The long way home
At the beginning of the trip it felt like seven days on a small bike in a hectic riding environment would be a long slog. But when the last day of our travels dawned it felt like the expedition had gone far too quickly, and I could have happily gone on for another week. Well, that’s not entirely true. The bit about me wanting go on is, but there was no sign of dawn when we set off for our ride back to Chandigarh. It was 5am and pitch black outside as we sipped our morning tea at the Viceroy’s old pad in the tea plantation just outside Dharamshala.
The first couple of miles made for interesting riding as every now and again the darkness was split in half by the seemingly thousands of piercing lights of an oncoming lorry.
After what felt like a long time, but in reality was only half an hour, the sky started to get lighter, the potholes, cows and other hazards easier to spot, and our pace rose back to the normal cruising speed of 30mph.
As the day progressed, the roads got bigger, and we managed a few spells of 50-60mph, which was more than double our average speed. Good job too as we needed to cover 242km to reach Chandigarh, where we would return our bikes, take a train to Delhi and disappear back home.
The bigger roads were good for making progress, but they weren’t the most interesting. This made it possible to start trying to process everything we had seen and done in the past week. It had been a big journey in many ways – the word expedition now seemed even more appropriate.
We had seen a great range of places from bustling cities to sleepy little villages. There had been all manner of animals on our path (often quite literally so). The people we had met had been kind and curious about our group, and the scenery had been so stunning it was difficult to keep your eyes on the road.
Our group had also gone through a major transformation during the expedition. We had started the first day of riding all nervous and anxious, unable to get to grips with the volume, speed, direction or logic of the local traffic. But after a week of riding here we had almost gone native. I smiled as I watched Pete G. bossing his way through traffic by leaning on his horn like a local – that wouldn’t have happened a few days ago.
I like to think that we also gave something back to the local riders. Especially towards the end of our trip the bumpy roads, ineffective rear suspension and the ‘not-designed-for-distance’ seat forced many of us to sometimes give our rumps a break and ride standing on the pegs. This was a source of much amusement and confusion to the locals who watched us with curiosity and big smiles on their faces. Riding like this through a small town on the last day, Roger was overtaken by a couple of lads on a little Bajaj who studied carefully what Roger was doing, and then carried on their own way with the rider standing while the pillion stayed seated. I have no idea if they were imitating or taking the mickey, but it was clear that we had made an impact!
Before I had time for more musings we had reached Chandigarh and the riding had come to an end. Our Himalayans had covered a total of 948km, with only two punctures, a couple of minor electrical issues, a few tweaks of fuelling and retightening several bolts that had come loose on the rickety roads. For small bikes on a big adventure, they had done well. The only criticism I can think of is the big-miles comfort (or the lack of it). Otherwise they had been a joy to ride around the foothills of the highest mountain range in the world. I’m not sure if I will miss the Himalayan on the faster UK roads, but for slower and rougher roads, or more offroading-oriented trips, I would be more than happy to swing a leg over one.
So, this was it then. Almost… The curious thing about good riding trips in good company is that they inspire new trips. We have already talked about two potential adventures with the same gang. One in Scotland, the other in Lithuania, where Raymondas has promised us an offroader’s heaven: apparently there are hardly any restrictions on where you can ride in the wild. I hope both trips come off – it would be good to get the band back together!
Until then, I have hundreds of pictures and memories of the Indian adventure, which will stay with me for a long time. And the nightmares of ornately painted lorries ploughing through herds of cows on their mission to squash me are getting fewer and fewer. This trip has left something burning inside of me, and I don’t think it can all be explained by the curries. I’ve got a strong feeling that I’ll be riding in India again before too long.
More about Trailquest expeditions and offroad training
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