Day 39 – Benares to Ranchi

So like most other days in life (unless you are a fortune cookie), I didn’t know what was in store for me this particular day. I had my map and my way in my mind. This was the plan.

I had a MH number plate and Bihar was on fire due to Maharashtra’s antics. So, I followed dad’s advice and decided to avoid Bihar completely. I was to take a detour southwards right after getting out of Benares, hit Ramnagar then Robertsganj, cross the border to Jharkhand at Wyndhamganj, head on to Gadhwa, Daltonganj and then to Ranchi.

Time permitting, I would like to make it to Bokaro before nightfall. The only hitch is most part of the road I will be taking today is infested with naxalites – militant groups fighting local poice over various issues. These are formidable groups, very often blowing up police convoys and literally ruling entire areas with various failed attempts by police and paramilitary forces to intervene. The road from Renukoot in UP to Ranchi in Jharkhand is their stronghold. A heavily forested area with very bad roads (naxalites kill contractors coming to build roads so no one comes anymore) and ever worse accessibility, this is probably among the worst roads to take on a bike solo. Most definitely the place to be avoided after dark. Well let’s see.

The departure is very peaceful. Early morning sun at Benares is awesome. Especially when the sweet perfume of early morning flowers is mixed well with human excreta. Well its a reality in India. Diffiult to escape the smell.

From Earning My Quarter Mile
From Earning My Quarter Mile

The going is okay till about Ramnagar. And then …

The roads in Ramnagar are brick roads. The worst kind of brick roads. The entire bike shook like in an earthquake. For about half an hour, I was on a mega vibrator. Everything in my body was shaking. No matter how slow I went, it was nightmarish. What I didn’t realise is this was just the begining.

Every goddam inch of the road after Ramnagar was a pain to go through. Whether it was the brick roads or the ramdom distribution of mega potholes on otherwise good roads or the diversions from flat highways onto unmade gravel roads, the going was becoming tougher and tougher. But I was like a leech, holding onto the idea of reaching Bokaro today at any rate. And every minute the bike was bearing the pressure.

Time wise I was not much in a hurry. It was 10.30 in the morning when I crossed the border. Still in one piece. I had about 350 kilometers to go and the first 10 kilometers into Jharkhand, I was pleasantly surprised with flat, well marked, non-potholed roads. I have lived all my life here and I was truly feeling good that MY PEOPLE could make such roads!! That was when they appeared. Potholes. With rapidly increasing intensity and randomness. Big potholes. Small potholes. Deep potholes. Shallow potholes. On the left. On the right. In the middle. All over the place. I was doing about 120 when they first appeared. By the time I could get a hang of them, I had gone past some very nasty ones. The bike was rattling and the front wheel was bearing the maximum brunt. Unable to brake quickly (there were just potholes, no flat surface at all for braking), I went over almost a couple of kilometers before I could come down to a more manageable 30 kmph.

When I say ‘manageable’, I mean a speed where I can brake when I want within a 100 metres without falling off. The bike was still shaking with the impact of the endless potholes like earth would shake under an asteroid rain. Every bone of my body was urging me to stop. I did. Rain check. All systems seem go. My own systems need a cup of tea. 15 minutes later, I am off. I ride for about 10 minutes and then, kaput. With a whimper, I hit my first mechanical problem. The bike behaves like it has lost fuel and within 5 seconds dies. I can’t even begin to understand why.

All dry checks are run. There is power in the battery but is not providing ignition for some reason. The fuse is replaced. The wires are checked. The fuel level is confirmed. No change. Cold start is useless. Running start is useless. There is no current going to the fuse. There is some trouble with the electricals. Problem is I don’t have the tools to open up the tank and seat so can’t do much. So I do what I can. Push the bike back about 4 kilometers to where the only mechanic is around here. You see I had stalled in the middle of lush green fields.

I huff and puff till I push all the 200 plus kilos of the bike to that godsent mechanic’s shop. Every gram of stuff in the saddlebags was reminding me of its presence at that time. The sun was beating down and the all the people I had mercilessly overtaken even at my low speeds were now going their way with a sly smile in their hearts. After what seemed like an eternity, I reached. But then, as they say, this was just the beginning. For the next 3 hours, I and a posse of 3 of the most accompalished mechs in the area, ripped apart the bike for the cause of the problem. No luck. The ignition coil, the TCI unit, the electrical connections were all considered suspect but absolved. Three hours!! We all gave up and I went away looking for a pick up truck to take my bike home. And along came the saviour. Brother of one of the mechs and supposedly the best of the lot, heard about me and came up to me saying he wanted to take a look. No harm, I say. He goes to work on the wiring. Every wire is checked thoroughly and finally reveals the culprit. The wire connecting the ignition switch to the CDI unit lying deep under the seat had broken off due to the impact from one of the potholes. Whoosh!! I have never been more relieved in my life.

Bike working, I hit the road again at about 2 pm. I have lost 4 hours now and the possibility of making it to Bokaro is very faint now. What is now playing on my mind though is the fact that by the time I hit the deepest areas of the troubled jungle, it would be well past dark. This was one thing I did not want to do. And I will be doing just that.

After a super quick lunch at Gadhwa, I hit the forest range of Palamu. And well well what do we have here. This is easily one of the best places I have seen till now. The sun is setting as I go past the stunningly beautiful horizon across the river and the forest. This is amazing. Such beauty going to waste. There are no pictures of the area since I was more concerned with getting to civilization fast. I couldn’t afford to stop. And I didn’t.

The sun was setting fast. Amidst the golden glow of early twilight, I remind the sun of the deal we had struck earlier. That it would set only AFTER I had set foot in Ranchi (I could handle Ranchi – Bokaro easily). The sun promptly showed me the finger and told me it does what it does and none of my antics was going to stop it. That settled, I just rode my butt off. Pothole after pothole, stretch of black tarmac after stretch of black tarmac, scary road after scary road, 18 wheeler after 18 wheeler, I just rode like there is no tomorrow. The dark was here. Finally.

Its a scary sort of jungle. You know. No traffic. No lights. Bad roads. Strange noises. Too many legends associated. And I am alone. I take a deep breath and make myself mentally ready for the next two hours or so. As I yanked the acclerator, I had just one thought in mind. Don’t go below 70 unless your life depended on it. And that’s what I did. I charged like an angry infantry man and never slowed down. I was going up and down in potholes like a cork in the open ocean. I was taking super tight u-turns at 80. My butt was begging me to stop. But I had my mind fixated. I was not ready to become terrorist dinner just yet.

One and a half hours later, I reached a junction teeming with activity. I stopped. Ordered a tea and started talking to a guy with a SUV. To my greatest relief, this junction marks the end of the naxalite infested area and Ranchi is another 75 kilmeters of much more decent roads. Heaved a sigh of relief. The SUV guy had his eyes wide open when he realised that I had been riding alone on a motorcycle in the dark. Kodak moment 😉

Painful as it was, the next 75 kilometers went past like a breeze. It was 9 pm by the time I had reached into the centre of the city. I thought (for about half a nanosecond) about hitting the highway again. And promptly gave it up. 20 minutes later, it was the bed and my butt.

Some more pics

From Earning My Quarter Mile
From Earning My Quarter Mile
From Earning My Quarter Mile
From Earning My Quarter Mile
From Earning My Quarter Mile
One Response to “Day 39 – Benares to Ranchi”
  1. Poetmaster says:

    Hey just came across your blog (havent been too regular at the BB :)Man thats one cool trip you are on – that too alone!! You must have some wanderlust ….Way to go yaar …

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