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 10:42 PM
No.20. India. From North to South
Meanwhile, back on the 'open' road - at the gates of the Golden Temple, Amritsar, NW India....
I'd picked my way through the ever narrowing streets following locals' gesticulations towards the temple. I'd read that it may be possible to stay here in an area within the complex set aside for foreigners. Sure enough, I was ushered in by an imposing Sikh and, having handed over 'cigarettes, alcohol and drugs' was led - bike and all - to an enclosed courtyard where, amazingly, I was given a private room.
I unpacked and joined the pilgrims walking clockwise around the Golden Temple which is set in a large ornamental pool. Steadying myself for a photo I was handed an empty bucket and promptly swept up into the daily cleaning ritual. Later that evening I was invited to join them in the communal eating halls. Attendants went from row to row ladelling food out of metal buckets as we sat cross-legged in lines on the floor - painful at the best of times for Euro-man and food from buckets? Not for the faint-hearted. My request for the A la Carte menu was met with a blank expression.
The end of a long day, and I would have slept well but for the incessant wailing, chanting and gnashing of teeth together with the constant comings and goings throughout the night. I contemplated a call through to reception in my half sleep....
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From Amritsar my route took me North East to Mcleod Ganj, home of the Dalai Lama (he was out), on to Delhi and from there to the desert region of Rajasthan. Spectacular scenery, spectacular forts and spectacular driving conditions awaited me on my journey south.
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Delhi. With extended visa in my pocket - more easily said than done - I zig-zagged my way through the debris down the roads towards Jaipur and Rajasthan.
Ah yes. The roads of India. Everyone has their tales and I've done my best to catch the drama in a cartoon.
A typical scenario: I pull out to overtake a bus. Straightforward. I then realise he's overtaking a slow moving truck which is moving out past a spluttering rickshaw who's overtaking a camel and cart which is avoiding an old man on a bicycle. Change down and gun it through the ever shrinking gap between me and the deep gravel on the right hand side. I look up to see that the same sequence of events is going on - coming at us. Never a dull moment. I had considered welding the front of a bus to the front of my bike to give me a little more 'presence'.
Original cartoons from my journal.
Life on the roads was always intense and 'in your face'. You constantly needed your wits about you as an accident was waiting for you around every corner - and on the straight bits. But fortunately, despite the seeming chaos of the narrow streets there was always an 'oasis of calm' waiting for me behind courtyard walls. I just needed to find them - not always easy. The Cosy Guest House in Jodhpur was one such example. By the time I found the doorway I swear the cylinder heads were scratching on both sides of the alley walls....Narrow, yes, but it was worth it.
Happy days spent sightseeing and lounging on the terrace overlooking the magnificent Meheranghar Fort with Ray, Chris, Tam, Jack and Joleen. Brief friendships that were much enjoyed by the 'Lonely Biker'...What are you all up to now?
It's impossible to tell every tale in this limited space but....Christmas and New Year were spent in beach huts in Goa. There was romance and sunsets, sunrises and hangovers. There was undelivered tyres, an Indian Christian wedding party, good coffee, bad alcohol, dramatic temples of doom and Shakespearian weather leading to embarrassing electrical failure despite serious amounts of 'The Elixir of life' - WD40.
But despite these highs and lows, I finally rolled up on the southern coast. Made it! This must be photographed...Me, the loaded bike, the Indian Ocean as back drop. I could picture the final enlarged photograph above the fireplace at home...The stories I would tell over dinner... " Sir! Photo?! No problem.I can help you.."
Travel Tip No. 303: Take a tripod when travelling solo.
Next. The route North and the Nepalese border
Posted by Simon Roberts at 08:42 PM
No.19b. Ah, Mr.Roberts, we've been expecting you.
I know, I know....you left me at the gates of the Golden Temple in Amritsar (Episode 19) and I am working on Episode 20 but, in the meantime, here's a 'unique' collector's item.
This was the first story I illustrated searching for the right 'style'. I used Marker pen but went back to pencil and watercolour as it was 'fresher' and more in keeping with that 'drawn on the road' feel I wanted. Set in Udaipur, Rajesthan, a little further down the road.
Is that the James Bond Theme I hear....? Cue raised eyebrow
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How do you like the stories so far? Feedback welcomed. email@example.com Episode 20 coming here soon....
Posted by Simon Roberts at 11:18 PM