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Why India’s the most exciting place on Earth to motorcycle

Discussion in 'Asia Pacific' started by hollywood996, Mar 13, 2019.

  1. hollywood996

    hollywood996 Adventurer

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    Ten years ago, about a third of the way through a seven-month, 27 country around the world motorcycle ride, I encountered three Swedish riders in Phnom Penh. Like me, they were riding battle-scarred BMW GS’s around the world so we settled into an extended 8-beer session about our experiences including brushes with mortality on the road. I had been underway in Southeast Asia for about 6 weeks and Cambodia was testing me. The 120km, eight-hour journey through single-track mud bogs along the Mekong to Phnom Penh had been especially harrowing. When it became their turn to recount their most nerve-wracking days, their response was both unanimous and instantaneous: India.

    I laughed. Surely it could not be as diabolical, as merciless as the Mekong. One month later, after crossing the border from Nepal into India, I wrote these words:

    “Pulverized is the only way to describe how I feel after my first two days of riding in India. The border crossing from Nepal passed quickly and a grin of relief came over me as I picked up speed and rolled south through the straight rural lanes over the flat plains of northern Uttar Pradesh. With the soft haze hanging over the landscape, the green rice fields turning orange as they vanished off into the dusky distance, the scene was dreamlike. But with the arrival of the first town, Gorakhpur, the pastoral calm was angrily replaced by vehicular carnage. The unmarked streets heaved like a twisted orgy and every foot was gained only with the greatest exertion of physical and mental strength. Cars, buses, trucks, rickshaws, cows, people, oxcarts all thrown together in a reckless, polluted clusterfuck of insanity, knocking, banging, jolting and all the time, laying on their horns as if their hearts would stop beating if they ceased. The density on the road is so great, I barely have enough space on the sides of the bike to put my feet down when we stop. The battle fires on all of the senses with such amplitude, I literally thought I would explode. My teeth are being ground to the nubs.”

    Since that first encounter and dozens of rides later I’ve callused up a bit. But the shock has not subsided and neither has the awe. Yes, you can blow your mind on two wheels in other parts of the world. But here are 5 good reasons why India trumps them all:

    1. The Explosion Factor – Nothing makes you feel more alive than flogging a bike through maximum Delhi traffic. Every one of your senses is turned to level 10 and the whole scene becomes one of the most enjoyable video games on the planet.

    2. The Diversity Factor – There is not one India but many. Rajasthan offers the vast Thar Desert, endless architectural marvels and the exotica of the ancient spice routes – camels included. Kerala lures with winding switchbacks through verdant jungles. And Ladakh transports you to the top of the world to a dual-sport heaven on Earth.

    3. The Cultural Factor – Riding through open landscapes in North America, Africa and Central America is a thrill. But nothing matches 4,500 years of cultural, architectural and spiritual evolution. You can visit the country a dozen times and each time it is a new adventure.

    4. The Food Factor – Ah yes, the food. Although each region has its own distinct culinary traits, one thing can be said of India cooking universally: The myriad spices, techniques and ingredients ensures that it is never, ever boring.

    5. And finally, the Wow Factor – India can be a very overwhelming place. Your ears, nose and mouth never seem to get a day off. But with time, the sense of overload moderates and transforms to a sense of fulfillment. You feel more fulfilled because no day is ever like the last. Whether it’s racing a camel in the desert to sleeping under the stars on a remote sand dune to drinking tea in a high jungle hill station, India amazes.

    Let’s not sugar coat it though: Whether it be on the highways, in its cities or in rural villages, India is a place where to be born weak is to subsist on the ruthlessly dark fringe of existence. But in the paradox that for me defines the place, India is the by far most magical country you will ever visit. It has the capacity to make you gasp for breath at its architectural beauty, to charm you with the mosaic of its peoples and culture, and seduce you with its history and the religions that are core to life. And on two wheels exposed to everything it can throw at you, you will leave incredible India a transformed person.


