[On the GT]
The bike is bouncing at times. The front shocks are not well. I stop and check the front tire, the rim and the shocks. No swelling and no oil from the shocks. What gives? I ride again. Seems OK now. Is it in the mind only, or something else entirely?
The ride through Gujrat and Khariyaan is beautiful. Undulating roads, trees and the cloudy weather makes for an enjoyable ride.
But now the seat feels like a rock and “uncomfortable” is the only decent word I can think of.
Third tea stop sees me near Dina.
As I stop, only then I hear the clouds rumbling. Is that a warning of rain or just nature’s display of force? Nature sometimes gives a few warning shots before raining in the cavalry. I am at my third stop, listening to the rumbles up top, trying to decide, “should I suit up for rain or just wait it out?” Then the downpour helps me decide; I take my bike into the shed next to the open tandoor restaurant.
The bike – Suzuki GS 150 – has a faulty fuel cap by default; the keyhole allows water through and water and fuel don’t mix well. So I use a shopping bag and a small rope to tie it around the fuel cap. I have now one extra shopping bag left in my pack.
Again, the guy behind the tandoor asks about the armor. Nods as I tell him about the security. I also say that I hope that the armor stays brand new for ages to come and that I never get to “use” it. He just nods. I don’t know if he’s thinking, “yes that makes sense” or is he thinking, “wow this guy is freaking nuts”.
Rain delay is about an hour. Now it’s a light drizzle. I down yet another cup of tea. There is another traveler sitting next to me, also waiting out the rain. We start talking. By now I have taken the armor vest off.
“From Lahore?” he asks. The number plate on the bike gives me away. Asks me what I do.
“I help people get online, start their own website or blog,” I say.
I know that I wouldn’t need to explain what “Getting Online” means anymore. He just nods, staring into the floor now. Maybe I do.
He works in the government department in Dina. Travels 80 kilometeres everyday to get to work from a nearby village. I offer him tea. He says no. I insist. He says no again, but his no is not as convincing. I understand. I shout out, “one more cup of tea over here” towards the hotel counter. We both drink tea in silence.
It is time to head out. I pack myself in the armor vest, gloves, helmet. Double-check the fuel-cap waterproofing. Triple-check the haversack water proofing. All seems well. The drizzle looks inviting. I head out, joining the wet highway after waiting out for a few speeding trucks to go past.
A drizzle is usually enjoyable. But on a bike, going at 60, and within five minutes, you get drenched. I realized that quickly.
Riding the highway, I slowed down, one eye constantly on the rear view, lest some large vehicle forgets to see me.
I wanted some shade, so I could stand under it and take out my rain proof jacket. I see a small building materials shop, two guys perched outside under the extended shade. One enjoying the huqqa, the other talking non-stop. Animated hands, some serious discussion; must be politics, religion or some close family matter under discussion. Maybe all three. I ride close to the shed.
By then, I was getting a bit used to the reaction people were giving me, and their reaction was no different: they just stared. The animated-hands guy had stopped talking, his sentence stopped midway, his mouth still open. My bike armor vest has magnet action.
Both of them see me unpack the ungainly bag, take out the waterproof jacket, glove up and repack the bag and tie it to the bike, double, triple-checking the bungee hooks.
“You will succeed in life,” the old man says, “people like you always do.” His hand shakes as he holds the pipe of his huqqa.
This was a new one; the fact that the old man spoke was actually expected, but what he had said was not, so I asked, “how come?”
“Look at you! You are prepared for everything. The vest you have if you fall, the gloves, the helmet… and now it is raining and this jacket to protect from the rain! Most of us just go out without any preparations and then complain when things go wrong. People like you don’t complain, because they are prepared. They enjoy it instead!”
After that profound commentary, I was back on the road, smiling and for a moment believing each and every word the old man with the shivering hands said.
God gave me a constant shade of gray clouds and light drizzle, all through the GT road. But by the time I reached Islamabad, the sun was out and was almost lunch time.
Thanks to the construction of the metro bus in Islamabad, the level of dust on the roads was unbelievable. Out of the seven or so hours that I had been on the road, the last patch in Islamabad turned out to be the most irritating; hot sun, rush hour, long queues due to construction and lots and lots of dust!
I reached my friend’s house, not knowing that I’d be over-extending my stay here, thanks to a leaking shock and a diverted airplane.
Islamabad to Muzaffarabad via Murree, the trip to the highest peak in Muzaffarabad, the rookie mistake that almost costed me everything, and living the metaphor while riding back… all and more in the next installment of the Kashmir Travelogue.
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