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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA


Goa and Beyond
Text Piers Gladstone
Photos Maria Bannova and Piers Gladstone

Since the 1960s, Goa has attracted global hedonists and escapists in ever-increasing numbers to its shores. For some, it has become a tacky, over-exploited charter destination, while for others it is still a magical idyll.

The Vittala Temple, Hampi

After several days of relaxing away from the crowds at the oasis of calm that is Casa Tres Amigos in north Goa, the lure of the road tempted us from our swims in the fresh water pool, ayurvedic massages, siestas in our bamboo treehouse, and the occasional ride on our 500 cc Enfi eld Bullet motorcycle to the beach or a restaurant. The Enfield Bullet, an English motorcycle, was first manufactured under license in India during the 1950s. Today, it is the oldest motorcycle model in the world to still be in production and the perfect way to see India.

We pause at the T-junction of the Bombay Highway. Several trucks thunder past before I let out the clutch and move through the gears until we are cruising at 80 kph. I feel the thrill of adventure, the knowledge that what is next is unknown. The sound of the single cylinder engine is a pleasingly loud drone, and the hot wind whistles through our hair as we climb the gentle hill in front of us, overtaking two slowing trucks as we do so. The tailgates of all the trucks are brightly festooned with painted faces from the pantheon of Hindu gods. All sport the command: “HORN PLEASE.” So I honk to let them know we are passing, and the drivers wave from the open doors of their cabs, returning our greeting with white smiles and blasts from their claxon-like musical horns.

We soon reach the state border of Goa and Maharashtra. I slow the bike because there is a police checkpoint. Several vehicles are being inspected, but nobody waves at us to stop so I open the throttle and we head further north. After 70 kilometers on this busy trunk road, we turn off onto a smaller road. It is a relief to leave the procession of trucks and buses — and the clouds of dust and diesel fumes. Now we are heading away from the coast and up into the hills of our next state, Karnataka. We climb steadily, the bike dropping down low as we swoop up a series of serpentine bends. We stop to admire the view of rural south India stretching out before us. Monkeys appear from the trees, inquisitive and in search of snacks.

Ready for a day in the saddle, Goa

Women waiting for vehicles to thresh their maze, Karnataka

Religious trinkets on sale in Hampi Bazaar

After the hills we pass the intense greens of rice paddies, white bullocks hauling wooden ploughs through the rich, red earth. Sugar cane is being harvested, and overloaded trains of bullock carts move slow along the road, their drivers standing on top of the piles of cane, whip in hand, shouting indecipherable words to the tethered teams of animals in front. Others lay their maize harvest across the road for the traffic to thresh for them, leaving a thick carpet of foliage that moves dangerously under two wheels. Women with firewood and earthen water pots balanced on their heads walk with straight backs along the side of the road, while children play and occasionally stop to shout and wave as two foreigners on a motorcycle pass by. After five hours in the saddle we reach our overnight destination, the town of Belgaum.

We leave Belgaum by mid-morning, soon flanked by fields of sunfl owers, maize, and chilies. Garlanded tractors blare out tinny Hindi music as they move busily about. After passing through a small town a strange metallic noise starts, grating and growing louder. I stop the bike and see that the front mudguard has broken loose. We turn around and head back to the town. The mechanic we find quickly removes the wheel and takes the broken mudguard across the street to the old man with a welder. In 15 minutes the job is done; in the meantime we have been surrounded by 100 curious townspeople. A policeman arrives to find out why such a large crowd has gathered as I pay the mechanic less than a dollar for the work.

We arrive in Badami, the ancient capital of the Chalukya Empire, tired and sunburned. As the sun slowly sinks below the horizon, we search for a guesthouse, weaving our way around small groups of little black pigs. In the morning we climb the hill behind the small town to the four 6th–8th century Hindu and Jain cave temples intricately carved into the sandstone cliff. A sign warns: “Beware of Monkey Menace” — and rightly so, as we watch a monkey making off with an Indian woman’s handbag and ransacking its contents, much to the hilarity of the onlooking crowd. The temples look out across the town and its adjoining bathing tank, which is flanked by 5th-century temples. The rhythmic whacking of women doing their washing by the edge of the green water rises up to the ridge above.

Two-wheeled pilgrims near Hampi.
Photo Maria Bannova

The ride from Badami to Hampi is a relatively short one that we do in an aft ernoon. As we near Hampi, the landscape begins to change, getting drier and harsher. Boulders start to appear, whole ridges lined with them, like an armadillo’s back. A crimson sunset and a still dusk see us into Hampi Bazaar, where we are led through ancient flagstone streets to a guesthouse. After unloading the bike, we walk to the nearby Virupaksha Temple where a celebration is taking place. Thousands of pilgrims are in the temple complex and lining the bathing lake. Crowds with candles and flaming torches, musicians, and the temple elephant, the painted and garlanded Lakshmi, parade around the town behind the holy shrine that is carried in a litter, while a full moon hangs in the night sky and the smell of incense infuses the air.

All around Hampi Bazaar lie the ruins of the 15th-century city of Vijayanagar, set in a beautifully surreal boulder landscape. Founded in 1336, Vijayanagar became one of the largest Hindu empires in India’s history. Over the next 200 years, the city spread over a 650 sq km area; by the time it was overrun and ransacked by a confederacy of Deccan sultanates in 1565, the city’s population numbered 500,000.

Hampi and the surrounding area is now a UNESCO World Heritage site, and with the help of an auto-rickshaw driver we buzz around its main sightseeing attractions in a day. First up is the exquisite but unfi nished 16th-century Vittala Temple, swiftly followed by the Royal Enclosure — complete with domed elephant stables and the delicately carved Lotus Mahal, a beautiful blend of Islamic and Hindu architecture.

We see a string of various temples on our whistle-stop tour before being deposited back at Hampi Bazaar for a wellearned masala chai.

It is high up at the Hanuman Temple overlooking the entire area of Hampi that we really get a sense of the place. It is a surreal and holy landscape. Huge boulder fields lie all around, as if thrown around by the gods or giants. It is an incomprehensible picture, dotted with crumbling temples that blend in naturally with their surroundings. It is timeless, like so much of India, but exists and thrives in the 21st century.

Rice paddies and boulders around Hampi

Relaxing at the Jain temple, Badami

Travel Information

Piers Gladstone stayed at Casa Tres Amigos in Goa ( and hired his Enfield Bullet motorcycle from there.

For those interested in organized Enfield Bullet tours in India, Nepal and, Bhutan, visit

The best time to go is between October and March. Transaero flies direct from Moscow to Goa

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