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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Old Faithful

You know, how sometimes, a certain tool or machine or even a personal item, feels so much a part of your life, because its been around forever? Tried, tested and weathered over time, this object of affection has an enduring significance that’s part and parcel of your being? Well oddly enough, for me, one of these objects is a pair of utilitarian motorcycle luggage boxes.

The Studds Vault, is an unchanged design dating possibly back to 2002. I first used these on my Kawasaki Caliber Croma motorbike, way back in 2004.  In those days, all I had was a helmet, a pair of gloves and a backpack, in the name of riding gear. So these proved ideal for short weekend getaways. They were great for regular office days as well- I could stow away a fair sized water bottle and lunch box. Capable of taking on rigours of daily use- the simple construction and robust detailing made them road worthy for many years.

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At Hatu peak, beyond Narkanda, 3500m above sea level. Circa 2004.

I got hooked onto motorcycling and long rides on my Kawasaki Croma- tripping around North India in the first few years of my professional life. The boxes were the perfect setup for hauling my meagre belongings. The photo above was of a day outing from Shimla to Hatu Peak beyond Narkanda, where on a shepherd’s trail, we got stuck because of melting snow.

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Studds Vault boxes on the Avenger 220, with a Givi top box. Bangalore, circa 2010.

My first machine after my return to India in 2010, was an Avenger 220. Intending to make this little cruiser little more functional, I stalked stores on JC road in Bangalore, until I was able to set up the bike like this. These were a good fit on the bike, along with the Givi top box. The machine got its fair share of attention, and I could pack enough for a two to three day tour.

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The Avenger 220, seemed custom made for flaunting this little piece of storage equipment.

So when the time came to consider some serious hard luggage for the Himalayan, I did not immediately think of the Studds Vault, as an option. After all, this is 2017. The Indian motorcycling scene has exploded. Almost every major manufacturer has the top of its product line selling here- from adventure tourers to sport tourers to cruisers. There’s no dearth of premium luggage options as well. The RE branded panniers for the Himalayan are expensive, German made, sturdy aluminium hard case ‘swallow it all’.

But I needed something smaller to cope with the monsoons. The Via Terra tail bag gets wet in a downpour. The Givi Top Box had been given away. I wanted luggage that could stay on the bike permanently, whether I’m touring or commuting. It should hold everything I carry on my regular commute, and supplement saddle bags and carrier tailbags when I’m on tour. Scrolling through my biking archives I came across the above photos. And remembered a pair of old friends.

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The bike comes home shod with boxes…
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…they integrate well with the side profile of the bike…
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…some road presence added to that slim front…
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…don’t look too bad at night either.

More information on the product can be found here:

http://www.studds.com/Home/accessoriesDetail/64

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rolling Through Wayanad

 

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Bandipur, Wayanad border. Motorcyclist’s paradise

Plans for a weekend ride had been brewing in my riding group for most of the year gone by. However every time, a ride was proposed, come the date, enthusiasm waned. While it was the usual ‘weekend is for family’ excuse for older gents, the younger ones cited commitments to their busy social life. It was a miracle then, that once the idea was thrown in, six people decided to join. The initial plan was to ride to Avalanche Valley, an area of extreme natural beauty, beyond Ooty. Deepak had been there recently and complained of bad roads. Wayanad came up as an alternative, and all of us agreed unanimously.

The ride plan was finalised for last weekend of May. We decided to take the more scenic, longer route in- via Kanakpura Road and Kabini Reservoir. Having been to Kabini on more than a couple of occasions, I had seen KL registered vehicles plying in the area. I figured Wayanad must be a neighbouring district. The condition of the road leading into Kerala remained uncertain. We decided to risk it anyway- after all, what’s life without a little adventure?

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Route Map- Kanakpura and Kabini on Day One

Days of planning followed, and tea sessions in office centred on gear selection and what to carry. While Deepak bought himself a brand new lid, OP San was happy to be finally bring in use a pair of saddlebags purchased more than a year ago. Evenings were spent in the parking lot- bungee cords, rain gear and other accessories, were tested and secured on the bikes. We realised that every single bike on the ride would be a different machine. Between five of us, we had most of Royal Enfield’s product line covered- a Bullet 350 (Cast Iron), a Classic 350, a Classic 500, a Thunderbird 350, and my Himalayan. A  Pulsar 180, was the lone horse from the Bajaj stable.  I must admit, the very idea that I would be out and about in a few days gave me a new high, and I was quite looking forward to it.

