Rides of a Lifetime: India’s Top Bike Routes

Picturesque drives through the country.  
Bike Mumbai Goa coast
The ride from Mumbai to Goa on the coastal highway allows for some stunning views. Photo: Debabrata Sarkar

Jaipur-Sam Dunes

Route details: Jaipur – Jhunjhunu – Bikaner – Phalodi – Jaisalmer – Sam.

Approx. 705km; 4 days driving time.

Biker Rajasthan India

When you ride through Rajasthan, skip the popular routes and explore the state’s back roads instead. Photo: Debabrata Sarkar

Think of Rajasthan and an image of broad, well-surfaced roads will spring to mind. But get off the popular routes and explore some of the back roads through the state, and you will find an incredible wealth of biking routes which will take you through the heart of the desert with roads that are just wide enough for a couple of bikes to ride alongside.

Bike trail sand

This route may be a little tricky, but the best part is that falling on sand doesn’t really hurt. Photo: Debabrata Sarkar

What doesn’t change however, is the general arrow-straight alignment of most roads. There are very few elevation changes, but there’s always a blind crest with a sharp corner waiting to catch you out.

It becomes even more interesting thanks to the ever-shifting sand dunes, which often blow across the tarmac in their endeavour to keep moving. While most of these leave a thin trail of sand, there are some which can be deceptively deep. Be prepared for some major wiggles and, on an odd chance, fall off as well. On the upside, falling on sand doesn’t really hurt.

As you trace border roads heading to the Sam dunes, be sure to make the trip to Longewala. The sight of brave soldiers manning their posts is humbling as is the plaque that details the war of 1971 when Pakistani soldiers decided to grab a fistful of Indian soil.

There are a few camps that you can choose to stay over at along the way in the desert and there are some old havelis as well. In a nutshell, riding through Rajasthan offers a little bit of everything if you are willing to explore, and most of all, you cannot imagine a better sunset than one that drowns in the dunes.

Pro tip: Apart from Bikaner, there aren’t any big towns along the way until you arrive at Jaisalmer. You will need to carry essentials and research your overnight halts well. Or you could carry a tent.

 

Mumbai-Goa

Route details: Coastal highway, MSH 4. Mumbai – Murud – Guhaghar – Ratnagiri – Tarkarli – Arambol.

Approx. 850km; 3 days driving time.

Coastal Maharashtra

A route along the Konkan Coast is perfect for those drawn to the sea. Photo: Debabrata Sarkar

It’s possibly the most popular route for holidaymakers, and a guaranteed hit with Goa as the destination. Keep a couple of days in hand to explore the route through coastal Maharashtra. It’s a slightly difficult road to follow with intermittent cellphone signal knocking off Google maps, few legible road signs, with even fewer people to get directions from.

If you haven’t guessed already, it is an exceptional road to spend a couple of days on with very little traffic, and scenery that will leave you gaping at every corner. It’s a fair bit longer than the usual national highway jaunt to Goa and involves a few ferry connections along the way. The combination of small hills and golden beaches, with a healthy dose of creeks tearing into the coastline will give you plenty of opportunities to stop and stare and take photos. And if you aren’t drawn to the sea, just keep your head turned the other way with an eye on the black rock plateaus and the endlessly swaying golden grass. The surface is fairly good, but there are sections where the going gets pretty rough.

Make sure you figure out where you would like to spend your nights – Guhagar on day one, and Tarkarli on day two are good options – because hotels are infrequent and you don’t want to ride at night as the ferries stop working and you will miss out on all the incredible scenery.

Pro tip: Make a pit stop at Guhaghar and Tarkarli. Great Malvani food and a gentle sea breeze is always close at hand.

Manali-Leh

Route details: NH 3. Manali – Jispa – Sarchu – Leh.

Approx. 475km; 4 days driving time. 

Manali Leh Road Trip

The Manali-Leh route is on every biker’s to-do list. Photo: Debabrata Sarkar

You can’t leave this one out of any list of road trips. The meek prefer to travel in a car and the rest on two-wheelers. Being exposed to the elements, the exhaustion and the views on a motorcycle through the Manali – Leh highway is an epic experience on all counts. The fact that Manali – and gradually, even Leh – are becoming absolutely commercial, touristy nightmares makes you cherish this highway all the more.

Road conditions have improved a great deal which makes it easier for motorcyclists. The old-timers, however, feel that this has eroded some of the charm of the ride, which had a lot more dirt, gravel and unpaved sections. It used to be a test of skill and stamina, especially when you were trying to get a 200kg Bullet across soft sand at 14,000ft. The mountains, however, with their many wind-carved minarets stand, just as they did many years ago, and simply being in their midst is a special feeling. Especially when you hit the More Plains, a perfectly flat plateau flanked by mountains on either side, with an arrow-straight road to take you through the ever-changing colours that surround you. And, if you are lucky, ride alongside a herd of kiyang, or wild ass, as these shy animals disappear until they are small dots in the mountainside.

There is very limited accommodation once you get past the tiny hamlet of Jispa at a place called Sarchu. If you want a completely outdoor experience, you better be a seasoned camper because temperatures at night drop close to zero even at the height of summer, and strong winds can blow your tent away with no help in sight. The safer bet is to stop at the warm, welcoming dhabas en route where you can have a warm meal and a cosy bed to sleep in.

Pro tip: There are no petrol pumps after Tandi until Leh. It’s well-marked and you have to tank up and carry some reserve for the ride.

Mysore-Valparai

Route details: Mysore – Bandipur – Ooty – Coimbatore – Pollachi – Valparai.

Approx. 345km; 3 days driving time.

Road Trip

Be careful about traffic coming downhill on this route because everyone tends to cut corners as they make a quick descent. Photo: Debabrata Sarkar

Heading from Mysore to Ooty is quite common, but not many exit Mysore via the Chamunda hills for Ooty via Masinagudi. The incredible ride through Bandipur and Mudumalai is absolutely breathtaking with mobs of deer grazing not too far from the road, monkeys creating the usual chaos and, if you are lucky, a few elephants ambling in the forest. The really lucky ones spot leopards hanging off tree branches. You need to watch your speed through the forest boundaries, but once you are on the other side, turn left towards Ooty.

The road is narrow and gives you a spectacular view of the Nilgiris before climbing rapidly through a series of 36 hairpin bends to get to the top of the hill. You need to be careful about traffic coming downhill because everyone tends to cut corners as they make a quick descent.

Elephant Western Ghats

Riding through Bandipur and Mudumalai, you may pass by elephants ambling through the forest. Photo: Debabrata Sarkar

Tea plantation Nilgiri

Ride through the Nilgiris many tea estates on this route. Photo: Debabrata Sarkar

 

Once you are past Ooty, turn left toward Kotagiri instead of heading straight towards Coonoor. It’s slightly longer, but traffic is lighter and you can enjoy the ride down till Mettupalayam. You have to cross the congested town of Coimbatore, or take a rather long detour to get to Pollachi and carry on towards the lesser known tea estates of Valparai. The road snakes up through marathon 40 hair pin bends before reaching Valparai. Needless to say, the views are stupendous and there are large tracts of forest and tea estates for a truly memorable ride.

Pro tip: There are some beautiful homestays around these hill stations. Check in at Jungle Hut, Bokkapuram, Masinagudi.

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    Debabrata Sarkar is happy being on the road and loved getting out on two wheels make for the best trips. Exploring roads less travelled and places less visited is the way he likes to do it.

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