Just the thought of traveling through this South Indian State conjures up images of stunning backwaters, epic roads, coconut palms, fabulous food, mind blowing beaches and well, tropical beauty at its best!
Feast your eyes !
Malabar Calling – A stunning Kettuvalam Houseboat at cruise on a typical lagoon.
“These refreshing vistas are what greeted me as I took a stop at Bekal, in Northern Kerala. After having ridden my steed (the Kawasaki Versys 650) through Goa, then Mangalore (Karnataka) and finally into Kerala, I was happy to have covered over a thousand kilometers. What’s more is that I was now well and truly in Malabar Country. A place known for its food, culture, temples, forts, beaches, resort hotels and of course – the serene backwaters of the Arabian Sea.
A sunset cruise over the (yet) noncommercial backwaters of Nileshwar is so nourishing for the soul, one needs to experience it to believe it. A two day drive or ride from Mumbai or Pune or a day’s hop from Bangalore, Nileshwar is your surest way of sampling the Kettuvalam houseboats and Kerala Culture whilst being spared the madness of usual Kerala hot spots which are known to be overflowing with tourists at most times.
As one rides up to the backwaters over idyllic little bridges and through lush coconut groves, you come across a dozen or so houseboat operators dotted along the inner waters of Nileshwar and around.
Queen of the water!
Take your pick, most these boats are similar in look and feel, however we suggest you pick Lotus Houseboats or Bekal Ripples as your cruise of choice. Their vessels are good and make for a better nautical experience.
The boats have onboard kitchens, bedrooms with air-conditioning and open dining spaces fit for a family, couples or even a group of friends. Prices range from $50 to $1000 depending on the length of your cruise.
Cruise choices range from six-hour day cruises to short two-hour sunset cruises and you can even stay aboard these vessels overnight as they make their way, at leisure, from Nileshwar to Valliaparamba.
Sunset Hues – Serene waters of the Kerala Lagoons.
When you ride hard, you must eat well. In this part of India, food is sublime. From seafood to the choicest meats, even vegetarian selections, prepared with tongue tingling spices fit for royalty – it’s a real treat here!
Pardon my lack of Instagram professionalism as I conveniently excused myself from shooting images of my food. In the moment, I preferred pouncing on the plates over pulling out the lenses 😀
Instead, here’s a look at where we stayed.
Taj Bekal Resort and Spa – epic accommodation!
Kerala is home to some of the most idyllic Hotel Resorts and Spa Retreats in India. Taj Bekal, our anchor-point on this motorcycle ride, was the perfect home away from home.
Genuinely, what a place to spend the better part of a week. Taking a stroll under lush coconut palms, spending an afternoon at Asia’s largest Spa (really!), taking a moonlit raft ride on the (in-premises) river, sampling food at all four restaurants, spending time at the beach and in the fabulously put together rooms – we did everything this place had to offer.
Taj Bekal Beachfront!
At Taj Bekal, I’ve stumbled upon my new stress-buster getaway itinerary: Take a flight to Mangalore, get the hotel to drive me to Bekal, spend three blissful nights here and then take a flight back to the grind!
Just being at Bekal eases the senses, surrounds you with soothing shades of green and blue as the sea breeze and brown sand take turns tickling you head to toe. It really is my go-to beach holiday now!
Bekal – Stress buster of sorts!
Now then, with the Arabian Sea and the leisurely Lagoons of Bekal behind me, I was in the mood for some good motorcycling. I now set my target as Chikmagalur, in Karnataka.
After what I had just experienced in Kerala, I didn’t expect too much to see on my way inland. Boy was I wrong, motorcycling in India is truly something to write home about!
Riding away from the coast and into the Western Ghat Mountain range in South Western India, I was left dumbfounded by what I saw on my way.
Zipping through the Western Ghats on the Kawasaki Versys 650!
Kudremukh National Park, this is a protected part of the Western Ghat Mountain range in the state of Karnataka, India.
