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India is an amazing country, no wonder people are facinated by it. Below some are a few sections from my diary, I am glad i took the time to observe certain things and write them down in detail, many things one gets used to quickly others keep on surprising the traveller, on Indian  bureaucracy one could write a 100 pagebook and have enough material within a week

see for example what happens at

The post  office , a roundabout;   Unusual traffic hazards; The "speedbreaker" The road as workshop "Begging"

Saturday 1/3/94

During breakfast on the rooftop we discuss our options. We will stay in Madras for one more day a do a bit of sight-seeing and we will leave tomorrow.

In the northern part of the city, near the beach, there happens to be an old military fort, no doubt build by the British - a good destination to brush up on some historical facts as the fort has been turned into a museum.

The fort has the usual weaponry and artifacts used by the garrison and a good number of old coins are on display, as well as some very large oil paintings. In the nearby parking area the bikes attract a lot of attention from the young soldiers who insist that their photos be taken sitting on one of them.

The heat is oppressive when we leave the site, we decide so we visit the beach and have a look at some typical local fishing boats.  The beach doesn’t look like any of our beaches as there is an abundance of litter strewn around, something we are not used to as yet.

After returning to the hotel we spend most of the time on an activity that was to become almost a daily ritual.  Boiling water, letting it cool and decanting into our tanks.

Two of the bikes carry two five-liter containers plus we each have a half-liter water bottle as well, giving us a total of about 21  liters.

The water is filthy - after boiling, we have to remove some scum and also prevent the settlement, which is present on the bottom of the pot, from entering our tanks.

After sorting and rearranging our gear we settle down for some drinks and start our other daily ritual, the keeping of the diary. The day has been hot, about 34 degrees, the additional high humidity making it rather unpleasant.  We are looking forward to leaving this place behind and tomorrow, heading inland for the hills.

Sunday 2 March 1997

We found our way out of the city with some difficulty.  The traffic never stops and there seems to be no change from weekday to weekend traffic.

Madras is a big city. It took quite a while before we could see some open country sights. The traffic is heavy but at least flows through at a reasonable rate. “Go with the flow” seems the best solution.  The only traffic problems were caused by, as every time we slow down or stop, hundreds of people were doing the same.  BMW's are unheard of in India and engines with opposed cylinders create a lot of excitement amongst other mechanically minded people.

Our first destination was the city of Velore where we planned to visit an English lady who is a nurse in the local hospital. We got her address of a friend in the Brisbane Ulysses club, his sister worked with this nurse but had just departed for Australia a few days before.

Hospitals in India are big, but the name “Anne Bothomly” should be easy to find as she had worked there for 20 odd years or so.

Although everyone was very helpful no one knew or had heard of her.

Finally a security guard made some phone calls and informed us that was a lady who lived outside the town, caring for children of missionaries.

After asking a few directions we found the village and entered the gates to a stately home where we met an equally stately lady named Anne Bothomly, who was now expecting us.

Anne had been a nurse for a long time. I guessed her age to be around 65 and she was no doubt a spinster. Another lady joined us and we were served tea.  Meanwhile, we used the opportunity to ask some question about life in India and the things we should watch out for.

The open design house had beautiful and  cool marble floors - a welcome change from the heat of the day. The conversations seem to dry up fairly quickly and it occurred to me that they might not feel too comfortable with three big Aussie blokes who had not had a shave for several days.  Well, speaking for myself...

After 45 minutes we decided to head off. Anne called all the children to give them the opportunity to look at and sit on our bikes and she said some prayers for us.

Trying to find our way to a hotel caused total chaos.  We entered a street was no wider than four meters with hundreds of open shop fronts selling all kinds of wares. In between there were dozens of workshops with goods spilling out into the street. Theses narrow streets are full of all types of people, dogs, cattle, rickshaws and trishaws with strange sounding hand driven bells. In the midst of all this, a truck came towards us - inching forward though all this chaos. It would be impossible for the truck to pass us,with a lot of difficulty we made a U-turn and headed for the hospital car park and park our bikes at the back of an office building in a designated motorcycle and scooter park. Charley and Peter left to look for another hotel while I stayed behind, using the opportunity to have a look at some bikes with brand names like Rajoot which I had never seen - as were motorcycles with diesel engines.

We proceed to our new hotel, The Prince Manor - at 495 Rupees for the three of us, or about $5.50 each.

Tonight we revisited that chaotic street to check the type of merchandise the Indians trade in - lots of stainless-steel wares of surprisingly good quality is amongst all that is offered for sale.

 

Monday 3/3/97

At about ten o’clock we leave Velore behind us.  At last I have the feeling we are on our way.  During breakfast we discussed the route - simple really - just ride north and it doesn’t really matter which way we go.

We did 300 km today, at home you would be at your destination in 3 to 4 hours but alas this in India - time and speed have a different meaning.

We are now in the centre of India in Anantapur.  The countryside is changing as I notice many grass huts in place of the normal fairly sober Indian dwellings.

The road has deteriorated into a track and at times, due to the enormous potholes we encounter our speed is no higher than 30 km per hour,. The worst places seemed to be inside the towns themselves.

Peter rides up front and I at the rear, as we both have CB radio which can be used over a distance of several kilometres.

At times the people look at us in  amazement with the result that most push bike riders almost fall of their bikes when Peter and Charlie pass them.  They look backwards while they keep riding towards me!  Of course by then they are all over the road.

Concentration is called for all that, as I had several near misses eg a little girl who ran across the road - not long after I missed an ox cart by only a few millimetres.

I expected to be in the mountains today, but no, we rode through flat, rather dry country all day. The mountains are visible in the distance but we seem to run parallel with them.

Another problem presented itself today.  When we park the bikes people stand around them and talk with exciting voices.  Well that’s fine - however, there always seems to be a person who somehow has to demonstrate all the switches, pull the handles, and generally touch everything there is to touch on the bike. Luckily we have our bike covers so let’s hope out of sight, out of mind.

After parking our bikes, we met an Indian man who owns the local picture theatre.  He asked us if we were interested in having a look at his theatre - which we accepted.

The film industry in India is bigger than Hollywood, I had heard many years ago.  Now I can see why, with nearly a billion people and very few TV sets, it is just about the only entertainment in town. Most theatres go all day long screening  Hindi films which are advertised widely on brightly coloured billboards around the towns and cities.