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Photo Op on Kanakpura Road.

Come the day of the ride, we started bright and early, at 6am. Leaving Nice Road exit onto Kanakpura Road, I knew this route had been the right choice. The day promised to be beautiful- with misty spots of sunshine peeking between rolling clouds promising rain in far off lands. There was a good breeze about, and coasting along on a twisty two-laner seemed to be the perfect start to the weekend. Now I’ve done many rides down Kanakpura Road. It’s that simple early morning ride recipe you can’t go wrong with. The road runs on a high embankment past four lakes and passes quaint settlements. Traffic is often sparse. What I love about this road is its easy riding friendliness. You are forever in that sweet spot between 70-90kms per hour. On a Royal Enfield, that equates to bliss. Higher speeds, on a road like this, make you miss all the sights and sounds around you and are dangerous as well.

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Offroading on a muddy lakebed on Kanakapura Road

We had a bit of fun off-roading around a lake, just after Kanakpura. Mud and slush  on tracks leading to the lake had the bikes struggling. My Himalayan, fared the worst. I had mud caked tyres within the first few yards. It was a good place though, to be visited in drier times.

100kms or so into the ride, after breakfast, we stopped for a ‘bum break’. There was a quick briefing session on group riding techniques. Deepak, raring to ‘up the pace’, elected to lead. Soon after, heading on past Kanakapura town towards Malavalli, a group of riders passed us. Deepak, not to be outdone, caught up and rode wingman with their ride captain. As the road straightened out, we held good speed with the others. We were all geared up and so were they. We were on similar machines, smaller bikes which did the job. I noticed a nicely souped up Karizma- a sworn touring machine from the days of old, and a neat little Yamaha FZ among the new group. The rest were Royal Enfields, and one Himalayan rider with a helmet mounted cam. We warned each other of road impediments and warned traffic of the approaching formation. I rode wingman with the other Himalayan for a while- this was good, clean fun. Strangers looking out for each other, travelling together, bound by direction and passion. On the outskirts of Malvalli, we parted ways. There was nary a nod, nor a handshake. They carried on, and we did too. But for those miles we rode together, we all knew one great joy- motorcycling.

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Surajmukhi fields forever!

You know, that instant, when you dive out of a corner, see cars posted by the side of the road and tourist cameras flashing?  An incredible vista of yellow appeared to the left of us. I haven’t seen anything like this in a while- after all we are not in Punjab! Sunflower fields spread out for acres, right by the road. Be sure to not miss this if you are ever on this stretch of road. Plenty of photo sessions later, we hit the road again.

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The brady bunch sans one
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This sunflower field by the side of Malavalli-Mysore road was an incredible surprise!

Next stop- Kabini hinterland. I can tell you this, from whatever I have seen of the South, there’s no other place quite like this. This rolling, undulating, daleish country, with vegetable farms and tall grass stretching away into the  distance, is really beautiful. It’s a short stretch that you encounter when you turn off the Manthanawadi road towards the reservoir. The demographic here is mostly tribal. Living with the land, without making undue demands of it, is evident in their lifestyle, as we ride by.

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Rolling greens en-route to Kabini

I had set my expectations high for the first sighting of that large expanse of water. When we rounded the crest beyond the fields, I was disappointed to see the waterline receded by a mile. We rode further inland.  I was feeling a bit peckish by now. At Jungle Lodges Resort, lunch wasn’t available without prior reservation. So we decided to head down to the water. The road leading to the Serai Resort runs along the lakebed. What greeted us here, was amazing. Kabini lakebed is all grass. Not mud, not slush, not rocks. Grass. With cattle from the village grazing all over. You could lie back on the grass and stare at the sky, for water was far far away.  Photo sessions followed- some of the shots turned out worthy enough to send to RE for their annual ride calendar.

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Into the great wide open…This first sight of a dried up Kabini, took my breath away.
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And the bike’s portfolio gets a boost, courtesy OP San
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The Royal Enfield Bullet, unedited.
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And then we had some annual calendar worthy poses too!

