Rider Mania 2019

Where do I start? Do I write about Irene who was an absolute babe all through the 4000 odd kms she and I shared, do I write about how the northern part of this country felt as Indro and I ripped through the roads, or should I talk about how partying in a desert felt? I am going to start keying in and see where the whole writeup goes…

The last few days have been filled with catching up with reality and figured out there was so much to do and so little time to get them done. But as someone said one day at a time or one thing at a time will help one move forward.

Irene got back today and now I feel complete. She has been an absolute charm to tour with and for this trip, she and I got to know each other pretty well.  Touring is an interesting perspective to look at life, culture, beauty, people, attitude, lifestyle, experiences among so many other small things of life. Riding through seven different states in the last 6 days, it was fun seeing how cultures evolved. I count it a blessing to be able to tour, see the world around me and experience grace every single time I am out there.

I had been talking about Rider mania 2019 to everyone I had come across. Sometimes it so happens that when you talk about something so much, it really does not materialize. At least for me sometimes, I have had that experience. I was lucky enough to attend NERM2018 in Sikkim and Udaipur was a trip I did not want to miss.

NERM 2018 was a cheeky event for me. Being in-between a project going live and in the heat of things, a small conversation on the NERM WhatsApp group saw me ask for leaves, book my tickets and I was at Bagdogara before I realized it. Little did I know that it was going to be a NERM filled with conference calls from work.

But RM2019 was going to be different. I wanted the time off, I wanted to ride and I wanted to feel the wind on my face.

Birdie and I had been partners since late 2005. I remember when she walked into my life and in due time she became a charmer, a lifesaver and a keeper of my deepest secrets. Going through the swing of life, Birdie has kept me sane, safe and comfortable all through never letting me feel lonely or lost. My education in internal combustion engines and Enfield’s, in particular,  is credited to Birdie for the umpteen experiments we’ve been through. She has been a star through all of these and till this day had never let me down.

In the 13 years, she and I have been together, we’ve done so many rides. So many memories, so many experiences. But the truth of it was, she was ageing. With the highway infrastructure improving leaps and bounds, one needed a faster bike that would ride hard and not have to go back to Pudupet once back. Jaf wasn’t getting any younger and some of the new kids on the block didn’t know jack shit on how to work on an AVL.

It was time to look out..and thus, Irene. The newest motorcycle from Royal Enfield, this one is touted to be the best in terms of technology, ergonomics and ride quality. With a twin cylinder 650cc engine, Irene seemed the right fit. There was this huge dilemma of how I was going to handle both Birdie and Irene. Sometimes hard decisions had to be taken and I decided to let her go. It was not easy, but then the pain of seeing her parked quietly and not being tended to was not very comforting. Eventually, she has found a home that is owned by another Madbull, so I guess all is well!

Will Irene match Birdie and her charm? Time will tell.

Irene walked in on the 31st of December and in the first 1500 kms i knew her, she seemed stiff. The last 4000 odd kms I have shared with her have been quite amazing and I think we will make quite a lot of memories. There is a huge difference in what rolled out of the factory to how she is now. After all the lessons with Birdie, it didn’t take much time to customize Irene the way I wanted her to be.

Moving on…

Rider Mania 2019 was in Udaipur and this time it was between Feb 1,2 and 3 unlike the customary 26,27 of Jan. Back in the office, I got looks of raised eyebrows as I informed about my leaves – 1 week. Nothing was said, so i went on with life as is. There was a client meeting held and operating on a wafer-thin budget, the client decided to let go of the project management layer, which meant, I was out of a project. The good news was that there was no delivery related stress, but the other news was that I would have to look out for a new project to join soon.

Indro from the Eastern Bulls had laughingly said, go to Udaipur through Calcutta! It sounded insane to ride 1800 kms East to go to an event which was in North India. The only thing  I could tell him that time was, let’s see. I am notorious not to ever plan anything and going by experience, it has always been the best trip that I have enjoyed. NERM Pasighat was one of them.

As the days approached, Irene was getting her share of goodies. From accessories to custom seats, handlebar and luggage rack, she was being pampered. Mukesh from Enfield’s Garage was making sure the goodies were of good quality, fit and finish. He had to run pillar to post to get them done, but at the end of it all, it was totally worth it.

Interestingly, Friday I had flown to Calcutta and back to Madras just in time to have chai with Indro and deliver a crankcase for his interceptor and in a day, I was riding to Calcutta. Indro and I called it the “test-the-weather” trip. LOL.

To be honest, I actually had the jitters. I still remember the first long ride Birdie and I did just after she came home. It was a 1700 km ride from Madras – Bangalore – Coimbatore – Ooty and back to Madras which was so much of fun filled with tons of memories. And here I was at it again, this time with Irene. As it is said, you’ve just got to face your fears, I saddled up after a word of prayer and never looked back.

Day 1 – 27th Jan – 5 AM :

It was supposed to be easy peasy. Plonk the bag onto the bike, strap her down and away we went.

But that did not happen.

The bag was wide and the luggage rack had the pillion rest. Time was ticking and a solution had to be found. Vertically lining up the bag helped and it strapped into place pretty well.

So by the time I was on the highway, it was about 6AM, but once I was on the highway, there was no looking back.

Irene is a performance machine. Getting her up to 100kmph is no biggie, 120kmph is getting her warmed up and 140kmph is her safe zone. Anything after that is challenging the wind, bike dynamics and other parameters which are not worth the risk. Weighing 200 kgs on her own with about 15 kgs of luggage, a tank bag and a tank full of fuel, she seemed pretty solid on the road.

The sky was just starting to light up and life was stirring as I quietly zoomed past Tamil Nadu and into Andhra Pradesh. Out on the empty NH5, traffic was non-existent. It was a Sunday and it was a national holiday which meant that lots of people were still sleeping in their beds.

Tada went by and by Nellore, she started beeping for fuel. 200 kms gone by pretty quickly. My stomach was rolling in hunger as well and tanking her up, found a place that served idli and chai beside the petrol bunk. The simplest of breakfast tasted good and in a few minutes, me, myself and Irene were ready to continue.