Today we had our first meal in a “hands only” restaurant.  We filled ourselves up with rice and side dishes for 50 cents.

After this 300 km ride today, I feel more tired than after a 1000 km ride at home.

 

HYDERABAD 4 March 97

The main road from yesterday’s destination to Hydrabad is in reasonably good repair.

Truck drivers are fairly predictable - their trucks are usually overloaded and oversize in width so it needs some careful maneuvering to pass each and everyone of them.

The countryside is dry.  Not surprising, as the temperature hovers around 36 degrees C.

Another phenonema today as we pass some rice growing areas.  The farmers lay their crops on the road for the trucks to do the threshing for them.  Interesting - especially as you have to ride through up to 15 cm of this stuff , which feels like you are riding on ball bearings. 

We have survived the first 1,000 km - India simply cannot be explained.  The road to Hyderabad via Vellore is in some places so bad that an “off road” bike would have been a better choice.  The Indian countryside is quite attractive albeit very dry in places - except for the valleys where water is collected for the many rice fields.  There is absolutely no shortage of food here.  A good meal sets you back about $1.00 to $1.50.  Bottled water is available everywhere, so water is not a big problem.

In some places we could actually reach speeds up to 100 km/h, but overall is just 45 - 50 km/h.  In the many villages the traffic comes to a standstill, especially if we stop. 

Every village has something different to offer, either an exotic temple complex, colourful Hindu statues, or unusual dwellings.  Photographic stops are just about impossible - as soon as we stop we draw enormous crowds.  The usual questions are as follows - “Your native place, sir? Your motor - is it petrol or diesel?” (There are diesel powered motorcycles in India)  “How big is the engine? How much does it cost is rupees?”

Just about everyone we have met so far has been friendly and helpful.  The women in this country seem to do most of the work.  Today we were stunned to see them working digging  out a stinking rotten drain wearing their beautiful colourful saris. 

Besides dodging cows, goats and  pigs, we had a monkey running out in front of us to-day.

Madras was chaotic, Hydrabad is worse.

In closing, I thought of a way to describe the traffic.  Picture Adelaide Street, Pitt Street or Elizabeth Street in Melbourne.  Put in 3,000 cars, 3,000 motor scooters, 2,000 3 wheeled taxis, 70 cows, 20 pigs, 50 goats, 20 dogs and 5,000 people and let it go in both directions.  We are in the middle being pushed along.  Meanwhile, the people are jostling for some space to ride next to us to ask us where we are from. 

We are staying in a Hotel Jaya International with excellent parking.

After 8 hours covering 310km we are totally exhausted.  But I wouldn’t have wanted to miss it for the world.

 5/3/98

Last night we walked around the inner city and I noticed a shop where they specialised in kaftans - 500 rp or about 14 dollars bought me a complete outfit this morning . Why I buy this stuff I don’t know.  Maybe because it looks comfortable on the Indian and I feel rather hot in my jeans, but I can’t wear the stuff as it is too thin for riding on the bike.

We had an interesting time at the post office.  We had all purchased postcards and wanted to get the stamps to send them away but were confronted with another example of the amazing bureaucracy this country is know for.

We were subjected to the following scenario.

The Postoffice

Counter 1, Good morning, could I have some stamps please.  Sorry sir, please proceed to counter four.

At counter four we are told to go to another desk to get the cards weighed.

The attendant writes the weight down on it and send us on to counter one

That will be six rupees per card sir.  I pay the money.

There is no glue on the back of the stamp and the glue pot does not have a brush or stick to put the glue on.

With a piece of paper I fish some liquid out of the bottle and onto the stamp.  The card is now very wet so we have to wait for them to dry before we can proceed back to the counter.

Back at counter one we ask if they can frank the stamp, just in case someone wanted to knock of the stamps after our departure.

Franking is done at counter eleven, we find out. So we proceed to go there.

The clerk says, if you want these cards franked you must go back to counter one and purchase a 2 rupee stamp extra charge for franking before 10 am. You may decide to wait until 10 am and I will then frank them for you.

We look at each other in amazement.  Disgusted, we go outside and walk back to the hotel to load up our bikes.

stopping at  roundabout

A quick stop at the same post office confronted us with yet another experience. We only stopped for 2 minutes at the most, before we realised we caused an enormous traffic jam - and all within a 60 second time span.

First of all, several hundred people gathered around us and caused the traffic flow of push bikes, scooters etc to come to a standstill.  Secondly, all car and truck traffic stopped due to a bus driver parking his bus sideways across the roundabout.  He wanted to have a look, and I assume, so did his passengers.

By now all traffic had stopped and the roundabout (not much smaller than the roundabout at the Arch De Triumph in Paris) was absolutely choked with traffic at a stand still.

The sound of blaring horns became deafening.

The police arrived and started to clear the pedestrians, using their batons . In the midst of all this chaos a man arrived on roller skates dressed in neat white overalls.  He pushed his way through the crowds,  positioned himself next to the bike and put his arm around me.

“I beg your pardon sir,  please look at the camera and smile!” he said. I could believe my eyes, I was staring a photographer straight in the face.

Within second the man disappeared,  meanwhile the police had made a bit of room for us and we were able to get going al last.

Charlie and Peter did a quick U-turn, and started to ride back around the roundabout as the traffic had started moving again.

For me it was too late as the traffic pushed me along in the opposite direction, a concrete divider preventing me from making a U turn.  I traveled about a kilometre away from the roundabout, up one of the busy connecting roads.

At last I saw a way to return and arrived back at the round about - but where were Peter and Charlie?  Again I was pushed along with the traffic, wondering which of the six exits they would have taken.

Panic? No, well…a little bit. We had a plan if we got separated.  The plan was - to continue in the general direction and wait in the next town, in a position were the bike would easily be spotted.  Failing that, we would ring my brother in The Netherlands to find out our different positions.

The traffic had pushed me in the direction of the least resistance.  I was riding behind a large bus which blocked my view.  A quick pass gave me some visual opportunities to locate my buddies, but no such luck.

Thoughts raced through my head like “I have lost them, I have lost them! Don’t panic!”

Within a minute Peter passed me and I noticed Charlie behind me.

I had passed them while passing the bus!  But there had been an element of luck as one of them had noticed my red helmet in the crowd.  What a relief.

