Between 22nd February and 01st March 2015, five friends from three corners of the country united and lived & fulfilled a lifetime dream – The Great Ride. What, otherwise would have been a usual work week, involving sitting on a chair and staring at computer screen, was exploited to traverse the royal state of Rajasthan, on motorcycles, as we rode close to 2700 Kms throughout the journey.
The eventful and unforgettable account of the ride is what follows,
Day Zero (21st Feb, 2015) – The Meet-up
I printed the office note and slapped it onto the Boss’ desk; it was my last assignment before the leave. I checked the clock which showed 2:30 PM, which meant it was almost time to leave for my flight for Delhi scheduled at 5:30 PM. Kunal had called earlier and we had planned to meet at the Kolkata airport itself. I quickly ate a sandwich, grabbed my bag, collected a bunch of ‘good byes’ and ‘safe journeys’ from everyone in office and was out of the gates in a flash. I’d wanted to yell ‘suck it, I’m free’, but I let it pass.
Kunal was already at the airport when I reached and we went on to complete the security formalities after collecting our Boarding Passes. We had reached pretty earlier, and were waiting for the Boarding to commence when the lady from the counter who had issued our Boarding passes came looking for us. Apparently, there was mix-up and she had issued someone else’ Boarding Pass to me which had to be replaced and I had to go through the security check again.
The flight and drive to Badal’s place was uneventful, except the cab fare made me feel that Meru Cabs was owned by Milkha Singh, as the fare flew to many hundred bucks in a course of very few kms. Veeresh had wanted us to wait for him at the airport itself till his flight from Mumbai, scheduled to arrive at around midnight, reached Delhi Airport, so that we could have split the cab fare… Baniya Sala.
Himanshu had already rode from Amabla to Delhi and reached at around 7:00 PM and had gone with Badal to pick up our third motorcycle, a Royal Enfield Thunderbird, which we had rented from Karol Bagh. Our other two bikes were Badal’s Royal Enfield Desert Strom and Himanshu’s Honda Unicorn (I know!).
Finally some 15 mins after reaching Badal’s place, the two turned up with the Bike and hugs and handshakes were exchanged followed by endearing gaalis. Veeresh reached three hours later, till the time we were half drunk. A little later in the night Neeraj, Gupta and one of his friends joined us. What followed was a drunken night resulting in us being awake till 3 in the night after which I passed out, decimating our chances of starting the first day of the ride early.
Day One (22nd Feb, 2015) – The Great Ride Begins
We finally managed to wake up at around 8:00 in the morning, already three hours late from our original plan. We hurried; couple of us skipped the bath, and finally could leave the apartment at close to 9:30 PM. Drunken us had chalked out the route plan for the over 450 Km ride last night, on a paper napkin,
The bags were then strapped on the bikes and yanked on the pillions’ shoulders. We were, finally, ready. It took us more than 3 months of planning, multitudes of hours on WhatsApp discussing the route plans and places to see and how to fit them all in a span of just 8 days. We faced several setbacks and pull outs by other people. But, now we were ready.
After fuelling up and picking some extra bungee ropes for the bags we lunged towards Gurgaon, our first stop. After a 5 min stop at Gurgaon, we rode till Bhiwadi where we stopped for breakfast.
After breakfast, we continued riding at a comfortable speed, taking small but frequent stops. The road till Jhunjhunu was the swiftest road I’d ever been on. But just as we came close to Mandwa, the roads turned slim and anorexic. There was only 40% of the width of the road running in the middle with gravel and sand on either side. To complicate the matters, we had traffic coming from both ways including Harayana Roadways Buses, one of which zoomed pass me too quick and too close. We had our first slip there only, when the Thunderbird (which I was riding) had to climb down the road, due to a broken down truck stationed there. Its rear wheel got stuck in the sand making me loose my balance and drop the bike. No injuries to man or machine.
