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Delhi to Kolkata on my 1.25 lakh km run Royal Enfield Thunderbird 350

I feel that I was just finding reasons to not pick my newly purchased Hero Xpulse 200 4V for this trip & take my 2016 Thunderbird instead.

BHPian SidharthaN recently shared this with other enthusiasts.

Phew! Writing the subject line reminds me of the vibrations from the handlebar once I reached my destination.

Jokes aside I am surprised the old girl managed it and still has to return back.

So the inception of the plan began when I brought my new XPulse 200 4v which was supposed to do this trip, but due to reasons unknown to me, the Thunderbird was chosen 3 hours before the ride.

Has anyone discussed which bike to take, with a wife who is simply not aware of motorcycle technicalities? I did. But maybe it was her ignorant comment on the Thunderbird being better for its load-carrying and mounting capacity, which had me in two minds. Also a short trip from Delhi to Jaipur and back had me questioning the seat comfort on the Xpulse 4V. So it had to be the old Thunderbird, which frankly at a lac plus on the odo, I was not sure of dependability.

But we made it through one leg of the journey and still have the return pending.

The Bike

Hmm, the protagonist in question is a 2016 Royal Enfield Thunderbird UCE. She was a reject I purchased, the guy who had submitted the booking amount for her, changed his mind and bought a Classic. Good for me since I never experienced a delivery waiting period.

The Thunderbird has undergone a complete chassis change at 90k due to a break beneath the front gear lever, it has undergone a complete wiring harness change due to me playing with multiple aux light options, which in due course of time screwed the wires, an overhaul of the front fork rods as they had developed discoloration and was supposed to gradually break in two pieces as per my mechanic.

There is paint discoloration as I have been playing around with luggage carrying options, panniers, Ladakh carriers and the likes. I am a sucker for retro fairings and windshields. If you notice the Thunderbird started the trip with a wind visor, which was lost midway, more on that later. All of this and many more whimsical modification bouts, and my constant urges to sell it and upgrade to another bike. Eventually, I did purchase an Xpulse 4v, but the Thunderbird stayed. Ironically the number has initials UP16-BB if you get the whiff of what I mean.

I would not want to input my share of RE bashing, but the Thunderbird exhibits all the characters as they say which makes it likeable and hateful at the same time, and you would want to kick either yourself or the bike as to why you chose it, but it is there still marching strong at 1,25,000kms on the odo on the stock engine (yes, the engine has not been opened yet for any kind of work), and still gets me wherever I want without ever breaking a sweat.

Royal Enfield has moved leaps and bounds with different platforms and engines and my Thunderbird does not hold a candle to the wind in comparison but would love to see where is the end point of this rattly, behemoth if ever it finally dismantles and falls apart.

Day 1 - Delhi to Varanasi - 800kms approximately

I do not get sleep as usual before a trip and keep tossing and turning in my bed, still contemplating how to tie my humungous backpack on the Zana luggage plate of the Xpulse. I keep wondering will the Xpulse be stable all across with the load, and will my backside be kind enough and not be prickly on the narrow seat of the X. Was I just finding reasons not to take the new bike and fall back to the Thunderbird which I had no idea if ever will see the morning sunshine 250 kms apart?

The last trip on the Thunderbird had been ages, and it has been relegated to city duties, it has never seen highway tarmac since Justin Bieber grew up. Eerily a voice keeps beckoning in my ear, take the TB!

Enough, I decided to get up from the bed at 2:30am, drag my labrador for her morning routine, make some hot chai, get dressed, kiss wifey goodbye, and saunter to the Thunderbird and start tying the luggage.

"Saab lamba Jaa rahe ho lag raha hai" the security guard exclaims

"Haan pata nahin wapis aa paunga ki nahin" I reply

"To nayi bike kyu nahi le jaate, laal wali Jo khadi hai" he gestures to the Xpulse.