We made our way north, heavy traffic all the way, again 36 degrees.  The 200 km to Mansur took us well over 5 hours to complete.

What a day!

 

6/3/97

Along a mountain track near Mansur is a place called Ramtek, a temple complex.

Accommodation is again good and cheap - a large room, clean beds for 400 Rp, about four Aussie dollars per person. The place, now called Mickey Guesthouse, offers fantastic views over the surrounding area.

Before settling down for the evening we ride helmet-less over to the other side of the mountain and visit the temple complex.  The wind in your hair really makes it a different experience.

The only interesting thing at the complex is the large black faced monkeys roaming around the area.

Back at the guest house we relax over a few beers while the young manager, who hails from Calcutta, explains about Indian incomes and expenses.

Some people earn only 300 Rp per week! They are the low cast who mostly do the hard work along the roads.

Conversation slows as we seem to get semi drunk, the 600 mm bottles of cheap beer we have been drinking contain 8.75% alcohol.  On a nearly empty stomach it appears to work well.

Every day is full of new surprises and things to learn - traffic hazards for example.  Back home they are usually obstacles, damaged roads, items fallen off trucks etc.  No difference here except that there are a lot of animals around from the holy cow to pigs.  They stand in the middle of the road like they own it.  Traffic just goes around them and they only move slowly.

The traffic noise is sometimes deafening.  As I was usually riding in third position, I noticed that very often dogs would wake up when we passed them.  It must be that although they are used to thousands of different sounds, the sound of our bikes was foreign to them.

Maybe tourists who enter India should be given the following list when entering the country by road.

INDIAN (NOT SO) WILDLIFE AND OTHER TRAFFIC HAZARDS

FOR MOTORCYCLISTS

 (1)  CATTLE - Various varieties

 Normal House Cow - Varying in colour from brown to black and white, they wander aimlessly through traffic - fairly dumb.

Buffalo - Colour black with laid back horns - used for working the fields and pulling carts.  Walks slowly and once on the move keeps going in the direction it wants to go no matter what.

Brahmans - Grey to white, smaller in the southern part of India, up to 1.8 metre tall in the North.  Very self assured, will not move out of the way whatever happens. Creates it’s own roundabout with other Brahmans.  Has eyes with 180 deg vision area.  Has this “I am holier than any other cow “ attitude.  I have tried to pass them within mm’s but they totally ignore me.  I’ve even blasted the air horn beside it’s face - no reaction.  One day a smaller Brahman was standing in the middle of the road, bum towards me - the ears were sticking out - I almost hit the ear with my mirror but a split second before impact it moved it’s ear forward.

(2)  GOATS - They are everywhere and ignore traffic also - whole families reside permanently on one median strip.  The young ones are dangerous as they make sudden moves.

 (3)  PIGS - Black.  Have the tendency to cross the road in groups.  Fairly dangerous as they change course midfield, are often seen being stuck on the low concrete median strip, head and front legs sticking out into the traffic on one side, bum and back legs on the other side.

 (4)  DOGS - Most of them run away at the sight of us.  Big bikes, white skins - must be spooky for them!

  (5) MONKEYS - Very dangerous and unpredictable - run out along the pass and suddenly jump out of the bush to race along the road.  Have seen a few flat ones as well.

 (6)  OLD MEN ON PUSHBIKES - There are two varieties.  One is the “I can’t afford a hearing aid because it will cost me one year’s wages”. type - They are the most dangerous as I have seen them making a sudden right-hand turn in front of me while I have my thumb on the airhorn button.

 The second variety usually wears glasses as thick as the proverbial coke bottle except that they were probably his father’s or grandfather’s judging by the thick layer of scratch marks on them and the copper wire holding them together.  This is truly the “you must have good eyes to see through these” case.  These people steer their bikes straight towards you with a “I can’t believe my eyes” attitude and change course just before you are about to hit them. 

(7)  TRUCK/BUS DRIVERS - “I can see you coming and as I am bigger than you I am still going to overtake and cause you to move off the road” attitude.  These are the biggest threat to our lives on a daily basis. plus the added fact the people spit,puke and thow junk out of the (windowless) windows

 (8)  GOVERNMENT VEHICLES AND MILITARY JEEPS - We own the road and therefore drive right in the middle.  If we are in your way that’s too bad - no way will I move over as I am too important.

 There are dozens of different castes in India and top of them all are the “Brahmins”.  They have the same attitude as the Brahman cattle - “I am so rich, you move out of the way.”  A classic happens when we stop to check the map.  Fifty people surround us and a Brahmin asks if we need help.  We reply  “No - we’re just checking the map.”  So he asks “Where are you going?” and we might say for example “We are going along here to the next town. I can see on the map that we must go across the bridge, turn left and then turn right.”  “No, no, let me explain it to you.  You continue to follow this road, when you reach a bridge you cross it and quickly make a left turn followed by a turn to the right and then you are on the right road.  Thank you sir!”

7/3/97

Jabalpur

For the first time we saw some mountains today.  The country is brown and dry, even the forests are brown and monkeys play Russian roulette on the road.  I am used to seeing dead kangaroos but here dead monkeys are part of the scenery.  At one place I stop and look at the corpse, its human-like hand stretched out.  I suppose I have to get used it that too.

At the same time I heard a screeching sound and am approached by a whole troupe of them - better leave quickly maybe they blame me.

After a few near misses we arrive in Jabalpur for the reason of changing money, only to find out that today is a public holiday.

Again we caused a traffic jam but this time found it very difficult to leave as the traffic was now blocked both ways.

Without money we can’t continue.  A scooter-riding young man leads is to the Jackson Hotel.

The owner, a Sikh, talks us into having lunch at his restaurant, then keeps us busy all afternoon.  He then suggests that we should stay for the night and he would make us a very special dinner if we do.

We changed $300, had dinner and stayed the night.  Why not - it was a nice place - the owner although pushy, was friendly and likable.

8/3/97

From pothole to pothole

Our usual daily morning ceremony is checking the tyres and oil before loading the bike. We have an electric K-mart type airpump which, if needed, rattles away pumping all the while as we load up our gear.

The rattling sound attracted the owner of the hotel this morning.  After inquiring what it was he started to make higher and higher bids for the unit.  “It is not for sale we replied”, I think he just wanted it because it was different.

