I was writing and photographing in The Great Indian Roadtrip (2006). A collection of feature articles (totaling around 17 pages) came in BIKE India spread over 4 issues in 2006. The articles are listed below with the scripts.
You can read more about the trip here.
Article 1 : How we Stole the Crown of India
Published in Bike India Magazine : October 2006. The follwing is the article script.
How we Stole the Crown of India...
Text : Sundeep Gajjar (Sunny)
Photography : Sundeep Gajjar (Sunny) & Krishnendu Kes
No, we are not talking about a billion dollar wasted Hollywood flick. Nor are we talking about getting our stuff back from the Brits. This is about stealing something which just gets bigger and better every time you and I decide to do it. It was two years ago when I decided that it was enough. India was being limited to a selected few places worthy of being on grandma’s wishes postcards and honeymooners’ hub of commercialized hill stations. It was time to move on to be men of action than to ponder and extrapolate upon the long said. Seriously. Why are we here? What is our purpose? I remember someone saying that we are here to just pass our time till we reach the end. Stare at the new world with bright round eyes, doodle on pieces of paper, get educated, indulge in the opposite sex, do jobs, get married, have children, do more jobs, keep doing jobs and raising children, have head-ached trying to figure out why the hell we are here for, wait for the end, and while we wait still try to figure why on the earth we were here for!
Oops, I forgot to add, for a certain group of individuals, there is `bikeism’ too. There are only a select few individuals who discover what they really want. Finally, Four of us- Krishnendu Kes (Calcutta), Ashish Divarkaran ( Hyderabad), Gurpreet Singh ( Delhi ) and I wrung the throttle first time on the 15th of August to mark the beginning of The Great Indian Roadtrip. This 100day trip will see us travelling up north forming a loop from Delhi - Srinagar - Leh - Manali - Musoourie - Delhi and in Leg 2 down south via Delhi - Rajasthan - Goa - Kanyakumari - Chennai - Hyderabad - Sikkim - Delhi. Like all young and new: men and ideas, we set out pretty ambitious with the aims being many and being herculean. We wanted to show India as the most beautiful place to travel in the world and to motivate people to break free from the 9-5′ job routines. The first day saw us arrive in Chandigarh with other members of the club to show us around the city. We had a nice time in Chandigarh, which is arguably the best planned city in India. The Rock Garden perhaps consisted of more stones in formations than that our poor tyres went over in our 4600kms northern India ordeal across the mountain deserts of Ladakh, Lahaul and Spiti. As we set off for Amritsar the next day, we reminded ourselves to soak in the feeling of riding on good roads, and roads which had names, for soon we will be on the palm of the 100 miles long desolate landscapes with the odd mirages featuring the Indian Cricket Team as a roadside band. We checked into a family suite in a 4 star hotel in Amritsar for pretty cheap. The usual all India trip with an innocent and tired `on a mission’ faces usually worked wonders. We sure did have a budget and some flings here and there wouldn’t have hurt, especially when you know that you’ll be lucky even to get boiled noodles after we enter the upper mountains. The plains are usually very hot places in summer, and Amritsar was no different. You always sweat with the least amount of physical exertion and your bikes always feel hot.
Amritsar is most famous for the Golden Temple which is actually just a part of a much bigger Harminder Sahib Gurudwara. The Golden Temple is a nickname given to a temple which is almost entirely made of real gold. It is said that after a cleanup of the man made lake which surrounds the temple, one can find enough gold and other expensive artifacts enough to buy out the Microsoft Corporation (dont worry langar is free Mr. Bill Gates!) It is also said that no one dies of hunger in the city of Amritsar because the gurudwara (door to god) has a langar (a place where free healthy meal is offered 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and up to higher denominations for the mathematically inclined.)
