Where do I start with this one? It’s coming up to Christmas It’s dark. It’s cold. It’s wet. It’s time to leave. I’ve got means, I’ve got opportunity, I’ve got to get the hell out of here. Right now. A fellow RTW rider at work is in the same state. We’re like 2 animals tied up and straining at the lead, whining and moaning, heads hanging down and desperately needing to go out for a good long walk. A quick escape plan is made, bribes are paid, collars are loosened and we’re off. Running out the door and heading hard for the horizon before anyone realises we’re missing.
Boxing day, I’m away. Destination is Arunachal Pradesh – The land of the dawn lit mountains – in far north east India. A place I admit I never knew existed. A disputed region that China calls South Tibet, squeezed in between China, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar.
We saw an off-road Enfield tour advertised and I signed up before the ink was even dry on the screen. Bugger the details, bugger the route, bugger the accommodation. All we were interested in was ‘where and when’.
Boxing day, I’m away. I’m travelling in full Mad Max black leathers as I don’t have off-road kit. I’m going through customs. The man with the magic wand isn’t happy. The wand is going mental and he can’t feel my legs. For the first time in my life I’m lead into a private room with 2 blokes wearing rubber gloves. I don’t think he’s even put any lubrication on. He asks me to remove my trousers – he needs to see what I’m packing. Not much as it happens. They can’t decide if its a tiny stick of dynamite or just a very short fuse. Either way they decide it’s no threat to man (or woman) or beast and I’m let back on my way without any rubber meets flesh moments. Onto the big silver bird and it’s first stop Delhi to meet up with my workmate and her fella who flew out yesterday.
This is just a stopover before heading north so check into a cookie cutter ‘Boliday Inn’ and head straight for the city. Someone has been round with a dustpan and brush since I was hear last. Lots of new buildings and roads, They’ve even built a huge bugger off metro system. You don’t have to look very far to see where they’ve tipped all the rubbish though. Head out from the centre and it’s quickly shite central. The driving is just as mental and never has the word ‘merge’ been more appropriate as cars buses and bikes jostle and join together like rubbish flowing down a river. The gaps between vehicles is measured in molecules. If you’re claustrophobic this isn’t the place for you. Look out any window and there’s a bus/lorry/taxi panel pressed right up against you. Quick scoot round the centre, look in at an Enfield shop and eat on a balcony in the sun. Reality is already fading fast. Thank God. Reality is over-rated.
We’re heading back in the evening and the driver hits a massive bump – it’s like he’s fired the ejector seat without opening the roof. I’ve got my sunglasses on my head and now I’ve got Oakley embedded in my skull right next to my 666 birthmark. Still, it means I can put my sunglasses on my head and wear my helmet at the same time now.
Up early for a flight up to Dibrugarh. India is a massive country. It’s 2700km and 2 and a half hours north east before we land at Dibrugarh to meet the bikes. They’ve taken 7 days by road on a truck to get here. We meet Gaurav and climb in the truck down to the town to meet the machines. Already the place seems weird. The traffic is suitably mental and there is shit everywhere you look but this is not at all the India I’m expecting. For anyone that’s been to India before, you expect chaos all around you all the time. That, and lots and lots and lots of people. People soup. You can’t get away from people where ever you go. They’re absolutely everywhere. But here… it’s different. Arunachal Pradesh is the least populated area in all India and it’s immediately apparent. I bought a few cats with me on this trip, just to see if there would be room to swing them. Out here I can swing them by the ends of their tails with room to spare. It’s a strange feeling. A bit post apocalyptic.
Out to the hotel and a walk around the mean dark streets where poverty lives. Round past the little shops where all sorts of sounds and smells fight for your attention. Round past a huge train yard where the beasts go to be tended. This place is really isolated and it’s the end of the line as far as trains are concerned. We’re heading off into that isolation tomorrow. Out across the flood plains and north into the mountains.
After a night haunted by ghost trains clanking and moaning past the door on the way to their beds in the sheds we meet up with the team running the trip. There are only 3 of us but 6 of them! Gaurav is the leader. An indian film maker and big motorcyclist that now runs tours, mostly in Kashmir but occasionally out here in the land that India has forgotten. He has a ‘road captain’ that will ride with us too plus a mechanic, a cook and a ‘helper’ plus a driver to bring the travelling party along. There is absolutely no tourist infrastructure up this way. It’s really quite refreshing! They’ve bought 5 bikes so we go and choose our steeds. Enfield 500 Bullets.
Good old Enfields. These are the ‘Machismo’ editions. Electric start, disk brake, 5 forward gears and 5 neutrals. They’re a bit small for me though. I reckon I must look like a Shetland shagging a Shih Tzu when I’m riding it but who cares. These things are tough. They’re survivors. I reckon they’ll be the bikes the coach roaches will be riding after the holocaust.
Saddle up and ride out. From previous experience I’m expecting to be riding in nose to tail traffic in clouds of black smoke and checking my life insurance every 20 seconds out here but it’s the complete opposite. Get out of town and the traffic is almost non-existant. Good roads for a few miles then down some lanes through theea plantations. Stunted bushes gleaming with night sweat in the low morning sunshine.
We’re heading for the ferry to cross the huge Brahmaputra river. The Indian government is slowly trying to pull this region into the 21st century by building roads and bridges, mainly for military access, and the river is punctuated by towering stubs of concrete that will eventually carry the bridge high over the river but at the moment they just disappear over the horizon like a long row of punctuation marks.
