The Royal Roads of Rajasthan


I’d never driven a motorcycle in my life; In fact I’d never truly had the desire to do so. But I’d grown tired of witnessing Indian countryside from the confines of a bus. Separated by a piece of glass and limited to stepping out at the driver’s discretion for toilet breaks. I knew that what I was about to do was stupid, everyone had told me so, but my batteries needed a kickstart. And thus I trudged into a rental facility and paid my way into leasing a Royal Enfield Thunderbird for ten days. I told the man I had an international licence and experience on a bike. Neither of which were true, and the latter became obvious to him when I stalled the bike 20 odd times on my first attempt. But money talks in these situations, and the poor dealer couldn’t let a long-term hire fall to the wayside.

I spent the next few days riding into the desert scape of Udaipur and teaching myself how to use a clutch, when to change gears and most importantly manoeuvre the magnificent machine that sat beneath me. I was terrified of this monstrosity, nonetheless was building a rapport with it. And on a dusky, frozen morning I took off, covered head to toe in woolly winter wear, I hit the road. Final Destination: Jaipur.

Tears streamed across my stoic cheeks as I rocketed into a freedom I’d never known. The highways swiftly became my happiest place, and the people on them some of the happiest I would encounter. I’d battled with the claustrophobia of Indian towns. I experienced the extremes of love and hate in every city I visited. Often loathing local peoples disregard for personal space, but somewhat admiring them for finding peace amongst the collective chaos.

The desolate motorways offered small glimmers of visual stimulus in the form of truck stops, street cricket games and the occasional temple. Yet there was something about simply coasting in top gear with the smells of India pasted across my face that made for the purest form of level-headedness.

Each night my pocket buzzed with the concerns of the man who rented me the bike. Worried Whatsapp messages reading “OK dear good take care I was a little worried but good you are better now”. He was right to worry. My tyres were bald, my gas meter was broken and I was never short of close calls. The Rajasthani roads presented obstacles that are unparalleled to the western world. Stray dogs lined the roadside, preparing to dart across in the most untimely manner. Trucks carting marble would occupy the emergency lane, driving against the flow of traffic with their hazards on as a warning sign. Livestock filled sections of the rickety road, often bringing traffic to a stop.

As my courage on the bike grew over days, so did my daring spirit. Whilst trying to boldly overtake a small mini bus in the sandy backstreets of Pushkar, my front tyre slid from out beneath me, hurling me to the ground and my bike into the back of the van. I’d been warned about such situations and without assessing the damage, instantly went into defence mode. Often Indian people take the law into their own hands, especially if harm is caused to their property, resulting in bashings to the perpetrator. The driver came out of his vehicle in a huff and assessed the damage, while assessing me. Luckily the damage was minimal and I was larger than he was willing to take on. I rode away with a scraped knee and a bruised ego.

My days in Pushkar were lukewarm. I’d arrived in the hope of finding space to write and unwind. But instead was bombarded by Indian tourists wanting to snap selfies and mothers wanting me to hold their babies. I was repulsed by the falsity of it all. The fake lake, the fake baba’s, the façade that opportunistic shop owners were cashing in on. I took it upon myself to exile each night to Savitri Mata Temple atop Ratnagiri Hill. A pilgrimage that I’d make each night, walking from base to summit for sunset.

The final push to Jaipur was a bittersweet one. I’d developed an affinity to the Thunderbird, but felt as if I was simply biding time before an inevitable accident would occur. My face had a wind burned ring mimicking the hole in my helmet. My backside was flat as a tack. My knuckles were white. I was desperate for a warm shower, but kept settling for cold water out of a bucket.

I would collect many friendly faces along this journey, most of whom were enchanted by seeing a white man rumble into their remote towns atop a bike reserved only for the rich. We would feebly wade our way through conversations in broken English. The women would ask “What are you doing here?” whilst the men would probe “Do you have a girlfriend?” “Where is she?” and “How faithful are you to her”. Other times, no English was spoken. Instead an exchange of smiles and trademark Indian head wobbles was enough to solicit some camaraderie.

I wrote many things about these encounters in an attempt to understand the Indian way of life, however lost my journal on the last leg of the trip. Upon reflection, it seems rather apt that I would lose these notes and fall short of being able to comprehend what I’d witnessed. The Indian people and their customs are some of the most unique in the world. This is a country that houses 17% of the worlds population, speaks 1,652 different languages and gave birth to an assorted range of the worlds most practiced religions.

There is a local saying in India “kos kos pe badle pani, chaar kos pe vani", which translates to "every three kilometres, the taste of water changes; every twelve kilometres, the dialect changes” and that rings true in every sense.

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