The first thing that greeted me as I woke up groggily was the intense glare of the midday sun in my eyes. I sat up, a little confused, because I was used to waking up to the sight of a white ceiling, and my disoriented mind grasped feebly for an explanation for the burning light. It could find none.
I looked around. I was sitting in the front passenger seat of a car. This was definitely not my room. I looked out of my window, to see a barren desert landscape, with no greenery except for the odd little shrub here and there.
This was strange, I seemed to be in an arid part of the world, and even though my sense of sight confirmed that, my sense of smell begged to differ: I could smell the sweet scent of spring around me. A cursory look around explained that: the little Ambi Pur car freshener attached to the air conditioning vent was releasing the calming aroma, even in the middle of this desolate desert. For some reason, this gave me comfort in the middle of my very strange situation.
The car was an SUV of some kind. I opened my door and stepped out, and immediately felt the unforgiving heat of the desert around me. As soon as I took a step back from the car, my jaw dropped in surprise. It was a Hummer, the undisputed king of SUVs. The commercial version of the American Army’s Humvee, this beast (the one I had acquired out of nowhere was black in colour) was the best vehicle to be stuck in in the middle of a desert like this. I had just begun to wonder afresh what I was doing in the middle of the desert when I heard, from behind me, the sound of a galloping horse. I turned around to see a sight I will never forget: the fiercest looking man I have ever seen in my life, with a long, black beard and hair flying behind him, riding towards me on a strong, sleek black horse. I was seized by terror, and though my instincts told me to try and escape, my feet were rooted to the ground.
The man rode right up to me, stopping his horse and jumping off in one fluid motion. I got a better look at him: he was wearing what seemed to be black leather with trimmings of white fur, and a black fur hat. At his belt hung a huge curved sword and a number of smaller daggers. He looked at me and grinned evilly. For a second I thought he was going to draw his sword and chop me to pieces right there and then.
He walked towards me. I flinched. However, he walked right past me and to the car, which he regarded admiringly. I heard him whistle with delight, and chuckle. He turned to me and pointed at the car. I understood that this was an order, and I valued my life and limb too much to not obey the orders of this terrifying man.
I opened the door for him, and he took the driver’s seat. He beckoned for me to come in too. I hesitated.
“Come!” He barked. I flinched again, at the same time registering the fact that he spoke English. I climbed into the passenger seat and gathered the courage to ask him who he was.
“Me Temujin”, he said, in a gruff voice.
“Hello, Temujin, its very nice to meet you”, I managed, even though it was absolutely terrifying to meet him. But manners were manners. My mother would’ve been proud.
Temujin chuckled, “No worry, I no kill you”
This bit of reassurance made me a little more comfortable, and I hazarded another question:
“Where are we?”
“This Mongolia, my home!” said Temujin, throwing his arm around as if to show off a seven star hotel. I looked out at the desert. How in the world had I ended up in a Hummer in the middle of the Mongolian desert with a terrifying man who, for some reason, spoke broken English?
Suddenly, something clicked in my mind. Temujin. Mongolia. The way this man was dressed. A hundred history lessons came back to me. Temujin was one of the most famous men in history, except he was known better by another name: his title. Changez Khan (anglicised as Genghis) This was a little too much to process. Changez Khan had been dead since the early 13th century. And yet here he was, sitting next to me in a Hummer. I turned to ask him something, and had just opened my mouth when he exclaimed delightfully: “This car smell good!”
I had no idea how to react to that. I nodded, “Yes it does. Ambi Pur. You should get one for your horse”
“Good plan. Horse sweat much. Bad smell. Ambi Pur, good smell”
Good. So the man who had conquered most of Asia and was the terror of Europe was happy with me.
“Mr Temujin, are..are you Changez Khan?” I stammered pathetically.
“Yes! It is I, Changez Khan, RULER OF WORLD” He was clearly excitable. This was going to be interesting.
He started the car. This surprised me: after all, he had been dead for some 700 years before the first automobiles came around, and yet he seemed to know exactly how to handle it. I wanted to ask him, but decided not to: I didn’t want to risk offending or insulting THE most terrifying man in history.
He started driving, and that was when it occurred to me that I had no idea what our destination was.
“Mr Khan, Sir, where are we going?”
“Where you home?”
“Uh..I’m from New Delhi sir”
“Then we go New Delhi!”
Okay. So that was good. We were going home. But then another thought struck me: How wise was it to take Changez Khan, famous as one of the greatest conquerors and raiders of history, to my city?
“Uh…Mr Khan, please don’t kill people in Delhi?”
He looked at me as if considering it. “Hm…okay. No kill people.”