Next up on our minds was the beautiful Jammu and Kashmir. Every rose has a thorn, so did this state of pristine beauty. The thorn whose roots had been sown by man and a line drawn on paper, I hang my head in shame every time I think of what has been meted out to this region by my country and our neighbours. There is an omnipresent danger of being torn to shreds by one of the timed bombs that might be just dropped in your car while you park it for a lunch. Or you might be caught in crossfire in a terrorist cameo. With a thousand ways of dying a martyr being enacted in our heads, we rode on into Kashmir via a night stopover in Jammu. Nothing had prepared me to experience the beauty of a rain washed evening in Pahalgam - our first night stopover in Kashmir. How can I tell you to imagine the three bikes standing in a evening cool drizzle under a giant green tree with a blue stream playing as the host for a water soccer match underneath beautiful tiny wooden bridges. Couple this with a garden with dwarf watchtowers and old men boasting away about their prehistoric love affairs while having hookah. I will never forget what I saw when I looked up through the leaves on the branches of the tree that gave us cover - it was a mosque with a crisp rainbow for a background and an interplay of colors in the sky which would give Pantone a run for its money. We had been bewitched. The next day saw us chatting away to the Army men in an armored van posted just opposite to our hotel in Pahalgam. We found out that they were uncomfortable with locals around and that the van had enough artillery to last a 24 hour armed combat. We also found out that one soldier was from Hyderabad, one from West Bengal, and they might just be some very distant relatives of Ashish and Ken, or so we thought in a hope to get a free stay in their van.
Leaving this serene village we arrived in Srinagar, the hub of all militant activity in Kashmir. We checked in a house boat on the Dal Lake. It did not take us long to figure out that we may not ever get a better place to stay in our entire trip of India. The boat costed in excess of 1 crore and the amount of wood used in the carvings and interiors would be enough to create a bridge from Srinagar to Lahore with some leftover blocks to create do-whatever-you-like-with-them effigies of your favourite political leaders.
A Roadtrip like this essentially means you go from here and then there and then over there. It is sure like riding in the hills where you never know what to expect. But I think in our case it was a little more like riding as a pillion with Carrie-Ann Moss (Trinity) on the freeway, behind the Ducati, on the wrong side. We left Srinagar early in a bid to reach Kargil for the night. But wasn’t it too obvious that it had been long time since the phrase “Man Proposes, God Disposes” was applied to us as rats in a lab experiment. There was this landslide just after Sonamarg which delayed us by one day.
The one day which we spent in a J&K tourist lodge above the Sonamarg village. The lodge was situated in wide open lush green fields of short grass with a sinister looking pond (may be containing the secrets of the Ring! ) There were cows and handsome horses with flowing manes grazing to their hearts content. The place had a towering mountain side with a melting glacier for company. It was here when Ashish decided to play the Yeti in the mountains when he went off for a long climb towards the glacier. And trust me, the rest of us were damn scared that he may get shot by a local (after he mistook Ashish for a Gorilla) or a militant (after he mistook Ashish for a suicide bomber.) That very night we had all cramped into our backup four-wheeler and had the scariest ride in sleet and rain in pitch black down to Sonamarg village to have dinner.
Next day we made it just in time to avoid the huge convoy of army trucks which were due to start from Sonamarg to Kargil. We had great expectations from the terrain and the travel to Kargil in general. And we were not disappointed. Almost as soon as we got out of Sonamarg’s boundaries we were greeted by mildly inhospitable terrain. The Blazes were performing inexplicably well, except a minor irritant in Ken’s Blaze. The scenery changed from lush green meadows to barren landscape with jagged rocks carved in alien shapes with the wind carrying dust and the water flowing down from melting glaciers. We had the destiny to see one of the greatest wonders on earth quite up close- a huge grey and white glacier extending all the way to a further away high mountain peak. The glacier was melting and giving birth to a stream which had gathered quite a lot of momentum and volume and flew through the barren landscape down to the main river. It cannot be described in words, but it truly was a wonder to behold. Next up we halted at a place where some localites were curiously looking down a very deep gorge marrying into a glacier for the mountain opposite to us. It so happened that in the morning, a truck carrying wooden load was giving way to an Army convoy heading from Kargil to Sonamarg. It must have moved to the very edge of the road when the mass below gave away and the truck fell into the deep gorge taking the two men and the load with it to the ice at the bottom. A chill went through our spine. Imagine the death of those two, even if somehow they would have survived the fall, they couldn’t have managed to get up and would have died in the sub zero temperature in the ice. Localites told us police didn’t even go down to see because it was so steep and deep, while some localites did and reported back that man’s head was into the ice and his legs were sticking out. But no one could do anything as that part of the glacier was very soft on the surface with cold water below it.
