I am hanging upside down in a yogshala in old Rajpur, a small hamlet just outside Dehradun. There are 23 foreigners in the room. All upside down like me. I look at each one in turn. Veins on their heads bulging. Cheeks pulled towards their foreheads cartoonifying each face. I wish I had my camera to capture this freaky scene. Our feet towards the ceiling, our heads towards the floor. An altered reality that serves as a perfect metaphor of the state I am in currently. I am not in the best space of my life. Something has crumbled within and I don’t quite know what. But with the ever increasing rush of blood to my head I must right my self and listen to my Yoga Guru’s next instruction at ‘Yoganga’, a reputed Iyengar Yoga institute run by Rajiv and Swati Chanchani. Rajiv and Swati are one of the the most reputed Iyengar yoga instructors in the world and even taught at the Doon school and Welham girls in Dehradun a few years ago. We banter after the class about boarding schools, a few Doon – Sanawar jibes are exchanged and how our institutions have sidetracked our cultural heritage and how society has complicated our lives. We all remember the jokes we made on ‘Shav-aasan’, if you get the pun.
So how did I get here? All of 47 and having lived my life in the fast lane as a television anchor and a media person coupled that with a very hectic social life and then to top that up with vigorous gyming sessions and watching my diet only to be rewarded with ‘Thyroiditis’. An autoimmune disease that wreaks havoc with your thyroid gland. Why is my body fighting my self, I ask Rajiv? He replies in his brusk tone “because you have burned your candle at both ends”, a fact that I somehow knew but didn’t have the balls to admit.
When my endocrinologist in Delhi told me that I would go through months maybe years of mood swings, extreme fatigue, weak immunity, losing muscle mass gaining fat, sleepless nights, allergies and what have you, I was aghast at the prognosis. Did I hear that right? I am going to undergo nuclear menopause and it may last for years? To add insult to my condition she said “don’t worry everyone has it”. Everyone? And everyone accepts that? What ever happened to self help?
And so like a voice from above my brother who is currently based in Dehradun, was concerned for my health, invited me for some R and R. His wife had just finished a yoga course at Yoganga and he recommended that I enroll. Rajiv Chanchani refused saying that the advanced course will break a beginner like me emotionally, physically and psychologically. I reminded him that I couldn’t be broken any more and I begged him to enroll. He asked if I have any ailments? I wish I could have told him that I was desperately running away from the horrors of the big city. The faux friends. The façade. The materialism. The incessant partying. The traffic. The crowds. The pollution. And the mental mess I was in and the completely ‘fauxed’ up existence I was living. He finally relented and twenty days and over 80 hours of yoga later I was a changed man. My nasal allergy had cleared up and my endocrinologist could not believe my blood reports. I was coming back on track and all without taking a single pill. And oh, did I mention that my reading glasses haven’t been used ever since!
My wife called me to inquire when I would return. There was silence on the phone. I couldn’t help but respond in the negative. I didn’t want to go back. And that was it. I had resigned my self to the charm of the valley. My wife was happy with decision because she saw the change in me and maybe finally we would build our house on our plot of land that we have. Dehradun had seduced me as it did all those years ago. Within two days I had found a place on rent at Sinhola village and within a couple of weeks not only did I have my house warming party but my home was stocked with my fishing gear, my trekking gear, my motorcycle, my fender telecaster and my amp. As if I was screaming to the world from the rooftop of my village home ”I AM DONE WITH THE BIG CITY”
I spent the next few weeks doing absolutely nothing. Have you ever tried that? Doing nothing at all? Well I know quite a few who do just that but not quite like this. The Italians have a phrase for it ‘il dolce far niente’, which translates to ‘the sweetness of doing nothing’. Just being. And that’s when you begin to slow your life down. The freight train that has been running at 150 kmph for the past 30 years will not slow so quickly. First, you must ease of the accelerator. You might not notice anything happen at all. Then slowly you begin to feel the deceleration. Then as you gradually begin to apply the brakes the blur of life starts to get clearer. That is when you begin to notice life around you. You tend to listen more closely to people. You have the time of day to help when required. To speak on the phone to a friend who you haven’t spoken to in years instead of messaging on Facebook. You want to volunteer at local NGOs. You get to know the squirrel that visits you regularly and sometimes steals your socks. You begin to look at birds of the Doon Valley. The grey hornbill, the sunbird, the scarlet minivet suddenly begin to reveal themselves as if on cue. You begin to recognize the faces of the strays that patrol your neighborhood. You eat at quaint delicatessens in Mussoorie and introduce yourself to your owners. “Hello how are you? I am Sharad and I just moved from Delhi”. Enough to get their entire life story within five minutes. Five minutes! When was the last time I actually listened to someone for five minutes? Let alone listened. I am told by the owner of the Deli of a homestay in Barlowganj. She advises me that I must visit it sometime. Sometime? Dang I’m going to visit it now as I am ‘il dolce far niente’.