Let me mention something about the Xpulse here. From the day it was purchased, there has not been a single outing either for groceries, or its maiden trip to Jaipur, has the Xpulse not grabbed the eyeballs and attention of folks from all walks of life? It is a novelty wherever it stands, hence the security guard of my apartment happily with a smile nodded his head towards the Xpulse suggesting 'that is what you should take dude!'

I just smile and said "Dekhi jayegi, ab to nikal pade"

Complying with strict instructions from my wife to not take the Yamuna Expressway as she was paranoid the fast traffic will just find and run me over, I take the longer route down the old NH2. As soon as I cross the outskirts of Faridabad I am greeted with fog and low visibility. The retro windshield which I had fitted on the bike was doing its job, simple and straight like all old things, keeping the wind blast out of the way. I have experimented with different windshields on the bike, and found this to be the most effective, little did I know I would lose that midway.

A quick stop at a toll after crossing Faridabad, I needed some chai and a smoke. The weather was decent, not so cold, and bearable enough, but chai to banti hai. Pushed forward and close to Mathura, traffic started building up, along with daylight surfacing. I am on this highway after a long time, and the road conditions are excellent. The lanes have been broadened, with excellent tarmac quality all the way till Agra, post which it still continues to be good almost till Kanpur. Had a quick breakfast at Agra of Aloo Paratha and Chai, and a discussion with the Dhaba owner who owned a Standard CI 500 about the merits of CI and UCE, he is not aware RE has something called J-Series.

"Bullt to bullt hai saab..." He says

I agree wholeheartedly.

Saying ciao to him I straddle and roll off. The Thunderbird had found its sweet spot between 80-90kmph, and I chose to keep it there, two guys on an Interceptor try to race me, two chapri guys on a KTM try the same stunt, finishing it with two guys on Splendor who kept weaving ahead challenging laws of nagin dance. I just keep my head in one place and keep the throttle pinned at 85. Very soon it was evident 'yeh lambe race ke ghode nahin hai' and with the dejected and bored look on their faces that I did not race, they left me to myself after that dose of entertainment.

I cross Etawah and head forward. All along the highway, I keep coming across sign boards to join the ALE. A promise had been made, doubling it with the 'saat phere', for me not to bow to temptation and get on the quicker and shorter route. I keep remembering the books and articles with headers 'The Long Way Home' so be it.

Kanpur outer comes up at around 1:00pm and suddenly car traffic starts breathing down my neck. I had missed them since I crossed Agra and was comfortably cruising all along. I am a bit more cautious with the chaotic traffic, making it over the long city bypass flyover to the road towards Allahabad. The flyover kind of feels claustrophobic now with so many broad flyovers across the country. But it serves an excellent purpose of picking you up before the city, and dropping you after it, you are saved around 20kms of city commute if I am correct on the distances.

Post Kanpur smooth tarmac is found all along, interjected by road diversions due to flyover construction. One reason I have been avoiding this route is due to the frequent diversions which slow your average speed and get you caught up in traffic. On a bike, it was better since I could weave out of trucks and cars and move out of deadlocks. The Allahabad-Varanasi expressway is excellent except for the road undulations on the small bridges which are probably built for local folks to move through to both sides. So it's like you are doing good speeds and suddenly come across a patch of extremely broken and bumpy stretch which jolts you out of the seat. Not sure the engineering brains which formulated these, maybe to break your slumber which you might slip into doing boring expressway speeds, or to awaken one from listless daydreams.

These undulations did make me realise I was losing daylight since we were transitioning into winter, and the panic button was hit since I did not have any aux lights on this iteration of the Thunderbird. The stock projector is as old and ineffective as sunglasses on celebrity eyes at night, there is not just enough visibility.

