Author Archives: James

Royal Enfield Thunderbird 350 in Dharamshala

How to plan, prepare and pull off an all India motorcycle tour 

A chancers guide to riding a motorcycle around India

I’ll let you in on a little secret: there’s no finer way to see the world than on two wheels. An all India motorcycle tour is one of those iconic journeys that you read about in glossy travel magazines; a hulk of a man with chiseled features and a thousand yard stare straddling a shiny metal rocket in the high mountains of Ladakh. You know the one, the guy in the Belstaff jacket casually stroking his chin to flash the Submariner.

Well, here’s the secret: you can do it too. With a little planning, a bit of common sense and a couple of grand in the bank, you too can take on an all India motorcycle trip and live to tell the tale.

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My Morning Routine

Since I returned ‘home’ from my latest cycling adventure (Vietnam to UK, sort of – book coming soon…), I’ve invested a bunch of time in to personal development. I read books, internet articles and speak with like minded friends about the important stuff in our lives.

One of the most impactful improvements (‘life hacks’ is what the kids are calling it), is a structured morning routine. A disciplined morning routine leads in to effective activity with a feeling of accomplishment lasting throughout the day – it’s a very satisfying cycle to create.

  1. Make your bed. Sounds simple but this is the first task of the day and you just nailed…
  2. Meditate. I sit an hour of Vipassana straight after I’ve made my bed.
  3. Enjoy a hot drink. I take a cup of boiled water or herbal tea. The point is to just sit and be in the moment as you visualise a successful day ahead.

For me these three are locked down, everyday habits. No excuses, no skipping, no shortcuts. Also important is taking enough sleep – that means 7 / 8 hours for me. Experiment with your own sleep but make certain that you’re getting enough – it’s essential. I’m lucky enough to have the freedom to plan my daily schedule around my own requirements, if I go out til late, I’ll sleep in. But usually, I’m sound asleep by 11pm latest.

After my hot drink I’ll hit the laptop for a four hour stint of essential work related tasks. This is my main work activity for the day. This does not include email, phone calls or meetings or browsing the internet and social media or consuming content. These activities are for after lunch.

At 11am I break my fast and take a fruit breakfast.

Around 1pm I’ll reply to emails, make phone calls and take any meetings (usually via Skype). Once these tasks are complete I’ll catch up on any ‘work’ related reading. After that, I’ll kick back with a book, go to the forest with the bike (when I’m in the UK), or like now (I’m in Goa for the winter), I’ll go to the beach, do some yoga, sun gazing and socialising.

What’s  your morning look like?

India for Winter

Why I’m spending this winter in India

I’m sat here in the local all day brunch place in the centre of Stafford, making use of the free WiFi, enjoying the pleasant ambient temperature and listening to the perfectly acceptable playlist (currently beyond recognition above the half term lunch rush).

There’s a good reason for this decampment to the cafe in the town centre; I’ve cancelled my broadband, given up my van and locked up the house. On Sunday evening I fly to Delhi. I’m spending this winter in India.

Why India?

When I first visited India two years ago I discovered a meditation technique called Vipassana. Since I returned home in the November of 2017 I’ve sat daily to meditate and attended a further five courses to both sit (2) and serve (3) . I’m somewhere north of 1,500 hours into this practice, not that I’m counting…

India is the spiritual home of Vipassana having been preserved in Burma for centuries since the Buddha first taught pure Dhamma, 2,500 years ago. As I progress along the path I feel drawn back to India.

The book and the blog

While I’m away I’ll complete the book about my bike trip. The time abroad will afford the luxury of concentrated effort to get the thing complete.

Taking inspiration from Seth’s blog, I’m also here and now committing to a daily post. I want to develop Really Big Bike Ride in such a way that you, my loyal readers, grow in number and are sufficiently engaged as to help as needed when the time comes to launch the book – you’re my super-fans that will buy the book and tell all your friends about it!

Daily blogging steers effort towards clear thoughts, concise words and conscious actions. This is an extroverted manifestation of the personal work undertaken in meditation.

Come along for the ride, it’ll be fun!

