Rann of Kutch – 4

Dated : 27-Dc-2014

I took off from Ekal Mata Mandir at 8:20 AM in the morning after saying goodbye to my gracious hosts. I took a short cut kaccha-road from Ekal Mandir which would lead me to the Ravechi mandir and further on-to balesar, there-by completely by-passing Rapar.

As i cycled through the early morning mist, i noticed a strange sound coming from near my rear-rack. I dismissed the sounds assuming it to be originating from the panniers. However, it got louder and louder with time and it had me concerned.

I found a village along the way (the name of which i don’t remember anymore) and immediately stopped and asked for breakfast in a hotel (as I had not had breakfast before leaving that day). They said they only had khakras and i left disappointed as i did not intend to have khakras for breakfast as it would ruin my day. I causally asked if there was a mechanic shop to a small kid and he led me to the shop.

The mechanic was in and i asked him to help me figure out where the noise was coming from. As we removed the panniers, it was rather obvious that the noise was coming from the rack itself. It turned out that the screw on one side of the rack had fallen off completely there by leaving the rack wobbling. I was concerned and was wondering what to do. I carried a lot of spares for the trip but seriously, who’d carry screws?? This was an unexpected mechanical failure. The mechanic came out with a bunch of screws of different sizes and after some re-tries, we found the right one and he help me fit it right into the slot.

After the job was done, i said, “Thank you Bhaiyya, aapne mera trip bacha liya” (Thanks for saving my trip) to which he said, “agar aap ke paas time ho toh ruk jaao yahin pe, aapkeliye nashta, garam paani sabka intezaam ho jaayega” (if you have time, i can arrange for break-fast and hot water for bath). I thanked him for his offer and said I had to leave as I needed to cover as much ground as possible in the morning.

Then, again, as i offered to pay him for the repair, he flat out refused and said “Doston se kya paise lena???” (I can’t take money from friends) “bas aap kutch mein aaye ho itne door se, agar aap wapas kushi khushi gaye toh wahi hamaare liye kaafi hai” (you came to kutch so far from home and if you go back happy, that’s enough for us).

He had a shop/garage hardly bigger than a broom cupboard and yet, he had a heart larger than anyone i have met. I left the village behind on my way to Balesar with a heavy but glad heart.

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Rann of Kutch – 3

Dated: 26-Dec-2014

At the crack of dawn, I woke up to a cold morning in the Ekal maata mandir. After having a cup of warm tea, I was waiting in anticipation for the first light so that i could make my way to the Great Rann.

At 6:30 AM, the priest of the temple came out and told me there was a person outside who was going to take the camel to the salt desert and he asked me to accompany this person. As I went out, i was greeted by the smell of camel poop and bidi. The camel driver (for the lack of a better word) introduced himself and told me he was heading INTO the rann and said i could join.

So, there was this huge camel and then there was a cart tied to the camel which is used to hold the driver plus the salt that would be mined in the rann. The camel driver said the camel could pull a tonne of salt plus a driver and a passenger.

Now, I have a personal rule never to sit in any vehicle which was powered by any animal and so, i told him i would walk along side the cart and asked him to get on the cart. But, he laughed and told me that I’d not be able to keep up. Reluctantly, I climbed up the cart and sat beside him and the camel took off.

Boy was it fast!! I’m sure we were doing at least 20 kmph and the camel powered cart just flew over the desert terrain (mostly comprised of mud). It was a cold 9 degree Celsius and the first light was just beginning to appear. We got chatting along the route and he said he needs to mine over 800 kilos of salt a day to get a profit of Rs 500. It would take over 6 hours of hard work in the sun to mine the salt and then load it into the cart. His job was to mine the salt manually and get it transported to the nearby factories for processing.

He took me 4 kms into the rann and said he’d have to make a detour from there and asked me to hop off. Along the way, I’d marked a lot of gps waypoints to ensure I’d not get lost on my return journey.