I accepted happily. This wasn’t too bad at all. An amazing car with an amazingly interesting driver, and a long road trip in front of us. And Changez Khan wouldn’t kill my fellow Delhiites! Yay! For the first time that day, I smiled.
We drove into what seemed like endless desert, the powerful car growling as it sped through the harsh terrain without the slightest unease. This is why the Hummer was a symbol of macho all around the world.
I sat back contentedly and started thinking about our route. We’d have to go through China before entering India. As if he had read my mind, Changez looked up and said “I been this way before. On horse, with many soldiers! Great fun we have in China”
I gulped. The Mongol horde would surely have had fun, but the poor Chinese, stuck on the receiving end, would definitely not call it fun.
“What about Visas?” I asked, thinking about how strict the Chinese government was known for being about these things.
“Visa? What Visa? Changez Khan need no Visa. And you Changez Khan friend!”
Admittedly, it felt good to be Changez Khan’s friend.
We drove on for hours, as the hot desert afternoon turned into the cool desert evening, and my friend and companion cheerfully recounted tales of his adventures and conquests, the many days and nights spent on horseback riding through the same deadly yet beautiful landscape that we were now traveling through. I asked him about his sword, and he told me proudly how it had once belonged to his father, the chieftain of a local Mongolian tribe. When Changez Khan had united the many tribes of Mongolia and set out to conquer the neighbouring lands, this was the sword that shone at the head of the famed Mongolian horde.
Somewhere in between, I realised that I was hungry. The sun was setting over the horizon now, and upon mentioning that we should probably stop for food soon, Changez snorted.
“Huh. Mongol never stop for food. Mongol ride on” With this, he reached into one of his many travelling pouches and pulled out a hunk of dried, spiced meat, and handed it to me. I looked at it suspiciously, recalling that the Mongols often ate anything they could get their hands on, including their own horses. They were a tough nomadic people, and couldn’t afford to be fussy. I sniffed the meat. It didn’t smell too bad, it was like a sausage. I bit into it, and though pungent, it was edible. I slowly ate this piece of unidentifiable meat, hoping it wasn’t anything too sickening and that it wasn’t as old as the man sitting next to me and driving the Hummer.
Sometime late at night, we seemed to have crossed the Chinese border. It surprised me that we hadn’t seen a single other person all this while, and that it had been just so easy for us to cross over from Mongolia into its much larger southern neighbour. The landscape started changing, and we found ourselves driving on dirt tracks amidst green foothills. Looking out, I saw the first people I had seen thus far: rice farmers bent over paddy fields, working hard just as the sun came up. It was a beautiful sight. Looking over at Changez, I realised that even this man, known for being a ruthless leader and capable of acts of great violence, was moved by the sight.
The journey continued, and we went through so many different terrains: hills, mountains, plains, and even cities. For some reason, nobody in the cities seemed surprised to see a 13th century Mongol warlord driving a Hummer with a dazed looking Indian sitting next to him. We never stopped even once, Changez insisted that we keep going, and ate little odds and ends that he produced from his seemingly bottomless pouches.
By the time the sun went down on the second day, we had travelled through a large part of China, alternating between urban centers and the countryside. I was weary, having stayed up for what seemed like an entire day. I closed my eyes for a moment.
When I opened them, the scene outside my window was very different: the office buildings of Gurgaon whizzed past as Changez Khan, who for some reason seemed completely fresh, drove on.
“You sleep long time, you no make good warrior”, he said gruffly.
This crushing judgment woke me up completely. I mumbled an apology.
“We close to Delhi now” He said, and seemed pleased with himself. I found myself wishing he didn’t have the no stopping rule so I could show him the wonders of Indian dhaba cuisine.
He weaved through the crazy traffic like an expert, and soon we found ourselves on the roads of Delhi proper. Changez Khan seemed to like the city, and said, “I hear much of this city. Never see before”
Instead of heading home, we went around the city, as I pointed out the various monuments I was so proud of. Most of them were built much after his time, and he was awestruck at them. When I showed him the Red Fort and mentioned that his descendants, the Mughals, were behind the amazing work of architecture, he grinned proudly.
Suddenly, there was a jerk as the car sped over what seemed to be the biggest speed breaker ever. I was thrown off my seat.
I got up, and looked around. I was in my own car now, a Tata Safari, a step or two down from the Hummer. Changez Khan wasn’t driving, and my driver was in the seat instead. I looked down to see the book I had fallen asleep while reading: Genghis Khan and His Conquest of Asia. The car smelled of spring breezes, and I had fallen asleep and had the road trip of my dreams with Changez Khan.