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And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music." So said Friedrich Nietzsche, reportedly. I also know that Nietzsche suffered a mental breakdown, so he may have been sympathetic to individuals who were labelled insane. When I tell people that I gave up plum jobs in two magazines that I founded 14 years ago and started an adventure motorcycling outfit, I get the same vibe: “This guy is completely nuts."

I’m 52 years old, no longer young yet not too old to seek adventure on a motorcycle. With two wheels at my disposal, I have the means to willingly succumb to that mysterious force which draws me away from the comforts of home and feed the insatiable desire to unearth the source of the drumbeat only a few of us hear, and even fewer march to. I want to ruminate in the shade of old whitewashed chortens on some ancient trade route, to feel the blur and bite of the atmosphere in the way that’s so exclusive to motorcycle riding. I want to point my bike up that trail I spotted last year that people say leads to a place of indescribable beauty 14,000ft high. I want to expand the horizon of my personal geography by riding in the mysterious North-East.

Adventure motorcyclists are a twisted lot, craving dirt, dust and rock, extreme temperatures and a gruelling environment, all in the interest of riding on two wheels. This is what riding is about, actually being there and doing what can’t be done, then reminiscing about the journey, sharing it with your friends and family, while all the time knowing at the back of your mind that because they weren’t there, they won’t comprehend the scope of your tale. Still, you are compelled to tell it, and still they are compelled to listen.

However, the great truth about adventure rides—indeed, motorcycle rides of any kind—is that there is no single standard for what someone else finds rewarding. If you get on a motorcycle, any motorcycle, and ride it somewhere, anywhere, as long as you come back feeling recharged and full of tales you want to share—well, congratulations, you’ve had an adventure.

Some of my favourite rides go through unpaved roads in Himachal Pradesh, and include ferry rides to travel along the western coast.

Pangi Valley, Himachal Pradesh

Pangi Valley
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Pangi Valley

There are no fast-food chains or five-star hotels on this route and it is much the better for that.

Mumbai-Goa on the coastal route

Till a few years ago, I had to follow the estuaries and creeks back to National Highway 17 at several points on this route and double back to the coast as bridges were few and the “jungle" ferries would refuse to load my heavily laden Royal Enfield aboard their traditional passenger boats. Today, one can do this ride without touching any major highways, starting with a ferry ride from Ferry Wharf in Mumbai that will take you across to the mainland at Rewas, near Alibag. After this, four ride-on, ride-off ferries and countless bridges will take you to Goa all along the coast.

The ride adds about 200km to a normal Mumbai-Goa ride via the national highways, but it is a ride that is best enjoyed at leisure.

Dodra-Kwar Ride, Rupin Valley, Himachal Pradesh

If you have a week to kill, then head out to the Rupin Valley. What makes this ride special is that for centuries the only way to reach Dodra-Kwar was a multi-day walk. In 2009, a road was finally built to Dodra-Kwar from Rohru in Himachal that loops through thick woods of rhododendron, deodar and Himalayan birch, and waterfalls and fast-flowing streams. Over all this towers the Chanshal range—the barrier to the Rupin Valley and Dodra-Kwar for so many years—and the eponymous pass at 12,600ft high that grudgingly allows access beyond.

Harsh Man Rai runs Helmet Stories, an adventure travel company that offers motorcycle tours in India. Formerly, he was the co-founder of Man’s World and Rolling Stone India.

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