Getting a trip started is a monumental task for me. I always feel inadequately prepared. I am also constantly convinced that I’ve forgotten something vital, without ever knowing what this “vital” thing could possibly be. So, getting prepped for a trip that I didn’t really know how to prepare for proved to be more difficult than anything I’ve ever done before. When I went to bed on the 6th of May (2016), I was certain that I would soon finally identify the several “vital” things I had forgotten, and that departure would then need to be suitably postponed.
But when I woke up the next morning, I wasn’t any wiser about, well, pretty much anything. So, I realised that there was nothing to be done except to get the show on the road. If anything had been forgotten, it would need to be dealt with along the way.
The bike was loaded and the family was bid farewell. At around 8:00 a.m. on 7 May, 2016, Faith and I rode out the gate of the house unsure about where we were going and without a clue as to when we would be back. Just like that, the trip had officially begun.
Chennai – Vellore – Krishnagiri – Hosur – Bengaluru – Tumkur – Devangere – Hubli – Dharwad
Since I was riding across India in the peak of summer, I planned to ride to Delhi as quickly as possible. For day 1, the target (at the time of setting out) was to make it to Bengaluru (approximately 360 kilometres away).
I crawled out of Chennai, taking almost an hour and a half to clear city traffic. From there on it was about navigating wide, straight, smooth (ish) and (reasonably) busy National Highways (NH 48 and NH 44) all the way to Bengaluru. The fact that I hadn’t done a long ride in a while made itself amply evident very soon. I was feeling lethargic, struggling to cover distance, and was constantly tempted to stop on some pretext or the other. All the chai in the world wasn’t getting me to go any faster.
After five uneventful hours, things began to get better. The excitement of the adventure that I was on began to set in. Pumped up, I decided to ride on past Bengaluru towards Tumkur (and maybe beyond?). So onto NICE Road (yes, that’s what it’s called), I went. This is one of the few toll roads in India that charges a user fee for motorcycles (INR 60/- for a one-way trip). I was told that it is worth taking this route because, despite being longer, it takes you to Tumkur Road much faster than the route through the city.
From there on, things were a blur. The roads were straight and smooth (so I could ride fast), they were not particularly scenic (so I was not often tempted to look around or stop for photographs) and the weather was pleasant (so I was comfortable and didn’t need to look for places to hide from the heat). I just kept on going.
By 7 pm, I’d left Chennai far far behind and was only 10 kilometres away from Hubli. I wasn’t able to find a cheap place to stay on the highway near Hubli so I rode on towards Dharwad. The 30 kilometre stretch of road that connects the ‘Twin Towns’ was narrow (2-lane) and didn’t have a divider (i.e. bright lights from oncoming traffic). I eventually found a place to stay in Dharwad. Not wanting to ride any further in the darkness, I found myself a place to bunk and called it a night.
Dharwad – Belgaum – Kolhapur – Pune
The place I’d chosen to stay in at Dharwad wasn’t particularly comfortable (the discomfort was possibly magnified because it was my first night away from home), so I was up by 4 a.m., waiting for day break so that I could get going. By 6 am, I had loaded up the bike and was on my way again.
The road from Dharwad to Pune was nicer than the stretch from the day before. NH4 is wide and smooth for the entire 400-odd kilometre stretch. It also starts to wind and turn a bit, which makes riding more interesting. I didn’t catch any particularly interesting views, except maybe the windmills along the road after you cross Belgaum, which make for a pleasant sight. This route is the best option if you want to cover significant amounts of distance in a short period of time (which is what I was trying to do).
After a short breakfast stop before Kolhapur (hello, Poha!) I rode on and made it to Pune before lunch.
A day and a half of rest and catching up with friends followed.
Pune – Lonavala – Panvel – Navi Mumbai
Another early morning start meant I didn’t encounter much traffic on the way out of Pune. Since two-wheelers aren’t allowed onto the Mumbai-Pune Expressway (a runway of sorts for motor vehicles that has become one of Maharashtra’s claims to fame), I got onto the ”Old Pune-Mumbai Highway”, through Dhole Road. The roads on this route are a bit narrower (2 lanes on each side) but just as good. It also isn’t particularly busy (until after Panvel), so you can maintain a good pace very comfortably.
The ghat sections at Lonavala and Khandala are the highlight of this route. The road climbs up into the hills and then descends quickly to join the Expressway for a short while (this is the only part of the Expressway where motorcycles are allowed). The stretch after the exit from the Expressway is also superb, with smooth, wide and empty roads that allow you to blast your way downhill. I’ve done this route several times just to be able to ride these sections, and this time too, they didn’t disappoint.
In less than 3 hours, I was at Vashi in Navi Mumbai. A little over 1500 kilometres away from home, this marked the (very quick) end of stage 1 of the trip.
And then there were two.
First real-life rendezvouz with Karthik and his bike (a RE Desert Storm) then happened. It was a welcome change given that all our interactions till this point had been through social media or over the telephone. He had arrived in Mumbai a few days before and his bike was pretty much ready to go.
The rest of the day was spent in Babloo Motors in Vashi trying to fit a Ladakh Carrier onto the bike. This is actually a fairly simple process for a mechanic with basic skills. But the chap that worked on my bike was more artist and less mechanic. He would stand at a distance and wave his hands around conjuring up strategies for installation. Then he’d get to work on the bike, and when he emerged after an hour or so, the result was something that would probably be accepted as an installation at the Tate, but definitely didn’t make the cut for the job at hand. After at least six unsuccessful attempts, Raunaq (who owns the store) requested me to come back the next day, when a person who was less “creative” would be available. Sure enough, in a few hours on the next day, the carrier was fitted on as properly as it could be. First of the oil-changes was also quickly completed.
Karthik and I then spent the day at Decathlon (in Thane) tying up loose ends in terms of gear. Our shopping baskets filled up quickly and stayed that way until we were at the billing counter. A few minutes there served as reason enough to make us step away and attempt the process all over again, this time with much more restraint. My only indulgence was a camping stool, which eventually turned out to be very useful on the trip (probably more useful than some of the “essentials” that we took along).
With the bike and gear now relatively sorted, we decided to start Stage 2 of the ride (to Delhi) early the next morning.