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★★★☆☆

“In January 2011 we did an HC Travel/Kerala Bike Tours...”

Written on: 10/03/2011 by 101sylvia (6 reviews written)

In January 2011 we did an HC Travel/Kerala Bike Tours two week
mountains and beaches motorcycle tour of Kerala.

It was a tremendous privilege to have ridden a classical Royal Enfield
in India. Perhaps one of those "must do before you die" activities
for anyone who likes to think of themselves as a motorcyclist.

Our charismatic English tour guide and his two Indian accomplices made
a great team, ably looking after clients and motorcycles with an
impressive range of Indian languages between them. Before departure
our group of seven were shown the spare bike already loaded on a
vehicle and ready to go if a replacement was needed. Our bikes were
350cc Bullets with 4 speed gearbox, drum brakes, right foot
gearchange, kickstart and decompresser. They were all quite old, but
nicely turned out with good paintwork, some were on their third
rebuild. Kicking over the 350cc single was easy with the aid of the
decompresser, and any occasional kickback was very mild. Each morning
our machines were checked over with engines warmed and ready to start.

The back up was reassuring. We were followed by a support vehicle
whose highly competent driver negotiated his way through the traffic,
most impressively shielding the group from many of the following
vehicles. Any riders who had difficulty re-starting their mount after
an untimely engine cut out were rapidly rescued as the support truck
pulled up, and its passenger and mechanic jumped out to provide an
expert kick. Luggage and drinking water were carried along with tools
and spares. In the event of illness or injury the talented mechanic
can swap places with the client who is then able to travel in air
conditioned luxury. Pillion passengers could also travel in the
support vehicle.

In India they generally drive on the left, this is however the only
similarity with the UK. We found the roads very much busier and more
urban than expected, even the twisty mountain routes were often
dominated by trucks, buses and exhaust fumes. Many town centres were
absolute bedlam. Surprisingly road rage is non existent, despite the
outrageous manoeuvres which are virtually compulsory. Use of the horn
is essential when passing other vehicles, and at all other times!
Once acclimatised to the riding it becomes fun, an interesting
challenge where you can do no wrong, anything is acceptable, just
weave round everything and keep going regardless. The tedious urban
sprawl requires constant concentration to avoid homicidal bus drivers
as well as conquering the eccentricities of the Enfield gearbox.

We felt there was always plenty to do, with little time to laze
around. Many mornings we set off directly after an early breakfast.
We found our tour guide most attentive with a genuine desire to keep
us all safe and happy. As we rode past groups of schoolchildren their
enthusiastic smiles and waves made us feel most welcome; indeed it is
easy to develop misguided delusions of grandeur as one returns their
waves in regal fashion.

All our hotels looked splendid; sometimes they were glossy marble and
uniformed staff, in other places a unique setting, and occasionally
both grandeur and spectacular views. We usually spent ages in
magnificent hotel reception areas while the incredibly slow process of
checking in, room allocation and luggage delivery took place. At
least on this tour you never have to lumber up two flights of stairs
with helmet, top box and tank bag while sweating in armoured clothing.
Actually we were often served a most welcome drink while we waited.

The alcohol situation in Kerala was a big surprise to us. We
foolishly assumed that all hotels would have a bar, infact almost all
had a "mini bar" but none contained any alcoholic drinks. By popular
demand our guide managed to ensure that beer was provided every
evening, but often at grossly inflated prices and sometimes only late
at night in the privacy of the hotel room. Spirits appeared to be
virtually unobtainable, with the exception of just one excellent
establishment.

Our tour was marketed as a luxury experience. There were too many
occasions when I felt hurried into an early start, hot, dirty and
uncomfortable at hectic roadsides, as well as too few hotels that
provided a consistently hot shower for me to agree. I did however have
a brilliant holiday. My enduring memories are of the enigmatic Royal
Enfield experience on dirt tracks, mountain and manic roads, sunny
hillsides a patchwork of tea plantations, wonderful elephant
encounters, friendly waves and smiling faces, huge hotel beds,
Kingfisher beer and good company. After all that activity you may
deserve a few days rest and recuperation.

Our booking and airfares were handled by HC Travel in the UK www.hctravel.com
Within India all arrangements were made by www.keralabiketours.com
If you go to India be aware that the visa application is bureaucratic, time consuming and costly.

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