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Conversations With A Solo Traveler – Ajeesh

by travelmynation

The following is an excerpt from my experiences during the solo motorcycle expedition through Northern India in October of 2017, covering 4900 km through 7 states and 11 days. Dedicated to my dear brothers in the Indian Army – who guard us with their lives and, to the brave truckers of my country – the real unsung heroes of our roads. – Ajeesh (The Technical Rider)

PRELUDE

Friday, December 16, 2016: A Promise

I ran onto this platform of Bandra terminus railway station after wading through the dense early morning traffic on station road. And alas! the Swaraj express had already started to pull out. A heavy sense of guilt pressed my heart. My dear old friend in the Army had come over to Mumbai on leave for a week and, I hadn’t been able to spare a moment to meet him. It was only to at least say goodbye to him, as he departs, that I had rushed to Bandra this early in the morning (8 AM is still too early for me to be somewhere). And even that, I couldn’t.

Immediately, I called him up, trying to apologize for not being able to meet him despite arriving at the station. No sooner did he hear this, than he rushed to the door of his coach and asked me (all over the phone) where I was standing. I was standing under this big clock hanging over the platform. And he yelled that he could see me. We had like 30 or 40 seconds, just enough time to say Hi, shake hands and say goodbye; all the while the train was leaving.

“Thanks for coming. You made my day” he said.
“Sorry about this time, I’ll come to see you at your place someday,” I answered.
“Come over to Pathankot and we’ll ride together,” he yelled.
“I’ll come to Pathankot, I promise. Jai Hind!” I yelled back, with no regard for the other people on the station who couldn’t help but wonder why these two boys are yelling at each other. It all seemed like a scene from a Bollywood drama flick. Yes, I’m talking about the ending scene of DDLJ, except for the fact that I didn’t get on the train in this one. I just helplessly watched it depart.

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Bandra Terminus, Dec 16, 2016

Cut to 14th October 2017, a week before the ride

After waiting through a terrible rainy season, I was yearning to get back on the road again. And I was sure, my motorcycle felt the same too. It had been sitting for what felt like an entire eternity through the heavy monsoons, packed under two thick plastic sheets (I don’t ride my motorcycle in the rains; I feel a car is much safer and convenient in the rains – convenient of course, if you don’t mind the dense Mumbai traffic that can leave you stranded for hours before you reach anywhere. Plus your motorcycle won’t rust too). Nevertheless, I somehow did manage to get a couple of practice runs when the sky looked clear.

Just a week ago, I had called up my friend to check if he was available for a ride in the North if I show up at his place for Diwali. And he said, “Are you crazy?” “It’s just too far to ride alone.” “Why don’t you ship it on a train?” “Why don’t you ship it on an airplane?” (He did say that one. Just kidding!)

He tried his best to try and instill some sense into me but I was adamant that I’ll come to Pathankot only if I get to ride all the way. My original planned dates were October 14-22; But this flopped as soon as he said he wouldn’t be free, thanks to some red alert situation at Pathankot (Really? Come on!). So I immediately postponed the plan to the week after that.

Hurray! I got an entire week of leave sanctioned and adding four days of office leave (19 and 22nd) to that, I had an entire 11 days, at my disposal. I got my motorcycle serviced on October 15th, just in case I made up my mind to make this ride (the plan wasn’t final yet).

Then came a week of depression, anxiety, sleep disorder, and sheer fear had gripped my mind. Fear, as you know, has this tendency to make even the possible seem impossible, the easy seem difficult, and the safe seem dangerous. All kinds of negative thoughts – dying on the road seemed like a much better option; however, ending up losing a limb or two and living life as a crippled was a terrifying one. I spent the week trying to gather bits and pieces of courage, reading inspirational quotes and travelogues.

The Diwali celebrations at our office on the 18th was a welcome distraction. There was this competition at our office to decorate our respective departments. My department, as usual, clean swept the competition.

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A fort we managed to build out of packing boxes. Absolutely worked in our team’s favor.

Spent the next couple of days enjoying a very quiet Diwali at home (Spending Diwali with family was only an excuse; I needed those two days just to get over my fears). Finally, on the 20th of October, I decided, enough is enough. Time to just do it! I pinged my friend, that I’m leaving the next day. I spent the rest of the day searching the house for my saddlebags (had no idea where I threw them after my last ride) Finally found it (with all the dust and dirt from my last ride still on it) and began packing things up.

PACKING FOR A LONG RIDE

  • Enough clothes to last a week.  I would simply wash and reuse them in case the trip extends by another day or two
  • Thermal wear. Very important! The North, unlike in Mumbai can get very cold even in the day (and freezing by night)
  • Bungee cords to tie things up
  • Motorcycle cover. You can skip this though. But, I’m too possessive about my motorcycle to leave it uncovered at night
  • Water bottles. That’s a no-brainer
  • A bottle of used engine oil for lubing the chain
  • All original documents (RC book, Insurance, PUC) of the motorcycle
  • A helmet lock. The plan was to lock the front wheel at nights, by using the helmet lock in the holes on the front disc. (Simple and effective)
  • An SJCAM 5000X Elite Action camera for shooting on the go
  • A Swiss knife (actually this, I carried in my pant pocket), only because my friend recommended to so that I can scare off any robbers, in case I encounter any. He even went so far as to add that even if I don’t know how to use one, just the mere sight of me with my long hair and a knife in hand at night, can scare even the bravest of criminals. I took that as a compliment

Just like all of my previous rides, I decided to ride on sheer luck this time too. So no spare clutch and throttle cables, nor any spare tire tubes or anything of that sort. Amidst all the hasty packing, my friend called in to inform about my stay arrangements at the military station in Udaipur. I hadn’t asked him for any arrangements, so that came as an absolute surprise.

