"Medicine" and the final goodbye
Rishikesh Travel Blog› entry 16 of 17 › view all entries
We're sitting, as usual, in the restaurant at Green Hills when I see a sprout of blonde dreadlocks moving down the path towards us. It swoops down on us, kisses me on both cheeks and yells -
"I AM STINKING LIKE A PIG! IT'S SO GOOD TO SEE YOU!"
Somewhere under the sprout of dreads is Mati, now so thin after a month of illness in Daramsala that the dreads are all you really see of him, but still unquestionably one of the most beautiful men I've ever seen. It's fucking good to see him too.
We spend the next few hours swapping stories and comparing illnesses. Mike with his infection. Ross with his meth-induced chest pains. Andy with his broken foot. Mati still thin from his illness. I proudly declare myself the only one who has managed to keep themselves relatively uninjured and healthy so far.
"Ah this is lucky" says Mati. "You won't be needing any medicine then."
"I have medicine for all your pains... lucky you have no pain, eh Cat?"
"Well... actually... I did burn my leg on Mike's bike..."
"Aww, shame. Ah well, Dr Mati will just have to cure you as well."
And thus begins the three day opium binge, finishing only when the opium runs out and we are all somewhat recovered. The only activity during the three days is the daily drive down to the nearest booze shop - 12km away as it's illegal to sell alcohol in Rishikesh - to get the evening's supply of whiskey and beer. Then we play poker, smoke, drink, and take more opium. As Ross invariably wins poker we give up playing for money and change the stakes to cigarettes, which is unfortunate as Ross has scarred lungs and is given increasingly dire warnings by his doctor to quit smoking NOW before it's too late. By the fourth day - the end of the opium - the pains in his chest flare up again so badly he's told to get himself to hospital in Delhi. But we have our group now - our whiskey-drinking, poker-playing Enfield gang, and nobody seems capable of leaving until someone else does it first.
With the end of the opium comes the return of movement, and we start going out on drives around Rishikesh on the bikes, winding up and down the mountain roads along the valley, going everywhere and nowhere, just enjoying the feel of the bikes and the beautiful views. They look live big evil insects, Enfields, the big petrol tank like the thorax of a wasp, and they make the most satisfying roaring throbbing noise. They're definitely not the best or the fastest bikes, and they have a tendency to break down at the smallest possible provocation (as Ross says - an Enfield is a permanent work in progress), but I love the look and the feel of them. And there's almost a sort of cult of Enfields in India - everyone who's been here more than a few months either has one or desperately wants one.
I ride on the back of Ross's bike. Ross drives like an Indian - darting in and out of crazy traffic as fast as he can get the bike to go. And he shouts greetings at everyone he passes and laughs and laughs. I get really close to him that week - I love the way he seems interested in everything and afraid of nothing, he's completely blunt and open hearted, full of wit and energy. Then Mike and Mati are such laid-back, easy-going guys that hours slip by like minutes with them. I don't click so well with Andy, but he's a nice guy as well, always ready to laugh. So even though I'm desperate to get out of Rishikesh and head north, days keep passing and I don't leave.
My excuse is that we're waiting for Vladimir's bike to be finished so me and Andy can drive north with them. But Lucky, the mechanic, is famous for "tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow". Finally, the bike is finished. That day, we're driving back along the other side of the river to Laxman Jhula when we come across Vladimir, standing white-faced next to a big fucking jeep and a pile of twisted metal. He's unhurt, but the bike's gonna take another week to fix. We've waited long enough.
In the German Bakery, we run into a couple of Spanish guys, preparing to head north on Enfields, and me and Andy decide to ride with them. That night is the Euro 2008 final and we all stay up watching it and drinking beer in Ross's room. Me and Ross stay up after it's finished and talk til 5 in the morning. He says as soon as we leave he's going into hospital in Delhi. The group I've got so close to is on the verge of scattering, like all my travelling groups that have meant so much to me, and I know it's time to go. But it's a lot harder than I ever thought it would be to leave these people behind.
And finally, the great morning comes. The bike's loaded down with our bags and the Spanish guys show up at 9am, ready to hit the road. The others struggle out of bed to say goodbye to us and I hug them all, a special last hug for Mati who is, after all, the most beautiful man in the world. Then we wobble off on the road towards Dehra Dun and finally, two weeks later than I intended, I leave Rishikesh behind me.