“We will have to amputate above the knee I’m afraid; now go lay down on that table over there like a brave solider.” The young doctor was sitting beside me and delivered the news with a mixture of pity and bemusement. The sheer joy of it was painted all over his sadistic face. The older doctor behind the desk glanced up from my shattered ankle x-ray. His glasses were perched on the end of his nose and he gave a nod as he fixed me with an icy stare over the top of them. What the young doc had actually said was, ‘No riding for at least two more weeks; and if you have to go to Chail, ride pillion. Let’s not take any chances with you!’ But to me it sounded like, ‘Hack off all his limbs and feed them to the flying monkeys, no anaesthetic needed. Nurse Ratched, make haste!’. Due to this injury I had already missed a ride with my motorcycle club into the Himalayas the week before. This was agonizing news, as today, the cast had come off my leg and I was hoping to join friends on a ride to Chail this weekend. Yet, after a thorough examination with hot pokers and long sharp scraping clampy things which had been administered lovingly by the younger doctor, a negative ride request reply had been given. To be honest, I couldn’t be sure it was the young doctor doing the prodding; the examiner was clad entirely in black leather with a cape and hood. But I am certain I recognized the cologne.
After almost a month of intense bed rest and convalescing (for the most part)I was told the tissue damage had not healed as hoped, Therefore my options were now simple.
Ride pillion to Chail or stay home dangling by my ankle, from a meat hook to assist in keeping it elevated for the weekend. Well, there was no way I was riding bitch. Flying monkeys consuming the fleshier bits of my extremities was a preferable option to that. So another four days, spinning slowly counter clockwise while watching an inverted Koffee With Karan seemed inevitable. My first instinct was to run to Rishikesh. That’s what I normally do when I feel like life is sitting on my head and this was one of those times.
We were discussing that very thing with a colleague of my princess bride later that afternoon (going to Rishikesh, not life straddling my cranium),sipping tea and having a laugh when suddenly the dark clouds parted and the sun shone through them with divine inspiration. As if God himself had charged my wife’s friend to deliver the sacred tablets of truth! Magnanimously he uttered the uplifting and glorious phrase…”Take the cripple to Dehradun.”
We boarded the train at New Delhi’s main station early Friday morning. I have done the trip many times to Rishikesh. Dehradun was only an hour extra journey past the Haridwar/Rishikesh stop. Despite my well documented loathing of train travel, I was feeling optimistic as we pulled away from the platform. There were no children about! This in itself was a miraculous first of my train experiences! Little did I know I was to pay for that in spades on the return journey. The stabbing pain in my torn and tattered appendage had been reduced to the sting of mere one thousand Arabian Scimitars! This had been accomplished with the minimal use of some low grade Afghani heroin. Okay, alright, all I took was two paracetamol and a cup of chai, but I was set! I had also elected to abandon my crutches. They, I had proclaimed with disgust, were not making the trip! The medieval underarm torture devices were then unceremoniously discarded in a corner of my wife’s 156 sq. meter “shoe area” we have near the front door of our flat…and with that, Tally Ho Eh Wat! Off to Dehradun.
The trip was as it always is: six hours of landscape rolling past with the odd town, bridge or train station to break it up. I amused myself pulling faces at the locals gathered on the platforms or waiting patiently at road crossings. So much was my adolescent frivolity my eyes began to hurt from repeatedly crossing them. I elected to have a nap. Roll On To Rishikesh, a rather hip and catchy rock and roll diddy was written on this very line several years ago and I woke several hours later as we were pulling into our destination station humming it softly.
Our accommodations in Dehradun were quite literally within spitting distance (if you have a mouthful of paan that is) of the station. The fact that I couldn’t cross that distance, station to accommodation, without the assistance of a taxi, two tuk tuks and a seeing eye dog, brought into sharp focus the fact that I had once again saw fit to administer my own health diagnosis…incorrectly. In my mind’s eye I could see the crutches laying amongst discarded loafers, out of style pumps and torn flip flops. They were laughing at me, content in the knowledge they were still needed…desperately and the idiot who had gleefully dismissed their service was now stranded 305 km away. Rather than admit defeat, I informed my princess bride of our new strategy. Our exploration of Dehradun would be enjoyed from the back of an air conditioned taxi, or in more extreme cases, a tuk tuk…and wouldn’t that be lovely.
