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Motorcycle travel in Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, India...

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  #1  
Old 3 Nov 2008
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India Biking in Monsoon season?

hello all,
i am going to be going to india for 4 months in july i think, but thats when the monsoon season is so i have heard?
can you still bike around, or is it too dangerous, and the weather is just too bad for biking?
thanks
joel
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  #2  
Old 3 Nov 2008
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I´ve only been to India during the dry season, so probably dont know what the hell Im talking about...

But we had some kind of weird weather when we were in the south, in Tamil Nadu last December, going between two hill stations, from Ooty to Munnar, when it started to rain quite hard for about 2 days, just pouring down non-stop. We were adviced not to go on the mountain roads, when it rains that hard, theres a danger of landslides, for example. We actually made a detour to the coast, and waited for the weather to clear up. Some said it was a ´retreating monsoon´, while others claimed it was the outer fringes of a large cyclone, that was at the Bay of Bengal during that time.

All major roads, and a good portion of the smaller roads in the region are paved, so they´re not affected by weather so much. But riding in Indian traffic isnt very enjoyable in the rain, can in fact be quite dangerous - even without any rain! Forget doing any unpaved roads during the rains, they´ll soon become impassable.

Later on during the trip we hit the rainy season in Java, Indonesia, and especially some lowland areas were flooded, and we needed to select our route carefully, watching the news, asking the locals, etc. You wont get cold even if you´re wet in tropical climate, but when your gear stays constantly wet, aint a lot of fun to get them on in the morning!

I´ve heard that it doesnt usually rain all the time during the rainy season... didnt seem to be true of Java, but maybe true of India, and depend a lot on the region, too, I guess. India is about the size of Western Europe.
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Old 3 Nov 2008
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I've been in India since July 15 and I'll leave to Melbourne Nov 18. The weather is being unpredictable this year but I got the fun of riding 4 hours in a monsoon. Nice way to find out my waterproof saddlebags, tank bag and BMW clown suit (Aerostich) aren't waterproof after 4 hours in super heavy rain.

I like riding in the rain, even in India. It's not a cold rain so being wet didn't bother me, although my new iPod 160 and hard to find road map book of India both went belly-up on that 4 hour of monsoon day.

My rain experiences have also been in Tamil Nadu. The roads are badly flooded, get worse when there's hills involved with the mud and the rocks, but I don't go very fast anyway.

It's India so anything that seems definite also has a 180 degree, completely opposite example, that's also definite. I'm surprised the sun doesn't shine at night here. pecha72 is right that the traffic here sucks in the dry, but in the rain for me, it's been easier.

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Old 3 Nov 2008
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There are two monsoons that hit India, and July would be the peak time for the one that covers the whole of it. That said, it does not rain all the time - you may have dry spells for days on end, and vice versa.

The temperature comes down (very welcome), but not enough to cause discomfort when wet. However, waterproof gear would be a good idea. Forget about water resistant, they will be no good at all. We sometimes have cloudbursts which can reduce visibility to 100 metres - the rain is something to be seen to be believed.

How does this affect biking?

Be very cautious when travelling unfamiliar roads - that innocuous looking puddle could hide a truck killing pothole, so avoid it unless you actually see somebody go through it first. The main roads get damaged a lot worse than the smaller side roads as overloaded trucks destroy the surface in a very short time. The smaller roads are not subject to this kind of abuse so they generally have much less rain damage.

Roads in the mountains can be blocked for days on end due to landslides - the main roads will be cleared on a priority basis, the other roads may be cleared in 3-4 days.

I do not recommend riding at night in India unless you are used to it AND have lighting that is much better than stock (eg HID). It can be terrifying enough facing 18 wheelers with dual headlamps which will not be dipped belting along on your side of the road without having your vision degraded further by a dirty visor. Stick to daytime hours!

You haven't mentioned which areas you plan to ride in - it makes a very big difference as regards the intensity of the rain, the sort of precautions you will have to take etc. For example, the north is pretty mild usually (relatively speaking!) as compared to South India/NE.

Big bonus: Lush greenery, cool weather (though it can be VERY sticky at times - choose your raingear properly!), and low rates (off season everywhere except for Leh and Kashmir).

Too dangerous? Well that's your call, as most foreigners find it dangerous any time of the year, and having torrential rain actually forces everybody to drive sanely, which is a good thing. However, in the quest to avoid potholes, people will drive on the pothole free areas (which may be on your side) so the temporary sanity sort of cancels itself out.
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Old 3 Nov 2008
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Excellent info, and I fully agree about riding in the dark. I´d actually go as far as to say, if its your first trip to India, avoid riding in the dark totally. Highly likely to have the worst troubles come to you, when you cannot see 100%. Wake up at 530am, get on the road at first sunlight, and look for a place to stay at 4-430pm, and you´ll reduce your chance of an accident considerably.

Also very true about potholes; found myself so near having to change my pants so many times, when a huge truck or bus coming across at full speed suddenly decides to ´borrow´ a bit of your lane, leaving you generously a few centimeters of tarmac to try and fit you bike into! And sometimes you need to go fully off the road. You do get used to it.. sort of, but never feels nice.

I once followed a long-distance bus on a hilly road in Kerala, not really a problem to do that with a 650 bike (and it actually opened up the road for me quite nicely.) But what a crazy show that was!! I was so terrified the bus would roll down a mountain slope any second, it had no suspension left to speak of, the thing just waved right and left in a horrific way, many times I thought he cant possibly make it through that corner so fast. The speed they use is simply incredible for the road and traffic conditions. Just blast past the small villages with my speedo showing 100, using their loud horns, overtaking anything, anywhere. It was like a videogame, only it was real...

