A loud, busy evening, but I was forlorn. And then suddenly I smiled faintly – that evening’s social do made this ride-of-realization happen.
I’ll be a bit candid and share something personal here – the past few months haven’t really been going too well for me. And there was this phase of silence and aloofness that had enveloped me, and even in social gatherings, I’d prefer to be left alone. A peace of mind and introspection sort of thing, you say? No, far from it – I just wanted to be alone for no rhyme or reason. In an evening that I had been forced to attend out of obligation, I mostly either sipped the finest lavender from Italy or gulped down the best of what Germany brews. And then I walked onto the patio.
It was cold, serene and calm. I went around the place – feeling the softness of the flowers on my fingers, and the chill of the zephyr run up my spine, which made me breathe deep. I sat at the edge of the patio, gazing into the horizon through the gazebo. Goldie – the Golden Retriever – she slightly rubs her neck against my leg, letting me know of her ever-so-charming presence and I pat her while she comfortably seats herself down next to me.
The Gulmohars that wrap the entire place sway with the wind. The placid dance of the trees to the music made by the flowing wind was a captivating show – better than the Jazz playing inside, entertaining the chit-chatting, high-flying ragtag-and-bobtail of this urban landscape. The chirping of the sparrows rose above the blaring speaker units. I leaned back against the wall, closed my eyes and smiled. I’d been wanting to get away from this ‘anarchy’ for a long time, and there was that one moment that I’d waited to come to me – the moment when I had a clean canvas in my head and I’d go mad painting it with whatever I wanted. I felt free. And then I opened my eyes – I had my answer.
I’d been in this concrete jungle far too long, and wanted to get out of it. I wanted to seek solace.
I’ll be as frank as I can be. I’ve worked with people of varied natures and interests – people who’re older, younger, people who’re jovial, uptight, and even outright unruly. I’ve experienced the entire spectrum of human characteristics through my professional climb so far, and I have no qualms in stating in a public medium that I have the best set of work-mates here, rather than anywhere I’ve been so far. And it’s time now to use the age-old cliché, we’re more of a family – but I can’t help it, we truly are. And my mates were to be my companions in helping me achieve the direction that my heart had given me.
Sadly, Shahwar had to leave for his hometown in the North East, and our headcount was reduced from five to four. Avinash, Jared, Kapil and I – we’d be riding while Prithvi would drive alongside us. The mood was set, and we chalked out a route. We’d cruise down some decent roads, get ourselves in the lap of the mighty Himalayas and explore the beauty of the smaller towns and villages, as well as the people who inhabit them.
I’d ridden the Hyosung ST7 back when it was launched in the Indian market, and remembered it being a very comfortable motorcycle. So, I made a couple of calls – but, much to my dismay, the ST7 wasn’t in the best shape for the kind of ride we had planned. So Jared – before I could even manage to a sigh of disappointment – struck it off the list. Then, I had a brainwave, and made a quick call to get a couple of Suzuki’s arranged. And, sure enough, in no time, everything was
sorted. We got a strikingly attractive Intruder 800 in shining blue, and the Bandit 1250 – thank you Suzuki! We needed two more bikes. And this is where my favourite people in the motorcycle industry bailed me out – Honda gave us the CB1000R and the VFR.
The entire process, though, cost us an entire day and we had to re-think our route. Instead of going upwards of Rishikesh to some virgin lands, we now had to find a place that would allow a three-day motorcycling trip. Nothing on Larry Page’s brilliant invention, Google, resulted in anything that got our hearts beating excitedly - and that’s when Avinash popped in with the big one via a text message – “why don’t we go to Balawali?”
I hadn’t even heard of Balawali, leave alone having visited it. Google was equally clueless about it as well, and threw some random, irrelevant data as I worked my fingers on the laptop’s keys. Anyway, the beauty of places that are unknown is that they offer a pure and natural state of existence, and are alive with many gifts of nature. Balawali isn’t much different. There’s a sheer abundance of green wherever you look, and the locals are completely at ease with their lives.
