Does Odisha have the potential to become the Goa of the West Coast? We go exploring along the coast on the Hero Xpulse 200 to find out
It’s that time of the year! Everybody is spamming Insta feeds with #BeachLife pictures from Goa. Today, Goa is to India what Las Vegas is to the USA; a place to let your hair down, run the beer taps dry and to relive that Dil Chahta Hai road trip (for those who cannot afford to head to Spain the ZNMD way). But in one of the most diverse countries in the world, aren’t there other options? To answer that question, we headed out in the opposite direction to the biker folk flocking the Amboli and Chorla ghats, riding down to Motosoul and Rider Mania. Our destination of choice was Odisha (yes, its not spelt Orissa anymore!). It is not quite different from Goa to be honest. It has a coastline, the climate is similar and then there’s seafood too. But that’s not it; Odisha has a coastline of 485km (which is thrice as long as Goa’s), it is home to the largest mass nesting site for Olive Ridley turtles, is one of the greenest states in the country and is home to several wildlife sanctuaries including Nandankanan. It also has a Marine Drive road which is surfaced better than the Mumbai-Pune Expressway.
Still not convinced? Well, if you’re a post-millennial, you’d be happy to know that Biswa Kalyan Rath — the same guy who does stand-up in your favourite comedy clubs — is an export of the state. But this is not Trip Advisor and we are not travel guides. Our job is to explore the place unlike anyone else has done before, and what better to do it than on a motorcycle?
And for something as unexplored and unravished as Odisha, we had to choose a set of wheels that could take us almost everywhere without worrying about the service support. We already know the Hero Xpulse 200 is an extremely capable machine when it comes to taking on the bad stuff. But we haven’t really explored its full potential when it comes to the country’s motorcycling obsession – touring. And thus began our tour, starting in the centre of the capital city – Bhubhaneshwar.
Straight away after picking up the bike, we headed to Chandrabhaga beach. Unlike other Tier-II cities, Bhubaneswar has a brilliant road network and getting out of the city and onto the highway is a breeze. Barely 70km and 90 minutes later, we were at Konark which is also home to the legendary Sun Temple. A mandatory photo stop and we were well on our way to the coast. Now, here’s the best bit. The beach is over 30km long and has almost no crowd. The deeper we ventured, the better it got! Unlike the current state of Goa’s beaches, the whole coastline was pristine with no garbage. Of course, the lack of people meant we could go sliding and jumping with the Xpulse.
Unlike other adventure bikes, the Xpulse is extremely lightweight. In fact, it’s the lightest ADV in the country today. Which means, it can glide over sand without getting beached. We simply had to lower the tyre pressures, detach the rubber mounts from the serrated pegs and the Xpulse was beach ready.
After posing for pictures for Abhishek, I was already starving and we decided to take the Konark-Puri Marine Drive road. Spotting dhabas here isn’t a big problem and the food is so cheap that for the price of one tall Latte at Starbucks, you can fill three growling stomachs with enough fish to sustain us for the whole day. But instead of lazying up after the sumptuous meal, we decided to explore the trails along the scenic Marine Drive road.
Low density of population and lack of tourists means you can have whole jungles to yourself. And the trails? Well there are so many that you will be tired and lost before eking out every ounce of fuel from the Xpulse’s 13-litre fuel tank. Thanks to the Xpulse’s extremely comfortable seat and a natural standing position, I was willing to venture deeper and deeper. But, of course, our support car couldn’t follow as deep into the forests as we’d have liked to. The Xpulse’s navigation display came in super handy here. It’s backed by Google Maps’ data which means you can clearly rely on it. But Maps also suggested that we were getting dangerously close to Defence Reseach and Development Organisation’s test facility, so we decided to tag our hotel on the Maps’ destination and call it a day.
The next offbeat destination on our itinerary was Mangalajodi — a village located on the northern banks of the Chilika lake which is also known as Bird’s Paradise. It plays host to over 3 lakh birds in its marshy waters, starting from November. Birds from Siberia, Europe and Ladakh fly down to this place. The twist in the story here is that the villagers were earlier the poachers of these birds! But thanks to the livelihood that the birds are bringing thanks to the boost in tourism, the poachers have turned into protectors. We couldn’t spot many but the place deserves a visit and has a lot of potential to grow as the bird watcher’s capital of the country. Again, a regular vehicle cannot get to the edge of the lake but the Xpulse could, thanks to its off-road-biased Ceats that offer enough grip under every situation.
We had saved the best bit for the last before heading back. And thus we headed to Chandaka Forest, which is barely 30km from Bhubhaneshwar and is home to elephants, foxes and even hyenas. The road that leads to the forest is smooth but full of speed bumps. While Aditya and Abhishek were slowing down for every bump in their tracking car, I was flying over everything on the Xpulse, without having to worry. We even encountered some trails that took us along some beautiful canals where the Xpulse’s long travel suspension really shone through. Despite my body weight (about 80kg), the suspension didn’t bottom out even once. However, all that beating led to nowhere as we couldn’t manage to spot a single wild animal. But that didn’t take away from the joys of taking the road less travelled, thanks to the Xpulse.
The Xpulse is the perfect enabler if you are someone like Nathan Drake or Indiana Jones. Well, we are not heroes and this is not a fantasy world, but the Xpulse actually makes you feel like an explorer. It not only allowed us to explore the uncharted territories of Odisha, but also made us feel invincible thanks to its robust chassis. Add to it Hero’s strong service network and peace of mind is guaranteed. In fact, I can guarantee that there are more Hero service centres in Odisha than there are hotels.
But then there’s the silver lining too. Unlike Goa where you’ll find hordes of people even during the off season, Odisha is absolutely calm and serene even during the holiday season. Remember, Ladakh too was in a similar situation decades ago. And today... sigh.