Monday, November 27, 2006

27th Nov: Pelling

27th Nov: Pelling

The stage was set for Sikkim Scooter Rally. There was only one participant and the route was a 40kms stage from Pelling to Uttaray and back. The lone participating rider had no clue of the conditions ahead which were full of broken roads, roads under construction, water-falls, bridges, dirt, stones and streams on the road. The lone rider, Bunny Punia, me, on the lone machine, a battered Kinetic Blaze, which had no suspension, no main stand and body parts which were about to fall apart any moment, was all ready to set north towards a little village called Uttarey, around 21kms from Pelling, by 12 noon. I packed in a wind-cheater jacket, water proof lowers, muffler and a bottle of water and kept it all under the ample storage space of the Blaze and looked forward to ‘little’ journey ahead. Within the first kilometer, I realized the ride today would be full of shakes, enough shakes to almost make my internal organs file a divorce against my skeleton! And I am not exaggerating at all, may be the Blaze being on 12inch rims made me feel every single meter of the road properly.

But this being Sikkim, made sure there was no shortage of fantastic views, hampered sometimes by the low clouds hugging the mountains. And not to forget those rosy cheeked children and girls and there shying smiles.

Ten kilometers from the hotel and 45minutes later I was at the Changay waterfalls and spent close to an hour there.

I have been to numerous waterfalls but this one was different, mainly because there wasn’t even a single tourist present there. I was the only one there, and occasionally a couple of school children walked past by, stopping for a minute to see what a lonely guy on a ‘scooter’ was doing. There was a path way going up the hills, very close to the waterfall and it gave me quite a close access to feel the soft spray of water droplets rising from the falling waterfall. Continuing further, the roads really deteriorated, with JCB machines and several workers working hard to clear the road which was wide enough for just one jeep to pass at a time. To make things worse, clouds started coming down which meant I would have no view of any snow peak what so ever. The elevation kept coming down till I crossed over a bridge onto the other hill and then the climb started to Uttarey. It was already 2:30pm and I had not even covered 20kms. Ok, I did stop for pictures a lot and for roads to be cleared but on the whole the road conditions were very bad, which in a way were good as the area was devoid of the normal tourist fare.

On way to Uttarey, I came to the highest bridge in Sikkim, the Singhshore bridge.

Again this place too was totally isolated and there were big bamboo braches on both the end, which I had to pick up to get me past the bridge. There wasn’t any river or big waterfall below the bridge but it actually connected two hills and the road on the other went towards Uttarey but unfortunately I couldn’t go to the village as the roads were almost blocked with stones. What a shame, Nepal was just 4 hours of walk through the hills, which meant around 20kms in a straight line.

I had taken along two Nestle Munch bars and a biscuit pack as my lunch and had them while photographing the Singhshore bridge. It was 4pm by now, and I had to head back as I was still around 90minutes away from the hotel.

On the way back, it started drizzling very lightly, which turned into sleet for a while and I was freezing to the bone. I put on the Ipod to divert my mind and then is when the ‘Sikkim Scooter Rally’ started. Not caring for the broken roads, I flew over them, the scoot sliding through dirt filled corners as the sleet had made turned the sand into soft mud by now. Half the times my either leg would be out, balancing the machine (those who have seen scooters taking part in rallies will understand) but all this lasted for just ten minutes as blasting of rocks was going on for widening of the road and it meant stopping for more than an hour. The Blast happened in front of my eyes and it actually shook the whole area with dust and little stone pieces flying everywhere. Within minutes, two JCB machines were working with close to ten workers helping the machines clear the road.

It was dark, past 5pm and very cold by the time I could start back and this time I made sure I listened to very soothing music to keep the pace slow and reach back in one piece. Some road sections which I had covered in noon, where roads were being laid on the road were now somewhat smooth (thanks to the road-rollers) and a shivering lone rally rider was back at the hotel by 5:30pm.

We (Sunny, Sunil and me) are in the cosy restaurant and just had our dinner. Tomorrow we head to Gangtok for some real snow action (Chango lake and Nathu-la). The permits have been arranged, thanks to a sweet caring family I have found there. Signing off from the base of Kanchunjunga, which we still haven’t been able to see because of the cloud cover!