The road regained its width after a few more kms but it was followed by a patchy road which stretched for close to 50 kms up to Fatehpur.
Finally, we climbed onto NH 11 after crossing Fatehpur. It was already close to 6:00 PM and since we hadn’t had any food since the morning, we stopped at a dhaba for a late lunch and an early dinner.
We could only start from the dhaba at close to 7:30 PM with around 170 kms more to cover. It took us a little over 4 hrs to cover the distance as we reached Bikaner around midnight.
Some good bargaining skills presented by Kunal and Veeresh landed us in a clean hotel room with a double bed and 2 extra mattresses at only Rs. 1200/- We drank beer for the night and slept, a little afraid of the lady in the painting on wall who was showing us the finger.
Day Two (23rd Feb 2015) – Desert Ride
We had planned to start the day early but could only leave the hotel room at close to 11:00 AM. We decided to visit the Karni Mata Temple (Temple of Rats) first, so didn’t have any breakfast.
The temple is located, slightly, outside the city of Bikaner, at a place called Deshnoke. We initially decided not to consult Google and followed the primitive way of finding the place i.e. asking the pan wala bhaiya. But, getting out of the city towards Deshnoke turned out to be a little tricky due the nasty small city traffic and the presence of a distinct Karni Mata Temple in every possible direction.
After roaming around for some time asking for directions at every turning and doing a couple of U-turns we decided it would be better if we relied on Google. But, again, some bad navigation and idiotic map reading led us to a dead end gali. A bunch of women were sitting on one side who were eager to help, but on asking about Deshnoke they all exclaimed in unision and their hands flew in all possible directions.
Finally sense prevailed and Google directed us to the right path which was a highway with very scarce traffic. We rode it for some 30 kms to reach the temple.
Rats. A lot of them. EVERYWHERE.
They’d be sipping milk or simply resting on the sidewalls nibbling, so that you can pose for a photo. They’ll crawl over your legs at least a couple of times and it is sure to induce a shriek.
We took ‘darshan’ and ‘prashad’ and returned towards the city to visit the Junagarh Fort, after stopping for lunch and having a ‘Bikaneri Deluxe Thali’.
Junagarh Fort was a pleasant surprise.
The museum at the fort has an arsenal to fight a full war. The weapons range from swords and daggers to guns with more than 5ft. long barrels. There’s also a Word War – I aircraft inside the fort.
We left the fort, thoroughly amazed at the stories about the royalty and the fort. Back to the hotel we re-strapped the luggage and started our bikes at around 4:00 PM for Jaisalmer, the Golden City, a 330 Km ride.
The road from Bikaner to Jaisalmer is a biker’s wet dream come true. Roads as straight as a VHP supporter with no population on either sides and absolutely no traffic for miles and miles, except a truck or two at every odd km.
Soon the sun went down and we again rode around the remaining 170-180 kms in the dark with frequent but small stops. We reached Jaisalmer past midnight.
Similar bargaining tactics were employed and we could get a hotel room, with double bed and two extra mattresses, just opposite the Jaisalmer Fort at Rs. 1000/- for the night.
We slept for the night but not before abandoning my socks which had started to smell like the black plague.
Day Three (24th Feb, 2015) – The Border Ride
All of us, some more than others, had wanted to go to Longewala (battlefield for the ’71 war) but couldn’t actually fit it in our original plan. However, once we were in Jaisalmer with Longewala 110 Kms away it just sounded plain ridiculous to even think of skipping it.
Over 800 Kms in two days had taken a toll on us as we had slept late into the morning. I and Veeresh left the hotel room before others to get some breakfast and book accommodation at one of the camps at Sam Sand Dunes. We were in luck as we booked it cheap at Rs. 1000/- per head at the hotel reception itself.
We could only complete our meals by slightly over 1:00 PM and were in fact very late. We consulted a BSF jawan about the directions for Longewala, who thought we were in the Army too (I wish). He informed that there wouldn’t be anything after a place called Ramgarh (60 Kms) so to be prepared.