My wife is a good wife, a great wife…in fact, the best wife. She is wise, caring, filled with love and compassion, but most importantly, she exhibits an inexhaustible supply of tolerance. She gets me and fully understands the inner workings of a lunatic. Mrs. R accepts the reasoning, logic and nuances of life with an evil genius. Therefore, she realizes when I tell her I am entering the Mumbai Marathon for example, it is best to wait patiently 30 meters from the start line and pick up the completely bewildered and heart attack suffering man there…rather than try to speak logic to him at the starting line. She smiled and agreed, ‘Yes, taxi. That will be lovely.’ Much like she had smiled and said ‘Yes, of course. Not needed.’ about the crutches back in Delhi.
The rest of Friday is a bit of a blur. Not necessarily due to any excess of activity or sightseeing. More likely due to the large amount of Ibuvil narcotics I had ingested. Ready to explore…I will just take two extra strength pain killers! We arrived for lunch at an exciting neuvo avant-garde red hot top spot, I took two more and feasted on an Indian interpretation of a Tex-Mex fiesta or burritos and fajitas. With a full stomach we thought it would be nice to bounce like a ping pong ball in the back of a tuk tuk on a road in desperate need of some maintenance causing another dynamic pain killing duo to go down the hatch. From there we wandered and limped the local market to bargain hunt, enjoying the local colour. We were caught up briefly slurping down fresh strawberries from a young boy selling them on a wooden cart. Strawberries go wonderfully with chocolate, champagne and narcotics….. gobble, gobble… yummy… another two down. Feeling no pain at this point, why not go to the WIC country club and watch my buddy perform an acoustic blues set…extra strength paisley pills and soda water skies.
Upon arrival back at our room later that evening, I tumbled down the rabbit hole into a coma like sleep featuring feverish dreams filled with talking crutches, evil distorted melting faced doctors and over charging tuk tuk drivers in striped shirts and top hats.
Feeling alive and refreshed the next morning, we booked a taxi to Sahastradhara. The trip was lovely… bright sunshine and fresh breezes. It’s always an added bonus once you leave Delhi to drive with the windows down. We arrived in the centre of the town after paying a menial entrance fee of 40 Rs. Comprised of a small square surrounded by shops and restaurants, this, the hub of activity was framed by mountains and the Song River quietly meandering through the middle of it all. Sahastradhara literally translated means “thousand fold spring”. However, as it was not monsoon season, we had to make do with pools of spring water and the river itself. The normally present waterfalls were noticeably absent, yet it didn’t diminish from the beauty and splendour of it at all.
I hobbled along after the princess bride. She, immediately after exiting the taxi, spied and made directly for the entrance to a cable car ride. From the looks of it, it had been constructed in 1962. It had been painted in all those eerie red/yellow/blue pastel carnival tones, slopped on in generous quantities in an effort to conceal the rusty parts and frayed cables. The whole scene had a faintly unsettling Stephen King quality to it. All that was missing was the creepy ice cream truck or Jack-In-The-box music crackling out of fun house speakers.