Down into the sand we go. This is where my fear begins. Fear of anything other than tarmac under the wheels. The Enfield is too small for me to comfortably stand up on so I have to sit down and ride the rough stuff. I hate doing that. My backside is exit only for everything. Signals from a saddle, doctor’s fingers, foreign objects, anything. Sitting down through the sand gives me anal overload and I can’t process it. The Enfield though, that’s been there and done that and it just takes over. It’s an incredibly stable bike and just pulls on through no problem what so ever. Perhaps this won’t be so bad after all.
Get to the ferry terminal and it’s all calm and quiet. No swarms of hot people pushing and shoving their way about. No shouting and screaming. No tension. Just odd.
The journey takes about an hour as the huge river meanders it’s way east on it’s long journey to the Bay of Bengal. I love journeys like this. No health and safety, no briefings, no tannoy announcements, just jump on and hope you get to the other side. It’s a really slow ride through very shallow water where a special ‘sonar wallah’ takes depth readings with a bamboo pole.
A gentle hour spent throbbing through the water and we’re at the docks/beach. The bridge supports still run off into the distance in both directions. This is going to be one massive bridge but it just shows how big these flood plains are up here. I take a depth reading using my sandometer before I ride off. It’s well into the brown and I’m expecting lots of fartworks but again the bike just wiggles up the beach belching and popping to it’s hearts content. The Enfields are possessed by gentle souls. They don’t have the power to scare you. They’re like riding a mechanical elephant. Slow and a bit ponderous but virtually unstoppable and extremely sure footed.
This really is a beautiful area of the world. Ears used to the constant cacophony of a crowd are being retuned to the quiet of an open landscape and the rush of low speed air on a bike. Riding along tracks built on high ground you look out over the landscape at the stilted houses and the drying crops and remember how lucky you are.
Short ride up to Boleng and camp by a river. Soon as we arrive the little team are sprinting about putting up tents and cooking dinner as we sit in comfy chairs sipping rice wine and feeling guilty. That will soon pass I’m sure! A three course dinner served under head torches, an hour chatting shit by the campfire and the jet lag says its time to shut down for the night.
The tent has been pitched on a slope and I keep waking up in a foetal ball in the bottom corner. I flippin hate camping. I reckon even Houdini would have trouble escaping from my bloody sleeping bag in anything under an hour. And I guarantee he’d have pissed himself in the process. Wake up and unfold myself and head out to the veranda. Lovely fine white sand between my toes and a cup of my chai in my hand before I’ve finished my first fart. Bliss.
The crew have been up for hours and food smells hang in the air mixed with woodsmoke, water and wine. Sit and watch the mechanic awaken the beasts as they fart and pop and clear their pipes for the day. The accelerator on an Enfield doesn’t really make much difference to forward motion. It’s mostly just a volume control. The mechanic turns up the noise and the river ripples in response in the distance. Riding behind one is like being fired at with a 12 bore air pistol. You can see the pulses exploding in the dust and if you get one in the face you know about it. The bureautwats in Brussels would have a fit watching and listening to this stuff. They would go into a clipboard frenzy the moment the key was turned. India, you’ve got to love it! You can’t beat the smell of unburnt hydrocarbons with your breakfast.
Destination today is Jenging. Not far, not far on normal roads anyway. Anyone that’s been to India will know what the average roads are like so you can imagine what the small roads and tracks in the mountains are like. We were warned about their condition before we came and I’m glad to see they’re just as shit as advertised. Shitter in fact. These aren’t just rough roads. They’re really tough roads. Keep anything shiny or new away from roads. Like 25% finished road jigsaws most of the time. Like they’ve got a lorry load of road bits and driven along with the back flap open. A lot are just tracks. Often wet and slippery and trying to throw you into the scenery. Not that that would be so bad. Beautiful, lush and often a lovely deep bottle green.
Stop for lunch at a shack next to a suspended bamboo bridge and watch a local ride over. Bloody thing is swinging about everywhere and crunching under his wheels as the bamboo breaks. I go down for a look and head straight out over the water accompanied by creaks and groans and squeaks beneath my feet. I don’t think Brunel would be particularly impressed and I doubt it would take one of his trains but it feels safe enough. Give it the old bounce test and get it going like a trampoline in no time. A big Randolph , a front Cody and a set of huge Kabooms with a couple of Full Rudys and I’m ready to eat. Nice.
Sit down to eat something hot and random to the sound of knuckle meeting nose. Some locals have decided to settle a dispute the old fashioned way and trying to twat 7 bells of each other. We’re told there are all sorts of tribal disputes up here and they’re often falling out. As long as he doesn’t get any blood in my rice. Still, there are plenty of people round here to sign my helmet (careful!) and they’re all very friendly when they’re not punching each other.
On to Jenging we go. The roads just get rougher and rougher as we head further up into the hills. Potholes just don’t cover it. More like earth workings. You know those huge mining excavations with 50 tonne yellow earth movers prowling about in them, well they’ve got nothing on the holes in these roads. The people riding in front keep disappearing into the road then reappear seconds later yomping out the other side of a hole/crevasse/trench. The old Enfield just keeps plugging through though. You chuck it into something you’re sure will defeat it and it just comes out laughing and smiling saying “is that all you’ve got? Bring it on.” Fucking incredible really. I’ve got ties wider than it’s tyres and it’s ground clearance isn’t brilliant but the bloody things are unstoppable.
