Rider on the storm
IT is day 72 of his journey and we manage a talk with city-boy Ronald Shalo after he catches up on some sleep and before he makes his exit from Mukteshwar in Uttarakhand. What seems like a rather odd request from the 25-year-old, who is fluent in English, to speak in his native tongue of Tamil may actually be a little bit of homesickness, but he denies it. Setting out on his lone adventure of covering the 29 states and seven union territories in India, while visiting Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar along the way, Ronald left home in Coimbatore on his modified two-stroke 1991 Bajaj Chetak on August 20. With no apparent deadline to his ride, the International Business Graduate from Sri Krishna College of Arts and Science believes it may be another five months before he heads home.
Fifty thousand km on a Bajaj Chetak sounds like a gruelling task.
This is no ordinary Bajaj Chetak (laughs). For starters, it is a year older than me and can touch a top speed of 110 kmph. I have modified the vehicle to suit my requirements, both in terms of its aesthetics and engine performance.The Chetak comes with a two-port cylinder. The changes I have made to the engine include a three-port cylinder engine, big bore carburettor, a main jet in the carburettor at 94 percent, modified carburettor port, free flow exhaust and a four-cylinder piston.
The carrier on the scooter is from a TVS XL, the fuel tank lock I took from a Premier Padmini car, while the headlights are from a Toyota Canter lorry.
This ride isn’t about completing a set distance, I hope to meet and interact with different people, which is why I spend a minimum of two days at a given location.
How many kilometres do you average on a daily basis?
Most of the time it is about 150 km. If I find a good camping spot towards the evening, I usually pitch my tent there and spend a relaxed evening. On other occasions, if I have needed to reach a destination, I drive through the night. I think the longest distance I have ridden in a day is about 800 km.
So what’s the roadmap like?
Honestly, there is little or no planning that goes into the route. I have tried to avoid the highways, that way I get to go to the smaller villages and spend my time with farmers, fish farmers and the working class. They are the warmest people and are willing to offer you food and shelter at all points. This trip was quite unexpected, to begin with. I started off from Coimbatore with just two weeks of planning.
What about the budgeting involved?
Most of my money goes on fuel and repairs to the scooter. I think I have spent almost Rs 26,000 on just fuel. I cook my own food most of the time and I sleep in my tent. There are times I sleep at temples or Gurudwaras. I even slept at a fuel station in Gujarat.
You've travelled 14 states and 4 union territories so far. What has been your best experience so far?
I love Punjab. The longest duration I have spent in one state has been in Punjab. I spent 24 days there and that trip cost me just Rs 200. I remember while I was driving into Amritsar I was looking for a place to pitch my tent for the night when I got pulled over by these men in a White Swift along the Highway. They had seen my number plate and figured that I wasn’t from town. Within the next few minutes we became friends and I found myself staying with them for the next couple of days. People in Punjab and Tamil Nadu are very similar in terms of culture, warmth and share a love for food. (laughs).
The 15,000 km you have travelled includes your trip to Khardung La (which is 17,582 ft above sea level)
Off-roading was a task. I was riding my scooter like it was a motor-cross bike (laughs). During the climb, the pick up on the scooter was dead. So all I could do was put my scooter into first gear and walk along with it. A lot many riders and locals found the sight quite hilarious.
Where are you heading to next?
I do have a general idea on where I am heading towards. Next on my list is Nepal, Bhutan and then the North East. My next stops are in UP—Aligarh, Lucknow, Varanasi after which I head towards Nepal. That will be the first country I visit. My trip back will include passing through Central India. I have about 35,000 km left to ride.
Follow Ronald’s journey on his Facebook page. Details: facebook.com/ronaldshalo