Motorcycles, they make our world go round.
Truly, these two-wheeled machines have made me marvel at their form and function, right since I’ve been conscious enough to understand the feeling of wind hitting my skin in tandem with the twist of a throttle. What motorcycles have given me, in return for living with them, maintaining them and fueling them, cannot be quantified. But what I can do is share how they’ve made a huge impact on my life, the type of people I meet and how I meet them.
Ever had a friend who you’ve never met, never ridden alongside, never even spoken to on the phone but your connect is super strong – as if you were siblings? That’s what MK and I share – all because of our motorcycles!
I had just bought my dream machine – the BMW R1250GS.
It was surreal, bringing this behemoth home and like any true motorcyclist, I was itching to ride the living daylights out of it! As if on cue, my friend who I’d never spoken to, MK, sent me a text saying he was on his way back to India in December. (He stays in Dubai most of the year). He was returning to his village home in Kerala – in the heart of South India!
Since we’d never met, yet, were two passionate motorcyclists – passionate about motorcycles, accessories, riding gear et al, this was a golden opportunity for us to finally ride together after years of WhatsApp friendship! MK, like myself, rode a plethora of motorcycles and had a penchant for quality.
MK and I got to know each other because both of us were part of a motorcycle (messaging) group that owned Kawasakis – The Versys 650 to be exact. We both loved the V650s as they made for fantastic, practical and fast machines that were very accessory friendly. As it happens on such groups, discussing accessories and dealing with weirdos who always had a point to prove, MK and I found our opinions chiming in unison more than a few times. This led to us deciding that, as and when we’d get the chance, we’d ride together.
You know what they say, great friends are hard to come by. So I take them when I get them and hold on as tight as the brotherhood allows.
The reality was that MK’s home was a thousand miles away from my home – one way. I’d have to cross 5 states, ride through mountain ranges, alongside India’s West Coast and cover decent highway distances to reach Kerala.
2000 miles ahead!
I convinced my usual motorcycling partner in crime, Vaishali, to join me on this multi state ride across western India. She’s the best pillion I’ve ever had on a motorcycle. Always in sync, always ready to pull her weight (and the bikes! If need be 😜). Vaishali has been a constant companion on quite a few motorcycle rides. Most importantly, she doesn’t mind me giving most of my attention to my motorcycle when on a ride, especially with my cameras.
Vaishali, flanked by the GS and I. #helmethair #forthewin
WELL BEGUN IS HALF DONE
Well, the ride didn’t begin all that well.
Being a Creative Director, leading my own advertising and production teams, I’m always jumping from one shoot to the other and the night before the ride was the same, it got real late. We started the ride a full 6 hours behind schedule, as I spent the early morning packing and setting up my GS, first BIG ride after all.
Starting late (on a ride as huge as this one) is a strict no-no for me. It just puts everything out of whack and has a cascading effect on the whole endeavour. Anyway, we made our way, leaving my home city of Pune at noon, in the state of Maharashtra, India.
It was December, a few days ahead of Christmas. MK is Christian and the whole idea on this leg of the onward journey was to reach the destination in time for us to celebrate together! To help make that happen, MK and his family had made their way to Wayanad, up and into the Southern Indian Mountains, with MK riding his Versys 650.
Vaishali (my pillion), the GS and I were a long ways away though. We were still riding towards Goa, our first overnight stop on the ride.
The worst place to stay, if you have to leave the next morning, is Goa.
Why? Because one never feels like leaving Goa, ever! The food and people in Goa are some of the best. Every time we ride into Goa, the chilled out vibe grips us so tight that we almost always end up extending our trip! No such option this time, we were on a mission, mission to Mangalore!
Susegado baby, you’re in Goa!
‘Susegado’, as the Goans refer to the ‘vibe’ here, is infectious to say the least. From quiet naps in the afternoon to casual beer and seafood in the evening, you just want to slow down and enjoy each breath you take, when here. Something that is so alluring to my current city dwelling mindset, I am certain I will get myself a home in Goa someday. Maybe I’ll even get a boat and spend my retirement dough mounting Denali lights on it!