So as of today I reside in Dehradun taking life one day at a time. Doing the things that I always wanted to do. Getting to bed early and awaking early so that I may get on my motorcycle and ride the deserted twisty road to Mussorie for breakfast. Or explore a back road I came across just because it looks interesting. I am off Facebook and I haven’t watched TV in months. I don’t drink anymore because I don’t need it now. I laugh louder and smile more frequently. My frown lines are slowly disappearing. I sleep like a baby. My ailments are gone and I have renewed energy to take forward all my travel related ventures. I want to speak to the children in schools and give them a pep talk about life. Am I liberated? Don’t know yet but it’s beginning to feel right as the Dehradun rain.
A few days later I am motorcycling on the road to Dhanaulti via Kadukhaal. A 60 km back road that starts at the hamlet of ‘Maldevta’ and winds its way to ‘Kadukhaal’ taking you through magnificent Deodars, mighty Himalayan oaks and stunning Chir pine in 22 degrees of heavenly biking weather and all without traffic. Quaint dhabas with aging pahari folk sipping tea in the morning sun are everywhere. The golden sun has set alight the daisies that are being eaten by the flock of bleating sheep that have overcome the road as the shepherd herds them towards the alpine meadow. I smile because I am home. The lucidity of what I don’t want in life and what I want, become even more compellingly clear. I don’t want the horrors of the big city. I don’t want crowds. I don’t want fakeness. I don’t want to be with wannabe bikers. The list goes on. But what I want is more twistys in great weather. I want to be with genuine people. To speak the truth and express myself no matter the consequences. To do what I truly love to do. To live life on my terms without caring for what people say or think. To being a maverick and being happy. To riding the road because it’s going to take me places. To being in Dehradun and being the chief guest of the greatest homecoming ever.
p.s. Our Travel Torque adventures will continue. Stay tuned.
There are a few factors that you should consider before you undertake a 2,000 km biking adventure that takes you across many states and one which lasts over 4-5 days. E.g. the ride to GOA.
What has prompted me to write this is that there are many of you who are itching to do a long ride. But will you come out unscathed on the other side? You dont want it to turn into a 'mind-signing-checks-your-body-cant-cash' situation (I just love this metaphor). But all is not lost, there are those who have undertaken long journeys and any knowledge best shared with the fraternity is worth something.
Let me address what you can expect on your ride to GOA.
SO HOW DO YOU PREPARE?
I am taking for granted that your bike is in top shape specially when it comes to brakes, tires, clutch, lights and electricals and the general road worthiness of your machine. (I can address this in my next post).
But how prepared are you?
1) FITNESS: Since you will be riding for up to 10 hours on some days and getting back on the saddle the next day you NEED TO BE FIT. Not just aerobic fitness but also strength in your upper and lower body. Did I hear gym? You bet.
2) RIDING STAMINA: Sunday rides are worth only 100 kms or even less followed by a scrumptious breakfast and a nice afternoon nap. This ride will be the exact opposite. You will ride for upto 400 - 500 kms every day for 5 days. You will be in the saddle for up to 10 hours at a time. So get out there and do some weekend rides that notch up around a 1,000 kilometers so you get a taste of what you are attempting to do.
3) BIKE COMFORT: Have you experienced cramps in your butt, legs, back after a few 100 kilometers? Is your bike biting you in places it shouldn't be? If that niggle in your back is only getting more severe with each passing hour then your'e putting yourself at risk as the ride progresses. Because no one can endure 9 hours of pain. No matter how strong you are. Gel pads, comfortable bars, highway pegs, sissy bars and back support all make a difference once the adrenalin subsides.
4) RIDER COMFORT: Are you considering riding in a leather jacket, leather pants and leather gloves all the way to Goa? You will be hospitalized before you get to Bombay. Or you feel a sleeveless T shirt is just right? The sun will peel away layers before you even realize whats happening to you. So ask yourself - Will your gear hold good in cold weather and hot and humid weather? Can you manage your core body temperature effectively? How will you combat dehydration? All these questions are best answered through experience which reinforces the next statement - 'Rider comfort is paramount to riding safely'.
