This happened during the fortnight before Leh was totally cut off due to heavy rains in 2010. We had gone on a trek to Shingola Pass and were returning by jeep from Padum to Leh. Rains had been very heavy then and all the mountain streams were in spate. Anyone, who has been to that area, knows that the streams cut across the road in several places and when they are in spate the road becomes practically impassable.
We were stuck in one place behind a long stretch of vehicles thanks to one such mountain stream which was roaring across the path rolling huge boulders as though they were mere pieces of wood. A bunch of bikers went past us and were assessing the possibility of crossing the stream. People were advising them against the idea.
One of them, however, started to cross the stream. It was difficult going but he was managing it well. Suddenly, a boulder on the edge of the road was dislodged and rolled aside. All the dammed water behind it fell down like a roaring cataract and hit the bike. The water probably also washed the ground from under his bike. One moment the bike was edging towards the other side and the next it suddenly toppled over and rolled down about twenty feet.
Miraculously, the biker was uninjured and managed to wade over to the other side. Immediately after that the other bikers, including an Indian couple on one bike, started crossing over one after the other and managed it without mishap. They helped their fellow-biker retrieve his bike and went roaring on ahead leaving the rest of us behind to await the floods to recede before continuing our journey.
That would have been the end of the story and my only brush with the biking community but for the fact that we ran into the biking couple in a bar at Leh. My friend was a biking enthusiast, though a city version. We introduced ourselves with a reference to that incident and sat with them.
“Biking on highways is a great feeling. But to someone who rides a motorbike in the mountains that is tame. Yes! You do get a rush out of speed and the thrill of controlling this powerful monster between your legs. But, if you want to really experience motor-biking you should try the mountains”, said the man.
His conversation, thereafter, was laced with driving over impossible trails with joy riding on one shoulder and death on the other. I would have thought of it all as impossible tall tales but for the fact that I had myself witnessed that hair-raising episode across the mountain stream.
“You ask me about risks? You feel more alive when you flirt with death. When you are on the bike and the smallest mistake will cost you your life; when you have every sense attuned to the bike and the road; when you know what the bike will do almost before it happens; when the bike feels almost like a part of you…that is when you are really and intensely alive!” There was almost a mystic look on his face while his mind was reliving his experiences.
For a moment there I felt like someone who was locked out of paradise and was looking in enviously! I gave myself a shake to get rid of the feeling. Anyone who is passionate about what he is doing and does it with every fiber of his being is a person who is living in Paradise. Biking is one of those few activities which human beings get very passionate about.
“To hear him talk it would appear as though he were welded to his bike! Like the Centaurs – half-man, half-horse – of Greek mythology, he is half-man half-bike” said his wife with an indulgent laugh.
He smiled and said, “I’d better feel like that or I may not survive on some of the trails that we ride!”
The conversation then shifted to bikes. After a loving encomium to the Bullet, my friend and the biker were discussing Hayabusa, Ducati, Harley Davidson and the like with a wealth of loving detail over their various component parts. I was getting a glaze in my eyes which caught the eye of the woman.
“Start the bikers on bikes and you will hear more passion than lusty teenagers would expend on describing Angelina Jolie or Jessica Alba”, said the woman with a laugh.
“A woman is just a woman but a good bike is a ride”, said the man with a provocative look at his wife and earned a sharp elbow in his ribs. It seemed like this was a regular bit of give-and-take and his wife didn’t seem to take any serious umbrage.
“Motor-bikers ought to come with a warning. Anyone who marries them can only be their second love – and a distant second at that”, said the woman.
“Lucky for me that you took to biking, then”, said the man.
“Lucky for us! I couldn’t have lived with such a demanding mistress, otherwise!”
A lucky couple all round! To have a passion and to indulge in it is not given to everyone. To share a passion with your significant other should count as the ultimate in good fortune!
I have never been a motor-biker nor, at forty-seven, was I likely to start. But, for a moment there, I badly wanted to do one mountain trip at least on a motorbike. Well! On the pillion, maybe….someday….