At the Drass checkpost, dark rain clouds got trapped between the mountain peaks that surrounded the Drass valley and poured. The wind chill factor must be below 10 degrees then. It was a fantastic ride with not much of bad roads before we arrived in Kargil. It amazed be how developed Kargil was. I saw a Karizma here along with cool dudes on Enticers too!
I always wanted to go to Leh and see what was the entire hullabaloo was about. What made so many motorcyclists go there? But I was waiting for a very special occasion and a reason to be there. What better and magnanimous than The Great Indian Roadtrip. The ride itself to Leh was fantastic with unbelievable landscape leaving you in a state wherein insects would find it a no problem affair to examine your oesophagus. The road leading to Leh was not as bad as we expected it to be. The final double digits to Leh being shaved off in pitch dark at night on a long straight smooth tarmac road with hardly visible silhouettes of mountain ranges on either side and a hope that we will see some UFOs up in the night sky.
Leh is just like another town. Or almost.
It is a concrete jungle interconnected with sinusoidal roads which are one way and would definitely succeed in confusing you with washed out direction boards. But fear not, if you are a tourist not even the police would like to trouble you, there you go - a happy go lucky tourist on a motorbike breaking most rules you wouldn’t like to do back in your metro. Anyways, so I was saying, Leh is just another town, it is not made up of high rise mountains, green meadows and the etc that you would probably picturise in your mind. The town is a mix of Tibetan culture with evident Buddhist monuments and customs. You will see either Tibetans, local Ladakis, or foreigners - Israelis, Franco phones, German etc etc. Rarely you will come across the familiar face of the North or South Indian. It is a delight to stroll down the streets of Leh, see the strange items on display. Three kinds of shops dominate the Leh shop line - Tibetan crafts, restaurants catering to the westerners and Internet Cafes. The internet is supposed to be through `V Sat’ and is supposed to be fast, but rarely conforms to its specifications much to the chagrin of its users like me whose one half lives in the matrix. The skyline of Leh is dominated by the ancient Leh Palace and the ground is marked with Chortens or Stupas in respect of Bodhisattvas (saints / living saints.)
During our stay in Leh we visited two of the most exotic locations in the region - Khardungla (World’s highest motorable road) and Pangong Tso Lake (130kms long, part in China, part in India.) The ride to Khardungla was supposed to be an easy 40 km ride to 18,400 feet. It was a big mistake thinking like that. Had we toughened our minds, we would have perhaps found it easier to brave the sub zero temperatures and the fresh snow coupled with black ice. We took a good 3 hours to reach the top due to a kilometer long traffic jam, snow and what not! It was the experience of a lifetime. I just cannot imagine how you can climb mountains like the Everest! And did I tell you that I almost thought we looked like fools when we say some foreigners actually cycling up to that place! It was just a freak scene and a display of man’s will power. Pangong Tso was tackled by Ken and Ashish. I would like to borrow some of Ken’s words to describe Pangong Tso. He said -”The road that we had done so far was indescribably beautiful. Not only was the barren simplicity striking, but the colors of the brown that changed hues as we moved and as the sun shifted humbled us. And when I rode on through such landscapes, the incredible beauty of the mountains made me throw the book of superlatives away.
We crossed several small lakes. And then we came across the board saying “FIRST VIEW OF THE PANGONG LAKE 4KM”. And we could see in the distance between two mountains the first view of the destination for which we came thus far. And when I got there, I was spellbound. They say that a picture says a thousand words. But here a thousand words or even a thousand pictures or both would far from suffice to describe what I was seeing. No camera can capture this. No writer can describe this. I was glad to be there, standing, admiring the extreme beauty that nature has in store. You have to go there to find it and see it.”
Finally after almost a week’s stay in Leh we moved on to Sarchu. Staying in camps, the night ahead was the coldest in my life. It must be easily 5 degrees below zero. The night sky was full of stars and the full moon gave it all dark shadows and an eerie feeling.
The next morning we went ahead, finally touch civilization in Manali. Sarchu to Vashisht (a small village near Manali) saw us cross two passes - the Barachla and Rohtang. As we crossed over from Rohtang towards the Manali side, we were bedazzled by the greenery and beauty of the place. I guess after many days we saw vegetation, but undoubtedly it was the most beautiful pass that we crossed.