The cars were adjoined in groups of three, I assume so you would have company on the way down when the cable invariably snaps and you plummet to a craggy death and ran up the side of a sheer cliff face to a fairly lofty peak. I had a quick word with Ganesh, whose likeness was standing guard at the entrance to the loading platform and humbly asked that he secure our safe arrival to the top. Are you feeling my trepidation? Praying to the Hindu god Ganesh, when I am clearly a Kali guy…
The ride to the top was swift and uneventful, a bit of a letdown thankfully. It also offered some breathtaking views of the valley and river below. We gleefully snapped pictures of the valley, the river, each other, the cable, the car, the mesh fencing on the door, the floor and just like that we had reached the top. As we leapt from the still moving cable car onto the platform, it became even more clear that my hideously deformed limb was not going to triumph today, no matter how many drugs I took. Dehradun is in the mountains, Sahastradhara itself is a hill station, I have no idea what the hell was I thinking? I should be in bed watching Roadies, or at the very least have my…NO! I will not say it!…crutches. Yet I managed to soldier on at an increasingly slowing pace, a wobble, a limp and a teeter.
The flowers were blooming in a glorious riot of colour and the sweet fresh breeze blew in abundance. We were literally inundated by the vibrant purples, pinks, whites and reds of the lovely petunias that lavishly surrounded the grounds. We stood looking down at the small village. I let the soft sunshine wash the commercial facade away, scrub the streets of the capitalist addenda and revelled in the pure beauty of the village itself. This is the India I love. The pure India not tainted by tourism.
The cable car ride down was equally exhilarating and we hobbled off the exit platform back into the village centre. Well, tourism isn’t all bad is it, perhaps a little souvenir shopping was in order. While browsing the shops, I felt the invisible push, the divine nudge, the benevolent shove of the Dysfunctional Foot Gods. It truly was an inspirational moment as they navigated me to a small bin near the rear of the shop. And there, in the can, stood my salvation. Walking sticks! Hell yes! Lovingly crafted wooden walking sticks! Each one a traditional piece created by the weathered hands of Uttarakhand elders. This, an ancient art passed down from mother to daughter, father to son! Or they were imported fresh that morning from China via Fed Ex. I didn’t care really, my ankle was throbbing and we had some tough road ahead.
With my new mobility aid firm in hand (I went with the red oak colour and the brass falcon head, just for a bit of style), Mrs. R and I galloped off with renewed vigor to the famed sulphur springs! I was determined to miraculously cure my right foot, which was now dangling from the stump of my leg by mere sinew due to the accelerated pace. We wove through the alleys lined with small shops filled with plastic water containers and small wooden trinkets. The local children swarmed under foot as they ran and played, occasionally stopping to stare and smile at me with curiosity. Eventually we arrived at the pools, the sounds of bubbling springs and the strong smell of sulphur engulfed us.
I was immediately frivolous and we sat at the edge of the springs and giggled like school children. Respectfully, please allow me to say, I love India and her people, and for the most part I understand the culture. But the sight of grown men stripping to their Fruit of the Looms in a public place and then wading into the water while their wives bathe in their salwars and sarees tickles the hell out of me. Infantile I know, but honestly, men in wet underwear are funny. I brazenly removed the crepe bandage and rolled my pant leg up over my knee, not unlike a Brit at the beach. In doing so, I afforded the masses a good long stare at a Caucasian Canadian foot and shin. Fascinating. Captivating. Downright alluring. Amazing stuff really; pictures were taken. Having decided the general public had, had enough of my naked foot, I plunged it into the healing waters of Sahastradhara! I dipped and dipped, swooshed and swirled, but the fact was, my bloody foot still ached. I was crushed. Had I been deceived, made a fool of, was it that my faith ran not deep enough?! Naw, I don’t think so, I mean really, come on now, what did you expect? Dip dip and I would be dancing the lambada?
Everyone knows the sulphur springs only work with total immersion…in jockey boxer briefs or equivalent, and I just couldn’t bring myself to get that done. Ah well, we trundled back to the taxi, a little disappointed to be sure, but overall thrilled with the fantastic scenery and wonderful experiences of the day. It had in fact, only just begun! As we tumbled into the back of our Hindustan Ambassador taxi, we were anxious to make haste to our next destination of excitement and intrigue, Robbers Cave!
Please do visit again soon for the exciting conclusion to Take a Cripple to Dehradun. Sharing is caring, if I made you giggle or smile, please do share the love!