How to do India, by Sam Manicom

How to do India

by Sam Manicom


The Bead man

So you've done it. You are going to live that dream of motorcycling India. Fantastic decision! The adventure begins, but where do you start?

There are two main schools of thought. The first is, just buy your bike, load up your credit card and go. 'What will be, will be', and thinking on your feet can be one of the most exhilarating things to do in life - especially when you are travelling into lands unknown. So what is wrong with the 'just go for it' school of thought? You run a major risk of treading size twelve bike boots across people who ordinarily would welcome you, and you'll miss so much it's almost not worth going. India is a country that should be prepared for. Though perhaps the complete unknown is what gives you the buzz!

The second thought process is far more complicated and contains a large dose of overkill. Yes, it's the 'plan for absolutely everything' method. There's a gadget for each situation that you'll have to solve and most salesmen will be happy providing you with them. There's centuries of history to try to understand, and in-depth knowledge of climate and geography can make you safer and your trip more interesting. Surely knowing exactly what is happening with the political situation makes sense and a solid understanding of customs and culture has to be important. The list of must haves and must knows is daunting when looked at like this � particularly for a continent like India. So does it make sense to do it this way?

I don't think so, you'll only find yourself put off the whole idea by the never-ending soggy bog of information, or you'll turn into some sort of mentally overloaded travel geek. But then again, perhaps this style is your individual bag.

There must be a middle way and there is. It's tried and tested with the keys being, do your homework, know that you can't plan for everything and go forth to enjoy this land of challenge, adventure and full on sensual stimulation. So, what should you do to strike the happy balance? It helps if you know where to look for the information you ought to have.

In these days of the net that is an amazingly easy thing to do. Guidebooks can make life easy by, in one hit, letting you know of the main things to see and do, plus the things to watch out for. Probably the best is from Lonely Planets. www.lonelyplanet.com The other main guide books are Rough Guide to India and the Footprint Guide.

But perhaps we should really start off with a key point. What is the best bike? I have news for you. There probably isn't a best bike for this trip. It all depends on what you personally want out of your trip. Now isn't that one of the major bonuses of independent travel? You can tailor your whole adventure, just to you. Where do you want to go, two up or one up, and how much time do you have? The amount of loot you have to hand also plays a fairly major role in your choice of wheels.

I know of people who have done this epic journey on Honda 80's and Vespa scooters, right the way through to the fabulous BMW GS's. There isn't actually any real off road you have to do, so that leaves the field of choice wide open to you. If you were to pin me to the wall for a first choice then I would have to say a bike in the 500cc to 700cc range. You can travel at a fair rate if you need to from time to time, the bike will comfortably carry a fair bit of kit and as a rule, bikes in this range aren't too heavy. That can be a real bonus when you are ducking and diving through the inevitably monstrous traffic of cities. Being weight conscious will also help keep your freight costs down, if your plans include shipping or flying your bike anywhere.

Put the cost of your bike into the equation too. You will need a 'Carnet de Passage' which you organise via the RAC www.rac.co.uk

ed. comment: RAC in the UK, CAA in Canada/USA, Adac.de in Germany, and other national motoring organisations in the rest of the world. Links ot many are on the links page.

This is a book of tear out pages that enables you to import your bike into India, and other countries along the way, on a temporary basis. The cost of the carnet to you is based on the value of your bike. The cheaper your wheels the better - please do some reading between the lines at this point. Take a seat before you get the news about how much a carnet for travel in India is going to cost you! I will say no more. There are lots of scams around with dodgy carnets, and they look to be great value. My advice is don't touch them. The authorities are wise to them and you can easily end up in jail.

ed. comment: For more on carnets, see the Paperwork and Carnet page.

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Once you have your bike chosen, bought and checked over to make sure it is in really good working order, what are you going to carry your kit on? To answer that I have to make the comment that most people setting off on an adventure like this inevitably carry too much. I know, I did it too! It made me curse and sweat and buying all the kit cost me so much that I could probably have had an extra couple of months on the road if I'd saved my dosh. Food for thought?

What you are going to carry your kit in and on is a far simpler thing to decide when you have been strict with yourself and decided to carry minimal clobber. There are sticky fingers on this route, after all you are travelling through some of the poorest parts of the world, and you will be a beacon of wealth to many. So, hard case lockable luggage makes sense. Personally I prefer aluminium boxes because I can either lock them firmly to my bike or strip them off and lock them to the bed frame in my hotel room.

