“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.”
Travel stories are special. There is a sense of adventure and exploration. But most importantly there is a connection that one makes with places, nature and people. A bond that binds memories and transcends them far beyond just photos in an album.
Amongst many travel stories, we bring to you a unique one. A bike journey that covered more than 3800 kilometers, panned across 18 days of travel and touching more than 10 destinations – Here is an adventure to watch out!
A ride to remember
Mustafa Gandhi and his wife Tasneem Gandhi embarked on a 22 day long bike trip, as rider and pillion. Along with two other friends, they started the journey from Bangalore with the idea of covering the western side of India. They reached Ladakh and planned to continue from Leh to Jispa-Manali and finally Delhi. However, they had to cut their adventure short to 18 days.
Why did they shorten their trip? What escapades and experiences awaited them along the way? What was it like riding a bike for thousands of kilometers and accompanying as pillion? With tons of questions we decided that their travel story was worth listening. And yet more than the practical questions, we really needed to learn about the exhilaration, innocence and inspiration of this tale of travel.
Vroom – Let’s begin!
A big thank you to Tasneem for sharing her experiences of this memorable trip. And for taking out time and patiently answering all our questions. We promise this is worth a read because it is not every day that you happen to know of a couple who whizzes off on a bike in the quest of adventure.
Also, Mustafa Gandhi and his friends have made several bike trips over the years, however, this one was perhaps the most daringly longest ever. Undoubtedly, one needs the right kind of bike and an understanding of how it works, besides practice and confidence. Tasneem on the other hand, rode as a pillion and thus had a slightly, if not completely different view.
Finally, it is often always the humbleness, openness and willingness to learn and explore that cements the bonds with places, people and self in travel. And as we dive in conversation with Tasneem you would agree too.
Q: What was your itinerary?
Starting on 28th August, we began the ride began from Bengaluru. The first destination was Kohlapur. After that we proceeded towards Mumbai- Baroda-Udaipur(one day break in Udaipur) – Jaipur- Amritsar (one day break in Amritsar)- Srinagar-Kargil- Leh-Nubra Valley via Khardungla -Pangong -Leh. We had to cut short our journey after this, but our initial itinerary was to continue from Leh to Jispa-Manali- Delhi and then return to Bangalore from Delhi by flight . We came back in 18 days.
You can take a look at the destinations that were covered in the map below.
Q: What inspired or motivated you to take this trip?
A: To be honest, whenever Mustafa went for his bike trips I always envied him and wished I could take that kind of a break. But since I don’t know how to ride a bike, it was only a wish. However Mustafa always thought that we could go together. And it was only on his conviction that I agreed to the plan. Our dream was to explore places and experience the oneness with nature.
Q: How did you prepare for this trip?
A: When I decided to join the ride , first and foremost I had to analyze my physical fitness. I started yoga and a walking routine seriously from a month before. To understand if we would be comfortable riding together (i.e. Mustafa too should be comfortable riding with a pillion for long distances) we rode to Mangalore and back a month before our trip. After our ride to Mangalore we were more confident. The other challenge we thought we would face were the changes in travel rules across different states because of COVID. But luckily we didn’t face any such issues.
Q: What were the best learnings that you take away from this travel adventure?
A: I would say that when you are on bike and crossing different places , cities, states and seeing so many different people with different cultures you are just are amazed at Allah’s creation. There are so many different things that are in perfect harmony with each other. It felt so close to the heavens when we were up high on the mountains in Ladakh! There were moments when the roads were not good and it did become scary. At such times the prayers that came from the bottom of our heart – again took us so much closer to the Almighty.
Also, we witnessed humanity at its best. In Srinagar our bike had an issue. And while we waited at a place to repair it , a person from the nearby shop saw me standing outside in the sun. He made us sit in his shop and then when it was lunch time he insisted and invited us for lunch to his house. He prepared Wazwan (Kashmiri dish made during special occasions) for lunch and served us with lots of respect. They laid a safra (cloth on which food is served) , made us wash our hands and then served us the food. This was a really touching gesture.
Q: Did the trip unfold as you had imagined, planned and thought of it? Or were there surprises and incidents along the way?
A: The trip was pretty much as we imagined it to be. However, slight changes in climate, like there was unexpected blizzard in Ladakh region that made driving very challenging. Plus we were not even dressed appropriately. But it only made our experience more adventurous and memorable.
Also, the biggest surprise or twist came when we started our return journey from Leh to Manali. We reached our first stop called Tanglang La pass and Mustafa was about to park his bike when it suddenly fell and injured his leg. It was such a freak accident and least expected. But we had to cut short our trip when we realized the intensity of the injury. And that was perhaps, our most memorable moment. It is unforgettable the amazing ways in which people helped us. We were at a very high altitude where oxygen is less. Some of the boys had breathing difficulties but they still stayed back and helped us with Mustafa’s bandage etc.
Finally we also found a person who took us back to Leh, dropped us at the hospital and helped us check into a hotel. His name was Dorji and he also assisted us in sending our bike back to Bangalore. He was truly like an angel. We met some really genuinely good people on this trip.
Q: As a rider and a pillion did you both face similar or different challenges and experiences?
A: The basic challenges that we both faced were more or less same. First of all we needed to be strong, physically and mentally. Distances were long, roads were not always good, the weather kept changing. Sometimes we had to wear raincoats and remove them 3-4 times in a day. It was not a luxury trip, we took one day at a time and tried to enjoy it to the fullest. In the Ladakh region many a times, it became very difficult for Mustafa to ride the bike with a pillion because the roads were very bad. And as a pillion I also had to be very alert about the road conditions and make sure that I aligned my body weight as required.
Since the bike was also very heavy we had to be very vigilant and honestly, that’s also why when the accident happened it was a big surprise! It was as if something was telling us that now no matter how hard we tried, our bike trip ended there!
Q: As a woman what was your experience of the ride?
A: I know a few girls who are into biking and I had assumed that though it’s new for me, I would see many women bikers . But that was not the case. Biking is still predominantly a men’s activity. Few women who I met en route were all pillions. However, this journey helped me to evolve. Each turn was unexpected and though we had planned the itinerary, a new plan kept cropping up as we kept travelling further. So our expectations had to be zero. Also, I didn’t want any drawbacks because of me being a woman pillion. And so I made sure that I was as strong and adaptive as the men.
Q: What advice would you give riders/travelers/couples who wish to embark on a similar trip like yours?
A: If anybody wants to plan such a trip, they first need to understand and plan the route properly. The correct understanding of the road conditions and safety of the riders on the route is very important. Secondly, one needs to understand the climatic conditions and be prepared/ well equipped to survive. Basically, plan your riding hours depending on the weather of the places you cross. Then comes the vehicle you are using. It has to very well maintained to be able to sustain itself for such a long drive.
It is also important to understand the basic repair works required and carry all necessary tools. 40% of the luggage we carried was the tools that we may have needed in case of repair or break down. So detailed and proper planning of all these aspect is necessary.
Q: How important is both physical as well as mental strength for such travel?
A: Mental and physical strength is the most important thing. Sitting behind, on a bike for almost 8-10 hours daily is possible only if you are strong and convinced that you want to do it. Also you should be enjoying the journey thoroughly. Passion is also the most essential ingredient!
Q: What would you like to change if you had to take this trip again? And why?
A: The only thing that I might want to change is that though we did plan well, we took one thing lightly- our shoes! They were not waterproof and they didn’t have good ankle support. The injury from the accident might not have been severe if Mustafa had the right shoes.
We say – What a remarkable journey of a lifetime for sure!