We reached Goa after dark, just in time for a quick dinner with local friends and then to bed. Next morning, we took our time once again, leaving at noon. On our way out of Goa, our next overnight destination was the city of Mangalore in the state of Karnataka (already our third state on this ride!).
ALONG THE WEST COAST
The coastal road from Goa to Mangalore, a distance of about 400 kilometres, is some of the most pleasurable and easy riding one can do. Especially now that we had already fallen behind our riding schedule, there was no point rushing through the good bits. Taking the Goan vibe along as we rode across state borders into Karnataka, we took time to appreciate the abundant coastal beauty this stretch of the road had to offer. Stopping often, just to enjoy the constant sea breeze and refreshing views.
The whole 400 kilometre Goa-Mangalore stretch winds along the western coast of India, in tandem with the Western Ghat Mountains on one side and the stunning Arabian Sea on the other, lined on both sides of the road with rustling coconut palms.
Even though the 400k distance may seem short, this coastal route is a slow ride by default. After a good 10 hours on the road, we reached Mangalore City and battled its peak hour evening traffic to reach our hotel. Promptly dismounting and heading for dinner.
Just 400 kilometres from the Indian Sunshine State of Goa and a few tens of kilometres short of the Southern state of Kerala, sits the bustling coastal City of Mangalore. With its own unique Mangalorean cuisine and culture, it’s a city and region which is as unique as it is stunning! I’d taken a trip specifically to explore this part of India in 2018, on my Versys 650, check out that story here: Malabar Calling.
On this trip however, Mangalore was just a place to lay our heads before we finally made our way up into the Western Ghat Mountains towards Wayanad.
GOD’S OWN COUNTRY
Ah, Kerala, you beauty!
From crisp coffee to tantalising teas, from calm lagoons to the roaring seas, from life at sea-level to misty, evergreen mountains – Kerala has EVERYTHING any traveller could ever ask for. Not to forget the divine cuisine that is the diamond in the crown of this state!
As soon as we rode into the Western Ghat Mountains, we left the warm and sultry tropical weather behind and were welcomed into the highlands with cool mountainous breeze. With the Boxer Engine of the 1250 GS growling between my legs, I took full advantage of the superb 2-Up riding dynamics of this stellar motorcycle!
Not only were Vaishali and I riding 2-Up, our GS (The Swashbuckler) was fully loaded from front to back! Right from the SW-Motech EVO Daypack Tankbag, carrying most of my Camera paraphernalia, to the AERO ABS Side Cases (also from SW-Motech) – our main luggage. I also have to mention the nifty Urban ABS Top Case that we had, carrying all our footwear at the back.
Why do I consistently choose SW Motech ABS Luggage over a trio of aluminium?
Well, even on a motorcycle as well put together as the GS, one needs luggage that is manageable single handedly. (OR) When touring 2-Up, the rider-pillion team has to be able to lug the luggage up a hill with bare hands. Ultimately, ABS luggage is light, yet holds its form beautifully and looks stunning on the outside. Moreover, the AERO ABS Side Cases aren’t too big and thus make you carefully consider each item you are carrying. You know, so that you don’t end up carrying extra crap that you’ll never use. Most importantly, in a worst case scenario, one can shove these abs plastic luggage cases in overhead bins on an aircraft!
ABS luggage #forthewin from SW-Motech & Denali Electronics D4 V2 TriOptic LED Aux. Lamps
Just in time for this ride, I had mounted the Denali D4 V2 TriOptic LED Aux lamps. These came in very handy as we rode further up into the western ghat mountains and the Sun went down behind the peaks. We were flying towards our destination, the forest district of Wayanad. We passed the coffee plantations of Coorg/Madikeri during early evening and then crossed the state border into Kerala as dusk approached. A few more hours of cold weather riding saw us entering the forests of Wayanad on the GS, looking for our hotel, where our Christmas dinner awaited!
