Sheer. The word I kept coming back to describe the past 3 days. Sheer drops. Sheer rocks. Sheer insanity. Sheer lawlessness. Sheer terror. Sheer beauty.
I left Delhi after a few days spent chasing around trying to find a motorcycle. Maybe a couple miles from where I was staying there was a large motorcycle market with shitty Indian motorcycles lining the street. There were a few shops that were very organized. They rebuilt Royal Enfields for export to the west. Designed in the 1950’s, the Royal Enfield Bullet, still built new in India, remains virtually unchanged to this day, much like the Volkswagen Beetle is to Mexico. They are relatively cheap ranging from 900 to 1500 USD. A new one can be had for 95000 Rupee ~ $2000. Not too bad. It’s a very neat bike in a place that seems to specialize in shitty ones.
I named mine Rudy. I picked it up for 48000 Rupee which is a little over a G. Rudy is a ’97 in seemingly near perfect condition. A giant pain in the nuts to buy the thing from a shop that was run by a Hindu man called Lalli Singh. The shop had a good rep, but frustrated the fuck out of me trying to buy the bike. I spend hours at the shop waiting to fill out some trivial paperwork while Lalli was counting money or lighting incents or discussing something with someone else who wasn’t me. I was tempted to scrap the deal will Lalli but I was really keen on Rudy so I stuck with it. After 5 days faffing about in Delhi I escaped a top Rudy bound for the Himalayas. I could go into more detail about how Delhi kinda blows and buying a motorcycle should not have been so taxing but who wants to hear about that.
I strapped my pack to Rudy’s chrome back rack. The guys that sold me the bike were surprised that I didn’t require the heavy duty side racks. I felt they looked a bit cumbersome and I knew the small rucksack I am carrying would fit nicely on the small back rack. I also picked up a saddle bag for the tools and spare parts I purchased with the bike. With what I’ve got I am capable of repairing most things that can go wrong with the bike.
Leaving Delhi was a shit show. Sheer insanity. Sheer Lawlessness. People drive in a way that seems to maximize chaos. The only thing that you can somewhat bank on is the fact that no one else is too keen on getting into an accident. Driving on the left hand side seems like such a minor obstacle to get used to compared to all the other hullabaloo. The round-a-bouts seem to be a place where all the driving chaos culminates in a swirl of horn honking, swerving, and red-light-running. The law in the traffic circle is who’s nose is ahead, goes. To exit or enter, one simply need get his own nose in the way of oncoming traffic. A bit unnerving at first, but somehow practical. It comes back to the fact that no one wants to get into an accident. Adding to the chaos are the many different types of vehicles running around the streets. Big trucks, tuktuks (3 wheel taxi with motorcycle steering, shit ton of tuk tuks in india), cars, tiny vans, horse drawn wagons, bicycles and motorcycles. An incredible number of motorcycles. For every car there must be 50 of them. Cheap and effective, just like India.
An 8 lane highway runs to the north out of Delhi but looking at the map I decided that India may keep her 8 laners, Cjell Money will roll the dice with the back roads. Straight away this seemed like a possible ill conceived strategy. The map of Delhi was small and didn’t cover the incredible sprawl. Without a single street sign in the entire city it was near impossible to find the road out of the city. I developed a strategy that I still employ which is to remember the name of the next town and ask as many people as I can if this is the way. A minimum of 5 collaborating Indians are required before I quit asking and continue on my way.
I finally make it to the road that leads out of Delhi and I find sheer chaos. At times it’s a divided road but the center division has little effect on where people choose to drive. An Indian will not be inconvenienced by a center divider, bah. If the direct route to his destination happens to be against traffic then against traffic it will be. Cars and tuk tuks and bike going whichever way. A general sense drive on the left, pass on the right is had, but general is the operative word.
At times the road surface turns to shit. Sometimes mud, sometimes sand, sometimes rocks, but dusty, always dusty. Before the day is over I purchased a long overdue bandanna and the following day some cheap eye ware. It almost looked like I was wearing eyeliner where the dust had combined with my eye juices and was deposited around the eyelid, I can only imagine the scene happening in my lungs. The roads were marginal and I hadn’t even left Delhi. Fuck, maybe shoulda thought about the 8 laner.
On top to the sheer mayhem unfolding before my eyes, there were the horns. Everyone honks in India. More than anywhere I have ever encountered. The massive cargo trucks are the craziest. Their theatrical horns blare a some sort of tune over the military grade airhorns attached to their roofs. That combined with their religiously colorful inspired paint schemes and extremely large statures, make all traffic move around them. The trucks are some of the biggest chaos adders of all.
Being on a motorcycle offers an advantage of maneuvering though traffic with some efficiency. As clogged as the lanes ahead got I rarely was totally robbed of forward progress. Things slowly got better the farther outside of Delhi I got, which was a theme that held true over the past 4 days of travel. The chaos was reduced somewhat and tuk tuks were replaced by tractors and more livestock as traffic thinned.
The road conditions remained awful but not quite as bad as the outskirts of Delhi. Any time the road opened up in front of me my speed was always limited by the life endangering pothole reaching deep into the shoddy pavement. I also quickly learned the way of driving on a two lane road here. Going three-wide? Game on. If a truck was passing another coming toward you, this was your signal to hit the shoulder, no self-respecting Indian would give way to a motorcycle.
