Episode 1: Basanti & Me

From the moment I got on my first motorbike - I was hooked.

Riding a motorbike became my ultimate favourite thing to do in the entire world (or well, shared #1 with traveling). I’d never really traveled by motorbike though. All I’d done traveling was hopping from plane to bus, train and tuk-tuk.

When I got to Northern India in August 2018 - I realised how easy it was to rent a motorbike there. I gave it a shot (want to know how that went? Check out how to Travel Northern India - like a boss and the motorbike adventures in Zanskar).

I loved it so much, and was so devastated when I had to return the rental bike - that the seed was planted for something bigger.

Why not buy a motorbike in India and start riding it towards South-East Asia?

Excellent idea, I love your thinking!


BASANTI

So I did it. Riding around Ladakh on a Royal Enfield Himalayan had been so much fun, that I decided to buy one. Coming from the Ducati Monster 796 I was riding at home - that’s a massive step down. I know.

But - the roads are pretty bad in this part of the world and full of dogs, cows, people, trucks and potholes. A lot of horsepower is not going to be of much help here. Plus, Royal Enfield shops, mechanics and spare parts are pretty much around every corner. Not so much for Ducati.

It took 10 days before the bike finally arrived at the Royal Enfield Shop. I named her Basanti - after a famous horse in a old Bollywood movie. Or so I thought. Appears that the horse was named Dhanno, and Basanti was the rider. Aaah well. I love that name!

Royal Enfield Himalayan 2018 - with boxes

PIMPING BASANTI

Don’t expect to ride away into the sunset when you get a brand-new bike in India. Once you’ve got it, you still need to wait somewhere between 30 and 60 days before you get your permanent license plates and RC (registration card). In the meantime, you’ll ride around with temporary plate numbers and a temporary RC slip.

I don’t know who came up with “patience is a virtue” - but the waiting sucks.

With nothing else to do - I started modifying the bike to keep myself busy. This is what I did.

  1. Removed the weird protection rack in front of the back wheel. This protects a saree from getting caught between the wheel. Right. No need for that.

  2. Changed the exhaust for something with more sound…

  3. Installed 5-liter fuel jerrycans on either side of the bike.

  4. Placed leg guards that also protect the engine in case the bike tips over

  5. Laminated the white parts of the bike to protect it from scratches

  6. Placed leather seat covers

  7. Replaced the horn with something that sounds like a truck

  8. Placed handle bar raisers for more riding comfort

  9. Placed a phone holder for navigation in big cities

  10. Installed two extra front lights with separate switch

  11. Fixed her up with some knuckle guards - for looks only..

It was also the perfect time to actually learn something about the bike. Because I literally knew shit.

Everyday I went to the mechanics shop to get lessons. We started with the basics. Get the motorbike on mid-stand. Sounds easy huh? Well, it’s not. It took an embarrassing two hours before I finally mastered the technique to get it on mid-stand. Bravo! Lesson 1 complete.

So we took it from there. I learned how to change the clutch cable, fuses, brake pads, oil and oil filter. They taught me how to tighten the chain, clean the air filter, change the tyres and how to get the battery out.

I fully enjoyed spending those afternoons in the motorbike district of Delhi. And you know, at some point you even get used to the crowd of men that will gather around you and watch your every move. Kind of.

We always had to be on the look-out for police though. All the motorbike repair shops had the bikes parked on the streets. The shops were simply so tiny they couldn’t fit any bikes inside. But, this was against the rules. So the police entered our street once or twice every day with a couple of tow trucks. They would randomly seize bikes that were parked there. The owner would only get the bike back after paying a hefty fine.

So whenever the first look-outs spotted the police - panic would brake out. We’d hear shouting and people running through the streets and jumping on motorbikes. “Madam, madam! GO GO GO now! Come back in an hour” was shouted to me several times.

Police seizing motorbikes in Karol Bagh, Delhi

ONLY IN INDIA

At some point I realised I needed a Carnet to enter Myanmar and several other countries on my list. After some searching online, I found the procedure (or so I thought) and applied for an ATA-Carnet. The issuing authority of an ATA-carnet in India is FICCI (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry).

Just to make sure my application got through, I paid them a visit. A very friendly woman there told me I was applying for the wrong papers though. It wasn’t the ATA-Carnet I needed, but a Carnet-de-Passage. She gave me the contact details of the WIAA (Western India Automobile Association) which is only stationed in Mumbai.

Now this insanely weird procedure started.

So I ring this number.

A woman picks up - she tells me she can get me the Carnet-de-Passage I need. And I’m in luck, because the chairman of the WIAA happens to be in Delhi the very next day! She emails me a list of documents I need to bring. Oh and cash. Like a lot.

Paperworks and cash necessary to get a Carnet-de-Passage in India

I manage to get part of the money and all the required documents ready within 24 hours. So the next day I’m meeting Mr. Dossa at a hotel’s restaurant at Connaught Place, in Central Delhi.

He is quite surprised to see my face and makes inquiries about my age, country, job and stresses that I should find an Indian boy to marry. He cannot get his head around the fact that nobody has ever proposed to me. Not ever? No, Mr. Dossa. And thank you very much for pointing that out.

Then we get down to business. I show him the paperworks and hand him a gigantic stack of money. 100,000 rupees in cash. He doesn’t blink and shoves the money in his pocket without even counting it.

We both order a massive thali and chitchat about his family and career. He insists I don’t pay for lunch and we agree to meet the following week so he can hand me the Carnet-de-Passage. In return, I then have to hand him another 200,000 rupees in cash as security deposit. The moment I’ll come back to India with the motorbike, that money will be refunded to me. In theory.

Make no mistake, the Carnet-de-Passage is real. The issuing authority is real. But honestly - when did a chairman of an Automobile Association ever buy you lunch? While you hand him a pile of paperworks and stacks of money in cash? Just to receive an official, internationally recognised paper? That’s right. Only in India.

— TO BE CONTINUED —

And while waiting for the paperworks to be finished - I just keep exploring the best things to eat, to do and to see around Delhi! By motorbike obviously.

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