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There’s something about hitting the open road on a motorcycle that makes for a completely different road trip from one in 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 the feeling that you can ride off in a completely different direction if you want. These things 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. And the fact that Rider Mania, India’s most raucous annual biker party, was being held at the end of the line didn’t hurt either.
Our four bikes were all various models of Royal Enfield: the missus and I on my trusty old Thunderbird 350 AVL, another friend on his Classic 500, and the other two on their old warhorse Standard 350s—one of which 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. By the time we called it a day, we were still well short of Vizag. We had to resign ourselves to making up for it the next day.
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.
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. On the agenda were 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.
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. It did start to get chilly, though. 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. This 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. It turned out Kolkata was experiencing one of its coldest winters in recent times, and my system hadn’t reacted too well.
We went into a huddle, and quickly decided to eschew Kalimpong in favour of riding the 170 kilometers to the beach town of Mandarmani. This would also give us a day to relax at the beach before we headed back for Rider Mania.
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. This time, we enjoyed 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 on season yet. Lots of the little guesthouses lining the beach weren’t even open. Interestingly, the ones that were open weren’t accessible from the road. We had to ride down the beach itself 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. This made us wonder how we would be able to get in or out during high tide! Luckily, we didn’t have a problem.
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 wanted seafood, and convinced the cook to make us something special if we brought him some fresh catch from the market. The resulting golden-brown prawns and pomfret went perfectly with the beers at the hotel’s beachfront sit-out (we hadn’t turned vegetarian yet). Our rejuvenating beach experience was complete.
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. Not surprisingly, 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 back, and caught the flight home. Our epic motorcycle ride had ended. But the memories remain.
Safety gear recommendations
Here are some recommendations for gear that I’ve used and liked.
- Helmet: MT Mugello
- Jacket: Joe Rocket Alter Ego
- Gloves: Cramster Raven
- Elbow guards: Cramster REDSETGO
- Knee guards: Spartan ASPIDA bionics
- Riding boots: Exustar SBT130