For Harsh Man Of 'Helmet Stories,' Motorcycling Is A Way Of Life
For Harsh Man Rai, motorcycling is the celebration of living. It is his guiding force to meeting new people, catching up with old friends and defining existence through tales of adventure. In 2008, Rai started chronicling bike expeditions with his friend Vir Nakai. With Ladakh as the starting point, the duo extensively captured the rugged terrain and shared their experience on their blog. The experiential snippets caught the eye of bike enthusiasts, who expressed their willingness to join them on the thrilling sprees, marking the advent of "Helmet Stories."
Rai’s venture is all about bespoke adventure tourist rides along the breadth of the Himalayas, from Arunachal Pradesh, Nepal and Himachal Pradesh to Ladakh and Zanskar. Besides knowing the nitty-gritty of motorcycle culture in India, he has been a media professional with over four decades of experience with top magazines, including Outlook Traveller.
During his association with OT, Rai contributed photographs and redesigned the magazine in 2010. Ahead of his next expedition in January 2024, the ace motorcyclist talks about his venture and adventure rides with us.
Excerpts from the interview:
Tell us about the journey of Helmet Stories.
Helmet Stories started as a blog in 2008 to document my travels on a motorcycle along with my friend, Vir Nakai. Ladakh was our origin point, where we explored many routes and wrote about them in our blog. Over time, as the Helmet Stories blog became widely known, we got a lot of requests from India and abroad to accompany us on our journeys, which was the genesis of Helmet Stories as a bespoke motorcycle adventure company. Today, we take people on memorable motorcycle rides along the breadth of the Himalayas, from Arunachal Pradesh to Nepal to Himachal Pradesh, Ladakh and Zanskar.
How did your passion for motorcycling develop?
I owe my sense of adventure to my love for bike riding. My passion for motorcycling is the celebration of living. While life is undoubtedly beyond riding motorcycles, this singular passion acquires significance as it is my vehicle for making new friends, gathering with old ones, marking the passage of time, or framing existence in a context of adventure—as something more than ordinary.
How have your bike journeys shaped your perspective on travel?
While earlier journeys were all about conquering the terrain and hardships, now I feel greater joy in building intimate relationships by peeling back the layers of the places, people and culture I travel through. And there is no better way to do that than from the back of a motorcycle.
What challenges do bike riders face? Tell us something about your most challenging bike journey.
Apart from the sheer physicality of riding motorcycles in remote places, the biggest challenges for motorcycle travellers arise from an inability to blend in with the foreign culture and customs of the places one is travelling to.
My most challenging journey was just 4 km long and downhill, but it took me 5 hours. I had gone to the School of Dirt in Kerala earlier this year to learn how to ride big adventure motorcycles on a gruelling dirt road deep in the plantations of Munnar. That day was humbling. I fell, cursed, fell more, cursed more and for the most part, tumbled down the trail for the next few hours. I came back suitably chastised with the knowledge that I needed to get much better at riding motorcycles and getting fitter at 62 if I wanted to keep wrestling with motorcycles.
What has been your most significant takeaway from the many adventures? Do you have any tips for aspiring motorcyclists?
My takeaway has been that your disposable income will largely disappear. And my tip to aspiring bike travellers would be to keep an open mind and travel light—literally and figuratively. Also, it is essential to keep learning and upgrading your riding skills.
What improvements to road infrastructure do you believe are necessary for bike travellers, based on your experience?
Of course, the design and maintenance of road infrastructure has to improve, but more importantly, the most common cause of road accidents in India is human error and lack of civic sense. This includes reckless driving, overspeeding, driving on the wrong side or under the influence, and not following traffic rules and signals.