Destination Enfield – my first serious bike ride
26 Friday – flight to Delhi
27 Saturday – introduction to bike and practice ride
28 Sunday – sightseeing, bike maintenance and riding
29 Monday – Delhi to Agra
30 Tuesday – sightseeing in Agra
31 Wednesday – Agra to Jaipur via Fatepur Sikri
1 Thursday – Jaipur to Ranthambhore
2 Friday – Ranthambhore game park & sightseeing
3 Saturday – Ranthambhore game park & bike Maintenance
6 Tuesday – Ranthambhore to Jaipur
7 Wednesday – Jaipur to Pushkar
13 Tuesday – Jodphur
14 Wednesday – Jodphur to Bikaner
15 Thursday – Bikaner to Bathinda
Friday 26 October 11.15 am
I have studied the ‘Lonely Planet’, passed my ‘bike test (at the second time of calling), listened to the World news, received endless ‘advice’ and I am now past the point of no return. I’ve just boarded flight RJ112 for Amman on my weay to Delhi, and had my first reminder of this changed world – the guy sitting next to me is a Syrian, reading an Arabic newspaper, en route for Damascus. I wish he wouldn’t keep looking at his watch as if he expecting an event! Is he the airlines armed sky marshal? The frequent appearance of ‘direction Mecca’, on the video screen. piped wailing music and Arabic signage completes the scenario.
Monday 29 October Sheetal Hotel, Agra 2.00 pm
Now we are moving. I am in Agra safely installed in the Sheetal Hotel, west of Sadar Bazaar. It is a ‘modest’ family run (more run down) establishment with 7 or 8 rooms. I have a large room, en suite bath and shower and a balcony view of greenish back gardens complete with a pig wallowing in a stagnant pool. I arrived here shortly after 12.30, and following a most welcome shower I have just eaten a curry and chapati lunch, washed down with very cool Kingfisher beer. Reminiscent of my time in Kerela, the bottle was wrapped in the ubiquitous sheet of newspaper and placed on the floor.
To return to my journey to Delhi – the flight turned out to be boringly uneventful, other than we were diverted to Paris where we allegedly lost contact with French air traffic control causing us to sit on the tarmac for 2 hours. No sweat as this meant the 2-hour wait in Amman was lost, and we arrived in Delhi only 15 minutes late at 5.30 in the morning, Delhi time. I was amazed at the speed of the immigration formalities and baggage handling, and was able to contact the First 48 rep. in the departure hall by 6.00 O’clock. I was taken by car to the Hotel Star Paradise just off Main Bazaar (Road) in Paharganj, which is a rather populous central area of Old Delhi close to New Delhi railway station, and about 1 km north of Connaught Place. The hotel was not the one I was originally booked into (which was the YMCA), but after a Delhi style confrontation, I was given a ‘superior’ room. It was large, clean, with en suite loo and shower and as the hotel is more centrally placed than the YMCA, I settled for it. A real bonus was it’s rooftop restaurant overlooking a constantly hazy pollution ridden Delhi – after a refreshing shower I enjoyed an elevated breakfast and established my bearings.
Top of my agenda was to make contact with my motorbike dealer, Lalli Singh, so in mid morning I took a 40 rupee auto rickshaw ride to Karol Bagh. My limited experience of Indian driving did not prepare me for this unique experience. The guy just sliced, weaved and forced his way with incredible dexterity, with no concession to any moving or stationery vehicle, through about 2 km of grid locked stenching traffic, and that was the easy bit. When once he got to some open road (in Delhi this is comparable to rush hour in Milan) we were flying – life could never be complete without this experience. Somewhat chastened (I had just a passing thought that I was going to have ride a bike in all this chaos), I arrived in Karol Bagh. It’s just a mass of streets, side streets and alleyways closely packed with untidy rows of bikes and scooters. Eventually I found the Inder Motors banner across an alleyway and met Lalli Singh. He was absolutely everything everybody had ever said about him. He was courteous, business-like, straightforward and very friendly. We quickly agreed a deal on a 2001 500 Bullet, exactly as advised by Mark Hobley and as we had discussed in my prior emails with Lalli Singh. With business completed he then asked me what I thought about the war in Afghanistan, and this resulted in a long and fascinating discussion ranging from the merits of the bombing, the influence of Islam and a potted history of Sikhism. Lalli Singh is a Sikh, complete with turban and platted beard – he is not allowed to remove any body hair, but that is where his likeness to the Taliban ends. I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation, but was almost overcome by the plethora smoke from the incense candles he lit shortly after my arrival – was it a Sikh welcome? I returned to Lalli Singh in the afternoon to have a practice ride in a traffic free park. My riding seemed OK for a first attempt for a couple of years on a bike with reversed footbrake and gear shifts. The most unnerving part was riding pillion to the park! I purchased a helmet and gloves – I was unable to locate at short notice, a suit of reinforced steel body armour.