The #mmidiaries seemed like a fun idea to document our memories. We were cruising at a steady 110-120 kmph through Ongole and Guntur and soon onto Vijayawada. Interestingly the highway goes through each of these cities and the traffic snarl can be painful.

In between all this, Irene needed fueling every 200 km on the dot and for the 8-10 litres, she needed, she made sure she was full of fun all the way.

Lunchtime came and went and the apples I had packed provided the needed supplements for the ride. Having covered 650 odd kms, I had another 150 odd kms to reach Vizag and pulled over for some chai. A small shop, but it served some excellent lemon tea along with warm salted biscuits. A lot of people seemed curious at Irene and some were asking the odd question about mileage, where I was coming from, blah blah. It was difficult for the folks to believe when I said I started from Madras that morning.

The roads to Vizag from the chai shop was really good. Cemented roads all the way and with the setting sun, it was a good run all the way. Soon, I was at Vizag and that is where things got interesting.

There is a huge warning at every signal and intersection about accidents. Speeds are monitored and police are there every time. Entered Vizag by about 5 ish and it took me a good 1.5 hours to cross the city and settle into a coffee day outlet on the highway. Tired as I was, there was a family who was very curious about Irene. The guy walked up to me asking about the bike and requested a test ride. I was like, no! But the guy did not seem to understand or his excitement was so much that he plonked onto the bike. Not wanting to be rude, I let the guy take one round and boy, was he thrilled!  His wife was all over the place clicking pictures of him and the bike.

I actually took some time to relax at the CCD outlet. Next stop was Srikakulam and beyond that was Ichapuram in Orissa. Not planning anything, I just fueled up and rode out.

The roads ahead were a mix of take-diversions and speed breakers. From what I heard from the locals, this seemed to be scene till Srikakulam. Daylight was long gone and the night chill was setting in. Crossed Srikakulam and nearing a town called Narasingupalli,  I had clocked 1000kms for the day.

The landscape around me did not suggest a hotel anywhere in sight. With a small prayer in my mouth, I continued until there was a brightly lit hotel on my left. It seemed fancy, it had good parking space and looked good from the outside. I did not think too much into it. Pulled over and was thankful to know there were rooms available. A quick time check showed 845 PM and I could only thank God for helping me get this place.

I had covered 1000+ kms in 15 odd hours that included about an hour of break all put together. Pretty good for day 1, i must say.

The hotel was good, the food was alright and I was more than happy to have a bed to rest and a roof above my head. Praise God for small mercies.

Day 2 – 28th Jan – 4:30 AM :

Loading up Irene did not take much time. It took me 5 odd minutes to load her up, gear up and continue on my way.  Holding the needle at the 110Kmph mark, I was quickly eating up miles and nearing Ichapuram, which is the Orissa border. All through this stretch, there was not a single hotel in sight. Praise God for the stop I had made earlier on, else looks like I would have been riding on without a place to sleep the previous night.

Pretty much butter smooth roads, it was time for morning fuel and chai. Orissa has fuel costs that are very surprising. Petrol is CHEAPER than Diesel. For a minute, I was not sure if the guy was fueling Irene with Diesel or Petrol, but then after a short chat, I got to understand that this was normal. Chai at a nearby shop had me all prepped and ready to ride. Orissa was the second state I was riding through and so far things seemed alright. I had read about the multiple traffic jams and roadblocks along the border, so when I saw one, I followed the other two-wheelers into the opposite lane.

As I crossed the roadblock, I realised this was not a border block. This was a political bandh and the local party there had blocked the road. Traffic was lined up for about 3 kms in that first one and this seemed to be the trend every 5 kms. There would be cars and lorries lined up for kilometres together and two-wheelers would quietly ride through the side roads, opposite side roads and get back onto the highway and continue. This allowed me the opportunity to open up the throttle and continue towards Calcutta. There are no road signs, no highway directions whatsoever pointing towards Calcutta and after a while, I had to check the maps to confirm if I was on the right road.

There was one chap who was riding his pulsar pretty fast. Eventually, Irene and I overtook him and that got the boy super excited. He was at my tail for a while and it was time to lose him. Persistent as he was, he managed to keep up all the way, until we got to a toll booth where I had to slow down. He pulls up beside and I could hear him yell, can we take a selfie. Whoa! This was interesting.

Stopping to have a quick chat, this guy was over the moon seeing Irene and apparently, he loved bikes a lot, especially the fast ones. Selfie taken, I was back on the roads and he went his own way.  It is funny when I think about it, but it is these moments that make travelling fun.

Riding past Chilika lake and the surrounding ghats, I wanted to pull over and admire nature for the beauty she is, but I had to do it sitting on Irene at 90kmph. Chilika lake is a place to visit and it has so much importance in the ecological world. More info here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chilika_Lake

Chilika went by and we were soon by Bhubaneshwar. The village empty roads soon merged into the chaotic city traffic with officegoers and schoolgoers bustling towards a new work, school week. It was Monday for the rest of the folks, but for me, it was open spaces and cool breeze.

Chai and fuel at Cuttack after which all roads let to Balasore and eventually Kharagpur. Crossed Balasore by 11:15 AM and from there it was that one road that led into Calcutta. I had crossed Orissa and entered West Bengal, the third state of this ride. The roads were wider, the highways were empty and it was sex-on-toes all the way.

Crossed Kolaghat at 1:30 PM and from here it was riding into Calcutta city. Pell-mell ensued and I had to turn on the maps to navigate to meet Indro. I needed to get to a Royal Enfield service centre as the handlebar had started to loosen because of no knurling done when we made the handlebar.

Following the maps, I ended up entering an expressway where two-wheelers are not allowed. This was news to me as the maps said go ahead. As I took the U-turn and headed back, I was flagged down by a cop and this guy was not very pleased.

