Right, So here I was in the middle of July, buying and packing my stuff for a motorcycle tour to Ladakh, a byword for Paradise but then life had other plans. Check this out for the story. In short, my ride from Bangalore to Leh Ladakh was cancelled so I randomly went Solo on my KTM Duke 390, exploring other places across India without picking a destination!
This trip is a MAJOR milestone in my life, the words in this blog cannot exactly describe the feeling of a rejuvenating solo ride. From a time 5 years ago when my chances of getting a 2 wheeler were pitiful to the time I bought a geared motorcycle and travelled a fair bit of India, phew! Its a long way I tell you but the highway I’m on is infinite in length and this is just the beginning.
Purpose of the long solo ride: Just ride and explore places with nothing to prove or achieve.
I left Bangalore on the 23rd of June with a thought in mind to Reach Pune before clock strikes 8 for dinner, I usually have dinner before that. Little did I know that all that routine, ‘lifestyle norm’ was about to go for a toss for the next 4 weeks. I started out of my apartment gate at 7.45 with my mom bidding good bye at the gate, I received most amount of support from her from the phase of planning to the implementation of the trip, I think she knows me better than I know myself. She has immense hope of everything going well and had a lot of confidence in my instincts and riding. She always says that she enjoyed viewing the places through my eyes and hence I immediately send her a beautiful image as soon as I capture it on my phone. I’m proud to say that I have the most courageous mom! 🙂
I was not expecting a lot of peak hour traffic as I exited Bangalore city, c’mon it was just 8 AM! But then population is a serious problem today, people try to squeeze out every bit of time and space available on the planet. I managed to dodge it all, caught up with speed in no time and maintained momentum of 110-120 kph regardless of wet or dry weather conditions. A heavy breakfast was dealt with at home, so I could keep going till early afternoon. I had learned from my previous solo ride and return ride that no compromise could be made on food and water in order to catch up with time. I did feel a little anxious at the beginning considering the level of disapproval I received from many relatives on this plan of mine but that cleared off in a jiffy as I indulged into the natural vastness ahead of me. To reiterate, my mother was the only one who supported me.
I made it to Pune that day when the sun had just logged out for the day and it had been pouring all the way from Satara, I had bothered to cover only my Torso with rain gear because I was lazy to stop and wear a pant over my riding pant. In addition, I love riding in rain, after all “If you don’t ride in the rain, you don’t ride“.
But many perceive rain as apocalyptic event like many of my relatives. Everyone loses their minds when it rains and people cause all sorts of traffic problems by going slow, hatchbacks suddenly seem impractical, idiots in SUVs fear driving into a puddle of water and the city comes to a standstill. Consequently I made it to my hotel room which I had booked this time by 7:15 PM and put all my clothes to dry 🙂
My attempts of waterproofing the tail bag by using the waterproof cover of another bag didn’t go well. Luckily though some clothes left in the Panniers were dry as the Panniers are waterproof.
I think every city in India is filled with too many people who are the main cause of traffic jams, their idea of development is mostly materialistic so they work to buy cars and houses, then travel to work in traffic to buy a bigger house and a bigger car(s)- eventually worsening the existing traffic problem- earn more money- buy more, consume more else how would they be able to face society- more traffic- Total chaos. That was the vicious cycle of traffic explained in short.
When I carried on to Mumbai the next day, I experienced the worst traffic jam of my life. It was partly my fault too as I entered a city that has more number of people than the number of ants, at 6PM! The traffic jam on the western express highway was massive and when I asked for the length of the traffic jam to the office-goers who take this route regularly, their answer was 10-15 kms followed by ‘welcome to Mumbai’ and a grin.
