Wednesday, 7 October 2009

notes from the road..

ill be honest with you, when it comes to roadtrips, im a little superstitious. i stop at places i think are lucky, i consider some things to be omens, etc.. all because of the total uncertainty that comes with hopping on a bike and just taking off. its kinda scary, ill admit. so, when a trip is preceded by a series of unfortunate events that under normal circumstances i would consider bad omens, its kinda amazing the trip happened at all. it was supposed to be a ride to ladakh, but due to lack of preparation i pushed it by a week, only to receive news that the lahaul-spiti valley route that i was planning to take was closed due to unseasonal snowfall and that the army were airlifting people out of there. so i decided it was a good idea that i was going to leave only a week late, only to find out that my laptop blew something and needed expensive repairs. which took a hit on my budget, and left me with too little money to do the trip to ladakh. so i decided on rajasthan instead. all this while poeple who said they'd want to ride along or ride pillion were dropping out of the plan, so along with everything else, i had to consider the fact that i had to ride alone, which is not something iv done except for a coupla chennai pondicherry trips. and in the meantime there was the whole circus of providing excuses and justifications to people who expressed concern about this undertaking, as well as the usual elaborate set of lies to cover my tracks from my parents :P so all things considered, there were enough reasons not to go.

so why did it happen, why did i go? well, have you ever gotten tired of planning something, dreaming of something, talking about something, but never actually doing it? tired of doubts, both from within and from others, tired of being scared of the unknown, and what it'll bring? well i have. at some point the sheer curiosity of what this experience would be like got the better of all the concerns, worries, superstitions, doubts etc.. so i literally said to myself on saturday the 26th, sometime in the afternoon, fuck all this, ive gotta go. so i hastily borrowed 5k, hopped on the bike without the usual bunch of spares, oil and stuff, and was off on sunday. and, on the night of the sixth, reached bangalore safely after about 3700 kms on the road.

so these are the notes from the adventure.. be warned, they are kinda random, copied from my book.
stats :

distance: 3700 + kilometres (speedo cable was out for most of the way to ahmedabad, and thanks to durga pooja, no mechanic was open all the way :| )
fastest stretch : belgaum kolhapur, average speed 100kmph
slowest stretch : 30 km post satara, average speed 30kmph, heavy rain, took an excruciating hour
chai stops : 15 (chitradurga, hubli, kolhapur, pune, andheri, kharod, ahmedabad, baroda, surat, asgani, kankavli, morjim) for a grand total of 37 cups of tea :D
punctures : 1
accidents : 1
birdhits : 1 (hit and killed a crow that was just taking off. couldnt be helped. if i'd managed to avoid it, i couldve added a 'no animals were harmed in the making of this trip' tag to mine.)
fuel cost : rs 4265 wonlee

most drivers i know hate trucks. mostly because these fuckers are scary on the road. and for the most part i agree. but there are reasons why i like trucks too. the vast majority of them, mostly the longhaul truckers and not those insane ones on eichers and smaller trucks, are professionals. they use the low beam at night, they move right over if you honk before and overtake, and on a slightly evil note, they make good obstacles for any cars you might wanna race :D they also have the most amusing things written behind them. i thought all trucks had the usual Horn OK Please and We Two Ours Two lines written behind, but having seen enough trucks now,im happy to report that some have absolute gems behind them. i read off 'naseeb apna apna' (which kinda struck me considering luck does play a good part in these roadtrips), 'hai bombay chellam' (on a tamilnadu truck, guess he was kicked about doing bombay runs), 'A zara hatke' (which made me chuckle), etc etc. even the simple 'awaaz do' instead of horn please, painted in styles that would make WordArt proud, was refreshing to see. yes, you do get bored on the road, this is one of the many ways i keep myself amused, especially when there isnt much of a spectacular view around.

also, i play this game. the taufeeq vs siyad game. when i was maybe three, i used to categorize the flat fronted lorries as siyad, and the snouty ones as taufeeq, ostensibly since i must've seen examples of the two lorry types bearing those names. so i count how many taufeeqs and siyads i see. siyad usually wins, but then i start trying to give statistical weights to taufeeq sightings, and try and equalize them in my head, by when i realize that im out on a trip to have fun, and not crunch numbers, so my mind drifts on to less tedious matters.

