Words: Syed Shiraz
Pictures: Neelanjan Chakraborty & Syed Shiraz

“Make voyages. Attempt them. There’s nothing else.” — Tennessee Williams, Camino Real

With that thought, I had answered in the affirmative, albeit reluctantly, upon being asked by Indian Motorcycles whether we were game to ride down to Delhi from Mumbai on their flagship motorcycles. Reluctant, because I hadn’t slept the previous night and it had appeared that I wouldn’t be getting any sleep at all before the ride — not recommended at all before a ride/drive, more so if you are responsible for around Rs. 70-lakh worth of machinery. Which is not yours…

Indians on NH3

But, one doesn’t say a ‘no’ when such honours are offered, even if they come your way at the 11th hour. Yes, it had suddenly occurred to the good chaps at Indian that getting the bikes back to Delhi in a truck would be too conventional; getting them to intimidate and overtake such trucks (and other lesser forms of traffic) would be less de rigueur. Of course, highlighting the motorcycles’ touring capabilities was the primary idea, however, I thought, if a five-foot, 50 kg rider like me could do this on a 400 kg machine, it would mean that anyone of any stature could ride such bikes anywhere. Well, almost.

Indian-Chief-Vintage-Pics-indian-logo

My colleague, Neelanjan, was to ride with me, and the original plan was to take the next flight to Mumbai (it was a Saturday night); rest there for a couple of hours, and get the hell out at 4 am, much before the city dwellers take to the streets! However, Murphy’s law meant that the travel desk could only get us the tickets of the flight that would see us leave not before 8:30 am. From Delhi…

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We had thought of catching a few power naps in the plane, but little did we know that both female pilots in this one were Top Gun fans — they landed the aircraft 20 minutes ahead of schedule! We had requested Indian to provide the bikes to us at the airport so that we could just alight from the airplane, hop on to the bikes, and ride away. But, since sales takes precedence over everything else, we had to wait obnoxiously long for some big-shot to test-ride the Chief Vintage. How long? Well, we could only start from Mumbai five hours after landing in the city of dreams. Had we been informed of it, we would’ve gone to see the, er, sea in the meantime…

Indian-Chief-Vintage-Pics-111-engine

We had chosen to take the Mumbai-Nasik-Dhamnod-Ratlam-Neemuch-Chhittorgarh-Jaipur-Delhi route (thanks to the highway king, Mr. HV Kumar) instead of the usual one via Gujarat, despite Mr. Bachchan’s vigorous campaigning for the state… However, Mr. Kumar had also mentioned that this route has less facilities (read ‘ hotels, etc.’), which further reiterated that this route would have less traffic. Perfect! And let me state at the outset that this route certainly does not have any dearth of fuel stations which accept payment by cards.

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I had tested the Chief Vintage last year so this time I took the reigns of the Chieftain. Neel was piloting an Indian for the first time and the lucky bugger got the bike with a glorious sounding Stage 2 exhaust system. We geared up and finally bid adieu to the Lamborghini showroom, that had been our abode for the last 4-5 hours (the franchise owner of the soon-to-be-launched Indian Motorcycles showroom in Mumbai also has Lambo and Merc showrooms in the city).

Lamborghini Mumbai Showroom

However, we hadn’t even ridden for five minutes and were sweating profusely under our textile riding jackets. The sun had taken too much Viagra perhaps, and was refusing to go down. Thankfully, the Chief’s leather saddle bags and the Chieftain’s hard panniers (with remote locking!) are big enough to swallow a couple of rowdy children, so off went the jackets into the ‘boots’ of the bikes and out came the elbow protectors that we both had kept in foresight. Of course, we were already wearing knee & shin protectors.

Now, our original plan, was to cover 600 km on Sunday (less traffic plus our overflowing enthusiasm), 500 km on Monday, and the remaining 400 on Tuesday. But, with sunset only four hours away, we knew that we’ll have to improvise. In fact, we did something even better — in true motorcycling spirit, we threw our “set plans” to the winds and decided to JUST RIDE and not worry about when and where we reach! This wasn’t a saddlesore run anyway, though the bikes are supremely capable of such runs…

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Okay, so we were cruising at around 100 km/h, with occasional bursts to 150 clicks and beyond, but we had to take frequent water breaks to keep ourselves hydrated, thanks to the aforementioned eponymous ‘star’ of our solar system. And because of that we were still on the Mumbai-Nasik highway… But, what a highway this one! Ask any Mumbaikar about their favourite driving/riding roads around town and Mumbai-Nasik will figure out in the top three for sure, and it’s not without reason. It’s a four-lane highway that has both long-straights and fast bends in good measure, and it’s tarmac all the way — no concrete slabs, no joints (and no pun). And then there’s the “one-way” ghat section…

Indian Vintage Ghats section

Normally, a good motorcycle itself is more than enough to alleviate trivial worries such as, say, a heartbreak; but, a great motorcycle in ghats is akin to Amber Heard teasing you to come and get her. After that heartbreak…

We had been on the road now for more than a couple of hours, and as soon as we approached the ghats, I wrung the throttle of the Chieftain in third gear… For the next 15 minutes or so, I was guilty of forgetting completely about Neel, who was, wisely, taking it easy on the Chief. The comparatively sharper steering geometry of the Chieftain allowed me to take the uphill twists and turns in a manner that is usually the preserve of much, much lighter machines. Full throttle-curve ahead-gentle tap on brakes-lean-footboard scraped-still leaning-straighten up-repeat. Oh boy! I could do this all day!