Most cars only had 1 person in them and people still chose to go through this misery every single day, just to buy more cars and houses. I know some don’t have a choice, but still! Just imagine, if we take a sample of 300 cars with 1 person in each who wastes an average of 4 hours in traffic everyday (and that’s only the evening traffic). If they worked for 25 days a month, they would end up spending close to 4 days a month in traffic and 48 life days in evening traffic jams for the entire year! Now, if they worked for 20 years in their life, they would end up spending 2.63 years only in Traffic. Imagine, 2.63 years in your car with you digging your nose and scratching your crotch, just to buy another car and do that same thing! I did’t get it. Now I know why my school principal back then stressed so much importance on car pooling. If I had to face such hardship in Mumbai everyday, I would rather go live in a village as a farmer and produce my own food and physique, sell organic food to people, earn money , buy a few motorcycles and travel, live a grounded, healthy lifestyle! There’s no compromise on social responsibility too! 🙂 Oh no, wait! What would I tell the society then? LOL
But the best part about Mumbai’s traffic is the same people, I have never seen such courteous drivers in traffic. If you’re lane splitting in heavy traffic and there’s not enough place between cars, the car drivers would actually move left or right to let the motorcyclists pass. I just love such people! 🙂
Okay, Mumbai was dealt with for 2 days in a joint family of 13 people, 2 days because relatives wouldn’t let me go ahead as some idiotic news channels broadcasted that Gujarat was flooded by rains. Gujarat is a HUGE state and it was actually 2 or 3 districts around Gujarat’s coastal areas that were affected by rains and my route through Gujarat was 45 hours away from the coast. But no, it was raining. There’s definitely no point in following news channels that concentrate on explaining how celebrities brush their teeth and wash their arse or channels that bring babas to their studios to advise viewers on how to fart less in life.
I had plans of following this mantra during the ride- ‘start early, stop early’ but it turned out to actually be- ‘start late, stop early’. Thanks to my KTM, the ‘stop early’ part remained constant. You know you’re in Gujarat when the roads suddenly start looking like they meet international standards or you may begin to encounter funny names of districts and hotels. I remember seeing a river named ‘Wanki‘ followed by hotel ‘relief’ a few kilometers later, hmm some connection there eh 😀
Vadodara was my next halt after Mumbai and it was bone dry. I was staying in a family friend’s house who is also a 3 star Police Inspector known by the name Jogal or Foga Bhai as we call him. I gained a lot of positive vibes from him, he was someone who was proud of me as understood what I was doing. A motivating character is what he is! I wanted to stay there longer but I had to get going though. I decided that I must explore Rajasthan if not anything else and it must be very different to live in a desert during monsoon. Udaipur it was next. Thanks to Foga Bhai, he used many of his contacts in Gujarat and Rajasthan who helped me in terms of stay and food, they were a bunch of lovely people!
You know you’re in Rajasthan when you begin to hear Peacocks calls. It’s a state filled with heritage in the form of food, forts and palaces. It was my first visit to the Royal state. The roads are great but there were nasty surprises on the way and my motorcycles front rim got a small dent on it, but since it wasn’t bothering the handling and there was no loss of air pressure too, I decided to not do anything about it! Weather wise, it was hot even in monsoon, thanks to the winds that kept me cool while I was riding but when I was not moving, I experienced life in a pressure cooker. Udaipur- Jodhpur- Jaisalmer- Sam sand dunes- Ajmer were places I explored for the next 5 days. What I mean by ‘explored’ is that I interacted with local people, ate the favorite dish there and did not visit forts and Palaces. I was assisted in Udaipur by a prominent businessman who owns JMB sweets. Everbody in Udaipur knows JMB sweets. He’s a down to earth and hospitable person and has a hell lot of info on places to explore around Udaipur.
I visited one fort only- Kumbalgarh fort that was surrounded by a forest but the outside of the fort and forest appealed to me the most. The reason I didn’t go inside palaces and forts was because I couldn’t leave my Motorcycle alone with all the luggage on it, even if the Panniers were locked but primarily because I’m not interested even by the tiniest bit of looking at the kind of plates, weapons or undergarments the people back then used. History was not of any interest to me back in school, I was interested in the stone age bit though.
The desert in Sam near Jaisalmer was an absolute treat as I experienced a tented night in the desert followed by the views around Ajmer and Pushkar where I was received by Ashutosh, a like minded friend and an old Colleague.
Since I was left with a few more days to explore, the only place I could think of was Himachal Pradesh. Chandigarh was next on the list as that is the best way to reach Himachal from Rajasthan. The route I chose was not via Delhi but via Haryana (sonipat and Panipat) as I wanted to avoid any major city that came my way. I only spent a night in Chandigarh and didn’t explore much there because it was just another city and I was very excited about Himachal. I chalked out places that I could visit in the land of mountains- Kasol, Manikaran (parvathi valley), Kullu-Manali and Rohtang Pass. I did notice that Chandigarh was a pretty clean city and one thing that it lacked when compared to the other cities is fussiness and tension.