26th Nov: Darjelling to Pelling

26th Nov: Darjelling to Pelling

I am in love with North West Bengal and Sikkim. I had never been to these places but had always thought how the mountains,roads,people and general feel of here would be and am i happy - u bet

We left Darjeeling quite late - 12pm and got the news that pumps on Sundays remain closed after 12! Damm. we had to buy petrol on black for like 55bucks per litre (around 3.5 more). Ghoom, around 8kms from Darjeeling, had the diversion for Teesta (the other road goes down to Siliguri) Missing this little road to Teesta is quite easy and that is what happened to Sunny.

I in the meantime was enjoying the weather, fog, and lonely little road and kept taking pictures. We lost elevation quite rapidly but the roads were a little bad and i believe that took a toll on the exhaust again. When we reached Teesta, I could see the mighty Teesta bridge that was the one which would take us across the river towards Kalimpong,Gangtok and Pelling. I was also searching for a welding shop for gettin the blaze done up and was lucky enuf to find one just 5kms from the bridge but the Ashish, who was ahead of the rest, took the wrong road, only to realise it 15mins later, call me, and come back.
While Vinayak Jee opened up the exhaust, we started finishin off the Pizzas we got along from our breakfast place. The other Blaze's main stand too was welded on and it was 3:50pm by the time we left. less than a km from there was the Sikkim border and it was sort of an excitement for us to enter Sikkim (what with controversial stuff going about with China regardin Sikkim). We were stopped at the check post for general enquiry and then I carried on while the rest waited for Ashish and Vinayak Jee (riding the Comet and Blaze respectivily) to catch up. I wanted to rush to Pelling, around 90kms, asap, as I wanted to capture the Kanchanjunga with the rays of the setting sun illuminating it. The roads were quite decent but the Blaze wasnt, still i kept pushing it and kept averaging 45-50km/h but soon had to stop to re-tie the wire to hold the main stand up.

Darkness came in soon, this being north-east, the sun sets here earlier. so i lower my packed and started listening to music on the Ipod. Music can really do wonder to the way you ride - slow soothing music can make u ride in a rythm, at a constant speed, even if that speed is high for a curve/corner, whereas a fast hip hop/rock/punjabi/remix song can make u scrape the machine, taking our knees, shifting your body weight and what not. I experienced both but soon stopped to take rest, re tie the wire to hold the main stand and to make some calls.

The elevation once again started going up around 12-15km short of Pelling, and it was totally dark around and this actually helps in hills as if a vehicle is approaching towards you from the next corner, u can easily come to know by seeing its headlight beam. the chill factor started coming in, and putting the visor down meant foggin it up from inside, and if i raised it, the chill hit my face big time. the good thing was that i had changed the visor in the morning and hence there was no issue of glares. I did have a small fun race with two guys on a karizma (yeah the Blaze never had a chance with the ZMA even with a pillion)

Made to Pelling and had already booked two rooms (250 per room with geyser n cable tv!) there from Darjeeling in the morning. The hotel seemed cosy and all the guests except us were foreigners.

we r in the restaurant right now, sitting next to a rotating heater, discussing tomm's plans but Sunny and Ashish are having a verbal over which bikes r the best. Sunil is quite and listenin to both of them ( and may be laughin deep inside in this mind)...

tomm i head to the last motorable point in this area while the others may head to a village here

25th Nov: Siliguri to Darjeeling

25th Nov: Siliguri to Darjeeling

Our ride to the Himalayas was to start again, from the foot hills, Siliguri, to the old queen of the hill, Darjeeling. We had a dilemma though, how could we miss the heritage toy train ride. So it was decided to put one Blaze in the back up vehicle with Sunny and Sunil going for the toy train ride, while Ashish me and preferred to burn some rubber to Darjeeling. Sunny and Sunil left at 9am and had to buy tickets in black while we took our own sweet time to pack up, spend some time with member Santanu, his fiancée and surf before leaving the hotel by 12 noon. This also meant I postponed my ride to Nepal, at a place called Pani-tanki, a 45minute ride from the hotel.

As soon as we left the hotel, within the first few kilometers we came across the narrow gauge train track running parallel to the road, which would be the case till Darjeeling at a distance of around 80 kilometers. This was my first time on this route and it wasn’t long before I started falling in love with the place, the traffic free roads, the overall feel of the place.

Started stopping for pictures and soaking myself in the beauty around. It wasn’t cold at all and I was happy I had left the jacket in the backup vehicle. The roads were most of the times quite nice and allowed me to kiss the stand with the tarmac quite a few times, which the Blaze is quite capable of actually.

