Early Monday morning just as the sun came up, we loaded up our goodies onto the bikes, Gaby doubled up with Santosh on the Duke to pick up his rental Royal Enfield Bullet at the mall, and off we went!
The drivers and other critters: It is one amazing discovery when you realize that these people who appear to be driving so aggressively are so relaxed! Honestly, just look at this guy here. He’s like on a relaxing cruise.
You may not believe this, but I even felt safe! In the entire week, I did not see one single road accident. Ironically, on my first day back in Cape Town I passed a fatal accident on a clear freeway. They are very busy, don’t waste a second, don’t waste a millimeter, but … they are not aggressive. There are cows, pigs, dogs, bicycles, rickshaws, pedestrians all on the road together. Animals relaxing in the middle of the freeway cars and other things coming head on straight at you. Everything has a right to be anywhere. Each and every life form, from the littlest to the hugest has a right to be anywhere. Animals more so than humans. There is even an official U-turn on the freeway! Here’s a clip of it
Its crazy! Its amazing. If India were to send a couple of drivers – as is – from their roads straight to a formula 1 race, they would have a good chance of winning. Their survival reactions are ZERO. And this is no exaggeration.
Initially, Gaby suggested for our own safety it would be best to pay a mechanic to ride with us, because two women alone on the road in India was very risky. She had a mechanic in mind, but he was trying to scam us out of too much money. In the end, Santosh, her trusted Rickshaw driver agreed on the last minute (literally the Sunday night) to go with us, so we rented him a bike,
I was on Gaby’s 350 Royal Enfield. I had never heard of a Royal Enfield before and she made me wise about it being an iconic bike in India with anybody having a little bit of extra cash definitely buying one. It looks like a bike that’s expensive because it seems a classic by the looks of it, but she assured me that its quite affordable. Its extremely well balanced, didn’t overheat, not once in that hot climate. It just floats over the potholes. Handles like a regular pro on the gravel loose sand and every other stoney roads, climbs reasonably sized rocks, with all the ease and grace of an offroader. What a piece of engineering (not that I would know what that feels like actually) ! My only issue with it was the bloody kickstarting. Nearly broke my legs with all the kickstarting. It doesn’t have an electric start button.
Gaby rode her 250/200 KTM Duke. I was at all times under the impression that the Duke was more of an enduro bike. It certainly handled very well on the offroad, and also the sitting position was very much offroadish, and also Gaby had done a extreme enduro trip up the Himalayas with it. Snow, narrow ledges, mud, stones, rocks water EVERYTHING. It is only on returning home and visiting the KTM store to find out about possible bikes I would buy, that I learnt that the Duke is not at all designed for offroad use. It was hard for me to believe.
We rented Santosh a 350 Royal Enfield Bullet from Gaby’s friend. The bike was a bit problematic, but only let us down in a big way about 30 km from Gurgaon (Gaby’s home) at the end of the whole roadtrip.
In general the road can be expected to be anything at any time. Deep potholes, gravel, sand, dung, tar (sometimes), stones, anything. The roads of India form one enourmous onroad/offroad obstacle course. Lots of anything and everything coming from anywhere and everywhere at any time, especially when you least expect it, except that you really do expect anything, and it’s a strangely relaxing situation it is, being so alert and relaxed all at the same time! Its really hard to explain. Its a kind of Indian magic. This contradiction is symbolic for everything in India actually, this is just how it works, and it works! It works really well actually.
Not very far into our journey Gaby stopped to check which turn off we were supposed to take. And of all things, this guy in a 4by4 sticks behind her hooting, whilst the whole freeway is basically free for him to pass on. Go figure? Who knows what he was thinking. Maybe he just liked the view:
About 40 minutes into the ride, I met my first beautiful pink elephant! It was such a beautiful creature. I had just had to stop. And then then Gaby asked them, somehow if I could climb on. So the said ok, and directed me to climb up the ass. I thought they were joking, but they turned out to be serious. It was fun. And they were really nice folks.
About an hour later I think we hit some mountainous regions which were quite lovely, we drove through this dark little tunnel
I loved the way one just happens upon a little town, and after a couple of 100 you are out of it again. The scenery, the countryside, the strange looking worn down hills, the herds of goats, people going about this simplified lifestyle, village women in their colourful clothing, going about their very hard working lives, historical remains atop hills, parades of people going about religious celebrations. It could have been straight out of a story book.
