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On traveling alone

Posted by on Mar 6, 2006 in Personal | 1 comment

There’re times when something you read or see exactly reflects what you think, but have never, ever managed to put down in writing. I came across Rahul Bhatia writing about traveling alone, and doing it not just beautifully but with the sort of truthfulness that’s a relief after you see writer after writer, traveler after traveler reduce the act of travel to clichés, to what it is supposed to be, to what you simply know by experience is, if not contrived and fake, infinitely less fun. This is simply because most travelers treat chronicles as advertisements they have to design so as to make travel look cute and/or macho, and not a depiction of what they’ve actually felt. Sexiness demands careful decoration and packaging, but all that beauty asks for is the truth.

Admittedly, what Rahul writes isn’t all there is – there’s so much more to freestyle travel. But it is so incredibly difficult to transmogrify an experience, a sensation, a feeling into dry, neatly chiseled words, almost as if to say nature is as orderly, as regimented as we wish it to be, and that we can conveniently fold and fit its sensations into the colorful gift-wrapping of words. Difficult is probably the wrong word, writing is easy enough, it’s just that the write up seems so grotesque an approximation of the reality, you just feel you’re killing the spirit of the ride by doing it. You only feel like writing about something as precious, as personal as freestyle travel if you can bring to the writing at least some of the beauty, some of the truth that you’ve actually experienced.

**

Biking alone, while a subset of freestyle travel, is so very different. You are aware, awake, switched on all the time(you crash if you aren’t), so you perceive the fine details, the trifles that, while being easy-to-miss, light up your day once you spot them.

It’s crucial to take time and distance out of the equation, the augh-there-might-be-a-ghat-ahead-to-slow-me-down, eek-the-engine-is-hot, I-simply-have-to-get-there-before-5pm types of rides with a place to get to, a deadline to meet that would perch on the back of your mind, those types of rides – on bikes or otherwise, considerably diminish pleasure by their persistent nagging.

It’s so much freeing to just go, not have to get anywhere, amble, sit back, stop, look around. 400 laid back km a day are so much more satisfying than 650 frenzied ones(as I learnt during the last trip, a frantic rush to Panjim and back). The thought made me make my plans for subsequent rides much less grandiose – I’d originally planned to run about all over south India, go everywhere and see everything. It’s a choice that, I realize, while enabling me to see more, would let me appreciate what I saw so much less. The plan is therefore revised, we have resolved to go more slowly, see lesser number of places, but we’ll see more of each of them, and love them so much more.

**
On a bike, you realize, more acutely than on any means of public transport, what no Liverpudlian will tell you – that you always walk alone. Oddly, it’s a feeling that at once releases as well as frightens you – you see clearly that there’s nothing ever that you really need or require, all you need is yourself, and yet, that if you crash, or break down, or get robbed, you’re all alone, naked, with no other resource than yourself to look to.

**

It turns out, Rahul has been in Revdanda too, a piece of knowledge that corrected a belief that no non-Revdanda-ian other than me had

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been in the place(please note – passing through a place or seeing it is NOT the same as being there). I was able to stay there only a couple of hours, regretting that I had to go on, so I will reluctantly admit that Rahul partook more of what Revdanda had to offer. However, it was determined back then that Revdanda would be revisited, so all is well.

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On getting a first taste of a highway on a hill

Posted by on Feb 13, 2006 in Personal | 0 comments

Having taken Friday off, I was going on this ride this weekend. As I went by upon the Bombay highway near Khandala, I saw the road sloping downwards and

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swiveling away to the right without warning. It is a matter of complete amazement to me as to how drivers and riders actually pass by it and manage to stay alive, given that they go along the preceding straight at 80 and upwards, and thus hardly have time to

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notice the curve.