5) LUGGAGE: Have you ever carried all your luggage on your bike? The convenience of putting all the bags in the car is irresistible. But what if the car is suddenly unavailable due an unforeseen circumstance? You do realize that you will be left to ferry all your luggage. And if you have never been introduced to bungee cords or saddle bags or panniers then you could be in trouble.
6) ATTITUDE: I have said it before and I will say it again. A grand ride is first accomplished in your heart. If you can't see yourself at the finish line then you will not cross it. You have to cross the Rubicon. If you cant cut the chord of your comfort zone then you will not see whats ahead. This is where riding experience becomes so important. If you have done it a hundred times the 101th doesn't seem so bad. You draw on what you have accomplished and take it further. Delhi to Goa is not an easy ride by any standards but what will get you through is your spirit and the reward of doing something quite incredible.
So get that chin up and keep your courage at hand because that is how you cross borders, all of them.
Gurgaon - Faridabad expressway
I have just returned from a 250 km solo Sunday morning ride. Having showered and greeted the misses with an obsequious kiss (very important) and beer in hand I have this urge to pen this down asap before my emotions are usurped by the nothingness of city life.
Why do I ride? The question that I asked my self as I set out this morning was urgent to say the least. More so after the dreary week in the city that left me with my emotions running amok and my self esteem a few psi below par. Even though the weather was perfect and the leather jacket compensated just right, yet the question persisted, pasting it self square inside my helmet, like a heavy metal graphic.
Mid life crises? Nothing better to do on a Sunday morning? Bored with routine? Showing off? Depressed? Is it just another spare time activity? The clichéd responses that came up left me pondering each answer. I thought about each one in turn. Er.. literally.
So as the first corner appears – a 120 kmph left hander on the newly opened expressway connecting my city with a satellite neighbor I ask my self - Mid life crises? Hmm let me see. Isn’t that when you’ve been there done that? Isnt that when life begins to seem like it was delivered from the rectum of a Doordarshan News anchor? My left peg grazes the tarmac on the semi deserted twisty road. I steady her slight weave that has developed because of the touchdown. If I am in a crises, then I want more. More endorphins instead of cortisol. More doing it, instead of dreaming it. More passion less pain. Please.
I crouch down as I open her up, crossing legal speed limits when I ask – don’t I have anything better to do on a Sunday? The growl grows menacing as the revs climb. Tunnel vision vignettes around the edge of my helmet as the wind obliterates all sound around me. It’s a rush of blood to the head - if I were to re-pen the ‘Cold Play’ track. It would go:
“Why do I care about fairways or greens,
Sunday lunches or shopping sprees,
When all I sense is an iron extension of my skeletal being,
A big V twin heart racing like mine,
Toward an apex with a flawless face,
A moment caught forever in the curve ahead,
Ah the glory of a rush of blood to the head.”
And as if on cue, a downhill right-hander looms into my visor. The white markers strobe past in the perfect November morning light, contrasting sharply against the mirror smooth jet-black tarmac, lighting up the apex perfectly. The bike is now humming in synchronicity with the physics of the turn. Bored with routine? Now matter how many times I will come across this moment I will always revere it. Respect it - because there is nothing routing in taking a curve on a motorcycle. Alone. You want to do it again and again.
Am I showing off? Sure, it would be great if I had a stream of spectators, preferably pit girls screaming uncontrollably as I thunder past, just like a MotoGP rider. Or a flunky in a support vehicle taking pictures of me so I can put them on FB. But for now it’s the road and the moment. Spectators be damned. I am making my routine run on a Sunday morning and there is nothing routine about it.
I have been on the road for over an hour. Time for a cuppa, as I pull into a newly opened ‘dhaba’ next to a toll plaza. It’s surprisingly deserted. Mine is the only bike in the vicinity. I order an omelet pao and some chai and the weather is still holding. I smile as my thoughts go out to the hundreds and thousands of riders across the world who have spent this Sunday morning riding their motorcycles for the love of it. Feeling the same feelings as I did. Asking the same questions as I did. I raise my cutting chai glass to each one and think aloud, “Damn – its good to be a rider”
I made it to Hampi from Delhi.. Man what a feeling.. 2,270 Kms of non stop action.! And I know if the ride was a cake walk it wouldn't have felt so special.. I have ridden on awesome roads, on non existent ones, in a group and solo, in perfect weather, in horrific weather. I have drunk 25 litres of water and consumed some150 litres of gas. I have endured pain in my back, shoulers, arms, legs, head and of course my ass.
But the adventure of the ride coupled with the friends i made with each passing moment made it all worth my bikes weight in gold..
