When you first start riding a motorcycle, you feel like never stopping. You believe that there is nothing more beautiful than the road. I used to think that way… Then, I stopped and looked around. The next thing I know, I was back at my office, trying to sort out the 4,000 photos I got on my trip.
Here is the story of the first week of an epic trip I took with my brother this January… I call it Love-Joy and Ride.
It was 5:00 am, 10th of January and we kick-started our bikes… At this point I knew there was no turning back and I did not want to either. All the planning and the expectation over the past couple of months came down to this single moment. With a ‘tac’ the bike was in the first gear and off we went. Within a few minutes we entered the NICE Road out of Bangalore and the freezing cold was nowhere close to stopping us! At least that is what we thought. Half an hour into the ride, I over took my brother and asked him to pull over. There was mist everywhere and I couldn’t see a darn thing. We got off our saddles and ordered a quick tea, boy, was that satisfying!
It was noon and we were somewhere inside Dharwad looking for a petrol bunk. We finally found one after half an hour of searching and we tanked up. Next order of business was to get Mercury’s emission test done. You see, my brother, the genius thought he could get it done anywhere on the road! Bam it was 2 pm by the time we got out of Dharwad! A GoodSamaritan asked us to eat lunch at this great place just after the Karnataka border and guess what? Like every weary traveller we missed the dhaba! So, at 4 o’ clock we stop for lunch at Kolhapur and believe me, we still thought we could make it to Pune by 6:30 tops!
80 Kms past Kolhapur, we witnessed a spectacle so beautiful that we just couldn’t keep our eyes on the road. A spectacle, we later realised was the Comet ‘Lovejoy’ which last came to the Earth’s orbit 8,000 years ago and would not come back for another 15,000 years! And a little after that we witnessed yet another spectacle… This was called NH 4 or whatever was left of it! So we did reach Pune that night, but only at 10:30 pm. We met our host Shekhar who was a gem of a guy and along with him came Abhishek, a backpacker from Nepal. The night went on till 3 am and we knew we were definitely going to wake up at 6 in the morning and head off to Daman.
At 10 in the morning, Shekhar made us some eggs and tea for breakfast and with a few pictures and long goodbyes, we were on the road at 11. We went to the nearest Shell petrol bunk to tank up. Here I realised something that made me happy about Karnataka! Not only are the roads bad, Petrol is actually more expensive in Maharashtra! Take that! After tanking up and topping the oil up, we were on our way. I did not realize when I got off the boring highway but I was in the Ghats and when I looked around I knew I had to stop. I put my bike on side stand and witnessed this glorious place called Lonavla. As I looked around there was only one thing I could see and believe me, it was beautiful! The board read ‘Special Lonavla Chikki’, now tell me, how can one not get excited! I went ahead and bought myself a pack of the delicious treat and we headed off. 10 minutes later we took one more break to witness the mighty Khandala. It was indeed beautiful! So, Lonavla ka chikki khaya aur Khandalake Ghat ke upar Photu kheechke aaya! Yes, the travelling had begun… We knew it.
Oh wait, we thought it had begun… Because, pretty soon we witnessed a nightmare, the one they call ‘Bombay Traffic’ and the funny part was, we never entered the city! We just rode past it and still were stuck in the traffic for around 3 hours. ‘I don’t feel bad about Bangalore Traffic anymore’ I told myself as we got out of the mess. We stopped at a roadside dhaba for some decent roti and Daal Tadka. We were gearing up after lunch when we saw this amazing jugaad a knife sharpener had got done. The bike he rode acted as the sharpener itself with the chain removed and a belt attached to the stone. We then took the highway and were trying really hard not to fall asleep. I thought there was a mistake in themap I carried when I saw an almost straight line going up from Mumbai to Gujarat but I had to believe it when I rode on almost drifting off a couple of time.
Now what trip is complete without a fall and a funny story? Lucky for me both of them happened at one go. We were to take a left turn off the highway to get into Daman and I got confused as to which was the road. So, I asked Neet to slow down and as his bike came to a halt, I went right behind him and skid on the fine dust near the divider. I ended up falling and hitting Mercury. Boy, was Neet angry! We then headed towards Daman and we were just in time to miss the sunset! With very little hope, Neet ran towards the beach to get a picture of the setting sun, but in vein. We then started the hotel hunt and soon realized Daman is a shitty place to be. When it comes to beaches, I guess only Goa is the fun party types. Daman was more of a Gujarati bar with cheap hotels and cheaper people. We found ourselves in this dingy hotel room and the one person that came to our rescue was Sir McDowell, apparently the monk was out of town when we went.
