46-year-old businessman from Goa, Karl Coelho bought himself a Harley Davidson two years ago so he could “ride all over the country”. Little did he know, in January this year he would be embarking on an epic adventure, across three countries no less. Goa to Bangkok, via Myanmar. Sounds like a plan!
1. You don’t need to fly if you know how to ride.
Because “I’ve taken plenty of flights in my life” he told us. “Riding is a passion. It’s something you can’t describe. Not everyone gets to do this” he added. And he likes to ride alone because “that’s the only way to enjoy the ride”. His steed for this adventure was the Dyna Street Bob, form the Harley Davidson custom range of motorcycles. He said “It has a 1600cc engine and I have customized it nearly 90% to suit my riding style.”
2. Everything is possible if you say ‘Please’
He started the ride from Goa towards Ahmednagar to Indore and Varanasi. From there he rode to Sikkim, then passing through Assam towards Nagaland and Manipur before hitting the India-Myanmar border. As easy as it sounds, it hardly was. The north-eastern states proved to be a challenge for both Karl and his bike. He says “I had the toughest time there. The roads were nearly non-existent and it would have taken a lot less time had they been. A truck driver asked me what I was doing there. He said he had never seen someone ride a motorcycle on that route.”
He also encountered a state-wide bandh in Assam the day he reached. After running out of fuel, he had to “plead with the petrol pump guy” to give him some petrol for his bike. The guy relented and Karl was soon on his way.
As luck would have it he met a speed bump too and broke a mount on the handlebar. “I hit a bump and nearly flew off. Thankfully I managed to land, but there was some damage to the bike. The bike was vibrating badly, but I held on. All the way to Thailand” he said with a bit of pride. And it would only be in Bangkok that the bike would be fixed. But more on that later.
3. When no one else would help you, Indian Army will.
Army’s presence in the north-east was a boon for Karl, who was riding alone. “They first stopped me and had a gun pointed at me and asked me to remove my helmet. But that was a one off. When I told them that I was riding to Bangkok, trying to set a record, they were very helpful. They took me in, threw a small get together and were very helpful” he said.
4. World war bridges are great to photograph, scary to cross.
Karl crossed over to Myanmar from the border in Manipur on the India-Myanmar Friendship Road. An iron bridge connects the border towns of Moreh in India and Tamu in Myanmar. But it’s not the only one. There are 71 Iron bridges on the road to Kalewa, most of them dating back to the Second World War! “A lot of them were missing planks and I was worried about the wheel getting stuck” was his biggest worry.
5. A shiny new city can still be empty.
Karl rode on to the new capital city of Myanmar, Napyitaw. “There were roads that were 10 lanes wide on each side, but there wasn’t a soul in sight” he recounts. And there’s good reason for it too. The new capital was built on a whim by the erstwhile military leader Than Shwe on the advice of a sage!
Next up was Bagan, which has more than 10,000 Buddhist pagodas, and a major tourist destination in Myanmar. Out of Bagan and Karl was on the highway riding towards the old capital of Yangon (formerly Rangoon). The four lane expressway has been built by the Chinese and is nearly 590 km long. Unfortunately, he couldn’t enter Yangon because “apparently bikes aren’t allowed” he chuckled. So what next? “I had to put it in on a truck and it was probably the first ever Harley there because soon a crowd had gathered” he said. The old capital is home to one of the most revered religious sites for the people of Myanmar – the Shewdagon pagoda.
Now heading due east towards Thailand, Karl visited the Kyaiktiyo Pagoda, also called the Golden Rock. But it was about 20 km from the Thailand border that Karl has the “best day of riding” on the entire trip. Describing the road he said “the roads were just brilliant and I had a blast riding on it. The road was empty and the tarmac was freshly laid”. But more than the roads Karl really appreciated the way road manners of the people in Myanmar. “They have a lot of respect for the road users. It was fantastic.”
6. Nothing is open in Thailand on a Sunday, even garages!
Over the Thailand-Myanmar Friendship Bridge, and Karl was on the home stretch. He reached the town of Tak from where Bangkok was well within a day’s ride. In the Thai capital, it was a mad dash to get the bike fixed. His timing though couldn’t have been worse. “It was Sunday so the dealership there was closed. Nobody was available”. But Harley Davidson came to his rescue. A few calls to Harley back home and things got moving. The workshop was opened specially to fix Karl’s bike and he remembers “the guy who came to fix my bike was out on a date with his girlfriend and the both of them turned up at the workshop, having driven for an hour no less. By the time the motorcycle was fixed, it was 10:30 in the night!”
Karl says “if it hadn’t been for them, I don’t think I would have been able to ride the motorcycle back.” He did ride all the way back to India! With a total of 72 tankfuls, 1 puncture and 40 days to cover the 14,000kms, this was a ride like nothing else he had ever done.
7. Ride long enough you’re bound to get smacked in the face with a self-realisation or an epiphany. Or both.
Karl says “I am a pretty confident guy and this ride only validated my belief. That if you put your mind to something and don’t hold back, nothing is impossible”. And he’s already planning another trip, this time covering entire south India!