My friend, MK, had made sure that as soon as we got off the motorcycle, our beers were handed to us! Mark of a true friend ;).
A CHRISTMAS TO REMEMBER
Motorcycle Friends – MK, his wife Seema, Vaishali and I. Our Steeds – MK’s Kawasaki Versys 650 & The Swashbuckler!
When motorcycle tourers meet, the first few hours are spent conversing and analysing each other’s motorcycles. It’s one thing to share messages about which accessory to buy, its a whole another process seeing it mounted on a machine.
MK and his wife had ridden up to the forests of Wayanad to celebrate Christmas with us. What a gesture and what a way to bring in 2020!
WAYANAD & VYTHIRI
Absolutely calm green forests, nestled within sweeping hills and water bodies, that is what Wayanad and Vythiri offer.
We spent a couple of days exploring the areas around, took in the perfect winter weather and generally chilled out. I even took the opportunity to head out and ride a couple of off-road trails deeper into the forests of Vythiri. Lucky that the monsoon season had passed, this place would have been mayhem to ride through, landslides and all!
At the end of one trail, we found ourselves a glassy lake with open views, imperative that I spend some time shooting my GS! 😀
ON TO THE NEW YEAR!
With Christmas behind us, MK, our pillions and I were to ride further deeper into Kerala – to their village home, 300 kilometers further south of Wayanad. This was our first real ride together!
Riding into 2020!
2020 was brought in with style at (what I like to call) MK’s motorcycle-home. One reason why we hit it off is that the both of us are motorcycle aficionados, the constant motoring banter between us is endless, we often found ourselves being the last people in a room. Visiting a fellow rider’s home sometimes treats one to a fascinating insight into their unique perspective on motoring.
MK’s Motorcycle Home & Festive Champagne!
There’s something to be said about living far away from the city. The calm surroundings and slow pace of life in Indian villages is worth its weight in gold if you ask me. Increasingly, I have come to realise that it is the quality of the life one is living and not the location that matters most. Here’s hoping I put my learnings from this trip into practice sooner than later!
Finally then, our time at MK’s home also came to an end. Their family had left no stone unturned in making sure we were fed every type of delicacy Kerala had to offer. Vaishali and I were as honoured as we were humbled by their extraordinary hospitality.
I struggle with goodbyes.
KOCHI – NO TIME FOR MELANCHOLY
On Indian roads, there’s no time to brood. As soon as we rode out of rural Kerala, the heat, humidity and bustle of urban traffic hit us like a freight train!
We were now on our way to the metropolitan city of Kochi.
After spending close to 10 days in the stunning serenity of Wayanad, Vythiri and then at my friend’s village villa. Kochi’s fast pace took some getting used to! Luckily for us, the BMW dealership here was headed by a friend and fellow GS rider as well. For the first time on this ride, Vaishali and I left the GS for some TLC at EVM Motorrad Kochi and made our way to the touristy side of the city. Kochi is a hardcore coastal city, the Arabian Sea forms an inseparable part of the life here. Whether it’s the sea-food or the ways to get around town, the Sea is everywhere.
Ferry Hop in search of the Biker’s Burger!
We hopped onto a ferry to get us to Fort Kochi – probably the most touristy part of town. With the prospect of juicy burgers in front of us, we weren’t complaining! Lo and behold, I found myself a ‘biker’s burger’, I had to give it a go! 😀
Our stop at Kochi city was planned as a jumping off point. We had the GS being looked over by the boys at BMW, just as a precaution, as this was our first big tour with the beast. Next, we had to plan our journey back towards home. Or did we?
TAKING THE LONG WAY HOME
My partner in crime on this ride, Vaishali, is a corporate honcho and her work schedules are always very demanding. But when we’re on a motorcycle ride, she leaves the planning to me. I was free to take whatever route I wished, as long as I got her back in time for her work. Ok then.
