Posted On 09 May 2024
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This entry is part 11 of 25 in the series AusMotorcyclist Issue#31


India on a motorcycle is not confined to the lofty and awesome Himalayas or the deserts, palaces and forts of Rajasthan. There’s great riding, sightseeing and relaxing to be had in southern India.


Our trip spanned south western India, taking in the spectacular coastline of Karnataka and Goa, the twists andturns of mountain riding up and down the Western Ghats, tiger ‘hunting’ in World Heritage wilderness, and being absorbed by the ancient cultures that constructed the formidable temple complexes of the Deccan Plateau.

The adventure started in Kochi on the far south western coast of India.

Under the British Raj it was Cochin, but its origins as a major port go back to Vascoda Gama who claimed it for Portugal in his search for spices and whatever other treasures he might find. That was before the Dutch moved in and chased the Portuguese up to Goa; and, of course, the British eventually moved in and took everything from both.

There are remnants of all this in Kochi as well as a labyrinth of canals stretching along and inland from the coast. And, of course, the church where Vascoda Gama lay buried for years before the Portuguese repatriated him. Or was it the Indians who deported him? In any event, he was long dead by then. He rests peacefully in Lisbon.

We got introduced to our Royal Enfield Desert Storms in Kochi.

Certainly, you couldn’t even think of riding in India on anything but a Royal Enfield, even if most Indians don’t. This time, however, instead of the more traditional – dare I say erratic – Bullet, with its gears on the wrong side and upside down, the Desert Storm is thoroughly conventional; and a breeze to manage and enjoy. That was a welcome bonus not least because I would have my 14 year old grandson, Oskar, on the back.


The road to our first destination took us across mostly fl at countryside for an hour or so before we started the climb into the Western Ghats to Munnar – a ‘Hill Station’: resorts established by the British as retreats from the oppressing summer heat of the lower plains. Munnar is about 1700m above sea level, so it was a significant climb of twisting roads and decreasing temperatures, with sprawling tea plantations undulating to the horizons and interspersed with high jagged ridges of mountain spurs. Not only was the vista spectacular, but the narrow, twisting roads demanded some derring-do to manoeuvre through the lines of vehicles slowed by trucks or busses; and, subsequently, to creep and squeeze round the slow moving obstacles.

There were plenty of opportunities to take in the scenery, feed the inquisitive monkeys, sample the refreshing coconut water directly from its source, meet the engaging local kids and, inevitably, keep energised by the varieties of local chai.

Getting to Kodaikanal, another of the Western Ghats hill stations, took us across hotter lowlands and through many noisy, bustling towns with all the colour and vibrancy you expect from this fabulous country before the climb to Kodai. About half way up, we stopped for a breather and refreshments of coconut water and coconut flesh (eaten only when you’d finished the water). Oskar got through the water but fed the flesh to the scores of monkeys frolicking in the over-hanging trees. Their antics were beguiling.


Getting out of Kodai meant a long, winding road back down to the Deccan Plateau. Our next major centre was Ooty, known as Queen of the hill stations. But before we could start the climb to Ooty, there were a few hours of crossing the plains on a mix of secondary and highway roads.

By now Oskar had acquired a taste for coconut water and was eager for the refreshment stops we made along the road side.

By the time we stopped for lunch it was already the middle of the afternoon. This was Oskar’s second exposure to the South Indian favourite of a thali: a mix of curries and other assorted dishes. This time we had the more traditional way of serving it – on a banana leaf. One of the many highlights of the trip was the delectable South Indian cuisine, particularly the seafood dishes of coastal Karnataka and Goa (to come later in the tour).

By the time we got to Ooty it was late into evening dusk. The town spills over a few rises at the top of the range and was shrouded in smoky haze, with the inevitable chill of the hill station being well felt.