The next three days, we explored Manali, Vashisht and Manikaran and blogged a lot on our laptops and were thoroughly delighted to have phone connectivity after hundreds of hours. Technology rules! (and makes us Zombies too.) It was now time to start another tough pert of the journey. Manali - Rohtang Pass - Kaza - Tabo - Peo - Rohru - Mussorie. The Valleys of Lahaul and Spiti were whispering to us and maybe calling us to our doom. I was very well aware of the problems that I and my co-riders had three months back while traversing the terrain that awaited us. It was bad, brute, ugly and annoying and bone tickling. But it will become a part of us soon.
The roads really started to lose meaning after Gramphoo. The landscape here is far more interesting than the Srinagar - Leh- Manali circuit. Weird formations carved by wind carrying dust and water from glaciers make it almost a Lunarscape. IMHO .Ansari could have just come here rather spend those lovely greenbacks back there in space and nothingness, but I guess like us, she is mad in a good way too. The most interesting place was Kibber (the highest village in the world connected by road.) The houses were arranged in a cheese layer fashion with very little to demarcate them from one another as far as looks went. From there. we descended a bit to Recong Peo, a cool town over looking the snow clad Kinner Kailash across the Sutlej river. It was a terrific sight. The next day would be a ride to Rohru, a town based on the banks of the Pabbar river. From Rohru we took the route to Mussoorie via Chakrata. It was perhaps the day where we stretched ourselves the most and rode into the night and till 12 PM before arriving at Ashish’s relatives home on Landour Hill in Mussoorie. The caretaker of the house knew English because he worked under a German Lady and an American man who owned the place. He opened the door for us and instantly all our inhibitions and fatigue were proved volatile. The house reminded Ken of French countryside Chalets while it stunned me and instantly made me depressed and in an “I want my home to be like it” mood.
After looking around at Musoorie and its more beautiful neighbour, Dhanolti, we headed back to Delhi. After a two days tour in Delhi we decided to end the tour standing 4600kms in 35 days. Back to civilization, back to technology and wide roads, we waited to start our next leg in the Great Indian RoadTrip - 2nd October onwards we will be seen riding rest of India in a 15,oookms journey. More of that next issue!
Article 2 : The Great Indian U-Turn
The Great Indian U-Turn
Published in BIKE India Magazine (December 2006).
After charging straight down the length of the country, we reached the land’s end. And since riding bikes sounds more enticing than rowing boats, we decided to take a U-turn…
After scaling the heights of the Himalayas in Jammu and Kashmir up north, w eventured down south tpwards Kanyakumari. Now this is one landmark which every biker marks as a special destination while planning his trip. I still remember how I raced the 1000RR along the single lane highway from Kovalam towards the southernmost tip of mainland India so as to outpace the Trivandrum xBhp bikers’ cavalcade behind me. I wanted myself to be the first among the GIR riders to be shot with the signboard saying ‘Kanyakumari’. I know countless other bikes have done it before me, just that I am t he first one to have done that on a Superbike.
The Great Indian Roadtrip took a U - Turn at Kanyakumari. This makes me look back at the 14-odd thousand kilometres that we have travelled on this trip. It’s almost like living an entire age in a short span of 4 months. Even as I pen down these words I feel overwhelmed by the amount that we have learnt in this small time, the innumersable frisnds that we have made and the unforgettable experiences that we’ve had. I wan tto admit that if i were to die the after this trip gets over I wont have any complaints with my life and my sould will be resting in absolute peace.
Let me do a quick recap of the trip thus far for those who missed the previous two parts. We were flagged off from Delhi on the Independence day. The challenge was to capture India in all it’s glory and brilliance through our cameras and pit it against the hapless, hopeless and false version exhibited to the rest of the world by the international media. Starting from Delhi, we passed through the mountain deserts of Leh and Ladakh and crossed the valleys of Lahaul & Spiti to reach Agra through Jaipur. We took into our stride the lake city of Udaipur, the beaches of Daman and Goa, the insomniac city called Mumbai and the Silicon Valley of India, Bangalore, before entering God’s Own Country - Kerela. We would rebound from Kanyakumari towards the east coast via Chennai, to land’s end at Rameshwaram, into Orissa before parking our steeds in a 170 year old mansion in one of the streets in the City of Joy, Kolkata.
