3. “Yeah right. You guys want to die.”
When we decided on buying a second-hand motorbike in India, a lot of people declared us mad. What started like an adventurous idea, ended in a fantastic 8500km long journey. We flew to New Delhi and figured out how to buy a Royal Enfield. There was no real plan, we just learned by doing.
Cruising through India, you get a sense of ultimate freedom. No need for long bus rides with puking kids, no crazy itineraries and delays, tea stops when you feel like it, … You can travel at your own pace. It’s fair to say this trip totally changed our view on traveling. We started a 15 month-long trip with this experience and there is no doubt about it: this is still the most memorable part of that journey, and at the same time one of the most memorable things we did in our lives.
Buying a motorbike in New Delhi
Easy peasy. Unlike what people may think, buying a bike in India is quite simple. Delhi is divided into big areas where manufacturers and sellers flock together. You just need to find the right neighborhood. Karol Bagh is the place to be. It’s streets are lined with motorbikes. We lost 2 days looking like dumb asses, comparing about 10 Royal Enfields. We now know you only need 1 man: mister Lalli Singh. We secretly called him Lollie String. Mister Singh sells and repairs Royal Enfields in his basement shop, Inder motors. He has been working with foreigners for decades and his staff is extremely skilled. Most importantly, he is trustworthy and to the point. Lalli probably is the only Indian who’s not into haggling. He is not the cheapest option around, but if you’re no mechanical talent, you’ll need to trust the seller. He didn’t give us many options, but his bikes are very reliable.
As a foreigner it’s not possible to register the bike on your own name, so there are systems for that. Make sure you bring a driving permit. Lalli can fix everything you need to get started. It took about 5 days before we hit the road. Delhi traffic can be manic and we didn’t feel like starting our journey here. After all, we were very unexperienced. We put the bike on a train and flew to Goa, where the roads are much quieter and in better condition. Later on, when we drove back to Delhi after a 8500 km’s long journey, we weren’t so impressed by its traffic… 🙂 Good to know: he gave us a ‘buy back’ guarantee.
→ Inder Motors – Hari Singh Nalwa St, Abdul Aziz Rd Karol Bagh 1740-A/55 (basement) – New Delhi
→ When in New Delhi, we always stayed in Star Paradise hotel. It’s in Paharganj, this is only a 5 min metro ride away from Karol Bagh. Pictures look nicer than the real deal…
Falling in love with a Royal Enfield
Buying an Enfield wasn’t a rational choice. It was an emotional one. For starters, an Enfield makes you fall in love with it at first sight (or at first roar). I’m the kind of woman who couldn’t care less about cars, but this machine kind of lures you in. The design is beautiful and the sound of the engine is seductive. I’ll illustrate this with a passage from Shantaram (Pg 501, book by Gregory David Roberts)
The Enfield of India 350cc Bullet was a single-cylinder, four-stroke motorcycle, constructed to the plans of the original 1950s’ model of the British Royal Enfield. Renowned for its idiosyncratic handling as much as for its reliability and durability, the Bullet was a bike that demanded a relationship with its rider. That relationship involved tolerance, patience, and understanding on the part of the rider. In exchange, the Bullet provided the kind of soaring, celestial, wind-weaving pleasure that birds must know, punctuated by not infrequent near-death experiences.
→ Find out more about the different Royal Enfield models. http://www.royalenfield.com/
I don’t know shit about mechanics
I’ve never repaired a bike tube in my life. I don’t know the difference between horsepower and cylinders. Couldn’t care less about oil levels and I in my world ‘bougies‘ are candles. Although it’s handy to understand how an engine works, it’s not really necessary.
Indians repair anything. We’ve experienced it first hand. When our luggage rack broke, we found a welder 100 meters further up the road. When we got a flat tire, a herd of curious Indians helped us out. A little oil tube broke down: we found a new one in the shop nearby. Now I make it seem like a lot of things broke down, but that’s wasn’t the case. This was about it. The bike functioned really good. We got it checked up and serviced every 1000km (costs about 4 euro). We pampered it like a newborn, we even gave it a name. Lalli couldn’t understand the words on our stickers: I ♥ Brugge. He pronounced it as ‘broogie’. This sounded funky, so we called it ‘the broogie bike’.
“Isn’t it dangerous?”
Traffic can get crazy, but this is not always the case. Surprisingly, there ARE rules. They’re only slightly different from the ones we use in Europe.
Honking is not a crime, it’s a lifestyle
Honking is not offensive, it’s a form of communication. People use their horn to let you know they’re going to pass you by or do something crazy. We started to love it and honked along enthusiastically. We even made a sign, to encourage people to honk, because it’s safer when you know someone is coming.
Bigger is better
Lorries are the kings of the road. Anything bigger than your own vehicle has more rights, accept this. Don’t try to force them to respect you, because you’ll end up dead. Be humble and careful.
Cows don’t walk backwards
I know this is a weird sentence, but it’s a million dollar insight 🙂 A cow can walk backwards, but he’s not likely to do it. So when a cow blocks the road, we always passed by it’s ass. It’s safer than passing it’s head (do we need a sketch here?). Anyways, hitting one of these holy creatures in India, is not a good idea …
“Start early, drive slowly, arrive safely”, “Be gentle on her curves”, “Better mister late, than mister never” (Indian road signs)
One of the best tips is to start really early. Roads are calmer and the heat is bearable in the early morning. We drove with an average speed of 45km/h, 8500 km’s in a row. It’s a slow pace, but it’s better to take it easy. In most cases it’s not possible to drive fast. We never drove more than 400km a day.
We came across some really bad roads, but overall the condition of the roads is OK. Some stretches were even better than the Belgian road. No kidding!
Highways are replacing smaller roads that run through villages. The roads change, but the behavior of the people doesn’t. They cross without looking. The road surface is used whenever it comes in handy. When grain is harvested, people lay it on the roads, so the big trucks can crush it with their weight. This is really dangerous for motorbikes. Herds of animals are grazing in the middle of the highway. Bumps in the road were not our major concern. A truck driving in the wrong direction (even if the driving lanes are physically divided by concrete blocks) was more frightening.
We never drove in the dark because a lot Indians drive drunk at night. Surprisingly we didn’t see many accidents. There is some structure in this seemingly dangerous chaos.
“How much does it cost?”
The bike costed about 613 euro and Lalli bought it back for 400 euro. It’s a good idea to buy your motorbike gear at home. India is not the place to buy highly protective clothes.