Of course, they that do crash may be considered fortunate, for, if you manage to clear the first curve at 80, there’s no way you’ll get past the next one that lies just 20m ahead unless you’re at under 30 with your foot hard upon the brake, which curve is comprising of a road contorting itself into a grotesque reflex angle, making you wonder about the purpose of such a road, one so unnavigable. This second curve, unlike the first and like the

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subsequent ones, doesn’t offer you the cushion of a wall to crash into – you miss the road, you fly off the cliff.


But then, such are the roads that surmount the ghats, that lace through the hills, as I found through the weekend that these curves inaugurated. It was just that I was new to driving on this sort of terrain. On these, or for that matter on any hills, your most important assets are your brake and your horn. You can forget your accelerator at home.
**
Death is a familiar passer by upon the Bombay Pune highway. Two motorcycles lying lacerated upon the ground in small puddles of glass shreds – giving no hints about the fate of their riders, one lorry 10km ahead, rammed into the wall of the tunnel causing a mile long clot in the traffic behind, another lorry lying overturned further ahead, with an enormous smear of red upon the tar around it, 3m of the all too frail and inadequate stretch that was the railing gone missing, having been driven through, making all too obvious the fate of the car which’d have sliced through it and taken a leap down the rock face.
Amid the mile long congealing of the vehicles, a police van flits by noisily, an ambulance rushes in with its shrill alarm. Slowly the crowding gawkers disperse, one particular motorcyclist weaves away amid the 4 wheelers to the front of the traffic jam, the jam dissolves, we all instinctively move into gear 4 and begin to accelerate, firmly convinced that it always happens to someone else.
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On being set free on a highway

Posted by on Feb 6, 2006 in Personal | 0 comments

1026.7.

That was the reading on the distance indicator on steed(known henceforth as The Muse) as on yesterday night, a circumstance that was the cause of much rejoicing and tribal dance performances(for reasons mentioned here). My one spot of bother was that the moment couldnt be captured for posterity – I wish I had a cam, ra. However, there were pleasures that more than compensated.

The 1026.7 was brought up in a memorable manner too – the last few kilometers being covered at 71kmph on the bypass/Bangalore highway/whatever you call it. Whatever it is that you decide to call it, it’ll still be a rather unassuming name for as grand, as expansive a stretch of road.

I’m trying hard to keep myself from tumbling into poetic/melodramatic mode, but what can you say about a stretch on which you don’t need to go below 60? Where you can keep off the clutch, brake and gear, and just be. Just exist, just go on, in almost zen-ic equanimity wherever The Muse takes you. In a pothole-less, interference-less, traffic-less state where the mind is without fear, and that sort of thing. A video game ambience, with bridges, hills, rivers, flyovers and the occasional overtake-able lorry/auto thrown in for effect, amid the blemishless streak of black that sprints away, demanding aloud that you go ahead and call it infinite.

What civilization is visible is at times quite reminiscent of Hobbiton, with extents of rocky mounds rearing up on either side of the road, and illuminated multi-storeyed apartments and residences perched in a staggered formation upon the ledges of the mounds, like on the steps of a staircase.

At the end of the highway, you see the road go on due south-east. The small matter of a 1200km longer.

Drool. Salivate. Slurp.

**

What invariably follows a jolly ride/high/pleasurable experience is a thud-down-to-earth. So it was with The Muse and I too. Turning off the bypass onto the homeward road, we proceeded to bounce about on the potholes and stones at 70kmph.

We continued thus until we were met by another bike rider, who, unable to decide whether he should cross the road or not, concluded that parking his vehicle in the path of a 70kmph bike would enable him to reach the decision he was hitherto unable to arrive at.

A nanosecond-long prayer, a scrape, a bent number plate and lots of visions later, considerable sobering resulted. Home was reached at a more modest 39.99 kmph, a figure evocative of them old days.

**

This ride was preceded by some profound discussions upon the beautiful game, with special reference to the batsmanship of one particular player.

You are advised to desist from killing yourself if you did not understand the reference in the previous sentence.

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