With just a single, exquisitely laid, super smooth and curvaceous road cutting through, Kudremukh has to be one of the most heavenly roads to ride on in India.
Kudremukh Peak & National Park visible in the distance, as seen from Mullayangiri.
Crossing over the Western Ghat Mountains, the roads now cut through lush Tea Gardens and Coffee plantations. The weather was now noticeably cooler and the roads were empty as can be!
The smooth hum of my motorcycle was the perfect companion as we took turn after turn into the overwhelming green surrounds of District Chikmagalur.
Lush Plantations of Chikmagalur!
Chikmagalur is the birthplace of coffee in India. Legend has it that a Sufi Saint on his way back from pilgrimage to Mecca, carried a few raw coffee beans as he transited through Yemen.
Those few beans are what started it all, as far as Coffee plantation in this region goes. Fascinating!
As you climb down from the Western Ghat Mountains, you hit Chikmagalur Town in the foothills. It’s almost as if Chikmagalur is cradled by the mighty Ghats, sitting pretty at a height of 3500 ft.
I made my way through the town, on one side was the semi-urban hustle and on the other, the mammoth mountain of Mullayangiri – the highest mountain peak in the state of Karnataka (6000 ft).
Riding to the top of Mullayangiri was my next target. It had been a while since I had ridden a motorcycle above 5000 ft in Nepal and Ladakh. I wondered how far up the mountain one could reach with the Versys 650.
On top of the world!! (Well, just Karnataka really.)
The Kawasaki Versys 650 – Atop Mullayanagiri – The Highest Mountain Peak of Karnataka, India.
Getting to the top of this mountain was relatively easy. Although the extremely narrow road with tight hairpins and vehicles moving in both directions really got the blood flowing!
Just a couple clicks short of the top, the road vanishes completely. Hereon only 4×4 jeeps hired by tourist groups take on the last little bit of the climb as it is completely off-road. Well, Jeeps and motorcycles 😉
There should be a paved road all the way soon enough but for now, it was a two kilometer long off road track with steep fall-offs on one side and the mountain on the other! Like I said, it got the blood flowing 😛
Road to Mullayanagiri!
From the thick sea breeze at Bekal to the thin air atop Karnataka’s highest peak, this had been a journey of sorts. The number of different terrains I had seen on this short 2000 kilometer ride was really something.
As I rode back towards Chikmagalur town, I loaded up on the famed filter coffee and bought myself a couple kilos of beans. You need to try the blends from here, you’ll forget about the crap we drink in our cities!
I really do mean that. At the Estate run shops in Chikmagalur, you can get customized coffee blends as per your preferences. Might I add, buying freshly blended Coffee here is extremely affordable.
Charged up on coffee, it was time to head home.
What a journey it had been – seven days, over two thousand kilometers, great food, stunning scenery, fabulous roads and so much coffee. This trip ended up being everything I’d imagined it would be and more.
Safe to say, I’m already planning another trip down South. There’s just so much more to see and experience in South India!
Until next time, I’m Nipun Srivastava, Vrooming off!”
Wow, we at The Nirvana Team can’t wait to see where Nipun head’s next and which vehicle he chooses!
We thank Taj Hotels for their exceptional support and impeccable service along the way, their Hotels and Resorts make the perfect pit stops for motorcycle touring in South India.
The Kawasaki India Versys 650 performed like a total champ on this journey, as expected. Great performance on and off the road, fully loaded and even two-up. An absolute value for money motorcycle for India!
Do tell us what you think of this photo-story by Photographer Nipun Srivastava, would you like to see more stories like this in the future? Comment down below!
Lex Talionis! – A long term update on the Mahindra Thar!
We’ve spent an adventurous four years with this mean and mod-friendly machine! So before we let you through to our original story on the Thar, here’s a quick look at the major modifications on our daily driver!
Mahindra Customisation: Snorkel, Midnight Edition Front and Rear Bumpers: Inspire confidence while fording and enhance maneuverability / aesthetics.
