I spent a lot of time in Dharmasala sleeping, caught between rains and a somewhat detached, antibiotic reverie. The drugs were working my system with all the finesse of a baseball bat, but soon enough I adjusted, perhaps even feeling better, more awake, than I had in months.
I whittled away my two weeks in the clouds accidentally spinning prayer wheels in the temple the wrong way, marching the many steps through Bahgsu and Dharamkot, exploring the verdant foothills, and watching cartoons. My mind wilted in the freedom of it all and I’d get the itch to get back on the bike, even though my injured palm remained swollen, bandaged and scabby. I held fast, not wanting to cause any problems for myself when I reached the more remote regions to the north – besides I was enjoying some good company at the Bunker hostel, nestled high in the valley. Claire waved farewell, my injury playing havoc with her itinerary, while Sai stayed longer, heading out a couple of days before I was due to depart.
I had my stitches pulled in a different, Tibetan dispensary, the stuffy doctor in the government clinic apparently above such menial tasks. I inquired about how they would’ve anaesthatised the site when stitching, and they laughed when I told them about the gung-ho ‘stitch now, complain later’ attitude I’d endured a couple of weeks earlier. If only I’d found the place sooner..
Understandably the bullet’s battery was dead when it finally came to giving it a test ride. It had been left, without any attention and various wires jammed onto the terminals for the entire duration of my stay. I kicked furiously, mud flicking everywhere with each movement, to no avail. The fuel injection needed a good charge before it primed the cylinder sufficiently. I tried one dejected push up the slippy, rocky, chocolate brown mud bank before returning for help. Ashish freed up some muscle, who helped me push, then bump start the bike for the ride down to McLeod Ganj, following a road that was good and eroded into deep tarmac runnels in equal measure. I picked up a new battery at the local garage, drinking coffee at the Illiterati cafe next door.
Keen to catch Sai quickly, I left the hostel at half 7 the next morning, easily the earliest I’d been awake for over a month (now I’m just showing off). I was genuinely apprehensive of getting back on the bike, so cycled through three repeats of Kate Bush’s ‘Running up that Hill’ to psyche up before riding down the mountain in a viscous, silent fog. It cleared eventually, the Punjabi heat driving it higher up the mountains.
The wheels greased around corners, prompting me to check the tyre pressures at the next garage. The rear was carrying 10psi too much, maybe from having Claire on the back and the long descent back into the valley. I drained it off regardless and continued for the next couple of hours through beautiful hillstation farmland and forests.
The mist, usually seen much higher, sometimes fluttered like floating robes above the road, only adding to the spectacular panorama. Every ten or fifteen kilometers a town or village would slow progress to a crawl, slipping past cars and enormous trucks so I could have the road to myself for a little while when it becomes twisty and interesting again.
I was getting the hang of riding, leaning steeply into corners, occasionally grinding a footpeg as the shocks sponged up ripples in the road. It felt great, cruising around the mountains.
So, not pushing particularly hard, I was a little surprised when the back wheel skidded way out from under me on one particular corner.
I glanced back, wondering whether the heavier bag on the right hand side was causing it, and when I looked up, I had only enough time to bite down hard and grunt an “Ahh, Fu..”
I was still vibrating with the impact, face down in the road.
‘Arrrrgh‘. Get Up.
I scrambled my hands underneath my chest and pushed myself on to my knees, swivelling around to look back at my bike. It was fucked.
Seeing the Jeep blast around the corner, less than twenty meters from the bend I was currently sliding half-horizontally around, didn’t leave a lot of time for maneuvering. The bike caught some traction, launched me mid-road and skidding into, then apparently under the front of the speedy Jeep.
I went up. I hit the handlebars with my thighs. I crashed down hard.
Funnily enough my first thoughts, sprawled there on the tarmac, was for my camera, slung across my back. After Peru, I didn’t want to deal with a cracked screen again. Shaking the silly thought loose, I looked up and into the eyes of an angry looking young driver in a blue and yellow creased shirt, who was barking out his local language fast and hard. He moved on, clearly irate.
My second thought was to right the bike, which was pouring petrol all over the ground only feet away. I stood up to tug the bike free from the car, but when my vision started collapsing, bubbling away to a lazy white, I sat back down, concious I was going into shock and could go under any minute.