The road we needed from Ooty to Bandipur was blocked for larger vehicles (like our support vehicle) that were not local. It seems that at night only locals were to be trusted negotiating the 36 tight hairpin bends that drop you steeply onto the plain below. We hung around in Ooty for 40 minutes or so while negotiations were undertaken to get clearance for the support vehicle. It was by now quite dark. So the rest of the trip – down the hairpins and across the flats through national park and reserve country of elephants and roaming nocturnal cats like leopards – would be in total darkness!

I suggested to Oskar that it would be safer for him to travel with the support vehicle given the dangers ahead of riding such a difficult stretch in the dark. That only made him all the more insistent on staying with the bike.

Most of the bends were not only sharp hairpins but had a steep drop to them. Negotiating them with frequent high beam headlights of cars, trucks and the occasional bus coming at you was a totally new form of ‘fun’.

Having a tail light of a bike in front helped. But after a re-group stop at a convenient spot about a third of the way down, Oskar and I ended up dropping back to last in the line apart from one of the local staff, Chandan, riding as Tail End Charlie. On one of the left turns, the bike in front went a bit wide, startled by the lights of a truck right at the turn, and wisely got quickly across the front of the vehicle but ending up sliding onto the verge on the other side of the road (luckily there was a verge, which mostly didn’t exist). Peter was fine: just a tad shaken. We got his bike upright and back on the road.

By the time Oskar and I got back on our bike there were no tail lights in sight. Chandan stayed with his bike waiting for the support vehicle.

Oskar and I set off to continue the run down the hairpins quite alone.

No one in front. No one behind.

That was daunting.

At a subsequent regroup a vehicle coming up the range stopped to see if we were okay. The driver asked where we were headed. I told him Bandipur, to which he admonished that the park gate shuts at 9.00pm and we would not get through after that, adding that this was elephant country – even where we were parked – and it would be unwise to dally anywhere.

Fortuitously, Rahul (mechanic extraordinaire) turned up on a bike with instructions that we were to follow him poste haste for the rest of the trip to Bandipur. The support vehicle had been turned back.

Even from the bottom of the escarpment, which it was a relief to reach, it was a long ride through thickly jungled terrain before we reached our accommodation in the Bandipur Tiger Reserve. It was 9.00pm. We had been on the road for 12 hours!


We had a rest day at the Bandipur Tiger Reserve. The resort was laid out in a series of duplex cottage style rooms with linking stone paths and lots of trees, often with monkeys hovering and exploring. Spotted deer lurked in the scrub at the back of the cottages. Elephants were heard in the night close by. Resort rules were that no one stepped outside their rooms after 10.30pm (presumably that’s when the guards retired).

It was a lazy day: a guided trek for about an hour in the morning (lots of spoor but only spotted deer to be seen); a swim and poolside read for some; and a three hour motorised safari into the far reaches of the reserve in the late afternoon/early evening No tigers, but a distant leopard and lots of other wildlife.


It was back on the bike for a half day run to Mysore, called the city of palaces, the centrepiece of which is the spectacular Mysore Palace.

The palace was the official residence of the former royal family – the Wodeyar family. The Kingdom of Mysore was ruled for hundreds of years by the Wodeyar Dynasty, the “king” being the Maharaja of Mysore.

The kingdom has long gone, as have all the many empires and kingdoms that constituted Hindustan. The palace is maintained and controlled by the State Government of Karnataka.

However, a small portion of the palace has been set aside for the Wodeyars to live in. The royal family has no official status and certainly no power as such, but old habits die hard; and they are obviously afforded some informal status and respect.

The interior of the palace was a true marvel. Its halls, rooms and decorations were a match for its exterior.


The ride through Mysore and onto Hassan and Belur was mostly flattish with occasional rises and dips.

This is the Deccan Plateau, which had spawned so many of India’s great kingdoms; and been ferociously fought over by Mughals and Maharashtras in times past.

