Romancing The RX 100 – Part II. Twenty Five Years Later.

“You don’t stop riding when you get old, you get old when you stop riding.”
― Anonymous

The Blog – Why now?

Writing the blog about our first southern odyssey twenty five years after we made the trip was one of most difficult tasks I took up in life; Romancing the RX-100 – A Southern Odyssey -1993. Part -1. I was determined, the second time around, I would write about the ride everyday. But then I follow two principles in life. The first one is adhering to  what Mark Twain said about procrastination, “Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.” The second one? well! it can wait for some other day.

So the blog never got written on the day of the ride or any day in the past six months. Two things forced me to publish this today.

  1. Today marks sixth month of completion of the ride (13th April). Kind of half yearly anniversary.
  2. It’s JK’s (my brother, riding companion and co-conspirator in all our (mis)adventures since childhood) birthday. I thought it’s a nice way to say “Happy birthday JK.”

I am also good at meeting deadlines so I was confident that I would write the blog this week; as the unknown has remarked, “If it weren’t for the last minute, I wouldn’t get anything done.”

The Reason for the ride.

People have been riding long distances on motor bikes for more than century. George A Wyman raced across USA in 1903, the same year Wright Brothers made world’s first ‘heavier than air’ flying in North Carolina.

In 1928 Zoltan Sulkowsky and his friend from Hungary decided to travel the world in a motor cycle. They bought a well used Harley Davidson, fitted a side car and travelled the world for next six years covering 100,000 Kilometres and 68 countries. This was a time when petrol pumps or gas stations would have been scarce, not many would have heard about a Harley and finding a mechanic would have been arduous task. When their bike broke down in the Nullarbor Plain in Australia, their bike had to towed by a camel. Nullarbor plain is the largest arid, treeless stretch in the world and crossing it would be great challenge even today and they did this in the 1930s.

Motorcycle enthusiasts have been travellng across the globe ever since Hildebrand & Wolfmüller built the first commercial motor cycle in 1894. Elspeth Beard was 23 years old and was half way through her architecture degree in 1983 when she decided to drop everything and started riding her BMW R60/6. She became the first woman solo rider from UK to travel across the world. This was much before I even learnt how to ride a bike.

But did anyone trace their journey after ten or twenty years. Two books on this made us to go though the same path all over once more. The first was Paul Theroux’s ‘Ghost Train to Eastern Star.’ Twenty three after he published ‘The Great Railway Bazaar,” he followed the tracks of the great railway bazaar. In the introduction, Theroux writes,

Thirty-three years went by. I was then twice as old as the person who had ridden those trains, most of them pulled by steam locomotives, boiling across the hinterland of Turkey and India.

The decision to return to any early scene in your life is dangerous but irresistible, not as a search for lost time but for the grotesquerie of what happened since.

But he had serious doubts about doing it all over again. He says the great travellers did their most famous trips only once; To quote Theroux again,

What traveller backtracked to take the great trip again? None of the good ones that I know. Greene never returned to the Liberian bush, nor to Mexico, nor to Vietnam. After 1948, Thesiger did not return to Rub’ al Khali, the Empty Quarter of Arabia. Burton did not mount another expedition to Utah, or to substantiate the source of the Nile – at my age he was living in Trieste, immersed in erotica. Darwin never went to sea again. Neither did Joseph Conrad, who ended up hating the prospect of seafaring. Eric Newby went down the Ganges once, Jonathan Raban down the Mississippi once, and Jan Morris climbed Everest once. Robert Byron did not take the road to Oxiana again, Cherry-Garrard made only one trip to Antarctica.

{Theroux, Paul (2012-03-28T22:58:59). Ghost Train to the Eastern Star: On the tracks of ‘The Great Railway Bazaar’ (Kindle Location 173). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.}

The list goes on about his favourite authors who made their historical journeys only once. But he adds that they had missed something and talks about the heroic traveller Henry Morton Stanley who crossed Africa from West to East, ten years after traversing the continent from East to West from 1874 – 77. Certain poets notably Wordsworth and Yeats, enlarged their vision and found enlightenment in returning to an earlier landscape of their lives. The return journeys are as poetic as the maiden ones.

So we got convinced that we should do the trip again. Any doubts I still had, vanished when I read Ted Simon’s ‘Jupiter Travels.’ In 1973, Simons was forty years old and was getting bored with life. He decided to travel the world on a bike; the only problem was he never rode a bike and failed his first driving test. But rode he did for next four years and published the classic  book on travel writing ‘Jupiter Travels.’ Thirty years later he rode again for three years revisiting the places he travelled in the seventies. Imagine driving a bike day after day for three years when you are seventy years old. His book on the return journey ‘Dreaming of Jupiter’ convinced me that we should do our trip again.

