SHAHWAR HUSSAIN – the chain reaction man
BTS: Hi Shahwar, thanks for taking the time to do this interview. Could you give our readers a bit of information about you, where you’re from, and tell us a bit about the kind of work that you do?
Shahwar: Hello, I am from Assam. I did my schooling in Guwahati and Silchar, but I did move around a lot. My father was an engineer, building roads and bridges in the interiors. It was lovely, spending time in the forests and hills. I do a couple of things simultaneously….almost. I run a small adventure motorcycle travel company and I concentrate only in North East India. I have been an automotive journalist for a while now although my involvement in the automotive industry has drastically come down. I review a few of the new cars and bikes that are launched in the country. I also write travel stories for some leading Indian travel magazines, In-Flight magazines, and also some overseas publications. I had started a garage at Guwahati about 25 years back and I restore vintage and classic cars. I still have that garage and putting all those old cars on the road is immensely satisfying.
What they lack in amenities, the villagers certainly make it up with their warmth and their amazing culture and tradition.
BTS: You’re an avid traveler. I know this is not an easy question to answer and you seem to love the back roads of Nagaland. Why Nagaland?
Shahwar :Yes, I do go around a fair bit. And I never can get enough of North East India. Somehow, I love traveling through Nagaland but I can’t put my finger on one particular reason why. The interiors of Nagaland are beautiful…and it is a kind of raw beauty. Places like Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim are very scenic…thick alpine forests…deep gorges…roaring rivers…snowy mountains. But in the villages of interior Nagaland, I find warmth…lots. I speak the language and maybe that’s why I connect better. In my tour itineraries, there is a lot of Nagaland. I take small groups (4 to5 people) in my tours and this means that the whole group can sit around the fire in a kitchen anywhere in Nagaland. The remote villages have bare minimum creature comfort but most of the clients certainly don’t mind. What they lack in amenities, the villagers certainly make it up with their warmth and their amazing culture and tradition. The other very important thing for me is the back roads. We ride through long off-road sections…through lovely and lonely forests and small fords and hardly cross any other vehicles all day long. We have food in the numerous resting shelters that dot Nagaland or maybe in a village, jump in the river for a while, and carry on riding. That’s the beauty of these interior places in Nagaland.
BTS: Coming back to Nagaland, do you think the glory of Kohima is limited to the ten days of the Hornbill Festival, or has it something more to offer?
Shahwar: Certainly not. The Hornbill Festival is a recent thing…a little more than a decade. It’s a big and interesting festival, no two ways about it. It is a crowd puller…a riot of colors. But there is so much more to Kohima. There is a rich history, culture, tradition, handicraft, and amazing cuisine. There are so many old and interesting villages in Kohima…each with its history. I wish people would spend a little more time in these villages. There are storytellers and they have amazing stories to tell.
There are so many old and interesting villages in Kohima…each with its history.
BTS: There is a healthy sign of a few Indian women venturing out in the motorcycle arena. Given a chance would you take them to Nagaland?
Shahwar: I have already taken a few Indian women on motorcycle tours through Nagaland. Women on motorcycles are inherently adventurous and the fact that Nagaland is a very very safest place for women, draws them. I have conducted tours on two different occasions for women who wanted to travel alone (other than me), without any backup support and on an open-ended itinerary. 90% of the tours were in Nagaland. And they were scheduled to come back later this year but the virus seems to put paid to the plan. Their tribe is increasing and it is a good thing.
BTS: There seem to be several communities and riding groups for riders? How does someone who is just starting get involved? How do these groups work?
Shahwar: I am not a member of any community or group. I have always been a solo rider. But yes, these groups have a brotherhood. Most of these groups have their own rules about new members. There are many such groups in social media and being a member of these groups is good as they give you a lot of information. But the best thing is to be a member of a local group first. You can go out for short rides with the group in the beginning and that will prepare you for the long tours.
I have already taken a few Indian women on motorcycle tours through Nagaland. Their tribe is increasing and it is a good thing
BTS: What are the most difficult part and the most fun being a long-distance motorcyclist?
