Destinations / JOURNEY
THE MOTORBIKE JOLTS forward. Adrenaline bursts into my bloodstream and I grab the closest available anchor, my bony-shouldered river, Ujjal. Before I have time to rethink what’s starting to feel like an unnecessary
risk, we barrel down the narrow city street at speeds usually reserved for highways, darting right and then left and
then careening forward.
My eyes water at the blast of dust and air. Ujjal confidently threads the bike through the fray, only slowing
when we hit a snarl of taxis, buses and tuk-tuks (
auto-rickshaws). We push through slivers of roadway, bumping up
against vehicles on all sides, the front wheel of the motorbike wedging for ward until there’s nowhere left to go. We
stutter to an abrupt stop.
A chorus of revving engines surrounds us. I release
my vise grip on Ujjal. As I suck in a ragged breath, more
engine exhaust than air, it dawns on me that this is proba-
bly the best way to experience India. Not traveling by train
or car or foot, but strapped on the back of a rocket being
steered by a speed demon roughly half my age. Taking
the risk. Living precariously. A fitting mode of travel in a
country that, from my first impressions, thrives on relent-
less forward thrust.
Engines roar around us, revving like we’re queued at
the start line of the Grand Prix. I seize the back of my seat.
My stomach flip-flops.
Three. Two. One …
The light turns green. The motorbike bucks under us. I
cinch my scarf over my grin, grab onto Ujjal, and we gallop
off at a full sprint.
MY HUSBAND AND I PLANNED THE MOTORBIKE
tour long before ever seeing the streets of India. It was
one of the few tours we scheduled before leaving on our
three-week trip, a first visit to India for both of us. By the
time we hit Kolkata, a week in, we had become as wary of
guided tours as we were of the congested roadways. All
the guides we had hired thus far had led us straight to the
worst of the infamous India touts instead of helping us
avoid them. But we made the motorbike tour reservations
through a well-known, well-reviewed company called
Backpackers and decided to give it a chance.