With all my metta xx



An Evening With Miroslav

I met Miroslav almost the instant I stepped off the plane at Gdansk Lech Walesa airport. I was looking up at the timetable for the tram when the retired journalist offered to help. ‘You are from England?’ he asked. ‘Where are you going?’

‘I’m heading into Gdansk. Is this the right tram?’ I replied.

‘Come with me. I have a special permit for the bus. No pay.’ Miroslav added invitingly.

We spent the forty minute journey chatting about London, Miroslav’s love of Rod Stewart and his neighbours small garden. ‘When Rod Stewart plays in London we will go together,’ he said ‘I have access to any concert.’ As he said this he showed me a photograph of a ticket bearing the legend ‘local crew’. It seemed a big stretch to me but if it worked, it worked. I was amazed by the fact Rod Stewart was still touring. ‘My friend has such a small garden. It is a joke. Half is garden, half is cemetery. I have been there many times but I never saw a ghost.’ My new friend had been to the nearby Intel headquarters to interview William Savage, the Vice President of Product. To make the best impression Miroslav was wearing a USA baseball cap with a bald eagle thickly embroidered onto the front, the letters and design appropriately coloured and proportioned to mirror the stars and stripes; a large turquoise rhinestone dangled from a black cord at the correct length; the rest of Miroslav’s outfit was a fitting tribute to the legend of Ron Burgundy – grey cashmere turtle neck, grey woollen suit with black slip on winkle pickers all superbly concealed beneath a lavish flasher Mac. It was a joy to behold.

As we pulled up outside the Gdansk Glowny Railway Station, quite conspiratorially, Miroslav suggested we go to the Scandic Hotel to use the bathroom. ‘We take a leak, then we walk the town to your hostel,’ he said. I had no immediate plans so decided an impromptu tour of the town would be a great way to spend my Friday evening. ‘If you look here, you will see the old town hall, beyond the trees,’ he said just as we approached the ancient city wall. ‘There are many churches here, this is St Katharina, very bad luck church​, burned down so many times. Over there is the church of Solidarity. This is the city wall. Very old. You see the tower? Part of the wall. This is Pellowski, famous bakery, gave bread to the strikers.’ As we approached the Jacek Tower we passed the central market, groups of young men stood around drinking Tyskie beer and munching durum kebabs. The sight of food reminded me that I hadn’t eaten since morning so I suggested we join the crowd for a feed. As I wolfed down the mixed meat and creamy sauce, Miroslav made a great show of taking a bite here and there, explaining that his stomach was small and that he lacked appetite. A homeless man dug into a bin to collect cans and bottles to redeem the small deposit, Miroslav spied his chance, questioned the man thoroughly, then handed over the kebab. It was a kind gesture and better use of the food. We sat a moment to watch the procession of life go about its search for entertainment, it was after all Friday evening. Miroslav slugged back the last of his ‘medicine’, a bottle suspiciously similar to one which could contain vodka, gave us both a jelly sweet covered with chocolate and we were on our way.

‘This is old city wall, look, meets the tower. Great place for take a leak,’ he said. The arches of the inside of the city wall reeked of piss. A seldom seen place since on the other side of this stretch of wall was a beautiful park with lions carved into marble, clusters of benches to sit off a while and subtle lights illuminating the trees. Miroslav had picked a unique route. ‘You see that statue? That is the king of Poland. Below is Turkey.’ We crossed a small road into a large cobbled square, an adjacent bar blared out: ‘I wear your Grandad’s​ clothes, I look incredible. I’m in this big ass coat from the thrift store down the road’, a popular spot buzzing with locals. Ahead of us loomed a huge rectangular brick built tower, a former jail in days past, a formidable and imposing structure, not without style. The next day the square would host a ‘festival of Europe’ to celebrate diversity and cooperation. A direct reminder of how much the union is valued on the continent. Directly opposite the jail, which is now a museum, is the golden gate. Miroslav explained, ‘this is kings entrance to city. The golden gate is very special, look at the gold here, important place for king.’ We passed through the golden archway into a very pretty street, cobbled, lined with charming, well finished buildings of the gothic period, all now functioned as restaurants, bars or as Miroslav pointed out, brothels. He chatted briefly with his ice cream vendor friend before sprouting his next idea, ‘we take some beers and go to a very quiet street, very important street, you will see it is typical, traditional street. It is also place of biggest brick church in Europe.’ We picked up a couple of Warka dark beers and sauntered off the main strip into a side street.

