RM12: The Beaster Mania

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Part 1:The most eagerly awaited event of the year was fast approaching. The excitement shooting up manifold each day. I’d gotten my bike done up again.. just needed a change in the way it looked.The plan was for the first batch of riders from Wanderlust MC to start on the morning of Jan 25th. But family being in Dubai and me all alone here to take care of the house, two studios and most importantly the two kids Buddy and Puffy, I did make an alternate plan to start with the 2nd batch on the morning of the 26th. But on the night of the 23rd I heard that my family’s stay in Dubai would get extended till the 27th, which left me no time to ride out and make it on time for the Rider Mania. Incidentally, Thomas found himself without a bike, and so I offered him mine for the ride to Delhi. This way my bike reaches Delhi in the hands of a seasoned rider, and saves me the trouble of haggling with the railway station authorities if I had chosen to pack it off to Delhi. Also, Thomas wouldn’t miss his ride either.

I saw the first batch off on the 25th morning from my home, some of whom had stayed the night over. The next day I met and saw off Sheetal, Manish and Purnima, after having had a party with Armaan, Pammi, Pupu and gang from the Nawabs, Hyderabad as well. And for the first time missing out on a ride to RM in 9 years did make me feel weird.

Nisarg, Hyena, Ashish and I were on the same flight to Delhi on the night of the 27th. We had a taxi take us to Gurgaon to our hotel where the rest of the pack, the riders from botch batches, and Sutta also joined us within minutes of our landing there.

That night was the usual madness and hellraising that Wanderlust is all so [in]famous for, coming to a point when the room service staff was too scared to enter our party zone and just handed us our orders through a slightly opened door. Oh well.

The morning of the 28th, it was time to ride to the biggest RM yet. All of us assembled outside the hotel in Gurgaon and started loading up the machines, and getting into gear when it dawned upon me that I’d forgotten my helmet back home. Not like Im big on helmets anyway, but for the city authorities it seemed like a big deal. So I picked up one cheap ass helmet for 250 bucks from a roadside seller just for the ride to the venue, thinking there’d be better helmets being sold there, and I can pick myself a good one later.

The venue was massive, and Wanderlust MC made the entry in our usual style.. engines roaring and resounding in tandem to our war cry and into the parking lot. That reminded me of my first RM, back in 2004, when I’d ridden solo to Goa. Wanderlust MC was still an idea in my head back then. But I do remember entering that parking lot in Mandrem at Riva Beach resort and finding myself amidst 150 enfields.. rock and roll.. the beach.. the beers and the [now] usual regalia and saying to myself: “Im finally home.” And 9 RM’s later, I still get that same feeling each year as I ride into that parking lot which now has close to 900 majestic motorcycles, the chrome gleaming in the sun, finding it’s way out through the layers of oil stains, dust and mud from the road.. each one with a story to tell. It is home.

The next two days of the RM.. as they say, if you remember any of it, you were never there:) Super amazing time meeting with new friends and old and brothers from the road that swear by the bond and the code of the open road. This was the 10th year celebration of that bond. This was the celebration of the first 10 years of an event like no other in India, a community and brotherhood like no other in the world, and perhaps the first counter culture movement of this ancient land. In a long long time at least. We have arrived. And we’re here to stay.

Part 2

The RM done, we all woke up on the morning of Jan 30th to the saddening news of the passing away of one of our brother from Inddie Thumpers, Chetan. It was all too sudden, shocking and confusing. After a few words with the Inddie thumpers and Beasters, it was best decided that not too many people stay back at the venue, and by mid noon we were off on the road to Pushkar.Thomas had earlier in the morning left for Nagpur along with Eashwar as well on Prashen’s bike, so now I had my machine back for the road ahead.The road was good, and a slight chill stayed with us all through the day. My concentration on the road was constantly perturbed with thoughts of Chetan, and his final moments spent with us all before he left on his great ride into the infinite beyond. Time and time again I had to shake myself outta my thoughts while riding and kept reminding myself to keep focussed on the ride. Sheetal, who was riding pillion with me, if noticed it, or did feel uneasy, she didn’t show it.

Nightfall descended and the chill found it’s way through our gloves, jackets and boots and made it’s presence ever felt.

We rode into Pushkar around 11PM and straightaway made our way to the suggested place to stay, The Narayan guest house, which was packed to capacity. The people running the guesthouse were still kind enough to make a couple of phone calls and fix us up at The Mama Luna guest house, which we made our home for the next few days.

