Southern India by Enfield Bullet 500 (Jan/Feb 1999)
(c) 1999 Bruce Clarke

The following is a transcription of a journal I kept while touring south India on a 1997 Enfield Bullet 500 motorcycle (and jeep). I rode the following route: Goa, Mangalore, Madikeri, Mudumalai, Ooty, Kodalkanal, Munnar, Ooty, Mysore, Hampi, Hubli and then back to Goa. The total distance travelled was about 1050 kilometres (630 miles) by motorcycle (both Enfield 500 and Yamaha 135), and about 1800 kilometres as jeep passenger or pillion.
This journal may be freely distributed so long as it is unaltered. I have recorded my notes in metric measurements. At the time of this trip, $1 US = 42 Rupees. 100 kilometres = 60 miles; 1 meter = 3 feet; 0 Celsius = 32 F; 20 C = 70 F; 38 C = 100 Fahrenheit.
I have typed up my notes exactly as I first wrote them. Many of my notes were written late at night, so some entries were very terse or used poor grammar.

I normally don’t start off with a long introduction to my trip journals but I think in this case I will. I’ve read for several years of various companies that run organised motorcycle tours in India on Indian-built Enfield motorcycles. In the mid-1950s the Indian army wanted to buy some simple hardy motorcycles for patrolling the northern borders. Some Enfield Bullet 350s were imported and they were so well liked that a subsidiary factory was set up in the city of Madras on India’s south-east coast. The original factory in England went belly up in 1970 but the Madras factory still builds 20,000 Bullets per year. The bikes are a plain-looking air-cooled four stroke single and have a very traditional British bike look. Some updates have since been made: 12 bolt electrics, some modern electrical components, and the engine is available in an optional bored-out 500 CC version. There’s a lot of Enfield information on the Internet so I won’t say more.
Today there are other motorcycles available on the Indian market but they’re generally in the 100 to 150 CC range. The average Indian’s income is about $1500 US per year, so even a $1000 US scooter is a major purchase. Owning an Enfield in India is equivalent to a westerner owning a high-end Harley or BMW motorcycle.
I usually fly overseas about once per year to rent a motorcycle for a solo tour but I found the idea of doing so in as foreign a land as India to be intimidating. When I was looking at ads for various tours in India I found that most want about $3000 US or so for a tour of two to three weeks. When you add in the cost of plane tickets that gets too expensive for only a ride of three weeks. I was searching around on the Internet in October 1998 and stumbled onto the web site
Their prices are very reasonable - much less than any other company. I did some research and found that CBA has been in business for ten years, dealing with only European customers. I asked Peter (the owner if any tours were available). He told me that he had a three week tour of the South India confirmed to run. I agreed to sign up right away. Prices vary over time: as of January 1999 the price was $2150 US. This includes shared room, breakfast and dinner, motorcycle, fuel, maps, etc. An escort jeep carries luggage and spare parts. A guide who speaks English and German leads the group. (Drinks, film, souvenirs, etc. are not included.)
Going to India involves a lot more red tape than most countries. A VISA was $50 US, and an International Driving Permit is mandatory. I was told to get shots for tetanus, diphtheria, typhoid, polio, and hepatitis A. I also tried to wire an advance payment of $500 US to CBA but the bank couldn’t get the money through the Indian bureaucracy. Peter told me that this can be quite a problem and suggested I just pay the full amount when I arrived. I finally did a lot of research and reading about India before leaving. The Lonely Planet guide to India has several pages of advice specifically on motorcycling in India.
Thur/Fri., Jan 21/22, 1999:
(Victoria, BC -> Amsterdam)
I leave Victoria at 1 PM with a short hop to Vancouver, and then a 9 hour flight to Amsterdam.
When I arrive after a fairly smooth flight I reach Amsterdam about 10 PM local time. I get checked into my hotel room and decide to take a short nap. I end up sleeping until after 6 PM and then grab some dinner. After eating I’m still barely able to keep my eyes open and so decide to go to sleep early, Too bad but I have a longer visit to Amsterdam on the way back.
Sat/Sun., Jan 23/24, 1999:
(Amsterdam -> Goa)
I slept fitfully. By 5 AM I was wide awake so I had breakfast and then headed for the airport at 6 AM. I was quite early for my 10:45 flight but the check-in counter told me that I was getting the last available aisle seat.
I noticed on the way to the airport that the price of gasoline was over two guilders per litre: that works out to over $4 US per gallon.
The Northwest flight leaves at about 11 AM on an 8 hour flight to Bombay (now called
Mumbai). The flight is fairly smooth until about an hour before landing when the flight
becomes very bumpy. At one point we pass over a very large city in Iran - I suspect it was Tehran). As the DC-10 swoops in I realise that I’m actually in India after years of wishful thinking. Stepping out of the plane I'm immediately struck by how much of a hellhole the Bombay International airport is. Take the most dilapidated run-down bus terminal you’ve seen, surround it with planes instead of buses, and you’ll picture the airport as it was about 15 or 20 years ago during its hey-day. What a disgusting eye-sore! It took me about an hour to get stamped through India Customs, pick up my one bag, and exchange about $200 US into Rupees.
There are about 42 Rupees to the US dollar and the bills are usually in small denominations.
The clerk hands me a small wad of notes. “Geez, that’s a lot of paper.” Then he hands me a stapled wad of bills about the size of a paperback novel. Wow!
I walk out of the airport past a line of beggars and tours trying to sell me taxi rides. As I walk along the sidewalk looking for the inter-terminal bus. I immediately see a couple of Enfield Bullets parked by the police hut. The bus ride to the domestic terminal was interesting: it reminded me a great deal of Mexico. Lots of honking and commotion to escape the parking lot.
Lanes of unmarked dirty concrete slab, lots of feral dogs on the loose, diesel buses, three-wheeled “auto-rickshaws”, palm trees, sheet-metal shacks next to decent-looking (and walled) condominiums. There’s not too much traffic on the streets but then it’s 1 AM. I see lots of motorbikes; all are small Vespas, Hondas, Yamahas, or Enfields. About one bike in five is an Enfield; that surprises me as I thought that most Indians consider the Enfield to be ‘showy’ and not that reliable.
One nice surprise: all the signs and people use English; it makes it very easy for me to find my way around. While waiting in the airport for my flight I notice that a lot of Muslims going on a pilgrimage to Mecca.
Toilets in India: oh boy, a lot could be said here. I walked into one stall and there’s a western-style toilet but no paper, just a small pitcher of water for a do-it-yourself bidet. Now that wouldn’t be so bad but the last person left the faucet for the water pitcher running so the floor is all wet. I figure I’ll try another stall. This one has just a ceramic hole in the floor that you squat over as you do your business. Some idiot left the tap running in this stall too. I suspect that taking a dump in India is something that requires a lot of fore-thought and planning.
I catch a plane to Goa. One the way I see the flat Arabian Sea covered with hundreds of freighters. I get a great view of Goa as the 737 lands: very tropical and lush. Lots of rolling hills and small villages. Finally after 21 hours in the air and 60 hours total I reach Goa. After a ride to Peter’s Country Club I meet Peter and we discuss the programme for the next three weeks. It will consist of roughly 100 to 300 kilometres per day of riding. There will be 10 motorcycles with four riders to still arrive. Peter doesn’t run a very formal business: it’s more along the lines of “I invite my friends to drop by and rent my motorcycles for a while.” He has an extensive agenda planned out with visits to temples, a jungle retreat, etc.
The one hour drive was exciting. A lot of hilly curvy roads, lush jungle. It reminded me of riding in Central America. Many buses, trucks and scooters dodging around. The only traffic rules seem to be “the bigger the vehicle, the more priority” and “honk instead of signal.” Here in Goa not so many of the two-wheelers seem to be Enfields but rather are Indian-built versions of small Japanese two-stroke bikes.