A German campervan was one of the many cars to pull up, rubbernecking the scene. A little intimidated by the gathering crowd I limped to the passenger window.
“Are you OK?” an older lady wearing a silly tan Safari hat inquired, eyes fixed on the bike. Bubbling again.
“I’m ok, but I’m going into shock…”. I felt like I was leaning awkwardly and that my face would be sheet white by now.
“I can see that. Take coffee.” She offered a tin mug with just the dregs of cold coffee swilling around the bottom. I took it, swigged, then limped back to sit, then lie on the grass. My left wrist thrummed with pain for every shallow heartbeat. I waved off some more angry advances – “Police, police!” – before being helped to my feet by the kind looking German guy, who had a little too much worry etched into his weathered face and probably just wanted his coffee mug back. Seeing me rocking, cradling my left arm, one of the many passers by helped me to a car, speaking in broken English.
“You’re injured, first aid first. Police after”. I sat in the back, two other guys were in the front, and tried to breathe deeply, aware of the heavy shock-sweat pouring from my brow. We drove a little distance back the way I’d come, and down a little side road to a small clinic that was dark, overcrowded and not particularly clean. Lucky, as he proudly told me his name was, collected various sheets of paper and stamps, escorted me to an x-ray where I was manipulated with all the care I’d come to expect from the Indian medical services. The green stained, claustrophobic concrete corridors rang with disinfectant smell and men, women and children stared at the sweaty, limping white man in motorcycle boots and armor.
Twice I had to go outside to elevate my legs above my head, combating the swarm of nausea and vision loss. The doctors ignored me with professional nonchalance, speaking only to Lucky and even then dismissively.
He translated. “No break, probably sprain, but you go to district hospital for further study. Do this after police and your bike. Don’t worry Tom (with an endearing over-emphasis on the ‘o’ in my name) I look after you. You need to stay in my house one day, one week, one month, it’s ok.” I nodded, too embroiled in my own state to fully comprehend anything, and we all drove back to the crash site with no more medical provisions than 6 inadequately small pain killers issued by the clinic.
Both legs were aching from the impact, and my right knee stung sharply whenever I attempted to walk on it, bend or straighten it. I was quite the sight in this small village, of that I was painfully aware. I tried to keep the smiles coming.
The police were already at the scene (well, the scene had already been dissected so traffic could resume as normal), and following a curt handshake were quick to proudly announce, “Your fault!”
A little unfair I thought, but as I was the one sliding about and possessed zero Hindi, I had no leg to stand or metaphorically limp on.
Fortuitously, Lucky flew out of his casual observer role, disarming the 1000 rupee compensation demanded by the drivers father. Later he said, “I tell them to look at your bike, it will cost much to repair, don’t ask for any more from him”. Everyone seemed happy enough apart from the young driver, who was clearly willing me to die on the spot with his glare. The police officer even waved away his ‘fee’ after a short consultation with my new Indian guardian angel. Apart from the knackered leg and fast-swelling wrist, I was coming out golden.
There after, I supervised the bike on to a bright red, three wheeled pick up. It indeed looked like had been ran over. Men struggled to maneuver it, the forks bent underneath and twisted. Comparatively the Jeep looked reasonable – I guessed, with all the pain in my body, that this was because Indian Jeeps didn’t have any concept of crimper zone. Indeed it struck like a wall.
When all was said and done, there was no longer time to reach Mundi hospital before it closed. That’s something you’re not prepared for in the western world – closed hospitals. And while my camera survived, my phone, carried in my chest pocket was smashed beyond use. Inconveniently I could see Sai’s messages coming through, but couldn’t read them or reply. As I rested and stayed the night in Lucky’s small family home above some shops in the local village I felt guilty about going dark on comms – if the same happened to Sai, I know I’d be worried.
But, with a well overdue pain spray, bandage and an sleeping pill provided by Lucky’s uncle (I did the rounds shaking hands in the village), I forced myself under, determined to resolve things in the morning, and thought to myself maybe it was bad karma to spin the prayer wheels the wrong way after all..
Although, while obviously quite unlucky, the fact I wasn’t more seriously injured was a miracle. Somehow, I’d walked away with only minor injuries.
(Apologies for the lack of photos, my mind was in another place!)