    Robb La Velle is the founder and Maharaja of Client Experience with Two Wheeled Expeditions.

    He has ridden around the world twice and laid tracks through over 40 countries on 4 continents. He is also the author of ‘The Places In Between‘, an account of a husband & wife team circumnavigating the world on two wheels..

    https://www.twowheeledexpeditions.com/

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    #1
  2. Mark Manley

    Mark Manley Long timer

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    Having just finished my fourth two wheel trip in India including side trips to Pakistan and Nepal I can wholeheartedly relate to everything here. My latest visit was a 5 month 10,000 km ride which frankly left me exhausted but like a good workout with a feeling of great satisfaction, or is that just relief at still being alive?
    #2
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  3. BMurr

    BMurr Been here awhile

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    It's almost 25 years since I rode my motorbike on Indian roads. The memories are very much alive, I coukd say some are seared into my brain. Near death experiences, the carnage on roads, it's all so different from what I'm used to in western culture. Forget about health and safety, some scenes would befit a monthy python sketch such as the day I came across a bulk LPG tanker which had rolled off down an embankment beside a road, two small winch trucks were trying to drag it back up to tbe road but the weight of it kept breaking chains and it would roll back down the embankment stopping with a dull thud. Hundreds had gathered to watch this spectacle as if it were a wrestling match between the heavy LPG tanker and the winch trucks. After a few minutes I realised how it could all go wrong with a big bang and got the he'll out of there half expecting to see a mushroom cloud in my mirrors. It's no surprise that many books have been written about travels in India, it sure does shake up the senses. Even to this day I can enjoy the simple fact that I am able to drink water from my domestic tap without worrying about it containing some exotic bug. However if my soon to be adult son was to announce that he was about to ride around India on a motorcycle I don't think I'd be able to sleep while he'd be out there.
    #3
  4. Migolito

    Migolito Prognosticator and MotoYogi

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    Ok, so, where would the uninitiated begin? 1-2 months. Would it be better to rent or buy? What size bike? Should camping even be considered or just hotels...etc
    #4
  5. Mark Manley

    Mark Manley Long timer

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    For that period I would rent, foreigners cannot register vehicles in their name in India but there are ways around this involving registering it in a locals name but renting is just easier. Hotels and guesthouses the whole way for as little as $6 a night but expect a dump for that price, $12 can get you somewhere ok and $20 quite nice. There are no campsites in India and wild camping is a pita.
    Enfield Bullets are popular but a local bike of 150-200cc I think are better and cheaper, I just did 10,000km on a 150cc most of it with a passenger and that size bike was fine, it would cruise at 80kph when wound up which is faster than most things on Indian roads, you are unlikely to ever go faster than this.
    Get an international driving permit, I was asked for mine twice after straying into roads motorcycles were not allowed on and having one smoothed the way with the police and no fine involved.
    If you have not been to India before I would recommend fly to Mumbai, rent there and head south to Goa, Kerala and the Western Ghats (hills) for scenery and less busy roads.
    #5
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  6. Pecha72

    Pecha72 Long timer

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    Ridden there twice, on rented enfields in the South in 2004, was lucky not to get taken out by the tsunami actually, and in 2007 with my own motorcycle ridden from EU, that´s when I rode almost thru the whole country from the Pakistani border to the extreme south. Never been to the north-east though. The place is BIG. I would rent first. Foreigners cannot get the bikes they buy in their own name, I believe, and anyway buying and selling is a hassle. I would not really consider camping, unless going to some remote mountain regions, accommodation should be aplenty and it´s cheap but often quite.... errmmm, worn. And smelly haha! India is a tough country to travel in, especially on a bike. If you´re a first timer in Asia, I would advice to consider Chiang Mai, Thailand as a 1st destination (for example), it´s quite a bit easier, and a very nice experience, too. (By this I do NOT mean to say do NOT go to India, but it is jumping in the deep end for sure..)
    #6
  7. LoopsOnWheelz

    LoopsOnWheelz Adventurer

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    Ouch!:D GS is the last thing I would want to have in India. But man, definitely, the country is probably one of the most amazing places ever!