But that also meant that I would have to ride over 750 km the next day to reach Udaipur. Time was half past midnight. I quickly stuffed the things and zipped the saddlebags. Time to go to bed. Tomorrow’s going to be one hell of a day

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THE RIDE

21st October 2017, Day 1: Mumbai to Udaipur

Woke up at 4:30 AM to my mobile phone alarm (don’t remember the last time I saw this time on the clock). Got ready in no time. Mom too got up soon and prepared tea for me. I could see she was really tense and worried, wondering why her son keeps doing this to her, time and again. I assured her that I will return home safe, to tell her about my adventures. Before Dad could wake up, I sneaked the saddlebags out of my house and flung them over the rear seat. Pushed my motorcycle to a few yards away from my house- just to ensure Dad doesn’t hear me leave. (If he wakes up now, there won’t be any ride at all).

Started my motorcycle (all my neighbors would’ve woke up hearing this. Sorry) and took off. Time was 5:30 AM (the earliest I have started a ride so far). I whizzed past Ghodbunder road and reached the National Highway 8 (NH 8) in no time. This very road is what I’ll be riding on for the next couple of days. Wringed the throttle in the chilly morning and I reached Vasai road by 6:15 AM.

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Rendezvous at Vasai road…early in the morning

As planned, Mansi (my old classmate and my dear friend’s dear wifey) arrived with stuff for her hubby in Pathankot. In short, I got to be Lord Hanuman carrying goods from Sita for her beloved Shri Ram in Pathankot. And, call it destiny, just recently had I discovered that my name literally means “The Undefeated” – one of the many names for the Hindu deity Hanuman).

OMG!!! (my first reaction when I saw two bags in her hands. Did she think I was taking a truck? Kidding!). I stuffed the contents of those bags into whatever space was left in the saddlebags. She wished me luck and I rode off. JAI SHRI RAM! (That’s Hanuman’s catchphrase)

Taking full advantage of the cold early morning weather, rode my motorcycle at 90 – 95 kmph- knowing very well that this would be the only time of the day to ride that hard, without overheating the engine.

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“A journey well begun, is half done”, they say. Passing Charoti, just around sunrise.

On long runs, I normally ride for 100 km at a stretch (unless I run out of fuel) and then stop for 10-15 minutes, to allow the engine just enough time to cool down a bit. And this cycle continues till I reach the destination for the day. I crossed Vapi (you know it’s Vapi just by the smell of the over polluted air) and Surat in no time and then reached Vadodara at 11:30 AM. That was 400 km in about 6 hours. Stopped for 15 minutes to eat some bananas I had in my bag. This would be my lunch for the day. Got on the saddle and hit the road again.

Reached Ahmedabad at 2 PM. The 6-lane highway from all the way home transformed into a 2-lane road with no dividers in between. Luckily after an hour and 40 km, I reached Chiloda, where the highway opened up into a 4-lane. Thank GOD!. Rode for another 40 km till Himmatnagar, where I stopped by a tea stall for some snacks (My first major halt since morning). I asked the stall owner what he had for snacks. All he had was just pakodas and loads of attitude. So pakodas it is then, I said to myself. I sat there, munching on the pakodas and talking to the owner who, as it turned out, was also from Thane. After about 30 mins, I set off for Udaipur.

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The tea stall owner at Chiloda. And his dream to get a photo on a Bullet. Now fulfilled! 

I rode for another two hours till I crossed the Gujarat border into Rajasthan. All the dust  (the characteristic of Gujarat roads) along the roads got replaced by sand (characteristic of Rajasthan roads).

At around 8:30 PM, I reached the Udaipur Military Station. Had to speak to the Captain in command, before the guards let me inside the gate. Got a nice guestroom with all facilities.

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A sunset by the road. Rajasthan never fails to delight the eye of a traveler.

After a nice heavy dinner, rode out to check out the beautiful Fateh Sagar lake nearby (Udaipur is known as the city of lakes). Rode back to the guest room and relaxed a bit.

Checked the time. 1 AM. Tomorrow’s gonna be another hell of a day. (YAWN)

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22nd October 2017, Day 2: Udaipur to Delhi

Woke up at 4:15 AM after just 3 hours and 15 minutes of sleep. Snoozing the alarm wasn’t an option, as I knew I HAD TO cross Haryana and reach Delhi (that’s another 750 km away) by any means before dark (Highways in Haryana and Delhi are notorious for crimes – looting, shooting, rapes and whatnot). At exactly 5 AM, I was out of the gate and on the road.

Despite the difficulty of riding in the cold (I forgot to wear my thermal inners :-/) and with headlights of oncoming vehicles literally blinding me, I held onto the throttle to maintain speed. Reached Rajsamand in an hour and a half (that was 60 km in one and a half hours). The stretch was laced with potholes for half of its length, plus it was dark and I also had to stop a couple of times for directions. So 60 km sounded pretty reasonable.

