Recommendations on your motorbike journey in India:
Few recommendations if you like to do something similar:
Have a legal driving license and an insured bike.
With no helmets, you will be fined in some places; in Bangalore definitely.
Protect your eyes - this is a must! In coastal region there is a lot of sand in the air while passing vehicles and that really hurts a lot without glasses or protection.
Respect traffic rules. I am not too good at it, but I try my best (not to be seen! - just kidding)
Have your bike serviced before departure.
Start early, drive safely.
Try your best NEVER to drive at night on a motorbike in India.
I have been very lucky with the weather and I don’t expect this every time. It is wise to add few days more on your list in case of bad weather.
Driving behind a fast truck or bus increases your mileage, but you can see the holes or stones in/on the road only far too late.
If you are tired, stop now. If you loose concentration, stop now. You must always ride your bike with full awareness; if you are just thinking with who your girlfriend is now, then you are in trouble, twice!
Animals, pedestrians, actually everything can come from any direction at any time in India; awareness and presence must be #1 priority.
After few days on the bike, I went from thinking while driving to sensing; almost a constant meditative state. The new state was very peaceful and I had no more reactions in critical situations. As I practice meditation few hours every day, it was very similar, but with open eyes.
I would write every morning on my left arm the name of every town I would pass during the day; and still, every day I went a wrong road; language problem or no signboard! No problem! The wrong way was the right way too!
Speed breakers are nice little jumping ramps, until the fixation of my saddle bags where ripped out! So, with bags I go slow and without… guess?!
It is probably a good idea to concentrate bike trips from after the monsoon to end of February, to avoid rain, high temperature and humidity.
Don’t forget to put a lot of sun cream protection in the morning.
The body dehydrates very fast on the bike. I would drink sometimes up to ten sugar cane or mozambi (sweet lime) juice a day, plus 1 or 2 liters of water.
You will not believe how dirty you will be every evening. I guess I could need a new pair of lungs!
I often emptied a complete bottle of water over me during the day keeping my clothes on, to try to have a cooler drive; it feels great too... Some days, the temperature was 40+ C.
How much did it cost?
Rooms were between 90 and 400 rupees a night. This is the price for a basic single room, non A/C; you will need to pay about 100 rupees more for a double room. You can pay a lot more for a better room, but as I only sleep and leave before sunrise, I prefer to go for a budget room. Always compare 2-3 different rooms if you can before moving in; noise, cleanness, smell, price, mosquitoes, etc...
Also you must find a safe place for the bike for the night. I wasn't really worried anyone wanting to take my old diesel bike, it is probably more that someone may empty the tank. That's why I always have an extra liter of diesel in the saddle bag.
I would take the saddle bag in the room and lock the bike for the night.
I am vegetarian and went often just on the side of the road where the locals eat; if they eat there, it is because it isn't bad. My food budget was maybe about 200 rupees a day (sometime even 50 rupees) including water and plenty of chais!
The bike been my own, I had no rental cost. I bought an extra saddle bag and all my stuff except valuables and camera were in it. The bike is insured and I have a valid Indian driving license. I also bought a little tool box.
Diesel consumption was an average of 65 to 75km/liter; that is only 200rps a day. The bike goes up to 75km/h but I felt a lot safer driving around 60-65km/h most of the time.
That is about 500 to 700 rupees a day. Not much really. Less than 10 euros.
What did I like?
I liked a lot that I never really knew, where I would go on the next day and where I would eat and sleep. Every morning I made a prayer and asked Bhagawan (God) to guide me as if it would be His own holiday. And so it was, for me too.
I liked it a lot been on that antique diesel bike. Okay going uphill to Ooty was a bit on the edge; I remember two places where even the first gear was not enough, so while still on the bike I was paddling with my feet on the asphalt to reach the top. I laughed so much.
I felt very centered driving on my own and not in a group. I stop when ever I feel like, to take pictures for example, I drive at my own speed and so feel always perfectly well.
I loved the region North of Munnar, around the town of Maraiyur and also the Hills in North Andhra Pradesh in the district of Vizianagaram up to Malakanagiri in Orissa.
The friendliest people I have met were in South Orissa.
What did I not like?
Driving in cities, especially Cudalore and Pondicherry.
The food and sewage smell in Mamallapuram beach. I had a nice room with sea view, but there was a constant sewage smell during the night and that is not healthy. There are two open streams of waste water going into the sea. Plus locals using the beach as a toilet in the early morning. A bit too much for me.
My bum was not always happy! after sometimes 8 to 10 hours sitting, it is normal I guess! On the second part of the journey I used a little fleece blanket inside my trousers and it felt much better in the evening!
