Abundant sunshine, cool breeze, sand stuck in your toes and waves trying to wash it away. Watching the bright red sun set over the horizon while listening to the relaxing sounds of the sea splashing against the shore is how I thought Goa is traditionally enjoyed.
Instead, I was booked in a resort about two hours away from the beaches, surrounded by wildlife sanctuaries. In the hot and humid weather, I was having a hard time believing that it was just February. I stayed in the little state for four days, and didn’t once get to see the beaches. I spent days being swatted by branches, stumbling over rocks and avoiding sliding off hillsides as I navigated it all on a motorcycle. Does it sound like I’m complaining? No, I’m not. Because Royal Enfield’s Unroad Goa has an unusual flavour that, as I found out, really gets under your skin.
Royal Enfield is a pioneer of sorts for building a ride calendar for its customers to take part in. Some of the rides are far from tame, and often take you through some of the least travelled roads. Royal Enfield did all this with a line-up of tarmac-oriented motorcycles, but now that there’s the on-off road Himalayan in the line-up, the bike maker had to step things up a notch. With the Unroad rides, as the name suggests, Royal Enfield is looking to take on rougher terrain for a more challenging ride. Surely it wouldn’t be too difficult. Or backbreaking! Or, impossible?
On the very first day, the realisation hit me; I was in over my head. Drained and dehydrated under the sun and boiling in waterproof riding gear. It was only after pouring three litres of water in my mouth and two over my head that I started wondering how I ended up there.
Down and Dusted
I had signed up for Unroad Goa with a sense of preparedness stemming from owning the off-road-ready Hero Impulse. Interestingly, the only off-road experience I had with the bike was on my village ‘roads’. With nary a hint of what lay ahead, I jumped at the opportunity of riding the more powerful Himalayan through the trails.
After an early breakfast, we left the resort in Mollem and sampled Goan twisties before entering the rocky trails. The Himalayan’s low-end torque and compliant suspension gave me tremendous confidence to open the throttle wider on the trails. Just three turns later, it backfired, and I was down. With the handlebar and gear lever bent, I proceeded with caution. I missed the crash guard, which could’ve prevented the damage.
After a quick bite at The Biker’s Cafe in Valpoi, we sprinted through the ghats. Zipping through the unfamiliar ghat roads was tricky as I tried to keep pace with the group. Slowing down for tighter-than-expected corners, I couldn’t help but wish for switchable dual-channel ABS on the Himalayan.
The second trail took us from Valpoi to Chorla via a narrow path with steep inclines and sharp turns. Slowing down wasn't an option as it was hard to find traction and get moving again. With my nerves jangling, I made one mistake too many and often grabbed the clutch, which got me rolling back. A couple of falls later, the gear and brake lever were bent. It was going to be tough to make headway now. The finish line, although only a couple of kilometres ahead, felt like it was light years away. Having lifted the bike quite a few times in the sun got me completely exhausted. So I just had lots of water and called it a day.
An experienced localite on his 1983 Bullet zipped through those slippery inclines while making it look embarrassingly effortless. On the second day, he showed up on his Himalayan, which was a clear sign that it was going to be tough. I decided to back off and reserved a spot in the backup 4X4.
With the confidence afforded by four wheels, I surveyed the rocky and wide path ahead. It was challenging for the riders, but the lack of gravel made the going easier. Despite keeping a head count at every turn, one rider lost his way, and our Thar turned around to hunt him down. Sending your location over WhatsApp wasn’t an option as there was no cellular network. It turned out that the crewmember was a racecar driver and he instantly switched his rally mode on. We drifted and jumped over rocks at triple-digit speeds as we retraced our route. Soon, we found the rider, shepherded him back to the herd. Once the trail narrowed, the backup vehicles parted ways with the riders.
The next we were to see the riders at the foothills of the Pargad mountain in Maharashtra. But it took them forever to show up. Several bikes got stuck, almost everyone fell, and the clutch on one of the Himalayans overheated. On this route, the inclines were steeper, the bed was rockier, and the layer of gravel was thicker. The fact that there was no turning back from the trail, no drinking water and plenty of sunshine made it worse for the riders. Some of them had all the skills necessary to complete the challenge with no assistance, but they too used up all of their energy making sure that no one was left behind. As a result, the tired bunch reached the resort at ten in the night.
On day three, Shawn D’souza, Royal Enfield’s lead rider, decided to ease things up for the riders. That was enough motivation for me to get back on the horse. That day we rode a section of the red, iron-rich jungle trail, which leads to the Dudhsagar falls. It turned out to be a tame affair and brought back some of my confidence. Things got more adventurous in the second half of the day, as we wandered back into the jungle with no sign of a trail.
It wasn't easy, but after the torture riders had suffered the previous day at Pargad, I’m sure it felt like a walk in the park. Still, I was worried about dropping the Himalayan as picking it up would be incredibly tiring. My inexperience off-road also kept me from having a complete blast on the bike.
On the last trail, one of the Himalayans suffered a breakdown in the middle of the jungle. Considering the thrashing the bikes had taken during the three days, it was surprising to see only one motorcycle calling for the doctor. Thankfully, RE had a mechanic tag along on the ride to help with any emergencies. He opened up the engine and got it running again without requiring any transplants.
Not for the faint-hearted
It was my first ever encounter with Royal Enfield's Unroad-flavoured ride. I came away with the understanding that Royal Enfield is not in the business of selling bikes. Its motorcycles are tools to live out your desired two-wheeled experiences. The bike maker has done a fantastic job of creating a well-curated ride calendar for all kinds of riders, and Unroad has opened up another feisty avenue.
While the other rides Royal Enfield organises may not be very demanding, the Unroad was clearly a couple of notches above, and therefore challenging for everyone involved. The terrain was more forgiving for Himalayans, but that didn’t stop participants from joining the ride on their Classics, Bullets and Thunderbirds. Surprisingly, some of them completed the course without any assistance.
If you have had 'riding an Enfield to Leh' on your bucket list just because you like challenges, you can replace it with Unroad. I should warn you, though, that the Unroad series of rides isn’t for everyone; a Himalayan is optional, but strength, stamina, skills and determination aren’t.
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