Since we’d largely hugged the coast on our way south, I was quite keen on taking the mountainous route towards home. With the GS making short work of highways, I was quite keen on taking a road that had a few more curves and few less curbs, if you know what I mean.
Although as a tourer I tend to ride South quite often, there are still pockets of South India I am yet to explore. The hill town of Coonoor, in the lap of the Nilgiri mountain ranges is one such unexplored pocket for me. And so, thanks to google maps and Taj Hotels, our plan was set.
COONOOR & OOTY
The GS, surrounded by tea gardens, at 7000ft!
If Tea and mountains are your thing, Coonoor & Ooty in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu are a must visit. Both hill towns ooze old world (and dare I say, colonial) charm. The climb upto about 7000 feet above sea level brought us to our little cozy spot in Coonoor. This quaint little hotel (managed by Taj Hotels, India), was the perfect example of old British architecture that now forms part of regular life here. The temperatures were quite low, which was a welcome break from the humid hustle of Kochi. Both Coonoor and Ooty are touristy towns with tea gardens surrounding all mountain slopes, all around. Needless to say, both towns are full of tourist traps that are worth visiting only if one is fond of such things.
Sweeping Views – Train Ride to Ooty – Ooty Railway Head – Our Cozy Spot at Coonoor!
Our love for machines, however, drew us to the Nilgiri Mountain Railway. The last remaining meter-gauge rack/cog railway line in India. The hour long train ride snakes its way along the mountain slopes from Coonoor to Ooty, offering sweeping views of the stunning tea gardens and surrounding hills. A perfect way to take in both towns, when short on time.
On that note, we were no more on a leisure trip. After our second night at Coonoor, we were well and truly homeward bound. Even though home was still a good 1000 kilometres away!
Riding down the Blue Mountains!
Now, it was just a matter of mounting up, riding down the Blue Mountains of India (Nilgiris), wrapping up our 20-day motorcycle sojourn and finally, settling down with the grind once again.
Vaishali and I took one more stop on our way back home. The coffee town of Chikmagalur. If coffee is your thing and you’re in India, Chikmagalur is the place to be! Estate after estate growing coffee line the hillsides here. Check out my Kawasaki Versys 650 story, where I explore this area in greater depth: Malabar Calling.
With Chikmagalur behind us, it was a relatively straight 700 kilometre highway dash back towards our home city of Pune. Memories and experiences in tow, atop the mighty Swashbuckler, we had made good time on every leg of our 3000 kilometre winter journey to the South of India. For the kind of riding we do, I doubt there’s a better steed out there.
MK and I, the original dreamers of this trip, have made a pact.
Every year, when he returns to India, we will meet up and ride together in some new part of India. Our next escapade includes the Southern Districts of Idukki and Periyar National Park and Tiger reserve.
As Vaishali and I returned to Pune, MK and his family reached their home in Dubai. All of us, back to the grind. Little did we know, what 2020 had in store for the world. Lockdowns after lockdowns in India have kept my GS and me caged in isolation since this whole pandemic fracas began. Although I’m pretty sure these testing times will pass, I truly hope us ‘Southern Souls’ are riding alongside each other again, soon.
If it wasn’t for our motorcycles, all of them, that got us here, MK and I probably wouldn’t ever have crossed paths.
And if you took a look at us today, we’re like family.
Motorcycles, they make our world go round.
Writing for this piece has been rendered by Nipun Srivastava, our resident adventurer & Creative Head.
Pune, a city known for its many facets. A place which is as metropolitan as can be. That city where people like us come, make a life and only seldom leave. There is a lot in Pune to keep you hooked and I know you won’t argue when I say that the city’s food too works like a charm. Right from the road-side tapris or handcarts that serve us with our flaming hot cuttings of chai to those high end and lavish spreads of cuisine, everything is here to be liked.