After a late start on Sunday I had a walk around the Red Fort and the Jama Masjid mosque followed by an auto rickshaw ride to India Gate and along Rajpath to see (only from the outside) the Rashtrapati (the President of India’s official residence) and the circular Sansad Bhavan (Indian Parliament). None of these sights were particularly impressive, not helped in Old Delhi by the traffic pollution (noise and fumes) and congestion, in stark contrast to an almost traffic free New Delhi.
At 4.00 O’clock I kept my appointment to see Lalli Singh for another, longer practise session on the bike, plus an hours instruction on bike maintenance including how to fit the pack of spares provided in a steel lockable box. I accepted the offer to be escorted out of Delhi onto the Agra road, the following morning, but revised the start time forward from 8 to 6.00 O’clock to avoid the daytime traffic chaos.
I duly set off from my hotel the next morning for Karol Bagh, at about 5.45, in the dark, as an added hazard to what was clearly going to be quite a challenging experience. We got off to a shaky start as my escort quickly became lost and the resulting corrective measures involved going anticlockwise round two roundabouts. At least my helmet would give better protection than my escort’s builder’s hard hat! I was left to my own devices after about 20 minutes and the steep learning curve began as traffic built up through the succession of towns on the road to Agra. Suffice to say I survived, with no mishaps or near misses. The majority of the journey was fine, mostly on dual carriageway with a variable surface. I made an elementary mistake in assuming that all traffic on a dual carriageway moved in the same direction. The occasional bike meeting me on the inside lane seemed reasonable, but tractors, lorries and buses coming towards me in the outside lane introduced a serious element of distrust in the Indian interpretation of traffic regulations. It’s quite ironic that most Indian vehicles have a ‘Keep Distance’ sign painted on the rear. Putting aside they are obviously measuring this distance in millimetres, what’s the point if the wrong end is meeting you! But my real problems started as I approached and entered Agra – it was no different from the chaos in Delhi! The dense traffic, the total absence of street signs, a map which bore no resemblance to reality, all in a temperature in the high 30’s, made hotel seeking a tiresome operation. Hence, I took the first one that looked reasonable.
Thursday 1 November Vinayak Tourist Complex, Sawai Madhopur 8.30 pm
I am beginning to get a bit of India ‘under my belt’. I had tourist day around Agra on Tuesday, rode east to Jaipur on Wednesday, and south to my present location, Ranthambhore, today. The plan is stay here for a couple of nights at least, and have a look around the Ranthambhore Game park, famous for it’s tigers.
Agra as a town had nothing to offer, so it was matter of seeing the sights and leaving, which I did. Through the obsequious guy that allegedly managed my crummy hotel, Dickie, complete with a clapped out auto rickshaw, was my guide for Tuesday, and he turned out to be a gem. One of the problems of being a tourist is that you tend to only meet people who want to diddle you, and being India, you assume the rest of the population are the same. Well, most might be, and who can blame them when you see how they live, but Dickie was genuine. From 10 in the morning until 5.30pm. Dickie drove me around Agra to see the Itimad-ud-daulah, the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort, plus dropping me off at an excellent restaurant for lunch, and inevitably introducing me to sales/manufacturers of Agra’s well known specialities, rug weaving, marble inlay work (pietra dura) and leather goods. The three sights were truly incredible. The Taj was breathtaking, not only as seen from within it’s own grounds, but also the evening view across the river from Agra Fort. Agra Fort is enormous and makes our Norman edifices look quite pathetic. I was also impressed with the rug weaving and the marble inlay work. Both these places had fascinating demonstration workshops.
