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Published: November 24th 2012
Anirudha and Tejas had already deposited the bikes at the Bandra Terminus. Having anticipated the meager opportunity of bathing in Ladakh, we showered to the heart’s content, put on the cleanest clothes, handed over the house keys to the neighbor and gathering our bags climbed down the stairs with mixed feelings. Excitement, dilemma, unease, recklessness and sense of adventure, everything had grasped our tiny minds when we were marching towards Bandra. The first thing that we did when we met our fellow riders at the train station was to mentally inspect their luggage and resolve if that would fit on the bike and if ours was heavier and/or heftier than theirs. Ours definitely was! Anyways, we treated our tummies under the pretex of passing the time until the train arrives and then with an air of a victorious warrior paraded towards our corresponding platform.
Not willing to take any risk, the dudes having escorted their pillions and the baggage to the bogie went to the luggage compartment and made sure that the bikes boarded the same train. While they were at it, we discovered where our fellow travelers were headed to. The Vivek Express left Bandra right on time and hurray…..we were finally going to Ladakh!! The train journey was good except for the ‘Baroda Incident’ which I would happily skip. We crossed the borders of about 5 states, saw varying landscapes, experienced dissimilar climate, came across diverse people, ethnicities and lifestyles, relished a wide array of cuisines and took many photographs. While the train was passing through Gujarat, I offered my services of translating the signboards and enjoyed conversing with the vendors in Gujarati. It was fun narrating stories about different cities we were navigating through.
I was jubilant when the train stopped at Ahmedabad for half an hour. I got down alone, took a stroll on the platform and soaked myself in the long craved for Ahmedabadi milieu. With the delicious rabadi (a sweet made from milk) at Abu, we bid goodbye to my Garavi Gujarat and embraced the scorching breezes of Rajasthan. The round roofed grass huts, declining vegetation, frequently sighted peacocks, camels & sheep herds, colorfully dressed up women, highly decorated carts & auto rickshaws and the blazing sun greeted us in the land of valiant Rajputs. The fertile terra firma of Punjab majestically enshrouded under the vast expanses of emerald green wheat farms truly appealed to our eyes while the luscious ‘chhole bhature’ of Ludhiana and Jalandhar still titillate our taste buds at the name of it. All along, Lee was reveling in using her GPS and predicting the next station, and accordingly we decided whether to wear the shoes or not!
Eventually, at the end of about 37 hours of odyssey, we entered Jammu & Kashmir; the province whose roads we were going to trod for next 2 and half weeks. The Jammu Tawi Railway Station was cram packed with the Vaishno Devi pilgrims waiting for the daybreak. It was raining heavily outside; a bad sign for us, and we had to look for a hotel to spend the remaining hours of night before we could get hold of our bikes and begin the long awaited ride. Anirudha & Tejas went out in the hotel hunt and what followed next was the worst hotel experience of our entire trip. Hotel Shankar; a filthy pigeonhole was full of bedbugs and I was quite agitated to get myself bitten by those creepy little creatures. We also dreaded what if they get into our bags and travel with us all the way to Leh! However, they didn’t. After a short reluctant attempt of convincing us about them being the mosquitoes and not the bedbugs, the unenthusiastic manager shifted us to another equally murky room minus bedbugs, from where we couldn’t wait to get out.
The rain still continued in the morning and the ill fitting hand and leg pads added to our frustration. A bad start! The guys got the bikes, changed the wet clothes, dressed themselves up in the riding clothes & rain gears, covered the luggage in plastic bags, loaded the bikes, tied the bungee ropes, double checked them, and we were all ready to set out!
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