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A beautiful tunnel ahead of Udaipur, early morning

As soon as I left Rajsamand, the NH 8 betrayed me. The 4-lane shrank into a 2-lane road with no dividers. And to add to the agony, the entire stretch was swarmed by cattle (they’re a real menace on the roads in the North, where they are worshipped with the Gods) and dogs. Anything above 60 kmph and you might be too late to stop in time to avoid ramming into a cow or bull jaywalking on a national highway. And dogs; better not talk about these guys. You don’t see them until the second they jump in front of you from the bushes on the sides of the road (Dogs are intelligent beings they say. I doubt that old saying when they keep doing this).

All hopes of making good distance before afternoon started to fade. I stopped to click the sun rising by the side of the road (Reaching Delhi before dark was impossible now, so might as well click some good pics on the way).

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The sun will take care of the cold now…:-)

“Is this really the NH 8?” Every now and then, I would ask a random passerby.

“Yes, of course,” they all said the same thing. There’s not much traffic here (of course, the only traffic were the cattle and dogs). So the roads are narrow. But don’t worry, you’ll get a 6-lane soon, after Beawar.

My face lit up. With new-found hope, I progressed slowly and steadily towards Beawar. After 3.5 hours and 150 km, I reached Beawar. Six lanes of beautifully laid tarmac welcomed me in all its glory. This WILL take me to Delhi before dark, I was sure. Filled up fuel to the brim (I remember this clearly) and set off. Holding 95-100 kmph for hours comfortably on this dream of a road, I managed to cover up for the time I lost early in the day and reached Jaipur at 12 Noon (that was 180 km from Beawar in just 2 hours and 400 km from Udaipur in 7 hours). With all the time in the day still left and just 270 km remaining for the day, I stopped and breathed a huge sigh of relief.

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All of Rajasthan in a single picture :-). Crossing Jaipur with a sea of camels, right on time

When you ride alone, He gives you company.

Just shortly after crossing Jaipur, I saw this guy on a silver Classic 350 motorcycle, fully geared up – with elbow and knee guards and an action cam on his helmet, pass by me. I decided to follow him. Every now and then, I would overtake him and then slow down to let him pass. And then I would overtake him again (Trust me, this is a cool way to engage yourself and kill km quickly, when on a very long ride). But after some 50 odd km or so, I was curious to see him still on the road. I decided to stop him and speak to him.

And as it turned out, he was also headed to Delhi. I told him where I was headed and asked him if we can ride together (I was still apprehensive of riding alone in Delhi). He instantly agreed and we rode off to Delhi (no longer alone anymore).

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When you get company on the road

 

What started as a hasty ride to Delhi turned into a relaxed one. Contrary to what I feared, Bhupendra (that’s his name) convinced me that it’s a very busy road and is quite safe even in the dark. We took a lot of breaks in between talking about motorcycles and rides (He rides the Himalayas whenever he needs a break).

Around 7:30 PM, we reached Delhi, where we bid each other farewell. He also wished me luck for my journey ahead. Instead of heading to my guest room, I thought of riding to India gate, a historic monument in New Delhi. Now for a Mumbaikar, navigating through New Delhi is a big pain. Every hundred meters, you’ll end up at a roundabout (So many roundabouts in Delhi that you can literally call it the city of roundabouts) where you’ll have to stop and check for directions. After an hour of circumnavigating in and around New Delhi, I ended up in front of India gate.

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At India Gate, New Delhi #Amar Jawan

Left India gate and reached the military unit in Delhi at Dhaula Kuan (also arranged by my pal in Pathankot). Had a nasty chicken biryani that I ordered from a hotel nearby (the military mess was closed by the time I reached). However, I was just too happy to mind. The hard part was done.

23rd October 2017, Day 3: Delhi to Pathankot

Unlike the last two days, today I woke up with a total sense of calm. Pathankot was just another 500 km from Delhi, with a smooth highway going all the way. Snoozed the alarm a number of times; finally got up around 6:15 AM.

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Two is better than one. The Captain’s Storm beside mine, at Delhi military station

Got on the road at 7:30 AM. Very soon, I realized that I had actually forgotten Delhi is another big metro city like Mumbai and just like Mumbai, getting out of Delhi is not going to be a simple task. Wading through the peak Monday morning traffic in Delhi, I reached NH 1 after an hour and 15 minutes. Opened throttle on the smooth 6-lane till I reached Panipat at 10 AM (I was in Haryana now). Stopped to munch on the breakfast I packed from Delhi.

Shortly, I crossed the Haryana border into Punjab. Around 12 noon, reached Ambala. This is where you turn left towards Ludhiana (the turn to the right takes you to Chandigarh).

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Time for a Patiala peg, or maybe not a good idea

An unexpected delay

I clearly remember my friend calling me to inquire about my whereabouts. “Just 250 short, I’ll reach in 3 hours max.”, I boasted, just before riding off with a plan of hitting Pathankot before dusk. I crossed Ludhiana and soon, Phagwara. And just when everything seemed to go well, I heard a Punjabi (with a turban) on a motorcycle yelling that my rear tire is low on air. What??? I hadn’t felt any difference at all. Stopped to inspect the rear tire. The tire’s flat!

Now that is something that’ll ruin my entire day. I asked a couple of bystanders who reassured me saying a puncture repair shop was close by. Slowly and carefully, I rode to the shop. (NOTE: Running on a flat tire for long can damage the tube valve and the tire itself – both of which may not be easy to find and replace on the road; and needless to say, running on a flat tire is dangerous too).