The Sheetal Hotel turned out to be more disappointing even than my early scepticism, with rather unappetising food and insufficient experience to find better. I changed rooms on the second night as my original room did not have a decent cooling fan, ants were appearing from everywhere and I was not entirely alone in bed!
I left Agra at 8.O’clock Wednesday morning, escorted out of town by Dickie, and headed for the fortified red sandstone ghost city of Fatepur Sikri. I had a very enjoyable hour and a half wandering round with my Lonely Planet guidebook, aided by informed plaques on each building of interest. All the buildings are in excellent condition when you consider they are over 400 years old and made of sandstone.
I then set off along the Jaipur road, intending to cash travellers cheques en route, and branch off south about halfway to Jaipur, towards Ranthambhore. I could not find anywhere that would accept traveller’s cheques, and that included a bank, so I revised my plan and continued to Jaipur, where I purchased some more rupees and found an excellent hotel, Pearl Palace, for 250 rupees a night.
But the journey was something else. I accidentally went through the centre of Bharatpur, which was virtually grid locked with cyclists and rickshaws, and had my first ‘contact’ (with another bike). Nothing happened to me and he just wobbled and carried on as if it was a normal event, which it probably was for him. The worst part was dealing with traffic on a single carriageway trunk road. Buses and trucks just overtook regardless of my presence, not infrequently 3 vehicles abreast, giving me one choice – a sharp exit. It was inevitably a drop off the road into sand, which does not give you the best stability or traction. On a couple of occasions they also used part of my verge! These events were all relatively easy to predict, and I was able slow down enough not to lose control. Nevertheless, after about a dozen hasty departures from the tarmac in less than four hours, one gets a bit brassed off!
The ride this morning from Jaipur to Ranthambhore was much less hazardous (relatively speaking). The first half the 150 km journey was on lighter trafficked trunk road, and the rest on a country road with a very poor surface and lot of serious potholes. I am quite saddle sore this evening and the bike is ready for it’s first service. The chain needs tightening, the engine oil is low, the speedo cable has broken and the frame is rattling. Apart from that it’s a wonderful bike!
I am in a very smart, but rather clinical Government Tourist department hotel on the outskirts of Sawai Madhopur, about 5 km from the wildlife park. I have booked an ‘open bus’ safari for tomorrow at 6.30 am. If this is not successful I am considering a ‘jeep’ safari starting at 5.30 Saturday morning.
Tuesday 6 November Pearl Palace Hotel, Jaipur 3.00 pm
This is living! I am sitting in the open roof top restaurant of my hotel in Jaipur, with the temperature in the 30’s and a cool Kingfisher on it’s way. As planned, I spent a couple of days in Ranthambhore looking for tigers, and returned to here to Jaipur on Sunday.
Tiger hunting was not entirely successful in that I didn’t see a tiger. I took two 6.30 am three hour trips around the game park. The first on Friday morning in a ‘Canter’ (a 20 seater open bus) and the second on Saturday morning, in an open jeep. The latter was better as there were was one guide for two people, but the Canter ride was marginally compensated for by me being given the front seat next to the driver and guide. Was this because I was the only non-Indian on board? What was absolutely amazing was that ho should appear out of the forest but Liz, so we joined up for a couple of days. The wildlife park tours are carefully organised. The vehicles are limited to 14 jeeps and about 10 Canters at any one time. You can only enter the park at 7 am and 2.30 pm, and you all follow one of the designated routes, 1 – 7. The park is a mixture of scrub, rough grassland and forest interspersed with a few lakes. There is an abundance of tiger food (that I saw) in the form of Spotted and Samber Deer, Wild Boar, Antelope, Mongoose, Monkeys plus Eagles, Storks, Peacocks and many other birds I failed to identify or remember. I also saw crocodiles and loads of tiger footprints – but no tigers. Only one person saw a tiger in the two visits I made, but a Canter group saw a Leopard – a very rare occurrence. Whilst I was disappointed not to have seen a Tiger (my expectations were not high), I enjoyed the trips and considered it to be a genuine wildlife park. The biggest ‘game’ was in booking the Jeep. I was first told by everybody, including by the staff in the official booking office, that all the Jeeps were booked for months in advance. A friendly local guy overheard my unsuccessful attempt to book a Jeep for the next day, and explained that a lot of bookings are cancelled at the last minute, and with his guidance I was formally recorded as no. 10 on a waiting list. After some reflection, I went to the only luxury hotel (owned by the Taj group), who responded for 200 additional Rupees, ‘no problem Sir, a Jeep will call for you at 6.30 tomorrow morning’. And it did!
