And what it taught me about life
In 1997 I was in Manali. A town found amongst the mountains of the north Indian state of Himachal Pradesh.
From what I can recall of the accommodation I was staying in, it was a building that had long passed its hey-day. It had a balcony, and I vividly recall all I could see from the balcony were the snow-capped Himalayas. The view was absolutely breathtaking.
What was also breathtaking was the fact that looking through the wooden slats of the floor of the balcony revealed a ludicrously long drop downwards into the valley below.
I recollect, that with minimal movement, I looked to my left then my right. I saw each end of the rusted balcony railing (no higher than my chest) appearing to be held in place with a solitary bolt on each side. I then looked at all the balconies to the neighbouring rooms. They were all intact. I remember thinking to myself something similar to “on the one hand those bloody Victorians knew how to drain the resources of and disempower a whole nation, but they were also good at building and construction. This balcony is not going anywhere.”
During my stay in Manali, I hired a Yamaha motorbike. I paid a local man (with a shed full of decrepit looking motorbikes) some money and in exchange, he gave me the use of a motorbike for a week.
This was a time of no trivialities such as risk assessments, disclaimers to sign, health and safety instructions to adhere to etc. I believe I may have even had to ask for the loan of a crash helmet. I gave him some cash, he gave me a motorbike for about a week. Simple as that.
After a couple of failed attempts to kickstart the bike, I was off. Every single day I had that bike, I was out on it all day, from dawn until dusk.
I used to have a Yamaha FS1 50cc back home when I was sixteen years old. But this was completely different. I spent every day for the next week exploring the foothills of the Himalayas, in and around the Kullu valley. The experience was adrenalizing. The feeling of freedom was exhilarating.
During every day I had that bike, the sense of isolation from the outside world, the risk of crashing and having no way of contacting anyone, didn’t occur to me. This was a time before the internet.
The only regular contact I had with my family back home whilst on my travels were expensive and infrequent international phone calls or good old fashioned postcards, one of which is below.
The terrain I covered was diverse. Isolated passes (very similar to one pictured below) strewn with loose stones on the ground, which was definitely challenging riding over on two wheels.
Such passes would then suddenly open up to immense, far-reaching and stunning views of the Himalayas.
Every now and again I would stop, get off the bike and just sit down and look around me. Just sit down and look at the sheer natural beauty that surrounded me. It was captivating.
I was sticking to what appeared to be roads but going higher in altitude. The farther up I went, the colder I obviously became.
Even the purchase of a cheap fur coat in the neighbouring town of Kullu could not keep me warm enough. Despite the discomfort from the increasing cold, I realised that I was in the foothills of the Himalayas and that I may not ever return, that I may not see such natural beauty again. With such thoughts so firmly entrenched, I was determined to push myself as far as I could, to get as near to the Himalayas as I could by bike.
Roads became passes. Passes became paths. Paths became impassable. I could go no further on two wheels. But still every day I went out exploring.
At the end of each day, I would return to Manali, park up my bike outside my accommodation and warm myself up in front of the wood burner and reflect on my day’s journey into the wilderness.
My daily bike journeys around the foothills of the Himalayas was just one of many journeys I have taken in life.
What did I learn from these particular journeys?
The world is a beautiful place. Enjoy it.
Life is a gift. Do not waste it.
Push yourself to your limits. You will be surprised by what you discover.
Originally published in Medium publication ‘The Ascent‘ 12/04/19.