Saturday 31 January 2009

Hampi to Varanasi to Nepal, a long ride and a longer post!

So where was I? Actually where am I now? Varanasi in the physical sense, and in the space between my ears? Probably lost and definitely confused.

It is always hard to start a new post as I never remember where I left off from but I think it was my 6 month spiritual type post. Ok so since then what has happened. Alot and nothing. We left Kodaikanal and took many a bus back to Hampi. After being reunited with the bike (I think I wrote about this already) we settled back into the same hotel as before, found Graham, and then settled into the same routine. The second day Philip hired a bike and we went on a little tour trying to find a safe river crossing. After looking at the possibility of putting the bikes on a boat and then at fording the river we finally found a bridge. The ride to the bridge was good fun, Philip enjoyed himself and is looking into doing his own RTW trip on a Tenere. It made a real change to go slow and carefully. I think I probably improved my riding a fair bit that day just by paying more attention to what I was doing rather than riding on instinct. After crossing the river we found our way back to Hampi on the north side of the river, found a little restaurant/hotel and then headed back to our side of the river on the boat this time. It was the only way for people without vehicles to cross so there was alot of foot traffic. It was a small boat but the dock was raised so it was easy getting on and off, Tino went first without much fuss then me and then philip. My bike being the biggest, heaviest and most obvious I caused quite a stir and, with the bike loaded and the little boats engine going someone decided to start playing the Titanic theme music as we sailed away. The boat lurched a couple of times and I was bricking it the whole way across but everything was ok and I reached the other side safely. On the other side of the river there was a big ramp up the ghats which was great fun to ride, it was about 5 ramps in total and on each one I pulled a wheelie at the top.

After Philip had crossed it was his turn for the ramp. I wanted to ride it again but he insisted on doing it himself so, with me pushing for a bit of extra starting speed he launched himself too and we went back to our hotel and I decided I wasn't spending another night there after that night. Basically the women on the other side were more beautiful and there was much more going on. We all crossed again the next day with the same ease and set up camp near the restaurant we saw the day before. That night was the full moon party and so we spent the evening with a smoke, live music and plenty of laughter. That pretty much set the tone for the time in Hampi from there on. Where previously it had just been Tino, Philip, Graham and me it was now a party. We spent the days swimming in a lake near by and jumping from the rocks around the lake (7 or 8 meters is about as high as I got and about 1/3rd of a back flip too. The three of us acted like taxis to the girls (and here I must apologise to Yale who was the unfortunate passenger when I dropped her, the bike and me into the thorniest bush in existence after promising her I ride safer with passengers) and the occasional guy who thought “anyone want a lift” applied to the men too. We rode around beautiful roads with beautiful scenery waving at school kids and just... I dunno just being free. When it started to get late we would ride back to town, eat in one of the many restaurants and then we would climb up the nearest hill or temple or simply sit in the restaurant and watch the sunset.

Sunsets are amazing things, firstly they are probably the most beautiful and the most mundane thing in the world, I have seen about 100 in the last 6 months (conversely I have seen maybe 2 sun rises) and looking at the photos they all look pretty much the same. What really amazes me about them is the way that, when a group of people are watching, the second the sun hits the horizon everyone shuts up and stares. Not one person makes a noise and then the second it disappears everyone talks about it. And I don't mean just the people either, it has a strange effect on the animals too who also sit in silence. I think it is some kind of primal thing the sun is life and even the birds, monkeys and dogs know it, hell even most humans know it.

After the sunset everyone would retire back to the hotel then smoke, drink and talk the night into oblivion. Inevitably, Tino and me start talking about our antics together. It isn't really story telling more reminiscing. One of us will start then the other takes over and it goes back and forth each suddenly pitching things the other one forgot. Before long it will be only us two talking and 20 people listening. It amazed me when I noticed, people hanging on every word. I know I will never be able to tell these stories as well by myself apart from maybe in writing. This was life for one week. A life which was completely separate from anything else on this trip because it was like an oasis undefinable to anyone who hasn't been there.

Philip left the day before Graham and me as he had to catch a bus to Chennai and Tino left the day after as he had to try one more day to release his frustrations which I doubt he had much luck with. The strange thing about Hampi was that there were very attractive people there but nothing sexual was going on. It was kind of like it was too perfect, too shanthi, to ruin it with sexuality.

