Moto-touring India for 3-5 mos?

Discussion in 'Asia Pacific' started by artia, Jul 16, 2013.

  1. artia

    artia Adventurer

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    Hi all, wondering if anyone has come across a good primer for moto-touring India. My friend tells me we can buy Royal Enfields for relatively cheap in India. I'd love to do a tour from the south to the north of the country, go over the himalayas and into nepal.

    Looking for some basic information to kick off my research. Any good places or threads to look for this? I did some basic searching on the forums already ...

    Thanks!
    #1
  2. Mark Manley

    Mark Manley Long timer

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    Something to think about is the season, avoid the monsoon and the build up to it. Consider starting in the north in the autumn, around November and head south from there. You might need to finish where you started to sell the bike again so consider a round trip.
    Loads of info here http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/hubb/
    #2
  3. sarathmenon

    sarathmenon Armchair Adventurer

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    I am from India, and have toured the country fairly extensively. IMO, the best riding is way up north in the Himalayas, in JK and the north east. The mountain passes in Rohtang, Zozila, and the higher ones open only at the end of April and close by September. If you are planning to ride in the Himalayas, you'll have to factor in the fact that you'll be riding in peak summer, which translates to 45 deg C or more in the plains. Nepal again is lovely, but the higher altitude passes are open only 3-4 months in a year.

    The monsoons can be fun in the south, it's a way to see rains of an intensity that you can't find anywhere else. Your speeds will be low, and if you hate rain riding, well you're going to hate it out there.

    India has riding weather year around, if you can tolerate the heat. If I were you, I'd look at riding in the Himalayas in the summer, and head down south towards August/September when it will be a little more cooler. Most parts of South India are cooler than the north. It will still be hot, but more manageable. There is plenty to do in all areas, it all depends on what you want to see - forests vs rivers and waterfalls vs palaces vs ruins vs culture vs desert etc..

    As far as the choice of bikes goes, your speeds are going to be lower, so most 150+ cc local bikes will be plenty. Royal Enfields are nice with plenty of character (I've owned one for a long time), but they can be a bitch when it comes to maintenance. The good part is that they are very simple bikes to repair, if you are mechanically inclined, and duct tape and a hammer can do the majority of fixes. Depending on your inclination, I'd recommend one of the newer model enfields, or a ZMR. Both are available used, and are comfortable for long hours in the saddle. Highway repair is fairly simple with the Enfields, and in most towns, there will be plenty of mechanics who are familiar with the engine and cheap (by western standards).

    Bikes are licenses per state, and it generally isn't that big of a hassle to sell an out of state motorcycle at the end of your trip. Make sure you have the papers and insurance, and if you end your trip in a major city (Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore etc...), you should be able to sell it quickly and for a good amount. The usual pitfalls exist when you buy the bike - inspect it properly, take it out for a demo ride, and make sure that it is not a turd. A bad bike can ruin your trip a lot more than you think it would.

    Best of luck for your trip. If you have more questions, I can try to answer them as best as I can.
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  4. greathuvishka

    greathuvishka n00b

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    go with the newer bikes and leave the enfield alone unless you will be happy repairing it every 5 kms...

    KTM is now in india so you can get the Duke 200 if not 390... that bike is as good as it gets though you will not be able to rent it...also its good for solo riding as the pillion is just too small...

    the monsoon should be over by end of this month..so sep-nov is a good time..oct-dec would be even better...
    #4
  5. artia

    artia Adventurer

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    Great! How much would a new KTM or Enfield cost me in the 200-250cc range?
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  6. sarathmenon

    sarathmenon Armchair Adventurer

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    A new KTM Duke 390 sets you back by close to 4 grand American. It's stock seat is in true KTM style slightly superior to a log of wood. If you can live with that, then all the power to you ;) Also, it is the first model year. The engine is made by Bajaj, so is probably more reliable than the usual crop of KTMs :D

    Getting a new Enfield is close to impossible thanks to all those people with mid life crisis, I hear the wait times are close to a year.