i hereby state that i hold in high regard every vehicle with a volvo badge on it. especially the buses. pretty much whatever i can do on the bike in terms of speed and manoeuvrability, they can do it too. and that is very, very scary.

when i had planned the ladakh trip, i wanted to keep a puncture repair kit with me in case i got a flat in the middle of nowhere. but when i started this trip on impulse, i didnt bother to get one. but i did get a flat, and it so happened that it was right in front of four puncture shops. i didnt know whether to put it down to fate or to the possibility that these same shop guys might have planted nails in the road there. either way, i needed a new tube, and pintu (the mechanic i woke up with great difficulty from his post dussehra revlery slumber) and i did a 1.5 kilometer trek to the tube shop. i say trek because it was a tough walk, negotiating between deep potholes on the side of the road as well as the garbage piled besides them. the tube guy was again woken with great difficulty, and in his drunken slumber he sold me a tube worth 350 for a mere 200. pintu mentioned this fact to me only after we left the tube shop, saying 'woh chutiya ban gaya, aap ka tube 350 ka tha'. to celebrate, i bought him tea n snakes at a restaurant that was open on our way back. it is a different matter though that pintu did a piss-poor job of fitting the tube and i had to stop 17 kms later to get it fixed properly.

police escort
ahmedabad is a very confusing city to drive into, and i lost my way almost immediately. the irony wasnt lost on me, after having navigated bombay and pune without a map. i stopped to ask a two policemen on a bike, who were talking to two other chaps on another bike. they noticed the KL registration on my bike and asked me where i was coming from. once they heard my answer, and once it sunk in, they insisted on driving with me to show me the way to paldi. on the way, we stopped for tea, and i was only too grateful and glad to answer their questions about my ride. one of the guys on the other bike, pravinbhai, was a building contractor, and wanted to know if his hero honda splendour would make it to delhi. i told him yes, i dont know why. and he wistfully said, yeah i guess the rider has to be strong, not the ride. the cops turned off before the paldi bridge, denying me the childish glee of riding into nid as part of a motorcade :P

i saw the cutest stray puppy ever on the road to khed. the little guy nearly ran into my path, but this time i was slow enough to stop, unlike with the crow. i wanted to bring him with me to bangalore, and actually pondered the possibility with midhun, my cousin who was riding with me part of the way, but decided against it. i was worried he'd get run over out there, and sure enough there was a dead puppy a few kilometres later. felt kinda sad. and ironically, today i spoke to marion and she told me they are looking for a puppy, and i felt like kicking myself for not having brought him with me. i hope he's ok.

old boyhood notions never die, they just transform. i used to think as a kid that spectacles with wipers would be kickass cool, now i think helmets with wipers would be kickass cool.

rain ride
as much as i hate riding in the rain in the city, id always wanted to do a long trip in the rain. well, i got my wish this time, except i was least prepared for it. of the 3700 kilometres, 500+ were done in pouring rain. if i count wet roads too, i could add another hundred odd kilometres to that. and it was hell, to say the least. the rain was so strong on approach to pune that i couldnt see a thing except the tail lamp of the car in front of me. it took me an hour to do 30 kilometres, stopping multiple times on the way. not that the stopping helped, there was usually no place to shelter, and i just stood by the side of the road looking like an idiot while people in cars which were warm inside passed by. i had to remind myself multiple times that i asked for this adventure, and iv gotta take what i get. my phone and camera died, and my clothes, even the ones inside my allegedly waterproof bag, were soaked.

but to be honest, if it werent for the rain, the experience wouldve been much less exciting. there were random moments, like when i sheltered in a shed in the middle of a sugarcane farm with some 20 odd people, and waited out the storm wondering if the shed would hold, while someone passed around masala peanuts. no one spoke a word, but the gratitude was visible on everyones faces.