Everyone woke up at their own leisure the next morn, and once all freshened up, we decided to check out the Land of Brahma. WildChild Dipesh Shah was also chilling in this amazing place, and we all joined forces. The regular “touristy” routine of visiting the important sites and places done, we parked for a lazy afternoon at the Moon Cafe and drowned in glasses of the special bhaang lassi there which left one with a subtle buzz and good feeling for the rest of the day, needless to say super hungry after every few minutes.

I also got my bike fixed, found an oversized nut to fit the bent pipe back into place. The packing was gone, and there wasn’t one for the 500’s there, so I just let that be. The exhause was still makin a very funny sound, but nothing one couldnt get used to for just a couple of days.

One of the nights, Sheetal, Naga, Soni and I decided to go and hang out at one of the ghats by the lake and just soak in the mystical silence of the place.. in contemplation of thoughts within. It certainly was a night to remember there for some of us.

On the first morning of Feb, the guys all had to start back for home. I decided to stay back for a couple of days for a few reasons. I needed some time to myself again [which I usually do anyways ever so often], I was loving being in Pushkar, and I also had been wanting to do a long pending solo ride back home, and this seemed like a good time to do it. Guys in the club were in a hurry to make a dash for home. I wanted to do it a bit differently this time. And so I saw them all off.

Part 3

With the Wanderlusters now off on their way back home, I had decided to stay on for another day at Pushkar, and began to make a mental list of things to do when I got a call from Dipsy and we met up again at the Moon Cafe for a couple of glasses of Bhaang Lassi, and headed to the Baba Roof Top for breakfast, also joined by Jack and his Wolfepack there. Dipsy went into his “vishram” mode, Jack and boys left town and I was on my own for the day.

I’d been wanting to visit the Dargah Shareef at Ajmer on this trip too, so with my head still faintly buzzing, I rode towards Ajmer with just my camera, cruising along nice and easy, enjoying the sights on the way and occasionally stopping for a pic in that short distance of 20 Kms. Finding my way into the overcrowded main street leading to the Dargah, I immediately, while still riding slow, started getting hounded by shop owners in the street that have been convinced down countless generations that materialistic offerings and goods please the Gods and spirits. I rode on towards the Dargah, finding a slightly more open space there to park next to a shop the owner of which seemed ready to have my motorcycle parked in his vicinity, in exchange of me buying stuff from him for the Dargah, ofcourse. The problem was them asking me to leave my bike unlocked, a thought Im never comfortable with on a street and crowd of this size and chaos. I managed to convince him somehow that the bike cannot remain unlocked, did the needful, picked up a basket of offerings from him, paid him, left my shoes at the shop and walked towards the Dargah entrance, where I was again stopped by a security guy who refused to let me enter with a camera. Mobile phones were fine [all of which incidentally too have high resolution cameras these days, so this logic was beyond me again]. I was asked to go back and leave the camera with the shopkeeper. Again, not a comfortable thought. So I just turned back towards the shop, handed him the basket over, not asking for a refund, got my shoes on and rode off back towards Pushkar, with a slight look at the Dargah and a “see you next time around, maybe” voice in my head. The ride back was blissful.

Back in Pushkar, I parked my bike near the Rainbow lodge and met John from Beasters who was there with his family. A cuppa tea each and John was off, and I began my sifting and drifting through the streams and rivulets of humanity in all it’s myriad forms and colors flowing on the streets of this ancient oasis, and Jim’s words resounded in my head again:

“Choose” they croon, the ancient ones, “the time has come again”,

“Choose now” they croon, beneath the moon, beside an ancient lake,

“Enter again the sweet forest, enter the hot dream, come with us”,

 Everything is broken up, and dances…

Walking around the market streets around the lake, and occasionally walking onto a ghat to sit and take pictures on the steps, a lot gets revealed, while a lot more raises new questiones that need answering.

A gently approaching coolth in the atmosphere, and shadows stretching eastward, the hour bringing on the sunset began and I heard a faint sound of drums coming from one of the ghats. I followed the sound and found myself on steps leading up to a platform where 4 sets of traditional looking drums were lined up. Each set consisted of two bowl shaped drums placed in a “V” with the skins facing each other. The set being played by Ramesh Kumar, a local, was placed directly in front of an ancient looking Shivaling, beyond which were the waters of the lake, on the far bank of which were temples and homes with their lights coming on, shadowed in the hills silhouetted by the setting sun. Sitting behind Ramesh was a gent from Israel playing the black hand clap stones [dunno what they are called] keeping in time with the beat of the drums. As the hour progressed, another lady from Israel with the clap stones, another Indian guy, a lady from Japan and two more gentleman from France and Germany each joined in on the remaining drum sets. Ramesh, being the lead drummer there started on a basic beat first, and everyone else joined in till all played the same beat in tandem precision, which once achieved, Ramesh began filling in his drum rolls and solos over that beat creating a flurry of percussive sounds. Each piece played for about 20 mins, the session for that evening lasted close to 2 hours. I stayed through it and got it all on video. The session over and everyone gone, I lingered on by the lakeside till the chill really began to bite, and I made my way back to the room to take a little nap. Later that evening, I made my way to the roof top of the Mama Luna, and partied till late into the night with fellow travelers, Mama Luna guests and new friends and connections made at Pushkar.