The route to Kullu from Chandigarh there was OK in terms of distance coverage. I was covering approx 500 kms in 7 to 8 hours every other day. However, the length of this route was 250 kms only but I realised it would take 6 to 7 hours to travel that much. Google maps suggested that too. The exceptional point of this route was a 150 Kms twisted, green ghat section, they would consume more time compared to a straight highway. The ghat section was something that made me smile a lot. I love curves and prefer them to straight roads. A lot of curves on this route had pimples on them though but the rest of them were awesome to ride on. I lived in a resort on the outskirts of Kullu and made it the center point as it actually was between Kasol-Manikaran and Manali- Rohtang Pass. Manikaran was at a distance of 50 kms from the resort whereas Manali was 60 kms.
Kasol is known for its views, Parvathi river and is seen as an ideal camping sight, hence preferred my many foreigners, especially people from Israel. The ‘Israelis’ also have some religious connection to Kasol (that’s what I heard) but a lot of them come there to smoke up weed as Himachal offers one of the best kinds of weed in the world! Manikaran is known for its Gurudwara, a pilgrimage revered by many Punjabis. Hot springs between Kasol and Manikaran ensured there was a lot of mist around the place. I kept stopping every now and then to click pictures- my average speed there dropped to 20 kmph, such were the views.
Manali and Marhi (near Rohtang pass) were other gems that I savored on this trip. Again, I did not stay in Kullu and Manali as they’re as commercialized as any other city, the real essence of a place can be found on the outskirts. People in Himachal are very friendly and to my surprise, I found a lot of truck drivers on the ghat section to be very courteous as they guide you when you are going in to overtake. This was one state I didn’t want to leave, but I decide to visit again, hopefully sooner than I think and of course, on my motorcycle 🙂
I made a U-turn at Marhi under a board that said ‘LEH 444 KMS’. According to me, a place like LEH Ladakh needs a minimum of 12 days to explore, hence I thought of coming back some other time to explore that area. I took the same route while returning and stayed in pretty much the same places, except Jaipur, a city that I hadn’t stayed in earlier. Foga Bhai’s friend in Jaipur, Rajeev was kind enough to invite me to his place and lent me a room for the night. A very matured Gentleman, we had interesting conversations over breakfast that got him late to office, thanks to me!
Then, it was the same old route and the same awesome people that helped me on the way: Udaipur- Vadodara- Mumbai- Pune- Bangalore.
The evening of 16 July was when I reached home my mom and sister had an awesome welcome planned for me. I hogged home food after a long time followed by some Jelly prepared by my sister. I think I must’ve put on a Kilo that evening.
I will update separate blogs that explain my journey on a day to day basis in detail and will paste the links below.
23 June: Ride from Bangalore- Pune
24 June: Ride from Pune- Mumbai
27 June: Ride from Mumbai- Vadodara
28 & 29 June Ride: Vadodara- Shamlaji- Udaipur
30 June: Ride from Udaipur- Jodhpur
1 July: Ride from Jodhpur- Jaisalmer and Sam
2 July: Ride from Sam Sand Dunes to Ajmer
3 July: Ajmer
4 July: Ride from Ajmer- Chandigarh
5 July: Ride from Chandigarh- Kullu
6 July in Himachal: Kullu- Kasol- Mannikaran
7 July in Himachal: Kullu- Manali- Marhi
8 July- 16 July: 2015 West India tour- the ride back home
– Distance traveled: 7,434 Kms
– No. of states travelled through: 7
– Temperature variation: 41 degrees to 14 degrees
– Altitude variation: sea level to 10,600 feet.
– Times motorcycle serviced: 1
– Time consumed: 24 days
1) Did the motorcycle break down?
Nope, it started every morning without any problems- no breakdowns, no punctures, just a small worn out chain slider that Ram Soni, a like minded biker friend in Mumbai helped me diagnose at his mechanic’s garage, which I got replaced at a KTM dealership in Navi Mumbai on the way back. In fact, I topped up the tyres with nitrogen after 6,500 kms on the way back and was surprised to see that there had been a pressure loss of 2 PSI only!!