Bimbra 4×4: Heavy Duty Rock Sliders, Fiber reinforced Hard Top (V2), Aluminum Roof Rails: Protection from rocks underneath and the Hard Top takes cabin comfort and security to the next level.
Hella: Front Auxiliary Halogen Lamps (Comet 500 Black Magic): Used as DRLs and driving aid.
Onella: Rear Auxiliary LED Lamps: Rear driving aid and campsite illumination.
Aurora LED: Front LED Bar (Off-Road): Off-road path-finding.
Cooper Tires: Discoverer STT Pro 31″ Mud Terrain Tires on 15″ Steel Wheels: Improved off-road capability, increased stability on road, the trade off – an audible ‘humm’ while at speed, reduced top end.
Mopar: Wrangler Hood Latches: Aesthetics primarily, eliminates squeaky noises made by stock metal bonnet Latches.
DampMat: Thermo-Acoustic Insulation: Reduced cabin noise and heat by 50%. Improved life inside cabin (and air-con efficiency) immensely.
ARMORO: Custom Spare Wheel Cover: Adds attitude and improves overall aesthetics, protects spare rubber from elements.
Built not Bought!
Each modification/add-on mentioned above has been made after careful research and due scrutiny of each available option in the category. The custom accessories market in India is steadily growing and so are the options that are natively available for enthusiasts to use on their individual rigs.
Now, back to our original story on the Mahindra Thar!
The Jeep Life!
Those who follow our work will know we did a quick review of the Mahindra Thar some time ago. The Thar is an SUV which carries the tag of a Jeep in India. People who drive these brutes are often from a different school of thought altogether. These men and women, like most, value comfort, style, ease of handling and most of all practicality. With all these in the bag though, there is still something missing. The chase for this missing element is what makes people buy a Jeep.
A jeep is not practical, it isn’t comfortable, the handling on these machines is appalling and as for styling – it hasn’t changed for the last 7 decades. So then, what is it? What makes one buy a Jeep? Nirvana set out to unravel this mystery in the best way there is!
We cleared our schedule, packed up as much stuff as we could, stuffed it into a Mahindra Thar and then drove off in tandem with the rising Sun. For the first few kilometers, we battled the blistering cold as the Thar warmed up. The cabin heater takes its own time to wake up and the canvas-ish soft top roof was not helping things either. Eventually though we did find some semblance of temperature inside the cabin. The drive had now begun. We were now officially giving chase to the element, that one thing which makes one go out and buy a jeep.
Barreling through the cold morning winds, we’d defog the windscreen manually (with a cloth) every few minutes. Irritating at first, it is something a Jeeper gets used to very quickly. Much like the bumpy ride one has to deal with even on smooth highway roads. The rear end of the Thar sits on an antique leaf spring suspension setup making it jump over every little lump of tar on the Indian road. Safe to say, the ride is not something to write home about. Even with the fully independent pot hole eating front suspension, there is only so much this Jeep can offer.
Highway Crusin’ – Indside Story!
The 2.5 Litre turbo-diesel does tend to impress when given the beans on the highway. Sluggish at first but given time, the Thar holds its own on the highway. For what is essentially a box on wheels, the Mahindra Thar is a gem on smooth straight roads. On mountain roads however, curve after curve, one has to calibrate to the comfort zone of this Jeep. The driver learns to read the road for potential bumps and it’s his/her skill which decides how smooth or unnerving the ride will be.
Barring a rudimentary seat-belt, there is nothing between the passenger/pedestrian and certain loss of limb. Oh, maybe the less than adequate brakes might soften the nudge a little. And then there is the price tag; eight and a half lakhs on the road (Pune). Phew! So where does all that money go? Clearly the interiors (or the lack of them) is not something which eats up the budget.
As we found out, the Borg&Warner 4×4 transfer case mated to the 2.5 turbo is where the money’s at. It is the off-road capability of this Jeep that costs. Off-road loyalists in India will probably want to discount the Thar’s ability when things get a little too technical (Compared to a traditional solid-axle). Not to say this jeep is bad when taken off the road. We found the stock Thar to be adequately endowed for someone looking to break into the world of Indian jeeping. Having said that, we were still miles away from discovering the magic element (and our destination!).
