Himalayan, 6 months ownership update.

Shadowfax turned 6 (months) recently and just returned from second service.  Family and work commitments had kept me busy through most of September-so when two small chances to ride came my way, they were grabbed without further ado and the horse reigned in, on each occasion.

The first one was a short, half day affair to the fishing camps of Bheemeshwari and Galibore. My riding group wanted to head to the river, park the bikes by the banks and just chill with no more on the agenda, so we set off on a  sunny October morning. We could not hang out for long by the river however, as all of that region has recently come under the purview of the State forest department and with tusker presence growing in the area, you are only allowed to linger by the river for five minutes tops. Tusker and crocodile warnings notwithstanding, this beautiful stretch of road connecting the two camps along the river, is now only to be traversed if you have a stay reservation at Galibore. Way back in the day, on my very first ride with my C5, we had been able to ride along the river and take the bikes down to the waterline. I guess with these places now being a very popular weekend destination for Bangaloreans, it becomes necessary for the forest department to introduce these measures to preserve the unique biodiversity of this region. We did manage to  explore some of the terrain around, amble through a reserve forest and kill a few hours when one of the bikes suffered a flat tyre.

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This was easier back in the day when you had a bit of river to yourself. circa 2012
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The Cauvery is still breathtaking in Bheemeshwari, but we could not get the bikes down to the water. circa 2016
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A spot of tranquil in the forest, the river’s not far ahead
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The way in was lit by brilliant blue skies

The second opportunity came about in the form of a family trip to Mysore. While the rest of the family elected to drive, there was one seat short- and it was obvious what would happen next. I must say, this ride to Mysore and back was a revelation for me. I felt that while the Himalayan is great for day long escapades on roads and terrain like the ones in photos above, its absolutely incredible when it comes to touring long distance. Midway to Mysore, and I was in seventh heaven. I was holding speeds of 100/120 kmph constantly without any fatigue to my wrists or bum. Overtaking was a breeze and sticking to the fast lane seemed like a natural thing to do. 3000+ kms on the odo and the engine was running really smooth. Horse and rider reached the city with plenty of breath to spare.

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Mysore palace- a sight to behold after a fantastic ride

These two rides did point out some deficiencies, however. I had been making do with a bent handlebar on the Himalayan, ever since a fall on a ride, some months ago. The Mysore ride made it evident that the handlebar needed replacing-I could feel the strain on one of my shoulders. The stock mirrors also showed their inadequacy on the highway. A bit of online trolling revealed that many Himalayan owners had changed their mirrors- with the Royal Enfield GT stock mirrors being a favourite. When the time came round for the second service, these two updates were on top of my list. Here’s how the bike fares now, looks-wise,with its new handlebar and GT mirrors. Next on the agenda, perhaps the performance exhaust. ūüôā But before that, a ride.

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Tour -ready, Shadowfax with the new mirrors
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Up, close- the RE GT mirrors- wider field of view
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From the archives, circa 2001-the image that started it all

There was a time, many eons ago, when I began to develop a whole hearted interest in two wheels, that I first heard about the BMW R1150 GS Adventure. I chanced upon this image above, during those heady days of late night web surfing while at college, and it made a big impression on my senses. I was hooked on first sight and it signalled the start of a long standing love affair. The R1150 GS was the first true adventure tourer. It was built to serve that one purpose that few dreamed could be accomplished by a motorcycle- Go anywhere, anytime, off road, on road, across borders,  over hills and desert, valleys and rivers. It was designed to cross continents. Suddenly no place on the map seemed too far. It was also designed to be your only bike.

Over the years, I followed the development of this segment of motorcycles closely. While the R1150 GS was eventually succeeded by the 1200 GS, other brands came out with similar purposeful machines- namely KTM, Triumph, Ducati and the Japanese manufacturers to name a few. Through it all the 1200 GS remained the undisputed champion of Adventure motorcycles, and with the kind of publicity garnered through various TV shows, books and movies, it also entered the hall of legends.

Unfortunately, legends come at a price. The bike has been selling here in India for more than a couple of years, but for me it remains a distant dream. A more affordable alternative, the Triumph Tiger 800, beckons as something I might want to lay my hands on in the near future. Until then, I have the Himalayan.

