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Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by jason9364, Oct 8, 2019.
Great stuff. Wonderful photos and writing.
Nepal. I've always wanted to visit Nepal. China to Nepal is like going from one extreme to the other. Within 100m of leaving China you're into a mob of people.. hands going everywhere.. little blokes diving into my panniers .. someone has taken my passport and just disappeared.. and I've not got off my bike yet. It's roasting hot and the smell of humanity is all around. I think I'm responsible for at least 50% of it ..
At most checkpoints the luggage searches are just cursory but this lot are doing a proper job going through everything. Good job I secreted my drone before I got here .. that would have gone for sure .. The passport reappears and the officials wander off leaving my bike looking like I've ridden over a speed bump at 50mph with my pannier lids open. No passport stamps though, so off we go to hunt down the man with the stamp. Easier said than done. I think this border was closed for quite a while after the big 2015 earthquake. I can imagine there was a proper shitfest round here at that time. Nepal is on it's knees anyway even before Mother Nature gave it a big slap. You can get visas on arrival here but we got ours in London so it's a simple stamp and go. Customs though.. not so straight forward. The building is easy enough to identify but you walk in and you're invisible. Nobody wants to know. It's like a doctors waiting room with loads of sweaty truck driver sitting in shadows with hands full of paperwork needing attention. There is a long line of old Indian trucks lined up in the mud outside.. sighing and ticking with the effort of driving the Friendship highway. We've been warned about this road. We meet a motorcyclist coming in the other direction.. he left at stupid o’clock this morning and it's taken him 10 hours to do 150km, and he's on a nice light bike. He says it's unbelievably bad. Good to know ..
As we stand there in the customs office, a fixer suddenly appears and says he'll sort it out. He wants our carnets then he'll run round to the appropriate sheds and get the stamps. I must be honest, I didn't know you needed a carnet for Nepal.. good job I've got one.. It would be perfectly possible to enter without one though .. just drive straight past the customs shed ... nobody would give a fuck either on entry or exit. ..
The first few miles .. if it's like this all the way it's going to take 10 days not 10 hours. It's an absolute quagmire .. deep sloppy mud just like a pig sty.. like riding through a sticky brown smoothy. Then as soon as the ground gets harder all the mud turns to ruts. They're so deep you can't ride through with your feet on the pegs and the BMW is trying to walk on tiptoe.. but still dragging its tits along the tops.. it's bloody hard work.. and slow. I'm not stopping on the shit bits for pictures.. I'm far too busy gassing my gusset and trying to stop the turtle sticking it's head out. This is about as good as it gets ..
My riding buddy was telling me about Nepal. Quoting <a href="https://www.gapminder.org/factfulness-book/">Factfulness</a> by Hans Rosling. Part of the book apparantly grades countries from 1 to 4 by their general infrastructure and facilities amongst other things. So hospitals and health provision, time for ambulances to arrive, all sorts of things we take for granted living in a 4 rated country. There aren't that many at grade 1.. but Nepal is. Not much of anything it seems, and certainly not the place to have an accident. This can be waiting round any corner ..
The road crosses a river and turns to hard packed gravel and we all enjoy getting out of 2nd gear for a change ..
We're going down a hill.. I ride to the front .. go round a slight bend.. and there are a couple of bikes coming towards us, both 2 up. I'm towards the middle of the road, they're towards the middle of the road .. everyone rides the easiest line.. we've been meeting trafic and passing on either side.. whatever works .. but there is an official side of the road.. and in Nepal it's the left. So we do the dance .. the same one you do on a busy pavement .. you both go one way.. then you both go the other way .. then you crash head on into each other. Fuck. I stay upright but I took a big hit on the right front side. The crashed bike is down and the riders are on the floor. The riders on the other bike are already in my face .. "why were you riding on the wrong side of the road".. the riders aren't badly hurt but they have some cuts on their hands and legs. Hands up .. this was probably 70% my fault .. I was in the middle of the road rather than the left .. but they didn't go to their left either. There are 4 angry men and it's getting heated fast. My riding buddy is an Indian by birth and can speak to them in their native tongue thank god.. but it's not cooling down so he just says to get going up the road and off we go. We ride a few miles with my plastics flapping and light hanging off. Then pull over to try and fix the bike up. The riders have followed us the arguments start all over again. Fair enough.. two have hurt themselves and there is some damage to their bike. I patch up the bike while my buddy enters negotiations with the riders. Showing a willingness to accept some blame and pay some money seems to lower the temperature a little but they're talking big sums of money, and they're threatening to get the police from the next village involved. Not what I wanted to hear.. I take the broken bits off the bike and patch it up to ride. Nothing major, just snapped plastics, bent brackets and dented panniers.
Negotiations aren't going well and the noise is getting worse.. eyes are opening wider .. tension is in the air.. they want a sum that my buddy is absolutely not going to accept. They say"we'll' go to the police then" .. and my mate says "OK.. let's go". OOOOOkkkk...
So off we go. the village is 30km away and the road is .. I'm struggling to describe this section of road .. it's just fucking awful. A thin cutting into the side of a mountain with nothing to stop you going airborne.. all deep wet mud and steep rocky ups and downs. I remember one section.. a very very steep and very very rutted decent round some stupid tight bends.. if I'd had time to think about it I doubt I'd have got the nerve to ride it but by that time you're in the middle of it and you just cannot stop. My buddy is a TRF member and he reckons this would be a difficult ride even on a smaller bike. After a torturous climb we come to a village and a police station/blue tin hut manned by a young bloke with a gun. He's not there to mediate or apportion blame.. just to make sure neither side gets physical. He just wants it sorted. The riders are lying about the amounts they asked for and now have bought their demands down to more reasonable levels.. I can understand their position, of course I can. In the end we reach an agreement and I hand over some USD.. we shake hands and we're on our way. That could have been a lot LOT worse.. at least nobody was badly hurt and the bikes were still going..
I thought the road must get better at some point but no .. it just keeps on giving.. you see a picture like this and you think 'oh.. that looks OK' but you don't see the fucking great sharp stone that started it ..
