Motorcycle Diaries: Taking the road to freedom
Keen on experiencing new cultures and places, many youngsters are taking to unconventional modes of transport to explore the country. In the first part of the series cyclist Shree Kumar told us about his experiences of riding the cycle around the country. In the second part meet Sujay Ray, the marketing manager from Delhi who likes to ride his bike across India.
As you are reading this, Sujay Ray will be somewhere in Ladakh, riding his bike along with his friends. Ray is 26, an MBA who is into product management and marketing. He bought his bike five years ago, soon after he graduated because his job then required a lot of travelling. Ever since Ray has chosen his two-wheeler as his preferred mode of transport. He narrates his story and his love for the road:
"My first job was in the sales department of a private firm. It required me to travel extensively in and around Delhi so I bought a bike. Soon, I was familiarised with almost all the roads around the city and my heart ached to hit the highway.
The freedom of driving on one always fascinated me. By 2006, I had started taking short trips from Delhi and visited places that were about 100 km away from the city.
My first major trip was in December 2006 -- from Delhi to Rishikesh. Then in 2008, I travelled to Rohtang Pass covering 1400 km in four days. More recently, I took a very interesting trip visiting the remotest villages in Himachal Pradesh. Some of these villages were so small some had a population of not more than 50 people. This seven-day and 1800 km trip was most enlightening.
A lot of people seem to think that all bikers are hooligans. This is not the case. There are three kinds of bikers in the community -- the legal professional racers who participate in closed circuit racing, the ones who like to do stunts like wheelies are also pros and the third are tourists, like me.
All good bikers follow rules. We drive with complete protective gears, follow traffic rules and never drink and drive.
Image: Sujay Ray heads out of Delhi on his bike as often as he can. Here is his group during their Lahaul and Spiti trip
Photographs: Sujay Ray
We had to travel 40 km for a spanner!
Since India is a country with diverse weather conditions there is no single 'best time' to drive around the country. For instance if you want to visit Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh -- June to September is preferable. September to February is a good time to drive to Rajasthan because it gets unbearably hot after that.
Choosing your luggage is what is important. I usually keep it to the minimum and pack clothes depending on the weather of the place I am visiting. I keep most of my luggage on the bike and tie it up with bungee cords. Carrying spare parts such as clutch wires, tyre tubes and spark plugs is a must as is a first aid box. When it comes to money, I ensure that I have hard cash simply because I have found myself in places where any kind of civilisation is miles away, let alone an ATM.
While I haven't so far been stranded for lack of cash but I have been stuck for a good few hours because we didn't have a spanner. We were travelling in a group when one of our bikes needed to be fixed. We discovered that none of us had a spanner! So one of us had to drive back 20 km just to find a mechanic get it fixed and drop him back!
Despite mishaps such as this one I choose to travel on a bike because it gives me the freedom that no other mode of transport does. When I am driving I am cut off from the rest of the world and in my own zone. I can focus on things I usually don't get the time to think about and it keeps me refreshed.
There is also, I believe, no better way to see the country than on a bike. It is immediate and intimate.
Image: Sujay Ray shot this picture at Lahaul and Spiti
Tips for amateur bikers
1. Always follow traffic rules -- it won't take long for a truck or a bus to knock you over.
2. Never over speed and do not drive in the nights, especially if you are driving through mountains.
3. Always have vegetarian food because dishes like dal, chapatti, and vegetables are usually fresh. Non-vegetarian dishes may be stale and you might end up with an upset stomach.
4. Check out google maps and study the route well. If there is a landslide on a road, you will have to figure out another way to get to your destination or be prepared to wait for at least a couple of hours.
5. When you are travelling in a group, stay with the others. Don't speed or be left behind.
6. Respect the culture of the place you are travelling to. Culture in South India is very different from the North. Be attuned to it.
7. And finally, never ever, ever, drink or drive.
Sujay suggests places to ride to from Delhi
Delhi to Bharatpur
Approx distance: 185 km
Ideal route: NH2 (Delhi-Faridabad-Palwal-Hodal-Kosi-Mathura-Bharatpur)
Approx cost: Rs 500-600 cost of petrol and Rs 250 for food
Where to eat: There are lots of Dhabas near Kosi that serve yummy parathas
Where to stay: There are government resorts near the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary that are recommended.
Look out for: Yummy food in the dhabas and birdwatching of course.
Delhi to Rishikesh
Approx distance: 230 km
Ideal route: NH58 (Delhi-Gaziabad-Modinagar-Meerut-Muzaffarnagar-Jwalapur-Haridwar-Rishikesh)
Approx cost: Rs 800 cost of petrol, Rs 1,600 per night per person for camping and food
Where to eat: Do not miss Chhotiwala at Rishikesh
Where to stay: The various camps along the banks of river Ganges. If you want, agents can book one for you in advance.
Look out for: Campfire at night around the banks and rafting early in the morning
Delhi to Murthal
Approx distance: 50 km
Ideal route: NH1 (Delhi-Kundli-Bahalgarh-Murthal)
Approx cost: Rs 150 cost of petrol and Rs 100 for food
Where to eat: Murthal is famous for its parathas with white butter, especially those of Gulshan Dhaba with chilled lassi
Where to stay: It is a day trip
Look out for: Food because that is the sole reason to drive down to Murthal!
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Image: Rishikesh is a great place to ride to from Delhi