Kenneth Maginnity is an avid rider from US. Though he’s not an Indian citizen his ‘Indianness’ is undeniable. In 2012, he embarked upon a journey of a lifetime when he on his 1965 restored Royal Enfield rode over 17000 kms across the length and breadth of the country. When someone sees India so closely, they absorb so much of our soul that they become more Indian than they think 🙂 The ride had a big social leg to it which Kennith describes in detail in this interview. This was Ken’s ride in the pursuit to end poverty in 2012.
I stumbled upon a twitter profile – @indiaonanenfield and was intrigued. I probed and finally found the man behind the handle – Kenneth Maginnity, and I took the liberty of adding him directly on Facebook. He obliged within minutes. This started one of the most cherished friendships across borders for me with a man I had hardly met.
I picked up Ken from the Mumbai CST station, on a Sunday morning and brought him back to my small yet cozy Goregaon 1BHK home. He settled in quickly; much faster than I had anticipated. Small houses in Mumbai didn’t scare him one bit. In fact, I got the feeling that he was quite enjoying it!
The next day I woke up to the most amazing omelette I’ve had. I had myself a private Chef at home for a few days; and I decided to make the most of it! 🙂
After seeing him off a few days later, I knew I had made a friend for life. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the man – Kenneth Maginnity!
1. How did a Chef from Australia living in the US, end up riding an Enfield in India?
Back in 2002 I briefly worked with a girl who had ridden an Enfield in India with her boyfriend, the way she talked about her experience I knew then it was something I had to do, it took a long time to come to fruition but it was well worth the wait.
2. Can you tell us more about your motorcycling? Which set of wheels do you ride in US?
In the US have ridden Harleys and Triumphs. Riding Florida’s picturesque coastal road, riding miles upon miles of crystals clear oceans watching sun rises and sun sets as I rode. Riding on beautiful sealed roads in a perfect tropical climate made for very pleasurable riding. However, my main ride was a KTM SXF 250 dirt bike. Friends and I would race our dirt bikes on the weekends in hare scramble type races. It was a lot of fun riding in the different terrains, from dirt, sand, clay and real tight wooded areas, I can say my time on a dirt bike really help prepare me for riding in India and the different conditions I would experience.
3. Tell us about your bike, Shanti. Where is she now?
As I researched riding in India I looked at many bikes, and well my love for more classic cars and bikes lead me to look at and fall in love with the Royal Enfield. I contacted Lalli Singh out of Delhi and he told me about a 1965 he had found but she was in very poor condition. I said let’s makes her beautiful again and he went to town, he exceeded my expectations in every area of her restoration making her stand out as I thumped around the roads of India. Shanti as she is affectionately known and I rode many more miles than expected, had a lot of fun and even got out of a few very tight spots, so at the end of my ride I put her in storage and began making plans to ride again. However as sometimes happen plans don’t work out, I called Lalli and made arrangements to ship her to the USA where we could ride again, I just could not bear to sell her. My most memorable ride here in the USA was a short but important ride. Shanti was serviced, washed and is shining as much as she could, I was dressed in a full three piece suite, tie and shoes shined to perfection. It was a very hot day but I was totally distracted with what was to come that I was just not even worried. All the guests turned as the heard Shanti and I thumping up to my wedding, then I walked down the isle to await my beautiful bride. Like I said, a short but important ride.
