Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Golden Quadrilateral Ride with Benu - the Story

Golden Quadrilateral Ride with Benu
Penning a motorcycle diary is way tougher than executing the ride. Sitting inside a capsule, sorting out a few trip photographs from a huge pile of them, scratching your head, fiddling with memories, searching for a right word to represent the real-time emotion, unidirectional exchange of silly smile with the cold laptop screen, tireless finger tutting over the keyboard etc might apparently sound like the most enjoyable process to participate in this crazy world. But take it from me, unless you've done all of these at a persistent basis throughout your nomadic life it won't be easy for you to appreciate my point. I am not shy to admit that munching those 6,261 kilometres in a span of 13 days while gliding over the Golden Quadrilateral and ticking off one item from my bucket list was less patience consuming than writing about it.

Once I sit with a wide open mind, kick out all imps of distractions and pamper myself with honey-bunny recollections of #GQRideWithBenu, there is simply so much to scribble! After all it was my first dream great Indian road trip, and that too on a butter smooth inline four engine. Don't worry, I'm not shifting to that free flowing writer mode anytime soon. Having briefed on the conception, planning and itinerary, today I'll share with you the Golden Quadrilateral ride story in a day-wise yet highly summarised form. In case you're not particularly comfortable with numbers, excuse me for starting this narration with a pinch of relevant travel stats. Despite my best efforts this article shall get lengthier and visually richer than its sibling posts. So, if you have poverty of time or a stable internet connection you better take a rain check.

Travel data from #GQRideWithBenu:
* Route taken: The Golden Quadrilateral circuit in a clockwise manner, starting from my hometown, Bardhaman (Click here to view the route map).
* Time of the year: Had started somewhere in the third week of February, 2018. The weather was so pleasant that I can confidently recommend you to plan your GQ road trip during the same time of the year. If I repeat the circuit in future I'll probably choose mid-February for a slightly cooler environment.
* Days spent: 13 days which included 11 days of actual motorcycling and 2 rest days.
* Distance covered ~ 6,261 kilometres.
Fuel burnt ~ 300 litres of Petrol.
* Maximum distance clocked in a single day ~ 790 kilometres.
* Overall journey time ~ 93 hours (including all brief physiological, recreational and mechanical breaks).
* Took overnight halts at: Gopalpur on Sea, Eluru, Chennai, Bengaluru, Hubli, Mumbai, Udaipur, New Delhi, Agra and Varanasi.
* States traversed: West Bengal, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand.

And here comes the slothful story teller...

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Golden Quadrilateral Ride with Benu - the Itinerary

Golden Quadrilateral Ride with Benu - the Itinerary
Thousands of travel enthusiasts bitten by the notorious highway bug have successfully explored the Golden Quadrilateral circuit without any major glitch. Yes, presently the GQ road network is pretty awesome as per Indian standard in majority of its length. If you're anticipating an uninterrupted six-lane to pamper you under the brand hospitality of Golden Quadrilateral then your expectation will be hurt real bad. In the entire 6,261 kilometres I rode, there were several patches which had either too many undulations, potholes, diversions, cattle grazing, two-way traffic, or shitty combinations of some of them. There were multiple occasions in those 13 days when I had literally cursed myself for presuming a butter-smooth highway cruise. But, as soon as my #GQRideWithBenu got concluded and I reflected over the journey as a whole, all I could remember were wide inviting roads, persistently changing landscapes and few beautiful human interactions. 

Okay, here I'll share my actual ride itinerary with you. If you compare this itinerary with the one I had published in the announcement post before commencing the trip, you'll find 10-15% alterations. In case you haven't checked out my older post- Golden Quadrilateral itinerary on two wheels, please spend a minute on that. Sticking to the old plan was equally possible, only if I was a little more strict with my morning rituals. At first have a quick glance at my ride flowchart. Let me remind you, in the drafting phase I was pretty focused on fencing stress and night ride out of my GQ itinerary. Although we had a crash on the final day, no buffer day was needed to make up for the loss. I guess the minimal yet thoughtful trip planning had worked out in my favour just fine.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Golden Quadrilateral Ride with Benu - the Planning

Golden Quadrilateral Ride with Benu - the Planning
Covering 6,261 kilometres solo in 13 days at a relaxed pace, certainly deserved good hours of planning and preparation. Yes, planning plays a significant role in smooth execution of any trip, and it becomes an absolute necessity when you're rolling on two wheels under a long itinerary. We riders admit it or not, long distance motorcycling in a country like India is a bigger gamble than other modes of transport. Reason is definitely multi-factorial. Being avid motorcycle lovers we can spend hours defending all arguments against motorcycle touring, but that doesn't change the fact that it is relatively riskier. Motorbiking has a tremendous addictive potential. Once your genes express their love towards two wheels it's very unlikely that any word of caution can hold you back. From my personal experience I can vouch, nothing pisses off a rider more than unsolicited advice like- "You should have planned such a long journey on your car". It is perfectly okay if you don't give a shit to voices who fail to fathom your passion, but don't let carelessness get over your head while planning your motorcycle trip.