Would I do it again?
P. s - I think this ride is worthy of a travel torque when I return to Delhi.. Stay tuned..!
If there is one thing that I am averse to is riding a motorcycle in the night on a highway. And I was not happy that I was thrown into that predicament yesterday while coming into Pune. But while I thought today would be a cake walk (remember the 1 hand 1 eye statement) someone up there is pushing my limits.. Read on..
I recovered from last night well past afternoon and it was 3 pm by the time in mounted up. I was solo for this stretch and I figured a few hours riding the amazing NH 4 in the evening wouldn't hurt considering I was a veteran of buggered riding.
So I hit the ghats with a twist of the wrist and I was in biking heaven. I thought about my friends behind a desk and sniggered. Soon enough I ran into the Pune hogs complete with their support vehicle. I guess they had left very late themselves. Why they would do so I hadn't the faintest idea. And this query becomes more relevant because I guess they know the route and the terrain and the weather patterns. I mean didn't they know that it rains incessantly in this part of the country?
So as the sun set I find my self running into a weather front.. Whoa - so this was going to be a night ride in the rain... ! Of all the blasphemy of motorcycling I was going to ride 120 Kms in the dark in the rain. Well done Sharad Sharma so much do for your riding intelligence..
But thank you Pune for being just at the time when I needed you the most. It would have been a tad hairy riding an unfamiliar road in the dark and in the rain.
It's not the bike that is the problem - its your visor and your torso. A dirty foggy visor in the night is a nightmare. And a wet torso sends the chills to your bones.. Live and learn.
1 1/2 hours later we squished into Belgaum and as I dripped in the lobby of the hotel I prayed that tomorrow is a dry day. Please send your prayers to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meanwhile I am headed for a beer.
Ahmedabad to Pune seems really easy on google maps.. Ah yes google maps the free ware that makes lions of mice..
Having got my bike cleaned and serviced the day before at 9 bridges I was set for the ride today..
A 5am call time at the showroom sees Inderjit (business head) and myself wait for 45 mins for 2 riders before we set out to meet another enroute. It is already 8.30am and we have just ridden 100 kms. By the time we congregate with the 4 riders from baroda its time for the 48s to refuel. It was well past 10 when 8 of us actually got going on the NH8 to bombay. And we still had over 550 Kms + traffic snarls + hot and humid weather to contend with..
The ride gets better after lunch. We pick up pace but not for long. With frequent stops for fuel, random incidents of riders loosing each other, the minutes fly by and we are barely into Maharashtra.
But there is always a silver lining. The Ghats are beautiful. And even sexier on a bike.
We make it to Hotel Fountain at the Ghodbunder junction by 5 pm where we meet 2 more riders from Gujrath who had left for Bombay the day before.
We leave for Pune at 6pm. But we have only 10 Kms of peak Bombay traffic to contend with.. It takes 1.5 hours to reach the Pune highway.. The bike was knocking, my joints started to creek and the road sucked the sweat from a dead mans balls. I know where evil bikers go after they die. They get stuck in a north Bombay traffic jam on a Harley in October.
A stark contrast to The 'juna' Bombay - Pune road,which is a bikers dream.. It's twisty. It's smooth and it's picturesque.
But when you're 14 hours in the saddle with only 4 hours of sleep the night before. It's cruel on your sensibilities. Akin to seeing Sunny Leone naked in your bed just after you ran a full marathon. And she's just got 30 minutes before she plane leaves. You want to do it. But your mind is signing checks your body just can't cash.
So I can proudly say that I ridden some twistys in the night. Even if only at 50 kmph and with a stop every half hour for a red bull.
We made it to our hotel which was on the expressway at 11 pm. Tired? Nah! just raped..
As I write this most of the riders would be almost reaching Belgaum. I could not leave with the rest as I was still slumbering out of bed. I will probably be the last to arrive. But after riding alone to Ahemdabad and what we experienced last night I could probably do the 350 kms to Belgaum with one eye shut and one hand tied behind my back.
The spit that was hacked from the alto in front of me landed square on my helmet.. A gross concoction of Paan and guju saliva..
But my punjabi blood did not boil over as I was about to hit the god awesome twistys between Udaipur and himatnagar.. And what twistys they were.. AC DC in my helmet and scraping my hero blobs at well over 120 are stuff biker wet dreams are made of.
Lunch was at another rotten dhaba... Whats this and my michelin star fate? But no matter - there were some more twists to relish. And thank god for them as the belching from dubious dhaba fare got quite embarrassing even for a biker..