Feb 2: On The Road

Don’t know what time I really woke up, but that too was a part of the plan. The past few years every ride has been a race against time. This time, I wanted to do it differently. I’d made sure I dont carry a watch on this tour, and then also made sure I never saw the time on my mobile phone either. This time I wanted to start riding when it felt like and stop where it felt like, with no fixed plan on where to stop for the night. I chalked out a rough route and decided if the ride goes smooth, I would spend some time in Ujjain and later visit the caves of Bhimbetka again. I also didnt want the speedometer telling me if I was going too fast or too slow, nor the distance I had traveled for the day, so I un-screwed the speedo cable and packed it with my spares. All I knew is that I had to be back to work on the morning of the 6th, and though not entirely a satisfactory time on the road to satiate wanderlust, I still wanted to make the most of it and not be in a rush bound by distance and time, but to ride by feel.

I got back on the road by what seemed like a little past noon, and took my first halt for lunch at a Dhaba just after Chittorgarh. The next stop I took at Neemuch when the fuel had to be turned onto reserve stock. Back on the road I heard a funny scraping/grinding sound coming from the bike front, and stopped on the side of the road at a junction to inspect. A guy emerged from nowhere and said that a puncture repair shop was just across the road. I checked, and it was my front mudguard, the side clamps of which had broken on the ride from Nagpur-Gurgaon, and was being held in place by a wire, had slumped a little forward and the front screw of the Wanderlust plate was rubbing against the front tyre. But no flat tyre, so I just told the guy I didnt need a puncture shop, and fixing the mudguard a little back in place, I rode off again. Almost Sundown.

I rode on for a few kms on and my bike gave a sudden wobble. The rear tyre had gone flat. I turned the bike around, and sitting closest to the tank, trying to keep max weight off the rear wheel, I made it back to the junction and parked at the puncture repair shop. It was dark now, and after what seemed like quite a while, and finding no nail in the tyre, the guy fixed the tube which had a piercing on the inside rim, seemingly caused by a protruding spoke. Not a very comforting thing to happen on a ride.

I wasn’t yet tired and rode on for the next few hours at an easier pace incase the tyre acted up again. The front wheel grinding sound coming on again after a while. I reached the outskirts of Ratlam and stopped for tea at a dhaba. The cold and sleep were beginning to really make their presence felt, and I found myself a little lodge at Ratlam to stay in for the night.

Feb 3: On the Road

It still seemed comfortably early in the morning by the time I had loaded my bike outside the lodge in Ratlam. Many shops were still yet to open, and the morning hustle bustle of the little town was beginning to catch full steam. The bike loaded, I gave it a kickstart, and the spinning rear wheel reminded me of the flat I had the evening before. I checked, and it was all falt out again. Another puncture repair shop was just across the street from the lodge, and so I dragged my bike over and began the process all over again. Same thing again. No mark on the outer edge, but 3 holes in the tube caused again by what now was seeming like the rim. I hadn’t had a flat tyre in the past couple of years, so it always remained unchecked, but coz of a lot of off-roading trips in the past two monsoons, the water seeping in had rusted the wheel rim, and the rusted flakes were causing the flats. The front tyre too had a well pronounced jagged edged groove caused by the front mudguard. I bought a fresh tube for the rear, getting the already twice repaired on fixed and kept as a spare, and having the rust scarped off and smoothened out a bit. Tried looking for a new front tyre, but none was available. I took the front mudguard off to prevent further damage and tied it across the rear seat of the machine and I started the ride towards Ujjain, a little before the Sun had peaked on it’s noonward race.

