Yes there’s two. So let me explain…Years ago when I first saw a picture of a Royal Enfield Bullet motorcycle I was pretty much hooked: (1) it looked like something Steve McQueen would ride to jump over fences / Morton Harket would escape from a bunch of yobos on in a cheesy 80s pop video, (2) their slogan was “Made Like a Gun, Goes Like a Bullet” and best of all (3) it rhymed perfectly with my surname, Benfield.
When I first arrived to live in Delhi in 2005 I was greeted by Enfields galore, ridden by moustachioed, khaki-clad cops, turbaned young Sikhs, and everyone else who wanted a little piece of Bollywood machismo in their life. It took me a good few months though before I plucked up the courage to take on the Indian roads. My chaperone was the legendary Lalli Singh, a self-effacing Enfield guru with a small workshop in Karol Bagh, North Delhi whose humble basement plays host to a steady stream of overlanders, adventurers and Enfield enthusiasts. Accompanied by innumerable cups of tea, the ever-placid and always thoughtful Lalli walked me through finding a decent second hand Bullet, negotiating the byzantine registration process and finally taught me how to ride.
Lalli did a fine job but the utter fear I felt the first time I hit the road and stalled this growling beast in the middle of a hectic Delhi intersection is not something I’ll ever forget. Over the next days and weeks though the bike gradually turned from a fearsome and unwanted pet into one my most treasured possessions.
The first road trip out of Delhi saw my riding confidence shattered again, as I struggled to control a fully-loaded bike along the dusty, truck-infested highways snaking out of Delhi into Uttar Pradesh. But some hours later, with a semblance of balance and self-respect restored, I could finally start enjoying the freedom of cruising the backroads of northern India on this wonderful machine.
When I left India two years and several long mototrcycle adventures later, I simply could not bring myself to sell my Enfield. A dear Italian friend kindly agreed to look after it and I promised myself that one day I’d be back to ride again.
Seven years later, the moment finally came as Emilie and I planned our adventure. Route planned and visas in the bag, I called up my friend who apologetically explained that, three moves and two kids later, yes the bike was still there but the papers, well, they must be somewhere, however… Quite understandable of course but we refused to be thwarted by mere bureaucracy or sacrifice the integrity of our planned Delhi to Rangoon route. So after a little red-wine assisted brainstorming we hatched a plan – buy a new bike in Nepal where it could be registered in my name (unlike in India) but still start the trip in Delhi – cue a call to Lalli. As always he came through and agreed to rent us a bike to drive from Delhi to Pokhara in Nepal which he would then truck back. In Pokhara we’d pick up a new bike and continue on through Nepal, across Sikkim, into Bhutan and then down through Assam and Manipur into Myanmar. And so this became a tale of two Bullets.
Back in Lalli’s workshop on Wednesday, we picked up our Bullet 500 and went through the compulsory puja to bless the motorcycle and our journey. Lalli had a moment of inspiration on learning that Emilie’s surname is Röell – “Achah, so Röell Benfield on the Royal Enfield!” and declared that this this was surely a sign from Ganesh that our trip would be fortuitous. We couldn’t help but notice that he performed said puja wearing a pair of Dutch clogs – apparently only wooden shoes are allowed for Sikh religious ceremonies and a Dutchman of his acquaintance had insisted on donating his to the workshop after a successful tour around India in which he rode in them every day. I evidently still have a lot to learn before I fully understand Dutch culture 🙂
They say that one of the main challenges to India’s growth is infrastructure, particularly the state of the roads. On our first day’s ride out of Delhi we’d steeled ourselves for the compulsory potholes, dust and blaring trucks accordingly. Instead, as ever, India challenged us with its contrasts and we were greeted by the spanking new Yamuna Expressway which runs from Delhi down to Agra, 200km of smooth six-lane asphalt with hardly another vehicle in sight (apparently the toll charges put many off). I couldn’t help but be reminded of Nay Pyi Taw, the new and purpose-built capital of Myanmar, largely empty apart from Government bureaucrats but bequeathed with acres of empty highway, in line with a philosophy of “build it and they will come”. In any case, the Yamuna Expressway proved the ideal stretch for Emilie’s first go at driving and I must say she’s something of a natural so I’m looking forward to plenty of hours spent relaxing on the back over the next few weeks as I get ferried across the Himalaya.
Day two was back to business as usual however as we hit the crumpled highways and byways of Utta Pradesh on the way up to the Nepali border. We’ve bumped and rattled through dusty towns and colourful villages and dodged trucks, buses, rickshawas, buffaloes, pigs and the odd camel. The bike came off unscathed and us, well, a little shaken, very grubby, but both quite bitten by the Bullet.