Thursday, November 26, 2009

My Big Escapade

Been on a big ride of 175 days and 25508 KMs.

The track has been...
BigEscapade at EveryTrail

Map created by EveryTrail: Geotagging Community


As i sit at the southern tip of India, naively imitating Swamy Vivekananda, a mix of emotions rush to my mind. Sense of achievement, euphoria, disbelief and despair. Despair cos its all going to end soon. Thrilled at playing back my entire journey so for, in my mind. The places i have been, the people i have met, the experiences i have gained. All this feeling the cool breeze from the Indian Ocean i am staring at. Been more then 170 days on the move, living a nomadic travelers life on my Karizma. Across India, Bhutan and Nepal. It all sums up to one thing that i was happy at that moment.

On the way to beach in Kanyakumari, visited the museum on Swamy Vivekananda. His great journey across India was depicted there. He was short of money to pay for the boat man to take him to the now Vivekananda rock. He jumped into the strong waters and swam across to the rock. Spent quite some time there contemplating his journey so far. I felt right to do that myself too. Though i did not swim across to the rock, it was nonetheless great introspecting my travel so far.

It all began with suggestion and encouragement from my friend. Who recognized that i had not many bondages or commitments. Had my own share of disillusionment of this world due to some events. I could go on a big escapade away from my regular life. In what bettor way then riding away on my Karizma, which i love to do. Felt just right and din know what else to do other than this, in life at that point of time. My friend also gave me an high level itinerary.

The general far fetched idea being an all India ride, did some planning with my friends, though i was mostly passive on the route. Initially it was supposed to be a clock wise ride around India. Since i was not sure of how long i would last on the road and how long things would permit me, we decided it would be counter clock wise. So that i could ride out places i had not visited first. East coast, Bhutan, North East, Nepal, Ladakh and West coast was the basic itinerary. It was all wish full thinking at that time. The only fail safe being if something unfortunate happens, dump the bike at a transporter and fly home.

My friend helped me out with lot of ideas for the journey including the idea of geting custom fabricated panniers made. Took like 2 weeks to get that done in parts with four different parties. Shopped a lot, GPS phone for tracking and Laptop for logging among other things. In a months time i was ready to hit the road.

The day i was to start, had a small walk with my dad who had to let me go being unconvinced. The first thing i felt pushing the bike of the stand was, boy has it become monster with all the load. Did give me scares. My friend came to see me off and i started riding out of Bangalore crossing the city in the peak traffic. Soon i was riding away on the Kolar NH with Destination Unknown. With no idea of how long i will be able to continue on the trip. Its was Vijayvada for the day as i wanted to go out of my normal touring radius. Thus i was moving towards the east coast. Visiting places which i had only heard of. Vishakapattanam was quite a place especially on the beach road and made for a good day's halt with a lot of places to check out. Continued upwards on the east coast, stayed and visited places like Bhuvaneshwar, Puri, Konark and Chilika Lake. The sun temple at Konark was fascinating relic though a bit explicit in carvings. An evening on the Puri's beach was like a bliss. Crossing a couple of states i was still able to communicate in local language which helped me a lot. Telugu is my mother tongue and i could speak a some bengali which meant am kind of at home all through the east coast as for a language is concerned. Got off the NH 5 and settled in for a night at Digha, a coastel town, with cement beach! Had a nice ride on the very hard flat beach on my Karizma, before heading for Koltata. Took an off beat route crossing the Hoogli river by a ferry. Interior west bengal is thickly populated and its always dodging the traffic on my overgrown bike. Make it to Kolkata the City of Joy in 12 days. My father comes around for a visit and its couple of days break there. Here on the journey ahead had lot of uncertainty as lot less people travel around here on motorcycles. It was a gamble riding to Sunderbans and even had to sail over to an island on a small boat meant for people, along with my bike. Luckily found a place to park my bike and had couple of nights stay at Sajnekhali Wild life resort. Well no luck with a tiger spotting on a whole day's boat ride, but for couple of trails of day old pug marks.

