Crashing in Kashmir

Crashing in Kashmir

I’ve waited until I’m out of India to post this one. No pictures I’m afraid just a horror story from the Indian roads.

A trip like this is inherently dangerous. Riding a motorcycle in itself is risky but there is a limit to how far you can insulate yourself to danger in this life whilst still continuing to live. So we accept these risks and move on. Some accept more risk than others and I’m likely considered one of them given my decision to ride a motorbike alone, in variable conditions, thousands of kilometers from home. Mum, you can say I told you so now.

I’ve already mentioned in previous posts how Indian roads are among the most dangerous in the world. After thousands of kilometers without a major accident I experienced this first hand in an incident which I miraculously walked away from relatively uninjured.

Riding towards Srinigar I was crashed into by 3 young Indian men on a motorcycle. None of them were wearing helmets and they hit me head on, each of us traveling about 60Kmh in opposite directions.

They pulled out from behind oncoming traffic without looking and by the time I registered what was happening I barely had time to turn hard to the left before they slammed into me. There was no life flashing before my eyes but I do recall thinking how badly this was going to hurt right before impact.

For a short time after that I recall nothing. I remember sitting up on the side of the road with my helmet still on and my bike standing up next to me. I’m not sure if someone stood it up for me or I got up and did it myself before collapsing again, but I remember that being odd.

As is typical in India, a crowd was quickly forming and whilst they were keeping a safe distance from me at the time. stories of lynch mobs after traffic accidents came rushing back to me.

I had obviously hit the ground hard. Over the next week I developed two black eyes presumably from the force of the impact. When I came to, I knew I was in India but had no recollection of how I had come to be there. It took me several minutes after the crash to remember what had happened. Confused and overwhelmed by the growing crowd I followed the advice I’d been given for this scenario and tried to get out of there. Unfortunately the bike was in a sorry state with twisted forks, smashed windshield and bent tank brace. More critically it was leaking fuel which impeded my exit.

Whilst attempting to repair the bike the police arrived and demanded I go with them. I refused to leave the bike and with the language barrier impeding communication I was still hoping to disappear before things escalated further. Not speaking a word of Hindi and being regarded as a walking dollar sign to many opportunistic Indians, I couldn’t see a favorable result for me if I were to go to the police station.

During this time a local who spoke some English came up and told me that one of the riders of the other bike had died. My stomach dropped and the life went out of me when I heard this. I stopped arguing with the police, loaded the bike into a truck that had appeared and jumped on the back of police motorbike to go to the station.

This is when things took a sinister turn. The English speaking Indian followed the police bike I was on, talking to the officer and trying to get my attention. The bike stopped half way to the station in the middle of nowhere and the English speaker told me that since someone had died I would have to give him and the cop 10,000 rupees otherwise I would go to jail. Thinking I had just killed someone I was somewhat distraught but the rage surged to the surface when I heard the audacity of this shit to be asking me for a bribe then. I almost hit him, but aware of my precarious situation and with a cop watching (he spoke no English) I told him to fuck off and got back on the bike and made the cop continue to the station. I rightly assumed that since this cop had stopped to ask for a bribe before the station he was keeping it from the others and was therefore fairly junior. Fortunately, this was the case and that was the last time I was asked for bribes.

Arriving at the police station was overwhelming as no one spoke English, it was also a shambles and I was never actually asked for my passport. I was there for quite sometime before a young Kashmiri English speaking officer arrived and explained the situation to me. Thankfully no one had died. The 3 guys were all alive but one of them was unconscious and seriously injured on account of not wearing a helmet. He also assured me that witnesses confirmed that I was not at fault. I wrongly thought this meant I could go.

Whilst not “arrested”, I couldn’t leave as there was a concern that the seriously injured rider would die. This made for a stressful evening with me in shock that I had potentially killed someone and hoping he would pull through.

The Kashmiri police were very hospitable though, assuring me it would be alright (but not letting me leave or repair the bike) and letting me stay in their barracks overnight instead of the cells. They were baffled by the concept that I was riding through India alone, with one officer asking me “But who will bail you out?”

I think my being there was somewhat of a novelty as after the police finished work we had dinner and there was talk of getting some whiskey. Given the fact I was already in prison and the high likelihood of concussion, I abstained. This seemed to disappoint them slightly.

Fortunately I did, as late that night I was called down to meet with their police commander. He spoke some English and asked me the usual questions but alarmed me when he said some witnesses had now come forward saying it was may fault! I’m not sure if this was some sort of tactic but he didn’t take it well when I said he was mistaken and I shut up pretty quick when he took offense to this. He told me the seriously injured rider had woken up and that they would be at the station tomorrow to settle things.

Relieved that I hadn’t killed anyone but concerned about these “new witnesses” who I suspect were friends of the other riders, I had a sleepless night. I was anxious about my situations but also starting to feel the effects of my own injuries. The riding gear definitely paid for itself during my roll down the road, with the helmet likely saving my life.

The next day all the parties met in the Commanders office. I had already decided I would pay some settlement money to get out of there as soon as possible. I wasn’t exactly in a position to be calling my own witnesses and being a westerner it’d be best to end it before it went any further. Upon meeting the riders of the other bikes, their physical injuries were pretty apparent and I did feel for them but was happy to see they were largely OK now. We also went out to assess the damage on the motorcycles.

I can’t remember anything after the impact but I doubt I could have done more damage to their bike if I’d tried. Bent forks, bent rim, dented tank and the whole front headlight/dashboard missing made the damage to the Suzuki look comparatively minor.

Back in the negotiating room they initially asked for 20,000 rupees which quickly dropped to 15,000. I offered 10,000 as it wasn’t my fault but I wanted to give them something for their injuries. They agreed but then the Police Commander interjected and said since it really wasn’t my fault I only had to pay 6,000 ($100).

Not long after this I managed to wheel the bike to a mechanic where we straightened out the forks and did some minor repairs before getting out of there.

My riding confidence in India has taken a pretty severe knock but the crash has served as a wake up call about how dangerous this can be. Despite doing all the right things, sometimes there will be situations you can’t avoid. It’s not always if you crash your motorcycle, but when.

I am amazingly fortunate to have gotten out of things so well. Looking back now I’m not even angry anymore, just happy to be alive. Off course I would have rathered it had not happened but given the horror stories I’d heard about accidents in India, I was lucky things worked out like they did.

After a very cautious ride down to Delhi it was about time I got out of India anyway.