The Ultimate How-To Guide for Foreign Travelers
Left Hand Driving
Though we did have a few close calls during our first days on the bike, we had expected getting used to driving on the left side of the road to be much more difficult than it turned out to be. By month two, driving on the left side of the road actually felt completely natural. Just remember: “Left is right and right is wrong” and you’ll do just fine.
Using a vehicle’s horn in most part of the world is limited to extreme emergencies – say, the brakes go out on your car and you must warn other drivers. Or perhaps you’d use the horn to say hello to a friend driving by with a quick *beep.*
In India honking is an incessant part of highway life and is used to communicate just about anything – or nothing at all. It may be done for any of the following reasons:
- To declare one’s presence.
- To question what is happening.
- To express annoyance of traffic.
- To request/state that one is going to pass or “overtake” as it is referred to in India.
- For any other (un)fathomable reason at all.
Signs depicting distances between locations are never, we repeat NEVER, to be trusted. While they are sometimes correct, typically they’re wrong but only by a few kilometers. We have seen them be so entirely incorrect as to be off by hundreds of kilometers, though. We suggest using a GPS or a smartphone instead of relying on kilometer markers.
Generally speaking, motorcyclists are allowed on toll roads yet do not pay tolls in India. Typically there is a mini-lane to the far left of the toll booths where the motorcycles pass through toll free. A toll booth employee may not think twice about accepting a newbie rider’s money if they unwittingly choose to ride through the paying lanes.
Two exceptions to the rule in our experience:
- In order to ride on the Yamuna Expressway linking Delhi to Agra even motorcyclists pay tolls. Paying the toll is entirely worth it in order to ride on the road’s flawless surface.
- We were denied entry to a toll road in Delhi but with a bit of feigned foreigner confusion we were eventually allowed through.
Things You Should Carry
Most anything you’d need for your bike or your trip you can buy on the road. However, a few things are either at times seemingly impossible to find in India or more expensive in rural areas. Here are our suggestion on a few items to carry on you:
- Spark plugs
- Bungees – Have a few extra in case one breaks or you need extra reinforcement for a drooping luggage rack or extra luggage. High quality homemade bungees can be made out of cutting long strips of bicycle or motorcycle tire tubes and braiding them.
- One additional tire tube
- A liter of oil – 20/50 is particularly hard to find (*an Enfield takes 2.5 liters)
- A good bike manual – Pete Snidal wrote a great one for the Royal Enfield Bullet
- Rain proofing for your luggage – A tarp, feed sacks and a dry sack for electronics and important documents
- Rain suit, rain boots, low gaiters - Military markets and adventure stores can be a good place to buy these things in India.
We advise foreign motorcyclists to carry several sets of copies of your license and bike documentation in the case that these papers are requested from police officers or border officials. Not only does this make encounters with these officials much easier, but it keeps you from getting into situations where a corrupt officer is holding your passport and original documents, wasting your time in hopes of getting a bribe out of you.
No, seriously: If you are a law abiding citizen ignore the police. When we first heard this advice from another foreign motorcyclist we thought he must have been crazy. As it turns out the police in India generally don’t seem to be around anyway, and if they are they aroud they don’t seem to be making a big effort to actually enforce any rules. While on paper there may be laws on Indian roads, in practice there are not.
There are a few exceptions to our advice. DO always stop for a police officer in the following situations:
- At foreign border crossings.
- At borders between states which have recently opened to foreign tourists (Nagaland, for example).
- If an officer is vehemently telling you to stop.
- If EVERYONE else is stopping.
With a multi-entry India visa riding your motorcycle into nearby Nepal is a cinch with the Nepalese visa being granted right at the border. Other countries aren’t so easy for a foreigner to ride into, such as Bhutan or Pakistan, and would require obtaining a visa in advance.
Some information about riding in and out of Nepal:
- Travelers of most nationalities can obtain a 15-day visa on arrival at the border at the cost of $25USD.
- In addition to the visa you will need to pay a road tax for the amount of days you’re planning on riding in Nepal, which is the equivalent to a dollar or two a day. While this is paid in advance it is easily extended at official offices in Kathmandu- request further information at your entry point to the country.
- If you have been granted a multi-entry visa from India re-entering the country is easy and a 60-day absence from the country isn’t actually required (*unless specifically noted in your visa).
Though we loved each and every day of our 3.5 month Indian bike adventure, our weeks spent motorcycling the Leh, Ladakh circuit were some of the best. The scenery, wildlife, “off-roading,” and serenity are not to be missed.