Seeking Sikhs, and Monsoon Driving.

Trip Start Feb 19, 2006
Trip End Oct 01, 2006

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Saturday, June 3, 2006

They day was slightly wet, as the monsoon had arrived in Agra the day before. I figured, what the hell, the rains usually don't last in the beginning, and it had pissed down all night. It was still sprinkling a tiny bit in the morning as I loaded up Rocinante, but there looked to be a little brightness in the sky to the north, in my direction. It was cool, so I donned my jacket, and began to ride on the damp road, finding the highway easily for once. They are slightly better with road signs here in the north. .

The rain was not too bad at first, just coming and going, light drizzle, down to just a few drops here and there. Planning ahead, I took out my huge waterproof rain poncho/tarp and covered the gear. Of course, my feet were soaked already, but I was sure there would be sun up ahead.
Not quite so, though, the drizzle soon turned into a heavy rain, not quite thunderstorm material, but still enough to soak me effectively from head to toe. A nice little puddle formed by my crotch, keeping my equipment cool, at least.
If you have ever ridden at reasonable speed in the rain on a motorcycle, you may remember that that water at such speed is not soft, in fact, it becomes like tiny needles piercing your skin as you drive. Indian roads become a bit slippery as well, to say the least, when they get wet. The fortunate thing is that most of the trucks, having no wipers, and in many cases, not even glass in the windshield, park and wait for the rain to be over. Also the two-wheelers, scooters and cycles, are also few, as no-one wants to get soaked at 70 km/hr. . It is the automobiles that one needs to keep an eye out for, they go much too fast for the conditions, taking crazy chances, and not warning one of their presence.
As for the Agra-Delhi road, it is mostly a proper highway, being improved recently enough not to have been destroyed by monsoon rains, overloaded trucks, threshing grain on it, etc. .
I traveled like this for three hours, making an average of 40 km per, my hands numbly working the handlebar controls like rigor mortis in some walkiing corpse from the night of the living dead. I had to stop many times and warm them on Rocinante's cylinder head, cleaning the drops off of my glasses at the same time for a moment of true visibility. My kingdom for a bottle of "rain-X" at that time. Funny thing about the glasses, though, they can only get so many droplets on them, and if one can get used to the lack of visibility, then one can travel well enough. (Don't try this at home, only by a professional on a closed course. . )

Finally, the rain petered out. There was one spot in between at which it was not precipitating, and I took a long break there, having a damp cigarette and a sip of water or two. Then I passed through the final band of heavy rain. The breaks in the clouds became more frequent after that, and at long last after 120 km, I noticed a glint of sun.
A quick dhaba stop filled with Indian tourists, a couple of hot cups of coffee, the numbness finally going out of my hands, and I was off toward Delhi, having already planned to be through it by this time. It was 10:30 by then.

Delhi's map looked simple enough to get through, there looked to be a loop road that went around to the NH 1, which I would take up most of the way until it split off toward Amritsar and the Pak border, and I took the road due north, the 1A, to Pathankot, then on to Dharamshala.
Of course, in navigation, nothing is simple in India. They could have just put the route # on a sign with an arrow, or the road name, but they put the name of the neighborhood it goes to, of course which are mentioned on no maps. Through my semi-crappy map and a few askings, I was able to get myself onto the "Loop road" which ostensibly would take me around the city, and up the highway. 20 km took two hours, and to make that 20 km, i had to travel perhaps 40. Two hours and finally someone knew which the loop road was, and I saw a sign finally for one of the "neighborhoods" in the north end of Delhi that was on my map. I had lost the true loop road some miles ago, because although they love to put up signs that tell you mileage, and where you are going, they seem to never, ever put these signs and arrows up at the countless junctions. So if you get lucky enough to be on the right road going in the right direction, you are ok, but if you come to one of the junctions, you're on your own. I would like to give the Minister of Roads and highways a piece of my mind, let me tell you. .

