19th Oct., 2013 will always be a fond memory for me. This is the day when I went out on my first solo overnight trip with my sweetheart. She allowed me this liberty only after we had dated for almost a year’s time and I have still not figured her out completely. Well, after all, she is not just another girl. She is my Royal Enfield Std 350CC Bullet and sometimes I wonder whether I possess her or she owns me!
I had decided upon Agra as the destination, where I last went many years back as a kid trussed up amidst the luggage in the backseat of my parents’ car. The day dawned bright and clear with a pleasant cool breeze. Perfect conditions for motorcycling! Although, I woke up pretty late, I had a song in my heart as I was not very concerned about saving time for sightseeing. The ride meant more to me. I got ready and fixed up the simple bachelor’s breakfast of Bread & Omelettes. By way of baggage, I just emptied out my laptop bag and stuffed it with a single change of clothes and my toothbrush.
Now for the Ride!
It was 10:30 a.m. by the time I straddled my ‘Black Beauty’. She purred to life with just one light kick and it seemed she was anticipating this trip more than me. Agra is roughly 200 km from Gurgaon. I took the Gurgaon-Sohna-Palwal-Mathura-Agra route. After crossing Sohna, which is roughly 20 km from Gurgaon, traffic started thinning out and I could maintain constant speeds of 70-80 km/h. There were just a few bad stretches and the condition of roads wonderfully improved after Palwal. In fact, for the first time, I dared to push her beyond speeds of 100km/hr for 4-5 km at a stretch. No, I am not a speed devil. Indian Railways is the culprit. After all, how can one blame me when a train on the tracks adjacent to the road dared to challenge my ‘Bull’ by trying to whizz faster than me?
The First Halt
As most of my fellow ixigems (denizens of ixigo) will bear testimony to the fact that I am no athlete, I know that non stop long riding is somewhat beyond my capabilities. So, I had decided to split my journey into stretches of 50 km. I took my first halt at a Dhaba on the outskirts of Palwal. Surprisingly, I was not at all tired but still stopped for a cup of tea and a couple of smokes.
The Next Leg
After my break at the Dhaba in Palwal, I was raring to go again and only stopped next when I came across a strange old pillar-like monument on the side of the road. There was a board in front of the pillar, which read heritage monument and described it as ‘Kos Minar’. On asking a couple of friendly local guys about its significance, I learnt that such minars (pillars) were erected in the old days, when there were no proper roads. These minars served as landmarks to guide travellers.
Next Halt – a tryst with Bears
Sur Sarovar Bird Sanctuary! Never heard of this name? Well, so hadn’t I and in fact before hearing, I actually saw this place. Hardly 12 km before Agra, there was a sign board to the left of the road with the words ‘Sur Sarovar Bird Sanctuary’ scrawled across it. Manning the entrance of the forest where a couple of middle aged gentlemen. I was supercharged with my ride and was in the mood for a chat. I offered them cigarettes and asked about the sanctuary. They were most friendly and helpful. They also told me that there is a bear enclosure within the sanctuary. After buying tickets, I moved into refreshing wooded terrain and reached the banks of Keetham Lake. There are no birds to be seen at this time of the year. However, there are pedal boating facilities on the placid lake.
From here, I moved onto the area of the bears, which is kept under lock and key. A guard unlocked the gate and accompanied me. The good part is that the bears are not confined to cages here. There is a lovely walking trail surrounded by electrified fences to keep some of the more inquisitive bears at bay. I learnt from the guard that the bears here have been rescued from bear handlers and now they are living a peaceful life complete with medical care and are free to lounge about in the forest. Sanctuary means ‘place of refuge’ and the word seemed to come alive here. In fact, I felt that the lifestyle of the bears here could be compared to battle scarred old men who have earned their due and are living comfortable lives in countryside farmhouses. By now, I had roamed inside the sanctuary for almost 2 hours. It was getting late and I quickly wolfed down some snacks at the canteen inside the sanctuary and was on my way again.
The Last Leg
The last 10 – 20 km were a dampener! After feasting my eyes on verdant farmlands and soothing jungles for the last few hours, the bustling city of Agra proved to be somewhat of a letdown. Besides, the sun looked ready for its nightly slumber and I had not done any sightseeing in Agra as yet. Well, I somehow managed to reach Mehtab Bagh just before dusk and was able to click a few isolated pictures of the Taj Mahal before it got really dark. However, the sad part was that Mehtab Bagh had closed down by then and I had to snap pictures from outside the ‘Bagh’.
By now, it got really dark and I had the arduous task of hotel hunting before me. So, I wearily trudged towards my ‘Bull’ parked lazily outside Mehtab Bagh. A group of young cops were standing near my sweetheart and I thought they would probably ask for documents. However, to my pleasant surprise they were discussing about my Bull and seemed to be pretty perplexed by the fact that I had ridden all the way from Gurgaon.
The adventure was far from over as the night ahead and part of the return trip next day had their own set of surprises in store for me. But, that’s another story. Will be back soon!
Pinak Shome is an avid traveller and a member of the enthusiastic ixigo fraternity.