Rajasthan: The Ride

Rajasthan: The Ride
Photo Credit: Rohit Kumar

A luxury motorcycle tour of Rajasthan

Parakram Rautela
March 04 , 2016
11 Min Read

My friend Arvind is a frustrating sort of fel­low. A photographer of quality, he is also tardy. And it is not impossible for him to arrive at a 6am shoot at six in the evening. He is, in other words, like all great artists, often unable to recon­cile the world inside his head with the one outside.

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But what Arvind can do, and he has a near-magical ability to do this, is make the people around him have a good, no, a great time. Arvind has in the past also been a tour leader and by the time he has finished with one of those, he will have conquered hearts and minds.

What does any of this have to with a bunch of ex-Enfield men who have bought themselves fancy bikes—Ducati Scrambler Icons, Triumph Bonneville T100s, and Harley Davidson Iron 883s— and are looking to take largely Western tourists on “luxury motorcycles rides” around the country?

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Well, everything… but first the facts: the newly-formed company Motoziel (ziel means destination in German) will in the middle of March (details are up on their website) take eight riders willing to cough up $4,100 each (about Rs 2,80,000) on a two-week tour of Rajasthan. Other tours will follow.

Should you go, you will be given a motorcycle of your choosing (out of the three mentioned above), be expected to ride an average of 200km a day, and be bedded down each evening in luxury.

Motoziel were kind enough to invite Outlook Traveller on their maiden test run—The Rajput Trail. (The name pays homage to the “brave warriors who built the state” but it could jar in the minds of people with more evolved political sensibilities.) In keeping with Motoziel’s philosophy of smaller groups get better care, we were a small crew—five Ducati Scramblers followed by a support car.

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Never mind the exhausting detail of who was who, let me just say that there was us, and then there was the English­man—Kevin J. Lear, 57, former British Army man, who now runs the website Motorbike Adventures of Britain and a digital magazine called Motorbike Rider —who also turned out to be the star of our roadshow. He was so honest about his life, its ups and many downs, and still willing to put on a smile every morning. There was a lot that I could learn from him. As could Motoziel, but we’ll get to that too.

The Scrambler is a delightful ma­chine. Eight hundred cc, six-speed, and with the power of 43 horses, it will shoot out so fast in first gear that if you’re not hanging on, you’re liable to lose hold of your handlebars. Things calm down in third gear but only for a second or so for you look down at your dial and see you’re doing 151 kilome­tres per hour. “A hundred and fifty one kilometres per hour? That is the fastest I have ever been!”

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I will gush some more. In Jodhpur we stayed at Raas, a boutique hotel at the foot of Mehrangarh Fort that has made use of the enchanting trick of fusing old with new. The hotel is made up of three modern buildings and four old, with the oldest (the original haveli) having been built towards the end of the 18th century. The pillared and now glass-walled struc­ture that houses the reception area was dismantled before modern construction began, moved, and then reassembled where it stands today

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Outside of Udaipur, we spent two nights at serene Devigarh. An 18th-century palace, Devigarh employs an approach similar to Raas (the two are sister concerns) with the outsides hav­ing been left untouched and the insides thoroughly modernised and coated in Mediterranean white.

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The posh stopovers and the motorcy­cles are important for they are Motoziel’s USP. They allow the company to differ­entiate itself from the plethora of touring outfits that have already mushroomed in the country. Too many people today armed with an Enfield and wearied of corporate life are conducting similar tours. But according to Motoziel’s CEO, Biswaroop Banerjee, who used to look after accessories for Royal Enfield before this, his is the only company in the coun­try to offer “big bike” tours.

That and their luxury quotient are what allow them to charge as much as they are doing. In comparison, for their Himalayan Odyssey last year—Delhi to Leh via the Spiti Valley and back over two weeks—Royal Enfield charged their patrons, who brought their own bikes, `40,000 each.

The Odyssey, true to its name, was eventful. When I did it in 2012, I fell off my motorcycle twice and broke a toe. Despite the damage, I am grateful for the experience, for it taught me most of what I know about motorcycling.

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But, and this was the upsetting part, our lead rider back then was of very little help. With little understanding of the term leadership, he filled my head with dark and ugly thoughts. And so finally I refused to ride behind him, for that is not the condition you want your head to be in when you’re astride a motorcycle. 