Mon., Jan 25, 1999:
(Goa - 15 KM)
I slept from 8:30 PM until 7 AM. I was woken up once by a cow walking outside my rooms’ window. I get up and have coffee. Peter’s Country Club consists of a few acres north of Goa’s main city of Panjim. There is a kind of cookhouse with dining area, five guest rooms and a large workshop with quite a few Enfields. Although the bikes are all 1991 or newer, they have seen a lot of use. Rust and scratched paint, but the mechanical necessities (tires, cables, etc.) seem to be good. Peter tells me that his personal bike has about 180,000 KMs but many engine parts, etc. have been changed over the years.
I go walking for about forty minutes with Peter and his dogs. We climb up onto a ridge and get a great view of the valley out to Anjuna beach. I can see several ornate churches and homes in the palm tree laden valley.
After a breakfast of eggs and toast I get my plain grey Enfield Bullet 500. I spend about twenty minutes going over the paperwork and rules with Peter, then ten minutes learning how to kick-start it. I pull out onto the country lane and start riding. I find the hand controls are not difficult, though the steering is a bit thick and there’s not much turning radius. I find I have to duck-paddle it to turn around in the narrow lane. I tried deliberately killing the engine and restarting it without too much trouble.
The biggest problem is stopping. Being British-style, the rear brake is on the left side. This drum brake is actually pretty strong but grabs tight very easily. The front brake seems to be virtually useless. I’m used to using only two fingers - and on the Enfield that barely makes it slow down. If I squeeze hard with all four fingers I find the Enfield starts to slow very modestly. Peter later tells me that you have to use the rear brake mostly and the front is so weak. He also tells me that he uses foreign made brake liners as they are better than the stock Indian-made.
Another problem is that I’m used to gearing ‘down’ as I brake, but since the Enfield has a British right-side shift, 1st gear is actually ‘up’ and 2/3/4 are all down. I keep automatically shifting into a higher gear as I slow.
After a half hour of practice the rear tire picks up a nail and I pull into the Country Club to have it patched. While the tube is being fixed I have one of the shop mechanics give me a ride (on his Enfield 350) into town to cash some traveller’s cheques. AT times we are riding 60 or 70 KPH on the narrow traffic-choked lane, dodging motorbikes and buses. It is both frightening and exhilarating. On the way back from the bank I had about 80,000 Rs in 100 Rs notes: eight thick stapled bundles. I realise I have no way to carry these paperback-size bundles so I wrap them in a piece of newspaper and put the package inside my helmet. On the way back the Enfield rider was doing about 75 kph down a winding hillside while I’m clutching my helmet full of money. The thought occurs to me that I wouldn’t want him to drop the bike. I asked Peter if this is the expected pace for this tour. He says ‘no’, only the major highways.
I practice a little more after returning from the bank. I find that by forcing myself to use more rear brake and to keep my foot away from the shifter I can stop the bike in not too long a distance. I’m now more concerned about the traffic: the country roads won’t be too bad but the city traffic is pretty awful.
At one point I stalled the Enfield and it took ten minutes of fussing to restart it. It ran rough for maybe a hundred meters and then was fine. I deliberately stop it twice and am able to restart it fairly easily. Maybe I had some bad fuel in the line. Peter tells me that he tried using fuel filters but they clog so often it was too annoying to continue; now he just cleans the carbs as they get dirty.
About 3 PM, two of the group members tell me they are riding to Vagator beach. The round trip is about 10 KM, so I say good idea. The three of us head out with me in the middle of the pack. The road is actually not too rough and for India not much traffic. I find the pedestrians, scooters, bicycles, and cattle are not too bad for passing or letting us through: it’s the trucks and buses that are bad. There’s a couple of times where a bus driver ‘hogs’ the road even though he has plenty of room to pull over to the left (Indians drive on the left - sort of). I end up barrelling through twice on the dirt shoulder.
Vagator beach is beautiful: many coconut trees, nice white sand, lots of little shacks selling seafood and beer. There’s an old Portuguese fort looking down from a hillside. While sitting on the beach we are constantly pestered by Indians trying to sell me hand-made crap - I mean crafts. Lots of dogs hang out on the beach and a couple of them “crash out” next to us; maybe they realise that foreigners are a good source of snacks?
After a couple of hours we hop on the Enfields and ride back. Compared to the other bikes mine actually starts very easily. I find I’m slowly getting used to braking with the left foot, but it is difficult to get used to the upside-down gear shift on the right side. I find that I have to plan ahead for my next shift up or down and a couple of times I catch a false neutral and have trouble getting the bike into the correct gear. When we get back I jump in the swimming pool for a few minutes.
At 7:30 PM eight of us squeeze into Peter’s Jeep for a drive into Old Goa. It’s an insane night-time ride dodging scooters and trucks. We go to a restaurant where Martin, our “Road Captain” or guide, is playing guitar. I have some sausage vindaloo and a few beers. With the exception of Clemens, an Austrian, everyone else in the tour group is a German. About half the tour group speaks English.
Tue., Jan 26, 1999:
(Goa - 40 KM)
I sleep well until about 6:15 or so. I get up and enjoy the sunrise. There’s an not-unpleasant smelling charcoal haze of burning cow dung as the neighbours cook breakfast. Large white storks stalk through the back fields of rice. Peter shows several of us his Enfield Diesel, a Bullet with a 325 cc single cylinder diesel engine. These are easily recognised by the foot-wide chrome-plated flywheel on the right side of the engine. They only put out about 6 HP and have a top speed of maybe 60 KPH. Indians buy them because diesel is half the price of gasoline here and the get phenomenal mileage (about 125 miles per gallon). He bought it more as a toy since the vibration is so bad that he can’t stand riding it for more than twenty minutes at a time.
Martin arrives: he spends an hour or so talking with the group about the Enfield and riding in formation. The four last arrivals are given a chance to take an Enfield for a test ride. The group then leaves about noon for a beach restaurant about 20 KMs away. The ride takes us over an hour: my God - is traffic awful here! Weaving between buses, trucks, ox carts, dogs, pedestrians, bicycles, pigs: very frightening. I have a very close call because a bus pulls out in front of me and can’t brake nearly as fast as I want to. The front brake seems completely useless. I find in the crowded villages I putt-putt along in 2nd gear with my foot ready at the left foot rear brake pedal. Another habit I quickly adopt is always keeping my right toes underneath the gear shift so that I won’t stupidly shift ‘down’ into a higher gear. Most of the group seems to be having problems with getting used to the Enfields.
In between the crazy villages are tranquil rivers, fields of rice and palm trees. The sky is blue and it’s 30 Celsius or warmer. I’ve always had this mental image of India as a dirty country full of starving UNICEF children, but at least what I’ve seen in Goa is completely different.
The towns are crowded, colourful, and perhaps not as hygienic as in the western world, but then there are no MacDonald’s, Holiday Inns, or billboards. Goa seems bristling with life and excitement. Reaching the beautiful beach we have an interesting meal of fish, bread, and something Martin calls “mice babies”. I think what the hell as I eat one. I then realise that in his thick German accent he actually said “maize babies”; tiny soft ears of corn deep-fried in batter. Very tasty.
We get back on the Enfields and have a fantastic and <gasp> easy ride back to the Country Club along a quiet back country road. Martin tells us that the Goans usually have a ‘siesta’ between 1 and 4 PM so the roads are usually quieter then. Fields, mountain curves, ornate white churches. We get back and I have a cool refreshing swim. Mmmm, beer is sure good after a hot ride. I’ve tried three Indian beers, San Miguel, Haake, and Kingfisher. The first two are actually pretty decent but Kingfisher tastes like beer-flavoured soda pop - ugh.
We are all sitting and waiting for dinner. I’m sitting with Clemens and Martin’s wife Pooni (both are fluent in English) when Clemens makes a comment that really surprises me: “Some of the other riders were getting impatient with you because you were riding so slowly.”
This really shocked me speechless - my jaw actually fell open. If anything I had felt that some of the others had been slowing _me_ down, not with slow riding, but with clumsy stalling of their engines or getting lost from the group. I was riding slowly (about 30 in the villages and about 50 in the countryside) but I am still getting used to the bike and wanted to go very easy.