By the time we get to Jenging my balls are bruised and my arse… my arse feels like a gay hooker whose just finished a 48 hour shift at a love parade. Jesus. I hope we’ve got nice beds and warm showers tonight. “We’re staying in a government house tonight”. Great, definitely warm beds, a Jacuzzi, hot showers and possibly a pool then. The region has these government houses that the people stay in when they’re up here sorting stuff out. If there is nobody staying there then it’s possible to pay and stay there. Here we go. Where is it? I’m looking for whitewashed stones, possibly a gatehouse, and definitely a flagpole. Hang on, we’ve all stopped. I guess we’ll just wait by this derelict abandoned building while we make a phone call and send the chauffeur in to guide us in to the mansion. What? Are you sure? Oh you’re such a funny bloke:) No really? Oh…..I was not expecting this. Perhaps he meant a government prison house? I can’t imagine a UK government official pitching up, washing with a bucket, shitting in a hole and sleeping in a bed of unknown hygienic provenance but apparently it’s true here. There is a little bloke on duty that has to jump on his bike and power the generator to provide meagre pulsing power and thats about it. The crew are all over it anyway. Boiling water to wash and commandeering the ‘kitchen’ to execute and cook the dinner while we wander around and compare damp patches. Fantastic place. We all dare each other to stand on the bamboo balcony built on the edge of the hill and attached to the house by a couple of pieces of string.
My back feels like it’s plugged directly into the mains and someone is flicking a switch. I had some huge hits up the jacksee today. Like being arse raped by a buffalo with big lead balls. I think it’s re-plumbed my nervous system and I’ve now got a short. Gaurav makes some enquiries and we get hold of the local doctor/masseur/surgeon/DIY expert. Jenging is just a small village hanging on to the side of a hill. Multi tasking is a necessity! Dr Bob decides the best way to fix my back is to pummel my head with his fists and to rub his hands so hard on my face that I’m worried he’s going to rub it all off and I’ll just end up looking like “The Scream”. He eventually decides that the twatting method can be used on my back too and he punches it into submission. The price? £2. I give him a fiver and his smile is so wide it touches his ears.
Bloody cold at night up here. Jump straight from the campfire to the nearest bed and a couple of crusty blankets. Out like a light.
Wake in the morning. There is something telling me to get up. To go outside. There’s something waiting for me. Out of the warm cocoon and out I go. “Thanks” I hear all my senses say. “Thanks a lot”. This is why it’s worth the pain to get to these places. I just stand and breath it all in. I’m breathing through my eyes, through my ears, through my skin. The sky is busy painting in slow motion. Shadows crawling towards me, clouds hovering and warming themselves in the first morning rays. Land of the dawn lit mountains. This is it. Special moment to treasure forever. Beauty beyond words.
“What would you like for breakfast today?” asks the cook. “Onion Omlettes… chai.. bread and butter…dancing girls….” “Dancing girls? How many have you got? I could probably eat a couple, I’m quite hungry”. “No problem. I’ve got 4”
Excellent. There is nothing like a troupe of young dancing girls for breakfast I find. Today is new year’s eve and the girls are going to be dancing for a small local audience this evening so they’re here to practice early. So we munch away in the corner as the girls wiggle and glide their way round the cold concrete floor. They’re all lithe and liquid and move like silk curtains in a breeze to some low hypnotic music. It’s all over far too soon as the man on the bike falls off exhausted and the electricity goes off. Out into the jungle we go again, tracking round the hillside and across the valleys. Come to a suspension bridge that says it was built in 2004 but looks like it was built from parts of another bridge made in 1805. You watch a truck cross and it sways back and forth against the concrete end stops, the gap opening and shutting like a mad cutting machine where you dare people to put their leg in. No signs, no health and safety, just watch your step. Spend the day bouncing and sliding along the hillsides admiring all the moody views. The hills are peppered with little communities all living in stilted bamboo houses. These places are like tinder boxes and it takes the fire service at least 15 years to arrive so they all build separate stores well away from their homes on the edges of the villages so when they inevitable happens all their livelihoods are safe and protected.
It’s new years eve tonight so I’m expecting something special. Something regal, royal and opulent. Champagne and caviar. Maybe a ballroom and orchestra. It’s another government house but surely lightening (and damp, dry rot, crusty beds, elec..elect..electr..e…candlelight) cant strike twice can it? We cross the river and look up at the town up in the hills above. The sign says 2km. I reckon that’s 2km straight up. We climb up the zig zag track against a flow of water over some weird looking purple clay like goo, then big lots of mud and slime. Lord knows how they get the government limousines up here. It must days to clean them afterwards. Maybe this one has a helipad? Get to the village and it’s looking good. A flat football pitch dug out the hillside, there is even a small roundabout! I can see the house. It’s got a drive… and gates… and trees out front … and even some tarmac. Game on!