We knew we would be catching up with the toy train and so we did within half an hour.

Sunny and Sunil had noticed me coming from behind and it was really enjoyable riding with the train at 10-15km/h, clicking pictures, holding hands, running behind the train and what not. I went ahead and waited for the train to catch up and took some pictures of the Blaze and the train together.

I was really enjoying the day a lot which was mainly due to the lack of traffic and terrific views all around and not to forget the toy train. Ashish and me stopped for snacks and I packed some for Sunny and Sunil and gave it to Sunil when the train passed by. Train delivery of snacks now made possible!

The chill factor started coming in as the evening came closer and the jacket wasn’t enough by the time we reached Darjeeling. I had read about the Darjeeling tourism hotel and headed and Ashish was already there and so I headed for that place, which was situated on the highest point in the city. It was however quite difficult for the back up to reach there as turning it around the tight curves in the city was quite a task.

After checking in (700 for a 4 bedded big room) Ashish and me decided to explore the city and saw Sunny and Sunil asking for directions from the cops to the hotel. Giving the keys to them, we went exploring the place around and also for dinner and I found a perfect little Pizza place run by a French guy, who cooked for the food for the guest. We packed a Pizza, hot sandwiches and some snacks, while Sunny and Sunil ate food in the hotel restaurant. It is really cold tonight and I hope this continues as we ride our way into Sikkim tomorrow. I have heard about a place called Pelling, a little town where trekkers spend the night before heading to Kanchanjunga. That should be our night tomorrow. Signing off from 7000 feet and around 7 degrees…

24th Nov: Reliance A1 to Siliguri

24th Nov: Reliance A1 to Siliguri

How many kilometers can a biker cover in 3 and a half hours on a national highway?100? 150? 200? Well, we managed to cover 65, yes, around sixty five kilometers in 210 minutes on NH-34!!
The previous night was quite good, with mosquitoes, insects staying away due to the cream but there were a couple of instances when people barged into the room, looked around and once this guy came and shouted something in Bengali at me (I think I used his cardboard sheets on the cots) and went away and second time a guy came in, woke up Sunil and snatched the cardboard sheet Sunil was sleeping on. We initially thought of sleeping outside but the chill factor would have been too much without any quilts or sheets.

Good morning at the Reliance A1 restaurant

Anyways, we managed to get up by 7 and after freshning up and drinking tea, left the place by 8am easily. And we thought we would be in Siliguri by 4pm, well well.

The roads were the best we had seen till date on the Leg 2. Yesterday was nothing in front of what we rode on today. Pot-holes will be an understatement, and they were all over the road, spread around everywhere, and sometimes the road was completely washed out! Leaving the Fireblade back in Kolkata really made sense. The machines we were riding today were never manufactured for this kind of torture and I knew it wouldn’t be long before parts would start falling off. This time too it was the 0793 Blaze that I was riding. The main stand came off, and so did the exhaust too but I kept on riding, thinking that I would make it to the next little town but as I hit another crater, the end of the exhaust (which goes into the cylinder head) touched the road, the rear tyre went over it and the whole exhaust turned around, twisting a couple of bolts! I had to stop and wait for the gang to catch up.

New exhaust design?

While Vinayak Jee and Ashish worked on the Blaze, I went into the fields near by to relax and take some ‘natural’ pictures.

Some couple of hours later, after getting the Blaze welded up, we were 5kms short of Malda, with the members here, having lunch and breakfast combined together.

The route we took till there should be taken off India's map (and put on moon's map). The Blaze's exhaust came off, the main stand too came off and the other parts feel as if they will be falling off any time... its better to ride off the road than on the road. Sunil, Ashish and me were waiting for Sunny, Gurjan and Vinayak to catch up in the back up vehicle and when they came, I just asked them in a funny way, 'are your bones ok?' ....little did I know what I asked was true as they just had a first hand experience of the worst of this area. A bridge was down (only bikes allowed, so we left on the blazes and comet) while the back up vehicle took the village route n were stopped by people demanind money. Sunny stepped out to ask why and the rest is history. Sunny, Gurjan and Vinayak have bruises over their body due to the hits by the 'dandas' and are lucky enuf to be breathing right now.