We thought we should do something unique. JK came up with idea. What if we can do the same tip on the same dates and stay in the same hotels. That clinched it. We struck to this plan and we would do the trip from 9th to 13th April, exactly twenty five years later.

The Debate about wheels.

The dates were fixed and we called Karnataka Tourism to find out if the hotels we stayed during out trip in 1993 are still operating. They confirmed these hotels are still open and offered assistance for our bookings. Karnataka tourism and Kerala tourism are professionally run and we can recommend them without any hesitation to anyone who is interested in travelling in these states.

But deciding the bike for the travel proved to be tougher task. First we both agreed on one thing. We can’t do it in a single motorcycle. Not only we are heavier (at least me) we had to carry a lot of stuff. We had to carry laptops, iPads, phones, DSLR and other cameras which then added their chargers to the overall weight. We discussed about buying two new bikes (thankfully motorbikes are still cheap in India) and decided on two Yamaha FZ25s. But some common sense prevailed; what would we do with the bikes afterwards as we are not riding on a daily basis nowadays. It will only add to all the unused bikes we already have.

JK said we can take Adarsh’s Benelli which is a powerful bike. For the second bike we decided on my Pulsar 180 CC first edition bike. First edition meant it is 16 years old now. I wrote to Bajaj and asked them if they can provide any help and in turn we would provide them with pictures of their fist edition bike with some extraordinary backgrounds. As usual, I did not get any response at first and eventually when I got one, their reply was not very enthusiastic except wishing us well on our adventure.

The discussion went for a month and two weeks prior to the ‘D’ day I thought why not take a Yamaha RX 100 of the same vintage (1992-93). I had an old Yamaha, but  did not have any confidence on this bike pulling it off. Suddenly I had a flash. My close friend Vasudev had a Yamaha 1992 vintage and I decided to borrow the bike for the trip. I called JK and when I told him about the idea, I could see, mentally, his face lighting up. He agreed that would be great and it would make the trip as close to the first one as possible.

Vasudev aka Vasu is one of the most gentle blokes you would ever meet. My mom says he has the sweetest voice amongst all my friends. He said he would give me the bike for the ride and he was confident that he could convince his teenage sons who now consider the bike as a family heirloom. But he had doubts if the bike would go the distance. In the last 15 years, the longest travel the bike did was 100 kilometres. I said we would take a chance. We then decided to sort out the logistics. Retracing the route meant we had to start from Pune; JK when not globetrotting lives in Bangalore or Coimbatore and I was hopping between Chennai and Hyderabad and Vasu and his bike were in Bangalore.

JK spoke to Guru,  his colleague and friend and a master in providing logistics solutions. He assured us that he would arrange the bike to be delivered in Pune before the deadline. When we discussed about the bike giving up on the way (after all it’s 26 years old), he came up with a solution. He said he would talk to one of the largest transport companies in India which has branches across the country. All we had to do in case of a bike breakdown which can’t be fixed, is to call the transporter’s nearest branch office who would arrange to pick up and deliver the bike in Bangalore.

The logistics was sorted but this led to another related issue. If the bike were to breakdown and could not be repaired how could we continue the trip in one bike with all the baggage. At last, we made one sensible decision. We decided to take one car and the good old Yamaha. The car would come in handy if the bike or us broke down. I thought our backs may not support continuous riding for 5 days; so it’s better to factor in that as well. The car would give us lumbar support at least during half of the travel (when one of us is not riding the bike). My sister and brother in law live in Pune and they gave their i10 which helped us to save at least one transportation.

The OK to go.

When I wrote the blog about the first trip, many of my friends asked how did our parents let us go. My friend Alex commented that his father would get angry even if he took the bike to the playground. Our parents knew about us and agreed, probably with little reluctance. What I did not mention in the blag was, I was engaged to be married to Renuka and the marriage date was just 6 weeks away. Renuka told me much later that her father was OK with the idea but her grandma was worried sick. So the second time around we had to get the OK from spouses and children as well. And oh yeah, for me and Renuka our 25th Anniversary was approaching just like the 25th year of the bike trip.

Guru gave us a GPS tracker for the car and assured us that everyone can track us in real time. In 25 years the technology has changed so much; from sparse communication in 1993 to real time location sharing in 2018. The first of the many changes we would record during the course of our trip.