The braking distance on an antic Bullet is probably comparable to a loaded truck, so beware and keep a lot of distance.
Plenty of young Indian motorbike drivers are identified with the aggressive TV advertisements, like "be the hero" or "you are #1" and so they will probably try their best to impress you by passing close next to you at full speed. Equanimity is your freedom.
After they think that they have humiliated me, they usually drive around 40-50km/h, wait for me and give me a big smile of supremacy, and I always smile back with "Yes you are" what ever you feel like. God bless them and keep them alive please.
Most dangerous situation!
I was driving at around 65km/h and in the process of passing a truck, when suddenly the truck went on the right side of the road; with broken indicator lights I had no warning of his intention and I was very close of going in between the front and back wheels underneath the vehicle. About 30 seconds before that, I heard very clearly within me, the words “Take care” and somehow I felt ready with the right amount of braking, not to hit the truck or to slip and go under his wheels.
Most unpleasant situation!
I saw few accidents but the worse sight was the death of two village ladies in their thirties, probably been hit by a passing truck or bus. As the driver would probably be killed by the villagers, there was no vehicle in sight even if it must have happen just a minute or so after I passed on the motorbike.
How is the Enfield Diesel to use?
This bike was made for the farmers in the region of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh (I was told).
Acceleration is like a TVS 50, breaking like a loaded truck.
Very stable on the road, very comfortable and great mileage: at 75km/h 50km/l, at 60km/h 60km/l, at 45-50km/h 85km+/l (if well tuned).
No problem on the first part of the journey!
On day 11, the clutch cable broke and I drove about 30km before I fund a mechanic who fixed it. Funny experience to drive without clutch! 120rps.
On day 17, puncher! My first one! I deserved probably 10 of them. It arrived at the most unexpected moment while driving into a town and miracle it happened just next to a puncher repair service! 50rps.
On day 20, the back brake started to be very noisy, so I drove from Hampi to Hospet and fund a mechanic to repair it. The constant braking to avoid the holes in the road had ruined the back brake plate. 250rps.
Few more punchers (5 in total) on the third trip and a complete service in Chattisgarh.
Things that make me think and wonder?
The enormous amount of pollution in some cities and even rural area!
The transportation of animals; chicken, buffalo, etc… shocking!
4 or sometimes 5 persons traveling on a 125cc motorbike on the highway!
How and why I bought this Enfield diesel!
I was in Tiruvannamalai for about 2 weeks in summer 2009 and a part of my daily routine is to run the inner path around the mountain of Arunachala at sunrise.
It takes me about 45 minutes from the Ramana Ashram up to where you reach the road again. There, I have my little secret breakfast spot, with delicious idlis, mild chutney and a chai. Then I walk towards the bus stand but I often take a rickshaw back to the ashram or hotel before the city to avoid the pollution.
On that particular day, I was in a rickshaw on the way to the hotel and looking relaxed at things around me, a bit on the left and right… I saw an Enfield Bullet parked on the left (there are many Bullets in Tiru!) and I thought, that one looks really cool!
50 meters later, I hear within me, “This is yours!” I am so surprised almost shocked by the clarity of the message but I pretend I haven’t heard anything, as I had promised myself in the past, never to have a motorbike again. I was a bit extreme in my youth and I had few accidents with scars and broken bones. Picture on the right side at the bottom from around 1999 when I was still riding a Beta Rev3 trial bike...
Few meters later, again, and really loud, “This is your bike!” I can’t believe it! I tell the rickshaw man to drive back and to drop me at the Bullet.
The Bullet is in front of a very small hut, serving as a workshop for a mechanic. The bike looks really great, but I still have no idea about this game, “This is yours” this is just ridiculous!
I present myself and ask the mechanic named Ramesh, if this Bullet is for sell? He says, “Yes, from today!”
I had no idea that diesel bikes even existed and I realize that it is quite a procedure to start it. As I can’t start the bike on my own a single time during the whole afternoon, I decided to stop any further idea of a relationship until maybe next day.
Before going to bed, I said to myself, if tomorrow you can’t start it on your first try, that is it, no more of “This is yours” please!
Next day, first kick and it works. I really have to take it now! And so it was.
I should add that the mechanic needed money urgently as he was diagnosed not long ago with kidney failure and needs dialyses few times a week and the bike was actually his.
Few days later I decide to drive to Andhra Pradesh. I already made half a kilometer when I hear the voice again telling me, “Not without a driving license!”
So I drove back, left the bike in Tiruvannamalai, took the bus, passed the Indian computer and driving test and came back few weeks later to pick-up the bike and drove to Andhra!
Update: June 2012, I sold my 95’ Enfield diesel bullet.
Update: July 2012, I bought a 78’ Enfield diesel bullet from Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu.