Mangaluru: “Get your motor runnin’, head out on the highway; looking for adventure in whatever comes our way. Yeah, darlin’! Gonna make it happen, take the world in a love embrace, fire all of your guns at once and explode into space”- Steppenwolf’s hit number, “Born to be Wild” rose to acclaim as an unofficial bikers’ anthem in the late ’60s. As it opens the iconic Easy Rider, the song sets the tone for a candid portrayal of the hippie dream and bikers freedom – a ride powered by a full tank of gas and what not!
A ride on a monsoon weekend, a trip along the long coastline of the country or heading to South Eastern countries – leisure bikers revel in the feeling of being one with their machines and letting the wind take over. Far from being used as a means of commute, leisure biking has turned into an indulgence, a hobby. The boom in India’s leisure motorcycling during the past few years has happened simultaneously with the rise of a middle class. The expanding market has also lured foreign companies to Indian shores like the Harley-Davidson that entered the domestic market few years ago. While the metros lead the trend of leisure biking, tier-2 cities have seen a growing buzz among bikers taking to the road to explore places near and far.
There are many who swear by the goodness of a full tank, an open highway, zero connectivity, an aimless ride, the roar of an engine as sole company, and for that matter, this solo motorbike rider from the coastal land of fish-Mangaluru is all gearing up on a mission to spread awareness and raise funds for Cancer patients in India- he will be riding nearly 9,000 kms, crossing five countries namely India, Myanmar (Burma), Laos, Cambodia and Thailand, all alone on his motorbike for a good cause. He is none other than 40-year-old Shivprasad Shetty, a successful entrepreneur hailing from Kudla.
Taking long motorbike journeys is something not new for Shivprasad, for he has undertaken considerable number of tours over the years – his first tour to Ladakh, the Nepal tour, the tour to Rann of Kutch and a recent Sikkim/Bhutan tour. This rider is no stranger to the by-lanes and ways of the city but love what the roads have to offer for the comfort of his ride. He opines that the motorcycle culture is slowly making in-roads, if the number of biking clubs and riders are anything to go by. “With many bikers taking to riding and embarking on weekend road trips, riding is in the limelight. Although this might merely be a fad, for one road-trip or owning super-bikes does not make one a biker. Hardcore biking should be in your soul,” he emphasizes.
When asked about freedom while riding a motorbike on the open road, his lips stretch horizontally into a taut smile and he looks up. “Freedom,” he answers, in his hushed voice. “You can choose your path, you can choose where you want to go. You get the sense that there are no limits to exploring the landscape. I think that traveling in general gives you that feeling that you’re constantly experiencing something new, you know, like, ‘What’s over the next hill?’ or, ‘What’s around the next turn? Yes, It’s freedom, adventure, and excitement all in one! Motorcycling is exhilarating. Being on the road, open to the elements and the beauty of nature, allows you to be approachable and more candid with the people you meet on the way”.
When asked about whether riding alone could be challenging and risky, for which Shivprasad replied, “I love it, but it’s not for everyone. You won’t be lonely unless you want to be because traveling solo makes you very approachable. It makes you a bit more vulnerable to others, so they sometimes go out of their way to engage in conversation, help you, or invite you into their homes. It allows you to make decisions or change your mind, course, or itinerary at any minute without compromise. You do what you want, go where you want, with whomever you want. Traveling solo is important to me as I get caught up clicking some memorable pictures and the moment”.
Shivprasad Shetty born in “Megina Maane”-Kenjar, in the outskirts of Mangaluru to (Late) Liladhar Shetty and (Late) Kusum Shetty, since his childhood was brought up in Mumbai where he did his early education and college graduation as well as specialisation in Marketing and Advertising. Post that, he worked in the corporate sector for almost 16 years in the customer service industry with the last assignment being for Firstsource Solutions Ltd. Quitting the corporate world in 2012, he started his entrepreneurial journey, and currently has interests in Construction and Communications (Shetty Construction Co and Shetty Communications Co – SCC). Along with it, he also has a niche touring company called “Touring Buddies” where we plan and ride to interesting places every year. Shivprasad is married to Nikita, who is currently based in London working for a financial company.
Following are the excerpts from the exclusive interview with Shivprasad Shetty :
Q: What influenced you to take up motorcycle tours?
The “wind in the hair” feeling influenced me to take up motorcycle touring. The freedom that touring to un-known places on a motorcycle brings, cannot be matched by any other means of transport. Eventually, the motorcycle has ceased being a mode of transport and has become an instrument of happiness which cannot be described in words
Q: What was your first motorbike that captivated you as a kid/youth?
The first motorbike that I really took a fancy has to be the Yezdi which belonged to friend’s Dad. However I also have fond memories of riding a Lambretta in my younger days.
Q: Narrate some of your past expeditions and your experiences in them?
While there have been considerable number of tours over the years – the ones that come to mind are my first tour to Ladakh, the Nepal tour, the tour to Rann of Kutch and a recent Sikkim/Bhutan tour.
Each tour brings with it varied experiences as each terrain, people, culture, food are different and the tours end up becoming a source of learning with lots of fond memories. The first Ladakh tour taught me lots of survival lessons, working with others, taking decisions on the go etc – however nothing can ever beat the feeling of making it to Khardung La pass which has the highest motorable road in the world (at least at that time). It remains a high point in my riding experience and will always cherish it. The Nepal tour was a gift to me on my 35th birthday and the aim was to be in Pashupatinath temple on my birthday which I managed to do. The ride from Mumbai to Kathmandu and back was an unforgettable experience.
The Rann of Kutch tour is remembered by me and my touring buddies for having got stuck in the Rann in quick sand, leaving our bikes (6 of them) overnight in the quick sand, surviving the walk through the Rann desperately looking for help, being rescued and almost thrashed by the BSF jawans, going back the next day and spending an entire day rescuing our bikes from the quick sand with the help of an Army captain and his team, and then eventually ending the tour spending two days in a palace with a private beach and being treated royally. Made friends for life on this tour – the ones you don’t let go – ever.
The Sikkim Bhutan tour was again amazingly challenging with a lot of memories of riding on non-existing roads/tracks, some mind blowing vistas and visuals, awesome hospitality and sheer ruggedness of the place.
Q: What made you decide to take this trip? Why did you choose to go by motorcycle?
Overland motorcycle touring (across countries) has been on my mind for quite some time. I have been planning and preparing to do a cross country trip and have been working on various routes for a while. When news of the Friendship bridge opening and Myanmar (Burma) allowing travellers to ride across the country came, I felt this was a trip worth taking. As earlier mentioned about the fondness for motorcycle touring, there was no other mode that I was going to do this on.
Q: How did loved ones react when you told them you were going on this tour, including your wife?
Thankfully, I have quite a supportive family that have by now got used to my tours. Although they are supportive, sometimes a bit skeptical. However, I had determination and excitement for the voyage and the unknown. So the only conversation we have in the family is “how many days this time” and “please be safe”
Q: Describe the planning and preparation prior to your departure on this long tour? How did you plan your route?
The planning and preparation for this kind of tour is extensive. The documentation required for the motorcycle to pass through, the individual visas, insurance, etc are a time consuming process. Having a checklist helps and it being time bound is important. That way, I keep a track of the activities needed to be finished and by when. The route that I chose is a circuitous one where I will be starting from Mangaluru probably by this weekend or so (by 10 Jan) on to Mumbai, then to Guwahati and going through the Indian border at Moreh, Manipur into Myanmar, then Laos, Cambodia and finishing in Bangkok, Thailand. I’m working on the return leg of the journey as we speak and planning on returning via a different route if things work out.
Q: What’s your motto behind this tour?
The primary motto is to see these countries and places, experience the culture, food and other aspects of the region. On this mission I want to create an awareness and raise funds for cancer affected people in India, through a Foundation named “Shetty Foundation” established by our family business.
Q : Narrate in details about your Shetty Foundation?
Shetty Foundation is a recent initiative that our business firms ‘SCC’ have started. The aim of the Foundation is to work in the medical and education sector. It is a dedication to my mother, Kusum Shetty, who was very actively involved in social work in both these fields. The initiative is doing some work on cancer awareness as the level of understanding is pretty low in our country. We are working on a framework where dedicated NGOs in each field will be working directly at the ground level with people affected, or likely to be affected. They will be working with colleges, schools, corporate institutions etc to take this to a further level. Anyone who would like to help us in any manner in this regard can reach out to me directly and we would be glad to work together on this.
