We planned the ride sometime in Feb 13. At that time we had only one bike – NINJA 650. Having opened a company in Jan 13, whose mainstay is to promote outdoors life – we wanted to begin with a bang. The initial plan was for three Army Colonels, promoters in the company ( Bajwa, Malik and self) to do the 1000 mile ride together. We brought in Ducati – Gurpreet’s previous bike for the ride. The summers were setting in and we were keen that we finish this before the May heat sets in. The delay in getting the third bike in time(planned Harley) left only two of us to attempt the feat.
Gurpreet has been riding big bore bikes for some time now – he initially had Ducati and now NINJA. I have been riding the small bore Indian bikes – and needed some conversion miles before one could attempt Saddle Sore - what even very seasoned riders fail to attempt. Gurpreet was confident that I should be able to do it. So I had done a total of 200 km practice on NINJA before the ride. My intimacy with the machine was only so much – that sure was a very risky proposition. But then – that is what adventure is all about –a will to conquer the fears, a leap into unknown, a faith in one’s capabilities and an unprecedented rush of adrenaline.
One of the problems with riding superbikes in Indian countryside is that if something goes wrong with the bike enroute, you are left with only one option – abandon the project and attempt some other time. A tyre burst due to heat, a mechanical problem or a fall – they all can be fatal incidents. Your best chance is to begin the ride with a machine in Top Condition mechanically. We began to prepare our bikes for the event on 1st April. We got the bikes serviced, replaced the worn out Ducati tyre for better grips, oiled the chains a day before, tipped up oils and filled nitrogen in the tyres to keep them cool. (Nitrogen does not expand as the tyre temp rises – that reduces the tyre burst chances significantly).
Amongst the many things – one of the critical aspect of the preparation is the Route to be taken. We wanted to start from Delhi and finish at Delhi. This simplified a lot of logistic issues. Also there was a need to have a witness at the turning point. Looking at the routes all around – we found Varanasi to be about 830 km and we could arrange an Army guy to certify our presence at turning point.
That is how we arrived at one of the busiest and most crowded Indian Roads – The legendary Grand Trunk Road. The route that we chose passed through Uttar Pradesh, the most populated state in India. And, Agra, Etawah, Kanpur, Allahabad, Varanasi are the most congested, crowded and populated cities of India. There is no luxury of straight and open roads like the ones in US or Europe. There are no restrictions on anyone coming and crossing the road. The speed breaker frequency is probably highest in the world. That makes our ride many notches more challenging than developed country.
On 19 April 13 starting at 5:38 am from Delhi we went to Varanasi and back in 23 hrs 54 mins, reaching Delhi by 5:32 am, 20 April 13. This was a nightmare on Indian Roads and a photo finish to an enduring achievement. We did cover about 70-80 kms extra but we just wanted to be dead sure that mission is accomplished. This now makes us eligible for all the three certifications for which we have submitted the proofs and paper work.
The families and friends – Col & Mrs Malik, Gagan and Sarita wished us well at the start point. We began the journey with a lot of enthusiasm. A Delhi road at 6 am, in the morning is pretty crowded. We had a sigh of biking relief once we crossed the DND flyover and got onto the heavenly Yamuna Expressway. The bikes breathed hard and zoomed their hearts out on this concrete runway to Agra. We churned really good miles (about 370 km) on this both ways. If it was not for this super highway, probably we would not have made it in 24 hours. Reaching Agra we were pretty upbeat on our timings and optimism was in the air.
As the hours and miles passed by, the whole of the highway became alive with the rural country folks pouring on the road for their daily chores. Free-lance cyclists, motorcyclists, rickshaws, autos, pedestrians, school children, passenger buses, dogs, cows, sheep and even elephants and ponies.
About 100 km ahead of Agra, my worst fears did come true. This I am sure is every biker’s nightmare. That proverbial uncanny stray dog did come in front of my bike and I had to screech halt the NINJA – with a minor skid – thank God all was well with me and the DOG. In this fall we managed to break the headlight bracket and this spoilt the headlight alignment of NINJA. There was no time or place to get that fixed, nor did we have time for it. We decided to bash on regardless and in a typical military tradition – we knew that the mission once embarked, had to be accomplished. So we roped up the NINJA lights, dusted our jackets, thanked God, kissed the bikes and got back to the road. We began to race ahead to Varanasi – knowing pretty well that day light was even more precious now.
As the sun ascended, the heat, dust and wind had begun to rise along with the traffic density on the road. By 11 am we had begun to get dehydrated – a condition that must be avoided at all cost. So having done about 450 km we took a paani break and re-secured the lights of NINJA. While this was good going thus far .. We were nervous about the inevitable night driving with head lights gone awry.
