February 10, 2010 GMT
India - The Gandhinagar days

The day after Ping-Yi left, the day after the accident.

I decide it's time to slow down a little bit and recuperate. Not wanting to waste time I decide to clean the air filter of the bike, something I've been thinking about doing... oh since Turkey. I've always been chickening out because getting to the air filter on a Vstrom means removing the fuel tank and that to my mind was always major drama just waiting to happen (useless with my hands, remember?).

But, (a) my foot is sore so I can't move about or ride too much and (b) I have Chaitanya's family and friends to help if anything goes wrong. Better conditions could hardly be asked for. So I take out my mighty toolkit, open the manual and start unscrewing.

Soon enough the sun catches us and it gets very hot - remedial actions are spontaneous, shift and extremely effective:

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We continued our work in the shade. Bike parts were being simultaneously unscrewed by 3 overly enthusiastic helpers, which freaked me out at the time but turned out fine in the end. After a while (and diverting from the manual's procedures in favour of a more... creative way of doing things), the petrol tank was out!

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Now we had access to the air filter compartment, which in this photo can be seen shining because we cleaned it before opening:

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To properly clean the filter we had to blow-dry it, so Alok dropped in with his Bullet and gave me a lift to the nearest auto/moto cleaner:

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(I have to say I was surprised at how relatively clean the filter was after 20,000K without cleaning - other than a small colony of dead bees and some dust, it was fine)

In this photo I am answering the questions of a reporter friend of Alok about the trip etc, while one of my trusty helpers is transfusing the petrol back into the tank - we had had to remove some of it before, because some genious (me) had filled up with petrol after dropping off Ping-Yi at the airport. Try lifting a 22-litre petrol tank filled with fuel and you'll know what I mean.

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After all this was done, we thought "Right, clean air filter. Let's get it a bit dirty now." So Alok mischievously showed me to some off-road tracks nearby where he shot the following photos:

Profile Interview

Luckily it's dark enough so you can't tell I'm in walking trousers and hiking shoes... A disgrace!

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All this media give and take seems to have done something, because the next morning I woke up with this newspaper next to my head:

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I was assured by my friends that the text is all good stuff... it's in Gujarati, the native language of Gujarat. This means that even most Indians will be unable to read this. There goes my stab at world fame...

That day we visited the National Institute of Design with Alok. It was a Friday, so students were showcasing their creations.

NID display

After spending the day at the NID, I was taken out by my kind hosts for a "western type" meal - so we went to a pizza place! This is Anjana and Mahavir trying to convince me they're enjoying their pizza.

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The foot was still sore and bruising got interestingly worse - even though initially I had it on the small toe (would calling it "pinky" make this a less hardcore adventure blog?) only, by now I was getting a full set of purple toes - another first for me!

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Our next trip out of the house was to get some supplies and somehow fix the right footpeg - the custom-built creation from Rajkot needed a bit of reinforcing, and I needed a 24 key to re-tighten my left mirror that had been dangling since the spill. Mahavir led me to the right people and to my utter surprise and delight, both issues were sorted within minutes. To this day I suspect that Mahavir slipped the guy who fixed the peg something, but the person who had a 22/24 key for sale was very official about and did not accept my money. The least I could do was take a group picture. Look at those smiles!

Guy in yellow shirt donated a 22/24 key

(for the record, the official price of the tool was 30 Rupees, which would be less than 50 Euro-cents. If you've ever bought tools in Europe, you may now cry.)

Of course, there is something to be said about availability of quality equipment in India... one sees motorcycle helmets being sold on the corner of the street, no doubt for prices close to $5. This is why the difference in protective qualities screams out when you put even a low-end Arai and a typical Indian helmet side by side:

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I still don't think that makes the 100-fold price difference reasonable, but I'd rather be ripped off and have my head, than have more money for my funeral. Unfortunately, such good quality gear appears to be hard to find in India.

In the evening I was lucky enough to be invited to an excellent cultural event that introduced me to traditional Indian dancing. My small camera is not good enough to capture the sound of the percussionist leggings of the dancers, but you still get an idea...

The days rolled off easily in Gandhinagar...

Next morning we went to a Bird Race - a competition to observe and record the most bird species around town. I don't know the first thing about birds, so I learned a lot. What caught my eye more than any bird was this composition:

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I found these tree trunks quite amazing. The whole thing looks like plastic near the top - it's so smooth and shiny! But it's 100% natural.

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This documents a small feast we had with Alok and Mahavir on our way to some chores around town. It was a hot day and we had been in the car for an hour, and entering an air-conditioned bakery/patisserie was just paradise on Earth...