    Sent from my SGH-T999 using Tapatalk 4 Beta
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  7. arn

    arn Been here awhile

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    I don't think the KTMs sold here are much good for touring - small tanks, no wind protection, VERY firm seat (which is not so much a problem if the road is very smooth....but then it won't be so everywhere). The bigger 390 has the same tank and a peaky engine which only picks up above 6000rpm. The "modern" enfields, the ones with the newly introduced FI unitary engines have a huge problem in terms of getting spares even in the major cities, let alone small towns. The cheap bargains (read older used bikes) can cost half as much as the bike itself to get working properly if you have bad luck, which you will discover in expensive and time wasting instalments along the ride.

    I'd look at Pulsar 220/Hero Karizma or Honda CBR250R (you can test ride the Honda in your part of the world). If 150cc is ok for you (slow on the highways, but as a plus absolutely NO problem with spares anywhere) you could consider the Honda Unicorn or the Hero impulse.

    As regards the route there are many permutations possible, all depending on what you want to see and how long you have. Perhaps you could prepare a provisional wish list first?
    #7
  8. Witold

    Witold Been here awhile

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    • You should only get cheap old Enfields if you are enamored with the Enfield brand and history and it's necessary for your personal reasons. Otherwise, it's a horrible choice for riding India. It is also worth mentioning that the new and expensive Enfields that cost $5000 are a lot better, so a distinction has to be made. But most people are talking about the old cheap junkers.

      For the bike, you can get something like Pulsar 220. If you want something more expensive and possibly more fun, there are several new options; CBR250, the new KTM. But for the price, the Pulsar 220 is a very nice value. Chances are that you will overpay when you buy and sell for too little when you sell, but the 4 months of riding will still cost you just a few hundred bucks. It's hard to beat that. An essentially new Pulsar 220 will cost you about $1500..

      Additionally, keep in mind that you can't go to a motorcycle dealer to just buy a new motorcycle. It's not possible on your tourist visa. This is why you have to buy used. Better do all your research on exactly what paperwork you need and exactly where each signature needs to go. Otherwise, you will probably get screwed by a used bike dealer.
    • I wouldn't worry about the monsoon season too much. You'll be there for 4 months and presumably it's not necessary to ride each and every day and put down heavy mileage each day without stopping when the late afternoon rains arrive.

      In fact, in some ways, the monsoon season can be a decent time to ride. It is a lot cooler so you are more comfortable and it doesn't feel like you are riding into a hairdryer. And the scenery is often nicer and greener, instead of being a dust bowl.

      Just pay attention to when the high mountain passes open and close. This is a major constraint. Very important. And obviously, it's not going to be that pleasant doing high Himalayan roads in the winter. Even during the peak of Summer, these areas can get pretty chilly at night. When I slept at 15-16000 even during the middle of Summer, there were several times when I literally put all my clothes on and even under the blanket in a tent it was still a bit cold.
    • When I do moto-travel, I want to check things out. I want to see and experience different things. I don't want to just ride - I can do track days for perfect twisties if that was my sole goal. One could say that Kashmir and Ladakh are the best riding regions in India, but the travel experiences were great everywhere. Rajistan roads are straight and boring, but it was cool to check out the desert. Delhi roads are busy and crowded, but it was interesting too. Depends what you want to do and see, but no matter what you choose you probably will be happy with your India ride. It's fun because it's different.
    #8
  9. artia

    artia Adventurer

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    Thanks so much for the feedback all! Frankly, I haven't had a chance to do too much research on which regions / areas of India I want to do but I know there is so much to see in that country. Here are my questions for you guys:

    1. Bummer, there was a bit of an allure to the Enfields but def not worth the hassle you guys make them out to be. For some reason I thought they were tanks - could withstand anything. Given my budget would be about $1500 the Pulsar 220 seems like a good option. But how does this handle terrain through all of India? When we toured through Bolivia/Peru we needed a dual sport given 50% of the ride was off-road (our old bikes here). Is there much off-road riding in India if I want to do a pretty thorough tour from south to north? Also, is it good for strapping backpacks/gear on the back?

    2. Given I want to ride south -> north, through the himalayas, into nepal, whats the best time of year to start? If I were to start around March and hit the himalayas at the beginning of the summer, would that be best to avoid road closures and decent weather?

    3. Anyone know of good moto-tour itineraries that someone has posted on advrider in the past of India -> Nepal? Witold - I'm looking for a similar experience to what you mentioned. Taking breaks from riding to explore cities, culture, and nature. I definitely want to spend a few weeks in national parks through the country (the less commercialized the better!) and want to see important cultural landmarks and destinations. I'm not in this for the fun of riding (though that's a huge perk!)