This all probably sounds bleak but the simple point is that theft isn't normally a major problem. However, not everyone is as honest as they could be and if your leave tempting items unguarded then they are at risk. Over the many months I have spent in India I have only ever had one thing stolen and that was as a result of my own carelessness. You will be more at risk in major cities and there are all sorts of scams. If you do your homework you are very unlikely to fall foul of any of them, but you may see them going on and frankly they can be ingenious. Sadly, you are probably more at risk from your fellow travellers.

Your boxes need to be hung on solid racks that will take a bashing. They need that as bash them you will - either by falling off, by belting something or from the major vibration that Indian roads are famous for. But don't have the racks too solid or fancy as that equals weight, and as they'll probably need to be welded along the way – simple efficiency is best. Metal Mule http://www.metalmule.com are British manufacturers of 'ally' boxes and having taken a good hard look at the kit all the manufacturers offer, I think that these are the best available at this time.

Ed. comment: Many more pannier manufacturers on the Links pages.

One of the keys to overland bike loading is to keep your luggage between the wheels and low down, where at all possible. This can make a major difference with bike handling, whatever the conditions.

What to carry then? First of all, you don't need a tent. In fact, I'd carry one on the trail east across Europe because of the accommodation costs you can save, but I'd post it back before leaving Turkey or store it to pick up for the return journey. Mark Manley, a long time overlanding friend, pointed out that the other option is to take a tent that's at the end of its life and bin it or give it away before you set off into Iran. Either way, that's 2-3 kilo's of weight saved and a shed load of bulk that will always be a chore to deal with in countries that are well blessed with an enormous assortment of budget priced hotels.

Do take a decent 3 - 4 season sleeping bag. There's a lot of altitude in India and on the way, and budget hotels don't always have the cleanest of sheets even if they do provide them. A back up to this is either a cotton or silk bag liner for hotter nights. These will also help keep the bugs off you. Mossies can be voracious feeders and so can bed bugs! A sleeping mat can be a good idea but I wouldn't bother. Weight, bulk and costs again.

A petrol stove is a great idea. Boiling your water can keep you healthy and anyway, where would we be without our cuppa's. Whether to drink the tap water is an issue that has amazingly conflicting opinions. Some people drink untreated water everywhere and have no problems at all. From time to time I have drunk tap water in the cities and had no problems at all, but I have always steered clear of tap water in smaller villages. The only time I drank water from a street vendor, in desperation I must explain, I was down with the most violent dose of dysentery I have ever had, within hours. If you buy bottled water, make sure the cap is properly sealed.

Your own stove also gives you the option to sample the strange looking delights of the local markets. Even in a land of incredibly cheap food you can save money by cooking for yourself and some nights you are just too knackered to go out on a hunt for a reasonable looking restaurant. A sideways tip is, when you get to India look out for a mini immersion heater. They are mug size and you can use them in your hotel rooms to boil your water. We used ours to cook pasta and vegetables too. India by the way is a fantastic place to buy locally made stainless steel pots and pans – they cost buttons and are well made.

Probably the biggest problem you'll find with sourcing your kit is actually deciding what is up to the job and what is good value. The high street camping shops, at a price, will somewhere have the right kit tucked away, or will be able to get it for you. But you'll more often than not be dealing with staff who have no idea of the concept of travelling by motorcycle and that knowledge can be vital. You can save yourself a load of chasing around by getting in touch with the experts and that in the UK would be Travel-Dri Plus. www.traveldri-plus.co.uk

I won't rattle on about bike kit, but I will say make sure it's decent stuff with good removable linings and plenty of air vents. And please do wear it. In baking heat it's the biggest temptation not to bother, though you'll dehydrate far slower with a good thick layer of kit on. Perhaps all I should say is that, as a rule Indian hospitals can be 'awesome' establishments. If you have the choice you will usually find that Christian run hospitals are the safer bet. Normally a mini medical kit including antiseptic, antihistamine, deet and some immodium, is all you need to carry. You can get most things you'll need along the way. Do check where things have been on display – the wrong storage temp can make a difference, and check the use by dates! In the UK the St Pancras Hospital for Tropical diseases has a clinic that specialises in giving you pre trip advice and they are well worth touching base with, if only for peace of mind. http://www.thehtd.org/content/travel.asp. You are not required to have any form of inoculation to enter India though if you are travelling across from Africa, for example, you will need a Yellow fever certificate.

