One of the many wonderful things about writing for a living is the variety of experiences that it affords. Story ideas can fall from the strangest of places, sometimes seemingly straight into your lap from the sky. Having invested in a half-decent action camera a few months months back I decided to sell my previous trusty point and shoot (a Canon PowerShot G9X), and so listed it on Trade Me where it was purchased by a Mr Alan Marks of Tauranga.
Much to my embarrassment I made a bit of an error in the listing description, but Alan was very gracious and we wound up exchanging pleasantries via email. Turns out he needed the camera for an upcoming motorbike tour of the Indian Himalayas, a three-week self-treat for his retirement. I told him the camera had so far already snapped the Southern Alps and the Scottish Highlands, so the Himalayas would be a fitting step up. Then I learnt his wife not only hails from Scotland, like my wife-to-be, but she too is called Heather! Alan and I were even due to travel to India at the same time (though to different parts), and so, deciding that it was one coincidence too many, I asked him to tell me all about his tour upon his return.
“Most of my life I’ve been a keen tramper, and regularly attained self-set goals,” Alan tells me. “But I had never been to that part of the world before and it was a wonderful opportunity to combine it with an adventurous motorcycle trip—especially having watched so many documentaries and YouTube videos!”
Alan was part of an 18-strong group (organised through AB Original Tours) of mainly Aussies and Englishmen, with a couple of Kiwis and a Swede. “The youngest was aged 31, but most participants were in their late 50s or early 60s,” says Alan. “There was only one female.”
“No! She was very supportive of my plan to do it, as she has always been of all my interests. But she has yet to be a pillion.”
Alan’s coolest of bike choice is a Royal Enfield Classic—he’s taken up motorcycling again in retirement having first done it as a teenager. “It has opened up new social circles and I have explored my own country a lot more,” he says. “Riding an Enfield often engages me in conversations with strangers who admire the classic style and want to talk about the good old days, and I’m often complimented on the great restoration!”
Since 2016, he’s completed a couple of Postie Bike Challenges in Australia (“both about 3,500km on ex-Post Office 110c Honda motorbikes”), but says that his Indian adventure was the most memorable “by a country mile”. Alan, who spent 42 years in the police force—including 20 years as a forensic photographer—travelled to India with his brother, Peter, a senior constable stationed in Taumarunui.
“A crew of five travelled in three four-wheel drive support vehicles,” he says. “The crew included two mechanics and it seemed nothing was too much trouble for them. Twice they stripped a motor completely down and rebuilt it with a new piston and barrel, all in about three hours at the end of a day’s riding. Pretty impressive.”
Their journey began in Delhi, from where they took a train then minibus to Shimla in the northern region of Himachal Pradesh. From there, the group began the Spiti Valley circuit.
“The road traffic took some getting used to as there doesn’t appear to be many rules except for lots of horn use and to expect the unexpected,” chuckles Alan. “The unexpected could include cows on the motorway on a blind bend, wandering mules, slips, washouts, or herdsmen with flocks of animals!”
Even in the poorest and most remote regions of the country, Alan says that he noticed schoolchildren waiting for their bus “immaculately dressed in school uniform”.
As for highlights, Alan beams that they happened pretty much every day.
“The finish in Shimla was pretty special though,” he admits. “We had done it! And probably quoted Ed Hillary’s well-known words after he conquered Mount Everest.”
For those that don’t know that legendary catchphrase, Google is your friend.