So, after the questions of where I was from, what was I doing here and where I was going, he says that two-wheelers are not allowed on this road. I showed him the maps and he says I had the “car” option enabled and not the ” bike” option. Now in this effect, these guys had to file a case and I had to pay a fine. I was like WTF, although patiently. I was new to the place and I had no idea this was a prohibited road.

Indro called in at that right time and after explaining the situation to him, his only words were, get the fuck out of there right now paying whatever the cop wants. Do not show him or give any licence or bike paperwork. Followed his instructions to the tee, I continued riding back in the opposite direction to get into the two-wheeler lane. Got stopped again, this time by the cop there. I was not going to pay another fine. So, in my Hindi, it was – That cop told me to go this way and before this guy could say anything else, I took off.

The irony, isn’t it? I ride 1800+kms and then pay a fine at an expressway. Anyway, it was lunch time and I had to get to the service centre quick. The traffic in Calcutta is mindblowingly fuckall. I soon found out that there are speed cameras everywhere and that was one of the reasons why the entire city was moving at snail’s pace. Inching forward, I was soon back on the right track and then in a few minutes saw a beaming Indro greeting me at the workshop entrance.

I had made it! 1800+ kms in a day and a half. Irene and I had quite a bit of fun through the stretch. The motto of the ride was “Keep-on-riding”, similar to “keep on swimming” theme in Finding Nemo. The clip is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Hkn-LSh7es

To me, it was a dream come true. Back in 2011, when Eastern Bulls hosted Rider Mania, I sat behind Ranga’s bike and wished I had the time and space to ride to an event such as this. On 27th Jan, that dream came true.

So, quickly getting the attention of the head mechanic, we figured that knurling was going to take too much of time. Camaan the Juggad! and sandpaper was the answer. Well, it proved to be an awesome Juggad as Irene is back home now and her handlebar has not moved an inch.

Next was a big shocker. Indro said he had a surprise, albeit not a good one and showed me his interceptor. The only words that came out of my mouth were, fucking hell! She lay there in the midst of the other Enfield’s with her chassis bent. Totally bewildered, Indro then showed me his alternative ride – The Himalayan BS3.

I needed time to understand what the fuck was going on. Why and when did the Int crash? Just 48 hours ago, i was in Calcutta with a crankcase. Now we needed a new chassis. How in the hell did this happen?

Catching my breath, Indro then explained what had happened. Throughout the entire explanation, my mind was only wondering what the next few days were going to be like. I have learnt a very important lesson in life. EVERYTHING happens for a reason and God is over everything that happens. Indro and I were really glad that Hero, Indro’s brother was safe and we had the Himalayan to ride to RM.

and that Himalayan was getting the works. New sprockets, new electricals, new everything, except the engine. And she was running Greasehouse. A smile slowly came upon our faces. And that is when I broke into a bigger grin and looked at Indro’s interceptor and said – bike not going na, why don’t we swap the Greasehouse exhausts with the stock ones from Irene. I was laughing out loud while Indro was contemplating.. and in a few seconds, we were good to go. This was getting even more exciting.

Greasehouse exhausts are from Indimotard(https://indimotard.com/greasehouse-customs/), a garage owned by Yejaman and Anand, both legends in the biking space. And they had the prototype for the Interceptor. Irene was about to get a new lease of life, in less than 2500kms. This was going to be fun.

By the time the Himalayan and Irene were ready to go, it was about 9 in the night. Both Indro and I were smiling ear to ear the way both the bikes sounded. Winding our way through the busy Calcutta traffic, this time there was no snail pace. Both of our exhausts were loud enough to have traffic scatter and for the initial prepaid 500 bucks I paid as fine, I was redeeming all of them, probably 10 times higher 🙂

Back in Salt Lake, at Indro’s home, we were like excited kids chattering about our adventures for the day. Met up with Hero after about 7 odd years and Priya and our chattering continued over dinner. Time was ticking and all of us retired to bed. In the silence of the night, as I stared into the darkness, I could not stop grinning. The day had been fantastic thus far. Praise God.

Day 3: 29th Jan. 4 AM

The ride starts. 3 Himalayans and 1 Interceptor. We were joined by Tirtho and Sameer on their Himalayans. This was going to be fun.

Starting at about close to 5 after saddling up, settling down, we were greeted by the clogged highway out of Calcutta. Apparently, this is the scene every day.  Riding a bike is advantageous in many ways, winding our way through traffic is one.

Anyway, after a wiggle here and a wiggle there, we were soon on the open highway. The Greasehouse exhausts sounded divine on the highway. THEY WERE LOUD. Settling into a rhythm of 110-120kmph, Indro, Priya and I were riding ahead. Tirtho and Shomu were riding at a steady pace of 80-90kmph and they were alright.

Fueling up and group photos done, we continued until we realized we had not had chai! Preposterous! Amidst heavy crosswinds and a mini dust storm, we pulled over at a roadside shop for some authentic Calcutta styled chai. Hot ginger tea is served in earthen cups and is so much tastier than the glass versions.

Chai is like the elixir of a ride. It sparks you up, ignites your bones, pumps adrenaline through your veins and makes the ride come alive.

Riding through the outskirts of West Bengal through the curvy ups and downs, cruising through butter smooth silky roads, we were soon in Jharkhand. Entering state number four, Irene and I were surprised by how lifestyle was around us. There were prying eyes everywhere, curious glares and for the love of mankind, they seemed surprised seeing a woman in riding attire. Well, with some of the questions and glares, it only meant one thing – get the fuck out of here asap. Traffic and road sense is beyond nuts in this part of the world and snaking our way through open spaces, we were moving ahead as fast as we could.

Indro’s Himalayan is a BS3 motorcycle, but that bike has a character about her. As with all our motorcycles, she was tweaked to provide the rider unlimited grins and orgasms all through the ride.

Priya, though a pillion rider, did not seem like one. It seemed like Indro and Priya were one entity and throughout the ride, they were in complete sync and this was Priya’s first long ride. Surprise!