Shahwar: I have always been a solo rider. The only time I ride in any sort of group is when I conduct a tour. On solo rides, the only difficult part is a bad crash in a lonely place. The good parts out-numbers the bad part! You ride at your OWN pace. You stop and ride at will. I have stopped by the side of the hill overlooking a beautiful valley and I have spent hours there….didn’t have to ask anyone! Someday I rode all of 6 km and someday I rode 600 km. It gives you time….time for yourself. It’s a rat race out there and there is no ME-TIME. Even if you win the race, you will still be a rat…So, in a solo ride, you have all the time for yourself.
BTS: Tell us about Chain Reaction India.
Shahwar: Officially, Chain Reaction India is about 16 years old, but I have been taking small groups of riders on tours of North East India for about 20 years or more. Traveling on a motorcycle was a passion since I was 15 years old…but it seemed a fairly good idea to turn passion into a profession. One fine night, my good friend Anuj Singh and I thought up the name and the logo while we were sitting on the steps of a friend’s motorcycle garage.
BTS: You surely have had some great people help you get to where you’re at. Who would you like to thank?
Shahwar: My photographer friend Anuj Singh helped me a lot. He and I conducted the initial tours. We had to keep the overheads down. We didn’t look at making any profits in the beginning….breaking even was good enough. We wanted good reviews and we did get some very good ones. Anuj and I made a really funny team….many times the clients asked Anuj to stay away from them because he made them laugh too much!!
BTS: Being a travel enthusiast in Northeast India, spend a lot of time restoring vintage vehicles. How is it progressing? Any thoughts on the proposed Vehicle Scrappage Policy of the Indian Government?
Shahwar: This new policy has me worried. I haven’t read the whole thing but I sure hope that it is not as bad as it sounds. These vintage and classics are our motoring heritage. It would be a terrible shame if these are scrapped and if we are not allowed to drive them. I restore and maintain my clients’ valuable cars and I drive them always. These old vehicles have a very strong identity and it is important to preserve them.
The policy will have far-reaching effects on the common man. Say a man has bought an army disposal Shaktiman truck and uses it in the coalfields or the logging industry and earns his living. If he is forced to scrap that truck, he will be in no position whatsoever to buy a new truck. What is he supposed to do? There are many examples…old jeeps converted into water tankers, ex-army Nissan trucks carry supplies to remote villagers, Jeeps ferry villagers to faraway towns….the list is endless…I hope the Govt has given these things a thought.
BTS: If there were one thing you could change about the way people perceive or see or think about riding, it would be?
Shahwar: The perception of motorcycling has changed a whole lot. Now, a high ranking official of a company can ride a good bike to his office and not many would raise an eyebrow. The girls are breaking the celling and it is such a good thing. In addition to the everyday commuting, motorcycling has become a lifestyle and a recreational thing. Wind in the hair, dust under the collar, bugs in the eye, snow inside the boots, wet to the bone, touch the earth with your feet, and the world whizzing past…these are the joys of motorcycling.
BTS: Finally, what are you looking forward to over the next year?
Shahwar: Got a mixed feeling about next year. The virus has wiped out the tourism industry and it will take at least a year and a half to start again. I have a few car restoration projects at hand and they will take up the better part of the year. Will do some riding too.
Thank you, Shahwar, for taking the time to give such an in-depth and deep interview.
You can reach out to Shahwar Hussain on his upcoming motorcycle trips in North East India at firstname.lastname@example.org
DISCLAIMER : The detailed interview is also available on the June 2020 issue of Eventours Journeys E-Magazine and other platforms used by www.beardedtravelingsoul.com and Eventours Travels LLP. All photographs used in this article are owned exclusively by Shahwar Hussain/Amitabh Sarma/Beardedtravelingsoul/Eventours Travels. No photographs may be used in any way without prior permission. Shahwar Hussain can be reached through his website www.chainreactionindia.com His Instagram handle is @shahwarhussain69