A sweet little present from the Karakoram Highway, that’s what led us to Happy. On the Pakistani scenic route, I suffered a puncture in the front tire. Although it was quickly fixed, there remained a small ‘bubble’ that even with the help of the distinguished gentleman, couldn’t be remedied. In time, it started giving serious trouble: the tire began to tear.
Our search for a new tire, which – because of my uncommon size in these parts of the world, turned out to be no sinecure. After Dharamshala we went from village to town to city in order to find the much needed tire. One contact led to another before a certain Vinay told us through the phone to go to Shimla, former summer capital of India during the time of the British Raj and a city built high up on a mountain ridge. In this place, with its many coloured houses hugging the steep slopes, we had our best shot at finding a new tire since it’s a popular mountainbike area.
It took a serious detour and half a day of climbing before reaching the place. Even in Shimla, it wasn’t easy to find Happy: indistinct directions in a maze of sinuous streets and the instruction just to ask people around to guide us to a guy named ‘Happy’ since ‘everybody knows him there’. Eventually, we found his small bicycle shop – Rammstein came out of the speakers. A young man with a big smile, light-coloured eyes, wild, curly, dark hair and greasy hands was busy fixing a bicycle: ‘Hi, I am Happy.’
A bicycle fanatic by heart, Happy was skillful and dexterous when handling me and my tire. Unfortunately, he had no tire for us and could only reduce the size of the bubble a little. Nevertheless, we decided to hang around the shop: it was an interesting place, Happy was an unbelievably warm character and he had many colourful friends. Almost doing all the maintenance for his bicycle friends for free as it seemed, we started wondering how this kind hearted entrepreneur made his living. ‘We help each other, keep each other alive and survive.’
Very talented mountainbikers with high end bicycles, a children’s bicycle ready for the scrapyard if you’d ask me, Happy served them all while humming to the familiar rock, pink, reggae and metal songs that came out of his speaker. Like we saw earlier in different places in Pakistan and India, there was not much order in serving the clientele: sometimes the one last line got served immediately. Most of the time, though, Happy tried his best helping them all it once, doing three things at the same time.
When the twilight set in, the guy who had sent us to Happy, Vinay, showed up. He suggested getting food for the evening, listening to music, drinking and smoking with him, Happy, an enthusiastic mountainbiker called ‘Himalayan Ninja 21’ and Guido. This apparently appealed to Guido because we went to Happy brother’s place who owned a house for travellers with an amazing view. Later, from outside the house, I could hear Jim Morrison’s voice clearly singing: ‘This is the end…’
This night wouldn’t be the end of our search for a new tire (we found one the next day in Chandigarh). Nevertheless, all in all it was a detour worth making: Happy checked me thoroughly the next morning, reassured us and we set off again.
Here’s what we learned from Happy and his friends:
- Guido learned some basic Indian dancing moves to a popular Hindi song.
- Furthermore he tasted the best paneer masala he had eaten thus far and got taught how to make one himself.
- We both learned how much pressure our tire could handle above the limit inscribed in order to make the tire ‘pop’ in its right place.
- Although a torn tire may look severe, and it needs to be replaced as soon as an opportunity arises, you still can ride it with confidence for quite some time.
- No matter how grave the situation, wear a smile. Happy was, and probably still is, one of those persons that smiles the whole day. This habit was one of the reasons for us to stay: we became happy hovering around him.