September they were on the legendary Kardhung La.
“Technically speaking, I have to say that it wasn’t a difficult ascent – continues Pennisi – because it was mild and easy to drive. However, the roads have been very demanding, because they are very narrow and there is a lot of truck traffic, especially military ones, that drive very fast. That was an important aspect, it required a lot of concentration. And a great use of horn: before every bend you have to horn, because Indian drivers are really unpredictable “.
What struck you the most?
“When you climb up into the mountains, you’ll be amazed by the small villages that you meet. The question arises as to how they deal with the daily challenge to a nature that can be so hostile. But also the warm welcome that we met everywhere. And then the fact that we returned to a pioneering kind of motorcycling with this adventure. When you’re there, you have to be able to do the necessary and, is a country with very strong social contrasts. The industrial realities we have seen are very advanced and unimaginable. And we have met top-level technicians and engineers, who are sometimes working together with European ones. There is a well-defined and enviable growth strategy. Then come out of town, drive 3 kilometres and find yourself in a terrible reality of extreme poverty.
Anyway, speaking from a motorcycle industry point of view, India today is a huge opportunity”.
Did you feel the altitude? And how did you prepare this adventure?
“Obviously, you can definitely feel the altitude, and thinking about even taking just a mild quick run at 5,000 meters is quite of a feat. We had already trained at the Aerospace Medicine Centre of the Italian Air Force, in Pratica di Mare, near Rome, before Chile. But there it was a matter of climbing to 6000 meters in 24 hours. Here the approach was more gradual, therefore less problematic. However, we followed the usual protocols. Beginning with a specific diuretic drug, which has the peculiarity of acidifying the blood, maximizing oxygen transport. Diuresis also helps to prevent the risk of pulmonary oedema. So we drank a lot: at least 5 litres of water per day. With the flip side of the coin that we also had to stop often for physiological needs”.
The most bizarre adventure?
“It did not happen on the street, but at the airport in Delhi. My colleague was arrested for satellite phone possession. We did not know, but possession is prohibited in India for counter-terror reasons. The incident took place at 1 a. m., and we must thank our embassy, which intervened immediately. In 5 hours Vincenzo was fast-track judged and sentenced to a month in prison, convertible into a fine equivalent to… 15 euros. But the satellite phone has been confiscated”.
At this point, what is the next adventure?
“I’m hesitant in saying it, but we still miss Kilimanjaro”.