    Thanks again for all the feedback guys, this is super helpful!
    Artia
    #9
  10. Witold

    Witold Been here awhile

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    1. If you have your heart set on an Enfield, it's not the end of the world if you take it. Tons of people take Enfields, too. You just have to recognize that it's not reliable at all. Chances are that it will break - repeatedly. This is a problem for someone going for 3 weeks, but not the end of the world for you, especially since you're not riding alone so you have someone to get help. But like I said, I've seen several instances of an Enfield ending someone's motorcycle vacation...

    Pulsar 220 is good. Just put better tires on it like Michelin Sirac. This is how Sirac's look and they are a cheap and worthy upgrade:
    [​IMG]

    If you are good on dirt and plan to keep an aggressive pace, it's not going to be that great. But since you are even considering a cruiser bike like Enfield, then I'm sure Pulsar 220 will serve you right.

    As far as terrain goes, you will find a lot of paved roads to be torn up, using some dirt paths, and things like that. And in the mountain areas, most of the roads are mostly paved and on top of that, they are graded very conservatively so that military trucks/etc can go up these hills. There are no challenging inclines or steep declines, making riding even on the sections of torn up road/dirt relatively easy.

    It is easy to strap down stuff on a Pulsar220 and that side saddle foot rest in the back helps to keep any soft luggage out of the wheel and chain.

    2. There are 2 bottle necks for the mountains, roughly speaking. Rhotang Pass coming from Manali, and Zojila Pass coming from Kashmir. If you plan to get to their one mid/late May, you will almost certainly be good to go.

    If you go to bcmtouring.com you will find threads that monitor the status and road conditions of these passes. You will know quickly if it's open and what the conditions are. Keep in mind that both these passes are prone to landslides and closures. Three weeks before I passed it there was a landslide and many people died, and a few weeks after I passed it there were landslides and people died as well. When I was crossing Rhotang, there was another small landslide being cleared as everyone waited on the road. Both of these passes are prone to being closed for days or maybe week+ if there is a bigger landslide. So.... you can't completely plan these things out. Just get there mid/late May and keep your fingers crossed.

    3. There are a lot of ride reports posted on Advrider and they're generally pretty good. As you flip through them, you can get a feel for whether this is your kind of riding or not and find someone with a ride report that resonates the most with you. You can have a look at my report in the signature as well. I mostly wrote up the riding bits and didn't really profile the non-riding bits much even though they were a big part of my ride. You might find it useful though...

    In general, different parts of India will be interesting in different ways. I would definitely recommend traveling slowly and doing various things in various areas. India is a vibrant country with lots going on all the time and it's never boring.
    #10
  11. artia

    artia Adventurer

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    Super helpful Witold! Will follow up with a few other questions that come to mind:

    1. Bajaj makes the Pulsar 220 right? I remember these bikes were upwards of $2500-3000 in Bolivia. Are they really $1500 in India for the base model? If so, that's a great value.

    2. Have you ever seen anyone riding pillion on a Pulsar 220 + gear for both people? My assumption is the bike would be too weak or small for this but thought it worth asking

    3. If we were starting in the south of India, which city would be best to buy a Pulsar 220 and necessary additions (e.g., Michelin Sirac tires, those look like nice dual-sport tires) for $1500-1600?

    4. What's the gas situation in India? When we were riding South America, 70% of our gas was bought from locals because gas stations didn't exist in most parts (not many gas stations in areas like this :lol3 )

    5. If you were to choose three absolute highlights (cities, landmarks, etc) from your ride through India, what would they be?

    6. I'm assuming some parts of India would be unsafe. We'd be sure to not carry many valuables on us and our gear won't be very nice either. Any tips on safety riding through India and general etiquette with locals?

    Thanks so much!! Super helpful so far, already getting excited about this :D
    Artia
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  12. arn

    arn Been here awhile

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    ............else message is too short :huh
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  13. Witold

    Witold Been here awhile

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    arn covers the questions very well and the answers reflect my experiences.

    I know the Pulsar is available in Latin American countries and I know it's twice the price. As far as I can tell, it's because of their import tariffs and the actual bike is functionally the same. Sucks for Latin Americans.

