5 reasons to travel India by motorcycle
A trip to one of Earth's most ancient civilisations
Coronavirus has given many of us time to reflect and a sense of wanderlust. Those who have been furloughed or are now working from home have been spending more time alone and online than ever. Flying is now inherently dangerous and certain countries are off limits with ever-changing quarantine rules.
There has never been a better time to start planning that dream motorcycle trip. Sure Route 66 is accessible, everyone speaks English and you can fatten yourself up on junk food. The coastal highways of Northern Scotland are just up the road, doable without even boarding a plane.
But what about the hidden gem of motorcycling?
Not for the faint of heart, armchair travellers will need to plan not only a trip but the mind-set needed for such a journey. Some people find India to be the world’s greatest culture shock but those that push through it will be rewarded with the most memorable and intense experience of their entire life.
So, why should you take to the roads of India?
Are you an introvert? If so, prepare to have your world shaken. As a foreigner in India you will be a delight to the many people you meet. Prepare to have your photo taken constantly in people’s selfies as they proudly hand you their child to hold.
The locals will be fascinated by your journey and life back home. If you are lucky enough to make a friend and be invited for a meal you will no doubt experience the best hospitality of your entire life.
You can spend years travelling India as many weather-worn hippies do. You will most likely never eat a bad meal even during the longest of trips.
Expand your waistline with kulcha in Amritsar, a buttered flat bread stuffed with paneer, potatoes, onions and spices. Or eat thali in the ancient city of Varanasi, an unlimited meal of rice, flatbread and selection of curries and dahl for the mouth-watering price of 30 pence.
Wherever you are in the world’s most diverse country, you will almost always find chai, a sweet and spicy tea that you will learn to love in the blistering heat and biting cold.
An old Indian proverb states that "every two miles the water changes, every four miles the speech". 780 languages are spoken in India and you will find new culture and sights every few miles. This country of extremes feels like infinity squeezed into one.
As you ride around the cities you will learn quickly that traffic has no rules, the beeping never stops and you don’t look out for vehicles but rather gaps that you can pass through.
Most auto-rickshaw drivers are Hindu and will hang Hanuman (the monkey God) from their central mirror as they believe he will clear the path ahead for them. There are thousands on the road that believe this!
Sleeping cows become impromptu roundabouts and every other animal imaginable including humans can become a potential hazard. Make sure your bike has good suspension as the roads are laden with potholes.
If you see something that interests you, dismount and check it out. In India there is a photo opportunity just behind you at every moment.
The far north of India boasts the striking mountain roads of Ladakh. The lush plains and baron mountains showcase an India that you probably didn’t know existed. The roads are quieter here but keep an eye out for crazy truck drivers and narrow roads to pass on with sheer drops without a fence in sight.
A huge draw of a motorcycling adventure in India for many is to get out there and rent or purchase an authentic Indian-built Royal Enfield. Officially the world’s oldest motorcycle company that still manufactures to this day. In these modern times traditions are still upheld. The pinstripes on their fuel tanks are still hand painted. The top of some tanks houses the world’s coolest slogan: “made like a gun”.
If you are a Royal Enfield devotee you can take your worship to the next level by visiting Om Banna near Jodhpur. This shrine amasses hundreds of followers per day and is literally a Royal Enfield Bullet, only in India.
In 1991 a man called Om Banna was riding his Bullet. He lost control, hit a tree and died instantly. Local police took the motorcycle to the station as evidence but the following day it had mysteriously reappeared at the crash site. This happened numerous times until the locals deemed that it must simply be a miracle.
If you are having troubles on your journey pay a visit to this holy site as it is said that Om Banna’s spirit helps distressed travellers.
In India these beautiful bikes are often referred to as the Rolls Royce of motorcycles, but you don’t have to pay Rolls Royce prices. You can pick up an Enfield much cheaper in India and many people ship them home after their trip. A memento that you can keep riding back in Old Blighty, leaving the prayer flags on the handlebars is optional.
But if the classic looking Royal Enfield isn’t your style KTM also have a factory in Maharashtra. Riding around India’s dusty roads on a shiny new Duke seems like a strange and brilliant idea.
Many people who return from India experience what is known as reverse culture shock. India is so populated and houses so many religions, iconography, smells, animals and indigenous peoples that when you return back to the UK and return to a commute on a grey and gridlocked motorway you will wonder why you ever returned.
Just because you have left India does not mean it will leave you. The memories will last a lifetime and the likelihood of you returning is high as this is a country so vast and interesting that you couldn’t say you had travelled its breadth even if you gave it an entire lifetime.