It’s not the physical condition of the pavement but the amount of traffic is just so bad that I don’t feel comfortable going any faster. Maybe Germans are just very fast riders but I found that even at these very low speeds there’s always a bus or a cow stumbling out onto the lane every few hundred meters without warning.
We have a very enjoyable evening meal of fish cakes, beef stew (Goans are predominantly Christian and do not have problems with eating beef), salads and a custard flan dessert. The electricity keeps cutting out, so Peter entertains us with tales of political corruption in Goa. I go to sleep at 11 PM.
Wed., Jan 27, 1999:
(Goa - 40 KM)
When Martin arrives we get the bikes ready to go. After replacing my fouled spark plug we head out. It is already hot and sunny. We ride a tight curvy road through palm trees and villages but at least not too much traffic. It’s not too bad and I manage to stick close to Martin most of the time. We pull up to a ferry dock. Pushing, shoving, scooters, pale-skinned Europeans riding rusted-out Vespas, dark-skinned and moustachioed Indians staring with amusement and curiosity at us, buses honking at us to get out of the way, seagulls, diesel fumes, salty air, bright sun burning my skin, Hindus hopping over my bike fender to reach the ferry seats. Ten minutes later we dock. More hills up and down, left and right, sand in the corners, cow after frigging cow on the road. We reach a second ferry terminal that is deserted save for a small stand selling lemon sodas for 10 Rs (about 25 cents US).
Lime sodas: unsweetened carbonated water with a few ounces of tart lemon juice added: mmm, delicious and thirst-quenching! We climb up a hill and reach the Tiracol fort, and old
Portuguese fort of brick and stone overlooking the pounding surf of the Arabian Sea. Beautiful.
We eat a huge meal of rice and fish curry, fried fish, salads, pickled hot lemon (very salty and tasty), beers (a foul-tasting brew called Belo that makes Kingfisher taste good) and desserts.
The total cost is 650 Rs (including taxes and tip), about $14 US for 14 people. Yeah, about $1 per person.
We ride back down the hill to the ferry terminal. As I try to keep up with Martin I find that the front brake on the Enfield actually does have a use: not for stopping but merely scrubbing off some speed as you enter a corner. Normally I would use some rear brake to scrub off small amounts of speed but on the Enfield the rear grabs hard and locks up too easy. On one corner a Tata truck comes rumbling around and hogs the road - you bastard! I know if I touch the rear brake I’ll slide and crash into the Tata so in desperation I grab a big handful of front brake and squeeze the crap out of it. The Enfield decelerates gently and I tumble onto the sandy shoulder of the road. A hard twist of the throttle and the torquey single cylinder yanks me out of the red sand back onto the tarmac. I’m still alive - what a miracle! We reach the ferry. After crossing the river we have a sedate (ha ha) ride until we reach an unmarked lane that is unusually wide.
“This is a National Highway,” Martin tells us. “You will have to open the throttle up and ride hard.”
We start down the road. At first there’s little traffic and I gear up (down) into 4th and open the throttle. 60 - 70 - 80 KPH. Okay, this is very fast for India. Martin passes a truck and waves for me to follow; you are too slow he seems to be indicating. I toot incessantly on the horn - move over you big Tata! He won’t budge so I swing to the right side of the ‘highway’ and see a passing zone. Throttle hard - I can’t see a thing in the mirrors due to engine vibration. The Enfield slowly thumps past the Tata - yeah!
Soon it is gear up - down- throttle hard - squeeze that front brake with all my might and pray. I realise the cleverness of Martin’s plan: taking us onto the highway will force us to race through all four gears every 20 seconds and teach us to appreciate the <ahem> scrubbing off effect of the front brake (because it ain’t a real brake).
Some close calls: at one point two buses are coming at me with no time to think. They and I are both doing about 80 KPH each. I have no choice but to dive between them with - no kidding - about three inches to spare on either side of my handlebars. I scream with terror.
Finally Martin turns off the highway onto a small side road that leads back to the Country Club.
Very clever idea, Martin, to take us onto the highway to hell, because now the side roads seem easy and sedate at 50 KPH. We pull into the Club. I take a dip in the pool and have a couple of pint-size San Miguel beers. I have maybe 100 KM on the Enfield now.
Thur., Jan 28, 1999:
(Goa - 150 KM)
Slept very poorly. We got on the Enfields and rode to Martin’s home about 2 KM away from the Country Club. We then ride through fairly heavy traffic in the city of Panjim, including a couple of bridges in slow bumper-to-bumper traffic. Once past Panjim we reach a rural area and stop for snacks at a small beach restaurant. Leaving here we ride up into a hilly area with many potholes and ruts. We reach the old Portuguese fort of Mormugao. This old castle looks out over the Arabian Sea, coconut trees and surf. Riding back down the hill we pass a group of westerners on rented Vespas. The road becomes a roller-coaster of a raised lane passing through rice fields and grazing cattle herds. We stop for the night at a somewhat “rough around the edges” motel. I take a luke warm shower and then walk down the beach for a swim in the 30 C Arabian Sea. It’s hot and I guzzle down a couple of sodas. The beach is beautiful with powdery white sand, palm trees, little shacks selling beer and seafood.
I found the riding today to be much easier; I’m finally getting used to the Enfield’s unique braking system. Unfortunately I still have problems with the transmission and find that I catch a false neutral on about 20% of my shifts.
We have a good dinner at a fairly nice beach restaurant. After a delicious dinner I get a long ride through the dark on the back of Johannes’ Enfield (he manages to get lost for a few minutes). Back at the motel Martin plays guitar, including a song he wrote called “Enfield Blues”. We meet a Swiss man who has spent six weeks in India. He tells us that he had to stand in line for four hours to buy a train ticket recently. He sees our Enfields and says that when he comes back next year with his wife-to-be for their honeymoon he’ll rent a motorcycle.
Fri., Jan 29, 1999:
(Goa -> Udupi 180 KM)
I slept okay until 5 AM, when I was awakened by some idiot slamming a door several times so loudly I could hear it through my earplugs. After breakfast we start riding at about 9 AM or so.
After crossing several rivers we stop and Martin complains that I am not riding fast enough.
We’re riding about 60 KPH; personally I find even this speed challenging on these narrow busy roads. The road climbs in altitude slowly past palm trees, rice fields, cattle and ox carts. We still see many scooters but the number of buses and trucks starts to lessen.
With the reduction in traffic riding starts to get a bit easier. I start to get ticked off with
Martin. He keeps berating me to follow him more closely, yet I’ve noticed that the rest of the group is only close behind me on the curves: in the sweepers and straights they are having as much difficulty keeping pace with me as I am with Martin. He doesn’t seem to understand that he’s been riding an Enfield in India for 15 years and I’ve only been doing the same for three days.
Now that we’ve left Goa behind we’ve entered the “true India”. It definitely has less western influence. Children along the roadside yelling “Hello hello” as we ride by. Big blue Tata trucks hogging the road. At one point a Tata is passing a bus and takes the whole road. I have no choice but to drop several inches into the rock-filled trough on the shoulder. I’m riding over rocks the size of coconuts and my arse is bouncing right off the seat. The ditch is deep enough that I’m afraid if I try to swing back onto the tarmac I’ll lose control and crash, so I keep in the ditch and man-handle the bars. After about 100 meters the ditch rises level with the pavement and I ride back out onto the roadway.
We stop at a Hindu vegetarian restaurant. The food is tasty but very spicy and burns in my gut.
Back on the Enfield I decide to stick close to Martin come hell or high water. We ride down to the coast. There’s more traffic now and this leads to lots of passing around slow moving buses.
I find that if I execute passes very aggressively I can stay to within 100 meters of Martin about 90% of the time. The rest of the group is struggling to keep up with us. At a short rest stop, Dieter complains to me that I’m passing too aggressively and it's hard for the rest of the group to keep up. I don’t say anything but think to myself that he should be complaining to Martin as the guide is the one setting the pace. At least now Martin has stopped telling me I am too slow.
