The crew breaks open the lock to undock the bikes — a preview to the uncertainty of a mad road trip in the making.

Gear — Check; Cameras — Check;
ID Cards — Check; Bikes — Check.

The riders make their first pit stop at the dhaba and the cast and crew explores the food of the road trip.

Then they witness the first sunset of the trip on the way to Nameri at 4:34pm.

Our motorcade finally arrives at Nameri in two more hours as we settle down around a camp fire.

“Hopefully we’ll know in half an hour if we’re negative or positive. We’re mostly positive people.”
— Ouseph Chacko

Our compass points to the Eagle Nest Wildlife Sanctuary where we meet our local guide Dom who leads us to Bompu Camp.

But the road is tumultuous as the bikes cut through the thick foliage. Ouseph’s bike breaks down in the jungle and has to be abandoned for the night. At Bompu, the night is far from over as Chacko figures out how to rescue his motorcycle on a call with BMW Motorrad.

“Today is some of the best trail riding I’ve done in a long time,”
— Chacko 

“At the end of the day, all you have to do is just listen. Nature heals you and speaks to you in many different ways.”
— Candida Louis

With the bike now recovered and spruced up, our ride continues to Thembang, where we meet Arunachal’s only nomadic tribe — the Monpas. 

Here, we meet Pema, a Thembang history expert who introduces us to the ever-hospitable Monpas who explains to us the history of this incredibly fortified village. Due to a years-old conflict, the whole village was fortified and the gates would close for outsiders in the evenings. But, the Monpas warmly welcome us to wine, dine and dance with them.

“We first ferment the grains such as maize, rice, ragi, and then we make bungchung, a local wine. Wine is a part and parcel of our lifestyle.”
— Pema 

“The last time I was here in 2017. I was here with Vir and we got on a couple of bikes and we set out again from Guwahati. It was pretty much the same route that we have done today. We almost reached Sela Pass and there was an unseasonal snowstorm. That stopped us just about four-five kilometres from the summit. We were hoping to spend some time in Tawang. So we had to turn back and it was quite a bitter disappointment. So hopefully I get to fulfil that in a quest to know more.”
— Harsh Man Rai

“What makes Sela challenging is the unpredictability of the environment. Everything beyond this is an exploration, even for the bunch of us.”
— Harsh Man Rai

“This whole monastery has been around for nearly 400 years preserving a way of life. While I know we aren’t the most pious bunch, we certainly value what a place like this causes us to reflect upon.”
— Harsh Man Rai

“I am not very spiritual, I am quite emotional. I love the sense of calm I get whenever I go to a monastery.”
— Ouseph Chacko

While Candida and Chacko leave for the Ani Gompa nunnery, home to about 50 Buddhist nuns, and then make their way to the breathtaking Geshila for some high altitude off-roading, Harsh and Vir take off to the heart-stirring Sangetsar Lake. From here, Harsh and Vir stop at the army camp where they break bread with the soldiers. It’s a homecoming of sorts for Harsh amidst the soldiers this Diwali. 

“We had langar, poori, chhole, prasad in asli ghee. What a Diwali! The best way to celebrate it!”
— Vir Nakai

“We are a twisted lot. We crave dirt, rock, snow, and cold weather — the most elemental of conditions. It’s a great feeling.”
Harsh Man Rai.

“The reason why I brought you all here is because I love waterfalls. Every time I have an injury or something or my back hurts, I just go sit under a waterfall and I feel super relaxed. I’m actually the most vulnerable when I’m at a waterfall because, I don’t know, it just gets my emotions out.”
— Candida Louis

“Harsh’s dad was in charge of taking out four bridges to stop the movement of the Chinese. But the Chinese had already leapfrogged way ahead of them. So, he did destroy the last bridge, the fourth bridge, and he got captured here, and was taken as a POW for six months. So it’s something that Harsh wanted to do for a while — follow the trail, come back here.”
— Vir Nakai

“His (Jaswant Singh’s) last act of bravery was to volunteer to capture a Chinese machine gun outpost. They silenced him in the process. He and two of his soldiers were killed in that battle and, he was awarded the Mahavir Chakra.”
— Harsh Man Rai

“One of Arunachal’s native major tribes, the Nyishi, believe in nature worship. ‘Nyishi’ translates to the ‘Highland People’. They aren’t bound by conventional norms and recognise women as equals in the society.”
— Vir Nakai

“Oh man, it’s my new obsession — to learn to paraglide.”
— Harsh Man Rai

“Even for us, who’ve spent a lot of time on the road, Arunachal is totally different and totally blowing our minds.”
— Vir Nakai

“There are risks to anything in life. You are prepared for them. I was in my full gear. It was a really stupid fall. It could have happened to anyone anywhere. There’s not a scratch on me. I’m not aching anywhere, there are no pains, but my head did scrape the ground, and when my head hit the ground, my helmet took that impact.”  — Vir Nakai. 

