Presenting Lt Col Sohan Roy, an Army veteran and a veritable legend in the biking community. Sohan Sir is a humble man and completely oblivious to his stature. A man who never runs out of stories. He is a man with his name in the Limca Book of Records. Repeated his record ride but never bid for it. He has done Ladakh 5 times back to back including two Solo; visited Nepal, Myanmar and Bhutan on his bike. On a Monday, he may be sipping tea with you at his home and by Thursday he is already in a different country! (This is a true story!)
When at home, he loves to spend time with family, especially his adorable grandson. His cheerful family welcomes you with such hospitality that you feel completely at home. His walls adorn his feats, certificates and memorabilia. And this is my first formal conversation with him in the 5 years that I have known him.
Interviewer: Samarth Sankhla, Pune
How were you introduced to bikes?
Since childhood I was into two wheels. My father had a Royal Enfield. My father’s friend had a Norton, I have countless memories on those bikes. That’s how I chose bikes. I bought a Yezdi but then in 1984 due to a severe attack of Osteoarthritis I had to make do with a scooter Later I graduated from a Kinetic Honda to Hero Honda Splendor, then to Bajaj Pulsar 220 and now to Royal Enfield Classic 500, I call it “The Wizard”. Somewhere along the line this grew into passion!
So how did the Wanderlust bug bite you?
For 15-16 years, I was riding on Kinetic Honda. I was walking with a stick. I was on a two-wheeler alright, but it wasn’t enough. I wanted to do more. I never gave up on exercise & physiotherapy and sports medicine. When I felt a little better which was while at Lucknow, I switched to a Splendor. I had 2 loops on which I used to fix the walking stick while riding.
When I moved to Ahmednagar, I sold off my bike to buy a Bajaj Pulsar 220 and was happy that I had ditched my walking sticks by that time. Around that time, I got an invite to the Renault F1 roadshow in Delhi. The thought of riding all the way there crossed my mind. I shared it with my family and they were very supportive of my decision. Colleagues, however were skeptical. I went ahead anyway – solo! So, to answer your question, by the time I reached Delhi, the bug had set in. After the event, I went to Patiala, Nahan, Dehradun, Haridwar and Rishikesh and back to Ahmednagar. By that time, I was a changed man! I had the confidence to ride a bike like I always did and dreamed to!
So, what makes Sohan Roy a legend?
(Smiles) I don’t know what you mean by that, but after that trip, I did 5 Ladakh trips back to back. Including 2 Solo…all by myself. Though having moved to Jorhat, I was doing rides in the Northeast. I got a big push through social media, Orkut at that time. I started meeting riders along the way.
When I bought my current bike, a Royal Enfield Classic 500, I rode to Kolkata with RERAM a club in Shillong. I met some very enthusiastic and disciplined riders, RERAM- is my current club. So, through all these long trips and meeting all these wonderful people along the way, I got this love and respect from others. I also carried a message of ‘Save the girl child’ on my bike when I rode to Kathmandu for the RE Rendezvous & Poker Run. I get so much love for carrying that message and am humbled by the response and support.
Your current Club RERAM is hosting the NERM (North East Riders Meet) this year, what are your plans to attend this event?
Due to time constraint, I will be flying to Guwahati, my bike sent by train. I plan to ride back. Let’s see how it goes.
How did you switch from Bajaj to Royal Enfield?
During the ride to Leh, I realized the Bajaj bike was too tall for me. Due to its height, I could not climb on it easily. Besides in the places with almost nonexistent roads to Leh at that time, I had to get off my bike to push it, or negotiate the slush. During uphill stops my feet would barely touch the ground. That was dangerous.
