If you can’t ride, read.

I can imagine how frustrating the current situation might be for an avid motorcyclist. Coronavirus has affected several countries around the world and the motorcycling fraternity in many of these countries would be raring to ride out at the slightest easing of restrictions.

Out here, for a good part of three months, I did not even look at the motorcycle. I stayed home, stayed put, stayed safe. Come June, with the lockdown lifted, I did roll the bike out. It needed a battery replacement, which got done. And on 16th June, we quietly accomplished 4 years of being together through thick and thin. To celebrate the occasion, I went for a quick highway run with my cousin, who also owns a four year old BS3 Himalayan. The short ride, gave us a chance to reflect on two things-

1. How much we had missed not riding

2. We were really among the last of the breed, with our BS3 Himalayans. With the success of the EFI Himalayan in the last couple of years you don’t see many of the older ones about. I felt lucky to have this simple forerunner of a machine. And it felt great to have it running so smooth and true four years on.

Short highway run within the district to clear cobwebs from my mind. Seen here with the other BS3 Himalayan, both 4 years old.
The Himalayan has evolved over the years, but stayed true to its core purpose of being an everyday, everything, anywhere use machine.

However, aside from this small outing, for most of the Lockdown, I consoled myself browsing through some of my favourite reads on the shelf.

Here’s a glance at my budding motorcycle reads collection. Would strongly recommend all three, if you haven’t had a chance to get your paws on them yet.

Looking through them brought back nice memories of my own rides and good times with the bikes I’ve owned and ridden.

Here’s hoping that the world overcomes this crisis soon, and we find ourselves back on our machines, rolling happily into the new millennium.

Himalayan, 15000km Review.

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15000 kms and ticking!

This post might interest potential Royal Enfield Himalayan buyers. My Himalayan is now more than two and a half years old. The bike crossed 15000 kms last November. Here’s a summary of what you can expect, long term, should you decide to buy this motorcycle. Some of the points below have been touched upon in the Himalayan 10000km update

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Himalayan, circa 2019.

THE ENGINE

The carburetted, long stroke engine, with a counter balancer, is easily one of Royal Enfield’s most sorted singles till date (Power 24.5 bhp, Torque 32NM). Whether on an everyday commute or on a longer ride, the motor performs flawlessly. I changed to a lifetime BMC filter more than a year ago, which has lent some smoothness to the mill, and a deeper grunt to the exhaust. Sweet spot for my bike remains in the 80-110 kph zone, when I’m in  4th gear, taking on a curve and revving up to slot to 5th. Its rev happy, provides oodles of  torque and a great rumbling note, making this bike a delight on winding back roads.

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Road, no road… the Himalayan is great fun if the pace is unhurried.

The bike’s limits are more evident when you travel on an intercity six laner. As soon as you rev past 100kph, you feel the torque tapering off. Hit 120 kph, and you know you really don’t want to keep this up for too long. The engine isn’t exactly on song. There’s good amount of vibrations creeping in on footpegs and near the tank. Under favourable conditions (sunny day, smooth road), I have touched 130-135kph. It wasn’t a very enjoyable experience.

Throttle happy thrill seekers? No sir, not your cuppa.

Lazy tourers who believe in all day riding? Aye! Grab an easy chair, this is for you!

Earlier in the ownership experience posts, I had raved about how smooth the engine is, and in one report, compared the motor to the CBR 250R. Two years on, I can confirm that the RE engine has a few rough edges, fares poorly against the butter smooth Honda, and can’t sustain a top end whack. All moving parts have since settled in, and roughness is at bare minimum, but its there. The upside is that the UCE Engine, doing duty on all other RE single cylinder motorcycles, feels primitive compared to the Himalayan’s mill.

Current lot of Himalayans being sold worldwide (post 2018), feature fuel injection and have better response. Maintaining speeds in the range of 100-120kph is decidedly smoother as well. They also feature dual channel ABS, which should give riders more confidence at these speeds.

RIDE AND ERGONOMICS

Ergonomics on the Himalayan are well sorted, as is the long travel suspension. All day rides on all manner of surfaces, is a breeze. This is one Royal Enfield, where the bar and the seat positions, need no tinkering with at all. While they did get the ergonomic triangle right, the bar and seat, can do with better quality. I have opted for a braced handlebar which is a lot better finished and feels sturdy. The stock seat starts hurting the insides of your thigh after 3-4 hours of continuous use. The cushioning on the seat is beginning to deteriorate. Time to look for a replacement.

