Footloose Nomad motorcycling Pangong Tso Ladakh India

Motorcycling India: Prologue

As an addition to the original series of ‘Motorcycling India‘ hosted on the footloosenomad.com,  I would like to talk about something that has been asked to me me countless number of times. The question ‘Why do I ride’ is something that I struggle at answering, because I feel that no amount of thoughtful answering can justify my reasons for riding.

But finally, I think I have an answer: The reason I ride. Or rather, the reason that we all have to ride.

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Why do we ride? Maybe it’s a passion, or just an addiction.

Faster.

When I came riding down the long, winding, narrow mountain road, fully in fifth gear, from my Yamaha all I could see were the mountains. Brown, jagged edges, crested with a whiff of ice, penetrated themselves into the clear blue skies. I come to the turn at the bottom, right where the horizon ends and you begin to disappear behind it. My eyes are glued to the road. A grey, almost black stretch of tarmac winds its way through the mountain, as far as the eye can see. The world is painted in varying shades of green and brown. The human eye gives a one hundred and eighty degrees panoramic view of the world around. The landscape fades into an almost indistinguishable blur on the extreme edges of human vision, and can hardly be made sense of unless one turns his head.

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In front, the road gives the impression of a colossal snake, twisting and turning as and when it pleases. The mountains around seem to come closer with every passing moment, only to withdraw into the distance as I approach them.

Faster.

The turn. The apex is visible. The trajectory through the corner is in my mind, and I can see the line that I must follow in my mind’s eye. A downshift. The bike leans to the left. The saddlebags that are mounted on the side lean with it. The foot peg touches the uneven surface every now and then, scraping along the tarmac. The rider is in a slightly forward stooping position, left knee sticking out.

The apex, the line, they all fade into oblivion. The actions are born from reflexes. Out of instinct. I am half way through the corner. The going is as smooth as it can get. The eye sees something on the road. The vision registers itself in my mind. In the single, solitary instant that it takes for the brain to process the vision, I feel something cold develop in the pit of my stomach. It is fear. A fear born out of experience. In front of me, barely ten meters ahead, is a patch of sand, smash bang in the middle of the tarmac!

“Fuck!” That is the first word that runs through my mind. But reflexes come kicking in. At the speed that I was carrying, I knew that the bike will go into a slide the minute that the front tyre made contact with the sand. If the bike went into a slide, I would crash. That would be the end of it all.

The sequence of events that I’ll now describe will probably take longer for you to read than it actually happened.

Faster, and closer comes the terrifying, doom spelling patch. Eyes look around instantly. To the right is loose sand and small rocks, which would be a runoff space in case I crash. “Fuck! I am done!” At that instant, everything goes into slow motion. Reality blurs itself out, as the eye seeks out an escape route. And once again, I look to the right. Between the sand and the rocks, adjacent to the patch of sand, lies a narrow trail that runs down the slope and joins the road at the next bend.

Faster. Closer. It was now. Or it would be never. And in one, fast, sudden instant, I swerve to the right. A quick downshift of the gear. The rpm meter shoots up. The rear wheel starts to slide. A slight tap of the rear brake controls the drift. And I throw myself and the Yamaha down that narrow trail. The first bump. The second bump. I am still on the bike. It is time to start slowing down. I start tapping the rear brake. Slowly, but surely, the bike slows down. Everything around me that had been moving in slow motion for about two seconds, comes back to normal speed. The cold feeling in my stomach fades. The trail ends. I re-join the road again.

And that was how I saved myself and my Yamaha on that bright, sunny afternoon in the treacherous roads of the Wari La.

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To experience. To enjoy. To love. To live.

We choose to explore the world, traverse its landscapes, conquer its terrain and cover great distances, sometimes at great speeds. A motorcycle is a unique means of transport. A combustion engine suspended between two wheels. A mechanical marvel that originated in the petro-chemical era. To ride a motorcycle is to merge man and machine, an organic brain working in tandem with a mechanical heart. The twist of the throttle, the squeeze of a lever, the shift of the gear, all combine to make no room for conscious thought but for an impulse reaction of muscle and metal.

This is a lifestyle that beckons only a few, but dreamed by many. There is a freedom about it. Mortality governs us, yet the will to ride instills the strength to keep going. It is what we choose to do, because only a rider knows the feeling.

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I never imagined my life would revolve around bikes and travelling. Maybe it’s a passion, or just an addiction. But biking is a culture. It’s a family. It is a place where you make good friends. I am grateful for this, and for the fact that it has given me the ability to go wherever I want to go and do whatever that I want to do. The freedom to explore this world on two wheels. There is something incredible that I feel when I’m on the road with my bike and everything I need is on it. It is a beautiful feeling. There is an X-factor that is intangible and I cannot explain it in words. It exists, and it is there. But I cannot put my finger on it. I can only feel it, and to a person who is a foreigner to this world that I live in, he would have to live in it to experience what it feels like. But I can tell you what you can do to understand what I am trying to tell you. Take a bike, put on your jacket and your helmet, and twist the throttle on that open road. You’ll know. You’ll understand.

Once you let a motorcycle into your life, it’ll change your world forever.

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And this is why I ride. This is why we all ride; To feel. To experience. To enjoy. To love. To live.

To read more about a pan-India motorcycling journey, check out the photolog that can be found here

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