Its funny how in open country, the weather can create a sense of delusion. As the afternoon wore on, there was sunshine beyond the clouds. In the distance, near the horizon, were  blue skies. But clouds came gathering just above our heads.  It started with a few drops, which turned into a spitter-spatter, which turned into a drizzle, which turned into a downpour, which was in fact, a cloud burst. This happened in a matter of minutes. You can see me, in the photo below, struggling to take out my rain gear from the saddle bag.

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Scrambling to take shelter from approaching rain

Well, some of us got wet. OP San had a fall. We took shelter in a cow shed and waited for it to abate. Saw a couple of lads drenched to the bone, riding around on a Harley and a Triumph Explorer, with their girlfriends following tow in a Hyundai. They were looking for a place, to have lunch. In pouring rain. What surprised me more, was that they were on these two big machines, but were wearing only helmets in the name of safety gear.

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Beyond Kabini, the road had green forests and no traffic.
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That moment when the photo op is over and you are getting ready to mount and ride
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These moments make a lifetime of memories…
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…when you ride through areas like these.
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…with a 411cc single on song. Forest roads and happy days.

The next hundred kilometres, till our homestay, was sheer motorcycling nirvana. Two factors contributed to this. The first was to do with an immaculate road that twists and turns, then delves into straights, and before you start thinking straight :), turns into twisties again. That wasn’t all. Most of this stretch runs through fringe forests of Wayanad, Bandipur and Nagarhole sanctuaries. This is not a regular bus route, cars passed by once in a while. We had most of the road to ourselves.

The second was to do with food. Now this stretch being desolate, suffers for lack of roadside eateries. We could not get grub at Kabini. For the next couple of hours we were pretty much riding hungry.  When out of a stretch of forest, a clearing emerged, lined with small hotels, Deepak and Sreejith stopped, and were inside one in the blink of an eye. We had crossed the border checkpost a couple of miles before. I can’t recall the name of the place, but I will remember the place for a lifetime. By the time I had taken off my riding jacket and walked into the hotel, the others were wolfing down delicious meals, parothas, ularthiyathu fry and chicken curry. I was starving- it was well past 5pm. The food, yummy, with a hint of home made freshness, really hit the spot. Hats off to Deepak and Sreejith for leading us to this watering hole.

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Atmost Homestay in Kalpetta, is a cheap and cheerful joint to rest your ride tired bones.

We made it to the homestay around 6pm. Atmost Homestay in Kalpetta is good value for money, and has options to camp out in the open, weather permitting. They were missing a cook though. We had to figure out dinner in town. There were plans to ride out early morning towards ghats leading down to the mainland plains. Chilled beer with motorcycle talk warmed us late into the night.

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A taste of Wayanad_Freshly plucked, home grown jackfruit was super yum.

The  next day, we rode down to the Adivaram Ghats after a light breakfast in town. At Adivaram there was a lot of traffic and quite a many tourists thronging the road edge to capture views of the plains below. We hung about for a short while before settling in for the long ride home. En-route we were treated to some gracious hospitality at Deepak’s aunt’s home. We had just made ourselves comfortable and were sipping sweet tea when his Uncle walked in from the plantation with some freshly plucked and dressed jackfruit. For us city slickers, this was a rare treat.

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When in Kerala, expect sights like these at every turn- Gods Own Country.

The homely environment and the alluring laid back life of  Wayanad, was hard to say goodbye to. I think everyone was clear on one agenda- we had to finish the business of lunch in Kerala. The food from yesterday was still fresh in our minds. So it was Deepak and Sreejith again, who led the hungry pack into a den which served heavenly parothas, kerala meals and poppadums. 

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Highlight of the ride back_a lush green forest for 40 kms_Bandipur
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The stretch between Bandipur and Gundlupet is newly surfaced, fast and clean.
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Re-group outside Bandipur.

The route home, promised glimpses of wildlife. The last part of the ride through Bandipur was awesome. I managed to fall behind, taking in as much of the surrounding jungle as I could. We sighted deer, monkeys and a lonely old boar. The rest of the ride was uneventful till Mysore. Perhaps the only downer to the otherwise great ride was the last stretch on Mysore highway. Take heed- do not plan to return on Sunday evening using this route. The traffic here puts most congested city areas to shame.