As Wodehouse quoted once, “There is always a fly in the ointment, a caterpillar in the salad,” we had to clear one final itch. The week before we were to start the trip, Mohan Ram and I formally launched our Home Healthcare Business in Chennai and got tied down and JK had to fly to Sydney for a meeting. We managed to land in Pune on 8th, checked the bike, consulted a mechanic who did some tinkering and declared the bike was good to go anywhere in India.

9th April – 2018: Pune – Solapur – Bijapur – 356 KMs.

We started around 7 AM more or less at the same time we left the first time; only this time we made sure we took some photos of the bike, the car and us. Pune – Solapur highway was not a 4 lane in 1993; it has now become one of the best roads in Maharashtra. The bike was responding well and we drove at about 80 KMPH, making sure we were not straining the engine.

Bhigwan used to be a small dusty village on the Pune – Solapur Highway; no one except the people lived there would have known such a place existed.  Suddenly it became a bustling town, when APP Indonesia set-up a big paper mill there in 1996. Originally known as Sinar Mas India, the unit later changed its name to BILT Bhigwan when Ballarpur Industries bought the mill. This paper mill played a huge role in my professional life and I wanted to stop near the village for breakfast and a photo op.

RX 100 Sinar Mas
Vasu’s RX 100; The Paper Mill Chimney at the Background.

One question I am always asked is how do I go on bike rides with all the noise and air pollution that come with it, when I run the air conditioner in the car all the time even if it’s freezing outside. That’s the charm in riding the bike. Fifteen minutes into your ride, you forget all the noise, the traffic, the ear splitting honking from every single motorist, the polluted air, the auto rickshaw who wants to cut in front of you, the bus driver who wants to pull towards the bus stop, oblivious to all traffic coming from behind and vehicles of all shapes and sizes who charge at you from the wrong direction.

The years of riding has taught me and JK one good thing. It’s something similar to Sunil Gavaskar’s or Steve Smith’s mindset; just as they mentally block the loudest noises emanating from the largest stadiums in Kolkata or Melbourne and look to play the next ball coming at them at 100 miles per hour, we shut off everything mentally and look only at the road ahead. It’s like Arjuna’s concentration when he was about to shoot the fish in the eye, with his arrow, looking only at the reflection in the pool of water. OK it’s a bit of exaggeration, but you get the idea.

The last time I rode long distance was about 4 years ago,  “I Thought It was a Youth!” – Notes from the Coastal Ride. The lessons and the reflections on the ride were slowly flashing back. We thought we would gain some time in reaching Bijapur as were riding on a dual carriageway. But we failed to factor that we were not driving as fast in the old Yamaha. Also as we feared, the state highway from Solapur to Bijapur was not good. So we reached Bijapur more or less at the same time as we did in 1993.

Vasu had welded the rear numberplate to the bracket which broke 50 kilometres before Bijapur. We tied it up and as soon as we reached Bijapur, JK got it welded back.

This is something what amazes me in India. There is always help available around the corner or at least a juggad. Within half a mile from the hotel, Maurya Adilshahi, JK could find a mechanic, a welder and a replacement bracket. The material and labour costed just under 4 USD and the mechanic refused to take an extra incentive we offered to thank him for getting the job done in record time.

Off we went to see Gol Gumbaz; if anyone wants to record the change in lifestyles of Indians or the places, a good place to start would be the second rung of cities and towns. Changes in big metropolitan cities is expected; the cities with 2 million population had grown to 10 million population like Chennai and Bengaluru. But there is at least a half hearted attempt to improve infrastructure in big cities. It is the small citifies and towns which have developed in recent years which is a great concern. When we travelled through these places in 1993, these were quite little towns; a few bikes and almost no cars and buses. Now all these places are bustling with cars, commuter buses and thousands of two wheelers, all jostling for space in the narrow lanes of the city resulting in huge commotion and inconvenience.

We expected to observe Gol Gumbaz in it’s original splendour. But what we saw was a traffic snarl near the monument, tourist buses trying to off-load passengers, were blocking the junction. Every car, bus, auto rickshaw and bike behind them were honking.  Pedestrian walkway was filled with shops; people selling trinkets and tea.

In the last 25 years, ASI (Archeological Survey of India) responsible for upkeep of monuments have fenced all the monuments; the first reason is for protecting the monuments and second to charge an entry fee. Gol Gumbaz was about to be closed when we entered and the security guard would not let us in. When we explained to him the importance of taking a photo on that day to mark the 25th year, he relented and let us in. He also advised us to come the following morning around 8 as there will not be many visitors. This fencing almost spoilt our trip the next day in Aihole. Will come to that in a bit.

Gol Gumbaz
Learning to take a ‘Selfie’ in front of Gol Gumbaz

We retired early for that day chilling over a beer. A light shower early in the evening has cooled the town and we had our dinner outside the restaurant on the lawns.

