20-Jan-2006 -- The journey to 25 North 76 East brought me back together with biker buddy and fellow cp hunter, Scott Dow. Scott has logged two other Indian cps with me in the last year (28N 73E and 32N 76E). A cp hunting fledgling, Elizabeth Ashby Semple, also joined us. I like to call her Betty; most call her Ashby. Eccentric, witty and excruciatingly positive, Ashby is good people.
Since our first serious motorcycle outing about a year ago, many of my biker friends and I have fallen in love with exploring India on bike. The group—mostly teachers at the American Embassy School in New Delhi India—was formerly known as the Delhi Death Riders. The recent name change, Chasing India, hopes to connote a bit more sensitivity, friendliness and, perhaps, caution. The trips have developed into the following: research and arrange a spot near enough to Delhi to reach by rail; book part of a palace or mansion (usually a vestige of the British Raj converted into an upscale hotel); have our bikes trucked to that spot; and, ride the overnight train to join the bikes. By doing this, we avoid having to negotiate Delhi’s twelve million inhabitants in exiting the city and can get to countryside riding post haste. Still a bit cumbersome, the trips continue to improve as we tweak out the glitches and get better at organizing the excursions.
After Hurricane Mike Bollom organized our last trip to Himachal Pradesh, I decided to assume some of the burden by taking over the planning of the next cycle trip. We had agreed that a wheel and spoke trip, i.e., staying at one locale and doing day rides, would be less stressful than doing a point-to-point journey, as we had done in September. So we agreed on exploring southeastern Rajasthan—the area around the large city of Kota. I booked rooms at the Brijraj Bhawan, a fading memory of an oft-romanticized period of Indian history. The palace boasts many stories and rooms, all with different designs. We spent most of our non-riding time on the garden lawn that sits above the River Chambal, sipping chai and downing Kingfisher. At night, watched by the glass eyes of stuffed tiger, jackal and bear heads, we supped in a high-ceilinged dining hall. After eating, we would retire to an elegant sitting room, complete with fireplace, grand piano, silver-framed photos of royals, and paintings depicting long-forgotten desert battles. Scott, Ashby and I were joined by Mike Bollom, Mark Lemely, Piers Vickers, Pieter Laser and Ute Laser. Filled with camaraderie, road stories and a healthy supply of smack talk, the hotel time proved relaxing and fun.
Scott, Ashby and I decided to make our bid for the cp on the first day of riding. We arrived by train in Kota at around 4:45AM, hailed some tuk tuks outside the railway station, and riled a sleepy chowkidar (guard) to check us in at the palace. After locating the truck, sipping chai and unloading the bikes (mine, again, was the only to sustain damage—a broken side-view mirror), we fired them up. I had already loaded the coordinates into my Garmin E-Trex GPS on the train the night before. At the Brijraj palace, we were only 16.7 miles almost directly north of the cp. No time on a bike, right? Actually, there was a problem. Descending from Kota like two inverted bug antennae are two roads—one heading off slightly west and one slightly east. According to Google Earth, the cp seemed to be equidistant from both roads. The question was: Which road to take south? From either, while heading south, we would reach a point of perpendicularity to the cp. At some point we would have to turn inland from the road. I had little idea of what type of land we were heading for. The only two bits of information that I had were: 1) Rajasthan is mostly desert-like and 2) the Google Earth satellite image indicated that the land inland from the southwesterly road appeared brown and “deserty” and the land inland from the southeasterly road looked green and fertile. Which to try? Offroading over rugged, possibly sandy, scrubby desert floor or looking for inroads through possible paddy, mustard seed or wheat fields: either option holds the possibility of big snakes. Yikes. I suspected that we might have more of a chance over the deserty land.
Even though Scott, Ashby and I were the only ones on the hunt, the entire group decided to head down the same road, in a southwesterly direction, to begin. After about ten miles, the three of us waved goodbye to the others and slowed a bit to look for roads, paths, anything that might lead off to the left and into the desert. At this point the cp was about five miles to the east. Already things looked grim. Little existed to the left, but for scrub brush and rocks and a rail line. We drove farther south and suddenly a beautiful, paved road, unimaginably lined with streetlights, materialized. We turned left and accelerated, realizing that there was no way this would continue on. Indeed, it terminated at a small train depot about a mile down the road. The two minutes that it took us to chat and agree to head on back the way we came immediately attracted about ten voyeurs who proceeded to converge on our huddled bikes like zombies on a lost wanderer. We turned around and returned to a place where we thought we had noticed a small inroad to the east a couple of miles back. Once there, we followed this dirt path up to a tiny railroad crossing. The caution arms were locked down, precluding us from crossing the tracks on the path. Why it was closed, I cannot imagine. Scott and Ashby rode left along the tracks a bit and eventually scooted over them. I went right and found a small bridge over a dried up riverbed that the tracks rode on. I had to throw my bike into neutral and push it under the bridge. With my broken handlebar side view mirror scraping the bridge ceiling, I hunched, began waddling and pushed my Pulsar through to the other side. Scott Ashby and I converged, shut off the engines and surveyed the sea of brown before us. Bereft of anything resembling a road (the railroad caution arms must have been installed in hopes that a road would one day continue on), the desert spread before us like the unfurled tongue of a dragon. We were looking east into a big fat nothing, smattered with one-inch long tube-piercing thorns, jagged rocks and sun-baked earth. A more inhospitable face of nature I think I’ve never seen.