By this stage this is absolutely the worst road I've ever ridden, no doubt about it. A lot of this is in my mind .. millions of riders do this all the time with a smile on their faces.. my problem is the inconsistency. You get used to one shity surface and it almost detects you starting to relax .. so it it offers you another item from it's never ending road surface menu.. deep water with sandy muddy slipy slidy shit everywhere.. or sharp rocky and steep sections.. all loose with 50% of the power just spinning the wheel and showing the rider behind with rocks and stones ..
We get to a village. At least there is a bit of tarmac there.. just to keep the dust down. Another group of humanity with the misfortune to appear from the womb halfway up a mountain in the middle of bum fuck nowhere in one of the poorest nations on earth. My buddy is speaking to a local about the best way to Katmandu from here.. I'm thinking maybe an airlift..
Word is there is a new road.. hooray.. we're saved. It starts about another 30km from here but apparently it's a good road right to Katmandu. I can't help wondering why the rider we spoke to earlier didn't mention it.. until we get there..
When he said new 'road', what he meant to say was new 'roadworks'... it's miles and mile of epic shitfest connected by short stretched of tarmac. It's like a dashed line .. but with tarmac as the short bits. By now we're well into auto pilot mode in the shit. A lot of the time it's like trying to ride the bike sideways over a line of running machines .. one wheel heading in one direction and the other moving in another direction completely independently. I'm sure there are some substances on this road that are new to science. The muddy red sand combo is my real favourite. The cars are trucks are crawling through and are about 1 foot in front of you.. and one foot behind you.. I flipped into masochist mode some time ago and I've really started to enjoy it now. Covered in shit from head to toe, boots full of water, glove stains on my hands .. tired and hungry, and we're still a long way from our beds.
These are the days that make the trip for me. The Brrrrrummmmmmmmm... beer.. food... bed ... breakfast ... bruuuummmmmmmmmmm... beer .. food .. bed ... breakfast .. repeat until done ... that's just not my thing .. I want shit and cold and discomfort .. I want to be tired.. to be scared .. to be kicked in all my senses .. I want worry .. I want adversity .. I want difficulty.. i want near misses and adrenaline on my tongue.. I want something for my brain to do .. I want plans to change and I want to work through it all and come out smiling .. I want Oh Fuck... and I want OHHHHH FUUUUCKKKK.. I want good and bad.. big highs and big lows.. and shit days like this .. I really do want shit days like this.. Good job too because this day isn't getting better any time soon ..
We eventually get to the main (probably only) arterial main road to Katmandu. Maybe 40km to run. Should be no problem despite the crawling traffic and billowing black clouds. The road surface is ok and we're all used to forcing our way through any which way we can. Fucking dangerous though... but then the road starts to climb. The traffic bunches up and eventually becomes a 5mph solid metal worm of screaming engines and fag paper gaps.. it gets dark .. it gets worse .. and it starts to rain. The road surface turns to absolute pony.. I've never seen anything like it. As un PC and unsavoury as this sounds, the road looks like it has been tarmaced over the scene of a massacre. Imagine bodies randomly laying about and a tarmac lorry just coming and pouring over the top. Its pitch black, you're doing between 0 and 5mph in the middle of a lorry sandwich and you're being pushed all over the road by huge lumps and dips. Your autopilot is operating at 200% and your lungs feel like a new fence that someone has just gone and painted with old diesel. After what seems like a lifetime we get to a small turnoff and follow a backroad towards Katmandu. The sat nav is directing us through turnings that look more like paths to a front door than a road. Very very narrow gaps between buildings only to find you're at the top of some sort of roller coaster with the road dropping away from you at a mental angle. And you're sharing this with trucks.. I remember following an articulated petrol lorry through one section and thinking the road was the equivalent of the Suez canal with clearances measured in microns. Absolutely no chance of getting past ... none at all. The only town planning involved here revolves around maintaining the smallest gaps that vehicles can get through.
We eventually get into Katmandu and come to a dual carriageway.. so that means about 10 lanes of traffic .. so what was a line of lights behind me turns into a view of the stars on a dark night .. with millions of lights winking and merging. We loose one rider and stop to try and see him. My bike is .. shock horror .. overheating again. Not surprising given all the crawling and the high 30's temperature.
What looks like traffic chaos obviously as some sort of order but it's alien to us. Buses come by and someone jumps off .. shouting destinations to attract customers as the bus crawls along beside him like a pet dog .. then he jumps on .. thumps the body and they're off in a thick cloud and a roar of rattling .. I could sit and watch this stuff for hours. Identifying our mate is impossible in this mess. We try and call and text but nothing's working. He has a destination anyway so he should be fine. And off we go into the melee. Riding in these places in the dark is just asking for trouble.. it's like riding through a battlefield.. during the battle .. you can't see bugger all what with the trucks and the dust from the road.. My blinking is on full-fast just trying to keep up with the assault and I'm breathing like a free diver, holding it for long periods to try and avoid having too many years taken off my life expectancy. Nepal seems to be like India, only 20 years ago. I'll remember that ride through the city for a long long time. We get to the hotel and the other rider is there safe and sound. We all just breath a collective sigh of relief, smile, laugh and use all of our extensive collective vocabulary of swearwords to describe what has been both a complete fuckfest, but also one of my favourite ever riding days.
We're not staying long in Nepal and today we say goodbye to our 3rd rider. He's staying for a while then going home to see his girlfriend before returning and continuing his trip.
After yesterday, the roads couldn't be any worse but they try their best anyway as we head out south towards India. Riding out of Katmandu is a revelation though. I always though Katmandu would be a lovely place full of amazing buildings but in reality it's just one big fart away from being flattened. The outskirts especially are just filthy shanty towns that look to provide shelter but not much else. The roads get worse and worse and smaller and smaller and tighter and tighter. We thought that there should be a good route but we just blindly follow the sat navs. Maybe I left mine in 'piss take' mode by mistake as we eventually find ourselves way up in the mountians on a single track. At least there isn't anyone trying to kill us up here..