Sincere planning coupled with basic preparation can drastically mitigate uncertainties associated with motorcycling on Indian highways and help coping up with most least expected situations. Hope you've spent your few minutes in scrolling down my last article on #GQRideWithBenu, where I had narrated about the conception of this Golden Quadrilateral ride. After reading whatever I've penned so far you must be curious to know the meticulous planning I did undertake before executing this great Indian road trip. Would you pardon the procrastinator if I confess- I barely did any homework before executing the #GQRideWithBenu? Ah hold on, this article was not meant to inject you with silly dose of Saturday humour. Despite my apparent indolence in planning, there were few ideas, principles and minor initiatives which I had compiled before the trip and remained rigid to. Those proved to be beneficial and certainly aided in successful completion of the GQ circuit.

Friday, 9 March 2018

Golden Quadrilateral Ride with Benu - the Conception

Golden Quadrilateral Ride with Benu - the Conception
Ah finally I could tick off one more item from my ever-growing bucket list! I'm delighted to inform you that #GQRideWithBenu got concluded on a thrilling note. Theoretically it might be an exaggeration if I say I went for a great Indian road trip because my country is too vast to be explored on a single breath, but driving 6,261 kilometres in 11 days, traversing more than a dozen of Indian states and innumerable cities was no less enriching for this enthusiast traveller on two wheels. My actual Golden Quadrilateral (GQ) itinerary comprised 13 days, among which two were strictly no-ride days. Those two lazy days were well utilised in pampering my aching upper body muscles while capturing essence of two cities- Mumbai and Udaipur. If you've gone through my previous blog post where I had officially announced this journey just one night before flagging off the ride, you must be already aware of my route details

For first time readers of poetry of roads I would make a quick recap. Golden Quadrilateral is the largest highway network in India which connects four major metro cities- Kolkata, Chennai, Mumbai and Delhi, spanning over an estimated length of 5,846 kilometres. Interestingly, GQ is the fifth longest highway network in the world, traversing through thirteen Indian states, and connecting a whole bunch of large Indian cities besides those four metros- Bhubaneshwar, Vishakhapatnam, Bangalore, Pune, Surat, Vadodara, Jaipur, Ajmer, Gurgaon, Agra, Kanpur, Varanasi, Dhanbad etc. to mention a few. Although the planned itinerary published earlier got altered at few places my ride remained totally unaffected, and I could cover everything I had thought of. Thankfully the buffer day was not required. Well, I'll talk about the planning, materialised itinerary, day-wise updates in subsequent blogs. Today let me narrate you the story behind conception of this Golden Quadrilateral ride. It surely needed a dedicated post as too many people have asked me: Why #GQRideWithBenu?

Friday, 16 February 2018

My Golden Quadrilateral Itinerary on Two Wheels

My Golden Quadrilateral Itinerary on Two Wheels
Oh I can't believe I'm finally ready with the Golden Quadrilateral (GQ) ride plan! Unless aliens invade our planet I'll flag off my long awaiting motorcycle trip tomorrow morning. Before starting my great Indian road trip (this will be the longest among all I've done so far) I just wanted to share this moment of hyper-excitement with you. Golden Quadrilateral had been occupying an elite slot in my bucket list since 2012, after going through the beautifully scribbled motorcycle diary of a Pulsar rider. I wish I could get a link to thank him back for sowing the seed of GQ fantasy in my early motorcycling life. Those of you who're not acquainted with GQ, have a seat. 

Golden Quadrilateral is the largest highway network in India which connects four major metro cities- Kolkata, Chennai, Mumbai and Delhi, spanning over an estimated length of 5,846 kilometres. We all travellers are indebted to our ex-PM Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee for laying the foundation stone of this mammoth highway project back in 2001. Interestingly, GQ is the fifth longest highway network in the world, traversing through 13 Indian states, and connecting a whole bunch of large Indian cities besides those four metros- Bhubaneshwar, Vishakhapatnam, Bangalore, Pune, Surat, Vadodara, Jaipur, Ajmer, Gurgaon, Agra, Kanpur, Varanasi, Dhanbad etc. to mention a few. I could squeeze out 14 days and had to plan my itinerary accordingly. There's so much I want to say, but I'm not even done with packing my bags. Have a quick look at my GQ ride map and wrapped up itinerary.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Do you take your Motorcycle Chain for granted?