We had crossed over 400 kms and it was close to midday. We had to stop for Chai. Pulling over after a fuel stop, Indro and I decided to order for lal chai ( or black tea) while Priya stuck to doodh chai (milk tea). The chaiwala did not really know what lal chai was, so we gave the recipe- make chai, except do not pour milk. Simple, clear instructions.

What we got a few minutes later blew our eyeballs. Priya, sipping on her doodh chai literally rolled on the floor laughing. The lal chai tasted salty and I could not contain my curiousness. So, I walked up to the dude asking him what all did he put in it.

He says. Chai powder, condiments, sugar and salt! SALT –  why the fuck would one use salt? He says, he did not have lime, so he used salt. Holy fuckamolly. This was interesting. I have never had chai such as this. So, as queer it tasted, it was nice.

As explained by Priya, some parts of the eastern belt make chai this way. They add chai powder, condiments, lemon, sugar and salt. It apparently has a different zing about it.

To me, it was the experience and it was collecting memories. Good fun.

Saddling up, we were back in bajaao mode. Butter-gleaming, smooth-as-a-baby’s-bottom-tarmac, empty roads, two loud exhausts and full on happiness saw us cross Jharkhand and enter Bihar. WOW, Irene and I were entering state five. Fun, fun, fun!

Bihar is an interesting state. The toll plaza signboard says – PLEASE PAY TOLL CHARGES. However, no one stops to pay. Incredible India!

Indro and I were living it up. This was our moment and we were making use of every single fucking kilometre to put a smile on our faces. The only scary part for Irene is when she sees sand. Her tyres are meant for expressways, not Indian roads. But what is life without a little scare eh?

We were at the same spot where a couple days back, the Eastern Bulls boys had been stuck in traffic for 4 hours. Indro and I were like – they got stuck here? how ? the roads are so empty!

Bajaao mode back on with Indro in the lead and me riding pilot, the scene took me to one of the fast and furious movie scenes, where two motorcycles tear across the desert leaving a trail of sand behind them and riding into the sunset. Perfect harmony at 120kmph, that image is stuck in my head and heart. It was so evident that we were having fun, we were free, our hearts at peace, the motorcycles beating the living daylights out of the pistons, our adrenaline flowing head to toe, all our worries in the air and life…felt beautiful.

We had sailed through Bihar like a hot knife slicing through butter and it felt good. We were at the familiar state border sign and we were entering Uttar Pradesh. Irene’s state number six. This was the third state we were entering within the last 12 hours. Pretty fucking amazing!

Entering UP, we were greeted with the pale landscape of the place. This was one state that did not have good vibes about it. At least the part where we were at. Stopping for chai at a roadside eatery, we were waiting for the roadtrain to catch up with us.

The population landscape of UP is very mixed where female infanticide is very rampant. So when the three of us stopped for chai, there were tons of eyeballs trained on us. Walking over to the chaiwala to give him our order, 2 lal chai and 1 doodh chai, we were greeted by a guy with a grin who seemed familiar. Then it struck me – this guy looked like the alien in MIB1 who asks for sugar.

Walking like a lame fuck, this guy walked over with 2 paper cups and poured the lal chai and went back. He comes 5 minutes later with one cup for Priya with the doodh chai. This time he had the grin back on and it was bloody hilarious. He pours the chai, grins and says… Peele, peele ( drink up, drink up).  We did not want to explode into laughter then, but that expression of the guy had us all in splits miles later. These guys had hardly seen women except in fields and they certainly had not seen a woman on a motorcycle.

Chai done, bajaao on, we had to get away from that spot.  This is where the fun begins. UP has so much political dominance that sometimes it is scary. There are SUV’s who don on the siren all of a sudden and they plough their way through traffic like no one’s business.

The sun was setting and the whole place was bellowing sand as fuck. We weren’t riding further. Varanasi was the spot for the night. Passing the Ganges and getting into the city is like threading a sewing needle. Looking around the landscape, the city has not made any major progress since my great great grandfather’s time, however, Varanasi has great historical value. The Ganges or the Ganga is a revered and sacred river for the Hindus and this city attracts tourists from all over the world. Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Varanasi

Finally, after crawling through traffic, Indro managed to find us a hotel, overlooking the Ganges. Talk about fancy! The evening chill was setting in and we needed to get into warmth soon. The time was about 8ish, so we had some strength and time to experience the place.

Trivia – Varanasi is a super special sacred place for the Hindus and if you look around, you would see multiple temples, rituals, last rites among the multiple boats that line the Ganges.

A shower and some snacks later, we were walking alongside the Ganges through the various ghats as is called. We had limited time, but this place is something else. One needs to spend the time to absorb and see some of the cultures that thrive here.

Funny experiences of stoned rickshaw guys trying to give us a ride later, we were soon on our way back to the hotel for some dinner. The ride in the auto rickshaw is another story. Holding on to dear life is an understatement. Made it back to the hotel only to be informed that we were late for dinner.

Fuck! Hungry stomachs and a waiting autorickshaw saw us jump straight in to find the first available restaurant. This guy took us through lanes, bylanes and landed us some swanky joint, which was closed. Plan C, we found a place nearby and settled down. The minute we walked in, the shutters went down. Food, however, arrived 10 minutes later.

The cold was in full show with temperatures dipping at 10 deg. Just before getting back into the autorickshaw, the guy recommended us to try the benarasi pan.

After a 15 minute in the fucking shivering cold, we got the pan.. and all our faces turned in disgust. Calcutta paans were much better.

Back in the hotel, in the comfort of the rajaai, it was night-night! Day 3 had been beautiful, peaceful and full of adventure.

Day 4. 30th Jan. 5AM

No fucking way! It was too cold to wake up. So back into bed. By 6 AM, we sneaked out and after 3 layers of thermals, the cold was bearable.

Watching the sunrise, the aarthi (pooja) that happens every morning from our rooms, it was a different experience. This was what travelling was about. Experiences, seeing things with one’s eyes, breathing in the air and praising God for his grace with every single breath.

