When I arrived in Kerala around 6 weeks ago it would never have occurred to me to drive here in India. Based on my first impression of driving I was overwhelmed just sitting in the passenger seat. But between making new friends and my thirst for experiencing more of this beautiful state, it’s amazing what a mere 45 days can do. But a journey is multi-faceted; it’s not only about where one is going, but how one gets there, and everything in between.
I arrived to Fort Kochi in the late afternoon in search of a Royal Enfield, a classic Indian-made motorcycle that I’ve had a crush on for a while now. The older models are “backwards” to the typical bike, with the gear foot-lever on the right side and the break lever on the left. I was determined to find the newer model where the arrangement is “normal”. After scouring the city and asking every bike rental and all the contacts available to me, it was apparent that there was no chance of finding what I was looking for. With that news I made the decision to go with what was available rather than what I wanted, (a perfect example of the flexibility that India demands) and I paid the Rs. 800, roughly $13 for the rental. I couldn’t believe what I’d just done: My first time driving in India and I’d rented a totally unfamiliar bike from an unfamiliar source with a 6 hour drive ahead of me, at night. My nerves were tingling at the realization!
Luckily, Dilshad, a friend from Marari Pearl who’d been planning everything for us, was with me. We started the drive through Cochin rush hour traffic. Slowly, I began to stretch my motorcycle-memory-muscles, and gradually the drive became more pleasurable. Soon enough, I was flirting with my 350cc beauty and she was smiling back.
But as with any relationship, there are ups and downs. Unfortunately, the biggest “down” in our relationship happened at 2:00am in the middle of absolute nowhere where she suddenly stuttered to a stop. In pitch darkness, only with the help of our flashlight apps, we began meddling with the machine, and by the end we were attempting absurd modifications. Neither Dilsad nor I knew anything about fixing motorcycles, and especially a dinosaur like the one we were riding.
We’d managed to push the bike up the mountain road and into a lonely building that, luckily enough, was a Home Stay! We explained our situation to one of the owners who gladly took care of us without resentment for the late hour wake-up call. The next morning we learned that three friends had put their entire life savings together to lease the property for five years. Although busy with the hotel and restaurant, they helped arrange for a friend who rode a similar bike to come and have a look at ours. Before we knew it, a new spark plug was swapped in for the old, we thanked them profusely and were on our way.
The rest of the drive was glorious, with winding mountain roads and scenery that began filling in with countless waterfalls and a thick cool jungle. The elevation then gave way to open luscious green Chai plantations, the iconic image of Munnar. Elephants and Nilgiri Tahr mountain goats roaming the hillsides are a common sight, and although we didn’t have the privilege of seeing that, it was easily imagined.
To conclude the story, I have to mention that an outstanding quality I’ve experienced with Keralites is their sense of unity. Not once have I been refused help, whether it be asked of a neighbor or a complete stranger. People will stop whatever they are doing to help you – it’s truly inspiring, and without them this adventure wouldn’t have concluded so happily!