Do you take your Motorcycle Chain for granted
Unless you are a motorcycle enthusiast you wouldn't have landed on this page. Tell me, do you take your motorbike's chain for granted? I'd like to assume that you are one of those caring motorcycle owners who enjoy periodic cleaning and lubricating their drive chains. If you do not belong to this category then it is high time to engage in some soul searching to find out why did you invest money on a two-wheeler in the first place. Depending on the rider's approach, motorcycling can thrill as well as kill. Your motorcycle is like a growing child. Being with it cocoons you with a sense of fulfilment. But, neither you can be too harsh on it, nor too loose. The machine doesn't expect you to be always on your toes. She can sportingly swallow your happy-go-lucky attitude as long as you respectfully maintain the base level involvement with her.

Well, we'll talk about fascist motorcycle owners some other day. Today let's just focus on the drive chain issue. It is recommended to inspect, adjust and maintain the chain properly before any long ride. You know your machine quite well and obviously familiar with its drive chain too, at least that's what most of us love to think. The boomerang returns: Having gained a fair bit of experience in the alluring field of motorcycling, are you bold enough to keep the engine switched on while cleaning or lubing the motorcycle chain? Clearly it saves a lot of time and effort when you wipe dirt out of a moving chain. Ever wondered why few bikers are still so dumb to switch off the engine before fiddling with their motorcycle chains? 

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Have you ever considered attending a Village Fair?

Have you ever considered attending a Village Fair
Village fairs are often too dull, dusty and daunting for most of the urban folks. Village fairs tend to get overwhelming with their loud music, pungent perfumes, obnoxious body odours and rampant crowd. Modern day carnival rides are distant dreams. You might at best find few manual rides like a screeching merry-go-round, or a rickety Ferris wheel. Even if you are flexible with the lack of food hygiene, there's a fair chance that you'll still fail to cope up with the excess oil and sugar used in preparing the eatables sold in such fair grounds. 

Wait, we have a slightly serious issue to address at first. Unlike my previous blog posts this article won't be lengthy, because a couple of fellow bloggers have complained against my unrestricted word counts. The feedback is: If you want to be read, write it short. Oops, too deep to disregard! Truth is, I lack the gene for concise and crispy writing. Dragging the introduction beyond convention and struggling to draw the conclusion have been my weaknesses since the very beginning.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Are rented Royal Enfields good for your Ladakh trip?

Are rented Royal Enfields good for your Ladakh trip?
As you have consciously landed on this page, it is apparent that either you pet love for Ladakh, or Royal Enfield motorcycles. Ladakh, the barren beauty of Kashmir Valley has become the dream destination for motorcyclists since the last decade. The challenging altitude of the plateau coupled with its rugged terrain beguiles travellers from all around the globe. As the winter sets in Ladakh gets temporarily isolated from the rest of the subcontinent for good six months, except through the aerial route. Only after the winter recedes and Border Roads Organisation reconstructs the snow-eaten roads, two prominent land routes to Ladakh are opened for tourists. Hold on buddy, this article is of little use to you if you belong to any of these groups: happy Royal Enfield (RE) owners, riders who have explored the Himalayas on a Royal Enfield motorcycle in the past, and diehard RE fans. You may still read this blog, but do not shout at me for writing what you already know. 

To be specific, today's target audience is any traveller who is aspiring to ride to Ladakh and wondering if a rented Royal Enfield model would be the perfect choice for taming the wildness of Ladakhi landscapes. It is not just the call of enigmatic Tibetan Plateau, but the breathtaking road journey from Manali (2,050 m), or Srinagar (1,585 m) to Leh (3,500 m), which traverses through few of the world's highest passes (highest point being Taglang La at 5,328 m), countless kilometres of dirt roads, deadly turns and multiple water-crossings is the reason why every traveller prioritises a road trip to Ladakh in his top ten bucket list. Once you start planning for your dream Ladakh ride you'll certainly come across a pushy school of thought- only a Royal Enfield bike can endure the roughness of the high Himalayan terrain. I've been there, done that, gathered the necessary experience to share with you on how good do rented Royal Enfields behave in a Ladakh ride. In another 4 months the "ride to Ladakh" season shall begin and countless motorcyclists will board the bandwagon. After reading this post I believe you'll be able to take an informed decision whether to opt for a RE bike in your upcoming Ladakh trip.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

7 reasons for every Backpacker to visit Sri Lanka

7 reasons for every Backpacker to visit Sri Lanka
In last four months or so, I have visited Sri Lanka twice. I was supposed to visit this beautiful neighbouring country at least a couple of years back. Unfortunately you can't paint every canvas with the same perfection your heart wants. Some plans are just fated to die in the womb. This time I managed to experience this wonderful pearl of the Indian Ocean, of course only to intensify my remorse of not visiting her earlier. Although tourism was not the purpose of my visits, I made it a point to utilise whatever spare time I had in exploring the island. Truly, Sri Lanka is a tropical paradise, exhibiting an extraordinary fusion of landscapes- from pristine golden beaches to lofty green mountains, to picturesque tea plantations, cocooning a rich biodiversity within a tiny teardrop shaped landmass barely visible in a compact world map!