After a few hours we join a very thin strip of tarmac and chase it hard up and down the mountains. Maybe this is the road we missed as there are loads of old 4x4s using it too, most of them are oncoming .. and they are driving like fucking lunatics .. one of my horns has given up due to overuse and at every corner I send out a warning like a strangled sheep. They obviously just run straight over sheep round here because it seems to make absolutely fuck all difference to the speed they come round the corners. The downhills are the worst. Very very steep and narrow and often loose, the 4x4s aren't willing to sacrifice even the smallest amount of speed and momentum and they just come hurtling round leaving you with next to nothingness .. literally .. as the mountain drops away from the roads edge. You get used to anything eventually though and it just becomes normal. Christ only knows what it's like at night round here.
We get to a small village and decide to stop for some chai, one of my favourites. A couple of small sheds very popular with the local fly community. The owner of the chai shop has a son with Downs syndrome and he's out in the back with his sister. He seems happy enough and comes for a chat but you can just imagine there is absolutely zero support for anyone with any problems out here. Just another reminder of my luck at the birth lottery.
Get to Rajdandi .. one of the kids has run through the house and turned the thermostat up to max again. My pores are pouring and my eyeballs feel like they're melting. Find the hotel and just sit under the ceiling fan to try and cool the supercomputer in my head that feels close to shutdown. Fuck its hot and it looks.. and smells .. like the roads are running with sweat. I go out hunting for cold liquid .. and ice creams. Ice creams can be an easy way to turn your arse into a chocolate fountain out here but at the moment I just don't care.
I need another shave.. I'm looking for a shop. What I see is a very narrow gap between 2 buildings that has been converted into a barbers. Its so tight that you have to walk in sideways, sit in a chair and get shoved up against the counter so they have room to stand behind you. The concentration of smells is intense and the noise from outside bounces round like small echos in a cave.
Chai.. means milk .. there must be milk round here somewhere but these places do not have food shops. We're so used to 'want... buy.. eat' but in these countries the 'want' is always far removed from the 'buy' They have food markets .. not food shops. Lots of places are knocking up Chai though so there must be milk about somewhere. My mate joins the hunt and is directed from one place to another to another until we track down a freezer in a small hole in the wall selling bottled drinks. The freezer is full of bladders of milk .. it's a vision of heaven.. I want to just dive in and have a swim .. but instead I just buy as many as I can carry and have a wild night in necking nectar.
India and Nepal have an open border, but only for Indians and Nepalese. Get to the border and a rusty gate is the only indication that jurisdiction is changing. I've done this before in Africa, just ridden past a few huts then a while later realised I'm in another country and have had to turn round. We stop by the gate and I sit with the bikes while my mate looks for customs.
My mate reappears with good news and bad news. The good news is that he has identified the man we need to stamp the carnets. The bad news is that the bloke has apparently not got the right hat, so he's gone off home to get it.. he'll be back in 30 minutes..
The man appears and I have to say, the hat was definitely worth the wait .. look at that crease in his shirt too .. I think he's changed .. this has to be done properly after all..
So.. passports.. where the fuck are those done? We go past the barrier and into the throng. Animals.. trucks.. carts.. bicycles .. all seemingly going back and forth between Nepal and India without restriction. It's a constant slow flood of humanity .. flowing in two directions at once .. all very strange.
We find a house that is apparently immigration. Walk in and there are 3 people in uniform just sitting chewing the fat. Looks like we're an inconvenience.. they hadn't expected to actually do any work when they woke up this mornings. They're not allowed to do immigration though, that's the job of a man in the village and he's not here. The computers are all turned off and resting snugly under some dust sheets on a desk... better call the man then I guess...
The man turns up 15 minutes later, takes off the sheets, turns on the computer.. unlocks the cupboard with the stamps in .. gets out the old paper ledgers and gets to work. Unfortunately for us it seems that in Nepal we've had the good fortune to exit on 'bring an idiot to work day'. The man is obviously using this rare opportunity to teach someone the highly complex process of stamping a passport. His mate isn't a quick learner .. and i have to leave the building otherwise I'm going to grab the bloody stamp and beat him to death with it .. exited August 2019 in red across his forehead ..
They give us a shout and we can leave at last. Join the flood and just let ourselves get pulled along by the current towards India. We're on the conveyor but we've no idea where to get off. Nobody is stopping anywhere but we know we've got to do this properly otherwise we won't get the bikes out of the port.
I've long had dreams of Nepal and spending time in Katmandu. Reading this has not been encouraging.
I've only spent 2/3 days there, and it depends on what you want to see. If I had been on a small bike I'd have had a ball instead of a balll ache! The people are friendly, Katmandu is a big tourist hotspot and there are reasonable hotels amongst the rubble:) . Just don't hurt yourself or get ill and you'll have a lovely time. Its very beautiful too, but after Tibet, anything else is never going to match up for me.
So go .. just go!
You must be surrounded by sweaty mindless oafs from Kettering and Coventry in their cloth caps and their cardigans and their transistor radios and their Sunday Mirrors, complaining about the tea - "Oh they don't make it properly here, do they, not like at home" - and stopping at Majorcan bodegas selling fish and chips and Watney's Red Barrel.
Nice read Jason.
I am from Pune which is about 150 km from Mumbai and I ride the same colored 1200GSW as in your pics. Let me know if you need any help in India. Even if you are far, help is always nearby.
We have a network of like minded riders who will go a long way to help anyone who is traveling on a bike.
I agree that you don't need a big GS to travel in India. The simpler and lighter the bike, the better. A 310 GS would do well.
Hi Jason, i am very impressed !!!! Congratulations, i hope to follow you in the next 2 years, from Paris to Beijing.
Could you please post a map of what the trip you have already done so far ?
When do you expect to be back to England ?
Hi. I've been back a while. Just takes me ages to do the blog! Get in touch and I can go through stuff with you if you want :)
There is a beaten up oil drum at the side of the road with 'customs' written on it in faded white paint. The door it stands by looks shut. It looks like it's been shut for a while .. maybe 50 years .. got to start somewhere though so we park our bikes right in front of a no parking sign and go walkabout.
It's obviously the border .. but its just completely open... with traffic just streaming though unimpeded. Lots of tuks tuks .. cars.. trucks.. wizen old men straining every last bit of elasticity from their skinny muscles to get ancient flat bed bicycles loaded with people/cargo/animals across the bumps.. horns blaring and people shouting .. it's like watching some sort of exodus. Lots of bright white eyeballs stare at us from wrinkled grubby faces .. maybe the occasional flash of teeth as they smile at these aliens on their foreign beasts. India .. I love it.