A key feature of this part of the tour was a visit to a 1,000 year old Jain Temple planted on top of a hill and visible for miles from every direction. It houses the tallest monolithic statue of Bahubali (a Jain deity). The climb to the top was up 300 stairs, hewn into the rock. Oskar bounded up as though he’d overdosed on the local version of Red Bull! The view from the top was amazing.

The descent for Oskar was made easier by sliding down the steel pipe hand rails.

Not far beyond Hassan, we stopped at the small town of Belur – the location of a complex of temples that most spectacularly captures the past glory of the Hoysala Kingdom which ruled most of present day Karnataka between the 10th and 14th centuries.

Belur was its initial capital. The main temple was built in the 1100s and displays intricate carvings that are almost unbelievable given the era and available tools.


From the Deccan Plateau we headed back to the west coast of India and the Arabian Sea. Being on a plateau, we didn’t have much of a climb back into the Western Ghats, but were rewarded with a long, winding descent down the escarpment to the coastal plain.

The goal at the end of this day’s ride was Turtle Bay Resort. We rode into it with the sun setting over the Arabian Sea. This was the first time that Oskar had seen the sun setting over the sea, although it took a bit of explaining to him that this was so. The resort was right on the beach front.


From Turtle Bay we rode up the coast, flitting in and out of view of the Arabian Sea, but always with the smell of fish pervading the air. There were fishing boats on the beach at Turtle Bay putting out early in the morning; and seemingly lots of similar activity all the way up the coast.

Turtle Bay is still in the State of Karnataka and it was a few hours before we crossed the State border into Goa. Once there, a few things started to stand out: congested towns, more casual, young foreign tourists (this used to be Hippie Central a few decades back), and lots of Christian establishments (churches, schools, hospitals) – remember, the Portuguese set up shop in Goa.


A visit to Agonda Beach was a treat off our main route. Agonda was quite a way from the highway but at the end of an enjoyable partially twisting road in good condition (apart from the very rough last kilometre to the beach).

The beach is in a large bay, a wide sandy stretch lined by coconut trees camouflaging single storey hotels, beach huts, eateries and traders’ stalls of various sorts. The Arabian Sea is fairly calm and a pleasant temperature.

Lunch was at a classy establishment right on the beach. Oskar’s choice was calamari for starters followed by King Fish fillets and chocolate brownie.

That was with a coco loco mocktail somewhere in there.

The beach was shared with a few foreign tourists and a local bullock.


The dreaded day: the last day of riding.

It was a short run from Colva in South Goa to Calangute in North Goa. The dividing line is the capital of Goa – Panaji – which we skirted.

After a brief check-in at the hotel in Calangute, we rode further north to (tour leader) Zander’s home to leave the bikes for servicing before being trucked back to Kochi for the next tour.

After chai at Zander’s, we dumped our motorcycle gear there and took taxis to a nearby restaurant…well, except for Zander and Oskar who rode on Zander’s “chopper”- an old Royal Enfield.

After that it was a visit to the Wednesday fl ea market – a wide spread, busy and bustling array of all sorts of stalls with lots of bars and restaurants mingling amongst them.

Next morning, having fare welled the rest of the group who had early flights, Oskar and I decided to check out the local beach. In stark contrast to Agonda, Calangute Beach is immediately accessible to a large population centre as well as the many domestic tourists who come to Goa at this time of year from the cold north of India. The beach was more like a Sydney suburban beach on a summer long weekend complete with attentive life guards and the familiar red and yellow flags.


Although our train wasn’t scheduled until 6.55pm, we took the precaution of heading to the station way ahead of time because we were still only wait listed. Having got to the top of the window queue at 4:15pm, the attendant checked our ticket reference number and advised that “the chart has not yet been drawn up.” The ‘chart’ is the manifest of passengers. One needs to be on the manifest to get on the train.

We were called back at about 5:00pm to tell us that we were confirmed. A few minutes later he posted the manifest on the station notice board; and it was a further relief to see our names on it.

This tour was undertaken with Extreme Bike Tours. Web: Email:

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