Saturday, May 12, 2012

Going like a Bullet!

From Kochi, via Kolkata and Patna, Duke Ninan went solo all the way to Jiri in Nepal on his 'Classic Sandstorm' 500 cc bike

Photos: Duke Ninan on his Bullet; a view of Mount Everest

By Shevlin Sebastian

On a highway in Andhra Pradesh, Duke Ninan screeched to a stop on his bike. A boy was lying on the ground. Blood was pouring out from one side of the head. He lay still and unmoving. A few stones were placed alongside his body, so that he would not be run over. “The boy had been hit by a speeding car,” says Duke. “Nobody bothered to take him to the hospital. Soon, he breathed his last.”

On his Rs 1.6 lakh 'Classic Sandstorm' 500c Bullet, Duke was travelling from Kochi to Kolkata, Patna and onwards to Nepal. In Sindhulee district, Duke came across a bridge held up by cables. “It was only three feet in width, and was swaying from side to side,” he says. Duke felt nervous. But he bit his lip and drove his Bullet through. “There were tense moments when I felt that I would slip off and fall into the river,” he says.

Initially, Duke had planned a trip to Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, and Malaysia. “I had secured all the visas,” he says. But at the Bangladesh border, immigration officials told him that there was a war going on between the Kachin rebels and Myanmar government troops. “It would be risky for me to try to cross the country,” says Duke. So he turned around and from Kolkata he decided to go to the base camp of Mt. Everest.

However, when he reached Kathmandu, travel guides told him that the motorable route ended at the town of Jiri, 214 kms away. From there, there is a 15-day trek to reach the base camp. “At Jiri, I trekked for about three hours, to get an idea of the terrain,” he says. Duke returned, via Varanasi, Jabalpur, Nagpur, Hyderabad, and Bangalore. Total distance covered: 8037 kms in 18 days. Last year, Duke had gone on a similar trip, from Kanyakumari to Shimla: 11,233 kms in 32 days.

For his journey, Duke wore a pullover and trousers. “I had a sweater, because it is porous,” says Dean. “This helps the perspiration to go out. And it is a good protection in cold weather. I also had glucose to counter dehydration.” Duke also wore army boots to protect the ankles, whenever he kick-started the Bullet.

And throughout his journey he took videos where he talked into the camera about his experiences. So, at one abandoned petrol bunk, in Berhampore, Odisha, he ate puris, as he prepared to sleep on the floor. “I am taking a power nap,” he tells the camera.

In Chandipur, Odisha, he points at the sea and says, “This is my first sight of the Bay of Bengal .” At Bastar, Chhattisgarh, he says, “Collector Alex Menon was abducted by the Maoists from here.” At Jiri, he points at the distance, and says, “Look at the beauty.” It is a range of snow-filled Himalayan peaks, of which the tallest is Mount Everest.

At Adilabad, he has a puncture. “Last year, at the same place, some nuts came loose on my bike,” he says. “Just a coincidence, perhaps.” Duke had more coincidences: in Pollachi, Berhampore and Kolkata, he saw a raven flying in the sky. “There seems to be some kind of message for me,” he says.

The police gave him a message which elevated him. When he was travelling through Odisha, whenever any police officer saw the national flag pinned between the handles, they would salute it. “Many constables of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police [in the Himalayas ] as well as the Armed Protection Forces of Nepal greeted me,” he says. “They commended me for my courage and initiative.”

Duke, 56, a former vice-principal in schools in Ludhiana and Tiruvalla, worked for 13 years in Dubai, before returning to Kochi. His family, which includes his wife and two sons, remains abroad. “I felt an emptiness in my life, so I thought I would come back and try something adventurous,” he says.

(The New Indian Express, Kochi) 

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