The Gol Gumbaz was built as mausoleum for King Adil Shah and took 30 years to complete (1626-1656). In the morning, lot of local people were using the lawns laid out by ASI for walking and stretching, which was a great sight. How many of us would be lucky to walk in to an historical monument for our morning exercises. With an area of 1,700 m2 (18,000 sq ft) the mausoleum has one of the biggest single chamber spaces in the world. Running around the inside of the dome is the “Whispering Gallery” where even the softest sound can be heard on the other side of the mausoleum due to the acoustics of the space.

My great granddad worked in Bijapur (now Vijaypura) and mom spent couple years there during childhood. My grandma used to talk about the majestically standing domes and the gallery. The monument just takes your breathe away. One can spend hours looking at the beauty of the dome and the minarets.

Gol Gumbaz 2
Gol Gumbaz and the minarets

The shear size of Ibrahim Rouza, our next stop never fails to amaze us. The lonely planet describes the monument in following words, “The beautiful Ibrahim Rouza is among the most elegant and finely proportioned Islamic monuments in India. Its 24m-high minarets are said to have inspired those of the Taj Mahal, and its tale is similarly poignant: built by emperor Ibrahim Adil Shah II (r 1580–1627) as a future mausoleum for his queen, Taj Sultana. Ironically, he died before her, and was thus the first person to be rested there. Also interred here with Ibrahim Adil Shah are his queen, children and mother.”

The fence and the lawn are new additions to Ibrahim Rouza; the lawn is maintained very well and the fence keeps the casual or intentional intruders away. The photo of 1993 and 2018 tells it’s own story.

Ibrahim Rouza
ASI has laid a beautiful lawn since we saw Ibrahim Rouza last.

The area of Gol Gumbaz, Ibrahim Rouza and Bara Kaman should be at least 40% of the entire city of Bijapur. They are so huge.

Our visit to bara kaman ended in huge disappointment. It’s not because the monument was left half-finished by the rulers, but the place surrounding the magnificent structure was filled with rubbish. The narrow lane leading to the mausoleum was filled with vegetable vendors and goods carriers of all shapes and sizes. The vendors told us that the Bijapur Municipality is on strike which gave everyone the right to throw as much rubbish as they wanted. Mr. Modi, our Prime Minister’s Swach Bharat slogan has neither reached the civil servants nor the residents.

Bara Kaman was the mausoleum of unmatched 12 arches of architectural quality built in the year 1672. It is one of the incomplete monuments of the Adil Shahi dynasty were the work was left incomplete for the unknown reasons and only two arches were raised vertically. Though not finished it is still an architectural beauty. We spent some time inside looking at the half finished arches and wondered how it would have turned out if they have only completed building it.

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The half finished bara kaman.

10th April – 2018: Aihole – Patadkal – Badami- Hospet – 324 Kms

As we were leaving Bijapur sorry Viajypura, an old building caught out eye. We did not remember seeing the building during our journey in 1993. It was the Wilson Anti Famine institute built in 1928 to help agriculture in and around Bijapur. The office was not open when we passed the place; a quick google search revealed that by 1965 all the branches of the institute were closed down and The Government apathy has made sure the building is lying in dilapidated condition today.

Anti famine institute 2
The Wilson Anti Famine Institute 1928. A sorry state of affairs

The ride on the second day was arduous and disappointing. I assumed with all the progress Karnataka has made in the last two decades there would be at least good roads connecting the important towns. On the contrary, we had to ride on some of the worst roads to see one of the best UNESCO world heritage site. But first the good news.

We saw a picture of Almatti Dam in the hotel and found out if we make a small detour we can go there.

The Almatti Power Project was just 75 Kms away from Bijapur and connected mostly by a 4 lane road. There is also a beautiful garden close to the dam. An expansive hall, though painted little gaudily, is maintained well. A panoramic view provides glimpse of the gardens, the fountain and the water source afar.

Almatti Dam
A Panaramic View from Almatti Garden

We left for Aihole after having a cuppa and the road nightmare for the day started once we left the dual carriageway. If the road to Aihole was bad, the one to Patadkal was worse. We reached Aihole by afternoon.

In my previous blog about the ride in1993, I mentioned that we have only one photo of the RX 100 and that was taken in Aihole. We had big plans for the ‘ditto’ photo this time around and planned everything in detail. Little did we know the Indian bureaucracy would pour water on it. The ASI has built a fence around the Aihole temple and the signboard under which the original photo was taken has now gone inside the compound and a prominent sign announced that vehicles are not allowed inside.

