The All India Bike Ride — Part 1
Reaching Himachal Pradesh
About the Trip
Time — 40 days
Distance — 9,500 kms
Cost — 80,000 INR
Zones — 15 states
Voice — 11 languages
Fuel — 465L petrol
Vehicle — KTM Duke 390
Media — 4,781 photos + 78 videos
Experience — Immeasurable
How and why?
It all started with the big bang — My tourist visa rejection for Hacker School followed by me quitting Indix. At this point of my life I had time, money, energy and freedom but no purpose. I wandered in existential crisis for a long time until I finally pushed myself into figuring things out. I started on the lines of higher education, wrote TOEFL, did a detailed analysis, applied for a bunch of colleges and even got an admit for MS on Game Design. Later I re-looked at my life priorities and decided to focus on my health for a while instead. But by then I had a decent sum of money which I’ve saved up in the past 4 years, and it was just lying in my bank uselessly. Friends and family advised me on buying a house or investments or something but my mind thought of travelling. Also between jobs was the perfect time for a long trip. And I’ve always wanted to do this Manali-Leh trip because Ladakh is the paradise for adventure bikers. So I planned a month trip to Himalayas. I didn’t realise that this trip would turn out to be the most amazing experience of my life (yet)…
Okay, the first thing you need for a ride to the Himalayas is a goddamn good bike. I’ve been riding my dad’s 11 year old Pulsar for the past 4 years. It was about time I upgraded my ride. So I did a quick analysis, spoke to a bunch of pro-bikers and decided to get a KTM Duke 390. Luckily, I got it within 20 days and the bike was a freakin’ beast (read more). I started small and I’ve done a handful of solo trips already (Coorg-Ooty-Yercaud trip), so long-solo-rides weren’t new to me. But this was across India we’re talking about and I couldn’t find any information online for such a long trip. Neither about long rides in a KTM, until finally I found this blog. This guy wanted the exact same thing, Kashmir to Kanyakumari in a duke 390 with his friend. Though he gave up Kanyakumari when he reached south, his plan gave a good idea of the trip. And I hope to be helpful for others planning such trips, Himalayan or all India.
By the time I got my bike, I just had 3 weekends before the trip, so it was very tight. [Weekend-1] Drive home and leave back the old Pulsar. [weekend-2] Finish 1000km for 1st service by going to Bangalore (also to party on my birthday 😉). [Weekend-3] Planning and shopping for the trip. My rough plan was to drive to HillHacks, camp there for around 15 days, then go to Leh and roam around, then drive back to south, cover the west coast, touch Kanyakumari and finally come back home. I needed to take things for long rides as well as camping and trekking. And I was going alone, so I had to be well prepared. I put together a huge checklist from multiple sources. I also boosted up my calisthenics training focussing on long rides and trekking. I’ll write a whole new blog about it later.
So as the D-Day was creeping in closer, I felt more and more confident that I could do this. On the last evening I printed up a rough map, all the necessary documents, tick’ed the entire checklist and packed till 1. Out of excitement I woke up really early and kicked off the ride.
The Initial push
I started from Chennai on May 12th 2017, Friday morning by around 6 am. My rough plan was to reach Hillhacks in 6 days or less with a tyre change in Delhi. What I didn’t expect was the scorching sun in central India, I kept drinking a lot of water but still I felt dehydrated. I got too tired that I slept at a bus stop before Hyderabad. Yes, I actually slept in the middle of the day, at an open space, right next to the highway, for more than an hour. It was a deep sleep and when I woke up I was a bit disoriented and worried if my things were safe. Yeah, they were safe. It was really annoying when they stopped me from entering the Hyderabad bypass, because 2 wheelers weren’t allowed, urgh. I had to take the other possible roads, it kept taking me into some village or other, and I had to find my way back. That really slowed me down. Finally by dark, I stopped at a city called Nirmal, found a hotel and checked in for the night.
The next day I was a bit more prepared, I made sure I had at least a litre of water every hour. But I never stopped to pee though, because you see, the sun just kept sucking the water out of me. The roads in Telangana weren’t always great, there were lot of construction zones and thus just 2 lanes, but then there was no traffic and so the ride was enjoyable. There’s no single identifiable highway after Hyderabad though. So whenever I reach a crossing, I had to open maps to confirm my way. Sooner I had my headphones on with the voice guiding me. On the way I saw a group of naked men marching on the road, with umbrellas. There were people around them, I still don’t know who they are or what’s up with them. But umm, it was the first time I’m seeing another guy naked, no comments. Though it was sunny and hot, the ride was okay, until I reached Jhansi. By the time it was late evening and Oh God, the Jhansi to Gwalior stretch was terrible. It was dark, there was no road and it was a goddamn one-way. With every passing car or a truck, there was a blinding light and I was gripping my bike hoping I don’t hit something. And there were so many “take detour” boards which isn’t really visible from a distance. Eventually I reached Agra, got into the first building that said “hotel”, got a room and slept like a log. That day still remains the longest ride day of my life with 1,118kms. Someday I’d like to finish the Bun Burner challenge, but until then.