I decide to push the Thunderbird and keep constant sustainable speeds. I was aware the Allahabad-Varanasi expressway merges with AH 1 which has undergone a major transformation in recent times. There is absolute smooth, wide, tarmac till Varanasi, mixed with random jaywalkers, non-functional big flyover lights, cyclists, cows sitting on the roads, speeding cars, and trucks parked on road edges. By the time I merged on AH 1, it became dark and my concerns surfaced. The single projector was inadequate, and I had to concentrate extra to keep myself from running into something. My speed dropped to 70kmph and while I was trying to keep myself upright I hear a loud crack and something hitting my helmet, sort of a flying rock. I feel the bungee cords on my luggage to ensure they have not snapped, they were intact, so what exactly hit me on this dark night?

Ignoring it I keep moving at a snail's pace. Upon a random glance at the windshield, I find a gaping hole in the middle. Till date I am clueless about how it cracked, it left the entire visor dangling. Here I was trying to make it to Varanasi before 7pm and I was caught up with a huge suspended windshield. Out of sheer coincidence when I stopped to refuel, I found a local mechanic who was able to take the entire piece off. There was no sense lugging the broken part across the remaining trip so decided to donate it to him. I had really gone to lengths to procure this piece, and it did slice out a piece of my heart to find it now broken.

Surviving the dark, dangerous highway I reached Varanasi. I had booked a hostel for the night, this was my first experience in a hostel and did not know what was in the store. Google Aunty is always confused in Varanasi. She is hell-bent on giving you a tour of the city, at any hour you arrive, a true mehmaan nawazi. Accepting her gracious hospitality managed to find my stay for the night. It was in a really narrow congested space with no proper parking. They had advertised on MMT of free parking. The Thunderbird was parked on the main road all night, I thanked myself for not getting the Xpulse, I would have been paranoid throughout of leaving it parked right on the main gully.

I realised hostels are not for travellers who are passing through. My agenda was to freshen up, have dinner, and crash for some hours since I had to leave early morning for the next stretch. That never happened. Also, hostels are for carefree, young people, who have stars in their eyes while watching starry nights, not for middle-aged men like me who after a 700kms ride just wanted a peaceful sleep. My 8 bunker room had random visitors till 1am, the world was alive for them, not for me. By then I had not managed to get any sleep. Still tossing and turning I came to terms there would be no sleep even this night, and I was going to have a sleepless, treacherous, long day ahead.

Day 2 - Varanasi - Kolkata - 750 kms approximately

I get dressed, gather my luggage, wake up the slumbering guard at 3am and move out of the hostel. After a quick tea in kullar and a smoke, I commence the second leg. There were some facts I was aware of and hoped they would change, alas they remained unfulfilled. The roads post-Varanasi is a mixed bag of average tarmac and massive craters. I knew the Thunderbird light was insufficient, but never expected a combination of fog, pitch dark non-existent roads, blinding truck lights from the opposite direction, and massive twelve-wheelers breathing on your neck with no intention of slowing.

I prepared myself mentally to endure this safely till eventually daylight dawns. I am always at my wits end why construction post-Varanasi is still not completed, the entire section on the Uttar Pradesh side, and even post Bihar till Bengal is completed, but the stretch in Bihar remains unfinished. Dodging craters I could not see in the thick fog I almost ran off the ledge of the road at one instance, barely managing to control the bike. Many would comment why take the risk of traveling early when I could have waited for daylight to depart from Varanasi. That is because it takes a long time to cover 800kms on a slow Royal Enfield, and you have to reach the destination before nightfall.

With the onset of daylight, the fog cleared a bit and the weather thawed. I hear a strange whirring noise from the back wheel. I stopped the bike to inspect and found a long piece of yarn all wrapped around the section behind the chain on the wheel. The ideal way of taking it out would have been to remove the wheel and then unwrap the yarn. This was not a feasible option in the middle of the empty highway. I start yanking at the yarn and managed to free most of it. Strands got stuck in the chain which could not be pulled out. I start riding and found the noise had subsided, so decided to continue.