4. Your ride in India was dedicated towards eradicating poverty. Tell us about the impact it created for the cause.
The big reason I got behind a cause is I like to give back as I go. At the time I was working with the homeless in Florida as I love helping and making a difference in my community, while I was in India I just wanted to give back a little to India as I knew I was going to have an amazing experience. I did a lot of research into different charities, what they do, how they work and who is behind them. Very quickly I came across EndPoverty.org, they really stood out with the way they give a hand up…..not so much a hand out. Getting a charity involved and drawing attention to what they do was an amazing and challenging experience. I find it hard to encapsulate the total experience into words, there were just so many different facets, from the hours put in to raising awareness, interviews and actually being there with EndPoverty to see what they do. Just one experience that really stood out though, I was in Kolkata talking with Himadri how she founded the charity and orphanages, I was telling him how I felt what I had done was so little and I was feeling disappointed. He turned to me with a little shock from what he was hearing and exclaimed that this was a highlight of the year, not just for him, but for everyone that works for or is involved with the charity. Never before had so much attention been drawn to what they do and how they are making a difference to their community. When I rode into Kolkata as many people from the charity came and rode the last few miles with me, this as well as a police escorted ride through Kolkata gave the workers a chance to show and promote what they are doing. They got a chance to ride around their community beaming with pride knowing that all the hard work, disappointment and triumphs, their days of endless hard work were being seen by so many in their community, people how who had never noticed the tireless effort and long hours they put in were looking to see what all the fuss was about. As much as I was thanked, this really became more of a thank you to all those that do the real day in day out work that is involved in charity work.
5. India is not an easy country to explore on two wheels. Could you tell us about the issues you had to tackle, and how you dealt with them?
Really my biggest issue was the unknown. I had not ridden or been to India before, the only things I knew were from a short conversation some ten years ago. I began contacting different riding groups in different parts of Indian, I asked them for insight and tips to riding the regions they are from. Planning a route that might look fine on a computer is all well and good, but actually riding it can be totally different. You could be within a few miles of an amazing sight, wonderful hotel, a Dhaba with amazing food or being routed onto an un-rideable road and you would and will just never know. The insight that different clubs and individuals was invaluable. I can say that this took up the bulk of my time, but it was also the most rewarding as meeting amazing people, I saw sights that people would never know was there unless they were told and ate foods that I still dream about. One of the other challenges that was always present was finding a good mechanic when the bike need a full service. Sometimes the biggest and most well signed shop was not always the place to go, sometimes it was that small guy who had been fixing Royal Enfields for years that really knows the bikes that you would want to go to. I did get stuck in a major city more than once because of bad workmanship, but a few phone calls to some key people and they would get me in touch with the right guy.
6. How did you plan the routes for the trip in India? What tools or technology did you use?
To be totally honest I planned my ride out on google maps. The big problem with this is that sometimes the roads I would have been riding on were not much more than a goat track and though I was being conservative with how many kilometers I would ride a day; the maps did not allow for the condition of the roads. What might look like a nice 250 to 300-kilometer ride that would take 5 hours, was actually a ride that might take 10 hours. I did get caught out a number of times with this problem and that meant I was riding at night, on dangerous roads. I am thankful for the insight for individuals and clubs and if I did not have that insight, it would have happened a lot more and I would not have had such an amazing experience as I did.
7. Your ride across India over 5000 miles wouldn’t have been possible without various individuals and clubs across the country. Tell us about all the people you met and who helped you along the way.
My initial ride was a meager 2500 miles (4000 km) then it grew to 5000 miles or 8000 kilometers, but as I contacted more clubs and people it grew and grew, so many people wanted to highlight EndPoverty’s work as well as show me their India. In the end I rode some 11000 miles or a little over 17000 kilometers. From the very first day of riding the Bisons Ride Hard club played an invaluable hand planning my ride from Mumbai to Goa and even riding with me out of Mumbai to a hill top hotel near Ghatmatha and then pointing my to the right roads to continue my journey on. The BladRunnerzzz, and Lt. Col Sohan Roy out of Pune with their insight and local knowledge were invaluable. By then I even had a friend in Swati from a RusticArt.com, she took me out to a delicious lunch and listened to the stories of the amazing experiences I had already had. Western Motorsports of Jaipur really came in with some fantastic local knowledge making it one of the many highlights for sure. Then Delhi Bikes Breakfast Ride came out in a massive way to show their support and give me some insight of the roads I would be riding as many had just got back from a similar ride. I can say their insight added about 4 days to the ride and some 600 extra miles, as well as endless and irreplaceable experiences. Again it is that local knowledge that I received from individuals and the clubs that opened my eyes to a side of India that so many do not see, a side that I would have ridden past if I wasn’t given that insight.