At about 4 pm we were on the outskirts of Varanasi . That was about 10.5 hrs to cover about 840 km – the half way mark. Here we were to get certified and turn around for Delhi. The first milestone was achieved - The Easy Rider certification from the LDR was now under our belts. We had requested a witness from the Varanasi Cantt to come to the highway – Sub Agni Pokhrel, from Gurkha Training Centre.
As the Murphy would like – we could not find him at the RV point. We may have spent about 30 minutes and some unproductive kms to search him out. But his signatures as a witness at the turn around point were critical to the authenticity of our ride. We found him finally at 4:40 pm – got the signatures, got the photos, sent the tweet and FB update – uploaded the photos, topped up tanks and now it was the home leg to race. The constant fear of no lights in the night was nagging thought that kept me cautious and that affected the miles crunching.
As regards the road congestion we were yet to see the worst of it. It was a Ram Navami day and so far we were ok. There is this place called Sita-Marhi – the place where the Sita Mata sunk into the mother earth. There was a jam that would not allow even a fly to pass. The devotees had pandals in the road and the other side had a series of DJs playing disco-bhajans. The police was trying hard to control traffic and the youngsters wanting to see and feel the super-bikes. Every place an obvious question – kitne ki hai yeh; kitni mileage hai; kaun si zyada tez daudti hai etc etc. It took us another 20 mins to meander through this minefield.
At last we were on Allahabad bypass. The sun began to go down and my heart started travelling towards my mouth. I began to see lesser of the road. I could barely see the white lane markers on the road and at most of the places there were none. We had 600 km ahead of us and the head light of NINJA was searching the tree tops on the left side of the road.
I was becoming over cautious and this killed the speed of move. One hour we drove trying all tricks in the bag – following tail lights etc. But we were doing less kms in an hour. This began to worry us. Gurpreet brought in some rope –did a manual alignment of headlights and we began again .. That lasted only till we hit the first speed breaker and again we became slow.
Our worries increased – the body was paining, the butts were red, the sleep was getting induced, the wrists and back-bone were getting stiff, locked and aching, the lights had failed and the mind was cautious. Changing gears and applying hand brakes becomes painful at evey speed breaker. We began getting nervous that this may now get out of hands and all out efforts may go waste. Mission had to be accomplished, Alive – this had to be accident free, we already had our share in the day and we had lights handicaps …
Gurpreet has been riding this NINJA for some time now – so he decided to change the bikes. My fears further increased - I was not confident on Ducati – had never ridden one. We almost came to abandoning the mission. This was the time – the soldier in us rose again …. You cannot quit on a Mission till it is accomplished – come what may!
The change of bikes did bring in some freshness and while I was getting used to the Monster – Gurpreet made good speed on NINJA. He had devised a way to hold the sagging lights like reins of a horse in one hand and was accelerating from the other.
Somewhere around mid-night we were very tired – nonstop biking induces a sleep and a kind of screen saver keeps coming in front of your eyes. You have to keep shaking your nut every now and then to keep awake. This is a very dangerous situation – in 18th hour of the ride. The risk to life at this stage is certain - one toss and you are gone.
As we reached Agra it was about 3 am. I guess we now had less than three hours to do 220 odd kms. We took a cup of coffee – braced ourselves for the speed and took the superhighway by its horns. We changed the bikes once again. I got back to NINJA – the lane markers became very visible now. We rode these babies like never before. There were toll delays – Delhi traffic was back on road which we hated so much – and with just about 4 minutes to spare we got back to where we started – The Mahipalpur Petrol Pump. We rushed to fill in the fuel … and got the timings recorded on the fuel receipt.
We need to thank God and family /friends who prayed for us throughout the ride, that we survived the life defying - 24 continuous driving hour (25 if you count from homes in Gurgaon and Dwarka - to petrol pumps). We were zombies by the time we parked the bikes and began the photo shoot. All the day’s trouble was flashing before our eyes - speed breakers to break your bones & bikes; unexpected Ram Navami juloos on roads and traffic jams; stray cows and dogs walking the highways; traffic from opposite direction on one ways, shepherd with goats, broken down trucks parked in middle of the highways, a minor incident that deformed our headlights, local mobikers who follow no rules at crossings, fashionable high beam truckers at night and much more. GOD we were in – one piece, alive. 1680 km …… and MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. …..
Col and Mrs Malik, Gagan Bajwa and Sarita were there to receive us. We slept the next 24 hours.