What you should take is the best travel insurance you can find. It's hopefully not going to be worth the money but if you have a disaster a good policy can make a massive difference – life and death sometimes! Make sure the policy specifically covers you for bike riding. In the UK Endsleigh www.endsleigh.co.uk and STA www.statravel.co.uk are the best I have come across.

Clothing is an area that you can really cut down. Who needs the bulk? You'll wear the same few things anyway and if you need something you haven't got then you are travelling through one of the cheapest clothing areas in the world. I would take cotton trousers, a T shirt, a long sleeve shirt, a fleece, 3 pairs of 100% cotton socks and 3 pairs of cotton undies. Girls should wear baggy long sleeve tops and long baggy trousers or long loose fitting skirts. In addition to your bike boots it is worth taking some flip-flops or waterproof sandals of some sort. Your feet will really enjoy the opportunity to breathe and you do need something to wear in the showers. Foot lurgies are amazingly easy to pick up.

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Body space is an issue that we all take for granted in the western world. There are distances that we are comfortable keeping between us and we keep those distances quite automatically under normal circumstances. There are a lot of people in India and the culture is very different regarding space. People will get uncomfortably close to you in all circumstances, but if you know it is going to happen it's something that most people can get used to. Getting stared at is something else to get used to. When I've had enough I hide behind dark glasses. Sadly, with the changes in sexual freedom in India women do get hassled more nowadays. My partner Birgit was enthusiastically groped once, but she has a solid left hook and that did the trick! Normally a firm, "Get your hands off", or just a rapid exit will be enough, but there are times...

One of the most quoted sayings about India is, 'You either love it or hate it.' It doesn't matter who you are and how well you deal with the almost unique set of pressures India places on you, at some time you will almost certainly feel a rush of hatred for the place. The people I've met who hated it the most were easy to put into a category. They were those who were trying to do too much too quickly. It's a culture and temperature shock. Just about everything is different, including how long it takes to get something done. The happiest people were those who had allowed a chunk of settling in time before they set off to explore. Unsurprisingly the 'too much too soon' types were the most likely to suffer from the very debilitating and potentially dangerous sunstroke – you can give yourself brain damage and even die. The symptoms are headaches, dizziness, nausea, muscle aches or cramps, a temperature and quite often vomiting too. Not the sort of distractions you want to be dealing with either on or off your bike.

Lifting the mood and changing direction, it's well worth taking two cameras if you are into photography - India is a land of constant photo opportunity. I always take an SLR with wide angle and an 80-200 zoom, and pocket size job for those instant shots. Digital works well if you set up a way to download your shots and store them in an online account. There are plenty of internet cafes around. Burning your shots onto CD can turn into a disaster as dust and vibration can do really nasty things to your disc. Don't forget to take a couple of spare batteries with you as they can be hard to find. There are plenty of ordinary film developers around but you have to be very cautious. Check out other travellers prints to find someone good.

Take a torch (flashlight) with you as many places, both off the beaten track and on, don't have electricity, and power cuts happen. AA batteries are relatively easy to find. It's also worth taking a decent size padlock as many budget hotel rooms have padlocks that a 3 year old could open. If you wear specs take your prescription. Even if you don't have to use it, India makes really good glasses and designer frames are incredibly cheap.

GPS? I wouldn't bother. Good maps, and a compass if that makes you feel safer, are all you need. Nelles Verlag maps are by far the best for detail but you'll need to carry several to cover the whole continent. There is always someone to ask the way and that's a major part of what travel is all about isn't it? Getting to meet the locals I mean. Having said that, in India you need to ask at least 5 people for a direction as the locals are so keen to help you that even if they don't know the way they will point you in the 'right' direction just so as not to let you down. Oh and don't bother with, 'Is this the way to…?' That's very likely to get you a head waggle and an, 'Oh yes indeed Mister', which inevitably sends you off on an unexpected adventure – the wrong way! 'Which is the way to…?' will be much more likely to get a real answer. Still, sometimes 'wrong way' directions can be some of the best and most interesting times on the road – but potentially very frustrating! Dealing with the traffic is one of the major adventures. Busses are king, then come the trucks, the taxis, the vans, the cars and you – in that pecking order! The most recent statistic I could find states that there are roughly 35,000 road deaths a year. It's important to plan biking days very carefully with distance in mind. A 250 kilometre day is a long one in much of India – tiredness as in any country makes you more prone to having an accident. It's also the case that if you set too long riding days as your target you can easily forget the old travellers rule that getting there is half the fun. Ride as much as possible in the cooler parts of the day and never ride at night unless you absolutely have to.

