After ten years, over 10,000 miles, buckets of sweat, endless layers of grime and scores of near misses I have assembled a few of my favourite rides. Not that there aren’t still many on my hit list.
Leh – Lamayuru – Temisgam – Leh – Hundar – Sumur – Leh – Tso Kar Lake – Tsomoriri Lake – Leh (869 miles including 300 off-road miles)
Nothing quite prepares you for your first ride through the Himalayas. From the very moment you land at Leh Airport and struggle to get your first breath at 15,000 ft, you realize this is a region that is very, very different from anything you have ever experienced. This austere, sparsely populated, Buddhist corner of Kashmir nestled between China and Pakistan will challenge your riding skills as you throttle mile after mile over gravel, sand and rocks and ford river after river. You may well crash as many before you have. But how you will be rewarded. Maneuvering over the highest motorable pass on Earth at 18,380 on roads etched into 1,000 ft cliff faces while battling massive military vehicles, tankers and taxis is nothing less than Herculean. And when you settle back down to a manageable 16,000 ft and grin through switchback after glorious switchback while a mountain monastery blesses you from a cliffside high above, you will get it. Ladakh, the rooftop of the world, is where you realize that you have reached the pinnacle of adventure motorcycling.
Delhi – Jaipur – Jodhpur – Jaisalmer – Bikaner – Delhi (1011 miles)
The ride from Delhi to Jaisalmer via Jaipur, Jodhpur and Bikaner is one I have done twice and would gladly do 10 times more. An excerpt from a book I wrote ten years ago:
“I believe the desert state of Rajasthan has saved me. As much as I wanted to love India and covet it as the high water mark of my around the world journey, the caustic edge of what I have lived here, the seemingly low regard for human life and the apparent inability of this county’s limitless brainpower to solve fundamental problems, have created a crevasse that I find hard to bridge. And I cannot deny that the riding days are days that turn my stomach.”
“But then, as I was preparing to mentally close the chapter of condemned thoughts of this place, the density waned, the anger ebbed and the landscape turned to auburn hills. In only the 230 km from Delhi down to Jaipur, everything has changed for the better. Maybe the Southern California-esque desert landscape makes me feel more at home, maybe it is simply the comfort of space, but this old city of red sandstone and its people in colorful clothing render the place an exotic mosaic that has put me at ease. The next eight days takes me further west to Jaisalmer, a fort town in the remote desert near the Pakistani border, and then north along the border to Punjab state and finally over to Lahore, Pakistan for the push west and slowly toward Europe. But that is still a distant road. For now, I will savor my thanks for this place that has rescued me from future bitter memories of India.”
Yes, Rajasthan can save you. Plan at least a week for a loop ride starting and ending in Delhi. Or better yet, avoid Delhi altogether and use Jaipur as your start and finish point.
Route Map – https://goo.gl/maps/1oHCtfCNYHK2
Delhi – Mandawa – Delhi (323 miles)
Shekawati was a find. Originally it was intended as a shortcut for the final leg from Bikaner back to Delhi. It was on arrival at the main town of Mandawa that the stunning sense of opportunity overcame me. Not on any tourist route and not even well known by most of my Delhi friends, Mandawa and its surrounding towns burst with the magical site of ancient havelis, beautifully frescoed townhouses and mansions in various states of degradation and begging for loving investment rupees. This is now happening and Shekawati is now getting the TLC it deserves. At only a short day ride from Delhi, it is the ideal getaway.
Route Map – https://goo.gl/maps/pf7aEpUJXwu
Agra (Taj Mahal)
Delhi – Agra – Delhi (335 miles)
The last time I rode to Agra, I arrived at Delhi Airport at midnight, checked into my hotel by 2am and was asleep by 3. My bike was delivered at 7am and I set off shortly thereafter. By 10am, it was 102 degrees Fahrenheit and I still hadn’t found my way out of Delhi. I was dehydrated, frustrated and on the verge of passing out as I sat immobilized in traffic, baking in the pre-monsoon sun. The thought that I could have spent the weekend by the pool passed through my mind.
But when I finally had the Enfield at redline on the Yamuna Expressway and the hot breeze dissipated some of the body heat trapped under my riding jacket, all fell into place. This trip is obviously more about the destination than the ride although getting lost on the way back, a mistake that kept me off the freeway for half the journey, did provide for some unexpected trail riding.
The Taj Mahal speaks for itself. In my mind the most beautiful manmade structure ever built, being there on a bike, as opposed to being on a tour bus, means you can set off for the masterpiece before the sun rises and bear witness to the scintillating spectacle of the rising dawn light on the smooth white marble, its pastel hues changing with every passing minute. A wonder of the world if there ever was one.
Budget 4 hours each way, allowing time for stops to rehydrate and find your way.
Route Map – https://goo.gl/maps/WNNjfiwyogw
Chennai – Pondicherry – Chennai (210 miles)
If you happen to find yourself in Chennai, I hope that your technical design documents, user stories and Java builds are progressing nicely. If you are in Chennai and don’t work in tech, I must only ask ‘why’.
One of the soul-saving features of this city on the Andaman Sea, other than the sea itself, is its coast road to the 7th century beach temple of Mahabalipuram, the stunning mountain temple of Vedagiriswarar (still can’t pronounce either after 100 attempts) and the elegant French colonial town of Pondicherry. The ride itself is dead simple. Flat, straight and with one of the best effort/grin value propositions to be found anywhere in India. The bonus prize is that you can book a visit to the Royal Enfield manufacturing plant in Chennai and witness for yourself the birthplace of that wheezing, 500lb mass of metal between your legs.
Tamil Nadu Travel Info
Route Map – https://goo.gl/maps/SYpLtA8dYfk
Cochin – Munnar – Western Ghats – Anamudi Shola National Park – Cochin (260 miles)
There is no ‘one’ India. Nothing will convince you more of this fact than an experience in Kerala. Language, food, culture, geography – everything in this southern state runs counter to the states in the dense and industrialized North.
Route Map – https://goo.gl/maps/DoTfzCB8dQ62
Bangalore – Mysore – Bangalore (222 miles)
If you find yourself working or, for some reason, visiting Bangalore, you have a good reason to ride to Mysore. Only an easy 3 hours to the south, it is, in Indian terms, a relaxed city of palaces, markets and some of the best food in southern India. For an ultimate treat, head to Hotel Vinayaka Mylari, a hole in the wall restaurant with 5 tables, for what is considered by the ultimate authority on Mysore Masala dosa in Mysore, my barber, to serve the best in the city.
Route Map – https://goo.gl/maps/VRHLMY6u8J42
Nepal and Northern India
Kathmandu – Pokhara – Gorakhpur – Varanasi – Lucknow – Agra – Delhi – Jaipur – Jodhpur – Jaisalmer -Bikaner – Sri Ganganar – Amritsar – Lahore (2414 miles)
There is really no reason to ride this route unless you are seeking the most rewarding path for two-wheeled passage from Nepal to Pakistan (and beyond) via India. Regardless, there is simply too much to capture here in a small summary. If you happen to be sacrificing your mind, body and economic well-being to an extended ride around the globe, I salute you. The intensity of my experience is documented in my book at the link below. (all proceeds to charity, should the 10 bucks incite unwarranted hesitation)
Route Map – https://goo.gl/maps/ktSEsFUFwVs
- Delhi – I have rented from Royal India multiple times and Rajiv always comes through. http://www.royalindiabikes.com/
- Bangalore – TWIC has a wide range of bikes (even Triumphs!) and a well structured web site. https://www.twic.in/
- Delhi – An emphatic recommendation from a friend and icon of motorcycling. http://lallisingh.com/home.htm