Before leaving he introduced us to his wife and daughter and gave us some more advise on the route into Nepal.

After telling him where we were heading for today he wished us “good luck” and said goodbye and to have a pleasant journey.

The 300 km trip to Khajuraho took just over 9 hours to complete.  The roads had to be seen to be believed - potholes every few feet.  While standing on the footpegs, suspension bottoming out all the time, it is impossible to exceed a speed greater than 25 km per hour.

The area traversed was again very dry and in places  almost dessert like - the village very poor and primitive but always smiling faces.

We passed to a city called Anatapur with broken down houses, chaotic traffic and very dusty.  The road service is good for trailbikes only - a most horrible place looking like an earthquake had hit it.  Well, maybe it had. It was a strange place and even the people didn’t look too friendly - glad to leave it behind as quickly as we can.

Khajuraho , famous for its temples with its erotic carvings, came into sight around 5 p.m. We found a small hotel opposite the lake - save parking for the bikes in a nearby building - and a nice roof terrace. Our timing coincided with a religious festival.  The nearby 1930 style fair gives an excellent opportunity to see how people entertain themselves in  this poorer part of the country.

As this is a tourist town there are many touts around - all advertising their shop as being the cheapest and best in area

Our plan is to stay two nights in order to see the temples.

Fax

10 TH MARCH 1997

 Hi,

 This is the first opportunity for me to FAX or ring - things work a bit different in India.  People are fantastic and friendly, bureaucracy amazing.  We are presently in Japalpur and have covered approx 1500klms. At home we try to avoid the kangaroos, now we are endangered by monkeys crossing the road - they are everywhere.  Traffic is amazing, it takes a full 8 hours to cover 300klms.  At the end of a day's ride, we are exhausted and black from the pollution.  Roads are sometimes good and we can travel at 90kph but usually no faster than 70-80.  Our presence has caused traffic jams in cities.  As soon as we stop people mass around us - cars, bikes rickshaws all stop to have a look.  Town traffic moves at 10kph.  Traffic is slowed by millions of pedestrian.  Cows, goats, pigs and dogs share city traffic.  Ox carts, crazy truck/bus drivers, monkeys and wondering cattle share the country roads.  Daily temp is 38 deg c.  Food is good and cheap as is motel accommodation - 4 star motel $4.00 per night.  They have a fantastic re-cycling system here. It goes as follows - All the garbage is piled up in the street, the cows eat the paper and cardboard, goats eat everything else, pigs eat the rest plus the goat droppings.  People collect the cow poo and dry it to use as fuel for cooking. Pig s--t is collected for the fields etc.  The "untouchables" collect plastic and rubber etc. and make shoes etc out of it. 

                                         Richard

 10/3/97

After being exposed to a lot of stone faced erotica and watching the rituals in the nearby temples,we are ready to leave town.  We find we need to rest once in a while as the riding conditions, combined with the heat, can be very exhausting.

A different report today - an opportunity to experience how full our days are.  Mind you,  we wouldn’t want to be any other way.

THE GANGES FROM A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE

Our plan was to experience Varanassi (or Benares), famous for it’s “Ghats” - the ritual washing place and the destination of pilgrimage for every Hindu.  If possible, Hindus are cremated on the banks of the river and their remains tipped in after completion of the cremation.  All this may be viewed by boats or by thronging along with the crowds.  After a short discussion, we decided that we needed a break from people and plotted the shortest route towards Nepal.  We headed north on a “B” road that gave us an average speed of 25 km/hr  and a sore bum.  The map showed a bridge near a medium sized town.  Well, we searched and searched but could not find a road leading to a bridge on the eastern or western side of the town.  After one hour we had no choice but to ask directions and were immediately swamped by several hundred people, all pointing in different directions.  A turbaned Sikh told us to follow him on his Vespa.  We did and followed him down the main road  A quick right hand turn between two houses (no signs!) forced us to ride down  an embankment.  Suddenly we were surrounded by 2 - 3 meter high sand hills.  Loose sand is very difficult for our BMW’s to handle, so standing on the footpegs, we followed some kilometers of trail.  It almost looked like an ambush!.  Soon we were riding on plates of steel laid out in the loose sand. Every so often a plate was missing and it took a lot of balancing to keep the bikes upright.  After 10 minutes the village was way behind us and out of sight.  We were totally surrounded by sand hills.  It could have well been the Sahara Desert.  The biggest surprise of all was that the Sikh still hadn’t dropped his scooter!

After 15 minutes we came upon a rise and I stopped to have a look around.  Peter and Charlie were way in front of me and for a minute I switched off the engine and looked at my surroundings - nothing but sand hills wherever I looked.  The temperature was now in the low 40’s.  This slow riding through the sand made the engine very hot.  Now it occurred to me - I was riding in the Ganges river! Or one of the nearby rivers feeding into the Ganges a few miles upstream.

The river is about 10 km wide at this spot but in the dry season only has a trickle of 200 metres or so.

After a while the track led us to a pontoon bridge, only to face a similar situation on the other side.  I never thought I would see the Ganges in this particular way!

Back on the road I threw some buckets of water over the bike to remove the sand and dust and we rode.

The countryside has changed for the better. People looked more colorful, the cows were fatter and bigger and we seemed to enter an area were there was a lot of carpet weaving.  Frequently we passed small motorcycles or horse-drawn carts full of rolls of carpet

Again we’re the cause of several traffic jams today.  Oppressive heat, bad roads and dust. I am getting a bit tired of it. Finally we arrive in Basti - tomorrow Nepal.

THE “SPEEDBREAKER”

I have learned to recognise one Hindi word which has become very important to us during our travels.  In the “fish hook” like alphabet there is a word that occasionally is also written in English - “speedbreaker”.  In Australia we call it “speed bump”.  They are often seen at shopping centre entrances and in Australia are usually clearly marked and have only slight angles on either side.  The Indian variety is somewhat different.  Up to 20cm in height with a 45 deg angle and only 20 cm wide, they are positioned  in the following places - before and after villages, bridges and railway crossings.  (There are a hell of a lot of villages, bridges and railway crossings in India!).  Furthermore, within a village there might be one every 100 meters.