We reach the city of Udupi. Crowded streets, dogs and cows, honking horns, half-built office buildings, cow dung fires on the street corners. We visit the Krishna temple and see elephants being offered coconuts. The elephants crush the round fruit with their foot, then use their trunks to pat the head of the person making the offering.
During a dinner of Indo-Chinese food Martin tells me that he understands my difficulties with wanting to ride faster. About half the group is content to ride at a relaxed pace, but half are rather vocal in expressing their wish to ride at a faster pace. Dagmar (the only woman rider in the group) tells me not to worry, as she has also had some complaints from the faster riders that she rides too slow.
Sat., Jan 30, 1999:
(Udupi -> Madikeri 200 KM)
I couldn’t sleep worth crap. It was very noisy and hot. My room must have been at least 35 C - I had to open the window. Of course this let in a lot of mosquitoes, so then I had to lie in bed with my sleeping sack sheet pulled up over my head.
I watch the sunrise: blood-red from all the pollution in the air, both pretty-looking and pretty frightening to think of how dirty the air is. I notice that I have a horribly sunburnt nose because I forgot to put on some sunscreen. Dagmar and Norbert offer me some sunburn ointment. One of my eyes is badly bloodshot, possibly from either the sun or from swimming in the ocean.
Our first 125 KM for the day goes well. We have to ride through the outskirts of the large city of Mangalore. I’m actually able to stay close to Martin and the rest of the group has difficulty staying close. I am starting to find that the Indian way of driving is not that bad once you understand the pecking order of largest to smallest vehicle size: the larger the vehicle the more right of way it gets. I’ve learned better the art of darting between the other vehicles.
At one point Dieter’s clutch burns out - half an hour to replace. While riding past a Muslim temple surrounded by rice fields, Dagmar is passed by a bus: the bus cuts in a little too soon and brushes against her, shoving her off the road onto the sandy shoulder. She managed to scrub off some speed before landing hard on her left shoulder. Her shoulder is badly bruised and she gets a few minor scratches on her helmet. (Dagmar has an interesting bright yellow Nolan three-quarters helmet with an integrated flip-down face visor.) There’s no damage to her Bullet and she is back to riding in about 20 minutes. We stop at a small village for some fresh coconut milk right from the green shell. There is an instant crowd of hundreds of
schoolkids gathered around the Enfields, all pointing and yelling excitedly. Our visit is
obviously a very unusual occurrence.
We then ride into a hilly forested area with some gentle sweeping curves. At times the pavement is very rough and potholed, so much so that I’m getting bounced up off the seat. The road gets a bit more curvy and we seem to be doing about 40 KPH. We pull over at a rubber plantation and Martin tells me that we should be doing at least 60 KPH. I tell him that I’ll ride ahead of the group and that the rest of the riders can play catch-up. It’s still 35 KM to the hotel so I get moving. Without having to worry about pacing with the rest of the group I find the riding much more enjoyable. There’s actually time to look at the trees and small villages on either side of the winding roadway. Several times I encounter a dump truck or a fuel tanker hogging the road but I now have time to pass patiently. Eventually the others catch up after about 30 KMs and we ride the last 5 KMs together to the night’s stop.
We have a truly delicious meal of roast tandoori chicken and various Indian dishes. One small brown dog is very friendly and hangs around the bonfire begging for scraps of food. I talk with one of the serving staff. He tells me that he’s going to university to study computer science.
When I tell him I’m from Canada and I work for the government, he keeps asking “Clinton government?”“No, government in Canada, not United States.”“Clinton government?”
Finally I have to draw a crude map of North America so I can show him the difference between Canada, the USA, and Mexico. At first I can’t understand how someone going to college can’t distinguish between Canada and the USA, but then I think that the average American university student might have a problem telling the difference between India and Pakistan.
Sun., Jan 31, 1999:
(Madikeri-> Mudumalai 280 KM)
We start riding at 9 AM. The weather is sunny and now that we are in the mountains the temperature is more mild and dry - like a pleasant spring day back home. At one stop I tell Martin I want to ride ahead and let the group follow after. He says good idea. This works well and I usually get several KM ahead so that it takes the group a fair while to catch-up. When they do catch-up I find the pace to be challenging but I notice I’m also starting to get faster on the curves. We reach an area where the bumpy tarmac gets very potholed from monsoon rains.
The potholes are filled in with red dirt and baseball-size rocks. Now the others start to slow down. Being used to rough roads I’m able to stay ahead of the pack.
At one town Martin gets ahead of me but I notice that the group behind me has stopped. Peter waves at me and rides up to indicate that someone has some kind of mechanical problem but he can’t explain in English. I indicate that I’ll ride ahead. After a couple of KM I reach Martin.
After telling him there’s a problem he rides back to investigate. I keep going and ride into a small town with a fork in the road. Martin had warned me to keep to the left, but a sign in Tamil has the one English word ‘Sanctuary’ pointing to the right. I ask several people if this is the road to the Mudumalai Animal Sanctuary. They have a lot of trouble understanding my accent but eventually say to go to the right.
I ride something like 30 KM through tea and coffee plantations to reach the small town of Vaaraneln. I check my directions and find someone (a taxi driver) who understand English. No no, he tells me; you should have taken that left at the fork, the people thought you were asking directions for another sanctuary. A crowd gathers to stare. The sun is getting low and I have another 70 KM yet to reach Mudumalai! I ride as fast as I dare back to the fork but there’s a problem: my horn is now broken and the rear brake has overheated (rendering it useless). I’m
rounding a corner when two jeeps side-by-side come at me. I can only brake with the front brake, and my Enfield grinds to a halt only two feet shy of the front of one jeep. The driver starts yelling at me and shaking his fist. I just ignore him and keep going.
When I reach the fork I rip through the town. One person points down the road and yells “Motos!” Good. I ride as fast as I dare without a horn or proper brakes. When I round a bend in the road I yell out as loud as I can “Hello hello!” to warn people I’m coming. Indians stare at me with their jaws hanging open a this strange apparently drunk foreigner racing along the darkening road. I flip on the headlight and find that this helps give other vehicles warning as they can see my headlight beam through the smoky haze of dusk. Eventually I reach the outskirts of the large town of Gudalur. I realise I still have about 30 KM to go to reach the sanctuary. There’s no way I’ll be able to find it in the dark, so I stop to ask for directions to a hotel. Just then Servesh pulls up in the chase Jeep and asks me “What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be at the sanctuary by now?”
(!) “I got lost!”
"Grr - “It’s a long story!”
Servesh points at Andreas, riding behind on his own bike. “His bike wouldn’t start, so I just got it fixed now!” We both follow Servesh through the crowded streets of Gudalur. After a frightening ride through the dark on a winding jungle road, we finally reach the Sanctuary about 9 PM. I figure Martin will be angry I was lost but he seems relieved - “I thought you’d had an accident!” It turns out that the others had only arrived here 45 minutes before I had.
Why? Because the group had had the following problems:
- a flat tire
- fouled plug
- a clutch
- a leaky seal
- a throttle cable
- Dagmar’s eyes were aggravated by the dust in the air and so she left her Enfield in Gudalur for a day.
- Johannes passed between a bus and a jeep, clipping a pedestrian at about 40 KPH.
The pedestrian ran away and poor Johannes has a very nasty scrape on his lower arm. His handlebars, mirrors, crash guard had all been bent and had to be bent back into shape. Worse his clutch lever had snapped so Servesh had swapped over the front brake lever, leaving him with a working clutch and a rear brake.
Most of the folks rode about 240 KM today, but my getting lost leads to my riding about 280 for the day. Everyone eventually sits down to a delicious meal at about 11 PM. At dinner I mention that it’s Sunday. Martin says “Ah, that explains it.” “What?” “Why the liquor store was closed in Gudalur.” It is well past midnight when I fall asleep.
Mon., Feb 1, 1999:
I slept in a bit later this morning. After a light breakfast several of the group went for a hike of about two hours. We saw several silver-coloured monkeys high in the trees. Climbing up near a picturesque waterfall we snap some photos. On the way back we spotted several wild bison.
After a tasty meal (with a delicious orange vanilla pudding) I spend the afternoon relaxing in the shade. A few of the folks went for a leisurely ride. Norbert tells me that when he picked up Dagmar’s Enfield back in Gudalur he saw some wild elephants blocking the road.
I asked Servesh why does Peter buy the Bullet 500 if the 350 is more reliable. He says because the 350 has no power above 4000 meters and so can’t be used on the Himalayan tours. Servesh adjusted my horn and said the rear brake was fine now; he figures it probably overheated from riding so far yesterday.
Late in the afternoon we ride out to a place where elephants are trained to carry timber, and see several elephants of varying sizes. There are also quite a few wild monkeys. We get back to the jungle retreat and have a few drinks and dinner.
Tue., Feb 2, 1999:
(Mudumalai - > Ooty: 40 KM)
I, Clemens, and Andreas went for a hike early just after sunrise. We hiked up to a ridge with some shady meadows where our guide Stephen tells us that wild elephants can often be seen.
At the top of the ridge we have a spectacular view of the valley: forests, villages, rice fields, and a Hindu temple on top of a cone-shaped hill. We find a circular ring of hand-cut stone: it’s a site for offerings to one of the Hindu gods.
We have leisurely breakfast, and about 11 AM we fire up the Enfields. There are a few KM of gentle curves and then we reach a series of tight hairpin turns. There are small stone signposts indicating which of 36 bends we’ve pass. I'm not used to such curves and the others easily pass by me. Up up the road climbs, from 1000 meters to 2600. Three-quarters of the way up the pass I get stuck behind a blue Tata bus and the single lane is too narrow for me to pass by. I finally get past and then immediately get stuck behind another bus. My Enfield then stalls out - no gasoline. I switch to reserve and need about ten frigging kicks to get the Bullet to start. I reach the top of the hill, meet up with the others and then ride into the town of Ooty.
This area is famous for spices, oils and sandalwood. Kurt’s accelerator cable snaps while riding through town, causing his accelerator to stick open and almost causing him to head-on with a bus. The group fuels up and reaches the Lakeview Hotel after a total of only 40 KM for the day. We all hit the hotel bar and drink the only beer in stock, a dreadful fizzy brew called Golden Eagle.
Several folks then decide to ride out to a park on a hilltop that overlooks the Ooty surroundings.
Spectacular (but hazy) views of the Nilgiris (“blue hills”). Back in Ooty we do some shopping and photographing of the hectic city traffic. Other folks buy souvenirs while I am more
interested in buying some sunburn ointment for my nose. We return to the hotel for an adequate if unexciting meal. Many jokes are made that this so-called ‘Lakeview Hotel’ should really be called ‘Lackview’ because you can’t see the lake from here.
My Enfield has started making a terrible thumping noise. Servesh checks it out and thinks the crankshaft bearing is starting to go. We discuss what to do. The next three or four days consist of winding mountain roads that will be very demanding on the engine. Servesh and Martin recommend that we leave my Enfield here for the next few days while I ride in the Jeep. After we return to Ooty the roads become less demanding and maybe the Enfield will finish the trip.
Wed., Feb 3, 1999:
(Ooty - > Kodalkanal: 220 KM by Jeep)
Awake at 6 to watch the sunrise. After a small breakfast I park the Enfield in a secure spot, then board the Jeep. On the way out of Ooty, first Norbert and then Clemens get tire punctures.
We start down a snaking jungle road with many hairpins and dangerous curves. We see literally hundreds of monkeys eating bananas and leaves on the roadside. I notice that the group are riding 80 KPH on curves that I would ride at maybe 50 KPH. We reach one bend and find Peter sitting on the road holding his ankle. He had just hit a patch of oil and dropped his Enfield. Now he had a bad scrape on his rear end and a very sore foot. The damage to his Bullet consisted of a broken mirror, bent foot peg and bent engine guard.
At the bottom of the pass we ride into the state of Tamil Nadu. The terrain changes
dramatically to being very flat, hot, and sandy. There are irrigated fields and coconut trees.
The group is riding what I consider to be very fast (about 90 KPH) for this narrow, cow-infested road. The road is flat and straight but this speed strikes me as foolhardy for India.
Even going through small villages the group doesn’t want to drop its speed below about 80 KPH, which seems completely ridiculous to me; I would have insisted in dropping my speed to 50 or less. Looking at the folks in the small villages I can see many are startled at the speed with which the Enfields ride through.
At one fork in the road Clemens gets separated. Servesh notices fairly quickly and tries to warn Martin, but the group is riding so fast that even at 100 KPH it takes several minutes for the Jeep to pull even with Martin. Servesh and I head back in the Jeep, eventually finding Clemens.
After a lengthy fuel stop I notice that despite the (IMHO) excessive speeds we’ve only
managed to ride 120 KM in about 5 hours. This is due to delays with punctures, Peter’s crash, minor repairs, etc.
As we ride through the flat fields of Tamil Nadu I notice dozens of brightly painted Enfield Diesels.
Dieter is following too closely behind a bus and hits it, breaking one of his mirrors and getting a few scratches. Kurt throws the master link on his chain.
About 5 PM we reach the Ghat road pass, a 50 KM stretch of climbing hairpins. On the way up we have some incredible views, including the fairy falls. A tone point Servesh has to stop to replace Martin’s throttle cable. By the time we reach Kodalkanal it’s getting dark. It took these fast riders 90 minutes to cover the 50 KM so I’m sure a slow poke like me would have taken a lot longer. I’m very sorry I didn’t get to ride up but then I would have had to listen to more belly-aching about how slowly I ride.
I think the attitude is quite different between European and North American riders. The Europeans look at motorcycling as a competitive sport, but North Americans look at it as a relaxing hobby. I find the pace we’re travelling to be needlessly risky, both to the riders and to the innocent bystanders we’re racing past.
Good dinner at the Carlton Hotel.
Thur., Feb 4, 1999:
(Kodalkanal: 25 KM as pillion)
Clemens and I woke up early, then rode out to Coaker’s Walk on his Enfield. From here we have great views of the sunrise. We then ride about 20 KM around the town of Kodalkanal.
After circling the lake we return to the hotel. Meeting the others we then ride to the Carlton for a very good Indian breakfast consisting of fried potatoes, rice cakes with spicy sauces, toast, etc.
We travel out to some cliff views but the cloud-cover is very low and we can’t see too much. A large monkey keeps chasing us, looking for food. Returning to Kodalkanal I have two rolls of film processed and printers for 300 rupees, about $6 US. I come back to the hotel after spending an hour walking about the town.
Peter’s ankle is badly twisted and he has to ride the rest of the tour in the Jeep. Martin arranges to have his Enfield shipped back to Goa.
Fri., Feb 5, 1999:
(Kodalkanal -> Munnar: 150 KM in Jeep)
I woke up at 2:30 with a dash to the toilet: severe diaherea! I felt fine yesterday so I suspect some food from the fancy Carlton Hotel. I take some Imodium and that solves the problem (at least temporarily). Leaving Kodalkanal the group rides down a twisty road through the jungle.
There are very few trucks and no mechanical problems (for a change) so we make good progress. After about 50 KM we reach a flat plains area. Immediately I notice that the Indians become much more friendly and start waving and smiling as the Bullets ride by. The group seems to be riding a bit slower today - about 70 KPH. There also seems to be some sort of political campaign in progress: banners with political slogans (in Tamil) are everywhere. The streets of the local towns are crammed with vehicles, ox carts, pedestrians. Clemens gets yet another tire puncture! The Enfields fight through the traffic and reach a hilly area.
We start to climb up a hairpinned snake of a road into steep forested mountains but then Martin pulls over: his rear fender has broken, needing about 45 minutes to repair. Up, up to the crest, where we cross from Tamil Nadu into the state of Kerala. The road then swoops down into fields of ginger bushes.
We enter an area of tea plantations unlike any terrain I’ve ever seen. Short, steep sculpted hills of manicured tea bushes with finger-shaped lakes splaying between the ridges. After 50 KM of tight twisting road we reach the hillstation of Munnar. Once checked in I spend an hour or more walking around the local public market and visiting a colourful ornate Hindu temple.