    I also had several punctures on my Sirac tubed tires and yes, it was a huge pain. It is worth checking out the other tires arn mentioned. In general, I liked Siracs and I thought they were pretty helpful in some road conditions. Whatever you pick, I think this extra $50-100 upgrade makes sense compared to stock tires.

    I like pretty buildings with history, but they usually entertain me for about 5 minutes and that's it. Same with Taj Mahal. After seeing it in a thousand photoshop enhanced pictures, I wasn't particularly impressed when I saw it with my own eyes. It's one of those things you have to do, but half a day is enough... I would rather explore random Agra side streets.

    India is safe and it is one of the things that really helped make the trip exploratory but relaxing. I don't know what the crime stats are, but I generally did not feel like I was pushing my luck randomly walking around random streets, even at night. India is a poor country and I would expect more desperate souls, but I almost never got a bad vibe. I was pretty surprised by this, actually. I had no second-thoughts about wondering around in late afternoons and after dark with my big dSLR in hand and sticking out like a sore thumb. Crime happens, especially pick-pocketing and camera-snatching, but that is easy to prevent. This is in stark contrast to Latin American cities that have a tendency to be big ghettos with a substantial and often violent criminal element, gangs, organized street crime. India is nothing like this. It is so good on safety, it sticks out as a pleasant surprise of the trip.

    Places to avoid would be anywhere there is a large tourist contingent. This is where pickpocketing/scams happen. This is where all the annoying touts and scammers line the streets and they can be a real PIA. I would be most careful around any monuments and any transportation hubs.
    #13
  14. artia

    artia Adventurer

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    Wow thanks for the feedback guys. Super helpful. Here are some other questions I have based on your comments:

    - Good to know about getting extra loud horns and good quality saddlebag. Also changing the tires are a must, didn't realize they had tubeless tires there. Generally how do you patch a tubeless tire? Do you fill the hole with a gel or use patches?
    - Any other must-see places come to mind? I know of all the tourist hotspots so I'm looking for more places off the beaten path ... the reason I ask is so I can plot them all on a map to help me find a route. Witold, I'm more your style. I go to Paris to get a feel for culture and side streets, I'd be okay seeing the Eiffel Tower from a distance :)
    - Thanks for the safety tips. We will also be carrying a tent and sleeping bags so I'd expect we will sleep somewhere (hidden) off the side of the road many nights when we're in between cities. What do you guys think of that? Crazy idea? We did this in South America with relatively few problems (besides one night of warning gunshots in Peru !)
    - Also, when in cities are there generally decent hostels to stay at or is the hostel scene lacking in India?
    - How did you park the bikes? Did you carry locks on you?

    Thanks again gentlemen! I think the next step after this is to put together a route for you all to look at and give feedback :D
    #14
  15. arn

    arn Been here awhile

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    You can pre emptively fill tubeless tyres with a sealant, and carry the inserts, kit and pump with you in case you need to repair a puncture. I'll check to confirm, but I think the 220 has tubeless tyres as standard.

    Tourist hot spots are, well, tourist attractions for a good reason in most cases.

    Maybe it's better if you prepare a route plan - you know best what interests you, not us :D

    Camping - cheap hotels as well as cheap wholesome food is not a problem except in some big cities, if you can leave all that stuff behind, I think you'd enjoy your ride more. Besides, if a local finds you camping in some rural setting, within minutes you'll have a large crowd watching your every move intently, for hours on end, not with any malafide intent, but out of curiosity. Are you ok living with that? :evil

    Ask hotel owners if their parking is safe, they'l tell you if you need to bring the vehicle indoors/ into some internal area. Locks - always a good idea.
    #15
  16. Witold

    Witold Been here awhile

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    Look up some videos on youtube for "motorcycle tire plug kit". It's basically the same way you plug a tire on a car. That said, most riders in the USA do not consider plugging a motorcycle tire to be a reliable long term solution. They tend to fail, and on a motorcycle, this is a big deal. You might not even feel you are on a bad tire as you go into a corner at speed. Most people see it as a temporary solution until they get to their next stop where they can buy a new tire.

    You should read some ride reports, look at wikitravel, guidebooks, news reports, and see what catches your attention and what you would like to check out. Lonely Planet is a crappy guidebook, but I'm still glad I had it and ended up doing a camel trek for 7 days in Thor desert. These resources can give you ideas.

