India

Map of IndiaIndia Quick facts

Population:1.2 billion
Language: Hindi, English
Religion: Hinduism
Currency: Indian Rupee

Terrain: Desert, Mountain
Riding Season: September – February

Visa Requirements for U.S. Citizens: Must apply for a Tourist Visa before entering the country.
Apply here, or click for more information and costs.

Visa Requirements for European Union Citizens: Must apply for a Tourist Visa before entering the country.
Contact your local Indian Embassy for more information.

Traveling in India

India is a country we have unfortunately not have had the pleasure to yet visit. However, luckily we were able to get a hold of Manish from SoulTrails, who does motorcycle tours in India and sure does know his stuff!  So here you can find out everything you need to know about India.

What is the main language spoken in India?

India, with its diverse and multicultural make up has a plethora of languages spoken in various parts of the country.  Officially, Hindi is the official language, followed by English.

Can people get by with English or should they be prepared to point a lot?

Indian childrenIn the cities you can get by with English, but when in the interior region, if you do not have an interpreter or a guide, pointing is the way to go… a better way would be to learn a few basic words in Hindi, which should help in better communicating your requirement to the locals.

(Check out this sites for some basic Hindi phrases)

Is there any cultural difference between India and the United States/Europe that visitors should keep in mind in order to be respectful?

Culturally, India is the polar opposite of the West.  Make sure that you do not wear revealing clothes, always keep your heads covered when visiting religious places, respect the traditions and culture of the places visiting and avoid public display of affection.

Nothing would land you in trouble like public display of affection would.

What are the top 5 riding destinations in India? Can you describe why they are so popular?

There are amazing routes to ride on in India… and selecting just 5 would mean that there would be a bias towards the kind of riding I like… i.e, more on the off-road kinds with some tarmac thrown in for the sake of comfort 🙂

Leh in India

Leh

No. 1 is Straight to the Top! a ride on the the Manali – Leh highway. This is the most popular amongst bikers visiting India because of the sheer adventure and mind numbing altitudes one has to scale to reach Leh by road.  The Route from Manali is as follows:

Manali – Rohtang Pass (13200 Ft) – Keylong – Baralacha La (16500 Ft) – Sarchu – Nakeela – Lachulung La – Pang – Moray Plains – Tanglang La (17500 ft) – Upshi – Thiksey – Leh

The regions covered are the states of Himachal Pradesh and the Ladakh region of Jammu & Kashmir.  This trip would be incomplete if you do not do the Leh – Nubra Valley – Leh trip over the Khardung La, which is the World’s highest motorable road @ 18380 Ft, and also the Leh – Pangong Tso – Leh, over the Chang La, which is the World’s third highest motorable pass @ 17500 Ft.

No. 2 is the Spiti Magic, which is a trip into the Lahaul and Spiti area of Himachal Pradesh, which remains cut off from the rest of the country for a better part of the year due to snow fall and its remoteness.  Rugged terrain, high mountains, offroad riding conditions and warm and friendly people make this a must do on every biker’s ride calendar.

No. 3 is what we call The Sands of Time, a circum-navigation trip of the desert state of Rajasthan… nothing dramatic like high altitudes etc but the culture, the colours and the traditions of this state make it a must do.

No. 4 would be the West Coast Ride, a road trip from Delhi to Goa, the party central of India.  This ride covers parts of the desert, parts of the Western Ghats and then a coastal ride in and around Goa would be the feather on the cap.

No. 5 would be the East Coast Ride in the South for the sheer beauty of the roads and the coastal region.

What are the top must see sites in India, whether a motorcycle rider or a regular tourist?

The sights would vary, depending on the time when you arrive in India.

In the summers, it is prudent to head out to the cooler climes of Himalayas.  Shimla for its British era buildings and nearby places which offer a retreat into Nature.  Manali is an ever favorite with the tourists, both bikers and regular tourists, as well as Mcleod Ganj for the Tibetan flavor.

How are women viewed in India? Is it safe for a woman to travel by herself? Is it safe for a woman to go out in the evenings by herself?

In the cities it would not be a good idea for a woman to travel or to venture out alone.  When it is unavoidable, make sure you go in pairs, and stay in well lit and populated areas.

What kind of license does a motorcycle driver need to drive in India?

If you are a foreign tourist, then a valid International Geared Motorcycle Rider’s License is required.  The biggest bike we have is a 500cc Enfield bike, apart from the uber expensive Harley Davidson, which, as of now are not available as rentals anywhere in the country.

For local people, a driving/riding license to ride geared motorcycles is needed.

What is the traffic like in India? Is there anything people from the US/Europe need to be aware of when driving in India?

Travel in India The traffic can be summed up in one word: CRAZY, and I am being polite here.

