We had stopped at one of the Indian Army check points that keeps track of the comings and goings of various folks in order to slow down the terrorists. Five white guys on bullets, coming down the road from Killar was unusual enough that we were asked to go to the base commanders office.
I was nervous.
My experiences with American police have left me with a slight suspicion of people in positions of authority.
I could not have been more wrong in this case.
We had a long conversation discussing the various local regions and people with the Colonel, and I learned about the Sikhs, the Punjab, the Gujjars, and how many of the peoples have ancient affinities for one another that don’t conform to current political boundaries. It was fascinating. And overwhelming. I know that we only touched the surface of the complexities in this region.
We had a high tea style lunch with an amazing course of local Indian foods on the lawn overlooking the base.
Then we had a military escort accompany us, front and rear, to the local hotel that the Colonel recommended in Kishtwar.
The Senten pass was closed and the ride from Kishtwar to Srinagar was a full day on the other route.
It was only mid afternoon so we decided to go walk around the market area in Kishtwar. There was an enormous park, with thousands of people, some playing games like football or cricket, others just relaxing, we decided to walk through the park, rather than around it.
Having two Aussies in the group meant that we would finally get someone to explain Cricket, so we walked up to the larger Cricket game and the explainings began.
Basically, theres a group of guys on one team, like 8 or 9, and then 2 guys from the opposing team are up at bat. The pitcher guy throws the ball overhand. The guy with the Cricket bat tries to interfere with the balls flight. Then someone will run back and forth. There are places of importance within the circular Cricket pitch, but defining the circle with Razor wire seems to be specific to this region. Apparently the fans do not normally attack the players in Australia or the UK. Eventually a group of people will decide that one of the teams may have won the game. Or not. A Cricket game can last for days.
After overloading our simple minds with the details of this game we continued on to the market area; our goal was the police station where we hoped to get good news about the possible opening of the pass the next day.
We made it about 3 blocks before a military jeep pulled up and politely asked us to get in. In the back. All 5 of us. It was cozy.
We were driven to another military base, in town, a smaller outpost, but conveniently close to our hotel.
We spent some time with the Major, learning about local issues, and the golden rule. Do not mess with the Indian Army, they will mess you up.
I believed him.
We went back to the hotel for an hour or so, and then returned to have dinner with the Major on the base. He was a fascinating dude, and if I weren’t so exhausted I would have stayed later just to learn more about the Indian culture.
By the way, an enlistment in the Indian army is generally for 20 years. Or more.
The next morning we are ready to hit the road and make it to Srinagar no matter what.
This side of the J&K region was not a very warm and friendly place. We didn’t get many smiles in return, and the stares we received made me feel like I had taken a wrong turn somewhere. And it was raining. All day.
Not a pouring, dumping rain, but a misty drizzle that didn’t really let up.
We got our first taste of real India traffic, thousands of trucks going each way on a two lane highway that had many spots where only one lane was flowing, so they would take turns based on whoever had the biggest and most thrashed truck.
Being on Bullets we wove in and out of them pretty successfully, but it was still slow going.
There was a long tunnel, Simon and Rex had become experts at making their Bullets backfire on command, so we all had fun.
My chain popped off, so we popped it back on and tightened the rear wheel.
Simons entire subframe had broken off, so we spent some time finding welders. We found a skilled welder with a MIG electric rig, but the power went out before he was able to get to the bike, but luckily there was a talented gas welder nearby.
And eventually we made it to Srinagar, after about 12 hours of riding Indian roads in the rain. It was a brutal day, but we didn’t see any good reason to stop along the way, and we planned to have a down day in Srinagar to explore and recover.