So far so good and Bhutan was next on the itinerary. Hopping over Siliguri, Entered the Royal kingdom of Bhutan, and put up at PheountSholing. Its a border town along with an Indian town Jaigon. The two towns separated by a wall could not be any different. Felt the sense of freedom and security walking around in night, where i was always on the alert on the east coast India. Could get sim cards for 20 Rs and immediately activated on the go! Permits was time consuming and also needed a call from Indian embassy to get things going. Ride ahead on my first international road trip to explore the Himalayan country. Had couple of days of holdup due to a landslide, before reaching Thimpu. It was so very developed and felt like i was in a European town. Very nice and polite people around here but i guess there are always exceptions as my phone got mugged here of all the places. Statistics makes no sense i guess. Well have to move on. Rode around the Paro airport, the only one in Bhutan, to visit Takshakt Geomba also known as Tiger's nest, Perched on the side of a sheer cliff face. East of Thimpu i could see not much development. It was just miles and miles of winding mountain roads and a small towns on the way. Could ride for hours and still be in the same geographical area. But whose complaining as those were beautiful riding days on the mesmorising country side of Bhutan. The Himalayan mountains were on the greener side with highest pass around 3700 meters and any higher would need trekking. Loved taking breaks and gazing at the valleys and mountain ranges. After 10 days and 1400 Kms traveling in Bhutan, I exited at the Samdrup Jongkhar town bordering Assam state of India.

All of a sudden a sense of insecurity grips me. Such a transformation coming from the safe haven of Bhutan. Most had advised me against traveling North East India but for my co conspirators of this trip. Added to that there was serial bomb blasts a couple of days before i reached Guwahati. Had seen only a couple of triplogs on net of people traveling this region on motorcycles and cycles. I was in contact with them and they were kind enough to guide me around over phone. I would be lying if i said i wasn't scared. Riding towards Guwahati, keep seeing these boards by Military, advising against terrorism. Lucky that a friend of mine from collages days was from here and i put up at his parent's place. This was comforting and i could think straight. Visiting Arunachal Pradesh was first on the cards but the permits were not available for couple of days. Thus i moved down to Meghalaya and stayed in Cherrapunjee for a night, riding over the ridge of a picturesque valley. It was a bit funny cos i had wore all my rain gear when i entered the second most wettest place in the world and it was bone dry! What do you know it does not rain for four months here! Its surprising how in this modern age of Internet many things we learn by going to actual places. The places and villages and people felt really strange and the only way i can express is that it felt strange. Lot of places to visit around there, including a long hard trek to check out the amazing living root bridges. Back to Shilong for a couple of days rest and permits for states of Nagaland, Mizoram and Arunachal.

From there on i am supposed to be riding in troubled areas as i move in to Tripura. Never thought i would be riding in these states. People not really vella and i had meal for like 5 rupees. There were even military escorted convoys to get to Agartala the capital of Tripura. Some how i was allowed with out the convoy. Guessed the trouble makers would not be interested in a single bike. Was hosted by an police Inspector in Agaratala for lunch. Nothing like a home cooked meal to energize. Stayed near Neer Mahal, the lake palace for a night. Its first rains of the season as in head east to Mizoram. My idea of riding through an interior route to Aizwal, the capital, got foiled by rain. Had to stay at