Irrespective of which part of the country we went to, there always were people to greet and welcome us with open arms. The kind of love and affection we received throughout the trip from people whom we’d never met in person was unbelievable to say the least. In Mangalore, we were received by to xBhp members. Rooms were already booked in a hotel, and the food was already arranged for all of us. This was at 1 AM at midnight, in the middle of nowhere. In Rajahmundry, a rather less known place, a well settled white collar bike enthusiast took a day’s leave just to show us around his city. It’s been angels all the way for us; from the day we started from Delhi till the present date in Kolkata - where a young doctor and his beautiful acquaintance welcomed us likeinto rich spoilt brats. Rich in experience, rich in friends, spoilt with warmth and love.Our daily routine during the GIR involves forcing ourselves out of the bed early in the morning and hitting the road for the next destination. We have to setup and unload stuff at every start and halt for the day. In the evening, we have to update blogs, upload pictures and do a hell lot of stuff before we could slip into beds, only to wake up early again the next morning. It might sound boring, but when I call up my wife every day, telling her about the new location that I am at, I know I am doing something very, very exciting going by the thrill she exudes in her voice.
After leaving Mumbai and having the time of our lives with John Abraham in his bungalow in Dadar, we left for Pune, the biking capital of India. Twenty bikers celebrated the arrival of the GIR team on Diwali’s eve by gathering for a group ride. We used the parking lot of a friend’s apartment to make the map of India using candles and did a burnout with the Fireblade in front of it for a special picture.
From Pune, the GIR team travelled all the way to Goa - the place that marks the confluence of Indo-Portuguese culture. The place is the epicentre of tourism in South West India. It’s a place that exudes fun, frolic and celebrates life in the most colourful and vibrant
fashion. xBhp members from Goa showed us around the new city as well as the Old Goa. We ferried to Divar Island along with the roooRR, the place has a lot of old houses constructed in Portuguese style. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay in the coastal union territory. The day we were leaving for Mangalore, the Goa xBhpians gifted us a Honda RCV replica. This was a gesture which rejuvenated us completely and inspired us to capture the rest of the country in our cameras with even greater zeal and enthusiasm.
In Bangalore, a large group of 30 odd xBhpians met us up for a ride to the misty Nandi Hills. We also got a chance to witness a MV Augusta Brutale of the Red Roosters Superbike club. I must admit, the 1000RR looked rather ordinary against the Italian exotic.
The city of Bangalore also saw the GIR team come across its first major hurdle during the trip. Almost the entire GIR team got hit by conjunctivitis. While I, Bunny and Sunil Gupta got infected early on, Ashish acquired the infection later when we reached Ooty.
Ooty was a hill station on the GIR route in a very long time. The last hill station we visited was Musoorie in Uttranchal a month back as a part of GIR leg-1. The lazy town mesmerised all of us with its intoxicating smell of fresh and wet mud, hazy mist, twisting roads and breathtaking natural beauty. Ashish, being a graduate from the Hebron International School, Ooty, made it a point to take us to the place for a 15 minute presentation about GIR to young students. The GIR team conducted several such presentations in various institutes across the country, the response to which was terrific to say the least. National Institute of Design Ahmedabad, Hebron International School Ooty, St. Andrews School Hyderabad, are some of the institutes where such presentations were made. Some corporate offices also saw the GIR team presenting the best of their videos, pictures and sharing their experiences in some very engaging interactive sessions.
After Ooty, we proceeded to God’s Own country, Kerela. The state which also boasts of the highest literacy percentage in the country
had a lot of hair-bristling experiences for us in store. I won’t forget the time when a wild tusker appeared out of thin air on the road while we were passing through the Indira Gandhi Reserve towards Munnar. It was close enough to attack us and we didn’t have a chance or route to escape. A split second decision to use the collective lights and noise of the GIR vehicles luckily worked to scare it away. This trip log could well have been my obituary had that massive animal been in a bad mood that day.
Munnar was our first stop in Kerela. The divinely beautiful state has dense vegetation and trees on either side of roads acting like canopies and covering the space above. Stop in the middle of any such road and all the sounds you’d hear would be the chirping of birds, the murmuring of water flowing in some stream nearby, and the mild sound of dew falling from one leaf to another in the trees. It was sheer bliss riding through this rustic state.
