For my travel Column (Travel, Horizon, The Assam Tribune)

My previous record of hitting man and animals, lamp posts and walls - impromptu, has laid a full stop to my association with the steering wheel. And since nobody lends me their vehicles, I have no alternative but to wait for the day I buy my own, perfect my driving skills and set the streets aflame – this time, sans collisions, hopefully! A recent flick, The Fast and the Furious - Tokyo Drift has especially got me enamoured with speeding machines.

So today's feature is for those whose adrenaline starts pumping at the very mention of "S.P.E.E.D"!! Please note, I am not encouraging letting loose the fast and the furious in you right at the GS Road or the Chandmari fly over. Choose winding hilly tracks and a time when they remain comparatively free of passersby. I remember Don, my biker boyfriend (now husband), amuse me endlessly with his biking travelogues and his grand, long sweeps through the length and breadth of the nation, at times financed by bigwig travel agents as a publicity stunt.

The most challenging biking route in India, I have concluded, is the Manali to Shimla one via Khardungla pass (18370 feet) - the world’s highest motorable road laced with lush grasslands, endless expands of apple orchards, villages and steep climbs. Choose summers for this ride. Another track that I found exciting is near Kanchenjunga from Sikkim to Darjeeling, with plush tea gardens and snow capped peaks flanking your tracks. Another one for nature lovers is the route from Mussourie to Dhantoli, with the greater Himalayas in the backdrop, and amidst antique villages of Guptakashi, gurgling streams, highlands of Chopta in the Kedarnath musk deer sanctuary. On route you can even halt at the pilgrimage haunts - Rishikesh (great place for white water rafting) and Haridwar. If you are looking for easy and smooth rides, try the stretches at the Terai forests along the foothills of Nainital and the hills of Himachal Pradesh. Alternatively, you can also find yourself a travel agent who will provide you an entire tour plan, vehicles and necessary guidance. Group trips are also arranged by these agents that take off at regular intervals.

Non-bikers, take that rugged jeep out of your garage or rent one and set out on those winding, wooded, dirty, lonesome and weathered Indian roads. Jeep safari tours are best enjoyed when clubbed with trips to wildlife resorts en route and other adventure options like camping in the wild, trekking, photography, angling and what not. Even better if it is your own vehicle as you will have all the leisure and the comfort to suit yourself to your interests, like Don loved halting on and off to explore the varied geomorphology, clusters of travel villages, ruins of ancient monuments and so on. Himalayan regions like Leh, Ladakh, Kinnaur, Spity, Manali, Kumaon and Garhwal have abundance of such safari expeditions. Rajasthan’s forested valleys and arid hills also give you a different kind of safari flavour. The Shekhawati and Mewar region, Udaipur and Jaisalmer are options you should give a check. Once again, you can approach travel agents you want to take a driver who will double up as a guide, in case you do not want to depend entirely on the map. But getting lost and finding your way back adds to the thrill of the safari, doesn’t it?

Winding routes cut out on steep hills for travel, deep gorges, where if you have time to stop and listen minutely, you will hear the soft gurgle of some stream that snakes through it, the endless terrain expands of the desert where your journey might transform into a quest for an oasis. All you need is a zest for adventure, control of your vehicle, a good company who shares your spirit (optional) and of course financial resources (compulsory). Winding up, I am reminded of Che Guevara’s The Motorcycle Diaries. A real story of Guevara and his friends’ exploration of north America on their antique hot wheels in their early 20s. Check the movie by the same name, for the book is rarely found. This one, if not biking, will surely set you dreaming about it.

Till next time, keep your wanderlust fuelled.

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