The Himalayan, with its humble origin, and spartan design and engineering has convinced me, in its own modest way, that I will probably never want to own another genre of motorcycle again. The Royal Enfield CEO, Siddharth Lal, had said at its launch that the Himalayan too, was designed to be your only motorcycle. He had meant to put this statement squarely in the Indian context, where unlike the West, owning a motorcycle, for many, is the first step towards eventually owning a car. Here, the practicality of the Himalayan, as a do it all bike-a good commuter, good tourer, off roader and decent luggage hauler, at a rock bottom price was to hold sway against all larger machines of such kind.

6 months of ownership has led to that rare insight, that his vision is coming true. The motorcycle does makes you realise that it is an extension of you. It takes me to work everyday, in reasonable comfort. Its tall seating and straight back ergonomics helps me pick out gaps in traffic over car rooftops. The luggage rack at the rear and the top box is a good stowaway for almost anything. Excellent ground clearance and suspension make short work of all potholes and broken roads. And a torquey engine makes it a great tool for carving through traffic. I’ve said as much, in other posts on this blog before.

What I haven’t elaborated on, is how this bike made me feel on this ride out to Mysore. I felt like a frontiersman, out to explore new land and bring home the bounty. My companion was my horse, in whom I had immense confidence. I felt sorry that the ride would be a couple of days at max, for here was a machine I could really ride for days on end. There came on slowly, a beautiful feeling of oneness. I was perched on the saddle of my trusted steed. There was a certain sure-footedness in the handling, the cornering, the braking and the acceleration. But most of all, there was this immense sense of comfort and companionship, when you sat high and dry on the saddle, wrist on the throttle, mile munching at 100kmph, with that gorgeous autumn sun beating on y0ur back and a smooth ribbon of tarmac stretching before you for miles. Man and machine know nothing better that can be called happiness.

TEMC

For professional reasons, I am not at liberty to reveal what TEMC stands for. Rest assured, it has something to do with my workplace. And yes the last two letters stand for Motorcycle Club. Now it so happened that parking lot discoveries revealed to me that there were quite a few ardent motorcyclists in office. It was only a matter of time before a Whatsapp group was created. Official emails were sent and the first day ride was organised to Yelagiri on August 28th, 2014.

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First photo op_on NH7, Ride to Yelagiri, August 2014

We were a motley bunch with most of us riding Royal Enfield motos and a couple of lads on an Avenger 220 and a Yamaha FZ 150. The plan was to cover the 160 odd kms to Yelagiri in good time and start real early.

Now this ride was a first with folks from my office. My expectations from this ride were so so. There were some inexperienced riders in the group who would need some amount of shepherding. At the same time, four of the riders had done a lot of touring- A moto couple, Vaishali and her hubby Ashutosh, had also done the Leh/ Ladakh circuit. Sabith and Rajeev were experienced riders. I had had my share of rides.

We assembled in front of Total Mall, Koramangala at 5:00 am and most of us showed great discipline and turned up within minutes of each other. The last rider, Sabith, was to join us somewhere near Hosur.¬†We made a cracking start and were at the second rendezvous in no time. Sabith turned up some 10 minutes later and it was surprising to see him sans his riding jacket. Instead he had a yoga mat strapped with a bungee cord on his seat!¬†I still wonder what he had been thinking at that time…

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En route to Yelagiri. White helmet, black machine-yours truly. August 2014

On and off, the group would fall into a two by two ride formation, but it was mostly each man for himself. Ashutosh had the good sense to ride tail and make sure no one was falling behind. Breakfast halt was at Shoolagiri- and many a masala dosa, idlis and vadas were gulped and washed down with steaming filter coffee. We made good time after that and reached the foothills of Yelagiri by 7:30 am.

The real fun started after that, the ride uphill was exhilarating. At that hour, there was no traffic, so you had all the bends to yourself. I could see Sabith, just ahead, scraping his footpegs on every corner. On this ride I had a custom performance exhaust strapped on my bike and this was a good opportunity to test it (more details here- https://yonderbluemountain.wordpress.com/2016/06/26/c5-evolution/). I gunned the throttle and took pole position. I think that was the fastest climb I have ever done in my life. I had no time to count the bends, nor to admire beautiful mountain vistas flashing past me. All I could see was the corner ahead and Sabith in my mirrors, hugging bend after bend. The logic was simple, slow down just before the corner, accelerate through the bend, make sure you time yourself around the corner and keep your eyes glued to a spot at least 50m ahead. Before long, the entire fast bunch was at the top. This was good riding, I told myself.

