In reality, there is no difference between those who ride just for a cup of tea and those who ride for the history books. The summit may differ in its importance, but that’s only in perception. The very idea of motorcycling is to chase something. That’s why it has wheels and a motor — so that it can move forward and, thankfully, sideways, too. Some chase a breakfast, some chase glory. It doesn’t matter what you’re in it for. As long as you’re out there, exposed to the elements with nowhere to hide, you will find something worthwhile.
In hindsight, this appeared to be a terrible philosophy to follow. I stood there, frozen, making nervous conversation with a quieter-than-usual Harshit, our non-resident shutterbug, trying not to be spotted. We were in the precinct of the Bhangarh Fort, tucked away in a seemingly forgotten chapter of culture-rich Rajasthan. The fort itself has been officially declared as haunted, to the extent that it’s illegal to venture into it after the sun has set and until it emerges on the other side. They’re dead serious about it, by the way. We hadn’t spotted a ghost, however. Not just yet.
Instead, we were pinned against a wall, witnessing what felt like essentially all the langurs in the world, chasing one care-a-damn food vendor carrying his wares over his head. Those things aren’t tiny by any measure and their strength, rather apparent through the layer of silver hair they’re covered in. They were hungry, as was clear to us, and although they aren’t known to posses man-eating properties, my absolute lack of faith in any animal other than the dog meant I began to fear the worst. At the very least, it would be exceptionally humiliating, whatever those creatures would come up with by the means of establishing their authority. I wanted to get the hell out of there. So did Harshit. I swear we nearly held hands as we tripped and trotted back towards the gates.
Our fledgling ghost-busting career having taken a severe blow, we decided to venture into nowhere in particular. That seemed befitting of Bhangarh, which is the type of place you don’t usually go on a holiday to. There is nothing to do there. It’s more or less a one-horse town, where some people carve sculptures out of gigantic blocks of marble, others block the only access road to the fort with their motorcycle/pickup truck hybrids and the rest, well, run the only hotel Bhangarh has to offer. The next one is 22 km away. Not exactly a walk down the street, as you can imagine. It would be pointless to have more than just the one hotel anyway; it’s not as if being intimidated by creatures who forgot to evolve is in fashion. I mean no reference to the people of Gurgaon, Haryana, by the way.
I fired up the Ducati Multistrada Enduro as the sun simmered in the cloudless blue sky. It hadn’t been the most pleasant winter day I’d lived to see so far and, in what felt like a minute, the bike had warmed up, the heat haze escaping from either side of it rather visible. There was barely a trace of life on the horizon — well, not life as we know it anyway — and the wide open expanse of hardened soil and shrubbery was hostile and uninviting. Hostility by itself is a summit, though. It’s worth the chase, sometimes. To be the unwelcome intruder can mean different things to different people. I was on the wrong side of myself, this once. No harm in trying as long as you live to tell the tale, I guess.
This is my first time astride the Enduro and in the 300-odd km I have spent with it so far, primarily over a well-paved highway between New Delhi and Jaipur, I’ve made friends with it. This is the kind of motorcycle you can circumnavigate Earth on, but it doesn’t, in any way, take itself too seriously. It’s built for adventures and although you tend to be put off by its sheer dimensions at first — I certainly was — the way it grows around you is beautiful. It erases the perceived impossibilities you see as threats through your visor and that’s something I love about it. It’s a sophisticated, expensive piece of machinery, as good as they come, but it still is an honest, purpose-built motorcycle at the end of the day. It’s more than potent enough where it matters and, most importantly, it sets you in the state of mind to explore. Boundaries mean nothing when you can jump straight over them, right? I would own one if I could.
I stood up on the dirt-grade footpegs, looking every bit like the motorcycle adventurer I have always wanted to be, and set off in an undecided direction. There’s a thrill to an amoebic landscape — in design if not necessarily proportion, in this case — that puts you in a childlike state of being. It’s a real-world escape from conditioning, with neither speed-limit signs nor lane markings. Nobody tells you where to go and what to do. Exploration is a blank canvas. It’s no wonder we’re so afraid of it. Coming from a school of life where the orientation of everything revolves around results, goals and achievements, exploration seems listless. And yet, it is the only thing we really ever do. If we do at all, that is.
The scenery in Bhangarh is characteristically consistent — it’s just mile after mile of lifelessness. There is no romance to its nothingness and, having mustered the will to stay on beyond a day, I found myself questioning everything I could see to a point of silliness. Why are so many people sculptors here? Who would come to Bhangarh to buy sculptures when they could do so in far more agreeable places scattered around in all of Rajasthan? Is all that ghost-talk — pretty much the spine of Bhangarh’s tourism — fabricated? How does my 500-bucks-a-person hotel have a water park? Also, what kind of fool calls a swimming pool a water park?
I could have found out, but that’s not in the spirit of exploration. Exploration isn’t knowledge itself but only a means of initiation. To explore is not to know, it is to experience. Knowledge, in any case, is overrated and has a tendency to overshadow anything before it — so I kept away from it. I was afraid it would spoil everything that lay before the wire-spoke wheels of my borrowed motorcycle. In any case, what kind of man would own up to having messed up naming the only hotel in a 20-km radius? It’s not as if they were in a hurry to outdo the Grand Hyatt.
Instead, I went about, trying to tick the questions off my list. Not the answers to them, but the questions themselves. Questions are limiting in their own way, since they only have specific answers. That leaves out a lot that someone may not have considered at all. Maybe ghosts do exist. We’re ghosts to somebody as we speak. Maybe it’s us who don’t know it. Don’t look over your shoulder right now. Okay, just kidding.
This entire ghost story around Bhangarh is believable, since it works on the primary premise of injustice, but there is no actual evidence of it. I did see some laughable videos about it on the Internet and more than a few travel forums have people swearing by their hair-raising experiences, but it’s hard to be sure. If it really was life-endangering, the authorities would have locked the place down, I’d like to think. The time slot allotted to ghostly activity makes it particularly hard to believe as well. It’s not exactly McDonald’s, is it? Having said that, it certainly does play on your mind, especially within the main wing of the fort. It’s no fun looking into dark rooms and let me just say I wouldn’t wander in there all by myself. I don’t know what it is that I’m afraid of. The unknown, perhaps?
I decided not to find out. Not knowing prolongs curiosity and, therefore, the future. Maybe it’s a flaw of perception, but maybe it isn’t. As long as the wheels of your motorcycle are perfectly rounded, you keep going further into the unknown, exploring the world, exploring yourself. Exposed to the elements with nowhere to hide. There’s a pleasure in it that’s far greater than a defined victory. Thankfully, the Ducati and I are on the same page. We’ve got many places to go to, none of which we can call home.
PHOTOS Harshit Gupta
[The story was originally published in our January 2017 issue]