With the MOTO Junkies Maharaja Run Rajasthan by Royal Enfield tour rolling out in 2025 it seems like a good time to tell you how and when Steph fell in love with India. For those of you who haven't read Home By Seven, this will give you a glimpse into the astonishing diary of Stephs solo round the world motorcycle journey. It is a frank and honest journal with plenty of laughs and some tears along the way. I hope you enjoy this excerpt.
They told me you need three good things to survive on Indian roads: good brakes, a good horn, and good luck! It’s all true, especially on a motorbike. This was the ultimate game platform – Grand Theft Auto on acid. And I enjoyed it.
Thankfully, I had made the most of my luxurious two-week stay in Dubai with my friend Martin. I got my hair cut, watched telly, lounged on Martin’s luxurious sofa, and slid down his ridiculously large banister while he was at work – a sure sign I was recharged and feeling playful again.
After working, and occasionally lying, my way through the crazy Indian customs procedure in a time they told me was the fastest ever, I made my way into Mumbai and started working my way north. I had landed at the Mumbai/Bombay airport feeling a little disappointment at having flown into India and not come overland. My original plan to ride across Pakistan from Iran had been hastily changed because a cyclist, whose blog I was following and who was a couple of weeks ahead of me, was shot and several of his convoy killed, shortly after crossing the Pakistan border. The international newspapers went wild with the story, blaming the cyclist for being there in the first place. I had no desire to add to either those headlines or the troubles in Pakistan, and so took up Martin’s offer. Now, in India, I was grateful to have had the respite.
Riding in India can feel at times like riding on a knife-edge. The near misses, the smothering heat and humidity and the cows that know they’re sacred, walking smugly around the cities as if they own the place. I’d often find them sleeping in shop doorways or stepping out from behind parked cars causing me to swerve or slam on my brakes. Is it possible for cows to look self-righteous? There were also roaming packs of bike-chasing dogs, diesel fumes, wrong-side drivers, kamikaze truck drivers, rickshaws, motorbikes, and the sheer volume of randomly moving obstacles. Then there were the stationary ones; speed bumps that appear without warning and open manholes were the most common of many.
Sometimes, it felt like a great adventure. Other times, it felt like a battle to simply survive. I often struggled to keep my concentration and energy levels up in the mid-summer heat, having to stop every half-hour for water and rest before pushing on. You know the heat is getting to you when your mind tells you to just let go of the bars and let yourself fall into that lovely soft verge.
My initial fears of the country grew smaller every day, though. I even got used to being awakened by the odd mouse or cockroach running over my bed. One cheeky mouse woke me by nibbling on my toe (I’m not sure who was more surprised when I woke up!) – a cheap Indian hotel alarm clock.
People were right; the roads were crazy. Within a few days, I slowly found the rhythm in the chaos. The method in the madness. Here, I could overtake any side I saw fit, ride on one of the few-and-far-between pavements, and, as long as I didn’t hit a cow, I could pretty much do as I damn well pleased! In fact, it was imperative that I adopt a hooligan-style approach. Riding as I would in the UK would likely see me killed.
Gandhi once said, “At the age of eighteen I went to England. Everything was strange, the people, their ways, and even their dwellings. I was a complete novice in the matter of English etiquette and continually had to be on my guard. Even the dishes that I could eat were tasteless and insipid. England, I could not bear …”
Unlike Gandhi, I enjoyed the culture shock immensely. The sights, the smells, the elephant rush hour, and most of all, the right to ride like a hooligan. India was punching through my visor and ensnaring all my senses without apology and enjoying it almost felt masochistic. When riding under bridges, the smell of ammonia from stale urine was sometimes so strong it would make my eyes water. The near misses on the road were so frequent that I’m sure my adrenal gland shut up shop, leaving a big sign on the door saying “Out of stock”. At the same time, I also felt extraordinarily alive.
I’d been nervous about India from the day I started planning my trip. It didn’t help that two days before I left Martin’s I found an email in my inbox from an Indian resident:
Please be careful in India. There are MURDERERS and RAPISTS walking around everywhere amongst the normal people.
Have a nice trip.
“Have a nice trip.” I had to laugh, even though I was growing tired of all the people who seemed determined to keep me in a state of fear. This was far from the only ‘warning’ message I received and, although I knew they probably meant well, these warnings often felt more like threats.
I clearly had no right to be taking on such journeys as a woman alone. I was either completely naïve or downright crazy. I often wondered what they would say if I had been hurt or killed, “I told her so”? Would they find some satisfaction in my demise? Would they feed on that story like the flies on that donkey carcass back in Iran? I was going to make damn sure that didn’t happen – if only to prove the naysayers wrong.
India is very diverse and continually surprised me throughout my eight-week journey from Mumbai to Ladakh. Rhonda proved to be a great choice, particularly in cities like Surat, where the traffic was literally touching, and I had to fight my way through the rickshaws. She is a small bike with the power to pull away quickly and get in front of the pack when the opportunities arise. I relied on her so much that I was actually starting to worry about how much of an emotional bond I had developed with her. Was it wrong to love a machine this much? And I wasn’t the only one who loved her.
From Surat I headed for Vadadora, the third most populated city in the west coast state of Gujarat. It is on the banks of the Vishwamitri River. Like Surat, it is rarely frequented by visitors and once again, I found myself the centre of attention, or so I thought. As I unloaded my bike in front of my hotel, a crowd gathered. This was already the norm, but this time an argument broke out between the hotel security guard and one of the men in the crowd. The guard told them to move back and give me some room, concluding with,
“What is the matter with you? Have you never seen a human being before?” The man retorted,
“I’m not looking at her, I’m looking at the bike!” We all giggled. It became increasingly apparent that I was not the main attraction. Rhonda the Honda was the real star of the show. I was merely the sidekick.
I continued steadily north through Ahmedabad, Bundi, Udiapor, and Ranthambore. The heat was exhausting, and the last 2,500 kilometres was beginning to take its toll on me. I vowed that next time I would come in December when it’s cooler than June and July. Rhonda and I had now travelled 14,500 kilometres together and I decided to celebrate with an email to my mum.
“Look Mum! We only went and made it half way across India. BTW, any news from Nathan?”
Not long before I left, my son had announced that he and his girlfriend were due to have a baby. MY FIRST GRANDCHILD. I was going to be a grandmother, and boy did the media love that. The ‘warrior princess’ look I had hoped to convey was swept aside in favour of headlines like ‘Grandma rides solo around the world’. I was 39 for Christ’s sake; hardly grandma material. Still, I was very excited and had been hoping for news any day now, so after the email to my mum I posted on my blog,
“SOMEONE PLEASE PHONE ME IF MY GRANDCHILD IS BORN.”
In Ranthambore I did indeed get the news I had been waiting for. The day I went into the jungle and saw my first wild tiger was the same day I found out I was a proud grandmother to a little girl. A warm glow washed over me as I received the news from my son over Skype – a total rush of love and pride for both son and granddaughter. I was proud. I was happy. Really happy. So much so that I had to go out into town and tell everyone I came into contact with – the rickshaw driver, the man who smiled at me in the street and the waiter who served me a nice cold glass of wine (Champagne wasn’t available!).
It was a magical day.
To be continued...... If you would like to read more about Steph's journey, Home By Seven can be purchased here. https://www.motojunkies.co.uk/product-page/home-by-seven