Mizoram border town khanmun's guest house, nestled in forest kind of place. Had to back track and take the horrid route via Silchar. Entering the hilly state, the difference between the neighbouring state of Tripura was very evident. For a change i see lots and lots of Karizmas and many new bikes there. Aizwal was perched on steep hills with hardly any buildings and households on flat ground. The rear of these structures were supported by couple of stories high stilts. Spent a nice evening there with a local bullet group who came to visit me. Had a chance to visit a lake inside burma. But that would have been a three day trip with bad roads and rains. Mizoram was very safe and there are no sign of trouble. But next up was Manipur, where there are atleast 30 active militant groups even now. Most people advised me to avoid Manipur. Took confidence from cyclists who had toured manipur and went ahead. Again rain was spoil sport here as i attempted to ride to Imphal via the Natorious NH 150 also know as Tipaimukh Highway. But the attempt was enough to give me shivers riding into deep narrow forest road. Any way came back to Aizwal and took the Silchar route to Manipur. Heavy military presence in this state. Lot of soldiers patrolling the highways. Was even hosted by a Assam Rifals camp for a night. Was lucky enough to have a glimpse at how soldiers in action live. The Major, my host also gave me a good insight of the state of affairs in the troubled state. Made it to Imphal the capital the next day. Guess that is the only city in the state. Kohima was next up and i was out of Manipur with no trouble at all but for heavy rains. Sad that such a beautiful hilly state is in turmoil. Not yet breathing easy as i just entered Nagaland. Again contrary to all i have heard about this state, it was a peaceful ride and stay actually.

Exited Nagaland from Dimapur and headed straight to Kaziranga National park. Spotted lot of One Horned Rhinos on a fantastic early morning elephant ride. It was time to head north into Arunachal Pradesh. Since monsoons were approaching fast i decided to skip exploring eastern Arunachal as rains are supposed to be deadly around here. So Tavang was the only place i felt feasible. Got permits in Tezpur and soon i was crossing over the Misty Sela pass to reach Tavang. Thanks to suggestion of my friends and a veteran motorcyclist's article in , i went straight to DC office and then to Mountain Brigade to secure the permit to Visit Bum La, a disputed border mountain pass between India and China. The next day was luckily of clear weather and gave a window to attempting the pass. Had to get clearance by 3-4 check posts before i could proceed. It was tough, especially a some meters of incline on rounded stones. But it was rewarding atop Bum La. Was hosted well by the Sikh Regiment stationed there at the Border personnel meeting hut. Then it was kind of escape for Arunachal as i had to ride out terrible rains to get back to Assam. Looks like my North East leg is over and i head to Sikkim after a couple of day's rest in Guvahati.

Reaching Gangtok, i was suddenly in a tourist region. Looks like 'dangerous' part of the trip is over and from then on it was in safe touristy places. Well i could breath a sigh relief. Loved Sikkim and a couple of days of party at Gangtok was great to unwind with out worries of safety. With some hard work at getting permits, visited Nathu La, the trade border pass between India and China. Felt great to be there. It was time to head north and the rest of the Sikkim ride was mindbogglingly beautiful. Plenty of waterfalls around. ChungTong is a point of Y fork and i had a awesome rides to Zero point and Gurdongmor lake on either side of the fork. The bright blue Lake being at an altitude of 17000 feet. First time i get the taste of riding wide open high altitude places of himalayas. The development in north sikkim was hardly any thing compared to south. Had troubles with basic needs of phone coverage and petrol. Had to barrow some as well. Couple of landslides and fuel shortage made sure that i would spend a night at police check post in the middle of no where. But loved every moment of all this. Spent a day at Pelling gazing over the Majestic Kanchanjunga mountain range. Then ride out of Sikkim into Darjeeling to experience the famous toy train.

