A ride along the mountain tracks of the mighty Himalayas is a pleasure on a Royal Enfield Himalayan motor bike. The comfort offered by the bike can be experienced best during expeditions like the Himalayan Odyssey from Delhi to Ladakh, which covers desolate, rugged landscapes.
However, how would such a bike perform on the roads and the terrain of a place like Kochi?
Keralites see Kochi as a place that always witnesses celebrations - the venue of a 'round the year biennale.' It also is a destination that retains its traditions even while whole-heartedly embracing modernity.
Even while high-rises crop up everywhere in the city, people still seek out outlets serving the lip-smacking 'puttu', 'parippu' and 'pappadam.' Another symbol of the local people's love of traditions is the presence of the Chinese fishing nets that have survived the ravages of time.
The Biennale sites
The High Court gate is an ideal take off point for a tour of Kochi and its surroundings on a Himalayan bike. The first stop is Fort Kochi, the venue of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale. The route is via M G Road, Willingdon Island, Harbour Bridge and Thoppumpady.
People from other places refer to the entire Ernakulam city as Kochi, but local residents choose to disagree. For them, Kochi constitutes the Mattancherry and Fort Kochi areas only, where people of all faiths co-exist.
The walls in Fort Kochi are adorned with art and graffiti. Old buildings with antique window panes coloured green and yellow line the streets. Each door leads to a house which provides shelter to three or even four families.
The iron harbour bridge too has a history of its own, having raised its central portion for innumerable ships that passed this way. The bridge was built by the British to link Mattancherry and Willingdon Island 88 years ago. The Royal Enfield bike too first reached Kochi across the bridge.
The Dutch Cemetery is among the major tourist sites in the area. Most of the visitors are foreigners who find peace among the tombs and also at the nearby St Francis Church. This is where Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama was laid to rest. However, his mortal remains were later shifted to Portugal.
Other attractions of Kochi include the Church of the 'Koonan' Cross, the Jewish Synagogue, Jain Temple and Mattancherry Palace.
A visitor can spend an entire day here, and wind up his tour with a visit to Kayyikka's outlet, which serves sumptuous mutton and chicken biriyani.
A water ride
If anyone doubts the Himalayan's prowess along a submerged track, take the bike to the drive-in beach near Kannamaly.
A ride along the sandy beach which has clear water and is maintained well is a pleasure.
From Kannamaly beach, the next stop could be again Fort Kochi to catch a 'jhankar' to Vypeen Island. The aim of the trip is to witness the confluence of the backwaters and the sea. The route touches Njarakkal too where the main attraction is the fish farm under the Fisheries Department. A wooden bridge lies along the path to the farm, which is located on the 'pokkali' fields adjacent to the sea.
A restaurant that serves local food and a canal along which regular boat services are conducted are some of the highlights of the place. Tourists who love outdoor activities can hire a fishing rod and wait for a catch on the wide expanse of submerged paddy fields or go boating. For the others, hammocks have been fixed on the coconut trees. Several days can be spent at leisure in the area. It is certainly a good place to unwind.
However, to tour all the sites in Kochi on a Himalayan bike in a single day, a traveller should not rest there, but head to the highway from Njarakkal. A ride along the Beach Road presents views that can never be obtained anywhere else in Kochi. The area is referred to as Nayarambalam, a typical Keralite name. However, the scenery is starkly different from a Kerala landscape.
On one side of the road is the rocky seawall. Sand covers a large stretch. Local people warn travellers about the risk involved in riding a bike along a sandy road. But for the Himalayan, it is child's play.
The area resembles Goa more than Kerala. Fisherfolk assemble on the golden beaches in the evening to repair their nets. It is also the time to exchange local gossip.
At some spots, the road is flanked by sea and mangrove forests. Decrepit houses and tall coconut trees can be seen along the path.
The stretch covered by sand is ahead. All the sand has been deposited by the sea over several years and no vehicles pass through. Local people face much hardship and even ambulances cannot approach to carry sick people to the hospital.
But for the Royal Enfield Himalayan, negotiating this stretch too is no uphill task. With some skill, a rider can cover the sandy path at a slow pace.
Getting back to the highway nearby, the Himalayan will display its full power. A few km ahead is the Kuzhuppilli beach. On side of the road, the greenery of the coconut groves is a welcome sight. There are open spaces also, where youngsters enjoy playing games like cricket.
Beyond Kuzhuppilli beach and Cherayi beach is Munambam. Kudumbashree workers have set up a light refreshment stall at Munambam where specialities like 'Koonthal' fry and bread are available.
For heading back to Ernakulam, the riders have to take the main road at Kuzhuppilli.
Submerged paddy fields touch both sides of the road. After dusk, the road is often deserted and the Himalayan can race ahead.
However, there is one more stopover before returning to Kochi - Mohanan Chettan's place at Ezhikkara. The route is via Ayyampally and Cherayi Junction.
Mohanan serves 'puttu' and 'parippu' (dal) curry for the boatmen in the area every evening. 'Pappadam' and black tea too are offered alongside. The place is located on the banks of the lake and a gentle breeze that blows in the evenings is a bonus. Guests can also find a spot on a Chinese net nearby to enjoy the food.
The fame of Mohanan's 'puttu' and 'parippu' has spread all over Kochi and most of the customers are youths from other towns rather than boatmen.
To wind up the one-day Kochi tour on a Himalayan, the route back to the city is via Varappuzha bridge.