September 1, 2021 12:30:13 pm
In 2018, 32-year-old Bengaluru-based graphic designer Urvi Singh (name changed) was in London on a work trip. Through the help of a local travel group, she decided to visit Scotland as well. The four-day trip was a life-changing experience for her. Not only did she feel positively overwhelmed by the picturesque country, she also enjoyed the company of strangers, who went on to become her friends. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime journey that changed my perspective. I made friends in an unlikely corner of the world,” she says.
When Singh got married the following year, she found herself in the pleasant company of her friends, with whom she had forged a unique bond in a foreign country.
For most people, travelling is a favourable experience, which is viewed from the prism of genuine curiosity — an appetite to visit new places, learn about new cultures, and possibly interact with locals. It is seen as an intangible takeaway which can fill a person with lifelong humility and a sense of belongingness.
Many people, when they travel, leave a part of themselves there, and return an incomplete puzzle. It then becomes extremely heartwarming if they find a kindred spirit, who keeps the missing piece of theirs for life, like an intimate experience shared platonically between two strangers.
And that brings us to this story: that while most people believe travelling to be something that is planned comfortably with family and friends, there is an entire gamut of travellers, who get their kick out of travelling solo, or in the company of total strangers, from whom they learn more about life.
Twenty-four-year-old solo traveller Ranjith Singh is one of them. Based out of Kanyakumari, Singh, a technical recruiter, has been travelling for three years now. “I started motorcycling, both solo and in groups. Travelling means everything to me. It teaches good things, like patience, budget, managing, etc.,” he tells indianexpress.com.
Singh is a part of a group of people who genuinely believe that travelling together fosters friendship between strangers. “You meet the nicest people on motorcycles, and I have met a lot of nice souls on my rides. People who ride motorcycles have a similar mindset. That similar wavelength will make two strangers become best friends forever. I have got to meet and connect with a lot of people through these events, and I now have friends from Maharashtra, Kerala, Assam,” he adds.
Singh shares that he was in Munnar, Kerala, on a Royal Enfield Unroad 2019 trip, when he felt deeply attached to other riders. “They had allotted one cottage to four persons; one of them was my friend, and the other two were unknown to me — one was from Kerala and another from Kolhapur. We started having some casual conversations — that became deep talks — sharing past motorcycle stories, experiences and more. This is how a meaningful bond was built.”
In the pandemic, Singh feels a certain “frustration” owing to the travel restrictions. But he does have plans to travel soon. “I’m more of a spontaneous traveller; I basically don’t plan rides much. The longest plan which we ever had was to go to the Royal Enfield Rider Mania which happens in Goa every November. If I’m planning rides, the first thing that matters to me is the distance. Only according to it, we can calculate the expense. If it is a short ride, one day would be enough. But, if it is a long ride, let’s say 1,500 km (one way), it’s practically impossible to cover it in a day. So, we have to plan accordingly, right from the accommodation, food, stay, etc.”
While Singh travels solo and finds friends on the way, GA Rajkumar, the vice president of Royal Pandiyas Madurai Enfielder’s Club, organises group rides for peer travellers. He tells this outlet that the Club is a platform which was “started in 2010, and has been organising rides for peer travellers since then”. “We felt it was kind of like travelling with our family. The bond that was created among our riders gives us immense pleasure.”
Rajkumar feels there is something special about bonding over bikes. “Touring with friends enhances the motorcycle experience even more. During long rides, the riders enjoy every pit stop by dancing and relaxing together. If there are breakdowns, the group always helps. The bond is maintained much beyond riding: attending family functions, being there in good and bad times, etc.”
The Club has participated in Marquee Rides of Royal Enfield like Tour of Rajasthan, Tour of North East in 2018, Reunion Coorg, Unroad Munnar, Himalayan Odyssey 2019. Their next dream ride is participating in the Tour of Nepal.
Of course, the pandemic has made it difficult to plan a proper odyssey. Rajkumar says among other roadblocks, there is hesitation on the part of riders to “participate in the rides, due to Covid spread and government restrictions across various places in the country”. “Planning a mass ride has been difficult. Recently, however, we have seen an increase in the number of people opting for motorcycles to travel and our group makes a difference. We teach our riders the need for safe and responsible travel.”
Sumitra Senapaty, the founder of Women on Wanderlust (WOW) Club, weighs in on this, stating that many summers ago, in 2005, they had started inspiring women to travel together. “Today, we see women have continued those friendships, and they thank WOW profusely for it,” she tells indianexpress.com.
The WOW Club essentially operates on the idea of curated journeys, which include a little bit of everything — “adventures like hiking or kayaking; fun and conversations during cocktails, spa visits; checking out local cuisines; sightseeing and must-see, must-do. We ensure women indulge in ‘me time’,” Senapaty says, adding that they are “waiting patiently for the pandemic to end”.
“We have plans to explore unusual destinations like Mongolia, Madagascar, Azores, Corsica, and more. We have had expeditions to Antarctica twice in the last four years, and we plan to revisit and do a trip to the Arctic, too. We plan to have more social events like book readings, wine evenings and movie evenings so that our community and friendships continue to become even stronger and meaningful.”
Interestingly, the WOW Club has “slowly started trips in India for vaccinated members”. “Uzbekistan in September and Maldives [later] are some of our first international forays since the pandemic started,” Senapaty shares.
For travel enthusiasts looking to forge such friendships, she says, “Women who decide to travel solo and be a part of our community, are those who are bold and willing to explore outside their own worlds, so to say. They are prepared for new and exciting experiences! So my suggestion is have an open and free attitude, be patient, observant and alert. Pack light and be prepared to enjoy the company of like-minded women.”
Rajkumar agrees and says that motorcycling, as a genre, has a “strong synergy with travelling and touring”. “Millennial riders prefer group riding to enjoy the company of other fellow riders. Travelling together creates a strong bonding between riders and group riding gives more confidence to them. They feel safe and secure.”
He says that in 2019 — during the Himalayan Odyssey — one of the Club’s members had got stuck in a water crossing near Leh. “Some fellow riders from other clubs crossed him and notified me. I immediately rushed to the location, sought help from other club members who pulled the bike from the river and saved our rider. He thanked us for being with him.”
Interestingly, they had also once organised a surprise birthday party for a 65-year-old rider, who had been a part of the club for over five years. “We had developed a strong connection with him. These are a few of the many sweet and caring moments that happened during our riding journey,” Rajkumar says.
On his part, Singh explains that befriending strangers is easy. “If you see someone on a motorcycle, go to them and have a little chat. I’m sure you’ll become best friends. That’s how riders are! After becoming friends, it’s your responsibility to sustain it. Constantly keep in touch, meet if possible, do rides together. If you make a friend through motorcycling, I can assure you they will have you in their minds forever.”
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