I told JK to push the bike inside the gate and I would get permission for the photo with bike. The moment the security guard saw the bike being pushed in, he ran towards JK with an antiquated rifle in hand. Probably he was assuming there is a bomb in the bike. I showed him the 1993 photo and asked for permission to take a similar photo. He would not just listen. I told him I would talk to his boss who was cooling his heels in a nearby office. He also refused permission. I said I would talk to his boss wherever he was.

I phoned his boss who was in Hassan. I told her how we drove across India for this one photo. First she refused like everyone else. I started begging her for a photo and told her we were not planning a movie inside; it’s just a photo and photography is allowed inside anyway. All she had to do was to let the bike inside. She said she would get back but did not call.

The bad road, the hot sun and the aching back were getting on our nerves. We called once again and she refused. She asked us to send a letter to Hassan, the divisional headquarters or come there to get permission. Hassan town was 450 KMs away in a different direction. I told her, anywhere else in the world, the responsible person would have given us a warm welcome and facilitated us and complied with our request. Only in India we had to face this humiliation of rejection. Typical of the Indian public servant, she gave a damn.

When JK was pushing the bike I took a picture; readers can see how simple our request was. Couple of coconut waters quenched our thirst and brought down our raging temperatures and we went back to see one of the most beautiful temple in Karnataka.

Aihole
The complex is greener now; The board inside in 2018 and a lost photo opportunity.
Aihole Temple
Aihole – 25 years on, the temple looks the same. For that matter for the last 1200 Years.

We had a quick lunch at Mayura Aihole and started what should have been a short drive to Patadkal. The road to the World Heritage Site looked like this. Picture is worth a thousand words, so they say.

Patadkal Road
The Patadkal road; may be the Government does not want visitors to come to the most iconic place in the State.

But one glimpse even from a distance at the group of monuments, all your travails and troubles, frustrations and anger would vanish. The group of temples gives the most enchanting view to visitors. Angor Wat, perhaps has taller towers. But Patadkal dates Angor Wat by 400 years. 7th and 8th century against 12th century.

Patadkal 2
Patadkal; A UNESCO Heritage Site

Built on the west banks of Malaprabha river, Patadkal provided the first prototype for building temples and the influence can be seen across India. There are temples dedicated  to Hinduism and Jainism. The friezes in the Hindu temples display various Vedic and Puranic concepts, depict stories from the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Bhagavata Purana, as well as elements of other Hindu texts, such as the Panchatantra and the Kirātārjunīya. I told JK we need to spend at least a week here to understand, at least a little bit of what they have attempted to accomplish. Only a genius could have conceived something like this. (Wikipedia). We were in no mood to leave the temple; but there was a road ahead and a deadline to meet. We proceeded to Badami.

The Badami cave temples are a complex of Hindu, Jain and possibly Buddhist cave temples just a few kilometres away from Patadkal. The earliest temples are built in the 6th Century CE. The cave complex is a part of World Heritage Sites. The Badami – Aihole – Patadkal in the Malaprabha River basin is considered a cradle of temple architecture that formed the model for later temple construction in the region. The Chalukya Kings spent hundreds of years to build these magnificent structures for more than 4 centuries.

Badami Cave Temple
Cave Temple in Badami

We had one important task to accomplish before starting our drive to Hospet. Near the Badami temple, we took a picture in Agastiya lake. We wanted to see if the place still looked the same. We had some difficulty in locating the exact spot where we stood last time. But when we did we were surprised to see another beautiful temple near the ledge where JK stood last time around.

Agastya Lake
Is the camera playing a trick or the colour of the water has changed?

Google maps suggested a shorter route to Hospet and we followed the map; couple of times we ended in cul-de-sacs before figuring out the correct road to get on to the state highway. There was hardly any traffic in the single road but it was getting dark soon and we had to break our golden rule of ‘riding only form dawn to dusk.’ The headlight of RX 100 was no brighter than a pen torch and JK asked me to drive ahead so that he can follow the tail lights of the car.

I was looking at the rear view mirror to ensure JK was following; I escaped a mild mishap when I averted dashing onto a trailer which had no lights; not even reflectors. It was just parked bang on the road. Soon we caught the highway to Hospet and reached Hotel Maurya – Vijayanagara just in time for dinner.