Well that was that. I was dog tired at the end of the day. Curled up at home with a cold beer, I tried to relive key moments of the ride. This was the first long ride of the year- the machine had performed flawlessly, and my riding days were back on track! 🙂

Rider Trivia

  • Anoop_Artist, Illustrator, not much into motorcycles he says, but had one hell of a ride on his Classic 350.
  • Sreejith_He walks the realm of ancients, the lone rider on a cast iron engine. We sometimes gather round his machine to hear its slow heart beating. Bullet 350.
  • Deepak_Fury on wheels, has to be reined in once in a while. Rides hard. Parties harder. Modded Thunderbird 350
  • OPSan_Calm, composed and ever smiling. Nerves of steel. Rides a Classic 500.
  • Ankit_Big, cheerful man, asks a lot of his little machine. Thankfully, the machine delivers. Pulsar 180.
  • Yours Truly_Happy to have Shadowfax running free. Happy to have me out and about, after a long time! Himalayan.

Coorged…(as opposed to Leh’d)

2013 was our year of rides. I did many short rides through the year, most of them with my  group Enfield Explorers, and two long rides with my wife and brother in law, also a keen motorcyclist. Our ride to Coorg, around Easter Weekend, turned out brilliant. The weather was good and our place of stay, beautiful- but on this particular trip, it was the motorcycle friendly, smooth roads with lots of twisties that were particularly awesome. Add some really intense, flavoursome coffee to the experience, and one comes back completely ‘Coorged’. 🙂

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Moto One- Royal Enfield Classic 500 EFI- Photo Credit-http://tusharekka.com
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Moto Two-Honda CBR250R-Photo Credit-http://tusharekka.com

The Motorcycles…

The motorcycles could not have been more different- one carried the burden of decades of nostalgic tradition on its shoulders (besides my wife, me and luggage) and was out to prove its touring friendly nature with a new UCE engine. The other was a quarter litre sibling of cutting edge, modern machines that promised performance and hassle free touring for years to come. One was all metal, a remnant from the realm of ancients, with retro dials and spoked wheels, flaunting an incomplete electronic fuel injection circuit in the name of high tech gadgetry.  The other was a fully faired, shiny red crotch rocket loaded up with fancy instrumentation, EFI, dual disk brakes, ABS and a whole lot of fibre. Once out on the road however, both machines stuck a chord with their respective riders. My wife was happier on the Classic, thanks to the comfy seat and some back support she got from the tail bag. My brother in law enjoyed the smooth mill and great handling- he had just finished the running in period on the bike-so the trip was an opportunity to open up the engine a little.  I really enjoyed the torque from that half litre single-riding two up with luggage was a breeze. Holding a straight line without vibrations numbing my hands at 120kms per hour, wasn’t.

The Roads…

I must say this at the outset- this was 4 years ago, lest you go check up on me- the road conditi0n is no longer the same. Having said that, the roads, circa 2013, freshly laid or resurfaced, took the cake. The stretch from Mysore to Coorg especially, was heavenly. Gorgeous two lane blacktop flanked by rolling coffee plantations and tall Silveroak, Sapota, Eucalyptus pine and other beautiful trees. There was little or no traffic, and the twisties were wide enough to power through without the need to lose speed. Motorcycle Nirvana. All hail the State Roadways Division.

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View from the cockpit 01-Approaching Kushalnagar
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View from the cockpit 02-Cruising into Coffee Country
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Yours truly loving the bends
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I love those speed limit signs- clean and elegant
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Short breaks are important on long rides
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Riders banter on the pros and cons of two different touring machines

The Ride

The ride to Coorg was my first long ride on a motorcycle in South India. I had driven to Coorg twice before, but for both my wife and me, riding down was a whole new experience.  The ride in was particularly good, we started early morning and reached Coorg by noon- with the weather playing its part.  The next few days were spent pottering around Madikeri and Bylakupe and visiting the Elephant Camp at Dubare. The motorcycles proved indispensable, and helped us explore some areas off the tourist trail as well. Apart from the ride itself, the fun part was also planning the ride as a family- sorting out stuff to pack in saddle bags, gearing up, talking my wife out of carrying too many items of personal use (the hardest part), and establishing road rules with regard to loo breaks, hand signals and points of re-group in case we lose each other en-route. All in all it was a fantastic ride and a great memory- one I hope to revisit this year, on the Himalayan.