Should you carry extra tyres? I think not. Leastways, not further than Turkey. A good plan is to set off with whatever you have on your bike at the time – so long as they are legal that is. Carry a good brand of enduro's such as Avon Gripsters, and then change tyres before heading across into Iran. A lot depends of course on how long you are going to be away, and what sort of riding you are going to be doing. Lady Luck has an influence too. The last time I was in India, coming from the east, I had a spare front tyre and it was driving me nuts. Strap it on, strap it off. So I binned the used tyre with just 12,000 miles on it – I'd normally get 18,000 at lower speeds. It felt like sacrilege but at last I'd saved myself the irritating hassles involved with carrying the spare. Two weeks later I rode over a four-inch nail that was hidden in some roadside rubbish. I wouldn't normally ride across rubbish but a darting child made the decision for me! All of a sudden I had a ripped front tyre and no spare. Wry frustrated grins all round, but that's ok. It's all part of the adventure of the road and anyway, there's always courier companies like DHL if you can't source some sort of tyre locally. On this occasion I was lucky and found a 21" Bridgestone that was meant for a 250 trail bike not my R80GS, but I reckoned that at the speeds I was going it would be ok. It turned out to be a very nice tyre and it stayed on the bike until I eventually hit the autobahns in Germany.

Courier companies also can solve your other spare part questions. I travel with minimal spares, having learned that nowadays bikes are just so well made that things don't wear out or break in a hurry. If you are on a Vespa then you don't have any part worries at all as these scooters are all over the place. That means you'll find parts and the expertise to put them right. Most bikes aren't so easy though, but the solution to this problem is as follows. Carry the spare electrical parts that your local trusted dealer says you really should have and rely on the courier company to bring out anything else you need. If you are canny then you will have built up a very good relationship with your local dealer and he will send parts out for you. Email works wonders with this. Do watch out for local mechanics, as frequently the qualification is simply ownership of a screwdriver and a bunch of enthusiasm. The other key tip here is make sure that your dealer has good photocopies of your carnet and that when you make your order he knows which page you are on. These days you are sometimes lucky enough to find your self near an Internet café that has scanning equipment and you can email your dealer a copy of your current page with rubber entry stamps showing clearly. If your dealer lets DHL, or whoever, have this they can get your parts in without you having to pay import duties and taxes. That can be a massive saving. As insurance, it's worth your while having 'second hand' parts sent out, just in case there is a problem. The other beauty of doing this all is that the courier company is quicker than the post, more reliable and you won't have to chase around customs etc getting the parts processed. The courier company will do that for you which means that you can use your time for adventuring on the local transport, or for sitting around in the shade drinking Kingfisher beer.

Will you need bike insurance? How do you get it? Yes you do need it though sometimes it's hardly worth the paper it's written on. On the way across the EU your usual insurance (UK insurance usually gives you green card cover for much of Europe, but DO check, as some policies do NOT. Non UK citizens can source Greeen card cover from several places - see the links page and search for insurnace or green card) should cover you. All you need to do is to check out how far. Carry a good colour photocopy of your policy and certificate. You may hit a border where it will no longer be of value but when that is the case you'll be able to set yourself up with insurance at the border. India is not so easy though and you'll probably find yourself breaking the law by not having it for the first days. You only have to have third party and that costs peanuts. The New India Insurance Company are worth contacting to sort insurance out before you go. If you are unlucky enough to have an accident you will be very glad to have your policy as, though the cover isn't going to be worth much, the fact that you have followed the rules has real value.

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How are you going to get to India? The overland route via Eastern Europe, Turkey, Iran and Pakistan is the generally chosen trail. Fantastic, and you can spend months rolling your way through some of the most fascinating places in the world. School history and geography lessons come alive by following a meandering way across these countries. Be warned though, at this time Iran and Pakistan are not making life easy with regards to visas for overlanders. That can change, and don't believe all the scare stories – listen to them but keep them in perspective.

