The only thing that would keep my mind busy now was an exit plan from Delhi. I had walked up and down the colorful Main Bazaar on Pahar Ganj about half a million times, dug out every decent Royal Enfield mechanic I could find in Karol Bagh, witnessed a Tibetan hunger strike and visited the Tibetan refugee camp in New Delhi. A week of 42-46 degrees Celsius was starting to take its toll on me, so I had to head north, at the white mountaintops to find the breeze and the cool.
By now I knew everyone in Karol Bagh, and with two weeks to kill north, finding a Royal Enfield to rent was simply too easy. I strapped on the motorbike my backpack, geared up with a half-helmet, goggles and a bandana to cover my nose and month from the fumes, and off I was. It took nearly 2 hours to get out of a frantic dusty Delhi and into the highway, where the freedom was. The 46 degrees of the city started to wear off, but the battle had started.
The battle to stay alive on an Indian highway riding a motorbike, being at the rock bottom of the food chain in this jungle. Swaying trucks, speeding cars, onlooking monkeys scattered randomly at the sides to watch the accidents and the occasional elephant walking on the high-speed lane of a 3-lane highway. Cars often driving the highway the wrong lane, usually the slow one. Occasionally a car would drive the middle lane in the wrong direction. Then at sunset, the deaf old men and the blind old women would start getting out of the villages and crossing the highway, mostly wearing black. Add to the mix random dogs, cats, stray children, coconuts and other merchandise on the tarmac, potholes, rivers, diversions and road works. No lights, no signs, and everyone is on high beam, beeping their horn. It was just amazing.
The first night I spent in Chandigarh, a place so indifferent I have already forgotten by now. Built in a military fashion with perfectly aligned horizontals and verticals, the city is not divided in neighborhoods or suburbs, but in Sectors. “Cheap hotels in Sector 23″ I was told. This is Sector 19, very expensive”. How romantic I thought.
The morning after I was trying to figure out where the bolt that fell last night from my motorbike came off from. We always work in the assumption that a mechanical entity i.e. a motorbike needs for some strange reason every single bit of its components. There is a reason for everything, they say. And there I was, holding this big bolt that fell off last night and still my bike working perfectly well.
I kick-started the bike and rode off, my left foot falling on the ground together with the entire left footrest as soon as I’d started. It took a bit of improvisation, removing further parts that I judged were insignificant, re-screwing the fallen bolt by hand, and I had a footrest again. The second day of driving was equally tiring and scorching. The break and clutch levers of the bike were becoming so incredibly hot from the sun you could barely touch them, and I was getting blisters already from yesterday near the tips of the fingers. I stopped in a little pharmacy and taped most my fingers in paper tape. Wrapping the levers as well made a massive difference. I started climbing into the mountains and found myself in beautiful shady gorges, the rocks from the cliffs cut right over your head dangling from every corner. Lush vegetation, massive trees and a gorgeous river running below. We hit some fog, followed by some brief but heavy rain. The night was closing in on me and I was far from my destination, the small village of Kasol. It was getting cold so I decided to stop for the day in Bhuntar, a lazy little village at the base of the mountain, before the steep ascension to Kasol.
The following morning, I was about to finally meet my friends, Elinor and Misha who have been waiting for me for many days now. I had met Elinor 5-6 years back when I was in India last time, and I hadn’t seen her since. I kick started my temperamental motorbike on this beautiful sunny morning and started the most beautiful scenic ride on the way to Kasol. I had been thinking hard the last few days, of what name I should give her. A Royal Enfield is a very temperamental motorbike, she won’t start in the morning unless she wants to, and if you don’t drive her nicely you can be sure she will take her revenge on you. I had already shortlisted two names I really liked: Samantha, and Beate. I liked them both too much and I couldn’t decide, so at the end I went for Artemis, the bare-breasted goddess that was much like my motorbike. Temperamental, independent, vulnerable and immensely free.