I’ve spent close to five years in this city, going to college and making a career for myself. In that time it has been easy to tumble along and move through the streets of Pune one full tummy at a time. It’s been fun unearthing some real extraordinary and sometimes mighty different foods in Pune. The city is home to some killer street food. For anyone who values cuisine, the scene here is set.
Here are three special things that we will show to you in this article. Three completely different kinds of grub. A three stop vegetarian foodie trip through Pune.
Heads up: Special thanks to Yogesh Shinde for being a part of The Nirvana Team this time round!
Since the early 1900s the Shivajinagar railway head has been an important station for travellers coming to and heading out from Pune. Now a days, it is jam packed with all things travel. Right from passenger trains and locals fetching and delivering the masses to and from their daily destinations to big red busses crowding the road in front of this old railway station. The reason for this organized rush hour mayhem is the people of the city, their travel and their journey through daily life.
The Shivajinagar railway head.
Something as routine as the thousands of people who pass through the gates of this station is the Jhatka Bhel stall here. Tucked away in the lower right-hand corner, just outside the entrance, this stall is small, quiet and to the point. Since 1951, this oddly named bhel stall stands here. Feeding travellers with just one simple concoction of basic Indian ingredients. Bhel Puri, in this part of the country, is as old as tradition itself. It is a sweet/savoury melange of puffed rice, fresh cut onions and tomatoes, coriander, spices and tamarind chutney.
Bhel ka Jhatka!
On the go, this quick fix dish makes for an apt fuel. For those of us who value quality and quantity, a portion of Jhatka Bhel here at the Shivajinagar station is just perfect. What makes this particular Bhel Puri even more special is the story behind its peculiar name and its existence altogether.
The year was 1951 when a man named Yedunad Prasad Yadav started hawking at the Shivajinagar railway station. Over time he got himself a rented cubicle on the right hand side of the station’s entrance. That ordinary looking cubicle still stands today, now run by Yedunad’s grandson – Radhesham Yadav.
More than half a century of Bhel selling prowess has gotten the Jhatka Bhel its share of dedicated patrons.
Story behind the ‘Jhatka’:
It was originally known as Bhel Puri. But Yedunad Yadav had a unique style of putting all the ingredients together. As he went about making a portion of the popular Indian Chaat, Yadav jolted his head to one side in a peculiar albeit amusing way. Those frequent head bangs lent their name to his particular Bhel concoction – Jhatka Bhel.
Back to the future, Radhesham who has taken his grandfather’s place in the shop since 1994 doesn’t headbang while making your bhel but the original taste remains and so does the name. Radhesham goes about selling the bhel in a nonchalant and almost stoic way. Talking only while taking orders and delivering over the counter. Quite the contrast, we would say.
Radhesham, doing what he does best!
G.S. Gaikwad, a regular at the Jatka Bhel stall says that the ‘good chutney’ and ‘kadak crispy’ rice puffs have had him reaching for his bit of bhel since he was a kid! That’s pretty much the story with most patrons at this stall, they swear by Radhesham’s preparation. So much so that sometimes people miss their trains just so that they can eat the Jhatka Bhel!
Gaikwad and other patrons line up for their share.
When here, one can’t help but notice the attention to hygiene and cleanliness. Radhesham and his customers make sure they do not litter. There are no utensils used at all, except the bhel mixing spatula of course.
Sign in Marathi: Do not litter the platform, use dustbins.
The snack is served in a folded piece of broadsheet and the spoons are makeshift too. Like little shovels, patrons use the thin cardboard pieces as spoons. This would be heaven for eco-mentalists and health-freaks! At INR 15 a portion, a tummy-full of ‘get going grub’ is in everybody’s reach.
Stop. EAT. Go.
It’s an explosion of flavours, the Jhatka Bhel. Much like everything else that’s Indian.
The Nirvana Verdict: We rate the Jhatka Bhel at a 3.5 on 5.
