Residents of Vadodara, Gujarat, Mohanlal Chauhan (77) and Leelaben (71) have travelled the length and breadth of the country in four long and adventurous road trips.
Think motorbike with a sidecar and the first image that pops into one’s mind is of Jai and Veeru from the iconic cult movie – Sholay. But 77-year-old Mohanlal P Chauhan has a different opinion. “Forget Jai and Veeru, once you read our story the motorbike with the sidecar will only remind you of us,” he tells The Better India.
Mohanlal and Leelaben (71), have covered over 30,000 kms over four road trips on their 1974 vintage Royal Enfield (bullet) bike.
The first few solo trips that Mohanlal embarked on were for fun but he says that he missed Leelaben’s company. The desire to travel together led Mohanlal to fix the bullet with a sidecar.
In 2011, Mohanlal, a former employee of the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), suffered a heart attack after which the doctors forbade him from even climbing stairs.
“Not one to be sitting at home he decided to live his life on his own terms.” says Leelaben.
After opting for voluntary retirement from ONGC, in 2015 Mohanlal started going on short solo trips. “I remember exploring nearby places with my father on his scooter as a kid. After my retirement, when I started going on trips, I felt almost like I had a new lease on life,” he says.
“In 2010, Leelaben had a fall and fractured her leg which left her in pain and also slightly handicapped. I knew I wanted her to travel with me but at the same time I wanted to make the ride easy on her. This was what led to the attachment of the sidecar to the bullet,” Mohanlal adds.
Do Deewane Shaher Mein (Two silly souls about town)
The song — Do Deewane Shaher Mein from the movie Gharonda (1977) beautifully captures the essence of Mohanlal and Leelaben’s journey. In 2016, after having the sidecar attached, the couple embarked on their first trip together. Starting from Vadodara in Gujarat, the couple went through Maharashtra, Kerala, Goa, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
While the couple was looking forward to crossing the borders and visiting Sri Lanka, they were able to go only up to Rameshwaram, Tamil Nadu due to some political tension. “The sunrise and sunset at Rameshwaram was something else,” says Leelaben, who adds that witnessing this natural phenomenon was an experience she will never forget. While the couple returned to Vadodara after this Bharat darshan, they were already planning for their next trip.
Asked the difficulties of the planning process, Mohanlal says, “The planning was not the problem, answering questions and allaying fears and doubts that people had was the problem. Many were convinced that we would not last beyond a few hundred kilometres.”
But in February 2018, the couple took a second trip. This time the destination was Thailand. “On our journey to reach Thailand, we went through Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Odisha, West Bengal, Assam, and then Meghalaya. Unfortunately, when we reached Meghalaya, the landslides started and we were advised not to go forward,” he says. The couple regrets not being able to make it to Thailand, but, in the same breath, add that every destination they crossed has left them with memories to last a lifetime.
Not without their share of pitfalls
During their trip in 2018, when the couple was passing through Chitrakoot, Madhya Pradesh, Leelaben had a fall and fractured her ankle, for which she had to undergo a surgery. Having to spend close to a fortnight in the hospital, Mohanlal says, “This lady is made of very strong mettle. She did not let the fall deter her spirit. With a cast on, she got into the sidecar ready to go. Not once did she say she wanted to get back home. She’s the second battery to my bullet.”
Leelaben also prides herself on being the finance manager of the team and says, “We have budgeted between Rs 3,000 to Rs 4,000 as our per day expenditure. This includes our food, stay, petrol and other miscellaneous costs. Thus far we would have spent Rs 2 lakhs on each trip of ours.”
In 2019, they covered Rajasthan, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and went upto Jammu.
“We have covered almost every state in India. Each one is prettier than the other, and even if you asked me to pick my favourite, I wouldn’t be able to,” says Mohanlal, anticipating my question. While most people feel homesick on trips, Leelaben says that staying at home for too long makes them rather sick.
“We need to be able to travel and explore places. We are not made to stay put in one place,” she adds.
The last trip that the couple took on their bullet was in early 2020 when they visited Srisailam in Andhra Pradesh. What keeps them going is their simple outlook on life. “With every stop, I make sure that I reach out to the chef to request for simple food to be made for us. We are vegetarians and other than onions and potatoes, we eat everything,” he says. Mohanlal shares some of the foods that he likes eating and says, “Paneer paratha, tomato soup, vegetable pulav, Masala bhat, curd and one full glass of milk is what my diet consists of. No matter where we went – South or North, our food requirements were always taken care of.”
With the world grappling with the novel Coronavirus, travel plans for this year have been put on hold. But reminiscing about their trips together, Leelaben says, “He’s my husband but when we travel together, he becomes my best friend. I enjoy riding with him.”
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)