Jugaad is an Indian celebrity – a way of life, a method in the madness, the ingenuity in necessity and so much more – that books have been written about it.

While this is not an attempt at writing a book, it’s (rather) a collection of Jugaad stories from the road, which we have accumulated over the past two decades of motorcycling in India.


The fact that the protagonist of these stories is inevitably the Royal Enfield, is a two sided sword. These motorcycles have been notorious for breaking down without warning, but due to decades of familiarity on Indian roads and simple mechanics, it’s also the easiest to (almost) fix bike that ever existed.

This is also a salute and testament to those unsung heroes of moto-touring. The roadside mechanic. Not the fancy service stations that exist today, but that hole in the wall, in small towns, 4 poles and a tin roof on small dirt roads, a pile of old tires sharing premises with a Dhaba. With basic tools and a ‘never give in’ attitude, they are the conspiring universe of Paulo Cohelo’s , The Alchemist ..

 If they sense that you want your journey bad enough, they will do everything in their power to ensure that you accomplish it. And often enough they won’t accept any money for it.


The life saver with Lifebuoy 

My petrol tank had suddenly developed a leak, and having barely begun my 15 day road trip, I decided to return, get the tank fixed and head out the following day. I returned to the Dhaba I had stopped at a while ago, hoping to find a truck that would transport my bike to the next town with a welding shop. The dhaba owner, who had been fascinated with my planned tour of South India, saw my predicament, and in the most matter of fact manner asked me to get him a lifebuoy soap from the shop nearby.

drake meme motorcycle and lifebouyClearly confused and frustrated but in no mood to argue, I returned with the bar of soap. He then collected some cleaning rags and proceeded to pound the soap, mixing in the rags (doused with water); into a pulp of even and spreadable consistency. My fascination was rowing every minute, as I saw him begin sealing the leaking hole with layer upon layer of this miraculous mixture. 30 minutes and another chai later, I was back on the bike. A back slapping hero bade me bon voyage and warned me not to visit him unless I had finished my journey.

A few years later, I finally changed my tank  when it developed a new leak, but for whatever reason, this particular leak never needed a fix.


The Broken spokes of Nirvana..

I bean slowing down, my GPS warning me that the detour to Gaya would be soon approaching. The speeds were high on this new expressway from Varanasi, and I saw the exit, as soon as I felt the wobble in my rear tyre.  The slowing down allowed me to safely drift off the highway.

Assuming I have a flat tyre I turn to inspect my rear wheel, but find nothing wrong. Pushing my bike (while on the saddle) also indicates no problem. So I get off the bike, and to my shock see that I have broken, not 1 but almost 10 spokes on my rear wheel.

Between curses at my bad luck (being only 40 km away from Gaya) and thanking god that this had happened only after I had slowed down.  Imagine what might have happened, had I been speeding along the busy highway.

 I began pushing my bike, and broke into an instantaneous smile, noticing a repair shop only a few 100 meters down the road. Asking for help, I was informed that they don’t work on tyres and I would have to find a tyre repair guy, who conveniently happened to be across the road.

I cross over, the young apprentice looks at me, rummages through a grease stained box of spares, and disastrously announces that while he does have spare spokes, they are of a longer size than specified for my bike. The closest shop for spares is Gaya. I start asking around for transport to Gaya and back. 

On the opposite side of the road, the boss of the tyre repair shop has returned and is having an animated chat with his employee. He signals me towards me. 

“Take a seat. I’ll send some chai over. Your bike should be fixed in 30 minutes”.

The young novice had been given an important lesson in Jugaad. He is sitting along with a set of oversized spokes and a metal cutting file. The solution was ingenious in its simplicity.  True to his word, 30 minutes later, I was astride my bike and riding through the hour of golden light, contemplating this dramatic entry into Gaya, my heart grateful and my spirit flying, on my now unbroken spokes of Nirvana.



Genie in a bottle in the Himalayas 

Ladakh is a motorcyclist dreamscape and the early years of motorcycling in these parts were fraught with danger, adventure and the ultimate stories of Jugaad.

I had crossed Khardung La, a fairly straightforward ride to the top followed by the agonizingly slow descent to North Pullu,  on roads (or potholes) covered in snow, rocks, slushy mud and streams of water from the snow melt.