Friday afternoon was devoted to bike maintenance. Every 500 km I have to adjust the chain tension (it was very slack), tighten all the frame bolts (many were frightengly loose), top up the fluids ( a piddly battery and the engine) and adjust the brakes. Not a particularly major task (other than the chain tension), but even in the shade in this heat, I must have lost gallons of sweat.
On Saturday afternoon I climbed up to Ranthambhore Fort, at the entrance to the wildlife park. It was mainly in ruins but it did provide some spectacular views of the park.
The ride back to Jaipur was without major incident, and after 2 1/2 hours (70 km) on a minor road and 2 hours (90 km) on a trunk road, I was safely back in the Hotel Pearl Palace. As on previous trunk road journeys I saw the results of a number of accidents including a dead, bloated camel who had clearly been blasted off the road by a truck.
Towards the end of this journey, just as I was entering Jaipur, I was able to apply the fine-tuning to my ‘railway level crossing technique’. Indian crossings are characterised by a single round bar barrier which is lowered across the road, about 1 metre high, and is normally lowered for some time in advance of the train – up to 15 –20 minutes in my experience. Traffic rapidly builds up across both sides of the road on both sides of the barrier. Number one lesson on a bike is get to the front by any means possible. Next, if the barrier is high enough, or sufficiently bent at one point, you push the bike under, hoping you can do the same on the other side. This may not be possible so you are marooned, or with luck, you may be able to ride along the track a short distance and find an alternative exit. My bike was always too tall to go under the barrier so I had to wait and psychologically prepare myself for the barrier lifting. As the barrier starts to lift you ensure you are first away, and you positively head for a gap in the phalanx of vehicles across your path, avoiding the bikes coming from the opposite direction who are also on a mission. The trucks and buses are so slow moving off, amidst a crashing of gearbox teeth, that it’s a doddle.
A check at the Rajputana Palace Sheraton to enquire about the arrival time of the Peter and Jean Morgan, revealed they had just walked in through the door minutes before me, and I found them in the foyer about to ask if I had left a message. The unease of being in such opulent surroundings dressed in travel worn gear was soon relaxed after a large G and T in the Morgan’s room (my first of the holiday!). I joined them for an air conditioned bus tour of Jaipur, a ride on a pedal rickshaw, a walk around a bazaar and a visit to a ‘one God’ temple. The latter, not entirely finished (difficult to tell with many buildings in India if they are under construction or partially demolished, but this one was very smart), contained a Buddhist and a Hindu temple, a Mosque and a Christian section – all built in white marble and paid for by the Birla industrial family.
I decided on Monday that the time was ripe to attempt to replace the broken speedo cable. With guidance from the hotel owner I found the motorbike bazaar area, and surprise surprise, I purchased a new cable – for 50 rupees! I am very loath to let an unknown Indian ‘mechanic’ loose on the bike, so I tried to fit it myself. After about an hour in the scorching heat, I failed to fit the top end of the cable onto the underside of the speedometer, due to the limited space and a whole heap of wires in the way. I will try to find a ‘recommended’ mechanic.