Before i realized i was out of country again, this time i entered Nepal via Pashupathi nagar border town. There was some political turmoil in Nepal just a week back and i was advised not to get there. But contrary to news on TV, things were peaceful here. Nepal is not all hilly as its got lot of plains south of Nepal with the Mahendra Raj Highway being life line. Crossed over the Kosi river and reached Kathmandu, which would be my base in Nepal for some time. It had been almost 3 months into my trip and my father came over to visit me. That was a great couple of days spent with him before he left to Bangalore, wishing me luck. It is crowded in Kathmandu. But the tourist area Thamel is quite a happening spot for chilling out. Do a couple of days ride to north of Nepal to the Kodari border town with China. It was full of activity at the border. A little south and rode more of the beautiful countryside till Jiri. The plains and hilly regions of Nepal are as different as they can be. Thought heading west but being encouraged by my friend, took a flight to Lukla. So that, with a couple of day's trek, could get a glimpse of Mt. Everest! There are no roads here so had to resort to flight and trek. Since i dont do trekking, was very skeptical in what i was getting myself into. After couple of hard days of trekking, was blessed with a clear day and there i spot the Mt Everest. Almost head back, but got tempted to go ahead till the Base camp, self motivating all the way. It was tough days, having to deal with AMS and long walks, but it was very very rewarding reaching the Everest base camp and Scaling Kala Patter to view Everest as closely as possible by non professional. Felt the sense of achievement and it was time to get back on the road heading west.

After the triumph there was a set back. A kid ran onto the road from behind a parked truck and got hit by my bike. Next two and half days were nerves uncertain days spent being a forced guest at a police station. Luckily the kid was ok to be discharged from the hospital and i was free after paying the hospital bills! That was an experience too. Made it to Pokhara and settled a the calm lakeside are around Pheva lake, a haven for tourists. Fantastic place to unwind and freak out. Before heading south to India, thought of taking couple of days ride to Muktinath, which turned out to be a very tough offroad ride for two days. Was awesome place to visit but the horrid paths and couple of bike spills took a toll on my health and lost it big time in Pokhara with stomach Infection. After 3 days of no improvement, trusting that riding would heal me started uncertainly towards India heading south. And i did get bettor!

Varanasi, one of the holiest places of Hinduism was the reason for detour away from Himalayas. It was the hottest temperatures i have ever ridden, touching 46 degrees. Spent a day at Varanasi having a boat ride looking at all the Ghats, visiting the Kashi Vishvanath temple and also witnessed the great Aarthi ceremony held everyday evening on the banks of Ganges. It as hot as hell and was time to get back to the hills of Uttaranchal and Uttarakhand. It was a few days of beautiful peaceful country side ride in these states and nice stay at Almora. Rode all the way to Badrinath. Had more places in mind to visit but it was all cloudy and misty in the hills and could not gaze on the mountain ranges. So it was time to move on.

Step by step i had rode through many legs of the journey and still found myself and the bike going strong. Yeah i had to deal with increasing backache. But i was still good to go. Stop over in Dehradun for a couple of days hosted by a very good senior Doctor, who was kind enough to drive me to Rikesh and Haridwar. It was time to get into my final leg of journey before heading home. This part was my dream from 4 years and yes it was Ladakh. Thought of riding the circuit clock wise so i would be gaining altitude slowly. Did not want to deal with AMS like i had to in Nepal.

It was unreal looking the 'Welcome to J&K' board as i rode into the state. Finally i was on my way to Ladakh. Crossing the Javahar tunnel, Kashmir valley welcomed me. Dal lake are in Srinagar was a fantastic place i spent a couple of days. The relaxing shikara boat rides are a thing to remember. Ride out to Gulmarg and found the place well deserved its name. The slopes covered in white with flowers.

With disturbance in Srinagar, moved on and stayed at Sonamarg in a Tent. The beautiful of Himalayas yet again apparent. Crossed the tough Zozi La which lifted me into Ladakh. Made it to Kargil and decided to ride out the Zanskar valley. First time in the trip i needed to carry extra fuel with me. This was a long detour with hardly any roads. The offroad path riddled with stream crossing were tough especially in the evenings. Being the peak of summer, the snow melt streams are quite heavy. Other than that, the Suru and Zanskaar valley were beautiful places to ride. Felt every thing the eye could see was mine as there was hardly any one for miles together. Got to gaze at Parkachik and Diran Durung Glaciers. Both of them came up as a surprise as i naively hadn't made any home work. Back tracked to Kargil and it was time to get Leh'd. Finally i am there in Leh crossing over a couple of passes and unworldly landscape. Took a couple of days rest as a breather.

