- About Us
Words: Dipayan Dutta
Photography: Pushkar Achyute
I had to say it. I had to be my old self. 1200 clicks 24 hours, “piece of cake, Sirish”. Or so I thought. The task at hand was to complete the eastern leg of the DSK-Benelli Coastal Challenge, from the zero stone at Nagpur to Mandarmani which is a beach on the east coast near Kolkata. On paper it sounded easy enough, having done a similar ride from Kolkata to Pune only a few months ago. That was 3200km, without a backup rider, without a support car. In comparison this sounded like a Sunday morning ride.
The morning of the ride, our target exit time of four was delayed, courtesy Ben who refused to get out of bed. By the time pre-start photoshoots and everything was done, our start had been delayed to six. Sigh! Making the most of the cool dry morning, we started chomping down the miles, with our sights set on Bhilai for our first stopover. The 600i’s tall gears mean you get linear power right to the end of the power-band, and the planted feel means you can keep your right hand clocked in, well in to the upper triple digits. And that sound; that in-line wails like a banshee when prodded. And I mean that in the best way possible. Good roads and pleasant weather meant that we had covered the 300 odd kilometres by 9am. Things were looking good, at this rate we were expecting to make it in to Mandarmani at six that evening.
Just as we were exiting Bhilai, like clockwork, things started to go wrong. Terribly wrong. Starting with a flat tyre. Unfortunately, I had my head down and didn’t realise we had a flat and by the time I pulled over at a tyre repair store, the rear tyre needed replacing – all of which meant we lost well over an hour. We had 24 hours to complete our challenge and we had just wasted over an hour. Nonetheless, we had plenty of time to make up for lost time. After all there were just 900km left to go.
Then it started. Almost instantly as we crossed into the east, it began to rain. Starting as a drizzle it slowly worked its way into a torrential storm that refused to let up. As if that wasn’t enough the roads had turned from long smooth four-lane highways into rutted dual carriageways. We could barely keep up a canter and the riding in rain meant
that we’d spend 10 minutes every half hour getting mud off our helmet visors. Making it in time was starting to look bleak. We were barely doing 30km an hour. Gulp.
When it rains, it usually pours. In my case when it rains, the sky breaks open and a storm comes down. As we reached the Orissa border with just 450km to go, we discovered that locals had blocked off a section of the highway in some kind of protest. They allowed our bike to pass but the support car had to be left behind. Leaving the support car behind wasn’t an option. We opted for a 30km roundabout through the local villages. Naturally the business-minded Indian villagers charged us indecent tolls for using their roads. By the time we made it back on to the highway, night had set in. Like we needed anything else to delay us.
Night riding is bad enough; we had rain, fog and roads pockmarked with potholes big enough to break a shock. Luckily for us, the DSK Benelli 600i is a dream to ride when the roads get wet. It grips even when your brain tells you it won’t. Even without ABS the brakes are mad effective, even when the road is as wet as a fish. Even through the twisty ghat sections one wasn’t afraid to get a little bit of lean in. Then of course a rusted sign read out ‘Caution: Elephant Corridor’. It started playing on my mind. I started seeing elephants everywhere in the dark.
Until of course, there was really something to see. Emerging from the fog, at barely twenty, I heard a thud and there it was just about 10 feet away, a leopard stood staring at the bike. My mind was racing. Should I run? Should I hold my ground ? What do you do when you come face to face with a big cat. Just then the support car came around the corner startling the leopard. It took one last look at me, let out a spine chilling growl and bounded off into the forest. The next few hours were as mundane as they get, trundling through the rain, we reached Mandarmani at nine-thirty
the next morning. We were three and a half hours late on our 24 hour deadline. Piece of cake, indeed.