It’s a shame to say we are in India right now, with pathetic roads, senseless selfish villagers and cops who live not on govt's money but on these local leaders' money. Guwahati seems out of the GIR route now, there is too much tension in that area and we cant imagine what may happen there if this is what happened in West Bengal...
Anyways, we relaxed there with uday (rpmboy), Arunabha, Surojit, Amit, Suryya and Prasanjit and left for Siliguri, around 250kms by around 2pm. Yes, wounds will heal but the memories will remain and I know I am an Indian, still I would request you guys never to come to this route again, and if you do, remain in a convoy. Sometimes your own people can be your enemies too.

We are now in Siliguri and rode around 360kms today, and the roads, except for 40kms of four-lane roads, have been nothing but pure hell. I wonder how can these shameful politicians live like this. Anyways, tomorrow we head to the hills and that’s what I am looking forward to!

23rd Nov: Kolkata to Reliance A1

23rd Nov: Kolkata to Reliance A1

I am surrounded by a million insects and mosquitoes. National Highway No 34 is bang in front of me and trucks are zooming in and out of this Reliance petrol pump cum A1 restaurant. And yes, its dark, 8:30pm and we are somewhere in West Bengal, around 236kilometers from Kolkata and around 65 short of a place called Farakka. And yes, this is also our night stop and we will be sleeping out in the open, on cots, and being served fresh and juicy to the above mentioned insects, mosquitoes and other similar species. And you guys thought GIR is all above being in the comfort of hotels and members’ houses. After the comfort of Kolkata, where we stayed in a place nothing short of a heritage building, where the beds were comfortable and big enough to challenge any good hotel, it has been a complete contrast for us here. Ofcourse we were warned of the conditions ahead in Kolkata but things hardly work out for us when it comes to leaving early in the morning. We woke up at 8am, got to packing by 9am and finally left the place at 11am, but were still in city limits by 12 noon.

To make matters worse, we came to know that one of the GIR laptops was left behind at the house we were staying. This triggered a verbal war between us and Ashish took the responsibility of going back, fetching it and catching up with us later in the day.

The initial 30-40kms on the NH-34 were full of chaos, unorganized traffic with cycles and pedestrians all over place.

And how can I forget pot-holes, the biggest I had seen on the GIR. The quality of tarmac though was too good, broken often by deep crater type pot-holes. I also knew we had less than five hours of daylight, as this being east, sun goes down quite early. Sunny today was in the back up vehicle, as we had left the Fireblade back in Kolkata, Sunil and me on the two Blazes and Ashish somewhere behind on the Comet with the laptop.

Sunny had done a great thing by getting rolls and puffs for everyone in Kolkata and getting some packed for the way too. Sunil and me were riding together and did stop a couple of times for the back up vehicle to catch up but it didn’t and we finally stopped before a railway crossing, at a small shack, where we ordered tea and waited for the rest to catch up.

The break lasted for one hour and Ashish still hadn’t caught up, so we decided to leave and head to Behrampore, which we hit when the sun was going down.

Ashish at that point was around 45mins behind us and back in Kolkata, members had told us about the Reliance A1 pumps before Farakka, where we could stay the night as it made sense. There was no good city around that place and hence no hotel and we wanted to stay away from the regular dhabas. And did I tell you, in the last 50kms we did, we came across atleast 10 police jeeps, and equal number of cops with guns patrolling the highway.

So here we are, it’s been close to two hours since we came. Ashish too came in an hour back on the Comet, which was smoking (probably running too rich a mixture). My Blaze’s rear rim is badly bent, which happened when I went into a foot deep crater at good speeds. Food was a veg thali affair and sleep will be a ‘cot in the open’ affair. The mosquito cream we took in Delhi will be made to good use today and the GIR jackets will make sure our bodies remain warm. The hills are still more than a day away and Siliguri seems to the night stop tomorrow. After days of being spoilt by some very hospitable people in Kolkata, it’s back to reality for us here. What’s incredible is that there is ample network coverage even in such parts of the country. Signing off from ‘under the stars’….

Thursday, November 23, 2006

The 'real' love of my life...

This smile is because of you my baby...