I was too busy taking it all in, and trying to pay attention to the traffic to take notice of the exact route we went traveled, but basically on day 1 we went through some mountains, where there was some monument on a hill which seemed a challenge to get up (of course, it turned out to be of the most eady challenges), passing through a dark little tunnel in the mountain to get there too, and then up to Bala Quila which was ten times worse because there were really big, loose stones going up there. But the view was breathtaking and absolutely worth it.
Almost every city or town in Rajasthan has an ancient a fort. Alwar is one of them. The huge Bala Quila, sits upon a 300m steep cliff in Alwar. It is not know for sure who built this fort, it has stood been watching over Alwar from even before the time of the Mughals. Which means it was built before the 16th century.
It was perhaps built by Nikumbh Rajputs in 928 A.D. and was later occupied by Mughals and Jats. In 1775 A.D. the fort was conquered by Maharao Raja Pratap Singh, the founder of Alwar state.
Bala Quila extends about 5 km from north to south and 1.6 km from east to west. There are 15 large and 51 small towers (Burj) with 446 loopholes for musketry and eight towers (Burj) around it to strengthen its defences. On top of that, there are 3,359 kanguras, each containing two loopholes for musketry.
The fort has six gates, namely, Jai Pol, Suraj Pol, Laxman Pol, Chand Pol, Krishen Pol and Andheri Gate. Most of the structures within the ramparts lie in ruins, the remains of Jai Mahal, Nikumbh Mahal, Salim Sagar Pond, Suraj Kund and many temples still reflect the grandeur of the bygone era. A dilapidated fortress, built in 1049 A.D. by Alagh Rai can also be seen here. A splendid view of the Alwar city can be enjoyed from Bala Quila.
For some reason to go into the main part of this historical series of monuments, you need to get police clearance in the town (who knows why), but we didn’t bother, so we just walked out to the lookout where there was really the most amazing view of Alwar. To get to Bala Quila, we rode for kilometers on what seemed more of a narrow path which didn’t seem like a road at all. it was a compact mud surface, sometimes tarred quite narrow, and there were quite alot of people on it as well as oncoming vehicles and also animals. It is incredible to me that during this trip, we didn’t knock into anything. At the time, the thought doesn’t even cross your mind.
Clever us, did not pack water for the trip, and along the road we did not think to buy any. It was only when we got to Bala Quila that we realized we were dying of thirst. So the very next little town we got to we stopped for bottled water.
After this water stop, we pretty much headed off on a straight road. At some point it seemed that Santosh was not following us anymore so Gaby went back to see if she could find him. And I waited on the side of the road. It turns out Santosh got lost (on a straight road). And I captured this really nice little clip of the activity on the road and then later on this really cool interaction between Gaby and an elephant.
After Bala Quila, save for a couple of tea stops and maybe a lunch stop, we drove on to Dausa where we found a dodgy hotel to sleep. One of the guys was rather cute. So we had him take a picture with us. Dausa was like a town just along the Freeway. Almost like a trucker town. Nothing nice really. But we had to stop there because it was dark and we had been riding several hours so we were very tired. Anyway it was where we had roughly planned to stop.
We found this hotel in Dausa, it wasn’t so wonderful, but we didn’t die so it was ok. Across the road (which was the freeway) was a nice restaurant where we ALL ate for 300 rupees (R50 or US$5). As usual, some kind of curry. Which I was More than happy with. I love curry.
This was the end of day one on the road in which we went from Gurgaon, to Alwar, to Dausa.
All in all, the traffic on the freeways were quite hectic at times, but not unmanagable. It was most crazy at the zones where there were inlets onto the freeway. There would be hundreds of meters of trucks with seemingly little or no space to pass through them. But pass through we did, somehow, wherever you could, on the verge of the road, shoulders scraping between two trucks. Did I mention hooting. Its actually necessary and expected to hoot all the time. It signals you are there. It is not considered rude at all. In fact it is an act of courtesy I think. There are many tolls, but it is basically standard for motorcycles to pass free on the sides. I’m not sure what a car pays at those tolls.