But you got to remember that you’re still in the second most populated country in the world where riding/driving on the wrong side of the road is considered a birth right by the locals everywhere. So, yes, here also, you will see three – without helmets, obviously – on a beat-up 100 cc commuter coming from the wrong side. I am certain though, that the Vintage and Chieftain can ride over them without a fuss, but it’s kind of illegal you know, so please keep a margin of error for such imbeciles.

Chieftain & Chief Vintage

Twisties over, I stopped near a temple to wait for Neel who arrived in just 4-5 minutes wearing a wide grin under his LS2 — looked like I was not the only one who enjoyed to the fullest in the ghats. We gulped down water and after answering the queries of the bystanders (a routine at every stop) we started again. In fact, this, “handling the locals” was the toughest part in the entire journey. It didn’t seem to matter even if we stopped in a jungle; bikes, cars, and even trucks would stop to grab an eyeful!

on Bombay-Nasik road

As a precautionary safety measure we even started telling people that the bikes were programmed to only recognize our palms (with a LIVE pulse, thank you) and that we were being constantly monitored via satellite. Keyless start did make that fly!

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Now, though we always recommend to limit your long rides from sunrise to sunset because of the inherent dangers of our highways, we had to continue riding after dark because we couldn’t really cover much distance in whatever riding time we got in daylight. But, I guess, we wouldn’t have ridden at night if it was not for the powerful headlights and auxiliary lamps of our bikes that lit up the road ahead like God’s light enlightening an atheist. Thanks to them, we were able to safely maintain speeds between 80-110 km/h.

Indian motorycles headlamps

The bikes’ windshields, that had kept hot winds away from our bodies during the day, were now keeping us away from eating bugs and mosquitoes while riding with our helmet visors (tinted) fully opened. The Chieftain’s windshield is electrically operated and can be lowered or raised on the move, whereas the adjustment on the Vintage calls for some good old manual labour.

Indian Chief and Chieftain

We were riding more and stopping less now, which saw us reaching Dhamnod in Madhya Pradesh around midnight. We were also aware that the in-flight meal was the last proper meal that we had had in the day! Caffeine, nicotine (chocolates are a good substitute though), biscuits, and water had kept us going, but now we terribly needed a sumptuous meal and a good place to stay! Food can almost never be a problem in our country, but finding the right accommodation can. No, we were not looking for opulent stuff (just because someone else is paying, doesn’t mean you take advantage!); in fact, we could have crashed on wooden cots for the night but the bikes’ security was, naturally, our biggest concern. We had to find a place where we would not need to try sleeping with our eyes half open for the bikes. Luck was actually on our side so, from shady looking ‘motels’ to ‘pure veg hotels with accommodation’, we passed them all until we noticed something different…

Foodie Resort (2)

Have you seen those two-feet (approx.) high, long, sliding iron-grille gates at Pragati Maidan in New Delhi? Ya, that’s the sort this resort had for entry and exit gates. We could see that there was ample parking space and the security guard was helpful enough to suggest a special spot for our bikes, directly in front of the security camera! The name’s Foodie Resort (funnily though, some signboards inside have ‘Woodie Resort’ written on them) but food at Foodie was not available at that hour of the night, so we had to hunt for a dhaba; we found one just 2 km from the resort.

Foodie Resort

Stomachs full, we just wanted to get some good sleep now. However, once we started to walk towards our room, our drowsiness disappeared by what we saw – a huge swimming pool, and wooden bridges that comprise the centre of attraction, and since all rooms are built around the pool, every guest will wake up to a serene view. Nice! Also, the lush greenery is greener than the Hulk, and it’s effect on your senses is not too dissimilar to Jennifer Connelly’s on the enraged man…

Beautiful resort

And then there was our room. With almost every amenity that one can possibly imagine, the room didn’t seem to be far off from a five-star hotel’s, and I am not exaggerating. Okay, it might not have Honeywell’s ‘climate system’ but the air-conditioner did cool, and that is generally enough for most. There was no bathtub, and I frankly don’t remember the last time I had a drippy fetish. Everything else was there – from the big LCD (or was it an LED?) TV, minibar, etc., to the steam iron in the cupboard. Of course, free WiFi is a given. Plus, for hygiene, comfort, and the most important ‘feel-good’ factor, I’ll give it a ten-on-ten. We ended up sleeping at three in the night and woke up at around eight in the morning; that is when we realized that our ground-floor room also has an L-shaped balcony with two rocking armchairs and a coffee table.

our room's balcony

The thought of staying here for at least a day more did cross our minds… Oh, before I forget, all this cost us Rs. 2,300 for a night and breakfast next morning was complimentary. ‘Cheap-and-best’ is not always a cliché, then. After dusting the most important meal of the day, we did oblige quite a few guests with pictures for their Facebook timelines. And then we clicked a few for you guys.

