Southern India by Enfield Bullet 500 (Jan/Feb 1999)
(c) 1999 Bruce Clarke
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
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
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 www.classic-bike-india.de
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
“This is a National
Highway,” Martin tells us. “You will have to open the throttle up and ride
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
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
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,
(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
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
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
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
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
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:
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
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
- 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
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
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
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
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
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
Thur., Feb 4, 1999:
(Kodalkanal: 25 KM as
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:
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 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
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
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
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
Tue., Feb 9, 1999:
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:
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
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
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,
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
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:
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,
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
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
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
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
Helmets: Not required in India. I would
recommend an open face, as even a well-ventilated full face would be extremely
People: Very friendly and helpful.
Weather: Very hot and sunny.