2) Who sponsored the tour?
I had run out of moolah after all the things I bought and the work I got done on the motorcycle. It was very nice of my father who understood my passion for motorcycling as he funded my tour.
3) What motorcycle luggage was I using?
I used hard luggage this time- Aluminium Panniers that are tailor made for the KTM Duke by a Firm called Dirtsack. They proved to be very sturdy and acted as crash guards when I got hit by a horse cart from the side in Ajmer :D. Here’s a review of the aluminium Panniers.
In addition, I used a Dirtsack Tankbag and a Nike backpack which got strapped onto the rear seat with Bungee cords.
4) What Photography equipment did I use?
For zoom shots, I used my canon 550D with a 55-250mm lens mounted to it, for everything else, I used my iPhone 5s which is a great substitute to a high end digital camera.
I also used the Xiaomi Yi Action camera, it costs 6000 INR with a waterproof case and gets extremely close to the quality of a GoPro.
6) What did I eat and drink during the tour?
I mostly ate hotel food but I stopped at Hotels and dhabhas that seemed right to me. I avoided anything too oily, mostly had aloo or Paneer Parathas. I had a lot of traditional Indian sweets, they help gain a lot of energy. I did not face any challenge pertaining to health during the tour, never felt sick even once! Oh yes, I had a lot of chai as well. How can I forget that 😀
5) Was the motorcycle modified for the tour?
– A mount was fabricated on the handlebar for the action camera because there was absolutely no other place on the handlebar.
– I ordered 2 LED lights that save power and are brighter than my headlights. A mount was fabricated for the lights as well. Here’s a review of the LED lights.
– A steel plate was fabricated and bolted under the exhaust as the ground clearance of the motorcycle was reduced a bit after the luggage was loaded.
All fabrication was done by my trusted mech Jagdish, a tech savvy and down to earth mechanic who has become an ace at servicing superbikes by downloading PDF service manuals onto his phone and studying them a night before servicing motorcycles. He also tunes and services dirt bikes for events like desert storm and Raid de Himalayas and frankly speaking, he does a better job of servicing my motorcycle than KTM does. If you’re looking to service or fabricate things for the your motorcycle, here’s his no.9972871997.
6) Is India a safe country to tour?
I think so. I was riding solo all the time and not even once was I mugged or kidnapped. Every human being I came across the trip was nice to me and I never sensed hostility anywhere. I would say that it’s really important to remain cautious on the roads though as you may encounter a lot of domestic animals running off onto the highway or truck drivers switching lanes abruptly. Apart from that, there was no major threat. Oh yes, I never rode in the night, another safe thing to do.
7) Was I granted so many leaves by my boss at the office?
LOL, I was granted 2 weeks of leaves. I had to pay for the other 2 weeks. It was on my mind to look for a more interesting job after the tour, so even if I lost the existing job, it didn’t matter. Some risks are worth taking 😀
8) Was I worried or scared anytime during the trip?
As far as I remember, I wasn’t. Worry and fear consume all the fun, so there shouldn’t be any room for those at all. Fear= False assumption appearing real.
A Big thank you to all those who helped me in completing the tour that had no destination initially. The tour helped me have a close look at real people that matter and provided a much needed break. It also helped me realize that negativity leads to ill health, so it is important to remain happy all the time, we tend to take life too seriously most of the times. In addition, I also learned that India is much more beautiful a country, filled with beautiful people than it is portrayed by the mainstream media. To experience what I just said, switch off the TV for a few weeks and head out into the unknown, then you’ll know for sure.
From cities like Bangalore and Mumbai, from the desert in Rajasthan to the cloudy peaks of Himachal, I’m grateful I could savor each moment and flavor.
The chain and sprocket kit on my motorcycle wore out due to regular wear and tear and were replaced after I was back in town but otherwise, The KTM Duke 390 is doing as good as when she was new.
I have been eyeing peaks of the south for now, you and I will soon know. I need to get riding on the highway again. The short breakfast and chai rides will keep happening though 🙂