Shegaon ki Kachauri
Not just any Kachauri, this. Selling like hot cakes for the past 56 years in the small town of Shegaon, the Shegaon-ki-kachauri has made its way to Pune. Much loved here too, we might add!
Scores of people throng this roadside shop just off J.M. Road everyday. At eight bucks a piece, these little pockets of fried pastry pack a good punch. Piping hot, deep fried, spicy and compact – the perfect food for a city goer.
The Kachauri heap.
Image by Yogesh Shinde.
The Kachauri is a popular Indian snack. It’s a round, deep fried and savoury pastry filled with a spicy stuffing. It’s a real rage all year round in Indian households and each house has their own recipe for the filling. The Kachauri even boasts of a good shelf life and hence is even more popular.
A Kachauri cross-section.
Image by Yogesh Shinde.
Shashikant Sharma, manager of the Kachauri outlet’s J.M. Road shop told us that he’s been selling the snack for over five years in Pune. He says that the Kachauris have a cult following here. Not just Pune, Sharma tells the Nirvana team that apart from Shegaon and Pune, the snack sells well in places like Nagpur, Amravati and even Mumbai. He’s mighty proud of his product.
A camera-shy Shashikant with his Kachauris.
“Nowhere in Pune will you find the taste which you’ll get in our Kachauris” Sharma boasts. We agree!
Mehul Shah, who works with Just Dial stays nearby and swears by the Shegaon Kachauri. He says he’s eaten many a Kachauri but none match the taste which he finds here. Shah is a regular at the joint.
Mehul Shah, getting his grub.
Freshly fried right next to you, the piercing aroma adds that much more zing to a brilliant snacking experience. Fair warning, this snack is highly addictive when served hot and is very high in calories! Watch it!
How it all happens!
One concern that we did have was the hygiene of the cooking environment. It could put some people off.
This outlet is open throughout the day, on all days.
The Nirvana Verdict: We rate the Shegaon ki Kachauri at a 4 on 5. It’s that good!
Travelling through the streets of Pune, it’s not uncommon to come across something one hasn’t experienced before. Look what we found for dessert!
Kharwas is not your ordinary dessert. It is a sweet meat made out of a cow’s first milk, just after it gives birth. The texture is like a smooth cheesecake and the taste may need to be acquired for some.
Saffron and Cardamom flavoured Kharwas.
Very high in protein, this unique sweet dish is known to increase body heat. Don’t be going anywhere close if you’ve just discovered you’re pregnant. Known as Barri in the Marwadi language, Kharwas is popular amongst Puneites in flavors such as Kesar (saffron), Elaichi (cardamom) and pistachio.
Describing it as a unique and special sweet meat, owner of the corner shop Mr. Krishna Pardeshi tells us that he has been selling it at this very spot for over ten years. His Kharwas shop – Yashaswi Sweet Mart, is so well tucked into the street corner that it’s hard not to miss.
Just off J.M. Road, on the road going towards the famous ‘Z’ bridge, his shop can be seen on the left. There’s no drama here. Just a humble Mr. Pardeshi serving up Kharwas by the plate.
When the inquisitive Nirvana team asked Mr. Pardeshi how he procures so much ‘first milk’ everyday, he smiles. He then goes on to tell us that he contacts owners of buffaloes and cows all over the city and then gets them to sell the special milk to him. Quite a logistical feat we think!
The Kharwas here is fresh, sweet and at 18 INR a portion it’s quite a departure from the now common in Pune gelato/mithai experience. Worth a shot for sure!
The Yashaswi Sweets shop is open from 5pm to 10pm, all through the week.
The Nirvana Verdict: We give this unique sweet a 3 on 5.
So those are our three not-so-run-of-the-mill (vegetarian) eats from the city of Pune. Do feel free to comment and leave suggestions for new and interesting foodie destinations. The Nirvana Team is always ready for good grub!