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Grounded! Murphy’s law in action

Luckily for me, the valve was intact and the tire guy repaired the puncture for 80 bucks (A new tire tube would’ve cost me over 400 bucks and a new tire, much more).  I heaved a sigh of relief, thanked the Lord and got back on the road. Reached Jalandhar around 6 PM.

Took a right turn from Jalandhar towards Pathankot. Pathankot was still a 110 km away and darkness was closing in. Riding at a steady 80 kmph for a couple of hours, I reached Pathankot by 8:15 PM. Asked a lot of passersby for directions to Pathankot military station and I was directed to this place (that was actually the Military hospital). The guards there grew very suspicious of my long hair, my motorcycle with an MH 04 license plate and most of all, the action camera on my motorcycle handle.

Before he would point his rifle at me, I thought it wise to phone my friend (I’ll be calling him Captain X from here onwards) who readily arrived on his Thunderbird. Followed his motorcycle for like 10 minutes to this gate, where the guards yelled “JAI HIND SAAAAAAB” with all their might as we crossed. Now that was one welcome (goosebumps)!

Parked my motorcycle next to his. His roommate’s (Captain Y) motorcycle (also a Bullet) was also parked there. My stay was arranged at “Guesthouse number 1” (as they call it), a couple of yards from his room. After a refreshing hot water bath, I marched back to Captain X’s room where a half empty (sorry, half full) bottle of Old Monk was waiting for me (nothing like some rum after a long ride). Had a couple of shots with Captain X and Captain Y (X doesn’t drink much). After some small talk, had a hearty dinner. And shortly, we walked out of the room to smoke (this would be my first).

“So how was the ride, man?” asked Captain X.

“Good roads, an amazing trip,” said I.

“2000 km! That was some shit, man”, he said.

“I rode all the way to see you, Captain”,  I told him.

“YOU ARE CRAZY!”, Captain X laughed.

24th October 2017, Day 4: To the Himalayas

Woke up after sleeping like a pig. Time was 9 AM. Captain X was getting ready to leave for work. So disappointing! No leave for him owing to some official urgency, so our plan to hit the mountains together flopped. The thought of riding up the mountains all by myself, after three long lone days on the road, made me feel lazy. I hopped onto the bed again and took a nap. Didn’t wake up until 10:30 AM. Got ready and had a nice breakfast at my room (all for free, I was Captain X’s esteemed “cousin” who rode all the way from down under, after all).

Mounted my action camera on the motorcycle handle and took off around 11:30 AM. Some 15 km later, I crossed the Punjab border into Himachal Pradesh.

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Another day. Another state.

Just shortly as I crossed the border, I understood, from a couple of people that I had missed the left for Dalhousie, a couple of km to my back. Immediately, took a U-turn and crossed the border (Welcome to Punjab). Took the right turn (that I so carelessly missed on the way) on to the Chamba-Pathankot road.

“Dalhousie 75 km”, the boards displayed. “But don’t let these boards fool you, my boy. Distance boards in the mountains can be very misleading. A 75 km stretch on the mountains is not the same as 75 on the plains. Unlike the open highways where 75 km is at the most, an hours ride, here in the mountains, it’s an entirely different ball game altogether”, my mind kept reminding me.

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With every passing yard, I could feel the winding ghat road taking me higher and higher into the mountains. Despite the numerous curves and hairpin bends, the Chamba-Pathankot road is a two-lane (no dividers though) and might not be quite of a challenge for someone with decent experience riding on ghats (I’m a pro!). It was the mountain roads I am here to see – narrow single lane roads (with two way traffic) with no tarmac to speak about, that wind dangerously at high altitudes, along steep mountain cliffs and gorges. And this was not even as remotely comparable to those to be called a dangerous stretch.

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A cow checking out my bags

At about 2 PM, I reached Banikhet. This is where you turn right to Dalhousie (Dalhousie is just 8 km from here). The road gets really narrow from here onwards (just a single lane with two-way traffic). I knew I was in for some real riding test from now on. Reached Dalhousie in another 30 minutes. Time to head on to Khajjiar (Oops! Alright, that’s the secret destination I’ve been riding to all the way).

A pleasant surprise

Very soon, reached a dead end (the road ahead can only be accessed by air force personnel; and if you trespass, you won’t just be prosecuted, but shot – the boards mentioned strictly). I enquired about the directions to Khajjiar with the sentry there. I had missed the left some seven kilometers back on the way, he mentioned. But guess what, I had made it to Dainkund-a beautiful point I would’ve missed, had I ridden straight to Khajjiar (sometimes, mistakes happen for good).

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A stunning view of the Himalayas, from the top

Once you reach the shelter on the top, there’s this beautiful Kali Mata temple, another 1.5 km away.

By the time I got down from the Dainkund peak, it was already 5 PM. I had to descend 7 km and then take the road to Khajjiar (that I missed earlier in the day). Got on my motorcycle and fitted the action camera onto the handlebars (I was carrying it in my hand all the way. No way I was gonna leave it on my motorcycle).