Yelagiri is best described as a sleepy hill side town, I would go to the lengths of calling it a¬†kasba-something between a town and village. The townsfolk were just rising- a tea stall owner was setting up his pots and pans, when we rolled in. It seemed like a scene from an old western. There you have it, a main street. Townsfolk just starting to go about their business. Shops starting to open, smells of breakfast wafting into the street from a few meagre cafes and schoolchildren being cajoled out of their houses by their frantic moms. Suddenly, there’s a thunderous sound, and a bunch of cowboys ride in on iron horses. We get stares. Some appreciative glances from a few youngsters. A few minutes of drama and we are the centre of it all. But this town is no stranger to visitors. We park and dismount, kill our engines, and the towns people just shrug and go about their business. This is clearly no event for them.

We stand together, sipping coffee when one of us glances at his watch. Its 8:30 am. We applaud each other- wow! We made good time. We are happy. And then it strikes us! This was meant to be a whole day affair! We have made it to our destination too early! What are we supposed to do now? This was surely a first in my history of rides.

Grand plans are charted immediately, some of which promise¬†to be a mini¬†tour around half of South India. We soon remind each other that we have wives, children, uncles, aunts and mouths to feed. Indeed the nation’s economy hangs in balance until our return- not to mention the rest of the office eagerly waiting for us to return to work! We finally decide to survey and explore local flavour. Directions are asked of village folk and we take¬†one of the smaller roads leading out of town.

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Local knowledge is best when it comes to directions! August 2014

An old gent tells us of a spot on a hill and we head off in that general direction. A spot of off-roading and a steep climb leads to a hill top parking lot- with views to behold.

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To get up to the parking lot, we had to ride this trail! August 2014
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The parking lot…
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…had views to behold. August 2014

Some of us head off for a trek after that. I lose and find my phone on the trail. A lonely goat herd doubles up as a guide/ sneaky murderer in our collective, fertile imagination. A couple of hours later, we decide to head back home. Some photo sessions on the way down and we conclude that this has been a good day out. A short detour to Krishnagiri dam turned out disappointing, but I did manage to take a couple of photos.

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Krishnagiri Dam, August 2014
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A quiet canal leading off the dam, August 2014

With that first ride ending on a happy note, I have one more reason to love my workplace (yeah right!).

 

 

Enfield Explorers

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There’s nothing quite like riding through the morning light, Nandi Hills Ride, April 2013

In the years 2013-2014, I had great fun with a bunch of like minded, ragtag motorcyclists, most of whom were based in south Bangalore. We wanted to spend our weekends exploring our very own back of the woods in the format of short breakfast rides, with the intention of going in for longer weekend rides in the future. After two great Sunday rides, I sat down one balmy afternoon and penned this introductory write-up for the group, now called Ministry of Torque, on Facebook. A few edits from Pankaj, one of the founding members, and the intro summed up like this-

“We are an enthusiastic motorcycle club started by a bunch of passionate South Bangalorean motorcyclists. We think of ourselves as a bit old school, ‘weekend enthu cutlets’, who thrive on the old adage ‘they dont build ’em like this anymore’, which means we love our Royal Enfields, Harley Davidsons, Triumphs and the glorious old RD 350s and Yezdi 250s. With us its all about pure, quintessential motorcycles that ooze character, scream nuts and bolts and wear steel and proclaim business.

We do weekend rides, long and short, to destinations around Bangalore. We feel there’s enough living culture to explore in our own backyard- right here in the heart of South India…from the lush greenery of Coorg to the verdant, chilly peaks of Ooty and all of the lakes, rivers, valleys, monuments, wildlife and villages in between.

If you are passionate about motorcycling, are based in Bangalore and have the right bike (Bullet, Harley, Triumph (we love Bonnevilles!), Yezdi, RD 350…) or the right attitude (all plastics above 250cc), please feel free to drop us a line and join us on our next ride.

Until then its Cheerio from the Enfield Explorers! Happy Trails Everyone!

* Please note- We promote safe riding with appropriate safety gear – good lids, gloves and shoes are a minimum must, and exercise strict group riding formation at all times.”