Through the gates we go. Still looking good. But then my old eyes begin to focus and see the cracks. Like one of those erroneous decisions you make in a crowded dark nightclub. “Blimey, she looks all right… nice arse… good hair…. why is she going into the gents?” Then the light dawns and the full horror hits. As the house comes into focus it’s not initially too bad. Could go either way. Go through the front hall and into the ‘atrium’. I think the SAS have been here first. I think they’ve used it as an urban assault training venue. All dilapidated and semi destroyed. I’ve got my own suite… which is nice. Bedroom, changing room, bathroom and balcony. All the rooms have flower names. Mine is called ‘Daisy’. I think this is a boutique hotel and all the rooms are themed. My theme seems to be ‘Abandoned’. It’s really clever how authentic the decorators have made it. Cold, mouldy and dark with a wicked cold breeze running through it. I’ll just shut the windows, that will help. I shut the windows. Makes fuck all difference. There isn’t any glass in them. Showering with a bucket of hot water is a test of speed before any essential body parts run away and hide in my warm body cavity and before the electricity goes off ag… fuck. Washing your body using Braille isn’t as easy as you’d think when your body is 100% goose pimples.
Nothing stops Gaurav’s little helpers though and they set about the evening ritual slaughter for dinner. I lay on my bed in the dark and listen to various local animals saying goodbye to 2015, and life in general really, as they get ready to celebrate a happy stew year. Screaming and wailing their way out of this world.
Spend new years eve sitting outside in the freezing cold round a camp fire surrounded by perfectly clear IMAX view of the beautiful galaxy stretching off into infinity. Suddenly a big furtive pig runs into the light of the fire. It pauses just briefly, fixes me with a “you have’t seen me, right” look, then hurries off into the shadows until the celebrations subside.
I quickly raid Violet, Marigold, and Golden Shower… yes really.. for blankets and spend the night wrapped up like a puff pastry sausage roll.
Another day, another lovely sunrise with the sun spotlighting the mountain tops through the clouds. Down is up in reverse. Sliding, slithering and slipping through the goo.
Forget the goo though, just look at the view. Christ that’s beautiful. A river of cloud flowing slowly through the valley. Looking down at clouds is one of my favourite things and this is up there with the best. Simple pleasures.
So. Today is bridge day. We’ve been trying not to think about bridge day. We’ve been told that this is why some people come on the trip. We’ve also been told that this is why people don’t come on the trip. Will the bridge take us to the other side, or will it take us to ‘the other side‘? Time to find out.
Follow some lovely jungle tracks for a while before Gaurav stops and looks over the edge. WTF? Down there? We’re going to be riding over what is really a footbridge. The paths to and fro are just very steep narrow rocky footpaths down from the tracks. Tip the bikes in and down we go. Anyone coming up has no chance as a swarm of barely in control Enfields scrabble down the slope like loose rocks. Shit. That’s impressive. About 500ft long and 150ft above the water. The locals use this as a shortcut on their little 125’s but their total combined weight is about 2 stone wet through. These Enfield’s are still fat from Christmas and with us Europorkers on board this is going to be interesting.
First across is the mechanic….errrr… maniac. I think he’s spotted a naked maiden bending over on the other side and sets off like a dog on heat. The bridge is swaying and making a loud clacking noise, usually followed by bits of the bridge breaking free and dropping into the water below. He makes is across and disappears into the undergrowth with the maiden to claim his prize. OK – our turns. I’m strangely calm about it for some reason. Perhaps I’ve just convinced myself that death is inevitable and it’s just not worth worrying about it. Perhaps I’m just stupid. Perhaps I’ll just ride back the way I came and go home. The next rider makes it across. All good, then my fellow workmate is up. Off she goes… steady… doing well… clank clank clank as plank after plank after plank drops in the water but she’s across no problem. Good girl! OK. I’m lined up. I’m ready to go. I’m off… well nearly off as it happens as I instantly veer to the left and rip the left foot peg clean off on a cable. So I’m 10m in with no left footpeg and my leg dangling in thin air at 20mph on a wobbly wooden tightrope. What else could possibly go wrong? I get to the middle and it’s really moving now. Swaying to and fro and with the surface leaning to the left. Bollocks… whats that? That looks like a bit of a gap… or too. The previous rider has made a few structural modifications and suddenly there are some big gaps. I just chicken out and stop. Probably not the best idea! I look at the gap and just pop the front over the first gap but the back then goes in and the bike starts to roll back into the gap. Logic would say the bike is not going to fit through the gap and fall into the water below but at this moment logic isn’t in control. Survival instinct has taken over and my brain is searching for a solution as the bike pulls me backwards. As luck would have it I’m still in gear..mainly due to the fact that my left footrest has gone.. so I slowly let the clutch out and creep out the hole and forward over the gaps before riding slowly up the other side with my heart rate at somewhere over 2000bpm and my arse tight enough to use as a pencil sharpener. Fuck! I turn round and the last rider across has stopped in the middle and wont go any further. We wander out with some spare planks to patch it all up and get him across.
Let my heart rate calm down a bit, and manage to sharpen about 500 pencils before setting off out up the valley to find some food. The towns are all shut up except for a few hardy souls selling their wears in the cold shadows of their shops.
The light is dropping and we’ve got to get up the mountain to a small village where Gaurav has a mate with some small shacks he lets people sleep in. After the last 2 nights I’m not expecting anything. Maybe a floor and a roof. Maybe a pig toilet (where the there is hole in the floor strategically placed over a pig sty for immediate reprocessing!) and a couple of blankets made of snot and ear wax. The road up is spectcularly rough and my ares is being constantly being arsed to take up the slack when the suspension runs out of travel. We’re lead down a 1 in 1 track for what feels like a 2 mile stoppie before reaching a flat area with a few fantastic tiny huts perching delicately on the jungle slope. Shit – I wasn’t expecting this for sure.