We go over and bang on the door of the customs office. Nothing. Bang harder. Someone amongst the masses outside has noticed us and sent a runner to the men we need to see. Someone approaches us and tells us we need to do immigration first. 'Follow me' ..
We can't leave the bikes unattended here so it's a one at a time operation.. one at a tttttttiiiiiiiiiiiiiimmmmmmmeeeeeeeee. Time.. time has a different meaning out here.. I don't think the Indians have words for 'hurry' or 'expedite' .. Go into the office and there are 5/6 men in there tapping away at computers. I'm not sure if they're actually on though.. and this 'bring an idiot to work day' thing is obviously happening here too. 2 men sit down at the desk in front of me, turn the computer on, get started.
After about 10 minutes I decide they're probably just watching Bollyporn or something .. there is a lot of head wobbling going on .. and pointing at the screen .. but not a lot else. They seem to be having some trouble with the 1980/2019 interface between their computer and a passport scanner.. I keep seeing red lights flash .. then heads wobble .. red lights flash .. heads wobble .. I'm fucking trapped in passport limbo land .. I'm going to die here .. I can feel an angry little demon break into my brain and grab the controls to my mouth .. I have to go to manual control otherwise spit is going to start flying very soon ..
red lights .. "beeeeeeeeep" .. not heard that before ... they look surprised ..nope .. more head wobbling .. deeeeeep breaths ... then suddenly .. 2 beeps .. shock and awe .. celebrations all round .. break out the champagne .. turn up the music and dance .. fuck I think they've gone and done it. So .. carnets. If you know what you're doing it takes 5 minutes .. so I'm estimating an hour.. or two..
My mate speaks to the man and they find the key to the big lock and open the door to ... a stable .. well that's what it looks like. Shit from floor to ceiling everywhere, no computers, more like a room that they would use to extract information from spies.. using baseball bats. I go outside .. sit with the bikes ..and dehydrate. I'm properly thirsty so I look up and see a bloke in a window just above my head. Walk round the corner and up some stairs and there are 3 people in a 'control room' looking out on the traffic leaving India. Lots of dusty books. I don't even remember seeing any computers. One bloke shouts to another one walking around outside with a big stick, pointing to the trucks and letting them through, shouting back information to the controller.. I just stand for a while.. it's just fascinating to watch.. trying to figure out their system. They're all friendly and they can see the bikes from the window. I go to ask if they will watch them for a minute but instead they send another runner to get some life giving liquid. I get handed a bottle .. christ knows what it is .. could be piss for all I care.
My mate emerges from the stables.. 'is it done' .. nope, of course it isn't .. they just need to ask me some questions. In I go.. "Name" .. same as on every document I've just given you mate.. "Father's name".. WTF.. this is a carnet, NOT A BLOODY WILL YOU KNOB.. "Date of birth" .. ehhh? Mine or the bikes's? JEEEEEEEESUSSSSSS. He's got whole load of random questions scribbled down on a scrappy piece of paper in front of him .. and obligatory idiot by his side .. and the carnet is still in the plastic bag in front of him. I can feel the demon smashing at my forehead from within .. I can see his rage pulsing in the vein in my neck .. if I let him out to play we'll be here all day.. but it's all I can do to stop myself venting.. I think it would be less tortuous hanging from the ceiling by my balls and being twatted with the bat ..
I give him as many random answers as he wants and he sends back for my mate. He knows how the carnet has to be filled and guides them through the process.. slowly.. I spend the time outside trying to turn my patience setting up past 10 .. I'm going to need it. I've been to India a few times before and I know it's like this .. my massochistic side is really looking forward to it.
While I've been sitting watching what looks like the entire population of the world go by I've been hearing trains, and every now and then all the traffic comes to a complete standstill for a while. We finally get our carnets and join the throng again. We get about 500 yards and see some barriers coming down across the road. I'll just queue up here .. on the left.. they drive on the left here don't they? Is this a one way road then? No? So why is the right hand side of the road filling up too then? Because there is space there.. thats why.. so we wiggle and push our way through and get somewhere near the front. You can't describe riding in an Indian town or city .. this is riding in India.. this is normal .. this is not me parked .. this is just trying to make some forward progress ..
Get towards the barrier.. look across the void .. and guess what. The people on the other side are doing the exact some thing .. filling every inch of space right across the road ..
If you need 3 guesses as to what happens next then congratulations, you've earned a fucktard badge. The barriers come up and its a just a massive metal scrum trying to push its way forward from both directions. Hold your nerve.. prepare to get close up and personal with bikes .. trucks.. hand carts piled high with fruit.. old people with huge loads on their backs.. women balancing piles of good on their heads. Don't give an inch.. if you're not actually making contact with at least 4 other vehicles then you're just not trying ..
You can imagine that the bitch is not a happy bunny in this complete carnage.. her temperature gauge is reaching for the sky and I have to turn the engine off and push with my feet. Its over 40 degrees and I'm surrounded by engines desperately trying to keep their tempers.. sweating metal throwing heat in all directions.. I can feel the water inside my ears.. desperate times call for desperate measures and we both pull out the 'lets just get the fuck out of here' cards. Start the engines, take the gloves off and just properly bully our way through the moving maze in front of us until we finally emerge into traffic taking up only 90% of the road.
Pull into the first petrol station, find a water hose.. point it straight at my face.. run away inside my head to hide and let the water just cool my soul for a few minutes.. that was an intense introduction .. India.. don't fight it .. love it.
Get out of the town .. watch the buildings fade from concrete and brick and stone to dirty shanty wooden huts. Time for Chai. I just love this stuff. I can't get enough. They only ever seem to serve it in snot glasses though.. little slimy things with a single shot of chai .. I really want a MUG. Line them up..
