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    Age 54 NH17-Road Dreaming
    An Everlasting Moment
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Age 54: NH17 - Road Dreaming

6:30 am
The crows must get to eat a lot around here because the seat, the tank and even one of the indicators has been blessed with fairly copious amounts of bird-droppings. I spend some time cleaning up, then look at my dark, gleaming friend of 16 years and thank her again for bringing me to this heavenly place. She has brought me here before and has also taken me to the Himalayas once. But that was long, long ago and to a bike; blessed as it is with ‘no-mind’; it is only the present that really matters.

And the present feeling is one of good-bye.

Some dark still lingers on in the morning air as the right leg kick-starts the 350 cc. engine into its gentle boom-boom. The early morning is chilly with cold ocean breeze and as I finally get on the move, home in Pune seems far far away.

Flashback:

Was it only 6 days back that I rode through the Taminhi Ghat singing old Hindi songs to myself? With a helmet on and the visor drawn, one can have a great private concert. The performer as well as the audience in a self-contained symbiotic union. The voice reverberates within the inner confines of the helmet and comes through loud and clear. The newly paved road all along the Sahyadri range makes for good riding and with just one brief stop for chai and a you-know-what, I make it to the Mumbai-Goa highway. 100 kms done and only 240 more to go. The first stop being Ganapatipune, on the Ratnagiri coast.

Ganpatipule is a lovely little sea-side temple-village – the center of attention being the large Ganesh temple right on the beach. I check into Hotel Shreesagar –and am shown a fairly decent room for a negotiated price of Rs.300/-. After an hour of recovering from the long ride; a nice bath and some clean clothes, I take a leisurely walk through the one street village. The night is setting in as I find myself keeping increasingly brisk pace with a youngish bhramin who is on his parikrama of the temple. With a pooja-thali in his hand and shlokas in his mouth, the priest leads and I follow him all the way into the temple where resides the deity in full splendour.

I walk on to the beach and then make my way into the darker part of the beach where the lights of the temple fade and the stars become bright. The moon is on the rise and the gentle ocean waves sing a song of cosmic welcome to another lovely night. Phosphorescence gleams on the ocean like an emerald carpet and I am soaking in the bliss. The journey has been worth it so far.

The second day of the journey begins early. After consulting with the desk-clerk at the hotel, I’ve decided to take the coastal road to Rajapur and join up with the Mumbai-Goa highway there. This will mean more time on the road but then, I’m not in any hurry either. This decision proves to be the right one because I’m soon passing through some very picturesque scenery of ploughed red-earth, of isolated coastal jungle villages with their contained life-styles. Everywhere, even in the smaller places, I see prosperity and smiles.

There are PCOs and internet cafes and I’m getting very good signal on my mobile too! This is a new India I’m riding through.

I cross three very scenic, fairly long, gleaming new bridges over creeks where fisher-folk mend their nets and take care of their boats before venturing out to reap the sea’s bounty. It is a happy India I’m experiencing. Or is it that I myself am so happy that I see only happiness all around? Misery, like beauty, is also probably in the eyes of the beholder.

The day is getting warm and I shed; first my jacket and then my long black shirt and now this feels better. The helmet remains- mainly because its visor offers a welcome shade from the glare of the sun off the shinning smooth road. Soon I stop for a road-side lunch and the menu of goan fish-curry rice reminds me that I’m not too far from Goa.

As I pass the ‘Welcome to Goa’ signs, the world changes. If the Maharashtra section of NH17 was broad, smooth and well-maintained, the Goa section still takes the cake with an even wider span and superb maintenance. It is no wonder that Goa was judged the best state in India. Houses are better maintained and everything looks spic and span. I detour off towards my stop for the night… Arambol beach via Pernem. The narrow winding road takes me through border villages which have a mixed-culture ambience. A mixture of Maharashtrian and Goan.

Arambol is a hippie-type village – what Anjuna used to be 20 years back. Almost the entire tourist population in Arambol is European, Korean or Australian. I was the only Indian there! I saw ageing hippies, and young hippies-in-the-making! I have long held a fantasy of riding my Enfield on the firm wet sand of a beach and to this end I make the first mistake of the trip. I ride on onto the sand and immediately get stuck. I had spoiled my gear-plates once, long ago, when I was similarly stuck on a sandy patch on a Himalayan road; but now that I’m a bit wiser, I cool off the accelerator and look for help with a plea on my face. Soon enough, the Nepali hotel-manager who has been staring at me comes over and lifts the rear of the bike as I ease off my weight on it too to help it cross this mini Sahara!

Back to finding a place to stay and this time I get a room in a house. The room has no toilet of its own but there is a pig-toilet in the back and of course it is a shabby, dirty, smelling place with pigs roaming happily all around. Only a 100 rupees, but it’s not to save money that I say yes to the lady of the house. There are two other reasons. One being that I believe one should periodically put oneself through some physical discomfort (even disgust) to better appreciate the good things one takes for granted in our everyday privileged lives. The other reason was the face of the lady of the house. She was a poor woman and the 100 bucks would mean a lot to her. I could read that in the expectancy in her face. But it was the character in that face, the pride and the joy which attracted me. So I took the room.