Spend a wonderful night dreaming of laying suspended on clouds. Out for chai and breakfast round the fire before attacking the very steep rough and slippery track out of this little oasis and back to the spine crushing road at the top. No thinking, no hesitating, just pin it to win it and up we all go. These bikes continue to surprise me. I’ve done a fair amount of rough and off-road riding though I would definitely not class myself as anything other than an average rider. I would definitely never ever say I was an off-road rider, it’s always scared my bowel contents out of me. The strange thing is that I find myself thinking that I’ve never ever been more comfortable riding off-road and in the sorts of conditions we’re seeing here. I’m happily sitting down and riding though just about anything on the Enfield. It slips slides and wiggles and it doesn’t bother me at all. We’re not really hanging about either. Its just such a stable old beast. I occasionally have to stand up when it gets really shit but with the low bars I have to stick my arse out look like Miley Cyrus practising her twerking moves. You also can’t help standing on the heal change and going into neutral which always makes me laugh… NOT..
Up in the hills again we’re going following a rough track with high jungle both sides. We come to a clearing and there are some kids and adults sitting on the edge selling stuff they’ve picked from the local fauna. Bananas and chillies, supposedly the hottest in the world. This area likes it’s food very hot and spicy. I bought a special ‘tongue sock’ before I came to protect me from the worst of it but after a meal it looks like it’s been bombed with napalm. These people up here are so isolated and innocent that they’ve apparently never had their pictures taken on a phone. I can’t remember the last time I met someone like that but it was a very long time ago indeed. Lots of giggling and laughing and pointing. The kids want 10 pence for a bunch of bananas so I give them a 100 and feed their little pig running around their heals. Everyones a winner.
We’re back for a touch of civilisation today and we spend the day slowly descending though roads cut through dense jungle, surrounded by deep dense greenery and some strange palm trees with trunks as smooth dark and hard as a black athletes body. Deep shadows and piecing sunshine constantly fight for your attention as we twist and turn slowly through the mess and water down and on to the plains below near a village we camped near a few days ago. First sighting of an elephant too. Looks like it’s slept in a graffiti hotspot as it’s covered in tags and signs, lumbering slowly along the road. The bloke on his back is busy texting. Surely that’s dangerous…
We’re staying at a ‘resort’ tonight. That could mean anything, absolutely anything. Perhaps it’s a new an unknowns ‘Sandals’ resort with white sand and an infinity pool. Perhaps it’s a shed with a puddle, a ‘last resort’. The track up to it certainly doesn’t look like it’s been regularly used by people delivering delicate items of glass and furniture and foie gras in little refrigerated trucks. It’s a river bank, all sandy with big rocks in then a very very steep, loose, tight and twisty ending but the climax is definitely worth all the frightening foreplay. A big wooden house with big bedrooms, showers and even that most elusive of utilities, near constant electricity. Bonus. Hot shower anyone? Yes please, I’ll take 3. Scrub off my dirty coating and delight in the feeling of a cool breeze over clean warm flesh. The place is really close to the big river and some rapids. It’s a fledgling project to offer white water rafting to visitors. This time of the year the river is low and so is trade.
Cooking smells draw us in to the dining area. Us, and all the owners pets too. The dogs are fine but the little kitten is climbing about trying to get to the food and making a right racket. The cook comes out the kitchen and just grabs the cat. Oh shit. It’s kitty and custard for desert by the looks of it. He suddenly just hurls the cat high in to the air. WTF is he doing? The cats eyes are wide open like two shiny marbles, it’s mouth is wide open, it’s legs are splayed out and it’s thinks it’s looking death in the face. It’s traveling backwards fast and it’s meeeoooooooo is fading as it gets further and further away. It hits a beam far up in the roof of the house,and clings on for dear life, perched on a ledge, no route down. Perhaps I can try that with the kids at home. What a flippin racket though. The cat just sits there screaming “I’m really really really sorry” at the top of it’s little squeaky voice until I finish and climb up on the furniture to rescue it. Then we have kitty and custard to finish anyway:) Tasty.
My back is shagged again and my arse feels like it’s been used in a game of ‘pass the arsehole’ at a gay sumo birthday party. I need attention. One of the crew goes to town, finds a big box with ‘1970’ on it and opens it to find a tiny little masseur that looks like a cross between a mad magician and Val Doonican. Huge black moustache, a beige nylon cardigan/trousers combo and muscles like a mouse. I’m not hopeful. What follows is less like a massage, and more like being attacked by an angry 12 year old. Lots of little punches, jabs and slaps. Lots of pulling and shoving. After a while the sweat is dripping of the ends of his moustache and I feel so sorry for him that I motion for him to stop. His nylons have generate so much static that he is in danger of shorting out the building so I tell him to leave. I just see a white flash of light and hear an almighty crack as he steps of the veranda and touches earth. When the cloud of smoke clears it appears all his clothes have shrink wrapped themselves to his body. He wont get those off in a hurry.
Take a walk down to the river basin and watch the cows wander about on the beach. A beautiful spot, covered in millions of colourful pebbles. Someone has been hard at work arranging them all so that there are never two of the same colour next to each other. That must have taken a while.
