Travel writer Rishad Saam Mehta lives to travel and tell the tale. But one moonless night in Kargil in 2003, nothing, not even the fear of death, could keep him from riding out at 11.30 pm. He had to escape two Pashtun men who were determined to buy his 350 cc Bullet motorcycle.
"The rocky road lit by the beam of my headlight was my world. I could not see anything else. But I had to get away from those unsmiling men besotted with my bike," recalls Mehta of his solo trip from Kargil to Sonamarg via Dras.
Then he remembers a vantage point en route: The spectacular view of the Kashmir valley that lay 1,000 ft below made the trip worthwhile, "My heart wanted to burst with joy. I wanted to share the moment with the world. I actually ended up talking to my bike."
The world of motorcycle adventurers is full of such tales. Like Bangalorebased software engineer Praveen KM's 175-day long, 25,508 km odyssey along almost the entire perimeter of the country that ended August last year. Praveen, 31, had a rough idea of the route but no fixed schedule. "The trick," says Praveen, "is to take a day at a time. And preferably do it solo because then you can move at your own pace."
Five years ago, Preethi Jayapadhi, 28, bought a motorcycle on an impulse. "For two days I stared at the instruction manual. On the third day I tried to ride the bike and fell down," says the writer, who lives in Mumbai. A veteran of many adventure rides, Jayapadhi says that the varied terrain of south India makes it a biker's delight. A 1,000-km ride from Bangalore in Tamil Nadu to Valparai in Kerala a few years ago, took her through sloping hills, rivers, beaches and daunting dense forests.
Talking of which, few can match the aptly-named One Crazy Ride that Gaurav Jani and his four friends, Nicolitta Pereira, Vinod Panicker, Sanjeev Sharma, Gursaurabh Singh Toor, made through Arunachal Pradesh in 2006. For most of the journey, they were riding through rivers or what passed for a dirt track between imposing cliffs and steep drops.
A journey of discovery
For the more enterprising ones and there is a growing tribe of them there are any number of unbeaten tracks to be discovered, says Santosh Kumar, 34, of www.getoffurass.com, a portal that tempts "executives in swivel chairs" to experience the outdoors. Availability of good bikes, riding gear and networking sites has fuelled the passion for bike adventure, says Kumar.
People like Vir Nakai, 30, art director with an advertising agency in Mumbai, need the smallest excuse to take off, often solo, on his 500 cc Enfield bike. "It is very peaceful, calming and in a way liberating to ride alone." For a safe ride, he invests in good riding gear that is now available in India.
Contrary to the impression that adventure biking is a macho thing to do, most bikers will tell you that it is a journey of personal discovery. As Praveen KM says, "You never know what you are capable of until you push yourself. For me, the ride was a journey of self discovery." So, what did he find out? "I am more at peace with the uncertainties of life," is his answer.
All you need to know
Learn enough about the bike to be able to fix a problem if there is no mechanic. Oil major bolts. Some bikers put adhesive on the threads to delay loosening. Change the acceleration, clutch and brake cables. Carry extra cables, fuse, bulbs, spark plug, a tube and a tool kit. Keep luggage to a minimum and distribute it evenly on the bike.
Wear loose cargos of heavy cotton that can withstand the wear-and-tear. Layered clothes keep the body warm while riding uphill. You will definitely need warm clothing and a sturdy windcheater. Invest in an armoured biking jacket, a pair of gloves, riding boots, driving glasses, and a quality helmet.
Start early and drive during daylight. Eat light. Stay hydrated. Drink coconut water when you can find it. Carry energy bars and dry fruits that pack in a lot of energy. Carry fruits like apples and oranges that won't get squashed in the bag. At high altitudes, take a Disprin or chew on garlic cloves to keep the blood thin.