Renting Rides

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It took bike enthusiast Basharat Ayaz Gilkar two years to convince authorities that renting bikes is legal in Kashmir. With already 40 bikes in his kitty, Kashmir Bikers is one stop destination for offbeat bikers. Saima Bhat reports

Kashmir-Bikes

In just two years ‘Kashmir Bikers’, the first and only licensed bike and bicycle renting agency have become a familiar name among passionate bike-riding tourists visiting Kashmir.

Starting off with just ten Royal Enfields in 2013, Kashmir Bikers now own a fleet of around forty Royal Enfields and fifteen bicycles.

It took Basharat Ayaz Gilkar, 26, along with his legal associate, two years to find out all provisions and then convince State Transport Corporation and Regional Traffic Officer (RTO) that bike renting is legal. And finally, Basharat says he is about to get his company registered. “I never wished my company should run illegally without registration. That is why I continued to move from pillar to post to get the registration done.”

Basharat’s father owned ‘Bullet’ manufactured by Royal Enfield, which he still recalls as his favourite one. But his father sold it when he came to know that Basharat rode it in his absence. That was before 2006. But the desire to own one still lingered through him. Basharat owns a 1991 model for his personal use, which has right-hand side gear shift which, he says, gives the feel of riding a real royal bike.

Born in 1989, Basharat, a well built and tall boy is quite a sporty person. During his schooldays at Tyndale Biscoe, he was a passionate football player. He holds a record of crossing Dal Lake twice in just 5 hours 45 minutes. But the question of what his career must steer towards after graduation always bothered him.

“When I came out of Islamia College I was really depressed and confused. Then my elder brother Rauf though out some avenues where we could invest,” he says. When the option of bike-renting business cropped up, it attracted him. “I accepted it whole heartedly. I started investing and it took off.”

To acquaint himself with the basics of this business, Basharat visited places like Goa and Ladakh, where bike renting was carried out professionally. Finally, in 2013, he procured ten Bullets to start with. “I choose Bullet because it is a robust bike and lasts longer.”

 “We started with the older ones first,” he says. “But our riders found it hard to go with them on treacherous terrain like Zoji La. The clutch plates would wear away with burns. So we changed them with new ones.”

Basharat says with the passage of time he realized its market potential and in 2014, they introduced newer models of Bullets as well as Avengers.

For any graduate in Kashmir, it would be practically impossible to invest on his own but Basharat had some savings from his two jobs in local MNC’s while he was graduating. “I started with Rs 10 lakh, much of which was contributed by my father, a contractor and mother, who is in government services,” he says.

Each Bullet cost him Rs 10, 33, 00 that time. “But now”, he says, “We have expanded our business and we own around 40 Bullets which keep on changing after two years. In terrain like Ladakh, it needs robust and fit bikes and I tell you if we are preferred, it is only because we don’t compromise with the quality of our products.”

In 2015, a Bullet costs around Rs 109700 and for each trip Kashmir Bikers charges Rs 1800 per day for a 500 cc Bullet, with all other requirements that riders want. But with Bullets lower than 500cc, the cost varies.

For any kind of bike, the maintenance cost is high. For each trip, a bike rides almost 1500 kilometres; the depreciation cost is 15 per cent per bike per trip. And if everything goes well, it still costs Rs 2500 to change the oils and some cables of a bike.

A trawl through the website of Kashmir Bikers throws up a list of satisfactory comments that riders have posted.

One Swhant Padhye writes, “Excellent Bikes, Beautiful Kashmir & Ladakh, very helpful people all around. The amazing trip as we covered 1600 kms on Royal Enfield and the ride at Khardung La & Chang La. Thanks a ton, Kashmir Bikers.”

Another rider, Vivek Gupta from Maharashtra writes, “Awesome Experience with Kashmir Bikers. The bike was in perfect condition and we had a great trip. Highly recommended for bikers travelling on NH1 (Srinagar-Leh Highway).”

Basharat says it is not easy to provide services on Srinagar-Ladakh route but he has coordinated with some of the mechanics on the way who provide the services to the bikers, just in case they need it. Initially, he had an idea that only foreigners will rent out his bikes but now he says, most of his clients, around 80 per cent, who are from India, are very passionate Bullet lovers.

For his business, the tech-savvy Basharat has made use of the social networking sites for the publicity. Besides, he has a team of five members who look after marketing. When asked if it is difficult to rent out these costlier bikes, Basharat says: “Before renting out a bike, a biker has to follow certain rules like they have to deposit a security amount besides some legal documents.”

“Presently we rent out bikes for Ladakh routes and that means a business of three months only but now we are focusing on other routes like Bangus, Sinthan Top, Mughal road and many such places which are favourable spots,” he says. “It will keep us in business throughout the year.”

But renting out bikes in Ladakh has always been tough in face of monopoly by competitors. Worse still, they don’t allow outside vehicles to ply locally. But Basharat says he visited Ladakh during initial days of his business where he met some of these local members who force outsiders to rent out their bikes rather than what they are carrying. His bikes were also stopped. “I directly talked to authorities of transport and RTO and made it sure if it was not a rule of any state authority, they will issue a notice that vehicles that are registered with state transport should be allowed to move in the region,” he says.

During September 2014 deluge when most of Kashmir Bikers had rented most of their bikes, Basharat says he was worried about his clients more rather than his bikes as they were not aware of different route plans. But much to his delight, he received all his bikes back.

Basharat says that time his clients proved to be helpful, who had sent the bikes in different trucks with their permit numbers so to make sure that they are received.

Bikes-on-RentBesides providing bikes on rent, Kashmir Bikers also provide bicycles to foreigners who book them on a daily basis. For one day, each bicycle is charged Rs 250 for gear one system and Rs 150 for other simple bicycles.

For the future, Basharat is planning to start with a proper workshop where he will provide services and he will be able to modify some of his bikes. He says he is passionate to modify these Bullets but so far he has not got any such chance. Kashmir Bikers may start another office in Ladakh so that their clients get an opportunity to travel one way, he adds.

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