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Following a mountain man (with a basket full of flowers and rabbits), to the temple (Just don’t disappear midway. Have heard a lot of stories with ghosts who lead you on desolate paths and disappear all of a sudden to creep you out)

Off to Khajjiar

In about 30 minutes, I found the turn to Khajjiar (no wonder I missed it earlier, it’s so damn narrow, one would easily mistake it for a walkway). I entered the Kalatop wildlife sanctuary (the road passes right through it). Khajjiar – 18 km, a milestone read. But trust me, for a first-time mountain rider, the 18 km that were about to come is something he will never forget in his life. Bad roads, potholes, deadly curves, blind corners and to add to all that, there’s a deep gorge that runs all the way along one side of the road. Now to this equation, add rude impatient drivers (Some of these buggers zip past the narrow single lane road as if on a highway, with absolutely no regard for other vehicles. To say the least, one mistake and it could be your last.

I had my fair share of near misses myself, when oncoming vehicles emerged almost instantaneously from the blind corners in front, almost knocking me down. And every time, I would just manage to stop in time and hold my balance at the edge of the ravine. And the worst thing is, you don’t get to sit and think on your last mistake, coz in another 50 meters, comes the next blind corner. So it’s all about “Forget and move on”.

“BLOW HORN before approaching a CORNER” as if your life depended on it (it actually does. You might wanna write that one down lest you forget). After a staggering hour and 15 minutes (my worst time ever for an 18 km stretch), I pulled into Khajjiar. Even as the dark was closing in, I could make out the main view of the green meadow – exactly like I had seen in the pictures.

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When you reach your destination after a long ride and know it was absolutely worth it. At Khajjiar.

Got myself a nice room at a mountainside hotel for the night (I booked one with an amazing mountain view that I can enjoy in the morning). Had a decent chicken biriyani (the cheapest on the menu that was available at the time). The weather was freezing & I was shivering even with all my thermal wear on. I stood by the balcony of my room, watching a large group of friends in the neighboring hotel, sitting around a bonfire, playing Antakshari. They looked happy and sang loudly. Just watching them made me happy and relaxed.

As I laid down on the bed to rest for the night, I felt this clear sense of happiness in my heart – the happiness of having ridden this far, all by myself. With the beautiful green meadows of Khajjiar just a few hundred meters from my hotel, I knew tomorrow would be a treat of a lifetime. AND THEN.

I remember what the hotel receptionist told me that day. She said ”Thank goodness, you reached before dark. There are wild animals up there; lots of bears”.

Terrified, I pulled the blanket over my head in haste and surrendered myself to sleep.

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25th October 2017, Day 5: Khajjiar, the mini Switzerland of India

As soon as I woke up, I headed straight to the window of my room to see the sun rising up from behind the mountains. And Boy!!! that was one beautiful sunrise – exactly as I had anticipated when I looked from this window yesterday before booking the room.

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Walking up to a beautiful sunrise. The view from mountain facing hotel window.

Ordered an Aloo parantha and tea for breakfast. It was only later when I paid the bill that I realized they had delivered a plain parantha. And all the while I had been wondering where the potato was stuffed, as I tried to swallow the bland plain parantha with tea. Had a nice hot water shower and headed straight to the Khajjiar meadow (just 300 meters from my hotel), armed with my smartphone.

And boy, I was in for a real treat.

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Khajjiar, with its light green meadow, spread over a 2.5 km radius, outlined by tall skyscraping Deodar trees. And right there in the middle, is the Khajjiar lake

Ran up the stairs (that was new to me. The hotel is built downwards along the mountain slope so you don’t really climb UP from the reception but you go DOWN). Packed all my stuff into my saddlebags and checked-out of the hotel.

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A picturesque bridge, in the middle of the meadow

Change of plans

My original plan was to head back to Pathankot taking the same route I took yesterday. But then the guys at the hotel suggested an even better option. So, as always, I dropped my original plan and instead, decided to hit Chamba.

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A temple with a tall Shiva statue on the way

Khajjiar to Chamba is connected by a rapidly descending, dangerously winding mountain road that takes you from an altitude of 1920 meters to 996 meters in just 22 km. A narrow single lane of tarmac with no guard rails on most of its blind corners tests your patience and riding skills on an entirely whole new level. The perilous road, however, never fails to awe you though – with spectacular views of huge mountains piercing into the skies. All the while as you tread along the edges of deep valleys and ravines.

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Stopping at a bend for a click

After exactly an hour, I reached Chamba where I stopped to take a picture by the beautiful river Ravi. The sound of the river water breaking against the rocks felt so soothing to my ears.

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Finally at Chamba, by the river Ravi (which I initially mistook for river Beas; took a while to realize river Beas is in Manali). Couldn’t believe I would’ve missed all this if not for the guys at the hotel

Rode for another half an hour through Chamba town to reach the main attraction (the main highlight) of Chamba.

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The main attraction in Chamba

Parked my motorcycle at the parking lot and took a quick stroll on the lush green lawn. All the people on the lawn, stared at me curiously as I walked, (some of them giggling with their pals), as they try to guess the state (or planet) I had arrived from. (I still had my jacket and knee guards (lest someone steals them from my saddlebags – tethered to the motorcycle…helmet lock…remember???). Unconcerned about the unwanted (not really; I was loving it, to be honest) attention, I continued walking like the King in the North.

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Time for a Chole kulcha, the Himalayan equivalent of Mumbai’s Vada pav. The “uncle” giving a serious look for the camera just before breaking into laughter

Time was 3 PM. I knew I better get going in order to make it to Pathankot by night and most importantly, cross the mountains well before sundown. I was wary of taking those treacherous mountain roads again (that will be more treacherous by sunset. To my delight, I was told there’s another alternate route to Pathankot, a less-risky two-lane (two-lanes had started to seem like heaven to me by now) plus it’s a National highway too. The only compromise is that it’s an extra 20 kilometers. Trust me, starting that late in the evening, I wouldn’t have minded riding a 100 extra km just to give those mountain passes, a miss. So with 120 km between me and Pathankot, I bid farewell to Chamba and paced onto the Chamba-Pathankot road.