    If you spent time in Lima and La Paz and were comfortable with safety issues, then India is not even worth thinking about in this respect as it is a many times better. It's not even close. One of the few places that can be sketchy occasionally is Kashmir. From time to time there are protests, road blockades, etc that can turn nasty. Otherwise, just pay attention to your stuff in tourist areas and don't worry about it.

    Sleeping in tents is no problem. Use common sense. In some of the mountain areas, locals set up tents to rent to tourists, actually. But you better bring a good tent. 14,000 feet at night can be damn cold even during the middle of Summer.

    I always stayed in hotels so I'm not sure about hostels. I can tell you that India is not as cheap as I expected. It was cheap, but often bad value. Shopping around for a pleasant, clean room with clean bathroom was usually not that cheap and required me to go to many places and obviously negotiate a lot. The "cheap" places are often ridiculously filthy and bug infested... so bad I would rather sleep on the street than in that sort of hotel room. So... some areas were full of $50-$100+ hotels that were alright (but sometimes still dingy even at this pricetag). And some areas like Ladakh had tons of very nice, clean and pleasant accomodations for dirt cheap. (~$15). It's hit or miss. You can't rely on all places being good value. Some places you will be pleasantly surprised what great value you got, and some places you will be shocked at the accommodations prices.

    I carried a lock and a bike cover. I also installed a $20 alarm that makes noise when people mess with the bike. I had zero trouble. I did try to park in secure or very visible areas at the hotels, but I did not stress about it too much.
    #16
  17. Pecha72

    Pecha72 Long timer

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    "We will also be carrying a tent and sleeping bags so I'd expect we will sleep somewhere (hidden) off the side of the road many nights when we're in between cities. What do you guys think of that? Crazy idea?"

    Unless you really love to camp, and absolutely want to do it, I'd say leave that gear at home. Plenty of cheap accommodation is almost everywhere, even though as said before, cheapest places can be filthy, but you still won't have to spend a lot compared to US for example.

    And if you wild-camp anywhere else but maybe the most remote areas, expect there to be people within hearing distance. They will gather around your camp, and just look at you - you are their tourist attraction!! It is the 2nd most populous nation on Earth, and even areas, that we consider "rural", are mostly quite densely populated.

    And if your female companion is with you, then just forget about camping. The risk is definitely not very big, probably non-existent for most parts, but note that there have been some very grim stories about women, also foreign women, being gang-raped in India, would be enough for me to just find some guesthouses to stay in. Other than that, it's quite safe - except for traffic, that is everything but :lol3 !! Good luck.
    #17
  18. kiran

    kiran CommuTourer

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    marked campsites are almost non existent. you would be better off staying in a lodge or hotel along the route. you may have trouble however, if you are not indian. the locals may not speak english. online booking and credit car payment may not be available. its preferable that you plan your rides and halt at major cities

    local bikes have limited soft luggage options for carrying your stuff. custom racks for mounting hard bags and such bags are common, though only for bullet enfield (regarded as a tourer bike here)

    India has growing touring community and ample resources available for planning.
    #18
  19. arn

    arn Been here awhile

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    For really good hotel options, join the fb HVK group.

    The hotels (for varying budgets) on offer are chosen after getting inputs from people who have stayed there and are members of the group, so you will not be sent to a pokey, unknown place. On top of that, there will be a certain discount over the rack rate in almost all instances
    #19
  20. I.Will.Ride.On.Mars

    I.Will.Ride.On.Mars Adventurer

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    Thank you everyone for the replies so far. I just have a few more questions to ask if I may.

    I plan to do the Manali -> Leh -> Kargil -> Srinagar -> Jammu route in the first half of October. I've read that the mountains roads won't be closed then from snow (perhaps only from landslides), but am slightly concerned about camping at that time of the year. From Wikipedia the weather averages from 30F for the lows to 80F for the highs. How big of a factor does the wind chill play up there? 30F with no wind and sun isn't too bad, but 30F can also be very miserable. Thoughts?

    The route (Manali -> Leh -> Kargil -> Srinagar -> Jammu) is about 735 miles according to Google Maps. Assuming 150 miles a day, that's about 5 days. I assume it will take longer than that. Is 8-10 days a good estimate to cover that route or should I plan for more?

    I've also read about permits being required to go on some of the roads on that route. Is that true?

    Thanks again.
    #20