Trying to find a modern motorcycle to rent in India was interesting, not too difficult, but interesting. Finding a Royal Enfield to rent is easy, but a modern motorcycle that’s a different story. There are a couple of companies to be found, some are pricey, some are reasonable, and none are cheap.
I found a small company run by two friends that had reasonable pricing, and nice bikes. I’m glad I found these guys as they made recommendations on my route plan. And helped me out with an array of things that were above and beyond their responsibilities. Once the bike was sorted out and some stories were shared, the lads at “lets ryde” invited me for dinner at the local biker café “throttle shrottle”.
I’m very glad that previously I had a taxi journey with a maniac, it acted as a “briefing” to Indian driving. That meant I could get on and ride to “local rules”. Which were; put brain on high alert and ride in any available space regardless of where that is. Then honk the horn at anything that moves towards me, and any time I move towards anything else. Sorted! One more thing to learn, the fog that doesn’t ever seem to be lifting is not fog. Its smog, like 1952 London. Wow I’ve never seen anything like it. Anyway Dinner at Throttle Shrottle was excellent, what a great place, and great people.
That evening it was explained that I would be better to leave at 5am the next morning. Riding early to avoid traffic. I figured that it would be an experience, so I slept until 8am. It was definitely an experience! So at the time of riding it was three days before Diwali and the build up to this festival was in full swing. Diwali is a Hindu festival celebrated similarly to the way we celebrate Christmas. So in the most densely populated country on earth, people are flocking to spend time with their family. The big cities are tightly packed chaos, and that’s by Indian standards not European standards. Anyway you may have noticed news reports about Delhi’s smog problem recently. Yes it is totally out of control. Visibility fluctuated between 100 meters and 500 meters maximum. In the mornings it could well be mistaken for thick fog, but it never lifts, and taints your taste just by breathing. So the smog, and the dust combined together called for wrapping material around my face as a mask at all times while riding. The alternative left my face, nose, and mouth filthy in minutes. I mean to the extent where I looked Indian. Also there is the fact that riding with no mask sort of made me feel ill after a while.
Riding out of Delhi was a baptism of fire, in the full on Diwali build up traffic. I quickly found that if I left any space whatsoever, someone would try to fill it. Bear in mind that I’m on a three lane motorway riding a motorcycle. The object that may decide to fill the space, whether it’s feasible or not. Could be a pedestrian, bike, rickshaw, tuktuk, car, lorry, bus, whatever. Leave space and literally anything will push you out of the way. So after one close call of being knocked off the bike when crawling through traffic. The only way to protect myself is to place my front wheel gently against whatever is front. If there are gaps the best way for a bike to make progress is to keep moving into them. Even if that means getting off the road into the dirt, or into the opposite carriageways and ride around things. But you will be joined by anything else that can fit. Other bikes, tuktuks, and the occasional car that thinks they might fit by pushing a sign post or pedestrian out of the way. Honestly you are better to find space and just keep moving into it. Standing still feels much more hazardous, like a sitting duck waiting to be run over. Anyway the traffic battling went on for a good six hours and made progress VERY slow. I’ll come back to the traffic and riding experience later. My route plan was taking me from Delhi, north east to Jim Corbett National park.
Jim Corbett National Park
JC national park is a good place to try and see some Bengal Tigers and Leopards. The route that I had planned took a minor road about 80Km away from JC national park. This was another learning curve. The minor road was so heavily damaged that my speed was limited to a maximum of 30Kmh (20Mph). Riding off road is faster, easier and more comfortable, but not always available with crop fields and huts. This road was broken tarmac and concrete that looked like an army of tanks had driven over it. The potholes are everywhere and occasionally the size of a small car. The local way to drive on this type of road is to weave and try to connect any pieces of smooth tarmac that are left. The weaving tactics are also used by lorrys and follow the laws of natural selection. The biggest/toughest have right of way or will eat the smaller. There were many occasions where it was just plain safer to ride on the strips of dirt at the side of the road. I was slightly regretting my choice of road, but at the same time bizarrely appreciative of the experience.
I arrive in Ramnagar with about 45 minutes before sunset and my route is taking me to a retreat type of camp. However first im heading down Indian style narrow streets, with stalls, and traders, which doesn’t “feel” right. In the kind of way that the brain wants to ignore the map and make up its own crap.
But it is indeed the correct path and shortly im heading across a dam and onto a well maintained back road. Monkeys and monitor lizards are at the side of the road. Then my route turns off the road onto a dirt track to arrive at the camp.