The “speedbreakers” are usually in sets of three (about 30cm apart), but sometimes there are up to ten in a set. But, here comes the challenge - only one in five may be signposted or otherwise marked.  On rare occasions we face a smooth road and are able to speed up to  80 or 90 km/h or more, only to be faced with an unmarked speedbreaker.  I can tell you it does wonders for unwanted gas in one’s intestines!  Another possible reason is to keep the Indian truck drivers awake, considering that many drive up to 19 hours non-stop.  We have seen many trucks laying on their side, either across the roads or in ravines.

 Come with me to Nepal

or read on for return to India

 Back into INDIA

Ambushed!?

Back into Northern India, we traveled along a lonely road and approached a group of young men spread out along the width of the road, forcing us to stop. Peter stopped on the left side and when I came closer I noticed that they had started hassling him. Charley had also stopped  and some guys with sticks gathered around him as well. When I arrived, I  stopped towards the right hand side of the road and feared that we would be robbed.  There was some shouting and all of a sudden I felt a strong grip on my shoulder and some movement behind me, like someone was interfering with my luggage.

I glanced over to the left and noticed Peter leaning forward and revving the engine.  Both Charlie and I instantly knew what we were going to do. We revved the engines and dropped the clutch. I felt the man’s nails dig into my shoulder, but to no avail. We broke free and sped down the road but not before Peter had received a blow from a stick.  Luckily it missed him and landed with a loud thud on the gearsack bag.

I noticed that a few of these guys were covered in a sort of purple-ish paint.  Strange!

This was not the only lucky escape of the day.

Riding in India is hard work because there’s a lot of hard acceleration and hard braking due to the hundreds of slow moving trucks you have to pass every day.

It goes like this.  You ride behind a truck positioned in the middle of the road.  You can’t see around it because usually it is overloaded and the total width is usually wider than the truck.

“Sound Horn” is a sign most trucks display on the back tailgate. So here we go, a blast from the air-horns and the truck slowly moves over.  If you are lucky, the truck in front of it might move over as well. Quick check and full blast past the truck and back in to miss an oncoming truck or whatever.  Mind you, the roads are mostly not much wider than the truck itself.

Past one or two trucks and hard on the brakes - and this up to a hundred times a day.

You go around some corner and find a cow in the middle of the road.  Again, hard on the brakes.

So for my second lucky escape.  While riding along on a section without traffic, I noticed a village coming up in the distance.  Fearing unmarked speedbreakers, I wanted to slow down.  I squeezed the front brake. Nothing. I had no brake at all. I slowed down through the gears using my engine and back brake, to stop the bike. I pulled over on the side of the road to find out the cause of all this but realising meanwhile that I had been very lucky not to have been called upon to use my brake under the usual circumstances.

Peter and Charlie had already disappeared into the distance but I was not concerned about that as sooner or later they would miss seeing my headlight in their mirrors.  That is another story - the interest people take in telling me that my headlight is on!

Inside the front mudguard is a thin hydraulic tube which connects the two disk brake calipers on either side of the wheel.

Having fitted a slightly oversize tyre did not help the situation as a rock must have traveled over the tyre and broken the pipe.

By the time Peter and Charlie arrived, I had started to dismantle the componen - changed some parts and turned a twin disk brake into a single disk brake.

After using some precious drinking water to wash away the spilled brake fluid, we were on our way again.  Braking was now rather difficult as I had to exert a lot of pressure to get some braking action going.  However, I had some sort of brake again. I kept on thinking how lucky I had been.

The next stop is Faizabad - 200Rp for a bed and a cold shower.  By now we start to think that this is expensive and I suppose it is. Anyway, the cold shower is not too bad as the temperature had again reached 35 degrees today.

18/3/98

Just before I left today, I caught a monkey ready to go inside the room.  Lucky to be there just in time, I can just imagine one of them running off with a helmet or a camera.

On leaving the city I noticed they were all over the place.  That explained all the security grills.

Today we make our way to Agra - the pace is not all that fast anymore as Peter’s bike is now pogo-ing  around the potholes.  Ever since Nepal this has been the case as it was there that his shock absorber gave out.  It lost all pressure and oil, which points to a blown oil seal.

I noticed that we are all getting a bit irritable with the Indians. I suppose it can’t be avoided at times.

We are now on the GTR or the Great Trunk Road, playing Russian roulette with the traffic.  The history of this road goes back a few thousand years as it connects all the great cities of the north.  It runs through Lahore in Pakistan and follows the line Amritsar, Delhi, Agra etc all the way to Calcutta.

Halfway between Lucknow and Kanpur we stop at a Pepsi run by a church organisation.

We park our bike and enjoy our usual biscuit and Pepsi. These two items we consider safe and are available everywhere, (Coka Cola is nowhere to be seen) The price had come down ever since we left Madras which must have something to do with transport cost. Seventeen Rp per bottle is not a bad price for us (about 50 Aus cents) but most likely still out of reach for the majority of the people.

Returning to the bike, shock-horror - I noticed oil on the back wheel and on the ground next to it. Now it was my turn. Goodbye shock absorber! Not too long after, I also started pogo-ing along the road.  This was badly affecting steering, stability and comfort.

One of the items which has not been discussed as yet are the road signs (or lack of them to be precise).  In general, we have a feeling for the general direction we take, estimated by the position of the sun.  Of course that becomes a bit of a problem once it becomes dark.

Late in the afternoon we arrived at a junction with a sign Agra-Delhi, so we took this turnoff, only to discover that we were on a road to Delhi effectively by-passing Agra.  At the next available turn, we decided to take the chance and turn left in the hope of finding the right road.  By now it was getting dark.  With driving light on, we keep going to the next junction. What now? It had to happen one day - we are lost and don’t know north from south.

After a minute, two young men started a conversation and offered their help.  “Follow us!” they said, and off we went to a  place called the “Grand Hotel”.  Fine, except that there was nothing “Grand” about it as there was no place.  We asked if we could camp but that was declined.  The idea of camping is totally foreign to them as this leisure activity only exists in the richer countries.

A short conversation and they offered to allow us to follow them home to a village several km’s away.

Riding their push bikes at a steady pace, we followed them along a narrow road which changed into a track and later into a walking track.  Of course, at night everything looks a bit spooky which gave us a bit of a strange feeling.

A car came alongside and some blokes jumped out.  “Another ambush?” I thought.  No,  luckily it was some security people who watch who goes where in the village.

