It began last Tuesday, 24th of May, with a phone call…
“Aniruddha? Hi, this is Suneil from xbhp…”
Turned out my blog submitted at the last minute to the True Wanderers contest was about to be selected amongst the top 10 for next round. Wow! So what next?
‘Would you be available for a ride from 3rd to 10th June? It has to be in your State only…’
The details rolled by, and they really dazed me. A week long ride with such a short notice? That too had to be in Maharashtra. The month was May. Almost all of the state was burnt by the sun in his four months of glory, and all were awaiting the rain. The photographs would all be yellow dried grass! Touring season in Maharashtra is from October to February. Not the peak of the summer!
And besides, I had just returned from an 18 day ride from Kerala a month ago, whose travelogue was selected in the contest. My boss would kill me if I requested a week long leave now.
The questions cluttered my mind, and I requested Suneil some time to think about it before accepting. The problems were overwhelming, but there was a small joy hidden in there somewhere. A possible opportunity to communicate to the world about my dream: to promote safe riding.
It began 3 years ago, on Sikkim trip. I and wife Nandinee went to Sikkim and Gangtok on a very tight budget. It was a wonderful trip, and East India is one hidden gem that is worth exploring. We were travelling by shared taxis to visit the places. The roads were rough at times, and we were bouncing around in that rusty old Jeep for going to Gurudongmar lake. At one of the many halts, I met two foreigners, whose bike was punctured and they were waiting for mechanic. A brief chat revealed they had travelled from North India and now were touring East. Seeing foreign guests roaming around on bike, with huge language barrier and yet coping up nicely, really intrigued me. Here we were, a bunch of Indians travelling safely in a cage, visiting various ‘sites’ which were separated by large distances. And these bikers were having time of their lives. That time I noticed that the journey itself was a sight. Sure there were tourist spots, this waterfall and that garden. But the road connecting them was adventurous yet beautiful, and we were missing up on it completely. Somehow, as tourists we thought our fun was limited only by the places we visit, and certainly did not lie on the roads.
We went to Rajasthan touring on motorcycle in 2010. This was the best trip we had till that time. Not just the places, but the roads too became our playground. If one counts the number of hours he was actually out on a vacation ‘having fun’ when on a tour in bus or car, he counts the number of places visited. On a motorcycle, you count each kilometer travelled. Places are generally created by humans, where on road it is not the case. You find the masses and the core of the place on road, not in tourist sites. For us, Jaisalmer was not just a town located at 5 hours journey from Jodhpur, it was a place with 220 beautiful kilometers leading towards it. Udaipur was not just a ‘romantic city’, but rather a destination of a twisting road in the Aravali hills. Road is better than the inn, indeed.
When I returned from that trip, many of my elder relatives and ‘settled’ friends were shocked. Some were even trying to prove how it would be dangerous to ride with wife, how car or bus was a safer option, how biking is only for reckless collegians. The fact that we were standing in front of them all safe and sound somehow eluded them.
This made me think a lot. I could see many others like us, either singles or couples, who had motorcycle or a scooter, and yet cribbed about how they couldn’t go out anywhere. Somehow the notion that motorcycling is totally unsafe and equivalent to suicide is deeply imbued in our psychology. This needed to change. Motorcycling is NOT just going from point A to point B, or it is not about speeding alone. It is taking a walk with nature. When one connects himself to his motorcycle and goes rolling on the road, the feeling is enormously satisfying. This needed to be presented and canvassed somehow. I cherished the dream of promoting safe riding as one of the best ways to have a vacation.
And this contest would be a superb platform for it. If I could inspire even 10 new singles or couples to take up safe riding, I have already won the prize.
But where to go? That question remained. North India is blessed with Himalaya at riding distance. East is beautifully abundant in natural beauty all year round. In south, if you are at Munnar or Kollam, you can throw up your camera high in the air taking pictures, and they would come beautiful. Some places are naturally blessed with beauty. But where am I to go in a hot state with dried vegetation?
At this time, my brother said,
‘You travel so much to other states; you have forgotten to appreciate your own. You don’t have eyes to spot the beauty here anymore’.
No way. I don’t think I could miss a place worth visiting, if it is really so.
But could it the truth? Was there any hidden beauty in this state in this season? But if I had lost the sight to see beauty in this rocky state, how would one spot it? What’s the definition of beauty? One that brings peace to eyes, or to mind? I closed my eyes, and started thinking, what does the name Maharashtra brings out in me? What pictures and feelings does it bring to mind….
I could see the brave forts that fought for freedom…
I could see the miles long beaches with golden sands and welcoming with open arms….
The views from hills up above, showing the beautiful river passing by, and neatly squared farms brimming with produce…
The abundant jungles that are holding on against shameless politicians and mafias, and are protecting their flora and fauna…
The gentle vibrating mantras from the temples, with masses of pilgrims and innocent faith…
The pulse-racing hot-blooded adventurous spirit of the Marathas…
The years of hard work of un-named artists carving up the hardest of rocks relentlessly, that have lasted centuries of harsh weather…
Damn. How could anyone miss that? I have done small tours in the state, but never one truly appreciating what it is. There is a difference between seeing and looking. I always went around ‘seeing’ places, not ‘looking’ for them. But there are places worth finding, worth looking for. The hidden gems that lie just outside of your eyesight. Maharashtra is not just cities and towns, it is many thousand kilometers of hills and roads and jungles and dried lands and rivers and unmapped villages. From tomorrow, we will start exploring the State of Maharashtra, with small steps. Seven to be exact.
Come with me, on a journey to ….
Glimpses of Maharashtra in Seven Steps.
Vesta is the name of my bike, Suzuki GS150R. It means Roman Goddess of fire and hearth.
Let’s have some rules laid out, before we move on to our journey:
- No drinking and riding. I don’t drink or smoke anyway, but yet that’s the rule!
- No super-human ride: any commonly healthy person should be able to do them easily.
- No skimping on safety, which covers: no racing, no breaking of law, no riding without helmets in town.
As if on cue, it has started raining here for past few days! Still not the regular monsoon, but enough to wake everything up from its slumber.
An introduction video from me – Please excuse the wind noise, and my occassional goof ups of English language. This vide taught me: spontaneous speech is not as easy as it seems!