I didn’t make a reservation and just turned up, which spun out the staff. They thought I was lost and it took a whole lot of explaining to get them to understand. Yes I am travelling alone, no I didn’t make a reservation, yes I am ok, yes I would like to stay here tonight. They are still concerned for me as if they had found a lost animal. Anyway kind of nice I suppose.
The following day one of the staff, Danesh, helps me to sort out a last minute permit to gain entry to the reserve so I can safari around to look for Tigers. Just after sorting out the permit we ride to a small hut in the jungle where a friend of his brews up some tea and adds a handful of lemongrass from next to feet. A very nice cup of chai and a good chat was had with Danesh before meeting a jeep for some safari time.
Need More Time
I’d love to go off on a long mystical story about finding Bengal tigers. But as with all natural habitats, a one day foray is just pot luck. And my luck was not in. To see real wildlife like this you need to devote a good solid uninterrupted amount of time and patience. To simply be in the right place and stay there. The camp/lodge inside the reserve is the perfect place to stay for a few days. Seeing tigers and leopards would then be definite. Passing through for one day is just blind luck. But that’s all the time I had (this time), so it was worth a shot.
Once I arrive back at the lodge where I was staying. I tell the staff that I’ll be leaving early at 5am. I am definitely going to take the best chances for lower traffic volume. Once again the staff are spun out by what seems like an odd decision to them. But I do my best to reassure them that everything is fine. I just don’t think they quite understand this kind of travel. Which is quite simple really, map, bike, ride.
Indian Road Types
Later I would find out that road conditions vary dramatically between states in India. Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh have the worst roads. But that point would be compounded after another challenging route. Generally there is simple notation of road types here. NH means national highway and SH means state highway. Then there are minor roads which was the KM’s of broken concrete road I experienced the day before. Anyway it turns out that in this state, Uttar Pradesh, NH means nothing. I turn onto NH701a which was worse than the minor road of the previous day. My speed was max 20km/h, I’m happy to ride faster but it would be at the cost of risking puncturing tyres, and breaking wheels. Once again riding off road would have been faster. This was particularly bad news because this section of road was 100km long and at this speed is going to take 5 hours instead of 1 hour. So I have to turn back and retrace the 20km that I’d just ridden to take a different NH road to get back on course. This option is faster than sticking it out on the broken road. However most of my day is already spent and I’m not going to reach my destination without “stringing it out” to midnight. So instead of another mile munching endurance fest (I’ve had plenty of those recently). I decide to enjoy the rest of my day and cut my route at a town along the way.
While stopped at the side of the road taking on some water. A driver pulls over to admire the bike, which after a chat and a few photos. The driver recommends a city called Bareilly as a good place to stop in for the night.
The Taj Mahal
The next day I decide to set off to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. I’m getting into the routine of setting off at 5am. The roads are much quieter and its much better riding. Anyway I arrive in Agra and it’s the night before Diwali so everything is starting to settle. I’ve heard plenty of stories of visiting the Taj to being disappointing, dirty, and crowded. However that’s not how I found it. I appreciate that Diwali will mean things are quieter, however it’s not dirty. Not compared to every normal place that a person will travel through to get here.
So off to Jaipur on the day of Diwali. Did everyone leave India? There is no one around, it’s bizzare compared to the utter chaos that’s become normality. From one extreme to another it’s a joy to be hooning along only having to expect the unexpected from road surfaces and wildlife. Rajasthan seems to have some amazing roads. I have become conditioned to expect the highway to suddenly disappear and suddenly be weaving through a building site. That’s not a figurative statement, its literal. However this doesn’t seem to be happening in Rajasthan, the roads are brilliant. And the smog seems to be clearing a little around these parts.
The fact that Diwali had given me some space to move around meant I was a bit more willing to stop and take a photo of the odd things. I cant write sufficiently to explain the way livestock are handled here, so I’ll leave that for conversations.
Anyway I nearly fell over the first time I saw a house covered in Swastikas, yes swastikas! Then about 2 minutes later I saw an advert for a company called “Swastik Tutoring” who’s logo was, yes, a swastika. I had no idea that the swastika always has been a hindu symbol from the Sanskrit svastika meaning “peace”, “good-fortune”, or “Well being”. I had no idea and its a bit strange that the symbol is more commonly associated to a less peaceful part of modern history.
What’s the plan there?
I cant finish this post on the oddities of that symbol. So instead here’s a guy driving a cow and cart, with one good wheel, one wheel on a bare metal hub, while using a smart phone and sat on a good tyre. Way to go lad, stay sat on that tyre eh.
And a few more monkeys just because.