I've learnt one thing on my journey so far – the only constant in life is you.
On January 15, I set out from Chennai for my Grand Indian Tour – 29 states and 6 union territories. Now, after 25 states and over 120 days on the road, I only have some parts of Eastern India left to cover with almost a month to go. Once my Indian leg is done, I’m off on a Europe Tour (32 countries), then a South East Asia Tour (10 countries), and then Australia (followed by more continents). The plan is to ride 1 lakh kilometres in a year and a half.
This is what a wanderer feels like
For me, life is about living in the moment. I remember that one day of awakening, of clarity, when I said to myself, “Let me get out there and do what I want to do.” That’s how the idea for this journey began. I had met a lot of people who had the same life story – they went to school, went to college, got a job, got married, had kids, were happy, sad, etc. It was exactly the same for 99% of the people that I met. So, since I’m still just 21, I wanted to change that around for myself, and tell myself a story that I would be interested in listening to. That was it.
Let the sun do the talking
I come from a Tamil-Brahmin household, but funnily enough, growing up, my life was quite the opposite of what one would imagine. My parents belonged to a different school of thought. My mom had two rules: one was that whenever I would get a zero in an exam, she would buy me whatever I wanted. I’ve scored a zero four times so far, and till date I’ve got a jacket, a pair of denims, a new play station and a new bike. My mom always says that a person who knows nothing is the most absolute state to be in. Her other rule was that whenever I would fail in any exam, she would take me out to dinner wherever I wanted to. She would say, “Failure is inevitable, so let’s celebrate it. Let’s embrace it.” My dad had only one rule: if I got a single mark more than 40 in any exam, he would not let me inside the house. He would say, “Forty is the passing mark, so who are you trying to impress and why bother getting any more?” He would emphasise being content and happy with what you have in life.
Lost in the green land with my desert storm
Riding on my Royal Enfield 500 for seven to eight hours every day has certainly given me a different perspective on life. The most important thing my journey has taught me is that the only thing constant is you, and everything around you keeps changing all the time. It also taught me to stay grounded and stay in this very moment, because one doesn’t know what’s going to happen the next moment. And whatever has happened, has happened for a reason. Apart from that, every day is a new day and every person I meet on the road teaches me something new. On the go you learn a lot, experiment a lot and explore a whole lot more, be it day or night.
Several interesting things have happened to me on the road. The one rule I try to follow is I do not stay in hotels: I tend to stay with people. If I don’t get a place to sleep, then there’s always a petrol pump, a police station, bus stop or anything else on the road. There have been times I’ve knocked on people’s doors and asked them for shelter in their houses and they’ve allowed me to sleep there.
Every state that I go to, I try and do one interesting thing – something story-worthy. I’ve always wanted to be a farmer, a waiter, a chaiwala, a vada pao wala (I’ve done it all by now)… so every state I go to, I pick up a job that I do for a day or a week. Here are just a few of the many bizarre things I’ve done, or that have happened to me over the course of the last several weeks.
Being hosted in Madurai
I was in Madurai when I got a call from someone who sounded like a middle-aged man saying he wished to host me. I thought to myself, “Cool, why not?” I got directions to his house and finally when I reached, much to my surprise, I saw a very elderly man. He was 89 years old, but I kid you not, he sounded like a much younger man. We spoke for ages that night.
Something similar happened to me later in Dehradun, when this elderly couple, perhaps in their 70s, hosted me. The best thing about them was that every night they would sleep very late (around 2 am), because they would sit together and watch Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show. Relationship goals, eh?
Desert and my desert story, still a better love story than twilight?
It was a sunny day when I was riding down the highways of Tamil Nadu. I was rather tired and looking for some shade to stop for a while. That's when I met an ice cream vendor, and stopped next to him, bought an ice cream and struck up a conversation with him. One thing led to another and I started riding his ice cream cycle while he was chilling and playing with my mobile phone.
It's always been an unanswered question in my head: how can these ice cream vendors not eat all the ice cream themselves? I was there for a good three hours and yes, I ate a couple of ice creams but also made Rs. 300 worth of sales. I guess coupling temptation with business isn’t such a bad idea after all.
Chilling with the guys at the Trivandrum College of Engineering
I was in Trivandrum and the students of Trivandrum College of Engineering hosted me. It was always a dream to stay in a hostel, but I never really got the chance. Watching cricket matches and movies in the common room was so much fun. They were a bunch of really chilled out guys.
I was in Kerala staying at my host’s house. My bike was parked outside his house, and when I stepped out, they were laying the roads and I couldn't take my bike out. So, I started working with them for the day. Since I’ve always wanted to do odd jobs, this seemed like an apt opportunity. It was a hot day and these guys were just so much fun to work with. They were singing and joking, and even though I didn’t understand much of what they said, it was still fun.
Valentine’s Day serving drinks at a Goa bar
Well, Valentine's Day is always special, especially when you are single and in bloody Goa. I was going to this one particular resto-bar I had visited with my ex-girlfriend a few months ago. Oddly enough, they remembered me. We spoke a lot and I really wanted to try my hand at bar-tending. Thankfully, they allowed me to do it and all in all, it was a Valentine's Day well spent, where I spent the most of it offering heady drinks to many, many people. Couple's mostly – good for them.
The roads are curvy and unknown and it leads you somewhere
It was my birthday and really, what better way to celebrate your special day than by eating and sleeping a little extra, only to wake up to see your bike punctured. Well, it's always fun to push bikes. I was in the hills once, when my bike stopped; I was pushing it uphill with great difficulty, but the downhill was a free fall and so much fun. There's a learning here, how we always struggle to get to the top. Sometimes, we should wait to fall. Falling is good!
The river Ganga flowing between two mountains
I reached Sonamarg, J&K in the night and there wasn't a soul on the road. It was pitch dark and all I was surrounded with were the Himalayan mountains. It was -5 degrees, raining and the only light on the road was my bike’s headlight. And suddenly, there was a thunderstorms. At that moment I saw the mighty Himalayas all around me, and that moment changed everything for me. It was one of the most interesting moments of my journey, and my life.
I was in Kashmir. I was going to a place where it was raining very heavily, so I stopped at a village and asked some locals for shelter. The person whose house I was living in, asked me where I was from. I said South India, he heard South Africa. For the whole time he thought me to be a South African, so he kept asking me how Johannesburg was. I don’t know what made him think that way because I don’t even look like I belong from there, but somehow we managed. I played along with the story the whole night because honestly, I needed a place to sleep. But that’s the beauty of it all – you meet people and the most unexpected things happen to you.
It's only when you travel do you really understand the variety this world has to offer. I was in Aizawl for a day, and my friends who were locals asked me what I would like to have for dinner that night. As usual, I told them anything works, since I'm really not the fussy or picky kind. But I’d completely forgotten that I was in Mizoram. My local friends immediately said, "Dog!" Now, I thought they had a dog around somewhere and I panicked and said I was scared of dogs. They simply said, "No no. We're talking about eating dog for dinner." I politely declined, telling them I'm scared of dead dogs as well.
And that I'm vegetarian.
Maybe some other time though... On my 2 lakh kilometres ride.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101India.com.
By Rohith Subramanian
Photographs by: Rohith Subramanian