India and Nepal on Enfield Bullets Last year Kate and I thought we'd have a crack at getting hold of a couple of Enfield Bullets and riding around India and Nepal for a month or so. The powers of the interweb led us to Dehli's high Sikh priest of the Royal Enfield, Mr Lalli Singh in Karol Bagh. We booked 6 weeks rental of a 500cc and a 350cc Enfield Bullet, without so much as a deposit. A couple of months later we found ourselves in the chaos of Dehli's main railway station, where we were met by Lalli's nephew Gunpat who proceeded to squeeze our two 6ft plus frames, our backpacks and himself into a three wheeled auto rickshaw for a ride through Dehli's mind boggling traffic carnage. Down a tiny back alley in the heart of Dehli's automotive district we arrived at Inder Motors, located in the basement at the bottom of a ramp just wide enough for a bike. Here we met Lalli, an absolute gentleman, who inspired confidence in his machines, workshop, mechanics and business practices from the moment we met him. http://lallisingh.com/home.htm Instruction from Lalli Lalli has developed an orientation program for westerners who rent his bikes. This takes a whole day, and as pretty experienced riders we thought this might be a little over the top. Turned out to be invaluable. First up we went through a basic mechanical run down on our bikes. We were shown right through basic maintenance and repairs, including an inventory of a comprehensive tool kit and spare parts included in the lockable panniers. Kates 350 Bullet The next stage was a familiarity ride. Enfields are a bit different to any bikes we had ridden before, not least because the gear lever is on the right(1 up, 3 down) and the foot brake pedal is on the left. This really takes some getting used to. We were pillioned out to an army training area, one of the few places with no traffic, to get the hang of the bikes to the point where Lalli trusted us to ride them. Training The final part of this program was a rundown on Indian traffic. This was like an extract from a post apocalyptic sci-fi novel, and we couldnt really fathom that such incidents as semi trailers travelling at full speed on the wrong side of interstate highways, elephants towing farm machinery out of blind alleys, home made unmarked speed humps, and trucks overtaking on blind corners could lie ahead of us. Every thing that Lalli explained was common place, and his very calm description of how to handle Indian driving conditions was invaluable. Basically, everything bigger than you has right of way (that leaves a royal enfield a bit above bicycles and beggers, and well below a bullock wagon in the general pecking order). Finally having completed our orientation, Lalli and his team held a short ceremony in which our bikes and our journey were blessed. We were on our way Blessed by thine Enfields The next morning we were up before dawn to try and beat the peak traffic out of Dehli, with one of Lallis team leading the way to the outer edge of the city to get us underway. Our plan was to travel down National Highway 2 about 300 km to Agra to check out the Taj Mahal. NH2 turns out to be better known as The Grand Trunk Road and is notorious as one of the most dangerous roads in the world for its crazy traffic. This was a terrifying journey, with all the traffic chaos Lalli had promised, as well as grid lock in towns along the way, and a string of mechanical problems that are part of the enfield experience. Roadside assistance One thing that is absent in India is any sense of personal space. Anytime we stopped and took off our helmets there would be crowd of people around us within seconds to ask questions, give misleading directions, talk about cricket, take video on mobile phones and just stare at these two white skinned, leather clad giant aliens wearing strange (international standard) helmets. This journey was hard. From when we left Dehli at 6:30 am, until we finally extracted ourselves from the mother of all traffic jams into Agra and arrived at the south gate of the Taj and found a hotel, it had been over 12 hours on the road. We were exhausted and rattled and not at all sure that this bike trip idea was a good one. Beer was the solution, and Kingfisher did the job. The hotel we stayed in had a roof top view of the Taj, and courtyard where we could park the bikes under the watchful eyes Budha, Jesus and Krishna from a mural on the wall. Motorcycling spiritual harmony I wont carry on too much about non-bike stuff, but the Taj is everything anyone ever said about it, and much more when you see it in person. Indian cultural history is an incredible story. The Taj Mahal Our plan after a couple of days in Agra was to continue down the Grand Trunk Road another 600km to Varanasi. After our first days riding experience, we thought we might try an alternative route. Indias famous railway system. Getting a couple of bikes onto a train in India is another adventure in its own right. There is a system, and it involves a lot of patience, a fair