Munnar has innumerable tea-gardens. No matter which direction you turn your head to, you’ll always see lush green landscapes dotted with small streams, rivulets and waterfalls. The state of Kerela is Honeymooners’ delight. Even I chose the state as the preferred destination for my own honeymoon too.
From Munnar we continued our march further south towards Kumarakom, where you get to witness Amazon-like backwaters. We also went to Kovalam, which is known for its fabulous beaches. A trip to Poovar Island on a Jetty through backwaters was also made.
From Kovalam we advanced towards Kanyakumari, the place where the GIR took a U-turn. Dhanushkodi was our next destination. Not only is Dhanushkodi an exotic place to visit, it’s also very important geographically. Dhanushkodi is the land’s end before Sri Lanka. It connects to mainland Sri Lanka through a bridge of coral reefs. This place was destroyed in the `6os when a devastating cyclone hit it and killed hundreds. The shadows of the place’s dark past still lurk in the ruins and there’s a certain eerie element about it. I personally think that it’s a perfect
backpack, housing a laptop, an iPod, battery chargers, a mineral water bottle and a bottle of octane booster fluid. This was the greatest ride of my life. The `Blade performed exceptionally well after being serviced in Chennai by Vivek of Tectrac Racing. I was managing speeds of over 150kmph for more than to seconds on several occasions. The team managed to complete the 470kms before dusk rather easily, but the ride from Vijaywada to Hyderabad on a single lane highway with blinding lights from the oncoming traffic made life hell for everyone.
In Hyderabad, we made ourselves comfortable in Ashish’s house. We were lucky enough to meet M.A Kaleem in the city. He is a 6o year old who braves the adversities of Leh every year on a 1000cc Kinetic Challenger, spreading awareness about how plastic harms the environment. We were humbled. From Hyderabad we headed for Bhubhaneshwar with two transit halts, one in Rajahmundry and one in Vizag.
Rajahmundry is a rather unknown city of India and we never thought we’d come across something spectacular there. But we had one of the xBhp senior members, Frank, there. He took a leave from his high profile job just to show us around the city. We were quite surprised to see some engineering marvels. The most breathtaking one among them was 150 year old railway bridge which ran parallel with a new bridge. The perspective was mind blowing. True, the smallest places hold the biggest surprises. The statement held even truer for Vizag. The coastal city had wide open roads with no traffic rush hours, modern buildings and the fabulous Beach Road. If I had to decide my ideal abode, one of my first choices would be a house on the beach road in Vizag. Other cities that I would love to put up in, in no order of preference, would be Munnar, Pahalgam and Delhi.
From Vizag, the City of Destiny we went on to Bhubhaneshwar, the City of Temples. The Sun Temple at Konark was marvelous. It’s an ancient wonder which will put many a famed architects of the modern times to shame.
The next stop was Kolkatta, the City of Joy. The fabulous 4-lane road from Bhubhaneshwar to Kolkatta ended abruptly at the Orissa border leaving all of us dazed, and making us do a lot of off roading, which is not a problem if you’re not on a 1000RR. I had to take the `Blade through the potholes and ruts with utmost care, and I managed to find smooth tarmac again without any damage being done.
It was inside a 170 years old house that I wrote all that you’ve just read. And you won’t believe it, but I am sitting near the window of a world heritage toy train which runs from Siliguri to Darjeeling, as I finalise this text! It’s like living a dream while riding through the GIR. A dream that I wish never ends!
Check out our adventures in the North East in the next issue.
Article 3 : The End of a Lifetime : A Full Circle
The End of a Lifetime : A Full Circle
Published in BIKE India Magazine (January 2006).