Embedded within this small island are eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites, more than 1,300 kilometres of alluring coastline, densely populated wildlife sanctuaries, exotic flora, expansive tea gardens, myriad water bodies and omnipresent aroma of an enriching Buddhist culture. Sri Lanka with its full-circle coastline is a perfect destination for all sorts of water-sports like surfing, sailing, scuba diving, snorkelling, water skiing, windsurfing, kayaking, canoeing, rafting etc. Depending on your preference the island can mesmerise you with serenity or an adrenaline rush. Not many would know, this petite island has the widest variety of precious stones among the world's gem producing countries. There are countless reasons why every traveller should experience backpacking in Sri Lanka. A brief web-search shall fetch you hundreds of articles promoting Sri Lankan tourism, highlighting unforgettable travel experiences in the island, but mostly in a generic form. So, here I'll tell you only those things which are important from a backpacker's point of view, especially an Indian backpacker.

Friday, 12 January 2018

Getting Sri Lankan Tourist Visa for Indian Nationals

Getting Sri Lankan Tourist Visa for Indian Nationals
At some point or the other, if you're traveller you must have had wished for a world without borders, right? This is probably due to those endless bunch of papers you had to aggregate before appearing for an edgy visa interview, or the long unforgiving queue you had to endure before an immigration counter. Frankly, we are too damaged beyond repair to be set free with friendlier international regulations. We completely deserve to be monitored, chained and muted as and when required. This has nothing to do with the corrupt Government, and trust me I'm not being sarcastic. The darkness deep inside our minds is ever expanding. I guess today's topic is pretty elementary and has nothing to do with the erosion of humanity. Those of you who do not know this tropical paradise- Sri Lanka beyond a teardrop shaped island barely visible in the world map, will be amazed to learn the rich diversity this country offers to its tourists. 

Sri Lanka is blessed with her pristine natural bounty, highly interesting geography, inviting sunny beaches and myriad wildlife. To top it all, Sri Lanka is the home to an ancient Buddhist culture that dates back to 2,500 years! In my coming blog post I'll give you seven unbeatable reasons why you should choose Sri Lanka over any other country as your next backpacking destination. We Indian passport holders are seldom obliged with easy visas. Don't know if we just smell bad, or our passport documents carry Tuberculosis infection in them. Thankfully, getting a Sri Lankan tourist visa is very simple for Indian nationals. I've travelled twice to Colombo in last four months. Ten minutes of easy online formalities can  guarantee your tourist e-Visa for Sri Lanka. Neither do you need any agent's assistance, nor queue up for the visa on arrival.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Tracking a Toy Train along the steamy Hill Cart Road

Tracking a Toy Train along the steamy Hill Cart Road
My cryptic connection with Toy Train, or Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) dates back to January 2008, and I tell you it has been a medieval love story ever since. The prologue to this never-ending tale of longing versus lure comprised two characters: me and my father, who had much enthusiastically boarded an early morning toy train at New Jalpaiguri railway station, after an overnight train journey from Bardhaman. Darjeeling, Kurseong  and Kalimpong could finally make it to our small travel menu. 

I can serially recall every second of that winter morning. Yes, the protagonist was so damn yearning for that toy train ride! He had recently updated his knowledge with a bunch of facts regarding the engineering marvel of Darjeeling Himalayan Railway. All travelogues he had read so far had one thing in common- grand mention of the magical toy train ride from the picture-perfect foothills of Bengal to the land of mystic thunderbolt (intended Tibetan translation for 'Darjeeling').

Monday, 1 January 2018

Perky Pigeons and that evocative December afternoon

Perky Pigeons and that evocative December afternoon
I hope you've had a great Christmas. I hail from the southern plains of Bengal, a region known for its unpleasant heat and humidity. For us, December is an orgasmic month. December brings winter thrill, enhanced drooling (credit goes to the proactive digestion) spree and sweet anticipation of Santa's surprise sledge. You feel relieved that you survived another egomaniac year. Best thing about winter season is the abundant energy you're left with. You can actually pamper yourself with delusions such as: A happy and prosperous new year is waiting just outside your door! 

I'm too lazy to do it, but I've seen many drafting their new year resolutions and publishing those over social media platforms with meticulous hashtags. Well, I too have ticked off a small travel plan successfully in the middle of this departed December leaving all other works aside. It was a motorcycle ride to Darjeeling followed by a multi day trek up to Sandakphu, the highest point in the map of West Bengal.