CHANGE IS THE ONLY CONSTANT

Fiddling around with the look of the bike, I felt this bike is better off as a scrambler. It meant stripping it down as much as I could, without investing in any real customisation. Most of it was DIY on weekends. Now when I’ve stripped this bike clean, it’s so much more accessible. It’s easier to see where the front wheel is going. There’s less stuff on the bike to worry about. And there’s decent amount of weight reduction as well. Read more about these changes at Reduce to evolve

At present, I’m riding with these accessories, which I will strongly recommend:

  • Upgraded the handle-bar to the Braced Handlebar Kit (Part no. 1990206). The handlebar weighs 20% less than the stock bar, is beautifully finished, and Made in Taiwan. From Royal Enfield Brand Showroom, BTM Layout, Bangalore. 
  • Installed Bar-End Finisher Kits (Part No.1990220) for the same handlebar. From Royal Enfield Brand Showroom, BTM Layout, Bangalore. 
  • BMC Lifetime Filter for the Himalayan- Sourced from Big Bear Customs, St. Marks Road, Bangalore. 
  • Brake Reservoir protector from the Continental GT (535). (Available at most Service Centres)
  • Continental GT (535) Rear View Mirrors. (Available at a few RE Service Centres)

The following upgrades are in the pipeline. I hope to get these on before crossing 20000 kms on the Odo.

  • Touring Seat (Part No. 1990208) (From Royal Enfield Accessories)
  • 90×90/21 (Front) and 150×70/17 (Rear) Tyre setup. Brand Options- Metzeler Tourance, Pirelli Scorpion Rally, Pirelli Scorpion Trail. (Researching online Sources, Dealers)

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Braced handlebar kit offers precise fit, better strength and quality

 

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Touring Seat upgrade…soon!

OWNERSHIP

On this bike, highs last and lows don’t. I was lucky that most technical issues, were quickly sorted out by my friendly neighbourhood service centre. There’s some things to be conscious of, which I have highlighted below:

Tyres– The stock tyres (Ceat Gripp XL 90×90/21 F & 120×90/17 R) are capable of taking on quite a beating. I’ve run them through all kinds of roads and trails and not suffered a single puncture to date. But they also wear out quick, compared to other tyres serving this category of motorcycles. My rear tyre, almost featureless at 15000km, had to be replaced. The front tyre, seems like it’ll live for another 5000 kms, tops. These tyres are not an easy find either. If you’ve loved the stock tyres on the Himalayan, chances are, you’ll not want to deviate from this spec. Unless you have moolah enough to invest in 21″ and 17″ Pirelli Scorpion Rally doing duty on Tigers, BMW 850 GS and Africa Twins. I’ve also shortlisted Metzeler Tourance and Pirelli MT 60 as possible upgrades. They are expensive upgrades which will need some forethought. Won’t offer a lot of mileage in Indian conditions, either. Roadholding and cornering ability  is said to improve tremendously though.

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Keep running the stock tyre past 15000km and you’ll be slippin’ an slidin’ everywhere!

Wear and Tear– Face it, if you’ve owned a Royal Enfield, chances are, you’ve made your peace with fading paint, rust issues and low life rubber parts. The Himalayan can be said to be a notch better. Engineering that qualifies it to be an adventure tourer, is mostly spot on- the suspension, brakes, wheel hubs, chain drive, general body balance and tightness, have fared well. There’s a beautiful acquired patina to the cast Aluminium fittings on the bike, revealed after each wash. What could be better, is the quality of rubber parts, especially fork boots, wire housings, bolt washers and connector caps. These have frayed visibly. The right fork seal was the latest to give in. Rusting is one of those subjects that’s talked about vigorously on the Internet, but has not been a major issue on my bike so far. The paint’s holding up.

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Rubber parts, high on wear & tear.

DIY Friendly- This aspect of the bike is hard to beat. A simple bike, that a novice like me can take apart with basic tools. I can strip it down to chassis (with some bits like the battery and electricals still on the bike) in about 20 minutes flat. Here’s a list of things I’ve done, which I have never ever dared to do before on any other motorcycle.

– Stripping the bike of tank, seats, fender and number plate and tail light assembly.

– replacing the air filter

– removing the carburettor/ cleaning it

Furthermore, I have observed the following activities being done- and am confident of doing it myself because of how easy the Himalayan is when it comes to maintenance.