So enough about Hampi, next is a 1500km ride north to Varanasi. 1500Km of hell, 1500km of punctures, crashes!, Police stations, interrogations, broken clutch cable which Graham caught seconds before it happened, more punctures, a broken wheel rim (it split in two at the weld!) (did I mention that my bike is fucked? No? Well it is! I think I told you about the forks and only another biker can really appreciate this, I definitely told you about the wheel and the brakes. 1500Km of near enough tank slappers and constant juddering through the wheel which is no longer wheel shaped. Did I mention it was hell? Graham did a Tino and told me not to look at me wheel when it was moving. It bounced up and down and left to right.

So the punctures.. well a puncture is a puncture. They tend to all be very similar unless it happens to be with a broken wheel, I had 2 before the wheel split (one of them about 3 seconds before the wheel split by my best guess) and then two after. One of them was when we had only 60km left to Varanasi (Beranas is the old name for anyone who is interested). When the wheel split I had to get a lift to the nearest town to get it hammered back into shape and the puncture repaired but essentially it was not much more work than a normal puncture.... The crash, ok I was following Graham along a dual carriage way (in which both sides of the road were being used in both directions) and there was a rickshaw with a 125 POS following behind it, Graham overtook with the usual beep of the horn and then as if the horn was a que for the 125 it swerved into him. I had a front seat view and Grahams left pannier hit the rider and his passenger in the leg sending them weaving all over the road. How they stayed on I don't know but me and Graham sped up and got out of there. At the next town we stopped at the lights and some guy ran up and started yelling at us. I acted dumb as did Graham but a crowd started to form as usual so we asked to be taken to the police station. It took about an hour, maybe two, to bargain them down from 1k RS to 300. I think it is key here to mention that the police kept bringing us tea but not the “victims” It's amazing how being a foreigner makes you the one telling the truth no matter how obvious the lie. So we headed off and found a hotel after some more night riding. The next day it couldn't have been 30 minutes before Graham suddenly veered off the road. He had realised his clutch cable was about to break and knew he had to stop quickly. I thought he was desperate for a smoke or something.

It took about 2 hours and 2 new cables (the first was too short) to fix it and at one point I thought Graham was going to kill someone. People were crowding him as he worked. Really crushing up against him and he was getting angry. I had to ride a short way off and try and get there attention which wasn't hard. A bit of yelling, a dance step or two and they flooded around me. When Graham finally fixed it we rode at the crowd to get them to part. Amazing how two 250kg bikes moving at 40mph makes people jump.

I think that pretty much covers it. It took 5 days in total when I thought it would take 3 but that is life on the road. You have to admit to yourself that any prediction you make will always be wrong! Oh wait, sorry it isn't it. There is Varanasi itself to talk about. We stayed the night before arriving in Varanasi staying about 100km away because of my split wheel. It was a pretty average town (all of them were on the way up, nothing special about any of them) and so we left the next morning real early hoping to arrive before midday (I mention predictions already...) about 20km into the day I get myself another puncture which I got repaired by one of the tyre guys who are everywhere in India and then we carried on to our destination. By now it was 1pm and there were many kms to go. We got to within 12km of the city and there was a massive tailback of trucks. We weaved through it for a while and then got stuck. I checked how long the que was and it went further than the eye can see. We carried on through for what seemed like an age and then it thinned a bit as the trucks were going off the main road but further down again it got heavy. Eventually we reached a major junction and it was insane. Trucks basically ramming their way passed others. Graham and me got split up. 5 minutes later I saw him again but we couldn''t actually reach each other so agreed to meet further down the road. It was the last I saw of him for hours. I worked my way into the city passed the 12km of trucks and started to make my way towards the ghats. I had to ask for directions every minute. The streets got thinner and the traffic heavier until I got within a km of my destination. At this point it was all thin side streets with only motorbikes. They were hardly a meter wide and I could only just get through. A local businessman called Monty found me and helped me find the hotel but it was booked out so he said he would find me another. We looked around for a bit and I decided it was best to goto the Internet and try and contact Graham. When I got through on the phone he was at a petrol station half an hour away so Monty left on his bike to go find him and bring him back. Reunited we agreed to let Monty handle everything and that is pretty much it for the day. He let us park our bikes in his shop, found us a hotel, tried to sell us hash and silk, got a couple of guys to carry my luggage to the hotel (British Raj anyone?)