The next morning I woke up a bit late to the view of peacocks behind my building. Next stop Delhi. But how can you leave Agra without seeing the grand structure of the Taj Mahal. So I drove over, parked my vehicle, bought tickets, left my luggage and walked inside. It took me around 15 minutes to go in, roam around, take a few pictures and be back. I was talking to a guide on the way back and he was surprised at my lack of interest. Turns out tourists usually spend hours in there and take about a thousand pictures, on an average. Wow, okay I took like 12. Anyway, the place was pretty crowded and I was curious how the monument looked from behind. So I took my bike and tried to get to the other side of the river. I saw a bunch of kids swimming in the river and the path to the backside was thorny-bushy, so no luck.
I started from Agra by noon and I got into this amazing 8 lane the Yamuna Expressway. I just loved it, especially after that Jhansi-Gwalior stretch, this felt like heaven. I paid around 250 bucks at the tollgate and kept dashing through, it was my first time paying toll fee for a bike. There were no vehicles and I had 4 lanes just for myself. But soon I was bored out of my mind. But that wasn’t my biggest concern, it was the heat. I’m sure the temperature easily crossed 60°C and even with my helmet on, the hot wind on my face started to burn my skin. And the road was pretty dry, no view, no trees, no shade but somehow I managed to push till Delhi.
By the time I reached Delhi, it was evening and my face was all red, sunburnt and sore. I was to crash at a friend’s place in Gurgaon and so I went there and unpacked. We went out for snacks and we accidentally left the key inside the house. So we spent the next hour or so locating his roommate and retrieving the extra key. That’s when I experienced metro train for the first time. Wow, I tell you, the entire station felt “futuristic”, like the start of Half life 3 or Mirror’s edge. I hear Delhi is only city which is completely connected via metro. Even the roads were very good and biiiig, and since most of the traffic is cars, riding a bike was so much fun.
The next morning, I went to a nearby KTM Service centre, got the bike checked and asked for an off-road tyre. They didn’t have any, so they sent me to some place called Karol Bagh. Turns out that the entire place is shut down on Monday and unlucky for me it was a Monday. I don’t know Hindi, so asking for help was a little tough, strike that, it was a lot tough. But somebody pointed me to a CEAT store nearby, which was also closed. So then I googled “CEAT” and went to Connaught place which is like the centre of Delhi, only to find that it’s an office and they don’t sell. They gave me contact of this wholesale guy near New Delhi railway station and so I went there to check with him. That guy was nice, he gave me some cold water for the heat and he spoke english. I think the place was called Rajiv tyres. But sadly he didn’t have the tyres for my bike and asked me to come a couple of days later. But I couldn’t wait and I persuaded him to tell me where I can find a tyre right away. He was sure I’d find one if I go to the tyre market at Khari Baoli. And so I went. This place was full of tyre shops, people kept moving tyres around.
So I was standing there when a Singh shopkeeper asked me what I want. So I started talking and this man said he has experience going to Leh and the tyre I want isn’t the ideal off-road one. When I read about it earlier, CEAT vertigo seemed like a good cheap tyre for off-road, but he told me that he gets complaints that the blocks fall off. So he suggested me his version of a better tyre, CEAT zoom XL 140/70 and that costed me ₹3,200. I was happy because I finally found tyres from a man who seems to know stuff. I also got a tyre sealant and filled it in, and the tyre didn’t get any puncture ever since. The problem then was that the tyre guys didn’t know how to fix my wheel back. After about an hour of struggle, they called for a mechanic and even he couldn’t fit it back in. They took a hammer and started hitting it, every hit shook me a bit. It was very much like a hospital scene by then, Me nervously walking around asking, “Is he gonna be okay?” and they say, “We’re trying our best, we need time”. At one point, there were 5 of them working on that wheel. After about 90 solid minutes of struggle, they finally fit the wheel. I was really happy because it was too late for KTM service centres to be open and if they couldn’t fit the wheel, I would’ve been stranded. That happiness lasted for less than 5 minutes when my console started showing ‘ABS Failure’. Not that I needed it much but I was like, “Oh God, what now?”.
