When Polo Arnaiz first toured India in a van he was a timid, uneasy traveller, reluctant to immerse himself in the ways of the people and their culture. He returned to his native Spain with a negative view of the subcontinent that stayed with him… until he went back on a Triumph Bonneville a decade later and was amazed at how much he’d changed.
In between he spent two years going 120,000km around the world on a Tiger 800 XC after pledging to ‘never work in an office again’. It was a trip that changed him forever and inspired him to revisit the country that his 28-year-old self so mistrusted.
“The plan was… there was no plan”
“The plan for this trip was that there was no plan, other than going from Delhi to the Spiti Valley, an area of the Himalayas only passable by bike between June and August,” he says. “We wanted it to be a simple and modest trip, going back to the beginning, travelling with very few things, wearing ordinary clothes, spending nights in cheap hostels and tasting the local food.”
When he visited before he was a captive in a minibus with a guide and his parents. This time, the Madrid-based adventurer didn’t even know where he’d be sleeping each night… and it made for an unforgettable journey of discovery.
“I wanted to get back to my roots on a modern classic, to see the same people and scenery in places where I’d previously been more worried about things like whether it was clean or if people were going to rob me,” he says.
“It became clear pretty quickly that having the freedom of being on my motorcycle was allowing me to see India through fresh eyes and the experience I’d gained from my Tiger trip meant I could really savour every aspect of this incredible country.”
Epiphany in a 47-degree traffic jam
Bizarrely, the first realisation that things would be different this time came in a massive traffic jam as he and two friends rode north from Delhi.
“We were crawling along in 47-degree heat and I thought, ‘these people are crazy. How can they live here?’. Then it struck me. It was all very real and the beautiful thing was that despite the poverty you saw, it didn’t matter how much money you had when you were in that jam.”
Everyone was equal and some, often those with the least to offer, joyfully went out of their way to find Polo and his buddies a bed for the night as the party reached the spectacular 6,000-metre-high snow-capped mountains of the north-east.
Despite owning a Tiger 800 XC with 125,000km on the clock, Polo has no regrets about his ride of choice for this 20-day, 2,500km trip to retrace the steps of his younger self: “The Bonneville T120 isn’t an off-road bike, but I wanted to stay on the main roads, take it easy and go a little bit slower.
“As we left the traffic, humidity and forests behind and crossed through Haridwar, Sinla, Tiuni, Sarajan and Kalpa, we found ourselves on the small, empty roads of the Spiti Valley, climbing towards the rocks and outcrops of the mountain desert. It was then I knew I’d made the right decision about the trip and the bike.”
Change is going to come
Where once Polo shunned interaction with the locals, he now actively sought it, waving at small clusters of villagers and sharing common bonds and needs using the most basic sign language.
“My Bonneville gave me total freedom. We decided what to do each morning and if the plan changed during the day, so what,” he says. “It meant that every morning was the start of a new adventure all of its own, seen through my new eyes.
“The bittersweet feeling that I didn’t like had gone. I still found a country of many contrasts, overcrowded and with shocking poverty, but visiting it with a different perspective allowed me to enjoy it much more.”
Reliable companionship of friends… and my Bonnie
For a veteran of the PanAfrica Rally, recently completed by his countryman and Triumph test rider Felipe Lopez on a Tiger 800 prototype, the reassurance of good friends was another unexpected bonus for Polo: ”When I travel alone I enjoy the solitude and liberty, but the camaraderie and friendship added to the discovery.
“My perception about India has become sweeter. I have changed, I think, for the better and the reliable companionship of my Triumph has opened my eyes. I know now I never want to go back to work in an office.”
In his own words: Polo’s highlights
- Going back to my roots on a modern classic, rather than a typical adventure bike. It helped me see and take in more.
- Travelling with friends was an experience I won’t forget and one that was made all the greater because of my solo Triumph rides.
- Realising I am improving myself and growing from one trip to the next.