The alarm rang at 5.30, and I was up. Today I needed no cajoling, no customary 5 minutes more and definitely no excuses for a while more of lazing. I was up & I was ready for the expedition.
There was something different about the way my mind worked that morning, like it was more expectant, more anxious and definitely more jittery. l felt a warrior heading out for a battle and the feeling carried through me while donning the knee guards, high ankle boots and gloves. Loading my luggage on the motorcycle made me think of saddling a stallion.
My friends…No, my brothers, Lalu, Chechu, Jaggu Makki and Pratik were waiting to say their byes. That was the moment I profoundly realized that I will be away from everyone I shared my world with. I now got the sense of what I will miss for the next few weeks, fortnights or months… I didn’t know when I would come back or even if I would come back at all. The possibilities were endless but the result was just one…. Ride!! A couple of suttas, some playful insults & warm good bye hugs later, I was off with more than 70kgs load on my bike towards the road leading to Ahmedabad!!
But Ahmedabad was just the destination, to reach a further destination.
Zipping across the busy streets of my town, I crossed the usual roads of Ulhasnagar, Kalyan, Bhiwandi Naka, Thane, Ghodbunder Road and reached the junction of the highway which leads to Ahmedabad As I saw the National Highway #8 near Fountain Hotel stretching in front of me, I felt this is where my ride has truly started. Long stretches of 4-6 lane highways found me and my bike in cruise mode. I keept my throttle steady on the top gear and while the engine hummed at 2500 rpms I was comfortably cruising on the Golden Quadrilateral at a speed of 90-95kmph. Normally I am a hasty rider who rides fast at 4000 rpms on a Royal Enfield but today was different. I skipped my love for speed & kept the throttle steady at 1/5th of its opening to enjoy the ride & the passing scenery around. September being the month of monsoon I was greeted with pastures of green on either sides of the road and some cool morning breeze, hitting me gently, made me comfortable. I realized my Bucephalus (My Bike) was now my house and this was the start of my transition from a static concrete structure to a moving, roaring motorised stallion. Had I got adapted, I didn’t quite know but I was getting comfortable and feeling cosy in my new home.
I spent the morning enjoying the pleasant ride, taking pit stops every 100 odd kms for a chai or a sutta. As time passed, the temperature rose and I religiously kept myself cool and light having sugarcane juice and coconut water on the way and avoiding solid foods as much possible.
At around 3 in the afternoon, the heat was on its peak and I was exhausted and thirsty. I pulled up on a road side hotel to have a treat of buttermilk and rest for a while alas I didn’t stop at 1 glass & ended up gulping 4 of them one after other. A brief break of 15 minutes and I was back on the road to take my ride further. After riding for another couple of hours, I started feeling drowsy on the move just 10kms before reaching Ahmedabad city. Having known the hazards of sleeping while riding and driving, I pulled up on the side of the highway to stop at a small tea stall. They had a roof made of tarpaulin. The shopkeeper guy offered me some shev and water and asked me to rest for a while or take a short nap and I couldn’t find myself a better place than khatiya below 2 huge neem trees.
The kindness and a feel good factor gave me a high and I thanked the shopkeeper guy and left the stall after half an hour to ride through the road bypassing Ahmedabad and heading towards Mehsana and further to Palanpur.
The day passed from dawn to dusk to night; and this was my first encounter with riding at night, in Gujarat on a highway where I travelled for the first time. It was 7.30 and dark when I felt, I should call it a day. I was trying to find a suitable place where I can arrange my accommodation, when I stopped at this dhaba for some tea and snacks and there were these 3 gentlemen who served me pakoda and chai on the famous khatiya. Tummy full and contented, I enquired if there is any arrangement for a dhaba ahead where I can put up for the night. They willingly asked me if I was ok to put up at their place. I readily agreed, and just becoz I was there that night they didn’t go home to sleep. They arranged 3 more khatiyas alongside mine and said in their local accent “aaj hum yahi soyenge aapko koi taklif nahi hoga, aap befikar raho”(tonite we will sleep here too, you need not worry about anything). The old man arranged for a danda (a stick) and kept beside his khatiya just incase it is needed.
We had a good conversation going for an hour or so. Later when I refused dinner as I was sufficient with apples, one of them named Ajay Ba served me chapati and rice with lots of milk and said “tum bhooke soyenge toh hume neend nahi aayegi” (If you sleep hungry, even we won’t be able sleep). The love and care made it one of the tastiest meal I’ve ever had. The night started getting pleasant as the temperature dropped and after riding for more than 650 kms in the whole day since I started from home I was sufficiently tired, I fell asleep without knowing when while talking to them. It was a cold night, and I was comfortable sleeping under the sky facing the million stars above which twinkled and recited their own story. When I woke up at 5.30, to leave on my journey, they served me hot tea and asked me to come back someday again. I promised them and told them if I have to pass by again, I will surely be a guest to them once more and enjoy their boundless hospitality.