My riding buddy is using this opportunity to meet up with various friend and family as we ride across the country and tonight we're meeting a cousin in a border town. I've ridden in India quite a bit but never thought I'd be here on my own bike. I need to be careful.. very careful .. riding a fast bike over here is like walking naked while carrying a bowl filled to the brim with boiling hot water .. you always have 2 choices in any situation .. use the fast forward switch .. or the brakes .. but out here fast forward will just mean your inevitable accident will come sooner and result in a longer list of injuries. Anything can happen at any time. We ride into the town and I get to think 'what would Musk do here' Park a Tesla here and the fucking thing would just sit there shitting itself refusing to move. There are no rules.. this is one of the most populous nations on earth and all the technical aspirations of the world just have no place here at all. Electric vehicles? Yea right .. self driving cars? You'd have to hack your way into the computer, find where they keep all the rules.. then delete the whole bloody lot.
Duck and dodge your way through the traffic and find the hotel.. even though these are cheap places they are beyond the means of most the local population and they're alway an oasis from the chaos just over the wall ..
My milk level is running low and I need a top up so I open the gate and enter the wall of sound outside.. look left .. right .. right.. left .. left .. right .. left as I thread my way across the road to an ATM in a mouldy shed, then walk through the shit and rotting rubbish .. looking into holes .. trying to sniff it out .. trying to sniff anything out amongst this rubbish is never going to work though..
Spend the evening with my mate's cousin having dinner. He works for a charity that helps local farmers. I must admit I don't know enough about India and it's structure. It's split into lots of states, and the state we're in used to be a pretty dangerous place. It used to be known as the 'wild west' .. even though it's in the east. Corruption was rife even by Indian standards and there were all sorts of unsavoury things happening but now it's slowly dragging itself off the floor. A really nice evening in a dimly lit flat amongst the locals. People shuffling about the building in their flip flops .. all shiny with sweat.. packs of feral dogs barking outside . flicking electricity..stale humid air.. proper immersion .. I love it.
Next morning .. out we go into the ... is traffic the right word even ..
I haven't got that long in India. The trip was planned around the need to get back for my daughter's wedding. Riding long distances here is always problematical and we're going to have to stick to the arteries rather than the veins of their road system. We've not planned too far today though and we head off down some capillaries .. through tiny villages .. hoards of animals and people everywhere.. kids being led down the side of the road in long lines to school.. clouds of woodsmoke bringing the world in and out of focus .. acrid smells of burning plastic .. warm bread .. bodies .. all human life. It's more slowgress than progress .. much of the time in low gear wiggling your way through past the cows or the conversation going on in the middle of the road.
The chai clock chimes 2 and we dive into a shack in the shade. Hot and humid and a million flies per soul. If this place was to suddenly transform and require air conditioning for a billion people.. fuck knows what would happen to the planet. Sometimes I think we need to be prepared to take a few steps back before we go forward. I order as many chai's as he has glasses .. he doesn't look happy though
Get onto a main road and let the top 4 gears have a go at last. Traffic is OK and you can cut through it but there are crossings everywhere and they will take the smallest gap in the traffic to pour onto the road in a mass of tangled vehicles. If you're coming to ride out here and you're selecting what to ride.. buy the biggest fuck off horn you can and then build your bike around it. Loud horns aren't allowed on bikes out here .. fuck that would mean you could hear the noise from the other side of the world .. but we're not subject to that restriction and my thumb is glued to it. Every crossing is a dare ..
Get to ... well near .. our destination. The place is grid locked. Even the word 'grid' implies some order though.. and that isn't how it works. I remember getting stuck and actually just turning into a market at the road side and riding through a tight tunnel of people between stalls to get round a problem.. then riding between some people eating .. over a small plank spanning an open sewer .. over some rough ground/ someones garden then down an alley back into the traffic. Every town has to be treated like a full on urban assault course.
Find the hotel, park up, drag our sorry hot souls up the steps, go inside and close the glass door to the world outside.
Part of the world outside has its face and hands pressed up against the glass.. looking straight at me .. eyes on. And what beautiful eyes they are. The human body always does such a good job of keeping it's windows bright and clean no matter what state the rest of the body is in. And this body is skinny and filthy, matted dull hair, skin blotched by god knows what.. spots and sores.. cuts and bruises .. nothing between the souls of her feet and the concrete beneath. A little urchin soul born in a body nobody wants. Brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it. Right.. I'm not going to be able to make a difference to this girl her whole life.. I'm not going to be able to save her.. but I'm fucked if I'm not going to make a difference to her life today. Call it guilt .. call it conscience.. call it compassion .. I don't care what you call it. It's just between me and her.
I quickly get out of my leathers and go back down. She's sitting on the steps outside. A few shops along from the hotel is a cafe and confectionary shop. We're not quite in the arse end of town tonight. maybe just the lower back.. I just give her the slightest nod and she gets up and slowly walks towards me. We walk up to the cafe door and someone inside walks towards us. He obviously doesn't want her inside so I take her hand and we walk straight past him and up to the cake cabinet. Just let her choose what she wants. I giver her money, who knows where it would go, she would never spend it on this. Even though she is absolutely on her arse.. she's not greedy and I prompt her to choose more until the little box is full. Then over to the drinks cabinet.. then the chocolate.. The cast system is still alive and well .. and poverty .. true poverty.. is all around. 'Poverty' is another emotive word banded about and misused.. just like 'survivor' .. and 'deserves'. Bollocks is all I can say. This is poverty.. you can't fall much lower than this. I go to the till, hand her the bag of treats and pay. By the time I've turned back round she has dissappeared into the crowd outside. I'm guessing that in her world nothing is done for nothing and there is always some sort of payback. I just hope she finds a quiet spot where she can gorge herself and sleep with a stomach full of sugar for a change.
We're heading for Lucknow and we're riding the artery towards Agra and Delhi. This is where the money is .. you'd think there would be services and reasonable infrastructure .. some brick buildings at least but this is eastern India and it's just more of the same.. same old same old .. with the enphasis on the 'old'. Amazing that the worlds 7th largest and 2nd most populous country is so far down the economic evolutionaly scale. After the journey we've been on, this section is quickly just turning into a grind. The lansdcape is flat and dull and uninspiring. It's supposed to be the monsoon season here but as with weather the world over, it's got new ideas about the way it wants to work now. So sun .. warm .. brummmmmmmmmmmm
Lucknow is a big old city and a tourist hotspot. My mate has booked a Sheraton 25km out. Get to the little village, turn though the gates and cross the line between the haves and the have nots. The hotel is all shiny and clean and quiet with pretty young things deployed at regular intervals .. art on the walls
I've seen all this before a million times .. so I walk 200m and step back over the line where there is noise, chaos, and shit in great abundance.