Saddled up and good to go, our watches read 7ish. The air was still chill. But once you start riding and with chai, it is warm all the way. There are many flyovers in construction all through the highway and with plenty of take-diversions, it was irritating for a bit, but then we got used to it.

Finally out of the construction bit, we rode on ahead for a bit before pulling over for chai. Lal chai and doodh chai order given, we were soon clicking photos in the beauty of green fields behind us.

After figuring out the routes, we were back on the roads. In a few kilometres, we were at an expressway and the landscape was super delux all the way. Both our Enfield’s were clicking 120+kmph and it was Bihar all over again sans the sand. 100+ odd kms went super fast and we were back on state highways.

As we got off the exit that said, take left to Lucknow, the road sign said straight to Agra. We will never know if sticking to that road would have taken us to Agra.

Getting into state highways was such a bummer. Crossed Rae Bareily and into Lucknow, it was not very pleasant as such. Roads cluttered with traffic, patchwork, politicians, pushy SUV’s and then after that jazz, we were at Lucknow (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucknow).

From here, we had to find the expressway that took us to Agra. The time read 3 PM and as we took that curvy sexy bend, we were greeted by a whole new road infrastructure – The Lucknow – Agra expressway.

The signboards were the same as the earlier expressway and I could not help but wonder if this expressway was the same road that we exited earlier.

So, 4 Enfields, 300 odd kms ahead of us and a fucking awesome tarmac stretch.. meant only one word.. Bajaaaooo!! and Bajaao we did.

The first 50 kms saw us throttle hard until Irene’s petrol gauge started blinking. This was an expressway, which meant, petrol bunks were scarce. BUT, thankfully, there was a fuel stop, rest stop 30 kms ahead. With relief, I opened up the throttle again to catch up with Indro.

One of the sign caught our attention: Aircraft landing strip ends. Whoaa!! This was some next level shit. If an aircraft had to land, the damn bitumen they put into the roads had to be of fucking high quality. This was quite an experience for Irene and I. News article: (https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/15-fighter-jets-c130j-super-hercules-transport-aircraft-to-land-in-unnao-on-lucknow-agra-expressway-1766193)

With a relieved breath, tanked up, snacked on some hot samosa’s and kachori’s, we were in for another surprise.

Indro’s Himalayan had some wires peeking out. As we got some tape to insulate them, we saw the biggest surprise. The fucking swingarm was broken. Jeeeez! This was the second swingarm on the Himalayan and it had given way.

Now, there were two ways to look at it. Chuck it or Fuck it. Knowing us, we chose to fuck it to be an option of plan B for the next day. Both tanks full, we were back on the expressway, this time chasing the sun.

Our speedometers north of 130+ kmph, we were munching miles faster than you can say – see-them-go. The feeling was ecstatic, adrenaline pumping hard with every mile, smiles getting wider and the sun setting in the horizon. Just as the sun set, the chill started to engulf us. Being out there in the open, we felt the wind, but the magic of chai was working.

Crossing 200kms, we were soon at the next fuel bunk to tank up. This was a very fast run and we had caught up with the Eastern Bulls boys who rode out from Calcutta on Sunday. Not bad, if you ask me.

Darkness was at the snap of a finger and Agra was the place we were going to halt. The next 100 kms of the expressway was like playing a video game. Irene taking over as lead, it was fun weaving in and out of the expressway holding the throttle locked at 120Kmph and the chill breeze eating your bones.

Agra was soon in sight! AGRA – the land of the bloody beautiful Taj Mahal. To be honest, this was not part of the plan at all. I did not expect to be here or to even experience this moment. But here I was, a boy from Madras on a motorcycle that was taking me places.

In true Ranga-dodo style, we pulled into the first hotel that we saw as we exited the expressway and it so happened to be the Ramada Plaza (https://www.ramadaplazaagra.com/). Fancy to the tee, the security guard was bewildered as he saw 4 Enfields pull up asking to be let in. In Hindi, he says – Saab, yeh bada hotel hai and his eyebrows went all the way up ( Sir, this is a big hotel). I think Indro mumbled something translated to ‘fuck off’ as we thundered inside.

Legend has it that, during Ranga’s and Dodo’s K2K ride, it was raining so hard, that dodo said, we will pull over at the first hotel they saw. It happened to be the Taj. 2 bikers dripping wet walked over to reception with the janitor mopping away like no tomorrow.

So into the hotel, checked into our warm carpeted rooms, it felt like a godsend. Minutes later, hot kebabs and chilled beer completed the awesomeness grandeur feeling. None of us wasted a minute and soon there were more empty plates than any food.

A shower later, we were all set to explore what dinner options we had. The place was seriously fancy and there were tons of tourists all around the place.  Indro and I came up with Plan B for that Himalayan and with that being said, we also made plans to visit the Taj. We were 6kms to one of the world’s greatest wonder and it would be blooming shoddy if we didn’t see it with our eyes.

Dinner done, good night’s said, we literally shivered our way from the chilly balcony to our rooms. Comfort at its best, our asses were being pampered for the night. Day 4 comes to a close. Sweet Dreams.

Day 5. 31st Jan. 7 AM

This was a bloody dream, it was no longer a dream come true mode. It felt too good to be true. Waking up in Agra, overlooking the city and 6 kms away from the Taj Mahal, this was sweetness.

By 8ish, we were ready to go visit the Taj. Indro, chose to sleep instead. Bugger! Taking an auto rickshaw to the Taj, I was surprised to see hotels lined up the entire way. There were fancier hotels than the Ramada and all of them looked fucking awesome.

Shomu and I were like..macha… we are at the Taaaajjj all the way. Getting off at the west gate than the east gate, we had to walk a bit, through cobblestones and get down through a narrow stairway and entered the mighty Taj.

This, my friend, is a sight to see. The entire place is guarded by the army, surveillance cameras and also littered with tour guides. The deal we had with Indro was – 10 minutes to visit the Taj and we will ride out from Agra at 10 AM.

