Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Biking in India - An Insider's outlook

Having been on quite a few bike trips in India, and with no signs of stopping any soon, I just felt it was a good time to share a few things on my mind regarding bike trips especially in this country. So, here I go:

1.You don't need a hi-fi cruiser bike to do trips, though its a good thing to have

Alright, all of us in India revere the Enfield Bullets and most recently, the Bajaj Eliminators as they are the most sturdy ones that are there for long trips and very durable too. But off late, many of the sporty types, the Pulsars, the Apaches and the Karizma's have been hogging the limelight too. But as a guy riding a modest 125 cc bike on long trips, I feel such bikes don't get the due recognition they deserve when it comes to long trips. I ride a Bajaj XCD 125 and am very very comfortable taking it out on long trips. They might not be as zippy as the Pulsars or as comfortable or durable as the Bullets. But they have very reliable engines, demand very less of your attention and cruise along comfortably at 60-70 km/h. More than adequate for your trips aren't they? So, if you're a biker like me having a modest bike, no worries, your baby will be real happy to lug you for long. Here's my baby

2. National Highways are getting better by the day

The national highways authority is doing a very ambitious project of 4-laning all the National Highways in India and is doing a pretty good job of it. These roads when in full form are a dream to ride on. They're very smooth and flowing and make riding a joy. Wherever you're riding to, if you have a choice of taking a route through the NHs, as they are affectionately called, go for it even if its a few km more. You'll thank yourselves you did. So will your bike.

3. State Highways are not that bad either

If the NHs are a dream to ride on, state highways are no less good. They too are improving. They are not as bad as they used to be and you wont have a sore butt after riding on them for long. They do link the interior places worth visiting in India and are not a bad thing to ride on.

4. You WILL NEED good biking gear

When I say biking gear, its not just the helmets, gloves and boots. A good elbow guard, a good knee guard along with ankle protects are seriously good things to invest in. We do get AlpineStars in India and thats a very good brand to get. A word of caution. India has a notoriously huge grey market for fake helmets. If you're buying one, please go to a reputed showroom in whichever city/town you are. Else, you have the world in the internet. Thats not a bad option to shop in, though getting the right size poses a challenge.

5. Summer trips are best taken with a good sunscreen and a full hand tee for company

You could be milky white in complexion before you take a bike trip in the summer. But at the end of it you might be tanned and tanned beyond recognition. Indian Summers are notoriously hot and having a good sunscreen and a light colored t-shirt is your best bet to counter it. Yours truly ignored this fact once and now arms that are in stark contrast to the body color. :( If you're thinking about pullovers and windcheaters, they will only add to the heat.

6. Watch out!!

Wherever you are riding in India, do it with full concentration. Stray cattle, kids playing on roads, jaywalkers when you pass through towns are a rider's biggest trap. Keep a watch for people when you're passing through populated areas and for stray animals in highways.

7. Indian Rain - Best friend and a Worst Enemy

Indian Rains do increase the romance involved in a bike trip. They cool everything down, makes the landscape get prettier exponentially and patter your bike incessantly to make the ride more challenging and thereby, making you a better rider. Trust me, your confidence increases manifold when you conquer a trip under torrential rain. They just make the trip much more worthwhile. But there's another side to the story. Rains and oils on road don't mix. The tar oil, oil leaks from other vehicles can cause many a bone break. Watch out for them. With a bit of concentration, they can be easily spotted. Avoid them,and you'll have the best trip wherever you're going. Difficult to imagine how much a rain can do, but in India, trust me, it just adds to the whole experience.

8. Riding alone can be as much fun as in a group in India

Biker Gangs are becoming increasingly common in India and have carved a niche of their own. But individual bikers are a rare lot. At least, in my perspective. The awe people feel when they get to know why you're here, the way you stand out in the crowd and the adoration you get from kids is just so overwhelming. People will turn good Samaritans for you once they get to know you're a lonewolf biker. They really do. I still remember when I was in Mysore along with one more friend and we were lost trying to find the highway to Bangalore. A curious motorist enquired about us(easy to spot we were, decked up and all) and on getting to know we were lost, offered to escort us till the place where the highway starts! An escort vehicle?! Gracious! I tell you.

Well, that was most of what I had in mind when it came up with the idea of this topic. Hope it helped. Until the next post, Ride safely and Keep Riding! :)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Road Travel in India, Buses especially!

Ok, I have heard lots of travelers, especially travelers from other nations complain a lot about long distance travel in India (Thanks to FB, Twitter and what not). While I agree a lot of cribs and rants are justified, I feel a bit of insider information would go a long way in helping them on a better experience. As someone who travels a lot inside India, buses in particular, I would like to add my two cents to the whole experience.

1. Buses in India don't have toilets!

Totally agree to this point. Nothing much to justify on this. But properly planned, it can save you a lot of embarrassments. Facilities in bus stations, especially in the recent times have improved a lot. Gathering info on where buses are scheduled to stop en route will go a long way in saving you from this embarrassment. Most government run transports are online now and do provide a very detailed information on when a bus runs, its stop overs, journey time et al. Spare 5 mins of your time and you'll be wise enough. Adding to this, most of the crew members these days are sensitive to the needs of their passengers and will be willing to oblige to your request to attend to a nature call.

2. Opt for sleeper buses

Buses in India have come a long way in the past 4-5 years. Right from comfortable seats to full fledged sleeper class air conditionned buses, you have a wide range of options. Best part is they dont burn a big hole in your pocket as bus tickets are still relatively cheaper compared to first class ticket prices in trains. While I dont deny the fact that rickety buses still ply, you have better options is what i wanted to convey.

3. Tickets are not a difficult thing to get

Most of the bookings are done online. A comprehensive site for bus ticket bookings in India is Where buses ply, redbus gives you an option to book. This is limited to private players though. Government webistes are state based and it would be sensible for you to login to the website of the government road transport services of the state you are in. Its a big list I tell you.

4. Roads are bad

Not all roads are bad. Not even the state highways these days. Roads starting with NH(National Highways) are a dream to drive in and are as good as they get. Not sure of the International Standards but good enough for a car to cruise at 120-140 km/h. State highways are as good but they might not be that very wide all the time. Only when you get into the core rural areas of India, you might find un-tarred roads. But those are a rarity too these days, considering the assumption that you would not be going to that many RLT(Road Less Traveled) journeys.

5. Long distance buses have plenty of stopovers

Many travelers say that buses in India keep running all the time. Its not a fact by any means. Buses do have plenty of stopovers. You can refill on your stock of biscuits and other snacks( I would avoid oily items if I were you). While they are not a star rated facility, you will get through the basic stuff of mineral water, and other condiments just fine. Read (1) on more information on this.

P.S: All these tips are based on personal experiences and that of friends. All these I hope will stand future travelers in good stead.

P.P.S: Boquets and Brickbats are welcome as always :)