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JKR 940

Written on: Saturday February 9th, 2008

A journal entry from: ASIA PART II

Hampi, Karnataka

Shambu Guesthouse

There?s no better way to be at one with the road. With the earth beneath you, the wind swathes you and the sun sears into your back. This is how Jonathon described riding. To him it was a special type of meditation - this was his Zen.

In India, there is only one choice of motorbike to ride. The Royal Enfield Bullet, when dry, is a 359-pound handmade machine. Every Indian male dreams of owning an Enfield, its classic cruiser style, unchanged since 1955. It is a workhorse built for India?s appalling road infrastructure and even from an unschooled standpoint I am still able to appreciate it?s craftsmanship. The Enfield has a very distinct sound; anyone can tell it apart as it makes its way down the street, the thump of its exhaust system cuts through the cacophony of India?s everyday noise.

The distance from Arambol, Goa to Hampi, Karnataka is approximately 300kms; the ride could easily be done within a day. Jonathon had already made the journey several months back and was confident doing a repeat trip, although girl, guitar and extra baggage made this trip that much more exciting. Three days later, three punctured tires, a night in a beach hut and another in barn, we arrived safely at our destination. The journey was short but it made for an unforgettable adventure.

Our early morning departure was kyboshed by late night eats from the previous night and morning chai. Jonathon and I packed and secured the bike, did some last minute repairs and we were finally on the road. Shortly after we reached Panjim, the capital city of Goa, we dealt with tire puncture #1. We unloaded the bike and I stayed with our packs while Jonathon headed to the nearest tire-wallah in town. We didn't continue on much further, as we decided to overnight in Palolem, Goa?s supposedly most idyllic beach. Our plan was to get settled before sundown and take advantage of an early start the next day. It was a memorable night, we had a delicious dinner at Casa Fiesta and delighted in the bottle of Indian red wine that we sneakily snuck in and drank out of martini glasses that Fabio, our server, had provided for us. The following morning, we left Palolem and its packaged tourists behind and not to my surprise but it was much later than we anticipated. By the time we set out, the sun was high in the sky, blaring down and quickly heating up the pavement but the winds made the ride pleasant. We were headed inland now. The ride through Goa was nice, it was verdant and tropical, unlike the India that I have seen thus far, still in its dry season.

Breaks were randomly scheduled, our appetite the boss, we'd pull over and park our shining steed and hit the nearest street stall for a shot of chai and deep fried pakodas. The Indians would quickly gather around as if they were irresistibly drawn to us like moths to a flame. It was a predictable interaction each time and their twenty-four questions were always the same, we received stares, smiles, head-bobs and gestures of all sorts. Snapshots would be taken from personal mobiles, some contrived, others stolen and then the men and children would fall in line to meet with us and shake our hands. The novelty of watching foreigners eat with their hands never wore off and it attracted both young and the old from down the street. In India, there is no discreet. JKR! JKR! Woe to the machine and the man who came riding in on it! Please note that I have not embellished any part of the aforementioned.

We cruised through one dirty, dusty Indian town after another and alongside the highway that was made crowded by everything from A-to-Z. From monkey, cow and goat herder to pulled-carts, tractors and those glorious goods carrier trucks. Punctured tire #2 occurred shortly after the sun went down in what seemed like the middle of backcountry. While Hubli, the next nearest city, was only 20km away, it wasn't an option to leave me with our packs on the side of the pitch dark highway while Jonathon attempted to go get the tire fixed. A flickering light in the distance was our only hope and to make a long story short - a rural village family took us in for the night and offered us the floor of their barn. The experience was rustic, in a most special way, in that I am humbled by their generosity when they have nothing to give, yet provoked by their ignorant actions when they helped themselves to our belongings.

The barn was dank and cold, the stone floor felt hard and uncomfortable, the air reeked of feces and urine. It was a sleepless night with all sorts of adversities keeping us awake - the incessant jingling of cowbells, the kitten?s death meow from hunger and lack of affection and the wife rising at 4 a.m. to make preparations for the day. Morning ultimately graced us and Jonathon set out on what he would soon find out to be quite the endeavor.

We stopped in Hospet before reaching our final destination. We needed to refuel the bike and our bodies. Hampi and the 15th-century Vijaynagar city became one of the largest Hindu empires in Indian history. Up until now the village of Hampi and its ruins remain very sacred and because of its religious significance meat is scare and alcohol is banned, so we cooled down with a couple bottles of Kingfisher beer before we hit the road again. It was dark by the time we rode into Hampi but already I could feel its magical energy. Jonathon affirms that the feeling stays with you and this is what makes Hampi so special. It was an amazing adventure riding on the back his Jammu-Kashmir motorbike, one that I'll never forget, but India does that and for me it will always be a favorite to tell over and over again.