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One two ka five Panchmarhi

When I was tired of living the rut, I dreamt of all the things I could have done instead. Such as run a small business on a hill station, maybe? Refreshingly chilled mornings, crows that caw instead of crowing, dewy leaves, flowers and fresh honey, evenings by the lake with friends to talk about how wrong it was and how good it had become.

So at seven one morning, fed up of the boss, the great political battles of the workplace, dusting, cooking, homework, craftwork and all other work, I kicked the starter on my Bullet. De-compress, kick, de-compress kick.

I am off to Panchmarhi, 200 kilometers south east of Bhopal. I need to find out if it holds business opportunities for persons like me.


Passing by


Could it be?

Someone like you could love

Someone like me…

Misrod, Mandideep and Obaidullahganj later, through to Hoshangabad. Seventy five kilometers down. Averaging the usual 50 an hour. Time for a chai-break. I wonder if she will start again as I turn the key to silence the engine, now hot and delirious with four-stroke passion.

Patti zyada, dudh kam, shakkar kam, kadak chai. The little boy who will grow old and numb serving highway heros, hands me a little glass of steaming dishwater. Afterwards, I pee into a heap of quarter bottles and hurriedly opened bhujia packets in the smelly mess behind the Dhaba. Back on the Bullet, she starts like nothing had ever happened and I am off.

Into the fourth gear, thumping at 80 kilometers to the hour, I am challenged by birds that tempt their fate and insects that aren’t so lucky. They smash into the visor of my helmet and cloud my vision till I am able to wipe off the mess with the back of my gloved hand.

Pipariya. Is there a mechanic, who does Bullets in this town, I ask a rider with two pillions on his Suzuki at a Railway gate? No one does Bullets anymore, the rider smiles. Curious, he wants to know why. Oh, nothing, just a bit of starting trouble, I say, making light of it. The Suzuki rider warms up and asks the usual: mileage? I don’t know, 30 or 35 maybe. Amused, the rider looks back at his pals and smiles again. He is perched on the tank to make space for them on his seat, like he’d thrust his hips one last time and waited for something nice to happen.

Blue towering mountains in the distance. Panchmarhi in sight and I am feeling hungry. Stop on a slope where it would be easy to re-start the bike by rolling downhill, I open the dabba with greasy rice with chilies, potatoes and onions. I wonder if the hot odours will attract snakes and langurs. After stuffing myself needlessly, I am ready to journey again, with two antacids in my front pocket, just in case.

The ghats are empty and desolate. The bike climbs smoothly and with ease. An hour later, I hit the first PCO in Panchmarhi. Got to call up the only people who would be sorry if I hadn’t made it that morning. With an eye on the LED counter next to the phone, I let them know that all is well. Speak to you later when it is dark and half rate, quarter rate, whatever.

I find my way into the bazaar and the waiters outside the Pandav Hotel usher me in because it has been a long time. The owner shows me a room with a ceiling that could be fun for people like the Adam’s family who like to imagine themselves in coffins every now and then. Instead, I settle for an extravagantly priced room with a view.

After a shower and a short while on the bed I ride to Dhoopgarh-the sunsetters paradise. The Forest Department man who issues entry tickets at the entrance to the National Park tells me that he lets in about 50-60 jeeps during peak days. Armed with this important statistic, I decide that I might as well see the mountaintop. So I climb up, sometimes in the second gear and sometimes in the first, thinking back about the time when I took the Yamaha RX 135 climbing in Pokhra, and how she did it all in effortless third. I climb down a little while later after having gazed around in routine wonderment. The Bullet cries with controlled agony as I descend in the same gear I climbed with.

On my way out from the Park, the Issuer of Receipts lets me onto his deepest held secret. I can do the entry to the Bee fall with the same ticket. So I reach the barrier from where one must walk some distance downhill to the waterfall. No bees and very little fall, I return to the top, suitably irritated and ask the timid forester at the barrier whether the shop that sold gaudy Uncle Chips packets and adulterated Pepsi at the bottom had the department’s permission. One glance at the Bullet and another at my Khaki trousers, he is shaking with fear. Did the shopkeeper offend you, sir, he asks, as he comes out from his booth. Seeing his guard fall, I launch an offensive and ask him why he doesn’t shut up the singing troupes from Nagpur that infest the park whenever it is ordained that snakes must be worshipped. I tell them to be quiet, sir, but they do not listen. I roar away, just in time to release in one huge gush, the big laughter that is welling up inside me!

Back at the Hotel, the owner tells me how much peak season tourists spend in Panchmarhi. After looking at complicated trends and the great western (Gujarati) and eastern (Bengali) differentials, we conclude that the average tourist spends Rs. 250 a day. Multiplied by the peak season tourist inflow (calculated) from the important statistic of Dhoopgarh, we arrive at a total turnover of a crore and seventy five thousand for the trade every year. Assuming that the margins for profit could be around thirty percent, the net earnings in Panchmarhi could work out to about fifty-two lakhs. And if you had to share that with all the Khalsas, Pandavs, Gufa Restaurants and Tourism Department Hotels then it clearly wasn’t worth the trouble.

So I decided that I had to return. I began my journey two hours after midnight because I like to finish journeys at seven in the morning. On the way, I rescued a bhajan singer-tramp who was lying on the roadside after being hit by a vehicle, but only injured slightly. Dumping him off at the police station in Babai, I managed to run the rest of the journey without any events.

At seven I was home. After saying hello to everyone, I slept until the afternoon. Then I made my presentation and we agreed that it had been worth it. Sometimes it is as important to cross the box as it is to tick it.

Ashim Chowla


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