Surgery hurts more than the injury it’s trying to repair.
I’d reached the same conclusion four years ago when my tramadol-racked limbs darted and twitched nervously, threatening the new pins and screws. It’s a sharp pain – the kind that cradles you and steals your sleep. Jaw clenching, autonomic and inescapable, adds a cruel and exhausted ache behind your eyes. It is, I thought as I doubled down on some small red pills that also made me shiver, the perfect pain to make an eight-hour journey in the jostling circus of an over-sprung state bus an experiment in anguish.
Still, the torment ended with me being a free man again – and that had to be worth something.
I can’t say my experience in the private hospital was a necessarily a bad one, though it did straddle a Mandela-esque line of public spectacle and house arrest. Every morning a man called Jagdish would turn up to wash my balls with a disarming conviviality, trying to teach me unrelated Punjabi words in the process. I was unsure whether I was being molested or not. In my confinement I quickly garnered a reputation as the naughty child on the ward that made the ward nurses giggle and chide. Even so – the barrage of unnecessary testing, the hospital management gorging themselves on my travel insurance like they were at an unlimited buffet, and the singular, purple-tinted view of discarded plant equipment encouraged me to discharge myself a day ahead of schedule.
I reached Rishikesh at midnight after the bus terminated with no ongoing connections in Dehradun and I was forced into an expensive, uncomfortable taxi for the last hour of the journey. Fortunately though, it seemed I’d got into a car with an amateur rally driver who ensured the drive was interesting, dashing any chance of rest by pinging me energetically off the ceiling and doors like a loose marble.
For all of the ten or so days I spent in Rishikesh I achieved very little, which was sort of the point. With no special interest in ashrams, the Beatles and unable/unwilling to yoga I whiled away my days in cafe’s overlooking the Laxsmanjula bridge and the River Ganges. The surrounding mounds of fertile, stubby mountains and the cool river flowing through its heart kept Rishikesh from being overbearingly hot or humid, despite SITREPs from travellers to the contrary. They’d clearly never tried to walk the molten slabs at Fetehpur Sikri in 45 degree heat…
The Zostel hostel was cheap, clean and had just the perfect amount of throughput to meet new people but retain a good group for a few days worth of gentle exploring. Even though I was still regaining feeling in my fat, blue, dissociative hand, I knew I couldn’t stay.
I lay in my bottom bunk one morning flicking through my phone for inspiration. I wanted to catch up with Sai, who had continued to ride north after my injury, but the bus to Manali and Leh would take days, days where I’d be required to drag along a big bag of surplus, heavy motorcycle gear. More out of curiosity than intent, I started googling flights to Leh and sat up when the prices came through. Five thousand rupees (around £60) from Delhi.
On previous trips, I’d elected to stay in one place simply to conserve money, and I’d regretted it later. Time, not money, is the most valuable commodity for a traveller – particularly one who operates within a fixed time frame. Money can be re-earned, but time escapes us forever.
It took all of twenty seconds to book the flight for two days time, with an overnight ‘Volvo bus’ (air-conditioned coach) getting me into Delhi at one in the morning. I’d have a leisurely five hours to check in my bags and get through security. A shot of excitement shot from my brain into my body – a Pavlovian reward for making a good choice.
Saying goodbye to my new friends at the hostel (a pleasant reminder that I haven’t become such a cynical fuck as to totally alienate myself, yet) I took a blue and yellow rickshaw, seats roughly sewn from mismatched green and gold fabric, down the pot holed roads to the bus station and climbed aboard my coach. In fourteen hours, only eight of which would be spent with a cold jet of air conditioning aimed mercilessly at the back of my head by the passenger behind me, I’d be disembarking my flight into Leh, in the heart of the Himalayas.
It was my foremost ambition for this trip to ride through Ladakh on some of the most impressive and precipitous roads, but in the absence of one arm and a narrowing weather window I knew this might possibly be the only way I could experience the northern most state of India this time around.
It was time to make the best out of a bad situation.
It was time to go to the mountains.