There are roads which take you across the landscape and then there are roads which take you through it. There are roads which tame the land, ripping across forests, cutting through mountains, flying over rivers of water and of people and then there are roads which meander through the gaps of the jungle, tumble over the curves of terrain, bend into river valleys and mingle with culture.
Roads of second sort set you into a mood, view, pace which when mixed with ample time and patience let you sink into your saddle and into reveries. And these reveries later get distilled into the tales of a traveler. Tales which are not completely about the places, people or things, but about feelings and experiences. Here are some, in the form of text taken directly from entries from my blog.
THE TURN FROM MOHANA
Working our way through the Shivpuri highway till Mohana was taxing, as this road is eternally under renovation. But the left turn from Mohana towards Bairad changed our mood, view, pace. The stretches of tarmac leading across hills, fields, barrens, villages and rivers was were wavy both sideways and sheer. A rider could neither sink in his saddle nor let his limbs loose. There were sections where you saw the rider riding far ahead sink into the tarmac, disappear and then eventually rise again.
The initial 40km or so were continually foggy. Walls of white mist waited on random stretches of diversion dotted highway towards shivpuri, strangling our view, sprinkling mystery onto our venture. Still, fueled by experience, we went forward tearing the nothingness of the mist with the yellow glow of tungsten.
Mist filled the voids of the forest on either sides of the road, into which we had to occasionally plunge when a bus would come towards us, owning the full width of the tarmac. Like there are times when a computer mouse pointer morphs into a sandglass because the processor takes time to comprehend the task at hand, I also need time in such moments. To comprehend what I see, to breathe some more air and to click a memory.
AN EVENING AT PAGARA
The weather was pleasant yesterday evening and it was maybe around 5 PM when turned left from Jaura, towards Pagara. The narrow roads both meandered and shot straight through the flat terrain of the rocky land which leads through the rural central Indian landscape. Sun was heading down, the sky was turning maroon, soil golden and trees olive green. The wind was growing cooler and riders’ excitement warmer, as we rode down the final twisty road which sloped down into the valley which houses the beautiful grassland of Pagara
I came across farmers on the way back home from fields, herders herding the sheep back, kids tired of the day’s play and women lighting their stoves. Life in the village would have, by this time been heading towards beds by this time, but the resounding thumps of our motorcycles made it halt and wonder, even if for a little while.
Sun soon set behind a plateau on the west. Darkness fell, lanterns lit up, stomachs suddenly felt empty and bonfire started to burn. People who would usually be weaving words on whatsapp, circled the bonfire to talk, laugh, listen to tales of travel and songs of hope. It was a moonless night, stars soon came to watch over us and with them came a caring fleet of the police force from Jaura. They stayed till late in the night, ensuring that this dacoit ridden land doesn’t swallow any of us. Without their help, assurance and presence, this night of wonder would not have been possible.
A MORNING IN THE WILDERNESS
Well, sleep come to everyone, early to some, late to some and even not to some. I bid farewell to sleep very early in the morning to be awake to witness the sunrise.
The sunrise, which happened soon after I had gathered all my camera gear and positioned myself at a suitable place, morphed the land again, as the sunset and night had done before. Mornings are like Midas, turning to gold all they touch, but unlike Midas in taking the glitter away with them. Sky, water, grass and chrome on our motorcycles shone golden for maybe a quarter of an hour. Shutters worked hard in various hands to capture the scene.
As the golden reign receded and sky started to turn blue, riders hurried towards their breakfast. I thanked everyone, took a group photograph, congratulated the team, before heading out, heading home. An epic experience this was, which will find a special place in my memoirs of travel.
ROADS THROUGH KUMAON
The mountains of Kumaon draped in green, stitched together by rivers in their youth, bejeweled with lakes, frequented by clouds and often shrouded by mist. Roads meander through the placid forests, painted with sunlight making its way through the sieve of oak leaves. The brighter parts of the road overlook high mountains and vast valleys, while the dark ones are conceal the growls of tigers in their afterlife/
Through a dozen years of my travels to and through Kumoan, I have learnt to enjoy the serenity of this land, which at its crest bustles with tourists and at its core is the playground for myths. Myths of ghosts living in lakes and rivers, trees that speak, winds that tell the future, temples which are gateways to afterlife, sadhus who live a dozen decades and walk the world in their dreams.
The you wont hear anything till the throttle talks, its silence makes way for what Kumaon is really all about. Its reveries must be experienced with patience, under sunlight sieved through oak leaves.
ROAD TO GURDONGMAR
It was 4am in the morning, when I kickstarted my motorcycle to start from Lachen. The welkin was still black, dotted with stars and partly eclipsed by massive rock faced mountains. Myriads of waterfalls, dropped down from the mountains, from the behind the clouds, shining silver in the moonlight.
As our motorcycles galloped ahead (yeah the road was that bumpy) across numerous rough hairpins under the dark sky, I looked often to east, waiting for our celestial father to appear. And he did, rising above from behind the epic snow clad peaks. The sky was then maroon, the peaks golden, the wind warmer, the rivers swifter and flora brilliantly colored as if sprayed with rainbow dust. Herds of yaks, sheep, horses were dusting trails. The valley had come alive.
Gurdongmar, virgin blue is nested in a crown of icy peaks, adorned by prayer flags which fluttered, sounding a silent chime. There was beauty which was visible and there was a reverence, deeply felt.
There is a certain romance to being on the road. People often ask how fast do you go? What speeds do you hit? Well, the speeds would matter if travel was about getting from point A to B. But when its about experiencing the roads and its reveries, whatever goes, goes.