Chapter Five: Travel Home
Woollen socks: check
Powder, rock-climbing shoes, fuel tank full: check, check, check. With that, I was all set to take on the road. Just me, Dad’s biking accessories (leather jacket with matching gloves) and Anuj’s bike. Bliss.
I handed the list of emergency numbers to Mom, promised her at least a thousand times to keep my phone charged and take her calls, texted my sister (which I thought was probably the safer option) and readied myself to take off.
I did not draw much attention on the road, which was great. I reckon it was all the gear that made me look like just another guy on a Bullet. Had people known it was a girl, dilliwalas would have found another reason to gawk.
As I approached the outskirts of the city, I realized the reality of this predicament. This was actually happening! I felt a nervous-excitement in my stomach.
Three hours out of Delhi, it all started sinking in. No home, no Mom, no job, for the next seven days. Just a bike to ride and a road map to guide. I decided to make my first stop at a dhaba in Karnal. I parked and removed my helmet. A few truck drivers turned to look, but I didn’t wait to see their reaction. I made my way to the charpoy and asked the waiter for chai. I took out my cell phone from my bag, along with a wet tissue. I might be riding a bullet, but am a girl at heart, I thought, wiping my face with a ‘Kara’ wet tissue.
I looked at my phone and exhaled in anticipation of what I was about to do next.
Type New Message> To: Mom; Didi; Jijoo> Hi guys, this one’s between Me, Dad and the road. I know your numbers. Will stay in touch. Love you. Eesh> Send
With that last communication with the known, I switched off my Nokia 5600 and threw it into the depths of my rug-sack.
I studied the map. The next destination was Ranikhet, 150 kilometers away. As I rode along, I could feel the temperature lower and the land rise. Soon, sheers of hills draped the sky. The light was getting dimmer and I had no intentions of riding at night. A girl on a bullet on the highway at night, even I drew the line there.
I had marked up a few hotels at a distance of every fifty kilometres to avoid any trouble. I took a bylane from the main highway and headed towards my pit stop for the night, Hotel Star Plaza. When I reached the spot however, the hotel in question was nowhere to be seen. Instead, I found a small bed-and-breakfast. Well, you can’t plan for life, now can you, I said to myself.
I got off the bike and dusted my jeans. In front of me stood a yellow board which said ‘Travel Home’ in army green colour. When I went in to check the place out, I found a middle-aged Tibetan man wearing a T-shirt that read ‘Yak yak yak’ along with a picture of, guess what, a yak. His hair touched his shoulders and was longer than mine.
“Hello! You hungry?” he greeted me. “I...ya...but...” I mumbled. “I make great omelette! Always sunny side up!” he said, with every word slightly mispronounced. “Ya, that’s good. But I wanted a room for tonight...” “Sure sure. We have room. Only Rs 108 per night.” “Why 108?” I enquired, though pleased at the meagre tariff. “108 lucky number for Buddhist. Even for Hindu. Rosemary have 108 beads, you see?” and with that he began counting the beads on his mala. “Yes, yes, now how about that omelette?” I replied, in an attempt to get him to stop counting.
The omelette was scrumptious, but it came with a side order of the man at the reception, who was also the owner-cum-chef-cum-repairman with just his young son to assist him at Hotel ‘Travel Home’. I guess I should have known he was a talker, his shirt clearly gave it away. The ‘sunny side up’ was that he wasn’t a nonsense talker and seemed more or less harmless and very helpful. “So, how come you call this place ‘Travel Home’? To my mind, it’s an oxymoron, isn’t it?” I was surprised to find that Ashinde knew what an oxymoron was. “For a true traveller, home is where his travels take him. But for someone like you, I can tell, you are travelling towards home?” “Sorry to disappoint you, but home is where I am coming from. Where I am going, is still a mystery.” “Little one, home is where you are at peace.”