What you experience on a 7-day, 2000-kilometer motorcycle ride along India’s east coast

We rode for seven days and 2000 kilometers from Hyderabad to Kolkata through Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and West Bengal, and this is what we experienced.

There’s something about hitting the open road on a motorcycle that makes for a completely different road trip from that done with a car. Maybe it’s the sense of freedom that the wind gives you. Maybe it’s the oneness you feel with everything around you because you’re not enclosed. Or maybe it’s just the feeling that you can ride off in a completely different direction if the fancy takes you. It was some of these reasons—and the fact that Rider Mania, India’s most raucous annual biker party, was being held at the end of the line—that made five of us set off on a seven-day, 2,000 kilometer-long bike trip along the east coast of India in January 2011.

Also read: Six great experiences to have when you’re in Kalimpong

Our four bikes were all various models of Royal Enfield: the missus and I on my trusty old Thunderbird AVL, another friend on his Classic 350, and the other two on their old warhorse Standard 350s—one of had even been made in the ‘80s! The original plan was to ride from Hyderabad, where we live, to Kalimpong and then Kolkata using this route: Hyderabad-Khammam-Visakhapatnam-Bhubaneshwar-Kolkata-Kalimpong-Kolkata, a total of 2,700 kilometers, which we planned to make in seven days. But, as so often happens to the best-laid plans, that didn’t work out. So we did Hyderabad-Khammam-Visakhapatnam-Bhubaneshwar-Kolkata-Mandarmani-Kolkata instead, which cut 700 kilometers off our ride, but gave us a day of chilling at the beach in return!

Day 1: Hyderabad to Vizag

Visakhapatnam (or Vizag for short) is a port city on the coast of the state of Andhra Pradesh, and is 700 kilometers from Hyderabad using the major highways through the city of Vijayawada—which one can usually do in about 14 hours of hard riding. We decided to be clever and shave 100 kilometers off the route by using the state highway through Khammam town instead. While the route was a good deal shorter, the road turned out to be absolutely rotten, so by the time we called it a day, we were still well short of Vizag. We resigned ourselves to making up for it the next day.

Traffic before sunrise
Roadside pit stop
A buffalo calf keeps us company
A pup leaves off playing with dried leaves to look at us
Still a long way to go…

Day 2: Vizag to Bhubaneshwar

We spent the night in a sprawling but almost abandoned and rather filthy highway hotel (we didn’t like it, but needs must, after all) and started off the next morning encouraged by the monkeys in the hotel’s garden. Vizag to Bhubaneshwar in the state of Odisha was a relatively easy 400 kilometers, so we thought the few extra kilometres we had lost the previous day could be made up without much fuss. Little did we know that the highway from the border of Odisha leading up to Bhubaneshwar was undergoing a major overhaul, so that threw a spanner in the works. It was quite late when we finally got to our hotel in Bhubaneshwar, after almost 12 hours of riding—on a route that should have taken eight.

Grey langurs welcome the dawn
Curious cow, empty playground
Waiting for the others to catch up
A welcome sign
Time for some chow
Tea maker makes tea while his aluminium pot looks on
Tribal woman mans her store
Another curious cow
Lengthening shadows
One needs to stretch one’s legs every once in a while…

Day 3: Puri and Konark

During the previous day’s ride, one of the Standards had started acting up a bit, so the owner decided to get it checked out, just in case. To our dismay, the mechanic declared that it would take the better part of the day to get it fixed up. Making the best of a bad situation, the rest of us decided to do a bit of sightseeing and visit the famous Puri Jagannath temple and the sun temple at Konark about 100 kilometers from Bhubaneshwar. The Puri temple—as well as the town—was packed with devotees, so we cut our losses and headed to Konark. As one of the very few temples in India dedicated to Surya, the sun god of Hinduism—as well as one of the two most well-known examples of erotic temple sculpture in India—we expected Konark to be just as crowded, but resolved to see it just the same. After a brilliant ride from Puri along lots of nice beaches, we got to Konark. No devotees here, luckily, just us and hundreds of other tourists gawking at the ancient temple. By the time we were done, we received the news that our friend’s bike was fixed, so we headed back to Bhubaneshwar to pick up our stuff, and then it was back onto the highway for a few hours before turning in.