The customary stop for Maggi and Chai at North Pullu, a reward of sorts, for successfully crossing one of the highest roads in the world. It was delightful, as always. However I was rearing to go, the upcoming stretch of tarmac, all the way to Khardung village is one of my favorite motorcycling experiences.

A high speed road, descending 2000 meters to the valley floor, offering jaw dropping views of the Shyok valley and the awe inspiring Karakorum Range looming in the horizon. 

My gear shift was behaving funny, a marked effort needed to change gears accompanied by a worrying metallic crunch. I crossed my fingers and prayed that this was just an idiosyncratic hitch (that all RE riders are familiar with) and it would sort itself as suddenly as it had appeared. It didn’t. Finding the neutral, I managed to reach Khardung.


motorcycle jugaad gear box view royal enfield

Jammed gearshift removed, gear box cover opened, the culprit was glaring at my face. A spacer, which had clean broken in half. The gearshift was working, but it kept getting jammed every 3 or 4 shifts and even though Diskit village was a short distance away, I knew that I would have trouble on the Khalsar loops, a series of climbing switchbacks.  Broken bikes attract crowds and the customary gathering of locals had appeared, offered suggestions and departed, knowing there was nothing they could do about a humble washer. I settled down at one of the cafes, hoping to get a lift till te next repair shop. Chai and smoke tend to help in such situations.



motorcycles parked outside cafe in ladakh

I noticed the proprietor of my café cutting up a packaged water bottle cap. My curiosity was piqued but I feigned polite disinterest and requested another chai, using the opportunity to take a closer look.  He stood up with a satisfied smile, asked me to follow him as he swaggered towards my bike. Putting the gearshift together and asked me to take the bike for a test ride. It worked and the gearshift felt smoother than it ever had.  

Two bottle caps had been cut flat along the edges, a hole punctured through the centre and I had been sent on my way.


Unbreakable bonds with Fevicol


 Arunachal Pradesh may be the only remaining, true frontier of new exploration and this story finds me on the Eastern approach to the popular village of Ziro. This low traffic road, passing through some stunningly remote parts, covered in dense forest and scattered wit tribal settlements, are an explorers delight.

I had started the morning in stinging rain, had a prophetic flat tyre- 20 meters away from a repair shop, had it fixed by a surly, don’t-waste-time-on-talking character and was thumping onwards, thanking my luck. A few hours into the ride, stopping at a rater picturesque chai stop, I was shocked to find that my rear tyre was flat- again. 

There was a huge gash in my tyre and irrespective of me fixing/changing the tube, I would l invariably have another flat unless I could somehow change the tyre altogether.

arunachal-pradesh-motorcycling-post-instagram.Apparently I was at a mid-point. The next repair shop was 40 km away, in either direction. Traffic was so low, that I might have to wait the whole day for some mode of transport to appear. So praying to the gods of motorcycling, I unscrewed the valve nut and sat across my tank hoping to keep my weight forward and still manage to ride. I haven’t prayed so hard in my life, avoiding any thoughts of damaging the rim or the tyre folding. I maintained a steady speed of no more than 20 km/hr , dreading the thought of having to push my bike in this terrain. My luck held and graciously, the bike rolled onward – in retrospect forcing this slow pace as a reminder, of the futility of racing through life and crossing imaginary milestones.

I was within a few KM of Ziro, when the first signs of civilization bean to appear. My enquiries about a workshop were pointed towards a house 1 km up the road and I finally bean to relax. I reached the house only to realize that it was carpenter’s workshop, cursing myself for the confusion and false hope of help. The proprietor looked at my crestfallen face which matched the dismal state of my tyre.

He disappeared into is house, returning with a tray bearing a glass of water and a cup of chai. He asked me about my journey and was excited about the remote parts I had travelled through. Finishing his tea, he stood up purposefully and asked me to wait for 10 mins.  he steps into his workshop, and in a short time returns with a black paste, with suspicious streaks of white. He uses this paste to fill the gash in my tyre.   Another cup of chai, as we as wait for the wound to heal, after which he uses a file to smoothen off the excess.

 This should do the trick.. 

He notices the bewildered look on my face and decides to explain.

When I have a crack in the wood, I use a mixture of sawdust and Fevicol to seal it. When I saw your tyre, it seemed like the same thing to me. So I used an old tyre to gather some rubber dust, mixed it with Fevicol and have sealed the gash in your tyre.