I can go anywhere!
We had driven a few hundred kilometers by now. Over highways and in the curves, we’d found our rhythm with the Thar; then something funny happened.
As we got used to the Thar’s antics, she took on an almost endearing personality. Like a human being, even with all its limitations, the Thar kept moving. Eating miles and sipping diesel, she got us to our destination – Our holy grail – Hedvi.
Holy grail – Hedvi!
Despite all the niggles, we had fallen for the Mahindra Thar! Every time we looked, we couldn’t take our eyes off it! On a beach, out trailblazing in the wilderness or even on the city street, the Thar cuts a very crisp figure. And gosh is it attractive! Driving down the streets, everyone from young boys and girls to middle aged couples and even a few Army and Police personnel will give you the thumbs up.
The Thar almost always becomes the conversation piece because truth is, the Jeep (as a concept) has seen it all. Over the past century, in all corners of the world and in every walk of life this vehicle in all its forms has proven its mettle beyond doubt. Starting from the military, through utility and going all the way till recreation, the Jeep can do everything.
The compromise in comfort and luxury, we feel, is fair in return for the capabilities and downright uniqueness. Safety on the other hand is something Mahindra & Mahindra still need to work on for the Thar.
Finally though we’d cracked it; we now knew why one buys a jeep. Read on.
Travel till land’s end!
Romance is rare, charm is even rarer and class, well that’s almost extinct. There is a reason why a charming, secure and confident man makes any woman swoon. The reason is romance. Any man who is secure in himself and confident about his abilities probably knows how to woo a woman. He could walk onto her turf with his charm and the only thing a lady will do is welcome him. No matter how uncomfortable it is to be together, no matter how unpractical the love is and regardless of the cost, if the romance is alive – the love will flourish.
And that is it ladies and gentlemen. The romance of a lifestyle is what attracts enthusiasts to jeeps like bees to honey. It’s the romance of doing things differently, standing unaffected by the way the ‘herd’ looks at living and going where few bother to look which sets true blue Jeepers apart. Living with a Jeep is not for those corrupted by comfort!
The virile lifestyle!
Comfort zones become a thing of the past with a jeep. A well kitted out vehicle and with a strong skill set on tap, anyone can become an explorer. In fact, we love the romance of Jeeping so much, we’ve bought one! The vehicle you see in the pictures is a bone stock* Mahindra Thar from our very own Nirvana stable!
Expect a lot more travel and Jeeping stories hereon out! Also, in our bid to encourage motoring conversations further, we’d like you to comment below and tell us what you think. We’d love to know how our readers satisfy their cravings for the road! Cheers!
For more Jeeping photography click on The Jeep Life!
Every motorcycle ride is a collection of small stories. Experiences, bundled up into fond memories for a lifetime.
Nepal is an enigma. When thinking about this country, what comes to mind are the mighty Himalayas and heroic feats of men and women who have set foot on some of the tallest mountains in the world. There’s more to Nepal than just mountaineering though.
Adventure in Nepal is a way of life. Once here, the ideal ingredients for adrenaline gushing, heart rate increasing and mind altering travel are found in every corner. It was time we took the Nirvana tread to Nepal!
Nepal is a neighbour to India and a mystery to everyone who hasn’t been to this country of concoctions. One of the smallest countries in the world is a window into some of the the biggest mountain ranges in the world. Not to mention the downright dumbfounding natural beauty that is routine here.
Breathtaking landscapes at every turn.
For this rumble through the mountains Team Nirvana would like to thank the Firelords Royal Enfield Owners’ Club and its members who we rode with. Motorcycling is a different ballgame when it comes to international travel. There’s a lot of boring stuff involved before one can actually get to the ‘two wheels moving the soul’ part. Paperwork, permits, hotel bookings and (when you’re riding Royal Enfield bikes) mechanic finding are just some of the things we had to put in place before we left home.