Directly ahead of us was St Mary’s church, believed to be the largest brick church in the world. A vast monument with a single main tower of several metres width, gothic arched windows bigger than a billboard; spires to the rear gave some sense of scale and quirk of detail to the beastly size. It was an impressive thing though hard to comprehend at such close quarters. We turned away from this megalith into Mariascka, the clock turning back with us to a former time, when gargoyles and garretts were fashionable and life was of a more simple kind. We stood off halfway along the street up a half dozen steps to the small outside area of a stonemasons workshop. Half finished boulders scattered about the space, a neat row of stone plinths to the right of the doorway. ‘This is my friend, he is sculptor. We drink here a while. Nice and quiet place. Etcetera.’ We opened the bottles with Miroslav’s keys, toasted ‘nasdraviee’, the story would begin shortly. ‘After the war, 95% of this city was destroyed. By the Russians looking for Germans. Totally destroyed. Now, all these flats are occupied by Communists, shitty Communists. Look over there, you see the second floor,’ he pointed up with his beer bottle, covered his mouth with his other hand and whispered, eye brows raised like the arches of St Mary’s church, ‘even now live there KGB.’

‘You know about full moon?’ asked Miroslav, ‘it makes wolves howl, robbers rob and crazy people insane. Etcetera. Emotion runs high. I have felt it. Never make an important decision on a full moon. Put it off for a few days. Better wait and put it off. Full moon is powerful. It is coming in next days.’ We guzzled the beers, Miroslav almost toppling over one of the large unfinished rock carvings strewn about the place, and stepped away from the memories. Further down the street was the shop of a famous diamond family, a couple of hip cafes and by day, an army of stalls selling amber jewellery set in silver. A short stride later and we were on the riverside. ‘You see crane? Used to be for swinging large items on ships, etcetera, etcetera. Let us go to your hostel now,’ he seemed to be nearing intoxication. The repeated use of etcetera to elaborate his point was an obvious sign. We walked fifty paces to the bridge and suddenly Miroslav decided that we had better see the rest of the main strip, ‘this is green gate. We must see the water god, etcetera.’ We were now at the opposite end of the main street; the restaurants were busy, diners clinking glasses merrily. Up ahead was the new town hall with its beautiful clock, below it the statue of Zeus, squirting water high up above his head, pitched fork in hand. In the museum behind the trident a group of guests were enjoying a private party. Miroslav peering through the stained glass added, ‘Ah, yes, this is wine degustation. Some people come together to taste the very expensive wines, very expensive. I have experienced many wines. Very many. Red wines not so good in here. Old wood floor stains, etcetera. Big problem.’

We meandered slowly to my hostel, which without the tour, would have been a twenty minute walk, to arrive at eleven ten. I’d made no reservations, I rarely do, and before I had chance to request a bed for the night, Miroslav had begun to speak rapidly in firm Polish to the young guy on reception. As we’d entered the building a group of youngsters had laughed at a private joke, causing Miroslav to take offence. I had no idea what the conversation was about, but the young chap behind the desk looked bewildered. Despite this confusion I was handed a key, shown a room and pointed in the direction of the kitchen and showers. Miroslav and I sat down on a nearby sofa, where we exchanged contact details, then he asked if I knew any place where his niece might find work in London. I said maybe I did and that if he ever came to the UK, he had a friend he could call on.

Beautifully symmetrically, on the afternoon that I was leaving, a full six days later, quite by chance, I met Miroslav once more, this time at the bus stop. Dressed exactly as before, save for a dark blue overcoat in place of the trusty Macintosh. ‘I saw and wondered if it was you. I see that it is. So short is time,’ he mused.

