• Joel Koechlin

"...AND THE ROAD?" "Mostly good!" They say...

Last October, a 2,700 km motorbike journey

across Arunachal Pradesh, Northeast India.


Tawang: the Golden Buddha

It's about 5 pm, mid-October 2019, deep into the Himalayan mountains. The night is falling fast. Suddenly, the persistent drizzle increases to a light rain, and it's getting colder. I, and my companion Lavanya, are drenched and shivering on the motorcycle: a rented 350 cc Enfield Classic, white in colour, overloaded with luggage for two, in view of a month-long expedition throughout the most remote roads of Arunachal Pradesh — Northeast India. We have left Itanagar, the State capital, nine hours ago, ridden across bad roads, good roads, terrible roads, pockmarked with deep potholes or lined up with dreadful abyss. We have struggled through landslides and deep slush — dropped the bike twice in the process — and still, the remote town of Seppa is nowhere to be seen. Sure enough, all along the way, amazing vistas have been our worthy reward.

The altitude is gradually rising, and with it, the cold turns bitter, perhaps inducing a mild state of hypothermia impairing judgement. We expect a high mountain pass, although there is no way to figure out our precise location: no signboards, no villages, no humans, just thick primeval forest on the steep slopes, fading away in the gloomy dusk. As for the GPS, we haven't had a network signal in many hours and the phone batteries show all symptoms of near death (why on earth did I leave my trusty paper maps in a drawer at home?) Oh! No! We are not prepared for this...

A straight stretch of decently paved road appears. The tarmac looks shiny black with the rain. I allow the bike to pick up some speed. Far away, on the left side of the now broad road, a massive Mithun is trotting at a moderate pace — one of those powerful, semi-wild bovines, frequently spotted in these mountains — parent to the South Indian Gaur, the Indian bison. Numb-minded by the cold, I throttle back a tad late and opt to overtake the Mithun on its right. At this precise moment, obeying a mad mind of his own, Master Mithun decides that perhaps, some attractive, scrumptious grass may grow on the other side? Who will ever know... At full speed, the monster bolts across the road. In such moments, there is no time to think. Breaking abruptly is a no go on this wet surface, and anyway the distance is now too short. The only chance to fly out of this looming disaster is to accelerate in full, while riding the grassy, slippery shallow ditch on the right edge of the road. While I vigorously twist the throttle, I can perceive Lavanya murmuring a fervent prayer behind me. The motorcycle lurches forward and both our hearts stop beating in a suspended moment of time during which — like in a slow motion action — it cruises right under the moustaches of the enormous sharp-horned Mithun, with mere inches to spare.


†††


In retrospect, no one of us would dare to think without shuddering, about the violence of the impact and its dreadful consequences, had we hit the bison, a living mountain of flesh and bones. As for having been able to cruise through the wet grass of the ditch without losing control of the motorbike, this too would have suggested another miraculous intervention.

Which got me into thinking, again...


"I wonder, at times, how thin that line can be, between uninterrupted life-flow and ultimate catastrophe." (A quote from "The Sun-Eyed Children")


(Story told by Joel Koechlin and Lavanya Pawar)

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As for "THE SUN-EYED CHILDREN", the book is well on its way to be published soon. Read the blurb here.

Meanwhile, our best-selling book published by Penguin Random House India, in collaboration with Pragya Bhatt, "BEYOND ASANAS - The Myths & Legends Behind Yogic Postures", is available on Amazon and Flipkart.


Enjoy more images of stunning Arunachal Pradesh (photos by Joel Koechlin - videos by Lavanya Pawar)





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