In 1999, I met a sweet girl. I still remember how I used to talk to her, look at her, may be admire. Ok, she was my senior in school but there was something about her which did attract me towards her. I still remember how she used to come and sit next to me and talk to me in the bus on the way back to home from school. I still remember how I used to hurry back home, take out the car and drive as quickly as possible towards her house to catch a glimpse of her. On 31st January 2000, I proposed her, not knowing what the future would hold for us, and then we didn’t talk for months as she had her pre-boards. One fine day a couple of months later, when I was at my home, I got a call and a very sweet voice said ‘Hi Bunny’ on the other side. It was her, and she had surprise me by calling me up. These couple of months, I had sort of forgotten about the propose but she hadn’t. Our talking sessions slowly grew and as time passed by, she got her entrance into MAHE college of dental science in Mangalore, almost 2200kms away. Big deal I thought! But the morning she left, I don’t know what happened me, I followed her half way to the station and when I returned home, I had tears in my eyes. Was I following in love? I was a student, even she was and we both had limited pocket moneys and STD calls were sky high way back in 2000. We used to talk for like 10minutes, thrice a week, and write letters to each other. Looking back, it did seem childish, but too cute!

And now, seven years later, I am really missing her right now. We got engaged on 30th August 2006 and will be getting married very soon. She is Mansi Arora, soon will be Mansi Punia, and majorly responsible for what I am today.

I am missing her company, her smile, her cute remarks, her love and care…

A couple of days back, I was with her, when I went home for two days from Kolkata while on the GIR. And how I wish right now I had her next to me, holding her hands, walking with her, or just lying on the cot, under the stars. Her warmth would have easily made me feel better right now. Her laps would have easily made me sleep, and her hands stroking my hair would have relaxed me to the bone.

Love can the best thing that can happen to a person in this world – and I stand by this line. Thank you my love for everything, I owe you a lot. I owe you for fighting for no reasons, for making you cry, for making you wait for my calls… I owe you my life, you are responsible for everything, including the tear I have in my eye right now, which is because I am missing you, and because I sometimes feel guilty for being bad to such an angel. I know you may not read this for days, but I feel a lil better by letting out my feelings for you once more. See you very soon…

17th Nov : Rajahmundry - VIzag

I was in a cage, a cage of a different kind. I was cursing myself, cursing the Kinetic Blaze, cursing the lack of spares and basically cursing everyone in this world. The world was passing by me at a boring 90km/h and I could see miles and miles of beautifully laden tarmac in front of my eyes, with next to no traffic, surrounded by amazing scenery on both the sides. And Sunny had ripped past me on probably 150+ on the Fireblade. I was inside the Tata 207, our back up vehicle.
Some 30 minutes back, the 0793 Blaze was loaded onto the back up vehicle once again and this time I was damm angry and frustrated about it. We were on our way to Vizag from Rajahmundry, shade under 200kilometers, via NH-5, part of the Golden Quadrilateral, which meant riding would be on multilane highways, with enough scenery around to keep the senses busy. But my luck wasn’t gonna be good today. The 0793 Blaze, which I was riding yesterday, had died when I took it to 100km/h and held it there for five minutes. The tiny crack in the crankcase had opened up and so today in the morning we even got it fixed but it didn’t work. Within kilometers of joining the highway, oil started leaking a lot and I thought it would be better if we could simply put the machine to rest in the back up vehicle than to risk the engine. Off went my intentions of riding on the smooth roads at good speeds, enjoying the music and being myself for the day!
Earlier in the day, we had managed to leave Rajahmundry by 12 noon only as in the morning first time was spent working on the Blaze and then time just flew by somehow before we realized. Frank was really very supportive and understanding and infact he and his friend took Sunil and Sunny for some pictures in the morning.

Frank, our 'god sent angel' in Rajahmundry

We knew, the ride was just over 4hours long and hence leaving late didn’t bother us till the Blaze died. I had no option but to get into the back up vehicle and ride with Gurjan and Vinayak Jee. Taking the laptop along was a nice idea and it helped me kill time by surfing around and also the Ipod and the small speakers which made sure I had some good music to pass the time. But still, to an extent, I was disturbed by the sight of the highway, the inviting roads, the curvy roads and what not. Sunny decided to tape the video camera to the rear seat of the Fireblade and seeing the video sometime back made it seem worth it.
We all got lost from each other but I got a call from Sunny around 40kms from Vizag. He and Sunil were at the Reliance A1 restaurant but we had already left that behind so we decided to patch up with Ashish and find a decent hotel to stay the night in. As we approached Vizag, the roads, for a city, remained cleaned, the dividers had flowers and grass and the overall feeling I got once in the city was very good. I was surprised to see the city quite clean and big but unfortunately we couldn’t locate even a single Kinetic showroom on the way to the hotel, Hotel Meghalaya, as we had to drop the Blaze off for repairs. The hotel seemed quite nice and at Rs 800 net, was a bargain. We have had enough of beaches and hence had no plans to head there, instead relax and catch up on work. Ashish went off with a friend of his while we three are working on pictures and blogs.
I am still pissed off as it seems tomorrow too I will have to be in the back-up vehicle till Bhubaneswar, 400kms away! No way, I am either going to snatch a machine from the other three or drive the god damm truck.