Via some narrow tracks, riding over planks across open drains, we ended up in a small courtyard connected to a farm - but still within a village. We parked the bikes and were surrounded by pitch black darkness and absolute silence.

An older man of, I guess, 70 years of age, wondered outside. I bet he was surprised, as these people don’t have telephones and we arrived completely un-announced.

The old man was followed by his wife and 16 year old daughter.

After being welcomed with open arms, we entered a simply mud floored house and sat down on what turned out to be our beds of woven rope.

The oil lit rooms were barely furnished and on the greenish walls we could see large photographs of family members hanging from rough hooks randomly placed around the walls.

Water was offered.  Our refusal once explained, was understood.  However, we could not get away from the food that was being offered, which included forbidden items (for us) like tomatoes and other raw vegetables.

Easy to talk about it later but at the time you find it impossible to refuse these friendly people.

We did not want to offend these friendly people so we accepted the food and hoped for the best.

Sleeping on the "woven rope" bed was as bad as I thought.  In the morning the family gathered around us while we were still laying in it.

The father of the family, a statesman-like figure, was a retired headmaster.  His diploma hung on the wall as proof. “Graduated with mastery in English” it said. Who would want to argue with that?  Mum cooked the meal on a small open fire stove next to the house, in a type of courtyard. After breakfast the son took us for a stroll through the village but kept asking if we wanted "to go latrine".  It turned out they did not have a toilet but just walked out in the bush. Lucky that I did not have to go.

The water from the well was also highly suspect so we very politely refused most things offered to us. In a way we very lucky to be given an opportunity to see Indian village life as it is and not "arranged" for the tourist. Most people had a cow or two which provide them with milk and fuel for their fireplaces.  Cow dung is often collected by kids.  One day I noticed a young girl in a nice school uniform with her schoolbag in one hand and a large lump of cow dung in the other. They stick this against the wall of the house where it dries and gets ready to be used for fuel.

Our friend explained in detail how the caste system works.  I could see that escape from the system would be difficult as the caste system in mostly linked to certain trades or professions.

A blacksmith would train his son to be a blacksmith and it would be difficult to be something else, unless you are in a higher caste and have money.  In that case, you can study and choose your own career . Interestingly enough, the young man said that the system was not very good. This was after we met some people who he introduced as,  "these are lower caste people".  He did this right in front of them! He himself was from a higher caste to begin with, so he had little to worry about.

We could not leave without the usual taking of pictures.  It had been very educational and I was glad that we got lost the previous night.

The food offered last night had taken a victim. Charlie was not well.  Peter and I had eaten the same but were OK.  We put this down to the fact that we both used the same anti malaria tablets which contains an anti-biotic.  This might give us an extra barrier.  Lets hope so.

Back on the road I have time to do some thinking and can't help wondering why things are done in the way they are done.  Before leaving India, there are many unanswered questions in my mind. 

For example, when you ask for directions and the person in question explains several times how to go a certain way and says, as an example,  “When you come to the T intersection, turn left”.  The same person then offers to ride his scooter ahead of us to show the way, and at the T intersection he turns.....right.

Riding a motorcycle is a great way to think and whilst riding I can’t help wondering  why they  load 6 ton of goods on a 1 ton truck.  When, inevitably, an axle collapses,

they then leave their truck in the centre of the road, for it to be repaired exactly were  it broke down.

No  doubt the repairs takes several weeks, the evidence of this is the well developed side tracks.  Once completed, they just drive off and leave the markers - usually rocks and tree branches - in the middle of the road.

Why do they leave animals, which have been run over in the middle of a village, laying on the road until they are turned into  a sheet of leather.

 Why do they drive on the wrong side of a divided four lane road?

Why do do they clean first the toilet, then urinal and  floor and then the wash basin - with the same brush?

Why do I often see more than 100 people coming out of a 30  seater bus?

Why do they drive at night with one headlight permanently fixed on high beam and without tail lights and still overtake another truck when coming toward me.

.We make a quick stop. Charlie can't go on.  People stop and gather around or just stop and stare at us. A minute  later, Charlie throws up and everyone disappears.  Maybe we can use this technique in the future I wonder. We take a break so Charlie can lay down and have a rest.  A few minutes later he appears to be asleep.  That’s when we discover that he is laying between two turds on either side of his head about 20 cm away. Interesting what one gets used to.

A slow pace saw us arriving in Agra around 2 o'clock.  The "parking attendant" would show us a good hotel "which belongs to a friend".

The hotel was OK.  Before he left, he asked how much we had to pay.  No doubt so he could work out his commission.

The Indians in the neighbourhood were all talking about the great American singer. Yanni, who was in town, and was staging a concert in front of the Taj Mahal (or rather behind the Taj) in the dry river bed. Just about every tourist in the Hotel had never heard of Yanni and neither had we.

Charlie went to bed and Peter and I spend several hours walking in and around the Taj Mahal.  I have to say that whatever I had heard about it is true -  it is the most beautiful building I have ever seen. The inlaid stonework is truly a work of art. It completely exceeded my expectation.

It was another hot 35 degree day, but as the Taj is elevated and one has to walk barefoot on the cool marble, it was bearable.

20/3/98

Charlie was still not well this morning but made an effort to pay the Taj Mahal a quick visit.  Being sick has the obvious effect of loss of interest in all that is going on, but this time we urged him to go because there might never be a next time.

No rush today so we left at noon. New Delhi is about 200 km away, which still took us 5 hours or so.

The roads are better than in central and southern India.  We can even reach speeds up to 100 km/hr, a first. At least the roads are mainly used for traffic.  In the southern and central part of India, the roads are used for many things beside a strip of bitumen or dirt to ride on.

Main roads,also  workshop extensions

I have made some comments about the state of the roads in various grades of disrepair, etc.  I would like to make some comments about my observations of the uses of them.

(1)  As on a normal road for traffic: - Drive in the middle of the road as a first option, then move to the left when they hear horns blowing from behind or if there is on-coming traffic.  See who dares to be the last to move to the left. The last one to move wins, but there are no prizes.  If we touch we both lose.  (I have seen hundreds of places where a few bits of mirror glass indicate that mirrors have collided.)

(2)  I would like to trash my produce so I put it out on the road up to 6 inches deep, sometimes the full width, and let the truck wheels do it for me.  I don’t worry about motorcycles, scooters etc., who find this difficult to negotiate.