So the next day I take my bike back to the KTM service centre but turns out Gurgaon KTM is closed on Tuesdays, who knew? So I take my bike to Dwarka KTM and those guys were really nice. It was a bent pulse plate and fixed it immediately. But half a day was gone already. They pointed me to another KTM for software upgrade, but I skipped that part. I had my lunch, left my old tyre at my friend’s place, said my goodbye to him and started my way North. I was sure Bir was out of reach, so I wanted to go as far as I could.
As I was riding through the Delhi traffic, I saw a Triump Tiger 800 XCx with tailbag on it. It was such a cool off-road vehicle. I pointed out his show lace was untied, we started talking during traffic and turned out he was going to Chandigarh, which is on the way to Bir. Outside Delhi we sat down, had some coffee and talking. So this guy oChacko is a motorbike journalist and he was doing a piece on the new Triumph Tiger. Sounded like a dream job for bike riders. He was to meet the other riders in Chandigarh and the were to ride to Shimla after that. It was fun talking with him and we decided to stick with each other till Chandigarh.
When we reached the outskirts of Chandigarh, I saw a Decathlon and I wanted to buy an extra pair of undergloves, because I lost one of my riding gloves and the undergloves protected me from sunburns. So I said goodbye to Chacko, got the gloves and crashed at some hotel for the night.
By my maps, Chandigarh to Bir was just 6 hours ride. But I had the entire day. I got reminded of Chacko’s plans and so I called him up to check if I can tag along. But they were to meet at Chandigarh Triumph by 10ish and start much later. That was too late for me, so thought I’ll take a detour via Shimla to Bir. On the way I stopped at a fuel station for refuelling. But this guy starts the meter from 100 and I saw it. I point it out and ask him to stop. He pleads that the reading was zero and when I ask for the bill, he gives me ₹200 bill, because obviously the previous person didn’t get his bill and thus it’s added to mine. I couldn’t do anything. I kept murmuring, “this is cheating” and right before my eyes, he keeps a 100 inside his bag and gives away the other 100 to his friend saying something like “profit of the day friend”. He didn’t even care for me to leave. More than being cheated, I felt a bit insulted. I decided to be cautious thereafter and I was.
Shimla was one big uphill and I loved it because mountains are curvy. Yay!!! It was a fun ride. I thoroughly enjoyed the mountains. What I didn’t know was that I wouldn’t be seeing any plain-land for the next 23 days. Yup. The plan was just to cross through Shimla but the place is very famous so I decided to visit at least one tourist spot. Out of the top google results, monkey temple caught my eye and I headed there. And yes there were a lot of monkeys and a huge orange Hanuman statue. I helped an old woman with some water, who collapsed walking the stairway to the temple. She was from south and it was nice to hear some Tamil words for a change. Shimla is a tourist place after all.
The way up to the temple was a very steep and curvy and on the way back I fell down trying make a U-turn. It was my first fall. My right leg got caught under the bike and there was minor sprain that lasted till the end of the day. Immediately got help since I couldn’t really lift it.
Also it started drizzling. It was annoying because I wasn’t sure if the rain was gonna last, so I didn’t take out my raincoat but the more I waited, the soggier I became. As I crossed Shimla, the rain stopped. To be precise, I overran the rain. And it started following me. It was a race between me and the rain for the next hour. Obviously I was faster, but every time I stopped to take a picture, the rain would catch up on me and then I’d race away. So we kept having this on-off relationship for a while and it was fun. And the roads were super curvy and views were breathtaking…
By the time I reached Mandi, it was 7:40 and the sky was still bright. It was a little weird for a guy living at sea level, where it gets dark by 6. Bir was like a 2 hour ride and I didn’t wanna do a night-mountain-ride. I’ve done it once in Ooty and it’s tough, tiring and a bit scary. Also I’ve heard Mandi is a beautiful place, I didn’t wanna miss the views, so I crashed the night there.
It was very bright outside when I woke up and I was worried if I overslept, but no, at high altitude the sun comes up really soon. I started from Mandi around 6 and it was a bit foggy by then. As I kept climbing, I was going closer and closer to the clouds and after a point I crossed them. From above the clouds was one of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen in my life. I wasn’t sure if they were clouds or a huge river flowing between the mountains. It covered the entire valley. It looked so soft and I wanted to jump into it. There was a golden strand where the sun rays hit the this river-cloud and it kept expanding. I just stood there watching the cloud flow through the valley like a water current and the sun slowly evaporating it. As time went by, the grand river started to dip and I saw the tip of a lot more trees. It was so surreal and metaphorical…
Early morning rides are usually very pleasant and about an hour later I reached Bir billing, the Hillhacks campsite for 2017.
Here’s the link to Part 2