Rise and shine said the morning, bugger off I told it. We woke up at 8 am and headed off to the closest beach, only to realize it was a port and not a beach. We did get some good pictures and yummy Misal Pav nevertheless. Then someone said there was one more beach close by and as usual, we were stupid enough to listen to him. By 9:30 am we had checked out of the hotel and were on our way. We could see the changes in the road signs and their frequency and we knew were in Gujarat. Here, we saw the second sighting of ‘The Great Indian Jugaad’, a metal tube rose from one end of the handle bar and went all the way to the other side, I just assumed it was a style thing. When we stopped for lunch, a guy told us it was to avoid the ‘Manja’ of the kite from cutting one’s throat, interesting I thought. In a state where even remote roads were tarmacked four lanes, we were stuck in ‘NH 1’.
Apparently, a bridge construction had blocked the traffic for over twenty kilometres and a few of the truck drivers had been stranded there for days. It never occurred to me to take the deviation when the cop was signalling everyone. I had got us into this mess and we spent a goof hour in the traffic trying to ride between trucks, sometime off the road, in the dirt, until we finally gave up. We had covered about 10 kilometres by then. Just when we had given up all hopes, a localite came to our rescue. We went off the highway and into the villages only to find out it wouldn’t take us anywhere. And then, with the friend of the highway, we crossed over to the wrong side of the road and covered rest of the distance, all the way looking at our friend cursing the truck drivers for not giving us way on the said wrong side. Yes, after 15 kms of bumping and jumping, we crossed the cursed bridge and we were freed from the mess. A happy selfie, a hot tea and a nice conversation with the friend of the highway and we were back on our way.
The thing about good roads is, that they are never accessible for motorcycles. The Baroda – Ahmedabad Expressway is one such road. A straight stretch of 100 kms would have taken at the most 1 and a half hours and we would be in Ahemdabad, but to our misfortune, we had to take the old NH which was under construction but was definitely way better than the Pune stretch.
It was 10 in the night, again, when we reached the Patel Residence, our host for the night. The Patels were Neet’s colleague’s parents and they had a beautiful house in an upper class neighbourhood. A hot shower and a change of clothes were much deserved and after that we encountered what I can only describe as heaven. Mrs Patel was an amazing cook and I am not exaggerating when I say it was heaven. A full-fledged thali with so much to eat, we were more than excited to eat all of it, and eat we did. And later in the night we went out for a walk around the neighbourhood. It was peaceful.
Bhajiya, green chutney, jalebis and more, that is how our morning started, again, proving my point that it indeed was heavenly to stay at the Patels’ home. With a full stomach and a lazy ass, we finally managed to leave their place at 10 in the morning. We did try to get one of those kite safety jugaads, partly for safety but mostly to show off that we had been to Gujarat during the kite festival but our efforts, as little as they were, went in vein. We got out of the city and about 50 kms later stopped for a tea. The curious tea vendor asked us a strange question. We had been asked before, how much mileage the bike gives, how fast the bike goes, how comfortable the bike is, why on earth are we travelling on motorcycles, but not this question. He asked us if it was a 350 or a 500. As surprised as we were, we promptly said 350 and later he told us that another guy with a 500 had stopped for tea there a couple of days back. In my mind, I immediately thought it must have been Bingo and upon further enquiry the guy told us that it indeed was the rather annoying and huge Gujju that had stopped by. Yes, it was Bingo and we were supposed to meet him that evening to cover the rest of Gujarat together.
Going on the country roads of Gujarat was a different experience… To begin with, the Taurus or the “Diesel Bullet” autos were amusing and whenever we crossed one, both the auto rider and I had the same look which read ‘WTF?’ We did come across one which had been deserted in the side of the road and decided to get a few pictures on the weirdly beautiful machine. As we came back and parked next to the bike/auto, an old man came running from a nearby farm and told us he owned the machine. We had a chat with him and with his permission got on it and clicked a few snaps. We then headed off towards the highway with a target to reach Dholavira that evening.
After around 20 kms on the highway we saw a huge mass of dust rising from the left bank of the road and as we got closer we saw a herd of buffalos or bulls or whatever they were and they looked deadly. I decided to stop and take a picture, and stop I did. On a second look, I calculated the speed at which they were coming towards us and the amount of dust that was rising behind them, it looked like a Rohit Shetty movie scene. I thought to myself ‘some sights are meant to be captured only by the mind’ turned towards Neet and said let’s leave.