Finally I ended up on the highway north, hoping to make Chattisgargh by nightfall, but that seemed out of reach, and as the sun sank low, I stopped in the good-sized town of Ambala (am-BALL-ah), finding a hotel about an hour before sunset. The little Nepalese man was eager and courteous, and my room was clean and well-kept. He sprayed a little vanilla -scented spray before letting me into the room, and already I had a good feeling about this town. A shower later I was off to my evening routine, as I do in all of the little towns I stay in: a walkabout.
Tonight's plan was to find a welder, as Rocinante's sissy bar had developed cracks again, the first order of business was to find food, though, as I had not eaten for many hours, since the Great Monsoon. Asking at a few mechanic stalls along the way, one man told me, pointing, "bank, then straight." As the hour was getting late, I decided that my stomach would have to wait as I tracked down the repair shop.
A little circular drive lined with mechanical shops provided the answer. Walking along the circle and looking for a stall with a welding machine, I found one, looking inside the attached shop to find the Sikh owner, and pantomiming welding. I told him what I needed, and he summoned his welder, asking me in good english to take the welder with me to look at the bike to see if he could do it. I thought it easier to just bring the bike in, and related as such.
Back to the hotel, and starting the bike, I was engaged in conversation with another man, a Hindu, who told me of his sister and brother in america, one in california, and another in DC. As with all things in India, it takes time. About 45 minutes later I pulled Rocinante into the shop for a fine and strong welding job, costing all of 20 rupees. The owner invited me to sit in the shop, and we had some talk, he also had a brother in the States, in California. His father, a tall man with an even bigger turban came in, wearing a sort of hairnet over his beard, and started immediately yelling at one of the seated employees in the office as his son and I talked.
Sikhs are not Hindus, they are not Muslims, they have their own thing going. From what I understand, their sacred object is a holy book, containing many people's sacred interpretations of the nature of God and the Universe. Being once fearsome warriors, they never cut their hair and wear the turban as a matter of defense, it being harder for a blade to penetrate the skull with all that cloth and hair in the way. There is also something about water with them, something like if you drink the water, you can not lie anymore. Some of this information is second hand, but in all my dealings with the Sikh, I have truly found them to be honest and hospitable, as well as educated and good in business.
My new friend asked if I was hungry, and I told him yes, so he led me to a hole-in-the-wall dhaba behind the shop, where they fed me some of the best dosas I have had in this country, and believe me, I have had a lot of dosas. The man left me, and said, "enjoy your meal, come back when finished. And no pay, I take that." I tried to protest, not wanting to impose, but he insisted on paying my check. Two dosas and a lot less hungry later, I went back to the shop, Rocinante waiting, and we talked a bit, and said "subratri" when the old father started in again on the business end of things. .
I was filled with good food and good feeling, and told him I owed him dinner. With a wave of his hand he refused. "In your country, you get me dinner. In my country, you do not 'owe.'" Legendary Sikh hospitality.

On the way back to my hotel (with a quick stop at the wine shop for a couple of Castle brand beers) I noticed a Xerox shop, and I needed new copies of my threadbare prints of International license and India visa, so I collected them and went in. Of course the two men running the place sat me down and talked to me at length, one of them even read my palm (free, of course), showing me my lifeline, ("very big") my love and money lines ("you are a King!") and all in all gave me a favorable forecast. Can't argue with that too much. One of them had pretty good english, and also aspirations on coming to America. At some time in the future, I may have a house full of Indians, as I invite them all to visit. . .
Fading fast after a long day, I bid them as well, Subratri, but not after one of them had given me a necklace with beads and a small brass symbol of Shiva, a gift for luck. Five nice office pens and two copies, all for 27 rupees. This price was another gift. Also they invited me the next morning to go with them to the temple of Cali, but I reluctantly declined, wanting to go, but also wanting to be on the way to Dharamsala the next morning. Perhaps I will return someday, and take them up on that one.
Ambala is one of those places, like Yargatti, and so many other small towns, that I wish I could have stayed and explored a little more, but time is growing shorter each day, and I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep. . .
and miles to go before I sleep. .
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