Making plans for such trips is very exciting, mostly because in the heart every biker knows, nothing ever goes to plan. It’s when things do go wrong, that the motorcycling life lessons begin their hallowed teachings.
Distances are small in the mountains but it’s the intensity of roads and conditions that pose the real challenge here. Nepal just about manages to have a road network. It also has some of the worst roads (paths/tracks) we’ve ever ridden on. On our 17 day journey through this country, we rode on everything that this terrain could throw at us.
Ridin’ through a landslide!
On what we thought would be a short sprint from one destination to another, we came across a five kilometer stretch where one entire face of a mountain had slipped into the valley below. A landslide. Five kilometers of track took two hours to cover on our aging Enfields. Because of the toll that two hour stretch took on our bikes (and us!), our entire schedule went out of whack. This is when our motorcycle ride truly started with all its intensity. This is the charm of Nepal and its terrain, nothing is ever what you expect yet, everything is beautiful.
We learned pretty quickly that a ‘good road’ in Nepal is merely a dirt track all the way to one’s destination. If to our surprise we found good tarmac, we worshiped it with both our wheels! The value of smooth roads is understood only when constant off-roading becomes an everyday routine. Sheer tenacity and the ability to take it slow come in handy on endless rocky sections of the roads here. Beyond every challenging road section though, lay the best prize of them all, unhindered beauty.
Reverberating to the sounds of our thumping engines were the stunning Himalayan valleys through which we rode all across this country.
The Capital of Nepal, Kathmandu is hard core. The traffic here is MAD! The pollution is literally sky high and the dust, oh god the dust is everywhere!
Nothing could have prepared us for the onslaught that was Kathmandu. KTM is a concoction of sorts with its touristy yet formal ethos. Formal mainly because of the host of embassies present here, security is tight. Roaming the streets of Kathmandu, one can find adventurers and tourists of many nationalities. A melting pot, not of cultures but of people – in pursuit of their next big experience.
Kathmandu is a gateway into Nepal. A crash course in how to get around in the rest of the country. Hotels here are generally soft on the pocket, memorabilia on the other hand is not, we got ripped off a lot here! Evenings are lively in KTM and the cuisine too is varied and up to the mark. No matter where you’re from, you will find your food here.
The people of Kathmandu are slightly different from the rest of Nepal (we say this largely because of our hotel manager & shop keepers who we encountered). Although they treat everyone the same, when it comes to money, one needs to be careful. The streets are safe and most importantly, fuel is available 24/7.
Boudhnath Stupa – Kathmandu
We, as usual, made the mistake of trying to do too much in time that was better suited to explore rather than endure. Here, we discovered another trait of the mountains.
No matter how much one tries to hurry, the mountains will slow you down. Someone somewhere has rightly said, “you never cross the Himalayas, these mountains merely let you through”. We had a motorcycle issue on the day we rode out of Kathmandu. Although we did reach our destination for the day, it wasn’t before we’d crossed an entire landslide. This stretch took a lot from us mentally, our machines were fine though.
Never underestimate the rigours of mountain motorcycling, ever. We realised here, that even trying to anticipate what the road ahead would bring was futile. Instead, it was best that we slept well, ate well and rode hard.
Photography on this motorcycle road trip was kept to an absolute minimum. We only shot when we had the energy and will to do it. Many a times, we let million dollar scenes pass by just because motorcycling was our first priority. It had to be, for us to keep to our schedule, we couldn’t spare a moot minute. Lesson learnt.
We were now making our way across mainland Nepal. Riding through the lush countryside, we were met with beauty beyond comprehension. The toil we had been through was worth every minute. The views were overwhelming!
Goa of Nepal! Pokhra!
The beach town vibe of Pokhra is inescapable. Chilled out people, good music and great food made Pokhra our favourite place to ditch the motorbikes (for once!) and plonk ourselves for some R&R.
