27-Jan-2007 -- The hunt for 24 North, 73 East materialized due to a ghost road that dwelled on my map of southern Rajasthan but turned out not to exist in real life. In print, this road led to 25N, 72 E, which sits about forty kilometers north-west of Rajasthan’s only hill station, Mount Abu. As we began our ride on the morning of Saturday, 27 January 2007, my tank and belly were full, the sun shone, the bikes hummed, and the Google Earth images showed a fairly flat, reachable approach to the confluence point, not far off a main road. Then India showed up.
For our first motorbike outing of 2007, we chose Mt. Abu largely because of its geological peculiarity. One of the oldest mountain ranges in the world, The Aravali sits south of the great Himalayan Range; its ancient, eroded red rocks extend from its northern reaches in Delhi hundreds of kilometers southeast to Mount Abu. The American Embassy School, where I live and work, is built upon low, exposed mounds of the Aravalis, which continue on into a large park area just north of the school called the Delhi Ridge. I was intrigued to see what the other end of this old range looked like in and around Mt. Abu.
The gang—Scott Dow, Tom Lehmkuhl, Isabelle Dubrana, Gene Harrell, Chris Kemper, and I—booked First Class A/C berths on the Delhi-Ahmedabad Rajdhani Express for the evening of Friday, 26 January. Indomitably French, Isabelle had prepared some pre-boarding hor’dourves. We noshed gurkins and smelly cheese on Platform One of the New Delhi Railway Station, waiting for the train to arrive and watching the rats frolic on the tracks. Shockingly comfortable and clean, the train’s cozy, carpeted cabins rocked us to sleep while we chatted and listened to our I-Pods. Heck, the loos that book ended the berths even included toilet paper and soap—a first, as far as I’d ever seen, on a train in Mother India.
We leapt off the train early Saturday morning at Abu Road Station and found a Qualis to take us the twenty-five kilometers up to the Palace Hotel on Mount Abu. We learned quickly why this area is so unusual. As we ascended the nicely paved serpentine road to the 4000 foot summit, we stopped along the way to take in the views. Rolling out before us was a carpet of desert, hazy and brown. As we twisted up and into this strange monolith, tropical palms began to appear. The modest elevation and numerous ponds and pools make this a small oasis in the middle of a veritable oven. Upon reaching the hotel, we found that Peter and Ute Laser, our old riding buddies, had been so kind as to have our bikes unloaded from the truck, which arrived the evening before. This hard rockin’, Teutonic, rough-ridin’ couple made the huge drive from Delhi to Mt. Abu on their bikes. The AES crew—more firmly bound by time and cursed with more sensitive kiesters—had sent our bikes ahead on a truck. Due to Peter and Ute’s forethought and courtesy, we were able to enjoy a cup of chai, a few paranthas and some omelets rather than hoisting bikes early in the AM.
After breaking our fast, depositing our luggage and checking the bikes, we saddled up and drove into Mt. Abu’s town center. As I mentioned before, we’d planned to head northwest from Mount Abu to 25, 72 on a road whose presence my trusty Lonely Planet India-Pakistan Road Guide indicated clearly. So, upon reaching the town center, we briefly studied a number of small road possibilities that we hoped would lead off in this northwesterly direction. It wasn’t happening. So, we began asking. The first bystander told us that we had to descend the twenty-five kilometers southeast to Abu Road in order to go northwest. A second seconded this. A third, the same. Usually trusting the map more than the yokels who often have little experience with maps, we continued asking anyone who would listen. The mantra was the same: “You have to go back to Abu Road.” It seemed that the clearly marked road to the northwest was, in fact, more of a footpath. I was bummed. I knew that with the added fifty kilometers, the ride would stretch too long for the daylight hours left. So, I reconsidered the map and made the call: as the main road down to Abu Road led toward it, we’d head for 24, 73—roughly the same distance from Mt. Abu as is 25,72. How approachable 25, 72 would be was, however, far more of a mystery to me, based on the Google Earth images, but it was worth the shot.
As we descended, the morning sun began to blaze, and January began to feel more like June. We passed into the flats near Abu Road and noticed beautiful, ancient outcropping springing from the desert floor to our right. As we entered the grungy little town proper, we lost our way. A friendly fellow on a scooter escorted us through the town and pointed us to the next “big” city on the map, Khed Brahma, which lay just over the boarder in Gujarat. A stunning landscape soon welcomed us. We opened up through undulating desert terrain and skirted the Sabarmati River southward. As we approached the border between Rajasthan and Gujarat, signs that read “Bar” and “Restaurant and Bar” began to appear with frequency. Gujarat is a dry state, and so these are one’s last opportunities to enjoy a “refreshing” Kingfisher or Castle Lager. (Beware, one Kingfisher = four warm Hams; three Kingfishers = a whole lotta hurt the next day.) Anyhow, after passing through an unguarded check point, the road straightened out and grew even flatter; we throttled up. Near Khed Brahma—a small, forgettable temple town—we stopped at a road side dhaba for lunch and a cigar. My Garmin was showing that 24, 73 lay about five miles away. After lunch, we loaded up and drove about three kilometers south of Khed Brahma, looking for a road to the right that would lead toward the cp. Oz himself could not have provided a better option. While not paved with yellow bricks, a smooth, asphalt country lane opened up to the right. This path continued to aim straight at the cp as the kilometers clicked down. We rode 2.5 clicks before the cp appeared to head off to the right from the road. At this point, the cp registered as sitting only a few hundred yards away.
We hopped off the bikes, noting the cotton fields we’d just passed through; the land in the immediate area could have been Arkansas. We walked down a dirt path, which opened onto a dried river bed. As if the gods where leading us, the bed led directly toward the cp. Eventually, we had to leave the wide, crusty path and scale a slightly steep embankment. As we reached the top, a deep, wide, stone well and lush green field of green grass appeared. The cp lay in the middle of that field. “Great. It’s been too easy so far. Here’s where the snake bite’ll happen, I’m sure. Somehow, I think Khed Brahma does not stock anti-venom.” The worries were for naught. I grabbed a big branch lying on the ground and started my trusty stomp-the-ground-and-whack-the-bush-and-yell-loudly-Ugly American Dance—sure to frighten even the most bad-ass snake. They either didn’t wake, retreated or weren’t there; in any case, I saw neither scale nor tail.
The attached photos are almost misleading: one might think that the immediate land around 24, 73 is typical of the area. While throughout the day’s ride I saw green fields here and there, most of what I noticed that day was brown, scrubby, arid land. 24, 73 clearly sits in the middle of a well irrigated field. A friendly farmhand by the name of Anil materialized and greeted us. After we snapped our photos, we pulled the cockle burrs off of our socks, fired up the engines, and began the long journey north to Mt. Abu.
One event worth note occurred on the journey back. As the sun was setting, we were ascending Mt. Abu, tired and saddle sore. Nudged by a truck, Ute laid down her Kawasaki Eliminator and injured her arm. Once we determined that the injury was not too bad, we loaded her onto the back of Peter’s bike and hauled her and the bike back to the hotel before pitch black descended. Always a trooper, Ute was soon in good spirits, quaffing a Kingfisher and regaling us with war stories.
The night included cocktails, cigars, guitars, songs, beautiful curries and an Indian wedding reception, complete with Bangra music blasting until 4:00AM. Sleep was not an option. Ah, India.