Tickets bought, security cleared, we were like kids in a chocolate factory. Looking around and taking in as much as we could, our eyes and phones were clicking away admiring the landscape, the architecture, the sheer beauty and majestic presence of the place.

Passing through the gateway, we soon saw it. The white gleaming structure that has mesmerized every eyeball, every living soul and has stopped time from ticking as one sits down to admire its beauty, its creativity, its sensuality, its uniqueness and its serenity. It has stood the test of time, weathered many a storm and stood tall as the greatest gift a man could present for love.

Time was ticking, so was my heart. I stood there transfixed admiring how she looked and she was quite a sight! Selfie done, group picture done, we had to run back to our waiting auto rickshaw. That guy would have certainly been surprised to see us get back so soon. Indro was already calling us and we had less than 15 minutes to gear up and get out.

30 minutes later, we were swerving through the narrow roads of Agra onto Jaipur. Indro and Priya on the BS4 Himalayan while Shomu was riding the BS3.

Settling at a 100 kmph pace, we crossed UP and entered Rajasthan. Irene and I were in state seven of our ride and it was quite a landmark for me. Green fields all along, tractors chugging along with electronic dik-chik music blaring away and the morning sun shining down on us.

Hunger pangs beckoned and it was time to pull into a roadside dhaba. Aloo paratha and chai is like the best possible combination and we were enjoying the local flavour with every bite. Happy tummy and yummy chai later, we saddled up and ready to ride.

Tirtho started off a few minutes early saying he wanted to ride ahead.. and that was surprise number 1 for the day. He unknowingly ended up having Shomu’s Himalayan key with him. Jumping to the chase, Irene and I took off in search of Tirtho. But as much as we were riding ahead, we did not catch up with him. One side of me had the doubt if Tirtho had pulled over and I had overtaken him, but as I kept on riding, it didn’t make sense as there were 2 other Enfield’s stranded at the Dhaba. Thankfully Tirtho had his phone connected on Bluetooth and I was able to reach him. The boy had ridden 70 kms one way. Jeez… No other option but to return, he must have been cursing us for sure.

I stopped right on the highway and waited for these guys to return. Managed to strike a conversation with the locals, see a different variety of goats and also learn a bit about the local culture. All part of the ride experience.

What was supposed to be a 30-minute break turned to a 90-minute pitstop. Not very impressed. But as always, everything is for a reason.

All of us on the move, we were crossing miles fast. That is when I noticed that Irene was about to clock 5000 kms. That is quite a landmark and a quick 5k run for her. Interestingly we pulled into a petrol bunk 20 km before Jaipur just as the tumblers moved to 5000. Pretty impressed with her performance so far through multiple terrains.

Entering Jaipur through a tunnel drilled through a hill is a super interesting experience. Once through, it is like entering into a parallel universe. The roads ahead are well laid out, traffic sense is good, a separate roadway for public transport. This city is a superbly planned city with amazing infrastructure and character.

The people! The women! Woh my gawd!! It is eye candy everywhere and that is when i realized that in Madras, the people residing at Jain Colony near Vepery are the folks from here. Back when we were kids, passing by used to be smiling experience thanks to the prettiness that oozed out of that colony.

A nice inspiration to throttle on forward, we were riding through wiiideee roads, coasting across and chasing the sun, yet again. Out on the open highway, we kept riding for a good bit until we came across a dhaba for chai. Lal chai and doodh chai done, we were looking forward to riding to Udaipur for the night.

But the roads had a surprise.

The BS3 refused to start. This was new. Tirtho had started off and so there were the three of us figuring out what to do.

Through the entire highway that we were cruising through, this was the only small town/village that seemed to have workshops lined up. A bit of towing, a bit of pushing later, we were soon at an electrician’s shop. He identified the issue in 5 minutes and had sorted it out. The fuse had blown and it was good to hear that machine roar to life.

Inquiring how much the mech wanted for his services, he said 200Rs. WHAT? All he did was fix a fuse. Not wanting to negotiate much, I was reminded of this joke. The payment was for the skill, the fuse would have cost him 10 Rs at most. 190 Rs was for his expertise. LOL.

Anyway, we were back on the highway. Tirtho having sped ahead was 42 kms ahead of us. Caught up with him soon enough, we had to work out an alternate plan, now that Udaipur was not going to work out.

Pushkar! The place that Ranga used to talk about 8 years ago. And we were going there. Set upon a hillock, Pushkar is another sacred place filled with temples. The place itself has so much history, filled with temples and palaces and it was going to be a landmark going there.

Getting off the National highway and getting into state highway roads, we were soon riding up the ghats passing through Ajmer town. The beauty of the people, the place is mesmerising. I don’t know if i read this, but i guess people of the desert look very attractive simply because of their landscape. I concur!

Riding sweep, it was interesting tailing Shomu and Tirtho. This is where Shomu earned his nickname, Paddleboat. Riding up through the tropical climate at Ajmer, we were soon atop Pushkar. The landmark we wanted to go to was the Pushkar lake, a sacred place of worship. Google map is very interesting. Guided us through all the narrow passageways and brought us to the lake. After each of us was done with phone calls, updating base contacts, etc, it was time to search for a place to sleep for the night.

Varanasi was by the Ganges, Agra by Taj Mahal and Pushkar – a Palace.

Identified the hotel – Hotel Pushkar Palace and Indro set up the map to lead. The minute he hit “Start”, the voiceover said, “You have reached”. Say what? We hadn’t started our Enfields, but we had reached? This was going to be interesting.

Bewildered faces turned to peals of laughter when we realized that the hotel overlooked the hotel. Which meant, we were standing right next to it. Hahaha. Every night was turning out to be a night of memory.

Rooms booked, luggage unloaded, we were staying in a room which was modernized, but at a point in time, was a palace. Damn, this was good!

The whole place was quiet as a mouse and it seemed like we were the only folks there. Did I mention that the hotel gate was guarded by an iron gate with SPIKES in them for protection! This was the real deal. We were in a real palace.