Many smiling children: “Please sir, where are you from?” Uttering the phrase “India is a very beautiful country” immediately brings smiles, offers of help, tea, etc.
In the hotel bar I overhear a young Brit say something about breaking his arm while falling off a bus. I introduce myself to Aaron. He tells me he was on a crowded bus to Kodalkanal. The bus was so cramped Aaron decided to ride up on the roof luggage rack. When the bus passed under a low tree branch he was knocked off and broke his arm in the fall.
The group needed 7 hours to travel only 150 KM today; yes, an average pace of only 20 KPH.
This isn’t because folks are riding slowly but because of the repairs and the heavy traffic. On average we’ve done about 200 KM per day and have a 300 KM day yet ahead. I honestly think that this is way too ambitious: we’re zooming past many interesting towns and sites. I think that I would enjoy visiting India again in the future, but if so I’ll rent a motorcycle on my own and tour at a much more relaxed pace, say 100 KM per day.
Sat., Feb 6, 1999:
(Munnar -> Ooty: 150 KM in Jeep)
I slept reasonably well. It’s a beautiful sunny day with a temperature of 25 C. I’ve noticed a lot of Japanese 100s (Honda CD100SS, Suzuki Shogun 100, Yamaha RX100). There are very few bikes bigger than 100 CCs; those that are Enfield 350s (the 500s are very rare), Enfield Diesels (only in the flat plains), Rajdoots (a 175 cc two-stroke copy of an old Austrian Puch), and Yezdis (an Indian-made Jawa two-stroke).
The road climbs through fog and tea plantations. The road then drops in altitude and the air warms up. We stop at a colourful Hindu temple near some waterfalls.
While driving through a wildlife sanctuary a guard acts like a real jerk and says he wants baksheesh (a bribe) or he’ll want to search the Jeep for booze. He gives Servesh a really hard time and Servesh isn’t very impressed.
“What a big asshole!” Servesh says to me. “He just wants money or he won’t let us through.” Finally Servesh gives him 10 Rupees just to shut the guard up. Riding through the park we meet a Swiss couple touring India on an old white Enfield 350. We pass through Palladum: flat plains, palm trees, smiling people waving at us.
A police checkpoint warns us to avoid the city of Coimbinatore since a political rally of some kind is taking place. Clemens clutch lever loses a bolt -easily fixed.
We ride through a flat area with hundreds of huge electricity-generating windmills. Andreas pulls to a stop: “My bike is making a funny noise.” Servesh takes a quick ride and with disgust tells us that now this bike’s crankshaft bearing is also almost shot. He tells us it will take two or three days to rebuild the engine. If Andreas rides slowly he might make it back to Ooty, 65 KM away. Later Servesh tells me that this is a problem with the 500s: the bearing is made of aluminum, and can handle the power from the 350 top end but not the 500. Unfortunately if you put in a harder metal bearing then the crankshaft itself gets chewed up instead.
We putt along in the Jeep following Andreas. We climb up into the same winding mountain pass where Peter twisted his ankle a few days ago. At the town of Coonoor we lose track of Andreas’ Enfield in the traffic. While passing a group of cute young college girls Servesh toots his horn to get their attention. We ride into Ooty and get stopped by a cop. He really gives Servesh a hassle because the Jeep is carrying some spare tires on the roof. “Where are the motorcycles?” he asks. We all try to explain to this bull-headed idiot that the Enfields are up ahead of us but the cop wouldn’t listen. I’m sure the cop just wanted some baksheesh - what a jerk. Finally he realises we aren’t going to give him any money and he lets us pass.
We reach the Lakeview Hotel (Andreas has arrived already) nine hours and 200 KM after leaving Munnar. It is amazing how long it takes to travel a short distance in India. Don’t misunderstand: I absolutely love India. It’s incredibly beautiful and is vibrant, alive and full of energy. I think travelling by motorcycle is the ideal way to get around India, but these Enfields are turning out to be a huge disappointment however. Every frigging day we’ve had major mechanical problems. I was warned to expect tire punctures and snapped cables - but piston rings and crankshaft bearings? I don’t know that I’d recommend renting an Enfield to anyone.
Sun., Feb 7, 1999:
(Ooty -> Mysore: 40 KM by Enfield, 100 KM as pillion)
Clemens will ride Andreas’ broken crankshaft bike and I will ride my bike from Ooty down the pass to Mudumalai. This is the road with the 36 tight hairpin turns. It takes me a good ten minutes longer than Clemens to ride down the 20 or so KM of this pass. Once at the bottom we take only a few minutes to reach the jungle retreat that we had previously stayed at.
Servesh arrives in the Jeep and pulls the entire engine from Andreas’ Enfield. He decides to take the engine back to Goa rather than transport the whole bike. This takes maybe 45 minutes.
As we leave, we have to replace a spark plug and change a tire.
I don’t feel comfortable with carrying a pillion, so Andreas will carry Heidi on my bike and I (reluctantly) agree to ride pillion on Clemens’ Enfield. The next 100 KM or so is flat, dry desert with patches of irrigated farmland. We see many large trees with parasitic banyan vines.
While Andreas was carrying Heidi on my Enfield, the crankshaft bearing sound became even worse. “What to do?” Servesh takes a look and says it’s not too bad and the bike might make it back to Goa.
Reaching the outskirts of Mysore (pop 750,000) we stop at the East Gate of the famous Maharaja’s Palace. We snap some photos of the Enfields next to the gate and then ride about 10 minutes through the ‘light’ Sunday traffic. I see my first signal light so far on this trip: a cow leans against the post, scratching herself. We reach the Hotel Green Palace.
Being a pillion was okay, certainly better than sitting in the cramped Jeep. We have a pretty tasty dinner and I go to sleep about 11 PM.
Mon., Feb 8, 1999:
I had trouble sleeping past 3:30 because it was hot and muggy. The bed was so warm even with no sheets that I ended up sleeping on the cold tile floor just to stay cool. I walk across the street in the morning to visit the University of Mysore. It’s not very impressive: the building for Computer Science and Engineering looks like a run-down elementary school back in Canada.
At breakfast I feel rotten: the good news is that my digestive system is back to normal; the bad news is that I’m suffering from a wicked cold. I gulp down a couple of aspirin and then take a three-wheeled auto-rickshaw (the enemy!) to the Maharaja’s Palace. For 10 Rs you can enter and spend an hour touring the palace. It is exceptionally ornate with lavish gold, teak, ivory and silver decorations. A must-see!
Clemens and I then walk into the central core of Mysore. I take several photos of the bustling streets. The traffic here seems somewhat more orderly here than in other parts of India.
I stop at a couple of motorcycle repair shops and ask how difficult it would be for a foreigner to buy a used motorcycle. They tell me that to get a 100cc would cost about 30,000 Rupees (about $750 US) for a good used bike such as a Honda CD100, Yamaha RX100, Kawasaki KB100 or a Suzuki Samurai. They also tell me the paperwork or registration would take three days to complete. I tell them I’ve found the Enfield Bullet to be very unreliable; they laugh and agree, then tell me the Yamaha RX100 has probably the best reputation for reliability in India.
Clemens makes a visit to the Post Office. Some giggling schoolgirls about 7 or 8 years old follow us and ask me to take their photograph. After a couple of hours the noise and crowds start to bother us, so we catch a very slow diesel auto-rickshaw (you could outrun this thing with a decent bicycle) back to the hotel for 30 Rs.
I sleep for a couple of hours. My fever finally breaks and I fell much better. I talk to Servesh about motorcycles in India; he agrees with the previous comments about the 100cc bikes, though he thinks that in Goa you’d pay more than 30,000 Rs.
A fierce storm with heavy rain, lightning and thunder blows in suddenly at 6 PM, then is gone a few hours later.
Tue., Feb 9, 1999:
(Mysore -> Sriringapatna)
I slept decently until sunrise, when I get up to read an English newspaper. It’s sunny and 28 C.