Riding through narrow state highways now, a milestone signalled Ujjain another 12 Kms ahead, and the fast moving motorcycle wobbled again. A couple of kims down the road I found another puncture repair guy who didnt have the tools for an enfield. I used my own toolkit and opened up the tyre for him. The fresh tube had 3 fresher holes in it. We decided to cut open my spare tube and turn it into a sleeve for the again repaired new tube and sheath it in shielding it from the rusty rim. Seemed like a great idea, but this time I had to get it fixed properly. I rode into Ujjain and straight towards the Mahakaleshwar Temple. The place was so crowded that it seemed it’d take me all day to get in and out. Plus again there was the hassle of not only leaving my bike somehwere in the vicinity, but this time along with my saddlebags and the rest still mounted on it. I gave a nod there again, and made way outta Ujjain, picking up another fresh tube. I found a dhaba and puncture repair shop side by side on the highway and decided to get the fresh tube in, along with the sleeve while I had a good lunch. it was well past afternoon now.

The lunch and tyre in their respective places again, I got back on the road with no idea of where to stop for the night. The highway was fantastic on this patch. Lush green fields on the left, smooth tarmac wide enough for 3 trucks to ride side by side on the up lane, a natural division wide enough for another 3 trucks lush with tall trees and smooth tarmac again on the opposite lane with lush green fields beyond. I was more confident of my rear tyre now, was less conscious of the groove made on the front one, and I picked up pace, enjoying the ride to the fullest, getting back into my element . I opened up the throttle a little more to overtake a truck from the right side, a speeding Scorpio behind me doing the same, and I felt something go wrong or amiss. For some unknown reason, and the first time in my 12 years of riding, the rear brake pedal fell off it’s mount and dangled between the two fast spinning wheels of the bike still in motion right after the truck was left behind and the Scorpio closing in a lot faster. I panicked a little, but instinctively steered the bike to the extreme right corner of the road, the truck and scorpio racing ahead from my left and brought the bike to a halt, downshifting gears and with gentle use of the front disc. Though I’d never had this kinda trouble before, and hence never had to ever fix it, I was kinda clueless about how to do it. For miles around there wasn’t anything or anyone in sight. I got my tools out again, and just applied basic logic and physics and after a coule of attempts managed to get all the braking parts back into their working places again. A little pat on my own back and I sped off again down the road somewhere close to Sunset.

Riding on without pause, I reached the outskirts of Bhopal and stopped for tea where the dhaba owner told me not to take the bypass, but to ride through town, or best, halt in Bhopal for the night. I contemplated this for a while, and asked how far ahead of Bhopal was Bhimbetka. Though I was getting tired and a bit sleepy, the distance to Bhimbetka seemed manageable, but there was a warning on the bad condition of the road. I decided to go ahead with it.

The traffic in Bhopal was chaotic, senseless and irritating.. as is almost anywhere in India. The city roads were super confusing as well, but the Mughal architectural monuments seemed fabulous. At a traffic signal I stopped next to a local dude Tejinder Singh astride a brand new T-Bird, and asked him the way outta town. He was gracious enough and asked me to follow him till a point from where he turned homeward after guiding me onto the road to Bhimbetka, again warning me about the bad road ahead.. in his own words, “It’s pure hell.”

It took me forever to cross that single lane stretch in the dark and I finally reached Bhimbetka quite late, and making my way straight to the MP Tourism Highway Retreat to stay for the night. With just 4 rooms at hand, they were packed to capacity. I backtracked a few kms and found a dhaba quite abuzz with activity and decided to have dinner there. I also decided to park there at the dhaba for the night on a cot. The food was great amidst all road talk with truckers and the dhaba people and with a double shot of neat Old Monk as my nightcap, I drifted off into slumbertown. It was a cold, cold night.

Feb 4th: Homeward bound

The sounds of a thousand birds chirping woke me up with the Sunrise and the nearly freezing morning chill, amidst fog mingling with the smoke from little bonfires from the night before, still holding on to their last embers. I rolled off the cot and got my boots on. After a brush of the teeth and a wash of the face and hands at a tube well, I had a nice large cuppa tea, getting my gear on and rode to the Bhimbetka Highway Retreat again. The morning staff now recognized me from my previous trip here 4 years ago and said had they been there the night before, they’d have made sure I was comfortable there. But now I wasn’t ready to trade the night at the dhaba for anything else. I thanked ’em, and asked if I can leave my bags with them and take a tour of the Bhimbetka cave shelters again. They told me the morning round timings were yet to commence for the day, and suggested I leave the bags there and check out Bhojpur in the mean time. I asked whats in store there, and they told me a little story about Raja Bhojdev and the massive monument he left behind 1000 years ago, housing the largest ancient Shivaling. I thought about it no more, and asked for the way, and they guided me towards a dirt track leading into the forest. 28 Kms one way, they said.