16th Nov : Hyderabad - Rajahmundry

16th Nov: Hyderabad to Rajahmundry

This was our 4th day here in the twin cities of Hyderabad-Secundrabad and still we had decided to cover up on lost time and hence Rajahmundry was decided as the night stop, at a distance of around 500kilometers.

Ashish’s mother, who consults students facing problems in certain fields of life at St Andrews school, had invited us to be at the school assembly today and interact with the students there. How could we miss this wonderful opportunity but then I do remember my schools days, when we used to have outsiders coming in, and giving boring speeches and all, and how we used to make fun of them!

This morning, we got p and were ready in a record time of one and a half hours and even our luggage was all packed and ready. We had to be on time at the school and so we were and as soon we entered, things started looking good for us. We rode into the main ground and in seconds we were surrounded by hundreds of children of all ages, asking tens of questions and surprisingly they knew what we were upto and even wished us for the ride ahead! We then proceeded to the assembly ground and parked our bikes next to the stage. It was something to see thousands of school children in front of your eyes, half of which were probably looking at us. After the prayer and a couple of speeches, it was time for our introduction and interaction, which did go very well.

We couldn’t leave Hyderabad before an interview with the TV 9 guys, which happened at Ashish’s place itself and by the time we hit the highway, it was quite late. Nevertheless, we tired making up by riding non stop but my Blaze continued to give problems, this time the rear tyre hugger almost came off! We hit Vijaywada as the sun was going down and Sunny had already found a superb hotel for food. The hotel seemed nothing short of a 3 star one but the food was quite cheap and delicious too. After Vijaywada, it was all 4-lane to Rajahmundry but problems didn’t stop for me when the Blaze almost died after I kept it at 100km/h for like couple of minutes. The problem was that the crankcase crack, which was holding up with the M-seal gave way and the crack grew into a small hole, from where burning oil came off, sending off waves of smoke and make the machine die down. We had no option but to put it up in the back up vehicle in dark, in the middle of nowhere and from then on I was in the back-up vehicle, feeling a little low, wondering what would happen to it in the coming days as I didn’t want to miss riding on this fabulous highway. Frank was waiting for us along with his friends at Rajahmundry and showed us around to the hotel they had already booked. Whats more, he made sure food too was arranged as it was already close to midnight and the hotel wasn’t serving any food at this time. It feels great to have such people around in even small cities, whom we have never met but know them as they are members and bikers.

Hoping something gets done to the Blaze tomorrow, I hate being in the backup vehicle seeing the wonderful highway pass by…

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

15th Nov Hyderabad

We had not been able to give much time to the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secundrabad yesterday and hence it was decided to spend one more day here. I was in no mood to get up early and go sightseeing so instead I choose to cover up on sleep, make sure all my clothes were washed and made sure I caught up on blogging and basically being in touch with everyone including knowing what’s happening around the world.

Sunny did leave early morning and came back before noon, just to be upset as Sunil and I hadn’t made any plans to see the city. Anyways, we had got an invitation from Mr Kaleem, a biker, a social worker and a man who even at an old age, rides his Kinetic Challenger to the Himalayas and back from Hyderabad. While the trio went to meet him, I was back at home, putting my washed clothes to dry up, and basically lazing around on the internet. After a long time I spent some time with a dog, and Figu was quite an intelligent canine and knew what was happening around. By noon, aunty was back from the school (she consults children at the St Andrews School) and we had a chat over the GIR and about general things. I had a plan of meeting up with an old school friend, whom I would be meeting after six years. I also had to do little shopping plus wanted to go back to the necklace road to enjoy the beauty of the place.

