Jaipur-based Rashtriya Riders ride to remember the armed forces

On the road to Kargil, the loop road to Leh

On the road to Kargil, the loop road to Leh   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Snow-bound Kargil, heat-seared Tanot, memorials in crowded metropolises, battlefields across India that have fallen off the map... The riders’ mission is to never let the Indian soldier be forgotten

Light glows from the film reel being played on stage at the Major General Samir Sinha auditorium, United Service Institution of India, New Delhi. In that strange twilight, the lives of war heroes are told in brief, as part of the book launch of Kargil: Untold Stories from the War. A group of men in black T-shirts sporting the name of Capt Anuj Nayyar, MVC (Maha Vir Chakra) and camouflage pants walks in. They are saddle-sore, dusty and exhausted, having set out that morning from Jaipur, with pit-stops at the newly-constructed National War Memorial and Param Yodha Sthal in Delhi, before heading to the South of the city to commemorate 20 years of the Kargil War with the families of heroes.

Jaipur-based Rashtriya Riders (RR), a group of motorcycle enthusiasts, was founded in 2016; since then, it has been putting tyre to tarmac and conquering hair-raising bends, chaotic traffic and splendid scenery with the sole purpose of celebrating India’s armed forces.

Himmat Singh Shekhawat, 36, who co-founded RR with Shivaditay Modi and Ravindra Jangir, says, “My family has a defence forces background, but I was unable to join the services. Four years ago, when we met at a coffee shop, Shivaditay, Ravindra and I decided to do something with our passion for the forces and show our gratitude to them. We thought of a biking group that would travel to wherever the forces have fought or served and simply thank them. In keeping with the ethos of India’s armed forces, our members do not identify with a particular caste or creed.”

Rashtriya Riders at the war memorial in Tanot, Rajasthan

Rashtriya Riders at the war memorial in Tanot, Rajasthan   | Photo Credit: AMAN YADAV

Rite of passage

RR’s first foray to celebrate ‘the few, the proud’ was to visit serving soldiers in the Kargil sector. Flagged off by the Army on Kargil Vijay Diwas 2016 (July 26), from Jaipur, RR travelled the conventional route to Kargil that is considered a rite of passage for bikers.

To the deep bubbly rhythms of their Royal Enfield Bullets, RR’s first six members rode through cosmopolitan Chandigarh, fern-forested Shimla, wind-swept Rohtang and scree-dotted Leh, before pit-stopping at the Kargil War Memorial at cold, unforgiving Drass. They completed the gravel-lined circuit through Srinagar, Jammu and Pathankot, before being flagged in by the Army at Jaipur. “It was a 4,000-kilometre journey that was both poignant and exhilarating. I was 16 when the Kargil War broke out and had keenly followed it in the media. When I reached Tololing peak, where the 2 Rajputana Rifles won a decisive victory, I was overwhelmed. This ride for the Indian Army was a revelation.”

Though the Indian Army, with its long history, has drilled and fought around the globe — in the Opium Wars in China, swarmed up the ridge from which the Turks dominated Gallipoli during the First World War, stemmed the rush of Rommel’s forces in the western Sahara during the Second, and fought Pathans in windswept forbidding terrain over the past century — its fight today is confined to the inhospitable harsh valleys of Kashmir and the dense jungles of the Northeast. “Getting access to visit these border zones in India calls for plenty of logistics and planning. It’s not as if we can turn up overnight and knock on the doors of a unit stationed in a field area, although once we have the requisite permission, the Army is a wonderful host. At the beginning of the year, we chart out our itinerary — two long rides that are over 4,000 kilometres, two medium rides around 1,000-1,200 kilometres and two short rides, around 500 kilometres, like this one from Jaipur to Delhi. We are now 62 members, and it’s not possible for all to ride together; ideally, we look at 10-25 members,” says Shekhawat.

A matter of honour
  • In snowbound Ladakh, stands the Rezang La memorial inscribed with words from Lord Macaulay’s poem 
  • Horatius —  ‘How can man die better/ Than facing fearful odds/ For the ashes of his fathers/ And the temples of his gods’.
  • The memorial commemorates the heroic stand of Major Shaitan Singh, PVC, and the Ahirs of C Company, 13 Kumaon Regiment in the Indo-China War of 1962. Major Singh and his men, grossly outnumbered, were brutally massacred by the Chinese, and died following the orders, “You will fight till the last man and the last bullet”.
  • The National War Memorial, inaugurated in 2019, stands near India Gate, New Delhi. It has been built as a tribute to soldiers killed during the Indo-China War in 1962, the Indo-Pak Wars in 1947, 1965 and 1971, the Kargil Conflict in 1999, and the Indian Peace Keeping Force Operations in Sri Lanka. It is designed in the 'Chakravyuh' formation and is spread over 40 acres.
  • The names of 25,942 war casualties have been inscribed on 16 walls. Adjacent to the main complex, the 21 recipients of the Param Vir Chakra are commemorated with a bronze bust.
  • It is open from 9 am to 6.30 pm (November to March) and from 9 am to 7.30 pm (April to October).

The members aged between 21 and 48 hail from varied backgrounds — professionals, businessmen and students. Apart from some of them sporting mutton chops sideburns and handlebar moustaches, and all of them wearing gloves, jackets and full-face helmets, their unifying force is that they are not in the ride for mere adventure or sport, but to respect the armed forces. “We are one of the very few groups in India that ride to celebrate their valour,” says Shekhawat.

What started with a focus on Army locations has now extended to the Border Security Force in the western sector. “We have covered most of the North, riding through Punjab, Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, where the maximum number of personnel is posted,” says Shekhawat, adding, “we rode 3,500 kilometres through the borderland salt pans of Gujarat and the searing sands of Jaisalmer when it was 45 degrees Celsius, to appreciate the service of the Border Security Force.”

A new focus is to meet the families of soldiers and officers killed in battle or counter-insurgency operations. “With help from Vikas Manhas of DESH (an organisation that visits such families on special occasions) we were able to get in touch with them. We started with visits across Himachal Pradesh and Punjab to 12 families of heroes from the Kargil War. We gifted them a framed copy of a photograph and a poem Amar Jyot Jalti Rahe, written by one of our team.”

RR has mostly Bullets in its entourage, although “any disciplined biker with a bike of any make that is 350cc is welcome”. Self-funded and driven by pooled resources, it rides with the mandatory head and tail riders, navigators and bike experts, camping where possible with the forces, in hotels or in tents in the great wide open.

“Siachen Base Camp has been on our agenda. But, it has been deferred by the Doklam issue and, more recently, by Article 370,” says Shekhawat, adding that they did an exclusive ride to commemorate the 1965 Indo-Pak War by visiting the battle site of Asal Uttar and Patton Nagar (Punjab), where nearly 70 captured Pakistani tanks lie in trenches — tilted, bullet marked and sun-bleached. They also plan to raise a memorial in Jhunjhunu district of Rajasthan, home to the highest number of men who died serving the Flag.

Riders in full gear

Riders in full gear   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

As RR with its cross-swords and handlebar logo navigates through golden wheat fields, past prayer flags hung out like festive buntings, dry riverbeds and walnut orchards, its members don’t often do it with the whoops of delight that accompany other intrepid travellers.

“We are linked by an overwhelming sense of pride. We want the civil population to visit accessible places and dwell a moment or two on these stories of bravery and sacrifice. We want them to see a soldier in uniform and say ‘thank you’. We ride to remember.”

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Printable version | Feb 23, 2020 2:01:45 PM |

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