You could follow the mountain circuit from Shimla to Ladakh and on to Kashmir by rented “jeep,” but yourecommend traveling by rented Enfield Bullet motorcycle for the life-affirming drama of pulling over by the roadside to find yourself utterly alone in these high-altitude deserts in the rain shadow of the Himalayas.
From the nostalgic hill station of Shimla, with its front-row mountain views, head north to the hippy hill resort of Manali. From here, it’s a two-day slog over the 3978m (13,051ft) Rohtang La to Leh, through a landscape plucked straight from the Silk Road. There’s little vegetation and even less shade, and the cold and altitude will hit you like a sledgehammer. Recuperate with trips to Buddhist monasteries and yoga classes in Leh, then hit the road again for a very different take on the Himalayas in Kashmir.
The highway west to Srinagar connects a string of ancient Buddhist gompas (temples), but as the hills turn from dust-yellow to lush green, the culture shifts from Buddhism to Islam as the minarets of Srinagar loom into view. The Kashmir valley is sometimes troubled, but when it’s calm, the experience of watching Dal Lake appearing slowly through the morning mist from the deck of a houseboat is simply sublime.