Indian celebrities

Parked in the sun, the Chieftain’s digital instrument cluster showed the ambient temperature as 49 degree Celsius, which hovered between 41-46 degree Celsius for the remainder of the day.

Chieftain & Chief Vintage 1

We left Foodie/Woodie by around 12 noon and were heading towards Rajasthan, however, the heat was getting unbearable which forced us to take even more water/lassi breaks than day one. Remarkably though, the air-cooled monsters were keeping their cool all this while. The roads until now had been near-perfect; it’s just that the four-legged variety of road users had taken a sudden liking to Neel. I mean, when a snow white goat, a calf, and then the cow itself, at different spots of course, try to test your braking abilities, you know it’s not a coincidence. Neel confessed later that his heart was in his mouth (obviously!) but he also added that the Vintage remained unfazed. ABS, good rubber, and the bike’s weight, collectively, had saved the day, according to Neel. I added that he had ridden well too; he nodded humbly…

Indian Motorcycles

It was night again in around 350 kilometres. We must have been around 50 km from Chittorgarh (Rajasthan, our third state in two days) and that’s the only stretch in the entire journey where the road was not in the best shape, primarily due to loads of construction work being done on that route. It was 11 pm and the search for a ‘hotel with safe parking’ started again. After around 20 minutes of dodging the local Johns, Salmans, Hrithiks, and their flip-flops-wearing cronies who had encircled us twice on their Pulsars and Apaches when we stopped to ask for a hotel, we finally bumped into a good Samaritan who took the pain of showing us the way, on his Discover 100, to Hotel Pradeep Palace. We immediately noticed more than a half-a-dozen vintage automobiles parked in front of the hotel. We got to know that they all belong to the hotel owner, Mr. Rishi Singh. Okay, we were possibly at the best place in Chittorgarh as far as the safety of the bikes was concerned. Still, we parked the bikes inside the hotel compound, and not where all the other vehicles were parked. We had dinner and called it a night at 1 am while setting the alarm to go off at 6 am. Our phones would have tried their best to wake us zombies up, but it was not until 9 am that we could finally force ourselves out of our beds. We were told that the hotel owner had come to meet us, and we too were, in fact, wanting to meet this enthusiast.

Hotel Pradeep Palace compound

And what a gem of a person he turned out to be! An ardent off-roader, like yours truly, he owns one specimen each (unlike yours truly, who just has one) from the classic Jeep lineage; a GAZ, and a couple of Land Rovers too. As far as my observation goes, people who love both bikes and jeeps – the REAL 4×4 jeeps, and not the balloon-tyred-momo-steering ones – are generally down-to-earth, unpretentious, fantastic people. And this chap was no exception. We had breakfast together, and the gentleman even rode with us on his Harley 48 to lead us on to the highway to Jaipur. Now when was the last time the hotel owner saw you off like this?

Indians dwarf the Harley

I might also add here that we had gotten the room for Rs. 1,550 (plus taxes) BEFORE we mentioned that we’re journalists doing a travelogue. Okay, it was a basic AC room with two single beds and TV, but that’s all we wanted for the night! Being able to watch our bikes from our room windows was a bonus.

Hotel Pradeep Palace

We were still around 500 km away from home but it had felt much closer. Rajasthan, to people from Delhi, feels quite approachable, thanks to the excellent road network. However, for me, there’s more to it. I don’t know if it’s the aforementioned roads or the sultry women or the straight-from-the-heart hospitality or a combination of all these factors; I just know that I have invariably been most comfortable and at peace here than anywhere else while travelling. I guess, my first road trip here a decade ago, and thereafter my first ever solo ride here too, might have a lot to do with it…

Chieftain & Chief Vintage in Jaipur

Anyway, we reached Jaipur in the evening around five and stopped for some fresh lemonade. We were feeling so relaxed as if Delhi was just at an arm’s length now. We ended up spending close to two hours there chatting, and making calls to folks at home & office that we’ll be arriving shortly. We also called up Indian to collect the bikes from us a day ahead than the scheduled pick-up. We then started the final leg of our journey at around 7 pm hoping to enter Gurgaon in three hours, tops. We would have, but thanks to the massive jams before, at, and after Manesar, we could only reach Gurgaon at dot midnight. The on-duty policeman at the last toll booth told us that six in the evening to eight in the morning make for the worst hours to cross this stretch… Thanking him, we proceeded to our destination (my brother’s residence) in Gurgaon where a cab was waiting for us to take us home. We had deliberately chosen to not take the bikes home to avoid spending 100 hours in answering the never-ending questions of the neighbours. But what I did tell a lot of them later on was the fuel efficiency of the Indians – 21 km to a litre is astounding for such a big engine, especially considering that we were hammering away for the most part in our 1,457 km journey…

Road trip ends in Gurgaon

Bikes finally parked, we walked towards the cab, only to inadvertently turn back and look at our steeds one more time. They stood there nonchalantly, perhaps to make it easy for us… Before we turned away, I silently promised ‘us’ to be back again soon, for more. The farewell, I tell you, is the hardest part…Till next time, then.