Ten years ago, about a third of the way through a seven-month, 27 country around the world motorcycle ride, I encountered three Swedish riders in Phnom Penh. Like me, they were riding battle-scarred BMW GS’s around the world so we settled into an extended 8-beer session about our experiences including brushes with mortality on the road. I had been underway in Southeast Asia for about 6 weeks and Cambodia was testing me. The 120km, eight-hour journey through single-track mud bogs along the Mekong to Phnom Penh had been especially harrowing. When it became their turn to recount where they had endured their most nerve-wracking days, their response was both unanimous and instantaneous: India.
I laughed. Surely it could not be as diabolical, as merciless as the Mekong. One month later, after crossing the border from Nepal into India, I wrote these words:
“Pulverized is the only way to describe how I feel after my first two days of riding in India. The border crossing from Nepal passed quickly and a grin of relief came over me as I picked up speed and rolled south through the straight rural lanes over the flat plains of northern Uttar Pradesh. With the soft haze hanging over the landscape, the green rice fields turning orange as they vanished off into the dusky distance, the scene was dreamlike. But with the arrival of the first town, Gorakhpur, the pastoral calm was angrily replaced by vehicular carnage. The unmarked streets heaved like a twisted orgy and every foot was gained only with the greatest exertion of physical and mental strength. Cars, buses, trucks, rickshaws, cows, people, oxcarts all thrown together in a reckless, polluted clusterfuck of insanity, knocking, banging, jolting and all the time, laying on their horns as if their hearts would stop beating if they ceased. The density on the road is so great, I barely have enough space on the sides of the bike to put my feet down when we stop. The battle fires on all of the senses with such amplitude, I literally thought I would explode. My teeth are being ground to the nubs.”
Since that first encounter and at least a dozen rides later, the shock has not subsided but neither has the awe. Work and pleasure lure me to India at least four times a year and most of those trips include a breakaway weekend, week or more on an adventure aboard an Enfield. I hope the insights that I have collected over the past decade of riding here help you experience the poetic chaos of India yourself someday.
Robb La Velle – Delhi, November 2017
My book, ‘The Places In Between – The Life Lessons of an Around the World Motorcycle Ride’, published in 2009
My travel photography web site