On the road, under the sky

On the road, under the sky

Tejaswi Chittar shares an interesting account of his solo bike trip with Shruthi Srinath, telling us how his 7,300-km journey helped him shatter stereotypes about people and places. His adventures make us believe that riding solo can sometimes reveal life

When you ride for eight hours a day, although the roads and landscapes are beautiful, you start thinking about your life.

Tejaswi Chittar’s relationship with his bike is one of contradiction. He prefers no attachment with it because he knows there will be an upgrade and parting of ways: “The last time I gave my bike away, I was in tears. I had gone around telling my friends the bike was my girlfriend.” He also can’t help but fall in love with it: “That connection just happens when you ride long distances.”

The bond could have been over the miles he traced along the coast of Karnataka on a 10-day bike ride, ‘Circumference and More’. Or when he shaped a heart by visiting Karnataka’s districts with Bengaluru as the centre. Or late last year, over the 7,300-km solo journey covering highways and crisscrossing expressways with short-time stays in cities, and visits to places of interest on the “not-so-fancy and basic” Royal Enfield Electra.

Tasty treats
Tasty treats

On an impulse...

The 28-year-old biker, a native of Bengaluru, titles it ‘The Golden Quadrilateral’ — borrowed from the network of highways that connects the mega metros of Mumbai-Delhi-Kolkata-Chennai. As a rerouting, Tejaswi embarks on this 26-day travel shortly after he quits his job of three years at a tax firm. “I have always been a confused person. So when you ride for eight hours a day, although the roads and landscapes are beautiful, you start thinking about your life. And I have figured out what I want next while riding,” he clears the air.

The happenings in-between, though, are a well-spring of surprises, and that’s the best part, he swears. “Everyone has a certain image of a place, which may not be true. People warn you about the next town. In the next town, when you share your journey, people there warn you about the dangers of what lies ahead.” While on the way to Bihar, he is warned about goondas; just before Jharkhand, the next stop, he is warned about naxalites! “I have met some really nice people throughout North India. But there have been a few near-scare(s?). During my stop in Agra, at a street-side restaurant suggested by the locals, I find the owner at the reception with a rifle around his shoulder. And he is ordering around his staff. You can imagine how softly I ask for Chicken 65!” he laughs.  

Food remains a constant comfort and surprise throughout his journey. By a passageway in Assi Ghat, the pani puri handed out on a tree leaf by an old man in front of his home takes him back to the 90s. “Do you how much five of them cost? Five rupees. It’s eco-friendly.” And somewhere in Banaras, the bhang-infused and almond-based thandai ensures that he zones in and out of reality for a while. For food, Tejaswi will go off the highway, which usually distances a city by three or four kilometres. “So, on the way from Guntur to Chennai, I visit Nellore, eat its famous chapala pulusu (fish curry). But you wouldn’t want to go off-course on a daily basis.”

Tejaswi Chittar
Tejaswi Chittar

A little adventure here and there fits into the unscripted journey anyway. “India has really cool expressways. And some don’t allow bikes. One such is the Mumbai-Pune Expressway. It’s possible to get on this lane from the old Pune-Mumbai highway. I missed a heavy fine of Rs 2,000 thanks to a lorry driver’s shortcut,” explains Tejaswi.

Inescapable is the generosity of hosts, he stresses, while speaking of hostels and a hospitality social-networking site, Couch-Surfing, as a reliable accommodation option.  The host in Vapi, Gujarat, cooks for him thrice, including a Jharkhand dish called dhuska with a prep time of two hours! Another host in Pushkar offers him a cottage for the night free of cost just because it’s available. Yet another female host takes him to a garbha. “You are not a guest, but a member of the house. You cook together. They always checked on me. And then I asked myself: ‘Would I do this for them if they come to my city?’ The answer was ‘NO’. Would my friends? Still a big ‘NO’!” he offers. During the Udaipur CouchSurfing stay, though, bitterness precedes sweetness. The host’s long beard, misplaced smiles, and his friends’ brash voices and expletives inspire Tejaswi to imagine the worst possible situation — robbery… and at one point, even death.

In reality...

“On a ride with the host next day, every time his hand mistakenly touched my back, I feared he would stab me. He didn’t. But I did send a message to all my friends about my location, asking them to contact the Udaipur police if I went missing.” Of course, that didn’t happen as the host, the co-lodgers and the biker lived happily ever after. “The fear was just in my mind. And I was judgemental about people and the location. I’m less so now. Travel shatters stereotypes,” he realises.

The crux of this long-distance endeavour shines through when Tejaswi meets yet another biker, Gota Satish Kumar. A double amputee and a world-record holder for riding 50,000 km around India solo, he, too, hosts Tejaswi. “He introduced me to ‘biking brotherhood’. Of how every biker should help another. In your city, go up to a biker and ask him if he needs anything. On the highway, be there for him, strike a casual conversation. He took care of me like I was his brother. We even had a drink together over stories,” recalls Tejaswi.

Feeding strength to the brotherhood is another incidence in which Tejaswi meets a French biker, Yaan, with an appetite for local Indian food - at dhabas - and little homegrown language skills. They both decide to travel from Lucknow to Banaras. But on the highway, Tejaswi, a few kilometres ahead, loses him. In his words: “I did not have his phone number. On FB, he’s asked me to backtrack because of an accident. I am in the heart of a UP village and have heard bad things. A part of me wonders why I should go back, really. But I do, because it doesn’t feel right to leave him,” he recalls. But what awaits him is the stuff of tragic-comedy. “Imagine a group of 30-40 people looking at a white man who has fallen on the road. They don’t help, but encircle him. Some laugh, and some build their own stories in whispers!”

Such are the experiences of this long-distance biker. In the spirit of biking brotherhood, Tejaswi Chittar shares: “I’m ready to help anybody who wants to plan or start solo biking ride. You can reach me at @fuelrides or tejaswi.chittar@gmail.com.