I see a lean, tiny silhouette in the distance, just as the sound of horsepower wakes up this sleepy town. As we ride closer to our abode for the next two days, the silhouette begins to display a slight gleam on dark skin. A simple white dhoti and kurta is all that seemed bright about this humble old man whose weak frame was supported by the laathi he used. We – the four bikers – ride right up to him, and I stop. I take my helmet off and there’s a bright, welcoming grin on the old man’s face. We don’t exchange words, only smiles. A proper traditional salutation – Namaste – makes this man touch my head with his trembling hands to bless me and there’s a rush of warmth that I feel easing every paining muscle and joint in my body. It was as if time stood still for those few moments. I raised my head, smiled again and rode away gently – feeling the cool air meandering though my hair. Just a few yards ahead was the house that we’d be staying in, and my mates were waiting for me, wearing an expression of surprise, as if asking me – who was that man? I had never seen him before this day, yet his smile made me feel as though I was one of their own.
The 200 kilometer ride from Delhi to Balawali hadn’t made us dreadfully tired, so we decided to go and check out the place – but not until we finished filling up our stomachs with some sumptuous food that awaited us inside. Pritha, Avinash’s wife, and Reva, Pritha’s cousin, had also come along in their Pajero. They’re working on a (much needed) project of embedding traffic sense into people. Their first challenge is ensuring people use the horn as infrequently as they can. On the way, they took video captures of regular motorists – some of them confessed to honking incessantly, while some simply said they’re traffic law worshipers who had never honked. Bloody liars!
Before lunch, Pritha and Reva told us that the whole of Balawali was, in essence, established by their great-grandfather – Late Pandit Vishnudatt Ji. He was a genius who refused a government job to work towards, and realize, his dreams. The glass factory that he established now lies in ruins, but its remains tell a massive tale of the once bustling industrial unit that it’d been, and also of Pandit Ji’s forward thinking.
Reva recalled her early days with great enthusiasm, and pointed to the courtyard where there used to be many family gatherings and celebrations. She insisted that we visit the age-old railway barrage and also the sandbanks of the river Ganga. But, before all that, Avinash forced us into the main hall that contained the sitting and dining areas. As we entered, I didn’t quite get the excitement, but then he simply asked us to turn around. What we saw made us use a certain f-word with different modulations – there was a massive Gharial adorning the wall of the hall.
Now, I admire the whole Crocodilia family for their sheer abilities, but seeing one so close is a completely surreal experience. Its eyes were a mix of evil green and grey, and it seemed to be staring straight down at me – waiting for the right moment to rip me apart. This particular Gharial was shot long before the species were declared critically endangered – so it’s actually surprising to see how well preserved it was, even after all these years. I couldn’t quite eat well after seeing it, so we headed out – to the Ganga, and then the industrial ruins.
The Ganga that millions, very religiously, dip themselves into at Hairdwar is not the Ganga that I experienced at Balawali. It wore a natural pale green colour, which is a far cry from the dirty brown that the Ganga is reduced to in more commercial (read holy) places. The gentle sound of the current, married to the warm saffron-and-yellow tone of the setting sun was the perfect setting – four bikes, their four riders, mesmerizing white sand and the flowing holy waters of the Ganga. It was just perfect.
The next day we went to the factory ruins, which harked back to its magnificent days of glory. As multiple feet moved from one shed to the other, there was a faint visual being formed in my head – as if I was there, in the middle of it, with the machines running and the smell of oil and chemicals enveloping the whole compound. I had gone back into time, and didn’t want to come back. But then, it was time to leave.
With a sense of satisfaction, we started back – five companions, five friends and their respective steeds. As for the steeds themselves – all our motorcycles were equal in their own right. They’d each done everything that these bikes weren’t designed to do, and they did it pretty damn well. This wasn’t supposed to be a product review, but it was planned as an experience and the bikes were central to it. It wouldn’t have been possible without the bikes, and it would surely not have been as much fun. The Suzuki Intruder and Bandit were silken smooth, the laid back character of the Intruder 800 was loved by one-and-all, and it was surely the most comfy bike of the group – obviously, owing to its cruiser genes – while the Bandit was an effortless sports naked that was just as much at home on the open, flowing road, as it was on the odd beaten track. The two Hondas – we’ve had a massive romance with them ever since they were launched. The VFR is a massive bundle of power, and yet is perfectly comfortable for those long journeys, while the surprise of the pack was the CB1000R, which was as agile as a rabbit and the most nimble to handle.
With the VFR and the Intruder at the opposite end of the motorcycle touring spectrum, with the two nakeds (CB1000R and the Bandit) slotting themselves neatly in between – we couldn’t have asked for anything more. Or could we? On that thought, I sign off – with a smile still on my face.