“Ziro Valley was the perfect spot to meet Taba Chake — the most famous Nyishi person we know. His music finds inspiration in the local folklore and is easy to relate to no matter what language you speak.”  — Vir Nakai. 

Our day begins with a memorable stopover at Ziro’s charming winery, the ‘Naara-Aaba’, also India’s first kiwi winery. The brainchild of Tage Rita, an enterprising Apatani local, the winery makes use of kiwi, a fruit found in abundance in the valley, to create an organic wine that follows traditional brew-making processes.

“The Apatani people have been rumoured to have inhabited Ziro Valley for more than 20 generations. They have perfected living in harmony with nature and are characterised by their unmissable appearance.”
— Vir Nakai. 

“The idea was to hang out with some locals, eat and drink with them. I think we’ve ticked all the boxes and that really is what motorcycling is for me.”
— Vir Nakai

It was a straight ride to Pasighat and the night quickly crept in. The police at the previous check post had insisted for us all to stick together since the area had faced tensions earlier in the region. Steadily we rode onwards to our next pitstop — the Arbor River Camp.

“Pasighat is the oldest town of Arunachal at the foothills of the Himalayas.”
— Ouseph Chacko

It’s not often that you come across people who are an institution in themselves, but at Pasighat, we meet one such maverick — Tongam Rina. Tongam Rina is an ace journalist and the editor of The Arunachal Times and a relentless voice for sustainable development in the region. A true challenger of the status quo, she has repeatedly been threatened and in 2012, even nearly fatally shot outside her office in response to her critique of corruption, militancy and dam projects in Arunachal.

 After their meeting, the riders head to the Siang river for a laidback afternoon of river rafting, angling and frisbee.

“We’ve been riding almost nonstop all of these days, just doing nothing on the beach, throwing the frisbee and having a good time and laughing at each other, I think we needed it.”
— Ouseph Chacko

In the evening, they meet Tongam Rina once more at the River Camp where they are treated to some homemade pork, beef and momos that are delicacies from the hinterlands.

“It was interesting because he (the Idumishmi witchdoctor) said that this ritual is about wishing us luck and asking the gods to look after us on the way. We are happy that we got their blessings.”
— Ouseph Chacko

“To save the biodiversity here, we must first preserve our culture. It’s only because of our culture that we have been able to conserve the jungle and animals. To deal with the challenges of the future, we must train our people from the valleys and villages.”
— Iho Mitapo

“14 days on the road, we’ve covered almost over 2,000 kms and everyone’s exhausted and its pouring here as we head to the easternmost tip of the country.”
— Asad Abid  

“We started from Tezu in the morning. We’ve done 100 kms in 5 hours. We got lots of rain so it’s pretty cold right now.” — Ouseph Chacko

“We have to rush at our own pace. We have to be at Walong before the sun sets, which today is at 4. Because we have to wake up really early, at 1:30 in the morning to trek to Dong.”
— Vir Nakai

“You probably have 70 years on this planet. If you can’t do what you want to do in that time, then there’s no point.”
— Ouseph Chacko

“13 knee dislocations. This is what it does to you. Can’t trek.”
— Candida Louis

“For all the dawns we saw across our ride, not being able to see the sun out for this one was something we could take in our stride.” — Ouseph Chacko

“I guess, in an adventure, you can’t be certain. You’re basically in the lap of Mother Nature and if she’s kind enough, you’re lucky enough, you get what you want.” — Asad Abid

“I found this team here and they take part in the rainforest challenge — one of the 10 toughest off road challenges on the planet. Noisy as hell to ride, but so much fun!” — Ouseph Chacko 

We had some of the most phenomenal food during our ride through Arunachal. If I had to choose my top three. It would be the Woisali Dhaba in Namsai (I mean I can’t even explain how good a meal it was) just at the entrance of the Golden Pagoda, the amazing lunch at Roing (everything they had to offer was mad. Specially the kichdi type preparation with pork in it) and the amazing BBQ at Ziro (the chicken was superbly crispy and crisp outside and soft and tender in the middle. Best BBQ ever). Vir Nakai

A legendary motorcycle expedition thus concludes. A trailblazing journey through 3,000+ km with four gritty motorcyclists crossing different terrains in a 16-day marathon ride on brand new BMW 310GS motorcycles to catch the first break of dawn in the Indian subcontinent in the most unpredictable year of 2020. But, the wheels keep turning, and the next adventure is right around the corner. 

Watch Cruising Legends: Dawn Patrol now streaming free on MXPlayer:

Words: Kartik Rao | Design: Aayushi Kapadia | Pictures: Vishal Thomas | Creator: Asad Abid