So there we were. 2 people, 2 more visas for India and 2,500km ahead of us to ride to Goa. This was not something we had been looking forward to, mainly because each day navigating through India was tough. What awaited us in Goa would be worth the trip however; an apartment for 6 weeks near the beach. Better still, the apartment would already be populated with good friends.
I’d moved to the opposite side of Kathmandu in preparation for this long run into India. Gautam and his family had looked after Nickiy and I for a few days as we pared down our load some more. We were sorry to leave, but our visas were ticking away. It took us one dusty day to get from the homestay to the border and we made our final preparation for India that night. This consisted of getting our boots polished, finding new bungees and buying a bottle of vodka for our evening tipples en route. The border was the usual confusion and pointlessness, but eventually we got the correct authorisation and got out of town as quickly as possible.
Apart from awful city traffic outside Lucknow where I killed the engine and Nickiy pushed instead, the 410km we covered on our first day was better than we’d hoped for. We half-rested in Kanpur as a wedding reception kicked off in our hotel that night. The next day towards the infamous Bhopal went very smoothly, until well, right up to when it didn’t.
Truth be told, I don’t really know what happened. One minute we were cruising along at 90km/h, slowing slightly for gentle bends along the way. Perhaps I was relaxing and beginning to enjoy the ride. I slowed to 75 for a left-hand kink, rolled up to 85 and began slowing for the next right-hander. It was tighter than the others and the exit was nowhere to be seen, round and below the apex crest. I braked hard and the rear of the bike skipped a little. At this point it might have been feasible to make it round, but I never got to try. I’d eased the braking to stop the skid, but I found the bike heading off the road. This hadn’t been in my cornering plan, so I suspect that this was when I’d hit the speed bump. I neither remember any sign for the corner, nor for the “speed breaker” as they call them here. I certainly didn’t go back and check later.
Now we were on the gravel verge which, apart from a few obstacles, was a fairly smooth downward camber. All I had to do was slow down some more and gracefully dismount. But, we were still probably doing about 50km/h at this point. The next order of merit was to avoid the trees so I turned towards the rain gully that followed the corner. I eased the brakes again as the rear skidded more easily now. Upright and with a certain amount of steering control, we lined up on the gully and continued slowing. We now only had 20km/h to lose.
I’m sure these stories always end with “and I would have been ok if….” and this one is no different. A little way down the gully, hidden in the low grass and towards which we were riding, was a large igneous boulder. In the last metres of stopping, I tried to bank the bike round this final obstacle. Of course we hit it. The end of the crash bar clipped it and the bike stopped dead. Stopped going forward, but now fell left onto the boulder and rotated us off the seat and slapped us into the ground, head first. The GPS data shows this impact was at 12km/h. Dead slow. I can jog faster than that. But I usually don’t jog onto my head.
Nickiy and I sprung back upright and verbally checked each other’s consciousness levels. We both returned quickly to the inverted bike. As always our primary concern was our transport and it was pissing fuel out and looking a bit unhappy. As if dropped by a passing airship, a huge crowd of people appeared instantly and we righted the bike. Nickiy had a good scuff mark on her helmet, so that was her point of impact. Pouring out through my face mask however, was a familiar red liquid. The open-face helmet had won again, I had landed on my face. I felt like I had hit my chin the hardest and thought I had solid things in my mouth. Were my teeth no longer with me?
I pulled up the mask so Nickiy could evaluate my face injury and then I checked it in the bike mirror. Teeth ok, top lip not ok. Continuing our galvanic action, we untied the bags and got the first-aid pannier open. Nickiy had to do a lot of tasks at the same time. The crowd had swelled, people had called an ambulance, they were fiddling with the bike and the luggage. I was perfectly ambulatory, but I knew that treatment would be best lying down. I was also quite worried about shock. Of course as soon as I lay down, new onlookers assumed the injuries were extremely serious. At this point I kept hearing strange noises from the corner and this was the sound of cars hitting the previously-unseen speed bump. What a fucking stupid place to put that, just where you are braking and setting up for the corner! Nickiy managed all of this situation calmly and began disinfecting and treating the wound. It was pretty clean as the face mask had kept the dirt on the outside. Next was some steri-strips to close the wound, some strong codeine pills and a big, sticky plaster.
We reloaded the bike and Nickiy extracted the nearest hospital town from some of the locals. I hoped that it would heal with just the tape, but I had to concede that it might need stitches. Nickiy’s total suturing experience involved an orange one night in Melbourne, so we didn’t feel my lip should be her first human experiment. I took note of the bike damage and straightened the crash bars slightly (they had merged with the engine). As my face ached and oozed, we pottered 30km into a place called Vidisha, near Bhopal.
You’d think that your desired destination was pretty obvious when you are bleeding from the face. But many people, including policemen couldn’t comprehend what we were looking for. Eventually we found the hospital and I strode in making sewing gestures to the front desk. Blank gazes came back at me. Eventually someone appeared and explained “this is a private hospital”. Exasperated, I explained that my medical insurance would cover everything. He spoke again, “you need the district hospital” and uttered new directions. Fuck.
We found the large and run down district hospital and I marched in making the same gestures on my face. A small nod from an elderly porter and I was led down a corridor into a room with a bench on one side. He told me lie down on the bench but I was worried Nickiy (who was securing the bike) wouldn’t be able to find me in this labyrinth. I said “one minute” and kept checking the corridor and out of the front window. He insisted a few times then when she appeared I lay down. Other people entered the room. “This’ll be the doctor”, I thought. The elderly guy put on gloves and began cleaning my lip. “He’ll be the nurse, preparing for the doctor”, I guessed. Then more people arrived and the elderly guy began threading a needle. “He’ll be the doctor, then!” All the other people were just members of the public wanting to watch. Great.
I felt a sharp jab. “That’ll be the anaesthetic needle”, I thought. How many more times could I be wrong? There was no anaesthetic. This was sticking and tugging. This was sewing. In my face. The first two stitches were on the outside and didn’t seem too bad. The codeine and adrenaline were obviously working. Then he moved under the lip. Shitting hell. Clean, sharp, precise pain that made my eyes water. Two more stitches in there. Fuck. Once that was over I thought things would get better, but he then brutally dabbed and wiped the wound, up and down, inside and out, to make sure it was all closed up. This was when involuntary noises came out of my mouth. This really, really hurt.
Next I was taken to a distant room and told to drop my pants and lie face down by a couple of ladies. They then informed me I was getting injections. “Of what?” Nickiy chimed. “Tetanus and painkiller” replied the nurse as she rammed them into my buttock. A mystical buttock-massaging man then appeared and applied his skills roughly through my boxer shorts. I wondered why I couldn’t have had a pain killer injected into my face rather than my arse. Nickiy settled the bill and we went to retrieve the bike from the car park. All this Indian healthcare had cost Rs10. That’s 20 cents.
Now we had to curl up in a hotel and sleep. Thanks to Nickiy’s new phone, finding a place to stay was pretty easy. Eating was difficult with a non-functional top lip, but thankfully that Nepalese vodka, mixed with the codeine, numbed just about everything.
We returned to good progress after that, with 500km each day without much effort. The roads were much better as we headed west and south within India. No one we encountered during these days knew what to make of my facial decoration. And then, past coconut palms and lush river banks, we rolled in to Goa and right into the ‘chillout house’. We’d made the journey in 6 days and now we didn’t have to do any more driving for at least a month. Hurrah!!