Anyway, hungry hearts that we were, we soon set off to find some food. The whole of Pushkar does not serve any Non-vegetarian food or alcohol owing to the divinity of the place. Non-veg seemed afar, but alcohol was not.

Settling into the U-turn cafe, we were chugging away beer and listening to the silence of the night. Each of us sharing photographs of what we had clicked through the day and laughing through the ghat riding experience, it was a pleasant way to end the day.

The food, though vegetarian, was super delux yummy. The company, the laughter and the memories that we relived brought a smile to everyone as we walked back to our palace.

Bidding good night and retiring for the night, Shomu was testing the comfort of the bed by rocking it back and forth thereby making a wall painting live on a prayer deciding whether to fall or not. Laughing away over some random comment, we were in our zone while I was searching for a charging point to plug the phone charger.

Out of nowhere, we heard a voice at our doorstep – Gentlemen, what are you doing? Hearing a voice like that in the middle of the fucking night was quite something. For a minute, I thought it was Indro and had a smile on my face. That quickly disappeared when I realized it was not.

All of us quiet as a mouse, I went up to the door to talk to our warden. Apparently, we had been laughing so hard and moving furniture that neither he nor his guests( tourists) were able to sleep. WTF. Before he could continue his discomfort, I apologized and sent him away. Turning back, Shomu and Tirtho were in peals of uncontrollable laughter, consciously trying not to burst out.

The one lesson I have learnt to calm an angry asshole is to quickly say sorry. Once you apologise, the guy will not have anything more to yell at, but to mumble and walk away. The same applied here and this guy went away with half his anger well within his ballsack. But we couldn’t give a rat’s ass. We continued our laughter.

Time ticked close to 1 at night and with all smiles, we were drifting away to another galaxy.

Day 6. Feb 1. 5 AM

The chill was not that bad, so waking up in the morning was do-able. The agenda of the day was simple. Visit the Brahma temple, take the highway, reach Udaipur.

After a bit of confusion, we then saddled up, rode to the temple and in parallel did some shopping as well and we were soon on the descent from Pushkar. This ancient town has a lot of character and deserves a detailed visit. Another time, another day.

Crossing Ajmer and getting on to the state highway to Udaipur, the twisties had started. This was going to be fun. You could feel the air becoming chill, altitude climbing with every turn and the sky – blue as blue can be. The effect of not having chai in the morning was showing and the cold was numbing. We had 200+ kms from Pushkar and in about 100kms, we stopped for a break and I could not be more thankful for that stop.

Aloo Paratha and chai was ordered and it tasted heavenly. Aloo paratha, thick curd and pickle are like the staple diet in Rajasthan and man, it tasted good. After a few minutes of basking in the sun, we took off. The aloo and the chai provided the much-needed insulation and the next 100 odd kms saw both the Enfield’s do a quick run to the meetup spot just before the RM venue.

1:00PM – We were at the regroup point. The name of the place was the ” Hotel Harsh Palace and Restaurant”. What we imagined was a hotel, a lobby, parking space, a loo.

What we saw was this.

Total Facepalm moment.

But as all the clubs were coming here, we continued to retain this spot.

Irene and I made it. Through ~4000 kms of riding in 6 days and crossing 7 states(8 including TN), we made it. As I exclaimed earlier, this was a dream, not a dream come true so far. I could feel God’s grace each and every moment on the roads we rode, the experiences we encountered and the terrains we rode through.

Having parked at the “Palace”, we were waiting for the other clubs to ride in. Eastern Bulls, Madras Bulls, Kovai Thumpers and RTMC were all going to meet up here and we came up with a new name for our group – The East Coast Squadron.

We were at RM2019 and we were fucking excited. Each of the riders had ridden through the length and breadth of this country and were very proud to be here. Some had flown in but that did not matter.

4:00PM – The East Coast Squadron started to roll into the venue and in a few minutes, we had over 50 Enfields creating mayhem all over the place. We had burnouts, revving of our engines, dancing on top of our motorcycles, laughter, smiles, hugs and so much of camaraderie. We had it all – the persona, the charm and we were flaunting it well.

Impression created, we were beaming away in happiness. Registration was over in a jiffy and as we parked our Enfields, we were officially into the event. This was going to be a beautiful Rider Mania. #aando.

The chill that everyone spoke of was starting and it was time to get out of the dusty biking gear and into civilian clothes. Incidentally, this was my first riding pant and I could not be more thankful for the timing of it. The timing of everything for this particular RM has been so beautiful and I could not be happier.

Alright.. Now it was time to parddyyy!!! The beer counters were lit, the evening was lighting up, the stage was set and a lot of familiar faces were riding in.

Oh, the joy of seeing friends and meeting them after a year, some more than a year, some more than 5 years are beyond words. The whole purpose of Rider Mania was to meet friends from all parts of the country and to party together and share stories and this RM was already meeting that purpose on the 1st night. We had 2 more nights to go.

Looking around the stalls, meeting stall owners, some of them familiar from NERM and meeting some new ones was a nice experience. As darkness fell, one could feel the mist descend and everyone were busy gulping down rum.

This night was to relax, unwind, eat and to sleep. And i did just that.

Dinner done by about 11, I found my way to the dorm and crept into the sheets and away I was orbiting the stars.  I was happy, I had ridden from the south of the country to the north through the east and had the time of my life.

Day 7. Feb 2. 9AM

Where were the toilets? First question and second question – Was water available? For those who have been to NERM, this would have been the same questions on your list as well.

Waking up and greeting the cold Rajasthan air was an effort in itself. For this RM, the toilets had been constructed in NERM style and they were clean too. So far so good.

Finished with the morning business, it was time to walk around and meet more people and to have fun. That’s what we were here for. At the same time, we had to ship our Enfields back and would be nice to see the city a bit.

Interestingly, I was stopped by a guy who said he knew me. Most people mistake me for Sailesh and vice versa. But this guy dropped a bomb and said he knew me from Karunya. NOW, I was interested. And then he says he chatted with me on Skype.