Which is why I was telling you about Arvind. So much is dependent on the tour leader you find yourself yoked to. And when he is escorting foreigners, as Motoziel would like to, he isn’t there just to get you from point A to B—he is an ambassador of his country. He also has to tell you about the places in between and their history. How did I come to that con­clusion? Well, obviously I went to my go-to man Kevin, partook of his pot of tea, and asked for an assessment of The Rajput Trail.

“What have I learnt about this country on this trip?” asked Kevin. “The only time I got to learn something about this country was when my stom­ach was upset and I was riding in the support car.” Digvijay Singh Bhati, lo­cal gentleman, raconteur, and back-up rider on this trip had been his co-pas­senger while he was unwell. Affable, Digvijay had kept Kevin entertained.
“People will come to do what they cannot back home,” added Kevin, and then proceeded to say that big bikes, luxury hotels, better roads than in India, and people who follow the rules of the road, can all be found back home in the West. Here instead are the things that excited Kevin. “The roadside cafés that we stopped at ev­ery day for lunch.” By which he meant the dhabas.

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After leaving Devigarh we had rid­den to Nimaj, staying the night at the Nimaj Palace, a large haveli that has been turned into a family-run hotel. Spoiled by Devigarh, I had thought it did not compare and when Biswa­roop asked me whether it qualified as luxury, I politely said no.

As for the village walk through Nimaj that evening, I didn’t think twice about turning it down. I’ve seen more than enough villages, I said to myself. What could I possibly see that is new here?

Obviously that was not the case with Kevin and I think it took him some time to wrap his head around the idea that nine hundred people sourced their water from one tube well. As for the potter who fashioned pots on his wheel by the light of an iPhone, Kevin thought that made “all of us in the West look like idiots”. Even his take on Nimaj Palace was different from mine. “You could tell you were in somebody’s home. The chicken had flavour. I wouldn’t have seen something like that if I were on my own.”

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It was another Englishman who said the East and the West never shall meet and whatever we might think of him today—Kipling is also respon­sible for that awful coinage, ‘the white man’s burden’—sitting with Kevin in his room on the outskirts of Jaipur, for one small, disturbing minute I thought I understood where those words might have sprung from.

You see I had been so busy luxuriat­ing at the spa at Devigarh and whip­ping my motorcycle into going faster, that I had completely overlooked the fact that the foreign tourist might be looking for very different things from this trip.

A fancy bike and a posh hotel might do the trick for somebody with an un­derstanding of India, but will they be good enough for the foreign traveller?

And that, of course, is the challenge before Motoziel. They have bought their big bikes, they should have little trouble booking nice hotels, all they have to worry about now is what they are going to teach their customers about this vast country. And that might be the interesting part.

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TOURS AND COSTS: The Gurgaon-based Motoziel aims to provide what it calls ‘360-degree motorcycling solutions’. Broken down, that means they’re offering luxury and adventure tours to some of India’s motorcycling hotspots— Rajasthan and Leh being their first two longer rides—and also to Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet.

THE RAJPUT TRAIL: The Rajput Trail will take place between March 13 and 26. The motorcycles on offer are the Ducati, the Harley, and the Triumph. Tour cost: $4,100.

OTHER RIDES: Get Leh’d will take place between July 20 and August 2, with customers allowed a choice between the Ducati Icon for $4,899 and the Enfield Classic for a thousand dollars less.

Excursions to Nepal, Bhutan, and Tibet will take place in April, May, and June, respectively. The ride to Lo Manthang, Nepal is the toughest Motoziel offers and expects riders to be ‘highly experienced’. Motorcycle choices will include the Honda CRF 250L ($4,300) and the Enfield Classic ($3,400). Bhutan will cost you $4,499 on the Ducati and $3,099 on the Enfield Classic. And Tibet will cost you $4,999, with the only motorcycle on offer being the Enfield.

CUSTOM TOURS: Custom tours can also be arranged. Call Motoziel on 9810968277 or email them at info@motoziel.com. Their website is motoziel.com. The company is also in the process of setting up a store in Gurgaon, where they will stock motorcycle clothing and accessories. And, finally, their Ducatis, Harleys, and Triumphs can also be rented out for Rs 5,500 a day.


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