Before leaving Nainital Dave took the bike to a mechanic to get a quick check up on a random clunk (which was nothing to be worried about) and while he was there got chatting to a local fellow who upon finding out that we were headed down back onto the plains was kind (?) enough to offer a route that would be both beautiful and a fun (?) ride.
Now you may be wondering about the question marks in there. That is because in hindsight from my point of view I am not sure it was a kindness and as for fun – oh hell NO!
It was a 2 day ride down through undoubtedly spectacular vistas. The first day I have to admit I enjoyed quite a lot. We started up in thick pine forests with the ground thickly covered in rust coloured needles. Unfortunately when you know that there are at least 5 hours of riding ahead stopping to try and create photographic magic wasn’t on the radar but take my word for it – winding through these trees was really lovely. Then we opened out onto wide sweeping valleys dotted with tiny villages and terraces as far as the eye could see. The road conditions were generally pretty good and the traffic comparatively light so the riding was pretty darned good.
Then we swept down to meet the baby Ganges River. It starts up high in the Himalayas and is gradually fattened with other rivers feeding into it until it hits the plains and becomes the mighty Ganga. We stopped for the night in a random roadside hotel with a balcony that overlooked the river. It was a delight to sit and watch the eddies swirl in the rich soil brown waters as people across the river ended their day and brought their animals home for the night. Peace and tranquillity at its best.
The next day dawned as a hot one but considering the success of the previous days riding I was feeling quite confident that all would be well. Sooooooo wrong!
The road followed the river pretty much all the way to our planned stop and we figured that it would be quite a pleasurable day of watching the river race past as we wound along with it. What rot! We first of all climbed up and up and up, which as a non-heights person was getting a little tough to take. Then the road went from goodish bitumen to wreckage of bitumen. The monsoons bring so much water down the sheer sided mountains that it literally washes the road out, well those bits of the road that it doesn’t cover with massive landslides. So by now my heart rate is rising along with the panic levels. We are literally driving along a dodgy Indian road that has effectively been bulldozed into the side of a mountain, with cliffs above us (sometimes overhanging the road – yay!) and a sheer drop of about 1000m to a roaring river below with no guard rails and nothing to stop us diving over the edge (well, that is except Daves riding skills).
By now I am no longer looking out and enjoying the view. My eyes are literally glued to the inside wall and I am silently panicking like a madwoman. Even not looking I could feel the gaping nothingness extending out from our side with my peripheral vision and each time I thought I had myself back under control we would round a corner and there would be the big nothing. Horrific! But it got worse.
Not only is this road in poor repair and scary high but it is as busy as anything. Buses, cars, motorbikes, trucks – you name it they are all using it and being a constant twist of blind corners means that every turn could bring a fresh kind of middle of the road driving hell. You see Indians don’t believe that a blind corner is any reason not to overtake. Anywhere with enough room to squeeze past will do and they are sure that the person in the other lane will just work it out. And please don’t think I am only talking motorbikes zipping through – I am talking cars and buses overtaking slower trucks. The only warning is the honking of a horn as you near a blind corner. As we were on the downward cliff side of the road this freaked me out even more. There is nowhere to go to avoid these road idiots. But then a fresh hell unfolded. You see not only is there the traffic but the buses are packed to capacity and stop for nothing so there were a couple of times when we had to swerve to avoid the projectile vomit from car-sick passengers as they hurled out the windows.
Yep, in case you haven’t worked it out, that was the most mind-blowingly terrifying experience ever on the Enfield. I had spent the better part of 2 hours silently crying in abject fear. Each time I thought I had it back together there would be some new obstacle to swerve around and a new wave of panic to ride. At one stage we stopped for a break and I had managed to get it vaguely together right up until the point that Dave asked me was I ok (maybe it was the red rimmed eyes, the sniffle or just the glazed look in my eyes that gave it away). When I dissolved into fresh tears he was so sad for me. He had been looking out enjoying the thrill of the ride and the amazing views that were unfolding around us not realising that I was trying to figure out which was worse – flying into Jomsom or the ride I was currently trapped in. It is a sad fact that fear is such a fun thief. He was loving it while I was so scared I didn’t know which way was up. But that’s life, and unfortunately this was one roller coaster I couldn’t get off. So it was just a case of suck it up and hang on tight. After 2 hours of hell when we had finally made it out of the mountains and back to flat ground I was done.
The plan for India was now moot. There would be no exciting trip over the Himalayas up to the true high ground of far northern India. There would be no amazing monasteries, no windswept snowy landscapes. I was done!!!
So after only 2 months of having our trusty steed she went back to Delhi. No more Enfield.
I have to admit that while I definitely had a love/hate relationship with that bike, I will miss her. The freedom to come and go as you like, to pick where to stop and for how long, the mad and crazy experiences we have had with that bike made it quite sad to say goodbye. But hello no more pain from spending hours in one position, no more peering around Daves helmet to try and see the view, no more messing about with accommodation because the bike has to be safe.
Would I recommend India on an Enfield? As a general statement I would say no. But that is my view. Dave on the other hand loved it. For him it was almost a test of will and skill driving through India and those final days in the mountains for him were a joy. So in the end I would have to say to each their own but either way that bike certainly only added to our adventure.
Now I would love to say that this was a classic example of the kind of roads we travelled but the mere fact of this photo shows that it was mega mild. For the really bad stuff there was no way I could take a photo. My hands were full of holding on for dear life 🙂