When I wanted to transport my motorcycle from Bangalore to my home in Patiala, I learnt a lot about the options, pitfalls and procedures required in doing so. This article documents my findings so that they may be useful to people in future.
There are three main options:
1. Ride the motorcycle to your destination.
This is the simplest (and the most inconvenient: distance from Bangalore to Patiala is around 3000km) of options and one must consider a number of factors:
a. Even though the ride may be an experience to cherish, do consider that you may only safely be able to do 300-400 kms in a single day. Even on a good stretch of the highway, doing beyond 90-100kmph is not recommended.
b. Riding on Indian highways is not going to be a smooth and safe affair. Most highways in India are not made for prolonged cruising. Many of them may be under various stages of construction. Riding in the rain is ok but one has to be very careful since apart from the loss of traction, visibility will also suffer (if you are wearing eye protection, as you must). Riding at night should be a strict no-no as the oncoming vehicles’ high-beams all but blind you, especially if you are wearing some kind of eye protection (which you must, anyway, on a motorcycle). Be extremely wary of sudden speed bumps (especially when approaching towns) and unexpected potholes.
c. Factor in the cost of petrol, of overnight hotel stays, of the wear and tear of the bike (especially tires), etc.
d. Motorcycles do not have spare tires with them (unless you make special provisions). Other breakdowns may also happen. A breakdown on a desolate stretch of the road will present difficulties. You may be able to hitch a ride (along with your broken down bike) on a passing truck to the next service station but obviously it is going to be very tricky (especially if you do not know any Indian languages). Also, if you are riding an Enfield, most run-of-the-mill mechanics will not be able to do justice to even simple troubleshooting on the bike. You will have to engage an Enfield specialist.
e. If you are transporting a lot of luggage (or even a moderate amount of luggage along with a pillion passenger), this option is useless. Usually a pillion passenger is good to have (in case of trouble), but if you are carrying a hefty backpack (as you would be, on a long ride), it would be almost impossible to also carry a passenger (he/she will be having her own luggage as well). A luggage rack which can take a backpack or two will be extremely useful in this case. You can get one attached to the sissy bar of your bike for Rs100-200 at a spare parts store.
f. You can however, engage a cargo company to transport your luggage via surface vessels while you ride your bike. The charges are usually reasonable (from Bangalore to Chandigarh, DTDC Cargo, one of the top courier/cargo companies in India, quoted me Rs 45 per kg). For luggage, the cargo company will be liable for loss or damage, so make sure you mention the value of the goods on the cargo hand-over form.
g. Carry all papers with you when you ride your bike, i.e.: Registration, license, insurance, and your passport, if applicable.
2. Transport the bike on a truck.
This is a viable option, but again consider a number of factors:
a. You can engage a trucking company yourself (go for one which has a big enough fleet and has experience in transporting two-wheelers). This will be cheaper by about 50% than engaging a logistics/cargo company but obviously you will have to forego dedicated personnel, door-to-door transportation, professionalism, call center support on the whereabouts of your vehicle etc. Also, the cheaper the trucking company’s rates, more is the probability that your vehicle will suffer damage due to careless handling. Most often, the headlight/side-indicators/fuel-tank suffer damage. Almost without exception, some parts of your vehicle will be dented/scratched. Loading a vehicle onto a truck is not a smooth affair unless there be special inclined loading crates etc. and since the bike will be juxtaposed between a lot of varied cargo (some may even sit on top of it), cosmetic damage to the vehicle is inevitable.
b. You can engage one of the cargo companies (especially GATI, which has a good reputation for reliability and quality). They will pick up the bike from your doorstep and take care of everything except packing the bike properly with gunny sacks and padding. Most Indian cities have a GATI branch. Their website (as of today) is useless so you have to call their call center numbers to get information about your vehicle, their fees and charges etc. From Bangalore to Patiala, they quoted me around Rs 2700 for an Enfield 350cc motorcycle.
c. You will have to get the bike securely packed with padding and gunny-sacks. You can just go to the train station and have it packed there and have the cargo company pick it up from there, or if you are directly dealing with the trucking company, usually they have packers moving around from where the trucks leave.
d. In any case, the trucking/cargo company will not be liable for damages to your vehicle. According to them, your vehicle’s insurance will cover any damage. Do make sure, however, that your insurance policy covers transportation of the vehicle in a third-party vessel. Also, since usually there is a deductible in case of damage, and replacing parts on your vehicle is always painful, and the insurance claim won’t take care of scratched parts, I wasn’t very charmed by this safety net.
3. Transport the bike on a train.
This is the option I exercised, and despite some inconveniences that I suffered, I recommend this option.
There are two ways to ship something on a train: as luggage or as a parcel. To book something as luggage means you must be traveling on the same train, to book something as a parcel means the railways will take care of figuring out which train to use to send your stuff as cargo. In case of parcels, it may take 2-3 weeks for your stuff to turn up at the destination and only a personal contact (or some bribe) in the railway parcel office will ensure that you know which train is going to carry your vehicle. The rates for railway cargo are in three slabs: Ordinary, Mail/Express and Rajdhani. As is evident, the rates are according to the speed of the train. Rajdhani trains are the fastest trains in India (usually originating/destined-for Delhi). Choose only M/E or Rajdhani, do not choose Ordinary, unless you have a masochistic streak in yourself. The quality of the personnel handling the trains and their cargo is directly proportional to the speed and reputation of the train line.