Holy mother of God. This guy was my college mate, Pramod! It was so good to see him after all these years. Easily more than a decade since we last saw each other, this was great. Roads definitely did bring people together. He had come with his family and his newly born child. Wow, this RM was getting interesting by the minute.

Along with Irene, there were 7 other Enfields from the Madras Bulls waiting to be shipped back. There was so much confusion about whether to choose the in-house shipping or to go to the warehouse. After we got our Enfields in Madras, we were super thankful we went to the warehouse.

Interestingly, Lil birdie was here too! Racer had ridden her all the way and he was thoroughly impressed with the way she behaved. I could only but smile ear to ear when I heard that. Both the women, at one location and going to be shipped back together. Pretty nice!

Getting out of the venue, we reached the Safe Express warehouse quite fast.  Bikes put up on the ramp and ready to be packed, we left the place with a lot of peace. Jumped straight into a restaurant for a good meal and an hour later, we were chugging away in a share auto to do some shopping.

Udaipur is a beautiful city and though we had no idea what to shop, we were walking on. Managed to strike a deal with the share auto dude about dropping us at the venue which meant, we had about an hour to do what we want.

Sometimes, asking the local women where to get what helps. And that is exactly what we did. Complementing a woman on her shawl, we asked where we could find things like that. Finding directions to a mela happening near Townhall, we were soon on our way. We were grabbing whatever we could find and it was interesting stuff.

By close to 725, we were back in the auto, this time heading towards the venue.  9 of us in a dingy auto. That was quite a ride braving the chill and listening to the ever-changing song list by the in-house DJ, also the driver!

Back to the venue, we were greeted by a band belting some kickass songs. Went straight to the dorm, packed the shopping goodies and I was back at the stage. Holy Molly –  I knew this band! This was the same band that caught my attention at NERM Pasighat and it was so lovely getting to see them again. They go by the name, Axis and they are from Guwahati.

I did not move. I just stood and admired them. Seeing David belt out numbers from his immensely talented vocal box and Arra croon with her talented voice was a delight. Memories of Pasighat came back flooding as I watched spellbound while Arra was singing away that night. I had to meet these guys once they were done and had to talk to them. Standing by the stage, I got a chance to meet Arra and when I told her I saw them perform at Pasighat, she remembered Mukesh and me as the boys from down south who met her and clicked a picture in the dining area. Now, that my friend, is respect. It was a delight getting to talk to Arra, David, Rishav and the entire band. The second night at RM was really nice.

There was another band that came on after Axis. Not too sure of what to comment, but they were playing some classic rock, so I guess they are forgiven. He didn’t make a mess of the songs, so thankfully that was good enough.

It was time to induct a few of the newbies into the main group. These guys had been riding with us for a while and they had earned their respect. With no stickers or merchandise handy, the only thing I could offer was beer. But what they got from the boys was a beer bath and a cold water shower right there at the venue at 10 deg. I am guessing they will not forget that for a long long time.

The night was setting in and the temperatures were dipping well below 0 deg. But we were not budging. Staying by the bonfire, catching up on stories, enjoying the moment, feeling the chill bite through your bones summed pretty much of what we were doing.

A muscle cramp saw me jump out of my seat, and I think with that, I decided to walk back to my dorm. I had spent a lovely evening watching a lovely band play, made new friends, laughed a lot with many new ones and I was ready to call it a day.

Day 8. Feb 3. 9 AM

This was day 3 of the event. The last two days literally ran by. But in those two days, so many memories were created, so much laughter was shared and so many friendships were forged. It was two days that will go down in the history of everyone there as some of their best days lived.

Day 3 was a fairly simple agenda. Moderators meeting at 12, parddyy after that. It was my first moderator’s meet. I had been the moderator of Madras Bulls way back in 2008, but I did not get into the meeting room. Ranga had been. This time, it was my turn.

Interesting meeting that turned out to be. So many clubs, so many moderators. But what was interesting was to see the old boys from all the prominent clubs in the meeting. Good show. There were the usual feedback and some interesting updates of how this event came to be and what all had to be done to make this event a success. Hats off to IBR for achieving great success through this RM. This will go down in the books of history as one of the best RM’s to be hosted.

It was voting time for the next RM and this was an exciting moment. Amidst the list of contenders, one stood out. Nepal. We had never had an RM out of the borders of India and with Nepal opening the doors for us, all votes went that side. Sunil Sarkar or Diamond as he is known was emotional beyond words. He had been contending for a long time and finally, he came through. Coincidentally, Nepal celebrates “Travel Nepal 2020” (https://www.nepalvisit2020.com/)  which meant only one thing. 2020 was going to be fun, a whole fucking lot of it.

Meeting done, lunch was done, chatter done and as the sun went down there was a band that came on stage to play. Going by the name – David Angu and the band (https://www.facebook.com/David-Angu-395660137259702/), these guys were bleddy awesome. Truly talented, these 4 guys set the stage on fire as they belted classic after classic. David’s vocal cords are truly blessed and this guy was having a roll entertaining us.

Playing into the night, we were all so very happy. I think most of us were just at peace. Away from the corporate jungle, the pressures of life, the complications of living and the pain of fighting a new battle every day, we were just at peace. The chill was biting into everyone’s bones, but it did not matter. It was the time to let one’s hair down, dance into the night, feel the rhythm and breathe the fresh cold desert air.

It was a great way to get into bed and a brilliant end to the event.

Day 9. Feb4th 9 AM.

The toilet duties were now easy peasy. Packed up to sit in a cage ( car) and be driven to the airport, it was goodbye hugs left right and center. There were so many friendships that were forged the last three days and it was truly awesome how people can connect to one another with just a smile.

At the airport, in the flight, it was mostly RTMC, few from Eastern Bulls and the MBMC that filled most of the flight. Taking groupies at Udaipur and Madras, it was time to say goodbye.

The RM for this year was over. The memories remain.

Praise God for everything – while planning, while riding, while resting, while returning. For everything. His mercies are new every morning and the last 9 days are a testament to that.

More photos at : http://tiny.cc/xzx22y
















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