bit of bribery, and faith that people really do want to help you in the end. With the bikes drained of fuel, wrapped in straw and hessian sacking, and loaded into the luggage cars, we were off. bikes packed bikes aboard Thirty seven hours later (nothing moves fast in India) and well rested, we unloaded the bikes at Varanasi station, it was just on dark, so we poured in a half a litre of fuel that we had stashed in the panniers, got to a service station, then checked into the first hotel we found. A few beers and a curry later, and we crashed out for the night. Varanasi is on the Ganges river and a very important place for all Indians. Pilgrims travel there to bath in the river (amongst the raw sewage, dead bodies and industrial waste) and to cremate their dead on the Ghats along the rivers edge. very stylish bike in Varanasi Varanasi Ghats From Varanasi our plan was to head north to the Nepalese border (and hopefully some corners). Looking at our road atlas we decided against going the main route through Gorakhpur to get away from the tourist buses and see some more of the road less travelled (at least by westerners). Pulling into the early morning Varanasi traffic, I managed to lock up the front wheel while braking on what I suspect was faeces of the holy bovine (cow shit). There was no recovery, down I went like a sack of lentils with rickshaws and delivery trucks swerving to avoid running me over. Shaken (but not as much as Kate who was watching from right behind), I picked up the bike and got out of there. We then headed down National Highway 29 along the north bank of the Ganges on a very nice (by Indian standards) road to Ghazipur for a chai and then on to Ballia for a lunchtime biryani. Our progress so far had been excellent, about 150 km in 4 hours. We reckoned wed get as far as Chhapra, the next major town, and only 60 km away, and see where we might head from there. The next 4 km were on beautiful newly laid asphalt. Then it was onto a perfectly graded, but not yet tarred stretch of road for another 3 or 4 kms. Then things turned really ugly. This had once been a fully sealed road, but was now a series of potholes that I dont think Kates F650 Dakar could handle. In places there was a thin ribbon barely a tire width wide of asphalt down the middle of the road that you could try and ride on. There was traffic as well, trucks lurching along, getting stuck constantly and causing massive backups of other vehicles, as well as jeeps driven by madmen at full speed on whatever part of the road they felt could give a tyre some traction. By nightfall, we reckoned we had made it a bone shattering 50 km from Ballia, that was an average of about 10 km/hr. The shaking the bikes had received had killed the lights on Kates bike, and we still had 10 km to go to a town that was likely to have a hotel. When we finally made it to Chhapra, it was all we could manage to find a bed and a beer and pass out. Road signs in India are sometimes in English, often in Hindi, and most often absent. Our plan was to head north from Chhapra to Raxaul on the Nepalese border along National Highway 101. We made four failed attempts to find the elusive highway, I spotted a large truck pulling out of what looked like a private driveway. On closer inspection, it turned out that this was in fact the entrance to NH101. On the right road at last, we endured another day of bone shaking slowness across the Indian river planes. truckstop on NH101 By early evening we made it into Raxaul, a real wild west frontier town, that is the border crossing on the major overland trade route between India and China through Nepal. Being a mostly Moslem area, it was pretty hard to find a beer, but with the right questions we were led to a tiny hole in the wall with bars on the window where we could buy a warm kingfisher. The street food vendors made the best goat kebabs wed ever tasted. Border crossing Wed heard that the bureaucracy associated with crossing from India to Nepal could take some time, even with the right paperwork ready to go, so early in the morning we made our way to the border. Not many tourists use this border and the process while very slow, was made very pleasant by the customs official who processed us with a wicked sense of humour and genuine interest in our journey. It was then over the bridge and into Nepal. Welcome to Nepal Some repairs to put back the shaken off pieces Morning fog Nepal is a very different country to India, particularly the part of India we had been travelling in. The people are much more relaxed, and they understand the importance of cold beer. More importantly, there are lots of corners. We decided to avoid the main highway to Kathmandu, and head over the first range of the Himalayas via Daman. This road was only 70 km long on the map, but had an elevation starting at 100m and rising to 3000m. The other big difference in Nepal is that the roads are beautifully maintained and the traffic, while still chaotic by western standards, doesnt seem to have