Mumbai-based automobile enthusiasts Aashish Bhardwaj and Narendra Sharma scaled the Khardung La Pass in Ladakh, one of the world’s highest motorable roads, on electric scooters in June.
The pair, who run the YouTube channel ‘MotorOctane’ in which they review vehicles, had approached Indian electric scooter manufacturing firm Okinawa with the idea a few months ago.
Bhardwaj, who has been to Ladakh several times on a conventional two-wheeler and once in car with his family, says the management at Gurugram-based Okinawa needed quite a bit of coaxing as their latest model, the ‘Praise’, was yet untested at high altitudes.
“We wanted to do something different and decided to attempt the journey as no one had done that before. I think the company was also curious how this would turn out and decided to support us,” he adds.
Once the firm agreed to a field review of their new product, the pair set off on June 4 accompanied by a camera crew and a mechanic equipped with spares in a car. The 10-day ride was uploaded on their channel last month in seven episodes.
The journey required meticulous planning with Bhardwaj first testing out the scooter in hilly terrain near his home in Navi Mumbai and also drawing up detailed daily plans and charting down each halt to charge the vehicles’ batteries.
Sharma, for whom this was the first trip to Ladakh, experienced the fulfilment of a dream upon reaching Khardung La on June 14. “I have travelled extensively across India and half the world, but never to Leh and Ladakh. Being a biker, I have always wondered whether the world will accept me unless I go there,” he says.
The pair, both 42, met in 2009 at Fiat Motors while working as senior marketing and branding executives, both in long corporate careers spanning several Indian and multinational companies. While both would later leave to become consultants, they teamed up once more with MotorOctane, united by a shared love for automobiles.
Along their journey, the soundless scooters became ice-breakers, recalls Bhardwaj, adding that other motorists would strike up conversations in the middle of the road. “One biker in Punjab, who had been following us for many kilometres, forced us to stop just so he could ask why our scooters didn’t make any sound,” laughs Bhardwaj.
With the scooters top-speeding at 75 kmph the pair consequently ended up spending longer hours on the road than petrol or diesel vehicles. They also reported that the electric scooters performed admirably in mountain passes with poor roads and in difficult weather conditions.
They were also able to bust myths on electric vehicles. “The first thing most people on the way would ask us when we told them that we were riding electric scooters was, ‘Yeh pahad kaise chadh gayi? (How did this climb up the mountain),’” says Sharma.
In both Punjab and Kashmir, attendants at fuel pumps and pollution under control centres were left shocked at not finding either a fuel compartment or a smoke vent in spite of turning the scooters over. Devoid of an engine, the vehicles also did not stall as the air thinned out in the upper reaches of Leh. “We passed a lot of motorbikes that had stopped along the way because they had very little air to burn,” says Sharma.
The pair says their successful ascent of Ladakh was also a journey that caused minimal harm to the environment. In one of the final episodes of their journey, ‘Okinawa to Himalayas’, that documents their arrival in Leh, Sharma remarks, “I feel a sense of pride at having got here on a vehicle free from pollution.”