Since we never were a mechanized society, from olden times, we are not very comfortable traveling in lanes and following rules meant for safety when traveling in/on automobiles.  We were happy with our Bullock Carts and Horses and Elephants but the British came into our country with their smoke belching Automobiles and changed our way of life… changed the way people travel…

We are not known for our patience and discipline on the road.  If we see an opening where a car or a motorbike can be squeezed in, we will venture in that little space there, irrespective of safety concerns, and expect the other person to be accommodating enough to make space for our car/motorcycle.  In a three lane road, you would find 4-5 lanes of vehicles, all jostling for space. We are used to accommodating in the tightest of the conditions and would then follow it up with an act worthy of the best acrobats, who ride in the Well of Death, and we would come out unscathed, uninjured, the car/motorcycle unscratched and all would be well.

We also believe in multi-tasking, so do not be surprised if you see a driver, with one hand on the steering wheel, a cellphone in one hand, changing gears, talking, ogling, flirting, teasing and generally making a ruckus all in one go, in one instant!

Please note that we do this while traveling on the left side of the road, (opposite to what the other people in the world travel) All cars in India are right hand drive… so stick to the left of the road if you value your life…

Are there any laws that people from the US/Europe should know and might be surprised exist?

Oh you would be surprised to know we have a full fledged “Motor Vehicles Act” which was constituted in the year 1914, which was then revised in 1939 and then again in 1988.

We ride/drive on the left side of the road, overtake from the right side and supposed to not jump red lights, cross the stop lines before the zebra crossings on traffic signals, allow emergency vehicles to pass us when you hear the klaxon, and be civil to each other on the road.

Although what I am about to mention is not the law per se, but is a good thumb rule to follow:

The bigger your vehicle, more right of way you have.  Size does matter in India… at least when it comes to the roads and the vehicle one travels in.  So don’t go bothering those buses which ply the road or those trucks either… they are like the great blue whales… they move at their own pace, unfettered or bothered by the lowly presence of motorcycles and cars.

An exception to this bigger is better rule of thumb is motorcycles.  They will go where no car can go, squeeze in where ever there is space, nip in front of your car, only to zoom off leaving you flustered and scared, thinking you must have hit them or something.

Who should tourists call in case of emergency? Fire. Emergency Vehicle. Police.

Police would be the best bet, but please do not compare them with your local law enforcement officials.  They can and usually are as laid back as one can get.  Your best bet would be to call up a friend who can be there for you if you are in a fix.

What is the money in India?

India runs on the currency called Rupees (unit is Paisa, 100 Paisa makes 1 Rupee).  Till sometime ago, it was denoted by the alphabet INR (Indian Rupees) but as of late, there was a big hue and cry when we got our own recognized symbol for the currency like the US $ and the Sterling Pound £.

Do you think the cost of food and living is relatively cheaper or more expensive in India than the US or Europe? If you aren’t sure, how much is a low end place to stay (home stay, hostel), and a high end hotel. What does an average meal cost?

India is at par when it comes to food and living costs.  The reason why you feel we are cheaper is because you tend to convert the local currency into your own and then figure things out.  For comparison, a bottle of beer would set you back by INR 60.00 (1 Euro) if you buy it from a liquor vend, INR 150-200 (2.40 Euro to 3.20), if you buy it in a bar/pub.

What is the one Indian dish people MUST try while in India?

There is no national dish of India.  It would depend on which area you are in.

If you are in the North, say Delhi, Punjab or Haryana, the ever favourite would be Tandoori Chicken and Chicken Tikka.  In Rajasthan it would be Dal-Baati –Churma, in Bengal, it has to be Ilish Maach (Hilsa Fish in Gravy), Himachal Pradesh, it would be Siddu, in Jammu, it would be Rajmah Chawal (Kidney Beans with Rice), in Kashmir, it would be Rogan Josh (Mutton in spicy red gravy), in Goa, it would be Pork Vindaloo (Pork cooked in spices with chunks of potato), in Karnataka, it would be Pooran Poli (Sweetened Bengal Gram Tortilla), in Tamil Nadu, it would be Dosa– Sambhar (Rice Flour Pancake with a lentil curry), in Kerala, it would be Thoran with rice, in the Andhra Pradesh, Hyderabadi Biryani, in Orissa, it would be Chungdi Jhola (Prawns in Spicy Gravy) and so on so forth.

Is there anything special we need to know when ordering food or when we are in a restaurant?

Be careful when you order food, usually, the food in India is spicy, and westerners have a tough time handling the chillies and heat, and end up with an upset tummy, caused by the spices which their palates are not used to.

A good rule is to ask the order taker to make sure that the food is not spicy and less chilly.