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This, on the other hand, is a fraudulent shot by Alok who would have you believe I had 4 chocolate cakes with ice-cream. You wouldn't believe such rubbish, dear reader, would you?

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Finally the bike ride day arrived. We had been talking about it ever since we met, two weeks ago, but something was always wrong. For this day we planned nothing else, hopped on the V and the Bullet and rode off, tracing a route Chaitanya had designed for us. Optimising for twisting roads and no traffic, we cruised through quiet villages, along grassy fields and refreshing rivers. It was a blast!

Mahavir and Alok during our first rest break next to a dam:

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Alok's object of desire: The Bullet.

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I wouldn't want to do that crossing in full monsoon period...

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Our first waypoint, a beautiful Hindu temple:

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Dizzying architecture to get to the water...

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View from inside the temple:

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Bats (!) inside the dome of the temple.

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For lunch we thought we'd stop at a decent-looking restaurant of a small nearby village. We parked the bikes, got immediately told by the restaurant manager to bring my bike right in front of the entrance where he could keep an eye on it, and this is what happened within minutes:

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I was fantasizing about a quiet, refreshing meal. It was not to be...

Villaggers swarming to check out the stranger

The situation got slightly out of hand when the local media appeared. They never even asked me if I minded, was in the mood, or anything like that. They just started firing away questions. I was not impressed with all this attention. At that point it occurred to me that I wouldn't find it surprising at all if famous people hated humanity. This being stared at, being harassed, having no private time or space, being looked at like a wild animal in a cage, is just not my cup of tea. And in India this phenomenon is much stronger than in any of the other countries I've been to.

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After making a successful getaway (I remember Alok shouting "Don't stop! Just go!" - jeez) we visited the beautiful Vadtal Vav (stepwell).

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The walls were magnificently decorated with stories from Hindu mythology:

Detail from Vadtal Vav, Gujarat

Deep in the earth, the place was cool so we spent some time there hiding from the burning sun.

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The whole trip turned out to be slightly longer than we had anticipated, incorporating some downtown shopping in Ahmedabad and visiting family members on our way back, but by 9pm we were off the saddle, with 350K on the clock and plenty of smiles. It was a good day.

Next day was India's Republic Day and Chaitanya and Anjana had a little surprise for me - they took me to a nearby village school they supported and we enjoyed all the celebrations of that special day with many special kids - kids whose lifeline and probably only chance to a better future was this very school.

I was asked to say a couple of words about the trip to the kids and their families that had gathered there to celebrate. I found it quite intimidating to stand before these people - what would a soft-foot like me have to say to them? I spurted out some words and Chaitanya translated. It would be easier to have a presentation in front of 15 grumpy CEOs.

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Students dancing in traditional dress.

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These are all the students of that village. Classes have to cater for the needs of different ages and levels simultaneously and the two teachers posted there are very creative. They also have a few computers, which I found surprising given the apparent poorness of the village. I was trying to come up with a meaningful way to contribute, so I've now sent them a few copies of Edubuntu, free educational software that I'm sure the teachers will make the best out of.

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Refuelling Chaitanya's LPG-powered car. The more environment-friendly alternative to petrol/diesel.

LPG refuelling

The next day it was so hot that camels dropped to the ground for a breather.

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...so I was very happy that we made a quick getaway (with Alok) from the horribly crowded award ceremony the local government was throwing that some friends had to go to, and took a drive in the quiet nearby villages instead.

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I was also exuberant about having a proper meal of pizza (in contrast to, err... NOTHING that the others had) in the aptly named USA Pizza. The funniest part was their bathroom which I had the joy of visiting only on our way out. This "toilet checklist" looks very professional, right?

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Time of check, signature of checker, everything is ticked... Too bad the floor was dirty, there was no light bulb, the toilet roll was nowhere to be found, I had to ask for some soap (which took 3 minutes to procure), and there was no waste bin.

It was time for me to move on. Gandhinagar had been relaxing, I had recuperated from the accident, relaxed with the daily midnight conversations we would have with Chaitanya and Mahavir, been delighted with the delicacies prepared by Anjana, done all work that had to be done on the bike, been involved as much as possible in the local community. My heart was warm from the love of a family and a community of friends that had taken me in and had allowed me to live with them, fully, the entire day, every day, right next to them.

Chaitanya & Anjana. May all travelers meet people of such quality wherever they go.

Chaitanya & Anjana

With a feeling of numbness and the-show-must-go-on determination, I packed my bags and left the safe haven of Gandhinagar. I was headed south, out of the state of Gujarat for good.

Posted by Alexandros Papadopoulos at February 10, 2010 06:13 AM GMT
 


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