If you’re going to explore India by road, there’s really no option when it comes to your wheels: you’ve simply got to ride a Royal Enfield Bullet, the country’s quintessential cult motorbike. Originally made in Worcestershire, they’re now exclusively built down in Tamil Nadu and are a timeless classic, loved the world over for their unique sound and ride, having been in production since 1948.
I rent my bike from a friend in Goa who runs motorbike tours throughout India and set off knowing there are a few key places that I want to see, but content on the whole to follow my nose and the sun. After spending a few days exploring Goa, I head east into Karnataka state. The roads fairly quickly start climbing upward as you head in to the western ghats, leaving the Arabian Sea behind you. The landscape turns greener and more rugged, monkeys start appearing on the roadside and there are stunning views back down towards the coast. Once up on the plateaus, the landscape flattens out and the views are incredible: ever-changing landscapes, colours, smells and endless smallholdings with fields full of people tending to their crops and free-roaming cows at every turn.
I go through valleys, villages and towns that tourists rarely visit and everywhere I go I am greeted with great warmth and curiosity. Eventually I arrive at Hampi, a 4,000-hectare site home to the ruins of the ancient city founded in 200BC. As well as being an architectural marvel, full of hugely varied and richly designed buildings, it is a place of great spiritual importance, where people come to bathe in the blessed river waters and find enlightenment. I start my days doing yoga with a young local Indian lad I meet, which is a refreshing change to my experience of intense London and Goan classes. We do basic vinyasa at dawn for about 20 minutes then meditate for half an hour as the sun comes up before drinking chai overlooking the paddy fields.
After three days of exploration I head off, venturing deeper into the heart of southern India, stopping at roadside cafés for chai and plates of dhal, rice and chapati, staying in all manner of places from basic huts to grand old hotels. People assume that India is a difficult place to explore on a motorbike because of the roads and the traffic, but in the south at least, the driving conditions are fine, and I find it a joyful country to ride in. I pass by Mysore, the home of yoga, before turning west and dropping down to the Keralan coast. I then head north alongside the ocean and back towards Goa, eating fish curries and coconuts on the way. Eventually, I arrive back in Goa and reluctantly say goodbye to the bike and to the majesty that is India – wonderful companions both.
By Dan Annett, Photo Director, Secret Trips. Dan is a British photographer and director specialising in fashion, portrait and lifestyle images. danannett.com