For booking your vehicle as a parcel:
a. Go to the parcel booking office on the railway station one day prior to the actual day when you want to let go of your bike, and find out about transport charges, packing charges, expected time of arrival of your bike at the destination etc.
b. Get your bike’s registration and insurance papers photocopied and carry them with you the next day.
c. The next day, make sure you carry a pen and a felt-tip marker pen with you. The marker pen is required if the packers don’t have one and you have to prepare an identifying plate to be put in front of your bike.
d. Next day, take the bike to the parcel office so that only a miniscule amount of petrol remains in it (say 200ml). The railways insist that the bike be “dry” of fuel when it is consigned to them but a little bit of petrol is tolerated as you will need it to ride it from the destination railway station to the nearest petrol pump. Remove the bike’s papers from the bike’s compartment and keep them with you.
e. Get the bike packed by one of the packers who will approach you for this job. Expect to pay around Rs 120-150. Remove the bike’s rear-view mirrors (the packers will usually do this on their own) and have them packed between the handle bars and the headlight assembly. Have the bike securely packed and have the packer attach a metal label to the front of the bike detailing the owner, origin, destination, the bike’s license plate number and the current date.
f. Go to the parcel clerk and have the bike booked. Take the receipt. Declare the value of the bike as per your convenience. Up till a value of Rs 10,000, there are no extra charges. Beyond that, the insurance charges are extra 1% of the declared value. It is not a big issue and it is upto you. If the bike is lost (e.g. the train suffers an accident etc., railways will only pay you the declared value of the goods, obviously) On the parcel form, mention the bike’s engine and chassis number as well as the fact that it is packed and free from fuel.
g. Go home and plan the rest of your journey.
For booking your vehicle as luggage:
a. The day prior to your journey, go to the luggage booking office (this is separate from the parcel office) and have a look around.
b. The next day, get a photocopy of your bike’s registration and insurance (as many copies as there are legs in your journey, one copy for each leg), a copy of each of your train tickets, a pen and a felt-tip marker pen and go to the luggage office about 3 hours prior to the train’s scheduled departure time, with a miniscule amount of fuel (200ml or so) still remaining in the bike. You can either carry the rest of the luggage with you at that time itself or go back to your hotel and get it to the train station after the bike is booked (that’s what I did, since one has to go around quite a bit for getting the bike packed and to move it onto the proper platform where the train is going to arrive).
c. Get the bike packed as detailed in the previous section on booking it as a parcel.
d. Get the bike booked as luggage for your journey. Once again, declare the value of the bike as you would like to. The minimum amount, which is Rs 10,000 does not attract any extra charges. Take the luggage receipt, and the endorsement on your train ticket and keep the two securely. You will need both to get the bike back. If you have a journey which involves multiple legs, it is my understanding that you will have to book the luggage again at each leg.
e. Once the bike is booked, make sure it is moved to the right platform where the train is scheduled to arrive. You may have to pay the person in-charge of moving the bike to that platform something like Rs 50 or Rs 100 to do so, even though it is his job.
f. Wait for the train. When it comes, make sure the bike is loaded (the railways’ own porter will load the bike and will expect around Rs 20 to Rs 50 as his “fee”). If you contact that porter beforehand, he can do this without you being present at the loading carriage but it doesn’t hurt to take a look if the bike is parked securely in the carriage.
g. Have a pleasant journey and arrive at the destination station.
h. Go to the luggage release office / parcel office (usually near platform number 1) and get the gate-pass prepared after surrendering your luggage booking receipt and a copy of your train ticket. You will have to show the original ticket with the luggage endorsement as well.
i. Go back to the platform and get the bike handed over to you by whoever is in charge there (again expect to pay around Rs 50 to Rs 100 for getting the bike released).
j. Take the bike out of the station and park it in the two-wheeler parking if you are breaking your journey at this station for a couple of days, or get it re-booked for the next leg. If you are breaking the journey, re-book it when you come back to board the train for the next leg and follow steps c to f.
Sometimes, when the train stoppage at a station is only 2 minutes or so, the luggage can’t be booked for that station (since there won’t be time to get it unloaded). I’m not sure if you can negotiate the luggage booking for such a station with the luggage booking office but in the worst case, if you are unable to get it booked for your destined station, book your bike for the previous major stop, complete your journey to your planned destination and then go back the same day or the next morning to the previous major stop (on a bus or taxi) and get the bike released and ride it to your destination (hopefully the two stations won’t be too far apart!). Make sure you carry your original ticket, a copy of it and the luggage booking receipt with you when you go to get it released. It is once again my understanding that leaving your booked luggage at the platform is permissible free-of-charge for something like 24-48 hours, after which it attracts extra charges.
