Navi Mumbai – Vapi – Bharuch – Vadodara – Anand
The weather in Navi Mumbai was brutally hot (and it was likely to only get worse as we headed further North). So we got off to an early (ish) start on the morning of 12 May, 2016, to commence Stage 2 of the journey (from Navi Mumbai to New Delhi). For Day 1, we planned to ride 480-odd kilometres from Navi Mumbai to Anand (in Gujarat) where a friend of Karthik’s would host us for the night.
Since this was the first day that Karthik and I were riding together, we stopped for a cup of tea as soon as we cleared out of the city and figured out our riding signals for communication on the go.
Once that was done, the mile munching began. We settled into a comfortable cruise (which on a Royal Enfield means an average speed of about 90 kmph) and alternated the lead every 20 or so kilometres. After the 1500-plus kilometres that I’d ridden alone, it was nice to have company on the road as well.
The National Highway from Mumbai to Ahmedabad is (for the most part) another wide and smooth expanse of tarmac. The fact that there isn’t much to say about these highways is a good thing, because it means that they are quite decent. Good roads are a rare phenomenon in most parts of India, and so it’s important to appreciate the few that exist. The ride was uneventful, barring the drama that comes along with an attempt to cross Bharuch, in Gujarat. Construction work on the highway (that we were told has been ongoing for many years) regularly causes a traffic jam that can delay journeys by several hours. Thankfully, we found a mud route that runs along the highway and used that to bypass the entire mess, and thereby also sneaking in a beginners course in off-roading.
By around 4:30 pm, we were in Anand, a quite little town in Gujarat that is also called the “Milk Capital of India” since it is home to one of India’s largest dairy product manufacturers (Amul). Our home for the night was in one of the plush residential colonies for Amul staffers. The town shuts down quite early and there isn’t much to do. Except sample Amul’s various products, of course, because “when in Rome” and all that. Their ice creams are actually quite nice, or at least seemed so to a tongue like mine, which has not yet been a victim of the Haagen Dazs and Ice Cream Works of the world.
Anand – Ahmedabad – Mehsana – Palanpur – Abu Road – Mount Abu
On the morning of Day 2, we got off to another early (ish) start. We intended to ride to Ajmer, through Udaipur. When a friend of Karthik’s messaged in the morning and invited us to have lunch with him in Abu Road, we decided to get to Ajmer using the route through Abu Road, instead of Udaipur. So, from Ahmedabad, we got onto NH 27 towards Mehsana, and made our way to Abu Road.
Neerav and Karthik had met at the shop of a motorcycle mechanic in Puducherry. They had then attempted to do a ride together, which came to an end prematurely when Neerav’s motorcycle decided it wanted to go back home rather than on holiday. He is a wildlife conservation and travel enthusiast who organises and runs tours with a special focus on wildlife photography in Ladakh, Rajasthan and other parts of India. So he was just the man we needed to meet to get to know a little bit about what lay ahead of us.
Over an absolutely fantastic home-cooked Rajasthani lunch, Neerav shared with us a lot of useful information for our trip. He was even kind enough to give us his map of Ladakh, which gave us the lowdown of the geography in much more detail than anything we had seen before. This was about when the effects of that fantastic lunch began to kick in, and we realised that we weren’t going to be hitting the road anytime soon. Just in time, Neerav and his family were kind enough to ask us to stay the night. We might have agreed a bit too eagerly, but I don’t think it mattered.
A four hour nap followed (man, that food makes you sleepy). In the evening we drove up to Mount Abu, where Neerav and his brother showed us around. We took a long ish walk around the lake and watched the sunset while sitting under a ride that can only be described as Mount Abu’s answer to the London Eye (except that this one is horizontal). Speaking of which, you get some really good cold coffee at the coffee shop inside the place that has this, well, unique ride. It’s important to spread the word about good cold coffee no matter where you find it.
Some authentic (and spicy) local chicken was cooked up for dinner, which we devoured in our own personal garden restaurant. These guys really knew how to make sure that their guests were well taken care off. A late night drive down the mount had us in just the right place to knock off again (despite having woken up only a few hours before) and be well rested for the next day on the road.
Abu Road – Sirohi – Sumerpur – Pali – Om Banna – Pali – Beawar – Ajmer – Kishangarh – Jaipur – Gurgaon – New Delhi
An early (ish) morning start happened once again. I keep saying early (ish) because so far we never started off as early as we planned to. We usually aimed for a 4:30 am start (in order to ride as much as possible before the heat got unbearable), but left at around 6:00 am, which was still quite early in the larger scheme of things.
I’d expected to encounter nothing but long and straight roads in Rajasthan, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that a ride across the state takes you through varied landscapes. I particularly enjoyed the stretch from Sirohi to Sumerpur, where the flawless roads curve around and cut through hillocks whilst gently gaining and dropping altitude. The highways in the desert state were the best I’d ridden yet, and covering distance was effortless.
Dealing with the heat proved to be the real challenge. Through the day, it grew progressively more hot, with temperatures reaching close to 50 degrees celsius. The wind too, was dry and hot. Forget about the motorcycles, I’m convinced our bodies were overheating. Every time we made a pit stop, we had no choice but to quickly strip out of all our riding gear (pants, included) and find an air-cooler or fan (though fans were less effective) to get the heat out of our systems. I’m certain we made for a comical sight given that most people don’t walk into a dhaba and start taking their clothes off. But, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.
From Pali, we took a 40-odd kilometre detour to go visit what might be the most fascinating temple in India. The “Bullet Baba” or “Om Banna” temple is a place of worship, built around a man motorcycle. The story behind the temple, as told to us by some locals, is that the gentleman (Om Banna) had a fatal accident on his motorcycle (a Royal Enfield Bullet). The bike was then taken to the local police station, only to go missing and be found back at the accident location (which is where the temple was eventually built). This happened several times despite all attempts having been made to keep the bike in a different place. Seeing this as a miracle, the bike (and it’s rider) began to be worshipped by the local people, and eventually had a temple built around them. I expected it to be a nondescript spot that is visited only by motor heads and people doing strange things with their life (for example, someone riding a motorcycle across the country?) but I couldn’t have been more wrong. While small, this is now a pretty mainstream temple and thousands flock to it everyday to pray for a safe journey (and many other things). Much fascinating, all this.
Despite making several stops to give the bikes and ourselves respite from the heat, we made good time throughout the day. So when we reached Ajmer shortly after lunch, we decided to ride on towards Jaipur. And when we got to Jaipur we rode onwards to New Delhi. Stage 2 was a wrap. The mad rush across the length of India in the blazing summer heat was now pretty much done. The next ride day, which would come after we had had a chance to catch our breaths, would take us into the mountains of Himachal Pradesh.
- Getting out of Bombay – this is elementary stuff. If you want to ride out of Bombay without yanking your hair out in frustration, do it very early in the morning or very late in the night. The crawl out of Mumbai can completely put you off and ruin your entire ride day otherwise.
- Beware of Bharuch – Bharuch is a bottleneck of epic sorts. You can get stuck on the highway for hours here. If you’re on a bike you might be able to use the mud road that runs along the side of the highway to bypass the entire mess. Praying for a traffic-free passage also helps.
- Gujarat and Rajasthan – for the most part, the main highways in Gujarat and Rajasthan are impeccable. They are so good that you could probably cover the entire distance between Mumbai and New Delhi within 24 hours.
- Jaipur to Delhi – This highway is very very busy and has a lot of heavy vehicle traffic. Also, the road is battered in places (because of all the heavy vehicle traffic) and huge potholes pop up when you least expect them. Must be ridden with extreme caution.