The starts were getting consistently earlier. Waking from my comfortable darkness has always been a shock to my nervous system but here I am as with my record breaking days, up before the grey has gone. If you think of the speed of light, darkness is faster always waiting first for it to get bright, but it doesn’t make it easier to know that for a while the heat will be contained, the wind will be quiet, the roads almost empty of anything.
The room is littered with my kit and stuff and bits slowly diminishing in amount my using only a few things on any regular basis. I like to pack in the morning because what belongings I have remind me of home. I am not trying to disguise the simple humanness of wanting to be in a place I feel familiar because the world close up is not an easy place to know.
Yet the expediency of this journey suits me well and within 15 minutes I am on the road, entering the early morning maelstrom of trucks puffing out their particulates and deep charcoal coloured smoke. The sound is not serene with the clanking of containers on their unwieldy carriers. The buzz of the auto rickshaw and the small bore motorbikes, the old battered engines of the Eicher trucks and the cars too numerous to count.
I stop within the hour at a veg and chai restaurant and order Butter Uthappam, it’s urad dal and rice mixed with a cooling white paste followed by a chai. The central seating area is clean, the floor smooth with not a spit of discarded paan. The Tea Stall is at the corner, adjacent to an open kitchen all stainless steel and staff in their hairnets. Very middle class with a guard whistling cars into parking places, mums with their kids, girls in jeans, nearly everyone wearing spectacles. I’m just delaying what I need to do as I enter my road world of honking humans at their steering wheels grimacing roughly out of windows when I saw a woman leading her horses down the highway in a way it could only happen in India.
At 98kms to go I stop at a food hub which includes a Starbucks - oh the wonderful irony of a coffee and tea company breeding franchises in a country that at a fraction of the price serves the most beautiful chai. And yet I soak up the air con, it’s coolness wrapping around my hot body like a cold blanket incubating my temperature until I feel comfortable again.
The bike is in eco mode at the lowest setting marginally felt but enough to help me up the gentle hills. And the place is packed with girls in cut off jeans, buff men in their tightly fitting really quite clean tees, all sandals and shirt sleeves and little Indian tummies.
And do through the day I journey through these lifestyle and economic undulations and back on the NH3 to Lord Rama’s place of exile. As an avatar of Vishnu he is the Supreme Being which is like a subset story line from a fantasy video game.
69kms to go I see a sugar cane juice vendor with a woman and they almost do a dance around their machine, she scowling, he smiling, me drinking and at 56kms to go where the highway separates as we approach the Western Ghats I stop again at a chai vendor, his tray of fried samosas, blackened pans, strings of crisps and savoury snacks in packets hanging on a line, I can do no more. I ride to Nashik and check into a hotel, unwrap my stuff to write my story of today then sleep. I’m done.
The Sugarcane Man
Map of the Day