How it all began…

Our very first ride, using an alternate route to the ever popular Nandi Hills turned out great. We had Nikhil (on a Harley Davidson Iron 883) join the group that day. He just happened to be looking for riding companions, and we just happened to pass that way. Considering that most of us had only been introduced to each other an hour or so before,there was an easy camaraderie in the group that said- come on in mate, so long as you love to ride.

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At the base of Nandi Hills, Enfield Explorers, April 2013
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A lonely rider fleets through dawn, April 2013
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Two’s company, April 2013
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A lot of bulls, out on a ride, April 2013
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Motographer, high speed run, Nice Road, April 2013

The Nandi Hills sojourn was also good because we actually avoided the regular route to Nandi Hills (Airport Road), and took an inner route through Nelamangla, off the Hassan highway. Pankaj was the route master, and Shalin got the bunch together. You can read more detailed reviews of the rides here- https://bulletmerijaan.wordpress.com, Pankaj’s very own blog. We got on well on that ride and promised to meet up again soon.

Some rides to remember…

The next ride was not to happen before early June, however, and we¬†rode to¬†Manchanbele, a lovely reservoir off Mysore road. A giant monolith, Savandurga, frames the reservoir, and its a fantastic getaway, if you have couple of hours to spare on a weekend. We were able to take the bikes right down to the water at that time- ¬†I’m told now the authorities have fenced off the area and you can only see the water from the approach road.

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At Manchanbele reservoir, some bulls and Harleys, June 2013
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This HD image went viral on Harley Davidson’s India page. ūüôā June 2013

Our next ride, to what Dev fondly remembers as a ‘Forest’ did not turn out as planned. We wanted to visit¬†Anchetty, a forest stretch in Tamil Nadu, but a couple of wrong turns off Kanakapura Road and we ended up in the middle of nowhere. We found a government school, abandoned in 2002 and whiled a bit there. There were photo sessions and bike talk, with the guys¬†completely ignoring the fact that this was not the ride destination. What I was beginning to like was that the riders in the group were a happy go lucky bunch- every ride equalled¬†discovery +¬†fun, even the ones that did not turn out quite as expected.

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On a ride that didn’t turn out as planned, June 2013
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Out in the middle of nowhere, a solo motorcyclist makes his mark, June 2013
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When you ride by places like this, a few miles out of town, nothing else matters. June 2013

We were determined to do Anchetty, and that happened in a sort of refreshing way actually. The¬†group had been fairly quiet through¬†autumn/ winter of 2013, and 2014 brought in the promise of a good ride. I managed to rope in Sabith, an experienced rider and a colleague from work, and Abhijit, my neighbour, and a core member of the Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Club,¬†on this ride. Now Abhijit is an ardent motorcyclist- in life you are sometimes fortunate to meet people who live by a motto. I guess his motto is “Two Wheels Only”. More about him, here- http://www.motorcycl.in

We also had Som join on his Desert Storm- he had come ‘geared up’ for the ride- as a paratrooper! The rest of the group were the usual suspects and the core members- Pankaj, Shalin, Dev and Anand. We missed Bipin and Nikhil on this ride though- and what a ride this turned out to be!

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En route  to Anchetty, January 2014
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The paratrooper on a Desert Storm, January 2014
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Anchetty, the forest road starts…, January 2014
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…and into the forest we ride, January 2014
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The route out of Anchetty offered some brilliant tarmac, January 2014
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Everyone wants a piece of that Bullet action! January 2014

Every once in a while, ride plans are made with gusto and talked about on the FB group page. People promise to join the ride, but when the alarm shouts 4:00 am, only the determined few make it to the start point. On one such occasion, there was only Pankaj and me who turned up. En-route, we were rewarded with a dazzling sunrise over a lake on Kanakapura Road.  A hearty breakfast and a short detour on our way home and it was a Sunday morning well spent.

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A beautiful sunrise rewards a pre-dawn ride, November 2013
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Bulls in the greens, November 2013

It was awesome¬†being part of a group of like minded motorcyclists. We learnt important group riding skills and co-ordination. ¬†Before long, learning from each other, most of us acquired¬†proper motorcycling gear- Jackets, Gloves, good Helmets, boots, knee guards etc. We discovered wonderful¬†places, a stone’s throw away from the city and some fabulous¬†breakfast joints along the way.

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Ride to Yogavana Hills, July 2013
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Two wheels and an open highway_happy days!

