Indian motorcycle enthusiasts have begun looking beyond Leh-Ladakh, to uncharted roads in the North East, for their next ride
FOR some there’s therapy, for the rest of us there’s motorcycles. Ask any one of the 6,000 Royal Enfield (RE) enthusiasts from 175 RE clubs across India—who recently rode their beastly steeds to Vagator (Goa) to attend the 12th annual gathering of bulleteers aka RiderMania—and they will agree that there’s something extremely curative about riding a 500cc bike at low speeds, in high gear, on a flat stretch of road.
Dirt track races, assembly wars, breakfast rides to Fort Tiracol, forums for long distance rides and beer chugging contests were featured at the three-day event. On stage, they had standup comedy by Rajneesh Kapoor besides performances from top artistes including Karsh Kale, Raghu Dixit Project and Dualist Inquiry. A major topic of discussion among the brotherhood—besides speculations on RE’s yet-to-be unveiled adventure-tourer motorcycle, tentatively named Himalayan—was charting the vast realm of North East India. Taking note of this rising trend among bikers, we speak to experienced international and Indian riders to find out why the Seven Sisters have caught their attention.
The long haul
For biking aficionados, the Leh-Ladakh route has been done to death. Nowadays, many just fly in to Leh and rent bikes from the half-way mark—just to tick it off their checklist. “Yes, it is still a challenging route, but it has become something of a tourist destination now. This is why riders looking for adventure and music (as heard at Ziro Valley Festival) are now beginning to head to the North East. While off-road enthusiasts choose the route through coal mines and slush-filled bamboo forests—from Mon to Tuli in Nagaland—those looking for mist-kissed roads choose the road from Bhalukpong to Tawang (in Arunachal), as it passes through the 13,700 ft Sela Pass alongside snow-capped mountains. The area is still vastly unexplored by road,” shares biking enthusiast and renowned travel writer, Shawar Hussain. This is primarily due to bad roads and the requirement of Inner Line permits for Indian riders in Nagaland, and Protected Area Permit permits for international riders headed to Arunachal.
For inexperienced riders, one of the best offbeat options is to explore the seven states via tour agencies like Delhi-based Chain Reaction. Every year, between September and May—the optimal window for riding around the area—the company organises 12,15 and 17-day rides (for small groups of seven riders) through the remote interiors of the region, where you’ll get to experience life in rudimentary eco-friendly camps amongst the Konyak and Yimchunger tribes. The company also provides off-road tours deep into the jungles of Nagaland, where the remains of pre-World War II fighter planes can still be found.
With news of a trilateral highway opening between Moreh in Manipur and Mae Sot in Thailand (via Myanmar) this year, affluent bikers from across the nation are most excited. “Many members of the Riders Association of Triumph in Kochi, aka the Backwater RATS, have expressed interest in making the 3,200-kilometre ride once the roads open up. I can’t wait as it will be the ideal route to test out the all-terrain, 800cc, Triumph Tiger XCX,” shares Kochi-based Jobin Jose (23).
Besides the quintessentials—like all-terrain riding boots, warm weather gloves, anti-flare eyewear, water-resistant elbow/shoulder padded touring jacket and a sturdy full face helmet—be sure to carry a good motorcycle navigator like Garmin’s Zumo 665LM (Rs.32,000 onwards at gpsgalaxy.in) so that you never lose your way. Capture your ride’s best moments in high definition with a GoPro Hero 4 Adventure Edition (Rs.31,825 on amazon.in)
While venturing into the remote villages of the Mon district (Nagaland, you may meet face-tattooed, headhunting warriors. Though they are a friendly community, some village elders dislike being photographed because of superstitious beliefs. “Also, consult with local taxi drivers and the news before riding into Manipur, which occasionally experiences civil unrest issues and impromptu bandhs,” advises Guwahati-based, 47-year-old veteran rider Hussain.
“I loved riding through India during my solo bike ride around the world, in 2012-13, and fell in love with the nation again during the scenic Coastal Ride from Mumbai to Goa for Royal Enfield’s Rider Mania 2015. Now I’m exploring the possibility of taking an international group of riders to tackle the unexplored realms of the North East India’s roads this year” shares the world-famous Spanish biker.
Large stretches of the roads in some North East states are virtually deserted. So besides giving your motorcycle a through service before hitting the road, ensure that you carry basic repair and
1.Learn to fix minor issues like changing different kinds of cables and fixing flat tires.
2.Do carry an extra set of clutch/handbrake/throttle cables and tubes for both the tires.
3.Besides carrying a decked-out tool kit, make sure you have a small pouch of grease for your bike chain, as it may wear off—especially on long rides through dust, mud
Per day price: Rs.7,000 onwards (with add ons including extra bike, on-hand mechanic, food and water).
— Anoop Menon
(The writer was invited to RiderMania)