After a swig from the Nalgene, we saddled up. As always, Scott—lacking a GPS—led the way. It soon became clear quite that we were tempting fate. Nail-like thorns continued on everywhere. They were somewhat avoidable; however, softball-sized jagged rocks punctuated virtually every other bit of open space. Thus, we lurched ahead on our fragmented journey. After an hour, still no flats, we all began to worry a bit. If one of us broke down (Scott’s Enfield was already overheating) or got a flat, I don’t know what we would have done. It would have been impossible to ride out pillion on someone’s bike; the constant slowing down, turning and steadying of the bike would have precluded an extra rider. In any case, we weren’t there yet. We approached a small hill, stopped to take a drink, and climb the outcropping and take a look. Yep, more of the same. We were still about four miles away from the cp. Moronically, I suggested that we might leave the bikes and walk it. Scott reminded me that the journey would be eight miles, round trip. Despite the fact that this was January, the desert was bloody hot. We pushed on. One of the advantages to doing a cp hunt with a couple of people is that when one person wants to cash it in, there is always another who wants to forge ahead. Such was the case here.
We baja-ed over boulders, dead limbs, thorny shrubs, cowherd walls, and dried riverbeds. We were in the thick of it now. 2.5 miles to go. To boot, we were unsure as to whether or we would be able to push ahead to the other road—the one that descended southeast from Kota—or have to go back the way we came. Suddenly, out of the gullet of this angry desert popped a building. Unbelievable. I felt like Tom Hanks in Castaway when he happens upon the ocean liner. Under the shade of a covered patio sat about thirty kids. Their attention was drawn to the wall upon which hung a weather-beaten blackboard covered with Devnigri (Hindi) script. Zafar Ullahkhan was holding Hindi class for children from what could hardly be called a village (three small buildings surrounding a well). We had happened upon the Khanpuriya Primary School. We stopped, talked and took pictures. Mr. Ullahkhan and his students were delightful. The school teacher made us happier still by pointing out a hint of a road, which headed in the general direction of the cp and, he assured us, would blossom into a paved road, leading to the southeastern route. We bid farewell and headed on.
With about two miles to go, we headed off of the trail that led from Khanpuriya and turned in the direction of the cp. The cowherd walls began popping up more and more. Negotiating a dried riverbed, Ashby lost her balance and laid down her sleek, black Pulsar, crushing one fiberglass saddlebag. Luckily, she leapt to the side and did not sustain any injury. Trooper that she is, she hopped right back on and fired that mother up. We pushed ahead. We closed in and, as we suspected, the cp was clearly going to lie in the same terrain that we had been passing through. As this was Ashby’s first cp hunt, I think that she may have been hoping the sky would open up and thunderbolts would strike the spot we were looking for. Such was not the case. Rather, three lazy water buffalo lounged near the cp. We walked the last 100 yards and zeroed out fairly easily. At this point I would normally stop and provide an in-depth geological description of the cp, but that is unnecessary. It truly was more of the same that we’d been driving through for five miles.
We headed back about a mile when Scott chose to turn east under some tall power line towers. Sort of feeling that we should have headed back toward the school, where the road was clearer, I was not sure whether this was a good idea. As it turned out, Scott’s instincts were correct. The lines met up with a small village, Shankarpura Deduwara. On the outskirts of this village stood a well and a small paved road. Also, at this point, the scenery changed completely, due to irrigation canals. Luscious, thick crops of yellow mustard sprang up out of a seemingly dead desert. It was beautiful and breath taking after the miles of dusty nothingness we’d just passed through. A villager by the name of Devilal told me that the small country road led to Kettum, a larger city, and from there, it wasn’t far to Kota. Along the way, I picked up a hitchhiker by the name of Akshay Rad. Though I am slightly nervous to pick up hitchers in any country, the choice was a good one. We encountered a number of forks in the road, and Akshay pointed the way to Kettum, where I said goodbye to him. We soon found ourselves sipping whiskey in the garden of the Brijraj Palace in Kota with the others, recounting yet another adventure and successful cp hunt.