    Although you cannot register a bike in your name, it might be better, less hassle, to buy a second hand bike if you would ride for two months. India is a place where people know their ways around rules.
    Rentals go for cca 1000Rs a day which is around 13 EUR. If you stay for two months that comes to 780 EUR+deposit and a brand new Himalayan goes for cca 2200EUR. Meaning you could probably get a bike which would do the job for 500-600 EUR or less and wouldn't have to go back to the place where you've rented it out. Later you could sell it for,say,half the price.

    Smaller bikes, definitely. Smaller like 200-250cc or Himalayan. Really no need for anything bigger than that in India. The traffic and roads are just not fit for large adv bikes like KTMs or GSs.

    What Pecha said, the South is bit less crazy than the North but if you've never rode anywhere else than in the Western world, it might be overwhelming. Goa is beautiful, so it might be a good starting point. Then one can push further south towards Kerla and Tamil Nadu. However, I don't think that anything else in the country, riding-wise, beats the legendary Manali-Leh highway and Ladakh. Google Tso Moriri, Nubra valley...Ladaks is just amazing:eekers
    Darjeeling and the north-eastern states should be quite something as well.
    Good luck!
    #7
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  8. hollywood996

    hollywood996 Adventurer

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    Dare I say with my company Two Wheeled Expeditions? If going solo, a 3 week trip through Rajasthan is a great start.
    #8
  9. sam2019

    sam2019 Been here awhile

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    It all depends, 2 month is short if you want to capture the culture, long if you just want the ride.You have to start somewhere so yes, 2 month is OK-ish. I have met people who did a quick 2 weeks Manali-Leh and flight back but those are the people who drive their Harleys mostly to the next Pizza parlor at home (not to be taken as judgement on Harley or Pizza).
    I have been riding Bullets, and now the Himalayan, since 1981. In 2002 I went from Pune to Hamburg and in the last 4 years I did a little over 40k km in Northern India alone. It is worth every minute. But I could have been dead multiple times too.
    Camping unless its "organized" i.e. the tents are provided and already standing, is not common. In fact it is rare. I know a few Hippies who do it bare-foot in the hills. I guess its a matter of taste. I would not recommend it unless you are hardcore and young. After 10 hours of riding in India you just love a shower and a bed, I can tell you.
    You can not legally own a bike in India as a tourist (or any vehicle for that matter) but under-the-table deals happen all the time. Again, if you are cash strapped it might save you some if you are lucky to catch a good one from another tourist who is leaving India. The paperwork will of course be semi-legal at best but the police here is usually very forgiving if you have a few Rupees for them (it used to be total anarchy just 20 years back, today some officers frown at money offered, but not many).
    The bike is a question of comfort (and cash). An old 350 can be had for 40-60.000 Rupees if you get lucky, a 500 will almost always be much more because those 6hp more are what you need in the mountains. Expect 80.000 upwards, anything less and you'll get an Edsel.
    For those who put comfort first (like I do now at 65) the Himalayan is the bike of choice. Its relatively new and used ones are hard to come by because compared to Bullets they are exceedingly rare but for 1 lakh (100.000 Rupees) you can get one with 20-30k on the odo. Expect another 30.000 for replacements and maintenance (about 75 rupees are a us dollar).
    While renting a Himalayan is expensive, going rates are 25-30.000 per month (sometimes less if you book long term) it has clear advantages. The bike is fully covered insurance wise and if the renter is not a cheat it is well maintained and you will get an hour introduction before you are sent off. The good renters provide bikes that are fully equipped with crashguards, Ladakh-carriers etc. and some give you tools and spares that are hard to come by as well, like tire tubes, air filters, break pads, cables, some even have gps locators built in.
    I do Himalayan renting (more like a hobby) out of Rishikesh, so if you have any further questions just contact me at info@himalayan-tools.com or check himalayan-tools.com.

    -sam

    20180924_094717.jpg
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  10. sam2019

    sam2019 Been here awhile

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    Before you do any planing familiarize yourself with the weather patterns. Right now for example would you venture into the south from Bombay (Mumbai) expect 45-55 Celsius. even in Rishikesh at the foothills of the Himalayas today at noon we have 41. There is a long rainy season that is not optimal for riding as a newby in Indian traffic, July to end of August with variations. The Ladakh area is mostly not accessible before May really (legally earlier but I would not recommend riding on icy roads). Btw. you need an international drivers license, the insurance papers, a yellow emission test paper and the registration of your bike if you want to go over the Rohtang pass which is the entry to Ladakh from the Manali side. A semi-legal bike often has one or more of those missing which makes it more challenging to get the Rohtang permit (although I have heard Anu in Manali has helped in those cases by providing papers from his bikes).
    #10
  11. sam2019

    sam2019 Been here awhile

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    a word about smaller bikes being sufficient. No, they are not. you will often be in the position to want to overtake a truck or actually shitloads of trucks on an uphill track. In those cases you need every bit of torque and hp you can get. the smaller bikes just dont offer that kind of power, even the 24hp of the bullet 500 or the himalayan are not optimal (I am waiting for the 2 cylinder Himalayan with the interceptor engine)
    #11
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  12. Mark Manley

    Mark Manley Long timer

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    My above mentioned trips included riding to the Chinese border at the top of the KKH and up to Pokhara and Kathmandu on 150cc bikes without a problem and overtaking most of the vehicles I came upon, the latter included with a passenger and both of our luggage, safe overtaking is more about timing than power.
    #12
  13. sam2019

    sam2019 Been here awhile

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    well, its simple physics. of course you can get lucky for a while but if you go uphill a more powerfull bike will get you past those long trucks faster, there can be no discussion about it. I have seen people passing trucks on bicycles but that does not take away from the fact that the faster you can go the safer you are. that is my point. i love safe if it is possible, so why go for less? but in one respect you are right, a 200cc pulsar has the same hp as a 500cc enfield (not the same torque though) so they are not that different. a 400cc dominar has a lot more power than any enfield (except the 2 cylinder). so enfield as such is not a necessary choice in india. but they look cool ... :-)
    #13
  14. mictoolbox

    mictoolbox Adventurer

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    I am coming back for seconds,enough time has passed in the last two years that the memories of the near death encounters i went through every day on India roads has receded also the memories of Delhi belly has mostly faded all i can think about is how awesome India is . So today i booked a flight to Delhi arriving on the 1st July to get a bike from Karol bagh or somewhere near and head back to the Himalayas for another go. This time i hope to buy a new RE Himalayan and send it home to NZ when i am done in mid August ....be great to find the right person in Delhi to take the hassle out of buying a bike and getting the right papers
    #14
  15. sam2019

    sam2019 Been here awhile

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    Sounds like a plan :-)
    I wouldnt know anyone in Delhi but my dealership in Rishikesh (250km from Delhi in the right direction and much nicer than Delhi) has sold me 3 bikes (since 2014) and generally provided good service (as far as that goes in India) and even helped me personally with a loan when the prime minister made all my cash worthless over night 2 years ago.
    I do know he also ships to Europe but I guess he would extend that to Kiwiland if you twist his arm.
    All my bikes are registered in his name although I aim to have them eventually registered in my own (once I manage a business visa).
    I you are interested I can pm you contact data, I know he can deliver a new Himalayan within a few days, he did it a couple of times for me and friends in the past. and no, I do not get a commission (but he may keep my service and repair jobs right on top of the list which is great too).
    I will be flying to Delhi on 10th this month so be off-line for 2 days until I reach Rishikesh with my Himalayan which currently is parked at one of the Delhi metro parking areas.
    -sam
    #15
  16. mictoolbox

    mictoolbox Adventurer

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    Leaving Delhi by Train would indeed be a lot easy-er I was just about got killed last time, those little white cars driven by angry demons at 70mph taught me a lesson to expect anything and everything coming towards me on my side, that said now that i have looked at a map and can see where Rishikesh is that is do able by train, I would be keen to have this contact,and buy there instead of Delhi,I was going to go through the same outfit i rented from last time ,i had a good encounter with them but since then i have seen a few doggy reviews and there is a bit more money involved this time. not sure how pm works on this site but if you could please let me know Dealer name that would be great, thanks Michael
    #16
  17. sam2019

    sam2019 Been here awhile

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    Search for Ranjeet Motor Cycle, Kale ki dhaal, Sarvahara Nagar, Ugrasen Nagar, Rishikesh, Uttarakhand 249201 on google maps.
    His name is Ranjeet Singh, whatsapp and mobile is +919897548177
    btw: When in Rishikesh you may come across another RE dealer named Lucky. Avoid him like the plague.
    If you go by train the best route is a train to Haridwar, multiple connections every day from Delhi. Its 25km from Rishikesh. From there take a cab to Rishikesh but make sure the driver speaks rudimentary English and insist that he takes the route via the tiger natural park and reserve. It will be 100Rs extra but no traffic and great scenery. The main road is always clogged and a hassle to go.
    If you are in a time crunch I suggest you contact Ranjeet beforehand if you need a Ladakh carrier (not fancy but stable and great protection, takes 5 days to a week to have it made) and steel boxes (same, super for computers and similar delicate stuff).
    Also: Bring a mobile holder and a voltmeter cum usb connector. He will attach it for you. I would also suggest you exchange the headlight from the LED type which gives much better light and never burns out (its 2500 Rs, keep the original for Kiwiland).
    https://www.amazon.in/Printme-Voltmeter-Digital-Charger-Smartphones/dp/B07QV4G52N/
    https://www.amazon.in/CheVik-X-GRIP-Mobile-Waterproof-Charger/dp/B078TT99HJ/
    and a solid crash guard:
    https://www.amazon.in/95071-Motor-Airfly-Enfield-Himalayan/dp/B07FXNLDRN/

    if you plan to do manali-leh you need at least one extra 5l can- I suggest to stay away from the plastic version and go for this:
    https://www.amazon.in/FUELMATE-Metal-Camouflage-Generators-Vehicles/dp/B07BXY3CNQ/

    <shameless plug>
    a holder made to fit for the Himalayan you can purchase from my site or just let me know and I deposit one or two with Ranjeet for you
    (3000 Rs each, 1.5mm steel, powder coeated with theft protection).
    </shameless plug>

    hope that helped!
    -sam

    11.jpg
    #17
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  18. mictoolbox

    mictoolbox Adventurer

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    Thank you this info is GOLD to me. On my last trip to India i set a goal to rent a bike from Delhi and ride to khardung la so i got a bullet and went off like a gun. I done it I got to the Top I accomplished my goal. The Problem was I had not thought one sec further than reaching my goal. There i was on top of the world and I thought :what the f do i do now ? well i solved that problem and im coming back for more. Google is my friend and i have looked up Ranjeet Motors and also the trains ,Every tout at the Delhi railway station will try and deviate me from finding the foreign ticket office but i will not be moved I know where it is.Whats the chances of seeing a tiger in the tiger park ? If so A taxi would be a real good idea as apposed to a bike for that bit.
    i cant wait its winter here
    #18
  19. sam2019

    sam2019 Been here awhile

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    the chances are nil. To see tigers you have to book a jeep tour inside, with the taxi you will just be running the main road in the middle.
    But you have a chance to see elephants, they regularily use the main road too :-)
    #19
  20. sam2019

    sam2019 Been here awhile

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    So did you go? I am in Manali right now, will take off tomorrow to Rohtang / Jispa / Sarchu / Leh for a month or so.
    #20