Text: Sundeep Gajjar (Sunny)
Photography: Sundeep Gajjar (Sunny) and the GIR Team
Riding across the country meeting different people everyday, witnessing the unthinkable happen right in front of our own eyes, knowing things the way we’ve never known them to be - we realise that It’s an entire lifetime that we’ve lived as the dream called GIR draws towards its end…
I am back home, in front of my computer. After being on the road for over 100 days it feels odd to be back to normal life. The last time we updated you through BIKE India, we were about to reach Kolkata, the fourth and the last major corner on the Golden Quadrilateral highway network of India. After traveling on the `under construction’ portion of the Golden Quadrilateral from Bhubhaneshwar (capital of the state of Orissa) the bikes were rattling to their pistons. One of the disadvantages of having a sports bike like the Honda Fireblade 1000RR became seriously evident. On good roads I used to rip past all other vehicles, but on bad roads it was a totally different ball game`.Generally I used to rip ahead of the team on highways, gained some kilometers, stopped and did some photography as the team passed me. On bad roads the tables used to turn as I had to ride extra carefully through potholes. Something wrong happening to the Fireblade was my worst nightmare. Even if a cable breaks somewhere, the bike won’t move an inch further with all the technology packed inside. And it’s not a bike which can be fixed on the roadside. I was to discover later though that nothing of that sort would happen to the `Blade. We arrived at Kolkata after dusk. In the eastern parts of India the sun sets at least 45 minutes earlier than in Delhi. So we had that much less daylight to ride. We were received by 10 odd bikers from Kolkata on NH5 at around 7pm. From there we were escorted to our hotel on a busy street in Kolkata. It was a movie theatre turned into a hotel a couple of months back with clean rooms and bathrooms bigger than the room itself. But the next day we got an offer from a friend to stay in one of his friend’s 160 year old mansion. His dog Simba - an 8okg, 5 feet long Great Dane, could whack your senses off with a flick of his whip-like tail! But of course we did accept his offer and were we glad to do so with all the royal treatment and a whole section of the house given to us to sleep and blog! The city of Kokata turned out to be the most difficult metropolitan city yo ride a superbike in. The roads looked smooth and beautiful at night but we came across the truth during the day. Intersecting tram lines, roads made of jagged stones embedded in tar, potholes in the middle of a two lane road - all spell disaster for fast accelerating bikes. In fact the statement of one of the guys in Kolkata that everyone falls once on the tram lines held true when I had a fall when the Blaze’s rear got stuck between one of the tram lines. It was a trivial fall though. Little did we know that the most difficult part of the journey was yet to come.
The almost non existent roads from Kolkata to Malda saw us riding past trucks with broken axles, overturned vehicles and traffic jams that lasted for kilometers together. The dust storms whirled up by the trucks and buses struggling to get a grip on lunar surfaced, cratered roads only added to the tribulations. The decision to leave the Fireblade in Kolkata for this part was indeed the best decision we made on the trip. The bike would not have survived the torture. I thank god that the bikes we took didn’t break down in the middle of the `highway’. The ultimate repercussion of this mad day’s ride was that we fell short of our target before dusk and had to take a halt at a Reliance petrol bunker beside the highway. This was a good decision as well because traveling at night is not advisable in this region considering the high occurrences of highway robberies and militancy. With a million mosquitoes having the feast of their life on us and truck drivers looking like terrorists stopping to refuel at the pump, we had a hard time getting any sleep that night. The next morning we left very early in a bid to reach Siliguri ASAP. After Siliguri the climb starts for Darjeeling and West Sikkim. The one state that we all wanted to skip was Bihar though. It’s said that Bihar is the bane of India - a state which is stuck in time, refusing to progress. And though we skipped Bihar, we got a taste of the state of law and order in the land. It was afternoon when we hit a huge traffic jam. We were informed that a bridge had collapsed ahead and the trucks at least would be stuck there for days at end. But there was a bypass through a village road, just on the border of West Bengal and Bihar. Our bikes snaked through the jam while I decided to go with our 4-wheeled backup vehicle. That was it. A little ahead we saw that the broken down mud road was blocked with boulders and a teenage guy was standing there with a stick - demanding 5o rupees to let us pass. Me, the mechanic and the driver were all from North India and were really not used to the ways of this region - though we had been warned, this was the real deal. And none of us could really believe what happened next. Our refusal to give money saw some more villagers come out of nowhere with sticks and huge stones. We all got hit though no one was seriously injured in the incident. They did let us go finally - and they did not even take the money! First sleeping in the petrol bunk, then this, I wondered what more did future had in store for all of us. For the rest of the trip we all had a hearty laugh on every occasion possible making fun of ourselves recalling the incident.