I spent the remainder of the day sightseeing around the City Palace and the Jantat. Mantar (translated ‘mathematical instrument’) in the Pink City. The Jantar Mantar was a fascinating collection of large outdoor astronomical and astrological measuring devices designed and built by Maharaja Jai Singh in 1728. They included a couple of very large sundials, numerous structures to measure whether your star sign was ascending or descending and instruments to identify stars and planets.
Today I have seen the very first clouds. Very few, but when the smallest cloud covers the sun, the light level appears to fall quite significantly. I can only assume that this is because of the appallingly high pollution – from the hotel rooftop the view of the city is permanently obscured by haze. No point in trying to take a photograph.
This morning I rode 11 km north of Jaipur to Amber. I first visited Jaigarh fort at the top of a small mountain above Amber fort/palace – not that small a mountain as it took me nearly an hours’ steady climb to reach it. It was not the most interesting places I have visited, but it did have a derelict charm about it. There was a unique 16th century puppet theatre and the most spectacular views of the fort/palace below. The highlight of the visit was to have a cold beer in a restaurant owned by the head chef of the late Maharaja, Sawi Man Singh II – at least that’s what he told me, whilst impressing upon me how privileged I was to be served by him. Clearly all in anticipation of a large tip!
An easy walk down hill took me to the Amber palace/fort. Worth seeing, but nothing particularly memorable about it. Clearly, other than the scale and a limited amount of marble work, the true splendour is lost without the curtaining, carpets and furniture, of which there are none.
Tuesday 13 November Devi Bhawan, Jodhpur 2.00 pm
How time flies. Since last writing my diary I have been to Pushkar and Udaipur and I am now in the Devi Bhawan Hotel in Jodhpur.
My visit to Pushkar, driving from Jaipur on Wednesday morning (180 km) was singularly unrewarding and brief. I stayed one night only due mainly to the constant, and for once, very persistent hassle in the street. I was erroneously under the impression this was a relaxing spiritual centre. Everyone was pressing a flower in your hand and insisting you ritually throw it into the lake accompanied by a prayer, or trying to stain your hands with henna. All of course for money. Non were successful. The final very large nail in the coffin was the whole place was totally alcohol free. Understandably early next morning I moved on to the most southerly location, Udaipur.
The scenery changed about half way between Pushkar and Udaipur. from flat lowland plain to modest barren mountains. About 30 km before Udaipur I noticed vast areas of land covered in heaps (small truck loads) of white stone and slurry. The answer came as I passed through a 10 km stretch of marble cutting plants. It was marble waste (slurry and chippings) from plants which cut marble rocks into slabs. The pollution was appalling. I drove into one plant and was taken round by a very friendly group of staff, and shown the three stages of transforming the huge (probably up to 10 tonnes) rocks into unpolished slabs.
I will be very surprised if Udaipur is not by far the most pleasant location of this holiday. I stayed in the superb value for money Udai Kothi hotel close to lake Pichola. I was met by Liz who had travelled here from Ranthambhore the day before. The hotel is owned and run by a very intelligent, very wealthy, very well connected and attractive young lady, but not necessarily in that order. I even had a free meal with her and her husband on the last night. The hotel was one year old, very tastefully decorated, and had a wonderful rooftop swimming pool (the only one in Udaipur) and a rooftop restaurant. Unsurprisingly I chose this to be the relaxing luxury mid holiday break, and stayed for 4 nights. I found the city was virtually hassle free (by Indian standards) and there were loads of excellent open air restaurants where you could either have a meal or just a cooling Kingfisher. There wasn’t a tremendous amount to see (a bit of temple bashing and quite a large Palace was all I saw), but I did chance half a days horse riding on Sunday, This was a tiring but enjoyable 4 hour hot hack through villages you would not normally see at close quarters. I had a revealing chat with Daisy (the owner) and her husband on my last night. They clearly placed themselves as upper class, as his mother was a long established and senior Indian MP and they were friends of the Maharana of Udaipur. Being upper class they were able to contentedly live and behave similarly to ‘westerners’. The lower class were also happy with there lot, living from day to day, and spending there money on home brewed liquor, with the women free to go off with other men without difficulty. The fact that the women seemed to be doing the majority of the manual work (fetching water and wood, field work, repairing roads, having kids and cooking) was not seen to be a problem to Daisy. They were seen as being totally emancipated! Now the middle classes were different (I took these people to be the small traders and shopkeepers and government employees/administrators). They were seen to be the ‘oppressed’ group, dominated by the Indian traditions of arranged marriages, dowries and strict religious codes of practice. All of these concepts were apparently related to Hindus, and Muslims didn’t seem to feature other than at the bottom of the pile. I found this latter view almost universal in Hindus, with a widely expressed ‘hatred’ of Muslims and Pakistani’s. This animosity surprised me as my previous experience indicated a more tolerant secular society structure in India,
I left Udaipur on Monday for Jodhpur and paid dearly for the time in the saddle the previous day. The first part of the journey (of about 120 km) was on minor uneven roads, at the end of which I had a very sore arse. The mid part was a spectacular drive through the Aravalli Mountains, culminating in a visit to the beautiful Chamukha temple at Ranakpur, the largest Jain temple in India. I arrived in Jodhpur at 4.0’clock murdered my first Kingfisher of the day in extremely pleasant and shaded garden of my hotel.