Almost two hours up the curves and turns, Kasol seemed like my oasis after two full days of dodging trucks and getting smoked in black fumes from head to toes. It was a sleepy little village, with many travelers and many fun things to do. I could finally relax and start detoxing from years of stress in the western world.
I check in my guest house and first thing I bump into an Australian and an Israeli: “Hey man, are you going to the party?” the Israeli guy asks. My perfect hideout paradise bubble was about to burst. Just when I finally found my first unspoiled spot in India, totally untouched and engulfed in lush nature. “Yes big daytime trance party today, DJ’s coming from Israel, everybody’s coming, starts in an hour. Do you have ticket?”. My heart sunk. My paradise was getting taken over by crazy Israeli party organizers in Northern India, or I simply hadn’t gone far off the beaten track yet?
I strolled around the cute village, checking out the bakeries, the shops, the liquor store, the pancake place. They all looked sweet and welcoming. I took a spot by the bridge tasting on hot, deep fried momos. There was no sign of my friends and by talking to people, the best place to find my friends, was, ….the trance party.
Back at the hostel, Dan and Gill were happy to see me again. Two hours on, they were still there, smoking, drinking and playing cards, exactly where I left them. They were in a hurry to go. I succumbed to a “yeah, alright” and I agreed to join in. We spent another hour doing pointless things around Kasol before we got our act together and finally started heading to the party.
We were stopped by police, myself and Dan practically talking our way in – we both had no passports on us, and the cops wanted us to walk something like an hour to get our passports back from the hostel. We walked straight into a beautiful grassed area, surrounded by pine trees from both sides, then the far end being cut of by a mighty river flowing to the right. It was admittedly an awesome venue for a day party. Great music, great people, it was like a day in the playground. We spent most of the day there, making friends and having fun, dancing and drinking. Still no sign from Elinor and Misha. It was quite possible they weren’t there anymore. I had traveled three days to find them, and they were nowhere to be found.
I got an email from Elinor the day after, there were in a place not listed in any map or guide I had, so I thought to jump on the bike and start driving north as a day trip. It was an one-way street going up north, in rough gravel and dirt, so I figured it must be one of the villages heading north. The road was covered in puddles of mud from end to end, and driving through these slippery mini lakes was not easy – it took me nearly two hours to drive up near the end of the road. I was starting to get an approximate feeling of where Kalga was. And then I was thrown off from by-standing construction workers into dark, moist, badly lit 800m tunnels which most probably don’t even have an exit. Getting instructions from Indians is always an experience you have to take with caution. I once stopped at the end of a T-junction asking a group of 6 men for the way. 3 of them pointed left, and 3 right. Then they started arguing. Then somebody started arguing louder than the rest of them, and they all started to seem to agree. And then they all sent me the wrong way.
So I never entered the dead-end tunnels. I instead realized that there was no road to Kalga, and that I would have to park Artemis on the highest point and start trekking from there. After some 30′ uphill trekking I managed to find their guest house, and eventually Elinor and Misha. I only had 24 hours to see them before they leave, Elinor had to fly out of Delhi and she had to start on her way there. I decided to stay the night in Kalga, we had some amazing conversations and lots of laughs. I rarely meet such in-tune, beautiful couples like Elinor and Misha.
Authentic, loving, people that have put a lot of time in their personal and spiritual development. Not often you meet people in the real world with no neurosis, no illusions, no fear. They are two different people, with often different views, but they are there for each other in every sense of the way. I wish there were more such people around. It was a great night to spend with them.
The following day we had breakfast on the porch with our feet dangling down, warm morning sun rays showering our faces. They took the bus and I jumped on the bike. Down in Kasol it all seemed crazy suddenly. I packed up my stuff and met them for lunch. Last chats, last photos, last smiles and hugs. It felt sad to let them go so soon, but we were smiling the whole way through, we couldn’t stop. They gave me a present for me, and a present for Shiva. Shiva is a very special person I was going to spend a few days in Kalga with. I waved goodbye, cashed-in some travelers cheques for the next few days, and jumped on the bike with my backpack on the muddy way up to Kalga.