I got my camera ready, and got on the trail to Bhojpur. The track was all dirt, but loose sandy soil. Slow and gliding one way or another I enjoyed the morning ride through the forest, with bird calls incessantly echoing and filling up the morning calm whenever I turned off the engine to take a look around. In a little over a while of riding, I saw in the distance a tiny and flat little village at the foot of a little hillock in the middle of nowhere. Atop the hillock was the massive temple structure looming large above everything else in sight. And it looked ancient.

I rode into and through the village and towards the temple complex, parking my machine, boots, gloves and helmet at a flower shop and entered the walkway to the temple. Not too many tourists or activity around, I crossed a lady [with a Cobra that looked malnourished and weak] asking for money, a random stuff seller dude trying to sell me a different story saying this temple was from the Mahabharat era, more than 5000 years old.. incidentally he was telling this story parked right next to the slab stone with the actual story and historic account of the place inscribed on it.. and then I saw two old musicians.. one with a dholak and another with a string and bow instrument [which I again can’t recall the name of].

I first thoroughly checked out the outside of the temple, with all its erosion and restoration side by side and rock sculptures of nymphs and celestial angels and musicians, some broken, some still intact adorning all the walls on the outside. Very interesting ones. Making my way then inside the temple, the massive rock Shivalingam mounted on the even more imposingly large Yoni, at first sight, stuns you a little. Photography without flash is thankfully permitted here so I tried to capture as much as I could there. I also ran into a group of elderly gentlemen from Calcutta, all travel and photography enthusiasts. One of them was using his old, tried, trusted and impossible to part with Nikon FM2, a Film SLR. The way he spoke of it, and the few prints he carried with him that he showed to me was inspiring. And it did inspire me enough to make sure Im gonna get my hands on a Film SLR pretty soon, which also arises from the fact that I love all that’s retro and old school.

Spending a generous amount of time at the temple, I rode back again to Bhimbetka Retreat and ordered breakfast there. On the ride back from Bhojpur Id also thought it had been very fulfilling indeed to have so randomly visited the new place to find such a stunning piece of ancient art and architecture hidden there. I could give the caves a pass this time and ride homewards now.

Back on the road to Nagpur now, I recalled Tejinder’s words, “It’s pure hell”, and he had much underestimated it. There was no road. Just potholes and sharp edges of what used to be a narrow single tarmac lane dangerously throwing the bike off balance, all the while snaking one’s way around the thick black smoke emanating from a bumper to bumper, never ending line of trucks and buses, also kicking up crazy thick clouds of dust. The first 100 kms took me about 4.5 hours to cover. Also because any village that one passed on this stretch also had a traffic jam from hel from all the highway chaos mingled with the weekend village bazaar madness. It does teach one a lotta patience and self control, though.. constantly fighting with the road rage slowly trying to build up within.

By the time I reached Itarsi, the roads were starting to get slightly visible [though the traffic jam on the road and more in villages was as bad] and as I was making the climb of an overbridge I heard a loud metallic whirring sound from my machine, and the lack of throttle response told me the chain had gone loose. The biked rolled over the climb of the bridge and rolled down the descend and straight into a roadside mechanic’s place.. he already had a couple of Enfields parked around which made it easier for me to spot from atop the over bridge. He tightened the chain in about 10 mins, wished me luck and I rode out of Itarsi.

By the time I reached Betul, the roads had smoothened out quite a bit, and after Betul there was hardly any highway traffic at all. The ride from Betul was one of the best stretches on this ride, with nice, smooth and winding roads snaking around little hillocks and lakes with almost completely flat lands for miles and miles. They say the last mile is always the longest, and it’s true. The closer you get to home, the more you start to relax the ride, trying to hold on to road a little longer, making each km last, savoring it all for stories to tell back home.

I reached home and mom and dad were ecstatic to see me, as always. Puffy and Buddy went nuts. It was close to dinner time. I unloaded my beast of burden, thanking it in a silent way for making it with all the little troubles on the road. Went up to my room, opened a bottle of beer and I put my feet up for a while, waiting, for even after you reach home, you mind and soul are still somewhere on the highway for sometime, trailing behind you, only to catch up with you the next morning when you realize you dont have to load the motorcycle again and get into gear for another day on tour. And then that sweet aching pain from the road gently caresses your bones, staying for the next coulpe of days.

Till another tour, another day.

Anukaran Singh
Moderator of Wanderlust, Nagpur

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