(3)  I am a steelworker and have to straighten or bend some steel so I place rocks on the road indicating which portion I will be using as a workbench.  When I am finished I won’t pick up the rocks as I might require the space again in a few days.

(4)  I am out of firewood so I take my hammer and chisel and cut some bitumen out of the road.  The bitumen will burn well and gravel left over after burning the bitumen will be put back in the hole - Honest!

(5)  The edge of the road has just the right inclination for me to sit on my haunches so I can relieve myself comfortably.

(6)  The broken down truck is best repaired in the centre of the road.  Let me warn the traffic and put some branches down a few metres in front and behind.  The traffic will find a way around it somehow.

(7)  Sir, there are no signs that tell me I can’t park here, after all, I am using only one lane, other trucks can easily move around me.

(8)  Sign indicates “side track” and I find myself going against the traffic (on a divided road).  Five minutes later I am back in the left hand lane and check my mirrors.  There is no sign that warned the on-coming traffic that they were in a two way traffic situation for the last kilometers.

And while we are discussing roads, of course the roads have to be maintained ,this done by the lowest caste people.  They work all day in appalling conditions for less than two dollars - which seems very little.  However they don't worry too much about that as they don't seem to have a house, they camp next to the road, they don’t seem to wash because without water that would be difficult to begin with - but why would you wash if you get dirty again within minutes of starting work.  These people are black from years of working on smoke and handling bitumen.

We have observed them many times.  They protect themselves from oncoming traffic by placing a few rocks and the odd tree branch on the road, then with a heavy hammer and a chisel they break off pieces of bitumen which are melted down for re-use.

They work in sections of several feet at a time which gives a wonderful wobbling sensation while riding along, especially with faulty shock absorbers.

Rocks are thrown in a hammered-into position.  Now comes the interesting part. Small pieces are placed to form a type of mosaic.  It appears that every piece of rock is carefully examined and than place in a suitable position.  Nearby is the inevitable smoke of the big drum of bitumen which has been placed on a fire hours before. Often the smoke heads straight for the workers but they don't seem to care too much about that.

When the bitumen has melted, it is taken over to the highly skilled bitumen sprayer who pours it in a re-designed kerosene tin full of small holes. Quickly he aims the tin at the new to-be-done patch and swings this tin back and forth.  This is an important time for the workers as they sit and watch to see if this done (no doubt following all the rules and regulations which India is famous for).

Next comes the dust or sand spreaders in action - seems to be women most of the time.

When it is all done they move to the next section, no doubt when they are finished with their allotted territory they start over again because a few months would have past.

 Close to Delhi we enter a four laned divided highway.  It almost starts to look like home, except for the camels and… the ghost riders.  It seems that some people think that there are 2 two way roads right next to each other, very dangerous.

 For the first time, we even see flower beds as road dividers.  Our impressions are positive and we enter New Delhi.  It looks clean and western, not too busy.  We pass a particular street which must have been a type of invisible border as suddenly all hell breaks loose.  It seems there is a dividing line between the two Delhi's. The contrast is enormous.  On one side of the street are stately homes with a car in the driveway - all protected behind a barrier of steel fencing. On the other side of the street people living under plastic covers are using the gutter as their toilet.

We enter the chaos of old Delhi and once again Peter’s excellent navigational skills take us in the general direction, followed by a 30 Rp guide in a three wheeler taxi.

We will be here for a few days so we take a "deluxe room" which still looks like a chicken shed.  I wonder what the standard rooms look like.

There are a lot over travelers here.  Three young English guys who each bought a Vespa scooter to ride back - good luck to them, a Turkish Honda dealer on a Transalp (he is flying back to Istanbul for10 days to attend a motorcycle show and will return to ride the bike back).

His name is Omer and he has invited us to visit him once we arrive in Turkey. and he will have tyres if we need them.

 21/3/97

I have made an appointment to see the management of Domino’s Pizza in Delhi.

Early in the morning Vijay Sood, the buyer for Dominos, picked me up for a meeting in their office and to visit several stores. The office is nearly as modern as any western office with the exception of the computers which are very dated - but who cares?  There is no race in this country.

Vijay took me in his Maruti car to several of  the stores where we made some pizzas with the samples we sent them a few weeks before.

The stores are about the same size as in Australia, however, I counted 30 young working people inside the shop, every one was busy as business was in full swing even at eleven in the morning.

Pizzas sell for about 7 dollars which is expensive as at would cost the road workers, previously introduced, at least a days wages.

Obviously the market is aimed at the upper end of the spectrum.

Nice to eat a pizza for a change, it is worth the money to me.

After arriving back at the camp, Peter and I went into town to buy a shock absorber for a Maruti car.  At 350 Rp we would give it a shot.

Tomorrow, the Sikh who owned the shop where we bought the shockabsorber, is going to make a bracket and fix it alongside my old shocker. This way I can use the existing spring.

Tonight we went back to Connaught Place to buy some more pizzas and to have a look at the Indian up-market shops in this area.

 22/3/97

The boys camped next door left on their Vespa's this morning,. They are off  to Nepal before heading towards England.

Full of hope, I arrived at the spare parts of the Sikh to fix the front brake.  Tiredness must have overtaken me as I let a young kid attach the newly fabricated brake line, promptly damaging the thread. Not stupid of him but stupid of me.

The caliper had to be removed and the thread repaired before I could proceed - otherwise the braking would be very difficult from here on in, something I wished to avoid.

Finally at 2.30  in the afternoon we followed the Sikh to his home, where he ran a workshop.

Amazing, the workshop was made out of marble tiles.  It even had a computerised wheel alignment machine and an equally modern wheel balancer, but that is where it stopped.  There were no workbenches,vice, grinder etc. The only tools I noticed were an oxy set and hammers.

It took several hours for the workers to heat and bend the pieces of steel, which they used for the fabrication of a special ring to go around the bottom of the shocker.  As a matter of fact, they used the eye of a leaf spring and welded a bracket to it.

The total lack of safety equipment amazed me.  All workers walked around barefoot, welding was done without goggles and when the electric welder was used, they donned a pair of sun glasses and welded with their eyes shut!

Charlie and I just kept looking at each other and shaking our heads in bewilderment.