riding from bombay to khed on NH17, i realized i may have found a motoring heaven in india. it was a beautiful twisting mountain road, treacherous due to the pouring rain. we hit this stretch towards sunset, and the lack of light compounded problems. and then we ran into fog. visibility was reduced to a few metres at best, and i was honestly wondering whether im gonna be one of the first guys in history to die after reaching heaven, as opposed to the other way round, which im told is more conventional. after a few minutes of literally stumbling around on the mountain road, a jeep came along and i decided to follow his tail lamp. god bless the guy who thought of tail lamps. if this jeep was gonna drive off a cliff, i didnt care, i was gonna follow that tail lamp.

the only time we had to succumb to the rain was at chiplun. after 270 kilometres in continuous pouring rain, we were dampened both spiritually and physically. my eyes were red from the raindrops hitting it at high speed (helmet visor down meant poor visibility), all clothes were soaked, the bike which had so far been misfiring like a north korean missile upped the ante a bit and was now misfiring like a pakistani copy of a north korean missile, and i was shivering too bad to even be able to hold the cup of chai i had in my hand. my cousin midhun, who had joined me for part of the ride, was rubbing his palms against the chai cup for warmth. i made some kinda lame joke asking him to rub it on the cigarette for more warmth, and he had this incredulous expression on his face before he asked me how on earth is it that the bad jokes section of my brain is still intact after all the beating we'd just taken. i guess this news would worry a lot of people :D

bad jokes
bad jokes are a good way of killing time on the boring stretches. you could thank the stars that i dont even remember half the ones i came up with, though the folks over at the daily punnedits page wouldve appreciated it. place names along the way are a good source for generating these jokes. for instance, theres a place called Kim on the way from bombay to ahmedabad. so if you take your car and make a dash for Kim, you could be Kim Car-dashian. its terrible, but i was chuckling for miles after i passed the board that said 'Kim' :P
oh and on the hill roads outside bombay i came up with this one.. which town exists merely to inconvenience you? khed in maharashtra. asuvidha ke liye khed hai. :D
other funny place names for which i had made up jokes but forgot them include watre, gangwali, aani, garag, kundi and unn. next time i should somehow attach a dictaphone to my helmet :D

but all things aside, humour is a good way to keep going especially when you're tired after riding hundreds of kilometers, but would have to do a hundred more to get to where you want to go.

one astronomical unit, or AU, is equal to the mean distance between the earth and the sun. similarly i made up the BCU and the BHU. the BCU stands for Bangalore Chennai Unit, and BHU for Bangalore Hosur Unit. they are roughly equal to 340km and 40 km respectively. they serve no practical purpose except to boost my morale. when i've ridden 400 kms, and i have another 350 to go, i tell myself, hey thats just one BCU away. and bangalore chennai is a route i've driven 8 or 9 times. and even though the road im on would be hell compared to the beautiful highway to chennai, the fact that im only as far away as chennai from bangalore would lift my spirits a little, and keep me going. BHU is used similarly, during that last phases of rides, when you're getting into a city and have to put up with tons of traffic after having done such a long smooth ride. so i remind myself i take an hour to get to hosur, and that is far worse than what im facing right now.

push the mind, the body will follow
while im loath to give a moral of the story, i will admit that each of these roadtrips have given me little nuggets of learning. on the morning of friday the 2nd in ahmedabad, i woke up with a fever. i had to ride to bombay and then onwards to goa that day, and the plan was to do over a thousand km that day. i didnt tell anyone of the fever, and made excuses for not leaving in the morning while i slept all day to see if the fever will subside. it didnt. im the evening i decided to leave anyway. and i was amazed for the next twelve odd hours. once i made the decision to leave, the fever disappeared. there was no more body ache. the ride to bombay was smooth, and i halted at bhartiyas house for three hours of rest before heading to goa. three hours of sleep later, things were still fine. then i got the news that goa, along with pretty much most of southern india, was flooded and that i wouldnt be able to ride. and once that realization hit me, the fever and aches returned in half an hour and i was popping crocins. that sorta thing has never happened to me before. i was genuinely amazed that it happened, though i make no claims of being able to repeat it. but, at the cost of sounding like one of those pesky self help book authors whom you see on shopping channels, ill say that if you push the mind, the body will follow.

since this has been a random assortment of trip notes, i dont quite have an end piece for this. but considering all the experiences, only about a third of which ive written about here, ill say the same thing i told my friend nithin on the phone.. i got out looking for a kilo of adventure, ended up with a ton instead.

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