So we were in Varanasi for two days before I decided that there was something very wrong with me. I had no appetite but was forcing myself to eat. Loose movements (as the doctors like to call it) does not come close to describing my movements, they were water or as close to water as possible and I was going 5 or 6 times a day. Eventually I decided I had to goto hospital so one morning I woke up, went to the bank to make a transfer to buy a wheel rim and then headed into hospital. Straight to the emergency room and they had me on a drip within 5 minutes. There was alot of fuss with my insurance who's claim line is closed on weekends...... so they wouldn't treat me without 20000 rupees (about 300 pound) which I didn't have so as I started to fall into the blissful sleep of someone who knows he is going to be looked after Graham spent hours on the phone trying to convince my insurance company to send a confirmation. In the end they had to remove my drip so I could go to the office and make the call. After all this fuss Graham headed back to the hotel and I was alone in the emergency room. I don't know how long I had been there but suddenly a crowd rushes into the room and theres a tension which I don't understand. I must have been asleep when they wheeled him in but I saw him now. Bloodied and broken and dead. I knew it in a second. His legs were both broken and his face was... it was fucked. The doctor was checking for a pulse and was pretending to resuscitate him but it was for the family not for the patient.

The guy was a biker, I asked the nurse after, those kind of injuries you have to be a biker to suffer them and you have to hit more than one vehicle. It brought up alot of emotions in me which I think you can all understand. Seeing a biker die on a bed next to you and knowing how easily it could have been me. Grief is the same in any language and I saw as one of the family members broke down. I think he probably went through denial and begging in about 30 seconds. That wailing in a different language was the sound of his heart being ripped out of his chest. When he stopped grabbing at the doctors clothes he started slapping his (brothers?) face and pushing him to wake him up.

I spent two nights in hospital and 3 days. I was fortunately removed from the emergency room when they confirmed I had insurance and they sent me straight to the deluxe private room where they could bleed my insurance dry. I had constant care and I was being pumped full of all kinds of drugs. From what I could make out I was getting everything from antibiotics to steroids and paracetamol. Within hours I felt a hundred times better and after two days my skin was tight again and the right colour. It had been gray and sagging like I had gained 30 years.

In total the treatment cost 500 pounds all but 50 was covered by insurance. Graham came to bail me out and we headed back to the hotel. The next day Monty helped me find a mechanic who for a small fee welded my wheel, straightened my forks and the head stock, fitted the new rear wheel and tidied up a few other things. I met a group of bikers one of which has just been hired for by Yamaha India to show off some of their bikes. I got to ride a R15 which is a 150cc copy of the R1 and is really great fun to ride and I went back to their place to meet the family and see some of their other bikes. It was good to meet more real enthusiasts and after taking alot of photos and talking about bikes we went back to check on mine which was still in pieces. Next was a trip to McDonalds which they refused to let me pay and then back to the bike again which was almost done. It was about midnight by the time the bike was finished and Graham had come looking for me as I hadn't spoken to him since 12 hours earlier, we checked the bike over and the mechanic spent a fair bit of time trying to fine tune my previously bent front brake disk which he did pretty well with just a hammer. Eventually we headed back for one last night in Varanasi.

I should probably tell you about the city but you would be better off looking at a guidebook. We saw the burning ghats where people bring their dead loved ones to burn on a funeral pyre. The fires are going 24/7 and there is always 5 or 6 families there saying their final goodbyes. The bodies are brought to the ghats on kind of stretchers which are carried through the streets while people chant. 3 or 4 bodies would pass every hour through these tiny lanes which were full of carts and cattle and dogs and people. It is quite a site.

So I left the next morning (the 28th of Jan) and rode the 300km to the Nepal border. I got lost a couple of times but arrived in time to check through and find a hotel on the other side so I headed straight for the immigration desk, got my stamp and headed to customs to get the stamp for the bike... and the office was closed! One more night in India and then the next morning I got through the Indian side pretty quickly and the only trouble was that, according to my Carnet, I left Pakistan on the 13th Nov 2009. The customs guy waved it away with something which translated into “It's Pakistan, what can you do?” and that was it, I was through! Free from India........ or not. On the Nepal side I went to the immigration office who looked at my passport and pointed out that it was the 29th and I had apparently left India on the 28th so he asked me to go back and get it changed. I started the walk back, crossed the border, changed the 8 to a 9 myself and walked back again. Customs was pretty simple just a case of answering yes or no to a couple of questions, getting my stamp and moving on.

Ok so now I am in Nepal. I have been here a few days and... awww shit, I'll give you a bit of a break. This post has been far too long as it is. But before I go a bit of news. Firstly Harriet and Emma are coming out to Thailand this Easter which is great news. They told me on the 29th which was the best birthday present ever! I can't wait to see them both again. It means something else too, I am going to spend 2 months in Nepal or more specifically in Pokhara I got alot to say about this place but it'll wait a week I am sure.