I had long
had a hankering to visit India in a more leisurely way than the experience of a
couple of business trips, which I had made in my previous life.Train travel would be part of the visit.However, on my somewhat unexpected retirement
a few years ago, I did not see overseas travel as part of my retirement
agenda.I thought I had had my fill of
it over my working career.
with my discovery of motorcycling, I saw an opportunity of combining this new
passion with that long hankered-for trip to India.
It didn't take too long to
reach the conclusion that here was an interesting and adventurous opportunity
not to be missed. My first foray into this new world was a
three week motorcycle tour of the great western desert State of India called
particularly motorcycle savvy, a Royal Enfield to me conjured up the concept of
a rifle. However, I was soon to learn about and come to love and hate the famed
Royal Enfield Bullet. And, after all, what else could you possibly ride on a
tour in India!
really got me hooked and committed to the tour was the wonders and magnificence
of a tour through Rajasthan.Rajasthan
encapsulates such a wide variety of history, culture, landscapes, people and
politics that one could be tempted to think that it, alone, is India.Of course, it's not.But I doubt if there is another part of India
that has so much to offer.There are the
magnificent forts and palaces of the Mogul emperors and the Indian maharajahs;
the intricate architecture of the merchants’ mansions (the havelis); the changing landscapes, from desert to mountains to vast
savannah; and the ancient, not so ancient, and modern cities. Although not in
Rajasthan, the tour also included Agra and the Taj Mahal, perhaps the most
breathtaking day of all.
into Mumbai some days ahead of the official start of the tour from Delhi.That allowed me to get in my train journey of
some 22 hours. I made all the bookings on the Internet through the Indian
Railways site. It was a pleasant relief to get to the station for a 9.00pm
train to find my name on the manifest, with carriage, compartment and berth
numbers all allocated.
I shared a
compartment with three others, two of whom departed early next morning.The whole day was then spent in the company
of the leader of a Hindu religious sect. He was a somewhat rotund man who
squatted on his berth and seemed to enjoy engaging in discussion about
religion, philosophy, politics and the hot subject of the day, which was the
Indian Bollywood star, Shilpa Shetty’s run-in
with one of her fellow contestants during the British Celebrity House TV
show.You couldn't help but to be up on
this issue at the time, because it was headlines and the subject of editorial
comment in just about every Indian newspaper. His opening comment to introduce
the hot topic of the day was “Jade [Goody] didn’t realise what she was saying.”
I was obviously expected to know what he was talking about.Fortunately I did.A lot of time was also spent taking in the
sights and sounds of the passing countryside. Overall, the train trip was both
enjoyable and memorable.
overnight stop in Delhi, the day of introduction to the Royal Enfield was upon
me. There they were, all in a neat row, in the hotel car park waiting for their
new riders to begin a 2,200km(~1,377
mile)j journey around Rajasthan.However, there were to be some lessons and practice before the journey
February.I had come off my provisional
licence the previous October.I had
learned a lot about riding motorbikes in the year and a half since I had earned
my learner's permit.But I was soon to
learn a lot more before this day was out.
somewhat naïvely, assumed that a motorbike was a motorbike was a
motorbike.But no, firstly, there was no
easy push button start. As part of learning how to kick-start the bike, I was
introduced to another ‘innovation’, the ampimeter. I readily mastered the
ampimeter, but, even after three weeks, I think I was still more scared of the
bike than it was of me when it came to kick-starting. As if this wasn't bad
enough, I then learnt that motorbikes were definitely not all the same.Not only was the gear lever on the wrong
side, but the wretched gearbox was upside down.So much for having learnt by heart over a couple of years the
catchphrase ‘one down, five up’.I now
had to cope with ‘one up, three down’.Of course, all of this is well-known to the Royal Enfield aficionados;
but it was a startling revelation to a newcomer.
is where we were heading - from New Delhi across the desert to pretty much the
far western reaches of Rajasthan before heading south and swinging back through
more hilly and fertile areas of southern Rajasthan; then ending up at the
Taj Mahal in Agra. You can interact with the map by using the arrows and the +
and - signs.
Map of the Route
Here is an
interactive map of the route. You can click in the middle of the four little
right angles at top right of map to get the larger map. Then you can scroll
down to the bottom of the map legend column on the left to get to the satellite
For better or worse, this write-up is a lot less detailed than pages on subsequent tours. The reason for this is that it was written a couple of years after the tour - and from memory.
hour or so of practice around the car park, we were lead out onto a
minor highway, where we could get some real life practice coping with Indian
motorised and animal-drawn traffic.We
had only a few kilometres of this before we got to the major highway and our
first roundabout experience. On a previous visit to India, I was once told by a
professional driver who had made a few visits to Australia that the road rules
in Australia and India are pretty much exactly the same.The only difference is that in Australia
drivers tend to adhere to them.