You could ship your bike into Mumbai (Bombay) or Chenai (Madras). Phew, deciding to do that is the decision to set off on a real voyage of discovery. You will find yourself thrown straight into a monstrous morass of bureaucracy and most times it will try your patience to the limits. If you are generally a calm person who relates well to people and completely different systems then you can actually have fun and the insight into India is one that will explain a multitude of other things within the country. I would use an agent to help you through, unless you have infinite patience and time. Oh and, if you like the idea of having grey hair, have loads of time and like pain, then Calcutta is the port for you.

If you aren't after this sort of adventure then don't mess with shipping – fly! It may well cost you a little more to fly but the time and baksheesh it will save you more than makes up for the additional cost, though even this method of getting your bike in can still be a challenge. You can circumvent flying into India by flying into Nepal. It's like a walk in the park in comparison. The Bangkok - Kathmandu route is the one that many people take as they move on eastwards from India, or are heading in from the west.

Another option of course is to buy an Enfield India to cruise around on. With that choice you are cutting out all the expense involved with shipping but you are opening up a new adventure – if no more than the point that the gears are on the wrong side to what you are probably used to. Enfield 's are still manufactured in India and are available in 350cc and 500cc models - they hardly differ from the 1958 UK models. They are very outdated but they are tough and there are mechanics all over the place if you get stuck. Spares are incredibly cheap. Before you set your heart on an Enfield though, do take a look at some of the Japanese style bikes that are produced under license in India. Bajaj are a well known make, as are the delightfully named Hero Hondas. I've not ridden one myself but I am told that they can be rather more reliable than an Enfield, though they are all of smaller cc. It's a really good idea to take your own helmet out. Indian brand lids are not well made and I think that as they seem to always fit so badly, Indians must have different shaped heads to Europeans!

Of course, if you can't be bothered with the hassle of any of those options or don't have much time then log on to the web and hunt out the tour companies that do guided tours - most of which are on Enfields. (ed. comment: you're probably getting used to this - see the Links page for Tour Companies!) Some of the companies inevitably are better than others so do look for client feedback and the like. Having said that, I rarely get comments of a really negative kind about any of them. Enduro India is one company that constantly get great feedback, and they have a very interesting slant. Check them out at www.enduroindia.com. Another well recommended firm is Blazing Trails www.blazingtrailstours.com.

So, how much should your daily budget be for your trip? I often think that that depends on how much beer you want to drink! Of course its also very much affected by what standard of hotel you intend to stay in, what level of restaurant you want to eat in, how many game parks you want to go into, how many miles you are planning for each day and so on. If you budget an average of £15 a day all in you'll be living well.

Is there a best time of year to go? This is such a hard question to answer. The country is massive, covers so many latitudes, is affected so much by coastal currents and altitude that it's almost an impossible question. The point is that if you have done some homework then for example, you can make sure you aren't in the hottest places, when they are at their most exhausting – see the fact box. The monsoon is well worth steering clear of. It's no fun riding a bike on dodgy roads, in adventurous traffic when you can't see where you are going – or what is about to hit you!

How long should you ideally go for? If you can manage it, take speedy run over about six weeks to get from central Europe to India. The biggest problem with visas for India is that they are valid from the time of issue, so the clock is ticking. If you have managed to get a six month multiple entry visa then you can scoot up into Nepal or across into Bangladesh for a taste of their offerings, and then make it back into India without a problem. There is just so much to explore and if you can do it at an easy pace then travelling in India can be a ball. On the way back to Europe you can take things easier and explore more of the countries you zipped through. A motorcycle adventure in India is a dream worth making a reality, and the return journey is the icing on the cake.

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Fact Box – Visas

You will need a visa http://www.india-visa.com/uk-info.htm. Don't plan to try to pick one up in one of the Indian Embassy's along the way out. You are required to obtain your visa in your home country.

You will need at least 6 months of validity on your passport and two passport photos.

Postal processing time is a minimum of 15 working days. Applications on the day can take just hours. The other option is to use an agency. This can double to cost of the visa but can offset well against the costs of getting into London from wherever you are. Agents will normally process your application within 24 hours.

Payment is only by postal order, bankers draft or cash if the application is made in person.

It is against the law to be in India without your passport but I have heard of people who have extended their visas by couriering them back to the UK to be dealt with. I don't think that this is a risk that should be taken lightly and there are many pitfalls. In cases of a real and evidenced emergency it is possible to extend even a six-month visa, but only by 14 days.

