October 19, 2013, will always be a fond memory for me. This is the day I took my first solo night trip with my sweetheart. She only allowed me this freedom after we dated for almost a year and I still haven’t fully understood her. Well, she’s not just any girl after all. She is my Royal Enfield Std 350CC Bullet and sometimes I wonder if I own or own her.
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I had chosen Agra as my destination, where I last visited many years ago when a boy piled into the backseat of my parents’ car amidst the luggage. The day dawned bright and clear with a pleasant cool breeze. Perfect conditions for motorcycling! Although I woke up quite late, I had a song in my heart because I wasn’t so worried about saving time for sightseeing. The ride meant more to me. I got ready and prepared the simple bachelorette breakfast from Bread & Omelettes. For luggage, I emptied my laptop bag and filled it with a single change of clothes and my toothbrush.
Now for the ride!
It was 9:30 in the morning by the time I spoke to my “Black Beauty.” She purred to life with just one light kick and it seemed she anticipated this journey more than I did. Agra is about 200 km from Gurgaon. I took the Gurgaon-Sohna-Palwal-Mathura-Agra route. After crossing Sohna, which is about 20 km from Gurgaon, the traffic started to thin out and I was able to maintain steady speeds of 70-80 km/h. There were only a few bad stretches and the road conditions had improved beautifully after Palwal. For the first time I even dared to push her past speeds of 100 km / h for 4 to 5 km. No, I’m not a speed demon. Indian Railways is to blame. After all, how can anyone blame me if a train on the tracks next to the road dared to challenge my ‘Bull’ by trying to whiz faster than me?
The first halt
As most of my fellow ixigmen (ixigo residents) will attest to the fact that I’m not an athlete, I know that riding non-stop is nowhere near my capabilities. So I had decided to divide my journey into 50 km segments. I took my first stop at a Dhaba on the outskirts of Palwal. Surprisingly I wasn’t tired at all but still stopped for a cup of tea and a few smokes.
The next leg
After my break at the Dhaba in Palwal, I was about to go again and only stopped when I came across a strange old pillar-like monument on the side of the road. There was a board in front of the pillar, which read the heritage monument and described it as ‘Kos Minar’. When I asked some friendly local guys about its significance, I learned that such minors (pillars) were built in the old days, when there were no good roads. These minis served as landmarks to guide travelers.
Next halt – a tryst with bears
Sur Sarovar Bird Sanctuary! Never heard of this name? Well, neither did I and in fact I actually heard about this place before I heard it. Barely 12 km before Agra there was a sign on the left side of the road with the words ‘Sur Sarovar Bird Sanctuary’ over it. Manning of the entrance to the forest where a couple of middle-aged gentlemen. I was supercharged with my ride and in the mood for a chat. I offered them cigarettes and asked about the shrine. They were very friendly and helpful. They also told me that there is a bear enclosure in the sanctuary. After purchasing tickets, I headed to a refreshingly wooded lot and reached the shores of Keetham Lake. There are no birds to be seen at this time of year. However, there are facilities for pedal boats on the tranquil lake.
From here I went to the area of the bears, which is kept under lock and key. A guard unlocked the gate and accompanied me. The good part is that the bears here are not confined to cages. There is a beautiful walking trail surrounded by electrified fences to keep some of the more curious bears at bay. I heard from the warden that the bears here were rescued from bear managers and now they live a peaceful life complete with medical care and are free to lounge around in the woods. Sanctuary means ‘refuge’ and the word seemed to come to life here. In fact, I felt that the lifestyle of the bears here was comparable to that of ravaged old men who have earned their comeuppance and live comfortable lives in rural farms. By now I had roamed the shrine for almost 2 hours. It was getting late and I quickly grabbed some snacks from the sanctuary cafeteria and was on my way again.
The last leg
The last 10-20km were a dampener! After spending the past few hours tormenting over verdant farmland and soothing jungles, the bustling city of Agra proved a bit of a letdown. Besides, the sun seemed ready for its nocturnal slumber and I hadn’t done any sightseeing in Agra yet. Well I somehow managed to reach Mehtab Bagh just before sunset and was able to click some isolated photos of the Taj Mahal before it got really dark. However, the sad part was that by then Mehtab Bagh was closed and I had to take pictures from outside the ‘Bagh’.
By now it was getting really dark and I had the heavy task of hunting the hotel before me. So I trudged laboriously to my ‘bull’ parked lazily outside Mehtab Bagh. A group of young police officers stood by my beloved and I thought that they would probably ask for documents. However, to my pleasant surprise, they discussed my bull and seemed quite confused by the fact that I had driven all the way from Gurgaon.
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