The road to Puri
A young boy serves us fresh coconut water
Dappled road
Crowds at Puri
One of the many beaches on the Puri-Konark road
Roadside barriers
Some of the less scandalous sculptures on the temple walls at Konark
One of the massive ‘wheels’ of the temple

Day 4: Bhubaneshwar to Kolkata

The ride from Bhubaneshwar to Kolkata was around 450 kilometers, some of which we had already done the previous day. The road was also much better, so this day’s riding turned out to be relatively easier than the last few, though it did start to get chilly. Our friend’s bike still wasn’t tip-top, so our average speed still lagged a bit, but we still managed to get to Kolkata in the early evening, so we were happy. We were hosted by a few fellow bikers from town who offered to get their mechanic to take a look at the troubled bike—which he did while we roamed the streets sampling Kolkata’s famous street food. When we got back, bad news awaited: the mechanic declared that the bike needed major work, and would most definitely not make it up the mountains to Kalimpong. That was actually a bit of a relief, since we had already lost a day at Bhubaneshwar, and I had picked up a nasty cold because it turned out Kolkata was experiencing one of its coldest winters in recent times. We went into a huddle, and quickly decided to eschew Kalimpong in favour of riding the 170 kilometers to the beach town of Mandarmani the next day—which would also give us a day to relax at the beach before we headed back for Rider Mania.

Piping-hot breakfast in the warm morning sun
Crossing the Vidyasagar bridge into Kolkata
Kolkata windows, ageing remnants of past colonial splendour
We go straight
Some of the last hand-drawn rickshaws in India

Day 5: Kolkata to Mandarmani

We slept late the next morning, allowing ourselves some time to recover from the exertions of the previous days. When we finally left, it was after lunch, and we did the four-hour ride to Mandarmani at a leisurely pace, enjoying the countryside and the fact that we didn’t have to hurry for a change. It also got warmer as we got closer to the coast, so that was pleasant as well. Mandarmani turned out to be a sleepy little town—probably because it wasn’t really tourist season there—with lots of little guesthouses lining the beach, most of which weren’t even open. The ones that were weren’t accessible from the road, fascinatingly enough, and we had to ride along the beach to see what was on offer. We finally settled on the small but clean and comfortable Hotel Bijoy, whose entrance was a ramp that led up from the beach—which made us wonder how we would be able to get in or out during high tide! Luckily, we didn’t have a problem.

Gaily decked up in pious splendour
Evening rice fields

Day 6: Mandarmani

We spent the next day soaking in the beach experience, with nowhere to go and nothing to do but relax. We turned out to be the only guests at the hotel, so we pretty much had the place to ourselves and the staff at our beck and call. Some of us were seafood fanatics, and convinced the hotel’s cook to make us something special if we could bring him some fresh catch from the town market. The resulting golden-brown prawns and pomfret went perfectly with the beers we were sipping at the hotel’s beachfront sit-out (the wife and I hadn’t turned vegetarian yet), and made our rejuvenating beach experience complete.

Our morning view
A fishing boat in the distance
We try our hand at driving a three-wheeled motorcycle-cart
The catch of the day
This beach doggie is interested in our food
A sunset ride on the beach
It’s not easy when the sand is dry

Day 7: Mandarmani to Kolkata

It was back to Kolkata the next morning, where two days of biker party awaited. My wife had relatives in the city and stayed with them, and I still hadn’t recovered from my cold, so neither of us did much partying. In any case, it was the ride that mattered more than the party. By the end of it, though, none of us felt much like riding back, so we shipped our bikes, and caught the flight home. But the memories remain.

Roadside shop under a young banyan tree
The great Indian speed-breaker!
This is where we’re at
The famous Oxford bookstore on Park Street (guess which section I’m in)

Also read: Six great experiences to have when you’re in Kalimpong


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