quite the same disregard for human life. Daman Road corners Kate on a bender Look at that road Himalayas in the distance By the time we reached Daman we were like a couple of over excited children, not only had there been hours of beautiful hairpin bends, with the torquey single cylinders loving the chug up the hills, there were glimpses of the snow capped Himalayan main range, and every child waved to us as we rode by. The few trucks on this road, while still happy to overtake on blind corners would sound the horn to let you know it was clear to pass. At Daman we settled into one of the tea houses, found ourselves a nice spot in the sun on the roof, and watched the afternoon sun sink over the a view that stretched from Everest to the Annapurnas. Beer with a view Tea house kitchen Kate's new man On the road again, but this time all down hill. I ended up going local style, putting the bike in neutral, switching off the engine and rolling through kilometre after kilometre of tight turns through mountain forest, rice terraces and along sheer cliffs. We took the chance to take a few photos of ourselves feeling very cool on our bikes along the way. Doug easy riding Kate styling Our journey took us into Kathmandu, and following the lonely planets city map (dont trust them for maps) we ended up riding through the old city, a world heritage listed area, full of temples and markets, and found ourselves in a maze of alleys so narrow that it was only wide enough for one of our bikes. We had to turn the bikes off and push them through the crowds to get into the tourist hotel district. We spent a couple of nights enjoying the special chaos of that city, and then headed west towards Pokhara, with a sensational side trip into the Himalayan main range to the town of Gorkha. Flat tyre repair In Pokhara we thought me might do some riding around the foothills of the Himalayas, and with that intention one morning we headed off through town. While still within the main city, gently accelerating through traffic I heard a very disturbing sound of shearing metal followed by some nasty clunking coming from between my legs. Diagnoses took a little while, but it was pretty clear that Id broken the piston. Apparently this happens to Royal Enfields if you push them (I dont know any other way to ride). Kate then towed me (using a luggage strap) back to the hotel and we thought about our options. A call to Lalli Singh to confess my sins resulted in a significantly changed plan. He said he would rather send a mechanic out to us with a replacement bike, and then transport my beast back to Dehli for repair than have it worked on by someone local. Transport would be at my expense, but he would cover the repairs as was agreed in our rental arrangement. This as going to take a few days, so we decided it would be good time to do a little walk. The damage I done Our little walk ended up being 12 days on the Annapurna circuit, with a crossing of 5500m at Thorung Pass, but thats a different story. Thorung Pass When we returned to Pokhara my replacement bike was there and waiting, what an amazing service Lalli provides. Pokhara There is a English expat living in Pokhara by the name of Rick who loves bikes, and chops up old enfields making some very cool machines. Hes got a company called Hearts and Tears that customise bikes, sell and rent them out and will do tours. His club house/shop is conveniently located in the beer garden of the coolest bar in Pokhara and we spent a night hanging out with him there talking bikes. http://www.heartsandtears.com/index.html Very cool Enfield We did manage to ride some of the foothills around Pokhara, and the roads were amazing. Sarankot Village outside of Pokhara From Pokhara it was time to head back towards India (in no great rush) so with Ricks recommendation we headed South on the Tansen Road. I reckon this is probably the best mountain road Ive ever ridden. The whole way from Pokhara to Butawal is well graded asphalt (except where landslides have washed the road away), along incredible roads carved into the mountain sides and along cliff edges. I got some dodgy video footage from this stretch of road, and one day Ill edit it enough to put it up on you tube. Video games Butawal is back on the river planes, and we headed into Royal Bardiya Wildlife Sanctuary to check out wild elephants, rhinos and the Ganges dolphin. Road stop It was then back into India, and being wise to the state of the roads, we took the path of considerable resistance to Lucknow, where we loaded the bikes onto the train for the ride back to Dehli. Now in the groove of Indian road rules we spent a couple of days in Dehli having fun in traffic carnage, and Ill get the video link of that prolonged game of chicken happening some time as well. End of Doug's ride End of Kate's ride Lalli's own ride Returning the bikes to Lalli and the team spelt the end to an amazing adventure. Wed climb aboard a couple of Lallis bikes and head off into the chaos that is India again in a heartbeat.