I met up with my friend, Angad, at the Hyderabad Central but it was literally a pain to find our way to Big Bazaar. Why Big Bazaar? I had to buy no less than 6 underwears, 6 hankis, 10 socks and some other stuff, and no, not all for me but for the gang too. It was also surprising to see the number of Punjabis in Hyderabad. I made sure I didn’t eat out much as I had promised aunty I would be having home cooked food at night. For more than a month we were having outside food and I was literally craving for some simple ghar ka khana and the food aunty cooked was really tasty. I was the lucky one who could relish it as others came home with their bellies full of crap.

Tomorrow, we would be heading north towards Kolkata, but that would take us days and the next night would be at Rajahmundry.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

14th Nov : Hyderabad

14th Nov: Hyderabad

The toll of riding close to 800kms was visible. Plus the presence of those irritating little mosquitoes that made sure I didn’t get my share of sleep and rest. Buggers. While Sunny and Sunil went sightseeing, I covered up on sleep and washing of clothes. What a revelation it was to have the washing machine around and all my GIR tees went in. The press meet was scheduled for 3pm at the Castrol Bike Zone, which was five minutes ride from the house. I used the time in the day to go through the route again and I did know we were running a little late but then tensions in northeast were becoming worse too. There had been a couple of bomb blasts in Guwahti itself and the usual fights in other states.

It was good that regular press meets were happening in major cities and I am thankful to the people behind it. And having the press meet at the castrol bike zones, to me, makes more sense, than to have it in press clubs of the respective cities, or in hotels, or around tourist attractions. We had around seven reporters from various newspapers including Times of India, Hindu, Andhra Jyoti, Andhra Prabha, Munsif and Indian Express. While we sat with them, discussing about the GIR, our bikes got a well deserved wash and I must say I was thoroughly impressed with the work. The guys made sure each and every inch of the bikes was washed, cleaned and polished and in the end, our machines were like gleaming beauties. We went for a small photo-shoot for the photographers and returned back to talk to the remaining journos, after which, a tv channel guy wanted us to ride to the necklace road for the video clip. I was getting a little late as my friends had been waiting for close to an hour at Hyderabad Central and so left as soon as we reached the necklace road. The road runs next to a lake for kilometers and the whole city is visible at the other end of the lake.

After catching up with pals at Central, I came back to the necklace road, parked my bike and got lost in the peace around, adding to the fact that the view of the city on the other side, and the reflection of the lights in the lake’s water had their own little magic to spell on me. There is a food court too, facing the lake, with many varieties of dishes to feasts one’s hunger on. Of late, I have started experimenting with exposure on the Canon 350D and took some lovely shots of the Comet on the dim light necklace road.

Click on the above pic and notice the train in the background.. the engine and then the rest of the bogies...

It wasn’t hard to find the way back to Ashish’s place but Sunny and Sunil had still not come back. I went straight for my laptop and its quite late now and Sunny just gave a call saying the duo are lost somewhere near the house. Ashish has gone to pick them up and Figu, the German Shepherd dog, is giving me company. I believe Sunny wants to spend one more day here, lets see. Signing off…

Aint she looking hot...

13th Nov : Chennai to Hyderabad

13th Nov : Chennai to Hyderabad

We were aiming for something big today. I was aware of the condition of roads till Vijaywada, which is on the highway that connects Chennai and Kolkata, part of the Golden Quadrilateral and hence four laned. But then, what about the roads from Vijaywada to Hyderabad?

For once, we somewhat stood by the time we had intended to leave. I say somewhat as we were running just one hour behind schedule as compared to 2-3 hours normally. Leaving out hotel at around 7:30am, it took us a good 30minutes to ask and negotiate our way out of Chennai’s early morning office going traffic. It was worse as the hotel where we were staying was at the other end of the city and we were paying the price for it. Once on the outskirts of the city, roads didn’t seem good at all, with pot-holes and muddy water everywhere. I knew this wasn’t the Golden Quad at all and it wasn’t long before we were riding on single lane roads, with little towns coming our way every few kilometers. On enquiring from some locals we got to know that we had taken the wrong road and missed the bypass to Vijaywada. Ended up loosing an hour and riding uselessly for 40kms before we managed to hit the main highway again and what a relief it was! This was what we had been waiting for – super smooth 4 lane roads. But there was one hindrance, dark clouds loomed in the horizon and rains would definitely play spoilsport. I carried on at a constant 90km/h on the Blaze with Ashish following me closely. We were been cautious as the roads were wet but Sunny and Sunil started gaining distance as their bikes had much better brakes and tyres for such road conditions.

