Saturday, June 16, 2007

There and back again - 3

Km 556, Panjim, 5:35am

Am still half asleep. Muscles and bones lodge complaints. The crawl-in-first-gear along the shimmering bluish-black of Mandovi gives some succour. The sharp tang of the wet morning air dispels sleep. The clouds look a dirty grey – I only hope it isn’t a sign of rain.

Some way on, there’s a small descent from flat ground, as the horizon opens up to reveal an enormous water body - the Zuari river, looking almost like an exit from a cave or a shell. The bridge is crossed in customary first-gear-crawl mode, even as the first shades of orange line the deep blue above.

Km 591, Madgaon, 6:20am

Refuel. Quick calculation indicates that mileage has shot up to 80. While I’m reeling from astonishment, I realize I’ve included the 30 or so kilometers of the engine-off-and-descend-ghat routine in my calculations. The mileage, then, turns out to be 77, which is still a personal best.

Km 627, 7:10am

Stop atop the first ghat. I’ve passed some Goan villages that clutch the highway’s hands on either side. There’s been a long, straight moist plain that has rushed headlong into this first ghat.

While you’d creep around the hills and go past them before, you go right through them here. You wriggle through the midst of what appears a clump of green from a distance. The ghats turn out to be thicker, deeper, more intense than the ones before – there’s an enormous green mushroom-shaped hill right across the ravine in front of me. Then there’s the usual effect of omnipresence of these ghats – with colossal green-tops spreading out, stretching on in every direction you care to see.

Km 651, 8:10am

The border, under a sunshade of green. There’re busy, bustling shacks that are checkposts. Almost abruptly, the ghats recede, but stay in the background. The road’s straight, fast, as it courses between fields that lie in the lap of the hills.

Km 662, The Kali bridge outside Karwar, 8:25am

The majestic Kali is vast enough to look like the sea has been in spate and flooded the land. Just as I begin the slow-crawl across the bridge, there’s a barricade – a police team checking everyone.

Cop looks at papers, writes down my name-address. He mentions that there’s been a burglary in town, and that the suspects got away on motorbikes, hence the checks.

“Where’re you coming from?”
“Poona.”
“Eh? Poona would be MH12. You’re MH14.”
“MH14 is Pimpri Chinchwad New Town, saar.”

I’m exasperated at having to explain that to the gazillionth man to ask the question. I am immediately issued a suspicious stare.

“Where’re you going?”
“Bangalore.”
“Why don’t you take the other highway?”
“Eh?”
“NH4. Kolhapur-Belgaum-Hubli-Bangalore. What’re you doing on *this* highway? You’d save 450km doing that one.”

Now, how does one explain that one is rather insane when it comes to travel? That one chooses routes because one has never seen some places, because one wants experiences one has never had before?

I try telling him, nevertheless – but I suspect it all comes out as a series of incomprehensible noises. By the time I leave, the cop must have been certain he’d cracked the burglary case.

Km 664, Karwar, 8:45am

After unsuccessfully attempting a restaurant-with-glass-fa├žade that tells me it doesn’t serve South Indian food, I weave amid the pedestrians in the town market to get to a sweet-stall-plus-restaurant.

Couple of idlis and dosas, and of course the obligatory caffeine intake. Every meal, every snack on this trip is so very satisfying, so fulfilling, it eases my stomach to be able to imbibe it all. This, even when the taste is rather bland. Perhaps it’s because it’s all enormously tiring, and my body welcomes every bit of energy it can get hold of.

Sometimes there’s this ‘what-am-I-doing-here’ feeling, I begin to wonder why I’m doing all this, what’s the point of what I’m doing – day after day of completely exhausting travel, of allowing snatches of sleep and food to be the only interruptions in continuous travel, of keeping my muscles and bones taut more than 12 hours a day, of keeping my eyes open and mind awake when the body commands them to retire to sleep, of knowing that all it’s going to take is one small mistake to end it all. I don’t quite have a definitive answer to why I’m here, why I’m doing it all. At least, not at this point in my experience. Maybe I just want to prove a point to myself. Maybe I just want to look cool because I’ve done something that you, gentle reader, will not have thought of doing.

Maybe I don’t need an answer after all – it’s enough that I am able to forget myself, able to dive completely into the profusion of nature, people, homes, of every shade, every flavor around me, able to allow the Sahyadris to fill me up with sensations that are new, refreshing and awakening, and exhaust, tire, spend, splurge myself completely.

Km 666, 9:30 am

The road in Karwar heads straight into a hill, and at the seemingly last moment, sidesteps it to creep around it – and before you know it, you’re between a cliff and the deep blue sea.

I was tempted to stop by for a splash, but figured the Om-shaped beach at Gokarna would be a better choice. Besides, a swim break right after one for breakfast may not be apt on a long 380-km day.