Indian traffic, particularly at roundabouts, seemed absolutely chaotic, there
was, amongst the chaos, a few basic constants: everyone recognised that
everyone else had to get onto and off the roundabout; you had to push your way
in to gain a spot on the roundabout and manoeuvre your way out to get off it;
while nobody would actually hold back for you, your rights to get in and out
were respected and accommodated. The upshot was that, provided you didn't lose
your nerve or hesitate unduly, the whole system worked quite smoothly and
respectfully.Not in three weeks of this
seeming chaos did we encounter anything close to road rage.
We did all
learn a new road gesture - and it wasn't anything like the more common gestures
one encounters on Australian roads. It was probably the one and only, universal
gesture that seemed to be employed on Indian roads. It consisted of an arm
stretched out, with palm facing up and a slight movement upward of the
outstretched hand.This gesture could
and did mean anything that the giver or recipient felt appropriate at the
time.It seemed its meaning included a
sunny ‘hello’; a ‘thank you for your courtesy’; an invitation to overtake or
sneak in; a ‘what on earth were you thinking’; or a range of obscene messages conveyed
by more common Australian gestures.The
key thing was that nobody seemed to take offence.
losing a couple of the team within the first half-hour, we were pleased to have
made it to our first night's accommodation, which was a magnificent, restored
old fort at Neemrana.Forts and palaces,
with a few havelis, were to be our accommodation for the tour.There were a few hotels as well, but the atmosphere and charm of
restored forts and palaces and renovated havelis
contributed significantly to the overwhelming experience of Royal Rajasthan.
mastered, at least, for the most part, the vagaries of the Royal Enfield.There was still the odd occasion of a back
wheel lock-up, with a determined foot to get the bike into gear, forgetting
that the gear and brake levers had been swapped from one side to the other.
There was a bit of angel gear coasting off the bitumen and onto the dirt verge
when the gears would refuse to cooperate as a bus or over-laden Tata truck
ignored your right to be on your side of the road as it overtook other
vehicles as it came head-on towards you. There was the occasional dropped bike, but nothing to faze the
toughness of the Royal Enfield. And then there was the run of punctures, blown
head gaskets, collapsed pistons etc. But none of this could stop the progress
of the tour.We were accompanied by two
mechanics from the company that hired out the bikes.They were wonders to behold.The speed and alacrity with which they could
make all manner of repairs, even completely stripping down an engine, cylinder
and all, ensured that hardly a minute was lost of anyone's enjoyment of the
was an adventure.Every day seemed to
bring new experiences and encounters.There was the changing landscapes, so many different cultures each with
its own idiosyncrasies, the architectural magnificence of the forts and
palaces, riding through the crowded and busy towns where the wandering cows had
right of way (that alonecertainly kept
you thinking about where your gear and brake levers were), the shopping (yes,
indeed, the shopping), the food, (enough curries over three weeks to do you a
lifetime -- but I still eat them regularly), and, of course, the camaraderie of
your fellow riders.
made it back to Delhi safe and sound.The last day's ride from Agra to Delhi, on what was probably the busiest
stretch of road we encountered, saw most riders employing to the full their
three-week experience and familiarity with the Royal Enfield. Darting in and
out of traffic, squeezing in where you could, overtaking anyway that seemed
safe and practicable all became part of one's enjoyment of the Royal Enfield in
its Indian setting. Even the gears seemed to work that day, as though the bikes
knew it was almost over, so they could be kind. These memories plus the
recollections of all the experiences of Royal Rajasthan -- and the fruits of
our shopping -- all came home with us.
A couple of gems on the last days were the old Mughal capital (for a short time) of Fatehpur Sikri and Agra. We did some touring of both these sites. Delhi itself is a treasure trove but I fell far short of doing it justice. I made up for that subsequently; and have written a page on all these places here.
very keen would-be traveller to Rajasthan, here is a copy of some informal
notes I prepared for our group. They seemed to have been well-recieved: Robert's Roughguide to Rajasthan.
Here is a
slide show of the Rajasthan tour. Click on the arrow to run the thumbnail
slide show or elsewhere on the thumbnail to be taken to the album and view