This blog contains material I wrote and posted on between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Chronicle Of A Bike Trip

As I have probably already mentioned (in fact I know damn’ well I mentioned it) one of the way I de-stress is by taking long drives on my bike. Sadly, not often enough. This trip, though, I planned over a week ago. Companion: Sim.
Was supposed to leave at 10.30 am. Accordingly, I made sure my appointments were restricted to 10am and before. Actually, Sim told me he would be late…apparently he would be busy before that with one of his numerous girlfriends, whom I call by the generic term Surpanakhas (those with knowledge of Hindu mythology will know whom I am talking about). So, we changed the time of leaving to 11am. On the other hand, my patients turned up with commendable but far too rare punctuality, so I actually finished before 10. And, since there is a barbershop just opposite, filled in the time by getting a haircut.
OK, let’s get this over with. Question: Why do I get those "awful" boule a zerohaircuts? Answer: 1. Because I like them, that’s why. 2. They camouflage my balding spot. I’d rather go skinhead than bald. 3. With that haircut I don’t have to notice the increasing number of silver hairs tinting the sides of my head. Happy now?
So, Sim turned up at ten minutes to eleven and we left right away. The plan was to go up to Mawkdok Gorge and return. I had been almost up to Mawkdok before on the bike (and, of course, far beyond it by car) and knew it could get freezing. Also, rain might come down, as it had on every one of the past few days, so I had made Sim wear warm clothes and carry a raincoat. I too had put on unseasonably warm clothing (and the oldest and toughest pair of shoes I had) and over that I’d worn the uppers of my rubberised nylon motorcycle overalls. The bottom half was in my pannier.
We hadn’t carried any food with us, since the original plan had been to return and eat in town. What we had was our mobiles (which would be pretty damn’ useless as mobiles since our Airtel connections ceased to find any network coverage almost immediately when we left the city limits on this side. I had not even much money on me, just about a hundred rupees (a fact I discovered when we were already on the way, having forgotten to visit the ATM). But we did have most of a tankful of fuel and a recently fully serviced bike.
Well, then, let’s go along on the trip:
We set off. Time: 11am. Weather: cloudy, but clouds breaking up, and warm. Traffic: very light, since today is not just Sunday but also Vishwakarma Puja. Both Hindus and Christians would tend to stay home. Other religions are not present in this state in numbers great enough to matter.
Up and beyond the Air Force station at which I will no longer work in a couple of weeks’ time. I want to stop and photograph the two static displays I missed earlier, a MiG 21 and a Folland Gnat, but decide to save that for another time. Possibly on the way back, let’s get on and take advantage of the good weather. Cast a longing glance at two Mi 17 helicopters parked on the helipad. Wonderful if only I could photograph them. Almost impossible, the stupid bureaucracy wouldn’t allow it though I could find 1000 photos on the net in seconds. Never mind. On.
Mylliem, where two guys, Jormanik Syiem and Laborious Manik Syiem, are at each other’s throats, legally speaking, to be the chief. What a godforsaken little village. Who on earth would want to live in such a place, let alone want to be chief at any cost?
By now it’s quite warm. We stop and take a photo of a quarry, share a couple of toffees. These quarries are all around, some new, some old. Some have wreaked havoc on the hills. Who cares? Not the quarry owners, certainly. There are terraces too, and I want to take photos. On the way back, I decide.
As we drive on, the weather becomes even warmer, except for a gusting wind. My bike is just 125cc, it has a difficult time making the slopes at more than 40km per hour without straining the engine. I should ideally have something with an engine of at least 500cc for drives like this. Someday…
Three buses overtake us. They are probably Assam Rifles, paramilitary at any rate. The first two are in olive green and the third in ochre yellow. They rush past , almost forcing us off the road. Bastards.
Something – a large insect, probably a wasp – bounces off my helmet visor at eye level with a hard click. The road is now better and easier, and we are making better time. Ah, there is our old friend the yellow bus parked at the roadside. Broken down? Don’t expect us to show you sympathy, you nearly forced us off the road. Zoom on by, and soon enough past the other two, grinding uphill in low gear. Now I’m doing about sixty or seventy when the road is flat, but I’m not comfortable on narrow roads at that speed, so I slow down when it begins getting curvy. And here is the Dawki bridge, finally complete! Hallelujah! Who would ever have thought it?
Mawjrong. Mawkdok Gorge has to be just ahead. Once I had been offered a job at Mawjrong, had spent a day there being showed around, but the offer had been mysteriously withdrawn. This is also as far as I’ve ever been on this road on the bike. Zoom on past. Ah, the D-for-someone-or-other Sing Syiem Bridge. There is a sort of viewing stand here on the bridge, but I know a better view of the gorge is just ahead. We stop, take photos. The gorge is superb. Also the light is excellent for photography. The three buses roar past, yellow seems to have caught up. We’ve made excellent time, too. Also the weather’s great. Do we go on or turn back? Up ahead is Sohra (also called Cherrapunjee, allegedly the wettest place on earth though I looked in the Guinness Book Of World Records in vain), we’re almost halfway already, and I’d always wanted to bike to Sohra. Why not? Sim says OK. Can we eat there, though? All right, we’ll starve long enough to come back and eat.
