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Kibber, me and my Royal Enfield

At 14200 ft above sea level. Kibber is one of the highest inhabited village in the world, nestled in the lap of high peaks and blessed with lush green fields that dance to the rhythm of the perpetual wind. The tiny settlement of 80 houses is a study in serenity, ...
At 14200 ft above sea level. Kibber is one of the highest inhabited village in the world, nestled in the lap of high peaks and blessed with lush green fields that dance to the rhythm of the perpetual wind. The tiny settlement of 80 houses is a study in serenity, especially for a rider from one of the busiest cities of the world, New Delhi. Me on my Royal Enfield with its British lineage and aging tech, and my namesake touring partner on his Japanese zipper with its tech wizardry, after five days of riding in the beautiful districts of Kinnaur and Spiti were on a day of light ride. A light ride being one of those days when we do about a hundred kilometers and usually gets back to the same place we started from, most often without luggage. 

The ride from Kaza, which was our pitstop, to Kibber and back passes the oldest monastery in the valley of Spiti, called Key, and is along the banks of the Spiti river for some parts of the journey. Spiti river is a pretty sight, with narrow and wide channels flowing through a pebbled valley, green patches, animal herds andreflections of high peaks.

The beauty of the valley was too hard for the photographer in me to resist. And as I rode the bike down into the river with a picture forming in my mind, the cautious rider in me was blinded by the photographer. The kind of photographer who gets more than a little lost in his subject.

We parked out bikes by a stream in the riverbed. Pebbled and beautiful. I tried a few clicks with the SLR, with the Enfield, that I have named Goddess, parked on its side stand beside the stream. The results were good, but I was far from happy. My shutter obsessed mind told me I could do better, it told me to park the bike in the clear stream.. and catch a reflection of my chromed ride, in an empty valley bound by barren peaks. 

My riding partner said “Don’t do it”.

I said “it’ll be alright” 

I rode down into the stream. I should have noticed signs of trouble when the clear stream layered with shiny pebbles turned chocolate brown, but all that I had in my mind, was the perfect shot.

I waited for the water to clear, it did not. For any rider, that should have been warning enough, but an artist takes risks, stupid risks, and is mostly not aware of them while taking them. I decided to click the bike in the muddy water anyway. The vista was perfection, the bike was at the right angle, so very well placed in water that it was down to its number plate. Yes, that was the next warning, the heavy built Enfield with a full tank of petrol was sinking into the mud beneath the shiny pebbles that could no longer be seen. I continued to shoot, looking for that perfect frame, mesmerized by what the viewfinder had to offer.

My riding partner gave his second warning “Dont try to ride out, we’ll push it out in reverse”

I said “ She can do it on engine power” 

Now that was not the cautious rider, nor the photographer speaking. That my friends was the third guy in my head, the arrogant rider. He believed his bike could do anything, which in this case was pulling itself out of what was as close to quicksand as it could get. Throwing caution and logic to the wind and powered by bravado I planted myself on the saddle and added my weight to the bike. Too busy to notice how the plane of vision was going down by the second. I kicked the Enfield to life, put her on the first gear and did that ‘spin and drop the clutch’ trick that gets motorcycles out of mud. And in precisely three seconds of releasing the clutch, the Enfield sank up to its axle bolt, the exhaust bubbling up and spewing black oil into the muddy water. The bike was trapped..

Shutting off the engine at this point means letting water seep in, which was going to result in an immobile 200kilograms of metal in an empty river bed. With civilization 15km away, no tool kit, no water, no network and no human being visible for as far as the eyes could see, we were stuck.

At 4000m above sea level, thin air leaves little oxygen to reach the lungs, and even mild effort results in quick exhaustion. And pulling a motorcycle sunk up to its axle out of a river bed, was not exactly mild effort. For twenty minutes we put all our muscle into the rescue operation. We tried to roll her in reverse. We tried to rock her out. We even tried to let her fall to a side. But the mud was stubborn, it had the bike in its jaws and then it tried the same with my boots. I was losing breath fast, thirst struck me faster than I wished it would, no one was passing by, and we now risked being stranded.


And then that which comes to your rescue in those moments of desperation kicked in, madness. I placed myself behind the motorcycle, one leg in the mud, one on stable ground and gripped the mudguard mounts from both sides with my arms and pulled at her with all my strength. She resisted at first, then in one smooth motion, she rose up from the mud, a full one feet, with her weight resting on my arms. A little ray of hope goes a long way in situations like this, and that ray of hope had arrived. With my buddy holding the front of the Enfield, and me the rear. We tugged at her three more times while dragging her to the dry land, and she was out. Fully, completely out, of the mud trap.

We sat down, and breathed hard and quick to fill up our bodies with oxygen, as we now had to revive a motorcycle that would refuse to start, with water in its exhaust. It took about 50 kicks to hear the first signs of life from the engine as water sloshed about in the exhaust pipe. But that first signs of firing meant just one thing.. we were riding back!

We rode to Kaza, the town we were camping at, as fast as we could. We had a long ride waiting for us the ride the next day..

Looking back at the frames from the river bed, I wonder if I really learnt anything important as a rider from the what I just did. The closest I could get to was “See if the ground will hold before you place an Enfield in a river bed”..

To more river beds..


Nithin, a.k.a KD as he is called affectionately by his friends; is a bike lover, industrial designer, painter, and photographer living and tweeting in New Delhi. An avid traveler, he will be sharing with us his tales on the road and off it from time to time.

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Tags : nokia, ovi
Jeudi 11 Août 2011
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