Destination India

Roaring through Rajasthan on a vintage motorcycle

Kate Springer and Dan Tham, CNNUpdated 9th May 2019
(CNN) — At a gas station in a small village, just outside of New Delhi, a group of travelers meets for the first time.
They're from all walks of life, but they've come for the same purpose: an adventure through India's regal region of Rajasthan with Vintage Rides, a New Delhi-based company that specializes in motorcycle tours.
Though infamous for its traffic, India is actually easily traveled by motorbike, with riders able to access back roads, traverse country trails and stop as they please.
These include destinations like Rajasthan, where the landscapes, markets, towns and architecture erupt with color and energy.
"For me, travel happens when you start having unexpected encounters," Alexandre Zurcher, director of Vintage Rides tells CNN Travel.
"We take groups of riders off the beaten track and [into] villages, where people are not used to seeing tourists. So, what happens is always unexpected."

Revving up in Delhi

Vintage Rides offers travelers a chance to explore India on Royal Enfield motorbikes.
Vintage Rides offers travelers a chance to explore India on Royal Enfield motorbikes.
Geraldine Shandilya/Vintage Rides
At the age of 19, Zurcher discovered his passion for motorbikes during a student exchange program in Delhi.
"I have had many experiences riding motorcycles in India but the most memorable was my very first ride from Kanyakumari [a southern coastal town] to the north of India," says Zurcher.
"I thought that traveling by motorbike really enabled an authentic interaction with the local population."
Inspired by his personal journeys, the French expat launched Vintage Rides in 2006.
Since then, the company has expanded to 10 destinations, including India, Laos, Bhutan, Thailand, Nepal, Mongolia, Sri Lanka, South Africa and Peru.
A fan of vintage bikes, Zurcher turned to the slow and steady Royal Enfield as the ride of choice for the company's group tours.
"You have time to enjoy the landscape, to meet people, to stop and interact -- and that's what we love about traveling on a Royal Enfield," says Zurcher.
He adds that these bikes not only look cool but also possess cultural meaning, having been produced in the country for decades.
"Indians used to ride the British Royal Enfield when [the country] was part of the British Empire. After independence, Enfield India started production in the late 50s," says Zurcher.
"[This bike] has a very strong connection with the people of India."
“What happens is always unexpected.”
Alexandre Zurcher, director of Vintage Rides

On the road in Rajasthan

Journeys include stops at villages, temples, palaces and national parks.
Journeys include stops at villages, temples, palaces and national parks.
Franck Charton/Vintage Rides
A specialist in motorbike tours, Vintage Rides organizes dozens of distinct itineraries across India.
There's a 10-day luxury tour that twists through the Himalayan mountains, as well as a Routes of Hinduism trip that stops at 10th century temples, palaces and national parks in central Madhya Pradesh.
But the 13-day New Land of Maharajas ride from Delhi to Varanasi -- with stops in Pushkar, Jodhpur, the Taj Mahal and the sacred town of Varanasi -- remains one of the most popular routes.
Along the journey, riders pass camels in the desert, stop in tiny villages and stay overnight in traditional havelis -- ornate mansions built between the 17th and 19th centuries by wealthy merchants.
While there's a daily schedule, there's no way to really predict what the ride will bring.
"Travel happens when you start having unexpected encounters," says Alexandre Zurcher, director of Vintage Rides.
"Travel happens when you start having unexpected encounters," says Alexandre Zurcher, director of Vintage Rides.
Franck Charton/Vintage Rides
For instance, when CNN Travel joins the trip, we end up in the middle of a village "mela" -- a lively festival.
"Here, we get to see the real India. We meet the real people -- we [even] joined in an impromptu dance and [sang] karaoke today. It was fantastic," Steve Maskell, a tour participant, tells CNN Travel.
"I've been to India before but that was in a city. Getting out into the countryside is brilliant."
Maskell, who has been riding motorcycles for 40 years, says that bikes offer more flexibility than most forms of travel.
"It's just the freedom of being able to do anything, go wherever and have that fresh air on your face. The smells, the sounds, the whole atmosphere," he adds.
"That's why I like riding bikes, because you get [to experience] everything firsthand."