A few years back I ventured to Northern India with a few good friends. For a month we rode some rickety old Royal Enfields across an incredible series of gravel highways and mountain passes from Delhi, across the Himalayas to Kashmir and back. Over the five thousand kilometers, there were more than a few spots where we stopped and I thought about how much I’d love to share them with my two brothers, Locky and Strath. Last month I did just that. The journey came at a perfect time for the three of us, each going through good transitions on the home front; so it seemed that this trip would mark the beginning of a bloody good time in our lives.
We had a very loose agenda to ride a path far less travelled. We aimed north from Delhi toward Rishikesh, and from there continued as high as we could without riding into mountain passes still closed after a long winter. It meant our journey was nowhere near as busy as last time; avoiding the popular routes (and the packs of international travellers who frequent them) brought us plenty of unique experiences.
We rolled into many a small village where people would literally stop what they were doing and stare at the three of us: long haired, and in Driza-Bone coats.
Sheepishly we’d ask for a good place to eat or sleep, in poorly pronounced Hindi, much to the amusement of the local kids watching on. It only took a few days to work out how to ask for the best food in town. Often those we’d ask would suggest they join us for a meal to show just how good it really was…
Northern India was most definitely cold in parts but this time of year the area has an incredible beauty. Barren mountain sides covered with apple and pear orchards look poised to bloom at any minute. The fruit trees nestled on the sunny side of ranges were already flowering with bright blossoms covering an acre at a time. Spring was on the way; you could smell it in the air. This also meant it was wedding season and, given the novelty factor the three of us brought, we found ourselves taking part in a couple of great nights!
March might not have been ideal for the mountain. Winter had only really let up a few weeks prior so there were a couple of times we found ourselves riding through melting snow and mud, scrambling to get to the next town, and a warm meal, before the day’s sun completely disappeared. Delays always came about on dark. An afternoon chai stop, or hillside cricket game would have us distracted and we’d find ourselves on a twilight hunt for a room and warmth. It didn’t bother us too much; this time of year the hillside hotels were close to empty so we’d have the pick of the place - after negotiating a night’s tariff with the drunk hotel manager.
For weeks we rode through the foothills of the Himalayas stopping to enjoy the food and scenery along the way. One incredible week was spent in Andretta, a small artist community Strath had called home for six months while studying pottery under one some India’s most respected ceramists. Spending this time with my brothers in a country with over a billion people, and still managing to find peaceful pockets, was a gratifying experience. Aside from getting lost a few times, our time up there was exactly what we’d hoped for: sharing great laughs, meeting incredible people, catching up on stories, and the three of us forging an even closer bond than we’d had before.
The ride home was intense. We’d made our way out of the mountains and wound through the foothills to the straight, dusty, traffic-packed highways. On the morning of our last long ride we heard news of flaring protests in a district just north of Delhi. The working class Jaats were demanding more allocations for schooling and government placements - an ongoing issue in India’s controversial caste system. Tensions had quickly flared and within hours, riots were happening right across the state. The protestors blocked roads, cut off water supplies and threatened anyone trying to pass the road blocks that their cars, buses and trucks would be burned. Till this settled we spent three days in a small town playing cricket with the kids, and drinking more chai than we’d thought possible to consume, before the Army eventually stepped in. They quelled the riots and opened the main links between India’s north and the capital. We decided it should be safe enough if we kept to the main highways. Army trucks and troops with machine guns lined the roads; every very few kilometres we’d see another pile of burning machinery that’d been cleared off the road. Those protestors weren’t kidding!
There’s an old saying in India for staying safe on the road. You need three things on your side: good brakes, a good horn and good luck! Add some good Driza-Bone gear to the mix and there was no stopping us.