If Bikaner to Jaisalmer was a wet dream come true, this was a flood. Absolutely nothing on both sides and only Army trucks on the road with the exception of a civilian jeep or two.
We reached Ramgarh in no time, where we stopped for some chai.
Just after Ramgarh, we took a turn towards Longewala and the road turned even straighter and deserted. It was surreal and unearthly. The sand flowed onto the street continuously and it felt like mist in the mountains, but warm. We stopped bang in the middle of the road to take some photos,
After some 20 mins of photo session on the middle of the road, I saw a truck approaching from distance while others were posing for a photo with their backs towards it. We hurried and moved the bikes and helmets off the road before the truck came.
After spending few more minutes there, we again started for Longewala, but we had to stop again, for a serious issue this time. The rented Thunderbird started having hiccups and stopped more than a couple of times within a few hundred meters. We had absolutely no idea what was the problem or what to do with it and with no population around a slow chill started to crawl over our backs.
After checking the bike for everything we knew, we were finally able to decipher that it was out of fuel, (I know, so stupid of us) that too not completely. The fuel knob was turned to ‘Reserve’ and voila the bike was running again. We shared a good laugh and continued towards Longewala.
Around 15-20 Kms before Longewala, the road was being reconstructed and currently there was only a dirt road stretching towards our destination. We rode slowly concentrating on the road more, as we crossed two bikes, with luggage strapped on the rear, coming from the opposite direction. They waved their hands towards us which we, obviously, reciprocated. We later came to know, from the jawans at Longewala, that the two riders were from Bangalore. So weren’t the only mad people today.
Finally, Longewala. It was like inception, a dream within a dream. Longewala. On bikes.
We stayed there for a while, talked with the some of the BSF jawans posted there, transferred some fuel from the Unicorn to the Thunderbird and went off towards Sam Sand Dunes.
We reached Ramgarh in no time and that is where the only serious mishap of the ride happened. I was riding the Unicorn and was behind the other two, when Himanshu signaled which I misconstrued as being called to come parallel to the Desert Storm on which he was the pillion. I accelerated to come up to them and that was when Badal, who was riding the Desert Storm decided to come close to the same side of the road making me climb down the road. Then, dirt-brakes-skid-splat. My rear wheel skidded on the sand, my handle wobbled and I crash landed on the dirt face first. It was a serious crash but I escaped only with a few scratches, a sprained wrist and a torn jeans and jacket.
The people around including a police constable were very helpful and showed genuine concern. We stopped there for a few minutes and after everyone was convinced that there were no serious injuries, we continued towards Sam Sand Dunes.
We reached Sam a couple of hours after sunset so we couldn’t do the all special sunset camel ride. The camp was a disaster, specially the food. There was a huge circular stage in the middle of the camp with tents surrounding it but they were playing bollywood item numbers, which is what we least expected. They’ve made it all touristy and destroyed the charm of the desert.
Seemingly disappointed we went for the Jeep Desert Safari in the night (yes we are very intelligent), which again was a waste as we couldn’t see anything in the dark moreover the way they drive the jeep it is low on thrills and high on danger. We stopped in the middle of the desert drank some whisky, Himanshu and Kunal did a few barrel rolls down the dunes and we went back to the Camp. End of an eventful day three.
Day Four (25th Feb 2015) – The Golden City
We freshened up early as per our standards and went for the Camel Ride.
The Camel Ride is the only thing worth doing in Sam, rather it is not to be missed. The camels carried us around for some 40 mins while the two kids Nawab and Asif explained stories about tourists and their own village.
We continued from there on towards Jaisalmer to see the fort and get minor fixes done with the bike.
From the outside the Jaisalmer Fort looked nothing special except being huge in size. But we were completely surprised to know that the fort is inhabited and some 5000 people call it their home. We rode our bikes into the fort which is a mini walled city in itself. The bricked pathways and sandstone walls take you back into history.
There are a lot of hotels inside the fort and we seriously regretted not staying in any one of them. Roaming around the fort in the night would have been so very awesome.
We went to all the major points inside the fort including the Jain Temples and the watch posts which give a scenic view of the city.
There is an outstanding artist inside the fort who does painting and also sells hand-painted t-shirts. His shop is just close to the centre of the fort near the Raja’s Palace. It is another must-watch. We are not allowed to take photos of his work but Kunal was enchanted by his work and bought one of the paintings.
We exited the fort had lunch just outside it and started towards Jodhpur, a 280 Km ride at close to 5:00 PM.
The road was similarly splendid but with some amount of traffic, halfway all of which diverted towards Kandla Port. The ride was uneventful. We had dinner some 50 Kms before Jodhpur and finally reached it a little before 2:00 AM. There was some trouble in getting the budget hotel room, but we found one for 1500/- for the night. End of day four.
Day Five (26th Feb 2015) – The Blue City
First thing on the list was Mehrangarh Fort. I was too eager to go there because of the one scene in ‘Dark Knight Rises’ that was shot there. We left our room early and went towards the fort with the help of Google, which you shouldn’t be using in Jodhpur. It made us into believe that the fort was just two kms away and led us into very narrow lane which ended abruptly. We asked for directions a couple of times, and then the third time a guy sat as pillion on the Unicorn and actually led us to the fort.
There was a ‘Flying Fox’ zip-line there which takes you over parts of the fort and the city. Badal and I skipped it and waited while the others went for it. After about an hour we did a tour of the fort which had nothing new to offer, except the view of the blue city.
I was looking for the well where Dark Knight Rises was shot but was thoroughly disappointed to know that first, it’s not a well and second, we were not allowed to go there. My dreams of taking a picture in the Dark Knight pose were shattered.
From there, we went towards the majestic Umed Bhawan Palace and had a real glimpse of the Indian Royalty. The vintage car display there was great as well. Only a small part of the palace is open for visitors and that too largely consists of portraits of the royal family.
Soon we were off towards the city again in search of non-veg food. This was the most irritating 3-4 hrs of the whole ride as we went from one place to other looking for non-vegetarian food. We could not find one place that was ready to serve it at that hour (it was close to 05:00 PM). After more than an hour of searching, we found a place which was ready to prepare food for us but it took them around one and a half hour to complete our order and we were now very, very late.
While the time we could go back to the Hotel and strap on our bags, it was already close to 8:00 PM with more than 260 Kms to cover for Udaipur. Our original plan was to go to Abu (Himanshu’s original place of residence) from Jodhpur but due the delay and numerous other reasons we had decided, earlier in the day, to skip Abu.
After a few kms on the highway something irked us and we decided not to go the full distance, and stayed put at Pali, 180 Kms from Udaipur. We found a room, the biggest in the 8 days, at Rs. 600/- for the night fell on the bed and slept like pigs. End of Day four.
Day Six – (27th Feb 2015) – The City of Lakes
We left from Pali early but decided to take the longer route through the mountains via Ranakpur. Riding in the curvy mountainous road with the valley on one side was a pleasant change from the straight roads. We stopped at a place on the way, climbed up a huge rock pile and took some photos,
From there, we continued towards Udaipur and reached around 3:00 PM. After finding a hotel room we went to the City Palace, which has nothing awe inspiring about it.
From there we went towards the Karni Mata Temple situated at the top of a hill. We took the ropeway to climb up. After darshan we sat at the top of a small fort cum watch post located there which gave a scenic view of the city and witnessed the sunset.
We left back towards the hotel as we had our dinner scheduled at Himanshu’s Uncle’s residence. We parked our bikes and took an auto from the hotel as he hadn’t informed his family that we were doing a bike ride and more importantly because he didn’t want to die.
