Connoisseur's Guide


World’s most surprising motorcycle routes, as recommended by Pauls Timrots

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Connoisseur's Guide · Asia · india · India · World’s most surprising motorcycle routes, as recommended by Pauls Timrots


Author: Pauls Timrots0 COMMENTS


The locals will confirm: India is best travelled by motorcycle: with a car, you will as likely as not get stuck somewhere amidst the cows, chicken and tuk-tuks; a moped, on the other hand, will be way too sluggish, moving along at the same pace as the rest of the crowd. Ideally, you should find an acquaintance who wouldn't mind helping you out: renting a motorcycle „from the street", without any prior knowledge of its origins and technical condition, is just simply not a very wise thing to do. Both „India-virgins" and people who don't really feel up to exploring the full intensity of the country's more exotic features would do wise to settle for the western state of Goa on the Arabian Sea coastline. European influence is still strong here; after all, only a few years after the Portuguese were kicked out of here in the mid-1900s, Goa was taken over by long-haired hippies, pot-smoking and the hypnotic rhythms of Goa Trance. India Light, as it were.
Your starting point is Panaji, the state capital, easiest reached by a flight from Bombay (Mumbai). Following the directions given by an Indian acquaintance, we contact his friend who is supposed to help us out next by getting us a motor. At least the sign on his friend's door is promising: Mental Disorders. Funny thing, though - while the world and his wife are heading for the Indian mountains and temples to meditate, cleanse the soul and regain peace, the locals choose to seek help from a therapist. Or whatever he is. Apparently, the name of the unhappy ones turning up on his doorstep is legion - the standard of living in India has risen, and people who used to own bicycles, are the proud owners of mopeds today. Families fall apart, people have no idea what to do with their money: a new system, new values... It's insane! You can't spit and not hit a „mental disorder" of sorts, so I'm thinking this guy obviously has his hands full.
Anyway - we manage to arrange to rent a motorbike from a reasonably clean and tidy repairs shop with an adjacent motor store, for approximately EUR 2.8-5.6: it is 20, perhaps all 50 years of age; the chain is slightly sticky and mucky, almost muddy red - however, it is in working order. The helmet, on the other hand, I find extremely silly - a plastic bowl of a headgear, and any attempts to squeeze my head inside the top size fail miserably. Luckily, I happen to have brought on my trip a windsurfing helmet, hoping to catch some wind just right for a spot of surfing. It's nothing to write home about - a plastic thingy with some specially designed holes. The locals, however, seem to beside themselves with wonder: Oooh, what a beautiful helmet - let's swap! I'll give you my silver brooch. There is no getting rid of bartering enthusiasts. The bike, on the other hand, deserves no such admiration; getting it started is initially no mean feat. The whole thing does tickle the nerves a bit. I give it a go, I give it another one. Nothing, it conks out immediately. I try a little bit slower - same difference. Some vroom vroom followed by silence. The local bloke keeps coaching: Try it slower still... So I step on the pedal with grace and poise worthy of a swan - as slowly as it seems humanly possible. And... finally, it's all systems go! Clearly there is no place for rush in this country, and no-one is even dreaming of getting their knickers in a twist trying too hard. The fact that the bike has no radiators or water and the process of cooling just takes its normal course already seems nothing if not logical.

We follow every road in the map: from the north down the coastline, taking an en route inland detour. The terrain is comparatively even - with the exception of some insignificant hills in the south; nothing over the top, however. Similarly to Easter Island, abandon all dreams of high speed - in this case, it is not so much the winding roads as „pedestrians" of all species that is to blame. Even in the seemingly remotest corner of the state, there are always all sorts of creatures on the road; cows, dogs, goats, elephants and pigs. Incidentally, the latter are especially dangerous: while most animals move along with the general traffic, pigs are really daft; they are known to suddenly cross the road without giving the thing a moment's thought. Besides, in this part of the world, pigs are widely used as latrine cleaners. You read it right: a huge part of the animal's menu consists of poop and similar substances. Even the Lonely Planet guide warns from - heaven forbid - ordering a pork dish at a restaurant. Getting back to the latrine thing: the smallest noise is enough to send the pigs straight across the road, spattering shit as they go. Otherwise, this way of travelling is cool - passing an elephant or two as you drive.
In any case, it never gets boring. Lots of manoeuvring, lush greenness all around and, if there's somewhat longer blondish hair showing from underneath your helmet, there is no warding off the curious locals. Every now and then I feel someone pushing his moped to the limit to try and catch up with me to steal a glance at the mystic creature. And then there are the cops, one of which we happened to encounter. Apparently, there was something amiss, I'm not even sure now what seemed to be the problem; be it as it may, the policeman claimed that he would do us a favour and not write a ticket - in exchange for some money. So that's the way this cookie crumbles. Meanwhile elsewhere a gent has spread out his blankets practically all over the road to dry rice and peppers. This is his territory. Getting past him is your business.
The dilapidated motorcycle does itself proud by surviving the trip - ish; there is the small exception of a single blown-out lamp. During a visit to the repairs shop, it is quickly replaced; however, the first attempt to start the bike sees it go out again immediately. It's no rocket science: what we actually have to do is repair the relays that minimize the pressure on the lamp during rev-ups. Hmm... Is it really necessary? Why do you even need it? - mumbles one of the guys who leased us the motorcycle. Yeah, I wonder why. Only some serious nagging finally results in: Oh well, s'pose we can do it... The experience of driving in the pitch-black darkness without the damn lamp is still vivid in my memory; my only guide was the moped I was following. Without really seeing anything at all, desperately trying to repeat the snaky moped's trajectory, I almost ended up in the gigantic pothole that suddenly materialises in front of my eyes; there would definitely be enough room for the whole bike. Knock on wood - saved by a hair's breadth! I cannot count on a fellow-motorist on my return journey and, without giving it a moment's thought, decide to take a taxi - to which my new Indian buddy can only respond with: Do you really have to? - or something along those lines, clearly unable of getting to grips as to why I do not have the slightest intention of relying on fate or Buddha.


En-Route Landmarks:
- the Island of Old Goa, a place where the old and opulent colonial-style mansions are still intact; the temples are equally stunning
- the beautiful cape of Dona Paula
- the popular hippy epicentre of Palolem Beach
- the hippy market of the village of Anjuna with its vast choice of relevant goods, weed inclusive

Worth Knowing:
 India is a left-hand traffic country. There are traffic signs, therefore it's pretty hard to get lost.
 Take special care driving in locations where cars have to cross over from side-roads to tarmac. Due to the sand and clay mud, the road can be very slippery.
 The best time to travel India by motorcycle is October and November - the time immediately preceding the tourist season. You will encounter a shower or two; however, it will hardly be a problem. Besides, it is the time when the Indian beaches have not been taken over by foreign tourists yet.
 The rates at comparatively good hotels are from EUR 20 per night upwards.

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