For the last few years of Shammi Kapoor’s life, his son, Aditya Raj Kapoor, busied himself caring for the veteran actor. After his father died, Aditya Raj, a retired management consultant, felt he had lost his purpose. Seeing him at a loose end a year later, his son recommended investing in a motorbike—even though the then 56-year-old had never been on a two-wheeler. In 2012, Kapoor bought a Royal Enfield, named it Baby Blue and decided to see the world on it. But first, he mastered “road respect” at a biking club in Mumbai, completed two trips across India, and acquired a “call name” (every biker has one): Lord Fusebox.
Eight months after acquiring Baby Blue, Kapoor invited his wife Priti to join him on a 5,022-kilometre round trip from Mumbai to Lahaul and Spiti. Half expecting her to bail out, he meticulously planned the trip, staying mostly at state tourism hotels, as “they have the best views”. “Every single day for 25 days, I anticipated that she would be fed up and take a flight back from the nearest airport,” says Kapoor. He later summarised his trip in a book, Bike on a Hike.
Priti gamely joined him on his adventures, but the couple did meet with a few hitches. “We were scaling the Jalori Pass in Shoja district of Himachal Pradesh, which is 10,000 feet above sea level,” says Kapoor. “Naturally, we were restricted to five kmph, as the road was very treacherous, full of stones and dust. For three hours, I rode in first gear as we crossed the steep incline. Eventually, I got exhausted, lost balance and we both fell. Nobody was injured, besides our egos.” That was the point when Priti broke into tears for the first time. “I felt bad for getting her into such a situation. But we collected ourselves, hugged each other, and made calls from a passer-by’s phone to the hotel. We were concentrating so much on the road, that we missed the turn to our hotel. I made it up to my wife by taking a three-day break before the next leg.”
While descending the pass, after 500 kilometres of rough mountainous terrain, the Kapoors found themselves at a hairpin bend, with a hatchback approaching them. “I couldn’t take any risk as I had a pillion and luggage, so I stopped to allow the vehicle to pass. The other vehicle also stopped, and after waiting, we both approached at the same time. I barely managed to brake before collision, lost balance and fell.”
A crowd (from 10 cars queued along the road) gathered to help the Kapoors up. Some people accused him of being a “rash driver”, saying he “should’ve been more careful since he was riding with his wife”. “I knew that they were only concerned about our well-being,” says Kapoor, who became even more cautious for the remainder of the journey.
In 2014, Kapoor took off for another trip across India, Bhutan and Nepal with a fellow biker from his club. They left Mumbai on October 21—Shammi Kapoor’s birthday—and rode from Mumbai to Khardung La in Ladakh, to Dehradun via Manali, and to Nepal through Ranikhet. From Nepal, they cruised up to Sikkim, descended to Paro and Thimphu, then Puri, and finally all the way to Kanyakumari before returning to Mumbai. They covered 13,000 kilometres in 73 days.
“Ordinarily, this trip shouldn’t take more than a month but we decided to take it slow and enjoy our ride,” Kapoor says. “We stayed in Bhutan for five days and travelled across Ladakh for 15. We stopped at Pondicherry for three days and spent Diwali in Ranchi. But on reaching Kanyakumari we were so homesick and tired that we rode straight back to Mumbai.” While Kapoor was prepared for any eventuality, the first nine days were gruelling, with constant stop-start rain. “When we reached Punjab, we took shelter at the Golden Temple, and prayed to the Maharaj to rid us of this miserable rain. Our gear was always wet, the roads were slippery and it was difficult to ride. Our prayers were heard and it didn’t rain until the last leg of our trip in the southern tip of India,” laughs Kapoor.
Unlike his previous trip with Priti, this time Kapoor roughed it out, staying at cheap motels and dhabas, where strangers treated him with utmost generosity. He recalls a memorable encounter at a highway eatery in Jharkhand. Bored of the monotonous food he invariably found in such modest establishments, Kapoor walked into the kitchen, and enquired about lunch. “When the cook pointed to the fresh catch of the day, I asked him to fry the fish with some masala. The owner, who had been observing us, enquired where we were from.” On learning about their trip, he jokingly asked if their wives had evacuated them from their homes. He invited the bikers to wash up before their meal. “The freshwater catch from the nearby pond was delectable. The owner refused to let us pay, and even offered his place for the night. We offered the sum to the cook instead.”
Being on the road, Kapoor says, has altered his perception of humanity, in every state he’s visited. Discovering that they were long-distance travellers, a small roadside dhaba in a Punjab village cooked them fresh food beyond its business hours. In Odisha, a policeman made them feel like royalty. “Just before we reached Cuttack, following hours of riding, we were a bit clueless about the route,” Kapoor recalls. “Exhaustion had altered our road sense. We reached out to a policeman at a crossroad, explained our situation and told him that we wanted to get to our hotel in Bhubaneswar before sunset. He advised us to follow the road till we met another policeman who could guide us.” The officer then blew his whistle, bringing the traffic on all sides to a halt to let the bikers pass.
Kapoor’s ambitious world trip, which he has been planning for nearly a year and a half, involves studying every route on Google, binge-watching YouTube videos, and even chatting with bikers who’ve completed similar rides. He calls it “The Quest”, and plans to cover 50,000 kilometres in 10 months. Kapoor will fly to Vladivostok in East Russia, kicking off with a 60-day ride to Moscow along the Trans-Siberian Highway. Then, Kapoor will ride to Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, France and the U.K.
From London, Kapoor will take a second flight to Newark. “In the U.S., my son will accompany me, and I will go to meet my daughter on my bike. My last flight will be to Indonesia, and from there, I’ll ride to Malaysia via Singapore and get to Thailand, Myanmar and to Moreh village in Manipur.”
Kapoor’s Quest will take him places, but for the moment, he’s concentrating on another first: perfecting biryani for his Couchsurfing hosts in Russia.