We go up to Chamundi Hill (I’m in the Jeep as Andreas is carrying Heidi on my bike still) to see a historic Hindu temple with many intricate carvings and statues. There’s a 3 meter tall statue of an Indian warrior chopping the head off a cobra with his sword. It is all very impressive but the hawkers are annoying with their incessant selling of crappy souvenirs. I finally break down and buy some sandalwood pens. We stop by a huge statue of the bull Nandi (Shiva’s consort) carved from rock in 1659. Clemens needs air for yet another flat tire.
We visit a stately palace where a magician entertains us with a dancing cobra. The group visits a Brahmin temple to see disciples bathing in the river Cauvery. (I happen to notice a nearby billboard for the movie “Girls From Sweden”.) We stop for the night at the Amblee; a very nice hotel with a swimming pool. This hotel is one of the nicer on the tour and is equivalent to a nice motel in the USA. The price for a double here is 1100 Rs or about $26 US. The restaurant serves excellent Indo-Chinese food (I can’t really call it true Chinese food, but it tasted very good). I discovered a small tarantula living in the toilet.
Wed., Feb 10, 1999:
(Sriringapatna -> Chikmagalur: 200 KM by Jeep)
I sleep very well until about 6 AM - probably my best sleep of the whole trip. I get up to cloudy skies, 20 Celsius, and the occasional drop of rain. Many song birds cooing and cawing.
We have a very slow breakfast. I’ve noticed that meals tend to be served very slowly in India, but breakfasts are especially lengthy. It took about 15 minutes after asking for everyone to get a cup of coffee. We start riding and in short order reach a very tall ornate temple with many carvings.
After another short drive we visit a stone hill that has over 600 steps cut into the rock face.
After a tiring and sweaty climb to the top we see a Jain temple featuring a huge statue of Gomateshwara. There are some amazing views of the surrounding countryside. After climbing back down the stairs I buy a Coke. The stall owner speaks a little English, so I tell him a little about the trip. He laughs when I tell him how unreliable the Enfields are. I ask him if he owns a motorcycle and he tells me “Yes, a Yamaha RX100.” Hmm, I sense a pattern emerging here.
The ride passes through fields of flax, rice and cotton. I find the countryside views to be pretty and am surprised when Servesh remarks “Very boring ride today.” I guess he is used to seeing it but to me the view is always very interesting. You never ride more than a kilometre without seeing some sort of activity: a farmer plowing his fields with oxen, uniformed schoolchildren cheering as we pass by, smiling Indian women carrying huge bundles on their heads, motorbike riders zipping their 100cc steeds between buses. We reach a third temple called Hoysalas, built in 1121 AD. It is very impressive with acres of carvings surrounding it. As I get back into the Jeep Servesh had some Goan trance music playing moderately loud on the stereo. As I enter he
turns it off with a look that seems to say “Another complaining European.” I say “No, leave the music on!” A thumbs-up from Servesh. We drive off and I can tell that Peter is not too thrilled with the pounding techno-beat music. Personally I kind of like it: it makes a strange contrast with the scrolling landscape of farmers toiling at their primitive rice fields.
A final ride into the modest farm town of Chikmagalur, past literally hundred of cheering students. Everyone smiles and laughs as they watch the parade of Enfields.
The Enfield that I started off on, and that Andreas and Heidi have rode the last couple of days, is now making a horrendous knocking sound. There’s no way it should be ridden any further.
That means we are now down to only 7 of the original 10 bikes that started the trip (Peter, Andreas, and I are now all riding in the Jeep, while Heidi rides pillion with Kurt.)
We sit down at 7:30 for dinner. Despite the fact that we had pre-ordered dinner at 5:30 to save time, the food doesn’t arrive until 9:15, and that’s only after several vocal complaints about how long the wait was.
Thur., Feb 11, 1999:
(Chikmagalur -> Hospet/Hampi: 150 KM by Jeep, 130 KM pillion)
We leave without breakfast: the restaurant doesn’t have enough ingredients to make breakfast for the whole group. On top of that I find out that after dinner a drunk Indian apparently tried to start a fight with some of the Germans, and threw a glass of beer in Johannes face! Needless to say Martin has a little chat with the hotel manager. I start the day riding in the Jeep as we leave Chikmagalur. The road is extremely potholed and bumpy. At one point Servesh stops the Jeep to strap the roof rack down tighter as it is shaking loose. The group stops in a small town for a quick Indian breakfast: a kind of rice doughnut dipped in a spicy yogurt and coconut dip.
The sweet coffee we get is absolutely delicious; easily the best cup I’ve had in India so far.
We stop at one point to repair Johannes’ front fender. An Indian pushes up his Honda
Splendour 100cc four-stroke and bums about a half-litter of gasoline off us.
Another 150 KM down the road, Jochen complains that his back is bothering him, so he gets in the Jeep and I ride pillion on Martin’s Enfield 500 for the next 130 KM or so. The road improves slightly but is still very rough by North American standards. The surrounding terrain is flat, hot and dry, with palm trees and irrigated rice fields. The Enfield bounces along at about 80 KPH. As we get close to Hospet we reach a hill that is clogged with traffic. Martin leads the bikes up the hill and we weave in and out of the stopped trucks and buses. We ride into Hospet (pop 150,000) about 5 PM and have a good Chinese meal. At dinner Servesh tells Dieter: “I checked your bike for the funny noise you mentioned. The crankshaft bearing is finished.” Suddenly the table is buzzing with talk about what to do. Servesh then starts laughing and says “Just kidding. The gas tank was loose and needed a new bolt. The engine is still good.” Ha ha.
Fri., Feb 12, 1999:
Early in the morning I got up and spent an hour walking around the town of Hospet. I get lost but had had the foresight to get a business card for the Hotel Malligi before I left. Indians have a lot of trouble understanding my accent but can read the card’s writing and offer directions.
While having a coffee I read a newspaper article stating that Honda is announcing a new “sportbike aimed at the college youth desiring improved acceleration.” This 156cc sportbike is named the CBZ and will sell for 55,000 Rs (about $1300 US). For an additional 5,000 Rs you can the optional disc brakes - wow!
While Servesh fixes yet another flat tire, a group of five young schoolkids starts begging us for pens, money, etc. Servesh says that these kids are well off and don’t need anything. One girl in grade 6 is exceptionally mouthy; she keeps telling us in English that we should give them money to buy chocolate. I finally break down and give them 10 Rupees but only if they first pose for a photograph. These show-offs make faces at the camera as I take a snapshot.
We visit the Hindu temples of Hampi. These very famous temples are in what used to be the capital city of the Vijaynagar empire. In 1565 Muslim invaders sacked the capital and torched all the temples. Today you can wander for hours through the stone carving remains. We see a very colourful Hindu wedding taking place in the only temple that remains intact. One thing I find particularly interesting is a dark chamber with an opening in the wall about the size of my fist. The room is a camera obscura: light from the large tower 200 meters away passes through the opening to form an inverted image on the wall inside this chamber.
About 3 PM we head back to Hospet. As the Jeep approaches a crowd on the road, Servesh slows to only 25 KPH and starts blaring his horn. The crowd parts but as we get close a small girl darts across the road right in front of the Jeep. Servesh slams on the brakes and misses hitting the girl by only a few inches. Servesh is visibly shaken and we proceed very slowly the remaining way to the hotel. After a delicious dinner I collect two rolls of film that I had
dropped off earlier for developing. I'm shocked at the quality: the photos turned out terrific. I’m a lousy photographer but some of these snapshots could be picture postcards.
Sat., Feb 13, 1999:
(Hospet/Hampi - > Hubli: 170 KM by Jeep)
I slept a bit late, followed by a leisurely breakfast. I’m in the Jeep with Andreas, Peter and Servesh on a very bumpy road through flat, hot farmland. It’s the first really long boring ride of the trip. We have a problem with the battery in Kurt’s Enfield. Fresh battery acid solves the problem and we reach the fairly modern-looking city of Hubli by 3 PM.