This morning I took in Meherangarh Fort which dominates the blue city of Jodhpur. The fort is not only the biggest one I have visited, but it is built incredibly imposingly on a huge rock.
Wednesday 14 November Marudhar Hotel, Bikaner 3.00 pm
Although it is only 24 hours since my last diary entry, and all I have done since is drive from Jodhpur to Bikaner, visit a temple en route and have lunch, I seem to have experienced so much. Firstly the drive. This was the easiest 260 km drive to date. The road (a NH – National Highway) but not a major trunk road, was mainly straight. very well surfaced for 95% of the way and was not busy. The scenery changed from the typical Rajasthan flat cultivated land to the rolling scrub of the Thar desert. I was not saddle sore, only thirsty, after a 5 hour drive. An incident which typifies India occurred when I stopped at a remote ‘hut’, at about 9.0’clock, for a coke. A group of ‘not very well off’ men quickly moved to give the best seat, and while I was drinking my coke a couple of them took an active interest in my bike. One of them spotted there was a nut and bolt missing from the front mudguard stay, and promptly dispatched a boy to fetch a nut, bolt and screwdriver. He then fitted the nut and bolt, smiled, and returned to his mates. Not a word was spoken! My second experience of the day was a visit to the Karni Mata Temple in Deshnok, 30km before Bikaner. This temple is renowned for the thousands of (holy) rats which scamper all over it’s floors and walls. I thought the guidebooks were hyping the rodent angle – but I was seriously wrong. The whole place was heaving with small revolting rats crawling all around your feet. and even more incredibly into and through plates of food on the floor, that ‘worshippers’ were actually eating at the same time. On reliable authority, a temple priest, I was informed that food eaten in this way brings good luck! My appetite made a swift exit at that point, and I definitely didn’t want this to be my lucky day. And now, incongruously after seeing the rats, my third experience was my lunch. I ate a most enjoyable Thali in the hotel I had just booked into, and reflected on how often I had thoroughly enjoyed a meal in India on this holiday. The conclusion was that I have enjoyed almost all the food, with the exception of that in my Agra hotel. This is quite a surprise as I had anticipated eating would be a problem – now the problem is overeating!
Friday 16 November Silver Star Hotel, Bathinda 7.00 pm
After an eight hour, 367 km ride from Bikaner, I am now relaxing in quite smart hotel in Bathinda, more than halfway to my next destination, Amritsar. Today’s scenery was certainly different. The first half was cold (7.00 am start), on a superb road (NH 15), and through the most desolate countryside to date, the Thar desert. I broke the journey with a breakfast stop with the truckers – at an isolated roadside shack where a guy cooked me an amazing highly seasoned veggie dish in a saucepan over a wood fired tandoori oven. He added spices with a ladle (my recipes at home talk of teaspoons) like it was going out of fashion, from an array of very second hand large dried milk tins. He then threw some more wood on the fired, slapped some dough into shape and cooked me two fresh chapati. I declined the water served in another battered tin. All for 25 p. The remainder of the journey was through an extensively cropped and irrigated area (with masses of cotton and two Gin plants of the wrong variety) with stretches of the most appalling road surfaces I have ever been on. Bottom gear job, and I was still the major trunk road, the NH 15!
