We wake up to a 4 stroke rumble on a gorgeous mountain morning. Sonu has been checking the bikes, riding up and down the slope and fixing all the many little niggles. Prithvi’s bike needs a part that we don’t know where to find. It still works so I decided to ride it till we can fix it. Somehow the morning had given me a sense of ill-fated optimism.

It was just t km to Jalori pass, an awesome climb up the mountain pass which inspite of not being very high (3135 m) it is pretty challenging. The acclivity is sharp and the bends tight. Many patches are littered with rotting leaves and muddy patches which give the bike a tendency to slide uncontrollably. Apart from few minor issues with the bikes stopping, taking 5 minutes of high altitude kicking, causing me to lag behind. Rest of the group has already ridden past the summit, me following with Jocy and the back up vehicle. Shortly ater we catch up, only to see Prithvi’s bike parked and Shanky trying to do something with the brakes.

The foot pedal has broken off. It happened as Prithivi was coming down a steep slope and he had to ram into the hill side to stop. FUCK…Shanky rides the bike without any brakes and Prithvi joins me riding pillion my bike, re-counting his fear but expressing his pride for having managed the situation quite well.

We ride along precariously only to find Aby parked on the side of the road, smoking a cigarette and contemplating a trail of rubber freshly marked on the road. His brakes had jammed and the metal link joining the break rod to the drum had broken. FUCK! FUCK!…

4 bikes and the backup vehicle, with Shanky in lead carry on to the next town (Anni), planning to get some hasty welding done, procure some parts and take a break at a place which was convenient for food and other facilities. Prithvi, Aby and I stay behind with the 2 brakeless bikes. We end up waiting 3 hours, and I’m expecting recrimination-from Prithvi and Aby, but none is forthcoming. We talk about the past couple of days, all the fun stuff, the rafting, the feeling of being on Bullets for the first time, riding in the Himalayas and everything else positive. All the negatives had only allowed them to really get a sense of real adventure, where unpredictability is part of the real road experience. Sonu returns with Tanu, fixes the bikes and we ride fast to catch up with rest of the group which have travelled a further 20 km to Sainj. We give a lift to a couple of college friends who were returning from a failed score. We share a couple of smokes, drop them off at a junction near Sainj. The rest of the group is parked at a wayside motel, well fed, well rested and excited about the past 50 km of riding.

I call a hurried council and recommend that we end the ride. I felt responsible for the group and with the bikes consistently behaving the way they were, I felt it was unsafe to carry on. The group is disappointed but in between muted protests they agree. As a final compromise, we decide to ride till Rampur, our re-scheduled halt for the night, check how the bikes are responding and take a final call before we go to bed. We arrive at Rampur when its already dark and find that due to some local festival, the town is packed to capacity. Sanju and I leave rest of the group behind, enter the town and after walking for the better part of an hour finally find a guest house with enough (decent) rooms to accommodate our whole group. Freshened up we all catch up for a massive dinner of Butter chicken and Naans, washed down with well deserved beers. We all agreed that, since the repairs had been carried out, the bikes had behaved perfectly, especially the last stretch from Sainj to Rampur. Everyone was confident we carry onwards, so with promises of an early start we retired to our respective rooms.

Sonu was told not and touch any of the bikes.

Wednesday 23rd june 2011 (The genesis of “Gujaad”)

Everyone is up and we are packed , strapped and ready to leave by 7am. Short stop to fill up Petrol tanks and the ride begins towards the planned/hopefully destination of Nako. It was 200kms + away considering the way the bikes have behaved over the past couple of days, a rather optimistic target. We just needed one long ride without problems to get the trip going. Keeping fingers crossed, everyone cruising along, after 60 kms on the road we stop at a roadside Punjabi dhaba. Paranthas,Rajma, kadi, chole and rice.Awesome food, awesome service.

Our spirits are soaring. Everyone is enjoying their ride, brilliant stretches of road with all riders beginning to understand their bikes and in patches becoming one with their machines. I am sitting behind Prithvi,(he was on a geared bike for the first time in his life) helping him get comfortable on the bike. There is a small accident with Anurag but no damage done as he is wearing protective gear. There is a Landslide on the road to Reckong Peo. Our options are, either to wait for the clearing process or as some local suggested we take an alternative longer route. Everyone wants to continue riding so, we opt for the latter. We ride back 6 km and take a diversion towards a sign saying Jangi. A superb ride to a small little village on a mountain top, through tree lined, empty roads, descending on the other side on a road that is being freshly laid and hence covered with loose gravel. There is absolutely no other vehicle on the road which is good, because its rather tricky riding. We join the main road exactly at the point when traffic on the other side of the land side is being allowed to pass. We smile but are happy for the detour. It all adding to the excitement which is sometimes lost in an organized trip, and I beginning to realize that this was maybe just the thing we were looking for in order to differentiate.

The trip is finally beginning to be what it was meant to be. We ride into Nako as the sun is setting settling into the familiar, “Lake View” guest house. We arrived late so he promises only a basic dinner. Sanju disappears into town to return with the famous local brew, made from apricots, drinks poured and everyone settles down to talk of the day’s experience. We had ridden more than 200 kms, some great roads, to some non-existent, simple, looping rides to technically challenging ones, green expanses to arid plains, pine covered slopes to stark stony slopes, clear fast flowing rivers to sluggish murky brown waters. It had been an exhausting day but the exhilaration of finally being on the road, in the manner everyone imagined (parts and parts unimagined). A Lovely dinner of dal, aloo, baingan and rice. A better meal for a more deserving bunch had not been served. Rights to gluttony for an adventure well executed had been earned.What? A day without any problems whatsoever? Not possible right? Well right.

We had tanked up our bikes and car but had forgotten to fill up the spare cans we had delightfully carried. A couple of bikes were running low on fuel and our next petrol bunk was at Kaza, 150 kms away.

No point worrying now. Today would be savored for all the flavors it had provided. Tomorrow would be a new day and the laws of the universe would prevail. We would find a “gujaad”.

Sanju, who coined this phrase had casually mentioned in one of his lucid drunken state, became synonymous with our trip.

“Hashim Bhai, iska kuch Gujaad karna padega” he said once. I imagined him being drunk, he had mispronounced the quintessential Indian Jugaad as Gujaad. He said it wasn’t so and explained saying, “Bhaiji jab kisi cheej ka solunition nahi milta hai to uska hum jugaad karte hai. Lekin agar hum uska koi jugaad nahi kar sakte to uska hume gujaad karna dhoondna padta hai”. Normally, if things are not working out then we need to do a Jugaad (temporary, unconventional but ingenious fix) but in case we can’t do a Jugaad, then we have to find a Gujaad (You figure that out).

And that is how we would eventually get through this journey.