Fact Box – India High Commission

India House
Aldwych, London WC2B 4NA
0207 8368484 Fx 0207 8364331

Website www.hcilondon.net

Fact Box – Visas Other

You don't need a visa for Turkey but you do for both Iran, http://www.iran-embassy.org.uk and Pakistan http://pakistan.embassyhomepage.com.

For Iranian visas you could try the well-known and efficient www.key2persia.com. This is an agency in Shiraz. You send them your details and itinerary and normally within two months they can organise a one-month visa for you. At time of writing the cost for this service is $34, which you pay to the agency when you arrive in Iran – it's a trust thing!

The website for Nepal is www.nepembassy.org.uk

Fact Box – Main Shipping Ports

Mumbai (Bombay) – can be relatively fast but allow a month to clear your bike from Customs

Chennai (Madras) – can be relatively fast but also allow a month to clear your bike. It took me six weeks, but that is another story. A shipping agent worth checking out is Binny Ltd.

Kolkata (Calcutta) – commonly a shipping nightmare

Don't organise your visa until you know the ship is about to dock. Shipping companies have delays or re-route to take advantage of new opportunities. Flights out for yourself at short notice are not hard to search out.

Fact Box – Airports and Flying

Cargo companies are worth searching out on the net for the best deal. An average quote is £250 for a boxed bike under 2 cubic meters – my BMW R80GS will break down to this. You need to add airport taxes to that price. The fastest I've heard of a bike being cleared from customs is 2 days and the longest two weeks. Either way, flying allows you more time on your visa to explore.

Delhi,

Mumbai

Kathmandu

Fact Box – Buying an Enfield

The average prices start around $600 for a used 350cc Bullet, and $1000 for the 500cc model.

New Enfields start at $1300 and $1600 – do run them in well before going too far afield!

Nana's Garage on Connaught place in New Delhi is the most famous garage to buy or repair an Enfield but it is on the expensive side.

Inder Motors of Karol Bagh is also well known and cheaper, but in both use every ounce of bargaining skill you have.

There are quite a few other used motorcycle dealers in Karol Bagh area.

In Chennai (Madras), used motorcycles are a little cheaper. Harris Road is the place to head for.

I'm told that, for some reason, you'll find that bikes are recognisably cheaper in Pondicherry.

Try to avoid bikes over ten years old as they will be very well 'used'. With all, keep an eye open for oil leaks, and your ears open for suspicious engine noises. Visit a dealer in the UK before you go so you have an idea of what one should sound like.

Whatever you do, don't part with your money until you have the ownership papers, your receipt, and the affidavit signed by a magistrate confirming that the owner can sell the machine. The keys and the bike itself are also rather important. If you are planning to sell your bike in another state then you will need a 'No objections' certificate.

If you intend to be in India for a longer period it can make sense to buy a new bike and then to sell it on to another tourist before you go. This works well with second hand bikes too. When you are leaving, the dealers will recognize that you are under time pressure and that will inevitably affect the price they will offer you.

Scuttlebutt is that Goa is a good place to sell on your bike and logically, because of price, South India can be the worst.

Fact Box – Fuel and Oil

Petrol prices have risen quite dramatically in recent years so it's not quite the cheap ride that it was, but still far cheaper than the UK. The fuel is lower octane than in the UK but with the speeds you will be traveling at that is not a problem for most bikes.

Petrol is available easily in towns and frequently along most main roads so spare cans are not usually needed.

Engine oil is pretty poor quality so the trick is to change your oil frequently.

Fact Box – New India Assurance Company

R.O. 5th Floor Tower11
Jeevan Bharati Building 124
Connaught Circus
New Delhi – 110001

Tel: 3325591
Fax:3325111

Fact Box – General

15 main languages with 100's of minor languages - Hindu and English are the most commonly spoken.

India is the world's largest democracy with the capital city being New Delhi.

2nd largest population in the world with 1.05 billion citizens.

India is a union of 28 States and 7 Union Territories.

Religion: 81% Hindu, 13% Muslim, 2.4% Christian, 2% Sikh, 0.7% Buddhist, 0.5% Jains, 0.4% other religions.

Major Industries: Food processing, fish, steel, transportation services, communication and IT services, software development, cementing, mining, petroleum, rice, oilseed, cotton, jute, machinery, tea, sugarcane, potatoes, cattle, wheat, water buffalo, chemicals, sheep, goats, poultry, textiles.

Electricity is 220 volts with round pin twin sockets. These vary in size but adaptors are available.