Nestled within the Annapurna valley, Pokhra is where everyone comes to start their journey into the Annapurna mountain range. These are treks which, according to your taste, can stretch from one day to about 20 days. Safe to say, we were not up for THAT much walking, we love our bikes too much! 😛
Instead we chose to sit back, relax and wake up freakishly early to watch the first light fall on the Annapurna Mountain Range.
Watching the first rays of Sunlight fall on these mountains was such a gripping experience for all of us that we hardly even spoke to each other while watching the Sun rise.
It was a very cold morning and we were all very sleepy but as soon as the light-show began, it was like mountain magic. We just sat there in the cold wind, sipping one chai after another, looking.
And that was that. Fifteen days had gone by without us even thinking about going back home. Yet, we had to turn the handle, twist the throttle and push back into India. Nepal as an experience was over. Or was it?
On our way back from Pokhra to Lumbini, we rode our bikes on the most spectacular mountain roads of the entire trip! More than a hundred kilometers of silk-smooth roads, twisting through the Himalayan foothills, it was like Nepal had saved the best for last. This was the cherry on the icing for our motoring heartbeats. We were a happy bunch by the end of this ride.
Secretly, we were all in love with Nepal and its antics. Here, some met their limits, others pushed theirs and for some it was just another day on the road to Nirvana :).
We are yet to have our fill of this wonderful country. It is our promise, we will go back.
“The kiss of the mountain air is everlasting.”
Motorcycles & Mountains!
Check out our video from this motorcycle trip!
It’s that time of year again. The mountains will soon echo with the sound of motorcycle engines. Hundreds of people will leave their homes and comfort zones alike, taking charge of their existence with the help of two wheels!
The things in life one decides to do before it’s too late are many. For a freakishly increasing number of motorcyclists in India, riding to Khardung La aka the Khardung pass a little distance from the town of Leh in Jammu & Kashmir, is the ultimate achievement.
To Khardung La!
It is a very personal experience and an equally personal endeavour, this. The Khardung La is located at a height of about 18380 Ft, on the way to the desert towns of Disket and Hunder. From the high altitude town of Leh (11000 Ft), the mountain pass is about 50 kilometres away.
If you think there are things in life more important than riding a motorcycle over maddeningly bad terrain and beautifully dangerous roads to the highest motor-able road in the world, just ask any Royal Enfield (Bullet) rider. She/he will surely set your thoughts straight.
Into The Mountains
For most bikers, riding in Ladakh on the mountain roads which wind their way through the Himalayas is a challenge. Everybody can do it but not everybody does. It takes courage of a different kind to actually set out on this special road trip. The hurdles a motorcycle and its rider face when on these high altitude roads are positively uncountable. Mind you, that is a major reason why one sets out on most adventures, isn’t it?
Night in the mountains.
Controlling a motorcycle while riding through slush, gravel, sand and even torrential streams are just some of the things a person on this endeavour will have to endure. Not undermining the fact that high altitude always has nasty surprises up its sleeve, if you aren’t acclimatised properly. The air is thin up there, oxygen is less and so is the room for error while riding on the ultra-narrow roads. Almost 85 % of the roads are mountainous where on one side is the mountain itself and the other side is a cliff or a raging river and no, seldom will you find any barricading to save you, if you’re planning on going over i.e.
Long way down!
One can never underestimate the power of the weather here. They say ‘If you don’t like the weather in Ladakh, just wait five minutes’ and it is actually true. The weather can change with every blink over the Ladakhi landscape. You will be treated to ice cold rain and snow, winds fast enough to throw you off your feet and people who are as beautiful as they are calm.
Whether you ride solo or you ride with a bunch of people like yourself, this adventure will affect you as an individual. Call it philosophy or call it spirituality, either way, you will be a changed person by the time you reach home. Many have said before that the isolated existence and the feeling of being removed from the ruckus of everyday life is the real reason why people go to this place. There is a lot more to Ladakh than just that. It is that place where no matter what your age, you will meet yourself, the real you.
We’re not going to talk about how one should take this trip. Frankly, we have no right. Do take the trip if you get a chance though. Leave that chair, head out, stretch right up and touch the sky.