11th April – 2018 Hospet – Hampi – Chitradurga. 190 KMs

The earliest Homo Sapiens were hunter gatherers and for thousands of years that was the life pattern. Something changed around 12,000 years ago; the constantly migrating Hunter Gatherers started settling down. One of the reason could be they started developing tools and found the knack for tilling the land. What could be a better place for agriculture than banks of the rivers. All the earliest known civilisations were formed on the banks of the rivers; The Indus Valley civilisation around 3400 BCE, the Mesopotamia Civilisation between Tigris and Euphrates rivers (4000 BCE, the words Mesopotamia means the land between two river banks), Egypt along river Nile from 3000 BCE to 300 CE, the Yellow River (Huang He) around 4000 BCE are some of the finest examples.

We are not sure for since when, Hampi on the banks of Tungabadra river is populated. Hampi is mentioned in Ramayana the second oldest epic of India. It was a part of Emperor Ashoka’s kingdom around 3rd Century BCE. It reached pinnacle of glory by 14th Century CE and became the second largest medieval city after Beijing in China. Persian and European travellers have written how wealthy and prosperous the people of Hampi under Vijayanagara Empire. I am sure it must be the continuously occupied oldest city in India.

Even a short visit to the city would give you an idea about the city’s size and erstwhile prosperity. We started our tour by offering prayers at Virupaksha temple. The gopuram (tower) of the temple is huge and prayers are offered every day as it must have been for last few centuries.

The heartbeat of a two stroke engine is unique and the firing sound of RX 100 stops you in your tracks wherever you are even today. We thought what better place to record it than grandest and oldest city in India. So I filmed JK riding the bike towards the temple and made him pose in front of the temple.

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RX 100 & JK in front of Virupaksha Temple.

Alexander Greenlaw was an officer in the British Army and in 1858 he travelled to Hampi and provided the first known photographs of Hampi using the newly developed  technique, calotype method of waxed paper negative. An Australian John Gallings followed his footsteps in 1983 and shot all the monuments from the same angle from where Greenlaw photographed the historical monuments. These photographs are displayed in a small museum near Virupaksha temple providing us with an idea how the great city looked over a century and 4 decades ago.

Eastern-Gopura-and-Lamp-Column-Vitthala-Temple-Complex
Eastern Gopura and with the now missing Lamp Column, Vitthala Temple Complex – Photograph: Colonel Alexander Greenlaw – Wikimedia Commons

As we were coming out of the museum we sighted a young man alighting from his motorcycle in full gear. This was Ranjit, a final year engineering college student. He had a break (to study for exams presumably) and he thought a better education would come from travelling the length of the country. It was his 28th day on the wheels and he went up to Rajasthan and was planning to reach home in Mysuru in two days time.

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Ranjit on a month long tour on wheels.

We travelled around Hampi with him. Had sugarcane juice near Ugra Narasimha Statue. The sugarcane juice vendor had a moped as old as the ruins of Hampi and JK borrowed it  and took it on a spin.

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Large monolithic statue of Ugra Narasimha

We spent more than half a day taking the sights. The lotus mahal and the elephant stables are big attraction and I have written about them in detail in my previous blog. If a king can build an elephant stable which would put many palaces to shame you can imagine the richness of their culture and the property of the place.

The Lotus Mahal and the Elephant Stable

Our last port of calling was to the Vithala Temple and Market complex, one of the most aesthetically built temple complexes in India. The size, scale, architectural design and attention to details would take your breathe away. Thankfully The Government has stopped vehicle movement to the site and provided battery operated buggies to go up the hill at an affordable price (20 Rs less than 30 cents).

Vithala temple
The shear size of the temple complex will take your breath away.

We spent some time looking at the chariot. It’s not clear who built the temple complex; perhaps it was built over many decades by successive kings of the empire.

We wanted to spend some more time but then we had tracks to cover and so tore ourselves off from the temple complex.

I would recommend a visit to Hampi to anyone interested in our culture and history. The entire city is a UNESCO world heritage. There can be no better place to start learning about India’s rich civilisation.

The NH 50 which was to take us to Chitradurga was being converted to a four lane road. The worst experience for a bike traveller is to go through an under construction dual carriageway. To make the road, first they cut all the trees. So for miles on end you can’t stop the bike to escape the scorching sun even for a couple of minutes. Then the road crew and the equipment arrive adding to an already congested and restricted access road. We drove for an hour covering just about 10 kilometres. The April sun was unmerciful and belting down us increasing our anger and frustration by the minute. This is bad for an itinerant biker; a lapse in concentration definitely leads to accidents. Thankfully google suggested an alternate route and we escaped this gruelling journey for couple of hours before joining the highway again and made it safe to Mayura Chitradurga.

