Letter from the hills: The tummy returns

My snapping up of an old Jawa motorcycle, put an end to walking around the hills and signalled the end of the battle of the bulge. I lost my lean and hungry looks to find the tummy returns.

Of course she craved attention. And most Sundays found us glued to the workshop in Dehradun.

‘Shocker bol gaya hai!’ (Shocker’s gone bust!) Announced the mechanic, barely hiding his glee. Everything except for the horn made a noise. Sometimes it was the shockers; sometimes the chain; sometimes the engine knocked and sometimes you had to light a match to see the beam from the headlight.

‘The big cow gets a lick of salt,’ they say in Garhwal, ‘The calf gets to lick that cow’s mouth!’ Being that proverbial calf, I kept the bike puttering for ten long years.

Letter from the hills: The tummy returns

Often I have wondered who brought the first motorcycle up here? The answer lay in Barlowganj, when a certain Colonel Frederick Kearsey, came up the old Cart Road riding a Triumph 550 cc Model H to Fairlawn Palace to have a cup of tea with the exiled Ranas of Nepal.

Please hang in there a moment, let me strap my helmet. I am afraid I might get clobbered for letting you in on one of Landour’s top secrets: ‘The love life of author Stephen Alter’. Oh yes! His lady-love growls, snarls and purrs around - a vintage 1936 Norton 16H. While you are allowed to look at her, remember she belongs to Steve and Steve alone. Then there is the Scotsman, Bill Aitken, who rode on his Jawa to Ladakh.

‘T’was a bumpy ride. The spare wheel fell off and rolled into the Indus,’ he laughs. ‘And floated across the border without travel papers, a passport or a visa!’

No papers were needed for Padre Das, who in a moment of divine weakness, picked up an old bike. I must say he was a careful driver, peering through his fogged up spectacles to hit whatever happened to be right in front of him. One day, trying to park in a downpour, he fumbled, the seat slid off while the rest slipped into the valley down below.

Glumly he peered into the abyss, as the local boys retrieved it in bits and pieces. These he sold to Jagit Singh, our local welder, whose enterprise stuck them together. One day whilst driving back from Dehra, he gave this girl standing forlorn by the roadside, a lift. Most considerately, he offered her his jacket and drove on. Around Bhatta village, he felt his motorbike suddenly speed up. Surprised, he looked back. Except for his neatly folded jacket, there was no one there.

Mussoorie born author-photographer Ganesh Saili has had a lifetime affair with the mountains. His two dozen books are a testament to the hills of home

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