I got off the cart and thanked him and offered him Rs 200 for the ride conscious of the fact that, for the same camel ride in a touristy place, I’d have to shell out over Rs 1000 and that too for just a few minutes’ ride. He smiled politely at me and said i was a guest to his “home” and said he’d not accept the money. He wished me luck for the remainder of my trip and said “bas bhagvan se dua hai ki tum khayriyat se ghar laut jao” (I just pray for your safe return home).

How is it that, a person who had to feed a family of 3 kids and a wife earning Rs 500 a day for back breaking/tiring work refuse to take or fleece money from a toursit? I’d never understand…He went off alone on his cart leaving me in the middle of nowhere…A place I always craved to be in…

It was a heart warming moment in that cold, chilly morning…

Rann of Kutch -2

Dated: 24- Dec-2014

After having some lip-smacking Paranthas at the parathe-wali galli (near chandini chowk), i bid good bye to my good friend Divyam with a heavy heart knowing that i’ll not be seeing him for some time to come and boarded the metro which would take me back to the express line at new delhi station which would further take me to the Domestic airport.

The ride to the airport was un-eventful but i was worrying about my further plans. I was supposed to land at Ahmadabad at 7:30 pm but the great spice-jet flight was delayed and we were leaving delhi only at 8:40 pm!! I was fussing about how to get a bus to bhuj so late in the night (with a cycle in tow) and i did not want to miss a day by staying back in Ahmadabad that night. My other concern was if the cycle would arrive safely at Ahmadabad at all.

As i boarded my plane, i was frantically checking redbus to see if there were any buses beyond 10:30 pm from Ahmadabad to Bhuj. But the most reliable BSNL 3G internet conked off and i was left fuming.

I turned to the co-passenger (Mr Shanmugam) beside me and in the spur of the moment asked him if he was from Ahmadabad. He said he was not and my face fell and I politely thanked him and was about to get back to my world of music player and kindle when he asked me if i needed any help. I explained to him my plight and asked him if he knew any bus operators who’d book a bus ticket on my behalf. He immediately whipped out his phone and started calling some one. He asked for my name, age and my destination and within a few mins, he had my ticket booked (just as the flight attendants announced over the intercom to switch off all mobile phones)!!! His friend who worked as a travel agent in the same company as him had come online at 8:30 PM and booked a ticket on his behalf for a total stranger!!! Mr Shanmugam told me I could pay him the ticket money in cash and he’d settle with his friend when he got back. I gladly handed him the money and thanked him again for helping out.

So we got chatting about where i was headed and where i was from. It came as a great surprise to know he was from karnataka itself. Delighted, we switched languages and he asked me about my other travel experiences. I regaled him with my stories for some time and then asked about him. Turns out he used to work for a government company before and now he had switched to a private company. His field was mining and he told me he had traveled extensively through out karnataka and to far off places. He had of course been to a lot of standard trekking routes in karnataka. Best part was, he was headed to the same bus stop in Ahmadabad as i was and he said we could share a ride.

Time flew as we kept swapping stories and in next to no time, the plane landed in Ahmadabad. As we got off the plane, he came with me to get his baggage. Then, he waited for me to get my cycle and my backpack. We exited the airport together and then hailed down a taxi.

Getting the cycle (which was inside a big box) onto the taxi turned out to be a spectacle in itself. It was a struggle to get the box on top. After that, we had to tie it down to the railings tightly to make sure it did not fall off. Mr Shanmugan patiently helped me get the cycle on the taxi though i kept insisting to him that he needn’t get his hands dirty.

After all the hoopla of getting the cycle on the taxi, we had just 40 mins to get to the bus stop from the airport and we asked the driver to floor it. As we rode in the taxi, it was Mr Shanmugam who kept checking more times than me if the cycle was still in place. It was heartening to see just how much he cared.

As we got down at our bus stop, he paid for the ride and when i insisted on paying my half he said it’s ok as i was still a kid and he would not take money from me :/ . Then, he went out of the way to help me get the cycle down from the taxi. While waiting for our respective buses, he asked me to look out for his luggage and came back with some delicious sandwiches and orange juice. We ate together and as we finished eating, my bus to bhuj arrived and i again thanked him profusely for helping out. He said it was his pleasure and thanked me for the lively time he had while on the flight.