– Removing/ fitting the rear tyre

– Engine Oil change

Now if you look at the list above, there’s a good bit of DIY maintenance covered. I’m excluding instances of pannier mounting, chain lubing, carb tuning and other bits of easy maintenance which, for me were not new ground. But attempting the above list on the Classic 500 was a straight no, no, only to be trusted to my mechanic. Engaging with the bike, on a lazy Sunday afternoon, has taken on new meaning.

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Strip it down? Took me all of 20 minutes!

 

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Oil change? Three bolts on the right, two on the left. Drain oil, Replace oil filter, clean the oil mesh, refill oil and pop the bolts back on. No bottom of engine, faulty washer oil leakage issues here.

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What you see in this picture, is everything that keeps the tyre in place. Tyre removal? Easy peasy.

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Air filter access? 6 easy bolts to loosen and its out!

Touring and commuting– Having heard enough stories of how far folks are travelling with the Himalayan, I realise I’ve not used the bike to a quarter of its potential. I will vouch for it as a fantastic commuter. And most days of the year, for my 40km chaotic commute, the Himalayan has been my weapon of choice. On a few tours that I have done, the machine has been a comfortable mile muncher. The longest ride, was a 1200km plus two day sojourn round Wayanad, (Rolling Through Wayanad). The bike fared admirably, taking on offroad sections, twisties and high speed straights with equal aplomb.

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The Himalayan is meant for roads like these.

So I think I’ve covered most of the aspects about the bike that I wanted to talk about. In the year gone by (2018), I’ve seen a lot of serious motorcyclists appreciating the Himalayan for what it really is- a no nonsense, do it all, everyday and everywhere motorcycle.

I have compiled below, a list of youtube feeds, from across the world. These happy owners are on a roll with the new 2018 Himalayan. Their stories are inspiring, and in some cases eye-opening. Enjoy!

New lid on the block

Got myself a brand new Bell Qualifyer helmet. Wifey and me just fell in love with the retro themed stripes. Already appreciating some of the finer detailing compared to the outgoing MT Axis, I have used for more than 2 years. Will poke in a review soon!

Spoilt for Choice

As my bro- in- law road trips somewhere Down Under, I use his CBR250R for my office commute, every other day. All my excitement about the free revving and smooth nature of the Himalayan’s engine disappeared once I started riding the CBR on a regular basis. The CBR 250 R is indeed a gem, and at the time of its launch in India, had few equals among bikes which could be used as Sport Tourers. It’s only real competition at the time was the Duke 200 and the Ninja 250. While the Ninja offered similar performance at almost double the price, the Duke 200 lacked the finesse and touring capability that the CBR offered.

So on this crotch rocket with a super smooth mill, all I’d want is a pair of handlebar raisers. I still find the ergonomics too committed for more than an hour’s commute, what with the stop and go traffic in Bangalore, giving you a stiff neck in just about 15 minutes.

I suppose the bikes couldn’t be more contrasting, even when compared on a simple office commute. On the Himalayan, you are perched high over everything else, and have to barely crane your neck to figure out an exit path between car rooftops. You feel exalted and mighty, capable of taking on both the traffic and broken road surfaces at full throttle.

On the CBR, you are crouched low and wary, watching out for gaps between careening cars, estimating closing distances, flicking the bike with your thighs and body weight, and admitting, grudgingly so, that you are actually going faster than you would dare on the Himalayan. That said, the CBR, being the more involving motorcycle, also therefore is the more demanding one. You need to be more careful, you need to maintain body posture, lean in and out in sync and always be super alert. Sums up to an hour, give or take, before you start asking for that all day comfort and rider friendliness of the Himalayan.

Still, until my brother in law returns and claims rightful ownership of his red and silver winger, I pause every morning  before the household key bowl, jangling first the RE, then the Honda keys in hand, contemplating the hour’s commute ahead of me, and wonder if I should ride low and hard or tall and easy. 😊

 

 

 

 

Twins…

They are drop dead gorgeous. Just watched the launch at EICMA. The Interceptor (California Cool, in the words of CEO Siddharth Lal) and the Continental GT 650 promise to herald a new age of ‘easy and accessible, pure motorcycling fun’. Let’s see what the future holds… for now, I’m rubbing my hands in glee and me eyes are jest feastin’ on them beauties… har har!

