Travel

A roadtrip from Chennai to Cambodia

Vimal Gnanavel

Vimal Gnanavel   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

As stuntman Vimal Gnanavel prepares to traverse international terrain, he shares the journey that led him to this point

Disclaimer: It is not legally permissible for anyone to ride a motor vehicle until you turn 18, when you are eligible for a driving license.

But Vimal Gnanavel knew that. It is just that as a teenager whose biggest crush was anything that moved on wheels, he didn’t care. “My feet wouldn’t hit the ground when I first learnt how to ride, and I would fall off the bike,” says Vimal. His first two-wheeler? The cult-favourite Yamaha RX100.

But who is Vimal, and why does his story about learning to ride a motorcycle matter? In a few months, this 34-year-old will embark on a course that begins in Chennai and ends in Cambodia; one that would take him through treacherous terrain in northeast India, and through Myanmar, Thailand and Laos, before arriving at his final destination.

Why is he doing this? There’s no cause attached. It is just what bikers do — go on a road trip! “I’ve toured the whole of India, and I was thinking... why not go beyond borders?” he says, matter-of-factly.

Life on the fast lane

Where many fail, Vimal succeeded because not all people manage to sustain their childhood passion into their adult life. But before taking to endurance riding, there was another phase to Vimal’s life, and it began in college as a fresh-faced Mechanical Engineering student. He would ride into the campus on a brand new Hero Honda CBZ. “That bike was all the rage at the time,” says Vimal, who cajoled his parents into getting him one.

Put these two together — a motorcycle that allowed revving without the engine coughing up oil and a teenager looking up Chris Pfeiffer, the famous stuntman, over a dial-up Internet connection — and it wasn’t long until Vimal became ‘Veemax’. It is the stunt name given to him by his friends. It is also the name of the motorcycle — Yamaha VMAX — he wishes to own someday.

“The first stunt I ever tried was a stoppie,” says Vimal. (A stoppie is a type of bike stunt which involves the rider braking hard and lifting the rear end of the vehicle in air, which must then remain suspended for a while for the move to be completed). Soon, Vimal befriended four like-minded souls and started the Gutzy Roadies biker gang in 2007 with the intent of embarking on cross-country trips.

Vimal Gnanavel performing a stoppie

Vimal Gnanavel performing a stoppie   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Except, there was one major handicap for those wanting to tour the country in the noughties — Google Maps had still not been invented. “There was no GPS. And so, the four of us would stop to buy road maps in the State we were in,” he says. Often, this would mean that they would go off track and wind up in the countryside. “When we were touring Kerala in 2007, we wanted to reach Aleppey. But we somehow ended up in Kumarakom,” he says. Not that they were complaining.

Culture shock

But touring without guidance can also leave you stranded in the middle of nowhere, as it once happened to him on a cold night in “interior Bihar”, he says. “Though we interact with a lot of cultures on our trips, there was something about Bihar that scared us,” says Vimal, referring to the security risk in Bihar’s hinterlands. “We were warned about not venturing out too late in the night,” he adds.

During the trip, the rider’s jacket he was wearing tore off, and Vimal found himself using safety pins to hold it together. But it didn’t last long, and the crew had to break at a scarcely-populated village in Bihar, surrounded by people whom they could not communicate with due to the language barrier.

A roadtrip from Chennai to Cambodia

“But they sensed our problem, and one villager walked up to us offering to stitch my jacket. He took the jacket from me, stitched it up and brought it back after half hour, and never asked for anything in return,” he says.

At other times, these trips can be enriching knowledge-wise. Like when he was riding through Gangtok in May 2018. “Did you know that Gangtok’s traffic cops would levy a fine if you were riding a two-wheeler without wearing shoes?” he asks, laughing. “It was a world away from the world we’re in. Nobody honks there. They follow lane rules. I used to wonder, ‘Is this place in India?’” he says.

Early this year, Vimal and his crew traversed the Golden Quadrilateral — a network of roads that connect the four metropolises of Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata. After spending over 12 years on the road and with little territory left to cover in India, Vimal and friends are now looking outwards. He plans to purchase either a Triumph Tiger or a Ducati Multistrada for his journey to Cambodia.

How does he afford to live this lifestyle? “A stable job helps,” says Vimal, who is an assistant manager with Renault Nissan Automotive India (RNAIPL).

“They (RNAIPL) allow me time off from work to pursue my dream,” he signs off.

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Printable version | Jun 29, 2020 6:57:11 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/travel/a-roadtrip-from-chennai-to-cambodia/article28860746.ece

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