We landed in Bangalore at 8am on a sunny November morning. After a quick lunch at Koshy’s with a friend, we jumped in a taxi to reach an apartment block in the outskirts of town. That’s where we had arranged to pick up our vehicle for the next two weeks. A Royal Enfield Bullet 500.
Our Royal Enfield Bullet 500
We strapped our bags on the motorcycle rear-mounted rack, had a big fight with the kickstart (the 500 model kicks back hard, unlike the gentle 350), and set off. We had to reach Mysore to meet some friends for dinner and spend a few days working with the Odanadi guys.
About an hour into our journey, having covered only 30kms, we were standing by the side of the road staring at our bike. Trying to figure out why it had stopped. The tank was full (according to the electronic dial) but the poor bullet was sputtering as if it had a carburator full of twigs. I would know how take care of it if only it had a carburator, unfortunately it was one of the new fuel-injected models.
After about an hour we had looked at everything we could possibly check. Spark plugs, injectors, throttle linkage, everything seemed fine yet the bike gave no signs of life. As we worked ourselves into a frenzy to avoid riding on the big SH17 highway at night somebody reminded us of the basics. The dial says the tank is full, is it really?
Of course not, it was just a broken fuel gauge. That’s that then. Push the bike to the next petrol station, fill up, and off we go.
Like all best laid plans of men and mice ours went completely wrong and we arrived in Mysore in the middle of the night. An interesting ride on a motorway where ox carts cross all 4 lanes in the middle of the night without any lights and speedbumps are an invisible constant.
Even so, we made it there and spent a wonderful few days in Mysore with our friends.
A few days later it was time to move on. Next stop, Masinagudi, the spectacular Jungle Retreat resort. A short 120kms ride. How wrong can it go? Right? Let me tell you.
Riding on a major road heading towards the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve and leaving the state of Karnataka we were following a truck loaded with sand and rocks. Next thing we know, as we approached the clunker to overtake it, a small rock fell and hit our headlamp shattering the glass cover.
A minor inconvenience, not even worth stopping for, we’ll get it fixed when we get to our destination. Ooty is a major town in the area and luckily we have a few friends there, they’ll help us sort it out.
Tribal children in Chamanattam
We spent our time in Masinagudi helping Solomon, a wonderful man who runs the Grace Charitable Trust to educate the tribal children of the area who have no access to schooling. With Adventure Ashram we have been supporting him for the past few years and we have now sponsored over 200 children.
On our day off I picked up our Bullet and rode the 39 hairpins up to Ooty, on the Western Ghats, to get the headlamp fixed. A friend hooked me up with a mechanic and the whole thing was sorted out for about £5. By midday I was done and began riding down the same 39 hairpins to get back to Masinagudi. About 1km into the journey, just as the downhill section started the bike stopped again.
It felt like the battery was flat. Either way, I thought I’d just bump-start the bike down the hill and ride it home. Only as gravity was pulling me down the hill and the engine was starting I realized that the bike I was on was a fuel injected model. Even if it did start, it needed the battery to drive the injectors and throttle. Guess who had to push the bike back up into town?
Fortunately it was just a blown fuse, I bought a few new ones for pennies and soon enough I was on my way back.
Our next stop was Kodaikanal, still in Tamil Nadu. This was going to be a big day. 300kms to cover and our bike didn’t have the best of records in terms of reliability.
We loaded our bags back on our bike and set off at an ungodly hour in the morning. Wound our way up the 39 hairpins again, sped through Ooty, and turned onto the Kotagiri road. Not the fastest way between Ooty and Kodi but the least populated and most beautiful in terms of scenery. The Kotagiri road winds its way around the stunning landscape of the Western Ghats. Entire valleys of tea plantations and charming small villages are revealed at every turn.
Panoramas from the Kotagiri road
The Kotagiri road doesn’t only offer beautiful panoramas. It’s also a fantastic ride for bikers. A perfect series of twist and turns surfaced with the smoothest tarmac you can get, at least before the monsoon hits.
As I was riding around a particularly tight left hander I heard a metallic clink. I considered the implications for about a second and decided to ignore it.
At the next corner, a right hander, I went to change down on gear. My left foot hit clean air. In disbelief, I tried again, and again, still nothing. I managed to get the bike around the corner and stopped, looked down, and my gear lever just wasn’t there. Wanna bet that metallic sound from the previous corner…
We found our missing gear-lever
Yep. Just a short walk back confirmed my suspicions, there it was. Sitting on the road.
While the Kotagiri road is absolutely stunning and I would ride it every single day it has one “drawback”, it’s very isolated. No mechanics in sight.
I had to ride the remaining 35kms back to civilization while keeping the gear-liver in place with my left heel. Not the most pleasant sensation.
Soon enough we found a mechanic, bought a bolt and fixed the gear-liver back in place. We managed to reach Kodaikanal late in the afternoon and stayed there for a few days in the stunning Villa Retreat.
I wanted to spend some time with a friend in Kodi. He works half his time in a hospital (he’s a doctor) and donates the other half assisting children and families in the poorer villages surrounding the town who have no access to healthcare. Another project we sponsor at Adventure Ashram.
Our next destination was Munnar, a hill-station at the border between Tamil Nadu and Kerala surrounded by the most beautiful tea-plantations you will ever see. I was really looking forward to this ride and wanted to show my girlfriend how beautiful the place was as she’d never been to India.
She recorded a few videos with her mobile phone while we were riding through munnar. The quality is not perfect and her fingers are a bit all over the place but the road was very bumpy and that’s the best we could do.
The ride was stunning and all was well. We arrived in Munnar much sooner than expected and enjoyed an evening strolling through the markets in town and doing some Saree shopping.
The morning after we were due to ride to Kochin. the capital of Kerala, situated on the Arabian Sea cost in the middle of the stunning back waters of Kerala.
Imagine my surprise when I left the guest house, walked up to the bike, and discovered that not everything was well. The day before, probably because of the bumpiness of the road, we had lost the battery cover plate. The Bullet’s battery was just sitting there not anchored in any way.
Fortunately, when we left London on this trip I knew the score. I had taken with me some duct-tape. Again, needs must, we duct-taped the battery to the bike and set off.
As it turns out duct-tape is much better than the original Royal Enfield components at holding together the structure of the bike. All went well and we had a nice and hot (there is no font bold enough to signify how hot it was) ride through Kerala.
Back to the original question. Why do I love Royal Enfields?
Because our trip would never have been the same.
The sense of adventure (and DIY) you get with one of these bikes is unlike anything else you have ever experienced.
Because it is the right bike for the rough roads of India. A lump of led that can deal with almost any pothole and adversity.
Of course you could probably have ridden the whole trip without a single mishap on a BMW GS. But I can guarantee you, if an Enfield pulled alongside you at a traffic light you would have felt inadequate, out-of-place and generally inappropriately brash.
More pictures from our trip are on my flickr account.