The sun, sun dried parts of me that chilled beer usually soothes.. With no beer to look forward to this eve, the depression was negated by my trip to the 9 bridges showroom in Ahmedabad. If there is a larger more impressive showroom in the country - i havent seen it or even heard about it... I met the owner Pranav Nanda who eagerly showed me his yellow fat boy with the nacelle headlight and led auxs... Way kool.. But the show room definately caught my eye, as did some of the ladies working there.. Hmm..
Dealership director and now good friend Inderjeet Kapoor saw to my bike getting a thorough going over. She came away sparkling and with a brand
New nose as well..
After test riding some of the bikes from their stable, Inder lead me to my cousin sisters home. The delicious home cooked gujurathi meal was just what Willie G ordered... Or Michelin ordered.. You get the drift.
I got a 4 am wake up tomorrow as we ride towards Pune..All 650 Kms of it.. It will be a long day and Im ready to ride with the boys of 9 bridges..
And as far as that paan spitting guju bro goes - well he can kiss my ass coz I got a brand new fairing..
The delhi jaipur highway is the pits. Lots of those to be found as well. To elaborate - the road seems like its been stolen and sold. All the slowest Tata trucks ever manufactured are riding in the fast lane. And the second slowest are trying to overtake them. 260 Kms of this is a cruel joke.
It is on the bypass from chandwadi towards ajmer that things get better. But only just. Either way the trucks never leave you.. But that was not a shock to my system as delhites are familiar with abuse, so to speak.
Breakfast at highway king near Bheror and lunch at bhandanwara - a non descript town between Ajmer and bhilwada. The latter turned out to be an experience that I shall not forget in a hurry.
You see, I was being the macho harley boy as I eased into to sangam hotel and dhaba. The Indian equivalent of a town in the wild west where a motelycrew of truckers in their vests eat lunch and wash it down with country liquour. So imagine the look on their faces when I entered that premises. Xr1200, red mesh jacket, a nice helmet, red camel back, clean shaven punjabi munda and ordered lunch.
In 5 secs there was a swarm of stubles, sweat, body odour, liquour breath around the bike. Each one shoved his finger into every nook on the xr that he could find. If I stayed longer I would have been the next object of their curiosity.
All through the lunch I felt every trucker eye on my neck. They strutted around my table, giving me the look over. It was one of the, pardon the pun, hairiest moments I have experienced on the road. Dang, if i had my skulls and leather they would have probably crowned me their leader.
Needless to say I high tailed it out of there ASAP. Never again. Stick to McDonald's at least fast food will not rape you.
Chittorgarh was 130 clicks away and I made good time and checked into a cheesy hotel called padmani.. Not Bad given that they delivered beer to my room and even a security guard to watch over my ride..
All in all an eventful day - 580 clicks solo and almost a rape victim. I really do believe that If it doesn't kill you it will only make you stronger.
Beer in hand and some kardi chawla to follow up with - I sign off.
So it has finally dawned on me that I will be doing the first 800 kms of this awesome ride alone. I leave on Tuesday 25th, September 2012. The only rider from Delhi who is headed down south for the first annual Southern Chapter HOG ride. Call me crazy which I will gracefully acknowledge.
My ride plan is simple. I will leave for Chittorgarh on Tuesday, which I hope to make well within 8 hours. The next day I get into Ahmedabad by lunch. There after I ride with the Ahmedabad chapter to Pune. And there on I ride with the Bombay chapter + Pune Chapter to Belgaum. Finally reaching Hospet on the 29th.
I am looking forward to this ride for a couple of reasons:
This is my first ride to the south and Im excited and nervous. I do not deny that I am getting the jitters. And the sad news of a biker going down today (Sunday, 23rd) certainly did not help.. But listening to Avinash Thadani (the dude who rode 15,000 kms SOLO across South America) speak at TRAVEL TORQUE (my event for adventurers) that I hosted in Delhi, has made me look at my self and say "damn I can do this..!!" And you know what - I am going to have one hell of a time...!
So here is the update on the Hampi ride. Firstly, I get to hear that that there will be over 200 riders for this event.. Its going to be pipe mayhem in that sleepy little town in Karnataka. Thats gotta be a first for India.
Secondly, Hampi will take me and the boys four days of riding all 2,200 kilometers of it. So my plan is to ride to Ahmedabad and join up with the local chapter and head to Pune. The next day the Bombay chapter will meet us and we all ride to Belgaum. All 100 of us. Whoa..!!
Thirdly, I plan on distributing Travel Torque T shirts to each and every rider who will be there.
Boy I got my task cut out!!
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