Motorbiking Tips for Indian Roads

I’m planning a road trip on a Hero Splender i-SMART. Is possible to ride long-distance on 100cc bike? What problems I will face?

Yes. Its been a while. 1997. But if it helps, here’s what it looked like.

Note: the tips below are equally applicable to a higher-capacity bike too such as Royal Enfield.

I was in an engineering school in Aurangabad in the western Indian state of Maharashtra. Most of my friends were graduating and packing up to go home and start a career. I wasn’t. It was a gap year for me. So when two of my flat mates (Ajay Jain and Sachin Handa) planned for this road trip from Aurangabad to New Delhi, I wasn’t sure whether it would work out for me. As a student, I had money to sustain everyday routine but not for a trip like this. More so since I did not have a bike either (couldn’t afford one). Ajay had a Suzuki Shogun 110 cc. As luck would have it, another friend (Devinder Singh) pitched in. Instead of sending his bike (Yamaha RX 100) via rail cargo, he simply offered it for us to drive all the way back to Delhi. Once the bike worked out miraculously, I borrowed money. Back then, such ‘adventures’ were not to be disclosed to parents. But Ajay’s parents were cool and served as the coordination point, should the two bikes lose sight of each other on the way. Remember, this was 1997 and cellular phones were not as popular in India.

If you are familiar with Maharashtra, you would know that the state has a date with monsoons – June 7th. So, when we took off from Aurangabad on June 01, it was officially still the dry summer season. Sachin and I are life members of Youth Hostel Association of India (YHAI) and had made a few bookings in places such as Jaipur. That meant we had to stick to a strict schedule to avail those budget accommodation enroute.

Weather proof yourself: The first surprise sprung up on the first day itself. Just as we were approaching Mahabaleshwar (near Pune), it started to pour. It was as if someone 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 guest house, none of us had dry clothes. Drenched, cold and confused. Hotel towels to wrap around, a room heater and a bottle of cheap dark rum to beat the cold. 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.

Cover those legalities: Wiser with experience, we covered the bags in plastic before resuming the ride again. That only ensured that the nature of surprise changed on day 2. On the outskirts of Mumbai, two flash lights stopped us. It was dark and raining. The two guys who flagged us down were dressed in khaki trousers and said they were cops. They flashed Yamaha’s Delhi registration plates and sought papers for a no-objection certificate (this was required to drive a vehicle registered in one state in another). Though we had the vehicle’s registration papers, the no-objection-certificate apparently went to Delhi with its owner. Sensing the opportunity, they asked for INR 5000 as a penalty or else they would pound the bike. Something told me that these guys were not the Real McCoys and the doubt was short lived. When I spoke with them in Marathi and asked for an ID, the duo said ‘since you are a local, we can reduce the fine’. Nothing about IDs. We did not want trouble at that late hour and offered INR 50. They accepted and took off in an auto-rickshaw (tuk tuk) that was waiting under a nearby tree. They were not cops after all. If you want to avoid a similar situation, please follow these tips: 1) learn a little bit about various papers that the authorities may seek and keep everything in order and 2) demand an ID from any one who stops you on a rainy night in the middle of an isolated highway / road.

Keep spares handy: Surprises continued. A few kilometres further and gale winds hit the area and we took shelter in a Dhaba (a highway eatery). We were behind schedule and were acutely aware of it. By 0300 am, when the storm subsided, another surprise cropped up. Yamaha RX 100 died on us. 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 Yamaha’s 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, Ajay got sick and crashed on the bed. Sachin and I got him medicines and let him sleep in the room. The problem with Yamaha turned out to be a failed spark plug. Simple. If you want to avoid a similar stupid situation, please follow these tips: 1) carry a few spares and a tool kit and 2) learn a little bit of how to fix minor problems.

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. If my memory serves me right, a few drinks on the menu were cheaper or perhaps the same price as that of bottled water. Nani Daman and Moti Daman areas were fascinating too. Once Ajay felt fit to ride, we moved.