There is an interesting story of how I got to the Royal Enfield on my mind. When I was in Jorhat, I got a phone call saying “Sir aap Loha ho, plastic kyon chalate ho?”. I could not understand it immediately but I was intrigued enough to meet the gentleman who had made that call. He said that he is on his way to meet me. When he came home, he pointed at me and said “Aap Loha ho (you are made of Iron)”, then pointed at my Pulsar “ Plastic kyon chalate ho (why do you ride a plastic bike)?”. That is when I understood what he meant. His name was Sunil Karnany. He forced me to ride his bike and I found it suitable to my height. I always thought it was too heavy for me. But then the new models being lesser in height and weight I switched to Royal Enfield Classic 500. Today I am in the RE fraternity because of him.
Sir who is your inspiration?
No one! I didn’t know many great riders back then, nor would you get to know as it was not the digital age as now. I had nobody to look up to. But surely there were many great riders then too.
How clubs have helped you on the way?
Clubs teach you discipline of riding and safety. A lot of humanitarian work is being carried out by some of the clubs. It also helps to meet somebody when you are in their town. Whenever I am on a ride, a lot of riders follow my trail, message me to meet, come on the highway to meet me and share tea and stories. It also helps me in planning an alternate route as the local clubs know the locale better. There’s always things to learn even from the youngest rider.
Which is your most memorable ride?
That would be the first ride to Leh back in 2009. I also cherish the rides where I get to pay homage and I plan my rides. I cherish the Siachen base camp ride. My ride started from Delhi after paying homage at Amar Jawan Jyoti on 15 August 2013 to the base. Had a break down, transported my bike in truck and then carried on. Out of my 5 rides to Ladakh, I have done 2 solo.
In 2012 I rode to pay homage at the war memorial in Ladakh for the martyrs of Sino – India War 1962. Rode via Tang Tse to Chushul and Rezang La. Earlier in 2010 I had paid homage to the martyrs of the Battle of Rezang La.
I believe I have two blood lines. First of my ancestors i.e. parental second of my profession…Those who picked up arms to save their motherland.
“How can a man die better than saving the ashes of his fathers and Temples of his Gods.”
Any word for surgical strikes that took place recently?
I am a qualified commando as it is mandatory for every Infantry officer to take that basic training in the Army. These strikes are done as per requirement after government approval. We have been very tolerant with our adversary. In my view, it was required and I am glad that government has taken a bold step to teach them a lesson. But then it not proper to raise a hue and cry about it. It’s a military operation and should be left at that.
Sir you went to Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar. What else is on your bucket list?
I want to do the East to West ride. From Kibithu in Arunachal Pradesh to Koteshwar in Gujarat. Once the administrative policies of the Asian countries are worked out I would also like to ride to Thailand.
Any words for your current bike – The WIZARD?
I have done 1,11,000kms in 6 years. I owe everything to The Wizard. I have in front the 15th Kumaon regiment symbol and in the back I have ‘Save the Girl Child’ banner. I was thinking of a unique way to honor my WIZARD. Suddenly I received an invitation to an event in Buddh International Circuit. I honored my WIZARD with a ride on the F1 track, where Royal Enfield category bikes are not allowed, but for me they made an exception. The icing on the cake was when Nina Prinz, European MotoGP racer also rode The Wizard!
I also Met M S Dhoni and Sundeep Gajjar because of the Wizard. They were happy to learn about my riding, but I would tell them about The Wizard, without whom I wouldn’t have achieved so much.
Among the current riders, who are your favorite?
I am impressed with the riders from the North East, PS Warjari commonly known as Bahfrang. Amongst the female riders Sarah Kashyap is my favorite. She did Ladakh solo from Bangalore to show the Flip side of India – that India is safe for women to ride 1000s of kilometers without fear of rape or murder. Besides she is the first woman rider to complete both the Sajoba and Raid the Himalaya. I call her Wonder Girl!
Any advice to the new riders?
I strongly think a rider should not do timed rides. To reach from point A to B in such and such time. Enjoy the ride, factor the road conditions, temperature, bike condition & body stamina. Ride to enjoy, not to prove anything. It is must to know the basic know-hows of the bike repair like repairing a flat tire, spark plug cleaning, replacing clutch wire etc. You don’t get stranded on the way for such small issues.
Besides we must respect others Right of Way.