It wasn’t long before we came across a small junction leading into the city and I had this Ford Fusion in the rear view mirror. I was also keeping a track of Ashish and then suddenly in the rear view mirroe I saw something red, may be a red two-wheeler, hit the Ford Fusion and being dragged for a while. I feared the worst (even our Blazes are red) and thought Ashish had a fall. I braked as hard as I could in the wet, turned around and raced back just to be relieved to see Ashish slowing down on the Blaze. The red two-wheeler was a Bajaj M-80, which had suddenly come out of nowhere in the path of the Fusion. The rider was an old man, who did suffer lot of injuries. Answering a prayer, we carried on, being more cautious because of the road conditions – wet.

On roads like these, you have to have machines which will keep you awake. The Blazes may be fine on single lane highways and cities but on roads like these, you will sleep due to boredom. At the most we used to zip past 105km/h once in a while but definitely missed a powerful machine between our legs. I killed time by thinking about roads in India. Isn’t it quite contradictory that where there are more vehicles, where the roads should be smooth for traffic to flow smoothly, we have bad roads. We had been thru so many cities and everywhere the roads inside the cities were nowhere as good as the highways leading into the cities, except for a few exceptions like highway leading to Mangalore from Goa side and highway leading to Mysore from Mangalore side.

We were riding on the Golden Quad and reaping the benefits of crores of rupees which had been spent (and still being spent) to develop world class roads. I always thought highways up north were the best but here it wasn’t the case. Imagine super smooth wide traffic free highways combined with awesome scenery, little hills and curves every now and then. Highways up north too are fast but they are boring when it comes to scenery.

We left the Chennai-Kolkata highway at Vijaywada but before taking the Hyderabad highway, we stopped at a cool resort, just off the highway for lunch. Sunny had managed to find this place around an hour back (he being fast on the Fireblade on roads which do justice to such machines) The resort had a lot of big birds like ducks and turkeys, and I wonder if they served them for meals too!

We left the place at around 4:30 and headed to Vijaywada city to ask for directions. Vijaywada seemed full of devoties and we could see the line up on the ghats next to the river and once outside the city, the highway seemed fabulous. It actually seemed better than what we had just ridden but our joy was short lived and soon we were on single lane roads. Ashish had told us the highway would be four lane till Hyderabad but when we asked the locals, we found out it wasn’t the case. It was dark by the time we were still 150kms from our destination and as if things weren’t over for us, we came to know this area was naxalite dominated. There was too much traffic sometimes and the lights from the oncoming vehicles blinded us completely, leaving us to our luck. We decided to stay in a group and soon traffic ceased but even if a single vehicle would come from the opposite direction, we would be rendered blinded and as a result I crashed into a couple of big potholes, which really shook up my already tired body. Enough was enough, as the gang stopped for water, I decided to wait for a couple of fast cars and once I found them, I started chasing them. This helped me a lot as they became a shield for me and moreover there were so many isolated patches on the highway where naxalites could easily hold up any one. The Indica and the Zen, the cars which I was trailing were holding quite good speeds and me being on the comet, it was possible for me to easily keep up. But as we approached a city, I left them behind and took a Volvo as my shield. But being big in size, it could keep up good speeds and it was back to the cars.

As a result I reached Hyderabad quite early and waited for twenty minutes before Ashish caught up on the Blaze, which had dropped its exhaust from the cylinder head! It was a headache to follow the screaming Blaze thru traffic and we waited for Sunny and Sunil at a major intersection. Ashish and I were just lazing around when we heard a scream of a man. As we turned around, all I could see was a bike skidding and a man going the other way, his head hitting the road first and then, everything was silent. A truck had hit him (it wasn’t known whose fault was it) and the person wasn’t moving at all. Another life lost due to not wearing a helmet. What a shame…

Some members arrived and gang reunited and left for Ashish’s place in Secundrabad, another 25kms away. It would be the longest day in the GIR, we had done 790kms from Chennai to Secundrabad, including getting lost in the villages. We are dead tired to the bone but it was a relief to be at Ashish’s house and stuffing our stomachs with biryani, we are now headed to the beds to retire for the night. The back-up vehicle in the meantime was having a tough time locating the address of the place and if it hadn’t been for Ashish’s friends going back home, I don’t think the back-up vehicle would have made it here. His friends had managed too see the vehicle on the road and got it here!

Signing off, its press time tomorrow.