More info to be found here

https://royalenfield.com/motorcycles/twins/

Of heathlands and monoliths…

This little overflowing creek made for a nice splash

This Diwali, the long weekend came about promising at least one day of riding fun. I headed out with my cousin (who also owns a Himalayan), towards Manchanbele dam, for a lunch ride. To make the regular route a little more interesting, we chose a detour featuring a beautiful back road between Kanakpura and Mysore highways.

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Post monsoon greenery adorns the connector linking Kanakpura and Mysore highways

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Lunch was a quick affair on Mysore highway, this thali was delicious

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Heathland, retreating rain clouds and sunshine. Riding season is here!

The day forecast glorious weather with long sunny spells. This time of the year heralds the start of the riding season in South India, with late October through to February generally packed with organised tours and riding events. So it felt good to be back in the saddle, even if it was for a short spin.

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Manchanbele Reservoir, off Mysore Road

The short route to Manchanbele from Mysore highway passes through open country that features a lot of heathland like un-farmed land. This year the monsoon strayed well into October, so everywhere we looked, we saw green. At Manchanbele, there was a fair crowd. Entry to the dam is restricted, taking vehicles down to the water is prohibited, so all you could do was stare at the water from higher vantage points. On an earlier occasion, I had been able to park by the water. So there wasn’t much to do but carry on. Savandurga, one of Asia’s largest monoliths, loomed high above the water. I had always wanted to see it up close and we decided to head there.

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Offroading enroute to Savandurga

The road to Savandurga monolith cuts through the lovely Savandurga State Forest, and both in the forest, and on its fringes, we found great spots to stop, shoot and chill :).

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Selfie time!

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At Savandurga State Forest.

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In the shadow of the mountain

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The wild grass was inviting, the late afternoon sun, relaxing

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Heathland and monoliths

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Spots for posing with the monolith abound enroute

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Bikes are dwarfed by the lofty Savandurga

Savandurga, is majestic and towering. I had never come close to a monolith before. All I had was childhood memories of leafing through my geography text book and marvelling at the splendid isolation of Ayers Rock. I had always imagined giant monoliths to be far off the grid, in places that existed at the very edge of the map. Savandurga, is no such thing. There were tourist stalls at the parking lot and a temple at the top. We were lucky that there wasn’t much of a throng, so we found ourselves a green spot close to the base and lingered for a while.

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Beautiful rock this, if ever a rock can be called beautiful. Worth the visit, I say

The highlight of the ride home, was this shot at dusk, which I feel captures so well, the essence of motorcycling. This is a good start to the riding season. 🙂

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Mellow evening light frames the motos next to some beautiful srubland.

Trails in my backyard

A couple of months ago, my cousin and I discovered a great little trail off Shoolagiri, no more than 40 Kms from my doorstep. A small stretch of forest (Samanav Forest) before Shoolagiri, offers an unmarked trail leading to a little rivulet. Keep a lookout for this on the left when returning to Bangalore, a few klicks after the MacDonalds at Shoolagiri. If you are on a Himalayan, you are bound to have a good time!

This great little spot by the river is after 3kms of a dirt trail off the Salem highway. 

Date with Versys

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The Versys loves the open road

A few days ago, I got a cool birthday surprise from my dearest wife. She sent me a Wicked Ride reservation for a Kawasaki Versys 650. It was to be mine for a day!! Read on for some first impressions.

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First stop, the office!

The model I got was from 2016, all black and missing the green livery and newer bits and bobs from the current model. The bike is tall and gangly, no matter how you look at it, with that rear overhang tad longer than it should be. Seat height at 840mm will be a struggle for short riders, and the screen on centre stand was higher than my Himalayan’s. The good thing though, is the incredibly rider friendly nature of the bike. It felt familiar within the first 20 minutes. Ergonomics are great, the seat has enough room for movement and tall ride height, a boon in traffic.  I would have preferred a wider, taller handlebar, which would have helped maneuverability and standing on pegs while negotiating potholes.

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The cockpit gets a rev counter and digital speedo. Tell tale lights for ABS, indicators, high beam and engine warning light. Miss the nifty bits from the Himalayan like the service reminder and gear indicator.

