Rajasthani Motor Gang

IMG_8229“My friends! Rent a motorbike today?” This invitation was shouted at us daily from the man at the neighborhood motorcycle shop in Jaisalmer. We wanted to. We were scared. Being a pedestrian or a rickshaw passenger on those streets was risky enough. Operating a motorized vehicle seemed like a suicide mission. Certainly we didn’t come to India to kill ourselves, but we didn’t come to chicken out in the face of new opportunities, either. So we decided that before leaving Jaisalmer we would rent bikes from the friendly moto-man. And we would wear helmets.
Our fellow volunteer, Simon had rented a motorcycle a few days prior and assured us that it was cheap (only $5 for the day!) and hassle-free. This turned out to be true, and in fact we didn’t have to put down a deposit, submit our IDs or any collateral, and we didn’t even sign anything. Those bikes could have been ours for keeping if we’d wanted. The three of us selected our vehicles of choice: Simon, who learned to ride earlier in the week, got a 125cc motorcycle; David, who learned to ride 20 years ago and hadn’t since, got a 100cc motorcycle; and Austin, who wasn’t ready to navigate while learning to clutch and break in new ways, got an automatic scooter. We each got a helmet.Diptic M20.1Simon confidently led the way while David, having quickly re-learnt the mechanisms of a motorcycle, brought up the rear and Austin scooted in the middle of the line, struggling with the concept of gentle breaking and left side driving. It took us about 20 minutes of vigilance, maneuvering, terror, pausing to collect ourselves, losing one another, excessive honking (when in Rome…), finding one another, revving and stalling to travel what could have taken about 5 minutes. After those 20 minutes we found the open road that took us straight out into the Thar Desert, away from people and their vehicles. We started out slowly and soon became comfortable(ish) with the drive, the wind on our visors and the vast desert stretched out on all sides. We were so excited to finally be driving two-wheeled vehicles surrounded by amazing scenery. This was something we’d wanted to do for a long time. The day was ours. We drove for about an hour and a half passing goats, cows, a couple of roadside snack stands and occasionally overtaking a tractor. Our destination: Sam Dunes.Diptic M21As we neared the dunes both sides of the road became lined with snack shops, kiosks, chai stands, rows and rows of parked camels and scores of men stepping out into the road signaling us to stop, trying to sell us camel rides. If one courteously slowed while passing them one would quickly get mobbed by these tactless salesmen and their camels.IMG_8238
After our visit on the dunes we road home, never going much over about 70kph. We made it back to the scary section of 20-minute road at dusk and while making our way around one of the every-man-for-himself roundabouts David’s motorcycle stalled. Simon and Austin noticed this but were not in any position to pull over in the midst of the traffic chaos. After about 5 minutes David got it started again and we rode together the rest of the way to the bike shop without incident.IMG_8226Upon returning to the bike shop, moto-man greeted us with what appeared to be nervousness disguised as excitement, “How did it go? Everything OK? Everything alright?” as if he had been expecting the worst. Despite his kind concern he didn’t even inspect the bikes for damage and we handed over the keys and helmets and wished him a good night. Later we drank a banana lassi on the rooftop of our hotel and raised our glasses to not dying that day. Then we made plans to meet up with Simon for more motorbiking in Vietnam.Diptic M22Next up: a close shave.

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4 thoughts on “Rajasthani Motor Gang

  1. Yeah, you two! The motorbike ride reminds me of the summer of 1963 when two Young guys made Europe on a motorbike and a scooter. Some minor troubles on the way – but a great time ! Great descriptions of Your adventures, we just love Reading about so exotic Places of this planet. Seems you will be heading further east – coming back west again?
    Situation here is the same – now it’s hunting time (moose, camels, deer, dear,) and we are still swimming!

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