Make sure you´re 100% alert every second you´re riding in India. I actually took a break each 50 or 70 kms, or as soon as I found myself having trouble concentrating. Because of this, and not forgetting the condition of the roads also varies greatly, just 200 or 300 kms can feel like a very long day in India. Really saps your energy to cover any distance there.
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Old 3 Nov 2008
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There are some rules in all that madness.

With regards to the deadly games of chicken, heavier traffic will leave you about 2' as they thunder past you overtaking something slower. You'll get the same 2' regardess of whether you leave space and crawl off to the edge of the road or not, and 2' is not in my comfort zone at a closing speed of 140kph, against something having an all up weight about 1000x of my bike.

The rule here is to slow down at the last moment (leaving little space for the pass - oncoming traffic will in most instances abort the pass if there isn't enough road ahead) and shift SLIGHTLY to the left, leaving at least 5' of tarmac for evasive action (that's why the low speed as you get close). Oncoming traffic will, 95% of the time, slow down as they are not sure as to whether they will pass through - even if they still attempt a pass, you have much more room for evasive action compared to what you would have if you are already on the edge.

The worst thing to do is to get to the edge right away - you'll be forced off as the overtaking vehicle takes away your road and leaves you 2', ie, within 6" of your luggage.

As regards running at night, it can be a lot safer than running during the day as the stuff that really causes accidents - cattle , jaywalking pedestrians, cyclists making sudden U turns etc are all absent. But only 25% of traffic will dip their lights, only 30% of tail lights are on, and farm trailers have no lights or reflectors, so, if you are looking for a rule - you had better have very good lights. Personally, I prefer to ride at night as it cuts travel time by at least 15%, much more in populated areas. If you do not have really good lights, preferably HID lamps, it's not a good idea to get on the highway at night. And certainly not unless you fully are comfortable during the day with these road conditions.

Atlernatively, you can follow a State transport/intercity bus, day or night. As mentioned they run at 100kph, and punch other traffic out of the way. These drivers know the road like the back of their hands (and the width of their vehicles in mm) and keep the monsters in their charge just 2 kph slower than the speed at which they'll roll off the road. Just make sure you do not tail it dead astern, as they can straddle really big potholes. And be prepared to hit the brakes when they stop abruptly to download passengers.

You've got to plan ahead with respect to your route. There are many roads that allow you to maintain a fairly good clip so that you can cover 7-800 km even on locally made bikes (most of the Golden Quadrilateral). However, if running on smaller roads, that may will not be possible except in places where there is a well maintained road network. Therefore, if you are planning to ferry your bike some distance to the next destination, it would help if you did some research and got your route sorted out beforehand, as opposed to just taking what seems to be the shortest route.

I realize this bit about covering big distances is a bit different from what has been written above, but it's just that I have more experience over this kind of traffic and planning my route. Just for example, Agra to Mumbai is less than 18hrs riding time on a on a locally made bike (Agra - Jaipur, then get onto the fast dual carriageway that will take you to Chittaur, Udaipur, Ahmedabad, Surat). A much shorter route would be via NH3 (at least 100 km shorter, if not more), but that route will take at least 5 hrs more with thrice as much aggravation from road conditions and traffic, ridden in the same manner.
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Old 3 Nov 2008
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Yeah, I noticed you need to play a little chicken with the oncoming traffic, to gain a few extra inches of tarmac.. but we were coming from Europe, 2-up, so were naturally carrying a full set of panniers that in our case was 1,04 metres wide. And of course the oncoming traffic treats any bike as just a ´bike´, so our extra space was already used. The width of the bike affected riding in many other ways, too, especially in towns. We just couldnt fit into every small hole, like the rest of the 2-wheelers.

The riding in the dark bit, I read a local biker-magazine, and they said exactly the same, which really amazed me at first. But who am I to argue, it may work as you said, provided you got headlights that are up to the job, and you are really familiar with the way all things work on the road. So for an occasional tourist, it could still be asking for trouble. Plus we wanted to see the views & sights during the daylight hours, and sleep in the nighttime anyway.
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Old 4 Nov 2008
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The riding in the dark thing makes no sense, but it's true. That's a lot of India. Completely opposite things make sense.

I like to ride in the day to see stuff, but sometimes I get distracted and have to ride at night. I haven't figured out the headlight thing though. People who flash their high beams at you for a reason I don't understand.

I'm one person on an Enfield 350 and ride for hours at a time. It's not like the US, Australia or New Zealand. You can't zone out and ride on autopilot thinking about whatever. You have to pay attention.
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Old 4 Nov 2008
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yeah, i will be landing in delhi in late may, beginning of june. then fart around there untill i get a bike sorted, (probably 350 enfield). Head north, to try and delay the oncomming rains, then do a loop, around the coasts, not decided which way, but hopefully ending back up in delhi to fly out in novemberish time...
from what i understand there is gaps in the rains, so you can do it, but there will be alot of running for cover when it starts to tip it down.
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Old 31 Dec 2008
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monsoon season

the month you arrive will be perfect for going north up into ladakh and over to kashmir and down through rajastan.
the rains can be brutal if you are riding in them. the main problem though is that roads can be completely washed away and take days to repair,
september is the month when the rains come up from the south and to the north although kullu valley is sometimes too far north for bad rains. every year is different and you will only get the best info once you are there.
all the best
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