It was way back in November that the Bullet moved last. Struck momentously by a cow’s ample rear, it smashed face first into the smooth tarmac of Spiti. So serious was the impact and so impeccable the timing that it is now four months and the Bull is still lying injured, snow covered and unable to move in Manali. At such a juncture, the rather incredulous call from a highway-hero friend (Deepak Dongre) evoked the obvious question – what will I ride? The time of the Classic 500 had come.
I don’t like the Classic. I don’t mean the looks. Those are fantastic. But the Classic is a retro styled motorcycle for weekend cruises on Marine Drive and cheekily going past the hot girl on the bus stop, not a highway ranger. While Enfield fans (like me) will make any Enfield a touring machine, the fact is it is not built for the highway rumble. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.
The destination was Rann of Kutch, one of the most inhospitable and unforgiving terrains in the country. Riding in the Rann is a dream I have been carrying for years now. This was going to be great!
The dusty but surprisingly well organized (for Indian state capitals) Ahmedabad was the starting line. Having been introduced to my ride, a maroon and chrome Classic 500 with less than 5000 kilometres on the odometer, I stood along with 16 other riders in front of a mall with blaring, hideous music as we waited for the DCP to come and flag us off. For the 100 odd people gathered there for seeing us off, we were superstars. There was also the odd TV channel present which took upon itself to interview me about the ride. I was just impatient to get out of there.
Gujarat has extremely well maintained roads which have contributed hugely to the economic success story the state has become. Make no mistake, the people on the road are equally bad as they would be on any Indian road but better roads make for marginally better traffic. As a result, at the end of a short ride, we were at the edge of the Little Rann. That night at Camp Zainabad, getting familiar with the other riders was the business at hand which was executed quite effectively over a few bottles of laboriously secured bootlegged alcohol. The stage was set.
The Rann at first is not overwhelming. Like a shy bride, it reveals itself slowly and with proper interruptions so that by the time you realize the grandeur of what you have witnessed, you are properly and utterly in the grips of the scene. After a brief cruise through barren fields of cumin, sand greets you and vegetation starts thinning out almost immediately. The surface turns stony and small cracks start to appear. There is a rather visible track and, since this is unfamiliar territory, you ride carefully.
Only about 20 minutes later you realize what you have entered. A vast, incomparable canvas of blankness where you are free to make your own portrait, these are emotions only evoked in sea-going pirates and zoned out painters. Suddenly, everything turns loose inside you and you give it everything.
Riders have now found their grip and made their peace with the very wobbly surface. Fear is fast receding and is being taken over by adrenaline. How fast can you go? How much can you turn? How far off the line can you go? Where the hell was the line? Can you create a new path? How does one create a path on an empty map? We were all 10 again, having just learnt how to control our bicycles and raring to ride everywhere. And that meant absolutely anywhere. It didn’t matter if there were roads or riding surfaces or walls in front, we just had to ride.
In terms of pure riding pleasure, there is no other place that comes even close. The afternoon sun and blurry horizon have brought out the primal instincts in everyone. We still have miles to go before we sleep.
Another half a day of riding brought us to the cradle of ancient civilization, Dholavira. The sun set over the low thorn forests around us as we called it a day in a campsite minutes away from where our ancient ancestors built cities and created grandeur at a time when the rest of the world did not know how to tie its toga. The feeling should have overwhelmed me but it is only now that the full import of the situation is dawning upon me. What a shame!
We decided to go off-roading the next day. The routine visits to a couple of BSF posts (Macchi and Karni) turned out to be lovely adventures through stone, sand and mud. Take a look at the pictures!
The morning took us away from Dholavira deeper towards the Big Rann and close to the international border. Dhordo is the site for Rann Festival held every winter to celebrate the culture and incredible imagery of the Rann. Sitting at the mouth of the Rann, this was the perfect launch pad. For what you ask? We would come to know soon.
Being an organized-way-in-advance tour of a place known to fluctuate wildly in terms of weather, we had a few problems thrown our way by the Gods and the humans. The Rann hadn’t completely dried out which means every time we headed out to the white desert (the salty Rann), we were sure to get stuck. Much merriment, entertainment and camaraderie followed as almost all motorcycles got stuck at the same time in the salty mud-pan. The second time we hit the watery fields, we had figured out another plan. Realizing our rear wheels did not have much grip on them, we started our own version of ‘Slow & The Furious: Gujarat Drift’. We weren’t very good, us being first timers, but we loved it to death. The feeling of being able to throw around your bike is a funny one but one that stays with you for a long time.
Our biggest disappointment came at the intriguingly named but visually rather disappointing India Bridge. Thanks to a mix up in the bureaucratic jungle, our permissions hadn’t come through. We were to visit the international border this day, an experience many were lusting after. Instead, we found ourselves climbing the very curvy and undulating slopes up to Kala Dungar, the highest point in the Rann. It was also at this point that the trip leader’s crankshaft gave in. The General was down!
There are many thoughts that pass through your mind as you navigate the directionless expanse of the Rann a second time, as we did on our way back. You think about the place a little more, you think about its people and their lives, you think about who will come to rescue you if you lost your way here and you think about how close you came to being stranded in the middle of a billion people with no one to help. You think just how tiny you are compared to this wonderfully incredible world. It is a sobering thought but one that is far from my head when we punch the air and high-five each other for making it safely.
The Rann had lived up to its promise.