I grab a beer and then walk a few kilometres around the Hotel Naveen but there really isn’t much interesting to see here. Tomorrow the tour is over. Most people fly home on the 15th but I have until the 16th. I tell Servesh I’d like to arrange to rent a Japanese bike when we’re back in Goa and he tells me this is easy to arrange. While sitting on the balcony of my room I watch some kittens play with a fallen coconut while in the background a stork fishes in the marshes of Lake Hubli.
Sun., Feb 14, 1999:
(Hubli -> Goa: 160 KM by Jeep)
I wake up at 7:30 to a warm sunny day. After a cheese omelette for breakfast we leave Hubli.
Unlike yesterday the scenery is a lot more hilly with many trees and bushes. The pavement is much smoother as the road snakes down from the hills. Everyone seems to enjoy this ride.
Dieter pulls over - now his Enfield is making a loud knocking too! Servesh rolls his eyes as now a third bike needs a new crankshaft bearing. As we pass from Kerala back into Goa, Dieter has to be careful to keep his 500 under 60 KPH. Finally we pass through Old Goa with its stately churches and temples and reach the twin bridges of Panjim. A few minutes of riding past rice fields and we’re back at the Country Club. All the riders have a cold drink to celebrate a hard ride of almost 3,000 kilometres (well, for some of us...) filled with mechanical problems. A dip in the pool is very refreshing.
I have a single room here for the next two nights, and Susan makes arrangements for me to get a small motorcycle - not an Enfield! We have a very good dinner of fish curry and rice. Kurt and Clemens say goodbye for their flight home.
Mon., Feb 15, 1999:
About 9 AM I go for a long walk down to Anjuna Beach. It’s very hot but nice; there are hardly any people on the beach. On the way there I accidentally stumble into a Goan rave that had run all night and was just starting to wind down. Pounding techno-beat music, many stoned young Europeans fumbling around half-naked, scents of strange and unusual herbs in the air. I walk along the beach and the twisty road to Chapora, an old Portuguese fort overlooking the ocean.
When I return to the Country Club I find that Servesh has rented me a Yamaha RXG from one of his friends for 200 Rs (he tells me the going rate in Vagator Beach is 350 to 400 Rs per day -
about $9 US). I fire up this 135cc two-stroke and start riding. Almost immediately I find this bike much, much easier (for me anyhow) to ride than the Enfield Bullet. The Japanese transmission is easier to work through all four gears and to find neutral. The drum brakes are probably the same strength as an Enfield, but because the Yamaha is much lighter I am able to stop easier and more quickly. The acceleration is the same or better than the Enfield up to about 70 or 80 KPH, where the Yamaha starts to run out of stream but the Bullet still has a little reserve. The Yamaha seems to have a top speed of about 100 KPH.
After my experience I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the Yamaha or another Japanese bike over the Enfield to someone who isn't absolutely set on the Enfield. I know some folks will prefer the good old-fashioned feel of the Enfield but I’m just too spoiled by the Japanese bikes I’ve owned.
A swim in the pool, some reading and a delicious dinner of fried fish and spicy beef noodles (all washed down with a couple pints of San Miguel beer). Early to bed.
Tue., Feb 16, 1999:
(Goa -> Bombay by Boeing 737)
I woke up early, pack most of my things and then ride the Yamaha 135 out to Vagator Beach.
Perfect timing: just as I hop off the bike I see the red sun rising over the palm trees to the east.
The view is beautiful. There are just a handful of people walking on the beach as Goan
fishermen come to shore with dugouts full with nets of fish. After sitting for an hour to watch the ocean and finish off my fifth roll of film, I ride back to the Country Club for a quick shower and a late breakfast.
Eventually I get to the airport about 1:30 PM or so. By 5 PM I’m on an air-conditioned bus barrelling through Bombay’s suburban traffic.
Shit: I try to change about 16,000 Rupees back to foreign currency but because I’ve lost my original exchange receipt the bank refuses to exchange more than 10,000 Rs. I blow the remaining 6,000 Rupees at the airport gift-shop buying expensive souvenirs made of carved soapstone, sandalwood and brass. I have a few hours to kill before my flight so I sit in the cafeteria and drink a pint of beer while reading a book.
Wed., Feb 17, 1999:
(Bombay -> Amsterdam by DC-10)
A long (nine hour) flight from Bombay to Amsterdam. I actually manage to sleep a couple of hours on the plane (very unusual for me). When I left Bombay it was sunny and 35 Celsius.
Arriving in Amsterdam it’s 0 Celsius and snowing. As I stumble through the hail and cold wind to the airport bus my teeth are chattering.
After checking into the hotel I catch a train from Schiphol Airport to the Central Station downtown. I spend several hours walking around Amsterdam. It’s a very beautiful city of old brick buildings and shops. The weather is strange: every 15 minutes the sky changes from sunny and crisp to driving wind and sleet, then back to sunny. I see a small Chinese dragon parade that marks the Chinese new year. I buy some souvenirs and keep running inside the various coffee shops to escape the bitter wind. I eventually head back to the hotel.
Hey, in the movie “Pulp Fiction” John Travolta’s character claims that in Amsterdam a quarter pounder is called a Royale. Well, I stopped at a MacDonald’s and was disappointed to see that “Quarter Pounder” was listed on the menu.
Thur., Feb 18, 1999:
(Amsterdam -> Vancouver by 767)
Flew back home. Ten hours is a long time to spend on an airplane.
I’d divide the trip into three parts: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
The Good: India is an absolutely beautiful country. I loved India: incredible, raw scenery. Warm friendly people. Cheering schoolkids. Great spicy food. Cheap beer (not that great tasting but when you’re hot and thirsty...) I could easily return to India and do some more motorcycling. I rate my trip to India (excluding the motorcycling...) a 10 out of 10.
The Bad: When I originally wrote this page I claimed my Enfield Bullet 500 was an utterly unreliable motorcycle. After a lot of retrospective thought I've "eased up" somewhat on my criticism. In a typical day we’d eat breakfast at 8 AM, start riding at 9 AM, and require a good eight hours to ride maybe 200 KM. It took so long not because we were riding slowly but because we were usually stopped at least a good two or three hours each day on the roadside doing repairs. As someone later pointed out to me, if you took a group of any ten classic British motorcycles on a long group ride, you're bound to spend some time stopped for repairs and fixes. If I'd been riding by myself I'd have enjoyed the experience a lot more. Heck, I'm even thinking of maybe going back to India some day, and if I do I'll probably rent an Enfield - but this time by myself! If you’re really set on touring India on a classic old Enfield, then make sure you have plenty of time to spare and you know what problems to expect. Maybe give this a 4 out of 10: if I'd be able to ride by myself I'd probably rank the riding higher. I prefer to think of this not so much as a motorcycle tour, but a tour that happened to include some motorcycle riding!
The Ugly: riding with Germans. Off the bikes they were actually great people, but I had to put up with an inordinate amount of bitching and whining from some of the Germans about my riding skills. I think my riding abilities are typical for a North American. I’ve done a couple of group tours with American riders and never had problems with pacing the group. I wouldn’t recommend anyone from the USA or Canada ride with Europeans unless you’re an aggressive, very fast sportbike rider. I rate this a 3 out of 10.
The visit to India was more important than the other two parts, so overall I’d rate this tour as an 8.5 out of 10. I’d be happy to return to India to ride a motorcycle solo or with a group of riders willing to travel at a relaxed pace, but not with strangers.
Indian drivers: Have you ever seen the movie “The Road Warrior?” Anarchy is the name of the game.
Speeds: As near as I could figure there were no official speed limits; it’s impractical to go more than 100 KPH unless you have a suicidal death wish.
Roads: about the same as rural Mexico - okay in some places, terrible in others. Outside of urban areas English road signs are almost non-existent.
Fuel: about $3 US per gallon.
Food: Very cheap and plentiful. Usually pretty spicy.
Helmets: Not required in India. I would recommend an open face, as even a well-ventilated full face would be extremely warm.
People: Very friendly and helpful.
Weather: Very hot and sunny.

Bruce Clarke