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When you do things you don’t like, Shit Happens!!!  The bridge in Himachal Pradesh that collapsed into river Ravi recently (it was all over in the news)

Just a couple of days of riding on dangerous mountain roads, and I could clearly feel riding on this two-lane Chamba-Pathankot road seem comparatively easier. I whizzed down the winding road – maintaining the same speed on the corners as well, with my overconfidence almost taking me overboard on more than a couple of occasions.

Reached Banikhet at around 5:30 PM. It all then came to me in an instant. This is the same road I had taken on the onward journey. I had turned right from Banikhet for Dalhousie, remember?. And soon, confirmation! I crossed the left turn for Dalhousie. I didn’t even bother to look into that left turn as I crossed it. Reaching Pathankot was the only thing on my mind at the moment.

Very soon it was dusk, and almost immediately, it was pitch dark. I couldn’t believe this!!! I never seem to learn from any of my mistakes and always manage to end up alone in the dark on some deserted mountain, All the time, I kept kicking myself. But instead of worrying about mistakes, I knew it was important to focus on not making new ones this time. Kilometer by kilometer, I made progress towards Pathankot in the dark, crossing small towns along the way (the only places with some lights).

After what felt like an eternity, the Chamba-Pathankot road finally merged into the highway number 154. My ordeal with the mountains was over! Just 10 more minutes on the highway and I was at the Pathankot military station gate, right by the highway. To my surprise, the guards let me in without any fuss. They had been expecting Captain X’s brave brother on a Bullet, all evening.

Rode to Captain X’s quarters and parked my motorcycle in his parking lot. Went to “The Nest”, the guest house arranged for me. Had a nice hot water bath and headed to his room. Shortly, Captain X and Captain Y arrived from work. We sat together talking about my escapades at Khajjiar.

After a nice hearty dinner, Captain X and I went outside to breathe in some fresh smoke. A few large puffs and I felt myself surrendering to this mighty spirit of the Himalayas raging almost instantaneously in my system. Completely SCARED and STONED in less than five minutes, I went from a man who just rode down the mountains all by himself, to just a scared kid lying under a tightly held blanket, praying for this long nightmare to end.

“OHH, MY DEAR LORD. WHAT DID I JUST GET MYSELF INTO???” (blackout)

26th October 2017, Day 6: The night ride to Ferozepur

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An egg roll to start the day

Woke up at 9 AM with a little hangover (my head was still spinning a bit). A short while later, breakfast was served. I switched ON the TV and the movie “Jab We Met” was just beginning (A good movie by Imtiyaz Ali that I was yet to watch). Good time to clear this movie off my ‘to-watch’ list. Just 20 minutes into the movie, the TV went blank (the Tata Sky subscription had ended. Perfect timing!!!).

A quarter past noon, I walked out of the gate looking for a nice saloon (Captain X had clearly “instructed” me to get my beard trimmed to make me a little more presentable to his pals in the Army). The saloon, according to Captain X, was just a kilometer away; so I left my motorcycle at the station. I walked for over a mile in the hot sun, but couldn’t find anything. Luckily a guy gave me a lift on his scooter and dropped me right in front of a posh-looking saloon.

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The autowallah taking me for a ride

Got my beard trimmed (luckily, just 100 bucks) and decided to take an auto. After waiting for a while, hopped into an auto. “40 bucks to the gate”, the greedy autowallah said. Not wanting to wait in the hot sun, any longer, I relented. Reached the station 15 minutes later and 40 rupees poorer. To hell with you, I cursed the autowallah, as he left.

Captains X and Y were back from work for lunch. After relishing a heavy lunch – rice with tasty fish curry, Captain X and I started packing for our ride. The plan was to hit Ferozepur today. Finally, at 4 PM, we were all set to depart. Bid farewell to Captain Y and off we left, Captain X and I, towards Ferozepur.

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Time to leave the nest, my home for the nights in Pathankot

We had a smooth ride on the 6-lane highway at first, reaching Amritsar (around 100 km in 2 hours). But as soon as we crossed Amritsar, we were greeted by heavy traffic jams-thanks to the flyover construction works along the highway. We decided to exit the highway and try the Amritsar-Patti-Ferozepur village road.

Captain X was the navigator. He would check the GPS on his mobile phone every now and then and I would simply follow him wherever he went.

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Another 40 km left for Bada Khana, which will be Bada Leftovers by now

Riding in pitch dark for several hours, we finally reached the military unit in Ferozepur at 9 PM. Having no time to change, we entered the function in our riding gear, which was covered in sweat and dirt by now. Most of the officers had already left. Captain X shook hands with the remaining officers and jawans, while I stuffed myself up with the food on offer in the grand feast.

27th October 2017, Day 7: A moment for the Martyrs

Woke up on a lazy morning with no big plans in mind. The officer’s party was to happen in the evening, so we decided to relax and try not to tire ourselves down before the party. Stuffed 3 Aloo paranthas each, for breakfast and did pretty much nothing till afternoon.

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Yummy Aaloo parathas!

Around 2:30 PM, we visited Captain X’s friends – Captain Z and his wife for lunch. Post lunch, we had a small joint session (no hangovers, this time though. Phew!).

Around 5 PM, we left for the Hussainiwala Border gate (just 13 km from our place). Captain X explained on the way, that Ferozepur is called the “Land of Martyrs”. INTERESTING!

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To Hussainiwala border, riding pillion on Captain X’s Thunderbird. My Storm got a much-needed day-off.

 

We reached the Hussainiwala border gate in 30 minutes. The evening parade at the gate was unfortunately over by that time.

We took a stroll in the Hussainiwala National Martyrs Memorial – a memorial dedicated to the brave freedom fighters – Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, and Rajguru whose bodies were cremated at this place.

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Went back to the quarters and off to the party, we went, in no time. The celebrations went on all through the night. At around 4:30 AM, Captain Z dropped us at our room in his Audi.

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A moment of happiness, with new and old friends

“Now that was someday”, I said to myself as I let myself fall onto the bed to sleep.

28th October 2017, Day 8: Back to Amritsar

Woke up around noon after sleeping like two pigs, to recover from last night’s late-night exertion at the party. With half of the day lost to sleep, we felt extremely lazy to do anything other than rest for the remainder of the day. Captain X had arranged VIP passes for the parade at Wagah border through his friend there, a couple of days ago. So we decided to finally get up and get going.

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Goodbye to the land of Martyrs

At 3 PM, we left for Amritsar. The journey from Ferozepur to Amritsar is better not spoken about. Hazy roads (from smoke from burning grass on the vast farms along the road) and slow-moving tractors (lots of them) with no regard for other road users only add to the travel woes.

Saw this large group of nomads on a long journey, on the way.

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By the time we managed to reach the Wagah border in Amritsar (130 km and 3 hours later), the closing parade had already ended. The VIP passes and my hopes to watch the fiery closing parade at Wagah border went down the drain (at least there’s a reason to come back again, I consoled myself). Disappointed and exhausted, we decided to go to our guestroom in Amritsar, but not before…

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The train…err…motorcycles to Pakistan

Trying to pull something out of this day, we decided to visit the Golden Temple at night (our best decision of the day).

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The grand entrance to the Golden temple

In spite of the humongous crowd inside, the Golden temple has this unbelievable sense of peace and calm associated with it. We sat by the pond in the temple, to soak in the peace – all the while our hearts overflowing with an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the Sikhs who run and maintain this beautiful temple.

After a hearty dinner at the langar (a free community dinner served at all Sikh temples by generous Sikh volunteers and well-wishers), we went back to our guestroom to retire for the night.

Suggested Read - The best B&B in Amritsar people are dying to visit!

29th October 2017, Day 9: A morning walk through history

The day started with me trying hard to convince Captain X to accompany me to the Jallianwala Baug. After an hour of negotiation, he finally budged. And off we left, and straight we went to the famous Bharawan da Dhaba in Amritsar.

Post breakfast quickly walked towards the Jallianwala Baug.

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Amazing monuments along the way

After a memorable walk through the historic Baug, we left for our guesthouse around 12 PM. As soon as we reached, we sat down to discuss the options for the day. Captain X had to leave for Pathankot in the evening and there were no places nearby, left to see in Amritsar. So there was no point in me staying back here in Amritsar.

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The bullet marks on the walls left untouched

Chalo Dilli!!

With time running out, I decided it was time to finally wrap up this memorable trip (which was also getting hectic by now) and set sail for Delhi without any further delay. Loaded all my stuff onto my motorcycle and set for Delhi at 1 PM. But not before saying farewell to my dear friend.

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So this is where we part ways…#Happy journey

Right from the moment I sat on my motorcycle, I knew setting out for Delhi (500 km away) this late in the day wasn’t a great idea. Reaching Delhi by night would mean having to maintain a good average speed all the way. I held speeds of 95-100 kmph all through the ride, stopping only for fuel and 10-minute breaks (every 100 km). Heavy traffic jams on the highway also stopped me in my tracks on more than a couple of occasions.

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A cow breathing its last, after getting knocked down by a truck. Not everything is pleasant on the road. Some kind men stopped to pat and caress the dying animal as its soul departs

After 507 km and 9 hours of riding, I finally reached the military station in Delhi at 10 PM. Having saved an entire day (original plan was to stay at Amritsar today than ride to Delhi in the afternoon), I gave myself a pat on the back before hitting the bed to sleep.

30th October 2017, Day 10: Delhi to Udaipur

Got on the road only at 10 AM after oversleeping a bit. Took almost an hour to wade through the dense Delhi traffic. Thereafter, the NH 8 provided a smooth ride all the way up to Jaipur.

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A camel cart on the way

When I seemed to be making good speed, I missed the exit for the Jaipur bypass road on the NH 8. So instead of bypassing the busy Jaipur city, I ended up right in the middle of it. Lost an entire hour stranded in Jaipur’s city traffic.

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At Jaipur city…Time to find the NH 8 again

After all the traffic woes, merged onto the NH 8 highway again. Phew!

Crossed Beawar at around 6:30 PM. The biggest challenge – riding 150 km (Beawar to Rajsamand) on a 2-lane road with no dividers at evening, was now staring me in the face. But to my surprise, the same stretch that gave me jitters in broad daylight on day 2, didn’t bother to trouble me one bit on this night. I ripped the stretch in the dark at over 85 kmph and managed to cover the same 150 km stretch in just 2 hours (\m/). And guess what, the 6 lanes were back now.

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Had been waiting to cross this tunnel…Udaipur’s not far now

Held onto the throttle and reached Udaipur military station at 10 PM.

JUST A DAY AWAY FROM HOME.

31st October 2017, Day 11: The finishing act

Got up very late in the morning. Knowing it’s the final day of the ride and that I was riding back to the same old routine, I felt absolutely no need to hurry.

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My guest room at Udaipur military station. You don’t really miss home after staying here

Left Udaipur military station at 10 AM to start a day that was all about just riding and riding. Around 12:30 PM, crossed the Rajasthan border into Gujarat. After riding for another hour and a half, reached the infamously confusing Sardar Patel ring road (before Ahmedabad) where I lost my way before getting on the NH 8 again.

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Cooling off for a while

One by one, I crossed Vadodara, Bharuch, and Ankleshwar. Riding in the hot sun wasn’t helping things for my motorcycle nor for me. I stopped regularly to prevent the engine from overheating.

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The world is full of good people. Thank you for your concern, Bhimabhai

On one of such stops to cool my engine, a kind tractor driver approached me to offer help, thinking I was in trouble. Said I reminded him of his son, who was also on a long journey himself.

The world hasn’t run out of kindness, I said to myself.

After a small talk, he bid me farewell and drove away in his tractor.

After a few more minutes, I started my motorcycle and continued my journey towards home.

Shortly after crossing Surat, my motorcycle started backfiring. The engine had overheated from continuous riding over the last 200 km. I had no choice but to stop and wait for the engine to cool down. Twenty minutes later, I got back on the road.

At 9:45 PM, reached Vapi. Filled up fuel into the motorcycle and had some dinner. I was extremely exhausted and Mumbai was still another 170 km away. Despite having ridden the Vapi-Mumbai stretch countless times before, never had I left Vapi this late at night. Even after the 4500 km, I left behind, I was afraid of failing this close to home.

Call it a miracle, the distance from Vapi to Mumbai felt unusually short. It seemed as if the toll nakas at Talasari, Charoti and then Virar passed by, like just every 10 minutes apart. At 12 AM, I reached the Fountain hotel where my deal with the NH 8 finally ended.

Turned left onto the Ghodbunder road, that took me home in another 30 minutes. The sheer sense of triumph and jubilation filled my heart as I put my motorcycle on its main stand. The fear which once existed inside was overcome and ridden out. And how can I ever forget the most beautiful scene of the entire trip – of an anxious mother, her eyes filled with uncontrollable happiness on seeing her son back home unscathed. I knew I could ride a thousand miles all over, just to see her that happy again. More than my riding skills, my luck, my guardian angel or whatever, I knew it was her prayers that guarded me on the roads. I knew it was her prayers that brought me home

BRIEF STATS

Route map at a glance

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The Northern adventure…4902 km and 11 days

Total distance: 4902 km
States covered: 7 (MH, GJ, RJ, HR, DL, PJ, and HP)
Total time: 11 days
Total fuel: 125 liters
Fuel economy: ~40 kmpl (Impressive figures for a 500cc)
Expenditure: ~INR 15000/-

DAY WISE RIDE DETAILS

1: (Mumbai-Ahmedabad-Udaipur): 853 km, 14 hours
2: (Udaipur-Jaipur-Delhi): 747 km, 16 hours
3: (Delhi-Ambala-Jalandhar-Pathankot): 540 km, 12 hours
4: (Pathankot-Dalhousie-Khajjiar): 122 km, 6 hours
5: (Khajjiar-Chamba-Pathankot): 156 km, 8 hours
6: (Pathankot-Amritsar-Patti-Ferozepur): 241 km, 5 hours
7: (Motorcycle day-off): 0 km
8: (Ferozepur-Wagah-Amritsar): 187 km, 4 hours
9: (Amritsar-Ambala-Delhi): 507 km, 9 hours
10: (Delhi-Jaipur-Udaipur): 715 km, 12 hours
11: (Udaipur-Ahmedabad-Mumbai): 834 km, 14 hours

SOME TRIVIA

“Jaa raha hoon lautne ke iraade se…Magar safar safar hai…Mera intezaar mat karna” (I leave with an intention to return…but a journey is a journey. Don’t wait for me…) Read this on the bumper of a truck, somewhere in Rajasthan…
Next time you see a statue of a warrior on a horse, observe this – if the horse is standing with one of its front leg lifted, the warrior was injured in battle. And if the horse is standing with both of its front legs up in the air, the warrior died in battle. (courtesy: Captain X – the enlightened).

Next time you see a tank on display at a roundabout, with its barrel pointed up, its an Indian tank. And the one kept with its barrel pointed down is an enemy tank captured in battle. (courtesy: Captain X again).

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MY SINCERE THANKS
to all the new friends I made during this trip, making this solo ride much more memorable,
to all the countless strangers who guided me, cheered me and wished me luck on the road,
and to the Indian Army for their hospitality at the military stations in Udaipur and Delhi respectively.
To my beloved pal, Captain X for his immense support and guidance in helping me complete this dream run.

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About the Author (The Technical Rider)

This article has been penned by Ajeesh on his site here. You can also follow his travels through his Instagram account. All pictures have been taken from his website with his permission.

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