Time – GMT +5.30 hours

India has 26 World heritage sites – 20 of which are man made.

Fact Box – Geography and Weather

Area: 3.30 million square km

There are 3,317,644 kilometers of roads to explore

The north of India has the biggest temperature variations

Cool season is from October to February

Hot from March to June - 45 Degrees Celsius is no exception during this season and be prepared for the high humidity.

Rains – June to December. The rain is fully dependent on the condition of the monsoon winds. The monsoon blows in the direction of the Deccan west coast and gives rain in the summer. In the winter you can expect rain on the east coast, due to the wind blowing from the north-west.

The following are the months to be in the various areas:

Ladakh and the Western Himalayas: June to September
Rajasthan and Central India: September to March
Goa & the South: September to March
Assam, Meghalaya, and Northeast India : September to May

Fact Box - Currency

The currency is the Rupee, which is made up of 100 Paisa. At the time of writing the exchange rate from Sterling to Rupee is 77.1474 INR to the pound.

It's best to carry a mix of US $ travelers cheques and some cash. You can bring in as much dosh as you like but you will have to fill out a currency declaration form if you bring in more than US$2,500. This doc is what you'll need to get your unspent cash back out of the country. You are not allowed to take Rupee's out of the country.

You'll need to show your currency exchange form to be able to pay hotel bills in Rupee's.

Most major establishments in major centers accept credit cards. Visa and Mastercard seem the most readily acceptable.

Fact Box – National Emblems

Emblem: Replica of the Lion Capital of Sarnath
Animal: Tiger, Panthera tigris
Fruit : Mango
Tree: Banyan
Flower: Lotus
Bird: Peacock

Fact Box – Festivals

It's really worth being in the right place at the right time with festivals and fairs. These are some of the most flamboyant and electric events you will find anywhere in the world.

Pongal – January
Holi – March
Baiskhi – April
Pooram – May
Rath Yatra – July
Ganesh Chaturthi – September
Onam – September
Dussehra – October
Diwali - October

Fact Box – Main National Parks

Corbett – 600 sqkm Famous for Tigers, Leopards and Elephant

Ranthambore – One of the last great virgin jungles. Tigers, crocodiles, sloth bears and jungle cats

Sunderbans – Part of worlds largest delta – unique mangrove forest

Kaziranga – Home to the one horned Rhino

Bandhavgrah – Renowned for its White Tigers

www.indian-wildlife.com

Fact Box – India bike books (or sections on India)

Bitten by the Bullet - Motorcycle Adventures in India Steve Krzystyniak & Karen Goa New Holland Publishers (UK) Ltd ISBN 1877246751 £9.99

Bullet up the Grand Trunk Road – Jonathan Gregson. ISBN 1-85619-660-7 Sinclair-Stevenson 'Random House' £12.99

Sorebums rattling around Asia - Simon McCarthy and Georgie Simmonds. £20.00 www.sorebums.net

Jupiters Travels -Ted Simons. Penguin Books Ltd £8.99 www.jupitalia.com

The Highway - Will Marks. ISBN 818881119x Frog books C/o

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Top Tips

Get a cloth cover made for your bike – it works wonders at hiding it. The cover works rather like a cloak of invisibility and that is of major value. Without malice, your bike will be sat on and all your knobs twiddled.

Cover your bike - it disappears!

Travel slowly.

Allow a couple of weeks on arrival to settle down in one place and get used to it all.

Travel in the early morning cool and stop for the day at midday if you can, or ride on later in the day.

Get a LOUD horn put on your bike!

Make sure your luggage boxes detach easily so you can get your bike into courtyards and local hotel receptions.

Carry a piece of string the exact width of your bikes widest point so you can see if you can get it in with the minimum of hassle.

Ask before you take pictures of people – you'll be surprised at the reactions and pictures you get.

Write a journal every day – shed loads will happen.

Ask directions from several people.

Make colour scans of all your documents and store them on your email address in case of emergency.

Carry black and white copies.

Make sure you get good quality travel insurance. (ed. comment: yep - see the links page!)

Make sure someone knows where you are going next.

Drink lots of Chai.

A shady hat can make your day.

Get yourself checked out by the Tropical Hospital in St Pancras (ed. commment: or your local TRAVEL Clinic - NOT your GP - GP's are not generally familiar with tropical diseases and bugs) when you get back – lurgies can lurk undetected!


Taftan to Quetta Road - Pakistan



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