I left the Shahbad Government Resthouse at dawn and turned onto the still empty highway. Sometimes you were supposed to understand, without warning, that you had to go to the other side of the divider, going against the flow of (non-present) traffic, because a landslide or some other problem blocked the side of the road I should be on.
A little later, slowed down for a herd of cows taking their morning walk – I think around 200 cattle, cows and water buffalo, covering all four lanes of the road and its shoulders. Once again I regretted not having a fast way to take photographs.
At Kishanganj another herd, a little smaller. Stopping to let them pass, I noticed a tea stall and sat down for breakfast. Nice hot chapatis and dal, followed by aloo palak. When leaving (taking my time, as more often happens, to get the engine going) someone pointed at my rear tire, and led me to the puncture wallah next door to put some air in. Or maybe a lot. Crossed the surprisingly dry Parvati river and rode into Rajasthan.
What to do when your tire blows at 90 km an hour? Hold on, tell yourself to take it easy, let it swing but let it slow down too. It’ll be okay. Then I remembered hearing about using your clutch being a great way out of certain emergency situations.
The one at hand was not one of those situations, it turned out – without the back wheel being gently slowed down by the engine, I lost control and was launched headfirst onto the road. A man from the other side came to me, and described how he’d seen me swerve for some time to yet another man. We put the bike on the divider. Someone went away to find a puncture wallah, and we waited. When he came, he took the rear wheel out and replaced the old tire – fully torn, he told me off for having such a poor quality tire – with my spare one – wrong size, please change as soon as you get to Kota. Unfortunately, when we put the bike back on the road, the hub of the front wheel turned out to be broken. With the tension in the spokes gone, the rim was bent so badly it rubbed the front fork legs. I very slowly rode to the village a kilometre back, the fact that it was against the flow of traffic completely unimportant. We loaded the bike onto a small truck that appeared, and after I said goodbye to my new friends, we were on our way to Kota. Halfway, I moved to the bed of the truck to hold the shaking and rattling bike. Eye to eye with magnificent camels when we came to the town. Many shades of deep brown, and their fur shaved in beautiful geometric patterns. Lots of triangles on the ones I saw. And those faces, pointedly indifferent, completely disinterested rather than arrogant. Still, I was convinced the one I was next to at a red traffic light was contemplating spitting at me.
I left the bike at the Royal Enfield dealership in Kota and one of the boys rode me to the nearby mall. I limped around in the airconditioning for a while, had an acceptable dosa in the food court and sat down for a double espresso at the always slightly disappointing Café Coffee Day. Now that I sat down, with nothing to do, I realised how tired I was.
After the bike was done, I found my way out of town, getting to the highway after only a few wrong turns. But what happened to my lovely NH 76? A slab of tarmac in the sand, unclear edges and only just wide enough for two directions of traffic. Traffic which consisted of slow and loud black diesel smoke spitting trucks. The image was probably nice – late afternoon light, the picturesque trucks, through a dry landscape of sand dunes and sturdy bushes.
Helped by two friendly guys on a bike that I could almost keep up with, I merged onto the main highway and rode on, relieved to be on my way again. Exotically echoing the cattle this morning (a long time ago now), a herd of camels cross the road, silhouettes against the deep twilight in the west. Time to find a place to stay. Which turned out not to be too readily available, I had to continue another 45 kilometres to get to Bijolia, I was told. Bijolia was nice enough though, a big room on a large courtyard full of cars and bikes and building materials. A group of Sikh men cooking a delicious-smelling potato concoction. The square outside the hotel had bicycles and pigs and poha! One of my favourite breakfasts, that I used to have daily when staying in Pune for a few months, a few years back. It’s yellow rice, pounded in some way. Onion chili garlic and served with coriander and these deep fried vermicelli they use for snacks here. Two plates of that, a few cups of good tea, and ready to retire.