Km 705, 10:30am

Break. Beside a stream – the Gangavali. The green enormities on every side enclose me and the Gangavali in a warm embrace. That’s not a tight or claustrophobic hug, it’s a gentle cuddle still leaves us both unconstrained to flow on as we wish. There’s absolutely no human presence around – it looks like the ghat has been this way forever, remained unchanged over millennia, except perhaps when somebody must have come by to put a smear of tar across it.

What is astonishing is that there are so many such islands, oases of superlative beauty, of calm, of a this-makes-the-rest-of-life-worthwhile feeling. Just as amazing is the fact that these stand out amid what really is a 900km-long aesthetic experience. Each entity different from the other, each marvelous in its own distinct way, all collectively quite overwhelming.

Km 712, Outside Gokarna, 11:05am

Goddamit. The highway sidesteps the town yet again. The Om-shaped beach that I was so keen on a splash in, turns out to be some 12km off the highway, and I’ve no option but to skip it.

That’s the tragedy - although both the NH17 and the Konkan railway are commendable engineering feats for having found ways through and around the Western Ghats, their major shortcoming is that they give most towns a miss.

Km 758, Honnavar, 12:20pm

Slow crawl across the Sharavati – I look at the railway bridge that looked like it was crossing the sea when I took a ride upon it the last time. There’s a market going on upon the banks – the bank of the receded waterline is teeming with multitudes bustling about. I take a break upon the bridge.

Km 774, near Murudeshwar, 12:45pm

The rain stops, but the Sahyadris open up. It’s almost like a giant hand has been enclosing you in its palm, and has opened its fingers to let sunlight in. Motifs recur all the time on this trip – but they’re still engaging enough to completely hold your attention. The hills tuck themselves in behind the railway line in the distance.

Km 790, Bhatkal, 1:35pm

Lunch. Drizzle. Hoping.

Km 824, 3:15pm

The sea! The highway is a promenade, a walkway beside the crowded, lively waterfront. I instinctively slow to first gear and look beyond the crowds at the stretch of blue that dissolves into a different blue of the sky. The road goes on for quite a distance before swirling out of sight to the east.

Km 873, Udupi, 4:30pm

A rectangular arch with the name ‘Udupi’ inscribed in carefully calligraphed letters to my left. The highway skips this town too. I stop amid the drizzle at a one-room eatery – raving hunger is quenched by generous helpings of idli, dosas, bonda, and of course coffee. Yes, yes, I know it’s a very diverse and imaginative menu I’ve been having on this trip – thank you very much.

The bill comes to 30 bucks – I leave 60 bucks on the table and walk out. The waiter comes running after me, stuffs 30 bucks into my hand – “Saaar, you forgot to take your change.”

Km 911, Suratkal, 6:10pm

I’ve been driving in the rain since Udupi – I try pushing my helmet’s visor up, but the drops sting. It would be much more fun if I didn’t have the killer private buses to sidestep and evade. Still the jacket and kneepads reassure one.

The road and the surroundings get red around the Mangalore Port trust – there’s dust all around. There’s grey too – it’s an industrial area. Traffic around me congeals slowly until we’re all in a traffic jam – for one half of the highway is blocked for repairs. The NHAI attempts to comfort me with a board that reads “Today’s pain, tomorrow’s gain.”

My aching wrists and wailing back and the fact that it’s nearly sundown don’t make it any easier. We all crawl away to glory – barely managing 20kmph.

Km 930, Mangalore, 7:15pm

Finally. After an age of inching on, the city shows up. The roads are of concrete and not tar, so as to resist the rains better. The surface is a comfort after the agonizing ride of the last hour or so.

Km 933, 7:25pm

My hotel! I fling bag and helmet, throw self upon bed, and sink into very badly needed sleep. My stomach had been pleading for nutrition, but my eyes were clamouring for respite too. I pick a pre-dinner nap, for it is the more pressing need – there’s 350km to do tomorrow. Now, does this qualify as masochism yet?

Auggh, dammit, I need sleep, I need food, and there seems so little of it all, there seems so little time to grab it all. I need a full day’s rest, and there’s no way I’ll get it. I also need new muscles and ribs. And wrists. And knees.

2 comments:

Arun said...

"Sometimes there’s this ‘what-am-I-doing-here’ feeling, I begin to wonder why I’m doing all this, what’s the point of what I’m doing – day after day of completely exhausting travel, of allowing snatches of sleep and food to be the only interruptions in continuous travel, of keeping my muscles and bones taut more than 12 hours a day, of keeping my eyes open and mind awake when the body commands them to retire to sleep, of knowing that all it’s going to take is one small mistake to end it all. I don’t quite have a definitive answer to why I’m here, why I’m doing it all. At least, not at this point in my experience. Maybe I just want to prove a point to myself. Maybe I just want to look cool because I’ve done something that you, gentle reader, will not have thought of doing."

How about inspiring fellow bikers? Or inspiring a would-be-biker? Does that mean anything?

Thank you for this blog.

Shamanth said...

[Arun] Thank you! Glad you liked this enough to resolve to go out and do some traveling!

Most of my friends have received frequent you-should-learn-biking-and-go-travel sermons too!:-).