The time spent in Bikaner was singularly unproductive as the main, and virtually sole attraction, Junagarh fort, was closed as it was the end of the Hindu Diwali festival. The festival was certainly in full swing when I arrived. The town centre streets were pedestrianised and gridlocked with people and market stalls, and were in that state when I fought my way back to my hotel, in readiness for a nights rest. I should be so lucky. Fireworks, in the form firecrackers and bangers which rattled my windows, were being set off at a rate I estimated at more than 2-3/second. It was deafening and sounded much like a full scale military attack. They were still going off, at lesser rate, at 6 the next morning.
A friendly Dutch couple staying in the same hotel were on a sponsored honeymoon. Taken from an idea they had read in the UK Times, their wedding present list was replaced with an opportunity for their friends to pay for an activity/item on their 9 month world tour. This included air fares, train tickets, hotels and even motorbike hire in Goa. The ‘thank you’ letters were a recognition of the sponsor in a diary sent to all the givers. Why didn’t I think of it! I have a diary, but no sponsors.
Just before updating this diary, I walked about half a kilometre along the very busy main street of Bathinda to send some emails. The street was entirely typical of all Indian towns, hordes of pedestrians milling amongst weaving motor and pedal cyclists and rickshaws, interspersed with hooting cars and wandering cows. Not one person spoke to me. No one shouted ‘hello’, no one asked me ‘which country you come from’, no little boys informed me they were collecting foreign coins and probably even more remarkably, no rickshaw wallah asked me to avail myself of there services. Now that’s an experience not to be missed.
Monday 19 December Chandigar 9.00 am
The journey is nearly over. I made it to Amritsar, which was my original, but I thought rather ambitious goal, but not without it’s problems.
The ride from Bethinda was going well until the throttle cable snapped about 10 km before Amritsar. As I coasted into the roadside (in a small village) I spotted a guy working on an Enfield. I indicated my problem, and showed him my replacement cable, and within 10 minutes I was 20 rupees (25 p) worse off and back on the road. It wasn’t such a straightforward job either as part of the carburettor needed to be stripped down to fit the lower end of the cable.
I booked into a rather modest, shabby hotel (they all looked the same) in Amritsar by 2.00 pm and after a shower, beer and lunch I decided to try and find the Indian/Pakistan border crossing where there is a ritualistic closing ceremony at dusk every day. I tried to maximise my observations on the 30 km drive to the border, as I knew I would have to return in the dark. What a performance the ceremony it turned out to be. There are two symbolic arches, one in each country, about 100 metres apart, across the single carriageway border road, with another archway in between, on the actual border. There were grandstands along the 100 metre stretch of road, full of people shouting. clapping, jeering at the antics of the fancily dressed border guards who, in there 50 metre patch, marched, goose-stepped and stamped to and from their respective borders, both sides apparently performing similar movements at the same time. The two country’s flags were lowered ritualistically at the same time and the ceremony completed by a flamboyant slamming of gates. The Indian gate unfortunately didn’t latch and it swung open, so a guard had to quickly shut it properly. The crossing is opened at dawn with a similar performance.
Sunday’s visit to the Golden Temple was marred by the onset of a stomach bug which started during the night. Nevertheless the temple was truly magnificent, set in the middle of the sacred tank, with the sun glinting off the ornate gold work. I think a priest was offended when I declined the offer of a handful (literally) of some very unappetising mixture from a large silver bowl. The way I was feeling I nearly threw up into his bowl!
With a sole diet of curd for the rest of the day, I was sufficiently fit to drive the 5 hours to Chandigarh, but I made much more effort to avoid the bumps and potholes.