Ministry of Torque

The tribe of Harleys kept increasing gradually, ride after ride. Amit and Nikhil were already on a Superlow and Iron 883, respectively. Dev, who had a RE Thunderbird 500 and was obviously not happy about its performance, progressed from a¬†Superlow to a¬†Fat Boy. Shalin and Pankaj were to follow suit. More members were added to FB group, many of whom also rode with Riders Republic, the largest independent super bike group in the country. And so the name of the group- Enfield Explorers, was called to question. A more inclusive name, Ministry of Torque found favour with many and was adopted. Here’s an FB link to the group’s activities-

https://www.facebook.com/groups/MinistryofTorque/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back Road Beautiful

A few years ago,¬†on my way back from a meeting in¬†Whitefield¬†to my house near¬†IIM Bangalore, I discovered this road at the suggestion of a colleague. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I first rode on it. One minute you are negotiating gaps between heavy trucks on a major state highway leading out of the city, and a minute later, you turn right on an almost invisible lane and you are instantly in the midst of ¬†a motorcyclist’s dream. This back road, which is off Varthur road, touches a pretty village after a series of twisties and then has little bits of straights before dissolving into twisties again. It finally hits¬†Sarjapur Road¬†after a run of 5 km. And hear this- there was¬†little or no traffic. The road condition was¬†impeccable, and although you wont find rolling mountains here, there was¬†ample greenery and smiling village folk on the way.

In the early days, when I moved to South India, these little discoveries added to the list of everyday delights which made me slowly fall in love with this place. These quaint roads, lined with greenery, on the outskirts of the city, that lead nowhere seemingly significant, but which always leave you feeling refreshed and give you a notion of being away from it all.

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The Avenger 220 off Gunjur Village

Long before the Varthur-Devanahalli-Airport road became a regular favourite with Airport Taxi operators,¬†my wife and me had happened to venture¬†out on it, one fine Sunday¬†on our Avenger 220.¬†We joined the¬†Old Madras Road¬†from¬†Whitefield¬†and continued on till we reached¬†Hoskote. From here we¬†took¬†a left turn and after a kilometre or so started getting into real country. ¬†One starts to notice innumerable vegetable farms in a short while- the lifeline to the fresh produce, the¬†city gets every¬†morning. And then come the bends, and my heart whoops with joy. Apart from the absence of monstrous trucks invading your sense of well being and those nice surprises round every bend,¬†what’s really great about these city limit back roads is that it is here, free from city noise and pollution, that you feel that whiff in the air, and are able to truly enjoy that fantastic weather you get all year round at 917m of¬†elevation.

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The Whitefield Devanahalli Road, sans traffic

Over the years my motorcycle buddies and me, have explored these back of the woods as part of a rag tag moto group that thrives on the idea of ‘Sunday Breakfast Runs’. The format here is simple- wake up real early, start your engines at the crack of dawn, congregate¬†at a designated street corner somewhere in the city, ride towards a pre-ordained breakfast joint on the highway (where the proprietor is¬†as enthusiastic about rising early as you are), gobble down standard fare- idly vada, khara bhaat, maybe some masala dose… and wash it all down with steaming hot, strong filter coffee.

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Idly vadas and filter coffee, breakfast for the hungry biker

Over breakfast, talk bikes and plan the next big ride, and update your dream motorcycle wishlist, based on inputs from your moto-mates. When you are finished with breakfast, you need to take the long way home- which generally involves heading into the nearest patch of woods and perhaps a little loss of tarmac.

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Anchetty Forest Road, Tamil Nadu

On all these rides we have figured routes which venture off the main highways leading out of town. We take them small unknown roads which connect one major route out of the city to the next. You can also read about some more back road discoveries here-

https://yonderbluemountain.wordpress.com/2016/07/03/enfield-explorers/

You don’t need to head far from the city before you are on one of these roads- so take your moto and head out this weekend- you may have a pleasant surprise, waiting at the very next bend.

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A single that thumps, a road that winds- Off Kanakapura Road
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Lovely backroad skirting Manchanbele Reservoir
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The straight stretch to Nandi Hills

 

 

Ode to the Himalayan

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These iron horses will take us far
On paths beyond the highway tar
O’er hill and mountain, vale and dale,
We’ll stop in taverns and drink fine ale
There’ll be talk and laughter and merry and gale
And when the day is done, we’ll rendezvous
And hold ’em straight and hold ’em true
To carry us darlings straight home to you.