Saturday, September 27, 2008

You can only plan a plan

Ride from New Dehli due north to Leh. Then backtrack a little bit and swing west before heading south to the Taj Mahal and back to New Dehli. Cross through disputed lands and wave to Pakistan(or India depending on one's point of view) while avoiding folks with Karishnakovs. The route takes one over the highest driveable pass on the planet and past one of the seven wonders of the modern world. Sounds simple, right?

We need to complete the first leg of the trip before the fifteenth of October or before snows close the road for the season, which ever comes first. And we have to do it while avoiding altitude sickness and the other dangers(avalanches, mudslides, yetis, etc.) that come with riding a motorcycle through the Himalayas.If we happen to get into Leh and the road closes while we are there, that's where we will spend the winter. Should be easy to find work if we get caught on the wrong side of the pass. I'm sure there's great need for arborists, patrollers, rec department managers, fish guides, and BBC cameramen.

Some reports indicate that a fifty-year flood complete with landslides may have closed parts of the road prematurely and we won't even get the opportunity to be snowed in for the winter. If that turns out to be true, ah well none of us has been to India before so it'll all be new and cool.

The disputed lands will offer their own set of challenges, both social and environmental. Some folks don't look favorably on peoples passing through their territory and fun words like hostage and kidnap come to mind. The most popular rifle ever made keeps an uneasy peace while men in opulent buildings thousands of miles away debate lines on a map. Water and petrol are hard to find.

We landed in New Delhi and after a quick trip through customs, went to find our transport. Oodles and oodles of Indians offered to help us with our bags. By help I mean take the carts from our hands and push them out to the van for us. I declined to let someone who's help I did not solicit push my gear to Shiva knows where when we already had transport arranged.

Once at the van, the crowd of twenty or so demanded gratuitys for work they not only did not perform but were specifically told not to do. We tossed most of our gear up on to the top of the van where it was secured with one piece of frayed cord about twice the diameter of a spaghetti noodle while they tried to figure out why we weren't tipping them.

One piece of cord for twelve bags. "Back up your back up" probably isn't heard much round here. Seven Americans didn't fit so well in the little van so our driver acquired another taxt to follow us to the hotel. A horn honked at us incessantly and I could see the angered driver. After two or so minutes waiting for our driver to return, the "dollar waiting on a dime" driver hopped into our vehicle, fumbled around for the parking brake, engaged the transmission and backed our load the hell out of his way without some much as a word or nod to our presence.

We had the typical scare the shit out of you ride from the airport. Pretty excited to drive a motorcycle round Delhi. The rest of the guys want to get out of town ASAP but I think I may stick around and cruise the strip just for the hell of it. There's plenty to see and wonder about right around town. Why do the commercial vehicles paint "stop" below the left brake light? How does he steer with a child on the handlebars? Is everyone pushing the horn with wild abandon or does it actually mean something?

Our rooms are clean and well-kept and there seem to be three Indians for each of us. Water? Right away sir. You want to eat even though the restaurant is closed? No problem. You would like to enjoy a beer on the lurker deck and watch the street folk cook over the trash fire and wonder if that rat is going to wake up the old dude in the striped shorts sleeping on the sidewalk while you wait for your dinner? I will send a runner to hire a tuk-tuk and return with seven beers immediately.

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