Once I became accustomed to the ins and outs of county driving I was able to enjoy things a bit more. Water buffalo, camel drawn wagons, monkeys, and cows. Don’t get me started on the cows. There were so many things that drew my attention away from the task at hand which I quickly learned wasn’t a task that could be split with other tasks, like making faces at monkeys or checking out the camels.
I stopped at a small village outpost. My bike was quickly surrounded by 10 men. In broken English I procured a bottle of water. Every one of them were not the least bit bashful in demonstrating their lack of having anything better to do with their time. They looked over my bike and luggage. I could guess that not many a westerner frequented their village. I was equally as un-bashful of snapping a photo of them surrounding Rudy and then snapped a photo of their most interesting 3-wheel tractor/dune buggies. I was told later that many rural farmer types can’t afford cars so they make up something on their own. Many of the bodged together country vehicles were quite astounding.
The first night was spent in a bustling town that seemed to be a huge hub for cargo trucks and busses. More chaos. After finding every man in the town that didn’t speak English, one who did happily hopped on the back of my bike and escorted me to a hotel. I was thankful and surprised that he wasn’t looking for anything in return. I wasn’t really in an area of tourism so it was just a genuine Indian kid looking to help out a someone new.
After consulting with a man that spoke perfect Indian inflected English from the hotel, I opted to head back to the main highway. He informed me that the road ahead was even more pathetic that the road behind. I made good time on the main highway to the base of the Himalayas. I stopped for a short break. I had no idea how close I was to the start of some mind blowing shit.
As I began to climb I noticed that the dry and hot planes were quickly disappearing for a more alpine environment. Cooler temps. Coniferous trees. I stopped to take a photo, then I stopped for another. Then again, I stopped because I saw a place even more awe inspiring than the last. The road wrapped tightly around the sides of mountains. Busses, trucks, cars kept me very attentive. Oncoming vehicles combined with the winding road with a sheer drop to one side left little room for error. I was only entering the great Himalayas.
The first stretch of road to a mountain city called Shimla was busy with traffic but the road was in good repair. Many times the road opened in front of me and I let Rudy bark. On the plains and flat highway leading up to the hills, all you can do is listen to the bike and feel the changes that may or may not be happening. Is that a new click? Am I losing power? Is my rear tire low? One in 50 of these passing thoughts has any connection to reality but it’s the fact that the road remains unchanging and the lull allows the mind to concoct possible failures in the bike. In the mountains, the mind and bike are consumed with carving along the sides of mountains. I pull the throttle and Rudy’s 350cc single cylinder growls back. There are no new clicks or questions of tire pressure. Rudy just goes, and goes. I become accustomed to passing cars with little room for error and realize when danger is real and I need back off. I become more confident in corners leaning Rudy far over to one side as we climb higher into the mountains. The views become spectacular. I can see the terraces of farms all over the sheer valleys. The road becomes more and more dramatic. Cement barriers indicate large sheer stone walls that retain the road and the mountain that it clings to. Rudy just growls and grunts as I twist the throttle past another group of three cargo trucks. I never leave third gear and shift often down to second while Rudy snorts away, applying all available torque blasting in and out of tight corners. Driving a motor cycle here in the mountains of India is like few other things I have ever experienced.
I spend the night in Shimla. There is some sort of festival which means I am gouged for a hotel room. I pay almost $10.
As amazing as the 100 or so km has been driving up to Shimla the road ahead is even more so. I consult with a few people about the best way to proceed north and all two of them suggest that I take the road shown on my map as a very skinny white line as opposed the thicker more prominent yellow one that goes a bit out of the way. The line is skinnier than even the rural roads that I had navigated a few days before. Best decision ever.
The two lane road with considerable traffic was replaced by a one lane route with little to no traffic. The condition of the pavement remained, as a whole, good. I couldn’t believe my fortune. I was back to where I had been the day before stopping to snap photos around every new bend. The only thing that impeded progress was the intense curves that kept coming all day. Between this road and the PCH in California I have never encountered anything more spectacular. Rudy continued to growl as I became even more confident in my bike handling. The cliffs became more sheer and the road even more impossible. The great valleys dotted with farms were amazing to witness, thousands of feet below where the one lane road had been chipped and chiseled on the face of a rock. The mountains had done away with the incessant honking (still honking myself around every blind corner), gone was the need for a bandanna covering my face and somehow, by sheer luck the road surfaces remained very good, allowing me to lean Rudy confidently into every twist and turn which there must have been hundreds if not thousands.
That night I found myself in a tiny tiny mountain village called Chinli. Miraculously there was a guesthouse, an upscale resort that had a dorm style bunk house. I paid $4 to stay the night. In the village I found a lady who made me dahl and chapatti, soup and bread, ordered through sign language. I still don’t know if it was a restaurant, I think I may have just been eating at her house.
Today, the road continued to be amazing. I passed to crews freshly paving the road. Good surface turned to great. Unreal. Sheer drops and rocks continued. The road seemed to be even more remote. At one point, where on the other roads may have been a bridge, I was forced to ford Rudy over a stream bed. He handled it beautifully. I was concerned about fuel at one point. I asked in a small village where the next stop would be and I was directed to a tiny shop with a couple 50 gallon drums inside filled with petrol. The man was only charging 5 rupees more than a large station would have. Fill-er-up.
Eventually I reconnected with the more prominent national highway and finished my trip to the north, deeper into the Himalaya. I missed the one laners gone by but alas, I had to arrive at some point.
Not sure what the next few weeks holds for me. I hope to do some hiking as long as I am here in the mountains. Gorgeous mountain surroundings make a nice finish to a sick, sick ride.