For me, the main complication was that I was alone and carrying a lot of extra luggage with myself in the train and moving around the train station to the various offices with all that baggage was not convenient (if I used porters, each trip was Rs 100 to Rs 200; if I chose to keep the luggage at one place, I had to find someone to keep an eye on it). There are many ways to make this situation easier. If you are coming to the station in a taxi, keep the luggage in the parked taxi and come back to take it when all the formalities of the bike booking are over. If you are disembarking from a train and need to go to the luggage office, have one of your fellow passengers take care of your luggage on the platform while you take care of getting the gate-pass for the bike, or have a porter guard your luggage after you note down his badge number (I am not exactly comfortable with the last option as the value of your luggage may be more than an year’s salary for the porter but it did work for me). In each case, carry your valuables and papers with yourself in a small backpack etc. so that even if the worst happens and your luggage disappears, at least you are not totally helpless. You can also book your luggage in the cloak room on platform 1 provided each piece of luggage is securely locked.
I had to carry my motorcycle from Bangalore to Patiala, with a three day stop in New Delhi. I did not have any problems in booking the bike in Bangalore for Delhi. After I booked the bike, I went back to my place and brought my luggage to the train station. The journey from Bangalore to Delhi was un-eventful. I was mindful of the problems awaiting me at Delhi and I befriended a fellow passenger who was also to disembark at Delhi. At Delhi, I asked him (he had to wait a couple of hours for his connecting train) to keep an eye on my luggage as I got the gate pass for my bike.
I was the victim of a small scam while getting my gate pass. The clerks told me that I had to pay an extra Rs 100 as “delivery charges” for my bike. I told them that I had paid whatever I was asked to at the Bangalore station but they said the delivery charges hadn’t been paid. They asked for Rs 100 (the round figure should have made me suspicious, but I was in a hurry since my friend was waiting for me) and even issued me a receipt for the Rs 100 (God knows what kind of receipt it was, but they made everything sound quite official. Maybe it wasn’t a scam after all, but when I later booked my bike from Delhi to Patiala, I specifically asked if I had to pay “delivery charges” and nobody had heard this term!!).
Once I got the gate pass, I came back to get my luggage, thanked my friend profusely, hired porters to carry the luggage and went to get my bike. I had to pay Rs 50 to a policeman to get the bike released. I then wheeled my bike to the two-wheeler parking just outside the station (on platform number 12, since the luggage booking office is on platform 12 and I had to again book my bike for the next leg three days hence) with the porters in tow. I parked my bike, took the parking receipt, took a taxi and went off.
Then came back in a taxi three days later, asked the taxi driver to wait with my luggage in the taxi while I took care of booking the bike at the luggage office. That took more than two hours (I did not have a photocopy of the registration, did not have a metal info-plate on the front of my bike (since that was not asked for in Bangalore, and in any case I would have had to get a new one for this leg since the origin/destination were different), the luggage booking guys were grumbling that the stoppage at Patiala was only two minutes and I would have to book my bike only till Ambala but then they found out that actually the stoppage was 5 minutes and they relented on their own!). I booked the bike, asked the porter to transfer it to the correct platform but he dithered, saying that lots of other bikes were also waiting and I couldn’t insist that the bike be carried on the train on which I was traveling (I think he was bluffing, but I didn’t have the time to argue, as my taxi driver was still waiting for me). I paid him Rs 150 and he immediately sprung into action, and started to wheel the bike.
The Delhi luggage booking offices are a big mess, to put it mildly. I left my bike there while I went to get the registration photocopied, to get the metal identification plate made etc. and I was wary that my bike might disappear from there (since it hadn’t yet been consigned to the railways and therefore was still my responsibility). Fortunately, nothing happened; and even though I had walk about 3km here and there (the photocopier is way outside the train station, the id-plate makers are somewhere else and so on…) finally I was able to get the job done.
I went back to the taxi, hired porters to take my luggage to the platform, reached the platform, asked one of them to wait with my luggage (I told him I’d pay him Rs 50 to load my luggage in the train compartment) and went around to search for my poor bike. Unpleasant surprise! It was parked on a different platform than on which my train was supposed to arrive. Enough! I decided to take matters in my own hand. I took the bike and wheeled it to my platform and parked it next to my baggage. About 15 minutes before the train was supposed to arrive, the railway porters appeared out of nowhere and said they had been looking all over for my bike. I told them in a somewhat harried tone that they had parked my bike at the wrong platform and I had to personally wheel it to this one. Well, not even a word of apology! They took the bike from me and said they would take care of loading it.
The train arrived, I had the porter load my baggage, paid him off, and went towards the luggage carriage to check my bike out. (Note: once the baggage is loaded in an air-conditioned compartment, with other passengers being there, it is quite safe to go out of the train and check things out, in my opinion. But to be safer, have one of the passengers keep an eye on your baggage). Sure enough, the bike was loaded alright; to make a long story short, I just paid the loading porter Rs 50 and went back to sit in my compartment, exhausted.
Reached my destination station. There my parents were present to receive me and so there were no complications at all.
Mission accomplished. The charm in India is that even routine things like this take domain expertise.