12th April 2018 – Chitradurga, Halabeedu – Belur. 230 KMs

Hoyaleswara Temple also known as the Halebidu temple is built in 12th century dedicated to Lord Shiva. It was built by the Hoysala Kings and served as their capital. Had it not been ruined by the murderous muslim kings from Delhi, the temples of Halebeedu and Belur would still remain as the most beautiful structure human beings have ever endeavoured to build. The destruction is so deliberate; every single figurine and there must be a million of them, is broken with an axe or chisel.  This photo will tell the story of this wanton destruction.

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The statue carved in the 12th Century. The hands are missing. Naga paid the ultimate compliment when he said these are not carvings; they have just weaved on the stone.

There is no clear record of how many people built the temple and the number artisans (must be few thousands) were engaged in carving these statutes. One can spend hours looking at the details on each one of them. We spent some time figuring out where did we stop to take photos last time around and shot comparative photos. The bull statue is big and beautiful except the fact some idiot has found time and a sadistic inclination (S. D. Errappa) to carve his name on the back. Thankfully ASI has built an enclosure around it now preventing close access to the statue.

We found the same spot after 25 years thank to JK’s analytical skills.

Jain Basadi complex, with 3 temples is just a short distance away from the Hoyaleswara temple. The place was almost deserted when we went there. Built between 11th and 14th Centuries, the first temple The Parshvanatha Basadi, was built during the rein of King Vishnuvardhana from 1133 CE. The second  temple, The Shantinatha Basadi, was built during King Veera Ballala around 1192 CE and the third and the smallest one, the Adinatha Basadi, was built around the same time.

We were fortunate to meet the temple poojari at Adinath Based and enquired about the heritage of the temples. His was the only Jain family left after the invasion and destruction of the city and they are managing the temple for many centuries.

The Entrance to the Jain Temple complex and JK talking to the Jain Priest.

We reached Belur in the afternoon; before visiting the temple we had a bigger task at hand. The bad ride the previous day resulted the rear number plate assembly including the tail lamp and indicators fell off when the welding gave away. We had to find the parts, a mechanic and welder all over again. We decided to change the entire assembly but were not sure if we could find parts for a 25 year old bike. Fortunate we were to find the vendor and the others and set about making the bike in good repair. Hopefully Vasu would forgive me for changing the original assembly.

We spent the entire afternoon and the evening at the Belur Temple. The Chennakeshwara temple was commissioned by King Vishnuvardhan and took more than 100 years to finish construction. So you can imagine the scale and richness of the temple. They seemed to have no deadline to meet, these kings. They had wisdom, the desire and commitment to build something for posterity.

Every single statue, carving, ceiling, pillar and host of others were chiselled so artistically. It’s like Michelangelo’s work in Sistine chapel; instead of painting they carved the stone ceiling with same attention to detail and much larger in scale.

Belur Temple
Belur temple viewed from JK’s wide angle camera
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A selfie with the huge mandapa as background.

We stayed for the evening pooja (prayer) hoping to catch up Lord’s procession around the temple in the night. This was the best moment of our previous trip. But we were informed that the procession is done only few days in a year and this year’s festival was over only the previous week.

13th April 2018 – Belur – Shravanabelagola – Bangalore. 287 KMs

We left early in the morning and reached Shravanbelagola temple around 8.30 AM. The Mahamasthakabhisheka Mahotsava was done only a couple of months ago and Jains from all over the world attended the festival. The entire complex was renovated for the festival and one more set of steps running parallel to the old one is made for easier access. Pilgrims are advised to climb the stairs with barefoot and we hesitated a bit fearing if we develop blisters or sprain an ankle, our ride home will become an arduous deal. But the faith helped to overcome our fears and we climber the 700 steps to have a darshan of Gommateshwara. I was panting a bit while JK ran up the steps. I was wondering how did we do it the last time and still rode the bike to Chennai which was about 500 Kms away. We had a splendid darshan of the Lord; climbed down at a leisurely pace for one final stretch for the home ride.

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Gommateshwar Bahubali Statue

While coming down, we met an old pilgrim from rural Maharashtra. His son explained to us that his father is making this annual pilgrimage for many years; 80 years old now he still insists on climbing the seven hundred steps, year after year. A true inspiration if ever there was one.

We had a snack at a Kamats and pushed the accelerator to reach JK’s home for a late lunch. We did not consider going up to Madras (Chennai) as it would lead to new challenges to transport us and the bike back.

After a short nap, we washed Vasu’s bike to get it into a presentable condition. We went to his place in the evening for a beer, thanked him and handed over the bike. His sons must have heaved a sigh of relief and Vasu was happy we came back in one piece after driving his 25 years old RX 100 close to 1500 KMs. Our first thanks for the trip should go to him; without the bike, this blog could not have been titled “Romancing the RX 100 – Part II.

