It was no mean a feat to traverse through nine States and three union territories covering a total distance of 6,000 kms in three weeks and braving the scorching dry summer heat of North India.
That is exactly what John Douglas Coutinho from Chandor did in the month of April on his mean machine the new Suzuki Intruder 1800.
He left from Chandor on 8th April along with Luke Townsend, his Irish friend of the last 22 years as a pillion rider. After whizzing past Belgaum, the first halt was at Mahableshwar for the night. The next day they passed through Maharashtra to stop at Daman to see the similarities with Goa due to their common link with the Portuguese. The three days spent in Daman due to Luke’s illness were disappointing as there is neither effort nor will to conserve the heritage monuments which could be crowd pullers.
Next was a three day tour of Gujarat with night halts at Baroda and Ahmedabad. While the changing face of Gujarat was a revelation the four-and-a-half hour long visit to the Sabarmati Ashram established by Mahatma Gandhi was an experience. “The peace that engulfs you is something that I shall always cherish and I was also impressed with the maintenance,” said John who is quite a globe trotter.
Rajasthan was next on the itinerary where the Lake Palace at Udaipur and City Palace at Jaipur were impressive. Besides they also visited the pilgrim centre at Puskhar where Luke offered a pooja. A memorable experience which will be life lasting was the oldest functioning camera at Jaipur captured John and Luke for posterity in black and white.
The highlight of the visit to Punjab was the trip to the Wagh border to witness the spectacle of lowering of the flats in the evening. Standing in the queue at 3:30 pm to witness the charade at 6:30 was in itself trying. However, the drama at the border was impressive as it evoked patriotism which manifested in even elderly ladies running with the national flag. However, Indians’ fascination with the white skin was evident as they got preferential treatment only because of Luke.
From Punjab it was to Himachal Pradesh traversing through treacherous terrains with bad roads. On the way to Dharamshala, they nearly went off the road but then the serenity at the Dharamshala was worth the trouble. Two nights were spent at Manali just to admire the snow capped mountains reminding them of Scotland where they vacation quite often. It was here that Luke had the painful experience of being kicked by a Yak that he tried to mount for a ride.
As it was time for Luke to depart, they rushed to Delhi and after Luke left for Ireland on 23rd April, began the return journey to Goa with a co-villager Ashley Antao for company. The first halt after leaving the national capital was Agra where all the sites including the Taj Mahal were taken in.
Travelling through Uttar Pradesh, the topography of Chambal was intimidating. But the attitude of the police was fascinating. “We were caught in the traffic for about 15 minutes during which time every truck passing by paid the cop there either Rs. 10 or Rs. 20 and there quite a number of trucks in queue, so one can imagine how much they earn,” quips Ashley.
Shivpuri in Madhya Pradesh is very deeply etched in their minds as they stayed in a palatial bungalow that was constructed for the night halt of a British prince who had visited the area for a tiger hunt during the reign of the raj. Though the prince did not stay there as he killed the tiger very early in the hunt, today it has been converted into a hotel that enchants every visitor.
Back in Maharashtra, it was time to taste wine at Sula’s winery at Nashik and also to see their vineyards before heading to Pune from where it was back to Goa.
The Yamaha Intruder 1800 did give some hiccups and coincidentally on the first and last day of the journey. While on the way of Mahableshwar it stalled and while returning to Goa a little after Pune it went dead. Fortunately the problem was resolved soon and the journey was not affected.
That Indians are obsessed with value for money was established during this trip as everywhere they went there were only two questions: 1) What was the price of the bike? 2) What was the mileage it gave? When Ashley joined John he wondered why John used to get upset with the question and would enthusiastically give the answers. However, the enthusiasm died within a day and he suggested that they carry placard with the answers to the two questions.
The heat was another experience that heated the machine to such an extent that John wanted to break an egg on the tank to have a fried egg. “We would soak a towel and tie it to our head and within no time the towel would be dry,” recalls Ashley.
In fact the heat necessitated rests and any place, be it a charpoy or the shade of a parked truck, a quick nap had to be taken.
Wherever they halted, there was always a crowd to admire the bike. In fact, en route to Mahableshwar John was scared that Luke might have fallen sick as he could not see him nor the bike but a huge crowd. Both of them had to literally push through the crowd to get to the bike for the onward journey.
However, it was a memorable experience and the duo are now planning the next trip which could either be of South India or Jammu and Kashmir which they missed despite being so close while in Himachal Pradesh.