Monday 19 November Somewhere on the Delhi bi-pass 1.00 pm
This has not been a good day, with more bad news than good news. The good news is that my stomach appears to be quite a lot better, partially no doubt because my mind has been on other matters. The bad news is that after travelling two thirds the distance from Chandigarh to Delhi, an idiot on a tractor ran into me, from the right, hitting my front wheel. Fortunately I was travelling slowly, but it still managed to bend the front forks and give my right ankle a knock. However, the bike was driveable, albeit with the handlebars at an angle, until I got snarled up in horrendous traffic on the Delhi bi-pass. After a succession of unexplained stalls (very embarrassing when surrounded by trucks and buses, all blasting away on their horns), I realised the clutch was not disengaging properly. 100metres further and it prevented me engaging and disengaging gears all together. With the help of a passer-by, I was able to inform Lalli Singh, via that wonderful invention, the mobile ‘phone, of my breakdown, and he has said he will rescue me in an hour (an Indian hour, I assume). In the meantime, my ankle has stiffened up and swollen a bit – might have it checked out later.
Wednesday 21 November Kabila Hotel, Old Delhi 9.00 pm
Sure enough, on the hour Lalli Singh, with mechanic, arrived, sorted the bike, and I was carried pillion back to HQ. The damage to the bike (new ‘front end’ – wheel, suspension) came to the princely sum of 2600 rupees (£40) – repayable through Lalli Singh’s insurance. With Lalli’s endorsement I booked into an extremely tidy, clean, well managed hotel about 50 metres from his workshop. A remarkably civilised hotel in the middle of Delhi’s densely packed bike area, Karol Bargh. With the assistance of a hotel porter, I continued my annual International hospital visiting routine (last year Austria, previous year France) by inspecting the X-ray facilities at the Sir Ganga Ram hospital in New Delhi. Excellent care, and 3 hours later (after 6 trips by my minder to some unknown chemist) I acquired the necessary materials and my fractured leg was plastered. The doctor agreed that surgery could be delayed until I returned to the UK! This was a disturbing, unwelcome, turn of events – it was not a big fall with no indication of serious injury at the time – I just hope he is wrong, otherwise the skiing season may be a non event this year.
So today has been rather frustrating, as, apart from being driven in the hotel mini-bus to a bank and a cyber cafe, I have had to stay in my room all day. At least I had satellite TV, with BBC World Service, CNN and Manchester United versus Bayern Munich. Royal Jordanian is arranging wheel chair service at the airports plus seats with leg room. An inauspicious exit from Delhi appears to on the cards!
Sunday 25 November Down to earth and back in the land of song (and rain)
They think it’s all over – well, it is now, and I am ‘safely’ back at home after a relatively comfortable journey. If you hanker after pampered travel just put a plaster on your leg and you will be wheeled straight to the front of the check in queue, whisked through passport control, have a slight delay whilst your plaster is thoroughly examined for contraband, and then taken to the best seat on the ‘plane. An evening with Bud and Sally, plus a lunchtime pub meal with Bud brought the holiday to a pleasant and relaxing conclusion. Driving the car from London was always going to be a problem, but fortuitously, Peter Morgan was working in London the day after I flew in, and he drove my car to Kidderminster, and Helen brought me the rest of the way the next day, Saturday.
A visit to Bronglais casualty department confirmed the original diagnosis, the original sentence of six weeks in plaster, but no surgery. Nevertheless it’s goodbye to my Christmas/New Year skiing in Whistler.
Was it all worth it? The answer is clearly, yes, and without reservation. The holiday more than lived up to expectations. I thoroughly enjoyed the biking in glorious weather, visiting the magnificent buildings of Mughal India, and witnessing some Indian culture at reasonably close quarters. Indian people are very gentle folk. Yes there is hassle in the more touristy places, but there is no aggression or malice. This is even more surprising when you see, what by our standards, is extensive poverty. What is even more incomprehensible is that there does not appear to be that much dissatisfaction with their circumstances. You are met with smiling faces and courteous behaviour virtually everywhere.
A mere broken leg is a small price to pay for such a challenging and rewarding experience.
The route c. 3000km