Motorcycle Diaries

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Kumbhalgarh Fort

Monsoon is meant to begin in Rajasthan towards the end of June. Unfortunately though, weather is often not very good at reading a calendar.

Last weekend my friend and I decided to take a road trip out to Kumbhalgarh on my bike, Gustav (a perfectly sensible name for a motorbike). Kumbhalgarh is a beautiful fort about 75km outside of Udaipur with apparently the second longest continuous wall in the world, after The Great Wall of China. The drive out there is incredible. It starts with a few kilometres of highway, but then the rest of the journey is spent on empty little country roads, winding up through the hills and through small villages. It was a standard hot Indian summer day, but with the breeze the temperature was perfect.

The drive back to Udaipur was a little more eventful than we would have liked. First of all, a buffalo panicked as we drove past and jumped right in front of us, resulting in us smashing into its side (it is of course important to point out that despite what certain disloyal passengers might say, it was entirely the buffalo’s fault). Fortunately we were driving very slowly and the buffalo was fine, though Gustav got a slight crack in the casing around the headlight.

More worryingly, large black clouds were building up in the distance along with the occasional rolls of thunder. At first we thought we would be fine, but this was beginning to seem less and less likely as we continued in the direction of the clouds. Suddenly the rain started coming down heavily and we quickly found a big tree to hide under until it stopped. After 20 minutes we carried on, but a few minutes later we were hit by a massive deluge of rain. Fortunately, a large stone gateway was able to provide some shelter for us and the eight or so others who had the same idea. Unfortunately, the rain decided that falling vertically was no longer interesting enough, so started attacking from all directions. On top of this, the lightning strikes were getting uncomfortably close to where we were sheltering.

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Hiding under a tree when the rains first began

Gradually people started giving up with the increasingly ineffective shelter of the gateway and making a mad dash to a little shop about 30 metres away. We were too stupid or cowardly to consider this until the point where we were already as wet as it was possible to get. Eventually though, we accepted that this was the best thing to do, so sprinted over and took shelter along with the 20 or so other people and one stray dog.

The rain was getting stronger and stronger, and the lightning closer and increasingly unrelenting. I’m fairly certain that one bolt struck the roof of the building we were in, and the dog decided that it would be safer outside of the shop than in. Another lightning bolt struck next to my bike and a couple of metres away from where we were standing a few minutes earlier. At this point we were still about 35km outside of Udaipur and thinking more and more about whether we were going to make it home that night. However, after about an hour spent in the shelter of the shop, it finally got to the point where it looked safe to venture outside again. The thunder and lightning had stopped and there was only a heavy drizzle of rain.

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Attempting to shelter under the gateway

After a quick and slightly restorative black tea we went back to Gustav, who had clearly decided that the whole experience had been a bit too much for him and refused to start. Following a few shared worried expressions and a bit of persuasion though, he coughed into life and we got back on the road for the start of a long, slow drive home. The amount of water on the roads was insane, completely transforming the bare dry landscape that we passed through just a few hours earlier. At several points it was more like driving through a river than along a road, with water reaching half way up my legs. By this point I was shivering so hard that it was beginning to get difficult to keep control of the bike.

As we carried on though, it began to dry up and get a bit warmer. We eventually made it back to Udaipur, alive and only about half drowned. In my two years in India, this is by far the heaviest thunderstorm that I have experienced. It was certainly an incredible experience, though perhaps not one that I’d like to repeat for a little while. Lessons learnt from this trip; bring at least one rain jacket per person, pack warm layers and never trust an Indian summer.

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OK, so these aren’t actual photos of the storm, but I feel that they accurately convey the general idea

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