22 September 2005

Raging Indus!

The 100 odd km stretch leading up to Leh was breathtaking. We rode alongside the mighty Indus, which was overflowing on to the road. The mammoth purple rocks rising up along the side of the road were imposing. It made us feel really small and, in a sense, insignificant.

Gopal screamed "This is the river after which we’ve been named!"

In that soft evening lighting, with the cool wind on my face, it just felt magical. It was one of the happiest times of the trip. I remember looking up at the brilliantly star-lit sky, with music playing in my head, and trying to absorb how blessed I was to be there.

Joy is the night-riding specialist in our gang. I won’t be surprised if he has some infra-red vision capabilities. He keeps fiddling with his visor, always looking dead straight. Occasionally he gets sufficiently distracted to holler a comment or two. Otherwise, he doesn’t talk much while riding.

Gopal on the other hand, simply cannot keep shut. During long rides, all the mindless chatter helped us retain some level of concentration. It’s hard to fall asleep while chatting (unless you’re a certain Suraj Kurian studying in Hindustan college). During our many rides and conversations, we pretty much gossiped about every single person we’ve ever known.

As we reached the outskirts of Leh, we were greeted by the Indus violently flowing over certain sections of the road. Luckily, we’d be sufficiently trained for this during the previous three days.
Interestingly, even with the Indus flooding roads and canals just outside, there is severe water shortage in Leh. Talk about bad water management. Normal restaurants don’t even serve drinking water. You have to buy bottled water.

We entered Leh by 10 that night, after 14 hours on the bike. We found this tiny excuse for a room at this old lady’s place. But we couldn’t care less. We’d made it to Leh. It was like a dream. I thought about the many occasions when the trip seemed buried for good. All the hurdles, the frustrations with the bike and river crossings, the many slips on the bike, the times when self-doubt crept in, when we wondered if the plan had any relation to sanity... but it was worth it all, and much more. That night, I experienced truly contented sleep.

20 September 2005

Take your pick!

Popular signboard hanging outside computer centers in over-crowded touristy places like Manali...

Facilities available :

1. Internet
2. Surfing
3. Browsing
4. Email
5. Chatting

While I was wondering whether to surf or browse, there was a South-Indian restaurant nearby serving perhaps the most unauthentic food served anywhere in India, which was being hounded by hungry tourists all day. I simply cannot understand certain things. Like how people travel- or should I say get transported- thousands of kms to sit in airconditioned rooms/cars or eat bricks disguised as idlis in the Himalayas.

12 September 2005

Gimme More!

After the army guy fixed the Enfield’s air filter, we entered the aptly named More plains. This is a 50 km section of dead flat terrain, with grasslands extending to a few kms on both sides, and mountains beyond. We rode by sporadic nomadic settlements along the way. How anyone can think of living there is beyond me. It’s like the definition of nothingness.

During this stretch, we had the company of 3 French bikers- a couple and another guy on two Enfields. The petite girl sat behind this rugged looking guy, who had this I’ve-been-thru-it-all look on him. The kind of hippie-look for which Joy would’ve given up two limbs (not his, of course!). Anyway, while riding together, we had our legs soaked in the icy water during one of our zillion stream-crossings. So we leapt off the bike as soon as we hit dry land, threw off the boots, nearly tore the socks off and began rubbing our feet with our palms. The French gang was looking on curiously, when we explained how much we hated the streams numbing our feet… the rough-looking guy said "Yeah! I hate that too… it’s really bad!" We were expecting some kind of horror-experience-narration from the girl, when she said "Oh! Water flooding the boots? That’s not so bad!" Such females help me retain hope!

The Clouds

The bright lighting due to the expanses of emptiness and the intense sun contrasted brilliantly with the sharp shadows cast by the clouds. I think the splendid photography by Gopal conveys the experience much better than any words that I can think of. Anyway, I felt drunk. Everything was moving by slowly-very slowly. I guess that’s the beauty of being on a bike. I could ride for hours, meditating on things seen, experienced… at peace with everything. I felt blessed.

The best part about the bike experience is that you’re out there with nature- in the elements. Here I’d like to borrow a thought from the book "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance"… sitting in a car, it’s in many ways like watching TV. You look out through the window and it’s like a neatly trimmed and framed view on offer- just like watching TV. You sit in a little box, cut-off from the real thing. But in a bike, the concrete that you see whiz by beneath you is the real earth that you walk on. Everything is real. You can turn around and look at the world around you in every which way you please. And then, there is the wind on your face. I can’t explain how good that feels. All this makes me wonder what trekkers think about biking.

Also a part of this one-with-nature experience is that you get beaten up by nature every now and then. The intense sun through the day ensured dehydration and loss of appetite for Gopal and me. We were feeling pretty low when we started the climb up to Tanglang La, which is the second highest motorable road in the world, at 17,500 ft. Joy, with his untold reserves of everything, had no problems whatsoever. With increasing altitude, muscles tend to disobey and revolt. We truly understood the meaning of dizzying heights. The roads there were perhaps the worst that we experienced. Mud, slush, rocks, potholes which resembled craters, streams gushing across the road, snow walls melting on one side and the pretty sight of fresh snow on the peaks on the other side. All this with failing muscles, a cold breeze, the bike skidding or getting stuck in the slush every few dozen meters and icy water flooding the boots. I only vaguely remember the actual time spent at the pass. We were too beaten up to discuss anything.

Well, contrary to popular belief then, we survived to tell the story. We rode downhill like mad men. We decided to crash in the first tent in the first village downhill, which turned out to be a good 30 kms away from the top. So we lost altitude quickly, and learnt about the wonders of (relatively) thick air! We were still only half alive when we walked into that tea shop. Gopal and I were lying flat on the bed, trying to get some grip over ourselves, while Joy was out teaching the guy at the tea shop how to make ‘half-boils’. Of course, the result looked nauseating. But you have to give credit to Joy for the effort. We drank a dozen teas between us, crammed down plenty of biscuits, omelets and pretty much anything that we could lay our hands on. When we walked out of the tents, with Leh a good 130 kms away, we had this weird energy surging through us. All the pain and discomfort during the afternoon felt like a distant memory… we decided to hit Leh that night no matter what. So with the sun setting fast and beautifully, with our bodies and mind reborn in that half an hour in the tea-shop, we rode on, into the sunset.