Of course I enjoy a lovely bed.. a big hot shower and good food. I'm just not altogether comfortable when the gap is so huge I guess. Fuck I'm not a tree hugging womble by any stretch, there will always be a human food chain, there has to be. It would just be nice if the differences between the levels were less. Greed.. it's all just down to greed.
Anyway .. enough of that. The Bitch.. I've not mentioned her in a while. She doesn't like India. She's running like I've added rocks to her fuel. Lumpy and shit and not at all comfortable at any speed. It's getting worse and worse and I'm beginning to wonder if she is just going to spit the dummy and ask to speak to her mum very soon. Every time I press the starter I wonder what will happen.. the only upside is that I could get someone to pick her up and carry her on their head all the way to Mumbai from here and still make it back for the wedding. We're in contact with an agent in Mumbai but plans are still evolving and I need some clarity before I book my flights back.
On the road towards Agra, home of the Taj. Mother nature has decided she's going to pull a curtain of hard rain over the city and it's awash. A wash is what it needs too. Fuck the place is a dump. Look at the Taj.. look how beautiful that thing is.. think how many people visit it.. how the surrounding area must be full of top hotels and boutiques selling to the moneyed moths drawn to it's flame .. errrrrrr.... no..
We're just about a quarter of a mile away and the place is an epic tip. There are people and dogs pissing and shitting in the street, the roads are all up .. it's like someone has walked out of an operating theatre half way through and not come back .. bits and pieces of infrastructure just sticking out the ground like broken bones. We're staying in a homestay for a change. The owner is another dentist specialising in teeth tourists. At least his place is above ground level. We go up to our room, pull back the curtains and watch the apes stealing fruit before fee climbing across the buildings to their escape.
We're having a day off here. I've been to the Taj before but this time I just want to try and get some pictures of the bike. Looking at the map it looks promising. There is a garden on the opposite side of the river that was supposedly due to be the site of the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Taj_Mahal">Black Taj Mahal</a>. It has a clear view of the Taj and looks as though there are access roads we could use. The rain has other ideas though and most of the day it is just falling down. In the afternoon we decide to go anyway.. bollocks to it.. and we set off. It's only a short journey, maybe a couple of miles.. but its a journey I will never forget. The rain is just off the scale.. and every building is just trying to evacuate water as quickly as it possible however can. Think Disney.. think 'ride from Atlantis' where you journey through a city with a coal grey sky that is the bottom of a massive bath that someone has just pulled the plug out of .. water pours off of roofs in spouts like waterfalls .. it comes out of doorways .. through windows and cracks.. drains back up and spout into the roads forming deep dirty puddles.. its just amazing.. I wish I'd taken some pictures but as usual that isn't the priority. As we get to the park our hearts begin to sink. There are army everywhere.. every road towards the river is blocked. It's just not going to happen. At least the rain seems to be taking a breather. It's stupid hot and humid.. time for a walk. Pay your money.. walk into the garden .. through the mud .. stand and stare
Still not got anywhere near with the bikes though. My mate is busy quizzing the locals for ideas. There is a park just down the road apparently .. a sports field .. that will have to do. It's pretty dark by now and the rain has stared up again.
My mate gets a text from someone who says he's in Agra and would like to see him. My buddy is fearing all sorts of greetings from his mates and is trying to get them to just keep it low key but it doesn't look like that's happening. We're due to meet some of them in Delhi tomorrow .. it could be interesting ..
We go to meet his mate and it turns out to be one of his best friends and his wife.. they've used someone else's phone to surprise him.. and they're going to escort us to Delhi tomorrow.. yep .. it's all going to be low key for sure.. they'll all just shake our hands and let us on our way ..
The next day I'm awoken by a stampede of wild animals running across the roof. Look out of the window and see .. the best part of bugger all. Monsoon rain is being sprayed from the sky at high pressure. Forget gravity.. the clouds are sneezing hard, squeezing and forcing water to race for the ground. It's angry rain .. 'come on if you think you're hard enough' rain .. am I hard enough? Only one way to find out.
Fuck... just fuckkkkkk.. where have the bloody roads gone? The city is doing an all out Venice impression. Riding for miles in deep water, Tuk tuks up to their floor boards and looking like little yellow tug boats. I remember coming to an overpass and the water was just coming out the sides of it in jets.. we crawl through the mess and out of the city to meet our outrider.. wait in a petrol station that is completely underwater.. ummmmmm .. I wonder .. I wonder how the bitch likes her fuel .. with a dash of water maybe .
Fantastic ride .. brain on full power .. all senses turned to the max .. almost like riding blind a lot of the time. As you can imagine, getting near the capital, then familiar and I'm not entirely sure welcome infrastructure starts to appear..
Very very expensive though.. probably more than at home. Not for the masses certainly. Get to the outskirts and our outrider pulls over to check his plans. Just a couple of people to shake hands with then done in 10 minutes .. brilliant .. and off we go. What't that up ahead? Looks like an accident.. loads of people gathered at the side of the road by some bikes ... loads of people .. a mob. The winker comes on .. oh shit ..
I think even my mate is surprised by how many people have turned up. They've got all his friends from school too. It's a proper love in and they're all smiling and laughing and very very pleased to see us. It's a lovely welcome and they've made a huge effort.. and it's not really started yet. This is just the reception party. The 'others' are waiting in the city. Everyone saddles up and off we go in a big cavalcade of bikes and cars, into the heart of the city. Trying to keep people together in this traffic would be impossible unless they had all agreed to put a suicide tablet on their tongue and take absolutely no prisoners. It's like riding with a tight moving metal fence around you.. and to make it worse one of the greeters has put his precious 10 year old son on the back of my bike ..