We stopped for lunch, again in a small dhaba with a lot of trucks parked. We spent a good 2 hours there, thanks to the excellent service, but we did have some yummy Bhajre ki rotis. We made a couple of calls and after a lot of discussion, we decided to head to Bhuj to catch up with the boys from Mad Bulls (Madras Bulls Motorcycling Club) and informed Bingo of the same and asked him to meet us there. As the sun was about to set, we witnessed one of the best scenes we had ever seen. The straight road took us right into the core of the dimming sun and we just had to stop for a picture. By the time we were done with the photography session, a bunch of the Mad Bulls boys had caught up with us and we headed to Bhuj together. The only highlight of our stay in Bhuj were two pigeons that had found a comfortable home for themselves on top of the AC and tried a lot not to get out of there.
For the first time in the trip, I woke up at 6:30 am and headed out for a cup of tea with Bingo and Owner. We still ended up leaving the place only at 9:30 after some drama and the Mad Bulls boys eyeing on our club flags, you know, just for the heck of it! It was me, Neet and Bingo now, thorough the country roads. Our plan was to reach Dholavira as soon as possible and try and get permission from the BSF people to get onto the Greater Rann. But that did not stop us from taking tea breaks as it pleased us, stopping for photos whenever and doing all kinds of shenanigans. I guess that is the best part of riding alone or with a small group of people you are comfortable with, the freedom of doing whatever the heck you want to do.
After lunch, we headed towards Dholavira and after about 15 kms we were on a straight two lane road with the magnificent Greater Rann on both the sides. 100 meters into the road, Neet stopped his bike, not wanting to impose, I kept riding but the minute I did not see a headlamp in my mirror, I pulled the bike to the bank and came to a halt. At a distance, I saw Bingo stop his bike as well and take his camera out. I turned the ignition off, got down and walked straight down, off the road and into the Rann. The white salt beneath my feet made a crunching noise as I put my feet one after another. I was about 25 meters into the Rann and could see white salt as far as my eyes could. I took a pinch of the salt, put it in my mouth. I still do not know why I did that but at that moment it felt good. I looked around and the salt was beautiful. I felt like Anthony Hopkins in the movie ‘The World’s Fastest Indian’ and for a moment I pictured myself in Burt Monroe’s place and boy, did it feel good. I took a chip of the salt and put it in a zip lock pouch to carry it home. The concept of evaporation never occurred to me then!
We reached Dhoalvira at 15 minutes to 6 and decided to try our luck with the BSF people. The gentlemen easily denied our request and told us we could only visit the Harappan Civilization site and other attractions but cannot ride our bikes on the Greater Rann. At 6:15, we were at Toran Guest House in Dholavira and decided to at least see the sun set in the Rann but as usual, we were late and got to see it while we were on the road. We then went to the Harappan remains and were told even they were closed for the day. We came out and sat on one of the Charpais at the tea stall outside. After some nice hot tea and a very nice conversation with the gentlemen in the tea stall, we headed back to our guest house.
At night, we set up our cameras on the tripods to get some shots of the beautiful night sky. Sadly, none of us knew what settings to use and there was no network in the area. As I was trying to do some shit on the camera, two ladies walked up asking for a favour. We were having a conversation and they seemed to be interested in the fact that we rode all the way from Bangalore. Just then, Bingo walked in and scared them away. (Thank you for that Bingo!) We then played around with some shadows and lights and tried to get some decent photographs and we did manage to do so. Dinner at Toran was quite good and we met a nice little kid who helps around at the guest house during vacations and talked to him about the place for a while and then headed to bed.
The plan was to wake up as early as possible and head out to Karni Mata Temple at the edge of the Island for sunrise. I woke up at 5:30 in the morning and promptly went up to Bingo’s cottage and woke him up. Once I woke him up, I was free to go back to sleep, and so I did. The next thing I know, we had Bingo banging on the doors and trying to wake us up as it was already 6:30 and the sun was about to come up. With much difficulty, we got out of our beds and headed out to the Temple. It was a magical place with a small temple painted in a very mild colour and you could see the Greater Rann behind it and the horizon seemed like it was just a myth and this place never ended. We were there for little over an hour and got some beautiful pictures of the sunrise, the bikes, the temple and the Rann. We then headed off to the fossil park, a thing I did not want to do but since it was one of the only three places to be seen in Dholavira, we decided to go anyway. The minute I saw those rocks, I was so glad I did not bail on this. I mean how often do you get to see something that is over a billion years old and has since turned into a stone from being a living tree? I thought so. The texture, the formation, the layers, everything was so beautiful. It was one of the highlights of the entire trip.
