Posted by Jiggy Gaton | Edit Post
It's a cool Nepali April morning, about 6 AM, and I just woke up so I wouldn't be able to see far down the road even if the fog didn't exist - fog that hangs on you like the round of beers downed just a few hours ago. But it's time to head out again; it's another Poker Run and Rendezvous with the Himalayan Enfielders.
As bikers go, this group is not so raunchy as their western brethren, but certainly as loud. There's a hundred or more bikes gathering downtown, revving up for the annual ride, this time the destination is Pokhora and the Enfield Basecamp Bar and Grille there. I can almost hear them from Lalitpur, but I'm too busy trying to find my gloves. Where did I put them? It's been months since I've been on my bike.
My 2004 Bullet sits out in the yard, looking rather ragged and neglected. All the other boys take pride in their ride, me, I mistreat my Bullet like a cruel jockey whipping his steed over the finish line, only I don't race – unless it's to get to the department store before closing time. But I've gotta clean her up a bit; there's oil dripping from the pan and the mirrors are coated in months of collected dust. It's embarrassing to have this recreated classic looking like it's been sitting still since 1964.
I don't get out of the house much, as there is little motivation for a retired old guy like myself, unless it's to walk the dog, who has a heck of a lot more interest in the city streets of KTM than I do. While he seems to enjoy the hubbub of the daily toll taking place, I'd rather be sitting on my balcony watching the hawks hunt for marmots, or the laundry flapping in the breeze. There's nothing more inspiring than watching the strong arms of Nepali washerwomen getting work done, as I am sitting around doing frack all.
But this once-a-year ride is something all together different than the menial ride around town. It's a trip to the outer reaches of my existence - a trip into the royal hills - an adventure in time and over bridges that you wonder how they stay standing. The Poker Run is really a ride into history, on the back of history, and over historical paths treed upon by generations of folks that could not have imagined a 500cc machine roaring through their village - as just 38 years ago there wasn't a highway, just a mule path.
We follow the same path as the Gorkas took on their way to join the British Army, and to return home after many decorated years of service. And just a few hundred meters off Prithvi Highway, little has changed since. It's always about here that I get lost in this world mostly passed over by the digitalization of the modern world. There is no need for a laptop, or even a smartphone. A cell signal is a luxury, as is anything else from the industrial digital world outside.
Whenever I am on this ride, just once every few years, I think of these soldiers, who left their own military Enfields in motor pools, to return home to the more tranquil pool of the local dhara, and to simple rice meals served on mats, instead of that standard army chow. They went from the locomotion of the industrial age, back to the stone age, where everything (including rocks) were pounded into tools and food by the hands of simple men and women, who knew little about the wars of the world.
What they must have felt, returning and knowing what they did about the outside world, during a time when western strangers into Nepal were limited to the likes of Christoph von Fürer-Haimendorf and his adventurous wife, who were here shooting footage of Gorka back in 1957, and had to walk on foot the entire way. Now, I feel like they must have – an alien from outer space (but complete with rocket technology) - as I am about to roar around terraced hillsides that flank massive gorges, millions of years in the making.
I can only conclude each ride I take back in time here, that those grand soldiers, knowing the destructiveness and suffering of the modern world, did all they could to prevent the inevitable invasion of modernization into such a peaceful land of their own. Unlike my forefathers, who attempted to recreate England in America, I romantically dream that the Gorkas tried to prevent the cruel intervention that has happened here of late.
And I know it must be horrible of me to think it right that the Prithvi washes away at points each and every monsoon, just as the rope and wood bridges would vanish each year until metal ones were strung. I think like this each and every time I pull on my riding gloves, hike up my leathers, and straddle my Royal Enfield Reverse Time Machine – all in preparation to ride back to an era when life was so simple it hurt, and more beautiful around each and every turn.
Who the heck is he?
- Jiggy Gaton
- lives in Kathmandu and is an aging technologist - has been since the days of Woodstock - so in the words of Roland The Gunslinger "he is from a world now gone by." However, Jigs is extremely up-to-date on all things tech and is also available for hire.