Nobra valley ride for 3 days was very relaxing and pleasant, with weather blessing me with some sunlight. Scaled the Khardung La, officially world's highest motorable road. Finally i got to get my picture on with the board with my bike. Every day's ride in the himalayas has something different to offer. Checked out the Hunder sand dunes, panamic and on the return tried out Wari La. This was the less traveled path and isolated. It was just beautiful out there feeling the magnitude of the mountains. Had to some tricky obstacles to cross and made it at the end of the day and back to Leh. Since i had time in had, wanted to explore eastern Ladakh and sketched out a circuit. Very less first hand info available as few ride these regions some closed to foreign tourists. Stayed at the bank of the famous high altitude Pangong lake. Since i could not find any company gave a try and was successful in scaling Marsimek La, solo. Felt unreal to be there at the place i used to dream of. Continued east and rode along the LAC with China. It was mind blowing experience with all the isolation, wide open spaces till the eye could see. The uncertainty of path as i just had tire tracks to follow. The warm reception and hospitality of soldiers posted in these remote places was touching. Salutes to them for dedicating their lives so that we could have our way of life. Reached Hanle, one of the villages in eastern most Ladhak. With hardly any arrangements for tourists, had a home stay. Also had a tour of the Observatory there. Heading west towards Nyoma, the landscape was unbelievable with colorful mountains. The beautiful blue Tso Moriri was a bit hard to reach with some rough path, but in the end it was worth all the effort. Reached Leh with satisfaction and there was only one direction now. Its South.

Heading out of Leh was already in the direction of Home after months of wandering. Ladakh was not yet over as i had to cross many passes like Tanglang La, Baralach La and finally Rothan Pass before reaching Manali. Climbing down Rothang was very though with all the slush and bad weather. Made it to Delhi the next day. Pretty happy at having a relaxed tour of one month in J & K. Was hosted by a friend in Delhi, met many friends in Delhi. It was the hottest and most humid place in my entire trip! Ofcourse would not leave the capital without visiting India gate.

The ride down was through Rajasthan. Explored the city of Jodhpur before heading south into Maharastra. Swine flu was the headlines as i entered pune and again another news i found over hyped by media as i spent couple of days with my friends. Explored a bit of Maharashtra by visiting Mahabaleshwar, panchgani and Thoseghar. The western ghats as always was best to travel in monsoon. Then rolled into karnataka after 5 months. Relaxed a day at Goa and Bijapur with relatives. Kanyakumari was the target before i actually ride towards home. Caught the west coast from Mangalore and headed south. Was quite an adrenalin experience riding in the fast paced crowded highways of Kerala. Finally made it from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. Wanted to check out some ancient temples in Tamil Nadu, and with trip almost at end, faced break down of my bike. Lucky that i was near Trichy and was able to get the bike fixed there. Visited the Srirangam temple, and the Big temple at Tanjavur, before reaching Chennai.

Like all good things this trip had to come to an end and made it to Bangalore after almost 6 months on the move. My father relieved to see me back and congratulated me on the achievement.

My companion, the HeroHonda Karizma behaved flawlessly, till the only break down almost at the end of the trip. Braved all the rough terrains, distances, altitudes and weather extremities with me and ran for thousands of Kms just on oil changes. The maintenance was only replacement of consumables like disk pads and chain sprocket sets.

To give numbers, the trip was of 25,508 Kms spanning over 175 days and 3 countries. Which i never thought would be the case when i started out. Thanks to friends all over the country who helped me out with info and logistics, was able continue the trip comfortably.

We never really know what we are capable of till we actually give it a try. Now when i look back on those days every thing looks so unreal. I can still remember each day of the trip and will never forget i guess. In they end they are memories of life time.

Here are the Links to the Logs of the Days...