We kick-started our bikes and were on our way to the Harappan Civilization remains. Neet was ahead of us and as soon as he landed on tarmac from a dirt trail his front tyre decided to play with us and went flat. Luckily we had spare tubes with us but what was unlucky was that it was in the guest house and worse, there was no puncture shop for the next 30 kms. We asked one of the locals what they did when they had a flat and he suggested they fix them all by themselves. He lent his tools to us and I somehow managed to take the punctured tube out along with the prick. Bingo went to the guest house and brought the spare tube. The tough part was putting the tube back in. The one part I had not learned how to do. After an hour’s effort, someone else came along and was able to put it back. I however put the screwdriver too deep and managed to puncture the tube again. We then had to remove the tube once again and repeat the process only this time we had to fix the puncture as well.
At noon, we were finally able to get out of there after taking a picture with the people who helped and praying to our luck that we don’t have any more issues. We then went straight to the Harappan Civilization remains and quickly hired a tour guide to help us out. This tour guide was a very genuine guy who had worked with the Archaeological Survey of India during their expedition and really cared about the place. He gave us a detailed tour of of one of the finest planned township that ever was there. He knew a lot and told us a lot about the place as well. We saw as much as we could and were shocked by the architectural geniuses these guys from that era were. The Harappan Remains were my favourite in the Gujarat stretch and are right up there with other places which top the list when it comes to the entire trip. We then came back to Toran for lunch and headed towards Patan through the Greater Rann once again. We were a little late and couldn’t reach Patan and hence decided to stay midway.
We started a little early this day, we knew we had a lot to cover. We were geared up and rode off at 7:30 am and our first stop was Rani Ki Vav, Patan. Rani Ki Vav is this huge well which was constructed by Rani Udaymati in memory of her dead husband Bhimdev. It is a 64 meter deep well which has about 13 stories, of which only the first 7 are now accessible by general public. It has been beautifully maintained with a very green park built around it. The step well has a very unique design and is an architectural beauty. With each level supported by strong and elegant pillars and majestic carvings all around it is a treat to watch this humongous piece of art. As we walked in, it was just the three of us and a couple of security guards. We had enough time to get some great photographs before the place was flooded with a flock of tourists. The detailing that had gone into each sculpture was so magnificent that it still is stuck in my eyes.
After a good visit to the Rani Ki Vav, we headed towards the city as our stomachs started to howl. We had a nice meal at a pretty popular restaurant in the town and we headed straight to the highway. This was it. This was the end of our journey of the beautiful state of Gujarat. I knew I had to come back here. I had missed a ton of things but that was the plan… to get a detailed tour of Rajasthan.
Rajasthan welcomed us with an array of mountains, the Aravalis. Our first stop in Rajasthan was Mt Abu. It was just another hyped up tourist spot, however, having never seen it and knowing the fact that it would be a while before I visited these places, I did not want to uncheck any of the places in my checklist. As we headed towards Mt Abu, Bingo headed off to Kumbhalgarh and we would next see him only in Jaisalmer. I went on to Mt Abu with an intension to make the most of the Ghats, however my confidence broke when the front wheel started wobbling. That was it, the ride uphill was as slow as it could get after that. When we reached the peak of Mt Abu, there they were, the Mad Bulls settled in and chilling. Some quick hellos and a cup of tea and we were off. We had to reach Ranakpur that evening to visit the temple the next day.
It was 6:00 pm and we were a little confused with the route, upon asking for directions one of the locals suggested we get there before it got dark as the possibility of the tribals attacking us was high. Now this got me a little scared and over the next half an hour I had made my mind up that I was heading to Udaipur instead, to play safe. I told Neet about my plan and after a lot of argument, he agreed. At 7:30 pm, I called my couchsurfing connection in Udaipur to check if he could host us a day earlier. Unfortunately, that did not quite work out as we planned. We then called Ravi, a fellow club Member from RTMC (Rolling Thunder Motorcycling Club) Bangalore and decided to spend the night in the hotel he stayed at. We went there and unsaddled, had a long overdue bath and headed out for dinner. At 11:30 pm, we were done with our long dinner and a couple of lagers each.
That was it… That was the end of the first week of our trip. It was a great start to a trip that was the best month I have ever had. I was glad I got to see all the places, meet all the people and learn a lot about a place I had never seen before. I guess that is what travelling is for… To discover yourself in strangers and strange places.