No.21. India. North to Nepal.
As I loaded the bike outside the small Pension, the Landlady came out to bid me farewell. “Stay out of the sea in Goa’ she said,’ I have a bad feeling for you’. If this had been Bognor Regis I would have laughed but she looked at me in such a way that I knew that I would not be going swimming in Goa.
I’d arrived here in Fort Cochin an old Portuguese enclave in Kerala two days before having ridden up the lively coast road from Kanyakumari. Kanyakumari. The southern most tip of India. I'd made it. And been photographed (badly) to prove I was there.
From here I planned to return to Goa, pick up spares and make my way 'leisurely' to Agra where I’d meet my Mother at the Taj Mahal, have a few days in Varanasi then on to the Nepalese border.
That was the plan. But this was India...
Dramatic 'Final Episode' here soon!!
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'Still no tyres Darren!?' I couldn't believe it. Now what? I'd taken an extra tour of Southern India in the hope that by the time I returned to Goa my tyres and spares would be there.
'Maybe in Mumbai...' said the man behind the counter.
'Got a phone number? I asked.
"No. We don't have a phone', came the reply.' You could write. I have the address'.
Two days later I was stretched out in the train to Delhi having watched my bike being wrapped in sack cloth and pushed into the goods wagon. 'Why not?' I thought.' It's all part of the experience and it'll save me 2000kms of Indian roads'. I lit a cigarette and watched the Keralan sunset as I savoured the sensation of 'being transported' into the night. Next stop Delhi.
Gurdial Auto Engineers, Karol Bagh, Delhi can be found (eventually) down an oily chaotic back-alley in amongst other mechanics and workshops. These guys are innovative - even shaping a pair of brake pads for me. More importantly they sourced a set of tyres. Great relief. By 3.30pm I was clawing my way out of Delhi on the road to Agra as the light faded behind me.
'Avoid riding in the dark in India', I'd read,' Cattle tend to sleep on warm roads'. This was going through my mind as I gunned it behind fast moving cars trying to keep close thus avoiding a cow sized gap to open up.
Agra town at 7.00pm was like a scene from 'Apocalypse Now' - Fires burned, people screamed at me, trucks and rickshaws cut me up on badly lit junctions, smoke filled the air, but, amazingly, through the chaos I spotted a sign to the Taj Mahal. Within ten minutes I was being saluted into the foyer of the Sheraton Hotel. Good work.
'I hope you've got a clean shirt and you can shave that beard off as fast as you like!' was how I was greeted by my mother after 12000 miles of Dusty Highway. How I enjoyed that first glass of red wine....
India looks very different when viewed through the tinted windows of an air-conditioned bus. I enjoyed the luxurious few days I spent with Mum and her fellow travellers and was glad I'd managed to persuade the Indian authorities to extend my visa to enable me to 'look after my frail 90 year old mother who needed my constant attention'. Not entirely true ( she's 74 and plays tennis four times a week) but I'd watched young backpackers being denied visa extensions for being 'too honest' with their requests. By the time my interview came up I'd put a convincing tear jerking story together. It had worked.
But had I enough time left to make it to the border? The cartoon tells the story.
Some original sketches from my journal.
Posted by Simon Roberts at July 06, 2009 10:42 PM GMT