Lahore to Islamabad
At 5:45 AM in the cool, light breeze of Lahore, I head out. There is a check post right outside my house. I am immediately stopped. They probably have rarely seen a motorbike with a large bag tied at the back.
“Where are you coming from?” the police officer asks.
“I live here man,” I say, “I pass through this check post every day!”
He looks at me, trying to read my intentions through the sunglasses.
“Where are you headed?” He asks.
“To the mountains inshAllah,” I say, “Kashmir through Islamabad.”
“On a bike I see,” the police officer, his mustaches thin, his smile wide, says, “why not go to the mountains of Waziristan?”
I don’t laugh. He is referring to the Army operation in a remote mountain area of Pakistan. Instead I say, “inshAllah, my friend, someday soon we will go there for sightseeing too.”
He likes my answer. He wants to tell me how he toured and had gone on fishing trips in different parts of the beautiful north. I tell him I am already running late. He pats me on the back. Wishes me well.
My bike sees a full fuel tank for the first time in her life. 12.3 liters. The fuel is hot, warms the fuel tank. But the Lahore weather in June is surprisingly cool and cloudy.
Five minutes out, still in Lahore, I stop at a red light. A silver Cultus next to me, filled with a family inside and a suitcase tied on the roof. As the light goes green, the Cultus races off.
Hardly eighty yards ahead of me, I see the hatchback gradually go left, and then “bang!”, it hits the footpath. Swerves hard to the right, and lands back on the road.
The two rims on the left are completely squashed. The passengers come out. A few people appear, as it is still early morning, to ask if everyone’s alright.
“The guy fell asleep,” the passenger is saying as he is coming out. But everyone’s safe. When something like this happens, what you really are concerned about is life itself. And everyone’s safe.
This early into the ride, I pray ever more and remind myself to “rest on the side if I get tired”.
My upper body armor is tied lightly to the bag. I don’t want to look like a Power Ranger in the city. The idea is to be in protective gear at relatively high speeds, so I use that as the excuse not to wear something that I am just not used to wearing. The ride through Lahore is smooth and quick. Just like that, I am crossing the once-mighty Ravi. The river looks more like a canal.
I stop the bike on the side of the road after crossing the Ravi. It is Power Ranger time. I take my time to wear the armored jacket and gloves. A kid on a cycle crosses me, almost hits the light pole; cant keep his eyes off. I wink at him. Winking is my de facto reaction to something I can’t begin to explain.
A motorcyclist crosses me, sees me and I see him slowing down. I strap myself tight as the motorcyclist makes his way back to me, on the side of the road.
“Going on a tour I see,” he says. Smiling. Shakes my hand. As if meeting an old friend.
“Yeah man,” I say, “for my first tour, let us see how this goes.”
“Why go alone?” He asks.
“I think one must be able to go solo to really see how one fares,” I say. I am usually in Punjabi mode, so this line comes off as the typical Punjabi man out to prove himself. Maybe I could use different words to make this sound more philosophical, balance the physical with the metaphysical, keep it mixed, keep it interesting. Or maybe not. I like simple things only when I can explain them in complicated ways it seems.
“I wish I had a camera with me, you look awesome,” he says, looking me up and down.
I laugh. He tell me to always recite ayat-ul-qursi and safar kee dua. I thank him for his sincere concern. Then, on the side of GT road near the Ravi river bank, at 6:30 in the morning, me in Power Ranger mode, he begins to teach me the safar kee dua.
I know it, I tell him. He looks at me weird, as if waiting for me to prove it. I recite the small Arabic prayer that travelers recite. He seems satisfied. He wishes me well. I am off, protected physically with the Power Ranger suit and spiritually by the potent, fourteen-centuries-old prayer.
A Failed Attempt at Self-Rationalization / Explain to others? Can’t Fully Explain to Myself
Riding a motorcycle across highways and winding roads is a childish endeavor. A romanticized version of life, of its tribulations. It is not grounded in practicality. It is dangerous. There are better, ten-times-more efficient ways of traveling. And going alone is all-the-more stupid: riding solo increases the risk of longer delays and bigger problems.
If “seeing” the places on the way is the objective, you are better off in a bus, where you are not worried about riding or driving, and can really take in the sceneries along the way.
Also, if you’re on a bike because you like the rush, there is no “wind in your hair” because you’ll be strapped up in protective gear from top to bottom.
But here I am. With most things in life, you do things because you want to get used to “getting out of your comfort zone”. I like motorcycles. I don’t love them, I don’t always think about them. I am a family man, I love them. I am not a nomad. I hate to do stuff all by myself. I once waited out three days so my friend can tag along; by myself, I can’t even buy a pair of windshield wipers for my car. But here I am, riding solo. Nothing grand. Nothing fancy, just me, a few stray thoughts and the road.