We had decided to skip the North East but we still had plans of going to Guwahati - one of the major centers of militancy in North East India. At Siliguri we had a sudden change of plans. Sunil and I decided to travel in the World Heritage Darjeeling Himalayan Railway toy train while Bunny and Ashish would ride along on the road till Darjeeling. It was one of the most fantastic experiences that we had on the trip. The train passed centimeters away from house doors with locals offering handicrafts and eatables as the train moved at a snail’s pace allowing the passengers to enjoy the scenic Himalayas and the local culture. The train took a good eight hours to reach Darjeeling from Siliguri covering a distance of 85 km. We enjoyed every second of the time we spent aboard though.
After a chilling night in the hill station of Darjeeling, we proceeded to Pelling in North West Sikkim. It was a quiet place with some hotels and a surprisingly high number of foreign tourists. The place had some surprises to otter us- me amazingly scenic green Himalayas and the Khecheopalri Lake. The lake is believed to be sacred with healing powers. We proceeded towards Gangtok from Pelling.
Gangtok - the capital of Sikkim was even colder than Pelling. We had lodged in a nice hotel on MG Road, which is supposed to be the hub of everything happening in Gangtok. The city itself seemed precariously perched on the side of a mountain with unbelievably steep climbs that strained every CC of our engines. It felt good to be blogging in the comfort of the hotel rooms while it was literally freezing outside.
The first day we visited the Rumtek Monastery and the second day was reserved exclusively to witness nature at its bucolic best. The most fantabulous ride was yet to come though. During our three days’ stay in Gangtok we realized that there was something missing from what we had experienced in the 17000 kms done till now.
The next day, Bunny got up early and arranged the permits from the army for all of us to go 4 kms before Nathu-La. We moved ahead, and I cannot in a million words describe what we saw a couple of hairpin bends later. The clouds were below us on the right, and the bluest and the clearest sky with the brightest sun that I ever saw shone above.
And then we had the repercussions of breaching the civilian vehicle time limit of 11:00am set by the military forces. In the middle of nowhere, in biting cold and just 8 kms before the end point of the Indian road my machine died down. It was past four, the sun was almost gone with the clouds flowing on the road, no cell network and the temperature dropping alarmingly with every passing minute. After many desperate attempts to scale the inclines of the mighty road to Nathu-La we gave up and just left the bikes by the side of the road hoping that we’d find them again the next morning. Me, Sunil and Bunny rode on a single Blaze 18kms to Gangtok in pitch dark.
Next morning we completed our bike rescue mission successfully. It turned out that the Blaze’s spark plug had problems and the Comet had a jammed sprocket.
From Gangtok we had to travel back through those horrendous roads towards Kolkata. One major mission was to speed through Bihar as quickly as possible. The Golden Quadrilateral was not quite complete in this section yet. We planned our route such that we would pass Bihar and Jharkhand completely in the same day and before dusk. First day it was 230 km from Kolkata to Asansol. Next day it was 500 odd km from Asansol to Varanasi through the notorious states. After a night’s stay in Varanasi it was time to head for Lucknow. A handy tip saw us taking NH54 instead of the regular NH2 Golden Quadrilateral way. The NH54 was an awesome double lane road (without dividers ` and meant that we hit Lucknow before dusk. Lucknow was another city where we had received a warm welcome from people whom we interacted online on the club website with. The MOW (Nawabs on Wheels) bikers had received us really well and took out lots of time to show us around in their city. We did whatever we could to share our experiences with as many people as possible.
The ride from Lucknow to Agra was around 40o kms and seemed to be one of the toughest days for us with traffic jams and broken down railway crossing signals. We had to take detours through villages with non-existent roads. It seemed like the penultimate day would let us know of every little threat that could have turned into a disaster. But thankfully we did reach Agra, albeit 3 hours behind schedule at night. Ken, the rider from Leg 1 of this trip had come from Delhi to accompany us back on his new Yamaha R1 while the Agra members had kept some banners made to welcome us back to their home town. The final run of 250 km was done pretty smoothly with all the riders converging at the India Gate - the place where we started from on 15th August 2006. After 108 Days, 19000 kms and innumerable experiences, I am here again writing this text. I have so many colorful memories and I received so much warmth from bikers and other people across the country that I feel humbled. I think I have lived 108 years in these 108 days and if I were to die tomorrow, I would be dying a very old man indeed…
We’d be back with more adventures in future….
(The trip is not over yet. Only the riders completely know what they have experienced in the trip. We’d love to share our experiences with you online on the new websites for xBhp.com and the GreatlndianRoadtrip.com in Feb 2007).