I don’t precisely recall the event, but I imagine the transition from the warm tranquility of the womb, through the birth canal to the cold, rubber-gloved hands of the masked doctor who delivered me must have been one of the harshest experiences of my life. The second most is doubtless the ejection from the serenity of the lush, walled compound of a fine hotel’s porte-cochère to the gritty cacophony of the streets of any large Indian city. One minute you are leading a blissful existence and the next, India is in your face.
It didn’t take too long to settle into a rhythm and after a few minor course corrections I pointed the front wheel south, jostling with the stream of all manor of vehicles like carpenter ants headed back to the hill.
National Highway 275 is like any regional connector: two lanes each way cluttered with an incessant mosaic of dilapidated shops, billboards and ‘hotels’ – cheap roadside food stalls where you can get your fill of good dal and roti for about a dollar.
What varies this ride from so many others over the past 10 years is that I am riding a ‘real’ bike – a Triumph Tiger 800 – instead of ubiquitous Royal Enfield Bullet 500 I have rented 10 times before. When I say ‘real’ bike, this is not to denigrate the humble Bullet: I have extolled its virtue as the perfect bike for India many times. But it cannot escape the fact that it is based a 1960’s design and the performance when you want to twist the throttle or yank of the brake is at about garden mower level.
The Triumph has two key distinctions from the Enfield. First is performance. I gleefully found myself riding at first-world speeds time and again only to almost ram into the back of an abruptly halted bus on one occasion, and into a herd of mules on another, violating my own Principle # 6 of Never Getting Comfortable. The other distinction is that it is distinct. Of the millions and millions of two-wheelers on the road in India, 99.999% of garden-variety 125cc Honda scooters. This distinctness brought back memories of when I rode here on my big BMW: every time I would stop, groups of men would congregate and ask how much it cost, or swarms of schools kids would encircle me and practice their English. I love when that happens..
The highlight of my day other than all of it was when I was passed by a shiny white Audi A6 – a hyper exotic car on the rural lanes of India – with the logo of the hotel I had just left embossed on its doors in gold. When we met up again at the next goat herder crossing they looked at me with a sense of utter befuddlement. ‘What’s he doing out there?’ was the message their eyes conveyed. ‘He’ll get killed!’ I thought of the air-conditioning and the plush leather seats inside their cocoon and then reflected on my sweaty, grimy face. ‘Nope, I’m fine. Very fine. But thanks for asking’, I thought.