About two years ago, I took my first step into the unfamiliar. I quit my job as a corporate lawyer with the intention of dabbling with my interest in travel. It was a ‘now-or-never’ decision made without any actual plan on what I would do next. There was no shortage of ideas on things that I would have liked to do, but there definitely was a limitation in terms of resources available to put any one or more of those plans into action.
For starters, I simply packed up a pair of saddlebags and rode my Royal Enfield Thunderbird 500 motorcycle from Mumbai (where I lived and worked until then) to Chennai (where I grew up and where my family was). What was meant to be a four day journey turned into an 18 day expedition.
Some friends joined me along the way and I ended up going to several places that I’d never planned to go. Just three weeks after I’d made a drastic career change, I came to the realisation that everything I needed in this new phase of life could fit on the back of my motorcycle.
The adventure rolls
Krang Suri waterfalls in Jowai; Boatmen on the river Umngot; Rope bridge en route to Nongriat village
Fast forward to seven months later. A person I’d never met or spoken to before messaged me on Instagram. We connected over our common interest in travel and motorcycles, and as a part of a casual conversation, a plan to ride to Ladakh together was discussed. A Ladakh expedition had been on my mind for several years by now, but I’d somehow always found an excuse to never make it happen - it is too dangerous, I didn’t have the right bike, going with a tour company might not be as much fun, it’s too expensive, so on and so forth. Now, I couldn’t think of a single reason why I couldn’t or shouldn’t do it. Barely two weeks later I was back on the highway on my Royal Enfield.
Over the three months that followed, a lot happened. I rode my bike across nearly the entire length of India, from Chennai to Kashmir. I spent more than 20 days in Himachal Pradesh exploring places that I’d never heard of before and riding on routes that were challenging for a newbie off-roader. I saw and touched snow for the first time in my life. I camped by a river in Kashmir and also had my heart in my mouth when I rode right into the middle of a protest in the valley. I spent four days in Srinagar with the most fantastic local host and guide (whom I didn’t know earlier).
Along with my Instagram friend-turned riding companion, I completed and entire Ladakh circuit (a motorcycling pilgrimage of sorts). Come rain or sunshine (or hailstorm or snowfall) I rode through the most treacherous roads I’d ever encountered till then. I rode my motorcycle to altitudes that I’d only ever heard mentioned whilst on a commercial jet. I met and interacted with more new people in this short time than I had cumulatively in the ten years before. I began to worry less about knowing a route and grew more comfortable with the idea of discovering one.
There were good days and bad days.
There were days when I ate well and some when I was lucky to even get a plate of Maggi. There were days when I was hosted in the beautiful homes of people that I met, and some when I camped in the cold in the middle of nowhere. There were times when the motorcycle ran smoothly and several when things went wrong and I had to find innovative solutions to limp my way to the next place where it could be fixed, if at all.
Nothing was predictable, nothing was known over this period, I established familiarity with the unfamiliar. In the time since, I’ve ridden more than 20,000 more kilometres solo exploring the East and North-East of India. The adventures have only been more unpredictable, more extreme and more exhilarating.
From Chennai to everywhere
Being from Chennai, I’m often asked about how I deal with some of the typically Tamilian challenges in my travels across India language, weather and food.
Having ridden over 46,000 kilometres across India, through more than 20 states and riding for more than 8 months, in aggregate, I’ve learnt to stop looking for things to be certain or set in stone.
Instead of focusing on what all could go wrong, I opt to put together a fairly basic setup in terms of motorcycle, luggage and trip-related knowledge and make an effort to be prepared for the unexpected in terms of gear, spares and tools. After that, it’s about embracing the adventure, and allowing whatever goes wrong to be a part of a learning experience. Most of my travel plans are, at best, basic and each itinerary is fluid. I decide what to do as days progress and I don’t hesitate to deviate from something already supposed to have been decided.
As I meet and speak to more people here in Chennai, I encourage them to stop looking for a piece of Chennai or Tamil Nadu in the places that they go to. Simply put, dosas in Mcleodganj are not as yummy as the ones we get in Chennai, but the Thukpa and momos that you get there are quite something. When you stop looking for the things you already know (and are comfortable with) and instead look to experience the unique things that each place has to offer. Embracing the unfamiliarity is truly what defines each travel experience for me. Trust me, it makes the entire experience easier and more rewarding.
All that having been said, when on the road, I constantly miss filter coffee.
—The writer is a city-based vlogger