“What’s on the menu today?” “Todays’s theme is riverbeds” is the reply. We’ve seen them stretching out into the sunny haze from up in the mountains. Wide veins of water randomly wandering about towards the horizon amongst the stony beds. We take the thrill ride down the track and through the tall grass lining the edges, the seed heads all alight with the low sun and swinging about like lighters at a concert.
Find a proper wide tarmac road and it feels like I’m riding on a magic carpet. All smooth and delicious and grippy. Still absolutely no traffic. None. Nada. It’s really Freaky. Tarmac soon turns to trail turns to rocks and we get to the riverbed.
There tracks are obvious where trucks have pushed the stones into the ground but these are often the worst to ride on. Rocks that would usually move are solidly driven into the ground and quickly give my poor old back the twitches again. What a stunning place though.. Clear and cool and bright and scrubbed clean by the sand. Just gorgeous.
The beds are obviously punctuated by lots of flowing water. They’re too fast, deep and rocky to cross in vehicles but the locals, as always, have provided solutions. In the usual Indian manner, they don’t wait for the government to sort it out, they sort it out themselves. Like little river trolls , enterprising groups build bridges of stone and wood, then they build themselves little huts and simple barriers and charge people a modest sum to cross.
We’re at the barrier at one bridge and I get a strong smell of perfume. Really strong too. Unless I’ve suddenly developed the nose of a labrador it has to be close. It’s got to be one of the blokes at the barrier. At a guess, I’d say it’s the one with the bright pink nail varnish. Ho hum. Each to their own. Perhaps it gets really lonely out here…
We shelter from the sun in their hut for a while and I drink my daily 2 gallon allowance of chai. Just watching the world go by. People come. People go. Same same but different. Same the world over.
The sun is falling out the sky, tired after another day of shining bright. We’re camping again tonight and we need to find somewhere flat and smooth in this wilderness. We need to get off the riverbeds first but they just keep on coming. We come to a big one that the local’s bridge building skills don’t quite stretch to so there is a ferry instead. 3 boats lashed together and one motor to just drive against the current.
Loading these things is a delicate balancing act and we’re all told where to stand for the crossing whilst the crew goes into a blur bailing out the water from the three hulls. I love this stuff. I’ve got the top spot, balanced right on the front of far boat. The motor is beating through my feet and the water is chattering round the front as we slowly drift across. Look down into crystal clear water on its never ending journey from the clouds to the sea to the clouds to the sea. Watch the deep beneath my feet and resist the urge to just jump in. Bump the bikes off and we’re away and on the hunt for a site for the night. There are tracks going off in all directions but we’re running out of time so Gaurav goes hunting whilst the crew chases an escaped cockerel round and round like a Benny Hill sketch. The final score is cockerel won, crew zero. Vegetarian for dinner tonight.
Gaurav appears out of some bushes on the bike and has a huge smile on his face. “I’ve found a beautiful spot. You’ll love it, follow me”. I’m wondering if I told him that I loved motorcycle assault courses as we head off through all range of stuff with low tree branches, sand and gravel and tall grass before reaching a large open area and we stop….at a massive boulder field. “It’s just over there” says Gaurav. “How the fuck are we going to get over there?” “We’ll just follow the road” says my lady friend. “The road? Are you mad? WTF are you talking about? There is no flippin road!” She has spotted a track where the boulders are 2mm lower than all those surrounding it – brilliant. That’s a road…. obviously…..
My enfield is standing by me like an obedient metal mutt, wagging it’s tail and ready to do whatever I command. “TO DISABILITY, AND BEYOND” I shout as I launch off over the ‘road’ to the sand beyond. I’m going too fast. I’m going to die. I’m going to be turned into a million piece human jigsaw when I come off on this. Sure enough there is a HUGE boulder that I swear is the shape of a coffin, right in the middle of my path. It’s my destiny. It’s fate. It’s fucking big and hard and launches me straight out into the big rocks where the inevitable happens and me and the Enfield part company. The bike just sits there laughing and giggling. “Bovvered?” It’s not bovvered at all. Not a mark on it. I think the boulders have suffered more than it has. It’s indestructible. Luckily my leathers have kept all my essential components within stretching distance of one another and I’m in one piece. I get the bike upright again and slowly bump myself onto the deep smooth sand.
Was the pain worth this pleasure? Decide for yourself. We’ve found ourselves on an elephant footpath and pitch our tents amongst the big flat circles and watch the sun fall slowly over the edge.
In the monsoon this plain is flooded and leaves many people isolated on little islands. The only way across is by elephant. I think we’re camped in the middle of the E1. I’m keen not to get squashed under the heels of a jumbonaut in the night so I’ve made sure my tent is on the hard shoulder. I think that’s sensible.
In the morning, there’s only one way out. No body has been up to build a bridge or tarmac a road so it’s back over the boulders and along the tracks.
We’re not going far today. Destination is Roing where an ex government man has built a guest house. I wonder if he’s the architect of the other government houses we’ve stayed in. Maybe they were done just for practice. Maybe he’s got it right this time. Maybe… We take a short detour to Assam for a cup of… you’ve guessed it … tea. Crossing the borders between states means paperwork, even though they’re the same country. You need permits. We’ve not bought ours this time so we park up the road and creep past the barrier. As I do I look left into the office window and see way back in time. An old man is busy doing his paperwork on a huge old typewriter. When was the last time you saw one of those being used? The familiar tap tap bing comes through the air as hits newline with the big chrome handle.
