My poor busted up motorcycle sat waiting for me at the local police station in Bongaigaon. One of the top police insisted that I keep my cases and everything I left behind in his office. It took half a day waiting around the station while they tracked down a key to unlock it and get my stuff. I had to adjust myself back to India time and things never going as planned. I was hoping to get the bike fixed in a few days and be out of town, but other plans were in store for me. Two weeks in the Bongaigaon hospital wasn’t enough for the universe and it would hold me there for another eight days. I completely tore my motorcycle apart, made many friends, ate some amazing home cooked Indian meals at homes I was invited to, started walking (trying) without the boot, sweated five gallons a day building my bike back up, brought to the verge of insanity, and made up for this by drinking ridiculous amounts of whiskey every night. These Bongaigaon dudes like their whiskey, a lot.
Just like I departed, I arrived back to town with Biswajit. I’ll never understand why he’s helped me so much and taken me under his wing. We really can’t even talk since he speaks only a smidgen of english, but he has been by my side helping me through everything from day one. While in Bongaigaon fixing my bike, he would come by at least twice a day in the morning and evening just to say hi and spend some time with me.
During my time in the hospital, I didn’t have much of an appetite and couldn’t handle anymore Indian food. Biswajit would bring me warm tinfoil full of the best chicken tika. It was the highlight to most my days. The hotel he took me to for a room was where he was getting all that goodness from. Attached to the hotel is Harrys Tandoori Planet, which is run by the king Harvinder AKA Harry.
He hadn’t had time to come visit me in the hospital, but had been sending all the delicious food my way and getting all the updates. Over the next eight days he became a good friend. My Indian brother. A big guy with a heart of gold, and every night he cooked up food for me. If there was anything I needed while I was there he would do everything in his power to help me.
People weren’t scared of him around the area, but definitely respected him. The hotel and restaurant are at a central point in the city and always has lots of people around.
I would work every day from sun-up to sun-down trying to get the bike back together before heading up for a bucket shower and some relaxing under the fan. The very first night, Harry sent up a note asking me if I wanted a cold beer. He had two big cans of cold strong Budweiser for me, which aren’t cheap in India, and handed me a plate of food. It became like groundhogs day each evening. Around 7:30 people would start coming to my door wanting me to come hang out or Harry would be belowing up from the street, “Ryan paji”, which means Ryan brother. This always led to a night of whiskey drinking and lots of laughs. It’s illegal to drink out in public or even in the restaurant, so all the boozing went on back in the kitchen. The only bad part was that all the ceiling fans were out front. It was a sweaty mess. The main culprit of keeping the drink supply going was bartender Niku. The whiskey and water always filled the cups.
The first afternoon a couple young kids pushed my bike a half mile through the streets from the police station to the hotel. They got some strange looks from the locals. We wheeled it behind the hotel gate and into a little covered area out front that became a mechanic shop for the next week. A lot had been damaged on the right side and I had two big boxes of parts to fix it.
The subframe was messed up and had to be replaced, the airbox/battery holder was smashed, the front fender was smashed, the oil filter cap broken, exhaust bent, pannier rack destroyed, rear brake reservoir and cover trashed, and right side crash bar mangled and destroyed. The crash bar is what actually did a lot of the damage when it ripped back and tore into the bike. It might have been what broke my leg. The back top-case broke so it doesn’t lock, but bungee cords are the fix for now. I also had some new goodies to slap on, like a comfy seat cover, aluminum skid-plate, stronger spring, and some shims. I went straight to work, and I wasn’t alone. I had a group of people around me at almost all times watching my every move and a few that wanted nothing more than to get involved taking it apart.
When I was in the middle of the highway bleeding and asking for help they either ran off or just stood there staring at me, but when I didn’t really want help on my bike everyone was obsessed with trying to help. Reminds me of the Alanis Morissette song, just a lil bit ironic. I brought a new helmet with me, so I gave the old one to a neighbor from across the street who said he was a mechanic. All I wanted was a little help tracking down things when I needed them, like random bolts or screws. He was a good guy to have around, always had a giant grin on his face, and when things got stressful reminded me “no tension”.