At 7 pm we rode out with a car shocker attached alongside the original shocker - 350 Rp for the shocker and 700 more for the labor.  We are probably ripped off by a mile as we have learned that the workers would not have earned more than 100 Rp between them. Anyway we gave them a tip.

I felt the difference straightaway.  It was even better than the original setup.

Back at the camp, we noticed that Peter had a shocker that looked like the original.  The spring was a bit loose, but it looked fairly OK.

 Sun 23/3/97

By 8 am we found our way out of Delhi and headed to what we thought was the right direction, but missed a turnoff.  Always better for Peter to do the leading as he has a better feel for it then Charley and I.

Exactly 30 km out of the city and Peter’s suspension collapsed.  It was obvious that the person who made the shocker had something else in mind than a BMW and maybe thought that something which worked on a Vespa would work on a larger motorcycle as well.

I noticed the disappointment on Peter face so it this stage it was better not to say much.  We quietly unloaded most of his luggage and loaded it on both Charlie’s and my bike.

Back at the camp we had to find a way the fix the problem.

It was time to make some phone calls and send a few faxes to my brother in Holland who would organize two Koni shockers to be sent from Holland to Delhi.

           

RAILWAY CROSSINGS

The twisting road narrows and we are at a railway crossing.  Luckily there are only a few trucks in front of us.  Later we learned that this is an indication that the boom gates have been down only a short while and we’ll face a 10 - 15 minute waiting time.  We’ll pull off into the gravel on the left side as far as possible to the front of the queue (and that is for a reason).  From nowhere snack, water and trinket sellers appear and try to attract our attention.  On both sides trucks, cars, scooters, ox carts, buffalo etc., are lined up neatly on the left hand side of the road,  After 10 minutes waiting still no train in sight.  The queue is now 1 kilometre long on either side.  Several truck drivers try to be smart and pass them all to line up on the right hand side of the road,  Soon after this another truck driver does this on the opposite side.  Traffic is now facing each other on both sides head on.  The crossing is only one track wide.  The train passes.  The manually operated boom gates are raised slowly.  Both sides try to cross first and come to a stop head on right in the middle of the track.  We start our bikes and quickly find our way around all this mess.  Twenty minutes later we stop somewhere for a drink and say to each other “I wonder if anyone is across the track yet!

  A DIFFICULT PHENOMENA

BEGGARS

 Kids pulling your arm and asking for money with a cry in their voice. "What for?" I ask.  "For food." they say.  I offer some biscuits but they don't like it.  I noticed Grandma on the corner of the street to keep an eye on things.

 An old man, bare feet, putting his hands together in Indian fashion. then pointing to his mouth.  "What would I do if it was my father?" I think.  This man has been following me around the hotel in Kathmandu.  Early in the morning on the way back from a shop he corners me again.  He is almost crying - one hand pointing to his mouth, one hand hidden away,  I give him one of the bread rolls I have just bought, but he wants money.  I refuse and a minute later I look back and see him smoking a cigarette

Then there are the many women who beg and keep following you.  They think I look at their sad faces.  They're wrong.  I just look at their gold nose ring and the silver rings on their fingers and toes.  Across the corner is a little shop - a man attracts my attention. A leper, no doubt.  No hands, no feet with yellow hollow eyes, he lives in a cardboard box which is strategically placed next to a grocery shop so he does not have to crawl far.  I weaken and give him some rupees                                                                                                                                                            

 QUESTIONS IN MY MIND

 1.  Why is it that when you give me directions you tell me to turn left at the T intersection and I see you making a right hand turn at this spot? (After you offer to show us the way on your scooter!)

 

2. Why do you load 6 tons of goods on a 1 ton truck and when inevitably an axle or bearing collapses you leave your truck in the middle of the road for it to be repaired on the spot?

 

3. Why do you leave animals which have been run over in the middle of a village on the road until they are ultimately vaporised or turned into  a sheet of leather.

 

4. Why do you still drive on the wrong side of a divided four lane road?

 

5. Why is there no gum on envelopes?

 

6. Why do you clean the toilet, urinal, floor and then the wash basin with the same brush?

 

7. Why do I often see more than 100 people coming out of a 30  seater bus?

 

8. Why do you drive without tail lights at night and why do you still overtake another truck when coming toward me, forcing me off the road?
9. After  you have competed your middle of the road repair job, (which no doubt has taken weeks judging by the number of well-developed side tracks), do you leave your marker rocks and tree branches on the road?

 

10. Why do you drive your truck or bus with only 1 head light permanently fixed on high beam?

 

11. Why do tell me "Turn left at the next intersection, then left again at the roundabout" and then I find that I have to cover 5km plus make 20 turns before I get to the roundabout.

 

12. Why have I given up on asking questions and just look into your empty eyes and just shake my head in disbelief

 

DELHI 24/3/97

Dera Ghazi Khan is described in the "Lonely Planet" guide as a "dirty shambolic town, seemingly created out of dust".  Entering this city yesterday we  thought of a phrase we know and changed it to "Dust bowl one day, mud hole the next."  But before I get to this, let me reflect on the last four days.  Good Friday, we finally collected our shock absorbers after paying $259.00 import duty (for items we were going to export the next day).  We put up an argument to retrieve this amount, but were asked to come back next Tuesday to do so.  We decided not to worry about it as we were already 8 days behind schedule.  Back at the Tourist camp we sorted our gear, fitted the shockers and got ready for an early start.  We had a meal in the Arab section of the city and went to bed at about 11.00 pm, only to be woken up by gunfire nearby.  We could hear some shooting going on followed by some large explosions near the camp.  At 7.00 am the next day we found our way out of the city and arrived in Amritsar at 4.45 pm.  A few hours later we got into a rickshaw and went off to see the "Golden Temple" of the Sikhs - an absolutely stunning complex, in my opinion even better than the Taj Mahal.  We were overwhelmed by it all and decided to go back the next morning.  Barefooted we walked with the Sikhs into the temple and took it all in, in amazement.  Cross legged we sat in a nearby building enjoying the free meal they give everyone who comes to visit.  I feel honoured to have been able to participate in all of this.

 A few hours later we were at the India-Pakistan border for our next ritual.  The usual paper work and hassles - everything off the bike and all bags searched - bikes checked over for secret hiding places, etc. Three hours later we were able to cross  to the Pakistan side.  A type of bribe saw this take 1 hour and off we went toward Lahore.

Or come with me to Pakistan