Beyond the barrier is just like a normal border town. Lots of coming and going but a bit of an atmosphere too. Maybe not so friendly this time. Lots of curiosity and people staring. A bit uncomfortable if I’m honest but that’s a good thing. It’s always good to give all your senses some practice and experiences, even the unpleasant ones.
Get to Joing and this time we get a great result on the lodging lottery. I reckon this is a 4 number win easily. Bamboo huts in a compound overlooking the river.
Spend the evening with the host in his little octagonal bamboo tower. Squeaky suspended floors and a barbecue in the middle where he cooks chicken kebabs with a molten lava coating. These things burn straight through my tongue sock and have all my taste buds running for cover. He is also serving some delicious local rice wine that tastes a lot like honey. As I pour it in there is a hiss and a cloud of steam like a hot horseshoe being doused in a cold bucket of water.
The host says the wine can only be made by women, and even then, only particular women. It must have a secret ingredient. I’m not really sure I want to know exactly what that ingredient is and I don’t ask any more questions. Whatever it is, it tastes divine.
The special chicken coating has done something to my insides. I feel like I’ve been sitting impaled on an air hose and I’m all bloated and full of hot air. I’m in danger of letting loose an entry for the worlds longest fart competition so I head to bed early and climb into the cold hard bed. I lay down, hold on and release the trigger to let the pressure wave loose which has both good and bad side effects. The good news is that can I slam all the doors shut without having to get out of bed. The bad news is that my ears start bleeding. The air pressure has reached about 50 atmospheres and so I have to call the owner to drill a little hole in the wall to allow me to decompress slowly.
Back to the little tower for breakfast and chai. Anyone that’s had chai knows it’s sweet. Ours is getting sweeter every day and I reckon it’s now about 70/30 sugar to tea. I might as well suck a stick of sugar cane. Nobody does diabetic out here, they miss out the betic completely and go straight to die. Bloody lovely way to go though.
Today is a big local loop up the Mayodiya pass and back. We’re only about 40 miles from the China border and you can see it in the local people’s eyes. The pass is not that high at about 2700m but it’ll be chilly up there and we’ll be able to see some of the snow topped himalayas over the border in the neighbours garden.
Like a lot of countries India has an aspiration to turn all the roads up to it’s borders into modern 2 lane highways that project an idea of wealth to people entering from outside. Lots of these roads are currently single lane narrow trails just scratched into the side of the mountains through 100’s of years of toing and froing. As you ride these roads you go through miles and miles of rough, shit and mess then you’ll suddenly come across a small section covered in people laying tarmac, then back to the shit again. I can’t work it out. I think they just take a load of stuff to a place where there are locals living and fix it there but leave all the rest alone. Anyway, this road isn’t going to be finished any time soon for sure. We come across a section where they’re trying to widen the jungle with a big fuck off Caterpillar. Women with red flags on poles walk through the undergrowth waving the flags and the Caterpillar bulldozes it’s way through behind them. I bet they hardly ever have accidents doing that. Safe as houses!
We quickly get up above the jungle and start to climb. The road is very bad in sections and there is a lot of loose stuff about. It’s funny how you just don’t think about things until it’s almost too late sometimes. You’re mind is off somewhere else, your body is in cruise control and all is well in the world. I come to a right hand corner and go right to avoid a big rock. I’m really close to the edge and as I lean round I look down at my right foot for some reason and what do I see? Nothing. Literally nothing for hundreds and hundreds of feet. My foot….. lots and lots of air… then mountain. Jesus Christ, I need to concentrate. We’re on a single track road and there are sometimes cars and even lorries on it and you can meet them at any time. The only barriers are what Mother Nature provides. A few weedy bushes if you’re lucky but frequently their is just air. If you go off the edge here you’re going to fly, then you’re going to die. Give it 5 minutes though and you’re back on auto pilot, mind wandering, whistling a happy tune. Maybe it’s altitude? Maybe is madness? Anyway, we all make it safely to the top and breath in the view.
The good news is that there is a tiny village about 10k down the other side that we can go and warm up and eat at. The bad news is that it’s down the shadow side of the mountain and the road is a sheet of ice. Bloody farty wank bugger and knob. Do they do delivery? I’ll wait here. Just take out my brain and put it safely under a big rock to collect later and off we go. Onto the ice we go. You know you’re in trouble when you can’t here anything underneath the wheels. No road noise equals no grip as we very carefully pick and slither our way down the track, trying not to think about the quick way down just a short slide away. Get to the little village, complete with it’s own hotel and restaurant.
It looks popular so I run inside to see if I can get a table. The maitre d tells me he can just about fit us in and that we can have the table by the kitchen. He leads us across the bamboo floor and we sit amongst the smoke and smells, relax in the warmth and swap smiles with the locals.
Full of chai with a stomach feeling like a wobbly water bomb we retrace our steps up and over the pass, remembering to retrieve my brain from the rock on the way. Get to sea level just in time for sunset. Another perfect day over.
The end is nigh. I’ve enjoyed this trip so much. Did anyone ever watch Mr Ben as a kid? I’m at the moment when I can see the shopkeeper arriving to take me out of this dream and I’m wondering if I can buck the trend and shoot him and stay here instead. It’s got to be possible.