Q: Who is funding your expenses for this tour?
It’s a self funded tour and given the expensive nature of the tour, I’m looking at sponsors and well wishers who would help out financially.
Q: Describe the motorbike that you’ll be using for this tour?
The motorcycle that I will be riding is a Royal Enfield Machismo 350. It’s fondly called “Sunshine”. I have being riding it since 2008 and have done all my major touring on this. ‘Sunshine’ has been modified for long distance touring with a higher capacity fuel tank, a mono shock absorber, led lights, charging points for mobile, camera batteries, GPS unit, rack for luggage and an eye catching colour.
Q: With the experiences from the past tours, how did you react to being on the road and far from home?
With experience comes responsibility is what I believe. This tour is going to be a long and hard one, especially since the language would be different, food and other aspects would be different. The terrain, especially in Myanmar will be tough and challenging. Riding a motorcycle in a different country than your own is a challenge in itself however that’s the thrill in it. Being mentally prepared is extremely important and taking care of oneself physically is of key importance on such a long tour. I’m looking forward to it and the experiences that this tour will bring. I’m also looking at this tour from a experiment angle for a much bigger ride that am planning to get out to later in this year.
Q: What are some of the difficulties that you might have to face when on a tour like this?
Paperwork at the borders, Language, different rules of traffic and road in each country and any mechanical failures of the motorcycle come to mind. However there is a plan to deal with each of these issues and should be manageable. Also since there is no rush and the aim is to enjoy the ride, I don’t foresee any major challenges.
Q : What were some of your favorite moments?
Camping in the cold desert in the Himalayas, riding through Morey plains, getting stuck in a life threatening way in the Rann and getting out it, being chased by elephants, being towed and then towing another bike due to a breakdown, riding in the pitch dark from Kulu to Manali, riding in the Spiti valley with not another soul visible for a whole day and the list can go on… every moment spent on tours is unforgettable and is etched in memory.
Q: What challenges and rewards does solo long-distance travel bring?
In my opinion, the only challenge of solo riding is when a break down happens. While it can be managed and sorted, that is probably the most difficult part. For people who are not used to managing such stuff, it can really rattle them. The rewards are too many – Not having to depend on another person’s schedule being the most important one. Freedom of choice – for route, timings, distance to cover, speed, visiting places etc etc – the freedom is just too good to be missed. It also makes one independent and self reliant. So the rewards are far too many and outweigh the challenges if any.
Q : What would you say is the feeling you get when you see an open road?
For me, an open road is like an empty book. You can write what you want, make your own experiences, make life long friends, and understand yourself better. I think it teaches you more about yourself. It also makes one aware of things that you wouldn’t notice otherwise in your day to day life.
Q : How did your first tour shape your sense of the motorcycle community?
It made me realise how close knit the community is. People you don’t know and who don’t know you stop to help. Ask after you – if you are well, if you need anything and if you are generally okay. The nod you get when you pass another motorcycle tourer is enough to have one smile through the helmet and the good feeling lasts quite long. In short, one is never alone. Though you might be riding alone, there is a nationwide community which is actually looking out for you. You just need to reach out to them in case of any help needed and you will see the power of the community. From stay arrangements to food to mechanical help – just name it and it can be arranged if you need.
Q : What advice would you give to someone thinking about taking a trip like yours?
The only advice I would give is to get out there and do it. We have limited time on our hands and travel is the only way to gather maximum experience and life long memories. We all plan to make money today and then live our dreams. However the only uncertainty in our lives is time, hence I say – Carpe Diem – seize the moment. I encourage you all to explore this wonderful world we live in. It will make a profound difference in your life as well as in the lives of those you meet. You will have an adventure of a lifetime! Follow your heart and your dreams! Other than that all advice is available online or with friends, or companies that organise.
Team Mangalorean wishes Shivprasad Shetty a safe journey on his motorbike throughout his mission, starting from Mangaluru and culminating in Thailand. Born to Ride-Cheers!