We had a hearty dinner there with multiples katoris of kheer forced on to us, after which we went and sat at the Fatehsagar Lake before returning to the hotel. End of Day Six.
Day Seven (28th Feb 2015) – To the Pink City
Himanshu had been putting us in precarious situations all the time. This time we had to reach Jaipur by 4:00 PM so that he could’ve caught his train to Amabla enabling him to appear for a test on Sunday. We started very early at a little over 7:00 PM, so it meant we had to cover 421 Kms in around 9 hrs, seemingly possible on the NH 79. But a couple of hours into the ride, he changed his mind and decided to drop the idea of appearing for the test.
It now meant we had time in our hand and were free to explore the places we would’ve otherwise missed. First, we went to Chittorgarh, which has the largest fort of Rajasthan. Thank God we were on bikes because otherwise it is impossible to move around the fort which sprawls for more than 690 acres. We hired a guide for who went along with us showing the major points inside the fort,
It started to drizzle slightly but stopped just after we hit the road for Ajmer from Chittorgarh. We next stopped at around 110 Kms before Ajmer for some food, when it started to rain heavily. We were done with food at around 4:00 PM and the rain had subsided but the road was terribly wet with some heavy traffic.
We reached Ajmer at close to 6:00 PM and went straight towards the Dargah Shareef,
From there we went to Pushkar to see the only Bramha Temple,
It was already around 10:00 PM when we climbed back on the NH with 130 Kms left for Jaipur. The highway had some heavy traffic mainly trucks and after riding on the deserted roads of Jaisalmer it was nightmare. We inched towards Jaipur and stopped at a dhaba for some food some 70 odd kms before Jaipur.
Around 10 – 15 Kms still to go, it again started raining heavily. The clock had already crossed 2:00 AM when we found a hotel room and settled for the night.
Day Eight (01st March 2015) – All good things come to an end
I woke at around 9:00 from the lights coming from the bathroom. Veeresh had already freshened up and was getting ready to leave for somewhere. On inquiring he informed that he is going to meet one of his ‘rishtedaar’ and will be back in an hour. It was only when Himanshu woke up later and asked about Veeresh that we could decipher who the ‘rishtedaar’ actually was (inside joke, very funny).
The rains from last night had continued and it was still raining pretty heavily. We got up one by one and called breakfast in our room. We could only leave the room after noon when Veeresh had come back. By the time the rain had turned into a slow drizzle and we started towards Hawa Mahal.
We were on the middle of a flyover when the rain accentuated and started pouring down heavily. After some deliberation considering our early morning flights from Delhi and the rains we decided it would be better to leave for Delhi then only, and skip going anywhere in Jaipur. We did a u-turn at the end of flyover and were off to Delhi, some 270 Kms.
The rains had again subsided and were only a slow drizzle up to Rewari which is close to some 100 kms from Delhi. But due to the continuous rain the roads had become muddy and there was water logging at places. We were given showers at least a couple of times by cars zooming past. It was also really tough for the rider as mud from the rear wheel of vehicles came right onto the face and covered the visor of the helmet blinding him.
After Rewari, the rains just went full nuts and started like pouring like there wasn’t going to be a tomorrow. I was with Badal who was riding the Desert Storm when we stopped at a place some 70 Kms from Delhi and got a call from Veeresh who was with the other two and were some 20 Kms behind us. The rain continued with the same intensity as we waited for them to come there. We sipped at least half a litre of tea between the two of us waiting for them. Finally they reached around an hour later fully drenched. We then ordered some 20 cups of tea to warm us up. Kunal informed that he had fallen with his bike just a while ago but was okay. There was truck coming from behind when he had fallen but he had raised his hand and they’d seen in time to stop the truck before he could manage himself up.
We started from their at around 9:00 PM and managed to reach Delhi at around 11:00 PM fully drenched completely tired but brimming with experience.