Today we’re slowly heading back west to where we can start the long journey home. Put that to the back of my mind though, get on the bike, breath and just ride. I’m not quite ready to take this smile off my face.
Get to some more riverbeds and go for a quick paddle before following some more post apocalyptic tarmac for a while. Just us. 5 bikes… and 2 elephants.
There is just time for a short diversion for a last look at the view over the plains. Point the bikes skyward and open the throttle. My poor old bike is beginning to feel it now and the clutch won’t disengage which makes life interesting in the mess and mud but we make it through. My eyes must be getting really fat with all these feasts I’m giving them.
“Hello – iPhone 6 here. I know that when I get home it’s all going to be shit and grey and wet and I’ll just have to hide in his dark pocket for months so I thought I’d just get a final bit of exercise before my enforced hibernation. Please forgive my indulgence.
We’re back in Assam now and the scenery all starts to grow low. Low and green and tea flavoured. It’s our last night out in the wilds and tonight its another government house in the middle of a big plantation. Got to be good right? These tea barons make a mint (no pun intended!) so it’s all going to be thick carpets, gold plate and sticking your pinky out to drink your chai. I hope my dinner suit hasn’t got to creased in my luggage. I’m sure the maid will be able to press it when she’s ironing my newspaper. The road should have told me something. I think the official classification according to the international roads and highways agency would be ‘completely and utterly fucking shit and completely unsuitable for any form of wheeled transport. Do not use, even in the worst emergency, ever’. So…we’re scooting along this road about 60 and I appear to have someone on my saddle equipped with a super taser that he just can’t resist pressing every few seconds. I’m going to be at least 2 inches shorter by the end of this trip. By the time we get to the house it’s all I can do to stand up. I’m really looking forward to a deep hot bath…. or not
The tea baron seems to have left the building. Maybe some time in 1950. He’s taken all his toys with him too by the looks of it. My ‘bed’ is a 2 poster. That’s a new one on me for a start. Someone seems to have nicked the mattress as well… There is a bed…with a blanket… but no mattress. It’s like an empty sandwich. That’s going to do my back the world of good. We’re told they’re going to turn the electricity off at 6:30 for ‘maintenance/diverting to the house next door so I take the bucket of hot water to the bathroom (read bomb shelter.. that someone has tested by letting a bomb off on the inside) at 6 safe in the knowledge that …. shit…. the fucking idiots can’t tell the time. Too late now, all my clothes are somewhere in the pitch black, so just soap up and get on with it. I bet I look like a car washed by a child, with big grubby patches I’ve missed but who cares. It’s all the fun of a trip like this. Eat our final supper by candlelight and reflect on a fantastic 10 days spent in good company in a really great part of the world. Retire to my bed/rack for a fractious night of spasms and dreams of torture.
Up in the morning and the sun is doing it’s best to put the smile back on my face. Burning the mist off the tea and bathing the house in its most sympathetic soft light.
Take breakfast on the balcony. Sit with my feet on the edge and watch a swarm of workers land and work their way through around the tea bushes. A low hum of conversation fills the air and the low sun fires piercing rays through the mist. All is right in the world. Kill me now.
Am I still here? Bugger. Still. It’s in the memory bank. Marked ‘DO NOT DELETE. EVER’.
Out onto the road and east east east, back to everything I’ve not missed in the slightest. The road gets busier and busier, and more and more mental. The normal chaos that is India fades back in and we’re back to the town far too quickly. Surrounded by noise and solid traffic, acrid smells and clouds of smoke, a super tight concentration of humanity just trying to make it’s way. Reach the hotel and we’ve all made it in one piece. A fruitless walk around town to try and find some presents and visit the local Enfield dealer and there is only time to eat and sleep.
I’m in the hotel restaurant waiting for my dinner. I get a weird sensation round my ankles. Like my lady friend sitting next to me is playing footsie. Surely not. Not with her boyfriend sat right next to her. Suddenly I see something scoot out from under the table and across the floor. Panic over…. a mouse has been crawling over my foot. I think it’s gone to the kitchen to help with the dinner. Good old India.
So it’s another trip over and a long journey home. Not long enough though. I’ll be back in the rat race in 2 days. We travel too far too quickly nowadays. It’s not natural. We need time to adjust but we barely have time to think nowadays.
This trip has been a bit of a revelation though. When you’ve done a lot of travelling it’s difficult to recapture the thrills and feelings like when you first started. At first it’s like teenage sex. It’s all brilliant and you just don’t realise how lucky you are. You don’t know that tight flesh won’t last forever, and that nipples can in fact point down as well as up. The experiences are just spoilt on you. You just don’t take the time to appreciate exactly what it is you’re doing, you just dive in (careful!) and enjoy the moment. For me, this trip has been a bit like voyager viagra. Not a full return to the halcyon days of youth when you could hammer rivets into ships without using your hands, just a gentle rekindling and awakening of feelings and emotions you expected never to experience again. Just simple things really but stuff to raise your mood and give a bit of a reality check.
Arunachal Pradesh. It’s such a beautiful place. I’d go back in a heartbeat and I would recommend it to anyone. It’s changing fast though so get in quick.
Now, as soon as I can find a new spine on eBay I’ll be ready for the next one:)