We make it through to the heart and ride in convoy down India gate to be greeted by more well wishers .. and a TV crew .. and newspaper reporters .. I can see my mate's reaction.. its a real mixture of fear and gratitude. They have made a serious effort and they've even bought cake and a picnic:)) The next few hours is spent taking and taking pictures and doing interviews and riding up and down for the cameras whilst the passing crowd gathers to sit and stare. Oh..and sweating.. don't forget the sweating.. my leathers are wet with my sweat.. and my boots contain at least 2 litres of fluid that was happily inside my body when I left this morning .. I don't think I've pissed all day..
After a few hours we're off .. I've promised my sweat glands they will be recharged and refilled.. I've promised my sore wet feet a good long soak in a shower .. I've promised my stomach all it can eat .. I've promised my aching back it can have a few hours off from holding me upright .. but those promises are going to have to wait a bit longer.. there are more treats in store. They have managed to get the keys to my mate's old school so we ride round there for more chat and pictures. They've gone to a serious amount of trouble. I can see my mate is beginning to flag too. Perhaps he has made the same promises to his body..
By the time we get to the hotel we're both in the red and running in low power mode. Nice hotel too. My mate has some family business to attend to and they live across the street. We go over for dinner and another full imersion experience amongst the locals before I lay in bed and run around turning all the switches off in my body .. legs ..off .. arms .. off .. back off .. then flick the big switch and go into an instant coma.
The world doesn't wait and morning forces me back to life. My mate has business to attend to so I'm going walkabout.There is a big Sikh temple just round the corner, worth a look.. I'll start there..
So many religions .. I can't keep track.. the Sikh's seem to be like magpies .. they really seem to love shiny and bright stuff.. each to there own .. I'm here to look.. not to judge
I head into the city. I'm expecting to see shiny shops and American chains everywhere but nope..I can't find a single one. I wander about in the oppressive heat looking for a cup of coffee and I spot this..
An oasis .. my tastebuds put their budgie smugglers on ready to dive head first into a big cup of froth.. oh yea .. I go inside and it's HUGE.. doesn't smell right thought .. 'Coffee please' .. 'No coffee.. only tea' .. errr .. you might want to think about changing the name ..
Just keep on walking. I get to an underpass and there are people asleep on the floor everywhere.. mostly young people.. and lots of kids. All spark out on the hard filthy floor. Poverty? 'Only a 50 inch TV' poverty .. fuck off..
That really starts to play on my mind.. run around and kick my conscience .. I need to service my thirst .. keep on walking ..
There seems to only be a choice of 1.. an ancient place with shiny seats.. fans on the ceiling .. and 'in need of refurbishment'
I must have some of the luckiest senses on the planet. I take them to places like these and they search and scan .. enjoy the light and the shade .. the smell only age and constant use can bring .. the feel of a table wiped a million times .. a seat that has heard secrets .. a cup that has been kissed by untold unknown lips .. I could sit here all day and just watch. It's like live history. But I've got to go back to the underpass. The image of the young girl and her little brother is gnawing at me and pulling me back. I shouldn't have just walked past. I walk back and as I approach an older youth roughly wakes her up and drags her away somewhere. I have to cut that train of through right there .. there is nothing I can do.
I'm walking back to the hotel. I smell .. then I see another down and out. He's not begging .. he's just sitting under a tree. I ask him for a photo in exchange for change .. not the kind of change he needs though. A change of clothes .. of luck .. of life.. that's never going to come his way.
Back through the sliding doors I go .. into the Metropolitan and the cool sanctuary only luck and prosperity can bring.
We've got to get moving on towards Mumbai. We've got a date to get to the shippers for crating and I've booked my flight. The final act of the journey. Not far outside Delhi is a big technical hub and the traffic in the morning is supposedly epic .. yes indeed ..
See.. no road markings .. that would just be a waste of paint.. and this just goes on and on and on .. epic indeed. Why the hell would anyone choose to drive in this every day. Small gaps come and small gaps go as the mass slowly moves and you have to take every opportunity you get .. it's intense and intimidating .. and I enjoy every single second of it.. hang on a sec .. I'll just go for a wee .. before it starts raining ..
As you ride east to west you see a marked improvement in investment and prosperity. More new cars on the road too. The traffic is beginning to move faster and faster but the majority of the traffic is still rumbling old trucks. Christ only knows how old these things are Most of them have 'keep clear 30ft' written on the back .. but India has been metric for a long long time, since the 50s. They cannot be that age but they crawl and crowd their way along the highways as mobile chicanes.. or tunnels if you're feeling really brave. You've seen those YouTube videos of street racers dodging through the traffic.. well slow it down a touch and that's the way to make progress out here. I don't think I've seen a police car the entire time I've been here. And .. the bitch is down to 1.5 cylinders by the feel of it and the vibrations are getting worse and worse. It's getting nasty and difficult to ride in traffic too. Whenever we get to a city we just split up as the Bitch is slimmer than the bimmer and it just has to keep moving as much and as fast as possible.
Get to Ahmedabad to meet another of my buddy's school pals, but first we need to see Gary .. good traditional Indian name .. everyone knows Gary ..
We meet the bloke and he takes us into the city for dinner. Riding in a Tuk Tuk at night through a city like this is a whole new experience. It's like being constantly attacked from all sides .. your head is up in the roof and you can only see out the open sides and the front. Bumpers of buses .. bikes .. cars.. trucks all appear suddenly and you're convinced this is it .. then we dodge and chink and the metal disappears just to be instantly replaced by something else. It's like being in a cage with surrounded by metal beasts desperate to eat you. Fuck I Love it..
walk back through the city though.. jesus ..
There is always a final day's riding, and this is it. Down and into Mumbai. Mumbai is a big city. London x 2. 20 million people ..
We've got to get somewhere down near the docks. How hard can it be? We get to the outskirts in good time and then just seem to hit a solid wall of metal. I have never ever ever ever ever been in traffic like this.. anywhere... It is just complete and utter chaos.. and I see things that I just don't believe. We're on a tight 2 lane dual carriageway that is currently a lorry park. It is twisting its way up and over a hill. There is a muddy 2 ft gap to the left that we're crawling through with all the other bikes. Then we come to a car. The car is sideways across 2 lanes. The car has decided it has gone the wrong way and is trying to turn round and drive back against the traffic, but the lorries coming up the hill have decided to trap it and stop it. It's just fucking insane. Any time there is a space to the left then bikes, and usually cars too take to the rough ground and try to make progress. It's a muddy slippery and rocky quagmire, and it's usually a drop from the road's edge. Get on to that and it's a bitch to get back on the road. We're all over the pace.. paths.. small rocky access roads past people scratching a living repairing the irreparable. The bitch is on fire. I have to stop. Go into hole and ask for a bucket or anything I can use. Empty the contents of the nearest puddle over the bike.. wait 10 minutes .. start again.