He handed out his card to me and asked me to call him in case of any problems what so ever while i was still in gujrat. I bid him goodbye and boarded my bus to Bhuj.

It was the second time in the day i was bidding goodbye to a good friend i had made on the road…. 😦

Rann of Kutch – 1

It was 11:30 am in the morning. I was laboring away on my cycle under the hot sun on a highway having just gotten outside of bhuj..It was a little too hot and not having slept properly the night before, my morale was a bit down and i was having a lot of doubts about my plans for the trip. I was supposed to end my ride in Ekal Rann that day and i had no idea where it was.

As i was lost in my gloomy thoughts turning over the pedals, a guy on an activa pulled up beside me and introduced himself as Kanji bhai and asked me if i wanted to drink tea. Puzzled, i just said yes and he led me to a small dhaba by the side of the road a few hundred meters away. While i followed him, i wondered if he would drug me and steal my money and cycle. As soon as i stepped into the dhaba, i was handed a saucer and then someone poured tea into it. So, i drank tea from the saucer in the good old fashioned way slurping away to glory…After i finished, kanji bhai started asking me where i was from and where i was headed. When i told him the end point of my day was Ekal Rann but i dod not know here it was, he pulled up a chair, got a pen and a notebook and started drawing out a route map for me. He gave me exact details about the Ekal Mandir, whom i should contact there, what kind of food i’d get along the way, where i could stay for the next day. Basically, he laid out the plans for my trip for the next 2 days!!! Bemused, i just listened to him and nodded to everything he said. After he finished, i just thanked him for the tea and started to leave. But, he asked me if i could stay for lunch. I wanted to get going as the day would get hotter and i wanted to cover as much ground as possible. After some insisting on his part, i gave in.

He ordered the food for me :/ and lunch was a typical kutchi fare. I was served hot bajra rotis straight from the oven along with some curry and dollops of butter. It was delicious and i felt thankful for having said yes for lunch. We chatted casually over lunch and he told me everything about how industrialization is helping kutchi people. When i raised the issue of modi, he jsut had reverence in his eyes. He told me that the shooting of lagaan movie happened  just a few kms away from the dhaba and he had seen Aamir Khan in person!!!

After lunch, i was given half a liter of cold chaas (butter milk). Drinking it under the hot sun felt really good and i thanked him for the food and the tea and the chaas. When i went to pay the cashier, he simply refused. He said the dhaba was owned by Kanji bhai.

Surprised, i turned around and kanji bhai said that i was a guest in his region and it was his pleasure to host me for lunch and he said it was his duty to make sure i had proper directions to where i was headed. I insisted on paying but he just refused. He said he had interacted with a lot of cyclists before and said cyclists were a fun and polite bunch of people (yay for that!).

After thanking him repeatedly, i went on my way. I cycled for over 7 days in kutch after that but nowhere did i find such delicious baajra roti again nor was it served anywhere with so much love and warmth for a stranger…

Chaotic Bangalore Railway Station

In the bangalore railway station, we were sitting in our compartments in the SamparkKranthi Express(going to Delhi) and the train was starting to move from the platform….suddenly, one of the men from the noisy bihari family sitting beside me, pulled the red chain because some of his relatives had not yet boarded the train….its was incredible…he calmly pulled the chain saying: “Yeh emergency ke liye nahi hai toh kahe lagaya ye chain??” (If not for emergency, what will these chains be used for?)

They saw the police coming and ran from our bogie to the next one….sadly, there was yet another couple who tried to board the train after it was stopped by pulling the chain…the police, thinking they were the ones who pulled the chain, arrested them…

SK gupta, another guy in my compartment who was from Rajasthan, was pisssed off seeing all this….he was a bull of a man and he went chasing after the bihari family…he caught the guy who had pulled the chain and took him to the police and got the innocent couple released and they peacefully boarded the train…..

After all this farce and after the train chugged out of the bangalore station, he coolly took out an old monk rum bottle, took a swing of it and offered me some…I took a few gulps as well and then we started talking about himalayas and trekking….It was so surprising to see he was a soft spoken guy and not the bull i imagined him to be…..

Dated: 16-April-2012, Bangalore