Stick to bottled drinking water of a good brand like Bisleri, Aqua Fina, Kinley, Himalaya.

Are any vaccinations needed before traveling to India?

Yes, according to this UK site, foreigners should be vaccinated with Typhoid, Hepatitis A, Diphtheria, Tuberculosis, Hepatitis B, Rabies, Meningococcal meningitis, yellow, fever, Japanese B enchephalitis and Tick-borne encephalitis. Check with your local doctor about which vaccinations you need before traveling to India.

When is the best time of year to visit India?

It is best to travel in India is from September until January or February. In the summers you will be burnt to a crisp in the lower lands and can easily get heat stroke. If you plan to only have mountain rides, then June is the ideal time of year as the high mount passes open up.

If a person could only visit one spot in India, where would you recommend?

The Taj Mahal in Agra is an apt thing to visit, if you had to limit your touristy endeavors in India to just one spot.

Do you have anything else you want to add about India and what people should do when visiting?

Lake in IndiaPlease come to India with an open mind.  We are not the land of snake charmers and do not move around on huge elephants.  We have had people who come here thinking they were going back in time to the land of snake charmers and elephants, but were quite zapped when they saw swanky cars, and glitzy malls.

Please avoid clicking snaps of beggars, semi-clad children, bullock carts, elephants, wire tangles, etc.  There have been enough snaps which portray India as a needy land which cannot take care of its people, but we never do that in your country, thus we expect you to respect our sense of pride as much.  Besides, there are much better things which would be of greater interest… like the Taj mahal, Red Fort, Humayun’s Tomb, Qutub Minar etc etc…

All you need to know about India! Manish runs SoulTrails, a great company if you want to do a motorcycle tour in India.  So I asked him some questions about SoulTrails itself.

Soul Trails – Motorcycle Tours in India

Soul Trails
What bikes can one rent at Soul Trails? Can you rent a motorcycle if you don’t want a tour?

We are in the process of establishing separate fleets of Enfield motorcycles for our rental business and the guided/escorted.  The bikes come in two variants, a 350cc and the 500cc.

Yes, the bikes would be available for rent only as well.  We are also coming up with a version of tours where you decide what you want and till how long do you want the services to continue.

What is your top favorite Soul Trails tour route?

Trans Himalayan Experience:  22 days of High Altitude Extravaganza, fulfilling the need for that adrenalin rush and the quest to be as close to Mother Nature as one can get.

What makes Soul Trails better than other motorcycle tour agencies in India?

I could give you the usual spiel of the benefits of traveling with locals, who know the ground realities of the region you would be traveling, who know the people, the local traditions and culture and would be best suited to imparting some pearls of wisdom and knowledge about the region you are touring.  But I will not do that.

You have to be the judge of all that I mentioned above.  So come, travel with us, get to know us and give us a chance of making you our friends…

Where is Soul Trails located?  Where should guests fly to?

We are based in New Delhi, and all our tours are Ex-Delhi, unless specified.

What type of riders should go on your tour? Beginners? Advanced riders? women? men? children?

Motorcycle IndiaWe have rides which cater to all genders, age groups (18 and above), and experience levels.  Children are also welcome to join their parents on the trip, but only as passengers in the support truck.

What kind of places can one expect to sleep in on a Soul Trails tour?

Our choice of accommodations are neat and clean places which have a character of their own, and usually are an experience in themselves.  But sometimes, on our high altitude trips, we would be camping under the stars.

What is the cheapest Soul Trails tour? how many days, where does it go, and what does it cost?

Our trips start at 2500 Euros* per rider and the shortest one is a 9 day ride in the lower altitudes of Himalayas which cover the regions of Corbett National park, Nainital, Mukteshwar, Almora and Ranikhet.

What is the longest Soul Trails tour? how many days, where does it go, and what does it cost?

The biggest, most exciting and dramatic of the rides we have is the Trans Himalayan Experience, which covers the entire Northern Himalayan region of Himachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir.

This is a 22 day trip, and costs 4000 Euros* per rider.

Is there anything else we should know about Soul Trails?

If you would like to know us better, get in touch with us at info@soultrails.com, or call us on +91-9811708435 or Skype us @ soultrails.

* =Please note that these prices are variable as the operating costs keep fluctuating on the ground.

Soul Trails motorcycles
After this interview I’m dying to go to India! It is planned for our World Motorcycle Tour in 2013 and surly will be an experience to remember.

Hindi Survival Phrases

Hi!  = Namastey!

yes = haan

no = nahi

please = kripya

thank you = Shukriyaa / Dhanyavaad

I don’t understand. = Mujhey samajh mein nahi aataa.

Do you speak English? = Kyaa aap angrézee mein baat kar saktey hain?