8. Which was your favorite stretch in India?
This is an impossible to answer question, there are just too many to have one favorite. From the winding roads out of Mumbai on the way to Goa made the start of my ride so much fun, the salt flats in western India so different, the challenges go the Rohtang and Khardung La to the picturesque Darjeeling. I feel my total experience is one that I can never convey into one highlight.
9. Being a chef, how was your culinary experience in India given that India offers a multitude of distinct cuisines and flavours. Did you learn any Indian recipes?
Did I ever learn about the real Indian food with I was there, as well as picking up many new and mouth watering recipes. From day one I knew a lot of good food was coming my way as I devoured my first Kathi Roll, from there the foods just got better with my first and best ever Biriyani. The road side Dhabas as I rode and their changing foods as went from state to state continued to amazing me every day as I rode. As a chef a felt that I knew a fair bit about Indian food, as I left India I knew I was wrong, each and every day I would try and watch as food was prepared trying to gain insight, tips and tricks of how to create new and exciting flavors. For sure I have spend many a day in my kitchen cook and replicating many of the foods I had along the way, and it is a joy to cook for and show people the diverse flavors of India.
10. How many of these dishes are on your menu in the US now?
When ever I am really missing India I will quickly put together some real Indian food and reminisce of my days riding. There are many dishes that I cook up now from the food of Nagaland to always trying to replicate that Biriyani.
11. Could you tell us about some of the most memorable moments during your ride in India?
There are so many memorable moment it is impossible to list, really it is. The cliffs and over hangs of the Spiti Valley, look across at the stars (not up to) as the sun set in the villages stand out for sure. Khardung La pass 18000 foot high pass and Pangong Tso with the reflections of the mountains always make me smile when I recall them. If I was forced to say just one highlight though it would be coming back from Pangong Tso, we were re routed by the brilliant Indian army due to a land slide making the road impassable. I was re routed an extra 300 kilometers of roads that are normally only used by the Indian Army, taking me with a few meters of the India China boarder on roads that are not much more that a track on the ground. To see the see the sunrise and set as I rode over roads that so few ever get to see was a highlight that will be etched in my memories of India for ever. While riding this remote route I had two punctures, well this would not have been a problem but the puncture repair kits glue had burst dew to the altitude and the spare tube had holes it it when I took it out of the box. Well it was 10PM and the Indian army saw my challenges and gave me a place to stay for the night, then helped fix my ruble the next day and get me on my way. I really was in a remote area and it took me some 4 hours of riding to come across the next village, so without their help I really would have been stuck.
12. You’ve done a few rides with your lovely wife Bettina in Australia and Amsterdam. Given a chance, you think she’s up for a ride in India with Shanti?
Yes yes yes, in a heart beat. I have spent many hours telling her of the people I meet and the places I saw and Bettina would be up for the adventure at a moments notice. I would be thrilled to show her the India I got to experience, I know she would love it from the first to the last mile.
13. What was your biggest takeaway from your ride in India?
My biggest take away from Indian is just how giving everyone is, how easy it was to make a friend and how easy it was to overcome a problem. I pulled into petrol stations as Shanti broke down and people who did not know me or why I was riding came out to help, when stuck on the side of the rode with a busted chain people gave their parts to help fix it (I had already used my part earlier that day) and they gave it without even wanting money for the part. People gave me a place to stay and showed me around, they showed me the really India, an India that will show her such beauty at every turn.
14. A lot has changed since your ride which concluded in November 2012. If you were to do India on an Enfield, Part II; how differently would you go about planning the trip?
I have tried to get back to India on three different occasions, but as life would have it plans just did not come through, I even had a ticket booked at one stage, so there is the real possibility that it will happen again. If I was to ride again I feel what I would like to do is get more insight into local knowledge, I can see what you are doing with ScoutMyTrip.com and I would be on that in a heartbeat. It is a real opportunity for people to share and promote so many highlights, to tell others great little insights, dhabas or roads to ride. It is those insights that made my trip what it was. I especially would like to see people recommendations for good mechanics.
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