The Royal Enfield Experience
The Royal Enfield should be familiar to those who have ever spent a prolonged period of time in the parts of India that ebb and flow with the movements of her long-term travellers, artisans, pirates, digital-nomads, and hordes of Israelis. These beautiful old-school motorcycles are as much a part of the territory as chai, chillum, charas, and chapatti.
If you were in India and don’t remember seeing one, you didn’t stay long enough. Even if you don’t remember seeing one, I guarantee that you heard one of these little beauties tearing its way out of town, or ticking over sweetly as it awaited a passenger outside a restaurant or guesthouse.
I first tried to learn how to ride a Royal Enfield with my good friend Dante on the side of a mountain as the sun set somewhere near the top of the world in Upper Changspa, Leh. It was a wholly futile first effort at taming the beast and the next day I awoke at 5AM to take the weekly local bus to our planned destination. 12 bumpy hours later, a Spanish girl and I stood in dazed silence at the side of the magnificent Pangong Lake; a place that was to change my life forever.
Two years later I was back. I went to see Mukesh (a great man and hero of many stories) at his shop in Pushkar and bought a Royal Enfield Bullet for myself. I had a bike but didn’t know how to ride it, so a Palestinian girl, travelling with Mukesh and some other bikers, drove it down to Goa for me with her little dog nestled on the petrol tank. I took the train and then once they caught up with me in Arambol I learnt on the job exactly what it takes to become an Enfield rider.
Three mad months later I needed to escape Goa. Somehow I had learnt how to ride and with my Russian princess singing soothing lullabies in my ear on the back, we first fled south through the jungle to Karnataka and Kudle Beach for a 10 day rehab in paradise, and then flew like two loved up angels all the way back to Pushkar. It was a magical, unforgettable trip of a lifetime.
A Royal Enfield allows you to see this amazing country in ways that a quick flight or a 36 hour train journey never will. You can take off into parts where foreign skin is rarely seen and you are turned into a travelling circus upon arrival. The bike opens the door to another, realer India, and quite possibly a whole new you.
The trips below are for those who want to find out what the noise is all about and really discover something deeper about the country, the bike, and themselves. These are scenic routes designed for those adventurers who have the luxury of time on their hands, want to savour that great entity to its fullest, and have the capacity to process the great downloads of wonder that will surely come along their way on the road.
I have simplified the trips into stages which won’t all necessarily get done in one day. Sometimes you’ll just have to find the way for yourself because getting lost and making it back to where you were going, or ending up in a completely different destination all together is a large part of what doing something like this is all about in the first place- enjoy!
Arambol- Mahalabeshwar- Ellora Caves- Mandu- Udaipur- Pushkar: Arambol to Kudle Beach is a beautiful little starter ride that can be done in a long day, but this one is only for the fully initiated. The ride up the coast, once you’ve negotiated the weird little ferry north of Arambol that connects you to the mainland, is stunning and forever rising until you turn inland and head up even further for the strawberries of Mahalabeshwar and the amazing scenery in all directions around this quite bizarre hilltop town. You’ll then give the big cities of Mumbai and Pune as wide a berth as possible as you seek out the Ellora Caves and step back into a world long lost in fables and story books for children. You keep going because you have to get to Mandu and the most beautiful middle of nowhere that ever existed. Then, a little tired, you push on further north where the desert of Rajasthan and gypsies older than time itself await to welcome you home.
Pushkar- Bundi - Agra (Taj Mahal) - Orchha -Khajuraho - Varanasi:
This is a trip for serious culture vultures with a lot of stamina. Pushkar is the perfect jumping off point for any trip to India and the half-day ride down to Bundi is a good way to ease yourself into this marathon journey. After a couple of shanti days around the lake and old Maharaja palace in Bundi you’ll have a long cross-country slog to encounter quite possibly the world’s most beautiful building. There is little else to see in Agra other than this incredible piece of architecture and monument to love, but what more do you want? The ride down to Orchha is a gentle one and this old temple town on the banks of the Betwa River is ideal for a few days R&R. Rested up you’ll head to Khajuraho and its exquisite collection of Hindu and Jain temples, 10% of which are covered in the erotic art of the Karma Sutra. The excitement of this stop-over will power you through towards the mad heart of India and Varanasi, where for over 3000 years the fires of the burning ghats have not ceased sending the dead directly to paradise via the portal of the great Ganga River.
Vashist - Rohtang La - Baralacha La - Pang - Leh:
This is a ride into heaven so it’s fitting that you’ll start from Vashist which sits serenely in what is known as the Valley of the Gods. One last dip in the hot spring before you head out and the snow of the Himalayan mountain tops will quickly come into view as you reach Rohtang La. Rohtang literally translates to pile of corpses as this pass was part of the old Silk Road and people would always attempt to cross too late every year meaning that they were stranded up here with no route out in any direction. You will have no such problems as the road is now only open in the spring and summer months and you will be exposed to nothing more than scenery and views unlike anything you’ve ever seen before as you drive through Spiti Valley in the direction of Ladakh. There is only one way to follow at these heights and while the going is undoubtedly tough the sheer beauty of it all will keep you thirsting for more even though you are mentally and physically drained by the demands placed on you by the road. Beyond Pang you will make one final push over the world’s second highest road pass at Taglang La and then it will be relatively plain sailing as you drop down into the Indus Valley and follow the river to Leh, with perhaps a quick pit-stop at the incredible Thikse Monastery and a prayer of thanks before you roll up into Upper Changspa for a very well deserved rest.
Unplanned Footnote: Last Saturday I was blind-sided off my bike and bounced across the floor on my face. I lost half a tooth, got a weird circular hole in the top of my head, bruised ribs, and numerous cuts and bruises on my arms, legs and hands. My passenger got a nice collection of bruises to accompany the fright of her life and messed up her foot pretty badly too. We were very lucky.
A life cannot be lived without risks, but your own and that of any passenger is massively rocketed up towards the limits of peril when you come to India and choose to explore it on a Royal Enfield.
Always be aware and never forget that you are riding a very pretty but not always reliable lump of metal around roads full of many people who genuinely have no consideration for the sanctity of your life.
I’m thankful just to still be here and my smile is bigger than ever, even if it is a little bit crooked at the moment.
Love the ride, but please be careful.