The Elements: Ride Weather-Proof
If you are familiar with the western Indian state of Maharashtra, you would know that the state has a date with monsoons – June 7th. So when we started riding from Aurangabad on June 01, we anticipated dodging the monsoons. As life members of Youth Hostel Association of India (YHAI), we had made a few bookings. Availing budget accommodations enroute was another reason for us to stick to a strict schedule.
The first day sprang a surprise. Just as we approached Mahabaleshwar (near Pune), it started to pour. Someone had turned on a tap in the sky. We stood no chance to find a shelter. What was worse, the bags were not water proof and when we checked in to a hostel, none of us had dry clothes. Drenched, cold, and confused. Luckily, the hostel had towels to wrap around and a room heater.
If you want to avoid a similar situation, please follow these tips: 1) take local legends about weather with a pinch of salt and 2) weather-proof your bag.
Paper Trail: Beware of Impersonators
In federal India, a majority of road transportation and its related work is controlled by the states. When a person chooses to move for more than a year (as we did to an engineering school), he needs to obtain his current state’s no-objection-certificate (NOC) for his vehicle. An NOC signals that the vehicle is up-to-date in terms of taxes, is not involved in crimes, and hence is okay to be registered elsewhere in the country.
On the outskirts of Mumbai, flash lights flagged us down. Two people, dressed in khaki trousers (as worn by police) and black coats, noted Yamaha’s Delhi registration plates and sought its NOC and road tax receipt. Our careful response to show the papers without soaking them in the rain perhaps made us appear flustered. Sensing an opportunity, they asked for INR 5000 as a penalty or else they would pound the bike. Their impatience indicated that they were not the Real McCoys. I spoke with them in Marathi and asked for an ID. Instead of showing their badges, one of them said ‘since you are a local, we will reduce the fine‘. We did not want any trouble and offered them INR 50 before moving on.
If you want to avoid a similar situation, please: 1) learn a little bit about various papers that the authorities may seek and keep everything in order and 2) beware of impersonators – demand to see an ID from any one who flags you down (especially on a rainy night in the middle of an isolated highway / road).
Stock Spares: Know Your Motorcycle
Few kilometers further, gale winds hit the area and we took shelter in a dhaba (a highway eatery). By 0300 am, when the storm subsided, Yamaha gave up on us. We were behind schedule and acutely aware of it. After about 500 failed kick-starts, we decided to tow it. Desperate times need desperate measures. Ajay was the strongest of the three and he pushed the Yamaha (with his left boot resting on its rear footrest) while riding the Suzuki. It was a legendary task, towing through bumpy patches and crossing a few flyovers. When we finally reached Daman, he got sick and crashed on the bed.
Daman was refreshing. From the hotel room balcony, I could count 30+ bars. There were strange business combinations such as ‘Ashoka Cloth Emporium and Beer Bar’. Traders sold merchandise on the front and after crossing the aisle, you would step in to a bar. Meanwhile, the problem with Yamaha turned out to be a failed spark plug.
Avoid cursing yourself by following these tips: 1) carry a few spares and a tool kit and 2) learn a little bit of how to fix minor problems.
Get Smart: Look up Driving Conditions
In parts of India, rainy season is just as much fraught with risks as it is welcome for its beauty. On one hand, the green mountains and rice paddies can be mesmerizing, and on the other, cloudbursts resulting in landslides and floods can pose real dangers.
On the way out of Vadodara, flash floods had submerged the landscape. There was no way to tell where the tarred highway gave way to the adjacent agri fields. In addition, the threat of an open manhole made it a potential disaster to drive in those conditions. The bikes’ exhaust pipes had gone under and it was a matter of time before we were dragging them in calf-deep water. Right then, a public bus overtook us and Sachin had this Eureka moment. With a handsome ground clearance, the bus’ tyres displaced enough water for our exhaust pipes to fume. For the rest of the flooded stretch, we simply rode 1-2 feet (less than a meter) behind that bus.
Be safe, especially in Indian monsoons. This experience is twenty years old, when cell phones were not in vogue. Since then, technology has evolved while extreme weather conditions continue. Use your smartphones to look up driving conditions regularly.
Rum Popsicles: Never Drink and Drive
After a successful run to leave the monsoons behind, it was time to relax. Rajasthan offered the first moments of sunlight since leaving Maharashtra. Road side dhabas rendered songs like “Made in Haryana” to its patrons’ delight and offered chilled alcoholic beverages for people coming out of the prohibition state of Gujarat. At some places, we saw how locals enjoyed dark rum popsicles!
There are all sorts of riders in every country. Mishaps are real. Be it Daman or Rajasthan, we had a rule for our ‘happy moments’ – to either walk back to our hostel (when in a city) or rest at a dhaba (when en route). So, if you like your alcohol, always remember – never drink and drive. Be alert on highways. Be safe and responsible.
Carpe Diem: A Bonus Tip
As mentioned earlier, this travel is twenty years old. In 1997, I was in an engineering school in Aurangabad. Most of my batch mates were about to graduate, pack up to go home, and start a career. I wasn’t. It was a gap year for me. When Ajay and Sachin planned this journey, besides sharing the excitement, I had little to offer. I neither had the money, nor a motorbike. Surprisingly, things fell in place. While Ajay had a Suzuki, credits for the Yamaha go to another batch mate and dear friend Devinder Singh. Instead of sending his bike home via rail cargo, he offered it for us to drive to Delhi.
The auto and motorbike landscape in India is transforming. Newer products hit the market every year and a motorcycling culture is fast emerging. While 350 cc or higher displacement engines become popular, the smaller ones, like the 100 cc motorbikes we used, continue as well. The good news – Indian streets and highways support pretty much all kinds of transport.
So here’s a suggestion if you are considering a motorbiking tour in India – do not fret too much over what kind of motorbike or other equipment you have or do not. Just buy yourself a decent safety gear (good helmet, a must) and get going. Toward the end of the journey, chances are, the memories you earn will far outweigh everything else.
Have you revved on a long-distance journey in India? How was your experience? We would love to hear from you (please scroll below to leave a comment).
Credits: This piece is edited from its original version, written in response to a question, on Quora?
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