Two years had gone by, just thinking about this adventure. One on which I’d be alone. Just my motorcycle and that’s it. No friends, no company, no backup and no escape. I would head into the desert state of India and ride from place to place, tasting tourism at every step. Relive the clichés and see if it was possible to survive for that long, alone.
You won’t die, I said to myself as I started packing for the trip. It was not to be a survival trip but such trips are never easy and one can never be prepared enough. 2011 had been an eventful year already – I had spent a month in Africa, driven across Maharashtra and Gujarat with the Nanos, shot huge events and even been on countless bike rides. But for some reason, it felt incomplete.
Rajasthan is one of the largest states in India and its party piece is the Thaar or the Great Indian Desert. We have all had visions or seen images of camels and turban clad men in white, women in dressy reds walking on sandy streets and over curvaceous dunes. Rajasthan is also home to imposing forts and Gothic monuments which narrate stories of ancient times. Kings and kingdoms, Sultans and their Sultanates – all were heard about. Only heard about and seen in pictures or movies, never felt.
Rooh – e – Rajasthan 2011
The motorcycle journey.
Come winter of 2011, I decided that it was time to head out. I was to ride north across Gujarat and enter Rajasthan on my motorcycle. Why on a motorcycle, you ask? Well there are two answers to that.
The first one: A motorbike ride is the best way to experience the landscape and be independent all through the journey.
The second: It’s the only way I feel like I’m travelling. A plane, train or car just doesn’t cut it anymore.
I had spent so much time thinking about the destinations on this journey for the past couple of years that now I could recite the route I wanted to take in a single breath. It felt as if there would be no better time to leave home. The day finally came.
The saddle bags were stuffed with stuff and the cameras cleaned. Tank brimmed and it was time to ride out. I left the comfort of home to see if my dreamy idea of a ride across the sands could actually be realised. At the start, there was a fellow rider with me. He was riding towards his home in Gujarat. We started our ride together and then he turned off a little ahead of Surat on the highway. That was the end of my company on the ride, or so I thought then.
On the second day, as the sun got ready for another setting, I crossed the Tropic of Cancer and reached the foot of the Aravallis. At the foot of Mount Abu, I stopped for some tea and whilst sipping on the smoking golden potion, conversations started flowing. The random stranger sitting next to me, the chai-wallah and I started speaking about where I was coming from and where I’d planned to go.
There’s a feeling you get when you’re on a motorcycle ride. One moment, an instant where you realize – that these are not ordinary road-trips. This was most certainly not a typical trip. The dream ride had started.
Twenty kilometres of smooth winding roads took me to an elevation of about four thousand feet. The sun was setting, the mountains were moving in front of me with each turn. The now cool wind hit my dust covered face like a splash of cold water and the setting sun just added to the drama in every moment. This stretch of 25 kilometres and its curves is what made it all feel like the long haul from Pune was worth it. Even before I had reached my destination for the day! Turn after turn the sun played hide and seek while I overtook the ever effervescent Gujarati families in their sedans, getting those ‘looks’ every biker will tell you about. I felt at home and peaceful on this hill road.
A typical tourists’ loaf, Abu has greenery, a lake, the Dilwara Jain Temple and Guru Shikhar – the highest mountain in the Aravallis. Not to mention a gazillion hotels and guest houses.
Mt Abu , at an elevation of about 4000 feet is the only hill station in Rajasthan and is frequented by tourists throughout the year but never more than in the summer. The elevation above sea level provides breath giving respite to tourists from the hot states of Rajasthan and Gujarat. This is the land of Gurjjars, an ancient ethnic group. The roadside ‘paanwallah’ tells me that the ancient name of this area used to be “Arbudaanchal”. Interesting how us humans fall into conversations over just a few pieces of gum. He also informed me that I shouldn’t head out alone too early in the morning to shoot the sunrise as this area is home to some bears, which aren’t afraid of humans anymore, thanks to the rampant tourism. Though I think, since it was Diwali and firecrackers were bursting everywhere, even if there were bears around, the loud bangs and thuds must surely have shooed them away. Still, one can never be too careful. During the Hindu festival of Diwali, is the perfect weather to come here but not the perfect time. Tourists from Gujarat and Rajasthan flood Mount Abu during this time. Hotel accommodation is next to impossible if you’re a biker like me and prefer to scout for a bed after you’ve reached your destination. I was lucky I got 2 nights at an upmarket hotel after some major hotel hunting.
You may not feel like you’re in Rajasthan here, so touristy is the ethos of this hill town. Still, for the religious folks there is the Dilwara Jain temple. They say its architecture rivals that of the Taj Mahal. Entry for non-Jains is allowed from 12pm onwards and photography of any kind is prohibited (Why?). One can’t even take a cell phone inside.
Mount Abu is also home to the well known ‘Bhramakumaris’ – a cult of spiritually inclined people.
The Nakki lake, a major ‘attraction’, is a place where one can pay for a boat and take a small ride around the lake. There is one man here; he is old, blind and a musician. During the day you will find him at the lake and in the shikaras playing his instrument and singing songs. Just to hear him sing, the boat ride is worth it.
Nathu ji and his music.
Toad rock, a rock which looks like a frog is seen commanding the lake when you’re taking the boat ride. A small trek up to the rock will reveal a panoramic view of Mt Abu with the Nakki lake as its centrepiece.
There is also a small wildlife sanctuary here. They say the trails here are worth a trek but what I found most fun was the ride up to the parking lot. Broken road, narrow and covered with flora on all sides. It’s short but fun.
Spot the bike!
To be honest, Mount Abu offered nothing substantial for someone looking for a muse. Make no mistake; this place can be beautiful if you have the eyes for it and the time. To me though it felt as if the hill town was trying desperately to cling to its Rajasthani roots and earn a living off it. Everywhere you look there are shops and hotels aimed at the tourist. I wondered where the real Mount Abu people were.
As Diwali here came to a bittersweet end, I left. The map of Rajasthan took on its first fold.
I rode into what felt like the real deal. Gradually, the lush green gave way to a barren flat land with shades of brown. One straight road cutting through the landscape and nothing else, that’s what it looks like in the desert. The sand was visible now. I had to be careful of thorns from roadside bushes puncturing the tyres.
This road was smooth, not a bump. I couldn’t even begin to fathom what I was up to. This was going to be a brilliant experience and that is all I knew.
The sun came up behind me and suddenly, I entered the district of Barmer. There was no turning back now. I stopped to wrap my head around the fact that I was in the middle of nowhere. There was nothing here, except the road, my motorcycle and me. It was so quiet I could hear the sips of water slip down my throat. The gentle morning breeze whistled in my ears as I looked on.
Almost nothing in sight.
That feeling of uncertainty had deserted me and the adventurous streak had set in. I got a glimpse of what it was going to be like over the coming month!
For more pictures from Mount Abu Click here.
In this article:
Distance travelled: (Pune – Ankleshwar – Mount Abu) = 875 kilometres
Number of nights: Ankleshwar = 1, Mount Abu = 2.
Motorcycle condition: All good.
Next destination: Barmer, Rajasthan. (Click here to read)