Go on. Now we are on roads I’m not particularly familiar with, it’s been a good seven years since I was in Sohra last. We pass the buses again, yellow is on the roadside. Must have a really weak engine.
Little villages with names like Marbaniang and Laitjynrew. One after the other, like beads on a string. In between, flat eroded land. Once this was all oak forest, but the British cleared them for timber, and the rain washed the topsoil away. Now there is nothing left except grass and boulders, it’s a true desert. The wettest on earth, perhaps.
The buses cross us again. Let them. The road is suddenly worse. It is impossible to avoid all the potholes, but Sohra is near. In fact, I can see the Ramakrishna Mission Centre I’d visited the last time I was here. Not that I have any intention of visiting it again, but I still stop and take a photo. We do not enter the town. We bypass it to the south, so we arrive at a point on the road where we can see the Mawsmai Falls. There is a viewing platform ahead but it’s not free, and as I said I hadn’t much on me. We stop. I take off the helmet to take photos and find a large insect sitting on it. It’s an insect I’ve never seen before, with the body of a wasp but legs of a grasshopper, and dark brown. I want to take a photo of it, but it flies off just as I press the shutter. I delete the photo. Take three photos of the falls. Only the first is worth keeping.
Now. No further, we need to go back. I turn the bike and Sim gets on, we begin on the return journey.
On the way, we see these falls whose name I do not know. Far prettier than Mawsmai, also far more easily visible than the former. We stop, I take photos and a short video. Sim waits till the road is free of traffic and urinates. When we go on, a small beetle begins walking on my helmet visor on a level with my eyes. I have to flick it away. I like beetles, hope I did not hurt it. But what is it today with my helmet and insects?
Here is a place where from the road we can see, to the south, Bangladesh’s plains spread like a carpet against the sky. Stop again, take photos and hope they come out OK. Mist is beginning to appear on the hills. Also, I’m beginning to get rather hungry, and Sim is too.
Ah, in one of the nameless villages, there’s an eatery open. Certainly not Christian owned. But the dying tribal religion, Niam Tre, still has adherents. We stop, and eat. Rice and pork. No one here in the boondocks has heard of vegetarian food. By now the sky is clouding over. In fact, it’s darkling. Better get on as fast as we can. No time to think of photographing what we missed on the trip out.
We pass a group of men on the roadside. I’d swear we passed them on the way out, sitting in the same place. WTF? Nothing better to do? So long there is a sack of rice in the house, there is nothing lazier than the village tribal. Yet some of them would undoubtedly possess high intelligence. But here, without schools or hospitals, what chance of flowering of intelligence? Even a shopping trip would be a major expedition for them, thirty kilometres at least to the nearest town.
The mist comes down, thick. Off to the left there is a thick white vertical flash of lightning. I suggest Sim puts on his raincoat, he refuses, says his light sweater is warmer. I stop when the road’s already wet and put on my overall bottoms. We are already up to Mawkdok again, but the clouds now hang heavy. Sim puts his mobile phone in my backpack for protection, and takes one last photo, of me in my biker getup. We just make it to Mawjrong before the rain begins in earnest. We stop again and Sim finally puts on his raincoat. He stuffs his sweater in the backpack, wrapping my digital camera in it so it remains dry. His rainwear is longer and better than mine, but then it is a raincoat; mine is a waterproof biker overall. He has a ridiculous rain hat, actually a woman’s, with a little plastic visor. Has to be held on, the fastenings are gone.
Oh my word the rain is crashing down now. We pass some vehicles coming the other way. I have to drive slowly because I can’t see. The raindrops come down like bullets, exploding like miniature bombs on my visor. They slash at my hands and chest so hard they are painful right through the overalls. Sheets of water fly up from the wheels, my shoes are now full of water, and I grow concerned about my mobile and digicam. No way to check in this deluge.
Mylliem. And, wonder of wonders, the rain slackens almost to a stop. We make better time. And now we’re already up to the Air Force again, and the streets are totally dry! Not a drop of rain anywhere, people walking along the streets with not one unfurled umbrella! Yet we pass on towards town and a half kilometre away the rain is back, worse than ever before. How could I have thought what came before was bad? I think I can feel my shirt soaked to the chest, and my trousers and underpants are undoubtedly wet through my overall bottoms. The rain is so hard and the light so bad I switch my headlights on. We are in town now, but no respite. I have never been out in rain this hard before. Is it trying to compensate for the awful drought we had all summer? It’s like standing under an open tap. I think if someone squeezes me, I’ll exude water.
Home neighbourhood. Drop Sim to his house, park the bike and wait while he takes his stuff from my backpack and wraps my digicam in a polythene packet. And now homewards. The rain is worse than ever before. Somehow, park and over the bike. Enter and leave wet puddles on the floor. What a pleasure to take one’s shoes and socks off! Hot coffee. Not a drop of water on mobile or digicam, thank whatever-it-is. Whoof.
Drove about 112 kilometres in all. And – oh yes – the rain slackened directly I’d got home. Of bloody course.
Fun. I wonder if Sim thinks so too.

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