Went out for a long walk up Arambol beach and saw village youngsters playing cricket, two young whites whirling sticks a-la-kerala. There was another group of Koreans practicing Tai-chi which looked very graceful and powerful and spiritual. Fell into conversation with a fifty-ish looking villager and when he learnt that I’ve come on the bike, he said ‘hya vayaat?’ (‘at this age?’). Must be the white hair that camouflages this young heart but yes, I do look ancient. The body is 54 years old but the soul is age-less….isn’t that what the Vedas say?

Anyway…. From Arambol, it was only a 2 hour slow ride towards Mapusa where my family waited my arrival as per our plans. They had come by the overnight Pune- Goa sleeper-coach bus and had been enjoying the sun and sand over the last 3 days that I was on the road.

Flash-front!

Saying goodbye to the beach is never easy. This proximity to the sea has been such a joyous aspect of these last 4 days, the glittering waters dancing to fantastic batons of the sun’s rays…..the fishing boats coming in with their hauls, the tiny crabs skimpering over the wet shores….and now I’m on my way.

The ride through a Sunday-morning Goa carries the fragrance of freshly baked bread and freshly awakened faces walking up to the church. As I near Sawantwadi, I’ve still not decided what road I’m going to take. There are numerous options as to where one can cross over the Sahyadri range and this time I take the advice of a well-informed Samaritan who suggests the Amboli ghat road. This turns out to be good advice because the ghat is densely wooded and the road fairly well-maintained. Anyway, potholes don’t carry the same degree of ‘hate-factor’ when one is on an Enfield as compared to when one is driving a 4-wheeler.

A pee-chai-smoke-pee stop beckons and then the road begins to wind up again.

The petrol situation doesn’t look too good and is becoming an increasing concern. The mountain road has taken a toll of the mileage and I’m trying mental-power to help the bike delay that moment when the reserve-tank would need to be tapped. On the highway, the bike was delivering an astounding 44 kms. to the litre but I can now be sure of only going a further 40 kms. on the 1.25 litres reserve capacity. I observe the anxiety building up in my physiology but somewhere I am enjoying the uncertain possibility of being marooned in one of these remote jungle communities and never being rescued! Will I then marry the chieftan’s daughter and become the mukhiya when I am old? A pebble under the tire jerks me out of this absolutely crazy fantasy as I remind myself that I am old and anyway, there seem to be very few places on this planet where one can realistically expect to be ‘absolutely marooned’, much less being offered any of the chieftan’s nubile daughters! Behind all these mind-distraction games, I hear the speedometer yelling that 25 of those 40 kilometers are already done and trouble is brewing. So I blank out the chieftan and his progeny! But deliverance is only around the corner, because I suddenly enter a small town and all the ‘what if’ thoughts drain out as I see a large BP logo heralding a nice petrol pump!! My “bhar daalo” to the petrol-pump attendant is tinged with relief and release.

Towards Nipani, on a narrow, but paved road between golden fields, a farmer is waiting to cross with his two huge buffaloes. It almost seems that he waited for exactly the right moment to startle one of those huge beasts right into the path of my speeding beast. But 60 kph (.com?) is an easy speed to squeeze both brakes and still remain astride – this time, with my front wheel only 2 feet from the almost inviting soft (but firm!) body of the 1000 kilogrammes milk-machine!

I smile at (instead of curse the) farmer with a ‘didn’t get me this time’ gleam in my eyes but he can’t see my eyes, nor may face, nor the white hair – tucked under the helmet as I am. Probably mistook me for a young ruffian out to destroy his capital investment!

I am already crossing Karad with Kolhapur 40 kms. behind me and it’s only 2 pm by my mobile-phone clock.

Gradually, the possibility of reaching Pune that very evening grows distinct. The way the road is looking, with me comfortably touching 80 kmph, I might just be able to sleep in my own bed tonight!

At one point that afternoon, I become part of a dream sequence. Just ahead of me are three, gleaming new bullets with three gleaming, sparkling, white clad, prosperous-looking farmers riding abreast across the wide highway. They are going at a uniform 70 with me overtaking them on the extreme right at a steady 80…..

4 Enfields, singing in unison and celebrating life with a thump and a vroooom…..

Some more p-c-p-s stops and a few hours later, I reach home. Even my dog was expecting me only the next day so she doesn’t not-bark as she usually does!

I am really fatigued and what follows is a reward….. a hot bath coupled with my wife’s ministrations and with some Old Monk thrown in, lovely home food and some great sleep. My snoring that night has a deep thump…thump beat says my wife! but I know she’s pulling my leg!

Ah! Bliss! Thy trigger is an Enfield ride.



HAPPY TRAILS
Ajit Harisinghani



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