Made good progress crossing Dehri-on-sone, and the wildlife reserve (which has the ghat section, but cannot recollect the name). Through the ghats the Thunderbird made good progress, the torque helped in overtaking slow overload trucks lumbering and wheezing ahead, and cars stuck behind them.

My lack of sleep was catching up now, my speed dropped, and no amount of smoke breaks could negate it. I had no other choice but to move ahead. My breaks increased to keep myself awake. Honestly, at this point somewhere in the middle of Bihar and Jharkhand I was wondering about the purpose of the trip. I had come too far to either quit or go back, the only option was way forward. My cervical pain was unbearable, and my knees and back hurt crazy. The vibrations on the Thunderbird and bad roads made me wonder if I should have brought the Xpulse to deal with conditions in Bihar and Jharkhand. Did I have a choice now? I smiled to myself and just kept pushing forward.

I crossed Bihar and entered Jharkhand. Road conditions improved and the six-length stretch before Dhanbad is too good to be true. Here I wished I was on a Dominar which could easily keep speeds between 100-120kmph on flat empty smooth tarmac, but my saddle was on the Thunderbird which by the way had been effortlessly marching ahead, no hiccups till now.

I have never seen random cattle death on highways, but a huge oil truck on the right suddenly swerved left to avoid hitting a cow, which had jumped in its path. The animal realised its mistake too late and tried avoiding the truck, but was hit by one section of it. I saw it fall, and try to get up, only to fall one last time. Being an animal lover the incident broke my heart. I prayed for its soul to rest in peace. I kept looking at my RVM hoping it would revive, but it never did!

Trudging along I enter Bengal. My ancestral place is in a small town called Kharagpur which is 100 kms off Kolkata on the Mumbai-Kolkata GQ stretch. However to reach my place I do not reach Kolkata and track back on the GQ to Kharagpur. At Raiganj there is a diversion from NH 2 which leads to the single laned NH passing through Bankura, Medinipur, connecting to the GQ again. Traffic on this section runs with an I-care-a-damn attitude, and you have suicidal drivers hurtling at you at breakneck speeds. I generally leave my "Iss-road-pe-gaadi-tera-bhai-chalayega" attitude, and give way to oncoming objects of destruction.

To make things interesting I was randomly accompanied by three young bikers on a RE 500 and FZS, with action cams mounted, all geared up, possibly tripping over the weekend. They kind of wanted to be ahead of me and did not let me pass through. I was not competing, just wanted to make it home in daylight.

I had an eye on the setting sun and knew in the east part of the country the sun would vanish quicker than where I was yesterday. On this route, one encounters flat speed breakers which look harmless the first time you rumble over them at decent speeds but gradually start jolting if you keep ignoring them. The administration ensured they built these every 10-15 kms for one to hardly maintain proper momentum. Of course, the local folks care a hoot and take the challenge to heart, they fly by on them, but me with the loaded Thunderbird slowed down on every one of them.

At the first opportunity, I cross the bikers and make a dash for it, the sun was almost gone and I still had 50 kms to cover. Progress on this single-lane highway is painfully slow. 180 kms takes 6 hours to cover. Darkness finally catches up with me stumbling to make it to the endpoint, I am in the same previous low visibility situation, except this time around I am surrounded by a lot of forest area and super chaotic traffic.

With almighty grace, I manage to make it to the destination in one piece. The smile on my aged parents' faces compensates for the throbbing pain from all parts of my body. It was my mom's birthday and this was a surprise visit from a son who had reached unannounced, a son who was lost in the big city life hardly calls them on phone and rarely visits their small town home, a surprise too big for any materialistic gifts to compensate in their simple life. The Thunderbird just stands there and witnesses the joyous scene, still not skipping a beat!

The return leg will almost be the same, hence I am finishing this travelogue here, but will update you if anything interesting happens. There are not many pictures as I hardly took any on the boring highways. Will surely click more in future, till then ride safe!

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