This is Part 1 in a series of posts that I hope to put together to document my experiences from my most ambitious road trip yet. For three months, I rode my motorcycle across the length of India. From Chennai, in the Southern most Indian state of Tamil Nadu, I rode to the mountains of Ladakh, way up in North India, and eventually then rode all the way back while also exploring everything in between. I don’t really know how many parts there are going to be to this series, but this is the first, and it is about how this trip came about being.
I’d like to say that this was a carefully thought out plan that was finally being put into action, but it wasn’t. It was simply something that fell into place in a very random way. I’ve wanted to ride to Ladakh for many years. Like many other people, I believed that the only way to go about this as a part of an organised motorcycle tour. You go with people who have been to these places several times and are familiar with the terrain, they take care of the planning, figure out your itinerary, arrange your accommodation, bring along an SUV for your luggage (and you, if you should require it) and also carry the spares, tools and people that can get your bike up and running should anything go wrong. It sounds pretty sorted and perfect, but I will separately write a post about why I now know that organised tours are not my cup of tea.
I don’t know what changed, but sometime in April (2016), I decided that I was going to go check this pilgrimage of my motorcycling bucket list in my own way. It so happened that a few weeks later a random conversation over Instagram with a fellow moto-touring enthusiast from Puduchery, led me to discover company for my ride.
Attempting a solo ride within Ladakh isn’t a smart idea. The terrain isn’t the easiest to tackle and there is a high likelihood of punctures and mechanical issues, so it is always useful to have at least one other person riding along with you. When Karthik and I got talking, we realised that both of us wanted to do a very similar ride in terms of the places we wanted to go, the things we wanted to do and even the budget that we had in mind. Without having to give it much thought, we decided to figure out a way to do this ride together (if not entirely, then at least in part). The plan was fairly simple, I would ride solo from Chennai to Navi Mumbai (as his motorcycle was in Navi Mumbai at that time), from there we would set off together to go find the mountains up North, and thereafter do whatever we each wanted to do. He needed to start a new job in the middle of June, so early May was the only time that would work for him. Even though this meant that we would need to do a fair amount of riding in the blazing summer heat, both of us were enthusiastic enough (and possibly foolish enough?) to take on this challenge.
And just like that, I had less than 15 days to get my motorcycle and myself ready for a trip that I had no idea how to prepare for. I spent some time thinking about it and drawing up a ‘logical’ plan of action. I broke the preparation process into different parts, but due to the paucity of time, went about tackling them simultaneously.
Prepping the bike involved a thorough check up and service, as well as replacing any parts that seemed to be on their last leg (rubber hoses, in particular). It was a good thing I got started on this process a bit early because I ended up needing to go back to the service station on three different occasions before everything was seemingly ship-shape. I also spent some time with the mechanics discussing and drawing up a list of the spares and tools that I should carry with me and also learning the basics of how to keep my bike going (i.e. replacing cables, removing and refitting the tyres, changing fuses, some basics about the electrical systems, chain maintenance, cleaning and changing the spark plug, etc.)
I then went about jazzing the bike up with a few things which I thought would come in handy (and now believe were absolutely essential), namely:
- Additional LED headlamps –
I ordered a pair of 27 W White LED lamps off eBay (sold by “bestonlinesellerr”). At about INR 600/- each, they were cheaper than the offerings I’d found in Pudupet (the motorcycle market in Chennai). I fitted the lights onto the bike by myself, but used a local motorcycle electrician for the wiring and to add a separate switch for their operation. The lights worked flawlessly throughout the trip, and were very useful for visibility in low-light conditions. I did have to change the switch during the journey though, because the one I had originally fitted didn’t prove to be as waterproof as it was supposed to be.
Tip: I’ve learnt that it is useful to coat any switch you use with silicone gel to make it less susceptible to water damage. The gel dries up soon after it is applied and adds an additional layer of protection from water. I haven’t had any problems with the switch after I did this.
- USB Charger –
For on-the-go charging convenience. There are hundreds of options available on the internet and in stores, but after much thought, I opted for the RoboTouch RideOn USB Charger (available on Amazon for INR 650/-). I will separately do a review of this device and explain why I chose it over other options, but for now, I will just say that it is very easy to install and worked flawlessly throughout the trip.
- Ladakh Carrier –
This was something that I was not able to source in Chennai. I eventually only got this installed while I was passing through Navi Mumbai. Babloo Motors, in Vashi, sells these for about INR 2,200 (plus installations charges). There were a few hiccoughs in the installation process because the chap working on my bike had never done it before. But, Dilpreet (Raunaq) Singh, the very pleasant chap who runs the shop, stepped in to help sort things out.
Then I had to tackle riding gear. While I had thus far gotten by using fairly basic gear, I knew that, from a safety perspective, it was important I took things up a notch for this trip. A helmet upgrade from MT Helmets, new riding pants and rain gear pretty much sorted this out. My trusted Weinbrenners were once-again pressed into service as motorcycling boots. I make it sound like this happened effortlessly, but my issue with indecisiveness was present throughout this process as well, and made it quite cumbersome. In order to try and not make this post endless, I will tell that story separately.
Packing for 2-odd months away from home is quite a challenge. But packing for 2-odd months on the road, on a motorcycle, riding to remote places and across all kinds of weather, is a whole different level of difficult. I made a checklist that ran into several pages and then went about ticking things off, one at a time. Clothes (for warm weather and cold weather), tools, spares, cameras, other electronics (and all the contraptions required to charge them), toileteries, camping essentials, a medical kit, and everything else that I could think of, were put together. I tried to keep things to a minimum (or so I thought). My two saddlebags and one duffel bag were stuffed to the brim, but at that time, I didn’t think there was anything I could do away with. So I decided to start off with the heavy bags and make subtractions along the way, if it became possible to do so.
A little bit of time was also spent on trying to think about the routes that I would want to ride. Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir were, for all practical purposes, alien lands to me and so I didn’t really have any sort of idea of where I would want to go or how I would want to get there. The fact that there are several absolutely stunning places in these states didn’t make life much easier. Eventually, when I realised that my haphazard research was not getting me very far, I decided that it would be best to just get there and ask people for suggestions on where to go and what to do. Best decision evvvverrr.
While I was engrossed in all of this, and other things that I needed to finish before I hit the road, time had flown by and it was suddenly the evening of the 6th of May. The only things that remained to be done before I hit the road were one last meal with the family to celebrate my sister’s birthday and a restless night of sleep.
Deets of the first leg of the journey (from Chennai to Navi Mumbai) will follow.