Get a smart phone: Gujarat was a dry state and hence we crossed it in 1.5 days. On the way out of Vadodara, mild flash floods hit the state. The bikes’ exhaust pipes submerged under water. Navigating through that stretch was a challenge with the looming risk of an open manhole. The flood waters covered the highway and the adjacent agri fields. There was no way to tell where the tarred highway gave way to the fields. It was a potential disaster to drive in those conditions. Right then, a state transport bus overtook us and Sachin had this Eureka moment. The bus had a handsome ground clearance and importantly, its tyres displaced enough water. For the rest of the stretch of that flooded highway, we simply rode 1-2 feet (less than a meter) behind that bus. Ajay (Suzuki) followed the rear right tyre while Sachin and I (on Yamaha) took to the rear left. Without that bus, it would have been impossible to get to Rajasthan. If you want to avoid a similar situation, please use a smart phone and look up driving conditions regularly.

Rajasthan offered the first moments of sunlight since leaving Maharashtra. A road side dhaba (eatery) rendered songs like “Made in Haryana” to its patrons’ delight and offered chilled alcoholic beverages for people coming out of Gujarat. Oh it was time to hold that drink and bask in the sun.

Later that week, a dear friend and batch mate (Ashu Jain) hosted us in Udaipur and served the most delicious Daal Bhati Churma (a local delicacy) that I have ever tasted. An unapologetic gluttony pursued. The days in this state zipped past. The lakes of Udaipur and the forts of Jaipur can mesmerise any visitor. Here’s a scanned memory from the good-old Kodak film camera. To my right is Sachin and to my left, Ajay (turquoise tee).

But as young guys exploring the ‘freedom’, it was the alcohol-spiked fun that made it even more memorable. Chauki Dhani resort on the outskirts of Jaipur offered an ethnic experience and delicious food. We had managed to save money through the trip to splurge here. Back then, the resort did not serve alcohol. Not to be discouraged, we bought golas (crushed ice lolly) just outside the resort’s gate, generously sprinkled dark rum all over and carried it in with confidence. The ethnic experience became even more fulfilling. Well, after that luxury dinner, we still returned to the youth hostel to sleep.

When we reached Delhi after 11 days and 2600 Kms, my parents bought the story that we got off a train a few hours ago and that the bikes were simply train cargo. Well, they now know and are cool about it.

Two years later, Ajay and I bought Royal Enfields to drive to Leh. Unfortunately, by then professional needs took over and we have not made it to Leh so far. Yet a few years later, the three of us got together in San Francisco, California. Only this time, we had a few dollars to spare to rent a stick-shift sports car. Here’s a picture from Half-Moon Bay. I am in the centre with Ajay (red tee) to my right and Sachin to my left.

Last year, we turned 40. Ajay and Sachin are married and have lovely kid/s. Unlike me, my friends have settled in the US. They have owned a variety of crotch rockets and cruisers at different times. As for me, I am married to an equally zealous traveller and who also equally detests the idea of a permanent residence. My wife and I have chosen to remain child-free and continue to travel at will. My curiosity about Gujarat is at an all time high and, sometime next year, I will get there.

To summarize, here are a few basic tips (and by no means exhaustive) for whatever its worth:

  • Take local legends about weather with a pinch of salt and weather-proof yourself / your bag
  • Learn a little bit about various papers that the authorities may be seek and keep everything in order and, when suspicious, verify IDs of whosoever stops you
  • Carry a few spares, a tool kit and learn a little bit of how to fix minor problems
  • Use a smart phone and look up driving conditions regularly
  • Never drink and drive
  • In general, be safe

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2 thoughts on “Motorbiking Tips for Indian Roads

    1. Hello Motorcycle Rambler!

      Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts . . It is good to read from a fellow rider and blogger! And it is encouraging to know that there’s one thing less to worry about in Ireland. Wish your bike rambles on to newer places . .

      Cheers

      Like

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