I go to buy liquid .. wander down between the piles of rubbish looking for something to drink. Someone is sitting on a chair on a pile of rotting shit being shaved .. and points to a tent. I go in, buy a couple of bottles and ask if there is a toilet. He just gives me a weird look.. and points outside .. 'it's all open' .. OK then ..
We're getting close now .. sat nav says 5km. It's getting dark and it's starting to rain.. we're off to the side.. approaching some deep muddy puddles and the just bike stops dead .. a yellow light appears .. then a message .. 'fuel pump failure'.. ummmmmmmmm... perfect..
I wander into a derelict building looking for a large piece of concrete to punish the bitch with, or two ropes I can tie to each wheel and invite the locals to pull her apart .. or a ramp to the roof where I can push her off .. or a meat hook I can hang her by the tits from ..
I find a container .. and again transfer a dirty puddle to her red hot engine.. and wait. Turn the key.. no message.. press... ststststststsstart and it's running.. but it's clearly very unhappy about it. It's only 5km I think .. surely I can make it there. It's properly dark by the time we arrive. We're hot and completely fucked but the crating destination is 200m away and we're here. My mate goes to check in and I follow a few minutes later. I can tell something is wrong just by the body language.. and the bulging eyes .. the hotel has not renewed it's 'Form C' and cannot take foreign visitors. My mate is properly fucked off .. I'd probably be happy to join the vagrants the way I feel .. just get horizontal on a comfy pile of rotting fruit and wait for morning. My buddy valiantly volunteers to get back on his bike and recce the local options .. while I attach an intravenous drip to my arm with a big bag of chai hanging from the ceiling ..
He returns and it's not good news.. there isn't anywhere round here and we're going to have to ride 15 km towards the centre of the city.. perfect.. just perfect. Now if riding in India in the day is fun, riding at night is something you should only do if you've just been told you have a terminal disease and have just hours to live. The signs says this is a dual carriageway, and I'm definitely riding in the left section, so why are there 2 lanes of white lights in front of me then? That will be because the actual dual carriageway is solid on the other side, so they've all decided to come the wrong way down the exit and drive down this side instead... of course they have. To take the exit we have to ride between lines of oncoming traffic, it all feels perfectly natural. There are one way roads here, but they're all flowing in 'my direction' .. whatever that is .. up.. down .. sideways .. whatever. The road surface is all to shit too .. they don't have pot holes like this in Southampton.. I think I saw a face down there somewhere ..
Fuck what a ride.. and with the bitch coughing and spluttering it makes it all extra special. Bt this stage of the journey I think the bikes know each other so well that they ride for each other.. one punches a hole in the traffic and the other rushes through looking for the next battle.. running very close together.. tag teaming as we go. We get to the hotel about 10pm, another long hard day under the wheels. I'm not betting on the Bitch starting in the morning.
I'm up early and looking for something to fill the void below my neck.. anything will do .. I come to a shed taking delivery of a load of milk .. perhaps this day wont be so bad after all .. maybe my luck is in.. Load the bike, turn the key, pray and press. This bike should definitely be in hospital. It starts but it sounds really odd .. the exhaust note is defiantly off .. but it's moving and that's all that matters. The traffic is nowhere near as bad as last night and we make it down to the rendezvous, a cafe next to a shed, get chai and biscuits and await our agent.
The 'agent' is a scruffy bloke on a scooter. We're near the port here but not actually inside the perimeter. Wheel the bike into a dusty shed.. dismantle it as much as necessary .. giver her pat on the bum.. say thanks ... wave goodbye. Truth be told she deserves a rest. This has been a pretty hard trip.
No paperwork.. no nothing .. trust that this random bloke is going to do what I think he is. Climb in a tuk tuk to the station, buy a ticket to ride
We have to hang around in Mumbai for a few days when the bike and carnet go through the various processes at the docks. My riding buddy has some more friends here that work for a posh hotel chain and will put us up .. oh dear ..
Mumbai is just bloody HUGE and I'm only going to see a small fraction of it. I much prefer the smaller places TBH. Still, at least it keeps my camera happy
As a final reminder to myself I use the last day to go on a tour of the world's 3rd biggest slum, and it's a deep dive into the depths of despair. It does have some structure at least, and the city puts running water to toilet blocks. There is industry there too, recycling for example, which in this case means things like cleaning out old paint pots and knocking the dents out, or collecting plastic, or dismantling electrical goods and getting high on solder, but as usual the 'Mr Big's live off elsewhere and cream off the money, and the people live among the mess. We're taken through some of the 'houses'.. down dark, shoulder width alleys with pretty well every sound a human can make echoing round the walls. No room for doors.. just dirty curtains over holes.. glimpses of life that is no life at all.
It's time to fly. Get up at 4:30.. a dozy handshake and a quiet goodbye with my mate, up up and away. It's been an amazing ride, and it will take me a while to process all that my eyes saw but my brain has yet to recall.. that's all for later.. that's the drug that runs through my veins and keeps me going .. until the next time.
As always, an amazing trip made all the better by your observations, comments, wit, and spectacular photos. And especially towards the end of this excursion, your heart.
+1 on what @ScotsFire said. Truly amazing Jason. Thank you!
A great ride report that I followed with anticipation, tension, laughter and wonderment all along and thoroughly enjoying your wit and humour. Many places are simply hard to imagine and your brilliant photography helps to visualize the sites and sounds, colours and misery (only after many takes to catch the details). And I thought I have seen a lot. Thank you.
Superb photos and narration. Thank you.
Thanks for sharing your story of the little urchin, I hope she finds her way.
Thanks for the wonderful ride report!
Wow....this picture could have been taken in Arizona of native American Indians. I guess that follows because they say they walked across from Asia.
PFM. Thanks for sharing.