Reflections:

I took a late night shuttle back to Hyderabad and was reflecting on the trip during the flight. Yes India has changed a lot in the last 25 years. Millions have people have been pulled out of poverty and Karnataka, the state we traversed through has made huge strides including setting up a Silicon Valley of India in Bangalore. But we still have a long way to go before we can call ourselves a truly well developed economy which can provide the basic necessities for all.

The first change is the names of most of the places we visited have changed. Bangalore is Bengaluru now, Madras is Chennai, Halabid is Halebeedu, Bijapur is Vijaypuri and so on.

In my last blog, the years were prefixed with BC or AD. Even that has changed now to BCE and CE (Before Common Era and Common Era).

Last time when we rode through the southern states, we hardly saw motorcycles forget cars in the small towns. We were chatting up with the mechanic in Belur while fixing the bike. He told us that 25 years back, there was not even one mechanic in the town; now it has 48 automobile repair shops. The same story would repeat in every town and village.

While finding a public phone booth to make a call to parents was such a difficult task in 1993, this time around we could see everyone having a mobile phone. The advancement in technology, ensured we could share pictures in real time with family and friends and the GPS tracker was providing minute by minute location of us to our families.

We saw more students going to elementary and high schools in uniforms provided by the local government. It was more heartening to note there were equal number of girls as boys walking towards school. A nation can progress only if the girl child is educated and this is a progress in the right direction.

The haphazard growth has to stop which otherwise would lead to huge problems. A smattering of infrastructure is being developed for the big cities but no one gives a damn about the rest. The worse nightmarish road was near Badami which is the sitting (then) chief minister’s constituency. If a CM can’t even take care of his own adda, we can imagine what development other citifies, towns and villages can have. Zilch.

And then the classic dilemma we face living in a thriving democracy. Few years back we were holidaying in Rome. JK’s friend, a leading lawyer took us for long drives at night. With little or no traffic, we could see the greatest monuments of the world from a distance. The roads were broad and straight. I asked him how did they manage this in a city which is 3000 years old. He replied, “This is the only positive contribution from Mussolini. He told his officers to build the broadest, biggest and straight roads across the city to provide access for cars and trams.” This obviously meant every single intrusion along the way was demolished. It could have been someone’s house or a shop or an office.

This is never going to be possible in India. In the seventies, when we were spending a year in Mahabalipuram (another UNESCO world heritage city) we were told about an ambitious plan something similar to what the lawyer told us.

Forty years on, what do we find? There are a thousand shops around the shore temple; walking towards the temple is a difficlut task and you lose the sight of the temple amidst all the crowds shopping for plastic novelties and toys. Can anyone be displaced from there? Possibly not. After all they have been living there for centuries and the increase in population has made the place congested; to drive them out or displace them to a place where they would struggle to make a decent livelihood is not a good solution. Our supreme court has assured that even a post-card from underprivileged section of section of the society would be considered as public interest petition. And this is how it should be in a democracy. But we also have a responsibility to protect these monuments and temples, caves and statutes left to us as legacy by our erstwhile kings. The government should come up with a plan; or in ten or twenty years we will not have anything left to show to the world.

We had some regrets in this trips as well. We carried JK’s film loading camera, the one we used in 1993 hoping to get film roll in one of the tourist places. We could not find even a studio to ask for it. In the bygone days, you could buy a film roll just outside any tourist attraction. So we could not record the journey in film for a true comparison (same to same comparison in our language). Its film v/s digital now.

In our eagerness to stick to the original schedule, we did not realise we could actually spend more time if we stayed for a day or two in each of these places. We could have done more justice to all the troubles we took and to those magnificent monuments.

Of course, there is always a next time. If we do the trip on the 40th Anniversary, we will definitely do spend more time at each stop. And yes we will also see an India which would be third largest economy by then.

As they say, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose; the more the things change, they stay the same. The unhurried life in small towns still continue. We caught up with couple of villagers sharing gossip in one afternoon near Patadkal. JK started talking to them and they said they lived in that village for generations and always came to the site in the afternoons. Tell me how many can afford to have daily gossip session under one of the most stunning UNESCO certified world heritage temple’s veranda?

I consider the photo below as the most iconic one taken during our ride.

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Villager talking to his friend. Near Patadkal inside a world heritage site.

An excellent trip which brought back memories our first adventure. Yes there are many changes, but then without change, there is no nostalgia.

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3 thoughts on “Romancing The RX 100 – Part II. Twenty Five Years Later.

Add yours

  1. A truly remarkable nostalgic journey and great if you guys to have thought something like this . I am sure it would also have been a great bonding time and special moments 👍👍

    Like

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