‘Hello. Yes, time flies. Do you know what time this bus is due?’ I asked.

‘I will check. You could take the train also. Very beautiful, trees, green. Etcetera​. Much quicker,’ walking across to the timetable, he replied, ‘four minutes.’ The bus pulled up just as he said this. ‘Remember, you have a contact.’


georgia by bike; tbilisi to telavi by bicycle

Don’t Forget To Look Up!

‘Don’t forget to look up!’ cheered Marina as I cycled away from her ancient tumbledown family home nestled among majestic maple trees on a hill above the medieval city of Telavi. I’d arrived in the principal town of Kakheti with the intention of visiting Tusheti and the Caucasus Mountains for a spot of hiking. Meeting Marina on a hot Friday afternoon had changed my mind.

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Uzbekistan and the Silk Road Cities

​We approached the Uzbek border, full of trepidation, in the knowledge that a full and detailed search would be made of our entire luggage. An ‘illegal’ item, such as codiene, or a topless snap of a girlfriend, would result in a ‘fine’, or more plainly, baksheesh, a bribe. I was in company with Jonas and Emma, having left Dushanbe together, early on Tuesday morning. We were already nervous, since an earlier mishap at the Tajik border post; I’d forgotten to get my GBAO permit extended, consequently, the guard threatened, several times, to send me back to Dushanbe to get the necessary stamp; a 160 kilometre round trip I was loathe to entertain. I repeatedly shouted and pointed at the dates in my passport until, some 20 minutes later, the guard relented, allowing me to join Jonas and Emma on the short cycle to the Uzbekistan border crossing.

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Pamir Highway Social Club

​”Well this is all about my problems to get out of drugs,
cause I had enough of that,
I’ve had the college,
I’ve had the earning the money,
and the material trip,
I just decided I was going to find a new way of life
And so I took off on my bicycle…”
MYLO, Sunworshipper

I was alone, one week out of Khorog, on the edge of madness through exertion and hunger, when this song came on my little portable sound system. It reminded me of university. The lyrics, the sentiment and the cheerful riff – the memory – made me smile at my immediate situation. I had indeed taken off on my bicycle; I was certainly finding a new way of life; eat, sleep, cycle, repeat. It was one of those moments that I’ll always remember. If you can, put that track on now, as you read all about the Pamir Highway Social Club.

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Walking The Himalayas

Before I crossed the bustling, semi forested no mans land from Banbasa to the Nepalese border patrol office in Bhimdatta, I joined the masses of locals taking a dip in the Sharda Mahakali river. It was a sunny Sunday afternoon. It was nearly summertime. The fast flowing river felt deeply cleansing as it powered it’s way downstream. A fitting end to my four months in India. Nepali/Indian borders are porous which means both nationalities come and go, seemingly, as they please. This made the remote far western crossing a busy trade hub for the locals on both sides.

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Om Rishikesh; Yoga Capital Of The World

The cycle from Kalka to Rishikesh was hot, dusty and very hilly. My welcome back to the bike after six weeks of train hopping around India  (Kolkota to Goa to Kalka) was exactly as anticipated; really hot and really hard. I tried to trick myself that it was good to be back on the bike but it was no use. The ride out of Kalka was a steep ascent headed for Shimla. I tried in vain to get my bike on the toy train, I stopped repeatedly for chai, hoping the bike might ride itself up the hill, it didn’t. The day grew hotter, my legs grew tired and the bike remained heavy and unwieldy. Fuck this! Just fuck it. I sat at the side of the road on a low wall and had a nice stretch and looked out over the wide valley. That’s when I met Dan. Dan was cheerfully pedalling up the road towards Shimla in the height of the day’s heat. He pulled over to chat.

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The Great Indian Railway Bazaar

India is a very big country. And I wanted to see a lot of it. For that reason I took a series of trains making a horseshoe shape around the country. Down the east coast alongside the Bay of Bengal, from Andra Pradesh across to Goa on the Arabic Sea with a stop over in Hampi before striking north to the end of the line in Himachal Pradesh. Continue reading