Rolling around in the city, on a public holiday, proved to be effortless. I was worried that the engine would start cooking my legs in stop and go traffic situations. When that failed to happen, I realised that the large tank, tall seat and rear set footpegs keep your legs away from the heat. The only thing to be careful with then, was the throttle. A slight rev on the throttle would pummel the motorcycle towards triple digit speeds, instantly. Ten odd kilometres later, with the art of throttle control mastered, I was flicking through traffic, having a ball.  Later, trundling along at 60kph on a traffic free flyover, I decide to gun the throttle. The bike darts like a hooligan! Over the crest, in the next instant, I see the speedo flash 120kph, and know that I have crossed the speed limit set by the hiring agency.  This transpired in a few seconds, without the need to down-shift. Ample torque figures of 64NM and 68/69 PS, from a refined twin cylinder, crafted out of the Ninja lineage, take credit for this performance. The bike measures the same as my Himalayan, length and breadth wise, so carving up traffic was all about getting used to the extra power on tap. The brakes, with ABS, were excellent.

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Felt like a king, for a day, with two able stallions in the stable

As a commuter then, the bike is pretty desirable. But an entry level tourer is best tried outside the city. Next stop, the highway!

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Too many sharp edges, if you ask me. (I’m still a sucker for curves)

Out on the freeway towards Krishnagiri, I’m constantly aware of one nagging reminder- stick to the 120kph speed limit. It seems impossible to do this, especially on straights.  And on wide sweeping curves, I had some trouble understanding how to keep to the centreline. The front felt heavy and there was quite a lot of understeer. Now this may have been an issue with the rental bike- I don’t recall reading anything of the sort while going through reviews on the bike. Well, that was a downer, as a lot of the stretch from here till Krishnagiri has these long winding curves.

Everything else, was just dandy. The bike excels as a mile muncher. Covering large distances, at speeds around 120kph, all day long, with an unstressed engine, is this bike’s forte. The seat is gloriously comfortable. Hepco and Becker, in addition to Kawasaki, have a full range of luggage accessories for this bike in India, and mounted up, its a formidable tourer. I did not get much sense of the mileage, but I was told its in the range of 23-25kpl, which I thought was pretty decent.

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One feature I really loved, was the hazard light switch (red) on the handlebar. I use this quite a lot on my Himalayan, both in the city and when on a ride. Its a pain to let go of the bars and reach towards the centre console. On the Versys, the switch is within easy reach of my thumb.

 

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Rear and three quarters views of the bike are best, the front and side views are a bit awkward, IMHO.

So is this something, I’d like to lay my hands on in the near future? I won’t deny its a tempting proposition. The pros outweigh the cons- its got a super smooth, terrific engine, good torque and power figures, great brakes and ergonomics. Most importantly, its not ridiculously expensive, like say a Triumph or a Ducati. I’m not a hard corner hugging rider, nor have any experience on the race track, to comment on the bike’s track abilities. But I wouldn’t bat an eyelid about it’s excellent touring capability.

At the end of the day, however, I think I would look further for two reasons. For starters, I’m not entirely sure, how well this entire package handles off road. The bike’s weight tops 200+ kgs, which will be higher still when loaded with luggage. The tyres are not really dual purpose, and from the reviews I read, not very inspiring, even on flat dirt tracks. Suspension travel or the handlebars aren’t great for off road manoeuvres either. And I reckon, in real off the grid conditions, the bike will feel top heavy. I’d strike out the ‘adventure’ prefix from the bike’s ‘tourer’ moniker.

Reason number two, has simply to do with how ungainly the bike looks. I’ll get to the point- it does look like a pelican on two wheels. And I’d rather not be seen riding a pelican, don’t you think?

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On the highway, this mid segment Kawasaki is nothing less than incredible.

 

 

Motorcycling Country

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Roads around Steel City, like this one, are newly laid blacktops to motorcycling heaven

The last few years have seen a host of transport infrastructure improvements in many parts of the country. On a recent trip to my hometown of Jamshedpur, I was pleasantly surprised to see some excellent tarmac connecting major cities in the state. The bountiful, naturally blessed topography of the Chotanagpur plateau is also a delight to discover on these new roads. And what best way to discover new places, than on a motorcycle?

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Subarnarekha river glimpsed from a Ghat section near Jampot

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A village pond near Chandil

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Forests give way to fields, Kandra

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Topography, Taimara ghat section 

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Fields of ripe green paddy stretch to the hills, Bundu

Hold that thought, I say to myself. Have to spend a few days touring here, sometime in the near future. Until then, I will keep these photos as a memory, captured during a three hour drive from ‘Jampot’ to Ranchi.

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Sangam- Subarnarekha and Kharkhai

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