I would find out soon that half of Indians are mechanics, and everyone is eager to tell you how they’re the best. I appreciated all the help I got and couldn’t have done it without them, but sometimes it was a bit maddening. They have a completely different method for working on a motorcycle. If something is bent and needs to be straightened out their answer is a big hammer and bashing it as hard as they can. Before I could convince them that I needed a welder to bend my muffler pipe back straight, they had bent and ruined the flanges and tore out the packing where it attaches to the header. Eventually I got it to a welder, but because of the past slamming around they did to it, it fits like crap to the header and has pieces of beer cans used for packing. Exhaust is leaking out and I sound like a Harley. Will have to wait till a bigger city to fix it. Every nut and screw I started removing, I would have hands coming in telling me they can do it. If something is on really tight and giving some trouble, I’ll work on it until it comes loose. When they can’t get something off in four seconds, they go into godzilla mode and just start ripping, pulling, banging, and grinding until they get it off, but cause other problems. I had to remove all the engine bolts at one point and the final one at the front of the frame was tough. Before I could stop him a guy grabbed my wrench and completely tore the nut apart. Everyone around assured me just to let him work, and he went about getting it out, but not before destroying the bolt and nut, which took forever to find new ones. Everyone looked at him like a hero. The biggest mistake I made was letting some of them help me take it apart that first day. When I start tearing it down and opening it up, I keep track of all the pieces and where every little thing came from. Whatever the complete opposite of this is, they do it. They resemble kids opening presents on christmas morning and small screws and bolts are like wrapping paper going everywhere. It made putting everything back together in the end very difficult when you have to constantly look for lost bits. The first day I managed to get the entire rear end off and put on a new front and rear tires.
My junk pile got a good start too. The next morning I got up pretty excited to keep things moving. While I had everything open I decided to check the valves and adjust them if needed. It’s really no big deal and since I bought the bike used I didn’t know whether it had ever been done. Just have to remove the head and check the clearances with feeler gauges with the engine at top-dead-center. A few of them were right on the edge of being out of spec so I went about putting in a couple new shim sizes. In the blazing heat my brain pulled a really stupid move. I checked the manual for what to tighten the cam shaft bolts to and looked at it as 106 ft/lbs instead of 106 in/lbs. I don’t know how I could be so dumb to actually start tightening those little bots down at 106 ft/lbs. It dawned on me shortly when the bolt snapped off in the thread of the head. That was a really unhappy moment of realization. I sat back and wished I had a time machine.
It ended up taking me three days to get that little half of a bolt out of the thread Unfortunately it was positioned directly under the frame so I had to remove the engine from the frame and lean it over at an angle. It was stuck in there deep and solid with no way of poking at it to rethread out. The only thing to do was reverse drill it out, which wouldn’t be a big deal back home where you can find those tools. It took half a day just to track down a hand drill, but the thing was useless. I was never able to help any of them understand what a left-hand drill bit is and was feeling hopeless. I was told there was a great mechanic who could do it easily. We loaded the bike up into a truck and drove it to a little shop outside of town. We pulled up and unloaded it, a little frail looking old man looked at it, and said he couldn’t do anything. A complete waste of time and we loaded it back up. It was starting to feel like the universe was against me when it struck again. As we were heading back to the hotel, the steering went out in the truck and we almost crashed into a house.
We were a bit late making it back to the hotel. In the end we finally found someone who knew a good mechanic that had some skills. We loaded the half of a motorcycle back into a truck again and followed the guy across town.
We got the engine leaned over and the little guy got to work. I got a bit worried when he pulled out a massive drill bit, but he just used that to make a notch in the very top of the broken piece. Then he used a skinny drill bit down into it, softly hammered a little spike into it, and then with pliers reverse threaded it out.
I kissed him all over the face. Not really, but I felt like doing it. I’m thinking this wise man sitting stoically in the shop put some good mojo on everything.
