||[Mar. 30th, 2008|03:57 pm]
The border traffic between Nepal and India turns out to be mostly bicycles and trishaws, local people just strolling between their two countries. I love relaxed borders. They're best when there are no computers involved. My favorite was Morocco to Mauritania: just a wooden shack in the middle of the desert, where the immigration man slept on a cot and got up to write your name in a book when you entered the country. Nepal was a little more organized, with a nice concrete building, but still strictly paper. And you had to look for the sign that said "immigration" and pull over. I could have just kept driving.
So a passport sticker for me, and then breakfast. I sat down at an omelette stand outside the immigration building and gestured for two eggs. A young Nepali named Darshan sat next to me and started chatting. First he asked where I was from, all of that. It got more interesting when I started asking him if there was anything to see between the border and Katmandu.
"Do you believe in miracles?" he asked.
I hedged. I hate questions like that. You can't say no without being a square. But we got that over with and then Darshan told me about a man who has been meditating in the jungle for three years with no food and water. Says the discovery channel even did a documentary on him, had cameras 24/7 for weeks. Gave me the name of the little town, and an address there.
"Do you know this man?" I asked of the name he'd written in my notebook.
"He is my father."
So I will go to Piluwa, I will stay with Darshan's father and I will hike into the jungle to see this holy man. If he's really there. At the very least I will get a chance to visit someone's home.
Just then a dour man in a beige suit approached and greeted Darhsan with "Comrade!"
"He's the head of the local comittee," Darshan explained. "We're Maoists." The Maosists in Nepal, you may remember, have been known to kill their way to power. The man sat down with us and eyed me suspiciously. Darhsan asked me if I was religious. Another question I hate.
"I have no religion. Or maybe all of them. I respect relgion, I just don't like people who say they're the only ones with the truth."
"Yes," said the Beige Maoist. "The truth is in here," and he patted his heart. "Peace comes from within." I stared at the strangely spiritual communist for some time; when I got up to leave he bid me a warm farefull and safe journey.
And I was on the road again, the road away from India and deeper into Nepal. Tall forest on both sides, obviously planted, but beautiful. A remarkably well maintained road, but then, they don't have that many. Highway 1, the main East-West artery of the small country. Bicycles, trishaws, women keeping the sun off themselves with umbrellas, men eating lunch at the side of the road. Little motor traffic. An age-old Asian paradise, a scene from centuries ago. This is what India was supposed to by like. My tires whirred in the bright sun and I rode at a contented pace, happy to be there. Every so often the forest opened into brilliant green rice fields. I love rice fields. They're beautiful.
Going 80 km/h down the straight and idyllic road, the bike suddenly started losing power. It felt as if one of the wheels was dragging hard. Did I blow a tire? Destroyed a rim? I just had the rear wheel rebuilt, after breaking four spokes on the potholes of my last leg. This wasn't supposed to happen. Fight. Keep it upright. Pull over to the side. Wow, it's really jammed. No wobble, but no control either. Like I'm dragging something on the ground. Brake. Is that worse or better? Lean, damint. Too late. Shit. Going down.
The bike slowly fell over onto the crash bars at about 20 km/h. I stepped off it. I don't recall how I broke my fall, but would later discover that I wasn't hurt in the slightest. That's what riding gear is for.
The engine cut out and the rear wheel spun helplessly...
Gasoline started leaking from the overturned tank in a steady stream. The cap apparently doesn't seal.
I can't lift the bike on my own. I know this. It looked undamaged, but it wouldn't look too good if it caught on fire.
Fortunately, a couple Nepali men saw me go down and rushed over. They helped me get the bike upright. The gasoline stopped flowing. Shaken, I pulled off my helmet and gloves. It was too damn hot to wear them when I wasn't moving. I dragged the bike over to the side of the road and put my helmet down. It rolled down the derm. Someone retrieved it for me. I took my sunglasses off and dropped them.
Then I looked at the bike. Both wheels seemed intact. But something was lodged between the front fender and the wheel. A tangled, smoking mass of black plastic.
Shit, that was the guard at the front of the fender, wasn't it? But how...? My bike had jammed on its own fairing and ground it to slag.
I wiggled the fender experimentally. It was loose. I pushed it down and the front edge caught the wheel. Oh. Shit. That's possible? I reached for the bolts holding it in place and discovered that they turned under my fingers.
"Take your bike to my house," one of the men was saying in a lovely accent. Not the thick English of South India. Not the lilt of North India. But a soft, modulated English. "You can check it there."
"No, It's okay. I'm a mechanic. A small mechanic." I smiled at the crowd, now half a dozen boys and men, curious and concerned. Still a little wobbly on my feet, still feeling the jittery after-effects of the adrenaline pulse, I unstrapped my tool bag and took out a shiny wrench. In twenty seconds the bolts were tight.
Vibration slowly disassembles a motorcycle. Tonight I am going to go over my bike and check every single bolt.
I mounted, got my gear on, waved, and was off again. Now without the little front fender guard. My bike looked a bit stunted. Kinda dampened the aesthetics. I lost an exhaust heat shield somewhere in Karnataka. Then the whole muffler exploded a day out from Calcutta, repaired into an ugly mess of welding. My right luggage rack has cracked. My machine is slowly falling apart.
This afternoon I watched my trip odometer roll over 4,000 kilometers. I've come a long way.
But the bike was fine and I sped between the fields and the forest once more, enjoying the sounds of the wind and the engine. The scenery is better here, I decided. More open land, less crappy little cinder-block towns. There are over a billion people in India, and they're all scrambling to join the middle class at the same time. The highways are turning into dirty strips of suburbia. Not so here, I reflected. Broad shaded avenues, not too much traffic, long empty swaths between towns. Everything I wanted in a motorcycle ride.
I came across another stretch of tall trees lining the road. Beneath some sat men enjoying their lunch. A narrow grassy field rand between the road the forest beyond. I found a tree I liked and pulled over, unstraped my lunch.
Sitting in the shade, drinking a bottle of water and eating cashews and dried apricots in the hot, still air. Watching people go by on bicycles. Surprisingly little litter for a third-world country. Suprisingly little traffic, a blessed relief from the fumes and the honking. Passersby waved, and I waved back. The apricots were tart in my mouth, the water cool. Heat haze shimmered around the cooling engine of my bike, my steed. No guidance but a 1996 map I'd stolen from the guesthouse in Darjeeling. I was glad to be alone and unsure of my destination.
Nepal! Katmandu! Names more magical than India! The Himalayas and girls riding bicycles with parasols and a monk in the jungle who doesn't eat, and yaks and sherpas and a kinder, gentler Buddhist peoples. They'll all be buying iPods soon enough, but until then, I roll on through the green fields. Today I felt like I stepped out of my old world, like I might discover anything at all. Today I fell in the best way. In so doing I lost my fear of falling, at least for a little while.