• Padmja Sopori

Wheels 'n' Wild

There are some places that you can't go on foot but are also too narrow or tedious for cars to travel in. If only there was a solution that involved a vehicle that wasn't a car, maybe had half the number of wheels that a car does, maybe something like a motorcycle, perhaps? If these are thought you've had, boy do we have news for you. Vir Nakai takes us on a two-wheeled off-road journey (of words) through the hills and valleys (still of words).

How and when did you get started with Motorcycling?

Motorcycling I could only start when I was of the correct age to have a license to ride a motorcycle with gears. So I started really riding when I was 18 and got my own motorcycle much later. But before that, I used to ride the Kinetic Honda around Chandigarh and before the Kinetic my bicycle was the weapon of choice. I used to be all over the city and in the trails behind the lake and the hills that Chandigarh is situated at the base of.

If you could have any features on a motorcycle, what would they be?

Motorcycles are perfect as they are. Now they are very tech-heavy but all one needs is two wheels attached to a frame with an engine in it, some form of breaks and handlebars to steer you in the right direction. I really feel less is better as that means there are fewer things that can go wrong when you are out riding.

Out of all the places you've ridden to, what has been your favourite?

This is a loaded question. Where I have ridden all over the world from the US to Russia, Norway to New Zealand there are fantastic bits of all those places but I love riding in India. Why? Because there are still so many undiscovered and untouched spots you can find. Also in India, we never have to park our motorcycles away for the winter as all we have to do is shift base to another part of the country and everything is gravy.

What is your favourite thing about riding?

The freedom of it. Also if you want to travel the best way is on a motorcycle as its all immersive. You are right there to deal with the elements. Smell the fresh pine as you ride through the rain in the forests of the Himalayas or feel the loo on your face while being blasted by a spray of sand in the plains.

Where would you love to ride to in the future?

Everywhere. The idea is to do as much as one can but at a slow pace so you can take it all in.

Does one require any special qualifications/ permits to ride cross-country?

Common sense is the only real special qualification one needs. You have to be smart about what you are planning to do. Make sure you ride in the day and rest during the night. There is no reason to ride at night especially if you are riding cross country. Be respectful to traffic on the road and they will respect you back mostly. Always remember, you are the smallest thing on the roads, hence you need to be alert all the time. You have to think everyone is out to get you.

As for permits you require some in some spots where you are in the Inner Line around the border but that is very centric to where you are. The permit differs from spot to spot. Usually, its obtained from the local DC or there is an office dedicated to the permit as you come near the inner line like in Sikkim.

Can you tell us something that people may not know about riding?

It's very easy to go fast but damn tough to ride slow!

What's one piece of advice you'd give budding riders?

There is no hurry take your time. Start in your own backyard and go riding for a few hours over the weekend. Maybe head out for an overnight trip around your city. You will be surprised to see how much adventure and great spots you will find right under your nose. Motorcycling can give you so much. Ladakh is not the be all and end all of motorcycling. And when you do end up heading there it can be tough for the most seasoned riders so plan well and plan the hell out of it.

Also, safety is paramount when you are a motorcyclist. We are responsible for our own safety. When you do buy a motorcycle remember you need to buy the best helmet your money can buy and you need to wear it all the time and make sure it's clipped on tight. Once you do that start accumulating the rest of the gear you need to wear when you ride. As again we need to take care of ourselves. The other people in their metal cages have a metal cage between them and the rest of the world we don't.

Vir Nakai is part owner of the company Helmet Stories, that offers guided tours of the country to fulfil all your cross country biking desires. Find out more about Vir and Helmet Stories on his website.