Once my screw up was resolved, it was back to building the bike back up. I remounted the engine, put all the suspension back together, and began finishing up. As soon as the new sub-frame went on it started looking like a motorcycle again. Remounted the radiator, fenders, gas tank, battery, side plastics, and then pressed the start button with a bit of fear…..Nothing. I took the gas tank back off, pulled off the spark plug cap, put it on again firmly with a click, and slapped the gas tank back on. And……….vroooom, started right up. The muffler was still off so the entire city might have found out it was running. The final touch was building on the new pannier rack and setting up my ammo cans. When the truck hit me his front bumper hit square on to my right side can at fifty miles per hour and blew it right off the bike. I look down now at he side when I’m riding and don’t understand how I got so lucky. It doesn’t make sense that it missed my handlebar and leg and hit the can. If literally I would have been an inch or less to the right it would have got my body. More and more I actually believe I had something that saved me that day. I don’t know what, but non of it makes sense to me. I have no memory after the impact, except being on the road after waking up without a single bit of road rash on me. How is that possible when you crash going sixty miles an hour. Those steel military ammo cans are crazy solid and all it took was ten minutes of hammering the little bit of warp back into shape. Biswajit took me to a little metal shop down a gravel road where they drilled new holes into them to attach to the new frame.
With the cans attached the motorcycle was whole again and prettier than ever. There’s still a couple little tweaks I need to do, but they can wait. I was itching to hit the road. Everyone had to get their picture with the finished product.
By the end, my junk pile was pretty massive and I was a bit concerned over what to do with it. Then Babla called me down in the morning and a guy was separating it all out.
With a home-made scale he weighed out all my metal scraps, and paid me three dollars for it. He took every bit of garbage I had amassed.
I was dying to leave, but it was honestly a bit sad to leave. Everyone in Bongaigaon was so amazing to me and took me in with open arms. It’s hard to think of a time I’ve felt more loved. There are so many people that I will never forget and hopefully see again one day. The goofy receptionist.
India’s very own Erik Estrada.
Niku the bartender.
Babla who speaks the rare language of Babloblobaboo.
Pechao, the best damn tika cook and laugher in bongaigaon.
Harry’s brother and boss man father.
And everyone else in Bongaigaon that was part of the fun.
I’ll especially miss the company of Aman, a cousin of Harrys who helped me out from day one and was always around with a helping hand and conversation. He speaks perfect english. Kids got a heart of gold and his friendship meant a lot to me while I was there. He picked me up one morning and took me to the Sheik temple.
I was invited to his house for an amazing dinner and breakfast by y his sweet mom. She was the kindest and made me hot buckets of water for my foot. I could feel the care from her and it was really nice. It seems like everywhere I go local ladies adopt me as their son and take care of me.
I can’t wait to have more of her delicious paneer. She even sent me little snacks over to the hotel and made Babla bring me a bucket of hot water.
Another guy, a Bengali named Debu, also had me over for lunch and breakfast. For lunch he went all out and had prawns and many other dishes. I left that house each time about to explode. Those women will keep piling food on your plate as long as you’re sitting there.
The young neighbor guy came over one afternoon and I jokingly told him I wanted some of the orange mandi stuff in my hair. The next thing I knew I was up in his house getting a beautiful mandi (henna) design all over my arm and hand from his sister.
I gave him a little design of my own.
Afterwards, the mom cooked me a delicious lunch.
These types of things and experiences were an everyday thing. People would come by in the morning just to get me some breakfast. The love they showed me was awesome. It’s too bad the entire world could just calm the hell down and be as nice to each other.
Before leaving I was able to go by the hospital and see everyone. I got to see a bunch of my nurses, which was really nice. They looked pretty shocked to see me. I knew they were short, but I think since I was always in bed I didn’t realize just how tiny they were.
I was able to sit and talk with my two doctors/surgeons for a bit.
And see some of the other people I got to know during my time at the hospital.
Bongaigaon, you will always hold a place in my heart. You threw a major wrench into this whole riding a motorcycle around the world thing. I had some terrible times, but also some special times with you. My life took a fork in the road at Bongaigaon. I spent over three weeks with you and getting to know you. The book of my life wanted a chapter on you for some reason. What a strange time it’s been. Another big shout out to Harvinder, Harry, for taking me into his life like family. I’ll never forget the things you did for me.